Mass transit goes green

By HermineBloom

Though a garden on a flatbed car of the Chicago Transit Authority train may seem like a purely aesthetic choice amidst the city’s gray, urban environment, University of Illinois at Chicago student Joe Baldwin is designing a mobile garden as a public art installation and, as of Jan. 30, the verdict is in: The CTA is on board.

Currently, the project is estimated to cost roughly $30,000. The gardens were originally intended for the Green Line, although Baldwin said that they may appear on different lines due to the nature of how cars come in and out of the station. The exact number of cars involved, which are the same type of flat car as the decorated holiday Santa cars, is yet to be determined.

Baldwin, who grew up in Belleville, Ill., said he came up with the idea for the mobile garden when he would sit and observe trains.

“When you take those kinds of freight trains, there are cars, oil, different kind of commerce products,” Baldwin said. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if nature could stop traffic?’”

In a UIC seminar, Baldwin began thinking about a design for a sustainable future, which he developed this past summer as a part of his thesis research.

Baldwin’s organization, Noisivelvet, which is currently applying for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, is dedicated to providing work for public artists. The mobile garden is Noisivelvet’s current project. After assembling a team of experts in sustainability and environmental studies as board members, the legalities of the project are underway with an expected debut of April 22, which is also Earth Day.

“The goal here is to make public art,” Baldwin said. “At second glance, there’s a lot of brown field and vacant spaces in Chicago and many spaces which can be turned into green spaces and natural habitat corridors. This project can kind of inspire and inform people on how to do that in their own spaces.”

Native plants will make up the garden, which Lauren Umek, urban ecology project coordinator at DePaul University, said provide a habitat for native biodiversity.

“Insects, mammals and anything that would be apart of our native ecosystem depends on native plants for pollen, shelter, nesting habitats and various other reasons,” Umek said.

Native gardening also prevents long-term maintenance. Tall grass prairie plants or woodland plants, for example, have deep root structure and they don’t need the same type of fertilizer or care, she said.

Exposing urbanites who may not be garden-savvy to the relevance of native plants is one of the many goals of the mobile garden project.

Board member Molly Meyer, 27, is a green roofing consultant who runs three independent businesses: Molly Meyer LLC, Rooftop Greenworks LLC and Ecoknowledge Nexus LLC. Baldwin approached Meyer because her expertise is useful in designing components of the mobile garden.

“Essentially, it’s a green roof because it’s a plant system that’s not on the ground,”

Meyer said.

They anticipate different reactions to a flatcar with native plants, as opposed to the more obvious Santa cars, board members are hopeful that the project will educate

city dwellers.

“I’m sure there will be some people who won’t understand it or aren’t interested, but I think that’s part of the group of people that we’re interested in talking to in order to share the ideas of environmental issues, community connectedness and native plant systems,” Meyer said.

In order to do that, those who are riding the train will receive homemade paper pamphlets with seeds embedded in them. The information will teach people about planting, stewardship and becoming more involved in their own environments, Baldwin said.

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