This post is part of the collective reading of The Infrastructural City hosted by mammoth and is about the fourth chapter titled “Margins in Our Midst” by Matthew Coolidge, of the excellent Center for Land Use Interpretation. It concerns the Catholic Church, Newts, and the possibilities inherent in the investment/extraction binary. If you feel up to it, check out mammoth’s earlier piece on the topic.
The most striking passage of “Margins in Our Midst” is the last:
“California is the leading consumer- as well as producer- of aggregate in the nation. These holes may be owned by Vulcan, Hanson, United Rock, or the Catholic Church, but they are holes we all dug together. For every pile there is a pit, for every pit a pile.”
This phrase is eerily reminiscent of that fantastic dystopian sci-fi satire The War with the Newts, a book whose wonderful, dark, and clever story I will now reduce to two lines: Humans find the next perfect technological solution to their terraforming needs- Newts! whom they immediately master, putting them to work as slave labor. It opens up a golden age of industry and commerce until the newts turn the humans’ strategies against them, methodically carving up the land for their own purposes, playing different nationalities and ethnicities off of one another, before eventually subjugating the humans and their lovely dry land. On page 234, as the newts are making their way in from the coast lines and beginning their inevitable assault on the inland territories, a conversation takes place between two characters, after one has spotted a newt in the Vltava River in the heart of the Prague:
‘So men will serve the Newts.’
‘That’s right, if you want to call it that. They’ll simply work in their factories as they are doing now. They’ll just have different masters. When all’s said and done, it mightn’t be all that different…’
‘And you’re not sorry for mankind?’
‘For God’s sake leave me alone! What can I do? It’s what people wanted; they all wanted to have Newts, commerce wanted them, and industry and engineering, the statesmen wanted them and the military gentlemen did. Even young Povondra said so: we are all responsible for it. Of course, I am sorry for mankind! But I was most sorry for it when I watch it rushing headlong to its own ruin.’
And yet, perhaps that’s a bit bombastic taken out of context. Prior to the last statement, “Margins” gives an interesting if somewhat inchoate survey of the different mining pits of and operations of Irwindale and the social and ecological dynamics they render on the landscape. Mammoth previously noted that these landscapes of extraction are fundamental to contemporary society. In fact, they have been always been a fact of urbanization. These landscapes are typically found at the edges of cities, or cities are founded at their edges. Their exploitation- the extraction of their resources- allows for investment at the margins of these gravel mines, rivers, forests: constructing buildings, irrigating farms, building roads.
In Irwindale, as Matthew Coolidge notes, both municipalities, non-profits, and business enterprises are having difficulty figuring out what to do with these left-behind pits. In part, they don’t immediately lend themselves to contemporary uses and patterns. Yet, their privileged location at the periphery of the city, in this case Los Angeles, and the fact that they demand innovative uses if they are to be used at all promises the chance to invert the extraction/investment binary.
Thinking about the city as a human and capital resource to be exploited or extracted and possible new uses as the unique attractor for the capital, can Irwindale reinvent itself, creating a more complex and diverse relationship with the city? Can the quarries allow the city to create a system of huge lakes, creating a water storage system and bourgeoisie recreation area for LA’s rednecks? Maybe a series of industrial grade orquidearama’s could be built for the world’s albinos? Maybe Irwindale can grow down the side of the pits; the cliffs become apartment armatures and ant farm-style office buildings?
The author alludes to the deviant/creative activities that occur in the recreation zone alongside the Santa Fe Dam. Could landscape architecture, or design, lend some purpose or structure for the creative repurposing of these zones reversing the extraction/investment binary? Perhaps the newts could live there?