02 October 2007

"God bless the grass that grows through cement"

A walk along the trash-filled vacant lots on and around 16th Street near Mission Bay reminds one of how the appearance of grass is a metaphor for urban decay. Here in the shadow of elevated I-280, you can see how grass sprouts between the cracks of broken sidewalk and buckled pavement. There is great diversity of grass here too, including Wild Oats, Pampas grass, Rescue Brome (Bromus catharticus), I believe, as well as the non-grass common plantain (Plantago major). When development stops and people and industries relocate, it is only a matter of time that grass and other vegetation take over.

The author of Detroitblog has written brilliantly about how areas of abandoned Detroit are now covered in tall grass, trees, wildflowers, and vines--transforming depressed city blocks into an "urban prairie." (see more at www.detroitblog.org/?p=287).

Yet many authors and songwriters celebrate the return of grass in urban settings. They see the appearance of bright green leaves as a sign that nature can fight back against development. A good example of this is the Malvina Reynolds song, God Bless the Grass. While the song addresses far more than just growing grass, the lyrics call on folks to appreciate the simple beauty of nature in even the most run-down spaces. A few lines are quoted below:

They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows thru,
And God bless the grass.
. . .
God bless the grass that grows through cement.
It's green and it's tender and it's easily bent.
But after a while it lifts up its head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead,
And God bless the grass.

Photos: top, from flickr (contributor poodlecake's photostream), bottom, author photograph of lot on 16th Street


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