Archive for the ‘infrastructure’ Category

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Sublime gestures in the infrastructural urban park context

June 11, 2009

The first section of the High Line is open and people are walking it in a semidaze, looking around everywhere, pointing at sites through view corridors previously closed to them, engaging with the west side of the city in an entirely new way.

By its nature the High Line is a liminal space, and even though the environment is rigorously planned, sculpted, and landscaped, we react with disorientation and delight, as if we still aren’t really sure we are meant to be there.

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Perform, don’t tell, land use interpretation

May 11, 2009

newtown creek nature walk

The Times published a piece by Chris Ruen highlighting the improbable idyll of the Newtown Creek Nature Walk. Designed by George Trakas and administered by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, this site now embraces the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant; the creek, which divides Brooklyn from Queens, is historically notorious  for the slow-motion underground oil spill went ignored for decades. The article is an excellent example of bringing land use interpretation into a mainstream context. My Twitteresque attempt at defining it in the past was pretty weak (“Land use interpretation is what we think about what we do with the land”), revealing the inherent difficulty in describing a practice that seems both obvious and esoteric at the same time. I send people to the Center for Land Use Interpretation site for more information, but as with everything CLUI, their up-front definition is slightly cheeky and detached; overall you have to infer what they do from their collective activities.

The Newtown Creek site itself seems to be a prime example of land use interpretation principles in action (I regretfully missed the Trakas-led tour set up by WNYC and Urban Omnibus). As their literature says, “The Nature Walk does not divide the industry and nature between which it is situated, but instead actively integrates this space as a vibrant intersection where multiple histories, cultural identities, and geologic epochs intersect, drawing the visitor into a dynamic narrative of Newtown Creek throughout time.” The diagram on the brochure reads like something Robert Smithson would have proffered if he had been commissioned, replete with such features as “industrial scenes” and “watershed bollard.”

A view from the Newtown Creek Nature Walk. Photo by Ozier Muhammad, The New York Times

A view from the Newtown Creek Nature Walk. Photo by Ozier Muhammad, The New York Times

And Ruen’s piece introduces the concepts of land use interpretation without using the phrase, and makes it accessible simply by reporting the walk itself. He sums it up nicely thus: “The nature walk occupies an unsavory wedge of land . . . yet, this contradictory nature walk, with its bleak concrete paths, holds truth for our confounding times.”