Salina, Kansas, is a town like so many others in America. Its downtown stands as a reminder of what once was — brown paper is taped to the inside of windows, lackluster rental signs hang askew beckoning no one. Its vital economic lifeblood has drained to the southern outskirts where a Walmart and a Lowe’s dominate the placeless landscape.
These monolithic stores’ lack of connection to place, environment, and land, and their undermining of community, connection, and relationships, stands in stark contrast to all that the Land Institute embodies. We had arrived in Salina on the hot, windy plains for the Prairie Festival, celebrating the Land Institute’s 40th anniversary and the retirement of Wes Jackson, its leader. More than 1,000 pilgrims went to pay homage to a man and place that have inspired so many.
Photo: Houston Metropolitan Research Center
This article originally appeared in Cite 82 (pdf) and is now accompanied by a digital map.
Houston has a long history of segregation and racial violence. From the lynchings of George White in 1859 and Robert Powell in 1928, to the hanging of black soldiers who rebelled at Camp Logan in 1919, to the rise of the local Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, racist actions have periodically threatened to tear the city apart.
The political struggles of the 1960s and ’70s changed the city. In the 1998 movie The Strange Demise of Jim Crow, historians explain how the end of segregation in Houston came relatively quickly and, due to a media blackout, without fanfare.
Highlighted in this piece are important milestones that dispel an oft-repeated myth that Houston’s quiet desegregation prevented riots, rebellions, or open conflict; moments of community indignation (anything but polite and restrained) that lead to concrete action on the road to political power for people of color in the city. Many events have been left off this list — the University of Houston riot in 1969, for example — but the sites selected can serve as initial entries into an often ignored history.
Bering Ditch. Courtesy: Dennis Alvarez
This is the introduction to the new issue of Cite (99), which is now available. OffCite’s Synthetic Nature series supplements the new issue. Use the hashtag #SyntheticNature to view related content on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Landscape and city building are inseparable — that may seem obvious, but we like to think of “nature” as something outside of humanity and specifically outside the city. Every street, every park, every building, every feral vacant lot, every bend in the bayous is a choice we make. We choose to shape. We choose to leave be. If we aren’t thinking deeply about our goals — diversity, equity, resilience, democracy — about what is right, then we risk deluding ourselves. We often get caught in rhetorical traps when talking nature in Houston. Design approaches that seem noble, like restoring native species, can be wishful thinking at best and alibis for perpetuating injustices at worst unless we keep our highest objectives in mind.
How are we doing when it comes to those highest objectives?
Follow OffCite’s Synthetic Nature series that supplements the forthcoming issue of Cite (99). Use the hashtag #SyntheticNature to view related content on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Allyn West: When we think about “nature,” you argue, we tend to think about “pristine” landscapes ostensibly free from human interference or intervention. You call this “the Yellowstone model,” in which a site is protected from “all human use” — except tourism, of course. But you argue, finally, that “the cult of pristine wilderness” is both culturally and ecologically harmful, because it leads to there being “only two possible future states for most ecosystems: perpetual weeding and perpetual watching, or total failure.” What’s a more productive way, then, to think of “nature”?
Emma Marris: First of all, I should point out that the closer people are to nature, the more nuanced their view tends to be. Working conservationists and serious outdoors-people know that there aren’t many places that are untouched by human influence. But for many people — including myself when I was younger — the touch of humans tends to make spaces seem very much less natural. (I didn’t realize then how much intensive management places like Yellowstone require to keep them looking so natural!) I think this is dangerous because as the population grows and the climate changes, it means fewer and fewer places will “count” as nature — and fewer and fewer people will have the means and time to spend time in those places. Nature will become a luxury good for elites and the rest of us will just check out.