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Reviewed by:
  • Nature 3.X: Where is Nature Now?
  • Blaine Brownell (bio)
Minneapolis, MN, April 17–18, 2015

The best time for a discipline to be rejuvenated is in the wake of consequential transformation. The Nature 3.x symposium, held April 17–18, 2015 at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, addressed powerful global events and forces that are prompting a redefinition of nature. Such a broad collective reassessment is exposing the limitations of traditional views of the biosphere, as well as the follies inherent in humanity’s conventional engagement with the natural world. Based on its close association with the topic, landscape architecture has become a central point of discussion, and the conference provided glimpses of possible futures for the field.

Nature 3.x was hosted by two University of Minnesota faculty—Matthew Tucker, assistant professor in Landscape Architecture, and Christine Baeumler, associate professor in Art. The event brought together a diverse group of academics and practitioners from these and related fields, providing a forum for dialogue about humanity’s changing relationship with the natural world. As the symposium brief summarized: “It is time to update to a new version of nature, one that is suited for the realities of the 21st century. In doing so, we must first ask the question, ‘Where is Nature Now?’”

Two events preceded a day-long sequence of lectures on April 18: a student charrette with Seattle artist Buster Simpson entitled “Urban Headwaters” at the University of Minnesota Traveler’s Innovation Lab on April 15; and an opening reception and lecture co-hosted with the Minneapolis Parks Foundation on April 17 featuring Kate Orff, principal of SCAPE and director of Columbia University’s graduate urban design program. All talks were held in the Best Buy Theater’s newly renovated Northrop Auditorium, a setting conducive to visually immersive presentations as well as engaging conversations.

Orff’s opening lecture, entitled “Next Generation Parks,” focused on SCAPE’s recent work. Orff called parks “urban infrastructure for the next century,” declaring that they operate not only as social infrastructure, but also as physical and performing infrastructure. Global threats of increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, and storm intensities are ongoing climatological concerns that influence Orff’s work. These influences are evident in SCAPE’s Living Breakwaters project on Staten Island, New York, which proposes a model of next century resilience. Performing infrastructure is also a theme in inland projects such as the Minneapolis Waterworks, and the Town Branch Commons in Lexington, Kentucky. Orff criticized the old view of “passive” versus “active” landscapes (e.g., Olmsted versus Moses), instead advocating a new paradigm for landscape architecture based on the notion of “global gardening” in the wake of irreversible climatic conditions.

On April 18, Matthew Tucker opened the day-long sequence of talks with an unequivocal look at the Anthropocene epoch and its enduring effects. He provided a sweeping view of the irreparable changes humanity has created, with sobering facts related to agriculture, biodiversity, and watershed management. For example, at least 90% of corn, cotton, and soybean crops in the U.S. are genetically modified—motivating Tucker to proclaim that we have a “genetically modified environment.” The amount of planetary landmass recognized as “natural” biome continues to decrease, and the most recent measurement—made in [End Page 202] 2000—suggests that only 25% remains. According to Tucker, anthromes have thus overtaken biomes. This dramatic shift in perspective suggests profound implications. For example, natural disasters could now be considered anthropogenic events—insofar as calamities such as storms and floods are caused or exacerbated by human planetary influence.

Tucker’s conclusion that we “need to think about a new kind of nature” was reinforced in the following talk by Andrew Blackwell, a New York-based journalist, filmmaker, and author of Visit Sunny Chernobyl—And Other Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places. In his lecture, Blackwell revealed the unexpected similarities between two of our most intensely managed landscapes: the site of the Chernobyl incident in northern Ukraine and Yosemite National Park. Both are controlled by regulated boundaries, are continually monitored, and contain wilderness that appears to embody the...


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pp. 202-204
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