Recently, I had the opportunity of visiting the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway Conservancy to learn more about their experimental organic maintenance initiative. For those unfamiliar, the Greenway caps I-93 as it tunnels through downtown Boston, commonly “recognized as the largest, most complex, and technologically challenging highway project in the history of the United States,” or more plainly: the Big Dig. With planning beginning in 1982, it is a strange coincidence that the Greenway’s replacement of the city’s former elevated highway occurred within a year of the Highline’s completion — but further comparison between parks on infrastructure will have to wait for another entry.
The Conservancy’s organic maintenance initiative is experimental, both because the Greenway is one the few public landscapes to attempt exclusively organic techniques, but also because of the importance of sampling in developing a site-specific maintenance practice and evolving manual of operations. Founded on techniques pioneered by Battery Park Conservancy’s T. Fleisher, annual soil tests reveal the chemical and biological composition of each planting bed and lawn so that compost-tea may be custom brewed to meet the specific requirements of each community. The strategy rests on the holistic philosophy that by balancing the bacterial and fungal populations in the soil (or favoring one over the other, depending), the landscaper can enlist the food web of micro-organisms to achieve requisite nutrient levels thereby increasing the overall ecological diversity and resilience of the landscape.
While the cultivation of these previously invisible alliances is fascinating, even more exciting to me is the emergence of a new class of professional: the mad-scientist, home-brewing, landscape mechanic. Laws of efficiency and schedule remain essential, but the mode of practice shifts towards diagnosis and experimentation in their ongoing project of cultivating soil ecology. It’s not the biggest stretch to imagine how this thinking might transform the Greenway of 2042, what other alliances may be added, and what design potential lies in this breed of landscaper.