Imagined Toxic Futures

Contributed date

March 1, 2020 - 2:54pm

Critical Commentary

This is a created experimental visualization. Visualization 2/2 plays with text and image.

The source for this visualization is a FACT SHEET created by Kristin Shrader-Frechette,   Professor of Biological Sciences at Notre Dame and Pasadena resident. The FACT SHEET argues for immediate and robust environmental testing of this site, once a weapons-development facility, and against the city council's fast-tracked approval to develop a multi-use  housing project at this location. 

To create this visualization I highlighted text that mobilizes past/present/future toxic imaginaries. I then erased the text, leaving behind colored boxes and distributed these boxes to create this image. These actions allowed a temporal vocabulary inventory to be constructed that reveals what has been erased.

I am struck by the differences between Visualization 3 and 4. Toxicity is completely absent from the developer's language. They minimize the past, and turn history into an isolated, discrete event, with no apparent impact on the present or future other than as a commemorative occassion.

The created image in this visualization reveals a toxic temporal map where past, present and future are imbricated, laminated through language that highlights contamination, danger, cancer, and liability protection. 

The developer presents the site as an centerpiece of an imagined multi-use, multi-cultural, publicly accessible neighborhood. They invent this space as an idyllic liveable place. Yet this image is one vehemently contested by community activists who challenge the notion of liveability by reinserting the past, the unknown present and uncertain future. 

One commentator asked about socio-economic class and community activism. The public face of this protest is a Pasadena resident and holds an endowed chair at Notre Dame. Her worked addresses environmental justice. Class has not been highlighted in the protest. Children's rights and family rights come to the fore. On the other side, one powerful argument put to the city council has come from a group who support development and position themselves as housing-rights activists. This group seems only to be affiliated with this singular project and is represented by a single letter submitted to the city council on behalf of the project. The developers highlight low- and middle-income units in their language. The actual breakdown is:"481 market rate apts, 23 moderate income...and 46 low income apts."

Currently the project is awaiting a decision by the State on testing. Activists are fundraising, the debate is in an inactive state. Class and how area housing needs are addressed in future debates are issues I will attend to as the status of the project unfolds. 


This visualization is part of the Visualizing Toxic Places Design Project 2020  and Place as Palimpsest photo essay.

Cite as

Anonymous, "Imagined Toxic Futures", contributed by , Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 5 March 2020, accessed 24 February 2024.