Organized around a theme of “Resiliency and Failure,” this research collaborative explores—through public, academic, & pedagogic programming— how complex infrastructures (cultural, political, policy-based, economic, social, urban, and ecological) are networked (or not), constructed (or fragmented), and dynamic (or static) within complex city and regional landscapes. Duluth, Minnesota, serves as an immersive and extensive local case study and test-field for global issues.
Working with the City of Duluth, public and private stakeholders, community members and NGOs to envision resilient, alternative urban futures, students explored questions of resiliency, risk, adaptation and failure across large scale urban and landscape infrastructure. The Resilient Infrastructures Research Collaborative has been involved in this effort.
The Landscape Architecture and Architecture Graduate students begin their semester with a class visit in September to Duluth and the Iron Range, hearing presentations and touring sites for three days, then working in teams to analyze the complex systems of industry, infrastructure, culture and land use. In October, they return to get input on their ideas from various stakeholders, before the groups develop final design ideas for the semester. Ideas for a resilient future in Duluth have included smart manufacturing, an ecological stream lab, a hop production operation, and neighborhood energy production.
The city has been re-presented in different ways, that is, different structural logics—call them aesthetic conventions—have been imposed for various reasons and at separate times upon the city’s imagined (imaged) form. Every discourse sets up a spatial order, a frozen image that captures the manner in which the transitory present is perceived. Momentarily arresting disruptive and energetic forces, representational forms become succinct records of what we consider to be present reality.
M. Christine Boyer, The City of Collective Memory
It could be said that an apparently vacant site has a metaphysical occupancy through the various fragments and material traces that are scattered and embedded throughout; a layer of dust on a windowsill, a bullet hole in a stone wall, or the profound additional meanings attached to the disused rail tracks in the city. It is by studying these attributes that we can build and accumulate an archive of possibilities with which to develop design proposals that register the properties of the site while contributing to the creation of something new.
James A. Craig, Matt Ozga-Lawn, Pamphlet Architecture 32: Resilience
Present day Duluth emerged from an 18th and 19th century amalgam of opportunity and enterprise meeting Archean and Proterozoic geologies. This collision, formed by the encounter of human industry and economy with the essential ferric landscapes of the Iron Range and the liquid bodies of the Great Lakes, has given Duluth its history and set the stage for its alternative and desired (however ambiguous) urban futures. The geologic scale of time that operated on the slowly transforming Precambrian landscapes of the North Shore operates today as an odd inverse—driven completely by the hyper-speed of industry and economy. This geologic scale of landscape transformation is accelerated by a compression of time—taking place throughout the mines of Keewatin Taconite, United Taconite, Hibbing Taconite, and many others—and now, using technology seemingly fitting for Star Trek—in the form of companies like Magnetation and their billion dollar a year export of former ore waste materials to Mexico.
Today, Duluth is a 27-mile long city, with over a 700-foot elevation difference from crest to the shores of Lake Superior, formed by glacial and volcanic rocks at the Mid-continental divide, with a geologic section that has bedrock at times, no more than 100 feet below streets and buildings. The geography—both cultural and physical—is deeply embedded with and connected to the regional traditions and reality of the Iron Range—to manufacturing, extraction, ideas of place and belonging, of national and international history, of drastic turns of fortune, and of the contemporary need to address how the city can find new footing as an economic and cultural center. And as a place that matters.
Plateaued at an approximate population of 86,000 since the 1990s (from a steady decline since the 1930s), present day Duluth wrestles with the legacies of an urban reality that links one of the oldest housing stocks in the US to a complex love/hate history with the Iron Range—a history that colors, to this day, both memory and a desire to move beyond the “rose-colored view of a return to the hey-day of heavy industrial manufacturing” to new industries (aerospace +education+health-care) and new focii (art and culture, recreational tourism). This history— cultural, industrial, and urban—must contend with the geography of the city itself and its infrastructural systems, its disparate neighborhoods, the presence of the Duluth-Superior Port and it’s implications as a waterway to the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence, and the Atlantic. All of this exists in a context of the reality of new and varying capital models (Such as the Atwater Group, Loll Design) and the strong pull of historical and cultural memory, of shifting (and potentially drastic shifts) populations and demographics (locals, insiders, students). All of that then must contend with notions of new + old populations and their expectations of ways of living, of challenging type and typologies.
Home to more millionaires per capita than anywhere in the world by the end of the 19th century, Duluth’s fortunes radically shifted in the 1950s, inextricably tied to the reality of the Iron Range. The depletion of high-grade ore on the Range, the closure of the US Steel Plant (now a superfund site, along with Interlake Tar in the Port), the loss of heavy manufacturing and shipbuilding, brought Duluth on par with cities like Flint, Michigan. Mayor Don Ness’ 90/20 Initiative—to grow Duluth to a population of 90,000 by the year 2020 is a major benchmark, one, that in his words, will require significant risk.
This is the backdrop of challenge, provocation and importance for this research collaborative— to engage perennial questions in a global reality (with global economic and physical connections) within a local context. Spurred on by the catastrophic failure in infrastructure as evidenced by the floods in June of 2012, by the demographic stasis of the community, the cultural inertia of Iron Range/Industrial history, and the anticipatory savior of a natural and recreational future with the desire to develop, nurture, and grow Duluth into a vibrant urban future. This research collaborative was further influenced by Hurricane Sandy and the resultant ecological, urban, infrastructural (and sadly, political) challenges in its aftermath.
Groundwork for this research collaborative grew out of a efforts to teach a joint design studio in the Fall of 2012. This first offering included studies of a pre-, during- and post-Katrina New Orleans, of how we can map, visualize and spatialize an understanding of the varied systems at play in urban environments—where they require re-assembly, dis-assembly, transformation, augmentation, re-configuration—and perhaps most importantly, their resultant social, cultural and ethical implications. This early test-run (not seen as a test-run at the time) included fieldwork in Virginia, Hibbing and Mountain Iron, in “natural” landscapes and manufactured (mining) landscapes, in rural, urban and peri-urban settings. Students met with Duluth mayor Don Ness, Duluth City Officials (the City Energy Coordinator, Senior Planner), local and private businesses, non-governmental organizations and public agencies (The Port of Duluth-Superior, the Army Corps of Engineers), as well as faculty and staff at UMD.
While this context was essential for helping ground student work in the fall of 2012, we realized that we needed a robust and more engaged intellectual framework for developing the work as an engaged, long term project through multiple means and methods—at once public, academic and pedagogically focused. Our goals through this research collaborative include: 1) connecting students at the University of Minnesota across departments that deepen their academic and intellectual engagement around the complex topic of designing for resiliency, 2) to provide these students an opportunity to engage with creative and challenging intellectual provocations through master-classes, 3) to extend and make more robust the teaching and research possibilities for our faculty, 4) to connect the classroom and studio to the community and professional world, and 5) to link teaching and research to real world contexts, opportunities, and challenges in the state of Minnesota. Ultimately, this research collaborative is a first step at establishing an intellectual and participatory feedback loop between academic disciplines, between the public and the university, between the poetic and pragmatic.
Real, imaged, and imagined, discussed through public, academic and pedagogical spheres, this research collaborative will set the stage for how the consideration of multiple systems and their potential alignments and misalignments, their scale and complexity, their visibility or invisibility, their manifested natures and their potential. qualities and properties can generate projective scenarios that set out a new future for the city of Duluth. Constructed on the foundation of past-futures that have collapsed upon the present, melancholy1 Duluth is a city torn between an unfulfilled desire for an industrial past and the hope of a future defined by images of other cities. Real Duluth is imagined Duluth—an-going process of becoming, a repository of dreams, wishes, and desires made concrete in buildings, infrastructure, landscape, and the movement of people living their lives.