Tiny Forests: Small forests for big impact

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Every week I read a lot of news stories, predominately on the topics of the Environment, Science and Technology. All this reading interweaves into a tapestry of ideas and inspirations. Last week, I read about how Reddit’s former CEO, Yishan Wong, uprooted his family to follow a dream of environmental restoration in Hawaii, which sparked the research for this week’s focus. I feel like there was another story I read that first mentioned “The Miyawaki Method”, but I’m not sure which one it was now.

The Miyawaki Method creates a dense bio-diverse forest in 20-30 years instead of waiting for the natural cycle to take around 200 years. (It depends on the forest type. This estimation is based off the temperate forests of Japan.)

The first and most important step is the site assessment. Before you send your trees off to college or tell them to reach for the stars, you have to give them a good foundation of the basics, air flow, food and water. Miyawaki’s Method is dependent on the belief of creating “an authentic forest.” The trees, shrubs and other plants should be native to region and native to the microclimate of that region. This requires carefully harvesting seedlings from native flora that may be rare and hard to find.

The seedlings are often grown in various levels of shade to help them establish deep root systems. Once they are ready for planting all the kids are shoved into a small plot, typically no smaller that 30sq meters (about 322.92 sq feet) with one tree per square meter, but at least 60-90 plants in total for the whole space. These plant kids are growing up in a natural world version of an apartment complex.

In the conventional method of planting your trees would all be suburban kids, neatly spaced out with cute little name tags and yet they’d all have a handful of the most common surnames in the country, the Smiths, Johnsons, and Williams of the US. The Rodriguez, Martinez, and Garcías of Colombia. The Sato, Suzuki, and Takahashi of Japan or the Devi, Singh, and Kumar of India. (Search “Most common surname in [Country]” to see what the most common last name is in your country.)

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The actual planting of all this flora requires randomly distributing it and not doing it in rows or staggered. Have you ever tried to do something randomly? If at this point in your life you have not discovered that humans are naturally inclined to certain patterns, you will suddenly make this realization when you are told to “randomize” something. I find it an interesting side effect of human adaptation. We’ve worked so hard to organize the world in order to make sense of it that when we are asked to randomize we struggle not to make patterns. In the past I’ve made necklaces and done beadwork. I’ll try to make it random only to discover that the longer I work at it, the more likely a pattern will emerge if I am not paying attention.

Akira Miyawaki came up with his method after studying a concept in Germany called “potential natural vegetation” (or Kuchler Potential vegetation) in the 1960s. The idea is to study what the forest would look like without human interference and try to replicate it. The seeds that are harvested from native plants need to have the qualities of being pioneers and secondary indigenous species with mycorrhization. These are the pathfinders of the indigenous forests trying to regrow in areas that might have once been damaged by fire, flood, or disease.

If you’ve read The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben (goodreads.com)or watched the episode of “The Magic School Bus Rides Again Season 2 Episode 10 (Tim and the Talking Trees | The Magic School Bus Wiki | Fandom)  then you’ve come to understand the importance of the mycorrhizal (fungus) and soil bacterium.

Did you know that the microbiome of the human gut has it’s own nervous system? It’s called the enteric system. As we learn the importance of what a healthy gut biome means to human health, one could argue that the trees gut biome is found through the soil. Alternately, You’re feeding a forest in your stomach! A micro biome unique to you. You’re a walking terrarium. When we humble ourselves to the possibilities within the natural world and truly set our egos aside, then we can truly learn new things instead of re-creating the same old premises that hold us back. This is how you learn to think in radically different ways.

Mr. Miyawaki has traveled all over the world to create his process in several countries. As the method become more well-known it inspires others to also work towards this goal of restoring the land one tiny forest at a time. One of these people is Subhendu Sharma of India, who created a company called “Afforestt” and speaks on the subject as a TedTalk Fellow. You can find his videos on YouTube. Some are in English and some are in Hindi. I hope that I too can be a part of the Tiny Forest movement in my own region. I would like to see economically depressed neighborhoods in Seattle, Everett and Tacoma be helped and healed instead of continually ignored.

Right now, I live in a very hot housing market as people in the cities try to outrun urban decay, California and whatever else, small living spaces I suspect, noisy neighbors, etc. I live at edge in what is called the “urban-wildlife interface”, it’s the point at which humans and wildlife collide into side by side living. When the new people move in the freak out after the first windstorm and decide that all the trees need to be cut down, because they’re tall and they *might* fall, even though its already been standing there for 80 years. Then they see their wild neighbors and think they should be the ones to move. Just because a black bear walks across your lawn doesn’t make it a “problem” bear. It’s just existing and each new 5-acre, 9-acre, or 60-acre lot of land that gets developed into matchstick houses pushed the animals further into sight and conflict with humans.

This is a battle I’m willing to fight. I think to save my wild neighbors, we need to revitalize the urban cores once again. We must change our urban planning methods built on old premises and build upon new ones inspired by nature. No more redlining. We need to re-create cities where people can thrive and to do that, we need to bring back some of the forest back into the cities with us.

Don’t we all want to live in beautiful and interesting places? Part of what makes a place interesting to me, is the cultural and indigenous heritage of that place, through its land and its people. An authentic forest. An authentic city. An authentic forest city.

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What do you think?

Links:

Former Reddit CEO’s New Startup Terraformation Raises $30 Million To Restore Forests And Tackle Climate Change (forbes.com)

Akira Miyawaki Official site: Akira Miyawaki | Inventor of Manmade Forest

Shubhendu Sharma, Afforestt Founder and TED Fellow: How to grow your own tiny forest | (ted.com) (video)

UK: Tiny Forest projects launching in Wales: Tiny Forest | Keep Wales Tidy

Potential natural vegetation (PNV) (aka Kuchler potential vegetation): Page translated in English: Potential natural vegetation – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (original page in German: Potenzielle natürliche Vegetation – Wikipedia)

A good step-by step outline: How to Build a Forest in your Backyard – The Miyawaki Method – CUTTING EDGE VISIONARIES (cevgroup.org)

Adapting to a Hotter World

The heroes in the next chapter of human survival will come from all walks of life and all branches of disciplines. Don’t give up hope just yet, things can still change for the better. When you give up, you’ve already lost. I’ve tracking climate change for over 25 years. While it is a large and complex problem, don’t let the thought of it overwhelm you. Like any large, complex problem we need to break it down into smaller steps. My advice for anything you try to conquer in life, is to take what overwhelms you and break it down into parts you can handle. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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I want to make a bold new suggestion. What if we stop trying to fix our current societies “as is” and break the current schema? These small, fragmented patch jobs spread out across sectors and hindered by greed and red tape could quite possibly doom us all. What if we could build a new interwoven framework to create just, regenerative societies? I really love the idea of a “regenerative society.” To heal ourselves, our communities, and the landscapes in which we reside. How though?

Next time you have the opportunity to let your mind wander, I want you to think about what a regenerative society would look like in your eyes.

Feel free to share your ideas in the comment section below, write your own blog post and let me know about it, or email me. Maybe you will come up with ideas that pertain to the work that you and bring fresh ideas to your business, family, and communities. I hope you get promoted for being such a forward-looking thinker. We need you for the future of humanity. If you’re retired, the good news is, you’re not dead yet and there is still so much that you can do within your community! Depression can strike any age, gender and spiritual belief. I’ve always found that being part of something greater than myself gives me peace, passion and  happiness, even as an introvert. Do what feels comfortable to you.

We’re seeing the effects of drought, heatwaves, flooding, and typhoon damage nearly daily. Trying to manage these events as they happen is nearly impossible. The best strategy is to plan for them in advance, which can be difficult when people are stuck in an “out of sight, out of mind” way of reacting to things. As a disaster preparedness geek, I’m always planning one season ahead. In the summer I prepare for Fall, in the Fall I prepare for the Winter and in the Winter I prepare for Spring. Staying one step ahead helps me save money by buying supplies “out of season” and often with more selection. This also gives me the chance to do some research to make sure that what I think I need and what I actually need are the same thing. Sometimes through my research I discover I don’t need to buy anything at all, just reorganize something I already have. I can often create what I need or find someone in my community to help or trade with.

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How can society benefit from planning ahead?

A lot of the research has already been done. Some it has been lost and needs to be rediscovered and/or embraced by a larger segment of the population. Serious mistakes have been made in the past, both on a human rights level and an environmental level. Here in the U.S. there is an urgency to help Indigenous Americans reclaim their lands and rights that were stolen during decades of genocide. The restoration of these lands and rights could help all of us benefit from nearly forgotten practices of land management that are only now being given serious consideration and rigorous academic studies that they deserve.

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Looking beyond national borders also gives us ideas about what works in other areas of the world. The current trend in environmental articles last week have been two-fold. Several articles talk about how trees are important to relieving the “heat island effect” in cities. Once again we see disparities of who gets trees in their neighborhoods, which often tend to be pre-dominantly White, upper class neighborhoods. The trees themselves did not ask to be objectified as status symbols for wealth. Its class systems and social hierarchies who has decided who gets to benefit from nature. I’ll state the obvious, this practice needs to be abolished. Trees and plants for all!

The second common thread of environmental articles these last few weeks had to do with white paint. Famous pictures from Greece, especially from the Cyclades islands depict white building with blue domes. While this white paint is derived from mined gypsum, scientists are exploring other ways to benefit from the properties of the white paint for broader use without having to mine it. One study is focusing on the properties of a beetle, Lepidiota stigma. I believe if we can understand how this works at a molecular level, we can come up with eco-friendly paint formulas in various colors.

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This week I’m researching “Tiny Forests” for next weeks post. Stay tuned. Have a safe and comfortable rest of your week!

Tree Equity Score highlights lack of cover in low-income areas (fastcompany.com)

How cities can avoid ‘green gentrification’ and make urban forests accessible (theconversation.com)

In Cleveland, Better Housing Is Climate Justice : NPR

This whiter than white paint cools buildings (fastcompany.com)

Lighter pavement really does cool cities when it’s done right (theconversation.com)

Why shade trees are hard to find in redlined neighborhoods (nationalgeographic.com)

Nature-led Architecture: Biophilic Design

If this your first time hearing the term “Biophilic design” then I’m excited to be the one to share it with you! This is one of my core passion and sincerest beliefs; architecture should not only be inspired by nature but designed to benefit it. We as humans are a part of nature, not something outside of it. If we were, wouldn’t that make us the aliens? Why do we allow ourselves to be forced into drab little boxes? This is one thread in my series of “Thought Projects” to explore the possibility of what could be and I would argue, what should be!

My introduction to Biophilic Design came eight years ago when I watched the documentary: Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life. You can get a good idea about what Biophilic Design is by watching the trailer. There is also a book by the same name. In it Stephen Kellert offers a personal vision of what our cities could look like. I enjoyed those parts of the book. Since then I’ve looked to Stephen Kellert, Edward O. Wilson and Judith Heerwagen as role models. Sadly, Stephen Kellert passed away of cancer on Nov. 27th , 2016. I will always be grateful for his passion on this subject.

http://www.biophilicdesign.net/film-trailer.html

Now when I look at a building I look at it with new eyes. I think about what’s been done right and what could be improved to make it more welcoming to people and nature. It should be noted that biophilic design doesn’t always follow sustainability practices. I would like to see a more cohesive model that encompasses both. While this term “Biophilic Design” may be relatively new, the pursuit of working with nature is not. In fact, I believe it is one of our most innate traits when not suppressed by greed. The lowest bidder wins the contract, the developer that can squeeze the most amount of people per square footage at an affordable rate gets to make blocks upon block of housing units. I’ve looked upon street after street of uniform single-family homes and apartments complexes and wanted to weep. In my darkest thoughts it feels there’s nothing left to build except Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon in the center of it all. We’re left constantly overwhelmed, falling blithely into the role of prisoner in the name of capitalism, safety, and convenience.

Is the design inherently wrong? No, but architecture is like the clothes we choose to wear. It makes a statement about who we are as a people and what we value. There are a lot of sustainable buildings being built by Scandinavian architects and while I want to like them; I find the clean lines, muted colors and sparse, low furniture too cold. I prefer the warm colors and arches of Latin American architecture and the clever, functional designs of East Asia architecture.

Elements of Design include: Natural materials, natural shapes, colors, lighting and space.

  • A source of water and a source of fire or a representation of these elements through color or texture
  • Air or airflow; ventilation, temperature control or represented by light “airy” textures and elements (subjective)
  • Earth is represented by wood, concrete, rock or rammed earth
  • Metal commonly in doorknobs, hinges and railing. Uncommon ways to use metal include textured metal pictures.
  • Glass, wonderful glass, sand heated in the fire until its molten, worked with air and cooled with water. Gives us the windows we need to see the environment around us and beyond.
  • Mirrors or other reflective surfaces are great for bringing light into interior rooms by enhancing lighting sources already present.

Feng shui and Ayurvedic or Vastu Shastra practices are types of biophilic design, but biophilic design is not a religious or spiritual belief in itself.

Biophilic Design at home:

Author’s Living Room

The skylights have a light fabric covering (hand sewn by me) to diffuse the daylight, add softness to the wood ceiling and hide whatever grime or water spots are on the glass. I can peek to the edges to see if its raining or not. The downside is that skylights are noisy during heavy rains and you do lose some insulation value as a trade off for all the natural light. One alternative would be Clerestory windows, which are high sheltered windows that allow the light without being directly impacted by the weather. This would be an a better solution especially in areas that receive a lot of snow.

When we moved into this house the wood on the sides of the fireplace were a very dark wood stain. It made the whole wall heavy in an otherwise light-filled room. By painting the horizontal boards a light green the room became more balanced and brightened the color of the wood and brickwork with warmer tones that you couldn’t see before.

Inside plants, only cacti and succulents can survive me because I often forget to water.

More to Explore:

Chihuly Garden and Glass: https://www.chihulygardenandglass.com/about/exhibition

Little Boxes Written and Performed by Malvina Reynolds (1900-1978) American Folk/Blues Singer-Songwriter and Political Activist. (Not related to this Author.) Song rediscovered by younger generations when it was used for the intro of the American hit show Weeds by Jenji Kohan. Link: malvina reynolds – little boxes – YouTube

A panopticon is a building design where a guard/observer has a 360 view of prisoners in an institutional setting. It always make me think of the Tower of Mordor in Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon