landscape infrastructures: posthumous live blog – mammoth // building nothing out of something

landscape infrastructures: posthumous live blog

Been more or less out of it this week due to a little quarantine situation, but fortunately a lot of reading material has arrived on my doorstep and it’s been topped off with the arrival of the Landscape Infrastructures symposium DVD (available here). So Stephen’s joined me for a new (and entirely unannounced and therefore unnoticed) experiment: “live”-blogging a Canadian conference, months after the conference has ended (which provides a nice symmetry, because no one will read this until after the liveblog has ended). Join us below the jump.

update: We’re done for the night, but, if Pierre Belanger’s opening presentation is an accurate indicator, the conference is fascinating enough to be well worth the effort of tracking down the DVD and watching it — in about half an hour, he’s challenged the (singular) authority of engineering as a discipline, offered a quick but clearly well-researched look at the relationship between infrastructure and zoning in Rust Belt “economies of disassembly”, and posed a very interesting question that suggests something of how infrastructure might be understood differently in the coming century than it was in the previous.

[note: no distinction is made here between Rob and Stephen, unless noted]

6:24 PM We skip the “About the Symposium”. Text scrolls too quickly for Becker. I’m bored. We move on to George Baird’s opening address, “Operative Practices”.

6:32 PM Stephen: “People are watching?”

6:34 PM We pause to watch a climbing video on YouTube.  And then a Scottish recruitment site advertisement.

6:42 PM Videos are good, but dinner’s ready.  Liveblog on pause.

7:41 PM We’re back, and so’s Baird.

7:59 PM Baird talking about Jane Jacobs and William Blake.  Not sure whether they are opposed or in agreement or neither.

[Pierre Belanger, "Redefining Infrastructure"]

8:04 PM Conference organizer Pierre Belanger is up, sooner than the DVD would have intended; “Redefining Infrastructure.”

8:07 PM Black t-shirt.

8:10 PM Many people are being thanked, but thankfully, not as many as at last spring’s Ecological Urbanism Conference.

8:11 PM Pierre reads the American Heritage Dictionary’s definition of infrastructure.

8:13 PM Tracing the history of ‘infrastructure’ to 1927 Mississippi Flood and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

8:16 PM Engineers are shown (by survey) to be one of the most trusted professions in North America.  What are the implications of this, particularly as civil engineering accidents increase in incidence?

8:18 PM Pierre (paraphrased): “Is it possible that engineering (as a discipline) is no longer capable of dealing with the complexity of the infrastructural systems it has produced?” and “What are the implications of the largest engineering firm in the world (AECOM) buying the largest landscape architecture firm (EDAW)?”

8:21 PM With these questions, he’s implying that not only are engineers incapable of dealing with the complexity of the systems they are trusted by society to oversee, but they know it, and so are trying to compensate by adding design talent — landscape architects.

8:26 PM Pierre (paraphrased): “Zoning is the most important structural element in the shape and configuration of the North American urban landscape.” (at the expense of design)

8:30 PM Argument ensues over whether Pierre is correct to refer to “the” 410 freeway.  Rob says no; Stephen says yes.

8:32 PM Tracing the origin of the modern industrial landscape in North America to landmark federal court case from 1926, “Village of Euclid, Ohio vs. Ambler Realty Co.”; hence the term Euclidean planning (Euclid seen below).

8:35 PM Pierre talking about “repatriating” zoning in design discourse; perhaps he means “rehabilitating”?

8:35 PM Notes that original zoning classifications had no classification for biophysical systems.

8:40 PM Discussion of Euclid continues to present day; “economies of disassembly” in the Rust Belt, which Pierre suggests are breaking down distinctions in zoning, or causing the rethinking of zoning without confronting the legal system itself.  Scrap metal, recycling, composting industries thrive on this economy of disassembly and associated processes of “dis-urbanization”.  Discussion moves to nearby Youngstown.

8:46 PM Stephen distracted by high school friend’s beard blog.  Catching up on conversation through own live-blog.

8:48 PM On to Buffalo and Olmsted’s plan for Buffalo, which Belanger argues is a historic example of the tight overlay of infrastructure and urban development (“reciprocity between landscape and infrastructure”).

8:58 PM Image of Olmsted’s Plan for Buffalo, via flickr user agenbyte.

9:03 PM Parks designed by OMA (Villette) as examples of this same reciprocity.  Discussing the food terminal infrastructure displaced by the park, and its expanded footprint in the Parisian suburbs — a fascinating angle on the history of de la Villette.

9:06 PM Pierre projects the conference’s central question: “Can we redefine the conventional meaning of modern infrastructure by foregrounding and amplifying the biophysical landscape that was historically supressed, to reformulate it as a collective system of essential services, resources, and agents that generates and supports urban economies?”

9:08 PM Stephen notes the emphasis on “economies”, rather than social structures; implication is that urban economy precedes urban social system?  Or perhaps this descends from the emphases and biases of Pierre’s work (on economies, waste, manufacturing, etc.)?

9:10 PM No applause?

[Stan Allen: Urbanizing Infrastructures]

9:18 PM Stan Allen’s talk begins promisingly, but live blog is interrupted indefinitely by kung-fu on YouTube .  Good night; if nothing else, we’ve amused ourselves.

8 Responses to “landscape infrastructures: posthumous live blog”

  1. namhenderson says:

    Regarding use of “economies”, rather than social structures; implication is that urban economy precedes urban social system.

    Perhaps the economies are the social structures. A sort of structure of principals.

  2. faslanyc says:

    very nerdy. very awesome. tough to tell if there was anything of substance in that conference in your opinion, though. was it that last question posited by Pierre? Was that question developed at all? Hmmm…

    Belanger and OMA and Corner seem to try to only define urbanism in empirical terms, which is limited… Did you know that Belanger is a “professional registered surface minor, skilled in earth moving and heavy equipment operation”?

  3. Stephen says:

    Nam: “Implication is that urban economy precedes urban social system.” Right, this was our impression of what he was suggesting as well, and I’m pretty sure I agree with it (although it’s obviously a simplistic statement). I think this ties into Faslanyc‘s observation that “Belanger and OMA and Corner seem to try to only define urbanism in empirical terms” – economies and shifts therein can be more easily measured in a concrete way than social or cultural evolution. Further, an economy can be tracked and evaluated from a performance-focused perspective, whereas doing that with certain social metrics can be problematic to due the application of subjective values it would likely require.

    Faslanyc: “was it that last question posited by Pierre? Was that question developed at all?” Yes, it was posted by Pierre. It was his guess as to what would be developed during the conference – he was one of the first speakers. As to the question of whether it actually does get investigated in the remaining talks, well, you’ll just have to read future “live”-blogs or buy the DVD to find out.

  4. namhenderson says:

    Quarantine situation? One of you have the swine flu? A bunch of people at work have had it.

    As for the issue of the above mentioned empirical approach, my biggest problem with the way these folks do urbanism is that it seems to “postindustrial” (as in there isn’t any), and to formal. They may be inspired or interested in “informal urbanism” but where is the actual room created for informal structures, or informal urbanisitic practices.

    Simply saying this x space is non-programmed doesn’t cut it. For me the informal is much more about these social and cultural metrics/practices..

  5. [...] mammoth « landscape infrastructures: posthumous live blog [...]

  6. rholmes says:


    tough to tell if there was anything of substance in that conference in your opinion, though.

    That’s no accident — hopefully I’ll be able to render an opinion on that when I have a chance to watch further…


    Re: flu — I might have. Who knows. Had a nasty flu, now it’s better. Never went to the doctor.

    Re: postindustrial: I’d say there’s a bit of space between Belanger and, say, Corner on that. Belanger’s research (which my familiarity with is admittedly fairly limited) seems to be heavily focused on systems, cycles, and ecologies of production, in a way that suggests a serious concern for the continued incorporation of industry into society. Which I think of as a strength.

    Re: problems with an “empirical” approach and relationship to “informal urbanism”: I think this is an astute observation, and that you’ll find some resonance between your complaint (about simply marking out “x space” as “unprogrammed” and expecting that to take the place of an effort to figure out how informal practices might arise and how they might be encouraged) and faslanyc’s recent post on disingenuously-rendered working landscapes (which, without arguing about whether the description faslanyc provides is accurate or not, could be seen as another example of co-opting the idea or image of a messy set of processes without taking the effort to understand and realistically deploy the processes being co-opted).

  7. namhenderson says:

    i think the interventions and complaints faslanyc gets at in his two recent posts point to a common idea which is the hacking of the city. Making it more gritty, a real interaction/awareness of.

    “unkempt areas of public parks where people are able to dump their compost of or see their grey water at work”

    The above is a phrase i really love.

    I think urban informatics gets at this issue but from a more digital perspective. I like faslanyc’s suggestion/consideration of pure bacteria and dirt.

  8. [...] noted before Pierre Belanger’s predictions about the bio-physical landscape as infrastructure, which he describes as having been [...]