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Saturday, June 10 • 9:50am - 10:10am
Plants in Pavement: The Future Ecologies of Abandoned Asphalt

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This paper will discuss Plants in Pavement – an ongoing effort across the arts and sciences that challenges the reliance on large-scale industrial technology to redress the ecological failings of built-environment infrastructure. The project focuses on responses that are dependent upon resource intensive environmental recovery and function under the guise of efficiency despite these practices systemically engendering inaction. Through an initial focus on abandoned or underutilized asphalted areas in rural contexts the project departs from dialogues surrounding over-asphalting that almost exclusively concentrate on urban conditions. We found that common mitigation efforts do not generally account for the limitations and dynamics unique to rural settings – with many approaches perpetuating necropolitical cycles that continue to frame marginalized communities burdened with their own environmental injustices as the sacrifice zones for alleviating the same problems elsewhere.

How can we put certain ecologically and socially compromised spaces on paths toward recovery that are honest about their futures? How should these processes change when acknowledging that the barriers to addressing their landscapes – often requiring aspirations of revitalization or expectations of economic reinvention – frequently leave these sites and their compounding impacts in place indefinitely? Conversely, how can we do this while taking seriously the concern that certain environmentally restorative interventions meet resistance because of how they are perceived as taking away sites of potential and past prosperity in areas that need it?

Plants in Pavement is a cross-institution experimental study and site-specific public art project that works with professionals across the arts and asphalt, plant, and soil sciences to design and test processes that work with root vegetables to strategically break up and green asphalt. The project aims to address how impervious surfaces exacerbate flooding, reshape wetlands, heat local water systems from runoff, and cause habitat fragmentation that limits the movement of wildlife, amongst other concerns. Focused on developing methods that are not exclusively reliant upon the same industrial machinery complicit in enacting environmental injustice, we work with plants to increase water penetration, surface cooling, and the restoration of soil health.

Important to this project has been developing processes that endow subsequent occupants, human and non-human, with significant agency in determining how they inhabit the locations with minimal constraints imposed upon them by current interventions. Here, we aim to counter a system where adaptive reuse and industrial material reclamation can be employed to reinforce a status quo through a veneer of social and environmental responsibility.

The paper will expand on the current iterations and potential future directions for the project, which takes the form of site-specific patterns to clearly indicate these spaces are sites of care, rather than neglect. With a particular sensitivity toward vegetation growing in asphalt often signaling disorder and indifference, the project establishes that aesthetics should not be a superficial layer atop an utilitarian process, but inherently a part of the development itself – in this case from the choice of plants to the factors that inform different asphalt fracturing strategies.


Daniel Feinberg

Berea College

Saturday June 10, 2023 9:50am - 10:10am EDT
PS 406 (Design Center)