Have you ever been moving through a familiar urban environment in Montreal, only to be surprised by a piece of land you’ve never really noticed before? Perhaps upon closer examination, you find faint footfalls in the snow, or a dirt path crossing the space. You might see native grasses flourishing, or a colourful yarn-bomb wrapped around a tree. A rustle in the shrubs might indicate a rabbit or squirrel foraging for food. Most of all, you probably notice the silence – a feeling of removal from the adjacent bustle of city life. Wild City Mapping is a new initiative started by a collective of “artists, green space enthusiasts and geeks”.
Wild City Mapping’s approach to documenting and adding stories to terrains vagues in Montreal strikes a chord with our views on cultivating resilient and livable cities. Firstly, infusing urban spaces with personal stories can change the ways in which we understand space beyond their development value. It also illumines possibilities to use these spaces in ways outside of sanctioned activities (such as transportation or commerce) which is important to urban resilience. One element of resilience, particularly in cities, is adaptability: when spaces are flexible, they can be adopted by different people and for different uses. If we can agree that undefined spaces are resilient by nature of being open to anything, then perhaps this kind of work can be placed in a broader recognition of the value in maintaining fluidity in spaces as the urban context changes over time. In fact, one of the key components of Wild City Mapping is a temporal dimension to show the physical changes in wild greenspaces, as well as documenting activities within these spaces.
Given the dominant narrative of growth and economic development in Montreal, there is something almost subversive about deliberately preserving spaces in an unplanned state. Wild City Mapping brings up big questions, like: How do we explain the urban realm, outside of the current growth- and development-centred discourse? How can we plan spaces outside of this discourse, and develop narratives around differently-planned spaces? How can we better understand and thus develop value systems for those complex, sometimes disorienting “spaces left over after planning”?
While Wild City Mapping’s work is fairly unique in Montreal, one can draw links to international work in a similar vein. For example, Lara Almarcegui, a Spanish artist who creates large-scale installations that often involve reconceptualising elements of the built environment, also questions the way in which we care for space. Her Portscapes installations along Rotterdam’s post-industrial harbour is salient for this discussion. Rather than creating an installation which would impose built structures onto these environments to alter their meaning, she created an inventory of fallow grounds and negotiated with city council to preserve these spaces as they were. The idea of “un-designed” spaces is foreign in planning, as they may be associated with abandonment or lack of care – and yet there are choices and actions behind this freedom. It is valuable for those involved in city building to consider how consciously “unbuilding” can contribute to healthy, livable, and resilient cities.
Click here to read about the Wild City Mapping team and collaborators. If you’d like to know more about the process of mapping wild greenspaces, dive into stories from founding members Maia Iotzova, Igor Rončević, and Dominique Ferraton. Do you know a wild green space in Montreal? Share it with Wild City Mapping. And, look out for Part Two of this series: an interview with Dominique Ferraton and Maia Iotzova.