Design to Rewild

The landscape of retreat along the shores of the Gaspésie Peninsula is an opportunity to rewild the shore, transforming the lines of domestic frontage into a verdurous communal space. Rewilding is a kind of landscape reconciliation and emerges because designing and implementing “plans” across miles of shore is not only untenable, but also not a wise use of public funds. Public funding to support the re- location of homes and the purchase of terrains at higher elevations is a respectful response, which leads to a strengthened community that can continue to use the shore, without private ownership. In Sainte Flavie, a considered approach to design is found in the rewilding of the land that is left behind.

Rewilding is a concept and a framework that has grown in recognition, and broadly refers to an approach to conservation that enables natural forces and processes to dominate. Typically, rewilding hinges on vast scales and the reintroduction of top predators, and other key-stone animal species. A more inclusive definition might also include some of the most diverse habitats on the planet, the species of the edge. The definition that seems to capture the potential of the manifold approaches to wilding as a practice offers the following:

Rewilding is a plastic term that has been applied to a range of visions and land management practices. It has multiple meanings. These usually share a long-term aim of maintaining, or increasing, biodiversity, while reducing the impact of present and past human interventions through the restoration of species and ecological processes. 

Those concerned with the trends in species decline might see how current land use regimes might benefit from rewilding, while those concerned with sea level rise might see the necessity of retreat. Rarely, however, are they brought together.

The changing tidal floodplain that snakes along the Gaspésie offers an incredible opportunity to reorient land use patterns to achieve multispecies benefit. Rewilding is an alternative to single crop farms, offering instead foraging, honey, and an increased tourism that recreates along a wide interconnected shore. At once, other inhabitants of the shore will begin to thrive; seaweed covered rocks, limpets, snails, kelp, wrack, mussels, and barnacles proliferate. A pesticide-free grass and shrub-land takes over tilled fields, as birds and insects multiply and fields hum with so much life they’ve become an attraction to other grazing, roaming creatures. Plant life blooms, suckers, and reiterates as woody roots structure the soil, holding it in knitted wracks and fibrous roots that pulse in between heavy floods. This might seem especially optimistic, but there is nothing as powerful as an image of hope growing on the horizon of the present toward other possible futures.

Looking closely at the land use in the intertidal zone reveals
a dual nature that lies in the fabrication of permanent settlement. In Sainte-Flavie, impermanence is a kind of rewilding of adapta- tions that defined the region in advance of Europeanization. Prior
to settler colonialism, people living in coastal drainage along Big Waterway were Algonquian speakers. The powerful Algonquin confederacy dominated the regions from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to New York, and was recognized as “fierce warriors, shrewd traders, and sophisticated negotiators.”The Gaspesian Mi'kmaq are part of the confederacy known for their fishing skills and navigation abilities in rivers and crossing open water. They resided only seasonally in shoreline villages, where they fished for cod and collected shellfish, gathered nuts and berries, but recognized that the floodplain was not predictable enough for structured agriculture. Summer was the time to gather, salt, and store food supplies for the coldest winter months. Seasonal change brings a scattering of hunting camps in the Fall, while Spring was the time for collecting maple sap and moving back to the coastal villages to fish the rivers for salmon and sturgeon. In relation to the North American continent, landscape provides a unique window across 13,000 years of native American occupation and the varied adaptation essential to coping with the array of natural environments. One of the most understood dynamics of set- tlement is traced to watersheds, rivers and shores, the mysteries of lagoons, marshes, shallows, and creeks that teem with masses of fish that rely on water weeds, reeds, and thickets. The subject is an enormous one, a set of interconnected, fundamental questions about the exploitation of floodplains.

The Maule River estuary outfalls at Constitución, one of the hardest hit communities following the tsunami in 2010. Extreme pulses of inundation are common to estuarine environments where marine sand meets river silt. At present, many estuaries along the Chilean coast are infilled by coastal concretization that intervenes between marine and terrestrial realms. The wave action following an earthquake brought silty inundation, erosion, and deposition to the estuarine coast, a disturbance that is neither unprecedented nor particularly unique. The lineage of estuary formation across time is described by paleo-geological analysis which confirms that the southwest coast of Chile is a remarkably active area on t

Rewilding is an act of reconciliation that includes the past and present to respect the future. It acknowledges how the change in land use is not fixed but can be reset and designed for a more inclusive future. Rewilding takes human care and keeping, what Fortin refers to as “participatory democracy” that does not impose an order on residents but creates opportunities.

The opportunity that Fortin and his team are currently developing sidesteps the sluggish buyout process, and the lengthy reportage of study. It is over ten years since the fateful storm, and the clammer of tidal erosion is constant. In 2021, as I was writing this case, I received news of an astonishing program: Sainte-Flavie was auctioning houses along the shore to fund their own residential retreat. Appealing to out-of-towners with disposable incomes, the plan was to sell off parcels without insurance to those willing to take the risk. The only caveat was that if the house is knocked down, destroyed,
or otherwise made unfit, demolishing and clearing the land was the owners responsibility, effectively outsourcing the costs of unbuilding.

The tidal force exerted by the moon is strongest on the side of the Earth facing the moon. The force is weakest on the side of the Earth facing the opposite direction. These differences in gravitational force allow the ocean to bulge outward. These bulges in the ocean waters are known as high tides. The high tide on the side of the Earth facing the moon is called the high-high tide. The high tide caused by the bulge on the opposite side of the Earth is called the low-high tide.

A rupture twenty-five kilometers deep beneath the Nazca plate, produced the earthquake, triggering a tsunami that traveled along the fault at tectonic junctions. The magnitudinous waves spread beneath the coast until making landfall along the shores between Constitución and Concepción. Magnitude is relative power, and its measurement takes into account the energy released at the source. By comparison, intensity is the strength of the shaking produced by the magnitude.