Forestation Beyond Boundaries
Author: Mengyi Wu
Institution: Cornell University
Instructor: Jamie Vanucchi
Studio: How to Land on Earth; Graduate Landscape Architecture; Spring 2021
This project creates a carbon offset market interface where carbon consumers can be a part of planting forests on buyout lands in Owego, NY to offset their carbon emissions. The interface allows users to make decisions about which trees to plant based on carbon sequestration capacity and habitat value, especially for birds. They can also be involved in making management decisions regarding the trees they plant over time. Interestingly, Owego residents (and visitors) have the ability to enjoy the growing forest and the birds that use it, and the project creates local jobs planting and managing the trees and creating wood products after harvest. The project tracks carbon stored and sequestered over time, and builds a community that includes both virtual and local users, working together to make decisions about the forest.
This studio is about futures; about how to land on Earth without crashing and finding ways to settle here without dominating, pillaging, and leaving the land and resources ‘used up’ . is about changing the way we exist in the world, how we dwell within it, and how we leave it, rewriting our stories (no universals) and then inhabiting them. Is this about assemblages or systems? Making money or kin? Politics or people? This studio is about stories: Ursula LeGuin wrote, “Science fiction properly conceived, like all serious fiction, however funny, is a way of trying to describe what in fact is going on, what people actually do and feel, how people relate to everything else in this vast sack, this belly of the universe, this womb of things to be and tomb of things that were, this unending story.” Stories help move us out of the abstract and into our bodies, our emotions, and our connections with real places and landscapes. Stories define a more nuanced view of what it means to be alive and affected by climate change in our collective times. Stories have a way of grounding us and helping us bridge the intellect and the emotive. Stories build worlds. Over the past several decades, and as the field grew into areas such as environmental restoration, landscape architects have been increasingly enamored with the quantifiable and quantified, often as a way to bring legitimacy to our projects. This analytical approach to design is needed to ensure that proposals are grounded in data, but has the unintended side effect of displacing our human experience from the places that we make. How is it that we so easily forget that the primary condition of existence is embodied presence, a dwelling in the world?
This studio is about trees: On the surface, this seems simple. Plant some trees, save the climate. But this is a weird time for the relationship between people and trees. On one hand, we tear down some of the most diverse forests on earth and replace them with palm oil plantations, vast and weak monocultures eating up whole islands in Indonesia and Malaysia. On the other, the once outlandish idea that trees in forests communicate and protect each other and share resources through a vast underground assemblage of roots, fungi, bacteria, and soil has become fairly well accepted. Reforestation efforts associated with FDR’s New Deal were legendary , and the NYC Million Trees and TNC’s Plant a Billion trees initiatives have been both lauded and criticized. Designing with trees means understanding cross-scalar relationships and performances, getting intimate with species, understanding the spaces and experiences they create and their incredible agency as living beings with long life spans. We will delve into trees like you have probably never before, to comprehend their potential in designing for climate change.