Designing America's Waste Landscapes

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One of the most visible consequences of our society's breakneck level of production and consumption is the increasing amount of land designated as landfill and other waste disposal and processing sites. Often located in marginal areas or adjacent to politically and economically dispossessed communities, these places are usually ignored by mainstream society, as is the garbage that fills them. Even with the greater awareness of the problems of waste disposal inspired by recycling programs and anti-littering ads, we would much rather take the garbage out than think about where its going.

In Designing America's Waste Landscapes, landscape architect and scholar Mira Engler takes a close look at the landfills, recycling and waste transfer centers, and sewage treatment plants that accommodate and redistribute the by-products of consumption. For Engler, waste is not only a pervasive, essential, and constructive process of civilization; it is a key element in the way we consider, order, and shape our landscape. Yet the overwhelmingly negative, defensive perceptions we have of these places—and their marginalization within public debate—limits our ability to respond creatively and effectively to the growing problem of waste disposal.

Engler addresses two distinct aspects of waste landscapes in America: the historic and cultural context of waste and the theories, practices, and concerns of the planners, engineers, landscape designers, and other waste management professionals. She reviews the physical evolution of waste sites across the country, scrutinizes perceptions and representations of these landscapes, and highlights attempts by environmental designers and artists to change public perceptions. Illustrated with more than 70 photographs, maps, drawings, and other images, Designing America's Waste Landscapes is a cogent and compelling inquiry into the scientific, environmental, and aesthetic parameters of cutting-edge waste management technology and design.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Technology and Culture - Martin V. Melosi

Engler brings broad meaning to the value of marginalized places... Stimulating reading.

Professional Geographer - Mark D. Bjelland

An insightful tour of an overlooked part of the cultural landscape.

Journal of Cultural Geography - Kendra Strauss

Fresh treatment of the 'environmental' problem of human waste and pollution will be relevant for cultural geographers with an interest in nature-society relationships.


An exposition of the history, aesthetics, etymology, and psychology of waste disposal.

Technology and Culture
Engler brings broad meaning to the value of marginalized places... Stimulating reading.

— Martin V. Melosi

Professional Geographer
An insightful tour of an overlooked part of the cultural landscape.

— Mark D. Bjelland

Journal of Cultural Geography
Fresh treatment of the 'environmental' problem of human waste and pollution will be relevant for cultural geographers with an interest in nature-society relationships.

— Kendra Strauss

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Mira Engler is an associate professor of landscape architecture at Iowa State University.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Contemplating waste : theories and constructs 1
Ch. 2 Private landscapes of waste 42
Ch. 3 Dumps : centers of waste treatment, research, and education 75
Ch. 4 Waste recycling/reuse institutions : places of material transactions and resource parks 124
Ch. 5 Sewage treatment plants : wastewater gardens 175
Epilogue : challenges for thought and action 228
Notes 233
References 245
Index 263
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