Wednesday, February 29, 2012

In the News: Nature Trumps the Human Artifice

A recent New York Times article in the "Streetscapes" series of the Real Estate section opens with dramatic lines:

"You want to make building conservators fuss and fume? One word, my friend: ivy. The argument is that as a climbing vine, it can wreak havoc on masonry walls, prying apart mortar and cracking bricks."

So when members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission went to slap violation notices on two 19th century rowhouses in Greenwich Village, it wasn't because the Commission was concerned with disintegrating mortar and cracking bricks. Rather, the ivy was not quite ivy. It was cheap, hobby-shop nastiness: fake ivy.


It seems the owners had drilled holes into the walls to secure hooks on which to hang the ivy. Given that the buildings are located in historic districts, the owners needed permits which they had (conveniently) forgotten--convenient for the neighborhood, that is. Can you imagine staring at that crap?!

Crap be damned. It turns out one of the owners spent "'tens of thousands of dollars'" on silk (not plastic) ivy, which appeared so real that it fooled the author of the Times' piece.

Tens of thousands of dollars on silk ivy?  To be placed outside, exposed to the damaging elements of sun, wind, and precipitation?

Only in New York, I mutter to myself, where one probably finds a higher concentration of "more money than brains" than anywhere else in the world.

Yet it gets better, for the story contains a measure of irony that titillates my sense of justice, er, I mean schadenfreude.

There has been a long running debate about the effects of ivy on buildings. Some decry its use, claiming its presumably destructive power (either making walls damp or sucking out moisture from mortar and turning it into dry dust); others celebrate its beauty. But a new Oxford University report on ivy adds to the celebration argument: extensive coverage of ivy on walls provides protection from the elements, which results in a microclimate that "moderates temperature change and the humidity fluctuation of a wall, with a corresponding decrease in freeze-thaw damage and the migration of salts within the masonry. Ivy was also found to reduce the attacks of airborne pollutants on surfaces."


The owner of one of the Greenwich Village buildings argued that he had installed his silk ivy to conceal a "'beaten and bruised'" facade--perhaps damage inflicted by the real stuff in times past.

But shame, shame, said the Preservation Commission. Down the fake stuff must come.

What is a historic rowhouse owner to do (besides repair said beaten and bruised facade)?!

Plant real ivy.

Apparently the Landmarks Preservation Commission "does not regulate plants in any way."

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