Walk in the virtual forest of Brussels

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A Brussels collective has imagined a digital forest, which duplicates the city's tree population on the web. Her name ? Wood Wide Web. A way to reach the hyperconnected urban which no longer looks at the trees, and to warn about the fragility of plants in an urban environment. As part of the # SauverLePresent coalition, in which Le Parisien, France Culture and Sciences & Vie Junior also participate, and which this month is looking at the theme of forests, we spoke with the co-creator of this collective.

The flapis, the chilly and other homebody of Brussels no longer have an excuse to decline a walk in the forest. For a few years now, a forest has been growing there, the exploration of which requires neither a laborious approach, nor k-way, nor walking shoes. No need, either, for a keen sense of direction. In this forest, you can even get lost happily, without the risk of getting trapped: a simple zoom out is enough to get out of the sylvan labyrinth. Welcome to  Wood Wide Web , the virtual forest of the Belgian capital.

Invisibility of nature in the city

This platform, unprecedented in Europe, has been offering hyper-connected urbanites new access to the forest since 2017, via a precise census and detailed mapping of the plants inhabiting the Brussels territory. The virtuality of these e-woods is therefore quite relative: the redwoods of China, plane trees of the Orient, lime trees, cedars of Lebanon or ginkgo biloba of Wood Wide Web are the digital alter egos of very real trees. Trees that have gazed at the city for centuries at times, but that today's inhabitants hardly ever look at.

It is from this observation of the invisibility of nature in the city that Wood Wide Web was born, one fine day in 2013. That evening, four friends of journalists and videographers phosphorate their desire to drink over a beer. a common project. "  All four from the media, and all four in search of meaning, we wanted to engage in a concrete approach on our direct environment  ", remembers the band leader, Priscille Cazin, from Brussels by adoption, and now professional of sylvotherapy. Spurred on by this passionate forest quadra, this first hop event ends with a choice: it will be the trees. " We all agreed that living in Brussels was a chance, the city is so abundantly inhabited by trees. A reality that the people of Brussels themselves tend to forget… Contemporary urban life lives so far above ground!  "

With 54% of its territory covered in vegetation, the Brussels Region is indeed one of the greenest capitals in Europe. 1,650 hectares of forests, 7,000 hectares of green spaces and more than 25,000 street trees inhabit it. How, then, so that urbanites see their city for what it is, a beautiful and vast forest? "  By going to look for people where they are , answers the quartet, that  is to say behind their screen  ". Or how, thanks to digital technology, to adapt the attention of humans to better connect them to the living that constellates their daily lives.

"We selected 125 trees whose story we wanted to tell and establish the identity card"

To achieve this, the people of Brussels have joined forces with  Urban Brussels , a regional territorial public service which, since 2002, has strived to inventory the remarkable trees of the capital. A real gold mine, unknown to the general public, that wood Wide Web will endeavor to stage. "  We selected together a sample of 125 trees whose story we wanted to tell and to establish the identity card  ". The crossing of their professional skills results in a cross-media project combining photo, video, sound and text to testify to the presence of the hardwoods and conifers of Brussels. The team has been joined in the meantime by many partners, institutions, associations and citizens.

Ode to tree resilience

This forest is therefore an augmented forest: on Wood Wide Web, the Internet user discovers the characteristics of each species, but also the past specific to each tree. Because being interested in trees in the city also means exploring the chaotic cohabitation of life with urbanity. Over the clicks, we read an ode to the resilience of trees.

There is, for example,  this exceptional oak , which began its life in the open countryside, some four centuries ago, before seeing its lands devoured by the city. Sanctuarized in the heart of the pretty Jacques Brel park, he now lives in the heart of what has become Forest, one of the nineteen municipalities of Brussels, with 56,000 inhabitants. There is, also, this couple of elms from Boulevard Botanique, baptized  the "resistant"  : they are the only ones to have survived the Leopold tunnel site, which will disembowel Brussels between 1982 and 1986. There is, again, this  plane tree from the east, a 250-year-old plant giant that has become over time a symbolic crossroads as much as a unique witness to the successive layers that make up the capital: its roots are nourished by the waters of the invisible Maelbeek, a historic stream that once bordered mills and factories, until 'to its final vault in 1872; its trunk rises in Leopold Park, built in 1851 to enliven the society of the time with a zoo and bucolic festivals; Finally, its summit overlooks the European Parliament, a terrible colossus of post-modern style built in 1989, which embodies the formidable colonization of the entire district by the institutions of the European Union.

Encyclopedic, the platform is also participatory. To the remarkable trees, the inhabitants are invited to add "noticed" trees: the one they rub shoulders with on a Sunday stroll, the one they meet in the morning on their way to the office, the one they contemplate from their window in spring or even the one they planted in their garden. 3,771 trees have already been loaded onto the platform.

“The beeches are falling like matches. The sap no longer manages to climb to the top ... "

The point, of course, is not to stay glued to the screen. Wood Wide Web also offers IRL walking routes to better look at these trees. Its initiators want to believe in the educational and sensitizing virtues of this virtual forest. “  Trees are in danger today in the city ,” emphasizes Priscille Cazin. They are gradually disappearing from the roads because they are complicated to maintain. And then, of course, there's climate change. In recent years, they have suffered from intense water stress generated by successive heat waves   ”. Example in Duden Park, the emblematic green lung of the south of the capital: “  The beeches fall like matches. The sap no longer manages to climb to the top ...  "

“  City and forest can coexist ,” pleads Priscille Cazin. But this cohabitation depends on us. Today we are at a turning point: interest in trees is visible, but is it a fad or a real and lasting trend?  “Asks the young woman. Let us bet on the second option, under penalty of being confined, in the long term, in the only virtual forest.

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