For many years, decades if I'm honest, I've said I want to cremated when I die and have a friend distribute my ashes among two or three certain places in Manhattan. This is no longer a good idea.
In recent years, environmental concerns have militated against traditional cremation and as we have discussed here in the past, there is a growing number of new ideas for green burials that respect both the deceased and, particularly in avoiding embalming, the environment.
Nowadays, in many U.S. communities, you can be buried in a simple shroud, in a mushroom suit or in a pod from which a tree will grow - in which case you can even choose the type of tree. There are other choices too.
In addition to environmental concerns pushing new notions of burial, we are just plain running out of space to put dead people, not to mention how prohibitively expensive cemetery plots have become.
This week, Atlas Obscura published a fascinating story about some proposed innovations in burial.
”Imagine the Manhattan Bridge twinkling from underneath with hundreds of small pods filled with decaying biomass – the final resting place of many former New Yorkers, shining like stars in an otherwise dark sky.
“There, you might lay flowers near a pod containing the remains of a loved one, until decomposition finishes its course and all that remains is a container to keep as a remembrance.”
It's being called Constellation Park and the light results from “microbial digestion” of corpses in which microorganisms consume bodies without the need for oxygen, reducing them to light. Here is an illustration of how it might look:
This idea in the brainchild of the DeathLab, a trans-disciplinary research and design space at Columbia University. Here is a closer view of what the researchers have imagined for Constellation Park.
This project is nowhere near creation let alone conclusion. It hasn't even been presented to the city council. Even so, it is already
”...facing fierce opposition from the funeral industry,” reports A.M. Brune in Atlas Obscura.
“But like a lot of things in New York it might, eventually, come down to a numbers game: if built, Constellation Park, could accommodate around 10 percent of deaths in the city each year—a number that seems small until you start to think about the alternatives, which can be environmentally disastrous.”
And there is at least one precedent now. A similar idea is underway at the historic Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol, England, where lights will be powered by decaying biomass. Take a look at a rendering:
I would be more than pleased to give up my long-held dream of having my ashes scattered in Manhattan in exchange for powering a light on the Manhattan Bridge for awhile. As Karla Rothstein, who is an architecture professor at Columbia and director of the university's Deathlab, told Atlas Obscura:
“Socio-cultural needs and desires are not static. Honoring our dead is a basic human endeavor, and there are many valid practices, including new models, that can support this need.”
You can read the full story at Atlas Obscura. There is a lot more information there than I've passed on here.