You know the story: a person wakes from a coma to find the world has become a vastly different place to the one they know – a strange new disease has left millions dead, panic has lead to looting and violence, and basic services have shut down. Cities have become battle-grounds as small groups fight for resources and space. Over months and years buildings crumble and are taken over by plants and animals, creating wild over-grown landscapes (triffids anyone?). Dystopian tales fascinate us, we imagine a life without governing bodies, law enforcement or social order, where basic needs and survival become the primary goal of everyday life. We imagine cities that fall apart, as roads crack and buckle. Buildings are overrun by weeds and insects, and there is an intense quiet. The wilderness takes over, and claims the city as its own.
Cities as we know them are an ongoing negotiation between wilderness and human activity. Vacant, over-grown lots are quickly capitalised on as land value increases, and desolate spaces are cultivated and renewed. Suburbs pop up on boundary lines, which extend further and further into territory inhabited by tiny frogs and lizards. We create spaces that adhere to government priorities and citizens’ needs. And the wilderness becomes something ‘out there’ that we visit sporadically for escape and time out.
If the wilderness is by definition untamed and uncultivated, can it therefore be manufactured? National parks and protected land are governed and maintained to a standard that supports local flora and fauna, with the use and abuse of the land attracting passionate debate. There is intense pride in these protected areas and significant amounts of time and money are spent preserving them for human enjoyment and plant and animal welfare. And back in the city, we slumber peacefully in our 8th floor apartment knowing that the Cathedral Ranges are an easy 2-hour drive from the concrete heart of Melbourne.
But perhaps the wild isn’t as distinct as we imagine. Are there pockets of wilderness lurking darkly in the corners of our neighbourhoods? What sort of botanical coup is taking place under your house, in the laneway out the back, or by the railway line? Tree roots are splitting your footpath in two, the ivy is stalking you through the laundry window, and tall grasses are bearing down on the cycle path as you race home to safety from the onslaught of a grassroots rebellion. These are not the characters you see in Botanical Gardens, primly adhering to their boundaries and waiting patiently to be fed. These are the renegades, breaking from the mold and creating their own rules.
Without these antagonists, there is no exploration to be had, no hiding place to retreat to, and no happy accident to provide little moments of contemplation and inspiration. Planned and manicured spaces are curated for the safety and enjoyment of the community, but leave little to the imagination, especially the growing imaginations of children that need to explore and challenge themselves in environments not overseen by intruding adults. Pockets of wild are a welcome contrast to gardens styled to a European aesthetic. Leave the foliaged renegades to do their thing, and wilderness will find its way into back into the city.
Just remember: don’t sleep! The takeover will be unexpectedly lush.