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Sustainable Urbanism

The Litmus Garden

The site before

The site before

One of the most exciting things we have been seeing lately is the use of engineered marshlands to clean up and reclaim water systems that have been polluted by our poor stewardship of the environment. Back in April of 2001 a group of Volunteers lead by T. Allan Comp Ph.D created a series of cascading pools planted with a variety of species of plants to filter a watershed which had become severely toxic with mining waste. Vintondale, Pennsylvania is a small coal patch town in Cambria County, It was created in the early 20th century by the Vinton Coal Company to support its underground mining operation and surface works. The watershed is a neglected ecosystem and Acid mine Drainage is a large water quality problem. Much of the area had resembled a gash in the earth itself. The good doctor and his multidisciplinary team worked with the community to create the wetlands project that fit the town’s aspirations for the site and still preformed the function of cleaning the water system.

The site after

The site after

On the City of Kent website he talks about the project and how it came about.

When I first started talking about this idea that eventually became AMD&ART and won a national EPA Phoenix award among others, I’d show slides of the standard Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) treatment system, basically a series of rectangular ponds, and suggest we might be able to do more. Then I’d show Buster Simpson’s River Roll-Aids, Mel Chin’s Revival Fields and the Richards/Oppenheimer/Hargraves Bixby Park – but it was the images I had from Herbert Bayer’s Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks that finally got through to the audience. Here was a real problem with a real and art-full solution – it worked to solve the environmental problem and it worked to address something in the human soul as well. I showed Earthworks empty and I showed it full of people and, finally, my audiences started to understand how we might start with rectangular ponds to solve an environmental problem and grow that idea into a 35-acre park that treated AMD, created new wetlands and a new active recreation area while also addressing a need for deeper historical understanding and a more humane connection between past, present and even future. s


He goes on to express how these treatment systems can become living and working gardens that not only clean toxic waterways, but also offer places that engage the mind and honor the past. The projects also have the ability to turn community members from passive inhabitants into advocates for their community. The site has an excellent write up about how the project came about and how it works that I am not going to get into here but these engineered wetlands, like the Sustainable Storm Water Managment System mentioned earlier here on Urban Neighbourhood, offer the opportunity for us to create working environmental systems for our cities that offer enjoyable green space for us to use at the same time. Could you imagine wanting to go for a stroll through the water treatment plant?



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