The highway of flowers

When I travel urban areas, I am always seeking for something green. A pocket park, a strip of landscaping, a row of potted plants, in some cities ancient cemeteries tucked away, New York’s High Line. I crave the green just as plants themselves crave the sun, turning myself towards it to bask in the light filtered through the leaves. I love most of all the plants that push themselves through against all odds, determined to survive in a harsh environment, like the cherry tree that grew again and again behind the Golden West until it was finally ripped out during a replumbing job. I felt a little pang of sorrow one day as I drove by and saw that it had been reduced to a crumbling root or two, the end of an era.

I may crave the green for aesthetic reasons, for a desire to connect with nature in a concrete sea, but of course others need it for more immediate ones. The birds and the bees and the beasts or urban areas flail from habitat island to habitat island, and many don’t make it, living in isolation in patches of green too small to survive in, struggling to make their way in a hostile world. It’s a problem not just of urban living, but also of suburban sprawl, where beautiful tracts of land are chopped into chunks, turning contiguous territory into a hodge podge of isolated patches of green that provide little in the way of shelter and nourishment to the animals that once relied upon them.

In Oslo, this is to change with a highway of flowers. Or perhaps a river running through the city, depending on how one sees these things. A long strip of plants and flowers and sheltering spots for bees to thrive across the city, for beekeepers to rely upon as their charges forage forth into the world in hopes of finding food. It includes urban installations and those by private individuals, companies, civic organisations, all cooperating together to build something amazing that a city could never construct on its own.

It’s a fantastic work of collaboration across disparate parties and disparate needs, a blow in a world where it’s becoming extremely difficult for bees to survive. As we wring our hands over dwindling bee numbers and mysterious deaths, we are reluctant to talk about one of the biggest threats to bees, ourselves, and all the things we do to them; we speak passively of pesticides and climate change, but not of how we inflict these things upon the world. The highway of flowers creates a different vision, one in which humans turn back time to create a chunk of nature within the context of a city.

Oslo is progressive and it’s not surprising that such a city, and a country, would take on the task of giving up public lands or adjusting the use of structures to accommodate a installation of this nature, creating a garden not just for bees, but for people, too. It gives me hope that other cities will do the same as green roofs and rooftop gardens become more popular, as people explore pocket parks and parklets. That more cities will perhaps connect these disparate dots to create a single glittering whole, green spots strung along a single necklace threading through a city.

It may not be possible to provide shelter for all animals; certainly, some pocket parks can offer plenty of forage for bees, but little to larger animals like birds, and certainly mammals would have difficulty thriving in a series of tiny parklets and rooftop gardens. But it’s a start, one that brings nature into a city instead of divorcing it and keeping it out, one that creates a world of greenery and wonder in a place that seems to be mostly concrete most of the time; I am reminded of a friend who had never seen stars, of another who was terrified of massive redwoods because she’d seen only the stunted, sad growths of trees along city sidewalks, where even soaring specimens would be dwarfed by those in Muir Woods.

We are out of step with nature, out of time with it, and this isn’t an intrinsic sadness because people deserve green spaces and quiet and beautiful, calm things. It’s also a tragedy because without the reminder of nature as tangible entity, it is difficult for people to understand why conservation is so important, why nature needs to be preserved, why we need to get more aggressive not just about protecting resources, but restoring them. The highway of flowers represents an opportunity for both bees and people alike, to preserve and create habitat, to spark a conversation, to ask a city to connect itself with the natural world, to drive people to do something for the environment as they interact with nature and see something beautiful and want to save it.

The sad truth of humans is that the only way to get us to care for something is to connect us with it — we care about suffering when we experience it, or when those close to us do. Nature for so many is an abstract, perhaps an ideal, perhaps the stuff of books and beautiful photography, but not something immediate, touchable, real. That changes when you can lift your hands and brush your fingers against plants, feel the texture of their leaves against your fingers, bruise their flowers and inhale their intoxicating scent. The highway of flowers breathes life into the hypothetical, brings reality to the theoretical.