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Pimp the Pavement: A Brief History of Seedbombing

Who decides what our communities look like? We do.

Remember “Miss Rumphius,” the Lupine Lady? The children’s fiction book by Barbara Cooney (Puffin 1982) recounts the story of Miss Alice Rumphius, a woman who sought to make the world more beautiful by spreading lupine seeds in the wild. Flash back to New York in the 1970s and meet Liz Christy and her Green Guerillas group, who took to beautifying crumbling Manhattan neighborhoods by tossing “seed grenades” into abandoned lots. The first seed grenades, a term coined by Christy, were made from controversial ingredients: condoms filled with local wildflower seeds, water, and fertilizer. They were thrown over fences onto New York City’s wastelands in order to “green up” neglected urban land. Seed bombing, as it’s known today, is definitely punk, but it’s also a cheap and effective way for you, me, and everyone we know to transform an eyesore into a resource.

The seed bomb growing method has been practiced globally for centuries. The idea germinated in Japan with the ancient practice of “tsuchi dango,” which translates as “earth dumpling.” The idea was re-invented in the 20th Century by the Japanese farmer and philosopher, Masanobu Fukuoka, an advocate of Do-Nothing Farming and author of the classic, “One-Straw Revolution.”

Today seed bombs are wrapped in compost and clay, which protects the seeds while providing needed moisture, nutrients, and structure for seed germination and growth. The seed bomb protects seeds from being eaten by wildlife, so few seeds are needed when compared to broadcast seeding. As much as 80 percent of broadcast seeds, those scattered on the surface of the soil, can be lost before germination.

Some argue seed bombs could be used for large-scale interventions in places damaged by man-made or natural disasters, such as wild-fires and floods. Scientists have learned that certain types of plants absorb toxins from the soil without dying and can thus be used as a mechanism to reduce chemical ground pollution. So why not use seed bombs to restore our forests and purify our soil?

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Over ten years ago, I began bringing a little life to empty places on the streets of New York City. The built environment has always drawn a clear dividing line between itself and its counterpart, the natural environment. My public street art projects actively engage in the helping erase those lines. Using the city as a canvas to recreate otherwise anonymous spaces and working with plants or other natural and ephemeral materials accentuates the energy of the work (and the city) itself.

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Open Source Urbanism: Venice Biennale Puts Spotlight On Renegade Redesigners

Exhibit honors yarn bombers, guerrilla gardeners and all manner of DIY civic activists as agents of radical creative disruption.

In recent years, cities all over the world have seen citizens take it upon themselves to paint bike lanes, alter signage, convert unused land and infrastructure, and make other such “contributions” to the landscape. When I first began researching these kinds of informal urban design solutions in 2010, they were largely off the radar and rarely discussed as a singular trend. After an incredibly rapid rise into the public eye, the movement may truly be validated this week with the opening of the exhibition Spontaneous Interventions at the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale and an accompanying special issue of Architect magazine.

The International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale is a World’s Fair of architecture and design that has been occurring since 1980. This year the theme of the U.S. Pavilion is Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good, curated by Cathy Lang Ho, Ned Cramer, and David van der Leer, and others. I was proud to join this team as a project research manager and catalog editor.

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Guerrilla Gardening for Gamers

"The Earth laughs in flowers." -Ralph Waldo Emerson In most videogames, plant life is merely party of the scenery-which is why...

"The Earth laughs in flowers." -Ralph Waldo EmersonIn most videogames, plant life is merely party of the scenery-which is why I was surprised to find that in the new action shooter game Battlefield: Bad Company 2, players can actually knock down trees to clear the way for tanks. It's not quite the model of conservation the Sierra Club has in mind, but at the very least it reminds us that plants are more than a prop.Game designer Miguel Sternberg wants to take that a step further. In Guerrilla Gardening: Seeds of Revolution, General Bauhaus has removed all of the city's plant life and it's up to Molly Greenthumb to reclaim urban space in the name of nature. The game preview shows flowerbeds brightening up desolate town squares, public parks projects, and characters hiding behind trees to sneak past cops. Sternberg says that originally the idea stemmed from an interest in street art, but changed course when he read about a group of renegades covertly turning urban plots into flowerbeds. "I wanted to explore the relationship of public space and private space," he says.Sternberg was one of the early founders of Capybara Games, which has gone on to gain renown for its successful Critter Crunch. Wanting to step out on his own, he left to start Spooky Squid Games. Right now, the gardening game is still a prototype-about "half-way finished." Sternberg hopes to be able to sell Guerrilla Gardening on digital distribution platforms like Steam, Direct2Drive, and Xbox Live Arcade.While Sternberg's game is decidedly lo-res, one of the benefits of the increase in graphical capabilities in games is the realism of plantlife. I had a friend who would often invite girls to his apartment to show them the remote African landscapes in Far Cry 2. To him, it was no different than a walk in the park or a sunset on the beach-you sit, look, and reflect. He saw the beauty on-screen as a worthy echo to places he didn't have immediate access to, and he wanted to share them with others.Thatgamecompany's Flower shares the theme of reclamation with Guerrilla Gardening. In the downloadable game for PlayStation 3, you control a flock of petals and turn fallow ground into lovely pastures of wildflowers. The game's final level sends you to an abandoned city which soon becomes overrun with plants: a scene from Alan Weisman's The World Without Us that projected the planet's reaction to mankind's disappearance.Sternberg hasn't played Flower, but says he plans to. In fact, he only recently tried his hand at guerrilla gardening and signed up to do a project with the Toronto Public Space Committee. Thankfully, he was assigned to a detail close by. "It was a median at the end of my street," he says. It's probably not a bad idea for Sternberg to stay close to home. He's got a lot of work to do.

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Amazing Guerrilla Gardening in Southern California

A little while ago we held a contest, Islands for Islands, that asked members of the GOOD community to spruce up traffic islands in their cities....

A little while ago we held a contest, Islands for Islands, that asked members of the GOOD community to spruce up traffic islands in their cities. We accepted both planned projects, envisioned in photoshop, and real projects that had been completed. The contest has ended, but this week we got a late entry that merits its own post. Scott writes:

I know the contest is over but I just found out about it. So, I thought I would send you some examples of the guerrilla garden work I've done to improve southern California anyway. I can't believe all the entries were photoshopped. It would have been nice if you had at least one actual real world project. I've been working on this particular project for over 15 years.

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