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Entries in infrastructure (27)


Vancouver: intensive gardening

In Vancouver, Sole Food Farms has leased, for $1/year, a former PetroCan gas station one-acre lot adjacent to the Downtown Eastside, and made an urban orchard on it.  Five hundred fruit-bearing dwarf species, planted over 800 containers, will be fully cropping in 3-5 years.  In the meantime, the containers also produce ground crops, sold to restaurants and grocery stores.  Downtown Eastside residents are hired, the produce is organic, it is intensive farming with an enormous embedded social energy.  

Sole Food has four sites throughout the downtown core; on this one the ground is contaminated, being a former gas station, thus the above-ground containers, which can also be moved if the land is reclaimed by the owner.  There are always development pressures on land in a downtown area, an acre is a large plot and the cost of de-contamination is linked to technological advance, so the land could be developed: condos and such.  However, there is something so fundamentally optimistic about an orchard on the move if it ever comes to pass.  

Vancouver is so forward-thinking I don't think it is actually part of Canada.   


Fritz Haeg: Animal Estates, Rotterdam

This comes by way of Chloë Roubert.  It is 29 minutes, a series of still camera placements of the industrial landscape of Rotterdam – many look like stills until something moves and one realises one has been watching a film.  The voice-over and subtitles are dry readings from what sounds like a business report on wildlife in the port area.  It is a perfect example of how to pull out all the emotional manipulation connected to environmental issues to present something so flat, so plain, that it is completely rivetting.   

Fritz Haeg's Animal Estates, nine so far, acknowledge the animals that live in urban and industrial environments with the ultimate goal of making these environments more accommodating for them. 

ANIMAL ESTATES 9.0 van Fritz Haeg from DWARSBOOM STUDIO on Vimeo.



oil: moving it

Nov. 26, 1939: Oil transported by tank cars. Though oil had been shipped in the United States since the 1860s, dozens of commodities made their way around using tank cars in the 1930s. During World War II, tank cars almost exclusively shipped oil as part of the war effort. Photo: Wood Aerial Surveys. NYTimes Archive.

It was always explained to me that the US Interstate system was primarily a Department of Defense project, meant to extend to all corners of the country with a military-specification super-highway connecting dispersed military bases, plants, installations and depots, rather than concentrating such facilities in one or two key sites in the country.  This was a response to the fear that Chicago during the Second World War constituted a key target as the nation's railways all converged there: take out the Chicago railyards and transportation would be frozen.  Chicago wasn't bombed, but the cold war and the threat of larger weapons with greater reach kept the threat alive.

Above is an image from 1939: oil transported by rail.  Oil is essential to the prosecution of war.  And as Al Gore said in an interview yesterday on CBC oil is oil, once it is on its way, as a commodity, it doesn't matter where it goes (I paraphrase).  He pointed out that when Alberta bitumen gets to the Texas coast, it will be sold on, and that is the critical factor for approval of the Keystone pipeline.  This isn't a great fit with the desire for energy security, which is how pipeline projects are sold to us – no more reliance on dodgy sources in the middle east or the Gulf of Mexico, North America can find and refine and consume its own product.  Gore was suggesting that the raw bitumen is extracted in Canada, refined in Texas and then exported, a different proposition entirely.

On the map the Keystone pipeline appears to go right down I-29 to Kansas and then I-35 to the coast.  I remember this route, there is a little jog on I-70 through Topeka to get from I-29 to I-35.  So not as straight as the proposed pipeline route.  Whatever.  Perhaps rather than going through farmers' fields and disrupting their herds, woodlots and endangered species, the pipelines should go down the already disturbed landscape that is the Inter-state highway system.  Those freeways are like culverts with huge gravel verges, surely a pipeline could fit alongside them.  We might start to think of the interstate system not as a transportation network but an industrial-military network of channels carrying vital resources for the defence of the country.  This actually seems more likely than the Interstate as a traveller's joy.


charging stations

Neville Mars, solar forest parking and charging station, 2009

Neville Mars, solar forest, shade, energy for charging stations.  If the grumpy comments on design boom are anything to go by, an expensive solution: the plates have to rotate to follow the sun, lifespan of a panel is only 6 years, so much maintenance of the forest, etc etc.  

Solar Forest reminds me very much of SOM's giant 1972 oasis at King Abdul Aziz Airport in Jeddah, a tented open-air terminal to accommodate the millions of Haj pilgrims that go through the airport each year on their way to Mecca.  120 acres/2.8 million square feet: it is large.  From the AIA site:'The tent structure that makes up the terminal’s roof strongly resembles vernacular Bedouin shelters and Hajj pilgrim tents that spring up around Mecca during the Hajj season.'

Well, that is a hook I suppose, much as Neville Mars' collection of charging stations strongly resembles vernacular forests.  Might we have a planted forest, pumping out oxygen and acting as a CO2 sink, with short poles with sockets on them, something like block heater plugs in parking lots in the great white north?   Something like this:

Typical winter block-heater use parking lot anywhere on the prairies.Oh, but I forgot, we need the solar panels to charge the cars with.  What about the pavement? Clearly not with snow on it, a problem with weather no matter where these panels are.


Oil: highway 63

Employees work at the new Devon airport near Conklin, Alberta. October 28, 2011. Todd Korol for The Globe and Mail

On the news this morning was how Highway 63 to Fort McMurray has become a no-drive zone for engineering and oil companies.  The Alberta Construction Safety Association has had a no-drive policy for a couple of years, and the major oil sands companies such as Suncor, Statoil, Devon and Syncrude have either their own airstrips at their operations or airports capable of landing a 737.  Suncor flies 25,000 passengers a month; collectively all the airports in the oil sands move 750,000 people a year.  Add that to the 750,000 people that move through Fort McMurray's airport and one starts to have an inkling of just how vast the oil sands region is, not just in area but in personnel.

So, who is left travelling the deadly Highway 63?  Trucks, equipment, ordinary people (it is the only all-weather road into Fort McMurray), families, busses of oil sands workers too lowly to fly, cars, pickups, lots of Newfoundlanders: search the accidents on Highway 63 and CBC St John's always has the report.

The Alberta government regularly announces the twinning of this road, now scheduled to be completed by 2016, but it seems to be waiting for the Oil Sands Development Group to pony up much of the financing.  Meanwhile, clearly there is a wide economic class division growing between those who safely fly, and those who drive.  The fact that there is an official no-drive pollcy amongst corporations and their ability to completely bypass the issue by building their own airports indicates just how autonomous they are.  As the Alberta government is fond of saying that this is the economic driver of Canada, the industry must be kept sweet.  The twinning of Highway 63 for all the people forced to drive on it seems way down the list of priorities. 

It's a class thing.

A roadside memorial stands along highway 63 near Grassland Alberta on May 2, 2012, where three people where killed in an accident along the dangerous highway to Fort McMurray. Jason Franson for The Globe and Mail


The Deep of the Modern: Manifesta 9

Coal Sack Ceiling homage to Marcel Duchamp, Manifesta 9. Photograph: Kristof Vrancken/Association Marcel Duchamp, Paris

This year, the biennial Manifesta is centred on the Waterschei mine in Genk, in in the coal-mining region of Belgium.  Adrian Searle has written a fulsome review of it in the Guardian, and there is a slide show of some of the work here.  
Searle talks about the Bechers and their recording of the industrial landscapes and infrastructure of eastern Belgium, Holland and the northern Ruhr, where Manifesta 9 is being held.  The Bechers are in this exhibition as well, but the arresting image of the coal sacks indicates the interventionist nature of some of the work, beyond the recording of landscapes that shock by their mere presence alone.

The catalogue is here.  The first paragraph of the curatorial concept for Manifesta 9 states, 'The Deep of the Modern intends to create a complex dialogue between different layers of art and history. Its point of departure is the geographical location itself—the former coal-mining region of the Campine in north-eastern Belgium as a locus for diverse issues, both imaginary and ecological, aligned to industrial capitalism as a global phenomenon. Manifesta 9 takes its cue from the previously abandoned, recently restored Waterschei mine complex in Genk.'

The Deep of the Modern.  What a title.  The image above is an homage to Duchamp's 16 Miles of String of 1942. This free ranging through the twentieth century of art and industry, production and politics shows how they inflect each other, rather than presenting the isolation of each of these activities into the discrete silos that they have generally pretended to be.  This is an obvious and natural discussion of the world in which art is an integral part, however it signals a big change from late twentieth century art discourse.

On Site 26:DIRT looked at the surface of the earth, issue 27:rural urbanism investigated in many of the articles how the earth, the dirt, agriculture, the mines and resource-extraction industries locate cities.  On Site 28: geology, next spring, will be continue this discussion of geological consequences and how we are both shaped by them and try to intervene in them ourselves. 


another kind of oil town

Huntington Beach, Los Angeles. postcard, n.d.Oil wells at Huntington Beach, Los Angeles.  Not that historic, I went there once, and yes, the beach was on one side of the road, and heavy industry on the other.  

And, below, Echo Park, 1895-1901.  I can't imagine that driling technology, safety and escaping gas were done any better then than now.  Were all these people destined for a very short life?  No heroic socialist project here, but a different kind of compliance with modernity. 

Echo Park, 1895-1901.


La Cité du Pétrole

This is a trailer for Marc Wolfensberger's La Cité du Pétrole / Oil Rocks - City above the Sea, 2009.

And this, a map from


flussbad, berlin

realities:unlimited. Flussbad, Berlin. 2011

Holcim has given a bronze award to this project by realities:unlimited, planned to start in 2019. 

From Holcim's press release: 'An urban plan for transforming an under-used arm of the River Spree in Berlin into a natural 745m-long swimming pool, the Flussbad project in the heart of the historic city creates a swimming zone equivalent to 17 Olympic-sized pools, and provides a public urban recreation space for both residents and tourists adjacent to the Museuminsel. The project, which includes a 1.8ha reed bed natural reserve with sub-surface sand bed filters to purify the water, was developed by a team led by architects Jan and Tim Edler of realities united, Germany.'

This is how it works:



Patrick Keiller's London, 1994

I've been waiting to see this again for years, since 1994 in fact:


the Big Bend Highway

Map of Big Bend Highway from the commemorative booklet. 29 June 1940. Big Bend, Selkirk Mountains, British Columbia

Before Roger's Pass there was the Big Bend Highway, a long loop of road following the Columbia River between Donald and Revelstoke.  It went north from Golden up one long valley which separates the Selkirk Range from the Rockies, and then south down the next valley leading to Revelstoke.  A dam at the top of the loop at Mica Creek was built in the early 1960s, after the whole route was made redundant by the section of the Trans-Canada that goes over Roger's Pass. Another dam in the 1980s and much of the Big Bend highway was lost to the consequential new lakes.

Originally there had been a wagon road along the Columbia River, as there had been a gold rush on it in the 1890s.  In the 1930s relief camps were established in the Big Bend: single, homeless and unemployed men who, in exchange for housing food and a very small wage, logged the route for the highway and contributed to the building of the road which was to be part of the Trans-Canada Highway.  It was opened in 1940.

The Big Bend was never paved, indeed great stretches of the BC sections of the Trans-Canada remained unpaved until the late 1960s. I often wish it was still there, the Big Bend, as it avoided the steep elevation change of Roger's Pass.  But, like the Coquihalla Highway built in 1985 bypassing another longer but safer section of the Trans-Canada between Kamloops and Hope, and also subject to horrible winter weather and endless closures, these new sections of road cut the mileage.  Fine in the summer, often fatal in the winter.


Giuseppe Penone, finding younger trees

Giuseppe Penone. Versailles Cedar, 2000-2003


Louis Helbig: aestheticising the unconscionable

Louis Helbig. Bitumen Slick N 57.19.28 W 111.25.44 Syncrude Aurora North

Helbig writes of the image above: Booms confining bitumen floating near the edge of Syncrude's Aurora North tar pond.  This is where industry suffered its most serious massive public relations setback in the spring of 2008 when someone alerted the public and the authorities to flocks of ducks landing on its surface.  In this particular incident about 1,600 ducks were killed.  Syncrude was convicted in 2010 of breaching both federal and provincial environmental reglations.

He has a series of aerial photographs of the oil sands region, and although his view is activist, as one can see from the captions, the images are beautiful.  How is it that our visual acuity has been trained to find abstraction so sublime.  Context is removed and we gaze at such images with the appreciation other eras gave to flowers or girls with pearl earrings.  This is precisely what is so dangerous about the removal of context, scale, consequences and facts.  They are removed.  

We need people such as Louis Helbig to keep explaining not just his photographs, but the abstract nature of the oil sands enterprise itself.  Whatever it does there is a diagram on the map with pipelines dotted in to Texas, maybe to Prince Rupert and on to China.  It is a series of mirrored glass office towers in Calgary and Houston. It is every plastic bag we throw hopefully into the recycling bin, it is the cloud of exhaust everytime we start our cars. 


rockfall net

Rockfall netting, Trans-Canada Highway, Kicking Horse Pass near Golden BCThis is a prosaic image of the steel mesh curtains in the Kicking Horse Pass just east of Golden, on a dangerous, narrow, steep, winding part of the Trans-Canada where there is only half a shoulder and no where to stop.  I usually pass these curtains in the winter and have seen them covered in hoarfrost, or wet and shimmering in the sun, or packed with snow.  They are very beautiful, but it is suicidal to try to take a photo of them while driving.  And one cannot stop.  

This is Burgess Shale territory and both the highway and the railway tracks sit on narrow ledges hacked out of the cliffs cut by the Kicking Horse River.  These cliffs, limestone and slate, shatter with the freeze/thaw cycle and crumble away landing on the road surface, thus the curtains which hang in front to catch falling rock.

A little farther east, the rubble beside the road is pale green, a particular formation that is compressed calcium carbonate, they say.  All this rock is fragile, it weathers easily and continuously.  The road is in a permanent state of repair and reconstruction and is often closed.  There is no radio signal, cell phones do not work: one is in the middle of a large stretch of unalloyed geology.  There are gabions, there are straw erosion bales, there are curtains, there are tiny cars and trucks hurtling their way through it all, there are accidents and a primitive understanding that this is still a dangerous landscape.


gabions 2

Gabions at Studland Beach, Dorset

Gabions counter erosion on beaches, usually under soft cliffs such as limestone and sandstone, or they protect roads and paths next to the beach. Lots of them in soft calcareous and slatey southern England: above, Studland Beach in Dorset, tidy genteel gabions made by a masonry culture – they look like dry stone walls.  Below, rough gabions in rough, granitey Scotland.

Duncan Astley. Gabions at Loch Hourn, Corran, ScotlandGabions are transparent to water, but obstruct larger things: sand and rock. A near-perfect solution, water is not thwarted, it comes and goes, but in a diminished way, its force absorbed by the gabion.  The fill would be formless and weak if not held in place by the wire cage which, with the lightest of touch, forms a fighting unit of rubble.


a luxury of bamboo sticks

bamboo scaffolding, Cambodia

Haven't much information on this photo, but it is from Vulgare, a most interesting landscape blog from France. 

Clearly this scaffold has something to do with cliff stabilisation: two weak systems pressed against each other to hold everything in place.  The tires at the bottom of the unscaffolded part are another such solution: gabions holding back the base.  And the shade arbour in the foreground, another fragile structure that in certain circumstances could be life-saving.  This is an unpeopled photograph of a scene dense with human need and activity.


the north

Terminology, very confusing.  As a child I learned that the difficulty in laying down the trans-continental Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s was crossing muskeg, which swallowed tracks and even whole trains.  This is what happened in the north, which I assumed was in Northern Canada, somewhere in the Northwest Territories, and as with things you learn in grade 8, I never examined it again until this past week in Sudbury.  

It is not that muskeg isn't a treacherous thing, great wetlands that form where there isn't drainage: bogs, full of decaying plant material, trapped moose and train tracks which eventually form peat and I suppose, ultimately coal.  No, the other treacherous thing is the word north.

The northern imagination written about by Northrop Fry, Margaret Atwood, embodied in the Group of Seven and Georgian Bay is not the north I thought it was, The North, north of the provinces.  It is actually western Ontario.   
This came as something of a surprise, given that Sudbury sits at 46°N and has a growing zone of 4b.  Calgary, which no one would consider north at all, sits almost 600km north at 51°N in zone 2b.

In another instance, the Ring of Fire is generally known as the zone of earthquake and volcanic activity that rings the Pacific Ocean, where the Pacific tectonic plate grinds against the North American plate, the Eurasian, Australian and Nazca plates.  In the west we hear a lot about it, especially in Vancouver where all buildings have been essentially rebuilt to earthquake standards.

But in Ontario, Ring of Fire is a mine in the James Bay region where chromium was recently discovered and for which a smelter is planned, much to the purported benefit of First Nations in the area.  It is seen as a revitalisation of Ontario's mining interest and will be introducing Chinese development interests to Sudbury.   I only know this because I watched Steve Paikin's Agenda last night on TVO where there was a debate on whether industrial development or species protection was more important in the north.  Their north.  The wishy-washy conclusion was that we should have both, which means that mining and forestry will proceed with glee and with a few ameliorative concessions to fish, birds and migrating herds. Who do not vote.

It is a different country, Ontario.

Preparing the ground for flatland housing development. Lonely yellow hydrant awaits.  
Anyway, this train of thought was triggered by a new subdivision (above) on a ridge that looks down on Sudbury.  Downtown Sudbury has a problem with drainage, sitting as it does on the bedrock of the Canadian Shield.  Water sits in lakes or in muskeggy wetlands, (they'd be called sloughs on the prairie, bogs on the coast).  In older districts, streets and the little houses lining them in the bottom of the basin in which downtown Sudbury sits, regularly flood, the streets become culverts and swales, the water hasn't got a lot of options.  Thus, new development perched on ridges above the city has a certain appeal.  

Putting in services for new development requires, by convention, that they be underground.  But there is no underground here, it is solid rock, so ground is created in a cut and fill way.  The rock is blasted into rubble and shifted around to make flat sites for houses with the sewer and water safely installed beneath.  
There are a lot of similarities between Sudbury and Yellowknife, where new development does exactly this, rock blasted into coarse gravel for developer houses on cul-de-sacs one could find anywhere in Canada.  Aleta Fowler wrote about this in On Site 14: does one go to the north to live as if one was in a southern Canadian suburb?

Kenneth Hayes has introduced the term geo-cosmopolitanism to the discussion of urban development which, in its rough outlines means being aware of and taking into account the deep geo-logic of place.  The naming is important, we can put geo-cosmopolitanism in all its complexity onto a different way of looking at cities, more deeply rooted in their history, their industries, their place in the world. 


Primary Russian Oil and Gas Pipelines to Europe

Living in oil & gas industry-obsessed Alberta, I find this map very interesting.  This is why Russia must be kept on side.  This is the underpinning to the cold war; this is all more important than the arms race/reduction treaty. 


Passeig de Gràcia, 1908

Barcelona en tranvia, 1908. Filmoteca Española

oh for trams, trolleys, street cars.  oh for a slow city.

click on the image above and it will take you to Europa Film Treasures and a short film taken from the front of a tram when the streets were full of children, dogs, people going somewhere.



What more is to be said about the Chilean mine rescue, given the acres of print about the seamy side of whatever story there is.  Why do we, in the developed nations, do this?  Why are we so intent on turning everything into a sleazy soap opera?  Is there a real problem with how right-wing is the president and whether or not the mining minister, having gone to Stanford and by definition is a member of the comprador bourgeoisie and whether or not miner 18 was separated and was living with someone else – does it matter? 

It was the most amazing saga I can remember since the invasion of Iraq, which I also watched in 24 hrs a day coverage on BBC World.  I remember thinking when the US had reached Baghdad airport, 'holy crow, that is the same distance away from where I live as if a hostile army had reached Calgary airport, a 20-minute dash up the Deerfoot'.

With the miners, yes the Mapuche hunger strike was concurrent, yes, the other miners thrown out of work by the same company that was mining the San José mine are protesting, but the world is now watching.  The attention on Chile is acute.  Canny politicians moving their underdeveloped country into first world status are not able to sweep anything under any sort of rug now. 

The oldest miner, Omar Reygadas, says of course he will go back to the mines.  He is a miner.  It is a reminder of when being a miner was a source of immense pride in the developed nations.  The miner's strike, broken by Margaret Thatcher, put paid to mining in the UK.  The Cape Breton miners, the men of the deeps, went to the wall along with the cod fishery.  However, Canada is still a mining country; we are a primary resource nation.   Would Christian Paradis have spent 50 of the last 70 days at, say, the tar sands, or a potash mine if there was a crisis involving the workers?   Somehow I doubt it.