Revisioning cityscapes from a feminist point of view: wild spaces

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In putting together this revisioning blog series we thought about the invisible structures that we move in, breathe in, occupy, operate within and how we can shed light on this invisible structures that are sometimes taken as a given and look at how we can revision them. I was interested in looking at how the way a city is laid out might convey messages of power to its occupants – and how this power can be challenged. I invited three practitioners who work with the urban spaces to answer some questions and their answers were so interesting that I decided to make each a post. Here’s the first one, from Maia Iotzova from Wild City Mapping, a project to map the wild spaces of Montreal by the people who use them.

What was the inspiration for the project?
The initial inspiration for the project started with my film Green Dream in which I explored the personal importance of urban wild green spaces from my childhood in Sofia, Bulgaria to my adult life in Montreal, Canada. In the process of making this film I saw that a lot of other people were drawn to wild urban green spaces and I wanted to record that. These unofficial green spaces in the city became impromptu parks, a place to escape from the busyness of the city, a place to touch nature. And while these places were rich in biodiversity, and important to the neighbourhood, they were often described as ‘no mans land’ or ‘abandoned lots’. I realized that in the larger context these spaces existed as phantoms without recognition or protection, and often they were not even marked on the map.

So, parallel of working on Green Dream, I started experimenting with ways to map these spaces. It was important for me that the map captured people’s intimate connection to them along with their geographic features, so I tried to find a way to map people’s connection to the landscape. I found other enthusiasts Maya Richman, Igor Roncevic, Marilene Gaudet, who joined. We defined the current form of the project, an on-line open source map of the wild green spaces in Montreal created through the eyes of the people who use these spaces. Dominique Ferraton, an artist who had printed a book of hand drawn maps of 10 terrain vagues in Montreal, also joined.

Do you feel that there is an subversion to this project and if so, what is it subverting?
There is a lot of subversion in the project. First we subvert traditional mapping techniques in order to create a geographically correct and yet subjective map. The tools usually used to create a map of hard geographic data, were used here for a map that has feelings, contemplations and intimacy embedded within that data. Traditional maps talk only of the present, in our map we keep the stories of people on the map even if the place they are talking about has disappeared. It is a way to keep the collective memory alive and to see green space in the city as a continuum.

Then we turn on its head this idea that these places are empty lots just waiting to be put to use by urban planners or developers. This sense that a land is just empty because it has not been planned by humans in a certain way is what we don’t agree with. We see a richness in these places and our map captures that. Often these places are used in many different ways by humans, plants and animals. They develop a life of their own. In our map we listen to what is coming out from that life and record it. That does not mean that we do not engage with these places.  Wild City Mapping is a multifaceted project. We knew that besides creating an on-line map of wild green spaces in Montreal it was important to also have a physical connections to the places. As a collective we have done various artistic interventions from film screening and guided walks to art installations in various spaces in Montreal. So we subvert the physical spaces themselves, we play with them a little. After all nothing likes to be abandoned.

If you had the power to do so, how would you revision a city? Or if we don’t have power, how can we revision a city?
Cities are collective places and the power to re-envision them comes from working together.

I would still like to see a bike highway in Montreal and a more elaborate bike system with slow and fast bike lanes replacing part of the car infrastructure. Also I would like to see wild green spaces on our map become official wild parks, like it was the case of Le Champs des Possibles in the Mile End. But I would not separate the environmental from the social struggle in the city. Poor neighbourhoods are known for having less green space. This is where some of those ‘abandoned lots’ can be turned into community gardens (In New York organization 596 Acres is working on that). There are also homeless people who make their homes in green spaces, and why not, it is much more pleasant then the streets. But again those are public places and there are clashes when people start using them as a home. So I wonder if there is a possibility to have some temporary tent city in a green space in the city?

I have seen many battles for green spaces where people organized and fought for a space to be preserved, I think what makes a big difference is to have politicians or law makes who listen to and nurture citizen engagement. We saw the difference that this made with ‘Le Champ Des Possibles’ which is now a city park managed by the community. It will be nice to have more places like that and organizations like ‘Lande’ in Montreal are helping this happen.

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