The other week I got a call from Jenna about some severe burning that had taken place on the island. The dry season has been particularly bad. When I first arrived on Mfangano, the island was green and appeared lush. Within two weeks of the beginning of the dry season, Mfangano was noticeably less green and more brown. As the month wore on, the island became increasingly dry and brown. There was a small accident on Jenna’s property right before I left. Some local boys were trying to help clean the compound and burn the trash, but not realizing how dry everything was, the fire took off, burning a small portion of Jenna’s compound. We were told the fire was almost too fast to stop, but fortunately some neighbors were there to get it under control. Two weeks ago, the same event reoccurred, but on a larger scale. Too many people were slashing and burning for cultivation; the vegetation was too dry to take the heat and a major fire spread up into the forests along the ridges. One elder said he thinks they lost over 10% of the remaining ridgeline forests. When Jenna talked about this at the last staff meeting, people laughed at the ridiculousness of the event. What’s interesting about this response is the seemingly relaxed attitude people have about the fires. Given the fact that most people understand the ramifications of their actions, it’s disturbing to hear our friends laughing at the such a serious situation. From what I’ve been told, their reactions to the fires parallels their reactions to the HIV/AIDS issue on the island; when a situation is too overwhelming to digest, it’s easier to laugh in denial than begin to climb the colossal mountain of changes that need to happen in order to end deforestation on the island. The day-to-day routines of Mfangano’s community are arduous and, at the end of the day, large community issues seem too daunting to address for most. I hope my project will help to right-size those issues in a way that makes tackling deforestation a manageable and sustainable endeavor.

More Visuals

Here are some more panoramas of my eight hour boat trip around the island. They’ve been doctored, but they still help to paint the picture. That tour showed me how much cultivation has altered the hillsides of the south and east end of the island while much of the western end is still somewhat in tact. Much of this is due to the lack of inhabitants on that end of the island and access issues. Nevertheless, even in these less inhabited areas, one could still see evidence of deforestation along the lakeside.

Still Working…

I’ve been preparing a shrub and tree list for the past few days. There will be over 115 listed by the time I’m through with it. This list is critical to the project and has taken longer than I anticipated to put it together. I’ll be using this list, as well as other maps I’ve made, to determine land use boundaries, looking at which locations are suitable for tree farming, no-farming zones, stream buffers, etc. At the end of this project, my work, could potentially be the most extensive ecological study of the island. Although, I really hope not.

Review Rewind

Upon reviewing the critique from last week, I’ve come to the decision that not only did I wait too long to communicate the focus of my project, but my delivery of it was poor. Essentially, I took more time explaining the background of the project, than I took to actually tell the reviewers about the purpose of it. Lesson learned.

Project Review – Critique #1

Friday’s critique could have gone better. I failed to hit some key points and didn’t have a focused presentation. This project is dealing with some major global issues as undercurrents that are driving the goals, but it’s easy to make them the primary focus.

The critique also brought up a question that is related to, not just my project, but to landscape architecture as a whole. The reviewers consistently returned to the topic of site design, failing to see the design in the project. Although I’ll be mapping ecologically sensitive areas, designing a phasing plan for the reforestation as well as designing templates for intercropping and tree farming, since there wasn’t a site scale physical space for people, it isn’t design. I’m struggling with this concept quite a bit. From my perspective, I’m designing a framework, combining ecology, economics and culture to alter people’s relationship with the landscape and how they use it. This isn’t quite forestry or sociology instead it’s the connective tissue between both practices. In my mind, this is the strength and the role of landscape architecture.

Had I put a path into my design, it would have been seen as landscape architecture. If the defining characteristic that distinguishes landscape architects from foresters or sociologists is the construction of a physical object in space, I think that is a narrow stance on the skills of the profession.

Perhaps, for the sake of graduating,  I’ll have to design something at the site scale. Either way, I value the fact that my project is posing the question: what is landscape architecture anyway?

*I’ll be posting the video of this review within the next week.

Mfangano in Action

Here is a assemblage of videos taken during my time on the island. I’ve included landscape footage, lake front sounds, in transit traveling, children at Christmas and a portion of my meeting with the Council of Elders, capturing their discussion on the locations of the island’s Sacred Forests and rivers. It was an educational experience for everyone as there many were not entirely sure the location and the exact histories of each forest. Although it’s a lively conversation, despite the volume and tone of their dialogue, it was a very friendly meeting.