Involuntary park

When a location is abandoned by humans, nature returns. Sci-fi author Bruce Sterling calls these feral landscapes involuntary parks.

Oborseth [CC BY-SA]
Every now and then you come across a term that neatly encapsulates an interesting concept. The “involuntary park,” coined by Bruce Sterling, can be seen across the world when some formerly inhabited place has been left to the elements and nature. The most common involuntary parks arise from no-man’s zones on disputed borders between hostile countries or from sites that are so contaminated that humans dare not stay.

I’ve written before about the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea (and the tree that nearly started a war). Aside from armed patrols, the Korean DMZ has been empty of humans for 67 years, and that has given the natural world a chance to flourish. Cranes, bears, red foxes, leopards, and possibly even the endangered Siberian tiger have taken over the zone. If the two Koreas ever reunite, it is hoped that this involuntary park will become an official one, but in the meantime war amongst humans means relative peace for the animals.

The area around the Chernobyl nuclear accident is another involuntary park: like the DMZ, it has become a haven for large mammals. But the ongoing effects of radiation may be contributing to some odd deformities in the local flora – a whole forest stained red by the fallout – and fauna. (If you want to see what that may look like, I recommend Cornelia Hesse-Honegger’s beautifully illustrated book Heteroptera: The Beautiful and the Other, or Images of a Mutating World.)

Similar involuntary parks can be seen in Centralia (the site of the infamous coal mine fire that has been alight for 58 years), Love Canal (chemical pollution), the Green Line (the demilitarized zone between Greek and Turkish Cyprus), and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (chemical weapons contamination).

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