Rooted Rubble: Community Resourcing Through a Material and Prairie Connection

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Project Team

Author: Kristin Witte

Institution: University of Texas at Austin

Instructor: Maggie Hansen

Studio: Prairie Time: Growing Dallas’s Green Quilt; Graduate Landscape Architecture, Spring 2021

Partners: Gwen Cohen and Isaac Cohen of Studio Outside, Dallas

Project Description

This proposal investigates West Dallas and its history of materials extraction for cement manufacturing. The physical infrastructure of North and South Dallas are made from the labor of communities that are no longer supported by these heavy industries. Industry is currently zoned next to residences, schools, and important social resources for the surrounding community. These inappropriate adjacencies have consequences for human health and created a lack of neighborhood connection. Cement and concrete manufacturing are one of the top carbon polluters in the world: ~ 7% global carbon emissions. Concrete can permanently store carbon, through a process known as carbonation, and by intervening in its manufacturing process, a close-looped system of recycling and reuse, it can begin to capture a portion of the carbon emissions released in its production. Introducing a green industry to this area would supply more jobs than landfill and incinerator jobs while repurposing a ‘waste’ material. Interventions that utilize recycled concrete create a material legibility that can be seen and experienced throughout the neighborhood.

This proposal also reintroduces a Blackland Prairie ecology, an eco-region native to the area yet not intact due to a history of mass crop production. Tall grass species are quick to establish, with remediating qualities that remove from air, water, and soil. Ideas of progress have been made at the expense of land and often the residing peoples. This project utilizes a lost ecology and repurposes an exploitative material that in order to reclaim and create investments in community health and livelihood.


Additional Links

Project on JSTOR

Studio Description

Landscapes are in a constant state of becoming, made of living materials and shaped by human and nonhuman forces. ‘Prairie Time’ speculates on the potential of centering human actions of caretaking, alongside the dynamics of landscape materials and site, toward more just and more ecological futures. In the third of three parts, students developed specific proposals for re-activating fallow lands in Dallas, building on the potential benefits and management of the Blackland Prairie. We strove to visualize these proposals as new relationships between people and place, with impacts in the near and distant future.

As a part of the Green New Deal Superstudio, we explored the potential to address the core goals of jobs, justice and decarbonization, while engaging the specific context within the Blackland Prairie ecoregion. At the national scale, tree planting and forestry have been identified as strategies for addressing these questions, but our work explores how prairie ecosystems can contribute to the health of urban environments – calling into question the ideal of forest cities to imagine prairie or savannah urbanisms. In the first half of the semester, we identified possible alignments between the Blackland Prairie ecoregion and the goals of the Green New Deal:

• The prairie requires maintenance to remove invasives and to control woody encroachment: could this work form the basis of new jobs or new green industries? Or promote new social practices that connect neighborhoods to each other and their environment? • Prairies provide ecological services of pollutant filtration, habitat, and water absorption: could the prairie contribute to efforts of environmental justice in communities that have faced discrimination? • The prairie is an efficient and stable carbon sink: could fallow lands help sequester carbon while contributing to biodiversity? • The erasure of the Blackland Prairie has also erased the long history of human connection to these lands: could reviving the prairie contribute to recovering these forgotten communities in Dallas’s history? Throughout the semester, the studio strove to test methods of landscape representation that foreground ideas of interconnection, change over time, and uncertainty. Final proposals were informed and described by these investigations.