Book Review: Drosscape

Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America by Alan Berger

Drosscape is defined by the author as "the productive integration and reuse of waste landscape throughout the urban world." His goal is not to solve society's ills through this, as Berger acknowledges that waste is a natural product of a successful civilization. So ideally that waste landscape will always be somewhere, changing locations as previous ones are reintegrated and new ones are created somewhere else. An example of this evolutionary viewpoint are the early 20th-century industrial sites near urban cores that have been abandoned in favor of locations far outside the city center. These large and sometimes hazardous areas are just now being changed into housing and other uses in many cities as more people move near the city center. In the future, these outlying industrial sites will become waste landscapes, ripe for further reuse and integration. This phenomenon seems to be born of a capitalist and consumer-driven economy, where the landscape is waste just like almost everything else.

Rather than providing solutions for the designer interested in working with drosscapes, the author instead presents his case for addressing the issue. And this he does very well, combining aerial photography with maps, graphs, and charts illustrating land use patterns, populations densities, and manufacturing growth/decline, respectively for ten American cities. Even though these data representations (especially the graphs) tend towards being too stylized, the similarities among the ten cities indicates a phenomenon of sprawl and abandonment of urban manufacturing sites that points towards a great amount of land available for infill development.

By seriously thinking about these waste landscapes that are the leftovers of growth and expansion, developers, architects, politicians, and other interested parties take a greater responsibility for their actions. In this way, perhaps the drosscapes that Berger proposes have a greater value beyond their potential physical manifestations.