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The Reforestation of Times Square: Botanist Marielle Anzelone on the Forthcoming PopUP Forest

Sydney Franklin Sydney Franklin

New York needs a lesson in the conservation of its most natural resources and urban ecologist Marielle Anzelone is here to edify us with the PopUp Forest, an ephemeral forest set to be dropped in the heart of Times Square next summer. Her buzz-worthy Kickstarter campaign has garnered national attention and raised over $32,000 so far with 15 days to go. If successful, Manhattanites and tourists will be able to roam the crossroads of the world under a 1,000-square-foot canopy of locally grown trees and plants.

Anzelone, director of NYC Wildflower Week, has spent the last 15 years promoting the city’s green spaces. Most people make do with Central Park as Manhattan’s version of wilderness, but Anzelone argues that there’s much more to it than Olmsted’s island-within-an-island — it’s just a matter of education. “How do we get people to save things, if they don’t even know it’s there?”

The PopUP Forest is a means of changing the conversation, if not starting it altogether. “We want to put nature where everyone says it’s impossible,” she said. “Times Square is the most unnatural place on the planet and it’s iconic to the city. We keep repeating this definition of New York and it doesn’t include nature.”

Anzelone is partnering with the Times Square Alliance to bring what will literally be an overnight sensation to one of the busiest and brightest places in Manhattan. For three weeks, tentatively in June 2016, a public plaza in Times Square will be transformed into a quiet, leafy green where visitors can get a “full sensory experience of nature,” according to Anzelone. This large-scale temporary installation will include local trees, native wildflowers, and ferns with an LED screen hanging above the faux forest that mirrors the sky. To top it off, surrounding street noise will be replaced with a livestream of wildlife sounds from Inwood Hill Park.

“We want people to feel this incredibly rich experience,” Anzelone said. “We want them to feel transported.”

Image via PopUp Forest

As of this week, the Kickstarter campaign has surpassed its original goal of $25,000, with the stretch goal of $40,000 to cover the costs of both the concept design — from architectural renderings to construction documents — and more plants. Either way, the project will launch with miniature, pilot PopUP Forest will be installed in Gowanus, Brooklyn, later this year.

As with many civic crowdfunding campaigns, the project is something of a PR campaign for Anzelone’s broader mission of advocating for the city to put together a more comprehensive biodiversity policy. “We need people who are experts in speaking on nature native to New York City serving in leadership positions,” she said. “And people think of climate change as the big eco-issue of our generation but biodiversity is just as critical. Saving our forests helps prevent climate change. We need to localize this more.”

Nearly one-eighth of the city is made up of forests, marshes, and grasslands, but Anzelone dreams of creating a mini forest on every city block, where butterflies can alight and nectar; wildlife can find refuge; and city-dwellers can reconnect with nature. “In pairing the city and the forest, we can define cities more expansively to include nature.”

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Image via PopUP Forest

The next step for PopUP Forest is to hire a landscape design firm to complete the final concept. Anzelone hopes to hire a team by May; the Kickstarter campaign featured a preliminary concept design by Snøhetta.

“I knew I needed to bring this issue to Time Square,” said Anzelone. “To live in a resilient, livable city, you need nature. With PopUp Forest, it’s almost like nature is going out on a date on Saturday night, looking good.”

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