Emerging from continued discussions with Jenny Reekie regarding our common interest in exploring the post-industrial spaces being reclaimed by nonhuman species, we are offering “Post-industrial Wastelands” as a community space for others to share in these stories and imaginings with us. But what exactly are post-industrial wastelands? What makes them such unique provocators of what it means to be in the world today?
There is no such thing as pristine nature. Nothing on this planet is untouched by human activities. Everything from the dawn chorus to the flows of the rivers are mediated by humans. Sitting solidly in the hinterlands of nature/culture binaries, post-industrial wastelands provide often unique opportunities to see the effects of these interrelationships up close. Referring to spaces and places once used for often quite intensive human happenings but are now in the process of slowly being returned to the earth.
As far as categories go, post-industrial wastelands is an intentionally broad one by our reckoning. What we are trying to capture with this term are spaces which were once used industrially by humans and have since been decommissioned, potentially demolished and have been “reclaimed” as habitats by other species. These may now be designated nature reserves or conservation areas, or otherwise forgotten and overlooked edgelands. They may be rural, spread across acres, or little city corners.
There are other names you might use to talk about these places. ‘Post-wilds’ (Marris 2011), ‘urban wilderness’ (Kowarik 2018) or ‘urban wastelands’ (Gandy 2013) are all useful related terms. These can often be used to speak specifically to the ongoing negotiations regarding aesthetics and utilities in urban spaces. They call into question the assumptions we often find about romanticised views of nature, unsettling the familiar terrain of landscapes subject to the stringent human interventions all of which are rooted in very bourgeois and entirely anthropocentric traditions of what we should expect nature should look like.
Unique happenings emerge in these spaces where human technologies and wildness meet. The ecological significance of these spaces are becoming more readily acknowledged and speculated on. Local to me, there is an urban myth of a car that lost control on a hill and ran off the road into a small creek to be carried on by the water throughout the years and left to decay in the stream bed. It is this happening, rumoured to have been over 70 years ago, that is said to have brought the broad leaved Broad leafed Helleborines, an orchid that blooms in relative secret down by the stream every spring. They are said to thrive on soils contaminated by metal. Stories of the entanglements and emerges in our shared histories are what these spaces give body to, facilitating reflections on our mutual heritage and futures. As a concept, post-industrial wastelands presents the opportunities to acknowledge of the complex and continual negotiations of space between the needs of differing species.
So what do we hope to achieve with a post-industrial wastelands community? Firstly, we aim to map post-industrial sites across Britain, collectively sharing stories and experiences of these unique spaces. So far, we’ve found these to be diverse and curious stories of resilience, hope and kinship, with thick layers of historical, ecological and community interest. As we grow, we’d like to be able to curate ways of sharing stories amongst each other and more widely, through events, workshops and online/print publications. We also encourage community engagement in our growing post-industrial citizen science project, mapping findings of biodiversity using iNaturalist.
In the meantime, you can keep up to date, and get in touch with us to share spaces and stories via Instagram.