Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

Salameander: The True Art of Climate Change Adaptation

SalameanderBy Peg Bostwick, ASWM

During the Christmas holidays I took a break – I thought – from climate change and wetland issues during a family visit to the Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University. The Broad (rhymes with peg01221501road) is aggressively modern in design in contrast to the surrounding traditional university campus. It recently made local news when rented as a set for an upcoming Batman movie.

As we ambled into the first gallery, we entered an exhibit entitled “East Lansing 2030: Collegeville Re-Envisioned”. The exhibit was a collection of multi-media displays from planning and design firms who were invited to define a potential future for the town of East Lansing at the interface with the MSU campus. And somehow inevitably, the first presentation that I stopped to view – prepared by a research and design company called Stoss from Boston, MA – was a very thoughtful and highly sophisticated proposal integrating the Red Cedar River which flows through the campus, the associated hyporheic zone (defined in the display as being region beneath and adjacent to rivers where surface and groundwater mix), management of stormwater runoff, and development of “carbon nests” to concentrate and sequester carbon while managing stormwater runoff and producing new public spaces.

It took a few minutes to absorb the various components of the display – the first one encountered showed honestly beautiful slowing moving graphic models of the hyporheic zone, displayed on large flat screen. It could have been the abstract painting that I expected upon entering the Broad – unless you followed the text and discussion of the less visible components of the aquatic system flowing through campus and the adjacent city. The images below don’t quite do justice to the moving versions, but perhaps you can get the idea.

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Displays of the hyporheic zone and its function presented by Stoss as a component of the Collegeville 2030 exhibit at the Broad Art Museum.

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Next were a series of displays explaining how and why carbon is stored in bog systems, and maps showing how bogs could be restored – or even constructed in artificial urban settings such as parking lots – to achieve this purpose. There was more – information about carbon itself, about climate change, about urban runoff and how it currently flows hidden beneath the major street running between the campus and East Lansing. I suspect that absorbing the entire display fully may have demanded an hour or more, which I didn’t spend since there was so much else to see.

None of this was what I had expected (the juxtaposition of very modern and very ancient Chinese art upstairs was less of a surprise). But I was very glad to see the Collegeville exhibit – because it represented such a sophisticated approach to climate adaptation. Because it was fascinating – clearly intended to intrigue, inform, and potentially motivate museum visitors. Because it was beautiful and artistic – a positive vision of the future rather than some necessary but unattractive response to carbon sequestration and water management. Even though my quick viewing raised numerous technical questions in my mind (a bog on a parking lot?) that is what new ideas are supposed to do.

So, I didn’t get my break from thinking about climate change, but I emerged from the Broad on one of the first days of the New Year thinking much more positively about the work being done all over the nation by those who are looking ahead with enthusiasm and vision.

Happy New Year.

To learn about the Eli and Edythe Broad Museum of Modern Art, click here.

For specific information regarding the Stoss component of the Collegeville exhibit, click here.

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