The question I posed myself was one of how combat climate change in a public and inspiring way. Public so that people would be made aware of the conflict, inspiring so that people would join in the struggle to repair the industrial scarring left by previous generations and to find new ways for not just humans, but for all species to continue living.
With this in mind, I sought to create a public space which was designed not just for humans but for all species. Ultimately, this is what I came to
To connect the sky rises in downtown San Diego with a single canopy. The material for the canopy would be porous and stretched taught enough to easily support a multitude of people walking across it. It would serve multiple purposes:
Edited image of the city of San Diego to show how an initial version of the canopy might appear in a city
1. it would be used as a space for growing plants. Their root systems could weave through the porous mesh of the canopy, and they would have prime positions for access to sunlight. At night, the canvas becomes a front between the warm air of the city rising up below it and the cool night air. This results in dew forming all over the canopy (what would actually be an immense source of water, and this should perhaps also be considered as a way for desert cities to collect water). Giving ample water to the plants growing there. I believe this would also create a culture around growing plants on rooftops in the hosting city (San Diego) - encouraging people to create roof top gardens that then might spill between roof top, canopy, and neighboring buildings.
2. It would provide shade and temperature control for the city. Cities are notoriously hot places - they have no vegetation (which has been shown to dramatically moderate temperatures), have stone buildings being warmed by the sun, and constant electrical usage - which adds up to the creation of immense amounts of heat (which in turn results in people using ACs, making things worse). The canvas and plants both provide shade, while the plants additionally cool the air (a result of the endothermic reactions in photosynthesis). The shade reduces need for ACs, while the cooling of the air creates air circulation where the warm air from the streets rises and displaces the cool air from the plants.
3. it would provide a safe space for birds and potentially other animals if it was attached to the ground.
4. it would help alleviate congestion of city streets as people would be able to walk across the canopy between buildings and serve as a public park type of space where people can relax and appreciate their surroundings
5. it would serve as a location for other artwork. One idea already had is to track people walking above, and project footprints onto the street below. This would allow people walking on the street to see where people walking on the canopy were (drawing more attention to it, and creating a fun interactive environment).
6. It creates a warm color underneath which I believe would change the psychology of the city, making it friendlier. In my examples, I chose the yellow color to target a ‘warm’ welcoming feeling, but other colors could be used to elicit other mentalities and promote identities and cultures in the city. For instance, a rainbow flag could be used to show a city's support for the queer community.
Issues and non-Issues
I was initially concerned with bits of plant falling from the sky as leaves and flowers grow and die with the seasons. This isn’t of concern because trees already exist in streets, and this problem has existed since cities existed. (This problem could also be solved with a second canopy below the first that would also serve as a safety net and wouldn’t provide any space for plants to grow)
The first entry in every single desert survival and safety book published is about how awesome dew is. Even just using your shirt, a rock, a hole in the ground, and a cup for collecting the water can get you more than enough water to survive. This technique of placing a membrane between two objects of different temperatures makes a ton of water. The canopy will likely create far more water than any plants will use. And so, a lot of it will drip; making city centers either always a bit rainy (cooling the air down in the summer), or the dripping water can be collected (via the secondary tarp mentioned in the Falling Leaves problem).
Humans and other Animals Falling
The risk of people falling (whether intentional or unintentional) could be solved by adding a curve upwards along the edges of the canvas so it creates more of a bowl (like a skate park) shape. Steps/ramps/ladders/vines could then be used to enter and exit. This berm would prevent people from accidentally falling over. I personally don’t believe in barring people from suicide, but it could be made a difficult task by forming the berm from different material so that plants wouldn’t grow on it - providing no handholds for climbers.
A corollary problem is that of the slope of various portions of the canopy. In some of the pictures, notice the very steep slope between tall and short buildings. Looks like a fun slide right? Also looks dangerous. These areas could either be given a berm in the same way as the edges, or they could controlled so as not to become too steep. In the 3D model I made, I skipped over some buildings in order to create a flatter space. This could be done as well as the mounting points being placed lower on tall buildings to create a gradual slope across several buildings.
My main concern is about getting enough airflow to the streets below the canopy. Some will certainly be had just through the temperature gradient causing circulation. But will it be enough? If a breeze comes through (from any direction), ventilation will be fabulous as the low pressure zone above the city (moving fluids are of a lower pressure than stagnant fluids) will suck air out from under the canopy. But what about on days that are still? Chemical densities should create enough flow to keep oxygen in the space (no one is going to suffocate or anything like that), but I wonder if the air will become stuffy.
Use of cars that emit harmful particulates might result in their collection in the canopy. This will, of course, become a non-issue with societal adoption of electric vehicles (regardless of how the battery is charged).
Future Direction, Mental Model, Inspiration and more
When I initially began to pose myself questions about making monuments for all species, I immediately jumped to an idea that I had first been exposed to in elementary school in a science fiction book - underground cities. It’s ecologically wonderful - you aren’t displacing animals if you can get can leave 10 ft between building and surface. I’ve always been a huge fan of the idea, but there are 2 main reasons why we don’t see 60 story ‘lowrises’ (‘subrises’?) going into the ground: It’s very difficult to make a structurally sound building when digging down unless you’re digging into rock - the only real way is to suspend the entire building from a foundation closer to the surface; it’s a lot more expensive to suspend a building upside down or cut a building out of a rock than it is to just build up.
As I was moving on from this idea - dismissing it because millions of buildings already exist above ground and changing that infrastructure is never going to happen - I realized that the infrastructure doesn’t need to change. Instead of moving the building below the ground, the ground can be moved above the building. That is, a giant blanked can be placed over the city, dirt poured on top, and tadah, land!
This is where I eventually hope this idea would lead - cities which aren’t exactly underground, but are covered by ground - giving a place for plants to grow and animals to live and roam. Humans don’t seem to be interested in leaving behind the notion of property. Humans (anthropocene humans as a non-species) and animals can share property and space by vertically stacking it in layers. We didn’t always have the technology and power to reform landscapes in this way, but we do now.
Imagine the city, surrounded (above) by a cocoon of earth, and that by another cocoon, and another until there’s a bookshelf of city sized ecosystems stacked on top of one another. This is the speculative future I’m imagining.
This monument then becomes a step along the path towards this future. I mentioned earlier that it was meant as a popularizing monument. What I mean by this is that it can be done right now with very low commitment from city governments and wouldn’t even require every building to agree to it. If 3 buildings agree, they can be connected and the ones in between skipped over. The idea is cool and would bring something very unique to each city participating. It’s the sweet (makes you smile) kind of project that companies like to get involved in as a way to support the community. It does all kinds of great things for the city, the costs are extremely low, and it’s easy to add to if more buildings join later. As more join, it has the ability to develop a culture around it, further strengthening it.
On top of this, it shouldn’t just be seen as a monument with a practical purpose to it. The monument isn’t the mesh strung between buildings so much as it is the creation of a space in which new life can exist. As a space, it has unique affordances which other monuments don’t have (site for other artwork, all of the affordances of a park). It’s also new, and that will draw people, fascinate them, and give them ideas which I would never come up with on my own.