atlas (n): 
1)    a collection of maps
2)    one who supports a great burden
3)    the Greek Titan condemned to hold the sky
The speculative atlas is an open-sourced guide to an uncertain future. It is an engagement tool for sparking community imagination, autonomy, and hope in the looming shadow of climate change and sea level rise. A catalyst for grass-roots action and the progenitor of new forms of material resonance, the atlas serves as a roadmap of possibilities by which communities, designers, and governments can navigate the unpredictable future together in real time.
This project responds to the threat of sea level rise in the communities embedded in the industrialized salt marshes of New Jersey’s Meadowlands. We assert that resiliency and adaptation in the face of climate change cannot be accomplished without the imagination of the communities affected. By sustaining and supporting the social infrastructure of the Meadowlands through a series of phased designed interventions, the atlas charts a speculative and empowered future that embraces local material histories through collective transition. We present the atlas as a flexible and fantastical tool for invigorating community action and imagination around a shared future. By offering a collaborative and iterative community-oriented design process, we hope to encourage a broader discussion about the role of designers in fostering resiliency. Our project emphasizes, exaggerates, and recontextualizes the shared meanings of local material artifacts in service of three resiliency-oriented priorities:
• Uncovering, fostering, and enriching collective identity
• Providing foundations for empowered remembrance and transition
• Catalyzing imaginative speculation and experimentation regarding potential futures
[Partners: Katie Kelly & Han Yu]
With the goal of inspiring community-born speculative narratives about the future of the Meadowlands, we first dug into its past. Through literature and historical documents, we uncovered the secrets and folklore of the area in order to render the Meadowlands as a site of legend, and of legendary material transformations. By framing the region as the site of continually unfolding stories, we hope to inspire people to write their own place within them, and to imagine a fictional future in which the Meadowlands continues to thrive.
The central communicative tool of our project is the atlas, which features a set of speculative vignettes depicting interchangeable, interrelated scenarios ranging from the mundane to the fantastical. The vignettes are illustrated in such a way as to invite community members to make their own, and are meant to be arranged along a central axis depicting the psychogeographies of the Meadowlands as it transitions through sea level rise.
Through a deep understanding of the site’s rich history, immense complexity, and tangled web of stakeholders—past, present, and future—we see an opportunity to intervene using the devices of storytelling. Our project meditates on the social characteristics of resiliency for a region in transition, using narrative as a communicative device. Through distinct insertions and ambiguous provocations about life in the future Meadowlands, we encourage community members to fill in the blanks, writing and enacting their own stories based on our initial excitation. Unfolding in small moments or over decades, these interventions generate a proliferation of futures for the Meadowlands, grown in the generative incubator of rich community dialogue, housed in mascots, prophecies, landmarks, and legends, and engaged with through the practice of everyday rituals. Sea level is the datum which ritual is organized around, rather than inhibited by.
The New Jersey Meadowlands is a series of saltwater marshes situated two miles west of the island of Manhattan. Once spreading uninterrupted for tens of thousands of acres, the marshes are now a fraction of their original size—sliced, drained and adjudicated by a density of highways, bridges, rail lines, distribution warehouses, energy facilities and factories supporting the tri-state area. Occupied for millennia by the Lenape, the land was designated The Meadowlands District in 1968 by The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, initiating the first concerted effort to protect the remaining tracts of marshland.
The New Jersey Meadowlands, despite decades of neglect and overdevelopment, remains the largest wetland system in the NY-NJ-CT region. It is also likely to be one of the first places to be permanently inundated from sea-level rise. Storm surges and rising seas threaten to subsume thousands of acres of marsh and developed land and to disrupt the transportation and industry of the entire region. The Regional Planning Association has recommended a national park designation for the Meadowlands that will help preserve and restore its natural habitats, protect nearby communities, and expand recreational resources for the entire region, thereby establishing the first national park for climate resilience. It is from this prompt that our project departs.
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