Pretexts, Subtexts, Contexts in Struggles for Environmental Justice
In collaboration with students at Cornell University for the 2021 Landscape Conference, we brought
together writings from the past 25 years by authors, artists, and activists whose
work is dedicated to environmental justice. Retroactively challenging the focus
of design disciplines on the future, these essential readings (organized around the year 1993) focus on grounding design in
“this work of repatriation in the academy, is not about victimization or blame games. It’s about the acknowledgement and resolution of real and tangible crimes so that a future truly is worth living.”
From Kofi Boone’s “Black Landscapes Matter” (2020) and Rod
Barnett’s “Designing Indian Country” (2016), to Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s “Land
as Pedagogy” (2004) and Deborah Miranda’s “Teaching on Stolen Ground” (2007),
as well as Austin Allen’s “Claiming Open Spaces” (1994) and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s “Mapping
the Margins” (1993), the compilation of multimedia texts challenge
the current historiographies, methodologies, narratives, and rhetorical devices of landscape architecture (and its allied disiciplines) as they have been taught since its foundation in the mid-19th century in
America and 16-18th centuries in Europe. The compilation purposefully confronts disicplinary histories that deny, erase, and actively suppress the
violence of settler-colonialism at the moment that lands & labor were being (and continue to be) stolen from nations and communities of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
Confronting struggles for environmental justice that
crystallized in the mid 1980s from the fallout of Anglo-American environmentalism in the 1970s,
the readings expose the complicity of settler-colonial heteropatriarchy intrinsic to and denied
the professions, disciplines, and institutions of design in preserving histories and maintaining structures of white supremacy.
“Almost alone among the key players of this century’s history, the landscape remains silent. But in truth it may be the most expert witness of all. In its broadest sense, ‘landscape’ is a stage on which struggles occur—where humans extract resources from the earth, suburbs drain people and wealth from cities, and territory is contested between warring groups. Landscape is also a kind of slate upon which the evidence of culture, habitation, and labor is written and may be read.”
If the fields of design are wholly and utterly unprepared for
the massive political change and demographic shift that is underway in this
generation, the lens of these authors offer up a core, spatial question for designers:
how can you change, shape or influence the future if you consistently
misunderstand and misread the present?
EL TRATADO DEL QUINO Renewing Relations
with the Quino Tree
at the Center of the World
by Decolonizing Quinine
& the Global Discourse
From germ theory to plantation
logic, this book charts the 497-year legacy of global, colonial powers in the
violent search for the elusive Cinchona plant of South America in the cure for
malaria. Stolen by the Jesuits in the 17th century, smuggled abroad by Britain
and Holland during the 18th century, mapped by German explorer Alexander von
Humboldt in the 19th century, and exploited by global pharma in the 20th
century, the story of the Cinchona plant—and of its powerful quinine extract—not only lies at the base of modern civilization but traces the deep roots of
Indigenous, territorial resistance back to the Amazon and the Andes. Composed
as a geopolitical treatise, this initiative proposes a countermap to rebuild
relations with the Cinchona plant—originally known to its peoples as the “Quino
tree”—and to challenge territorial destruction and gendered violence that continue to increase
amidst state-sanctioned resource extraction, economic inequality, and benevolent conservation.
“Since the beginning of our life as a people, this territory
has been our supermarket, our pharmacy, our hardware
store. Our ancestors were born and buried here. Our
connection to this place is deeper than the state’s. We
should be managing it and protecting it.”
by LA MINGA Collaborative, NOT YOUR AMAZON, and OPSYS Media, this
initiative involves a program of events coming in 2021 and 2022 including an exhibition,
publication, and conference that coincide with the 18th Venice
Architecture Biennale in Italy (2021) and the Quito Pan-American Architecture
Biennial (2022) in Ecuador.
The Weaponization of Urban Space
& Racialization of the Public Sphere in Boston
In a period of less than six months in 1979 at the height of federally-mandated school desegregation in Boston, a public park originally designed as a children’s playground and built with the intention of reducing social and economic inequalities, nearly three decades in the making between 1949 and 1976—with more than $60 million in federal and municipal funds notwithstanding the involvement of hundreds of people and diverse communities to open access to the water—was coopted by a small committee of private interests whose corrupt efforts resulted in the deceitful renaming of the park to edify a violent, genocidal killer and unsanctioned placement of a statue of that, since then, has fueled 40 years of racial division, historical deception, and socio-political confrontation.
See the Open Letter to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to learn more about the lies and deception that took place in the hot summer of 1979. Launching a multi-year initiative The 1492 Projectafter more than 5 years of research, this letter comes with a 22-page Archival Resource Guide that comprehensively documents corruption of public process in the renaming of Waterfront Park and placement of the Christopher Columbus statue on October 23rd, 1979. An earlier story and tweet thread, “Confronting Columbus,” was posted online on June 12th, 2020 following the beheading of the Columbus statue on June 10th, 2020, and its subsequent removal from the park, two days later, to Shaughnessy & Ahern’s Warehouse in South Boston. A series of public hearings is currently planned over the next few months by the Boston Art Commission to assess what the Mayor of Boston has argued as the ‘historical meaning’ of the statue and park.
NO DESIGN ON STOLEN LAND
Dismantling Design’s Dehumanizing
single building site – from a house to a highway – benefits from the
exploitation of a capitalist property regime built on the back of broken
treaties. These sites are not only taken from stolen lands and unceded
territories, they are the spatial products of a violent structure
and system of settler-colonialism that displaced and continue to dispossess indigenous
peoples through more than 500 years of territorial injustices. Mundus Novus. Terra Nullius. Doctrine of Discovery. Manifest Destiny.
“...the oppressive system of
settler colonialism is now normalised through contemporary urbanism, precisely because of the ‘denigration of Indigenous
culture. Basically, it’s racism … systemic, institutional, individual,
interpersonal racism.’ As Deborah A
Miranda writes in Teaching on Stolen Ground (2007), ‘genocide depends upon
the appropriation of the identity of the colonized by the colonizer.’”
This booklet features an essay originally published in a January 2020 issue of Architectural Design (AD) Magazine titled “The Landscapists.”
The Beaver Manifesto
A counter-colonial proposal for the site of Central Park as retroactive space for the unleashing of the beaver as the quintessential landscape architect of climate change for the 21st century. Here, Central Park—including its Victorian-era vestiges & racist monuments—becomes a boneyard of settler colonialism & blueprint for the imminent retrocession of lands of the Lenape-Delaware Peoples and the Indigenous territories of the once and future legacy of National Parks it camouflages.
“Central Park belongs no more to the City—either of New York, or of New Yorkers—than National Parks belong to the State—of America,
or of Americans.”
Undermining the Systems, States, & Scales of
Global Resource Empire
Extraction is the process and practice that defines Canada, at home and abroad.
Of the nearly 20,000 mining projects in the world from Africa to Latin America,
more than half are Canadian operated. Not only does the mining economy employ
close to 400,000 people in Canada, it contributed $57 billion CAD to Canada's
GDP in 2014 alone. Globally, more than 75 percent of the world's mining firms
are based in Canada. The scale of these statistics naturally extends the logic
of Canada's historical legacy as state, nation, and now as global resource
empire. Canada, once a far-flung northern outpost of the British Empire, has
become an empire in its own right. Published by MIT Press, this book examines both the historic and
contemporary Canadian culture of extraction, with essays, interviews, archival
material, and multimedia visualizations.
EXTRACTION @ Google Arts & Culture
See the permanent online exhibition of the
making, research, team, collaborators, and the finale of EXTRACTION and the
Canadian Pavilion at the Google Cultural Institute featuring
an array of media and materials never before seen beyond the grounds of the
exhibition in Venice.
Opening a wider lens on the cultures of
extraction, the project intends to develop a deeper discourse on the complex
ecologies and territory of resource extraction. From gravel to gold, across
highways and circuit boards, every single aspect of contemporary urban life
today is mediated by mineral resources. Through the multimedia language of
film, print, and exhibition, the landscape of resource extraction—from
exploration, to mining, to processing, to construction, to recycling, to
reclamation—can be explored and revealed as the bedrock of contemporary urban
life. The Extraction Exhibition was part of the 15th edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale, with archive feed on twitter and instagram.
“Not only do imperial colonial powers redefine territories, they also breed new empires, replaying their cycles of dissemination and domination
and over again.”
“The Colonial World
as Geological Metaphor: Strata(gems) of Empire in Victorian Canada,” 2001
This 9th issue of New Geographies Journal surveys the urban
environments shaping the more-than-human geographies of the early 21st century,
as well as spaces, systems, and scales of conflict, violence, and exploitation.
This interpretation is fueled by awareness of the historical instrumentality of
both geography and design (as disciplinary fields and spatial worldviews) in
the delineation and pursuit of new “frontiers” serving the ambition for endless
expansion of the human empire. With
this in mind, geographic and design thinking are here mobilized in a different
direction: namely, as an interpretive lens through which to trace how those
crises and historical circumstances that have destabilized the inherited schema
of the human manifest themselves spatially—how they are indexed by the complex
geographical formations of the contemporary built environment. Ultimately, posthuman
ask: where can sites of resistance and hope possibly emerge? NG09 is published by ACTAR with support of the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.
States, former metropoles, and postcolonies are all hunted by the specter of
colonialism—the geographic, architectural, epistemic, and historical framework
of dehumanization, slavery, and extraction. Ruins and ruinations are spatial
and temporal. In this epoch, they exist in the more the more-than-human and
less-than-nature landscapes, and in the discourses on history and time deployed
to justify, challenge, and make sense of them. … Here, the human is not the
problem to move beyond. Like the dystopian ruins that has already been the fact
of life for Indigenous peoples for centuries, it is a condition that must be
inhabited and nurtured so that our voices can carry to the future.”
Nelson, “Walking to the Future in the Steps of Our Ancestors,” 2018
THE MISSING 400 On the Erasure of Women from the Urban
An open-source book produced in collaboration with Hélène Cixous. This book accompanies an 8-minute videographic essay that
re-examines the institutional structures of sexism and historical roots of
racism in architecture that have led to the systematic erasure of women from
the design disciplines of the built environment. The multimedia project features a live diagram
that maps out the names of over 800 women, whose lives—as designers, builders,
writers, historians, photographers, philanthropists, and more—have shaped over
800 years of urban history. Narrated by Hélène Cixous, one of the most
influential feminist authors in the world, with Ghazal Jafari. As part of this project, the original list of
women compiled since its creation in 2016 has expanded to over 800 names and
will continue to grow over time as a live
document. An original
performance of this project was staged with students at the Harvard
Graduate School of Design on October 28, 2016. The content of the book is based on an
original Open Letter written to Charles Jencks and published on October 7, 2016. The special edition of the book includes a poster that maps out the lives of over 800 women creators and shapers of the built environment across the past 800 years.
LANDSCAPE AS INFRASTRUCTURE
As ecology becomes the new engineering, the projection of landscape as
infrastructure—the contemporary alignment of the disciplines of landscape
architecture, civil engineering, and urban planning— has become pressing.
Predominant challenges facing urban regions and territories today—including
shifting climates, material flows, and population mobilities, are addressed and
strategized here. Responding to the under-performance of master planning and
over-exertion of technological systems at the end of twentieth century, this Routledge Landscape book argues for the strategic design of "infrastructural ecologies,"
describing a synthetic landscape of living, biophysical systems that operate as
urban infrastructures to shape and direct the future of urban economies and
cultures into the 21st century.
See Gale Fulton's Book
Review at Landscape Architecture Magazine.
“The outstanding feature
of the modern cultural landscape is the dominance of pathways over settlements.
… The pathways of modern life are also corridors of power, with power being
understood in both its technological and political senses. By channeling the
circulation of people, goods, and messages, they have transformed spatial
relations by establishing lines of force that are privileged over the places
and people left outside those lines.”
—Rosalind Williams, “Cultural Origins and
Environmental Implications of Large Infrastructural Systems,” 1993
ECOLOGIES OF POWER Countermapping the Logistical Landscapes and Military Geographies of the U.S. Department of Defense
book is not about war, nor is it a history of war. Avoiding the shock and awe
of wartime images, it explores the contemporary spatial configurations of power
camouflaged in the infrastructures, environments, and scales of military
operations. Instead of wartime highs, this book starts with drawdown lows, when
demobilization and decommissioning morph into realignment and prepositioning.
It is in this transitional milieu that the full material magnitudes and
geographic entanglements of contemporary militarism are laid bare. Through this
perpetual cycle of build up and breakdown, the U.S. Department of Defense—the
single largest developer, landowner, equipment contractor, and energy consumer
in the world—has engineered a planetary assemblage of “operational
environments” in which militarized, demilitarized, and non-militarized
landscapes are increasingly inextricable.
Through a series of critical
cartographic essays, the book traces this footprint
far beyond the battlefield, countermapping the geographies of U.S. militarism
across five of the most important and embattled operational environments: the
ocean, the atmosphere, the highway, the city, and the desert. From the Indian
Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia to the defense-contractor archipelago around
Washington, D.C.; from the A01 Highway circling Afghanistan's high-altitude
steppe to surveillance satellites pinging the planet from low-earth orbit; and
from the vast cold chain conveying military perishables worldwide to the global
constellation of military dumps, sinks, and scrapyards, the book unearths the
logistical infrastructures and residual landscapes that render strategy
spatial, militarism material, and power operational. In so doing, the book reveals unseen ecologies of power at work in the making and unmaking of
environments—operational, built, and otherwise—to come.
The ocean remains a glaring blind spot in the Western imagination. Catastrophic events remind us of its influence—a lost airplane, a shark attack, an oil spill, an underwater earthquake—but we tend to marginalize or misunderstand the scales of the oceanic. It represents the “other 71 percent” of our planet. Meanwhile, like land, its surface and space continue to be radically instrumentalized: offshore zones territorialized by nation-states, high seas crisscrossed by shipping routes, estuaries metabolized by effluents, sea levels sensed by satellites, seabeds lined with submarines and plumbed for resources. As sewer, conveyor, battlefield, or mine, the ocean is a vast logistical landscape. Whether we speak of fishing zones or fish migration, coastal resilience or tropical storms, the ocean is both a frame for regulatory controls and a field of uncontrollable, indivisible processes. To characterize the ocean as catastrophic—imperiled environment, coastal risk, or contested territory—is to overlook its potential power.
The environments and mythologies of the ocean continue to support contemporary urban life in ways unseen and unimagined. The oceanic project—like the work of Marie Tharp, who mapped the seafloor in the shadows of Cold War star scientists—challenges the dry, closed, terrestrial frameworks that shape today’s industrial, corporate, and economic patterns. As contemporary civilization takes the oceanic turn, its future clearly lies beyond the purview of any head of state or space of a nation.
Published as the 39th issue of Harvard Design Magazine, Wet Matter reexamines the ocean’s historic and superficial remoteness and profiles the ocean as contemporary urban space and subject of material, political, and ecologic significance, asking how we are shaping it, and how it is shaping us.
GOING LIVE From States to Systems
If landscape is more than milieu or environment, and encompasses a deterritorialized world, then it is the contested territory, hidden actor, and secret agent of the twentieth century. Stemming from the early work of some of the most influential landscape urbanists–Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Hilberseimer, Benton MacKaye, Patrick Geddes–this mini manifesto explores underdeveloped patterns and unfinished processes of urbanization at the precise moment when environmentalism began to fail and ecology emerged between the 1970s and 80s. Informed by systems thinking from the modern atomic age, this slim silver pamphlet takes inspiration from Howard T. Odum’s big green book A Tropical Rain Forest and brings alive the voices of a group of influential thinkers to exhume a body of ideas buried in the fallout of the explosion of digitalism, urbanism and deconstructivism during the early 1990s. Catalyzed by Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor meltdown, a counter-modernity and neo-urbanism emerged from the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of South African Apartheid. What happened during this concentrated era and area of change–across design, from architecture to planning–is nothing short of revolutionary.