I’m very excited to announce that I’ll have a chapter in the forthcoming book Urban Forests, Trees and Greenspace: A Political Ecology Perspective (2014, Earthscan/Routledge) edited by the amazing team behind the Urban Forests and Political Ecologies conference held at University of Toronto last year: L. Anders Sandberg (York U, FES), Adrina Bardekjian (York U, FES), and Sadia Butt (UofT, Forestry).
My chapter, “Queering the Urban Forest: The Ecological Ethics and Politics of Arboreal Entanglement,” travels to Detroit, New York, and Chișinău, Moldova with my favorite arboreal guide, the Tree of Heaven. A taste from my intro:
Tree of Heaven is a speculative link in a longer chain of queer and ecological theory and practice. This chapter deploys queer reading and writing of Tree of Heaven. A queer reading looks not only at how the tree reproduces but also at its dis/location, to the symbolic and material crisis of its overabundance, and to its space-making tactics. A queer writing of Tree of Heaven does not speak of success and failures in anything like absolute terms. Instead, it is a gesture of mutualist alliance with the tree. I write as a way of asking where it takes us and where we are taken if we follow it.
What kinds of spaces must we walk through to find it? Where are these spaces in the city? Who and what uses those spaces? Who and what disappears when Ailanthus disappears? The tree tells stories and reveals patterns of displacement, destruction, renewal, and dwelling. It helps us to locate concepts and practices that bring new creativity to bear in dealing with the violent displacements and volatile crises of urban capitalism. Lurking around freshly sprouting stands of A. altissima is just one way to ask how anything survives, let alone thrives, in the midst of those crises and displacements.
Bouncing from the AAG to a local and amazing conference this weekend: Urban Forestries and Political Ecologies. I’ll be commenting on the keynote by Dr. Sandy Smith of University of Toronto. The session is called “Adaptation and Vulnerability in the Urban Forest” and I’m calling my contribution, which is a response in the context of my own work, “Thinking the urban with Ailanthus Altissima: Queer notes on the ecological ethics and politics of arboreal engagement.”
Other highlights include: keynotes by Nik Heynen (moderated by Jin Haritaworn of FES), Owain Jones (moderated by Cate Sandilands of FES); panels on the Rouge Valley and a field trips to York and to Humber Arboretum; closing comments by Roger Keil of FES and York’s CITY Institute.
Conference organizers include FES Prof. Anders Sandberg and PhD Candidate Adrina Bardekjian.
Conference season people!
In my ongoing search for the best information on ailanthus altissima, the Tree of Heaven (TOH), I came across Vadim Tiganas’ and Stefan Tiron’s ghettopalm.tumblr.com. This discovery is incredibly exciting beacuse Tiganas and Tiron write beautifully and powerfully about ailanthopolitics. It is also a little sad because I won’t have the joy of writing this story myself. But I will happily borrow and pervert this page with queer theory to see what it can tell us about resisting homonormativity, gentrification, and homogeneity.
[ALSO, technical aside, I am apparently too old for the internet. I don’t know how to contact someone directly through tumblr. I gather that it isn’t possible — I am not apparently a longtime fan of the site, so I can’t send ‘fanmail’. Can anyone help decode this mystery? Or is anyone better at finding Tiganas’ e-mail online so I can contact them? Comment or contact please!]
Here is a golden paragraph on TOH from the Ghetto Palm project. Savor.
TOH was a colonial exotic introduction from China at first, brought in by horticulturalist passions, botanist curiosity and dutifully planted as a decorative tree on the street sides at the end of the 19th century. They had to look more exotic, more cosmopolitan, sampling the resplendent jungles of the colonies and newly accessible territories for the best they had to offer in botanic terms. We slowly realized that the mercantile and cleptocratic mores of the Western society during the 18th and 19 century has a lot to do with the current situation of escaped ornamentals in modern cities. Cities have grown and prospered under the heavy imports of foreign crops, plants and biological specimens in the wake of a huge uncontrolled experiment, smuggling in and trading in live species from one corner of the world to the other. The age of discovery was also an age o acclimatisation. European familiars such as the rabbit or foxes were introduced with disastrous results to other bioregions of the world. The other side of the coin was the age of unbridled biological espionage practiced under the benediction of governments and company’s by Europeans and Americans in search of economic or aesthetic fortune. Plant hunters, famous naturalist, botanic aficionados or forgotten horticulture second hand collectors were in a race. It was a biological and natural history race to gather and get access to potentially rewarding specimens that had to be safely brought home, reproduced under care and transplanted into towns as part of the new biological common wealth of the west. This sort of makes our Ailanthus altissima story, a sort of “gremlin” narrative, were u get innocent-looking plants to nurseries back home, were they cannot obviously be properly contained. Ailanthus altissima has spread with the ebb and flow rythms of megacity sprawl or shrinking city. This is not the late neozoon or neobiota piggybacking we get when unwanted biological passengers hop on board and wreak havoc were they land. Ailanthus altissima is one of those introduced species looking like a good catch for the colonial capitalist entrepreneurship back home. It first looked to untrained but voracious eyes rather like another more valuable-looking or more economically-attractive species such as the varnish tree (Toxicodendron vernicifluum), also originating in China. As other former Chinese prize crops or valuable ornamentals made their made to the West starting with the soy bean to the Chrysanthemum or tree peony, some like the Ailanthus altissima, slowly fell from favor but gained habitat. It is now perfectly adapted to our worldwide urban ecology, considered nothing more than noxious weed, busy destroying our pavement and crumbling our concrete monoliths, making our cities more like a sort of urban war zone were human-made biological wars are going on. But these are the green revolts that are happening around us continuously, when man-made ‘nature’ didn’t comply, didn’t do our bidding, didn’t follow the good behavioral lines or didn’t satisfy our aesthetic ideal anymore.