The steam generation building at Indiana's Marble Hill Nuclear Power Station, during demolition in 2010.
Last summer, I visited the wreckage of the never-finished Marble Hill Nuclear Power Station, in rural Indiana, in the midst of being demolished more than twenty five years after it had been cancelled. What I saw, and photographed, was an incredibly unusual view into a technology and a physical infrastructure that we rarely are allowed to see, much less to become familiar with as a real, physical thing. This is the first in what will be an ongoing series of articles and photographs revealing the physical remnants of America's history of failed nuclear power projects.

With Japanese authorities still working to salvage the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, it is worth exploring the institutional fallout of the developed world's last significant brush with nuclear catastrophe. This is the first of a series of articles I will publish on this website as part of Temples of the Atom, a project documenting the wreckage of unfinished American nuclear power stations.

The author, atop a crane in Block 3 of City Place Toronto, west of the Skydome and CN Tower complex, in the summer of 2005.
A new attraction called EdgeWalk will be premiering later this summer at Toronto's CN Tower. On offer will be the opportunity to leave the safe confines of its concrete and steel structure and walk to the edge of the tower's main pod. There are a host of reasons that the unveiling of EdgeWalk shouldn't surprise us, but the reality is that people have been exploring the possibilities of a vertical Toronto for years now, without minders and stunt gear. This article considers the attraction and value of EdgeWalk, and of unsanctioned experiences that are already providing new views and footholds on the city.

A few weeks ago, those responsible for maintaining the relevance of Toronto's sky needle announced that later this summer they would pioneer a thrilling new attraction. On offer, they say, will be the opportunity to leave the safe confines of its concrete and steel structure and walk—tethered and supervised by experts—to the edge of the roof of the CN Tower's main pod.

Map showing projected (in 1985) daily maximum flows through the Metro Toronto Water Distribution System. Today, roughly 7-10% ends up leaking out of the system.
This is the second in a series of articles discussing pressurized urban utility networks, elaborating further on an aspect of municipal water distribution networks that has been largely neglected outside of the technical literature of civil engineers: leakage. Municipal distribution systems are constantly depositing water into the soil and sub-soil that surrounds them, making an unavoidable and potentially highly significant contribution to the hydrogeology of the city.

This is the second in a series of articles discussing pressurized urban utility networks. The first article provided a general discussion of the presence and possibilities of water distribution systems. This article will elaborate further on one neglected aspect of the water distribution networks that underpin our cities: leakage.

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The above diagram shows water main connections at Toronto's High Level Pumping Station as they were in 1988. Rather than a simple, gridded system, water distribution mains conform to the location of plants, pumps and reservoirs, as well as the dictates of history and topology.
Watermains. The word can only invoke visions of puddled intersections, flooded basements and construction equipment. We haven't been given the opportunity to think about the system when its presence in our lives isn't mediated by disruption and catastrophe. The water distribution system, despite our visions of its anonymous ubiquity, is a distinctive and sometimes disorderly component in the city's fabric, and one worth exploring as more than just piping. The first in an ongoing discussion of the place of pressurized infrastructure systems in the urban landscape: drinking water systems, gas lines, and district heating systems.

On this website, I have long focused my efforts to revealing the physical spaces contained within underground infrastructure like sewers and utility tunnels, and to countering the general impression of these systems as abstract networks that is promoted by the authorities responsible for their operation and maintenance.

The City of Calgary and art firm Sans façon have just published the organizational manual for an innovative new project meant to bolster public involvement in urban infrastructure.
In Calgary, a new chapter is about to be written in the public experience of urban water and wastewater. The City of Calgary's Utilities and Environmental Protection (UEP) department and art firm Sans façon's have crafted an innovative plan to merge public infrastructure and public consciousness. Is this the beginning of a reversal of North America's century-long withdrawal of infrastructure from the realm and imagination of the public?

In Calgary, a new chapter is about to be written in the public experience of urban water and wastewater. The City of Calgary's Department of Utilities and Environmental Protection (UEP) has for several years now been developing a public art program to accompany its capital projects.

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The R.L. Hearn Generating Station in 2004. The meadow in the foreground, which had grown up on the contaminated remains of the station's coal pile, has since been replaced by the Portlands Energy Centre, a natural gas-fired generating station completed in 2008.

In mid-December, news broke that application had been made to demolish Toronto's R.L. Hearn Generating Station. Efforts immediately began to fight that demolition and to find an alternative use for the building, but fighting this battle on heritage grounds is probably a bad idea. The Hearn station is a building that needs saving not for its past, but for what it means to the city's present. In a city where life is confined increasingly to condo suites, the kind of space enclosed in the Hearn power station is both a priceless artifact and an exceptionally valuable inheritance, even if we haven't quite figured out how to value it yet. It would be a shameful act to demolish this building and throw away the chance to retain a space whose size and impact will never be reproduced in Toronto.

Back on December 14th, Peter Kuitenbrouwer of the National Post broke the story that the R.L. Hearn thermal generating station in Toronto's portlands was under demolition threat.

Desk drawer in the front office of the former Freezer Queen frozen food manufacturing plant in Buffalo, NY. Exploring desk drawers revealed snippets of the company's professional and personal landscape.
Months after the closure of this frozen foods plant, we found the fascinating leftovers of a workplace whose life had been suddenly ended. Irrelevant to the brand's owners and the laid-off workforce after the plant's closure, these paper sediments and tech fossils were not ephemeral enough to be easily trashed. Instead, they clogged the unwanted office furniture and work benches, an interior stickiness that defied the quick and half-hearted effort that had been made to clear and liquidate the building's contents.

Three years ago I had the opportunity to visit a building on Buffalo's south waterfront that for many years had been home to the Freezer Queen manufacturing plant. Freezer Queen's business was frozen foods, and in particular frozen dinners for major grocery retailers like Walmart. While narratives of Buffalo's rise and fall have always focused on big industrial complexes like the steel mills at Lackawanna and the First Ward elevators, the importance of smaller manufacturing facilities like Freezer Queen should not be discounted.

Elevator Alley is a short-format paperback published in November 2010 by Furnace Press, with words by Michael Cook and medium-format photography by Andrew Emond.
Several years ago, I began a project with photographer Andrew Emond, looking at a complex of grain elevators and related industry in Buffalo, NY. We interviewed former and current elevator workers, read up on the history of the North American grain trade, and spent a lot of time rambling through and photographing what was then a huge, idle complex of elevators at Childs Street (one has since been reactivated). That work has culminated in the release of a short book, to which I have contributed the text and Emond has provided the glorious medium-format photography.

Elevator Alley. Words by Michael Cook, Photographs by Andrew Emond. Published by Furnace Press, November, 2010. Trade Paperback, 8 x 7.5”, 60 Pages, color photos. ISBN 978-0-9772742-2 - $20.00 USD
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The 2009 incarnation of Human River, assembled at the south end of Bickford Park. Photo by Trevor Ydreos, from humanriver.ca
For the last five years, people in Toronto have been coming together on a cool Sunday in October to dress in blue and trace the former path of the Garrison Creek, sometimes on foot, sometimes on bicycle. This is the first October since the event's inception that there was no Human River, and I think it's worth taking the time to think about the community consciousness and aspirations that the walk represented, and what it means for the city.

For the last five years, people in Toronto have been coming together on a cool Sunday in October to dress in blue and trace the former path of the Garrison Creek, sometimes on foot, sometimes on bicycle.

The new surface channel at Sherbourne Common in Toronto's East Bayfront. Treated stormwater will eventually flow through this channel to the lake.

Last Friday, Waterfront Toronto unveiled Sherbourne Common, the latest in a string of connected parks that it has been developing along the city's central and eastern harbour. While the grand opening took place in the nearly completed part of the park south of Queen's Quay, work continues on the north side's sweeping water sculptures and raised biofiltration beds, as well as the broader stormwater management facility that will eventually feed treated stormwater to the park. The park represents an innovative and forward-thinking approach to building 'hard' stormwater infrastructure and integrating it into public space, but raises other questions about our approach to rebuilding our urban watersheds.

Last Friday, Waterfront Toronto unveiled Sherbourne Common, the latest in a string of connected parks that it has been developing along the city's central and eastern harbour. While the grand opening took place in the nearly completed part of the park south of Queen's Quay, work continues on the north side's sweeping water sculptures and raised biofiltration beds.

Have a suggestion, question or comment about this article, or anything else on the website? Send an e-mail to the author at michael@vanishingpoint.ca, or use this contact form.

Michael Cook is available to speak to your organization about infrastructure history, lost creeks, current conditions, and opportunities for change in our management of and communication about urban watersheds, and to work with teams proposing or implementing such change. Get in touch.