Article Review: “Uncertain Parks: Disturbed Sites, Citizens, and Risk Society” by Elizabeth K. Myer

Myer, Elizabeth K. “Uncertain Parks: Disturbed Sites, Citizens, and Risk Society.” In Large Parks, by Julie Czerniak and George Hargreaves, 59-85. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007.

Beth Myer’s article, “Uncertain Parks: Disturbed Sites, Citizens, and Risk Society” discusses the development of large parks on formerly industrial sites. Myer frames these parks on disturbed sites in an historical context, citing the 19th century parks situated on former “royal gardens and hunting grounds,” 20th century parks situated “on large rural parcels, on the periphery of expanding cities.” The new location for large parks are called brownfields, gray fields and are legally known as Environmental Protection Agency-designated Superfund sites. Examples of these contemporary sites are Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord, Fresh Kills Park and Orange County Great Park. When discussing the large pastoral recreational parks of the late mid-20th century, Myers writes, “Large pastoral parks with ball fields and picnic shelters are more a form of amnesia, a practice of forgetting site histories, than indices of regional character” (62). The idea of “camaflouge sites” is used to examine the common aesthetic tool of making places (attractive or not) that ignore the consumptive and productive history of site. Particularly ironic is the fact that these sites were designed at a time in American politics when the environmental movement was passing legislation and public policy to deal with the consequences of industrial production and American consumerism. The legibility of consumption as a particularly American cultural quality in disturbed site design is important to Myer in a few ways. Myer writes, “design strategies that focus primarily on the ecological processes of remediating a toxic industrial site fail to account for the intermingling of the natural, social, and industrial processes that permeate such sites” (64). Large parks can play the cultural role that movies and newspapers do, to confront the public with the reality that is the consequences of consumptive lifestyles. The juxtaposition of remediation techniques and processes and active human use is a way to begin to change attitudes toward a truly sustainable lifestyle. Myer refers to this as “toxic discourse,” which is “an expression of a collectivity of consumer citizens who perceive their environment through the lens of uncertainty and risk” (66). Myer suggests, “Large parks are places where consumer-citizens are allowed the opportunity to recognize the gaps between their alleged environmental values and their patterns of consumption; within a large park on a disturbed site, a generation of consumer-environmentalist citizens might find physical manifestations of their contradictory beliefs, impulses and actions” (80).

Temporal and not special constructs, referred to as timescapes, are important in the remediation and legibility of large parks on disturbed sites. These timescapes intertwine “ecological and industrial processes that unfold over time” (81). This is important, also, in how these parks are represented. Myers cites the work of Anu Mathur and Dilip da Cunha as drawings that “might allow a designer, her consultants, and her clients to imagine new arrangements, juxtapositions, dislocations, and amplifications of events that in their incongruousness make evident the unspoken and unacknowledged risks and relationships we assume in exchange for our comforts” (67). Associated with this is the actual experience of the landscape as “aesthetic landscape experience-not pleasing, generic scenery-as a means to construct relationships and establish obligations between an individual and the world” (74). Myer concludes with a question and answer of speculatory self (as landscape architect) importance: “What might happen if that experience of beauty within risk caused a collectivity of individuals to act differently in their everyday lives? We might truly know what the cultural agency of landscape could be” (82).

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~ by pmicha1 on November 7, 2007.

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