While not the sexiest of issues, waste is becoming an increasingly pressing problem for our cities. Or an exciting opportunity, if approached intelligently.

Let’s take a short detour: In July 2014, Azuma Makoto – a Japanese artist, florist, and environmental activist – used a helium balloon to send a 50-year-old bonsai pine into space. Beyond the project’s artistic ambitions and connotations, Makoto’s Exobiotanica was supposed to highlight the significance of plants for humans and their planet: Taking nature out of context helped to underscore its significance.

Changing perspectives to broaden our understanding of the flora around us seems like a good cue for urban evolution. After all, when we look at today’s mega cities, the desire for more nature is omnipresent. At the same time, space is limited and often required to cope with the steady stream of new arrivals. And growing resident numbers, in turn, also generate more waste.

Taken at face value, these are not the best possible conditions for more green spaces in our cities. But why not simply combine the two?

In July 2014, Azuma Makoto – a Japanese artist, florist, and environmental activist – used a helium balloon to send a 50-year-old bonsai pine into space
In July 2014, Azuma Makoto – a Japanese artist, florist, and environmental activist – used a helium balloon to send a 50-year-old bonsai pine into space
Photo: AMKK
Makoto’s Exobiotanica was supposed to highlight the significance of plants for humans and their planet: Taking nature out of context helped to underscore its significance
Makoto’s Exobiotanica was supposed to highlight the significance of plants for humans and their planet: Taking nature out of context helped to underscore its significance
Photo: AMKK
Changing perspectives to broaden our understanding of the flora around us seems like a good cue for urban evolution
Changing perspectives to broaden our understanding of the flora around us seems like a good cue for urban evolution
Photo: AMKK
When we look at today’s mega cities, the desire for more nature is omnipresent
When we look at today’s mega cities, the desire for more nature is omnipresent;
Photo: AMKK

Waste islands for rest and recreation

Over the past few years, Manhattan has become increasingly green. The heart of New York is getting more and more pedestrianized and attractive thanks to projects like the High Line, a repurposed subway bridge. And then there is always Central Park. Plenty of pretty new surfaces. Yet what goes on underneath it all?

New York City currently houses more than eight million citizens and counting, flanked by growing volumes of waste: approx. 14 m tons a year, tendency rising. Initiatives like Present Architecture, the brainchild of Andre Guimond and Evan Erlebacher, seek to tackle this issue with a brand new approach to waste management.

If these two had their way and say, the future would see below-ground garbage collection and treatment of compostables on artificial islands. The composting aspect alone would be a major US achievement – in America, less than 10 percent of potential compostables are treated accordingly.

As part of their ambitious vision, Present Architecture propose islands docked near Manhattan and the city’s other boroughs; islands equipped with so-called green loops that lure locals as outing or leisure destinations while, below their feet, the fermentation process takes care of the waste. Above ground, almost any recreation activities are conceivable – from neighborhood gardens to cross-country skiing.

Still not convinced? Well, just think of the cold hard facts – or cold hard cash – the project might generate: Close proximity to New York City would slash the current waste transportation costs of around $300 m per year. It always makes sense to combine useful advances with financial incentives. A promising model for seaports around the globe.

Every year, around two million bikes are left behind by their owners on streets, squares, and sidewalks in Tokyo
Every year, around two million bikes are left behind by their owners on streets, squares, and sidewalks in Tokyo
Photo: STUDIO UNDERARROW
A single forgotten bike, leaning against a bridge or streetlight, might have romantic connotations, but what about millions of them?
A single forgotten bike, leaning against a bridge or streetlight, might have romantic connotations, but what about millions of them?
Photo: STUDIO UNDERARROW
This spring, environmental group COGOO joined forces with an ad agency to throw a spotlight on the two-wheeled nuisance with a project that makes the best of it all: They transformed hundreds of saddles into flower pots for individual plants, each carrying a note on the particular plant species
This spring, environmental group COGOO joined forces with an ad agency to throw a spotlight on the two-wheeled nuisance with a project that makes the best of it all: They transformed hundreds of saddles into flower pots for individual plants, each carrying a note on the particular plant species
Photo: STUDIO UNDERARROW
Not only did this prompt the removal of 40 percent of these “homeless” bikes – either reclaimed by owners or removed and recycled by the city – i. e. an impressive 800,000 bicycles
Not only did this prompt the removal of 40 percent of these “homeless” bikes – either reclaimed by owners or removed and recycled by the city – i. e. an impressive 800,000 bicycles
Photo: STUDIO UNDERARROW
The remaining ones have become, at least in part, a kind of distributed botanical garden covering the entire city
The remaining ones have become, at least in part, a kind of distributed botanical garden covering the entire city
Photo: STUDIO UNDERARROW

Header image: AMKK