Statistics for 2013 indicated the existence of more than 250 abandoned mines in Chile, representing a danger due to their polluting potential and to the limited security measures taken around places frequented by tourists and vehicles. This week’s column addresses how disused mining operations close to urban settlements or enclaves of ecological value have emerged as areas of high potential for development in their capacity to provide open and public spaces capable of reversing their negative features.
Among activities associated with the transformation of territories affected by problems of a spatial, economic, and/or environmental character derived from the impact of development necessary to sustain modern life, mining creates a key problem: the situation of the territories abandoned after extraction. This topic refers not only to an environmental or health issue, but also to one deeply linked to inhabiting various settlements and enclaves of ecological value in our country. In fact, interestingly among the registers made by the National Geology and Mining Service (SERNAGEOMIN, 1) of the uses the locals make of abandoned mine sites, the following can be found: open mining cuts are used as lagoons during the summer, the galleries become refuges for cyclists and the mounds are used for children’s recreation.
(1) SERNAGEOMIN, Catastro de Faenas Mineras abandonadas o paralizadas (Registry of Abandoned and Paralyzed Mine Sites) (2007).
The potentials of abandoned mine site usage offered are, without a doubt, an opportunity to formalize – in the broadest sense of the word – spontaneous uses starting from a design proposal. It is also possible to diversify the landscape’s projected use so that not only can the debt from mining’s environmental liability be resolved, but also their socio-ecological restoration can create sustainable and suggestive programs through a wide variety of potential scenarios.
In this context, the figure of a park as open space that is complementary to residential use or as a territorial reserve emerges naturally as an intervention response. Now, it is not a question of converting each abandoned or paralyzed mining site into a park, but of identifying the potential that many of these sites have to be restored in parallel with the authorization of programs to reclaim the spaces that have completed their mining cycle to expiration.
In general terms, a park is a gathering point, a place where citizens encounter each other and the environment, serving and acting as support for the city’s infrastructure. This reciprocity denotes both its character as a mediator between natural and anthropic elements and its role in strategic planning. In his book El Jardin de la Metrópoli (The Garden of the Metropolis), Enric Batlle points out: “Conceptually, parks are considered as a limited slice of nature introduced into the city, a nature that cannot be the same as at its starting point due to the obvious inconveniences of the move, the change of scale or the necessary abstraction that has to occur in relation to the source of inspiration” (2).
(2) Enric Batlle, El Jardín de la Metrópoli: del Paisaje Romántico al Espacio Libre para una Ciudad Sostenible (The Garden of the Metropolis: from Romantic Landscape to Open Space for a Sustainable City) Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 2011, p. 23. (Translation from Spanish)
The unique characteristic that a project of socio-ecological restoration presents leads us to consider one last function of the park: its potential to turn something residual into a resource. As described by Quim Rosell, the framework of intervention corresponds to…”lands to which no specific quality is assigned other than indetermination” (3). For this reason, to the previous functions of parks – providers of active and passive recreation, of environmental services, infrastructure and habitat – can be added the role of parks as a conciliatory element between a past of exhausting a resource and a future that demands of the territory all of the previously mentioned functions. Particularly, this characteristic requires an understanding of the park as a process or phenomenon rather than as a finished space or object. It poses the challenge of resolving, in addition to the architectural design, how each component of the park works (from the physical-chemical stabilization to its restrictions of use), and this in its generality (a sequence of stages that allows the problems to be resolved in parallel with creating a provocative environment) gives rise to a new model of sustainable free space. This new model would expand the programmatic offer of the sector in which it is located, exploring the possibilities posed by post-industrial landscapes to accommodate new uses.
(3) Quim Rosell, Después de / Afterwards. Rehacer Paisajes (Remaking Landscapes) Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 2009), p. 6. (Translation from Spanish)
The sensitive architectural vision and the relationship of the territory with its history can potentiate the character of the place, addressing problems related to visual challenges, scale, and physical and chemical security that in other territories would likely not exist. Thus, on land that is degraded, the creation of new ecologies will not only respond to pre-existing conditions, to the environment and to abstraction, but also to the capacity of the flora, fauna and abiotic elements to provide restorative ecological features for the environment. Following this line of thought, the dialogue between citizens and free space will have among its elements, the activity that degraded the place and the way to re-signify it and incorporate it into the program of the park. Finally, and because the landscapes configured after mining activities escape the present urban rhythms, the operations of their incorporation into the territory in which they are located also represent a difference with respect to other models of parks, raising the need to incorporate infrastructures coherent with their situation.
To this ability of the landscape architecture project to be transformed into a series of restorative operations, rather than proposing a finished object, Batlle calls this “environments with added value.” He points out that “… they aspire to be something more than some well-made environmental corrections: they want to make sense for themselves, become a landscape fact superior to the concrete intervention that they accompany. It is about acting with energy with materials particular to the landscape, avoiding disaster and designing nature with the confidence that a better world is being sought” (4).
(4) Batlle, p. 173.
These indeterminate landscapes, often naturalized as geography, not only present the challenge of being identified for their potential to revert through the landscape project their inevitable path to decline. They also raise the need to question, in a country with some many vestiges of mining history, how many more landscapes will be found in the future with the need to be “re-made” and what we are doing from the different disciplines to generate frameworks for intervention that make feasible proposals to make a degraded landscape a place with a new meaning that overcomes the damages once generated.
Daniela Arriaza is an architect from the University of Chile (2016). This column is an extract from the Research Seminar and Thesis titled “La Noción de Parque como Plataforma para la Restauración Ecológica de Paisajes afectados por Minería” (The Notion of Parks as a Platform for the Ecological Restoration of Landscapes Affected by Mining) with thesis advisor Osvaldo Moreno F.