Helsinki Plant Tram is a participatory public art project by Wayward Plants, which incorporates two components; the Urban Plant Tram Action, and the Plant Tram Urban Garden to encourage a network of urban gardens within the city. Wayward Plants invited city residents to bring along plants and board the Urban Plant Tram as it circulated around the inner city route over a series of afternoons. All the donated plants collected on the tram created a temporary moving urban garden before being transported to the site of the Plant Tram Urban Garden. Whilst on the tram, the artists and participants identified possible spaces around the city suitable for growing edible gardens, mapping out the locations and publishing it on their website.
The second part of the project, Plant Tram Urban Garden, was included as part of the Everyday Discoveries exhibition at the World Design Capital Helsinki in Suvilahti. The donated plants were placed in to timber boxes and arranged into a structure representative of the tram tracks and the wooden roller coaster from the Linnanmäki Amusement Park, which opened in Helsinki for the 1952 Olympics. The garden consisted of 20 mobile planters made from recycled timber and an orchard. Stories and experiences from tram were documented and displayed alongside maps in a shipping container next to the garden.
Aesthetic/Visual: The artists aimed to transform a regular active city tram into a temporary urban garden network. The tram was filled with donated plants, transforming the space into an urban oasis. The visual aim of the Plant Tram Urban Garden at Suvilahti was to replicate the form of the wooden roller coaster found at the Linnanmäki Amusement Park, which opened in Helsinki for the 1952 Olympics and evoke the journey of the tram around the city.
Community Development/Social Inclusion: To encourage the community to engage with their city and be inspired to create their own gardens on empty lots around the city and create a map of possible land for future gardens. They wanted to invite the public to contribute cuttings and plants from their own garden to create a sense of participation and ownership in greening the city. Wayward Plants organised a series of public programs which ran alongside the Everyday Discoveries exhibition. They worked alongside Dodo, a local activist organisation that implements community gardens across the city.
Climate Change Adaptation: The aim of the project was to lay infrastructure for a long-term adoption of urban gardening/farming within the city of Helsinki.
OUTCOMES & IMPACTS
Methods of Evaluation
No formal methods were used to evaluate the festival.
Audience Engagement: The online campaign and kiosk at Flow Festival worked well, encouraging participants to join in the Urban Tram Action. Over a one hour period on three consecutive days, passengers could purchase a ticket and embark the tram at different stations with their plants. All the plants collected over this time contributed to building the Plant Tram Urban Garden as part of the Everyday Discoveries exhibition.
Community Development: During the Urban Tram Action, the artists mapped out the empty spaces they came across which could be transformed into possible urban gardens. They hope the City of Helsinki will adopt the Urban Plant Tram as an ongoing project. At the conclusion of the Everyday Discoveries exhibition Dodo reconfigured the plant boxes to create a permanent as garden at Suvilahti.
Having completed a series of large public projects in London in recent years, Wayward Plants were commissioned by the British Council to create a project for the Everyday Discoveries exhibition as part of World Design Capital Helsinki. They proposed a multi-layered participatory project culminating in the Plant Tram Urban Garden.
Wayward Plants partnered with local non-profit environmental organisation Dodo, which enabled them to be more connected and work closely at a local level in Helsinki. The project mainly ran smoothly. One of the major constraints was the budget. Heather Ring felt it was a relatively small budget for an ambitious project, however they managed to deliver to work.
The other constraint identified by Ring was the necessity to take a different approach to implementing the project. The approach they had taken to attract interest in the exhibition with past projects in London did not translate working in a smaller city. She states, “Helsinki is a smaller, quieter city than London – so the challenge was to mobilise crowds to participate in the urban action.” Having Helsinki-based organisations involved helped them find ways to connect to the local audiences.
IMPACTS OF ARTWORK PRODUCTION
Wayward Plants were mindful in the selection of their materials, using reclaimed timber for construction when possible and adapted found planter boxes. They worked with a local growing organisation, the Association for Useful Plants, to gather additional edible plants and at the conclusion of the exhibition, Dodo transformed the planter boxes into a permanent garden.
Utilising public transport was a key focus to mobilising people and collecting the plants. This was a useful method for bringing people together in a simple way, whilst promoting a sustainable message about transportation and urban networks.
Hattam, Jennifer. “All Aboard the Helsinki Plant Tram, A Whimsical Urban Garden Made on the Move.” Treehugger, entry posted September 8, 2012. http://www.treehugger.com/urban-design/all-aboard-helsinki-plant-tram-urban-garden-made-move.html (accessed July 9, 2013).
Nokkonen, Ilmari. “Urban Gardening in Helsinki.” Hub Helsinki, entry posted September 4, 2012. http://helsinki.the-hub.net/2012/09/04/urban-gardening-in-helsinki/ (accessed July 9, 2013).
Ring, Heather. Interview by author, April 24, 2013.
Wayward Plants. Helsinki Plant Tram. http://www.planttram.org/ (accessed July 9, 2013).
Wayward Plants. “Helsinki Plant Tram.” Wayward Plants. http://www.waywardplants.org/case-study/helsinki-plant-tram/ (accessed July 9, 2013).