Lately I have been thinking a lot about the transformation of the urban landscape. I work for U of M landcare and in the last couple of weeks I have watched the building I first came to know last year as a student employee be quickly demolished, the landscape leveled to reveal a new perspective of the city. The building is gone, every trace of it, within two or three weeks. Since the beginning of this year I have worked out of a new building down the road, so I have no particular emotional attachment to the old building other than any attachment one has with their habitual environment. But then if I meditate on that space just a while longer I remember that it was there that I dragged the debris and dumped the sand, there that I reported to at the wee hours of a blizzard morning to begin shoveling out the university;there that I learned how to drive the giant water truck and all sorts of utility vehicles; there that I learned how to be the girl; and there the building that supported the work that was the structured framework for stability during the truculence of life.
Geographers are interested in the changing landscape and question the nature of the patterns of social, economic and political development across space. I share this interest and these questions, but I feel that where geography suddenly becomes art is when I meditate on these a little longer, and I ask what does this mean. I want to not only study how the landscapes are changing and transforming, but what does this mean for the intricate intersections of people and activity, the interactions with the environment itself.
The old ladder building will be a major Light Rail Transit hub for transportation in a couple years. The Central Corridor LRT Line too, for better or worse, will completely transform the landscape we presently know. I don't know if it is the geographer or the artist in me that gets excited about demolitions and construction, the notion of things like "the edge of campus" or a road that trails off into nothingness. Last summer I was doing field work to update the National Wetland Inventory for Minnesota and came across the remnants of an old highway no longer in use. The sculpted landscape still retained the likeness of a highway-- a long stretch of flattened out terrain with no trees but wild growth of grasses and low-lying shrubs-- and I failed to do the research to find out how long the road had been discontinued. Maybe part of me enjoyed not knowing, there was a spookiness to the whole scene that I like to remember. Behind the stadium, the parking lot which I used to revere as "the edge of campus" is now being dug into a giant hole soon to be transformed into a research building that will block out the big sky and train tracks.
For my conceptual proposal, I have imagined a lot of things along the lines of constructing a building that once constructed will embody the memory of its construction. Such that you can go up to a wall and hear the sounds of the wall being created, or in the middle of a room you can hear the wind that might have once whipped throughout the interior of that space. Another idea would be the leveled landscape once occupied by a building could retrain structure in the mapping of the sounds that once lived within that space. In a way this reminds me of the history museum's exhibit about a house that was inhabited by four families with very different cultural backgrounds. However I wouldn't want this to be a permanent installation, but something that could be installed and reinstalled again at another time. This idea would be particularly poignant in places where land change has really disrupted their lives and communities.
Another idea would be to grant responsibility of a temporary development of a parcel of land to a community arts organization that puts the development of that space within the hands of the people. Say there was a ground rule, that nothing could be permanent and nobody could be excluded. Depending on the space, it would be interesting to see how planning would be handled on a very small scale. What sort of temporary structures would people built, who would participate, who wouldn't. Who would interact within that space, who wouldn't? I would be interested to see the dialogue and the outcomes of such a project.