“We asked ourselves — if we could move 1,200 trees through a city center for over 100 days, then imagine what else we could do,” said Bruno Doedens, a Dutch landscape architect and land artist, who created the wonderful Bosk public art installation in the city of Leeuwarden with his collaborator, the late Joop Mulder.
Over 100 days this summer, teams of volunteers pushed large and small trees along a 2.1-mile (3.5-kilometer) route as part of Arcadia, a triennial arts festival in Friesland.
The organizers explain that the installation moved in stages through neighborhoods on weekdays, led by traffic controllers and captains, “so the forest decreased in one place while growing somewhere else.”
Streets that had few trees temporarily became lush forests, changing the character of communities, significantly cooling air temperatures, and slowing the pace of life. The Guardian reported hotels and businesses also benefited from the traveling forest, though some residents were upset by having to park elsewhere.
The trees were planted in more than 800 wooden containers that were then loaded into wheeled carts. They included more than 60 native species, such as alder, ash, elm, maple, oak, and willow.
The Bosk team labeled each tree with a QR code, so residents could learn more about the species. Soil sensors also alerted the team when any tree needed more water.
Just planting 1,200 trees around the city would have perhaps been easier but “would have had less impact than a moving forest,” Doedens said. The logistical challenges of transporting trees through traffic in a coordinated way “forced citizens to really face the effect of a forest in the city center.”
“The success of Bosk lies in the combination of radical imagination and mobilizing large communities of people,” he argued. The residents of Leeuwarden can now imagine “a new relationship with nature — one based in the idea of enriching the planet rather than polluting and destroying.” With rising urban temperatures, a new relationship rooted in nature will become increasingly important.
The message of the interactive public art work was reinforced through a broader immersive program that included a “summer school for Leeuwarden neighbourhoods, a Bosk news program for primary school pupils, and a whispering garden full of inspiration,” the festival organizers write.
In his essay Planet Paradise, Doedens argues that collective art projects like the walking forest can change mindsets and spur on greater climate action. They inspire communities to re-imagine what is possible. Designers and artists therefore play a critical role.
“Allow all creative minds from all cultural disciplines – music, dance, theater, poetry, literature, film, architecture, visual arts – together with scientists and pioneers from the practice to dare to dream and think big and even bigger. Give them room for imagination and intuitive thinking to radically reassess our current values and our actions. Allow them to develop new languages that touch our hearts and create new stories and images that help us realize we are walking in the mist, that seductive illusions intoxicate us, and that we need to change radically.”
Landscape architects and artists everywhere can create “new stories that reassure us in a playful way that we can reverse the negative effects of our treatment of the Earth into something positive. They must also be optimistic, empathetic, hopeful, and challenging without being blind to the sizeable and far reaching task ahead of us.”
The Bosk installation ended August 14, and the organizers have since found permanent homes for the traveling trees throughout the city, with many planted in underserved communities.