Collection no. 010

Collection no. 010: Urban Bioinfrastructures

Fall 2023

As cities have to bear up against storms, high tides, and other extreme weather events, urban design increasingly turns to non-human life-forms and processes for solutions. So-called ‘green’ or ‘blue’ infrastructures are supposed to lessen adverse effects and produce more sustainable urban natures. Trees or mangroves are supposed to reduce heat islands; bushes and other forms of vegetation aim at preventing landslides; and restoring river flows and water ecosystems are means to reduce flood risks. Such measures have come alongside an increased scholarly interest in other-than-human, vital materialist, or multispecies perspectives on social life, suggesting disciplinary crossovers that push theoretical boundaries and animate practical endeavours. While ‘nature-based solutions’ have become a mantra for policymakers and scholars involved in urban planning, many of the selected measures or projects address only partially the implications of emerging urban ecosystems. It often appears that the use of nature in the interest of increasing urban resilience are mere socioecological fixes, extracting ‘ecosystem services’ from both environments and communities. And yet, the incorporation of bioscientific approaches in urban design seems to question the fundamental premise of modern urban planning – human control of nature. Or does it? Our main question for this Roadsides collection is: does the emerging trend of developing bioinfrastructures change understandings of urban life and how so? Does their implementation lead people to reconsider how we build and inhabit cities? And what role do non-humans play in this transformation?

Edited by Raúl Acosta and Lukas Ley

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Urban Bioinfrastructures: An Introduction

Raúl Acosta and Lukas Ley advance the concept of urban bioinfrastructures in relation to human and non-human city dwellers. They position the ambivalent politics of these bioinfrastructures vis-à-vis ‘nature-based’ solutions.

Gradients of Wetness: Gardens as Experiments Towards Wetness

Can residential gardens help manage stormwater? Andrea Aragone, Catalina Codruta Dobre and Giuseppe Faldi investigate ‘wet experiments’ in Brussels backyards. Here gardens become testing grounds for ecological stewardship, ushering in a wet transition through decentralized bioinfrastructure.

Material Engagements with Fog in Lima

Chakad Ojani explores the significance of fog-capture devices around Lima, Peru, from their physical structures to their fostering of locals’ appreciation of trees as an original form of bioinfrastructure.

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Soft Lines: Shorelines and Surfaces

Sarah Vaughn’s photo essay captures Guyanese experiments with soft groynes, a type of coastal defense. This engagement with eroding shorelines shows how people are reinventing and experimenting with ecologies despite climatic havoc. 

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Ecosystems are Filters: River Restoration as Urban Experimentation

Raúl Acosta asks what happens when infrastructure is designed as a living thing. He describes Mexican environmental project Ecoducto, which restores a degraded urban river while performing beneficial filtering effects.

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A Biotoilet for the Future?

Through their study of a biotoilet in Nairobi, Mwangi Mwaura and Mary Lawhorn examine the feasibility and challenges of green sanitation infrastructures in light of contrasting aspirations and support structures.

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Growing Houses: Fusing Nature and Culture in the Early Twentieth Century

Sonja Dümpelmann visits early twentieth-century proposals for ‘growing houses’ by German landscape architect Arthur Wiechula to reveal the long history behind initiatives to harness trees’ physiological processes in the creation of built structures.

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On Urban Photography: Infrastructure in a Minor Key

Does macaques’ use of hanging cables in Old Delhi point toward an urban arboreality? Maan Barua reflects on unforeseen ways of negotiating access to infrastructure among other-than-human lifeforms in the city.

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The Parking Lots of Tallinn: An Encounter with Marginal Ecologies

Inspired by a Tallinn parking lot, Matthew Gandy ponders unexpected socio-ecological constellations in the city. What are the conceptual implications of engaging in ‘ecological loitering’, taking in the intricacies of non-human urban life?

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Bioinfrastructures for Mobility Justice

Columba González-Duarte analyses the reciprocal relationship between the migrating Monarch butterfly and its host plant, milkweed, to consider the possibility of multispecies mobility justice.

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Complete Roadsides Collection no. 010 in high resolution (49 MB)

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Complete Roadsides Collection no. 010 in low resolution (5 MB)

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