Future Green Studio

Spontaneous Urban Plants


Stigmatized as undesirable, unwieldy and unkempt, Spontaneous Urban Plants (SUP) – better known as “weeds” - have a diminished status in our collective cultural perception. Overlooked and unwanted, SUP often thrive in places no native plant would grow and provide substantive ecological benefits - creating wildlife habitat, mitigating stormwater, or phytoremediating disturbed soils. With SUP as the focus of a citywide investigation, our intention is to unearth the latent conditions that foster the growth of weeds and to reveal the ecological processes that will provide the basis for the green infrastructure of the future.

Our proposal is a process rather than a project - conducting a series of orchestrated walks that explored the remnants, cracks and urban edges of New York City, we used the social networking application Instagram to photograph spontaneous urban plants, analyze their found site conditions (habitats) and map their location. Post-walk, the most common weed habitats were distilled into an architectural index including pockets, cracks, voids and seams. Plants were further indexed through a weed value matrix that evaluated plants based either positive or negative qualities.

Ubiquitous and immediate, Instagram is the perfect tool for bringing our findings to the wider public. Exploiting its open-source nature, we aim to create an interactive framework for altering the prevalent negative perception of ‘weeds’. Members of the public are invited to add to the index by uploading photos or assigning value to the plants through comments. The provocative nature of the instagram filter sensationalizes the photos and helps to spark greater interaction and wider acceptance of spontaneous urban plants.

With the development of a more open minded public, designers and communities are free to enable the growth of SUP through processes of subtraction, addition, optimization and replication. Over time, the patchwork ecology of widespread spontaneous vegetation will enable the emergence of a more resilient, adaptable and sustainable New York.