Sunday, April 15, 2012

Object Lesson: Territorialization

[from The Green Intifada, multiple landscape strategies of territorialization are at work here]

Palestinian land owners are planting olivetrees in the West Bank.  This is not only an ecological project aimed at soil conservation and an economic effort intended to increase agricultural production, but also a political strategy intended to resist occupation.  Over at the Atlantic, Anna Van Hollen writes:

On one of the world's most bitterly contested pieces of land, natural resources have long played a central role. Together with water and mining rights, the right to one's trees and the fruit that they bear has come to be inseparably linked to the political struggle at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This project reminds us of another, highlighted over on mammoth a few years ago, that showed how new farming practices on the Sahel (or, more appropriately, recovered farming practices) are leading to increased crop yields through Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration strategies.  Throughout the region farmers are recovering and adapting the techniques, lost during colonialism and the resource-intensive green revolution, to cultivate and manage the native trees that seed themselves in their fields.  These trees then shade the crops, reducing the need for water, and their root systems aid with rainwater percolation and soil conservation.  The biomass they produce can be used as a small- scale fuel source and they provide habitat for rabbits and other animals.  The strategy is a sort of lo-fi landscape practice which stands in stark contrast to the resource intensive and technocratic green revolution, with it’s emphasis on foreign capital, fertilizers, and engineered materials seeds.  Scientific American notes a local bureaucrat:

"Before this trip, I always thought about what external inputs were required to increase food production," Gabriel Coulibaly said at a debriefing session after our fact-finding expedition. Coulibaly, a Malian who worked as a consultant to the European Union and other international organizations, added, "But now I see that farmers can create solutions themselves, and that is what will make those solutions sustainable. Farmers manage this technology, so no one can take it away from them."

["zai" or "tassa" (water pockets) are a traditional Sahel farming practice and consists of creating holes .2- .4m diameter wide and .1- .25m deep; these are then filled with two handfulls of organic material such as crop residue, manure, or compost; tree seedlings that take root in these fields are often then cultivated in addition to sown grains]

This is not to say that the material strategies of genetic manipulation, industrial fertilizer application, or capital investment has no place, but only to assert that they do have a politics.  In the context of the Sahel, this lo-fi form of landscape practice might be seen as a method of territorialization offering direct resistance against the institutions that control foreign capital and technology.  What is more, when combined with the Green Belt Project, formerly lead by the late ecofeminist Wangari Maathai, it is a landscape practice resisting occupation on a geological scale by pushing back against the expanding Sahara Desert through setting new bounds and establishing methods of control and maintenance within that territory.  These are lessons worth taking not only for the ethical implications and to stand in critique to the practitioners merrily putting public parks all over our cultural heritage, but because of the possibilities for new forms and types of landscapes that might arise.

As we’ve discussed here before, this act of territorialization is fundamental to landscape practice and can take many forms- from 17th century English surveying techniques to planting trees in the West Bank to clearing an old warehouse district and putting in a waterfront park in St. Louis.  Despite the admonishments of Foucault it seems that in landscape architectural practice we rarely consider the act of territorialization as a profound and fundamental facet of landscape design.  Instead, as Timothy Morton has hinted, we limit ourselves to a historicized aestheticism, preferring to grapple mainly with certain visual effects of this facet of our practice.  This is too bad because as the Palestinian effort to replant olive groves in the West Bank shows, within landscape practice the assertive act of territorialization- whether through aggression or resistance- is not just political, it’s ontological.

[91 acres of some of the oldest and most important building on the Mississippi River in St. Louis were cleared in 1942 to make way for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial; at the beginning of the demolition project Bernard Dickmann, the mayor at the time, said "it is with mingled feelings of pride and reverence that we gather here today"; the act of landscape making here was fundamentally and aggressive act of territorialization by a federal bureaucracy; it's effects were spectacular and somewhat devastating]

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