evolving ecological media culture(s)

Week 12: Seedbombs & sentient cities


The Boston Marathon bombing forced us this week to reconsider the name of our class project, “Seedbomb Burlington.” We decided to stay with the name for two reasons. First, all of our PR materials — press releases, social media sites, et al. — are well in motion and can’t be recalled at this point. (And even if it wasn’t too late, the obvious alternative — “Seedball Burlington” — just doesn’t sound the same.)

But secondly, we had a general consensus that seedbombs have little to do with real bombs. The only thing they share is a certain incendiary image, which comes from the term’s historical connection to the guerrilla gardening movement. That image, we decided, can be toned down, even if there was some diversity of views about its usefulness. (We were still deciding on our posters, and had good ones to choose from that were less, well, bomb-like. Above is the one being postered around town.)

The goals of the two kinds of bombs are, in any case, antithetical.

Bombs of a military nature — such as those used last weekend in Boston — aim to harm, maim, or kill: their immediate goal is death, or at least the production of a state of fear involving potential death or its close cousins (injury, etc.). By contrast, seedbombs aim to create life and its flourishing, and to generate the enhanced awareness and appreciation of life. They are deconstructions, transmutations, and reclaimings of the very idea of a bomb and what it might be good for.

And unlike even the kinds of utilitarian explosives used in mining or other industrial activities, seedbombs do not even literally explode. Their explosion is poetic, metaphorical, ecstatic. Seedbombing itself is a seeding, a dérive, a way to make one’s way around the urban environment so as to see that environment explode into wonder.

Enough, then, on justification. On this coming Earth Week Sunday and Monday, the class will host two teach-ins. These will include demonstrations of seedbomb (seedball) making techniques (and, if we get it together in time, of moss graffiti making to mark out some of the sites as SBB, a.k.a. SeedballBTV, Seedball Burlington, sites); and distribution of informational leaflets on how, why, and where one might wish the “seed” the city with them.

The class has broken up into four committees: Materials, Media, Art, and Legal & Location. Each is working on a variety of tasks this week, and our social media sites are indicating a growing interest in attending the two events.

These events, however, are only the first stage of the longer-term project — a “seeding” of the terrain for what could follow. We are preparing guidelines on the use of seedballs in relation to agro-ecological considerations (what will grow, what should grow — as in what kinds of seeds/plants/trees are locally and regionally appropriate — and how to take care of it) as well as legal and ethical considerations (what is legal, when seeding property that does not itself belong to the seeder; what isn’t legal; how to deal effectively with grey areas, community standards, local regulatory bodies, and the like).

The goal is a strategic one of seeding the idea into the Greater Burlington community and beyond, of sending out groups of seeders and land use revisioners equipped with seedballs, hands and eyes (able to scan the landscape for objects that may be useful to floral reconstruction, and to recognize signs of congenial territoriality), and smart phones (to upload photographs of sites and markers, to navigate the city with an eye for its seedability), and of generating momentum among citizens and land use planners in making an already reasonable city (as cities go) much more wildly green.

The project grows out of our class insights that new media activism works best in the context of a spatially politicized movement, and that locative media represents one of the most interesting frontiers for media development. The latter is my idea, which I’m not sure I’ve convinced students of yet; so we’re reading more on it this coming week.

Among our readings for this week is the article “Sentient Cities: Ambient Intelligence and the Politics of Urban Space” by geographers Mike Crang and Stephen Graham. A related article is Martijn de Waal’s “The Urban Culture of Sentient Cities“. And see Mark Shepard’s quirky Sentient City Survival Kit (one or two of the things there are pretty funny).

Our discussions on these topics began here, and will continue below. You can follow the project on its Facebook page.


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