Posts Tagged ‘Midwest’

BY ZACH MORTICE

Morgan Vickers at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. Photo by David Kafer.

Route 66, the nation’s first all-paved national highway connecting the Midwest to California, is best read as the first draft of contemporary America. Its establishment in 1926 definitively ended any notions of an untamed Western frontier, and it signaled the beginning of America’s total transition to a nation defined by settlement, landscape, and automobile obsession.

So much of Route 66’s cultural resources and history are dedicated and scaled to the car: motels, highways, bridges, gas stations, drive-in theaters, and oddball curios that read well from a speeding Ford. Its 2,400 miles cut through eight states and 300 towns, from Chicago to Los Angeles. It channeled migrants to the fertile coast during the Great Depression and soldiers and equipment to the Asian front during World War II.

But Route 66 eventually fell victim to the car’s success. In 1945, 65,000 cars were manufactured in America. Three years later that number had grown to 3.9 million. Cars became so omnipresent that this two-lane road was soon superseded by four-lane interstate highways. By the time it was decommissioned in 1985, Route 66 had been replaced by sections of I-55, I-44, I-40, I-15, and I-10. Overshadowed by the interstate system, the communities that had sprung up around the route were cut off from the lifeblood of commerce that it supplied them.

Earlier this summer, the National Trust for Historic Preservation began a campaign (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

The DAPL crosses two watershed systems. Map by Alma and Friends.

The recently completed Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) will run for 1,172 miles from northwest North Dakota to downstate Illinois, pumping 450,000 barrels of oil per day and costing $3.8 billion to build. Those are superlative numbers that can blot out the complexity and vulnerability of the landscapes and watersheds the pipeline traverses. Making these facets of the DAPL clear is the goal of maps created by an anonymous group of designers calling themselves Alma and Friends. Their work has been collected and packaged by the Los Angeles public television station KCET with a series of articles on the ecological consequences of the pipeline.

These maps detail regional watersheds, individual bodies of water, indigenous lands, the blotches of human settlement that dot this stretch of the Great Plains and midwestern prairie, and past and potential oil spills. Collected into a series of seven interactive maps by KCET, (more…)

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BY ADAM REGN ARVIDSON, FASLA

Milwaukee cleans up the Menomonee Valley but keeps it working.

Milwaukee cleans up the Menomonee Valley but keeps it working.

From the April 2016 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Menomonee means wild rice, and that is the original story of this river. Flowing just 33 miles across southeastern Wisconsin, it joins with two other smallish rivers (the Milwaukee and the Kinnickinnic) just before Lake Michigan to create a freshwater estuary—a back bay to the great lake. The estuary and valley were hunting, fishing, and rice harvesting grounds. Then European settlers came and saw this could also be a good spot for shipping, fixing, and building things.

The Valley, as it is often called, is a four-mile by one-half-mile swath of Menomonee River lowland that industrialized rapidly in the late 1800s. It became home to the great Milwaukee Road’s machine and repair shops—140 acres of railyards and mechanic sheds. In the first half of the 20th century, a middle-class resident of the neighborhoods north and south of the Valley could walk to a job that paid a living wage. Crossing the pedestrian bridges to the railyard, he would likely barely notice the stagnant, channelized, trash-strewn watercourse below.

In the 1980s, following a storyline familiar among midsized cities in the Midwest, the industries began to leave—and leave their messes behind. The Valley became a 1,200-acre scar on the city. “It was buildings that were falling down. It was environmental contamination. It was 60,000 cars driving by on the freeway looking at this property,” says Dave Misky, who has been leading the Valley’s (more…)

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BY CAROL E. BECKER

Building the supply chain for native landscapes.

Building the supply chain for native landscapes.

From the May 2015 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

The oak is our national tree for a reason. Oaks are endemic to our native landscapes in all regions of the United States, easily identified by their leaf shape and gnarly branches. The size of the mature white oak (Quercus alba), spreading up to 120 feet, is one reason we associate oaks with strength, along with the density of the wood and an oak fire’s burning hot and long in the woodstove. Native oaks fall into two taxonomic groups, white and red, and their landscape uses vary depending on soil moisture. But most important today, as Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, points out, oaks are the “quintessential wildlife plants.” They provide food to more than 500 species of caterpillars and other insects. In this fact lies the oaks’ value to the entire food chain, from the birds that eat insects to the humans who rest in the trees’ shade.

We need more oaks in our landscapes, mostly for the food benefits they provide. But instead of being sought-after plants, oaks are underused, undermarketed, undercultivated, and therefore in short supply. Landscape architects don’t often use them, clients don’t ask for them, and thus growers don’t grow them. A reverse scenario also holds true. Few nurseries grow Quercus species, particularly Q. macrocarpa, Q. muehlenbergii, and Q. alba, because they are hard to grow and suffer significant transplant death. So clients don’t see them and don’t ask for them and, in turn, landscape architects don’t specify them. Whatever the reason and wherever you start, it’s a circle of mutually reinforcing supply and demand.

The oaks are but one example of the larger problem for design professionals working to create sustainable landscapes with hardy plants in a given region. The interest in doing so—the imperative of doing so—is unequaled by the supply of appropriate species. This shortage also helps perpetuate clients’ expectations of plant specimens they do in fact see at the retail level, plants that are well-shaped, blooming, varied, and maybe even a bit exotic. The landscape architecture profession has taught them to value this aesthetic at least since the mid-19th century, when Andrew Jackson Downing codified ornamental landscaping in A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening. Now, we find ourselves in a world where, in just the past 40 years, half the songbird species in the United States and more than 90 percent of the monarch butterflies have disappeared. Honeybees and bumblebees have fallen to a mysterious virus, a cataclysmic problem that threatens the entire food chain. We do know how to reverse these trends and preserve biodiversity in landscapes, but we can’t get it done because clients still want constantly blooming and well-shaped plants with no bugs.

(more…)

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