What if the Keystone XL Pipeline project wasn’t a black-or-white issue? In our Houston office, we’ve been hearing a lot about both sides of the Pipeline debate—and after several in-office conversations earlier this year about the efficacy of the project, we started thinking: what could be done to make this project better? What would a landscape architect do? What can a designer remember about this infrastructural project and all its component parts?

Infrastructure projects are rarely black and white issues. So many failed infrastructural projects across the US have been too unilaterally (narrowly) focused on solving a singular problem (moving water, moving cars, efficiency), without remembering all of the other layers of development that are often working in concert with the development within the same space. People need space to ride bikes, walk, move; etc. This idea—“Landscape Infrastructure”—that the design and creation of landscape architectural and infrastructural projects can have multifaceted benefits while still solving infrastructural problems—is one of our key tenants in our firm.

So, how would we address the landscape of the Keystone XL Pipeline? In a somewhat tongue-in-cheek proposal, we thought that if they are going to develop 5000 miles of infrastructure, we might get 5000 miles of bike paths out of the project.


One of the really interesting things about the attention this project has received recently (on NBC, Current TV and Fast Company) is the fact that this project isn’t a client-led project. One of the things that’s really important to remember as an ideas-driven firm is that as we’re brainstorming and developing creative solutions to client-driven projects, we’re also being looked at to provide new and fresh ideas to our clients and colleagues. We need to make time to develop these ideas, even if it’s during our weekly happy hour, or through more formal pin-ups.

Infrastructure and the redevelopment (and our need to rethink and reimagine all the ways it can serve our communities) is something our firm has done for a long time, and will continue to be an issue we need to address as we see more and more of the 20th century projects become derelict. There’s a project that we’re dealing with in Atlanta—the interstate 85/75 corridor, that we’re taking and turning into Freeway Art. This derelict infrastructure that no one wants anything to do with—we’re looking at how you can turn around the idea of a freeway and make it a place for art. And in Los Angeles, we spent a lot of time re-imagining a concrete-channel as a new piece of community infrastructure—with bike paths and green edges. Across the nation, the US is looking at how to re-use or re-imagine many existing pieces; it’s not carte blanche development of cities like what’s happening on the other side of the world. Projects like Sands Bethworks, a re-design of an old steel mill in Bethlehem, PA, points to the ways that landscape architects and designers can re-think existing infrastructure and make new places out of existing materials and spaces.

It’s the same for the Pipeline project—if it’s going to be built—then as designers, we’ve got to challenge the concept and say, well, we want something in return. We want something better from it.



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Kinder Baumgardner

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One Response to “When Infrastructure Isn’t Just Black And White: Imagining Better Alternatives for the Keystone XL Pipeline”

  1. Louis Zimmerman

    I really like this idea. As a person who has walked the Coast to Coast Wainwright Trail across Northern England and am familiar with other English Trail Systems I think the presence of such a path could be a tourism boon for small towns along the path much as those paths have been for small English villages. Interpretive sites are an unnecessary expense because over time guide books would develop. Making the trip would be a challenge and people like challenges.



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