When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.– John Muir
„Switzerland should become one big city!“ says one influential party to the debate, mindful of its cosmopolitan self-image. „For the good of nature, we need to numerically limit immigration now!“ yell the champions of what is known as the EcoPop–initiative, which has absolutey nothing to do with pop music. In Switzerland‘s acrimonious debate about „Zersiedelung“ [dis-settlement], numerous frightful images of the relation of human habitation to the [alleged] natural environment [mountains, meadows, forests, etc.] are tossed into the debate. Prominent among them is the notion that the suburbs are carving up the natural landscape in a way that reduces pristine environments to ugly, building-sprinkled exurbs of larger towns&cities.
What is being lost is not necessarily nature per se but nature as a resource in the work-life-balance equation, that is, nature as „Naherholungsraum“ [proximate recreation space; a fine example of the merciless nature of teutonic noun composition]; and, more romantically, much more mystically, nature as Kulturlandschaft [cultural landscape]. The latter is to be tended to by milk-price-over-subventioned farmers cum rural landscape artists cum bucolic „adventure-farm“ directors [sacrificing Sunday AMs to serve the squealing urban masses their hard-earned Buure Zmorge]. The farmers, for all the stereotypes of their supposed backwardness, are expected to carry a rather big load in maintaining the original Swiss landscapes.
There are also the more conventional images of villages, farmland [standing in the way of above imagined helvetico-urban Totality], the suburb and the [pylon-plastered] alps.
What is lacking are the in-between spaces, the ill-defined crypto-urban interstices where one is neither in the city proper nor in the verdant Kulturlandschaft but in a tiny hybrid dystopia. These might be missing because they are so difficult to spot and, even where they do hove into view, the conceptual machinery of those other expressions clicks into action to assimilate it: oh, it‘s Kulturlandschaft, oh, it‘s a Naherholungsgebiet, ahh, just a construction site. Above all, it is temporary, in no time our infrastructural behemoth will have adapted it to some civilizational end or an other.
What I have in mind is a stretch of Luzern‘s Allmend just beyond the solid architectural grip of the yellow Twin Towers and all its lesser sibling buildings. Including the extravagant swissporArena, which deserves mention because its construction price-tag is inversely proportional to the FCL‘s performance: bottomdweller of the s[o/u]ccer league. Just off to the side of the Towers are the local Tennis club‘s eight red clay courts where the stationary bike fiends, a few floors up, get to watch daily geriatric dodderings somehow involving tennis balls. Then beyond the courts are the soccer pitches for the juniors and some lesser [but more financially sensible] clubs. Between the tennis courts and the footbal fields the pointy end of the wedge of this underdefined area opens up. There is a gravelly cross-country road beside which there is a small, unlikely biotope. If the tadpoles there survive their early weeks then, having found their froggy legs, the stiffest threat they likely face is the sudden aerial death by tennis or soccer ball.
The wedege opens up and upwards towards the forest onto the hybrid swath of land I will call Area A. Area A was formerly a shooting range for the military and a municipal rifle association. Millions of rounds were fired into the lower fringe of the forest [Bireggwald]; occasionally surely an unwitting bird was sniped to the bemusent of a band of rowdy teenagers or a dour, mid-life-imprisoned adult.
However, Area A was, I imagine, in administratively suspended animation [complex zoning regulations, etc.], in addition to being just not quite close enough to the main road and slightly tucked away from the area‘s focal draw, the tanking club‘s stadium, as well as a few adjacent business fair buildings. „Das Gebiet der ehemaligen Schiessanlagen zwischen Horwerstrasse, Zihlmattweg und Bireggwald war jahrzehntelang ein Niemandsland – abgesperrt und höchstens für Rekruten und Soldaten zugänglich.“ (Luzern, Das Stadtmagazin, U. Dossenbach, Jul 2014).
Nature, flowing down from the forest, had its time to spread, turning the place into an informal Naherholungsgebiet. However, just below the lush grass, sprouting reed stands and somnolent biotopes, lurked the legacy of toxic ammo [400 tons of lead, is the official figure].
The city turned its big, hungry eyes on this little wedge. It decided to clean the place out and make it something definite.
Thus it ended up on the cover of Luzern, das Stadtmagazin. The picture showed a hiker in the midst of untouched greenery, making his way through a knee-high meadow at the far end of which loomed LU‘s own twin towers. Accompanied by the tag-line: Allmend – Wo 150 Jahre lang geschossen wurde, erhält die Natur neue Lebensräume.
Foolishly, having seen the image and the few words, I imagined that the article would then go on to extoll the benefits of a lush „proximate recreation area“. Then, last week, resentfully working my behind off on said stationary bikes, given over to autumnal sentiments and their deconstructive musings, I took a closer look at Area A and noted: there were intermediately big erosion pools forming on a slope just below the forest [the last time I had seen this formation had been in the eroded sections of South Africa‘s Eastern Cape], biotopes had been placed or had sprung up close to the main road [rather convenient for clinically depressed amphibians] and there was section that had been denuded of its grass cover and turned into a vast area of sheer mud. In my clever piece I was going to turn the proximity of the dotard‘s tennis club and the presence of all this mud into a wordplay on „Grand Schlamm“. I was going to blast the magazine for naively imagining that, in the close presence of a city, such an enclave of nature could survive for all too long. Forcefully I would make the case for the hybrid, bastard, non-standard spaces that had sprung up along the city limits, stuff nobody was willing to look into or put up with all too long. I would sing the praises of the undefinable, the mud, the slime even, as existential as anything. Regular autumn ravings. Ahhhh, ohhhh, ooooooh, my heart flew out to Area A.
With this in mind, a few days ago, I happily ventured forth to photographically document Area A as it presently exists, in abeyance between nature and civilization. Turned into muddiness to the degree that, especially in this year, it faintly recalled WWI and its depredations upon, not just us humans but the landscape as well. I managed to take a few decent shots before an early autumn night swooped down.
Tonight, coming back to this earlier brainwave, I finally located the article on the web. Deflating my lampooning-impulse, I read it: it stated how the city was going to recapture Area A and make it a nice, enjoyable place:
«Am Rand des Bireggwaldes mussten wir rund 150 Bäume fällen, damit wir den Boden abtragen können», sagt Stefan Herfort. Der Projektleiter beim Umweltschutz der Stadt Luzern geht davon aus, dass auf den ehemaligen Schiessplätzen insgesamt rund 6500 Kubikmeter Erde mit rund 400 Tonnen Blei abtransportiert und in Bodenwaschanlagen oder auf spezielle Deponien gebracht werden müssen. «Dazu braucht es rund 550 Lastwagenfahrten», sagt Stefan Herfort. (Dossenbach, p.6)
The writer never set out to write either a panegyric nor a jeremiad of a hybrid scrap of environment: just the dutiful, complete, matter-of-factly account of the municipal machine‘s doing one has come to expect from Luzern – Das Stadtmagazin. You can‘t fault it, you can only be bored breathless.
What remains, then, of my misbegotten brainchild, is the jarring contrast between said magazine‘s portrayal of the place and my unbeautified take on it. Here you have Eastern Cape-style erosion and mud and more mud and,as was reported, toxic sludge.
Plus a little pool full of green leaping, writhing hope [Ringelnattern, Unken, Zauneidechsen, Feuersalamander, Blindschleichen, etc.].
[Though one of the previous posts shows you just what exactly might happen to such hope when habitats get sliced and diced by human transportation routes.]