How can we practice research during Covid19 and how does this situatedness relate to the current conjecture? How can we think-with spaces closer to home? Abney Park Cemetery, Hackney, is open to residents today, and offers a much needed space to a local community during lockdown. After going into administration, in the 1970s, it closed its gates. During that time, and since, the present day park emerged, through reconditioning by ‘non-human’ planting.
With a low level of UK forest coverage compared to the EU, this paper seeks to explore what can be learned from considering Abney Park Cemetery, as an archetype for reforestation. Forests and parks create benefits for human health and support biodiversity, mitigating against heat, rising carbon dioxide levels, flooding and soil erosion brought on by globalisation and climate change.
The UK has more potential and carrying capacity for forest coverage than it currently demonstrates. I argue that cemeteries offer an opportunity towards reforestation across the UK by functioning as mixed use spaces, as a kind of heterotopia, or ‘other space’, where different logics apply. Abney Park, a reforested cemetery, in being reclaimed from human management, became a nature reserve. It offers an opportunity to consider a cemetery space as exhibiting a generative and vital potential.
Whilst there may be public sentimentality around maintaining ‘sanitary’ or ‘clean’ landscapes for cemeteries, burial space is difficult to come by in the UK with many cemeteries close to or at capacity. Compounding this, land price increases due to housing development initiatives means that agricultural land for repurposing is an expensive and unlikely option for reforestation without major policy intervention.
Planted as an arboretum in 1840, Abney Park is now 13 hectares of woodland and home to ~200 trees. Abney Park, may serve as an archetype from which to re-imagine forest coverage and climate adaptation to support human health and biodiversity through rethinking the practices of our institutions. This approach to reforestation serves to make an alliance between cemeteries and forests, and between life and death. The benefits include the opportunity to develop different cultural, intra-actions, and a possible perspectivist conception of forests in society.
Of course, this approach is not without its issues. Reforesting cemetery spaces produce fragmented habitats, therefore multiple approaches to reforestation are required. In addition, climate change has created a division in conservation practices, making the design of forests for the future, a site of contestation.
Through site visits, archival research, I investigated the potential for Abney Park Cemetery to contribute to a way for a human population to ‘make kin’ with non-human life. Might thinking of forests through heterotopia offer a different role for forests and non-human life in western culture? Finally, in considering a tree as a kind of ‘high rise’ and a forest as a ‘city’, both supporting non-human life on many levels, a reforested cemetery acts as shared infrastructure for humans and non-humans.