The Seeds of Change
Two of America’s most respected landscape artists are heading to Everton this summer. But not to the hallowed turf of Goodison. They’re headed to a windblown park at the top of the town…
When was the last time you visited Everton Brow? This breezy, elevated park enjoys one of the best views in the city, its rooftops, towers and spires sloping inexorably towards the waterfront. At sunset, it’s just beautiful.
But Everton Brow is more than just a vantage point: a place to pull up in the car for a quick survey of the scene. It is one of the city’s precious green lungs - a space for locals and city users to come and unwind, recharge and reconnect with the natural world.
Trouble is, not many of us have been doing that lately. But things are about to change.
This year, as part of the Liverpool Biennial, Landscape Architect James Corner, and environmental artist Fritz Haeg (pictured) are set to decamp to this lofty spot above the city, to make us look again at the beauty in our midst.
Elevated parks are something Corner knows about only too well, having re-greened and re-animated an elevated stretch of the westside rail route that soars above Manhattan island. Turning a rusting no-go zone into an aerial, botanical wonderland earned Corner kudos around the world.
Now he’s in the city, with the help of Haeg, to help us look again at Everton Brow - and, hopefully, start a dialogue between us and the world around us. The world under our feet.
Over here on a whistlestop tour to survey the park, and start planting, Fritz Haeg admits: Everton Brow is one of his trickiest commissions.
“It’s a strange place,” Haeg amits, “It’s not like your regular city park, with high density growth at the perimeter, prime real estate around it, and a real sense of purpose. In fact, I’d say it was the exact opposite of that!”
The site’s dimensions are curious and challenging. Rising from a hollowed out core, a grassy bank cordons in a featureless bowl. A drive loops the outer edge, allowing motorists to simply skirt its perimeter, drink in the view from the safety of their car seat, and leave: never once having had the feel of grass underfoot. A drive thu-park, you could say. Fritz plans on changing all that.
“The history of this park is so fraught,” says the man who, with his Edible Estates project, introduced the idea of people growing vegetables in their front gardens, à la The Good Life, to make the process visible, communal and sociable. And it’s these qualities he hopes to transplant here, at the top of the city.
“The site was once a vibrant community of narrow little streets, and these neighbourhoods have been uprooted, dispersed and violently wiped from the map. The park, which we’re renaming Everton People’s Park, is a chance for people to reconnect again.”
But Haeg comes with no agenda. No lofty plans to parachute in some allotments and disappear again. His approach is far more nuanced: he simply wants to start a dialogue, and harvest ideas which may or may not bear fruit.
“My process is all about experiments and expeditions,” he says, “it’s about going into unknown territory, with local communities, and asking, ‘what are the possible future land uses for this space?”
Working with Corner, Haeg plans a root and branch approach to turning over this neglected, but beatutifully situated corner of the city. And the pair have form - breathing new life into plots from Budapest to Otterspool (Corner helped create the original Garden Festival site in Liverpool).
To this end, Haeg will be trialling a range of different approaches, with the help of Liverpool’s National Wildflower Centre, the urban food producing collective Squash Nutrition, and National Museums Liverpool.
“We’ll be conducting an archaeological dig, planting wildflowers, seeing what happens when we let the grasses are left to grown untamed, and mowing natural pathways through it.
But this project, Haeg is keen to point out, isn’t about civic gardening - it’s much more personal than that. It’s about asking ‘what is a native landscape? And what makes a green space loved by those who use it?”
In a city with as many layers as Liverpool, it won’t be hard to scratch beneath the loamy soil of Everton and find, not just dormant seeds and tangled roots, but stories, memories…catalysts for change.
“I want to create a critical mass of people coming together, and celebrating what’s already in their midst. Sometimes, it takes a stranger to cut through the complex history of a place and see what potential there is for the next chapter to begin,” he says.
This autumn, a geodesic tent and huddle of structures rising from a platform in the bowl will be James and Fritz’s makeshift basecamp. From here, with residents, they will begin to explore, again, the city beneath our feet. Reclaim it. Reanimate it. And, with a good wind behind them, make this airy spot much more than just a great view. Make it fertile territory once again.
Date created: June 13, 2012