1st April 2011
Bygdøy Allé, Oslo, Norway.
Tree: Horse Chestnut
What an interesting day! I set out to do an April fool prank except the more I spoke to people, the more I realised it really wasn’t a joke. I set it up wrong and at the end of the day the idea is something I believe in.
I should have said it is happening. That Bygdøy Allé in Oslo, a 1.8 km long road, where the trees are threatened with being axed because they are dying of pollution poisoning from buses and cars. That it is being turned into a long park. I should have asked people for what they wanted to see in their new parkland, that would be completed in 2016. That the planned road removal would begin in early 2012. Then I would have had more dramatic reactions. See RehabRd.com to get involved – a side project to UpTrees. Also see the full size images I made to sell the idea.
People were in favour and opposed for different reasons but turn up the heat and things would have got even more interesting. Outrage and joy I expect, and also suspicion. You tell people a massive porky and their 1st of April antennae pop out. In Norway anyway. Which would have been fun. See how well I could lie.
I sold it as asking for signatures for a consultation process. I had mocked up paperwork for a planning application.
If you were one of the signers in good faith I thank you. I guess I was too genuine and the idea of a consultation a possibility. I’m sorry if I got your hopes up, but then thats the point I suppose, to get our hopes up so high that we are compelled to follow through.
So, it became a ‘serious’ political campaign – the smallest campaign ever launched, other than the ones that happen during conversations in pubs between friends. I’ll need to send it all into the council now too. All the better anyway I suppose but I’d have liked their ideas on what they would have wanted. Also have set up a website with information, all official looking and interactive. It’s not too late, and what happened was a beginning.
Feels like something started today with all the genuine concerns people had, and positivity. If nothing is done to curb the traffic, this tree I was in, one of the famous Horse Chestnut trees that line the 1.8 km street, will be felled. All 1.8 km of them. There’s a song, I may have mentioned it before, about ‘the flowering chestnut trees on Bygdøy Allé’. Would be ironic to chop them down. Someone suggested trying to give them some kind of chemicals to protect them… pretty unbelievable but that’s how we think these days. Treat the symptoms rather than the cause.
The arguments against change seemed to be based on a kind of romance, – the cars are a part of the city and this street, also economics and easy transport. None of these are good arguments in my book.
I bought this little pot of grass from the shop over the road. If actual change is represented by turf, then this pot 6cm across is a good picture of how far I’ve / we’ve come. 1.8 km of turf ÷ 6cm squared. How many people pushing the idea would that take?
I’d say 50% of the people I spoke with signed the paper in favour of a consultation. 20% were in too much of a hurry, and the remainder had their various objections. Here is a rough translation of what people said. The * indicates if they signed the petition.
‘Where would the cars go’?
‘It’s one of the landmarks’.
‘Place the main road out of the city would be good’.
‘The chestnuts shall flower, and the cars shall drive’. (except this is of course impossible)
‘I moved away from the country to get more city’.
‘The image shows a bit much of a good thing, but it’s in the right direction’ *
‘I don’t have time to look’.
‘I would like to save the chestnuts’ *
‘It’s difficult when I’ve got a dog with me’.
‘I would like less cars and more green, but I don’t want to discuss it, I just want to go home’
‘I like parks’ *
‘We want to research it more, before we sign, but live on Bygdøy and we notice the trees fall early in autumn’.
‘I don’t have strong opinions about it. I’d rather support a system where only buses were allowed for example. The person who designed this, obviously has a particular vision’.
‘You haven’t had more signatures?’ * (‘I only just started’).‘It would be very cosy with a park – absolutely!’ *
One of the people I met told me about a green activist who had once wanted to stop the buses going down Bygdøy Allé, which I found to be a surprising solution. The traffic is obviously a big problem and has been for a while.
Why anyone would want to cling onto stinky noisy traffic in favour of nature right in the city I don’t know. The shop over the road sold flowers and plants. They had them layed out on the pavement outside. I like that connection. Again, another glimmer of what is possible, like a possible future was peering through the tarmac.
This entire 1.8 km could be covered in flowers – if people could see it, let go of their dated ideas about what a city can be and also wanted it. The people who liked it, really liked it.
Could a movement be born?
So… who is the April fool? Me, freezing on a street corner asking for signatures for a fake petition… or the world that can’t see past what’s already in front of them? And if we don’t see past the obvious – it may become too late.