Unfolding Wasteland

A Thick Mapping Approach to the Transformation of Charleroi’s Industrial Landscape

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‘The land, so heavily charged with traces and with past readings, seems very similar to a palimpsest’ (Corboz 1985: 190). Any territory is the result of multiple and simultaneous processes; some are taking place spontaneously, others as the direct result of human interventions. (Secchi 1990; Secchi and Viganò 2009) For urbanists, a territory is a constructed physical and mental entity, where several socio-economic and cultural processes generated a juxtaposition of urban elements that at first sight seem to lack any coherence (De Meulder 2008). Nevertheless, a closer look allows an understanding into the ordering logics that determine through time the continuous production and reproduction of space (Harvey 2001). These logics are embodied in the territory itself, making it comparable to a ‘palimpsest’, in which the traces of recent and ancient modifications ‘lie’ (Corboz 1985: 190). As Vittoria Di Palma suggests, each action on the territory, either good or bad, leaves traces and ‘we cannot wish them away’ (Di Palma 2014: 01). Wasteland, in the form of abandoned built and un-built spaces, can also be seen as the remains of ancient transformation (Furlan 2017). An a posteriori mapping observation of these remains, as latent elements being temporarily unable to undergo transformation, allows us to understand what resists the flow of time, as well as what adapts or opposes itself to it (Viganò 2013). The presence of these traces can then be interpreted as signs of change. Consequently, mapping today’s wastelands is instrumental to unfolding historical landscape in transformation throughout a thick description in time and space. Considering the landscape as a dynamic entity whose spatial features are permanently emerging and constantly undergoing modification (De Meulder 2008:29), it is important to assume that the processes of transformation are grounded in a given space in ways that are both geographically and historically specific. Therefore, this chapter proposes to illustrate and test a thick mapping description through the case study of Charleroi’s post-industrial landscape. The region of Charleroi is situated in the centre of Belgium and was historically manipulated to accommodate first coal-mine, glass and steel industries and then the wasteland generated by the shrinking industry (Fig. 1). Investigating Charleroi’s wastelands and related landscape gives a unique opportunity to explore thick mapping as an approach to unfolding cultural context and meaning of historical landscape in transformation.