Sustainability and Its Discontents: Wetlands Restoration as a Mega-Infrastructural Endeavor

Authors: Deike Peters*, SUA
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Urban Geography, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: ecological restoration, sustainability, infrastructure megaprojects
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 41
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


About 95% of California’s coastal wetlands have either been destroyed or are highly degraded due to agricultural and urban development. The remaining 200,000 acres still fulfill important functions for threatened species, flood control, water filtration and carbon sequestration. In Los Angeles, 600 of the originally 2000-acre Ballona Wetlands remain as a heavily degraded yet ecologically and recreationally important open space. My article tells the story of the highly contested future development plans for this precious resource. In late 2019, the state published a restoration plan that would remove millions of yards of infill and concrete levees from the channeled creek to create a new tidal wetland while also providing many new miles of elevated multi-use paths. Ecological restoration projects essentially amount to “follow-up” infrastructure megaprojects designed to undo environmental harm done to habitats during earlier stages of urbanization. Yet they are not typically critiqued as mega-infrastructural projects in their own right. Taking a discourse analytical approach that evaluates multiple stakeholders’ perspectives via document analysis and interviews, I reveal highly contested notions over the “sustainability” of the state’s eco-engineering-oriented efforts – an approach which has been deemed successful for other areas along the coast but may end up creating a new landscape that in fact differs from what was historically present, thus questioning the very notion of ecological “restoration”. (Fieldwork is ongoing as I have lived in the area for the past 12 years.)

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