Open-pit cities – scarred urban geography


Below is a series of amazing (and in some cases disturbing) aerial images of cities around the world whose destiny is (or has been) at least in part tied to open-pit mining or quarrying. While these mines and quarries may produce riches while operating, their legacy can have lasting environmental impacts on the city and its residents. Just ask Butte, Montana about the aftereffects of the Berkeley Open Pit Copper Mine. Despite its bucolic outward appearance in the winter time scene below, the leftover lake is America’s largest Superfund pollution clean-up site and threatens the entire area’s groundwater supply with heavy metals and acidic water.

Butte, Montana - Source: natgeocreative.com

Butte, Montana – Berkeley Pit (copper) – Source: natgeocreative.com

Another view of Butte, MT - Source: cfwep.org

Another view of Butte, MT – Source: cfwep.org

Mirny, Russia - Source: cassandralegacy.blogspot.com

Mirny, Russia – Mir Mine (diamonds) – Source: cassandralegacy.blogspot.com

Source: super.com.au

Kalgoorlie, Australia – Super Pit (gold) – Source: super.com.au

Slat Lake City - Bingham Canyon (copper) - Source: itrcweb.org

Slat Lake City, Utah – Bingham Canyon Pit (world’s largest copper) – Source: itrcweb.org

In some cases, such as Hibbing, Minnesota below, and Cerro de Pasco, Peru following, portions of (or the entire city) had to be relocated to accommodate the mining operation.

Hibbing, Minnesota - Hull Rust Mahoning Mine (iron ore) - Source: epicroadtraips.us

Hibbing, Minnesota – Hull Rust Mahoning Mine (world’s largest iron ore) – Source: epicroadtraips.us

Cerro de Pasco, Peru (zinc and lead) - Source: treehugger.com

Cerro de Pasco, Peru (zinc and lead) – Source: treehugger.com

Rogers city, Michigan - world's largest limestone quarry - Source: presqueisleledger.com

Rogers City, Michigan – Port Calcite (world’s largest limestone quarry) – Source: presqueisleledger.com

Bisbee, Arizona (copper) - Source: AirPhotoNA.com

Bisbee, Arizona – Lavender Mine (copper) – Source: AirPhotoNA.com

Chicago, Illinois - Thornton Quarry (limestone) - Source: en.wikipedia.org

Chicago, Illinois – Thornton Quarry (limestone) – Source: en.wikipedia.org

Aside from the obvious negative visual, environmental, and aesthetic impacts that must be overcome, open-pit mining disturbs the geography continuity of the urban form by disrupting transportation, utility, and infrastructure networks. For urban planners, this can be an epic challenge that must involve input and feedback from geologists; mining, civil, and environmental engineers; water resource professionals; landscape architects; and many other disciplines. Without involving all stakeholders, the challenges may overpower any and all efforts to coexist with such an enormous land use as an open-pit mine.

UPDATE on 12/2/13: In his comments responding to this post on Linkedin, Maurice provided some very interesting and unique ideas for restoring, rehabilitating, reusing, and revitializing such scarred landscapes. Any planning efforts during the review of a proposed open-pit mining operation must include a discussion on what happens to the site after the mining operation has ended – preferably in a sustainable manner. To do otherwise would be pure folly. Thank you, Maurice for the reminder.

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