BFP #5: Permeable Streets and Landscapes
The Bomunsan Forest Protocols (BFPs) are concepts for the ecological cities of tomorrow, according to the wisdom of our elder trees.
It looked a bit crowded, but you wouldn’t really call it a crowd. A crowd would be like a traffic jam, but this? Well, this was a bit more like a big outdoor living room, or garden, or living-room-garden with thousands of people moving about. However you call it, the transformation of Main Street into a permeable pedestrian zone called Zelkova Walk was a miraculous turn of events. The naming of the Walk however, took some debate.
There was an effort early on, to name this new thoroughfare Cheviot McGrath Walk. But at the planning meeting, it was Cheviot’s mother who pointed out that “Our dear Cheviot was only the most recent of 238 pedestrians killed and 2,512 wounded on Main Street.” This one comment seemed to set everyone afire. From here, a great debate took place about how to honor all of the victims. In the end it was decided to create a monument. If you see it, this monument to the fallen pedestrians, you might recognize similarities to war memorials seen in many American towns and cities. It is a giant polished composite of stone and asphalt, recycled from the material that used to line the street. Carved into the stone are the names of those who gave their lives.
The idea came on account of a war hero’s suggestion. During the debate on what to name this new pedestrian zone, an old man who must have been well into his 80s wheeled up to the stage. He pounded his fist on the table and the microphone squealed. “They lived in a war zone” he proclaimed to the silenced crowd. “They fought like we all did. Just to cross a damned street. They lost their lives. All of them are important.” No one could object. They knew that not one but all of the deaths and near misses on the old Main Street led to this moment. This old man then suggested the new pedestrian street be named after the old Zelkova that grew in the middle. In his words, this tree was “the only living thing old enough to have witnessed all the deaths on Main Street, and the only one who knows what it was like before”.
And so the Former Main Street War Memorial went up underneath her, the old Zelkova, to honor those who had been killed or wounded by cars or trucks — or more recently a delinquent scooter pilot — on this street over the past century.
As one might imagine, on the opening of this new permeable, pedestrian street, there was laughing and there was crying. There were kids running through the crowds and there were great grandmothers moving along with their walkers. There were young hipsters sharing tables with old hippies, and there was an old war veteran in his wheelchair, under a 500-year-old Zelkova tree. In his eyes one could read clearly, a feeling of great relief and of triumph. It was as if somehow, they all actually had won a war; one they never recalled signing up for in the first place, but nevertheless were relieved was over.
We all know good examples of what happens when urban car infrastructure is transformed into pedestrian zones. Local commerce benefits, human relationships benefit, health benefits. All of the evidence we have seen points to a simple rule that can be applied to most urban neighborhoods.
When asphalt and concrete are removed, and replaced with walkable, wheelable, life-supporting pathways that allow plants to grow and water to be absorbed, a more healthy, more resilient, more social city is born.
Yet perhaps the most important ecological benefit of these pedestrian zones, and of permeable areas in general, is that of a vital natural cycle being restored. Whether it is through permiable streets or entire sponge cities, water needs the ability to filter down into aquifers. We could list the practical benefits of this—which might include reduced flooding, less erosion, and the very stability of the land on which our cities are built—but it goes beyond this.
Before our cities existed, water had a way of moving through our landscapes which contributed to the resilience and life of the land. The way we built our urban settlements severely disrupted that way of moving. Droughts, floods, fires, and heat waves are some of the symptoms of that disruption. To fix this, we must learn to develop an appropriate relationship between water and our cities, one which allows some plausible kind of natural cycle to ensue. For this, all of us who inhabit the landscape will benefit.
WHAT IS A BFP? The Bomunsan Forest Protocols (BFPs) were developed as part of A City Designed by Trees, an ecological exhibition commissioned for the 2022 Daejeon Biennale ‘City Project’. The protocols suggest urban planning concepts that 1) are ecologically sound, and 2) can help facilitate communication between humans and nature in the long-term.
Though they are inspired by the forests in and around Bomunsan (in Daejeon Korea), these protocols also echo the findings of countless wisdom traditions and scientific inquiries worldwide and are broadly applicable to many cities. We encourage you to share them, and also to transform and adapt them to your own urban ecological conditions.
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