If you wanted to illustrate the concept of abandonment and decay, you could hardly do better than an image of an overgrown city, with roots smashing through asphalt, tendrils sneaking over thresholds, and streams cascading down escalators. Nature and the city are supposed to remain on their respective sides of a notional border, and when they don’t, the outcome is at once picturesque and disturbing. And so in cities, we have confined trees to their square holes in the sidewalk and hardened shores against rivers and seas. We have spent untold billions to make sure that nature doesn’t enter uninvited, and that our urban centers remain impermeable, sharp-edged, level, and dry.
But the New York of a couple of decades from now could be greener by design, a city where patches of planned wilderness infiltrate the architecture, by invitation, not neglect. Imagine a pedestrian pathway running through tended grasslands in the center of Broadway; Canal Street reconverted back to a canal; farmers harvesting kale in Washington Square or on the 20th floor of a vertical hothouse; roof gardens fertilized with local compost; a convention center that sits beneath a forested hillside; skyscrapers that use water from showers, tubs, and sinks to irrigate balcony arbors and planted walls; midtown streets shaded by hanging vines. ….