Berger, Alan. Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Delgado, Julianna
Pub Date: 12/22/2008
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Winter, 2008 Source Volume: 17 Source Issue: 2
Topic: NamedWork: Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Berger, Alan
Accession Number: 210868153
Full Text: Berger, Alan.

Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America.

New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.

255 pp.

ISBN: 9781568987132.

Landscape architect Alan Berger's Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America is the sequel to his Reclaiming the American West, which documented how removing natural resources altered the Western US. Here, Berger describes landscapes of waste in urbanized America, borrowing a term from Lars Lerup who provides a postscript for the book. In his 1995 essay, "Stim and Dross," Lerup defined urbanized landscapes as points of stimulation--great buildings and other places humans admire--juxtaposed with leftover space, the dross, or waste, that Berger renames in-between space, or drosscape. It is neither within the heart of the city nor outside urbanized areas but aesthetically inferior, although he never defines by what criteria. Berger also claims dross is a natural component of dynamically evolving cities, an indicator of healthy growth yet providing challenges for designers. He thus develops a vocabulary that reveals his bias against land-consuming, "wasteful" land use practices, the most obvious being highway interchanges, gated master-planned communities, and regional shopping malls. These are components of both modern living in a deindustrialized, post-Fordian, capitalist system and a globalized world that increasingly relies on telecommunications to conduct its business. His goal is to define and explain the American drosscape, then propose a manifesto for change.

Towards that end, Drosscape is divided into three parts but only the first two are successful. Part One is largely qualitative and theoretical. Via the social science literature, he explains why urbanization in America is increasing while density is decreasing, and why drosscapes keep growing in size. He claims both attrition, from the loss of US manufacturing jobs, and accumulation from flexible production methods that locate operations on the periphery, are among the factors to blame, along with telemetrics. But he assumes that the resultant horizontality is something new and distinctly American. The concept is a relative one, since all inhabited, three-dimensional space has both horizontal and vertical traits, which are dynamic and shifting in terms of physical space and cultural meaning. In Los Angeles, the prototypical Sprawl City, verticality in its post-Tom Bradley Downtown and along its Wilshire Blvd. corridor, is a post-modern phenomenon. The same can be said for Paris's La Defense and Vancouver's high-rise City Center. All global cities, even those with growing density and verticality in their centers have also become more horizontal. This is true for Toronto, as well as London, Rome, Shanghai, and Dubai. Thus, Berger fails to address the most obvious, core issue--that world population is increasing and a planet with a finite surface area that housed two billion people in 1950 must now contend with almost quadruple the number of inhabitants. There is no mention of overpopulation, carrying capacity, or carbon footprint, and he does not consider that the increase in drosscape--which he defines as actual (landfills), wasted (abandoned industrial sites), and wasteful (parking lots) is a direct result of the consumer habits of an increasing number of wasters who do not value undeveloped land.

In Part Two, Berger analyzes ten US urbanized areas to prove the obvious, that they have sprawled out over the last forty-plus years and produced drosscapes far from their urban cores. Using ArcGIS, he creates entropic indicator maps to chart land uses; spindle charts to show the decline/growth of manufacturing companies in relationship to distance from the center; and dispersal graphs to show population density in relationship to the same. More stunningly, Berger also provides scores of full-page aerial photographs he took from the seat of a Cessna plane, a technique he used in his earlier work. From literally a bird's eye view, he illustrates an array of drosscapes categorized by use, which he calls landscapes of dwelling (housing tracts and golf courses); transition (railroad yards, parking lots, transfer stations); infrastructure (highways, waterways, electrical transmission rights of way); obsolescence (landfills, junkyards, waste-water treatment plants); exchange (shopping malls, "big box" retailers) and contamination (airports, military bases, mining operations). However, in a Google Earth era, similar virtual flyovers are instantly accessible to all and can be shared in the classroom. Berger's photos are unfortunately in hardcopy only and would be a better learning tool if available digitally.

Finally, in Part Three, the least developed section, Berger proposes a thin, not-so-new paradigm, calling for designers to re-imagine in-between spaces and reuse them productively, but without showing us how. These are the places savvy developers already call "environmentally challenged" and see as opportunities, competing for remediation and blight removal funds from the US EPA's Brownfields program and local redevelopment agencies. A conclusion more useful to designers than geographers would contain stories about places that had devolved and were successfully reinvented, or envisioned possibilities for improving specific drosscapes.

Julianna Delgado, Associate Professor

Department of Urban and Regional Planning

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
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