BFP#2: Right-of-Way for Rivers and Streams
The Bomunsan Forest Protocols (BFPs) are concepts for the ecological cities of tomorrow, according to the wisdom of our elder trees.
Cycling along the Daejeon Stream, a small Grey Heron wades quietly in the water, making beady eyes at a fish. Suddenly, a larger Heron swoops down from above, yelling “geeaaaaaaaak geeeeaaak!” The small Heron dutifully complies with this request to scram. She lunges from the water, wings spread, body floats steadily upward. The elegance of these birds in flight is such a counterpoint to their voices. Wherever the small Heron lands, she will have to go through the same yelling formalities. The stream is packed today, with a Heron every 300 yards or so, and a few families of Ducks hanging around the reed beds, gobbling at algae. It is packed with people too, on foot, on bike, with walkers, with grocery carts.
The stream was not always like this. Less than a decade ago, the east side of the riverbank was a miniature expressway, and the west side was a parking lot. Further north, towards the city center, the entire watercourse used to disappear into darkness, under the concrete columns of a shopping mall.
Today, the entire stream sees daylight, and three women are at the old outdoor laundry spring, just beside the Heron and Ducks. One of the women is actually doing laundry, while the other two wash off bundles of mugwort which they spent the morning collecting. Mugwort is always a big menu item in Korea—spicy herbal leaves that find their way into soups, ricecakes, pancakes, healing practices, and even a cocktail or two.
One of the women talks of how the river transformed in the past several years. “Once they took out the buildings and roads, the plants mostly came back on their own. Then the trees. Then fish. Then Heron.”
Nature holds within it an exquisite design plan and, when given the chance, has an immense power to heal itself and others. I realize at this moment, that this nature and this riverside is offering a little bit of something for everyone.
A stream is a sacred, life-giving occurrence on this Earth. When we decide to give room for small watercourses to meander through our cities, the urban world is enlivened in many ways. Plants and animals of aquatic, aviary and terrestrial nature, humans among them, suddenly flock to this sign of life. Something pulls them here.
A healthy stream with ample space to flow a natural course gives reprieve to the entire city, for it has the power to help absorb and contain flooding. A healthy stream with unmanaged wild grasses and trees gives home to numerous living beings, filters and cleans our water, and helps hold precious soil in place. A healthy stream with just enough amenities for humans — walking and biking trails, sitting areas, springs, foraging zones — gives us more opportunity, to connect to the nature in ourselves.
These are all part of the reason why:
Every watershed deserves a course that is open to daylight, with riparian zones to flow alongside.
When we enable this to happen in our cities, we enable the mugwort pancakes and cocktails. We enable the elegant flight and slightly horrid squawking of Herons. And so too, in a wider sense, we enable a more resilient, positive, equitable environment for all beings within our cities.
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.
Over the next few months, the BFP stories will make up a good portion of the weekly content for The Possible City series. I hope you enjoy them and/or find them useful or inspiring. Let me know if you have feedback. Always interested to hear, respond, and build on what is written here.
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