As I was walking my dog around Ypsilanti’s 38-acres of depressingly-barren downtown real estate known as Water Street yesterday morning, it occurred to me that it might be fun to pick a day sometime soon and encourage everyone in Ypsilanti to come out and plant sunflower seeds together. And, in a fit of inspiration, I took out my phone, snapped a photo, and sent the following image out to my friends.
Well, the response has been good… So good, in fact, that I’m thinking that I might actually try to coordinate something.
Before we get into the specifics, though, I should probably mention that planting sunflowers on Water Street isn’t a new idea. I think I brought the idea up here on the site several years ago, after reading that sunflowers are known to pull contaminants from soil. As you may recall, I brought the idea up, only to be told that DIY bio-remediation doesn’t really work… I asked my friend Murph to recap the argument, as he’s the one who made it, and here’s what he had to say.
Sunflowers and other phyto generally don’t destroy soil contaminants – they just accumulate them from the soil into the plant matter, which then requires harvesting and disposal as toxic waste. Otherwise, if the plants are left to die and decompose on site, they may make contaminants MORE hazardous, by bringing them up to the surface and increasing the chance of human exposure.
And, he went on to link to an article in FastCompany which referred to DIY sunflower phyto as “fanciful if not downright dangerous.”
Fortunately, though, a lot has changed over the past few years, since the subject was first broached… Most notably, we’ve been able, thanks to our planning department, to secure the funds necessary to conduct significant remediation activities on the parcel, which had been seriously compromised thanks to decades of industrial dumping. (There are still a few areas that are somewhat contaminated, but they could easily be avoided.) So, having to dispose of toxic plant matter shouldn’t be a problem. And, for what it’s worth, guerilla remediation wasn’t my intention to begin with… I just thought that it would be nice if the thousands of people who drove through Ypsilanti each day, as they made their way down Michigan Avenue, weren’t left with the impression that our community is built around an ugly, desolate wasteland.
And, again, this isn’t anything new, really. I’m sure that I’ve talked with folks about seed bombing Water Street a dozen times over the past ten years. It had never occurred to me until I stood there yesterday, though, that it didn’t have to just be two or three of us scattering a few handfuls of seeds. “What if,” I thought, “we set a time and got one hundred people to commit?” “What if we turned it into a neighborhood party?” And, that’s kind of what I’m thinking now. I’m thinking that we may have a real opportunity not only to bring the space to live visually, but to activate the parcel as a public space. And how better to celebrate the coming of spring than by meeting friends and neighbors outdoors and planting flowers on the commons?
Of course, there are a number of things that would need to be worked out first. Here are my notes on a few of them.
FLOWER TYPE: I’d originally suggested sunflowers, as I think that they’re incredibly beautiful, and feel as though a field of them, all swaying together in the breeze, would make people overwhelmingly happy (at least until they began to rot). My friend Murph, however, feels as though we might want to consider wildflowers instead, as he suspects that some folks might actually complain about sunflowers, due to their height, and demand that they be mowed down by the City. And, of course, I suspect that certain breeds of native flowers would do better in that environment than others. (I’m making a note to call my friend Lisa Waud at Pot & Box, and ask what she’d recommend.)
DEPLOYMENT: I’d originally thought that it would be best to just make holes, drop in seeds, pray for rain, and be done with it. Now, though, I’m thinking that it might be more fun, and more effective, to make seed bombs (clay/compost/seeds), which could either be carefully placed around the property, or launched from afar. (A quick tutorial on making seed bombs can be found here.) I especially like the idea of making seed bombs, as it would allow us to coordinate bomb-making parties across the City in advance of the big event. And, perhaps more importantly, I just think it could be a hell of a lot of fun deploying them. (Maybe it would be too much of a hassle, but I’m imaging lots of slingshots and trebuchets.)
TIMING: Again, I’ll defer to those of you who know more about flowers than I do, but my sense is that we’d want to do this by mid-April.
Will it help us attract a developer to Water Street? Probably not. But I think it could be a good community-bulding opportunity. And, in my opinion, anything that breathes a little life into that piece of land is a good thing… So, if you’re interested in participating, or have thoughts on the specifics, please leave a comment.