Unintended Ecologies

[Found this abandoned snippet of an idea while dredging through the drafts for the upcoming #mammothbook reading of The Infrastructural City. My chapter is the focus of the week of April 26th – so stay tuned! ]

Unintended ecologies

Toxic site, military sites, nuclear sites, abandoned sites: fenced off and isolated from human activities have a more diverse ecosystem then surrounding developed areas – [amazing] robustness of natural systems to reclaim and rebound once [human] pressure is removed. Not all levels of toxic sites are able to support ecologies- tailings/slag/chemical lagoons [are dead zones killing all that comes into contact]. Power line easements become wildlife corridors; military reservations preserve open space (adaptation of fauna to explosions and occasional exercises); hawks nest on transmission towers and tall buildings.

Structures (dams, bridges, towers) interfere with migration and travel- collisions and barriers. Isolation and fragmentation of habitat
Urbanization of wildlife- coyotes inhabiting urban parks; rats, raccoons, pigeons, geese, possums, deer have thrived in suburban and urban areas- sewers, vacant lots, alleyways provide varied terrain, lots of hiding spaces, low traffic areas, isolation in the midst of cities. Suburban sprawl provides lots of open interstitial spaces for habitat of lawns, gardens, garbage dumps, golf courses, and airports.

Fish ladders at dams concentrate and expose the fish that are supposed to be helped to increase predators.

Dumping the Colorado River water into the [Arizona] desert has created a flourishing wetland and ‘natural reserve’ where there never was one in Mexico. EPA preserves any created wetlands even when not intentional.

Issues of restoration or mitigation [of Owens Lake]:

Fixing the lake- dust is a dangerous and unintended, so it must be reduced by engineering. Obligation of Los Angeles as the colonizing power structure is to minimize the impact of extraction. Taking the water back is wrong in that it benefits millions.

As an isolated wetland- the Owens River watershed has a wide ranging area of influence on migrating birds- potential to leverage a significant impact of increased population (stability of such a larger more complex system is ethical desirable) compared to more urbanized and settled areas where human pressures are greater. Historic role as migratory feeding zone has been diminished by reduced size of riparian zones through the flow of water and salinity levels. Pragmatic desire for increased economic generation through non-destructive (non-extractive) methods.

3 thoughts on “Unintended Ecologies

  1. I’m reminded of the dried-out oilfields of Orange County – in the early 90s, they were basically just empty fields with pumpjacks dotted throughout. A fantastic place for birdwatching, and one of the many slivers of land that allowed wildlife passage through the sprawl. Today, they’ve been covered over with a golf course and acres of suburban lawns, and you couldn’t find a hawk or coyote if you wanted to.

    Ironically, the marketing for the country club emphasizes how it replaced a brownfield industrial site with clean, green simulated nature.

  2. “Toxic site, military sites, nuclear sites, abandoned sites: fenced off and isolated from human activities have a more diverse ecosystem then surrounding developed areas”


    Are you familiar with Bruce Sterling’s coinage of the term “involuntary parks”? I first ran across it in Mary Mycio’s Wormwood Forest, which is a really interesting title that looks at the ecology of the area surrounding Chernobyl, post-disaster.

  3. Peter

    Very interesting case study – any pictures? Never spent much time in the OC, but have seen similar post industrial lands redeveloped into condos with similar ecological impacts elsewhere.


    Sterling is one of my muses, so thanks! I’ll have to check out Mycio’s work too once the semester wraps up.

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