Stanley Park is unusual among large urban parks in that it is predominantly a natural landscape. To be sure, large portions of it are second or third growth forest, in some degree of recovery from the early history of logging, but the vegetative systems and processes of succession in much of the park landscape are essentially those of the native rain forest ecosystem. Contrast this for example with other large urban parks such as Central Park in New York or Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which are highly designed artifacts of landscape architecture. (The visionary Frederick Law Olmstead being responsible for the preceding examples.) While these manufactured parks are indeed magnificent, they reflect a Europeanized notion of a park as a kind of tamed, pastoral landscape, in which there is an aesthetic of control over nature and its sometimes rampant processes. Stanley Park’s towering rain forest conveys a sensibility in which nature is left largely alone and we find ourselves drawn into its mossy, ferny shade, where we might experience a frisson of primeval wilderness, even within earshot of the thrumming city traffic.
But there is another kind of rampancy, which, unlike the beleaguered temperate rain forest, is rapidly expanding over large areas of the planet. I am talking about the post-human or ruin ecologies, also called ‘ruderal’ ecologies, which emerge when the built, (i.e. architectural) environment starts crumbling. These ruderal ecologies have their own distinctive floras of extremophilic plants, such as Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus), which literally grows out of the walls of abandoned buildings and mullein (Verbascum), which rapidly colonizes rubble fields. Living among them is a motley, bestiary that usually includes: starlings, cockroaches and rats as well as the few adaptable, native species that can survive in this new, “Second Nature.”
Despite significant storm damage, much of Stanley Park retains most of its natural species composition and thus constitutes a somewhat intact version of “First Nature.”
To contrast this and to highlight the changing figure/ground relationship between so-called “natural” ecosystems and anthropogenic, post-human landscapes, I am proposing what I call the “Ghetto Conservatory,” adjacent to the park’s rainforest. This will consist of a Victorian style greenhouse in which I will install a thematic arrangement of ruderal plants, (Ailanthus, mullen, wild lettuce, fire weed etc.), on a substrate of ruin architecture, similar to what one would find in any impoverished urban area. As well as emphasizing how unique and wonderful Stanley Park’s aboriginal nature still is, “Ghetto Conservatory” will educate the public on the processes of regeneration, which turn concrete slowly back into forest under even the most adverse of conditions.