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american Urban industrial canals

a field guide

thanks to my advisor and critic Peter Waldman, my advisor Kristina Hill and mentor Elizabeth Meyer, my partner Erin Putalik, my comrades Hans Hesselein, Andrew Nicholas, Jenn Richey, Erik Martig, David Moses, John Donnelly, Gena Wirth, Rob Holmes, Brett Milligan, Stephen Becker, Laura Stedenfeld, the good people at grassroots mapping, Andy Simons and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, Kirsten Ostberg, Jenn Richey, Jorg Sieweke


field guide to field manuals

history of urban american industrial canals


signs and significations


objects and relations


borderlands of intentionality

hydrology: bathing in the ether




here comes everything eccentric substances





the wall of sound

the instrumentality of things

delineations and subdelineations belts, buckets, houses and hoses plants, animals, mycorrhiza


tactics and strategies

a field guide to field manuals In considering the city it is important not only to investigate urban processes and kinds of organization, but also to re-evaluate the methodologies by which we understand and intervene in urban systems and spaces. For this, it may be that an often-ignored tool may be of greater use: the maintenance manual. The maintenance manual, like all tools, has a history. Early examples of the modern American manual include the Chicago Manual of Style (1891) and the US Navy Bluejacket’s Manual (1902). The maintenance manual rose to prominence with the specialization of labor and the proliferation of consumer products in the 20th century.

US Census Office Guide to New Orleans- 1887

The form of the manual offers the opportunity for new kinds of urban engagement. The maintenance manual can be used to describe procedures and reactions to be performed in response to shifting urban conditions. In this sense, the maintenance manual offers an opportunity to expand agency in shaping the city to anyone who can read, interpret, and apply the instructions found within the manual.

US Navy Manual- begun in 1902

Charles Sprague Sargent’s tree manual- 1905

The Haynes Auto Manual- begun in 1965

US Department of Agriculture Soil Science Field Book

US Airforce Parachute Rigger’s Manual

We believe that this potential can be drawn out by hybridizing the maintenance manual with another popular literary genre whose history parallels that of the maintenance manual- the field guide. Like the manual, the first guides were published in the late 19th century and were typically small and light-weight which made it easy to carry. But where the maintenance manual focused on machines and new consumer products, the field guide tended to focus on objects and phenomena related to the “natural realm�, and so was geographically associated with rural and suburban locales. Both, however, were alike in extending specialized knowledge to enthusiasts through a focus on utility, accessibility, and nurturing curiosity. In the context of the city, hybridization of the field guide with the maintenance manual immediately suggests a blending of readings: both the city as machine and the city as natural phenomenon. Combining emphases on identification, diagnosis, education, and instruction, a new genre might arise which would point a way forward for the urbanist of the future: the field manual.

urban american industrial

Canals are fundamentally urban, enabling the rise of the first cities which relied on them for irrigationplants, people, and fountains- and for drainage. They immediately enabled the generation of new forms and patterns of settlement, from cosmological glyphs to urban metropolises. the first known canals were constructed in Upper Egypt cerca 4000 BCE the Nazca constructed asystem of irrigation canals for agriculture and urbanism in the highlands of Peru

canals: a history the industrial canal in the united states the industrial canal age was defined by two things: - standardization - proliferation Standardization in construction, including width and bulkhead technology, was necessary because the same ships were moving the same cargoes between different places Proliferation of canals occured because water-borne transportation of cargo was orders of magnitude cheaper than the overland transportation available at the time, such as the horse cart. The introduction of the railroads 3 decades later meant that the early industrial canals, only 40’ wide, were obsolete, being unable to compete with their economy of speed; in many American countries, this meant that the early canals such as the Erie Canal had a useful life of less than 20 years, such as the Chicago River, which was constructed in the 1850’s and was shut down in 1871. Trucks and highways meant a new role for canals; canalization of rivers by Army Corps of Engineers expanded the network to a continental scale; many war-time constructions such as the Houston Shipping Channel or intracoastal waterway are repurposed for super large ocean-going vessels; smaller canals that could not be easily expanded, such as those in urban areas whose expansion was limited by existing urban construction, saw decreased use and many were abandoned or turned over to sewage disposal 22,000 mi 1959

miles of canals in the united states railroad age

1850 4,500 miles 1831 erie canal completed 1784

1880 2,500 miles

1908 2,000 mi

canal histories

canal typologies

the original canals were irrigation canals. to create canals for navigation a leap in scale was necessary; based on the scale of the human body and a vessel that could carry it, the earliest navigation canals probably appeared in China around 500 BCE.

city network a connected transportation system, meant for everyday civilian use; often maintained for recreation or cultural heritage significance

There are canals: 1. 2. 3.

three typologies of navigation City Network Industrial Defense

Venice, Amsterdam

industrial a teleological logistics platform for moving manufactured goods and raw materials; often abandoned once obsolete

industrial canals are a subset of navigation canals, defined by this guide as those which are concerned with the transportation of large amounts of raw material- gravel, coal, wheat, or garbage. this study excludes the large intrabasin canals such as the Suez and the Panama Canal; though they are industrial canals, their scale and geography requires a different study

concentric incan irrigation canals in the highlands of bolivia


example: Channel

the Scheldt, Houston Shipping

defense defensible redundancy for maintaining movement of goods and people considered critical during times of war; often maintained for recreation or cultural heritage significance example: nal

intercoastal waterway, Rideau Ca-

irrigation agriculture in modern-day libya

canal methodologies channelization entails the cutting of a new course, often parallel or adjacent to an existing water body; structures such as bulkheads are often used to define the edges of the new channel canalization making an existing watercourse more suitable for industrial, defense, or civilian transportation dredging making an existing channel deeper by mechanical excavation * most canals are constructed through some combination of all three methods

if industrial canals are not abandoned and filled in once obsolete, they are often repurposed as open sewers and sewer overflow systems for the adjacent urban area many canals are left in an abandoned, derelict state, prompting speculation on their future use and development. often times these attract certain agentsboaters, birders, photographers, musicians, black locusts, birds, and skateboarders who are looking for a place to work, live and play that is outside of the normal operations of a city

the kanawha canal in virginia, begun in 1785, immediately after independence in the US

Independence was critical to the development of canal systems; most colony economies operated as landscapes of extraction, the colonial power had little impetus to develop industrial capacity our study is based on three case studies

river rouge Detroit, USA

gowanus canal Brooklyn, USA

riachuelo canal Buenos Aires, Argentina

large scale industrial canals have been reintegrated as regional and continental container shipping networks


Canal Lexicon:

Signs and significations

a useful list of terms and their definitions for understanding the particular ecologies, and taxonomies common to american industrial canals, as well as the operations that might take place there


a flat bottomed boat, built to serve as a mobile logistics platform for moving materials or heavy equiment. along rivers and canals; many barges are not self-propelled and need to be tugged or pushed


a retaining wall meant to define and reinforce the separation between water and land, can take any type of form or structure; some variation typically lines all canals


a constructed water channel; can be of three types- irrigation, drainage, and navigation; see pullout page


a method for making a canal which involves regulating, widening or deepening an already existing waterway; for example, straightening a small river


a method for canal making invollving cutting a new channel for water where one did not previously exist; this is often done to shorten a navegation route, or to avert a troublesome spot


any impurity in a given material that is undesirable; can be toxic, such as lead, or may refer to impurities in a production process, such making steel, or brewing beer

Combined Sewer Outlet (CSO)

in many american ciities household waste and stormwater runoff pour into the same sewer lines which go to sewage treatment plants; rain events often pour too much water in to the system for the plant to handle; in this case, the raw sewage pours through a CSO, usually into a river, harbor, or old industrial canal


a method of research that begins with a theory, states a hypothesis, and then tests that hypothesis through observation (such as, “I bet apples are green because they result from photosynthetic process, this red delicious apple should be green). This is the most popular mode of scientific inquiry, typified by the “scientific method


an excavation activity that occurs underwater; usually entails scraping or sucking sediments from the bottom and depositing them elsewhere; is used to maintain navigable channels, build islands or replenish beaches

the associations and relationships between any set of actors and agents


the mechanical action of digging into the earth


a method of research that attempts to begin with specific observations and attempts to construct a general theory of operation or function (this apple is green, the color of apples must be green)


pertaining to productive labor, this term especially signifies the productive mechanical operations that enabled the modern industrial revolution


american independence assumes a post-colonial situation of extractive landscapes, europhilia, and a retardation of industrial development


refers to the changes in human settlement and living patterns that take place when industrialization occurs; fundamental to this phenomenon is an environmental perspective that considers it resources


power to operate or produce effects; efficacy, force. A particular form or kind of activity; an active process: the discharge of a function.


a type of deep foundation, long poles or sheets of material with high tensile strength- usually wood, steel or reinforced concrete- are driven deep into the ground to provide lateral stability to a construction,


a term that means any undesirable, non-human agent in a given environment, usually present in excess; for instance light, smoke, heavy metals, oil can all be considered pollution ; it is a fundamentally pollitical term


a systematic classification of a particular object, organism, instrument or set of these things, and their operational aspects


a method of inquiry that begins with a specific case studies and tests these with specific cases (this apple is green, I wonder if that apple is also green)


a substance that is immediately harmful to the health of living organisms


Canal ecologies

a mapping of mouse activity across a computer screen during manual assembly on 4/27/2011

Canal Ecologies:

Objects and Relations

Immediate comparisons between different american industrial canals seem preposterous and are difficult to conjure- they vary wildly in scale, geography and contemporary economic context. The canal fragments, their various instruments and structures and the communities that find footholds here seem to be a kind of eddy in the city, existing outside of the turbulent currents of the city. This ecological study begins with an examination of three American industrial canals- the River Rouge in Detroit, the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, and the Riachuelo in Buenos Aires Yet nothing is as thoroughly modern as the industrial canal. Beyond the fact that they are waterways of some kind, urban American industrial canals do have two paradoxical characteristics in common: a prominent place in the mythology of American industrial centers, and an ambiguous, eccentric situation at the metaphorical edge of the city. Precisely because of these three aspects they have always attracted new agents- economic, biological, and socialoffering them operating space and serving as a generator for new urban possibilities. This study of six canal ecologies aims to examine the different objects and organisms of the canal, and to study the relations between them. It is hoped that this will stimulate insight that is helpful for understanding the paradoxical situation of the American industrial canal.


Borderlands of Intentionality If one wants to explore an american industrial canal and attempts to walk along its banks, they are likely to find that their way is frequently fenced off. Because of this, the best way to explore the canal is by canoe, as one can move freely up and down, experience the water firsthand, and get out to explore the shore should something catch your attention. But why is it that vacancy, especially boarded up and walled off vacancy, is so prevalent along industrial canals? And what can we make of it, in terms of our effort to understand the generative capacity of the canal landscape within the city? We should first acknowledge two much larger, more prevalent, and readily understandable trends: vacancy is fundamental to the concept of real estate in general, and much industry in the Americas has been shifted to Asia in recent decades. But we won’t dwell too much on those. What is about the American industrial canal that makes it particularly susceptible to vacancy, and what does this ecology of vacancy mean? It is there for two reasons: one seen, and one unseen. The unseen we know a bit about- the toxic ecologies of the canals drive away people. Who wants to pay top dollar for a city apartment on top of an open sewer? Who wants to worry that their kids are being exposed to damaging amounts of chromium or pcb’s? But the seen- the old factory, the coal silo, the conveyor system rusted still- is something that we might dwell on for a minute. The canals were constructed according to the logistical needs of modern industry, and the great “bodies” of modern industry immediately sprang up at its edges. In the Americas, this happened quickly; if industrial development was limited until independence, the floodgates burst open soon after and a flurry of factories and mills were built. These were built intentionally, for specific purposes at a moment in time. Compared to other forms of city building they did not evolve- they were instant. Great boxes and cylinders and trusses of brick and wood and steel were constructed at impressive scales. When the canals were no longer the primary platform for industrial traffic- having been replaced by interstates- companies left the canal banks for cheaper rents in the suburbs or anywhere along the highway. The old factories, storage yards, conveyance systems, and silos were left.

the department of sanitation “salt lot� along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY, USA located at the end of 2nd Avenue, with the Kentile Floors sign in the background. Front shovels for scraping ice covered roads are aligned along the edge, the ground is completely salted and sterilized from the road salt that is stored here 3 months of the year. The runoff from this lot increases the salinity of the canal. Historically this lot was the site of storehouses for grain and building materials.

Some of these were knocked down, but many of the well-built ones were left standing precisely because it is expensive to demolish something that is well-built. Today we are left with an ecology of vacancy along industrial canals that is a mix of rubble strewn lots and abandoned brick factories and warehouses that have been left to slowly decay. Demolishing a building leaves a property utterly exposed; there is no shelter either for plants or animals or people. The entire lot tends to be covered in several inches of rubble as the primary method of building demolition on these sites is the to bring in the wrecking ball. This rubble is then simply spread out over the site as this is much cheaper than paying someone to cart it away. These places are sometimes repurposed as salt storage lot for departments of transportation or they mutate into some local initiative- a community garden or local tree nursery. But mostly these places stay unused, coated in the destroyed rubble of their former utility, colonized by only a few of the hardiest weeds and insects. The other vacant lots are perhaps more interesting for our purposes, those where the buildings and facilities still stand. Their walls create shade and shadowy places, areas that are protected from wind, perches for birds and protection from lines of site from the streets. Weedy trees and grasses spring from the protected cracks attracting kestrels and nighthawks, offering beetles protection and shade for mycelia, cover for rodents. Some of the buildings are reused by punk artists. The building known as the Bat Cave along the Gowanus Canal, actually an old Con Edison powerhouse, supported a rave scene for years before a leaking roof ultimately drove all of the squatters away. Even now, the lot around it houses a thriving fusion ecology of weedy trees and shrubs and grasses, all munching away at the pavement and rubble below, turning it slowly into a sheltered place for insects, microbes and birds. This phenomenon brings us to one of the most interesting characters yet on the canal- the mythical form, or the obsolete teleological construction. These mythical forms attract us to them; ahistorical but immediately understandable, strange yet familiar, these forms are from our shared past which is constantly being erased. The old factory or pier, the silo, the concrete bunker- coming across these forms in the city stimulates the mind and attracts new agents, suggesting a history while recoiling from revealing itself.

the “bat cave” abandoned building is a former Consolidated Edison powerhouse along the banks of the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York, USA. In the mid-90’s and early 2000’s this vacant structure housed a squatter community with a bike shop and rules about drugs and detrimental illegal activity. The bat cave was cleaned out in 2006 after an expose on the community painted it as a community blight that had devolved into a “decadent drug culture consumed with vicious fighting” and serious heroin use. Past uses included a coal-fired power station, a paper mill, lumber yard, an iron junk yard, and auto repair shop. The property now sits vacant again with much of the land it sits on considered toxic because of the likely presence of pcbs and heavy metals. When operating as a power plant, this building could move 125 tons of coal per hour to power the engine room, sending power out to most of Brooklyn.


Bathing in the Ether Every urban industrial canal must be considered in the context of the larger watershed. Any navigable canal is constructed using some combination of three techniques: cutting a new channel, or canalization of an existing waterway. Dredging operations are almost always used during and afterwards in order to maintain the channel and is really a horse of different color. Nonetheless, all three operations have in common their effect on the hydrologic ecology- they regularize it. And they do this in both its route as well as the shape of the water channel itself. The regularization of the waterway usually means making the route straighter, the sides more vertical, and the bottom flatter. It is important to remember that a hydrological system is a dynamic thing that usually wants to shift and change according to global climatic patterns, a shift in the Earth’s tectonic plates, a particularly high tide, or simply yesterday’s thunderstorm. This regularization is realized in urban areas with structures known as bulkheads that essentially make a hard, edge between the water and the land. The reasons for this are twofold which we will look at in a bit of detail: canals are made for barge traffic, and the land in cities is expensive. Barges are large floating platforms for the transportation of heavy bulk materials- coal, iron ore, grain, vats of petroleum- this is the stuff that the industrial revolution was made from. These barges are designed to carry tons of this stuff and allow it to be loaded and unloaded easily and quickly, first by men and mules, later by gantry cranes and conveyors. Of course, this means that they have specific dimensions and maneuvering capabilities which are not very flexible, and so the canal edges had to be designed and constructed so as to allow them to maneuver and dock. This meant no more meandering streams with soft edges and boulders and sand bars in the bottom- the course is straightened, the edge is reinforced, and the bottom is deepened and flattened. As for the urban canal, the lands adjacent to the waterway were often too valuable to leave as sloped earthen banks. Often factory yards, docks or loading equipment needed to be directly adjacent to the canals in the city because the factories were there and the materials needed to be unloaded. This called for not only a reinforced edge, but a vertical one, as more flat usable land could be claimed this way, and the barge could dock right next to the loading yard and equipment.

The mouth of the Riachuelo River in the Argentine city o f Buenos Aires is canalized as part of the port infrastructure of the city. The canal is part of a much larger hydrology; the river is over 50 miles long and is just downstream from the Rio de la Plata River at the confluence of the Rio Parana and Rio Paraguay


buenos aires and the riachuelo river, on the coast of the rio de la plata, the delta is to the north

The effect of these measures on the pre-industrial hydrology can be imagined. The plants, animals, and microbes that rely on a moisture gradient along the banks of the former waterways are all obliterated. An iconic example of this is the Gowanus Oyster of Brooklyn, New York. Once upon a time the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn was once a meandering tidal creek whose brackish waters produced oysters so succulent and sizable they were harvested by the Dutch settlers and shipped back to Europe. In the 18th and 19th century before the advent of the hot dog stand it was oyster carts that dotted the intersections throughout Brooklyn. With the growth of industry and the concomitant population explosion in the middle of the 19th century, the Gowanus Creek was channeled and deepened to create the 1.8 mile-long canal, finished in 1869. This allowed for the bulk industrial materials to be brought into Brooklyn. The Gowanus Oyster disappeared. The channelization of the banks has further implications regarding the rate of water flow- it increases it. Increased flow rate serves to scour the bottom of the channel, lessening the need for constant dredging. But a canal in an urban setting can also be imagined as a river, with all of the gutters and storm sewers and streets acting as ephemeral streams shooting surface water into the canal during rain events. Many canals are affected by tides and may contain brackish waters. This twice daily ebb and flow and mixing of nutrients and salts can work to stimulate biological communities, flush out chemicals that have accumulated in the canal, and cause metal structures to corrode faster. Because of this, the canals in coastal cities exhibit some of the most drastic change over time, and present great opportunity. Ultimately the result of urban hydrological regulation is intensified disruptions- storms cause higher rises in water level, faster rates of flow, and a more severe line between what is wet and what is dry. With the passage of time, many of the patterns attempt to reassert themselves, pushing down bulkheads, depositing sediments and if constant work is not done to counteract this change, such as the case of a canal no longer used, then the hydrology will begin to alter or destroy the bulkheads depending on their construction, or will deposit sediments into the canal the begin to accumulate. Whatever the state of push and pull between the water and the structures in any given canal, it is the presence of this water- and all of the nutrients and chemicals and sediments in it- and its effects on the surroundings that is responsible for a great deal of the possibility and generative capacity of the landscape.

Detroit, Michigan, USA watershed: 467 square mi population: 1,500,000 length: 126 milles

River Rouge Canal

Meets the Detroit River at Zug Island

Buenos Aires, Argentina watershed: 2.7 square mi population: 5,000,000 length: 55 miles

Riachuelo Canal

Meets the Rio de la Plata at the Petrochemical Dock at the center of the metropolitan area

Brooklyn, New York, USA watershed: 864 square mi population: 1,000,000 length: 1.8 miles

Gowanus Canal

Meets the New York Harbor at the Gowanus Bay just below Red Hook


Here Comes Everything The sedimentation process is one of deposition and accumulation and occurs in places where the current slows down. In a pre-industrial river the main sediments are bits of clay and sand and pebbles from upstream that form beautiful sandbars and oxbows and influence the river’s course over time. In an industrial river- one that has been canalized and is dredged and used for barge traffic- these pre-industrial sediments are mixed up and smashed together with all the industrial materials and wastes, as well as the runoff and suspended solids from the street gutters and sewer system of the surrounding city. All of these substances tend to settle out along the bottom of the canal and have to be regularly dredged in order to keep the channel clear for barges and boats. Dredging operations ceased for many canals sometime in the mid-twentieth century, usually around 1950, when the size of ocean going traffic became much larger and the canals weren’t able to easily be widened because of the constructions along their banks. As the sediments piled up, the capacity of the water channel for moving water was seriously reduced and in some cases flooding problems are exacerbated as is the case in the Riachuelo in Buenos Aires. Continually dredging a canal where industrial operations have all but ceased is a difficult expense to justify when municipal budgets are tight, despite the flooding and environmental issues. Once the canal begins to silt up, it becomes impossible for the neighboring water dependent and water enhanced industries to use it; once all of the neighbors have turned their back on the canal, the falloff in water quality is precipitous. This suggests that, whenever possible, new uses for canals that require a navigable channel would improve water quality and might help reduce flooding and environmental problems. Sediments on industrial canals inevitably contain serious substances that are harmful to many organisms, incluing humans. For that reason they are often left “down there” below the surface of the water, where no one has to worry about them too much, unless you happen to live nearby. Companies and governments usually have politically expedient reasons for not dredging the sediments- they are highly contaminated with toxic substances.

In addition to stirring up the pcb’s and heavy metals and tars that are mixed in on the bottom of the canal, the sediments that are dredged cannot be disposed cheaply- hazardous waste dump sites are incredibly expensive. In reality, they shouldn’t ever be disposed of, as that just moves a toxic substance to another place. Ideally the substances would be excavated and taken to a facility where the toxic chemical are broken down or made inert. The sedimentation process occurs on the banks of canals as well, where tides, flood waters, street runoff, as well as human agents deposit all sorts of jetsam and flotsam. This material is most often considered a nuisance- shopping carts are deposited at street ends, plastic bottles and old wood scraps find their way into the chain link fencing that edges many places along the canal. While this material is mainly a nuisance and it is rather difficult to think of a possible reuse for it other than simply cleaning it up, the deposits are evidence of material eddies in the city. The contemporary urban environment is like a highly regulated waste stream, with food and water and consumer goods coming in, being consumed, and then deposited and whisked out of the city- the municipal solid waste system. Appropriate mobilization and management of this system is perhaps the key catalyst to any urban project. The biological capacities of canals to consume human waste when properly managed, and their tendency to accumulate the trash that escapes the waste stream suggests they should be an area of focus for sanitation departments in cities. Lastly, the fact that pattern that is evident in the sedimentation process could be strategically utilized- the canal is an eddy in the urban ecology of waste, transportation, and use. They offer an alternative to the highly programmed recreational park, the commercial shopping mall, or the office park. It is something of a no man’s land, and by providing simple access around the border and across its width and offering finding a way to reduce the exposure to the toxic substances, entire ecosystems of local populations of plants and animals including humans would spring up along its banks. Indeed, to a limited degree this already occurs and need only be encouraged in the lightest possible way to generate a fecund alternative to the overly programmed recreation park, the commercial shopping mall or street, and the office tower. People and things might come here and sit out the rushing city currents for a while, being sedimented.

Road sediments and urban garbage in the Gowanus Canal These are most often seen as a problem and often need to be removed and piled somewhere else.

New port faciilities are constructed in Buenos Aires from construction rubble created from highway projects. This poldering system is then filled in by the sediments deposited by currents of the river creating new lands for the city

zug island at the mouth of the River Rouge canal is the site of waste, industrial, and hydrological sediments


Eccentric Substances

polychlorinated biphenyl (pcb)

polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (pah)

polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (pah)


This is a tricky theme regarding the subject of canals, and industrial cities in general. There are many ambiguous terms such as pollution, contamination, degradation, sewage, and landfills as well as a number of euphemisms such as brownfields. For the most part these leave people confused, with vague sentiments resembling “that doesn’t sound too bad, but I don’t want to live near it” or “it’s fine as long as it stays over there”. By being specific about certain substances, we may be able to avoid this conundrum. Toxicity relates to any substance which impedes the normal biological functioning of an organism. A couple of keys to remember about toxicity is that it is almost always in relation to exposure. That is, most substances considered toxic are not harmful until exposure reaches a certain level, be it nuclear radiation or road salt. Toxicity in urban industrial canals comes from two main sources: the stormwater and sewage from the surrounding city, and industrial sources such as factories and storage yards along the banks of the canal. The first is directly a result of the hydrological patterns of the city; as the canal is usually in a low point, all of the brake dust and motor oil and estrogen and caffeine that is contained in our sewers or lining our streets dumps into the canals during a storm. This is because the canals are usually the output for sewers, which become taxed by the extra water flower through the system during a storm. The toxic inputs from these sources are usually ongoing. In fact, one of the primary uses of canals after their industrial life was to turn them over to waste transport systems. In the case of the Chicago River, a canal connecting Lake Michigan to the upper reaches of the Mississippi, it was said to “run black” on the day that industrial operations stopped because the canal began carrying sewage overflow from the city out to Lake Michigan. The second source of toxicity- the historical industrial usage of its banks- is a bit more insidious. The list of industries is long and remarkably consistent from city to city: manufactured gas plants, tanneries, chemical manufacturers, liquid gas storage, concrete plants, slaughterhouses, grain storage, steel production, glue factories, food warehouses, road salt storage and junkyards. The reason for this remarkable consistency is complicated, but it has to do with the technologies of the time period, and the role of the canal in industrialization.

Coke production diagram Toxic byproducts of the industrial process include particulate matter (PM), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (pah), methane, ammonia, carbon monoxide (CO), hydroben sulfide, hydrogen cyanide, and sulfure oxides (SO) and benzene

manufactured gas productiion diagram Toxic byproducts include phenols and cresols (such as creosote for treating lumber and aquatic piles, monocyclical aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene, xylene, duocyclical aromatic hydrocarbons such as naphthalene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons such as coat tars, cyanide, sulfur, arsenic, chromium, lead

The most important use of the canal was the transport of bulk materials that were fundamental to the industrial processes of modernizing American cities. Massive quantities of grain, building stone, coal, cow hides, and road salt from the hinterlands as well as other cities was vital to these expanding economies, and industrial canals became widespread in the Americas at a time when the only overland option for transport were horse carts. The railroad did not come into widespread use until several decades after the canal boom had commenced. Many of the burgeoning industries including the manufacturing gasworks located themselves along the canals where they could receive daily shipments of coal. It was also common to use the canals to dump the wastes and byproducts resulting from the tanning of hides, the drawing of candles, or the stamping of rivets. Writer Thomas Wolfe, writing in the 1920’s, noted of the Gowanus in Brooklyn: And what is that you smell? Oh, that! Well, you see, he shares impartially with his neighbors a piece of public property in the vicinity; it belongs to all of them in common, and it gives to South Brooklyn its own distinctive atmosphere. It is the old Gowanus Canal, and that aroma you speak of is nothing but the huge symphonic stink of it, cunningly compacted of unnumbered separate putrefactions. It is interesting sometimes to try to count them. There is in it not only the noisome stenches of a stagnant sewer, but also the smells of melted glue, burned rubber, and smoldering rages, the odors of a boneyard horse, long dead, the incence of putrefying offal, the fragrance of deceased, decaying cats, old tomatoes, rotten cabbage, and prehistoric eggs. Toxic substances and the perceptions and assumptions that accompany them are responsible for some of the magic of these canals. Because they are often considered outside of the normal operations of the city people, plants and animals that also feel outside of normal are able to find purchase here. One can image easily that it is the homeless, the prostitutes, the teenagers skipping school that spend time here. And they do sometimes. But you also have many people from adjacent neighborhoods drifting here looking for a quiet place.

Combined system



In many american cities the wastewater from houses and offices (blackwater) goes into the same system as the water from the storm drains in the streets which all goes to a treatment plant. Because of the surge in water through the system during rain events, a series of outlets throughout the city to dump overflow raw sewage directly into adjacent water bodies.

Industrial byproducts Many wastes from industrial processes, be they particles and microscopic molecules or rusting hulls, end up in industrial canals, especially once they are no longer maintained for navigation purposes.

Canoe clubs set up shop in small shacks along their banks, birders come to watch the nighthawks, and rogue gardeners starved for a patch of land for experimentation. Many of the toxic substances in these places such as the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) and polycholorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) still persist in the canal sediments. Concentrations of solvents and oils are often leaked into the canals from the surrounding bus depots, and heavy metals including cadmium and lead from industrial processes tend to concentrate in the sediments and along the banks. Sometimes, when the currents change, releases of oil from the soil cause slicks. In addition, sewage overflow and stormwater runoff into these canals from the adjacent combined sewer outlets and city streets continually add to the nitrogen and phosphate loads in the water. Lastly the innocuous-seeming domestic chemicals, from cleaners and solvents we use to wash dishes to the estrogen and caffeine we use in our bodies can concentrate here. But some of these substances offer hope to certain organisms. In particular, the nutrients from the combined sewer overflows are prized by certain aquatic plants that establish along the banks of the canal.


The car is brought to the junk yard by the wrecker


The wrecker parks and sets up

Disposal How does disposal work at a junk ya

2a. The car is stripped of all working parts. For example a car may have a cracked engine block, but the radiator is still fine. Most parts of the car can be resold so they are stripped, cleaned, and stored.

shredder/ smelter

2b. Hazardous materials are removed: the battery is pulled out, the gas tank, anti-freeze, and other fluids are drained. These are required to be registered, catalogued and stored until removed and disposed of by an approved handler according regulations. 2c. The remains of the vehicle- the chassis, body parts, and damaged parts- are moved into the junkyard and stored until it can be crushed. The wait period is typically a few days but can be months. 3a. Working parts are sold to customers who come to the junkyard or order them, similar to any retail operation 3b. Hazardous materials are removed and an annual report is submitted to the NYC DEC detailing the handling of these fluids from their reception, through their transport, to their disposal 3c. The operator drives the crusher to the site and sets it up. The crusher is a hydraulic machine that uses fluid, not weight, to crush the vehicles. Crushers use a claw or a magnet to lift the cars onto the crushing bed. The final size of the car depends on the vehicle and the type of crusher being used- baler crushers can reduce a car to a brick of metal that is 3’x2’x5’ THIS PROCESS IS FAST, LOUD, AND INTERMITTENT> Granutech’s big MAC portable crusher needs about 45 seconds per car. Some can crush 6 cars at a time 4. Cars may then be stored until they are shipped to a shredder/ smelter 5. A barge or flatbed truck is brought to the junkyard. The crushed cars are loaded and sent to a shredder/smelter


5 waste disposal site


4 3a



hazardous materials

3c remains of vehicle 2c

2b 2a

vehicle car/truck/bus



New York City junkyard flow diagram


The Wall of Sound

Transportation in American cities is supposedly all about the car. The automobile does dominate our perception on the street- horns honking, engines humming, brakes squealing- but it is not so important in the history of industrial canals. Canals had their heyday in the mid-1800’s, well before the Model T got rolling. While some canals initially had the jump on the railroads and so were used to span great distances such as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, or most famously the Eerie Canal, the majority were quickly turned into a complimentary component of a sophisticated mash-up of an industrial transportation system made up of local roads, docks, and regional rail roads. In fact, two of our examples- the River Rouge and the Riacheulo- continue to function today in just such a capacity. In the case of the River Rouge, the canal is now surrounded by bands of regional highways and railroads. Zug Island, located right at the mouth where the canalized River Rouge meets the larger Detroit River, is traversed by a major rail line and accessed by a single road. The island was once a marshy peninsula on the edge of town unfit for settlement. A new channel was cut through to create a straighter shipping route, and Zug Island was the byproduct. It was purchased and reconstructed as a giant landscape factory for steel production and now receives loads of coal via dock to refine into coke for the steel-making operations which then gets shipped out via rail line. However, the rest of the canal is ribboned with the freeways and highways that serve the number one export of the car capital of the twentieth century. In Buenos Aires the Canal Sarandi serves the main receiving docks of the petrochemical port in the city as a spur off of the Riachuelo River. This area of town is a prime location for the port because of the canal and its proximity to the railroad and Autopista al Sur connecting to the rest of the country without having to cut across the central city. A hundred and fifty years ago when the canal was first being constructed the port was on the southern edge of the city, a fortuitous occurrence that kept the industrial factories and pollution segregated from the city proper. Of course, as the city population grew from 1 million in 1850 to 13 million in 2000 the city reoriented itself around the river and the port, drawn by the cheaper lands to the south and the economic

new york city subway map

engine of the port and its concomitant industries. This southern part of Buenos Aires has grown up around the freeways and railways that serve the port, the local municipal grids filling in around the lines of infrastructure, sometimes in an unplanned ad hoc way. The freight rails, passenger trains, and commercial highways, and local street grids that are brought together at the industrial canals is a pattern that holds even for canals that are no longer used. The abandoned canals, with their large vacant tracts and adjacent industrial zones were prime candidates for interstate freeways when the great highway projects of the 50’s and 60’s came through. The effect today can be a wall of sound, especially in the evening as cars pour out of the city and into the suburbs. But this wall is different than being in the rush hour traffic on Broadway. This is because an effect of displacement occurs when one is along an old industrial canal. And this displacement effect can be one of the special aspects of a canal. While a canal in the city attracts the great, hulking commercial infrastructures of transit such rails and highways they serve to sever the local municipal street grid- the roads, the bus routes, and the sidewalk end here. As a result the local traffic is usually at a minimum, while the commercial and regional traffic is loud and at a distance. The effect can be magical- a quiet forgotten place in the city with privileged access to the great humming and rumblings of the modern city. In Brooklyn the Gowanus Canal maintains just this attraction. It is a sublime landscape with the old ruined factories and rubble heaps and scrap yards interspersed among garages and warehouses. The F/G trains and the Gowanus Expressway cross overhead and at night the little lights in the subway cars are beautiful. If you go there on the right night and watch the subway crawl along the tracks and see the distant skyline of Brooklyn and Manhattan, if you notice the bats diving for insects against the dark silhouettes of the strange warehouses and factories around you will feel that New York City is the place for you; that despite our propensity for creating ugliness, beauty is bigger than us.

Detroit bus map The radial pattern of public transportation from downtown keeps the river rouge canal at an eccentriic position in the city

Buenos Aires subway map The radial pattern of public transportation from downtown keeps the riachuelo canal at an eccentriic position in the perception of the city


drawing by Ernst Haeckel; “Art Forms in Nature”

Canal Taxonomies: tality of things.

The instrumen-

Along American urban industrial canals certain dimensions, properties and techniques manifest themselves consistently in the forms and scales of equipment, materials, and constructions. This is due to the fact that almost all of these canals were built between 1850- 1950. Constructed at similar times for specific, similar purposes, a taxonomy of key structures and instruments reveals a remarkably similar grouping of objects that shape the canals, and take shape along them.

Canted Concrete Wall + This system was not reinforced with steel, rely-


adjacent ground

the concrete to retain the

2. stone veneer, usually cemented on to concrete wall behind, not always included



massive concrete wall


high water mark (tide)


low water mark (tide)

ing instead on the mass of

+ the high compression strength enabled induscranes to operate on top

6. wood or steel pilings for additional lateral stability, anchoring the wall to the earth

at the water’s edge


+ piles are used in the

8. steel sheet pile at base, to prevent undercutting of wall

trial equipment such as

canal bottom

bottom to anchor the bulkhead + most commonly used in channel canals that are cut into the terrain, such as urban sections of the Erie Canal. + the textured surface provides an opportunity for micro-organisms

Canal wall at a lock outside of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Vertical Concrete Wall 1.

adjacent ground

2. stone veneer, usually cemented on to concrete wall behind, not always included 3.

massive concrete wall


high water mark (tide)


low water mark (tide)


canal bottom

+ This system was reinforced with steel, utilizing a more complex structural system and less mass. + the verticle face enables ships to pull up

7. foundation plate attached to structural steel or wood pilings

directly adjacent

8. wood or steel pilings for additional lateral stability, anchoring the wall to the earth

+ piles are used in the bottom to anchor the bulkhead, sheet piling on either face to minimize underscoring + vertical ribs are spaced at twice the height of the wall + the textured and porous surface of the stone or concrete provides an opportunity for microorganisms to inhabit them, but little opportunity for most plant life

Canal wall along Newtown Creek in New York City, between Brooklyn and Queens

Precast Concrete Canal Wall + This system was made offsite and installed along the canal.


adjacent ground


precast concrete wall


high water mark (tide)

5. concrete anchor pilings

+ often smaller in size


low water mark (tide)

due to need to transport


canal bottom

the structure

8. steel sheet pile at base, to prevent undercutting of wall

+ the concrete was often of higher quality and compressive strength; often used where specification for mooring of boats were more stringent + piles are used in the bottom to anchor the bulkhead, sheet piling on either face to minimize underscoring + the textured and porous surface of the stone or concrete provides an opportunity for microorganisms to inhabit them, but little opportunity for most plant life precast wall along the newtown creek canal in Queens, New York City

Sheet Pile Canal Wall 1. Steel corrugated sheet pile 2. adjacent ground, backfilled material 3.

high water mark (tide)

3. steel tieback anchored into backfilled earth

+ This system was installed along the canal, driven into the earth by pile drivers


low water mark (tide)

+ relies on the tensile


canal bottom

strength of steel to re-

7. foundation plate attached to structural steel or wood pilings

tain the earth; is a cheap and easily installed alternative to concrete bulk heads + not as suitable for heavy loads on adjacent lands + the corrugated sheet piles allow for protected microecologies that can be inhabited + the steel material is relatively easy to weld or puncture + the metal itself is relatively easy to clean and keep free from paints

Canal wall along Newtown Creek in New York City, between Brooklyn and Queens

Concrete Wall and Footing 1.

adjacent ground


concrete wall

not yet possible or where


high water mark (tide)

large trucks do not have


low water mark (tide)


6. wood or steel pilings for additional lateral stability, anchoring the wall to the earth

+ used more in situations where access by barges is

+ to compensate for lower quality control due to


canal bottom

casting the concrete in place, the wall was often more massive than the precast version + the footing allows for less concrete to be used than the standard wall + piles are used in the bottom to anchor the bulkhead + the textured and porous surface of the stone or concrete provides an opportunity for microorganisms to inhabit them, but little opportunity for most plant life Canal wall at a lock outside of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Anchored Palisade and Sheathing 2.

high water mark

+ This was the most popu-


adjacent ground

lar bulkhead system due to

2. steel tie back with tension bolts

the relatively inexpensive cost of construction


duck bill anchor

+ more maintenance was


low water mark

required because the wood

6. wooden dimensioned palisades (rough lumber)

even when treated was not


canal bottom

tions in water level and


vertical pilings

the industrial operations

as durable to the flucta-

+ this construction method, and the practice of using pressure treated wood often likely contributed more toxic substances to the canal waters than forms of masonry construction + the wooden slats could break and crack, absorb water and hold material, providing a potentially rich biological niche and material easy to change Canal wall along Newtown Creek in New York City, between Brooklyn and Queens

Armored Training Dike + This system was often used in suburban areas


where adjacent land might

2. interlocking stones or poured concrete surface

be cheaper, + Allowed for human access

adjacent ground

3. excavation and back fill

to the water for purposes


high water mark

such as recreation


low water mark


slope reinforcement

+ the gently sloped face is a much cheaper con-

7. reinforced canal bottom

struction both in materials and labor because excavation was often less sever + the sloped walls also allowed for increased water volume in the canal + the textured and porous surface of the stone provides an opportunity for micro-organisms

Canal dike in the Florida Everglades near Clewiston, Florida

Stone-filled Brush Rolls + This system was a less 1.

woody branches


bracing frame


construction platform

permanent option used to combat scouring along the edges and bottom of canals + Was most often used with armored training dike construction and needed to be


tightening chains


stones for ballast

monitored occasionally + Usually used in river canals (as opposed to tidal or harbor canals) where currents causing scouring was a bigger concern + The brush would usually not rot as long as it remained completely submerged underwater + Brush rolls could vary wildly in size, from the scale of what a single person could carry to a size requiring a group of ten or more to transport it

Brush rolls being prepared for canal edge stabilization

Clamshell Dredge + The bucket can vary in size in order to optimize payload (the amound of ma-


extension truss

terial that can be grabbed

2. extension and closing cables

and ported) in different


clamshell bucket

types of soil,






stabilzation spud


canal bottom

many clam-

shell dredges today have 50 cy buckets for use in harbors typically; canal dredges historically had a payload closer to 5 cy + the dredge mixture is typically 50% sediment, 50% water + offers great precision, minimizes amount of material to be handled, minimizes resuspension of solids- all of these are important when working with contaminated sediments or in cities + can operate with a closed lid to minimize spillage of material

Clamshell dredge at work with adjacent barge in the New York Harbor

Cutterhead Dredge + A hydraulic dredge, these were originally developed to cut through 1. pump hose to disposal site or barge

packed alluvial material


rigid ladder

and even soft rock




position cables


suction pipe




canal bottom

+ Pumps a slurry that is typically 4 parts water, 1 part solids through a hose up to 15 miles to upland disposal sites or along the edges of the dredge site + The cutterhead rotates, and the pipe swings from side to side during operation; speed of cutting depends on horsepower available and the material to be cut into + A dredge with a 16� pipe should produce between 240 and 875 cy of dredged sediments per hour; a 24� pipe should produce between 515 and 1615 cy

Cutterhead dredge at work in the Louisiana delta

Dipper Dredge + The dipper dredge typically has a capacity of 8 to 12 cy per bucket, and


power ladder

can achieve between 30 and


scow barge




stabilzation spud




canal bottom

60 scoops per hour + Best use for a dipper is for excavating compacted sediments and rock that have been loosened after blasting + can be used in any sediment type where there is a significant vertical incline but the violence of this operation can cause resuspension of solids +

Creates high levels of

sediment resuspension + Offers great precision and is rugged, can be used near foundations and docks, or for deconstructing these structures antique dipper drege

Dragline Dredge + This is a mechanical dredge, and offers better 1.

extension truss

precision, needs less room for maneuvering



+ Despite being a mechanical dredge, this method




anchor spud



solids, making them un-


canal bottom

suitable for environments

often leads to higher amounts of resuspended

with contaminated sediments + Can remove material at a comparable rate to the clamshell dredge + Detail work is difficult + Can be used where access is difficult and depths are up to 100 feet.

dragline drege mounted on tracks working on a dike

Dustpan Dredge + A hydraulic dredge, offers less precision uses water jets for cutting action, is not as effective in extremely rocky or compacted situations


rigid ladder

2. pump hose to disposal site or barge 3.


+ For use in water channels that are primarily sand and gravel + Pumps a slurry that is

4. positioning cables 5.

suction pipe


canal bottom

typically 4 parts water, 1 part solids through a hose up to 1000 ft to upland disposal sites or along the edges of the dredge site + It is effective only in sheltered waters because of the pipeline and rigid ladder system- it is not useful in rough waters + A typical dustpan Can excavate about 36oo cy of sediment per hour dustpan dredge

Bucket -Ladder Dredge + The bucket-ladder dredge allows for a continuous excavation process 1. sand/gravel deposits 2.

full bucket


empty bucket



+ Buckets discharge contents onto vibrating screens, usually on an adjacent barge, which sift gravel and sand return the water to the channel


rigid ladder


cutting edge

+ The entire dredge swings


canal bottom

from side to side with the use of anchors and mooring lines + The edge of the bucket offers increased cutting ability using the metal edge of the buckets + Is not very precise, but moves a lot of material, for this reason it was used a lot for gold mining, less so for construction or environmental remediation

multi-bucket dredge at work in harbor

Trailing Suction Dredge + Is a hydraulic dredge, suction pipes called dragarms pump sediments up to the hopper and out



through the hose





+ Most effective on loose sediments + Do not need a tug to

4. engine and navigation propellers

help them operate as they



have their own propellers


canal floor

+ Can move large amounts of sediment in a slurry; the ration is typically 5:1 water to sediment + these move massive amounts of material (up to 300 dump truck loads per hour) and can operate in rough waters; as such they are usually used to replenish beaches and clear sandbars from in front of ports; rarely are they used in industrial canals trailing suction dredge in Jamaica Bay, Queens, New York

Backhoe Dredge + This system, a backhoe mounted on a barge or ad1.


jacent dike, offers power to dig through any type of


deposit barge

material, including deconstructing existing piers and foundations, they also




anchor spud


canal bottom

have great precision and manueverability + Use anchor spuds when on a barge, and often deposit sediments on an adjacent barge + Can be equipped with a watertight bucket to minimize resuspension of solids and disturbance of sediments in the case of contaminated sediments + Are not able to move the high volumen that the suction hopper dredges move

backhoe dredge at work in new york harbor

Conveyor Belts + Consists of pulleys and


a continuous loop of ma-

2. conveyor belt with teeth or texture

terial that has teeth to

bulk material

grab the material; they are directional and linear + power is supplied to

3. pulley with drivetrain 4.


rotate the driving pulley and pull the belts along + used to transport bulk materials continuously + belts travel in a straight line, can traverse distances up to 100 kilometers + can go over and down topography without serious issues, the angle must be such that the material does not slide off or down the belt + curved conveyor belts are now available using tapered rollers a 9 mile long conveyor belt in california for a gravel mining operation

Conveyor Hubs 1. conveyor belt with first material 2. conveyor belt with second material 3. sifting sieve or screen 4.

combined belt

+ conveyor hubs are the critical components in systems of automated sorting and distribution of bulk materials such as gravel or salt + Often these hubs have screens and sieves that allow them to be combined in specific mixtures to create concrete mixes, for example

a gravel crushing operation is a hub of conveyors, sorting different size aggregates

Conveyor Housing + used to allow for packaging and processing of the bulk materials + provides a staging

1. protection from heat, wind and rain

ground for workers or ma-


chines to access the bulk

3. climate controlled room

materials such as meat + allowed for work in a

conveyor housing


conveyor belt


work floor

protected environment such as a refrigerated room or protection from rain + also allows for immediate recovery of certain materials or byproducts that tend to fall off of the conveyor belt + used on a much smaller scale than long belt conveyors

housing of frozen meat conveyor along the Riachuelo in Buenos Aires

Conveyor Truss + the truss is important to conveyor systems allowing for spans and heightened inclines 1.

conveyor material


metal truss

+ allows for rotational belt systems + is a rigid, linear system that is cheap and movable

mobile conveyor truss is used to sort piles of soil types in Oregon

Water Hyacinth + The water hyacinth is one of the most productive


purple flower





plants in the world + It is a floating aquatic plant found in fresh water rivers + It’s range is limited by temperature, needing subtropical weather and availability of freshwater + It is a serious hyperac-

3. petiole (bulbous, spongy stalk that aids flotation) 4. stolons, plant spreads rhizomatically through branching stolons 5.

suspended roots

6. uptake of nutrients and contaminants

cumulator of heavy metals including lead, mercury, and chromium + can absorb organic compounds and heavy metals + It is native to the rio

current range of distribution of the water hyacinth in the Americas

de la plata estuary in south america + can spread rhizomatically from the stolons distribution of the water hyacinth in the Americas

Oyster Mushroom + mycelium are non-photosynthetic organisms that 1. mycelium fruit (mushrooms) 2.

mycelium hyphae

3. uptake of sugars, nutrients, and chemicals from surrounding environment

form symbiotic relationships with existing plants or enzymatically breaks down environmental sugars, adapting them to take in specific nutrients and withstand droughts + mycelium are also incredible biological agents for breaking down volatile organic compounds + certain strains can be used to break down petrochemical biproducts such as polychlorinated biphenyls and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons + can accumulate heavy metals + if not contaminated, can be used as a food source

oyster mushrooms after six weeks in soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls

Common Nighthawk + The common nighthawk is a bird native to the americas with a range from


common nighthawk

buenos aires, argentina to toronto, canada

2. mosquitoes and flying insects (primary food source)

+ they are well adapted to urban environments, preferring to nest in gravel beds which are found along industrial canals + feed chiefly on insect

3. gravel pit (used for nesting) 4.


pests such as mosquitos at dawn and at dusk + urban birds in general, such as the chimney swift or kestrel, are considered as keystone species (indicators of ecological health) + they are ecological network engineers, maintaining insect populations

some common american birds

Black Locust Tree + black locust is na1.

tree crown

tive to north america and


been seed pods

naturalized on at least 5


timber wood


ground surface


nitrogen-fixing roots

continents + does best in temperate climates +

wood is extremely rot

resistant + roots fix nitrogen in the soil + tissues don’’t absorb toxic substances + growth is extremely vigorous when young, grow best by root suckers + create habitat for birds and are a valued shade tree + well adapted to nutrient-poor, rocky, dry, compacted soil midwestern farmers planting black locust hedgerows in 1917


stream bank stabilization using biodegradable coconut mats and live stakes


Tactics and Strategies

By considering landscape in terms of specific operations instead of forms or flows we can tap into the materialsemiotic aspects of specific agents and their associations. This allows a conception of work across scales- temporal, spatial, economic. This means that the project can start with the smallest amount of money and effort- building a bird house- and grow towards large scale integration with major capital projects. These operations are meant as suggestions of possibilities for implementation, rather than a set of stepby-step instructions. Implementation may require consultation with an architect, engineer, arborist, or electrician, depending on the scale and the field situation.

Community Gardens

size: smallest: a single 4’ x 10’ plot; largest: vacant lot time: continuous care required cost: $20 per 4’ x 10’ plot related operations: small construction, composting, water recycling, fencing The community gardening operation is open to anyone, and encouraged in any accessible area with a water supply. This operation can be used to grow food, cut flowers for the home, and experimental plots for testing new types and combinations of plants. VEGETABLES FOR EATNG SHOULD BE PLANTED IN RAISED BEDS TO AVOID CONTAMINATION. a community garden in havanna, cuba

Steps of Operation: 1

consistent water supply cut flowers, vegetables, or environmental remediation plants

growing medium roots above contaminated ground if vegetables are grown for consumption raised bed existing ground

Open ground is located

2 Construct the soil; this may entail importing compost or topsoil, tilling up existing compacted soils; if the soil may be contaminated (a safe bet near industrial canals) then the planting area should be raised to keep the roots out of the contaminated soil 3 Plant desired seedlings or seeds at the proper depth in the soil 4 Keep the plants watered with an adjacent water supply; this can be from captured stormwater, a nearby fire hydrant, or water spigot 5 Keep the weeds from growing by pulling them every week 6 Harvest vegetables or flowers when you want

Organic Compost

size: smallest- single household deposits, largest- restaurant and school waste time:

1 hour



related: community gardening, fencing, building, tree planting Organic compost operations will consist of stations that are set up in vacant lot locations. It provides a useful way to grow fertile soil from organic waste (yard clippings, vegetable kitchen waste). Compost must be aerated and kept moist to keep the decomposition processes active. If done properly, all food and yard waste from the neighborhood can be composted and used to enrich further planting efforts for trees or community gardens.

compost hedgerows at an industrial composting center, rows are managed with backhoes

organic material (kitchen greens, garden waste, mushrooms coir logs) heaped compost; keep moist (55% moisture level)

rotate hedgrows of compost to keep aerated, material will compress, keep moist

Steps of Operation: 1 collect compostable material; this could be garden waste and clippings, kitchen waste, chipped wood 2 heap organic material together, maintain aeration and moisture so that bacterial decomposition can occur; compost pile should heat up to about 155 degrees- organic content is slowly cooking 3 keep piles rotated, aerated, and moist

if organic material is contaminated, compost should go through chemical extraction process to recover heavy metals

utilize clean compost in new tree pits or garden plantings

4 if organic material is contaminated, for instance if the plants are hyperaccumulators such as water hyacinth or sunflowers, the compost should be chemically processed to extract heavy metals 5 compost can be added to mineral soil, dredge spoils, accumulated settlements to enrich growing medium and help it support normal biological function

Hoop House

size: smallest- 100 square feet, largest- 2000 square feet time:

daily watering


$50 - $2000

related: community gardening, tree planting, composting, water recycling, small construction, wetlands This opeartion can be started for as little as $50 and is vital to establish new seedlings for: + city forest + community gardens + wetlands The hoop house is used to protect the seedlings during cold months and to control irrigation. Partnerships with private enterprise- plant nurseries- will help to keep costs down and gain necessary expertise to construct and maintain the house intitially. a hoop house in new jersey with potted shrubs ready for sale

protection from wind, rain, and excessive sun

agricultural plastic or netting structural metal ribbing climate control with fans if necessary


Steps of Operation: 1 this operation must start at the ground; small concrete footings must be poured to support the structural ribs 2 the ribs should be preformed and then bolted to the concrete footings 3 a water supply is needed to keep the plants irrigated 4 agricultural netting or plastic should be stretched over the frame 5 plantings should be spaced to allow for a walking aisle in the center, and so each plant can get appropriate irrigation

existing ground planting footing or concrete slab to support structure

6 a fan can be used in either end to maintain air movement in the hoop house if it is covered with plastic


size: smallest- 100 square feet, largest- 100 acres time:

1 day - decades

cost: $50 sf related: community gardening, tree planting, water recycling, small construction, wetlands The wetlands operation is a communal effort that brings together technical expertise, private donations, and embodied knowledge to begin reestablishing biological environmental processes. Wetlands are installed slowly over time, in conjunction with earth moving, and tree planting Wetlands are one of the most productive areas and will be managed for scientific monitoring and educational enterprises with the city universities. constructed chinampas wetlands in mexico use willows to build land over time

Steps of Operation: rain water gets absorbed

provides habitat for local birds and insects

1 identify ideal location for constructed wetlands; considerations include sun and contamination exposure, high traffic zones, water access

plant material (should be chosen for tolerance of salt, heavy metals, and petroleum contaminants

2 identify or at least estimate the toxic substances that will have to be contended with

stormwater is filtered as it runs through

3 identify user groups to target with constructed wietlands- birds, shellfish, school kids 4 identify the appropriate plants for the chosen location and other above considerations

root network growing medium (can be floating or can be existing soil)

uptake of nutrients from the soil

5 construct a supporting structure for the growing medium and plants, including one that can protect the plants and organisms until they become established and can filter pollutants; include floating buoys if needed to support the structure and growing medium

Earth Moving

size: smallest- compost moving, largest- road building time: 1/2 day to season long effort cost: $50 per half day (donation in kind can be requested) related: small construction, composting, water recycling, fencing, road building The earth moving equipment can be procured for only a half day. While expensive, this can be highly effective for excavation for a new wall, new paving, roads, large-scale plantings or composting. Smaller scale earth moving operations can be carried out with wheelbarrows and shovels. Multiple operations can be coordinated to reduce the cost and relationships should be built with local rental centers and contractors.

bobcat at work with medium scale earth moving operations

Steps of Operation:

excavation or dredge spoils (can be transported by conveyors)

1 constant earth moving can be undertaken as a cultural practice, especially in a terrain that is constantly changing due to hydrological and sedimentary processes 2 with a single machine this practice can be constantly undertaken to construct and compact new lands from deposited spoils 3 the earth moving should take place in layers and according to sections, growing incrementally

existing high ground earth moving machine (such as backhoe, bobcat, wheelbarrow) newly constructed ground existing topography

4 each layer should be compacted every 6 inches that are put down; running over the newly deposited sediments can be done with the bobcat; if the scale is extremely small then the operation can be untertaken with hand tampers 5 compacted soils can stabilize the terrain so that it can be used for newly prgrammed purposes

Agricultural Netting

size: smallest- 50 sf, largest- 1000 sf time:

1 hour

cost: kind)

$40 (donations in

related: community garden, tree planting, fencing, management, community market, hoop house, goat herd The netting operation is used to create habitable zones near other operations. Shade cloth can be used to protect young plants that are being established as part of the city forest or that are being grown for future wetlands or community gardens. The netting operation also offers an ephemeral, inexpensive opportunity to demarcate festival space and play areas. bobcat at work with medium scale earth moving operations

protection from sun exposure protection from excess rain for delicate plants (for tight weaves of shade cloth only) agricultural netting (shade cloth) connection to structure (hoop house ribs, adjacent trees, scaffolding system)

Steps of Operation: 1 this operation is extremely cheap and easy to form protected zones for plants, organisms, and social spaces 2 identify organisms to be protected and the area of shade cloth needed 3 erect support structure if necessary; scaffolding structure is an extremeley inexpensive and useful possibility but any wooden posts, a nearby tree, or attachement to an existing structure such as a building can be used 4 string up shade cloth with plastic ties, couplings, or other more permanent attachement

existing ground footing or anchor if attaching to hoop house or scaffolding system

Construction Fencing

size: smallest- garden plot, largest- new pine plantation time:

1 day

cost: $50 per 100 feet of fencing The fencing operation provides a visual signal and physical barrier, protecting new plantings and installation and demarcating zones of programming, for instance: + territory of goat herd grazing + childrens play zones + new forest plantings + wetland installations + community gardens + festival areas In addition, the construction fencing can be strung between scaffolding structures to create a cheap, easy, and beautiful screen for temporary structures. construction fencing demarcating construction site

construction fencing used to demarcate space fencing structure inhabitant

Steps of Operation: 1 site to limit access or create social space should be identified 2 attach fencing to fence post or scaffolding structure with zip ties as needed

existing ground

below ground structure


construction fencing fence post newly installed wetlands or other area to limit access

existng ground

fence structure

Tree Planting

size: smallest- a single tree, largest- 10 acre plantation on 5’ x 5’ staggered pattern time: seasonal employment, 1 volunteer day cost:

$1 per tree

related: habitat

fencing, bird

Tree planting is a primary operation, a major joint effort between agencies, universities, communities, and companies The trees can form the framework for new pubic programming, and eventually provide horticultural material for reforesting the city, or constructing boardwalks in the city parks

a bare root pine seedling taking root with the help of mycelium

small spade pit bare root planting

Steps of Operation:

bare root seedlings existing ground

1 identify location for tree plantings; consider sun exposure, amount of water, desired climate, soil type 2 consider if trees will be individual tree pits or entire gridded plantations


root ball planting

pit excavation root ball (remove burlap wrapping or plastic bucket) medium size tree backfilled soil saucer to retain water

3 tree excavation should be done with spades or shovels, not more than 1.5 times deeper than the root ball 4 often along canals trees can be worked in to steep banks or rubble areas; for steep banks they should be planted as vertical as possible and the depth should be measure from the low side; for rubble areas the largest area possible should be excavated and amended with topsoil and compost 5 trees will need irrigation for at least the first year after planting; this can vary depending on the location, the species, and soil type

Tree Pruning, Harvesting

size: single lot milling operation, can be outsourced to private enterprise time: work

full-time temporary



related: tree planting, house raising, management The tree pruning and thinning operation is used to manage an urban forest at high productivity producing habitat, mulch material, and construction material for other operations It can be undertaken by volunteers as well as utilized by artists and craftsmen

stacked saw logs ready for milling for use in construction

tree being cut canopy is pruned, mulched, and composted remaining tree

Steps of Operation: 1 identify the trees to be thinned (for habitat or material purposes, or to open up spaces for social gathering or working areas) 2 prune the canopy of the trees to be thinned; organic material (leaves) can be composted; branches can be used for wetlands construction or put through a wood chipper to make mulch 3 using a saw fell the tree trunk and saw into sections that are movable; use guide ropes to make sure that it doesn’t fall on remaining trees 4 saw logs can be sent to mill to shape into boards and lumber to be used for constructions along the canal

felled tree existing ground

5 remaining trees should fill out further

Bird Habitat

size: a single birdhouse, tree house time:

1/2 day - 1 season


$10 - $500

related: material recycling, scaffolding, tree planting, wetlands, painting The bird habitat operation is a method for reusing non-structural recycled material including scrap wood, plastics, and textiles from the neighborhood to attract and provide for bird species. Birds act as keystone species as indicators of urban ecosystem health. Birds help to manage insect populations and keep down pests such as mosquitoes. Birds and their behaviorial habits serve as a strong attractor for people from the neighborhood. bird houses installed along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn

bird house protects birds from precipitation, wind, and exposure

Steps of Operation: 1 build bird house from lumber scraps or milled lumber from forest 2 bird house should be painted or sealed

bird house is connected to top of scaffolding pole scaffolding pole

3 attach pole coupler to bottom of bird house and scaffolding pole 4 mix concrete in five gallon bucket 5 cast scaffolding pole into concrete bucket 6 choose location for birdhouse, ideally with nearby habitat (shrubs and trees and grasses to provide food and nesting material)

concrete-filled 5 gallon bucket to anchor birdhouse excavate birdhouse pit existing ground

7 excavate pit to for concrete bucket in birdhouse location 8 backfill around bucket to stabilize bucket footing


size: smallest- community booth, largest- institutional station time:

1 day- 2 weeks

cost: $70 - $2000 (donations in-kind) related: garden, community market, bird habitat, netting, material recycling, light installation The scaffolding operation is an modular system that can be utilized to create community market bays, festival installation, construction support Because the scaffolding is modular, they can be collected over time and used in increasingly sophisticated ways. As workers and community members become accustomed to working with the scaffolding system, the scaffolding will be used as large scale installations as well as institutional support.

an exhbition and performance space made from scaffolding in Portland, Oregon

Steps of Operation:

scaffolding members

mechanical attachments at corners

1 make sure that ground where scaffolding is being constructed is stabillized with compaction, paving, or a footing 2 assemble scaffolding members 3

secure cross bracing

4 attach netting or fencing as necessary

ground to use for attachment/stabilization scaffolding bracing

Material Recycling

size: smallest- local bottle dropoff, largest- reuse of construction refuse time: 30 minutes - 2 hours for collection and dropoff cost:


related: small construction, scaffolding Material recycling is often ideal for canals because they already have large store yards and many waste streams. Material recycling at a large scale can produce an income stream especially for metals. Many other materials can be reused in future small scale and temporary constructions such as bottles as bricks and plastic bottles as buoys for suspended wetlands. object pyramid made from recycled garbage

Steps of Operation: 1 collection areas are established so that households, communities, and industries can bring material wastes to a site 2 materials are gathered and sorted 3 materials to be reused are stored until they can be used by the appropriate actors 4 materials to be recycled for profit are sent to the smelters or recycling plants by barge or truck


for profit recycling

material reuse

Water Recycling

size: smallest- rain barrel, largest- site based water detention time: day

1 hour or 1 work


$5 - $2000

related: community gardening, wetland, hoop house, tree planting Water recycling operations are begun simply with rain barrels that catch water from the gutters of existing structures. Water detention will immediately have an impact as local flooding from rain events is lessened. Reusing this resource before it drains into the sewers will reduce the stress on the city’s water system and reduce the costs for the growing operations. object pyramid made from recycled garbage

Steps of Operation:

rain water

1 identify existing horizontal surfaces that can be used to funnel rain water to collection points 2 a simple system of gutters can be used to direct rain water to storage barrels, cisterns, or collection pools

storage barrel

dispersal hose

3 the water to be stored needs to have a pump or be kept above the use elevation or else to take advantage of gravity flow 4 recycling water through wetlands, for agriculture, or using them to water trees can reduce the amount of mechanical plumbing infrastructure needed



walls, pavements


1 hour - 1 week

cost: $20 per can, road striping equipment related: road building, small construction, scaffolding, bird habitat, fencing, lighting The painting operation can be undertaken entirely by community groups to designate paved areas, constructions, and structures as community places for specific types of recreation or operations such as community market, bird habitat structures, lighting installations, new walls, making clear the presence of social intention and care. Systems of signs can be created and elaborated over time to help signify programming such as murals, and community market zones. painting on the pavement in the road bed in Times Square in Manhattan

Steps of Operation: 1 identify the zone to paint and the symbols to be used for painting 2 choose the colors, consider DOT standards and exterior paint for the correct material 3 if painting where there will be vehicular traffic work with the local DOT to use their highway paint; painting the road or within the right of way is the purview of the local department of transportation and any major effort should be coordinated with them so as not to cause traffic hazards.

Landscape Maintenance and Monitoring




full time position


$5000 - $25,000

related: community gardening, tree planting, composting, water recycling, wetlands, recycling, manufacturing Management operations will develop over time, first beginning in year five and becoming more prominent as the forest develops. The maintenance of the roads and the management of the storage facilities will eventually require a full or part-time position to be established. This position will include monitoring, trash removal, planting, pruning, installation of fencing and netting and other ephemeral structures to achieve specific environmental performance levels.

an equipped maintenance truck/ mobile laboratory

Steps of Operation: 1 the landscape maintenance and monitoring operation should be specifically identified and a manual developed for each individual canal 2 this is a scientific and craftsman position and will need specific equipment for monitoring environmental effects including testing for toxicity, horticultural operations inluding amending soil 3 can also be the point person to coordinate the other operations with more specialized workers or less skilled community members

Goat Herd

size: smallest- single goat, largest- 20 goats time:

30 minutes daily

cost: $0 (subsidized by the municipal government). related: community garden, fencing, management The goat herd offers a low-cost, low effort method for weed control and improving soil fertility in vacant or fallow lots. Their four-chambered stomachs can fully break down most weed seeds They are used frequently in cities as low-cost alternatives to mowers. They often provide a social benefit for free, acting as attractors in the urban environment, especially for children interested in their wanderings

a goat eating weeds on an urban lot in Portland, Oregon

Steps of Operation:

stage 1- vegetative growth dominates the site before goats are introduced

stage 2- the goat herd feeds on the vegetation and enriches the soil with their droppings

stage 3- the site is cleared and the soil is enriched, the goats move on to a didifferent site

Light Installation



time: 2 days cost:


related: scaffolding, goat herd, hoop house, community market, small construction, manufacturing Light installation for both permanent and ephemeral installations can be undertaken with high pressure sodium, metal halide and led lights. Permanent light will be incorporated into the hoop houses and main pathways in the hub. Temporary lighting may be utilized for the community market, celebration programs, and art installations to allow for events to continue into the night and increase the perception of safety in the neighborhood. light installation in abandoned factory in Beacon, New York

Mycological Remediation




1 hour



related: nursery, hoop house, tree planting, organic compost, netting Mycological remediation refers to the use of specific mycelium to filter organic solids, particulate matter, to break down toxic substances such as polychlorinated binphenyls Mycelium can also be used to form mycorrhizal associations that increase the biological efficiency of the plant communities in compacted, rubble soils. This operation is undertaken by innoculating a medium such as wood chips, soil, or coconut fiber with mycelium spores which can be purchased from remediation nurseries. mycorrhizal associations of Saccharomonospora viridis, a mycelium

sun exposure

Steps of Operation:


shade cloth (or tree canopy or building)

existing ground growing medium mycelium fruits (mushrooms)

1 Choose location; consider presence of toxic substances (refer to the book “Mycelium Running “ for a simple chart paring mycelium with toxic substances); also consider wind and sun exposure as mushrooms prefer dark, moist areas 2 choose growing medium; mycelium prefer lignin as a food source, wood chips and mulch are preferred 3 make sure that mycelium have a shady spot to run, either on a protected side of a building, or under a grove of trees; if neither of these are available a shade cloth structure is a cheap and fast shelter for any location 4 test soils or growing medium for contaminants- a partnership with a local labratory is necessary

toxic substances

5 continue to monitor over time and replinish the growing medium as the mycelium break it down; mushrooms fruits should be tested, confined, and composted separately as they accumulate heavy metals

Aerial Mapping




4 hours



related: tree planting, road, goat herd, landscape maintenance, Aerial mapping is an operation meant to increase agency for local communities with high quality aerial photography that is highly specific both temporally and spatially. A specific zone can be targeted- such as a development lot or the street salting operations of a city agency, and they can be photographed at extremely high resolution during different, specific times of the day and year. specific information can be found at

aerial balloon mapping of salt lot operations along the gowanus canal; by

helium balloon (or kite)

Steps of Operation: 1 Identify the place to map and the time period

camera cradle automatic digital camera tether

2 get a small camera cradle that is padded with foam and will allow for a small digital camera to focus down on the ground when suspended 3 insert the camera and set it to take digital photos every 10 seconds 4 afix the camera and cradle to the balloon

landscape being mapped

5 tether the helium balloons to the ground so that you can retrieve them and the camera after it has taken the photos. 6 release the balloons and leave it up for as long as you camera will take photos 7 retrieve the camera and balloons with the tether; the photos can now be downloaded * winds must be considered in this operation; for more control over the photography in windy situations a kite can be used instead of a balloon

Field Guide to Urban Industrial Canals  

This field guide is a tool for understanding and interpreting the urban industrial canals found throughout the Americas. The technologies, e...

Field Guide to Urban Industrial Canals  

This field guide is a tool for understanding and interpreting the urban industrial canals found throughout the Americas. The technologies, e...