The Death and Life of
Barge Industry in the
Mississippi River Basin
Author: Weicong Huang
Institution: Washington University in St. Louis
Instructor: Derek Hoeferlin
Studio: World Wide Watersheds; Graduate Landscape Architecture, Fall 2020
The mighty Mississippi river is the shipping artery of the central plain, connecting countless of croplands and riverine urban areas which once thrived on barge industry for transporting grain. In the past centuries, people build ship locks and dams on the Mississippi river to maintain waterways for barge passing, as well as levees to protect riverine croplands and towns, securing economy growth. But this traditional mode of riverine development is not sustainable. With the free flow of sediment in the river is blocked, flood is becoming one of the major ecological issue over the Mississippi river basin and it comes with flora and fauna habitat deterioration and economic damage on human. This project proposes using barge to transport trapped sediment and restore riverine wetland, creating a resilient and eco-friendly flood buffer zone along river banks. It provides people a compensation mechanism thought and a step-by-step approach, instead of a radical one, to tackle emerging environmental issues and help traditional industries transit into a new era, taking both ecological and economic effects into account.
To adequately address the call for “region-specific design and planning projects by the Superstudio, World Wide Waters (WWW) takes the stance that designers, and specifically landscape architects, must take a scalar shift back – to the territorial scales of watersheds, continents, and ultimately, the world. Since the ambition of the 501 studio is so “Big”, design-research is its primary format. Leaning on the findings from two recent reports by the United Nations and federal scientists that warned of a cascading environmental and economic crisis resulting from global temperature rise, the Green New Deal (GND) resolves to curb this country’s greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels in a socially equitable way, by pairing “green” public works projects with labor and wage protections, as well as healthcare reform. The overarching goal of the GND would be to secure “for all people of the United States for generations to come: clean air and water, climate and community resiliency, healthy food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment”, and to promote justice and equity by addressing, preventing, and repairing historic oppression for frontline and vulnerable communities. This studio expands those definitions to consider trans-boundary spatial and policy negotiations across regional and river-basin scale.
Taking the position that Landscape Architecture can and should take a leading role in spatializing the GND, the WWW ambition demonstrates how the Midwest, and by extension the Mississippi River Basin, can be a model for watershed-based environmental, economic and socially resilient “trans-boundary speculative futures.” While student propositions are speculative, students developed bold frameworks and templates for spatializing the GND, grounded in design-research. The 501 studio develops comparative atlases and trans-boundary speculative futures of “World Wide Watersheds” at multiple scales: region, river-basin, continent, and world. More specifically, how these watersheds and their inherent conflicts are managed and designed from a “trans-boundary” point-of-view. Hopefully, these understandings will fill a current gap for what our studio believes is a missing comparative context for how the Mississippi River Basin, and its regional Midwest context, is currently managed. How can it be better managed, both physically and policy-wise, in the future to create a more just and resilient built environment?