Based on growing evidence for the role of greenspace in mental health and the importance of plant life for a slew of environmental services (including temperature regulation, air quality improvement, and soil stabilization), the plant community I work with is beneficial and should be embraced. A small but growing cadre of defenders respectfully refer to these plants as “spontaneous urban plants” that inhabit “novel ecosystems” which are in urgent need of further study.
To the average city-dweller, and compared to their cultivated counterparts, the species I advocate for can appear “messy” and unrefined: flowers that are too small, seed pods that are too big, thorns that tear clothing, roots that reach into brick and asphalt. They may seem indicative of disrepair, of indolence, of a community down on its luck or still climbing towards peak gentrification. It is perhaps this sensibility that drives building superintendents and maintenance crews out into the streets to “clean up” (massacre) these plants on a regular basis.
American higher education now justifies itself on economic grounds: that we are producing the workforce for a global world. Such rhetoric has defined its function and has become its purpose. When was the last time debates around education articulated the virtues of higher thought, scholarship, a liberal education in the sense of one that frees the mind? When was the last time we explored the impact an idea, a novel, or a work of art can have on a person and on what they might decide to do with it? The danger of losing Cooper Union to the privatized, tuition-based educational model is not simply that we would lose one of the last bastions of non-instrumentalized education. The danger lies also in the fact that it would be like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, as even tuition-based institutions are faltering everywhere.