Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Unlocking LU 1: Indeterminacy & Multiplicity

So as promised, I was planning on posting on some of the great content related to the initial issue on the Landscape Urbanism website.  The introduction by Sarah Kathleen Peck and Eliza Shaw Valk brings up some of the questions around the concept - with a focus on 'indeterminacy' and 'multiplicity' as well as looking at what drives the theory and discussion around landscape urbanism - namely what it is (or can be).

Surprising to many (but not surprising to most) - the goals of LU and many of the questions are not simple.  They are not about supplanting new urbanism, promoting suburban sprawl, evoking a nostalgia for le corbusian mega projects, or the many ill-conceived criticisms that have been thrown about by those threatened or at least too lazy to actually understand what's going on before condemnation.  The LU project, if you could call it that, is very succinctly presented in by Peck and Valk:
"We believe that we are trying to do something different. We are in uncharted territory because we are spinning new narratives. We are taking on new responsibilities, and we are approaching challenges with faceted lenses, recognizing and incorporating—with sense and sensibilities—the vast variety of interests, concerns, investments, and collisions that are the landscape of cities."
The interesting twist in all of this, and the reason for all this speculation - is also the root of most of the criticism of landscape urbanism.  The endeavor is about 'urbanism' as a concept related to study of urban areas, and not about creating solutions to specific problems.  This is old-school scholarship and theorizing - not using those two pathways in order to provide some semblance of a framework on which to hang an operational method.  So LU is criticized for its messiness, it's lack of coherence and clarity, and its willingness to acknowledge some of the ugly truths in our society.  Guess what?  That's what is being studied - so the methods have to match the context.  Cities are messy, they lack coherence and clarity, and often they are ugly both historically and currently - in terms of environmental pollution, social inequity, and as is being made evident in the recent occupation movement, economic disparity.

So we do the one thing we can.  We look, interpret, gauge, measure, hypothesize, and theorize.  As mentioned by Peck and Valk, "We err in the belief that landscape urbanism is a study, with parameters, but not an ideology. One conundrum among many."  Or, simply, we don't know - so we ask.  These are educated inquiries, but are driven by a lack of knowledge, not the knowledge that we have things figured out and want to offer a solution.  I feel that perhaps that is what is missing in the world right now.  The ability to look, and discuss - not in terms of solutions but in terms of asking the right questions and defining the right problems. 

So the issue tackles many of these themes in this vein, as Peck and Valk explain in their introduction, such as landscape urbanism "origins and future potential; its coherencies and incoherencies; and working definitions that hold the seemingly conflicting factors of space, time, indeterminacy, and multiplicity."    These are not just isolated questions about landscape urbanism theory that involves uni-disciplinary verbal masturbation or lionization of "new" methods for solving the worlds problems, but are related, fundamental questions about urbanism in general.  The goal is neither purely theoretical or academic or disconnected from on-the-ground practice, but is also fundamental to a greater understanding and application in the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, planning, and urban design.   The study, not as mentioned by the editors, is not an idealogy.  It is a journey and not a destination.

In subsequent posts I will look at some of this original content on landscape urbanism (the site) and focus on these fundamental questions related to landscape urbanism (the concept)... starting next with Gerdo Aquino's essay on 'the re-representation of landscape'.  Stay tuned.

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