The project provides a model for ‘un-gridding’ depopulating rural outposts while boosting agricultural and ecological activity in new interregional migration corridors.
The Keystone XL pipeline has become a catalyst for the emergence of numerous migrations, setting forth a huge population shift toward ‘boom towns’ and other sites along its installation route. Although inducing certain positive economic transformations, its effect on these areas is rather temporary, leaving only traces of its existence on the land and economy through the migration of people and economies. Simultaneously, climate change spurred by a petroleum economy has induced regional agricultural migrations through crop shifting, and ecological migrations under, on, and above our land.
As a critical and immensely debated connection point in the development of the Keystone XL pipeline, Nebraska holds the key in the completion of the new underground energy corridor. An under-considered component of the proposed path is its impact above ground, as the pipeline’s path would be delineated by the installation of high voltage transmission lines, creating transformers and power stations every 50 miles along the Nebraskan landscape. The transmission lines would destroy or disrupt critical habitats of many endangered wildlife, including the endangered whooping crane’s migration path.
The central flyway occurs right in the middle “strip” of the Nebraskan landscape, where we see other patterns of migration. This strip, or corridor, has been losing its small town populations over the last decade to the more dense urban areas on the Nebraskan periphery. The corridor is also the location of many agricultural lands and land subsidies; land that much of the country depends on for fresh produce. Finally, the corridor is home to a majority of the critical wildlife habitats in the state.
The design re-imagines this transmissive landscape.
By reinforcing the peripheral relationships of Nebraska’s urban towns and adjacent state connections, this central corridor is re-adapted to serve the agricultural landscape, the ecological landscape, and the migratory (human and wildlife) patterns. The idea of erasure becomes key. The corridor is emptied of the current transmission system and relies on a new deployable energy infrastructure to deliver electric and physical energy to the new corridor towns. The energy would come from the ‘sludge’ waste produced in the peripheral urban areas, processed and converted to electricity, compost, fertilizer and heat in mid nodal towns and delivered via “balloon” to a newly established system of corridor towns. Nodal towns were selected based on their high land values, high subsidy income, ecological importance, etc.
Two larger towns would serve as distribution towns. North Platte, a now major freight distribution site, and Valentine, a highly ecologically important area. From these, the balloons would be further distributed to smaller towns that would be dispersed along the corridor.
The corridor would erase the current ideals of farming. Land ownership, boundaries, resource availability, and movement, all aspects restricting our current agricultural system would be erased and give light to previously exercised farming practices. The re-emergence of hunting and gathering, nomadic farming (transhumance), and free-range herding/farming would co-exist, if not replace, our current system. Along with farming, the corridor would serve as a wildlife migration corridor, optimizing the ability to feed, rest and regain energy for the whooping crane, other avian species, and land species.
The stationary wild animal and domestic animal would also reap benefits from the “pristine” critical habitats along the strip of land allowing for the re-emergence of wildlife and the idea of letting “nature take over,” pioneered in shrinking cities. Finally, the corridor would be a prime settlement area for the migratory groups set forth by “personal” ideals. ‘Preppers’ and ‘Off-Gridders’, would locate themselves in the Nebraskan regions along the middle corridor.
Locally, at the town scale, the “balloon” creates a new identity for the corridor towns. Instead of understanding the transmission system as something static, certain and almost invisible, people could understand the process of creating and obtaining energy: energy as something ephemeral. The landing towers and flying objects (lit or unlit) would create way finding points, and, much like corn silos, create an identity for the farming communities along the Great Plains.
The proposal for this corridor addressed the issues set forth by the Keystone XL pipeline, issues of migration (created or interrupted), encroachment, energy infrastructure, its effect on the landscape and economy, and the reshaping of the Nebraskan landscape. This proposed alternative beings to address these issues by proposing a more flexible form of infrastructure that can co-operate (not encroach) with other existing systems.
Taken a step further, this corridor could extend throughout the countries most viable agricultural lands, where much of the government subsidies are distributed. The US could again become a country of production more than consumption. Ecologically the extended corridor could allow and facilitate land wildlife migration and the re-emergence of nomadic communities still seen in other parts of the world.