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From the Archive: Earth Day at 50

To mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we’ve assembled a selection of fifty articles from our archive that respond, in different ways, to the call first made on April 22, 1970, to pay attention to the environment, and take action to protect it. At the time, millions of people across the United States took part in marches, demonstrations, teach-ins, and clean-ups, fostering a collective sense of environmental responsibility that provoked political action in the form of new legislation for clean air and water, and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Since then, gains have continued to be made, but losses have continued, too — and the actions of the current U.S. Administration have shown all too clearly that these gains must themselves be protected. At the same time, the urgency that sparked the activism of the first Earth Day has only intensified.

In the articles included in this reading list, writers, artists, and designers offer ways of seeing, experiencing, and understanding environments. They are concerned with landscapes in transition, from places marked by the practices of extractive industries to regions shaped by war and disaster. They examine the emergent (and disappearing) spaces of the Anthropocene and consider the possibilities of adapting to the challenges of climate change. Some look to everyday places, finding inspiration in the cracks in the pavement or the backyard. Others explore the massive infrastructural interventions that have transformed landscapes around the world, from New Deal-era dams to the taming of the L.A. River and the effects of urbanization on the Yangtze River and Monterrey. Several articles reflect on the narratives that shape how we perceive certain landscapes, from colonialism to landscape aesthetics to Romantic poetry, and consider the effects of the methods and measures by which we make sense of the material world.


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    Ecology and Design: Parallel Genealogies

    Places Journal

    The word “ecology” has been co-opted so widely that it has lost real meaning, yet it remains a powerful lens for designers working with complex adaptive systems.

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    Landscape with Beavers

    Places Journal

    Beavers have gained a reputation as environmental engineers who can restore water systems — and challenge their human neighbors to think differently about land use.

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    The Flora of the Future

    Places Journal

    Celebrating the botanical diversity of cities. A photo survey of urban wild plants.

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    The Dilbit Hits the Fan: Alberta Oil

    Places Journal

    If the Keystone XL pipeline is dead, what is the future of the Alberta tar sands? A veteran environmental journalist looks at Canadian energy infrastructure.

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    Confluences

    Places Journal

    Photographs of a landscape of incredible contradictions in the Inland Pacific Northwest.

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    The Land Where Birds Are Grown

    Places Journal

    A visit to the engineered wetlands of California’s intensively cultivated Central Valley.

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    The Things They Piled

    Places Journal

    Mountains of petcoke in Southeast Chicago finally came down this month. Terry Evans photographs an industrial landscape in transition.

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    The Big Data of Ice, Rocks, Soils, and Sediments

    Places Journal

    Inside the material archives of climate science, which get wilder and dirtier the deeper you go.

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    Emergent Shorelands of the Great Lakes

    Places Journal

    Dramatic fluctuations at the water’s edge create zones of opportunity for landscape designers and planners.

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    Our Invisible Presence

    Places Journal

    Our most important interactions with landscape leave traces that cannot be contained within the photographic frame.

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    The Lay of the Land

    Places Journal

    Place and land and nature: how we tie these things together is critical to our sense of self-purpose and our fit in the world.

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    Bird on Fire: The World’s Least Sustainable City

    Places Journal

    A sociologist-critic analyzes the strange mix of freewheeling libertarianism and federal largesse that shaped modern Phoenix.

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    Walking the Darkness Home

    Places Journal

    A journey to the bottom of the Grand Canyon defies the expectations (and clichés) of the famous landscape.

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    The Last Days of Kaixian

    Places Journal

    Photographs of the last town on the Yangtze River to be submerged by the reservoir of the Three Gorges Dam.

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    Watermark: Along the California Aqueduct

    Places Journal

    The extraordinary achievement of modern California — the transformation of a semi-arid region into an abundant and prosperous place — has produced a wicked tangle of problems.

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    Metaphor Remediation

    Places Journal

    As cities become the new frontiers of green living, let’s revise the old metaphors. Will the high-rise replace Half Dome as the new emblem of environmentalism?

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    Design and the Green New Deal

    Places Journal

    If landscape architects want to remake the world, we can start by remaking our discipline.

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    Black Fen

    Places Journal

    Photographs of the fenlands of eastern England and a vanishing way of life.

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    Notes Toward a History of Agrarian Urbanism

    Places Journal

    Architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Hilberseimer, and Andrea Branzi anticipated today’s interest in urban farming.

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    Soundscapes: Burning Man

    Places Journal

    A selection of soundscapes — ranging from dust storms to diesel generators — recorded by an architect at the Burning Man festival.

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    Mitigations

    Places Journal

    In the coal country of Southeast Ohio, the past is a renewable resource, growing larger every year.

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    Dams Across America

    Places Journal

    Images of major U.S. hydroelectric dams built during the New Deal. Something to contemplate as the Obama administration tries to stimulate the economy and smarten the energy grid.

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    Urban Crude

    Places Journal

    An exhibition documenting the metropolitan petroscape of Los Angeles reminds viewers that some 5,000 wells remain active in the second most populous city in the U.S.

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    The Hills Are Alive

    Places Journal

    How do you solve a problem like Maria? An environmental writer reflects on how stylized, color-corrected representations of nature shape our landscape aesthetics.

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    Your Sea Wall Won’t Save You

    Places Journal

    Negotiating rhetorics and imaginaries of climate resilience in Jakarta, Manila, Ho Chi Minh City, and Bangkok.

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    Willful Waters

    Places Journal

    Los Angeles and its river have long been enmeshed in an epic struggle for control.

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    Cloud and Field

    Places Journal

    On the resurgence of “field guides” in a networked age. We’ve moved from birding to dronewatching, from natural history to dark ecology. But are we still looking through colonialist binoculars?

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    Control Earth

    Places Journal

    What is Earth’s baseline temperature? Good question. The climate scenario ‘historicalNat’ simulates a world without human intervention.

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    Through Mountains to the Sea

    Places Journal

    A journey on the A66 road in North West England, from the Lake District made famous by Romantic poets to the iron mines of the Cumbrian coast.

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    Dixon Marsh

    Places Journal

    What happens when a field biologist journeys into the mountains on the Nevada-California border, with her dog and her semi-automatic pistol?

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    The Island Seen and Felt

    Places Journal

    Australia is a place with more land than people, more geography than architecture. But it is not and never has been empty. Few landscapes have been so deeply known.

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    Delta Urbanism and New Orleans: Before

    Places Journal

    The first installment in a two-part essay on post-Katrina New Orleans offers a precise narrative of the environmental engineering that made catastrophe inevitable.

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    Delta Urbanism and New Orleans: After

    Places Journal

    The second installment in a two-part series examines the passionate debate about how to rebuild New Orleans and prevent future disaster.

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    Visualizing the Ends of Oil

    Places Journal

    Photographers Edward Burtynsky and Chris Jordan have struggled in different ways to visualize and critique the effects of our dependence on oil.

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    Backwater: Landscapes of the Mississippi Delta

    Places Journal

    Resuscitating the Mississippi Delta with river diversions and sediment siphons would be the world’s largest coastal restoration project. But it could happen.

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    The Scale of Nature: Modeling the Mississippi River

    Places Journal

    The ruins of an abandoned 200-acre hydraulic model of the Mississippi River Basin testify to the decades-long battle to control the great river.

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    Champion Trees and Urban Forests

    Places Journal

    Can urban forests save the planet? A review of The Man Who Planted Trees.

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    The Middle of Everywhere

    Places Journal

    In the Flint Hills of Kansas there are cattle ranches and art galleries, old barns and new architecture, ghost towns and growing cities. And there is the last stand of tallgrass prairie in America.

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    An Appalachian Trail

    Places Journal

    In its original concept, the Appalachian Trail was more than a hiking path. It was a wildly ambitious plan to reorganize the economic geography of the eastern United States.

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    Landscape Migration

    Places Journal

    We are now well into a geologic era — the Anthropocene — characterized by the acceleration of environmental change. This is the landscape medium in which we design.

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    Niagara: It Has It All

    Places Journal

    Honeymoon spot, casino resort, Superfund site. Niagara has always been a place of extreme contrasts, where the sublime and magnificent cozies up to the tawdry and brutal.

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    Urbanizing the Mojave

    Places Journal

    America’s greatest boomtown went bust. An examination of the troubled history of mining, militarization, tourism, and water politics in Las Vegas.

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    Lost Rivers

    Places Journal

    The ecological effects of rapid urbanization on rivers in the Monterrey region.

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    Levees That Might Have Been

    Places Journal

    A history of forgotten inventions that would have produced a very different landscape along American rivers.

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    The Mustard Gas in Sherwood Forest

    Places Journal

    The idea that violence leaves an invisible trace on the land has captivated artists and writers for centuries.

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    Dreams, Dust and Birds: The Trashing of Owens Lake

    Places Journal

    Owens Lake was drained dry by the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Today the lakebed is a howling wasteland of toxic dust. Can the city fix the problem it made?

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    Colstrip, Montana

    Places Journal

    A photo essay on the massive coal mine and power plant at Colstrip, and the complicated politics of energy and land in the American West.

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    Shaking Hands with a Sloth

    Places Journal

    The case for studying biomimicry in design education. The very act of looking to nature inspires creativity.

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    Everyday Spaces, Natural Places

    Places Journal

    Baroque still-lifes in the weeds and trash of New York City. Majesty in the ordinariness of urban life at a pedestrian scale.

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    After the Storm: Climate Change and Public Works

    Places Journal

    The accelerating crisis of climate change suggests a newly intensified political agenda for design activism.

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