Katrina Spade, founder and director, Urban Death Project:

“Fifty percent of the world’s population now lives in urban centers.

“Arable land – that which you could grow crops on – and buildable land, is just shrinking. We have less and less of it.

“Early on, doing this research around cremation and conventional burial, I started to realize that this is an issue in cities. In New York City, cemeteries are filling up so that you can’t buy a plot no matter how much money you have.

“In some cities, including Seattle where I live, they’ve actually put a moratorium on building new cemeteries.

“Many people in cities are turning to cremation … really because it’s the ‘other option.’ I’m really for having many, many options around death care. I think we should hold on to conventional burial, probably, and if it’s meaningful to people we should definitely keep cremation, and then bring a bunch more options in.

“The idea behind the Urban Death Project is to bring nature into the cities, because I think all cities need a deeper connection to nature and all of us who live in cities can benefit from that.

“And in this case, nature is the process of decomposition; the creation of soil. What happens to a body when it’s being composted is really similar to what’s happening to leaves and sticks and mice and chipmunks on the forest floor. You know; you dig down about six inches and you start to get that really rich, dark brown soil. And that process of organic material decomposing is exactly the same process that we’re creating.”


Video by Joseph Hader

To learn more about the collaboration of the Urban Death Project and WCU’s Forensic Osteology Research Station, see this article in Western Carolina Magazine and this news update.