Walking around campus looking for environmental contaminants and issues was a strange experience. It felt like a perverse game — and a terrifyingly easy one at that. Everywhere I looked, I could see some way in which our idyllic Homewood campus cultivates an image of natural beauty to the detriment of the greater environment. Pretty, impervious, brick walkways which cause runoff and flooding. Large grassy quads which suck up water and fertilizer, only to be re-turfed every few years for greener, thicker grass. While the overall effect is undeniably scenic, looking through the lens of environmental degradation creates a picture not of integration of human and nature, but one of human domination over nature. I chose this photo because I believe that this crape myrtle exemplifies this concept. Despite the hundreds of native Baltimore plants to choose from, campus chose to transplant a nonnative, ornamental species. We did not take the time to grow it from seed, but spent fossil fuels and money to ship it in fully grown. The soil in which it is planted is dead and dry: kept alive only by careful fertilization rather than through fungus, bacteria, and processes of decomposition. While this crape myrtle will bloom each year and add a splash of color to campus, without human intervention, it would starve in the depleted soils after only a few years. All of campus is the same. We do not design with natural processes in mind, leveraging our understanding of ecology to create long-lasting systems — we design instead for the human maintainer, without whom, everything would fade away to nothing.
One thought on “Transplants”
At first I thought this was a lazy attempt to avoid searching for a real environmental problem. However, since first reading your post a few months ago, my whole perception of the notion of pollution has changed. Now, every time I come across a manicured lawn, a golf course, a trimmed hedge or a campus like JHU, I try to imagine what the land looked like before the money choked out the topsoil. Activities like landscaping and weeding are eternal yet futile battles to dominate the land and unnaturally replace whitewash with social status. While not refuse in the traditional sense, it is certainly an anthropogenic stain of ignorance on the face of our planet. Thank you for sharing.