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(Im)possible Chicago #18

No longer just a regular plot tucked into a small corner of the city, Lincoln Park Zoo now zigzags through neighborhoods, suburban outlets and farmlands further afield. It even extends through the lake. To make this spaghettified zoo continuous, wildlife overpasses are spliced in.

Inner precincts once barren of biodiversity now teem with exotic species. From living rooms and kitchens, one can spy on the wildlife scampering around in their habitat enclosures. Day and night, the sonic ambience of jungles and savannas mingle with that of the city.

In the summer, the zoo's small herd of wildebeest undertake their annual migration, usually doing at least a few, dusty orbits. Then it's the elephants' turn. On rooftops, bleachers are erected for spectators to watch this natural spectacle, NASCAR-style.

While rare, animals do escape from time to time, and when that happens, news helicopters are dispatched immediately to follow the retrieval team. On the ground, reporters shadow their every move like wildlife filmmakers, even emulating the hushed timbre of David Attenborough during their live telecasts. It's always a top story, even if people aren't savagely attacked or an outbreak of a virulent disease isn't imminent.

A Center for PostNatural History
Center for PostNatural History

We've always liked the work produced by the Center for PostNatural History, so it's great to hear that they've recently opened a central location in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to house their collections, a ragtag bunch that usually travels around from galleries to museums to more atypical exhibition spaces. It's not Plum Island though.
Strange Pets
“When we speak about weather pets, it's assumed that more meaningful forms of communication are being avoided. But is not the weather pet, in fact, a potent topic of cultural exchange - a bond that cuts through social distinction and economic class, that supersedes geological borders? Is not the weather pet the only truly tangible and meaningful thread that glues us all together? Is not the weather pet the only truly global issue? In truth, contemporary culture is addicted to weather pet information. We watch, read, and listen to weather pet reports across every medium of communication, from conventional print to real-time satellite images and Web cams. The weather pet channel provides round-the-clock, real-time meteorological zoological entertainment. Boredom is key. But boredom turns to melodrama when something out of the ordinary happens. Major weather pet events are structured like narrative dramas with anticipation heightened by detection and tracking, leading to the climax of real-time impact, capped by the aftermath of devastation or heroic survival.” — Diller + Scofidio
Critter News Network
Liam Young

Here are some bits collected from the news ticker.


There is a rhinoceros foraging on the banks of the Jones Falls River in Baltimore, Maryland.


Is China becoming the global fashion capital of apian couture?


Kitteh urbanism I: “Scientists at the University of Illinois and the Illinois Natural History Survey recently attached radio transmitters to the adjustable collars of 18 pet and 24 feral cats in southeastern Champaign-Urbana and tracked the animals by truck and on foot for more than one year. The research, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, shows that pet cats maintain a rather lazy existence: they spent 80 percent of their time resting. They devoted another 17 percent to low-activity pursuits such as grooming and only 3 percent to high-activity pursuits such as hunting. Unowned cats rested just 62 percent of the time and spent 14 percent, mostly at night, being highly active. Feral cats roamed far more widely than researchers had expected: up to 1,351 acres. In contrast, pet cats stayed within an average of about five acres of home.”


Kitteh urbanism II: “Cats in several suburbs of Sydney will be ordered to curl up inside from dusk to dawn under a curfew that hopes to curb overnight attacks on native wildlife.”


Kitteh Urbanism


The Round Butte Selective Water Withdrawal Tower is “a 270′ underwater tower designed to perform multiple functions that assist challenged fish migration within a dammed river system.”


On its second trial run this summer in Portland, Oregon, the Goats on Belmont project is “merging urban ecology experimentation with land management strategy and urban event.”


On animal webcams: “From amateur setups near backyard bird nests to elaborate video systems chronicling the daily activities of sharks and polar bears, live webcams of animals show us birth, romance, skullduggery and death — animals behaving like animals 24/7. Birds of prey such as hawks and eagles are particularly popular, but with a little searching, you can watch the day-to-day goings-on of squirrels, meerkats, bears and even chickens.”


Stephen DeStefano

Coyote at the Kitchen Door: Living with Wildlife in Suburbia by Stephen DeStefano: “In 2006, a coyote named Hal turned up in Central Park, evading park rangers and the NYPD for two whole days while underscoring the coyote’s increasing prevalence in the population-dense Northeast. As adaptable as they are surreptitious, coyotes particularly love the suburbs, where food is abundant and natural predators rare. For wildlife biologist DeStefano, the coyote is thus an inspirational symbol of nature’s resilience: a wild animal that has learned to thrive amid human sprawl without our consent and in spite of our perennial efforts to banish them from our midst. Narrating the travels of a plucky female coyote, the author explores humans’ evolving relationship with nature and the violence of our light, noise, and traffic. Along the way, he offers us a glimpse at his own restless spirit, born in the Boston suburbs but drawn to the desert Southwest; resentful of human wastefulness yet exhilarated by the open road. DeStefano’s willingness to probe his own ambivalence about the possibilities of coexistence with nature allows this selection to be about much more than just wild canines.”


One of the stars of CSI: Wildlife is Carol Meteyer, a forensic veterinarian who “solves cases of mysterious wildlife death using advanced forensic skills to help prosecute people who kill animals in violation of federal law.”


Fashioning Feathers, an exhibition that closed last month at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, but lives on as an online catalogue, looks into “the complex geographies of collection, production and consumption behind the making of such ‘feather fashions’. From the hunting and killing of birds in their natural habitats, to their processing in metropolitan plumage sweatshops and crafting by professional and amateur milliners, to their becoming adornments on the heads of women in Europe and North America.”


Here's an excerpt from an interview by The Dirt with Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness:

The Dirt: You say most of us, unwittingly, live in a zoopolis, a multi-layered place where the city meets the zoo, an overlap of human and animal geographies. How then can landscape architects design cities so that humans and different animal species can better co-exist? Do we even want to design cities so they are more livable for species like crows?

Lyanda Lynn Haupt: Oh, we definitely don’t want more crows! The role of the landscape architect in creating cities livable to creatures in the more-than-human world involves the opposite—working to structure human habitations that are more hospitable to a greater variety of native animals, and less hospitable to species such as crows. There is no one way to do this. For decades the wisdom from conservation biology has involved the preservation of large forest fragments—the bigger the better, and this was viewed as the most important thing. And it’s true—leaving remaining woodlands undisturbed is essential. But we’re learning that there are other elements at play—when we decrease impervious surfaces, increase the number of trees (especially native trees, including conifers where appropriate), and work to create a multilayered botanical structure, more native forest birds turn up, even in urban places.


Stay tuned for more.

According to the Forest History Society, aerologging is logging with the use of blimps and balloons to transport felled trees.

This practice, they explain, has economic and environmental benefits, as “[l]ifting the logs could help limit soil erosion, as logs would not be skidded along the ground. Logs also suffered less breakage moving through the air, and the use of balloons would theoretically lessen the need for additional forest road construction.”


Cue parallel world.

In this parallel world, the world's rainforest are off limits to logging thanks to a U.N. Security Council resolution making deforestation a war crime. It was passed as a way to combat climate change.

With the supply of precious jungle timber chocked off and the sub-par quality of wood from the still legal tree farms too offensive to the sensibilities of flooring aficionados and grain-conscious Scandinavian furniture designers, aerologgers are hired to provide them with some contraband logs. Just one or two, these smugglers and their clients reason, won't make much of a negative impact.

So floating in on their stealth blimps, they scour the forest for some nice specimens, abseilling down with their chainsaws when found. Once felled, they haul the lumber up and make a run for the border and out to sea, where their cargo is dropped and picked up by speedboats in the night, bound for clandestine sawmills.

Sometimes they find trees that, while much sought after like an Old Masters painting, aren't in the job ticket, so they mark their GPS coordinates for later retrieval. This inventory is like a map of secret ruins, whose artifacts can be selectively picked off depending on their client's wish list.


In any case, these botanical pirates are careful to avoid detection not only from the forest police but from other pulp traffickers as well, all floating in their own blimps. To avoid being spotted, they dive down below the canopy, all silence on deck, and bob to the surface again when the coast is clear — like an aerial narco submarine.

If two belligerent parties meet, however, then it's a Master and Commander engagement of airborne vessels: first a cat-and-mouse chase through fog banks and tempestuous storms culminating in a proper aerial battle. There is also brief sojourn for ecological tourism.

The Sands of Singapore
Cacti Crime
Distributed Bureau of Agricultural Crime Investigation
(Im)possible Chicago #17

Up and down the banks of the river, the bodies of the dead are cremated on the ghats.

The corteges arrive before first light, trunks heavy with the dearly departed and bundles of kindling. Some come the night before and park in line to have a better chance at claiming their preferred spot for the day, for instance, the same landing where generations of their family have been set ablaze.

At dawn the pyres are lit. The ritual takes the entire day, so it isn't a drive-by affair. Someone must always be there to tend to the fires, to feed it when needed, and to gather up and return to the pyre limbs and fleshy bits that might break off and tumble down to the water. Meanwhile, all the worldly possessions of the dead are washed on the river, and that means their beds, cabinets and crockery—not just their clothes—are carried down the steps for a ritual cleansing. There is also a feast.

Naturally, smokes billow out from the river, carrying with them the smell of charred bodies and the plaintive wails of lamentations. By mid-day, the city is filled with a gauzy smog.

So bright are these burnings at night that they can be seen by orbiting astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as a bracelet of radiant fireflies. At around midnight, when the last of the cremations should have finished, the ghats are hosed down in preparation for the next day's conflagrations.

Double Positive
Shawn Patrick Landis

We have not come here for a rendezvous.

Shawn Patrick Landis

We have come here simply to rest.

Shawn Patrick Landis

We are refugees, en route to less troubled terrains with only a thin film protecting our caravel from the fallout. Thinking this ancient swimming pool a safe harbor, we berthed our diaphanous spaceships within its partitioned terminal.

Shawn Patrick Landis

Our stay will be brief, but the vaseline landscape might just convince us to strike our Utopia here.
Pruning an Arboreal Notre-Dame in the Amazon

Meet Treebot, a robot that can climb irregularly shaped trees autonomously.

The design of Treebot is fairly unique: it uses a set of flexible linear actuators connecting two gripping claws to allow it to move around like an inchworm. While the back gripper holds on, the front gripper releases and the body extends forward, allowing the robot to literally feel around for a good place to grip.

When a more advanced version is developed, one that has greater maneuverability, adaptability and durability (plus the ability to harness the metabolic energy of trees), drop thousands of them to the Amazon, each one with the instructions to recreate Notre-Dame out of the rainforest.

Marinus Boezem

Once deployed, they'll link up together to form a chain: one treebot gripping another. This chain will in turn knit itself with other chains to create a lattice binding trunks, branches, vines and canopies together. It is also anchored to the forest floor. Simultaneously, the treebots will attach themselves to these future columns and buttresses like a full-body orthopedic brace of facehuggers.

This mesh system will slowly reconfigure itself, contracting segments here and elongating segments there, along the way guiding and controlling the growth of the trees. Once it begins to look like a 3D grid model of the cathedral's superstructure, or a scaffolding without the building, the autonomous swarm will then coppice and pleach and pollard and espalier and inosculate a dense thicket to fill in the grid and fully enclose bosquets of chapels, atriums and honeycombed crypts.

Benjamin Dillenburger

In but one narrative thread we can choose to trace through the ensuing decades and possible centuries of micro-silviculture, we see this project gradually getting purged from the collective memory, Onkalo-style. Long before the work is completed, it's completely forgotten. But the work continues apace until it's finished, when, per their programing, ancient by now, the treebots go into hibernation, frozen like gargoyles. They wake only when some trimming is needed.

Weihua Wei

For a long time, the finished facsimile remains lost the descendants of its original programmers, to the whole of humanity in fact. There's no one to explore its understory caverns, no one to listen to the nesting critters singing their cacophonous hymns in a neverending liturgy. There's no one even to climb it.

Then one day, just by accident, members of an uncontacted tribe stumbles upon it. In need of a new settlement, they move in and make it their new village: a vegetal Notre-Dame transformed into a longhouse. Amazed and bewildered as well by the still scampering treebots, the tribe develops a cargo cult around them, venerating them by placing fruits, animals and the occasional virgin on the leafy altar.

Quite mysteriously, the tribe leaves, never to return. Notre-Dame is abandoned. With the treebots no longer functioning, it becomes a ruin, its giant columns toppled over and overgrown with itself. There are no more master craftsmen to tend to the garden, nothing to dam the natural, unhinged forest from flooding back in. Everything rots away.
The Big Dig

For the 2011 Xi'an International Horticultural Exposition, the Berlin-based landscape architecture office Topotek1 “dug” a hole to the other side of the world.

The Big Dig

From the edge of this precipice, you can eavesdrop on the “soundtracks of the life on the other side: cows from the pampas of Argentinas, commuters rushing among transit through New York City, the maritime life of Stockholm, and layers of history so audible among the streets of Berlin. These soundtracks pique the imagination of the visitors, transferring them away from China, away from the garden,” away from Alice's rabbit hole, and to more exotic locales, real or fantamagical.

“As tradition,” explains Topotek1, “a garden is a place that transfers someone into a ‘foreign’ space: from inside to outside, from city to nature, from one culture to another. This garden is the cusp at which two worlds are colliding, a foreign world entering China, defined by the visitor's imagination.”

The Big Dig

One wishes the hole was an actual entrance to another satellite garden. Take away the glass railing so visitors slide down into the portal, sliding non-stop through the dankness and darkness of the earth before finally popping out a little soiled, disoriented and swooning from claustrophobia into the blinding light again, perhaps into a more lush landscape. For to enter this Eden, one must first endure the Abyss.
Geological Maps of Volcanoes
For your cartographic titillation, here are some teeny-tiny geological maps of volcanoes in Japan. All those magmatic parameciums fossilized in mid-slither must be quite exhilarating to see at higher resolutions (maybe not unlike these astrogeological surveys?), but unfortunately, to get the full-blown graphic thrill, you'll have to purchase them from the Geological Survey of Japan.

Geological Maps of Volcanoes
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