It might sound like science fiction, but a floating urban forest is coming to New York City this summer. The barge known as Swale will be docking in Brooklyn, Governor’s Island, and the Bronx this summer. The 80 ft by 30 ft craft will be topped with an abundance of trees and edible plants, and people will be allowed on board to pick fresh produce like scallions, blueberries, arugula, Asian persimmons, wild leeks, sea kale, rosemary, totaling to over 80 species at no cost.
One benefit of this floating forest is that it requires very little human maintenance or care. Once it is established it will largely take care of itself. The New York climate experiences enough natural precipitation that the forest can rely mostly on rainwater. Larger trees will help shade smaller plants from the heat of the summer sun.
The project was designed by artist Mary Mattingly. She explained to Brooklyn Based in an email her inspiration behind the project, “We want to ask, what if healthy free food could be a public service instead of an expensive commodity? We see this as a step towards policy change in the city, where on most public land it’s still illegal to grow public, free food, and believe that the benefits outweigh all potential risks that have deterred the city from planting edible perennial plants as part of the urban infrastructure. We hope a future New York can actually include this as part of the city’s public plan in a safe, thoughtful way, and believe the time is right.”
In addition to the forest, Swale will also house Eco_Hack2016 which is being designed by iBiome Arts. This large social/digital/eco installation will host live performances, and it will also help showcase some of the data acquired from Swale’s plant beds. Sensors will be installed throughout the forest to help collect environmental information like pH, temperature, and salinity. With the help of Eco_Hack2016, this information can be presented in a visual, meaningful way that informs the public about the project.
In the long term, Mattingly hopes that Swale will leave a lasting impact on New York City. She explained to Brooklyn Based, “We hope a future New York can actually include Swale as part of the city’s public plan in a safe, thoughtful way. We want the project to not only address common spaces, but to work towards co-creating them.”
You can learn more about the project here.