Houston Texas interstate highway; photo from Alan Berger's "Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America".

Houston Texas interstate highway; photo from Alan Berger’s “Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America”.

In our previous post, we read about the typology of wasted surfaces in the urban environment. Professor Alan Berger and writer of Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America, also comes up with a new manifesto for those professionals who would like to venture into the drosscape practices. Today we present a ‘quommentary’ on each of these points, approaching it from the landscape architecture perspective.

The Drosscape Manifesto:

1. “Dross is understood as a natural component of every dynamically evolving city. As such it is an indicator of healthy urban growth.”

Our quommentary: Many have written “never judge the past by the standards of today”. Presentism asserts that current morality is the only valid one. This is fallacious. We have to embrace the industrial processes as what they are, a reflection of progress. We have to acknowledge and accept the fact that industrialization, in some way or another, will always exist. How this process is performed is a whole different topic, and of course, here we can look into all the currents and practices that seek out more sustainable results. Before judging or going rampage against any infrastructure projects or blocking the possibility for progress, we should consider exploring all options that answer how this project can be more beneficial for the environment, for the community, and for the local economy.

2. “Drosscapes accumulate in the wake of socio- and spatio-economic process of deindustrialization, post-Fordism, and technological innovation.”

Our quommentary: “There is an optimum numerical size, beyond which each further increment of inhabitants creates difficulties out of all proportion of the benefits. There is also an optimum area of expansion, beyond which further urban growth tends to paralyze rather than to further important social relationships” — Lewis Mumford in “What Is A City?”.

Of course, Lewis was referring to problems like overpopulation and urban sprawl, but these very factors will determine the number of dross elements in the city and will also condition the manner in which drosscaping should be executed. It is important to accommodate drosscapes in a time frame, addressing a particular problem. But at the same time, a drosscape should also be timeless and inclusive enough to be able to satisfy the needs of all sectors of the population and foster these interpersonal relationships and activities – a perspective Mumfords acknowledges to be the very core of the city.

3. “Drosscapes require the designer to shift thinking from tacit and explicit knowledge (designer as sole expert and authority) to complex interactive and responsive processing (designer as collaborator and negotiator).”

Our quommentary: “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” — Cesar E. Chavez.

Interdisciplinary teams, public agencies, and the community should work together as one entity to pursue a better environment. The designer is a catalyst – the piece that starts unscrambling the puzzle of the complexity of the site – allowing themselves to interpret the opportunities offered by this situation as a gamma that may suit the needs of the community, it shall never be a single-minded, one-sided answer for the sake of mere creativity.

4. “The designer does not rely on the client-consultant relationship or the contractual agreement to begin work. In many cases a client many not even exist but will need to be searched out and custom-fit in order to match the designer’s research discoveries. In this way the designer is the consummate spokesperson for the productive integration of waste landscape in the urban world.

Our quommentary: “Bold action in the face of uncertainty is not only terrifying, but necessary in the pursuit of great work.” — Jonathan Fields.

Such a paradigm-breaking practice requires paradigm-breaking actions. Taking risks, investing where no one wants, and defying the conditions of the site are already difficult enough tasks for common professionals in the field to do. But we are no common professionals. We envision, we fight for what is fair, right and needs to be done.

5. “Drosscapes are interstitial. The designer integrates waste landscapes left over from any form or type of development.”

Our quommentary: “Utilization cycles are becoming shorter and shorter, and capital is proving to be extremely flexible when it comes to changing locations. Temporariness is thus a principle of our presente time and not a specific phenomenon related to interim use alone. In this respect, interim use suits the system.” — Florian Haydn and Robert Temel in “Temporary Urban Spaces: Concepts for the Use of City Spaces”.

In most cases, our modern economic system supports the transition of land use from one use to another. This constant redeveloping opens opportunity windows in specific waste landscapes like the Waste Landscapes of Exchange. The land is always changing.

6. “The adaptability and occupation of drosscapes depend upon qualities associated with decontamination, health, safety, and reprogramming. The designer must act, at times, as the conductor and at times the agent of these effects in order to slow down or speed them up.”

Our quommentary: “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect” — Aldo Leopold in “A Sand County Almanac”.

And the landscape architect should be the first one to understand this, and the first one to envision and adapt the new program into the remediation processes. The landscape architect is like a physician that heals those abuses to land committed in their previous use.

7. “Drosscapes may be unsightly. There is little concern for contextual precedence, and resources are scarce for the complete scenic amelioration of drosscapes that are located in the declining, neglected, and deindustrializing areas of cities.”

Our quommentary: It may look ugly, it may be an unpleasant place to be at, it may be a paradigm shift almost impossible to accomplish. But if the motive is strong enough – and by that we mean conceiving all the previous strategies correctly – then there’s still a reason worth fighting for.

Designers are required to endure and to persevere, to act as war banners for the community and for the environment. Ironically, one of the best examples to pursue these aspirations in the field comes from the very industrial age itself. Many people, including intellectuals and artists, protested against the erection of the Eiffel Tower, but it ended up becoming a national landmark, a symbol of prosperity and technological superiority of France. Beyond that, the Eiffel Tower fostered international and local relationships as well.

The respect afforded this iconic structure is so great, even modern architectural projects like the Hermitage Plaza (to be started in 2017) is kept one meter shorter than the Tower, enough to secure the title of the tallest building in the European Union. In our modern age, how better can post-industrial function under the same principles? If executed properly, this can lead us to Alan’s next and final strategy.

 “Visionary people face the same problems everyone else faces; but rather than get paralyzed by their problems, visionaries immediately commit themselves to finding a solution.” — Bill Hybels

8. “Drosscapes may be visually pleasing. Wasteful landscapes are purposefully built within all types of new development located on the leading, peripheral edges of urbanization. The designer must discern which types of “waste” may be productively reintegrated for higher social, cultural, and environmental benefits.”

Our quommentary: “Places off putting to some have the opposite effect on me. I find myself drawn to spaces other have forgotten. I find myself drawn to spaces other have forgotten […] The American landscape is replete with these forgotten relics, from the smalles towns to the most crowded cities, on “the other side of the tracks” and in the most vibrant neighborhoods […] As if beckoned by the Sirens, I am enticed to their hazardous wonder because there is a sense of adventure in their emptiness. Is a place truly ever empty?” — Eric Holubow in
Abandoned America’s Vanishing Landscape”.

I think this point speaks for itself. There are plenty of opportunities out there, with spaces begging for a change, communities begging for more available open spaces, books and articles begging for attention. It is in us – the professionals – to be the authors of such transformation.

These previous points give the landscape architecture field a better lens when approaching such projects. They provide a new and more realistic insight for envisioning planning versus purely poetic and sometimes utopian touch these type of projects are normally associated with.

In the framework of environmental sustainability it is imperative to explore unprecedented fields that could potentially lead towards a healthier, more inclusive habitat. In this subject, the ASLA wrote that “landscape architecture-based mitigation strategies may help reducing GHG emissions by 50-85 percent by 2050 and limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius” as the UN recommends.

When we identify landscape architecture as one of the few disciplines that can actually revert the detriment of our planet, only then will we begin making a difference.

A scene from the movie “Tomorrow Land”.

A scene from the movie “Tomorrow Land”.

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