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Words John Gray    Photography Olivier Scheffer

In today’s urbanized environments we all strive to make our spaces greener.  Whether it’s creating garden landscapes and parks or lining roads with trees, injecting greenery is vital. But when faced with challenges to growing trees in concrete environments, it may be worth looking towards the ocean.

In Rotterdam, the Netherlands, a city that is below sea level and covered in water, turning to waterfronts may make a lot of sense.  This spring twenty trees are being placed in Rijnhaven, the city’s harbor basin. However, these trees will not be exposed to the harsh saline waters, as they will be sitting comfortably in repainted old sea buoys that have been adapted to the trees’ needs.  “The Bobbing Forest” uses trees from the city’s tree bank known as the Bomendepot (Every time a part of Rotterdam is renovated, the city’s Public Works Department stores the trees that get removed down at the Bomendepot).

This project was actually inspired by an art piece called “In Search of Habitus,” by artist Jorge Bakker, in which he created an aquarium filled with bobbers that grow small trees. After seeing this clever art installation, Dutch designers and entrepreneurs from Mothership, a Rotterdam-based art production company, decided to implement this concept in real life. They made a successful prototype in 2014, which led to the actual project that was launched on March 16, 2016 during the Nationale Boomfeestdag (the national Arbor Day).

A city forest that floats

In this major port city, some neighborhoods are not just below sea level – they are as much as 20 feet below – and over a third of the city surface is already covered in water.  Perhaps in this context it makes sense to create a city forest that should float.  However, there were challenges in making it feasible, especially when faced with rough waters.  The design team worked with students from a nearby university and they discovered that a particular tree, the Dutch Elm, was sturdy enough to withstand the rough swaying movements of waves. The tree could also handle a little saltwater. If this project goes well, it may pave the way for future floating parks and perhaps even help us to find innovative solutions to cope with the effects of rising sea levels worldwide.

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