Monday, September 19, 2011

Discovering Context "Landing"

Beginning the project with Dave Adamson of C.R.E.W. (Center for Regeneration Excellence Wales), the 8 other talented under-graduates at SUNY-ESF (School of Environmental Science and Forestry) and I are given a briefing on some important aspects about the regeneration work in Wales. There are Welsh Ministers for Health, Housing, Economy, Transport and Education. In southeastern Wales the “Heads of the Valley” (H.O.V.) regeneration area will be the main focus of our project.
As some know many of the town’s in this area of Wales supported much of the United Kingdom’s coal and iron works, it was a hub of mining, processing and export for the nation. Eventually, however this trend would not continue in 1985 more than twenty mines were formally closed in Wales. This has synergistically caused a real threat to the livelihoods of many people living the area. As sensitive as this topic is people are willing to share first-hand accounts of how this issue has now affected up to three generations of families. In the areas many of these towns are located in, there is a contemporary and ancestral connection to place.  There is a physical restriction in the sense of topography when you consider these places in the 3rd dimension. An anecdote example”A bank was to be closed in a town in south Wales, the bank began receiving complaints about the closure, and the party responsible for closing the bank replied that there was another branch only 11 miles away. The issue is that the road to get to that next town is really all the way to the bottom or the top of the valley, because no roads go directly to the next town due to extreme topography it would take nearly 40 minutes to get to a branch.” Therefore transportation and connection between communities is relatively difficult due to the time and cost of travel for work or services. Another important connection/observation is the extent of the canal system in Wales while there is only minor shipping use it may have other potential for the willow project.
In this project the aim is to find ways of adaptive reuse for these post-industrial communities facing a wide variety of issues. While there are strong community bonds and a sense of place there is also things to combat such as generational poverty the use of “Incapacity Benefit” (Similar to US welfare system) and this largely coincides with the loss of a generational coal and iron industry. The loss of respectable blue collar jobs combined by with continued decline in opportunities encourages a psychology of negative accumulation. We need to ask how to reengage community members after these years of joblessness which has created an environment that creates low-self-expectations; I too sympathize with not leaving your home and wanting your community to flourish again. There were serious socio-economic consequences to the closure of these industries and it is a testament to the strength of Welsh culture that these communities have endured rich in culture and spirit. We are dealing with not just one issue but layers of them, multiple recessions; it becomes a synergistically perpetuating environment. Benefit dependency, long term generational poverty, housing degradation, environmental degradation, cultural attachment, connection obstacles, labor mobility, health degradation and skill trade deficit. 
There are of course challenges to the project but it is also has powerful potential.  I will be looking at using Willow as bio-fuel, also using the processing actions ambient heat to help fuel a greenhouse. I will be looking at models for community gardens as well as trade schools to combine energy related fields to culinary and farm related education trades. Providing a community based education outreach as part of the greenhouse work and the willow cultivating, harvesting and processing work we will provide stable work in the energy field once again for these communities. I will also be looking at a transportation adaptive reuse with possibilities of using reclaimed railroad as well as canals to reconnect communities thus limiting need for car transport between communities as well reducing carbon footprint and further environmental degradation. I will be working with member of C.R.E.W. as well as the other students from SUNY-ESF to gather regional information as well as an analysis of “Genius Loci” or “Sense of Place” about the communities we seek to research and enrich.

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