Why is the rate of incarceration in Louisiana so high? How do we critique the way prisons are part of infrastructural solutions to anthropocenic instabilities? As Angela Davis writes, “prisons do not disappear social problems, they disappear human beings. Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages.” One way of imagining and building a vision of an anti-carceral future is practiced in the Solitary Gardens project here in New Orleans:
The Solitary Gardens are constructed from the byproducts of sugarcane, cotton, tobacco and indigo- the largest chattel slave crops- which we grow on-site, exposing the illusion that slavery was abolished in the United States. The Solitary Gardens utilize the tools of prison abolition, permaculture, contemplative practices, and transformative justice to facilitate exchanges between persons subjected to solitary confinement and volunteer proxies on the “outside.” The beds are “gardened” by prisoners, known as Solitary Gardeners, through written exchanges, growing calendars and design templates. As the garden beds mature, the prison architecture is overpowered by plant life, proving that nature—like hope, love, and imagination—will ultimately triumph over the harm humans impose on ourselves and on the planet.
"Nature" here is constructed in a very particularistic way: as a redemptive force to harness in opposition to the wider oppressive system the architecture of a solitary confinement cell is a part of. It takes a lot of intellectual and political work to construct a counter-hegemonic nature, in other words. Gardeners in this setting strive toward a cultivation of relations antithetical to the isolationist, anti-collective sociality prisons (and in general, a society in which prisons are a permanent feature of crisis resolution) foster.
In 1993 near my city, Cuenca - Ecuador, it ocurred maybe the biggest disaster that we have expirienced, we called it "La Josefina". A mountain collapsed, due to legal and illegal mining, and it completely blocked a river. Quickly the water of the river started to flood the surrondings, there was the fear of the big city of the region, Cuenca, being also flooded, a lot of homes, forests and bridges were lost, and it caused a huge impact in many families that lost everything, 150 lives were lost. But one particular story always came to my mind when I hear about this disaster: a man, called Walter Sánchez, saved his house because he carefully looked up his construction and he felt that he could make his house float, he was not an engineer, or architect, he didn't have college education, but he, with help of his friends and familiy, gathered tens of empty barrils, attached to the bottom of the house -his house was mainly wood and was screwed to the floor- , and at the end, when the water came and flooded the terrain his house floated and was saved. Here is a post of BBC in spanish about this event.
This came to my mind because sometimes we think that the fight against Climate Change is expensive and as the most part of the world is poor, and those are the ones who suffer more the consequences, the fight is lost. But all over the world there is people that in order to safe their lives and personal belongings have witty and ingenious ideas low-cost. Elizabeth English had one of those ideas in 2007, she is an architect that was concerned about how to help people in New Orleans to survive and don't lose anything in future Hurricanes, she knew about the procedure in Netherlands for allowing houses to float but it was way to expensive to the population because it meant, actually rebuilt the house, and even if someone wanted to rebuilt his/hers home, it was way to expensive. She decided to create an alternative and founded the non-profit Buoyant Foundation Project. You can read more about these "Anphibious Homes" here.
Pb. Atomic Number 82.
Divorced from its placement on the periodic table, the element finds itself exposed in a garden, nestled between bioretention and a bus depot.
Researchers came into to town and made the lead in the soil ledgible and knowable. Soil was tested and this dirt pile was labeled a hot spot. The soil, through analysis in a lab, became suddently differentiatiated from it's environment. Speculation on the origins of now changed earth ran rampant. Yes, the lead is a chemical legacy, but from where or from whom? Perhaps a long shuttered paint store was dumping its expired wares behind a shop. The chemical legacy proves persistant, but its origin story has degrated with time. Would there be any purpose to tracking the origin of the spot? Are there even actors to hold accountable? Should resources be spent to remediate the small environmental harms when others lurk that are larger in scale in and in affect?
While we ponder, the site is marked by a material more durable than our more human legacies. A concrete marker, or bench (depending on your tolerance for risk), tells a visitor of a history bound the earth. To intervene, the site is covered with dirt, a sign cautions the curious to resist the urge to disturb. To remediate this spot would take time, money, and expertise when all those resources are in short supply. Instead, the area is stewarded to make visible its contents. A delightfully perverse cue to care, inviting disuse and intentional avoidance. Let the earth lie.
Before our tour at the Weldon Springs Interpretative Center, we were asked not to take any pictures of our tour guide nor of other employees. To be recorded publically, they would have had to obtain an official media clearance. The photo points to these limits, with the metal arch obscuring the group as it listens to the guide. In consequence, there are at least two aspects that should be retained in our written record. First were the upbeat style and delivery of our male guide, that shaped our experience of the exhibition. Our group asked him about his educational background and he briefly explained the process to become a certified interpreter. Second is the fact that we were being accompanied and followed around by a group of about six representatives of the Department of Energy. Our group came to agree that this number and associated costs are significant, pointing towards the attention that our (probably usual?) international group of scholars drew. It might have been curiosity or slight hostility, it's hard to tell, also because we didn't ask them directly. The image certainly captures some lessons and dynamics what it means to visit an educational fieldsite with a larger group in contrast to the 'lone fieldworker.'