Sunday, November 8, 2009

Greening Cloverleafs

In the loop: a botanical garden inside a highway interchange (inset). Photos via Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanical Garden (inset) and the Istanbul Governor's Office.

Some of the most unattractive structures in the world are the massive cloverleaf interchanges built to accommodate the huge demands made by the car-owning public of major metropolitan areas around the world. They are a dead zone of concrete, traffic emissions, noise, and the quiet despair of commuters trying to beat the rush. Until now, there has not been one redeeming feature about them in my mind.

This year, just last week, the Urban Age conference was hosted in Istanbul. The Deutsche Bank issued a challenge to the world by issuing an open call for project entries that “benefit communities and local residents by improving their urban environments.”

They received 87 entries and shortlisted to just 5. The Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanical Garden won the competition by creating botanical gardens inside the urban void that are the loops of busy cloverleaf interchanges.

"Located improbably in the 'urban voids' created by a vast motorway spaghetti-junction on the Asian side of Istanbul, the Ali Nihat Gökyiğit Foundation has created a series of landscaped spaces that provide sanctuary for plants and people in the middle of a dystopian urban setting," the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award jury announced.

"The open spaces have been designed as botanical garden[s] with plant samples from regions across Turkey, providing an educational resource for children of all ages and a place for picnics and informal gatherings for people living in the heart of the congested city."

This 125-acre botanical garden located in Istanbul was planted in 1995 and contains more than 17,000 species of plants. It is the city’s largest replanted green area and a triumph to creative green thinking.

Not only is this space beautiful, it is educational as well. The facility includes a children’s garden where school children are taught how to grow and care for flowers and vegetables; as well as an area that is devoted to drought-tolerant plants and those helpful in combating soil erosion and desertification; and a section for medicinal plants.

Going that extra mile, garden staff compost to create natural organic fertilizer for the soil to avoid using chemically-produced fertilizer. They have planted some selected plant species in raised beds made from old railway cars following their principle of reduce, reuse and recycle. One of the successful educational projects conducted at the facility is a course for young botanical artists who are now teaching other students all over Turkey.

A music program for disadvantaged children took the $100,000 award; but, it is an inspiring example of how blighted urban spaces can be used for environmental and social good.

The co-winner of the first award given by the Deutsche Bank in 2007 turned a former garbage dump beside the sea in Mumbai into a lively, welcoming waterfront public space accessible to everyone.

Let’s demand more green spaces in our communities.

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