On any given day, one might encounter any number of wild plants in a city: boisterous grasses lining the sidewalk, wildflowers blooming in a median, spontaneous species bursting through cracks in bricks and pavement. But where are these and other specimens most likely to appear, and what values and meaning do people ascribe to them? Montréal’s Wild City Mapping project has developed an online platform to explore and document the answers to such questions, mapping the wild green spaces in the city “through the eyes of the community that uses them.”

Marilene Gaudet taking a photograph to include on the Wild City Map
Photo by Maia Iotzova

The project’s founders describe themselves as a “collective of visual and media artists, mapping enthusiasts, wilderness lovers and tech geeks.” They are interested both in people’s direct experience of wild spaces in Montréal as they presently exist as well as fostering community ownership of such spaces. The project also plays with time, documenting memories of wild or once-wild spaces – the collective memory of them – and how they have changed over time, or people’s visions for places that might become wild in the future. According to founding member Maia Iotzova, “the overarching goal for the project is to bring the existence of these spaces to the forefront of the consciousness of the city.” Collaborator Dominique Ferraton adds that as part of this overarching goal, collective members hope to encourage people to explore of the wild places on the map and to discover the “creative and poetic potential richness of the spaces.” Iotzova explains the impetus for the project as emerging from work she was doing on a documentary film called Green Dream. In the film, she explores her personal relationship with urban nature, and she has undertaken several projects, including the one in Montréal, to map people’s connection to wild urban landscapes (Iotzova traces the inspiration and projects in a journal entry here: http://www.wildcitymapping.org/journal/from-a-green-dream-to-a-wild-city-map).

The original vision for Montréal’s Wild City Map was to have an open source, interactive platform that contributors would be able to use to instantly upload their own images and impressions of urban wild spaces in real time. Igor Rončević, Wild City Mapping Collective member, describes how the original vision included a smart-phone application as well as the online map: “Take a photo with your smart-phone, write your immediate impression and you are just one button-click away from adding your contribution to the map. That’s how we imagined it.” While the full vision is not yet achieved, the team of collaborators has closely documented how they came together and designed and built the prototype for the wild city map from scratch, without significant technical know-how, down to screen shots of the specific online tools used for each part of the process, including MapBox, Weebly, and others.

Montréal Wild City Map, 2015

The group is committed to keeping the map open source and available to all, but also to providing clear documentation of the home-grown technological back story, so that others may benefit from and build upon the work they have done. The project is uniquely interested in both the physicality of wild urban spaces and how these might be captured artistically through technological means, and they offer a model for others to build upon, creating grassroots, do-it-yourself maps of wild spaces in other cities around the world.

Another mapping effort in Montréal, Lande, is specifically focused on mapping available parcels that might be appropriated by citizens for future use (a similar mapping effort is also underway in New York: Living Lots NYC). Still other mapping projects in Montréal and elsewhere explore other aspects of urban nature, such as the Under Montréal Map tracing present and former underground waterways, this urban smellscape map of London, which has a “nature” component, the San Francisco Bay Area Puma Sighting Map, and Seattle’s Interactive Habitat Map. As open source technological capacity improves and people continue to discover and document various aspects of urban nature, the possibilities are endless. Where and what kind of nature have you seen in your city lately?

Post by Julia Triman