Three Questions
A Forest in Times Square

October 22, 2015

Photo Credit: ©Hugh Reed

To many, New York City is a concrete jungle completely removed from all things natural. Marielle Anzelone has spent the past 15 years trying to get them to see that's not the case.

An urban ecologist and the director of NYC Wildflower Week, Anzelone is working on a bold new idea to convey the message: turning a piece of Times Square wild. The PopUP Forest will bring nature to that rather unnatural spot. We spoke with Anzelone about the project, which raised funds through Kickstarter and is currently in the design phase with COOKFOX Architects.

Wildlife Conservation Society: What was the impetus for the PopUP Forest?

Marielle Anzelone: With New York City Wildflower Week, our mission is to get people engaged with nature. There's a ton of nature in New York City, but most people including native New Yorkers, don't think of the city that way. So the idea is to make those connections for people, to literally bring them there. Because I have a feeling that once they see these places, they'll fall in love with them. And then you're invested, then you care. And that's what we've been working on for the past nine years. We get maybe 500 people at each year's event, a lot of them repeat customers. That's good, but there are 8.4 million New Yorkers. So I thought let's do something really big and get a lot of attention.

WCS: How do you want people to view it?

MA: Sherri Dobbin [Director of Public Art at the Times Square Alliance] and I, we really conceive of this as an art installation. Because it's really not about telling people something, it's about asking questions. In that way, art seems to really serve as a unique tool. … One big question to me is, what would happen if New York City truly valued nature? What would that mean?

WCS: What would that mean?

When people here talk about nature, it's often far away. It's never about nature in the city. It's like the Mannahatta Project that Eric [Sanderson of WCS] has done, now Welikia. How do you get people to see it here? The idea of the PopUP Forest is there are pockets of Mannahatta that are still here. They're not all gone. So this is about getting people connected to that nature on the ground now and invested in its future.

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