ENERGY GROWTH: Converting a Post-Coal-Mining Land into Regenerative Biomass Farm

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Project Team

Author: Mengying Li

Institution: Washington University in St. Louis

Instructor: L. Iréne Compadre

Studio: Show Me the Green New Deal: Designing Land-based Sustainable Enterprises in Missouri; Graduate Landscape Architecture; Fall 2020

Partner/Collaborator: Arbolope Studio

Project Description

Missouri has relied on coal power for a long time. The site, a previous surface mining place, brought many disturbances to the land. Thus, the project aims at producing feedstock for energy in a way that prioritize ecological and economic sustainability. It will benefit the site through phytoremediation, erosion control, runoff filtration, carbon sequestration and biodiversity restoration. The production will be sold to surrounding biomass and coal plants for biofuel or co-firing with coal to reduce emissions.

The proposal includes four types of landscape based on existing conditions. First, energy prairie species include Miscanthus, Switchgrass, Big Bluestem, Small Bluestem and Indian grass. Harvest season of this area will be early spring. In winter, the area will provide cover for wildlife. Burn season will happen every 3-5 years to stimulate new healthy growth and control weeds. Second, energy woodland species include Hazelnut and Shrub Willow. Hazelnut harvesting is for nut to produce oil, thus need more horizontal space, which is planted in single row with wide intervals. Third, energy forest species include Cottonwood and Shrub Willow. They are planted in dense double rows to promote fast vertical growth. Last, the riparian buffer species include Oak, Black Walnut, ground covers and preserved plants. The function is to filter runoff and provide aquatic habitat, which becomes a transition between energy lands and creeks. In conclusion, it is a land-based, Green New Deal-inspired energy production project, will provide ecologically sustainable income over time.


Studio Description

Show Me the Green New Deal: Land-based Sustainable Enterprises in Missouri is part of the historic, nation-wide Superstudio seeking to translate the core goals of the Green New Deal (congressional resolution H.RES.109) into region-specific design and planning projects. Alluding to Missouri’s nickname as the “Show Me State”, Show Me is a Missouri-focused Landscape Architecture Studio that took place in the fall of 2020, tackling the complex and interwoven issues of climate change, environmental degradation and social inequity by using a 120-acre former strip mine located off of the I-70 corridor near Colombia, Missouri as a pilot site for proposing and spatializing regionally-specific land-based “green” industries and infrastructures. Taking the position that Landscape Architecture can and should take a leading role in spatializing the Green New Deal, the course’s ambition was to show how Missouri can (and why Missouri should) be a model for land-based environmental, economic and social resilient green industries and infrastructure. While propositions were intended to be speculative, students were expected to develop bold strategies both site and regionally specific, grounded in research, and resolved at the site design level.

After a preliminary kick off exercise, Assignment 0: Welcome to Missouri, students entered Module 1: What?, a 3-week problem-defining module that synthesized deep research and analysis of the Green New Deal bill and a study of the Missouri region (history, ecology, climate, economy, geology, population, etc). M1|What? also included a case study exercise on sustainable land-based practices and industries. This demonstrated how some real-world options are obliterating status quo solutions, and to help students set practical goals for their future proposals. The next module, Module 2: Where? was a 3-week site analysis introducing students to the studio site, a 120-acre former strip mine located off of the I-70 corridor near Colombia, Missouri. M2|Where? built off of student findings from M1, translating regional system analysis to the site scale, and allowing students to delve deeper into specific site conditions (topography, hydrology, history, geology, ecology, context and community, access and connections). Module 3: Peek was a one-week individual student driven charette meant to quickly synthesize the findings of M1 and M2 into a catalog of potential GND inspired, layered, and speculative site design and systems engagement strategies, land-based economies/industries, and site programs for the 120-acre site. Finally, drawing from the full semester’s research and catalog of charette ideas and strategies, the students entered Module 4: Show! This 6-week module allowed for a deeper exploration of the significant ideas, systems, and objectives that had emerged from Modules 1-3. The result was a high-resolution spatialized site development at a number of scales. The students were expected to produce work for M4|4 Show! that would demonstrate conceptual cohesion, integration of sustainable and symbiotic systems, temporal planning and speculation, and refined multi-scalar comprehensive site design strategies that drew on all the work done to date. Each student was also expected to have refined and deepened their research to be specific to their own objectives as individual designers.