Other Natures

Year: 2018

American technological historian David Nye articulated three interlocking narratives that underpin today’s American culture and life: 1) second-creation: early colonists using technology to transform “nature” based on pastoral ideal; 2) wilderness myth: preserving “pristine nature” as a baseline to measure the success of second creation; 3) recovery: adopting “green” technologies to recover “nature” and undo the wrongdoings in the second creation. The interlocking narratives form a moral stronghold that is difficult to argue against. On the other side are stories of Indians, failed farmers, extinct species, and many other suppressed counter-narratives, which are sporadic and local, hard to enter mainstream perspectives.

Given the current condition in Central Park, we see a chance to reshape American narratives of nature. If the old central park served as a repository of colonists’ nature, then the new one should be repositories of multiple natures of America. We reject reducing nature to a singular grand narrative and argue for multiple meanings and heterogeneous conceptualizations.

To serve as the repositories of natures, the proposal is a system of division and allocation. Built on the existing grid of Manhattan, which also represents a particular view of nature, the park is divided into garden plots that can be edited over time. Different relevant social groups can propose, construct and maintain gardens of nature. A committee made of representatives from each group negotiates and decides collectively the allocation and maintenance regime of each garden. The process of constructing natures is democratized. The performance of negotiation and deliberation of the committee politicizes the design of natures, bringing topics such as environmental justice, ecological integrity, and social construction of nature into the political and social realm, generating new meanings and values in today’s American society.

The gridded division is only conceptual so that one nature will permeate into adjacent ones and influence other natures though geological, hydrological and ecological processes. While some boundaries are clear due to the intense maintenance of certain groups, other boundaries are ambiguous. Over time, multiple natures of America can co-evolve, and new natures will emerge out of the hybridization process. Through continuous working and reworking, American natures are constructed and reconstructed.