Designing landscapes for economy : designing regional landscape infrastructure to enable economic and environmental benefits

Lindsay Reul's (MCP '12) thesis seeks to deploy landscape design as a regional economic development strategy. It investigates the relationship between economic activity and the built environment. Economies transition from one trend to the next at a faster pace than urban stock, meaning the landscape and infrastructure, is able to adjust. Thus, flows of ephemeral economic phases leave patterns of durable infrastructure elements that may not serve as relevant or useful purposes in the emerging economic movements. These landscapes and infrastructure elements can then become underutilized or obsolete. Instead of allowing these facets of the built environment to fall subject to abandonment, entirely rely upon subsidies, or solely become a commodity tourist attraction, this thesis seeks to redesign and repurpose old infrastructure to deliver productive services to the surrounding contemporary society. This paper asks if adaptively repurposing regional infrastructure can contribute positively to regional economics. In order to test this argument, it investigates a single case study - the Erie Canal in Upstate New York. The Erie Canal was a piece of 19th century infrastructure built in 1825 that gave substantial rise and economic prosperity to the region. However, since its initial opening, the Erie Canal has declined in relevance and today suffers from underutilization. This paper seeks to discover if redesigning and repurposing the Erie Canal can generate both economic benefits and ecologic benefits to contribute positively to the surrounding urban region. It applies a systems-based design approach to assess the current conditions of the Canal, and then identifies points of leverage, or catalyst sites, along the linear system that will most greatly engender positive benefits for the entire surrounding region. A full mapping assessment was conducted per the research principles of systems-based design. Further economic and site information was recalled through secondary source reports and interviews. From these research methods, three typologies of catalyst sites and spaces were identified along the linear canal system and five potential economic opportunities were identified in the Erie Canal Region. This thesis proposes three alternative trajectories to move forward with these physical and economic findings: conduct a primary source investigation to discover the true potential of the latent economic opportunities surrounding the canal; remove the subsidy from the Canal budget all together and deinfrastructuralize the waterway to a natural state; or amplify the natural strengths of the Canal by diversifying its utilization.