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Terra Sorta Firma Book Cover

Terra-Sorta-Firma: Reclaiming the Littoral Gradient

Thu, Nov 18/21 – 6:30pm to 8:00pm


Editor: Fadi Masoud (University of Toronto, Daniels Faculty) 

Luna Khirfan (University of Waterloo, School of Planning)  
Xiaoxuan Lu (The University of Hong Kong, Division of Landscape Architecture)  
Ben Mendelsohn (Portland State University, Film and Digital Culture)  
Michael T. Wilson (RAND Corporation) 

Moderated by Brent D. Ryan (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)  

Terra-Sorta-Firma documents the global extent of reclaimed coastal lands and provides a framework for comparison across varying geographies, cultures, and histories. For centuries, cities have grown and expanded onto previously saturated grounds; “reclaiming” land from estuaries, marshes, mangroves, and seabeds. While these artificial coastlines are sites of tremendous real estate, civic, and infrastructural investments, they are also the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

In this book talk, each invited contributor represents the story of urban shoreline transformation in a different geography, from China to Singapore, and from Charlottetown to Lagos to Boston. Taken together, the event and the book aim to render visible the ubiquity and precarity of urban coastal reclamation in an age of increased environmental and economic indeterminacy. 

About the speakers

Fadi Masoud

Fadi Masoud is an assistant professor of Landscape Architecture and Urbanism at the University of Toronto and the director of the Centre for Landscape Research. His research, teaching, and design work focuses on the relationships between environmental systems, design, and instrumental planning policy tools. Masoud currently leads research projects on climate adaptive urban and landscape design, novel resilient urban codes, and the future of metropolitan public open space. Prior to joining the University of Toronto, Masoud held teaching and research appointments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was trained and practiced as a planner, landscape architect, and urban designer. Masoud currently sits on Waterfront Toronto’s Design Review Panel and is a member of the City of Toronto’s Urban Flooding Working Group.

Luna Khirfan

Luna Khirfan is an associate professor at the School of Planning, the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada. Her work underscores climate justice, particularly local communities’ engagement in adapting the built environment to climate change. She transforms the conventional “participatory design” role of the charrette into a method of data collection and a mechanism of knowledge exchange with local communities. Her most recent research project investigates the daylighting (de-culverting) of urban streams and re-integrating them in the urban landscape for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Dr. Khirfan is lead author for Chapter 6: “Cities, settlements and key infrastructure” as part of the Working Group II contribution to the upcoming IPCC Sixth Assessment Report.

Xiaoxuan Lu

Xiaoxuan Lu is an assistant professor in the Division of Landscape Architecture at the University of Hong Kong, where she teaches landscape history and theory, and design studios. She has practiced in the fields of architecture and landscape architecture at Turenscape in Beijing, West 8 in Rotterdam, Bjarke Ingels Group in Copenhagen, and SWA in Los Angeles. For Turenscape, she recently worked as the project manager for Zaryadye Park international competition, which envisions Zaryadye Park as an urban ecosystem that provides multiple eco-services to the city and people.

Ben Mendelsohn Headshot

Ben Mendelsohn is an assistant professor of Film and Digital Culture at Portland State University. His research and filmmaking focus on the intersections of visual culture, ecology, and critical urban studies. His writing has appeared in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East; The Brooklyn Rail; and Public Books. His films have been screened at the Rockaway Film Festival, the Block Museum, and Vox Populi Gallery among others.


Michael T. Wilson

Michael T. Wilson is an associate policy researcher at the RAND Corporation and a registered landscape architect. His work with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard, and Federal Emergency Management Agency among other sponsors focuses on energy and the environment, risk and uncertainty, and disaster recovery, as well as data analysis and visualization. Wilson’s prior professional experience ranges from large-scale economic development and urban infrastructure projects in Toronto, St. Louis, and Austin, to long-term planning in the New York-New Jersey region after Hurricane Sandy. He has published research on emergency management, stormwater planning, resilient building standards, and flood insurance. Since 2013, he has had a mayoral appointment to the Boston Conservation Commission, which regulates the city’s urban development in the floodplain as well as wetland, riverine, and coastal ecosystems. 

Brent D. Ryan

Brent D. Ryan is the head of the City Design and Development Group and Associate Professor of Urban Design and Public Policy in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. His research focuses on the aesthetics and policies of contemporary urban design, particularly with respect to pressing issues like deindustrialization and climate change. Ryan’s first book Design After Decline: How America rebuilds shrinking cities, was one of Planetizen’s ten best urban planning books of 2012, and his second book The Largest Art: a measured manifesto for plural urbanism, was published by MIT Press in 2017. Ryan conducts urban design research and practice around the world, including China, Ukraine, Russia, India, and the United States. Current research includes a study of sustainability in Siberian cities funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, and a study of riverfront industrial redevelopment in Kolkata, India.