Although we tend to think of our cities as concrete jungles, our post-new urban environment is awash in plant life. Wild urban plants have taken root along roadsides and chain-link fences, between cracks of pavement, and within vacant lots, rubble dumps and highway medians. Spontaneously propagating, these resilient plants find distinctive niches to thrive in and inhabit our most derelict landscapes. The environmental benefits of these “weeds” go widely unrecognized when, in fact, reframing this often invisible urban ecology as a beneficial amenity can offer a fresh perspective on how cities perform.

Spontaneous Urban Plants (SUP) is a research project that investigates the role of weeds in the urban ecosystem. The intent is to stimulate a discourse between ecologists, designers, artists and the general public that explores societal perceptions of weeds and questions the stigmas that surround them. Leveraging principles of urban ecology and environmental aesthetics, we are encouraging an objective debate of the value of wild urban plants and thereby challenging contemporary cultural perceptions. We invite key players from the field of urbanism, art, and ecology to discuss the role of weeds in our future cities. What is the ecological value of weeds? How does the status of weeds change in the face of climate change and resiliency planning? What role can art play in fostering appreciation for underutilized spaces?

Transect Walks

Aesthetics of engagement has been used as tool to appreciate urban environments multiple times throughout history. Francesco Careri explains in his book Walkscapes, how The Dada movement, Surrealists and Situationists in France and Minimalist sculptures and Land art artists in the U.S explored and evolved techniques of using walking as an aesthetic practice.

Artists and writers such as André Breton and Guy Debord executed multiple excursions in an attempt to understand landscape aesthetics through a different perspective. Most excursions were made in banal or abandoned areas within the city, having little or no cultural-historical significance at all. “The urbanists of the twentieth century will have to construct adventures. The simplest Situationist act would consist in abolishing all the memories of the employment of time of our epoch. It is an epoch which, up until now, has lived far below its means.” (Andreotti & Costa 1959). Robert Smithson showed interest in the concepts of the temporal and the picturesque in relation to human intervened landscapes “the best sites for ‘earth art’ are sites that have been disrupted by industry, reckless urbanization, or nature’s own devastation.

Mapping and Photography

Although contemporary ecological research into the role of weeds in our cities is scarce, one ecologist on the cutting edge of the movement is Harvard professor, Peter Del Tredici. His seminal text, ‘Wild Urban Plants of the NorthEast’ profiles weed species and reveals their history, qualities and ecological impact; providing in depth information on each species. Future Green Studio has drawn inspiration from del Tredici’s work, along with many others: ecologist Dr. Steven Handel, writer Richard Mabey, theorist Jill Desimini, artist Jan Mun, as well as the artistic approaches to urban exploration of Guy Debord and Robert Smithson. This symposium proposal builds on extensive research of Spontaneous Urban Plants conducted by Future Green Studio from 2010 to the present. Profiles of Spontaneous Urban Plants is an essay and art project published in Urban Omnibus.


Ubiquitous and immediate, Instagram is the perfect tool for bringing our findings to the wider public. Members of the public are invited to add to the index by uploading photos or assigning value to the plants through hash tags. The provocative nature of the instagram filter sensationalizes the photos and helps spark greater interest and wider acceptance of spontaneous urban plants. The Interactive MAP on this website filters photos by species or performance attributes, thus highlighting SUP’s ecological, cultural, and aesthetic significance.

How to participate? Join us and help us expand our inventory on Instagram by tagging your photos with #spontaneousurbanplants

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Del Tredici, P. 2010. Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast a field guide.

Uva, R. H., J. C. Neal, and J. M. Ditomaso. 1997. Weeds of the Northeast.

Darlington, W. 1859. American Weeds and Useful Plants (2nd ed.).

Fernald, M.L. and A.C. Kinsey. 1943. Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America.

Careri, F. 2002. Land&Scape Series: Walkscapes, walking as an aesthetic practice.

M. & Weaver, Richard E. Page, 1975. Wild Plants in the City.

Mabey, R. 2012. Weeds: In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants.

Craft, D. 2010. Urban Foraging - Finding and eating wild plants in the city.

Brown, L. 1976. Wildflowers and winter weeds.

Emergent vegetation of the urban ecosystem: http://internal.gsd.harvard.edu/loeb_library/information_systems/projects/E_vue/index.html

USDA database: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/weed/index.html http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/ailalt/all.html

i-tree USDA assesment tool: http://www.itreetools.org/index.php http://www.itreetools.org/design.php

Safafi on NYC 7 Train: http://safari7.org/en/ http://urbanlandscapelab.org/work/safari-7-reading-room/

Million Trees: http://www.milliontreesnyc.org/html/home/home.shtml

Outer seed shadow: http://www.outerseedshadow.org

596 acres vacant lots at NYC: http://596acres.org


Research, development and design: David Seiter, founding principal at Future Green Studio Lois Farningham, art director at Future Green Studio Marcel Negret, landscape design researcher at Future Green Studio

Web design and development: Douglas Meehan

Photographs: Future Green Studio & Instagram social media users