By 2050, the United Nations projects a growth in the world’s urban population by 2.5 billion. This surge represents the addition on nearly 300 times the population of New York City to the global urban community in the next 35 years. With this staggering increase also comes the tremendous act of constructing the necessary infrastructure and development to support its growth. During this process, we as design professionals are challenged to ensure the equitable, safe, and sensitive design of these territories. However, the construction of these environments relies on vast quantities of natural resources, and even vaster territories from which they come.
The extraction and reconstitution of natural resources is necessary for the physical and economic growth of cities. We must build. We will continue to build. However, we are disconnected from the sites of natural resource extraction on which we so deeply rely. We must examine the implications associated with growth of this scale and its relation to the sites from which its raw material will be extracted.
For every brick, slab of granite or marble, there is an associated landscape from which it has been removed, and vast networks of supporting infrastructure. With this act of taking comes significant environmental, social, and economic implications. Mountainsides and valleys are stripped, fields and forests cleared, watersheds deteriorated, and habitats destroyed. Communities endure pollution associated with the operations of these sites and workers often face hazardous conditions. In 2014 alone, the US extracted 2.3 billion metric tons of cement, clay, gypsum, sand, gravel, and stone from 12,115 sites in all 50 states worth ~79 billion dollars (USGS Mineral Commodities Report).
Important to consider is that the process of extraction is temporary. There is a finite amount of material to be sourced from any site. Once this material has been depleted or extracting it becomes economically unfeasible, these sites are often left stripped of all ecological and economic value. What they retain, is a haunting beauty and a glimpse at an otherwise hidden geological history.
It is the intention of the proposal to investigate the logics of extraction and how we as design professionals can operate within this complex environment. The act of extraction is multi-scalar and influences both planning decisions made at the regional scale, and the physical shaping of the ground on a given site. The study will examine historic typologies of extraction and their modern counterparts. Comparisons between different methods of extraction and their effect on a sites natural and socioeconomic landscape will be made. The policies associated with the extraction of natural resources and their impact on site selection, mode of operation, and legacy planning or mitigation will be explored.
Through these investigations, the research will develop a deeper understanding of the metrics associated with a variety of extraction techniques and shed light on the trade-offs made during this process. With this understanding, explorations into new possibilities for restorative ecologies and re-use of former extraction sites will be made.
*cover image credit: edward burtynsky