Field Stations is an annual educational program that brings together students and practitioners to analyze specific site-based questions of environmental and economic sustainability. Drawing from the design communities, natural sciences, and from social and cultural disciplines, the Field Stations program constructs a model of interdisciplinary place-based learning.
The program fosters an intensive engagement with the ecosystems and communities in the region selected for investigation. Participants will observe, record, visualize, and describe the qualities and characteristics of the landscapes and human systems and the rapid changes they are facing. The study team, working with local communities, will evaluate strategies and develop specific proposals to address local sustainability challenges.
The 2018 workshop is a planning and development program where core faculty, advisors, and a small group of selected students will lay out the pedagogical objectives of this new study model. Starting in Bogotá, Colombia, we will meet with resource planners, scientists, architects, activists, and social managers in order to get an overview of the many environmental and social complexities being faced in the Magdalena watershed. After some days in the city we will travel along the Andean highlands,
east of the Magdalena River, to the rural landscapes around the Village of Curití, in Santander. On our way we will visit agricultural landscapes as well as the remarkable paramo ecosystems of the Cordillera Oriental. Through the entire length of the workshop, we will conduct daily working sessions, testing ideas and crafting the curriculum for an interdisciplinary, place-based learning program. Using the ideas developed in this workshop as a foundation, the first study program will be launched in the summer of 2019.
The landscapes of the Earth are currently undergoing their greatest transformation since humanity abandoned its original hunter gatherer culture and spread subsistence agriculture and its attendant social and cultural institutions over the face of the planet. Now, after 12 millennia in which the vast bulk of the human race lived a rural life, humanity is heading for the cities. By 2005, for the first time, a majority of humanity had become urban dwellers. The UN projects that by 2040, 80% of all people will be urbanites. Meanwhile, much of the earth’s countryside is becoming a depopulated, industrialized producer of food, fiber, and fuels at high environmental costs and with little of the countryside’s traditional social capital.
Three critical landscapes in particular—watersheds, food sheds, and ecosystems—that are storehouses of biodiversity (and also serve as natural carbon sponges) are being remorselessly nibbled away. Total world wildlife has dropped 50% since 1970. Numerous groundwater basins, from China’s Yellow River to the basins of Iran and California’s Central Valley have been overdrawn leaving landscapes that are impoverished and lost to productive human use. If these trends continue, the surface of the earth will consist of an aggregation of mega cities in the midst of a largely depopulated, industrialized countryside devoted to the production of cheap commodities, whatever the environmental costs.
Watershed experts, conservation biologists, architects, landscape architects, eco-agriculturalists, and advocates for rural development have all labored heroically to turn this tide, but with little success. Solutions have often been one dimensional, dominated by disciplines with particular expertise. They have tended to ignore the fundamental reality that the forces driving the emergence of a depopulated landscape are largely economic and, without a counter-strategy based on sustainable economics, there may be occasional victories, but ultimately only long term defeat. What makes this
such an urgent issue is that it is the current generation that will determine the future character of the earth’s rural landscapes. If humanity wants a countryside of functioning watersheds, productive food sheds, and abundant biodiversity whose habitats are the indispensable carbon sinks needed to address global warming, it will need a new generation of landscape planners, systems managers, designers, and developers who have the integrative skills needed to create viable site-specific economic and social strategies that can successfully hold off the forces of landscape wasting.
The Field Stations workshop is supported by the Wright Ingraham Institute. The Wright-Ingraham Institute is a private, non-profit education and research institution founded in Colorado in 1970. It was established to promote, direct, encourage, and develop opportunities contributing to the conservation, preservation, and wise use of human and natural resources.
The Institute focuses on research and education that concerns interrelationships between natural and human-built systems. In keeping with this mission, the Institute organizes educational programs and coordinates with other non-profit institutions to develop workshops, conferences, and public forums. The Wright-Ingraham Institute provides small annual grants to 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organizations that share goals and concerns.