Issue #15

The Best of MUSE 2018

The Best of MUSE 2018

The pieces selected for re-posting in this issue of MUSE present the ideas I most want to share, and best reflect me as a thinker, writer, designer, and artist. The work, mixed and matched from different issues, gains perspective and synergies from new contexts.



Isolations of Space and Time
Issue #7 – Isolations of Space and Time

Geologic time is rather impossible to appreciate. We live with a sense of time measured by a unique metronome, the human heart–one second for each beat. We borrow the cadences of planets and moons to capture days, months, and years. Our lifespans gauge larger periods, as do those of other living things. And stories of origin and ancestral histories put us in an even greater temporal framework. But nothing we easily sense corresponds to the immensity of elapsed time recorded in the layers of rock beneath us. What can hundreds of millions of years mean? We have words like millennia, era, and eon as placeholders, and we know of billionaires and about gigabytes. Still, those concepts do not translate fluently into time. Geologic time has little resonance–our consciousness is fixed to different, more immediate scales.

The inability to think at longer time scales or to see time as a variable of process has consequences, though. We mis-identify problems and solve them wrongly. One tendency is to apply spatial barriers, like territorial or geographic controls, to all manner of dynamic biologic, physical, and cultural phenomena. A look at these problems from outside our usual time frame situates them differently, and allows more appropriate and robust responses. Taken together these mis-solved problems also demonstrate a similar mindset that begs the question:
What are we keeping out, and in, and why?

I. Invasion

Isn’t every successful species invasive? The history of life on Earth is the history of the relentless, explosive expansion of living things into every imaginable and unimaginable environment, commandeering resources and space competitively, opportunistically, creatively. The evidence is that life will out, no matter what. A larger view of the geologic record reveals a history of changing ecosystems and environments. But in conversations about invasive species the fertile mechanisms of evolution are unacknowledged: process is unseen.

Instead, stasis and equilibrium are presumed values, and we employ spatial and procedural controls to preserve what is. We debate aspects and implications of evolutionary process in an ethical context, demonizing successful species – including ourselves – and idealizing those less well adapted. A more sophisticated position advocates ecosystem protection, claiming that environmental conditions are changing too quickly for some species to accommodate and also that new conditions give invading species an unfair advantage. But ‘victim’ has no meaning in the evolutionary process. Why pick winners and losers? And what does it really mean to preference rates of change? It is not hard to discern undercurrents of misanthropy and xenophobia in these viewpoints, but exceptional thinking is also present.

We are chrono-centric in a way that is akin to pre-Copernican geocentric astronomical understandings. A belief that our moment is the preferred moment in time gives us license to resist change. We attach our resistance to great and noble ideas, like helping unfortunate life forms, saving the planet, and stewarding creation. But this is dishonest. We are simply afraid of change, which is to say, afraid of death. Despite our egotism, the unalterable state of the cosmos is flux. Natural systems change, the Earth is constantly becoming. In geological time, resistance for any reason is futile; resistance for reasons other than our narrow own is dissembling. In this one un-special moment of time we are only protecting who we are now and what we have now, for our own benefit, now.
Ecology is a conservative practice.

What problems would we see, and what solutions if we understood time differently?
How to plan, design for change?

II. Immigration

Studies of primates show they are hardwired to keep to their own, and strongly suggest we are built the same – to protect those like us and repel those who are not. Recent studies in cognitive science discover that we share the brainwave patterns of those closest to us, not by synchrony or custom and accommodation, but instead because we choose friends and partners by their likeness to us. Separate evidence from cognitive science indicates that we also are hardwired to conflate space and time. (Our ‘time manager’ co-opts the mental apparatus used to organize spatial experience.) So it is not surprising that a process like migration and the cultural change it brings–a longer term process–are geographically contained.

But not all responses to the movement of people are equally time-blind. Two examples that differ in intent and purpose both resolve process and time to advantage.

Social quarantines of culture often conform to or exploit landscapes of isolation. Think neighborhoods stranded by highway and railroad. Also those carved out between levees and dikes, as in New Orleans and Wilhelmsburg, Germany (an ElbeInsel of Hamburg), which is enclosed again by a customs fence. Even in vital port cities such as these, defined by outflow and inflow, coming and going, fringed places exist. Migrants, the poor, the differently-colored accumulate there, where the landscape is less desirable, costs are fewer, and society necessarily more accepting. Over time, mixing and separation find a balance–first in commerce, and then acculturation happens, unevenly but mutually. Novelty seeps in, inter-fingering with the established culture. Language, food, and music are the ambassadors: pidgin gives way to creole, yogurt becomes a national dish, everyone listens to jazz.
Landscapes of isolation are the wetlands of migration, slowing and filtering the differences that transform culture.

Directed settling of migrants, where communities elect to host refugees, shows time-nuanced understanding too. Most recently, refugees from Africa and the Middle East have been welcomed into many European countries, whose leaders assume and anticipate a faster beneficial give and take of ethical, social, or economic dimension.

By simultaneously bracing for and embracing change, these different segregations of geography are congruent with process and reconcile time in our favor: we thereby supervise, improvise the ongoing creation of the world.

* * *

The ethics of relational art reveal a similar mindset about attenuating change. Relational art poses the non-threatening introduction of new ideas and practices by emphasizing audience participation. Such participatory art is consensual, harmonious, interstitial, and concordant with the culture it engages, all the while modifying and intervening. This approach can underlie other activism and awareness-raising, too. By appropriating process, and scaling down rather than eliminating change, we place it within human time, to allow evolution. And prevent revolution.

III. Inundation

Our dealings with some physical, non-biological recurrent events of the natural world, like fire and flood, also show awareness of larger scale process. Older practices that protect life and property are in favor again as the deferred effects of spatial containment reveal mismatches of problem and solution.

Levees are designed to keep flood waters contained (and they do, if well-constructed), but they also disrupt re-sedimentation.There are two significant consequences. Land behind levees subsides without flood-borne sediment, threatening the stability of the built environment founded on it. Many parts of New Orleans are now at a lower elevation than they were when levees were first constructed (although human-engineered drainage is also responsible). Arable land behind breakwaters is deprived of the nutrients and fertility floodwaters bring, too. Protected land actually becomes more fragile and unserviceable. A forward-looking, longer time scale response emphasizes instead the importance of buffer zones like flood plains and wetlands, places we choose not to occupy in any permanent way. A spatial response, yes, but one that is accommodating rather than preventive, more passive than active.

Panarchy theory proposes different destructive and regenerative regimes, controlled by the interdependent variables of scale and frequency of disruption in this way: Frequent, numerous, small disruptions destroy, but less catastrophically so than larger ones that happen rarely. Large disruptions in fact are precipitated by the absence of many small mediating changes. This is an idea familiar from earthquake science and experience, and also evident in wildfire management, where the use of small controlled burns mimics and exploits a natural cycle of forest destruction and renewal, and is markedly different from past wildfire suppression tactics which over time fueled greater ruin. Here a sensitivity to time, process, and cycle resolves towards tinkering with rate rather than employing spatial sequesters.

In these circumstances we are working with, rather than strictly opposing, natural mechanisms and courses of events, albeit to control them. We regulate occurrences outside our usual time frame to preserve what takes place within it. And yet there are costs. Panarchic scale holds for the generative response to destruction too. Small disruptions limit the new – and are therefore conservative. They allow for small-step developmental progression but stymie radical creation, birth, transformation. For without catastrophe, revolution is excluded, yes – but also origination and invention.

Can we, should we, do even less?

IV. Emanation

We are slowly coming to terms with the converse idea that actions taken within our frame have consequences for systems beyond. The obvious example here is the imagining and construction of the U.S. federal highway system begun in the 1950‘s, which fomented dramatic cultural changes that have implications today at the planetary scale.

We have designated this a global problem of highest priority – our chrono-centrism tells us that any change outside our frame is a dangerous thing. But we do not understand well what this change will mean, in the short or long term, for us or the Earth.
Neither do we understand the far-reaching reverberations of proposed re-mediations any better than we understood the implications of cross-country paving half a century ago.

This is not to dispute the human-sourced enrichment of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere, but rather a caution about our response. While experts agree that Earth’s average temperature is likely to rise due to carbon increase, there is no science or model that can yet reliably predict what consequent changes will happen, or where or when. The weather is unpredictable more than a few days out; future climate a much less clear view.

There are also confounding variables unaccounted for. Many long time-scale cycles and systems on Earth are poorly understood, like glaciation and polar reversals; many more may be yet unrecognized. And many of these systems, like climate, are chaotic, and therefore highly unpredictable. Any of them could work against or with the change we have already wrought, and with or against any changes we make in response. We are operating time-blindly.

There is an architectural, spatial analogy to blind process tinkering. Visiting older houses I have seen living space degraded by the accumulation of poorly understood problems fixed with bad solutions, that inevitably create more problems that are themselves understood poorly and solved badly. The invariable result is a house which is accommodated rather than accommodating.
In short, we make a mess.

Without large scale vision and perspective, without comprehensive understanding of interconnected systems and processes, and without the tools to predict outcomes accurately there are limits to what we can effect. Isolations in time and space are always stopgap measures.
How should we act given how little we can know?

V. Balance

On a weekend drive, touring the lakes region of New Hampshire, I was approached by a resident offering help with directions. Our conversation was telling. In just a few minutes he conveyed the essential character of Pine River Pond – that it was dammed, privately owned, the water free from invasive species, the houses mostly four-season and generational, the community close and tight. All manner of fences – spatial, economic, procedural, cultural – are in place to preserve what is. The only thing that changes on Pine River Pond is the temperature.

In such change-phobic interventional frames equilibrium and stasis are presumed goods, present time is the preferred ecological moment, and evolution is debated in an ethical context – good flora/bad flora, good fauna/bad fauna (ourselves included). Benefits like alteration, variation, transformation are limited, even to the point of exclusion. What creative opportunities are lost?

Buddhist and Vedic philosophies regard ideal participation in the ongoing creation of the world very differently. For Buddhists, change as a constant is axiomatic, and passive non-intervention essential to acceptance of the Karmic flux and our inability to see the bigger picture.The Veda center instead on a transcendent understanding of the entropic nature of cosmic change: We are always putting back together that which is always falling apart. Inherent in both traditions is the acknowledgement and acceptance of temporal frames that seemingly contradict our own.

Many aboriginal philosophies and ways of living emphasize symbiosis and greater contexts, too, in contrast with Western practices of control, dominance and exploitation–of the human and non-human world. The non-linear rate of technological advance makes revaluation of our relationship to time an imperative.

Perhaps here begins the idea that we can – must – reconcile ourselves to mortality, to extinction, to the end of the world itself. We must balance change and stasis differently, to allow for generative, constructive forces larger than ourselves, in contexts greater than our own. As we go on. A new equilibrium, if you will – one of change, outside our frame.

What it comes down to is this:
You are not that important.
You are all that matters.

Can we hold these thoughts together in our minds? Can they together guide policy, philosophy, everyday decisions?

Ecology is a science of stasis, Geography a science of moments.
Music and cookery are endlessly inventive practices.
Language is evolutionary.

see also


Issue #6 – In The Field
Native Speaker
Issue #1 – Love and Language





In The Field
Issue #6 – In The Field


I am asleep in the desert. I am dreaming this world and yet another. In which I am impossibly tall, resolutely female. My vision extends to the horizon. I see with an effortless, steady, dimensionless knowing. It is January and cold when the sun sets in the Mohave, so we retire to our separate tents early, campfire notwithstanding. Rhythms change. I sleep for four hours and awaken, alert and aware, present in the hyperfabric of dream space, centered in its truths and extent. The pattern repeats, I dream again. I have a staff; I am a warrior; I am indomitable. My intelligence is unbounded. I know. I belong to this place, it is my domain. I am the Earth, the Earth is me. Another morning it is especially still and quiet, dreamless and full. Snow is falling, the landscape and I are draped, shielded, embraced and we are reverently at peace. The extant whole of the Earth is apparent, emanating, and pervasive. I resonate with its thrum, I exalt with it. I, too, am more. It is a becoming like no other. Every winter in all the years since, I have ached for the desert and its dream world. My great love for the planet – its fluxing entirety and perpetuity, its temporal and timeless dances – owes to the desert and what I have dreamt there. I am formed by it more than any study or work. Because of the desert, I create. Because of the desert, I write.


Somewhere in the Bitterroots, I have not paid attention to the sun or cardinal directions in the van on the way over. We are being shown outcrops – ribbon rock? a fault? I cannot recall. I do remember the unexpectedness of a mountain saddle high up – though not high enough for snow – and the pastoral feel of the grass and the flat. Then, a far-off rumbling crescendos into our awareness, into thunder. As one, without thought, we turn like dancers to see a herd of wild horses at the horizon flying towards us, with intent. So quickly! They are right there before us, facing us in an arc, the alpha male its keystone. They pound the earth with their hooves, snorting insistently. They are so very large, time and space collapse as their gestures fill our view. Unconsciously we have mirrored them, our group leader anchoring our curve. Jim steps out extending his hand. The stallion too, instantly, to meet him, but his head is high, his chest is out, he is assertive, challenging, dominant. Jim speaks in a sonorous, soothing voice, the way you’d speak to domesticated animals who are unsure or timid. But the stallion is having none of it. He shakes his head, violently, snorting and beating the ground again. The others join in. It is threatening – just – sublime in that remote Big Sky mountain-scape. We are not welcome. This is their place.

I say clearly but softly, to the herd as much as anyone, “They don’t want us here” acknowledging what all surmise, but not out of fear, rather to hold the moment, to forestall a break with magic, to keep time slowed. We step back, in retreat, our postures careful as we walk to the vehicles.
They watch us, somewhat more still, somewhat appeased, but holding their ground with great strength and power, and then, all at once, they are gone – to the wind, to the horizon, their place reclaimed.


The clouds are low and long and perpetual, tufted and thick as down. It will snow soon and for a good while. This is welcome news, for even though we are breaking trail, the sleds want a good base. It is cold too, well below well-below zero, and that is good for the dogs, who are lethargic in more temperate climes. Wolves and humankind have grown up together over our short part of the long life of the Earth, and we make good partners now, having somewhat both domesticated and freed each other. All the members of my team are wild in the main – Alaskan huskies – the term used to denote that not one of them are pedigreed, but all are mixed mutts and curs, bred and chosen by nature to run. I am here in the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada to be wild with them. We have made a bargain. I will feed and shelter and protect them, and I will lead. For their part they will pull and run and pull and run and run. Out-of-harness they will frolic and I will watch. It is no disadvantage that I am a woman; on the contrary our guide tells me, in a small aside unheard by the men, that women make the best mushers. It is our empathy and intuition, our commitment to the good of the group, our innate respect, and our egalitarian understanding and appreciation of role that makes us trusted by the pack and worth following. And my six dogs do follow, they run and pull for me and run some more. It is easy. The guide, who had taken the rear position, starts to pass each team ahead of him, one by one, demonstrating and explaining his technique. We are novices, though, and not intended to follow his example. Even so, I do, when the men ahead are slow, unconvincing to their teams who are in turn aimless and purposeless, uncoordinated. My dogs are impatient, restless and itchy, so I give them permission. “On by,” I say. “On by!” I turn them to the left holding my right hand higher to keep them facing ahead heedless of the teams they pass, who thereby are unchallenged. In this way I preempt the canine equivalent of trash-talk or smirk and so avoid a dogfight. I do not look at the men I pass either, for the same reason, although unlike the dogs they are resentful. I catch up to the guide, running just behind him. He is pacing himself to stay with the group. My dogs are as one now, flying, and they don’t want to slow down. They will me to give the command, I hear them clearly. But it would be bad manners to pass the guide – I am a little afraid that I am in trouble as it is – and I don’t know where we are going either, as there is no trail to follow. So we stay behind, apace. I know I am in the clear when the guide turns and fixes me in his look. He has been paying attention to our maneuvers, to my command, and the hint of a smile flashes from his eye.

And so it goes for four wondrous days, in a great circle from base camp, to yurt, to cabin, to base again, over rivers and islands, into Canada and back.
At the end of the trip we arrive at the kennel truck. It is my last encounter with the dogs. My last act – my last gift to each of them, is to load them up into the warmth. They are not large animals – forty to forty-five pounds apiece, but still I am a girl and slight and tired. They are ready though, waiting, asking, noses up, and I lift all six one at a time shoulder high into their beds. The guide watches in his still way. I embrace the hard and the soft of it as I do the wild, unafraid to handle them, for we are the same. We are bound by joy, to each other, to the Earth, to life. They sing to me, the Earth sings to me. I am their sister and her daughter. These are her stories I tell, the notes of her songs transmuted into words.


see also

Issue #1 – Love and Language

Love Letter
Issue # 2 – Family

Emily and Me
Issue #13 – Atypical









Theory and Practice

Theory and Practice

Funk It Up
Issue #5 – Community

The field of landscape architecture covers design at many scales: residential, park, campus and city, and region also, especially if you consider planning as design. (I do.) One focus of mine is community design, an aspect of urban design. My work concerns questions of participation: What is the appropriate level and kind of citizen involvement? What are appropriate roles for experts in a democracy? How can accord be achieved in diverse communities? Following is a report on the first of my public space experiments in Hamburg, Germany, that explored these questions.1


In the summer of 2009, I attended a two-week-long urban design workshop in Wilhelmsburg, Germany, a river island neighborhood of Hamburg. Sponsored by Hafencity University, the goal of the International Summer School was to create a plan for Wilhelmsburg that would improve livability and develop the public realm. Students of architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, and planning from Russia, Italy, Germany, and the U.S. worked and stayed in Wilhemsburg during the workshop.

The specific aims of the workshop were to work with/engage the community, try promising findings on site, assess contemporary practices in the fields of planning and urban design, and examine planning and urban design curricula in this light. To achieve these objectives and the larger community design goals, it was essential to realize a high level of international and intercultural cooperation.

This study team identified one key concern: the lack of an integrated community on the island. People originally from Germany, Turkey, Russia, Portugal, Spain, and Ghana self- segregate residentially and socially in Wilhelmsburg, and are collectively separate again from the city of Hamburg and in other important spatial and economic dimensions.

Our biggest hurdles as planners were to promote conversation about Wilhelmsburg’s future both with and among the diverse groups, and to better connect the island to the greater city. These were no small tasks.

While we identified diversity as the predominant characteristic of the island in all of its aspects—quality and use of space, culture, and scale—we determined that this was both challenge and asset. New, creative solutions are frequently a product of such a mix, even when dialogue is problematic.

To address the diversity conundrum, we devised many small hypothetical actions that could add function to one-use spaces in the community. Our goal with these actions was to increase the mix of users and promote interaction and dialogue that would spark further, larger actions and interactions within and beyond Wilhelmsburg. We called our proposed actions “Funken” (sparks), and named the consequent transformational chains of actions and interactions “FunkenFlut” (flood of sparks). From this hypothetical action master plan, we designated several small “funken” for the initial experiment in Wilhelmsburg that were appropriate in scale, time, and means for the workshop.

We looked for public spaces that people necessarily used in common. Our chosen sites were a neighborhood laundry, a universally used bus line, and a men’s gym. We also identified five areas of universal human concern and interest—music, community, nature, health, and goods—and designed experiments related to them: music on the bus, gym in the park, a “barter box” (receptacle for exchange of goods), and a sidewalk cafe.

With one important distinction our method was akin to art intervention, the use of art outside the art world to change an existing condition. Initially we kept our purpose hidden, but quickly realized that sharing the purpose with the community was itself an important (planning) interaction that better created capacity for change. So our final, and most successful, experiment at the laundry was open and transparent.

To create a new public space at the laundry, we brought with us everything necessary for a sidewalk cafe, and set the items up inside the facility and then outside its entrance on Georg-Wilhelm-Strasse. The research team sat at a table, drank coffee, and was available to interact with employees, patrons, and passers-by. At the café, many people spoke with us and expressed their interest and support for street-side casual gathering places, including individuals walking by, the barber next door, and the formerly hostile laundry manager who changed his tune when he saw the positive community response. This indicated to us that informal public gathering spaces were in short supply and welcome, and that adding function to existing places was an effective, appropriate design response.

Also significant for our purposes were two upscale actions outside the experimental space that were sparked by this one small funk. First, local resident Ghanaian immigrants accepted an invitation to attend a ISS sponsored neighborhood party happening that Friday, bringing their drums for a jam session with the hired band—with great results. Second, a HafenCity University faculty member who was very familiar with the district reported that the day after WaschPlus’ debut, tables and chairs were outside another business establishment across the street from the laundry. She had never seen them before.

While these results of experimentally activating these specific spaces and sparking dialogue are few and small, they are not inconsequential. Importantly, they point to the efficacy of real time interventions as a legitimate on-site data gathering instrument for planning decisions. The questions that can be answered with this technique are: What does the community want and need? How will the community members respond? Is there community consensus? Can it be developed? Which design solutions are workable, worthy, acceptable? Can spaces be transformed?

We hope to report on and encourage other such experiments in the future.

One possibility is to continue this work in Germany. Andrea Merkel’s remarks concerning the cultural separateness of Turkish immigrants throughout German society highlight the condition we noticed in Wilhemsberg. Funk-like actions at a larger scale may be an appropriate and effective response, with music as the medium. Because musicians are frequently the first explorers of other cultures, ambassadors of their own, and creators of new, hybrid forms, they are a logical choice to spark dialogue across cultures. There are examples worldwide of new musical forms presaging larger cultural integration – American jazz is one – but most relevant here is the popularity in Germany of Shantel’s Disco Partizani pop music – a Russian/disco/German pop blend. This suggests a readiness for cross-cultural acceptance that musical events (on the scale of festivals or soccer games) may jumpstart and facilitate.

  • laundry new
  • bus
  • barter box
  • party


see also

Issue #10: Hand, Head and Heart
Home for the Aged
Issue #3 – Home



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