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Archive for August, 2007

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Today’s New York Times covers the debate over the use of native plants in highway medians and at rest stops across the country. According to “Wildflowers Find Favor With Highway Gardeners,” switching to native plants and grasses can help stretched state highway budgets because native plants require less mowing and pruning. More than a dozen states have increased their native plant seedings, but the battle is most certainly not over. Click through to read about the aesthetic, safety, and economic factors at play in this “environmental Enlightenment.”

[via our friends at ArchNewsNow; photo by Eric Chan]

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When The Dirt was just a little kid, he vividly remembers helping his mom put clean clothes out to dry on the backyard clothesline. In the 20+ intervening years, however, line-drying clothes has been frowned upon by homeowners’ associations and others who believed clotheslines would decrease property values. The pendulum may be swinging back, however; a great article in the Christian Science Monitor discusses the “right to dry” movement in detail. From the article:

At last count, in 2005, there were 88 million dryers in the US, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. Annually, these dryers consume 1,079 kilowatt hours of energy per household, creating 2,224 pounds of carbon-dioxide emissions.

Besides the global-warming and cost-saving aspects of clotheslines, proponents say hanging out clothes requires exercise and time outside – elements that are missing from many Americans’ lives. “So much of our lives have become automated,” Mr. Wentzell says. Plus, using a clothesline makes “your clothes last longer and smell better.”

On your next residential project, why not suggest a little area for clothes drying outside? It can go right over there beside the koi pond, the outdoor kitchen, the  firepit, the play area for the dogs, and the putting green!

[photo by Billy Verdin]

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The Dirt loves green roofs, and likes to see them doing their good environmental work everywhere.  So even though it’s not the most glamorous place for a green roof, here’s a story out of Michigan about the city of Grand Haven’s recently installed  green roofs overtop their new dumpster enclosures downtown. The two new roofs, which measure more than 450 square feet, use a modular system from a division of Hortech Inc., the same company that covered a Ford Motor Co. facility with a 10-acre green roof. Click through for more information, and to read the best green roof lead in a while: “The dumpster enclosure roofs in the downtown parking lots are alive!”

[Photo by Tribune photo/Mark Brooky]

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The city of Santa Monica, California, has transformed a former airport runway into 8.5 acres of dog-friendly parkland. The landscape architecture firm ah’bé landscape architects [principal Calvin Abe, FASLA] used green stormwater management, landscape planting, and irrigation throughout the parking lots, two soccer fields, and dog area. The Airport Park is the first city-built “ground-up” park to open in Santa Monica in 24 years.

Dog parks seem to be all the rage–check out the great educational dog park project members Jon Mueller, ASLA, and Keith Dixon, ASLA, completed with grade school children as part of this year’s National Landscape Architecture Month.

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In the July issue of Harpers magazine, writer Rebecca Solnit explored modern-day Detroit and found that the wilderness was returning to the city’s many abandoned buildings and empty lots. Her piece, “Detroit Arcadia: Exploring the Post-American Landscape” (unfortunately available only to subscribers), showed how some city dwellers were reclaiming those empty lots by turning them into urban community gardens. While Solnit’s piece was rightfully dinged in letters to the editor for being too optimistic that these activities would somehow lift all those living in Detroit out of poverty, the idea (and photographs) of new life returning to what was once one of the most populous cities in America is fascinating.

Now the Detroit Free Press offers a more down-to-earth take on the city’s gardens and microfarms in a piece published late last month. Click through to read about urban farms in old, roofless factories, and how the city and foundations actively support the new farming methods.

[photo by lucag]

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Did Urban Sprawl Take Down Angkor Wat?

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The BBC reports on researchers studying satellite imagery of the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia. The researchers now believe that the urban area around Angkor may have been much larger than previously thought, possibly as large as modern-day Los Angeles. Using NASA images along with ground surveys and airborne photography, the researchers have found that “Angkor was extensive enough, and the agricultural exploitation intensive enough, to have created a number of very serious environmental problems,” according to Damian Evans of the University of Sydney.

Evans and the other authors of the study believe that deforestation, overpopulation, and bad water management may have contributed to the Angkor civilization’s collapse in the 14th century.

With all the discussions about national infrastructure after the Minneapolis bridge disaster, it’s a bit chilling to read that the study found breaches and ad hoc repairs on the large and complex Angkor irrigation system, “suggesting that the system became unmanageable over time.”

[photo by tylerdurden]

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Grist, a great resource for environmental news, has released their list of the “Top 15 Green Colleges and Universities.” Topping the list is the tiny College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, that has only one major, human ecology–or “the study of our relationship with our environment.” However, there are several large, traditional schools on the list as well. The Dirt is not surprised that neither of his alma maters made the cut, but invites you to click through and see how your school did!

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The ASLA Fund, the foundation that seeks to expand the body of knowledge of the landscape architecture profession, has partnered with GoodSearch.com, a Yahoo-powered search engine. GoodSearch donates 50% of its revenue, approximately a penny per search, to the charities designated by its users. The Dirt would like to encourage you, faithful readers, to use GoodSearch and designate the ASLA Fund as your charity of choice. In less than two weeks, the Fund has accrued more than 600 searches.

You can start using GoodSearch in a variety of ways. Visiting the GoodSearch.com homepage, simply select “ASLA Fund (Washington, DC)” from the dropdown menu under the question “Who Do You GoodSearch For?” before searching. You can also download the GoodSearch toolbar for popular web browsers like Microsoft Internet Explorer 7, Mozilla’s Firefox 2, and Apple’s Safari browser. Click here to visit the GoodSearch instruction page. Members are also encouraged to check the GoodSearch homepage periodically to both check the running total of money donated to the ASLA Fund, and to make sure their searches are being credited to the Fund. Check GoodSearch’s “Frequently Asked Questions” page for more information.

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Balancing the Growth of Cities

This letter from ASLA National Student Representative Paul Fusco appears in the latest issue of LAND Online. Please let your voice be heard by using the comment system below.

No matter what we try to do the population is going to grow, and cities will follow the same path of expansion. Due to this growing change, we can’t try to fight the growing cities but should work with them and try to adapt what we love to what is more ecoefficient. This is where green design can flourish and produce an environmentally stable area. A visitor to The Dirt blog recently made a comment (echoing singer Joni Mitchell) asking why we pave our land and put up parking lots. I agree with the question, but I am sure that the majority of our population does not see eye to eye with us landscape architects. They are looking to have larger houses, wider highways, bigger parking lots—all resulting in the destruction of our natural environment. We must look at ways to balance the needs of our society and green space so our environments can survive.

There are many ways to do this, but the ideas and concepts behind green design fit and work perfectly. For instance, covered parking areas can be created where either green roof or solar panels can be placed to help reduce the heat island effect as well as provide other benefits. Another idea is to design cities and developments that promote public transportation and walking/biking to and from locations. In the field of landscape architecture there are a number of techniques that can be used to help better our environment.

With this being said, recent graduates and students of landscape architecture are going to be at the forefront of this endeavor. ASLA knows this and is working to help promote landscape architecture and to prepare and support students in the field. One of ASLA’s major goals is to try to bring a greater number of students to the national ASLA Annual Meeting. This is at the top of their list because the national conference is a gathering place of all landscape architects in the world. It is a way for students to see the new designs/techniques that are taking place in the profession. One of the special meetings at the national conference is an emerging professionals roundtable where topics picked by the students can be answered and talked about by professionals. It is a chance for students to bring questions and concerns they might have about entering the field and get them answered by both professionals and recent graduates.

Because I am on the committee that is working to create this roundtable I wanted to ask you, the students and graduates, what topics you feel would be of interest. They can be about salary, workload, interviews, and anything else that you feel would be beneficial to hear before you have to enter the working world.

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“No Child Left Inside” Act Proposed

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While The Dirt mainly keeps out of the realm of Capitol Hill (leaving that to ASLA’s fine government affairs staff), here’s something new from Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD): last month he introduced an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), currently up for reauthorization. His amendment, called the “No Child Left Inside” Act (H.R. 3036), would

  • “Require states seeking new environmental education grants under No Child Left Behind to develop and submit a K-12 plan to ensure that high school graduates are environmentally literate. States receiving such funds would submit status reports on how those plans are being implemented.
  • Provide new funding for states to develop, improve and advance environmental education standards.
  • Provide new funding to train qualified teachers to teach environmental education courses and programs.”

The Sabanes amendment has the support of the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, Audubon, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, as well as the National Education Association. No matter what your opinion of NCLB may be, it seems like more environmental education in public schools would be a good thing, no?

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