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Wolff-image1

Parading floats at the Sambadrome / AP

As finalists for this year’s Wheelwright Prize gathered at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) to present their research, Gia Wolff, the inaugural winner of the $100,000 traveling fellowship, returned after two years of funded research to give a lecture. The Brooklyn-based architect and GSD alumna won the prize for Floating City: The Community-based Architecture of Parade Floats. Her talk recast the famous Carnaval of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as an allegory of the city itself.

When Wolff began her research, she knew very little about carnival traditions, or the infrastructure, culture, and community behind the spectacle. She learned that mapping a float’s route through the streets of Mangueira by drawing a set of precise arrows on an aerial photo wasn’t helping her figure things out. Carnaval “is off the map.” In the end, it’s not about getting the sequencing and choreography of floats in the Sambadrome, a linear stadium, exactly right–“it is not really about that, but everything else.”

The first surprising notion was that in Rio, carnival is not an event as much as a practice. Its duration and influence span more than a single show or the arena of a stadium. Wolff refers to this as the “cyclical nature of Carnaval.” It pervades the urban fabric and is deeply embedded in the culture. Preparations begin long before the performance. Samba schools practice the music and dance throughout the year and the Carnavalesco designs the floats months in advance. Costumes and floats are constructed in old warehouses, disguising the work up until the eleventh hour–no small task for a float the size of a building. In fact, the floats can’t take final form until they enter the parading ground of the Sambadrome. After months of rehearsal, the “perfect image of Carnaval” is fulfilled only during the parade. It is as if sneaking a peak would jinx the final picture.

The Samba schools also operate under a fierce system of competition. Wolff likens the organization of the schools to a soccer league. Three tiers with varying degrees of monetary and cultural capital all participate in the carnival with their respective floats. But while the first and second-tier schools parade in the Sambadrome designed by Oscar Niemeyer and built in 1984, the third tier moves through the streets, the original parading ground. This reminds the audience that the Sambadrome is little more than a glorified avenue, constructed and reserved for a single purpose and only a few days each year. The surprising permanence of this structure contradicts its relative temporary function as a street, and the otherwise pervasive nature of Carnaval.

But what really captured Wolff’s imagination were the immense and utterly spectacular floats, which set the whole parade into motion. It’s the float that drives the performance, draws the crowd, consumes much of the labor, and occupies the street. The Portuguese term for float is carro alegórico, “the allegorical car.” But she considered, “could it also be an allegory for the city itself?”

If not the city, perhaps its components. When floats “move through the city like mobile buildings,” the sheer size of the floats–in this case, some of the largest in the world–transform the exterior realm of a street into a new interior. These temporary structures are made with steel frame, wooden construction, and foam, all in the name of a thematic story, which the float, the carro alegórico, tells. The final transformational act, however, that makes the “allegorical car” into a live spectacle and truly gives scale to the construction is the addition of people.

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Carro alegórico carioca (a Brazilian “allegorical car” in Rio de Janeiro) / Gia Wolff

We see an image of a large, crane-like machine lifting and lowering elaborately-dressed participants into position, to become part of the float itself. Even though the performers appeared grossly out of scale, they gave the float a dimension at the “unexpected architectural scale.” And then we see a short video clip from the Sambadrome that features a boat and rowers at the center of a large blue tarp. The tarp is suspended from the hips of the performers standing in dispersed perforations, and their coordinated hip-swaying is making waves in the sea. The objects represented are everyday objects, but Wolff promises, their performance transcends the urban scale. In this way, she observes, Carnaval presents “hyper-reality as a new sort of normal reality.”

This guest post is by Lara Mehling, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

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Vista Hermosa Park (met AB 1881 and LID requirements) / Mia Lehrer + Associates

For the past century, much of California has relied on an inherently fragile and unreliable imported water infrastructure. While the current crisis attracts the attention of the media and public, the environmental community and government have been actively pursuing solutions for decades. These efforts have resulted in long-term water conservation. For example, Los Angeles has seen a dramatic increase in population since the 1970’s, but water use has actually declined, with the largest drops in use during periods of drought and recession. Efforts are now focused on decreasing demand for imported water by increasing local supplies. A few weeks ago, we wrote about ways each of us as individuals can conserve water in our landscapes by copying nature and making choices appropriate to our local micro-climates and water availability. In addition to the smaller-scale decisions we make in our own landscapes, progressive state and local policies are helping California to better conserve its limited water resources.

Here are a few across the state:

Water Conservation in Landscaping Act of 2006 (AB 1881)
This Assembly Bill spurred the creation of the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance, which established maximum allowed landscape water budgets and mandated low water-use plants and efficient irrigation strategies. AB 1881 encourages us to capture and retain on site stormwater and use recycled water. The ordinance also requires soil assessments, soil management plans, and landscape maintenance plans to accompany landscape plans submitted through municipal permit processes.

Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (AB 551, in progress)
If passed, Assembly Bill 551 will incentivize the use of currently-vacant private land for urban agriculture. Private landowners could have their property assessed at a lower property tax rate — based on agricultural use rather than its market value — in exchange for ensuring its use for urban agriculture for 10 years. Increasing local agricultural production where recycled water is readily available can reduce water and energy use in food production and increase our cities’ self-sufficiency and resilience in the face of potential natural disasters.

In Southern California:

Recycled Water
The Los Angeles County Bureau of Sanitation and Orange County Water District (OCWD) began recycling water in the 1960s and 1970s, respectively, for groundwater recharge and non-potable uses — or uses other than for drinking, such as irrigation or industry. In 2008, the OCWD district began recharging its groundwater supplies with water treated to levels above drinking water standards for reuse as potable water. A big push to educate the public about the process and its benefits smoothed the transition. The district is now expanding production from 70 to 100 million gallons per day, or enough to supply nearly one-third of Orange County’s 3.1 million people. Los Angeles, which delayed their water recycling efforts for drinking water after negative PR alarmed the public, is now planning to expand their recycled water program, including groundwater recharge, by 2035.

In Los Angeles:

Proposition O (2004)
Los Angeles voters overwhelmingly passed Prop O to use $500 million to fund projects to:
•    Protect rivers, lakes, beaches, and the ocean;
•    Conserve and protect drinking water and other water sources;
•    Reduce flooding and use neighborhood parks to decrease polluted runoff;
•    Capture, clean up, and reuse stormwater.

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Peck Canyon Park, San Pedro (funded with Prop 0 funds ) / Mia Lehrer + Associates

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Los Angeles Zoo Parking Lot bio-infiltration, funded by Prop 0 / Mia Lehrer + Associates

Low Impact Development Ordinance (2012)
Los Angeles’ LID Ordinance ensures that new and redevelopment projects recharge groundwater aquifers to increase future water supply; protect water quality downstream; reduce flood risk by keeping rainwater on site; remove nutrients, bacteria, and metals from stormwater runoff; and reduce and slow water that runs off of properties during storms.

But there is still much more we can do. Caroline Mini, who wrote her PhD dissertation at the University of California last year, shows how urban residential water use in Los Angeles is largely determined by income. Wealthier neighborhoods on average use three times more water than poorer neighborhoods. This is despite the fact that most wealthier neighborhoods inhabit tree-covered hillsides with ample available soil moisture, while less fortunate residents occupy dryer, flatter, and less shaded areas. Better-off communities have the opportunity to use their wealth to establish well-designed, resource-efficient, and beautiful landscapes that will become models in water conservation. And cities and counties have the opportunity to create green infrastructure projects that add tree canopy and increase permeability to regain the sponge quality of soil in those low-land neighborhoods that will benefit most.

Agriculture accounts for 80 percent water of the used by people in our state. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pacific Institute published an issue brief last year illustrating the massive water conservation potential that could come from more efficient agricultural practices. Just using the most up-to-date irrigation technologies and applying only the amount of water crops need could reduce agricultural water use by 17-22 percent. In 1975, Masanobu Fukuoka wrote The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming, describing dry rice farming techniques that matched or out-produced his most productive neighbors. This poetic story about working with nature instead of against it to grow successive crops with little effort is more relevant than ever today.

More thoughtful planning for both rural agricultural and urban water use is needed. We can determine which crops and farming methods best serve our regional and exported food needs while further conserving water. We can advance urban water efficiency plans, which could generate savings that can negate the current deficit, while creating greener, more resilient and self-reliant cities.

This guest post is by Mia Lehrer, FASLA, founder of Mia Lehrer + Associates, and Claire Latané, ASLA, senior associate, Mia Lehrer + Associates.

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Visitors to a National Park in West Virginia / WPublic Broadcasting

At the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., U.S. Interior department Secretary Sally Jewell said national parks had their highest visitation rates ever in 2014, with more than 400 million visits, and those numbers are expected to only increase in the next year, after the launch of President Obama’s Every Kid in a Park program, which will eliminate park fees for every 4th grade kid and their family for a year. “This sends a message that parks are not just for wealthy white people, but for everyone.”

National parks contributed $26 billion directly to the economy last year, said Jewell. And a few years ago, the entire outdoor recreation economy — covering everything from tent purchases to ski rentals — was estimated to be valued at $646 billion, and responsible for 6.1 million jobs.

These numbers show how outdoor jobs aren’t just related to extractive industries, like fracking. “Communities can chose between jobs in the extractive and recreation and conservation industries. It’s just not about extraction.”

To preserve and grow the outdoor recreation economy, she called for a more thoughtful balance between conservation and development. She said one way to achieve this is “acting at the landscape level.” For example, depending on the site, a place may be “appropriate or inappropriate for development; there are certainly places that are too special to develop.” Landscape level planning, Jewell argued, can help create “long term health for both habitats and communities.”

Other speakers weighed in on the outdoor recreation economy:

Paul Smith, a venture capitalist, is behind a group called Conservation for Economic Growth, which argues that open spaces have a direct economic impact. “They have an economic value beyond their tourism value.” He pointed to how real estate with a view of the water or another open space is always worth more than properties without; how a higher-level floor in an apartment building is always worth more than one on a lower floor. “There’s a value to wonderful views.” Smith said the Commerce Department is expected to launch a study exploring open space’s value.

Margaret Walls, senior fellow, Resources for the Future, said with climate change, the scenic natural systems that also provide crucial ecosystem services are only going to be worth more. The gorgeous wetland that protects a community from storms, or that scenic river headwaters that improves water quality, will be worth more the more they are needed.

Cam Bresinger, NEMO Equipment, said “numbers are powerful” and should be used by progressive candidates to promote the outdoor recreation economy in legislatures. “Give them the data they can use to build the argument.” It should be that if a representative is from a part of the country where there are lots of ski resorts or hiking trails, it will be “inconceivable if they don’t mention this.”

Lastly, someone from the audience proposed more rigorous studies on the health benefits of nature. Specifically, he called for a National Institute of Health (NIH)-funded study comparing the benefits of drugs, therapy, or exposure to nature for veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Vets with severe PTSD could be given the opportunity to join the Conservation Corps, where we could study how well they respond to the medicinal effects of being out in nature.” One day, national parks could be considered part of our healthcare system, too.

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SXSW Eco light art installation / SXSW Eco

South by Southwest (SXSW) Eco, which has grown from a small off-shoot of the well-known SXSW music festival into a major sustainable design conference, is now looking for the “businesses, designs, and technologies that will drive global change” for its early October conference in Austin, Texas. SXSW Eco looks like the perfect place for landscape architects to present their innovative ideas, as this year the focus will be on architecture and the built environment; art and design; smart cities and transportation; and water and resources.

The conference organizers are looking for “content that inspires, educates, and informs, providing motivation as well as the tools to take action.” They want a real “diversity in perspective, opinion, and representation.” Furthermore, “self-promotion and advertorial presentations are not well-received.” Session proposals could include panels, workshops, debates, or any other creative format.

According to Forbes magazine, “creating that marketplace for exchange of ideas and progressive thinking is what South by Southwest Eco is all about.”

Submit your session proposals by May 1. Using the “PanelPicker” tool, the SXSW community will then vote on which sessions will make it into the conference.

For those just looking to attend some conferences and get some new ideas this spring or summer, here are a few of interest: Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) in Dallas, Texas (April 29 – May 2); Lightfair International in New York, NY (May 3 – 7); The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s Second Wave of Modernism III: Leading with Landscape in Toronto, Canada (May 21-24); International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) World Congress in St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia (June 7-15, 2015); and the Society for Ecological Restoration’s World Conference in Manchester, England (August 23 – 27).

See hundreds of upcoming conferences at ASLA’s continuously-updated free resource: Conferences for Landscape Architects.

Even the playground will look natural / Photo: Nelson Byrd Woltz, The Houston Chronicle

Master plan for Memorial Park, Houston / Photo: Nelson Byrd Woltz, The Houston Chronicle

Council OKs Plan to Reimagine City’s Marquee Green SpaceThe Houston Chronicle, 4/1/15
“The joggers, hikers, cyclists, equestrians and ballplayers who use Memorial Park will see the city’s marquee green space reborn over the next two decades, a process furthered with the Houston City Council’s unanimous approval Wednesday of a new master plan for the park.”

Beijing to Upgrade Green Belts to Combat PM2.5People’s Daily, China, 4/2/15
“This year, Beijing plans to upgrade some of the city’s green belts with plants that have strong dust retention ability, in an effort to combat PM2.5 and improve air quality. Eighteen types of plants have been selected for the trial program.”

In Chicago, Parks Are on the Upswing  – Grist, 4/8/15
“For three decades, residents begged for a verdant space where their children might play or where they could sit for a brief reprieve. Finally, weary of waiting for the Chicago Park District to cobble together such a site, they chose to do it themselves.”

California is Naturally Brown and Beautiful. Why Are Our Yards Green? – The Los Angeles Times, 4/9/15
“A few years ago, my wife and I decided to replace the mangy bit of lawn in front of our house with drought-tolerant dymondia, which was supposed to spread into an interconnected ground cover. Less water, no mowing, I thought. Easy call. But the dymondia struggled, and seemed to ebb in the hot summer and flow in the cooler, wetter winter.”

Hargreaves Presents Four “Approaches” to Downtown East Commons – The Star Tribune, 4/9/15
“Landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Associates for the first time revealed images for The Commons, a future park in downtown Minneapolis shouldering high expectations from the public for recreation and commercial growth in the area.”

Water Management Key for Urban Planning The Korea Herald, 4/10/15
“As water, life’s most critical resource, becomes scarce, strategic and advanced water management is emerging as a key policy task for cities. Cities in Denmark are spearheading the best practices in prioritizing water management in their urban planning policy development.”

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Native plants at private residence in Los Angeles / Tom Lamb Photography

California is a big state. To offer water saving techniques, we first need to understand the state’s unique climates and ecosystems. In broad terms, we have South Coast, South Inland, North Coast, Central Coast, Central Valley, mountain and desert climates. The Sunset Western Garden Book divides our state into 17 planting zones according to factors such as elevation, temperatures, and coastal influence. In Southern California alone, we have the Mediterranean South Coast region, the semi-arid Inland Empire, and the dry Mohave and Sonora Deserts. In our mild climates where almost anything grows if you just add water, we have spoiled ourselves into depending on imported water with an uncertain future. Now we have to adapt to rely on locally-available sources.

This is tough but doable in Los Angeles when we get an average 14 inches of rain a year. It’s tougher during the current drought when it can rain an average of just 5 inches per year. While many areas rely on harvested rainwater, we have only one rainy season in Los Angeles and it falls in the winter. That means any rainwater we store needs to last through seven months of hotter and hotter temperatures.

In addition to our climate challenges, urban Los Angeles is covered by impervious surfaces that create heat islands and interrupt groundwater recharge. But in a state where residences use nearly half of urban water — and landscapes consume over half of single-family home water use — there is a lot we can still do to save water through residential landscape design:

Copy nature: In nature, creeks and streams collect rain that falls on the mountains and hillsides. Trees and vegetation soak up the water, shade the soil, and drop leaves that decompose to become habitat, a protective layer of mulch, and eventually soil. The soil acts like a sponge, holding water for long enough periods of time for native plants to make it through the summer. You can mimic nature at home by reducing impermeable surfaces, grading to keep rainwater on site, planting climate-appropriate shade trees and plants, and adding a thick layer of mulch to conserve soil moisture.

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Shade trees at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum’s Nature Gardens / Mia Lehrer + Associates

Choose beneficial plants: Plant things that feed you or provide habitat for birds and beneficial insects, especially pollinators. Our food crops, whether at home or in the Central Valley, depend on bees to bear food. Choose plants that are adapted to your area’s climatic conditions. Check out the principles of permaculture and companion planting to encourage a healthy garden ecology. Test plants and look around your neighborhood to see what works with little care before planning your entire garden.

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Garden with plants for pollinators at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum’s Nature Garden / Mia Lehrer + Associates

Check your technology: If you have an irrigation system, check it for leaks and for overwatering. Look for rebates to convert older systems to more efficient drip irrigation or microspray systems. Install a rain gauge to stop the system when it rains. Research your plants’ water needs and check your timer or controller to make sure you aren’t over watering, which is shockingly common. If you are, wean your plants down to a less frequent watering schedule. Reuse your greywater in the landscape. Water from the washing machine or shower is a great way to irrigate fruit trees, water-loving shade trees, and small lawn areas for children and pets. Experts can install systems that direct the water from your shower or laundry through a filter and into the garden. Hire an expert or understand the requirements for managing greywater safely.

To sum up, here are our recommendations:

Work your soil for porosity.

Grade your garden to hold water.

Plant shade trees. Choose trees wisely.

Source local materials.

Incorporate regionally-appropriate vegetation.

Include edibles and plants for pollinators.

Check your pipes for leaks.

Employ state-of-the-art technology and irrigation products.

Investigate rain barrels, greywater re-use, and old methods of irrigation, like clay pots or “ollas.”

Minimize lawn to areas that are really used for play.

Think long-term. Know a plant’s mature size and make sure it won’t outgrow the space.

Garden without chemicals to preserve water quality.

Design matters. Use an expert or research design strategies to delineate space.

Live lighter on the land.

Find out more at your local cooperative extension, arboretum, botanical garden, water district, or from the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) or U.S. Forest Service.

This guest post is by Mia Lehrer, FASLA, founder of Mia Lehrer + Associates, and Claire Latané, ASLA, senior associate, Mia Lehrer + Associates.

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Uptown Normal Circle / Pinterest

Normal, Illinois, doesn’t sound like a typical spring break destination—but for me, it was the perfect getaway. Along with fellow urban planning students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I visited Normal in March 2010. We started our day with a walking tour of Uptown Normal and ended it by biking to its neighbor, Bloomington, via the Constitution Trail. The highlight of the tour was the town traffic circle (yes, a traffic circle!) called Uptown Circle, designed by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, which is a gathering place that captures and filters stormwater and simplifies a complicated intersection. On a sunny afternoon in 2010, it was easy to see why it’s the heart of the district.

Normal invested more than $90 million in this neighborhood, spending about half of its investment ($47 million) on a Complete Streets approach that considers all users—people traveling by foot, bicycle, transit, or car—of all ages and abilities. They widened and repaired sidewalks, reconstructed Constitution Boulevard, and built Uptown Circle and Uptown Station, a multi-modal transportation center.

Today, more than 40 percent of all trips in Uptown Normal are by foot or bicycle. Since these improvements, it experienced a boost in retail sales (46 percent) and attracted more than $160 million in private investment.

Perhaps the best outcome of all? “People love Uptown Normal,” said Normal Mayor Chris Koos. “They ride the bus, they bike the trail, they shop, they socialize, and they recreate in a wonderful urban center.” This project shows how Complete Streets principles can transform a place.

But neither Normal’s approach nor its results are unique. More than 700 cities, regions, and states have made a commitment to use a Complete Streets approach.

As a recent analysis by Smart Growth America’s National Complete Streets Coalition demonstrates, using a Complete Streets approach is one of the best transportation investments a community can make.

Examining before and after data from 37 projects redesigned with Complete Streets goals, this study found:

Streets were safer: Automobile collisions declined in 70 percent of projects, and injuries declined in 56 percent of projects.

Safety has financial value: Each collision that a safer street helps to avoid represents avoided costs from emergency room visits, hospital charges, rehabilitation, and doctor visits, as well as the cost of property damage. Within our sample, Complete Streets improvements collectively averted $18.1 million in total collision costs in just one year.

Complete Streets encouraged multi-modal travel: The projects nearly always resulted in more biking, walking, and transit trips.

Complete Streets are remarkably affordable: The average cost of a project was just $2.1 million—far less than the $9 million average cost of projects in state transportation improvement plans. And 97 percent of Complete Streets projects cost less per mile than construction of an average high-cost arterial.

Complete Streets play an important role in economic development: These findings suggest that these projects were supportive of higher employment, new business, and property values. Several projects saw significant private investment since their completion.

Particularly striking is what the projects achieved with a small public investment. For example, Portland, Oregon, spent $95,000 to re-stripe the streets, add plastic bollards, and new signage to NE Multnomah Boulevard. This project created 34 new automobile and 12 bicycle parking spaces. Cycling along the corridor increased 44 percent, and the number of vehicles exceeding the speed limit fell by half.

For some projects, the cost-savings from safer conditions alone justified their costs. For instance, after Reno, Nevada, added bike lanes in each direction and widened sidewalks along Wells Avenue, collisions fell by about 45 percent. The value of Reno’s safer conditions within one year’s time ($5.8 million) is more than its entire project cost ($4.5 million).

The before and after data shows the extraordinary effect low-cost, thoughtful street design can have on local communities. As more communities implement Complete Streets policies — with an explicit aim to make travel by foot, bike, and transit convenient and safe — we should measure our progress toward those aims and make sure we invest accordingly.

Read the full report, Safer Streets, Stronger Economies: Complete Streets.

Ready to get started on measuring your community’s Complete Streets work? Check out the Coalition’s latest guide: Evaluating Complete Streets: A Guide for Practitioners.

This guest post is by Laura Searfoss, Associate, National Complete Streets Coalition.

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Rate of drought / The New York Times

Scientists are calling the current wave of drought, which began to spread across California, much of the Southwest, Texas, and Oklahoma in 2011, the worst drought since the 1950s. While the drought has ebbed in Texas and parts of the Southwest, California and other states continue to bear the brunt of this epic change in rainfall. As of the end of March 2015, approximately 37 percent of the contiguous United States was still experiencing at least moderate drought conditions. The New York Timesanalysis of the Palmer index, which tracks rates of drought going back 100 years, found that the 10-year average for drought has been increasing for most of the last 20 years. In California in 2014 alone, the cost of the drought was $2.2 billion, with 17,000 agricultural jobs lost.

In the face of the crisis, California Governor Jerry Brown has instituted the first mandatory water restrictions in his state’s history, requiring all 400 local water boards to reduce water use by 25 percent — or face stiff fines. He has said watering lawns will soon be a thing of the past, but it’s unclear if everyone will heed the call. The Los Angeles Times points out that the wealthiest residents consistently use higher amounts of water, perhaps because they can afford to, ignoring the calls for conservation. More responsible homeowners have already gotten rid of their lawns in favor of native plants and other techniques that reduce water use for landscapes, while others are investigating “smart lawn sprinklers” that have built-in sensors.

Controversially, farmers, who use 80 percent of the state’s water, are exempt from these restrictions. But Brown has defended them, telling PBS Newshour: “Agriculture is fundamental to California. And, yes, they use most of the water, and they produce the food and the fiber that we all depend on and which we export to countries all around the world. So, we’re asking them too to give us information, to file agriculture water plans, to manage their underground water, to share with other farmers.”

A 2014 study from the University of California at Davis Center for Watershed Studies found that farmers have already been hit hard: a “6.6 million-acre-foot reduction in surface water.” According to The San Francisco Chronicle, one acre-foot is equivalent to about a football field covered in water. “That has meant a 25 percent reduction in the normal amount of surface water available to agriculture. And it was mostly replaced by increased groundwater pumping.” Last year, Gov. Brown also pushed through a new groundwater management law, putting in stricter limits on groundwater use that will take years to come into effect.

While some farmers have cut back on the amount of land planted, just given the lack of overall water or its extremely high cost, farmers of water-intensive almonds, walnuts, and pistachios have only expanded the land dedicated to these nuts. According to The New York Times, “the land for almond orchards in California has doubled in 20 years, to 860,000 acres. The industry has been working hard to improve its efficiency, but growing a single almond can still require as much as a gallon of California’s precious water.”

In the 20th century, drought hit the U.S. in waves. From 1997 to 1998, a major drought, which affected 36 percent of the country, created $39 billion in damages. The northern Great Plains were worst hit, but the west coast and Pacific Northwest were also impacted. With the loss of rain, terrestrial systems dry out, raising the number of forest fires. According to Live Science, in 1988, 793,880 acres of Yellowstone National Park burned, prompting the first complete closure of the park in history. In the 1950s, drought conditions, at their peak, covered more than half of the country. The National Climate Data Center explains that this drought devastated the Great Plains region; in some areas, crop yields dropped as much as 50 percent. And during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, the U.S. was hit by three waves of drought that at one point impacted more than 70 percent of the country, with mass migrations and a great loss in agricultural productivity for years after.

As The Washington Post meteorology team explains, just because the western and southern drought has officially ended in some places, it doesn’t meant it’s actually over. Communities will need double or triple the amount of water they would receive under normal conditions to undo the deficit, recharge groundwater, and restore incredibly low reservoir levels. It will take more than a few storms. Stringent water conservation is here to stay.

But in the meantime, California, the Southwest, Texas, and other states can make better use of their water resources — by applying water-efficient drip irrigation systems in the agricultural sector, like Israeli farms have been doing for years; replacing lawns with drought-tolerant native plants; getting rid of leaks, wasteful showerheads, and full-flush toilets in homes and businesses; and recycling and reusing all greywater and even blackwater.

Artist Peregrine Church has created Rainworks, a project that turns Seattle’s over abundance of rain into an opportunity to enliven street life. Using stencils and a non-toxic, biodegradable “superhydrophobic coating” made of nano-particles called Always Dry, Church has created a fun, do-it-yourself template, demonstrating how to use concrete pavement as a canvas for artworks, illustrations, and messages — but only when wet.

Church has created about 25-30 works of “rain-activated art,” featuring messages like “Stay Dry Out There,” a lily pond filled with frogs, a fun hopscotch game, and other natural patterns.

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Rain-enabled art / Rainworks

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According to Church, the coating of nano-particles only last about 4 months to a year, given wear and tear. “A rainwork is the most vivid during its first couple of weeks, then slowly becomes more subtle.”

Rainworks is actually legal, too. Church checked with the Seattle department of transportation, which gave the OK, because the works are “temporary, don’t harm the property, and don’t advertise anything.” Also, the concrete retains the same texture once it has been sprayed. The material leaves “zero residues and is 100 percent invisible, odorless, and doesn’t alter the texture of the substrate.”

In this brief video, Church says: “It’s going to rain no matter what. Let’s do something cool with it.”

Another D-I-Y way to improve street life and, really, a whole city’s approach to accessibility, is Walk [Your City]. This non-profit started by Matt Tomasulo, a landscape architect, enables communities to order and install their own signs explaining how far it is to walk to different locations. Cities like Santa Fe, New Mexico; West Hope, West Virginia; Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, have all used Tomasulo’s process and signs to create more walkable places. See Walk [Raleigh], which won an ASLA student award in 2012 — and really started it all.

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Forest Stewardship Council-certified plywood / Coastal Treated

In a new survey from GlobeScan / SustainAbility, more than 500 sustainability experts from around the world said multi-sector partnerships will be key to advancing sustainability, with major roles for multi-national corporations, non-profits, governments, and multilateral organizations like the United Nations. The experts, which hail from hail from all of these sectors, also believe multi-national corporations will play an increasingly major role within these coalitions leading change. Furthermore, the experts argue that multi-sector partnerships that use a systems-based approach will drive the “greatest progress.”

Overwhelmingly, respondents said “multi-actor, systems-based partnerships” will be the way to solve our problems. These kinds of partnerships, which are characterized by broad bases of support that attempt to create wholesale shifts in the underlying systems, are viewed as more effective than when governments simply collaborate with each other, businesses partner with themselves, or even when non-profits and businesses join together. They are also viewed as more effective than the independent efforts led by think tanks and forums as well.

The experts agree that multi-sector partnerships are best led by certain types of actors, depending on the focus. The corporate sector is best positioned to address waste, supply chains, and discrimination and labor conditions. Non-profits are more adept at leading the charge on slowing biodiversity loss. And governments are best positioned to form the coalitions needed to address climate change, poverty, water scarcity, food security, and access to healthcare. The key will be to form the coalitions that resonate with the widest range of organizations.

Some examples of admired multi-sector partnerships are the Forest Stewardship Council, a multi-stakeholder organization focused on the responsible management of the world’s forests; the coalitions the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) has formed with multi-national corporations; and the Carbon Disclosure Project, which incentivizes companies to “measure and disclose their environmental data.”

In other environmental news, California has ordered the first mandatory water restrictions in the state’s history, as a four-year drought has reached “near-crisis proportions,” writes The New York Times. The State Water Resources Control Board will force 400 local water supply agencies to reduce water consumption by 25 percent, impacting nearly 90 percent of the state’s residents. “The order would impose varying degrees of cutbacks on water use across the board — affecting homeowners, farms and other businesses, as well as the maintenance of cemeteries and golf courses.” The New York Times adds that “Californians across the state will have to cut back on watering gardens and lawns — which soak up a vast amount of the water this state uses every day.” This is an example of a government taking the lead on water scarcity, but it’s clear Californian officials will need to work with the business and non-profit sector to change the underlying system that has led to wasteful water use.

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