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BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER

Jill Desimini on her new book, From Fallow: 100 Ideas for Abandoned Urban Landscapes.

FROM THE AUGUST 2019 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

As a rule, Americans are wizards at making waste disappear. Trash magically vanishes from the curb, wastewater disappears with a flush. But there is one by-product of our current economic system that cannot be disposed of with a snap of our fingers (or with infrastructure): vacant land. When a piece of property is abandoned, it cannot be bagged up and thrown away.

Jill Desimini, ASLA, has spent more than 10 years documenting vacancy across the United States as a senior associate at Stoss Landscape Urbanism and as an associate professor of landscape architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, where her research focuses on spatial strategies for shrinking cities. In her most recent book, From Fallow: 100 Ideas for Abandoned Urban Landscapes (2019), Desimini marries a decade of documentation with more speculative imaginings that take the form of simple, evocative drawings.

It is a catalog of both existing states and potential changes. Desimini presents each separately, to free the design possibilities from any “direct political, economic, ecological, and sociocultural” context and leave them to imagining. “A vacant lot is not one thing, even though we tend to think of it as such,” she writes in the book’s introduction. “Terrains have different scales, elevations, adjacencies, uses, climates, and cultures. And just as no one territory is the same, so no one idea is sufficient.”

I spoke to Desimini about the new book. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. (more…)

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BY KEVAN KLOSTERWILL

A custom geodesign process aims to help prototype solutions for the health of a rural watershed.

FROM THE NOVEMBER 2017 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

Sam Ziegler, a corn-and-soybean farmer in southern Minnesota, had a chance to try out a new geodesign tool that could change the way he plants his crops. “It’s always on your mind what you can do better, but it’s hard to physically take an acre or a hundred out of production just to try something,” Ziegler says. “You can’t afford it. But this computer model allows you to play with things and get an understanding of what potentially would be the ramifications and benefits of switching things around.” The tool, operated with a touchscreen, was developed by a team of University of Minnesota (UM) researchers from the fields of landscape architecture, urban planning, economics, and soil and water science.

In the fall of 2013, the research team brought together about 40 community members, including farmers and environmental advocates, who were interested in improving the health of the Seven Mile Creek Watershed near Mankato, Minnesota. The group participated in a series of workshops that culminated with their generating alternative scenarios using an interactive computer model of the watershed. This investigation was supported by background layers such as aerial photographs, parcel lines, and topographic data that would feel familiar to regular users of geographic information systems. Using a 55-inch touchscreen, participants could assign various agricultural land uses to the landscape, including conventional corn and soybeans and perennial prairie grasses. “Basically, it was like painting a map, with some boundaries,” Ziegler says.

Once participants settled on a design, the geodesign program would analyze its environmental performance around various factors such as (more…)

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