Thursday, January 5, 2012

Guerilla Grafters: Hacking Our City Streets

I've made no secret of my belief that online behaviors are a major driver in how we are reclaiming ownership of our streets and public spaces in real life. So it was exciting to see in the San Francisco Examiner a group right here in San Francisco taking ownership of the trees along our many sidewalks by grafting thousands of fruit bearing branches into the otherwise ornamental trees.

The Guerilla Grafters are apparently engaging in illegal activity since this is considered vandalism. But the Grafters claim that each tree they graft has a caretaker who will assure that the fruit doesn't become a mess of sidewalk mush or an attractive meal for rats, two of the reasons that raise concern.

More and more, we are hacking into the existing "code" of our daily street life and the infrastructure that provides for it. This code is available and visible to all, and we continue to make modifications that question the value it provides and how it might be improved.

There are a lot of tactical urbanism projects these days that emulate a hacker mentality. Rats are probably the worst outcome that's likely to arise from the Guerilla Grafters' efforts, and that's far less invasive than stealing confidential information or someone's identity the way some hackers online have managed to do. But the behavior is still performing the same value to all of us. By questioning the status quo of a support system we all enjoy, in this case the shade, greenery, and, delight the Guerilla Grafters are making our city streets a better place. I for one am all for this type of manipulation of our public space. We should continue to question who owns these elements and how they can be improved for the benefit of the public.

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