Remment Lucas “Rem” Koolhaas (1945- ) Dutch architect, architectural theorist, urbanist and Professor in Practice of Architecture and Urban Design at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University.
We should be careful of green. Greenwashing does not help anyone. Green intentions are all very good, but a lot of follow-through and care is required to get to a green result in both senses of the word: color and sustainability.Even the best of intentions can go in all sorts of ungreen directions if someone’s asleep at the wheel. For instance, much of the paper and plastic packaging on green products is contaminated through the dyeing process. This surely is a metaphor for the highly irrigated and highly chemicalized green spaces in our cities, the worst of which are “sterile, monocultural, soaked in poison,” as the political ecologist Paul Robbins puts it. Despite, or perhaps because of, its economic, political, social, and cultural importance, green becomes a huge drain on natural resources, with cities like Manama using over half their water resources on the irrigation of greenery.
The paradox of green environmentalism is not restricted to arid beige environments such as Bahrain and Dubai. Indeed, Rem Koolhaas, who is not especially known for his environmental credentials, remarked, “Embarrassingly, we have been equating responsibility with literal greening.” William McDonough and Michael Braungart have chronicled another form of green desert, the American lawn: “The average lawn is an interesting beast: people plant it, then douse it with artificial fertilizers and dangerous pesticides to make it grow and to keep it uniform-all so that they can hack and mow what they encouraged to grow. And woe to the small flower that rears its head!” Americans allegedly spend more money on watering lawns every year than they do on their federal tax returns. In an essay on public space in Cairo, Vincent Battesti says that green spaces “promote public frenzy.” He argues that the limited green space in Cairo has become a magnet for citizens during holidays and weekends. The draw of green is almost universal, although that attraction may be particular and culturally bound.
Toronto suffers from neglect. Of all major North American cities Toronto spends the lowest amount on public space. No major city spends less on park operations. Can Toronto survive as urban beauty becomes increasingly important to a city’s prominence in the world marketplace? Will Toronto’s own negligence turn Canada’s central hub into a peripheral global city? Despite its derelict spending, Toronto has the opportunity to convert the city’s one inherent asset into its greatest civic amenity.
We propose to use Toronto’s most distinguishing feature as the park’s primary urban component. Trees rather than buildings will serve as the catalyst of urbanization. Vegetal clusters rather than new building complexes will provide the site’s identity. An urban domain constituted by landscape elements, Tree City attempts to do more by building less, producing density with natural permeability, property development with perennial enrichment.
Tree City is a feasible urban alternative within the stated available budget. Landscape elements will be planted incrementally over time as funding permits, gradually building up the park’s mass into a flexible patchwork of planted clusters separated by open undesignated areas.
This will be staged as three long term phases: (1) site and soil preparation, (2) pathway construction, and (3) cluster landscaping. The outcome is a matrix of circular tree clusters covering 25% of the site which is supplemented by meadows, playing fields and gardens. Tree City treats the park as if it is an adult soon capable of sustaining itself rather than a child in need of eternal care. While most infrastructures decrease in value over time, Tree City’s natural network will appreciate as the park matures. We propose that capital generated from the park’s appreciated land value be spent to manage the park’s infrastructure and to support future development in an evolving cycle of implantation and speculation. Tree City is therefore a plan for attainable growth rather than a proposal to create extensive bulk. By forgoing costly buildings in order to dedicate funds for landscaping, Tree City sacrifices the static in order to save what can grow.
Yves was a man of few words. He expressed his ideas in the form of drawings and collages tossed off wordlessly. They always contained an element of violence, aggression and unbelievable impatience. The most significant thing for me was the fact that his knowledge of nature helped me to confirm the hunch I had about the change of route under way, about the fact that landscape was in the process of becoming the only medium capable of establishing connections in the city. These hypotheses about tension between city and country came to the fore at La Villette competition, not only in relation to our project, but the projects of Cedric Price, Jean Nouvel and Bernard Tschumi as well. Since then they have been confirmed, specially in Asian cities, not only for these positive reasons, but for other less admissible reasons too, because landscape is less expensive and politically correct. So the 20th century is drawing to a close with the death of town planning and with his highly cynical apotheosis of landscape. Yves was a molecule in this field with his bipolar tension between city and country. He foreshadowed this shift.