City dwellers love their secrets. We always want to find that great little café that no one else knows about, that section of the park where only locals go. There’s something special about being in on a secret, and there’s something special about discovering a secret; finding out something amazing is going on behind walls you walk past every day.
I’ve come across a couple of great urban secrets recently.
Tokyo rooftop gardens
I’ve never been to Tokyo, but my impression is that a lot of it is made up of a great deal of tall, concrete buildings and that green space is quite scarce. I imagine the top of a tall building is an unexpected place to find a peaceful garden with a veg patch, a rice paddy field and a bee farm. But that’s exactly what Japanese engineering firm Kajima are doing.*
The urban ecological projects they develop are great for lots of reasons: the gardens protect buildings against the summer heat, they use space which is currently going to waste, but I like the secrecy of them. The feeling you would have relaxing in a rooftop garden tending to a vegetable patch and frolicking among the bees, knowing that someone on the street far below is commuting to work and has no idea you’re there.
Incidentally, they’ve also developed an iPhone app with voice recognition technology that can recognise 42 bird, two cricket and three frog species, which could really come in handy in a garden in the clouds.
New York dumpster pool party
A New York based company, Macro | Sea, is converting dumpsters into swimming pools and having secret pool parties. Well, they may not be totally secret anymore, as they’ve been covered by the New York Times and Ready Made, but they’re still in secret locations. And it’s still a fantastic idea, repurposing urban objects. Especially turning something gross, like a dumpster, into something nice, like a pool. And then hiding it in an industrial area and throwing a pool party.
They’re not the first to do it, but I like how they work: quickly, cheaply and with a guerilla-style, we’re-just-doing-it attitude. Going to one of these pool parties must make you see the city if a different way (I went for a night out and ended up swimming in a dumpster in Brooklyn… under a cabana).
One of the best things about both of these projects is that they bring the unexpected into the city, surprising people in what they assume will be familiar (and maybe kind of boring) places, and bringing some of the countryside or the seaside right into the heart of the urban environment.
*I heard about this in Monocle.