Sidewalk Forests

Artist statement:

Seattle is built on water, fueled by water – it rains down on the busy people and flows through the city softly, the wet air thick with the smell of a dozen industries that rely on water to exist. Without water, Seattle would shrivel and die. Puget Sound is the heart that beats so Seattle can live and breathe, but since shit rolls downhill, all the pollutants and sewage overflows from heavy rainstorms make their way by pavement and pipe down past the fish markets and giant naval cranes, flowing oily and stinking into Elliot Bay. But before Seattle was a bustling city, it was a thick Pacific Northwest forest, the most effective, cohesive, and beautiful water filtration system in existence. The trees, ferns, and grasses that covered these hills hundreds of years ago are still the best way to remove contaminants from water before it drains into the sound, and properly designed infrastructure can guide that wastewater wherever the city wants it. Cuts in the curbs, conveyance furrows, and perforated concrete sidewalks gently drain overflow into swales and ditches, which are filled with river rock and planted in native grasses, ferns, bushes, and trees. This flora naturally filters the water before it slowly seeps through another layer of rocky soil into the city storm drain, clean and ready to be recycled into the bay. Large amounts of overflow makes its way to depressions and smaller marshy ponds to undergo the same filtration process, or in extreme cases is routed into giant holding tanks, designed to minimize raw sewage contamination. Aside from being a proactive environmental decision by effecting water reuse, the added amount of green habitat space required for a Green Stormwater Infrastructure project improves the physical beauty of a neighborhood, and adds the calming effect of nature to the hectic equation of city life. One neighborhood redevelopment alone added 3000 new trees and 23.5 acres of public parks and playfields, while retaining or replanting existing trees.

Among Seattle's first efforts at implementing a GSI system were inadequately planned, poorly communicated, shoddily constructed pools of stagnant water. They didn't drain, they bred mosquitoes, and were so deep as to be a drowning concern for the young and elderly. Subsequent projects identified, acknowledged, and corrected these errors, but no research was done to ascertain if the residents believed that the long-term benefits of environmentally conscious stormwater drainage alone were worth the construction time and trouble. I want residents and people passing by to recognize and appreciate these spaces for the intangible benefits they bring to a neighborhood, so I've taken my camera off the sidewalk and into the space itself. Although the individual swales and ponds are small, they each form tiny, contained ecosystems, with a unique biodiversity. By immersing myself in them as individual environments, I can experience looking out into the city from new wild space every few feet, while never leaving the city limits. Placing the lens right inside the vegetation clutters the image and exaggerates the density of the growth, further enhancing the feeling of being removed from the stress of the city. Almost every image includes an element of something man-made, either hiding the vegetation or being hidden by it. By placing these objects in the focal range, the vegetation become almost problematic, forcing the viewer to think about what the scene would look like without greenery, as the streets looked before the GSI projects were completed.