A Journal exploring the value of plants and flowers
06-11-2017 Longread

All weeds are welcome here

Words by Suzanna Knight

Photos by Timothy O'Connell

It’s late 2017. The President of the United States of America is denying the existence of climate change, whilst tornadoes are ripping through our landscapes. It's fair to say that times are turbulent. But something unexpected is happening in the heart of Brooklyn, NYC. A new artist and activist group has formed, and they see the growth of wild weeds as an example of political resistance that we should learn from. We visited Weedy Resistance members at the Environmental Performance Agency summit to find out what they’re all about.

“People tend to think plants don’t really ‘do’ much. But our aim is to facilitate an experience. To get people to look down at the sidewalk and to see evidence of life despite the overwhelming amount of cement and dirt”, says Chris. “You begin to notice the challenges that compacted soil, salt from the winter plows, increased temperatures and heat island effects bring. These wild plants can somehow survive this: a real example of resistance. They grow in much harsher conditions, from contaminated sites to deteriorating parkings lots, which puts them decades ahead in terms of adapting to climate change.”

Combining forces with The Environmental Performance Agency artist collective, Weedy Resistance aims to shift our perspective of the environment in the city, and suggest there are lessons to be learned about borders and migration by looking at how weeds grow and migrate across a city. “In our workshops, we explore a number of sites surrounding the Environmental Performance Agency headquarters in Brooklyn to understand different ways of how urban space is claimed.” explains Chris.

"Our aim is to get people to look down at the sidewalk and to see evidence of life"

The places that act like fortresses to keep life out are often the weediest of sanctuaries, offering a unique habitat for plants, birds, and insects to thrive. In our first workshop, we found that borders don’t necessarily keep things out, but actually encourage growth along the edges and peripheries,” continues Chris. “Participants reflected and brought up issues of gentrification, displacement and perception of ‘nature.’”

For that reason, we should focus our attention on the ecosystems existing before our eyes, “‘Nature’ can feel very far away if you only look for it in the places and forms that have been idealised in western culture: remote, unpopulated, ‘empty’ landscapes which one ‘escapes’ to,” says Ellie. “But if you stop looking for nature and start engaging with your local ecosystem in whatever form you find it, there is just so much work to do!”

Thank you, Ellie, Chris and the rest of your team for giving us insights into your exciting project!