Nizar Eldahar, PhD candidate at CMU, gave a guest lecture about green infrastructure in stormwater systems. He discussed traditional models of the water cycle (evaporation, precipitation, transpiration, etc.), and pointed out that they overlook humans and the complexity of human systems, and also that many anthropocentric models of water (wastewater, stormwater, our sewage systems, etc.) forget natural cycles. He framed green infrastructure as a way of marrying the two – having human systems mimic natural processes in order to alleviate some of the shock to our natural systems. I absolutely appreciate the uptake of the idea of green infrastructure and the way that it is helping to shift conversations of urbanism toward something that is far more sustainable than it is now.
However, I think that the dichotomization of human and natural systems and all of the inefficiency that comes with it is still present in the rhetoric of biomimicry. What I mean to say is that attempting to replicate natural systems is good, but human occupancy and use fundamentally changes natural systems, and we should learn to embrace this in particular ways. The next guest lecture we had, from Assistant Professor Dana Cupkova, served as a good foil for what I understood to be a more traditional conceptualization of the relationship that we have with nature, and was an inspiring display of exercises in hacking logics together. I think this is the kind of thing that can be brought back into urban problems our studio is facing, specifically with regard to water management. For example, Chartiers Creek, which runs along our studio site (First Semester Master of Urban Design Studio: McKees Rocks), is impaired for Recreational Use by the DEP based on the levels of fecal coliform (http://files.dep.state.pa.us/Water/Drinking%20Water%20and%20Facility%20Regulation/WaterQualityPortalFiles/2014%20Integrated%20List/2014%20Streams%20Category%205.pdf). This means that they must create a TMDL, which is usually based on point source pollution but seems to end up entailing the creation of a watershed management plan. The need for a watershed management plan is due to the now widely-held understanding that water issues are intimately connected with each other . But this does not mean that more localized solutions, or things that are often called ‘techno-fix’es, should be discounted at all – in fact, the pairing of localized, acupunctural solutions with systemic issues would be extremely strong in a case like this. I hope to work through some ideas about sensor-based clustering filter modules made from cellulose (ex: http://www.botany.utexas.edu/mbrown/papers/hreso/h132.pdf)/maybe some sort of mycological mats that have the ability to read differentials in fecal coliform bacteria and mass together along water bodies.