Dr Stephanie Wakefield

Miami Forever: urbanism in the back loop

Funding period: 1 July 2018 – 1 July 2021
Type of funding: Postdoctoral Research Fellowship

Stephanie Wakefield is an urban geographer whose work critically analyzes the technical, political, and philosophical transformations of urban life in the Anthropocene. She is currently Assistant Professor and Director of the Human Ecology program at Life University, where is designing a new experiential learning-based undergraduate degree for the Anthropocene. Prior to joining Life, she was an Urban Studies Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow based at Florida International University. She is the author of Anthropocene Back Loop: Experimentation in Unsafe Operating Space and co-editor of Resilience in the Anthropocene: Governance and Politics at the End of the World. She is now completing a new book, The City in the Anthropocene: Resilience, Infrastructure, and Imagination at Miami’s End, which critically explores experimental sea rise adaptations in Miami, Florida and, through these, suggests new limits and possibilities for critical urban theory and practice in the age of climate change.

@stephwakefield_ | Website

As part of her USF Fellowship, Dr Wakefield also received a USF Knowledge Mobilisation Award in November 2021 (see below).

USF Knowledge Mobilisation Award: Building New Urban Skills in the Anthropocene

Building New Urban Skills in the Anthropocene emerges from my USF-supported research on experimental imaginaries and infrastructure emerging in “sea rise ground zero,” Miami, FL, and related co-organization with artists/curators Gean Moreno and Natalia Zuluaga of a Miami futures scenario workshop. Along with governmental attempts to keep real estate markets afloat, this research has explored how collective consideration of Miami’s potential climate changed futures—its flooded streets, invasive animals, shrinking access to fresh drinking water, soaring inequality—is leading poor and working class urban dwellers to a shared intuition: that, to resist neoliberal-imposed social-ecological precarity, there is a need to engage materially and pragmatically with Miami’s transforming environments by learning old and new survival skills for the urban Anthropocene. Operationalizing this recurring sentiment, Building New Urban Skills in the Anthropocene, a two-part collaboration with Moreno, Zuluaga, and Everglades wilderness survival skills teacher Jack Shealy –a fourth-generation Gladesman who teaches eco-cultural skills (swamp navigation, fishing pole carving, invasive species handling) to adults and youth in the Everglades—encompasses:

1) An Anthropocene Urban Survival Skills Training: the first hands-on, public workshop on techniques for surviving, inhabiting, and making use of Miami’s future climate changed environments. While “survival skills” often evokes visions of returning to “lost” skills from unchanging environments, in the urban Anthropocene skills need to —and are being— reinvented. To better understand, contribute to, and help share this emergent pragmatic urban know-how, the training is being co-designed by Shealy, Zuluaga, Moreno, and myself around a “survival” skill –tentatively desalination— that Shealy’s expertise and our co-produced urban future scenarios suggest is crucial for South Florida’s aqua-urban future. The day-long event, planned for summer 2022 in Miami’s Tropical Park, will cover the skill’s applications, relevance to urban futures, and hands-on interactive exercises.

2) A Miami-based Anthropocene Urban Survival Skills Field Guide. This waterproof, pocket-sized guide uses illustrations and images to pass along the skill identified through the above collaborative process. Inspired by the design aesthetic and visual language of wilderness survival guides and artist Yona Friedman’s schematic how-to manuals, the field guide is an open-format printed piece—distributed at local bookshops, online for purchase, and as a free download on the NAME Publications and backloop.tv websites—that invites future additions and contributions.

This project responds to a specific local needs and desires in Miami. But, connected with my work developing outdoor, experiential Anthropocene pedagogy, it also sketches a prototype of a new form of knowledge production and dissemination for identifying emergent material know-how generated within altered, degraded, invaded, and flooded urban environments— one produced by, and for, people grappling with them. Tools to refute dominant imaginaries in which the poor’s agency is limited to enduring inevitable disaster, both training and field guide are designed for diverse, non-expert audiences of all backgrounds and ages. This prototype will be replicable in other cities according to their own climate change futures.