Last week marked our first visit to the Metropoliz Future Forest site since our assisted migration efforts in the fall of 2015. We were honored to co-lead a group of visiting scholars, artists, and designers from the American Academy in Rome for a “Walk & Talk” which focused on the many signs of life and friction that exist in the contemporary fringes of the “eternal city.”
After a long, bumpy bus drive descending from relative peace and security of the Gianicolo, the visit began amid the noise and grit of Via Prenestina, with an introduction by Lindsay Harris, current Mellon Professor at the AAR. Lindsay provided an important historical perspective on human migration within and around the many neighborhoods that currently comprise “Roma Est”—an area that has always been fueled by the economics of real estate speculation and politics of “internal colonization” which encouraged development settlement in the periphery of the city.
We then led the group on a brief tour of the overall site, contextualizing MAAM as just one instance of a Centro Sociale Occupato Autogestito (“Self Run Social Center”) inhabiting formerly abandoned industrial spaces in the area. The theme of migration provided an interesting lens through which to focus on both the social and botanical phenomena of the site and how these informed the conception (and continue to inform the development) of the Future Forest itself. The stories of hundreds of seasonal workers, homeless families, and migrants from around the world which occupy the former salami factory as a makeshift home, parallel the many “ruderal” plant species which arise in the cracks, disturbed territories and interstitial spaces of the complex. Both arise and evolve mutually—and both struggle against deeply embedded prejudices which challenge their worth, and right to exist.
As we made our way to the northern corner of the site, it became clear that the landscape had already undergone some changes since our last visit just a few months prior, and was marked by many new signs of life. Not only had the ground pattern of “designed disturbances” (which were painstakingly drilled and sliced into the concrete slabs during the heat of the summer of 2015) begin to give rise to a host of new “pioneer” plant species.
As we had originally anticipated, these included grasses, shrubs, and tree saplings which had taken root in the cracks and niches during the wet winter months and early spring. This process was likely assisted by random phenomena such as foot traffic of people (and other animals such as dogs and cats) through and across the space, and clothes washing, which served to disperse seeds, water, nutrients, hydroton, and soil. The presence of makeshift and repurposed furniture, barbeque pits, beer cans, and other forms of detritus in the surrounding area seemed to suggest new forms of collective social use of the space are also continuing to develop.
By embracing and accelerating these social and botanical conditions, we continue to view this site as a complex ecology, in an active process of transitioning into something new, exciting and inherently unknowable. As a prime example of a “Novel Ecosystem”, The Metropoliz Future Forest represents a landscape typology that is becoming increasingly prevalent in the era of the "Anthropocene." Altered directly or indirectly by human activity such as industry or urbanization, these landscapes in many ways could be considered the new face of the wilderness. Yet due in part to their less-than-pristine appearances, novel ecosystems such as these remain largely misunderstood, and grossly under-researched. We seek to understand and highlight such places as a vital first step toward understanding what social and ecological potential and value they might contain. We look forward to continuing to monitor the growth, emergence and transition of this individual site in the years and decades to come, and drawing upon it to inform future approaches and interventions in our practice.