Finnish landscape architect and artist Maria Jaakkola (LF ’15) arrived at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in August 2014 as a Loeb Fellow. As the head of the Environmental Office in Helsinki’s City Planning Department, she had recently finished the first phase of the Helsinki Green Areas Strategy, in conjunction with the internationally recognized Helsinki Master Plan.
Coming to Harvard, she was excited to explore, among other things, Boston’s Emerald Necklace, the five-mile chain of parks across Boston and Brookline designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Her excitement turned to dismay, though, as she observed the actual state of the system, including the disconnect created by the roadways and traffic that original plans may not have anticipated.
As a sort of response, Jaakkola decided to create a 10-minute video last spring called “(Dis)connected,” in which she takes on a character named “Dis,” wraps herself in a neon-green cloak, and tries to navigate the Emerald Necklace by foot. On her journey, Dis encounters various obstacles like unkempt grasses, abandoned buildings, and multi-lane car traffic. Dis also seems to sense a lack of human interaction and synergy that marks what are meant to be public spaces.
“There’s been some attempt to make a place for people but there are no benches,” Jaakkola recently told Public Radio International’s The World during a stop along a tour of the Emerald Necklace. “There is a light but it’s broken. No one is ever here. I’ve been here several times and I’ve never seen anyone.”
Jaakkola screened “(Dis)connected” at an integrated art event–exhibit, installation, performance piece and music matinee–in Harvard Yard’s Dudley House Dining Hall last May. It has since gained attention at media outlets including The World and WGBH.