Visualizing Water-Energy Nexus Landscapes 

Robb, D., Cole, H., Baka, J., & Bakker, K. (2020). Visualizing water-energy nexus landscapes. Annals of the American Association of Geographers. (Article in review).
Over the past decade, the water-energy nexus (WEN) has emerged as a prominent framework to analyze and visualize interconnections between energy production, freshwater extraction, and the hydrologic cycle. The WEN is a fundamentally geographic concept embedded in landscapes, yet WEN analyses rarely include theoretically-informed landscape visualizations. Our paper seeks to contribute to this gap in nexus literature. WEN visualizations offer a way to observe and intervene in dynamic socioecological and biophysical landscape processes. While nexus approaches have been the subject of academic review and scrutiny, WEN visualizations remain relatively under-investigated.

Our study provides a meta-review of visualizations in the academic literature on the WEN in order to (1) identify key trends and representational strategies; (2) determine how this visual discourse structures knowledge about water-energy landscapes; and (3) assess the strengths, weaknesses, and potential risks posed by this visual paradigm. We argue that WEN visualizations often depict complex landscapes as technical systems, while eliding broader considerations of the multiscalar, spatiotemporal, and relational dimensions of water and energy. In response to these limitations, we offer guidelines for visualizing water-energy landscapes that draw upon parallel work in geography and cognate disciplines.

Planetary Voyeurism

Robb, D., & Bakker, K. (2020). Planetary voyeurism. LA+ Interdisciplinary Journal of Landscape Architecture 12, 50-55.

We coin the term “planetary voyeurism” to describe the (unintended) consequences of abstract visualizations of environmental impacts. Over the past decade, innovative digital technologies such as satellites, drones, and distributed environmental sensing networks, combined with ever-cheaper cloud-based computing, have enabled geographers and designers to “see” environmental changes on a planetary scale. An unprecedented amount of geodata is now available at rapidly decreasing cost. But when we visualize Earth, which perspectives do we privilege, and what perceptions and actions do these visualizations enable?

In this paper, we caution that technologically mediated ways of seeing and perceiving global environmental change, while certainly valuable and informative, often arise from and/or produce an (unintended) voyeurism. We offer the concept of planetary voyeurism in order to spark a dialogue about how visual practices of abstraction and aestheticization might obscure the intimate and variegated dimensions of the Anthropocene.

Review of Regulating Water Security in Unconventional Oil and Gas by Regina M. Buono, Elena Lopéz Gunn, Jennifer McKay and Chad Staddo (Eds.)

Robb, D. (2020). Review of "Regulating water security in unconventional oil and gas". Water Alternatives.

Regulating Water Security in Unconventional Oil and Gas explores the recent expansion of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas extraction. Initially developed in the United States as a way to extract oil and gas from 'tight' bedrock formations, hydraulic fracturing (or 'fracking') now extends to virtually every corner of the globe. This rapid increase has raised concerns relating to the direct and indirect impacts that hydraulic fracturing poses to water resources. The average volume of water consumed by fracking operations is vast: as much as 1.3 million cubic metres per day in the United States, or 3.5 times the average daily water use of Washington, D.C.

Concerns surrounding water consumption and the risks of potential groundwater contamination are particularly urgent in areas suffering from acute water stress, or where reliable access to water is already precarious. This has led to a growing awareness of the inadequacy of existing regulatory frameworks to effectively manage the demands that fracking operations place on water resources. Included in these concerns are issues pertaining to the environmental and sociocultural impacts of water use for hydraulic fracturing, such as induced seismicity, air pollution, and the degradation of ecosystems and landscapes essential to Indigenous and non-indigenous ways of life.

Object-Oriented Cartography: Maps as Things invites readers to consider new ways of relating to cartographic images and practices. Drawing from recent advances across diverse academic fields such as object-oriented ontology, critical cartography, and visual studies, Rossetto provides a deeply personal account of our everyday interactions with maps. She accomplishes this through an innovative research methodology that foregrounds the relational, phenomenological, and agential capacities of spatial representations, illuminated by practical examples and inventive case studies. The book’s overarching project is to re-imagine maps as more than flat representations of an external reality, and to see them instead as lively actors that shape our world in powerful and intimate ways.

Are these the 20 top priorities in 2020 for a digital ecosystem for Earth?

Below is an excerpt from a collaborative, multidisciplinary research project on digital solutions for Earth’s current environmental crises, which I helped design and visualize.

“...we believe the time is right for the creation of a digital ecosystem for Earth: a set of nested, fully integrated global environmental monitoring, data-sharing, and decision-support systems designed to enhance precautionary, predictive, and adaptive environmental governance. In our vision, a digital ecosystem for Earth is built to support constructive action towards sustainability, and is both co-designed and consulted by governments, large organizations, as well as individual citizens. This is not a simplistic techno-utopian vision... We need to balance our optimism about technical solutions with realism about the limits of technology, appropriate skepticism about over-hyped solutions, and a healthy dose of anticipatory caution about unintended consequences.”

Review of This Was Our Valley by Shirlee Smith Matheson and Earl K. Pollon

Robb, D. (2020). Review of “This Was Our Valley”. BC Studies, (205 Spring), 121-122.

The 2019 edition of This Was Our Valley by Shirlee Smith Matheson and Earl K. Pollon continues a longstanding conversation about the impacts of large dams in northern British Columbia. This story, told in three acts, renders a detailed account of life along the Peace River in the vicinity of Hudson’s Hope over the past one hundred years. Whereas much of the recent writing on this subject has focused on the social and political turbulence surrounding the construction of the Site C Dam (Sarah Cox’s excellent Breaching the Peace comes to mind), the reissue of This Was Our Valley begins at a time when hydropower on the Peace was a distant fantasy. This long historical view of life along the Peace (that is, settler colonial life) captures the breathless transformation of the river from a place of trappers and gold-panners to a fully infrastructuralized landscape within the short span of a mere half-century.

Review of Planetary Improvement by Jesse Goldstein

Robb, D., Jerowsky, M., & Holmberg, M. (2018). Review of “Planetary Improvement”. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space.

Jesse Goldstein’s book, Planetary Improvement, is a welcome addition to the critical environmental analysis of capitalism. An interdisciplinary project, the book explores the emerging cleantech marketplace and connects work on entrepreneurialism, the creative economy, and technological innovation within a Marxist framework. Cleantech is not just environmentally friendly technology, but a way in which such technologies are embedded within a new investment discourse that seeks to merge venture capitalism with an environmentalist ethic. Though this book is intended for an academic audience, the author’s clear and concise mobilization of theory, which is in turn grounded by an approachable ethnographic method, makes it accessible to a broad readership that includes activists, entrepreneurs, and even laypersons interested in the green economy.

Unlikely alliances: Design for spatial justice in Sydney’s CBD and South East Light Rail

Robb, D. (2017). Unlikely alliances: Design for spatial justice in Sydney’s CBD to South East Light Rail. Conference Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects Firth Conference.

This conference paper explores the strengths and limitations of conventional practices of stakeholder and community consultation through a case study of the City of Sydney’s CBD and South East Light Rail project. The paper offers a critical review of design consultation practices (interviews, participant observation, and community design charrettes) surrounding the construction of a contentious urban infrastructure project. Different public communications strategies were critiqued using Foucauldian discourse analysis—road signs, protest participation, mail-outs, information sessions, etc.—to explore how architects and landscape architects navigate contradictory social pressures within the design process.

Using Vectorworks to Estimate Landscape Performance

This article investigates how Vectorworks Landmark software could be used to estimate the performance of a given design. As landscape architects, we are faced with the challenge of situating our designs within a broader ecological and climatological context. A design proposal must invariably contend with the active forces of its environment, however, these forces (such as rainfall, flooding, heat gain, wildlife migration, etc.) can be incredibly difficult to model through conventional CAD and BIM software. This article addresses how Landmark can be used to help landscape architects quickly represent their creative vision while simultaneously ensuring its performative functionality.

GALDSU Student Mental Health Report

Working alongside my Graduate Architecture, Landscape and Design Student Union executives —particularly Joël León —I was delighted to release GALDSU’s first Student Mental Health Report. Our initial report (now conducted annualy) recieved widespread media attention from outlets such as The Varsity, Archinect, and ArchDaily, and has led to lasting changes at the University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design.