Having never attended any architecture class before, having no background to bring other than a true desire to have this place, this creek and our communities get a do-over, I humbly sat with Niall Kirkwood's class and participated in the process that was revealed this week.
Earl Hatley, LEAD Agency's Grand Riverkeeper joined in the sessions from Vermont while half of the students joined each week from their homes in China, since all the classes on the campus at Harvard have been remote this year.
We sat together and throughout the class sessions professional landscape architects joined to present their styles and to serve as critics for the student work as it progressed through the winter and into spring.
During the last moments of the class Earl had to ask the question we both had had and had failed to ask: how did the students decide what to take on, which of the issues at Tar Creek, and there are many, how did they select their project goal?
Earl suggested perhaps all of our issues were put in a hat and each student pulled one out? No, Niall said he "had not divvied them up but they each had decided on their own. and continued saying "this is not the end, it will carry on. Studios are driven by the students, freedom to promote their own ideas."
The class came about because of Niall's visit twenty years ago with 3 other Harvard professors. "The impression the people, the reception, the circle dance in the gymnasium, the Toxic Tour, Tar Creek, the chat piles and my now frayed t-shirt, the visual memories haunt me forever and are deep and centered in what I am interested in. This is only a start of how we will engage."
The student work began with Holly's "Weave the Unseen." Her installation gives attention to the river (Tar Creek she calls our river) by beginning her project on 2nd street in the neighborhood by Roosevelt school and brings the community directly into the campus of NEO, which she mentioned was established in 1919 as the School of Mines.
Through a system of linked patches the unseen treats the water and brings people into a dialogue with the land and the eco-system to the edge of the creek in an area for contemplation, instruction, entertainment and cultural events.
Au Sun reminded us that the Quapaw were mound builders and are in the process of building new ones on their land mounding contaminated and unusable materials into structures that can resemble their past. Reshaping their land grouping piles with wisdom of wind direction will create microclimates, these sites become classrooms of evolving environment and reminders of past culture.
The Healing Power of Vicky Wang took us to life after the chat piles, the regenerative form as the land becomes natural prairie, adding fruit trees and making agriculture a self-healing and growing future.
You have to allow others to see our place in their own way and Ms Zhang saw us a colorful, originally aesthetically striking and through her project how these colors will shift as our environment is cleansed.
Yokki took on Tar Creek herself using phyto-remedial planting and a wetland strategy using passive treatment and braiding river morphology to relieve the most urgent and contaminated stream and restore the dynamic and affected landscape once more to Tallgrass prairie preserve. But Diane just re-routs Tar Creek, creates a useable, enjoyable stream while mine-discharge is treated.
Dear Olivia took on the flooding while Jackie and Alykhan use technology to give Miami a whole new life.
Joyce took on the last but not least challenge. The sinkholes don't rank as solvable and are never reduced or considered as fixable by EPA, they receive zero funding. Using her network of phytoremediation pods ON the sinkhole, the water would be treated and to be protective of humans, robots would manage the system. Pedestrian walkways allow visitors to safely view the work, that Mark Grigsby suggested must be constructed with lightweight materials since the ground is unstable near those sites. The studio was charged with excitement with the innovative project with Kurt Frantzen offering to submit a proposal in 6 month to Elon Musk for private funding to begin the project at once! As Joyce concluded she hoped through her work, "the landscape could become beloved."
I have long thought this place will only find the solutions and the reclamation deserved by establishing relationships with people with vision, skills and training and ultimately the power who will see this place but also see and experience us, each of us they encounter as people who matter, who have lives that matter and desires to live in places students like these can imagine.
We will always be grateful to Niall Kirkwood for remembering his experiences, the challenges we face, but mostly for remembering us and allowing us to meet his friend Kurt and his huge cadre of colleagues who so kindly guided these students with their projects throughout the semester. These students took on Tar Creek and with their projects Remade it all and gave hope where there has been none.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim