Monday, May 23, 2011

Today's Newsdesk: Welekia and the Worldwide Soil Map

Just a few bits of awesomeness to share today.  Recently in the great, horrible city of Los Angeles we had the chance to hear a fellow named Eric Sanderson speak about his project some of you may have heard about.  Manahatta brings together two of our favorite fields of inquiry- landscape archeology [the term is used loosely here] and landscape ecology with the idea of reimagining the island of Manhattan 400 years ago.  Sanderson has noted before that his interest in the landscape history of the island of Manhattan originated with the discovery of the incredible 1784 British Headquarters Map.
[the map that inspired a damn cool project- the 1784 British Headquarters Map]

We are happy to note that the much publicized book has evolved into an even more interesting project called Welekia.  The name seems to draw cleverly on the Wikipedia and Wikileaks projects, but it doesn’t.  It’s actually referencing the Lenape word for “my good home” and that part is important.  The Welekia/Manahatta project is not an effort to recreate the mythical wilderness that Europeans constructed on arriving here, but to recover the constructed landscape of the Americas.

To this end, the project reconstructs the human and non-human ecologies of the island of Manhattan from before European arrival, through the colonial period and up to the present day.  It does this through a series of GIS-dependent mappings, Muir webs, lists, and historical research all compiled in simple, sortable, searchable google earth maps; and it allows you to compare the bizarre ecology of the West Village today with what it was 400 years ago.  We appreciate this grounded concept of the place- understanding it as a continuous and contemporaneous condition, without emphasizing certain arbitrary species and associations.  What’s more, it is fun, and worth spending several hours playing around with.  What is more, this type of intelligible, connected reading of the site promises to support all manner of future landscape projects, be they interventions or educational projects.  We imagine that a complex and rich understanding of specific American landscapes, including those that pre-date colonization, will help develop a unique American landscape theory.
[Chief Tishcohan of the Lenape]

[Muir web of the island of Manhattan]

In a similar vein the Global Soil Map is a project that aims to map the soils across the globe “giving soil researchers unprecedented access to data. But they will also provide soil-management recommendations for a wide range of end users: scale-specific information for agriculture extension workers, agribusinesses, farmer associations, environmental extension services, policymakers, and civil society.”  The project recognizes that understanding and caring for soils can no longer remain the fiefdom of technocrats and seeks to use digital tools to better represent the dynamic nature of soil as a medium.

We can imagine this type of archeological soil mapping revealing how the terra preta soils of Brazil captured carbon and supported a garden city urbanism on a regional scale, sequestering carbon and enriching nutrient poor tropical soils.  And we hope to see future landscape projects focused on the agency of soil itself.  While the traditional capital project will remain important, essential in this effort will be the development of new methods and tools to expand agency in the landscape.
[a landscape architect/excavator with ceramic embedded in terra preta in the Brazilian rain forest]

[the agency of soil]

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