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'Pop-Up Forest' Could Grow in Times Square's Pedestrian Plazas

By Maya Rajamani | January 26, 2017 5:23pm
 A rendering of the pop-up forest in Times Square.
A rendering of the pop-up forest in Times Square.
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Courtesy of Marielle Anzelone

TIMES SQUARE — The Crossroads of the World may seem like an unlikely place to find towering trees, wildflowers, and the sounds of birds and woodland creatures.

But a Brooklyn-based ecologist is hoping to change that.

For more than three years, the city’s former plant ecologist, Marielle Anzelone, has been working to bring a “pop-up forest" to Times Square’s pedestrian plazas.

She and a team would transport shrubs, wildflowers, ferns, mosses, grasses and trees up to 30 feet tall from nurseries around the city to the plazas, located between West 45th and 47th streets and Broadway and Seventh Avenue.


A rendering of the "pop-up forest" in Times Square, courtesy of Marielle Anzelone.

“The experience should feel like you are in the woods,” Anzelone said. “I want people to walk through it and forget, for maybe 30 seconds, that they’re in the middle of Manhattan.”

As the Parks Department’s plant ecologist, she found herself in the middle of several uphill battles to preserve plant life throughout the city, including one to save a 42-acre woodland area on Staten Island that was home to a rare cluster of Torrey’s mountain mint.

Conservation groups lost that fight, and the swath of green was replaced by a strip mall, she noted.

“The idea for the project came from that work,” said Anzelone, who previously described the pop-up as a “PR event for nature.”

“If people don’t recognize that New York City has nature, it’s impossible to work to save it,” she added. 

A Kickstarter she launched for the project back in 2015 raised more than $40,000 within the span of a month.

The Times Square Alliance — with whom she’s worked on planning and logistics in the past — is currently reviewing the project, and she’s hoping it will come to fruition in May 2018, she said.

A spokesman for the Alliance confirmed that the organization has been in discussions with her.

Ideally, “pop-up forest rangers” will guide passersby through the forest while answering questions about the different plant species.

Anzelone also wants to pipe in bird calls and other sounds from a nearby natural area.

“Every plant has a name and a story, and that’s what [we’ll be] there to highlight,” she said. “It’s not just walking through and seeing green.”

After about two weeks in Times Square, the “forest” would be dismantled and the plants in it will be distributed to public schools throughout the city, she explained.

Environmental justice — or lack thereof — is one of the subjects she hopes the pop-up will shed light on.

“Nature shouldn’t just be getting on the subway and going to Prospect Park. For a family of five, that round trip is pretty expensive,” Anzelone said. “I want to see nature outside everyone’s window.”

The project, she notes, is “not meant to say anything negative about Times Square.”

“I love Times Square — Times Square has all this wonderful energy, and it’s a global, iconic place,” she said. “But my contention is, if a forest can make it in Times Square, it can make it anywhere.

“It’s not so far-fetched that these two things can live side-by-side.”