Ivan Valin/Tim Bragan
Center for Urban Art and Ecological Remediation
is based on the assertion that creating another conventional monument-park
along Chicago's lakeshore in the hopes of making a significant, immediate,
and lasting contribution to the ethnic landscape of the city is flawed.
Healing the ethnic and socioeconomic fracturing that has long been a problem
in Chicago demands a culturally diverse, inclusive, process-driven approach
rather than a static monument. Although Chicago's civic spaces along the
lakeshore have long been regarded as places where diverse citizens come
together, their ability to significantly improve ethnic division within
the city is questionable. The reality of the city's geographically-defined
ethnic divide, which manifests itself in the disparity between lakeshore
parks in the north and south regions of the city and their patterns of
use, points to the fact that a new kind of civic space is needed. Ethnic
division is not Chicagos only problem--the ecology of the Great
Lakes region has long suffered from the pollutants of an industrial economy.
More recently, suburban sprawl and has only added to ecological problems
in local watersheds, increased air pollution and roads, and drawn interests
and efforts away from urban centers that once fostered communities. Our
culture's ubiquitous exploitation of the land ultimately reconstitutes
it as a minority that is as pervasive as it is forgotten.
industrial past left many sites throughout the city contaminated by toxic
byproducts -- rendering them useless as natural habitat and too dangerous
for human inhabitation. These "brownfield" sites, comprising
a number of conditions ranging from abandoned millworks to the built-up
edges of rivers and canals, demand to be rehabilitated. Scattered throughout
the city, these sites constitute an opportunity not only to reclaim sites
that have been compromised, but also to make a statement about our fundamental
responsibility to the land on a scale that can help to heal the city's
fractured socioeconomic landscape. Working at the level of the community,
the process of brownfield remediation, if structured in a way that includes
local efforts and addresses local concerns, might re-center communities
as it heals the environment. Given its prominent location at the mouth
of the Chicago River (treading the line between ethnically distinct zones
of the city and embedded in the string of civic spaces that line the city's
lakeshore) the DuSable site demands a program that will address these
issues in monumental and practical terms -- both as a working paradigm
of how to approach similar sites and as a catalyst for the process itself.
In that regard, the Center for Urban Art and Ecological Remediation attempts
to create a place where Chicago's diverse citizenry can work together
to make a contribution to the social and environmental landscapes of the
city and in doing so learn respect for the environment and each other.
of artistic and ecological components is an important aspect of the project.
Not only does it exemplify and reinforce the notion of juxtaposing diversity
in order to foster a community of inclusion, it also provides an opportunity
for the center to connect to people on a variety of levels. By including
an artistic agenda, remediation sites throughout the city become community
projects that address both social and environmental issues. This site
in particular will function as an ongoing remediation project as well
as civic, pedagogical, and monumental space. The site is broadly divided
into three main components: a builtscape of housing, labs, studios, exhibition
spaces, and connections into the city; experimental remediation and exhibition
fields including a pond/marsh that naturally treats runoff; and a monumental
mound of untended earth that rises above the nearby highway. The builtscape
and fields are layered with structural connection points and access paths
to encourage temporary and spontaneous inhabitation and installations.
Thus, through its unique composition and program, the site challenges
the conventional relationship between visitor and park.
with the broad notions of inclusion and participation, the entire site
will be open to the public. A grid of connective paths encourages visitors
or passers-by on the nearby bike path to explore the experimental fields
or examine the vegetative succession reinstating itself on the mound.
In addition, a large hoist and associated walkway connects all three zones
allowing art installations, temporary shelters, plant matter, and other
materials to be moved and created across the site or loaded onto boats
and carried to remote sites. While coincidental visits from the public
are an important part of the Center, the program is driven mainly by the
lab/studios where ecologists, artists, students, and community members
work together on installation or remediation projects sited throughout
the city. Thus the center would actively engage the public by encouraging
local school groups to visit, maintaining an artists or scientists in
residence program, allowing students from nearby universities to use the
facilities for research, and encouraging volunteers to work on the site
on weekends or evenings.
While the builtscape and experimental fields address more practical aspects of the Center, the mound functions in a monumental capacity, reminding us of the intrinsic value of the land and emphasizing the importance of recognizing it on its own terms. In its infancy, the mound will resemble a pile of industrial material, symbolizing the prosperity and subsequent environmental damage experienced by the Great Lakes Region over the last century. Given this potential interpretation, the mounds presence will force citizens to rethink the ecological and aesthetic consequences of our consumer culture. Over time, the process of succession (the omnipresent force of vegetation reasserting itself that will eventually culminate in a mature forest) will demonstrate the latent regenerative potential of undisturbed land. As a monument, this process of healing will become symbolic not only of the reclamation of Chicagos environment, but also the healing of its fractured socioeconomic and ethnic landscapes.