How we interact personally with our green landscapes as we walk them is often an afterthought to hardscapes--it should in fact be at the forefront as an educational and artistic tool demonstrating a city's diversity, creativity, and regional roots. In other words, an awareness of what makes a city a city, how people live within the natural world, and how they depend upon it--in other words, a public park should show how nature is not an escape or recreational weekend destination only, but an everyday service to our bodies, our cells, our nourishment. I find this all lacking to some degree in Union Plaza.
To me, this new park represents centuries of western didacticism. If you straighten the lines--and thank god they are at least curvy and mimic the flood channel--the park soon looks like Versailles. This tradition of overlaying a landscape with perfect geometric lines is not only a sign of imperialistic / hubristic thinking, but in the landscape world of Oehme and Oudolf (the new american landscape) it's simply outdated. To me, when I look at Union Plaza, I see a small space trying to be something big in another century, in another country--I see a king's wealth and order on display. I see Jefferson's grid that destroyed native ecosystems, native wildlife, and native peoples.
I love the idea of this park. I love that people and corporations worked together to make it happen. I love that it can be a place for events and a place to stroll. But I do not want to stroll here. It does not invite me. It does not make me linger. It does not connect me to a place. It does not make me feel peaceful, reposed, transformed and transfigured like a garden should. I learn nothing. Can you see this in just the two above images? It's open, sunny, and monocultured. Who will sit on the slopes of buffalo grass? Why would you? What's holding you to this place? To this city? Very little. Let's look at some other images.
In the above image you see some nice hardscaping--natural places to sit by the water. However, nothing pulls you down to this space, nothing invites you in for a closer look, to linger, to be here.
Here's an example of wasted opportunity for native prairie plants--which is what I'm advocating. Native plants full of color, scent, texture, and wildlife, and requiring very little water or maintenance. Some plants on the upland slopes that like it dry, some that can take the periodic flooding down low. Deeply-rooted plants that won't need supplemental watering and that won't get washed away. See that space between the sidewalk and the wall? Coneflowers, milkweed, sideoats grama, indian grass, sunflowers, salvia, prairie clover, and on and on. Who is going to stop and sit here? No one. Who will walk by this on a rush to get somewhere else, up ahead where the eye is drawn? Everyone. This is a wasted space with no wonder and no power. The same goes for the two images before.
There's a neat amphitheater for concerts and such. But all around it, and all around the parking areas and more, the plants are in uniform and linear distribution. When I see plants evenly spaced and in lines I am incredibly bored. This is what you see "professional" landscapers do--lines of grasses. Rows of one type of flower. The plants don't sing, don't mingle, don't paint a picture--they are forced into unnatural order not representative of our prairie culture and lineage (though, I suppose, they do represent our cornfields quite well).
Perfectly spaced chokeberries. Just chokeberries. So you have two seasons of interest only--a week in spring, and maybe two in fall. All over the park are swaths of beds with simple plantings evenly spaced. Lines and rows. Why? Is this representing, mirroring, contributing to the teachings espoused in the mosaics along some walls?
|Wilderness is a philosophy, not a boundary.|
|But rains held off. Day after day the clouds, as white and dry and puffy |
as milkweed seeds, scadded high with the winds.
Last Child in the Woods.
What's an altermative? What's modern, sophisticated, enriching, enveloping, what draws in tourists and sets a city apart? The Lurie Garden in Chicago and the High Line in New York. Native plants in waves, wildlife meccas, a destination, a place to linger and meet, a place to connect with each other and the world. A place to wander and wonder.