Rosetta S. Elkin on The Entangled Politics of Afforestation

On 15-February, Rosetta Elkin shared her work “The Entangled Politics of Afforestation” in the third installment of the 2022 Spring Urbanism Lecture Series, co-hosted by the City Design & Development Program (CDD), SMArchS Urbanism Program, and Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism at MIT.

Rosetta Elkin is the Principal of Practice Landscape, an Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture at McGill University and will be joining the Pratt Institute as the Director of their inaugural program in Landscape Architecture. Elkin’s work examines the foundational role that plant life plays at the intersection of art, design and ecology. In particular, her research examines biological complexity as a model for ecosystem resilience, integrity and recovery.

Her work makes public, through drawing, environmental assessment and exhibition, the continuing impact of the climate crisis. Elkin’s forthcoming book, Plant Life: The Entangled Politics of Afforestation (University of Minnesota Press, 2022), is the culmination of seven years of research and describes the geo-political ambitions of tree planting programs. Rosetta attends to the complexity and production of planting a tree; understood as an ultimate offering to life on this planet and simultaneously as a perverse gesture of extravagance and excess. She reminds us that planting trees does not replace the slow accumulation of plant life.

Afforestation is a process of planting trees in “treeless” environments and Rosetta asks why?

Examining three supracontinental planting projects, and a particular plant in each region that either thrives or dies by human design, each project uncovers a series of common tactics employed to reduce the “aliveness” of plants. Her work describes how plants have been subject to a transition from integrated systems of survival, meaning and necessity to units of profit and standardization in which both the plant and knowledge of the plant are exploited. Rosetta’s research reveals that afforestation is not an ecological practice, but rather a project in repressive, extractive politics.

Leading by example, Roestta challenges architects, planners and designers to face up to their environmental conceits and engage with the multitude of persistent environmental challenges. At the very least, she asks that we learn the names of the trees we plant.

By Joris Komen, Norman B. (1938) and Muriel Leventhal Fellow, Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism.

The Entangled Politics of Afforestation [Credit: Rosetta Elkin]

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Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism

Research center focused on the design and planning of large-scale, complex, future metropolitan environments.