Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Picket Lines and Prairies

Above: An unmown pedestrian bridge in Windsor, Ontario.
Photo courtesy of

In Windsor, Ontario (the city directly across the river from Detroit), 1,800 municipal workers have been on strike for several months now. Among other things, this means that no one is mowing the lawns in the city's parks, which are transforming from riverfront esplanades and soccer fields into wild prairies as the summer wears on.

The re-wilding of Windsor's parks has inspired some nice nature writing from Anne Jarvis, a columnist from the Windsor Star, and her readers:

At first, the flood of comments and letters on the strike by 1,800 city workers, including those who cut the grass in the usually manicured parks, expressed anger about the unsightly overgrowth.

Then the grass matured, the wildflowers began blooming and wildlife returned. And the letters began to change.

This one is almost poetic in its description:

"The long grass is now home to so many singing birds and insects and there is such a wide variety of colourful native plants in bloom. The wind can be heard as it blows through the grass ... Such a difference from the plain, flat and empty space it was before."

The park? The soccer pitches at the Ford Test Track [which is exactly what it sounds like: a former proving ground for Detroit's dying manufacturers] in the heart of the city.

"Today was the first time that I have ever considered that park to be beautiful," wrote the woman.

A colony of bobolinks and some eastern meadowlarks, declining species known and loved for their beautiful song, were discovered there last month. They surprised and delighted birdwatchers. A grassland species, they're rarely seen in the city because there isn't much grassland.

I found out about Windsor's strike and unintentional re-wilding project via the Broken City Lab, whose latest project has been to unofficially recognize the city's overgrown meadows with these signs, which they designed and installed themselves:

Above: Strike commentary from Windsor's Broken City Lab.

I love how these signs tweak peoples' perceptions of these places: suddenly, it's not an overgrown lawn or a symbol of municipal neglect: it's a wildlife refuge!

As the Summer Without Lawnmowers wears on, people in Windsor are growing fond of the new wildflower meadows and flocks of bobolinks. In the same Windsor Star column, Jarvis reports that the City has resolved to leave a couple hundred acres of parkland unmown, even after the strike eventually ends.


Turboglacier said...

Last summer, up at the state office campus in Augusta (former AMHI area), there was a decision to stop mowing a few of the lawn areas. I heard this was primarily a cost-saving measure, but it had the effect of producing a nice meadow similar to the photos you posted.

But a friend who works in the conservation department forwarded me various emails from co-workers who were horrified of the health risks of the unmown areas. "What about ticks!?!", etc.

Corey Templeton said...

Very interesting. They should put up one of these "naturalized area" signs up on the empty lot on Cumberland Ave, where the Waterview Condo was going to be built. Quite a little forest there now.