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Archive for February, 2008

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Yesterday the massive new database The Encyclopedia of Life launched to great fanfare online. The site is an ongoing project to collect information on all 1.8 million species known to science. The project, funded by the MacArthur and Sloan Foundations, is expected to take 10 years to complete and cost more than $100 million. The project has been compared to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia anyone can edit. The EOL organization hopes for similar success for their site.

Unfortunately for interested surfers, the EOL site has been swamped with traffic and is currently running very slowly, if at all. When the buzz dies down, check out the tens of thousands of listings for plants; it is already very impressive.

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In a report released last week, the National Gardening Association has found that nearly 91 million Americans participated in “lawn and garden activities” in 2005. In addition, Americans spent $44.7 billion to hire professional lawn and landscape services to improve their outdoor spaces. So who are these new gardeners? According to the NGA, they are young people.

In a world going green, the under-35s have taken it upon themselves to make positive use of their natural surroundings. College courses and easily accessible online resources have turned what was once referred to as a middle-aged pastime into a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry. Before the rise of the Internet, those who may have desired to grow their own tomatoes might have been baffled by the prospect, struggling to find information in their local library. Today, however, prospective gardeners are but a few clicks away from a plethora of knowledge.”

The whole piece is worth a read; check it out here.

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The Dirt
does admit a fondness for lists of all types, and so can’t help himself but to list Popular Science magazine’s recent list of “America’s 50 Greenest Cities.” The magazine used survey data and government statistics in over 30 categories to come up with their criteria that boiled down to four metrics: electricity, transportation, “green living,” and “recycling and green perspective.”

Here’s their top ten list:

1. Portland, OR
2. San Francisco, CA
3. Boston, MA
4. Oakland, CA
5. Eugene, OR
6. Cambridge, MA
7. Berkeley, CA
8. Seattle, WA
9. Chicago, IL
10. Austin, TX

Click through to see all fifty and to see if your hometown made the cut.

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Late last week the Design Trust for Public Space, in partnership with the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, launched a new competition to redesign Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, New York. The  “Reinventing Grand Army Plaza”  offers fame and fortune (well, the first prize is $5,000; second: $2,000; and third: $1,000) to the winning designer. The jury has no less than three ASLA Fellows (Michael Van Valkenburgh, Elizabeth Meyer, and Ken Smith), and Alex Washburn, ASLA, among its members.

Click here to read about the competition; the submission deadline is April 25.

[via our friends at ArchNewsNow]

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Ripon College, a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin, has a parking shortage problem. Rather than pave over more campus with new parking lots, the college’s president has offered first-year students free mountain bikes if they do not bring a car to campus. From the Chronicle of Higher Education article:

The college has purchased 200 Trek bikes to give to a portion of the roughly 300 first-year students that will arrive in the fall. After students sign a honor code, saying that they will not bring a car to campus that year, they get a bike, a helmet, and a bike lock, altogether worth about $400. The program is supported by college donors, trustees, and alumni, and the college got discounts on the equipment from Master Lock and the Trek Bicycle Corporation, which is based 60 miles south of Ripon.

The college also hopes that more bikers will help rejuvenate the shopping areas of the town of Ripon. Best of luck to students biking during those Wisconsin winters!

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Today’s Architectural Record covers the Association of College & University Housing Officers–International’s (ACUHO-I) “21st Century Project” which investigates college and university housing for students from the present to 25 years in the future. The winning design, “net+work+camp+us,” from a group with Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas + Company, of Norfolk, Virginia, uses prefab units to build adaptable residence halls that can be altered easily for changes in population and even climate.

And since the social networking generation and Millennials are so closely wedding to technology and socializing online, these new halls will include “LED panels on the exterior walls of student rooms, for instance, would allow occupants to customize portions of the building facades according to their personalities….In the courtyard, an oversized LED monitor displays student announcements, class schedules, and even the whereabouts of individuals.”

Click through for more images of the winning project. the 21st Century Project continues next year.

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Take the time to read “All Hemmed In” in this week’s LA Times Home and Garden section on the rise and pernicious hegemony of foundation plantings around homes in the US. No less than five ASLA members and Fellows are interviewed, to boot.

Here’s Fellow Mia Lehrer‘s take on shrubs:

But there is a big difference between strategically placed plants used to moderate the scale of an imposing house or to create a welcoming entrance, and a uniform collar of shrubbery, says Mia Lehrer, a Los Angeles landscape architect. Put simply, one is punctuation, and the other is fortification.

The Dirt suggests printing this out and giving it to your next client who can’t stand the thought of a “naked” foundation wall.

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ASLA’s Latest Economic Survey Announced

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Not to toot our own horn, but ASLA members are now able to access the latest issue of the Business Quarterly. Getting down to brass tacks: the February BQ quarterly economic outlook survey results indicate the demand for landscape architecture services remains strong in the face of a slowdown in the housing market. Other article topics include small firms staying competitive, ASLA’s Firm Finder, and new ASLA contract documents. Members, click here and follow the instructions to log on to read all the details and learn about firms’ hiring plans for 2008.

Interested in becoming a member of ASLA? Click here to read all the benefits of membership and how to join.

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“Videophilia” (the love of television and computer screens) seems to be winning out over the love of nature. In a new report published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found evidence of “a fundamental and pervasive shift away from nature-based recreation.” By counting trips to state and local parks, along with the issuance of hunting and fishing licenses over the past 25 years, the Nature Conservancy-sponsored report found 18 percent and 25 percent declines in various types of outdoor recreation.

“The replacement of vigorous outdoor activities by sedentary, indoor videophilia has far-reaching consequences for physical and mental health, especially in children,” wrote co-authors Oliver R. W. Pergams and Patricia A. Zaradic a statement. “Videophilia has been shown to be a cause of obesity, lack of socialization, attention disorders and poor academic performance.”

The abstract can be found here, and here is the full report [subscription required; pdf].

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A Japanese company, Mindscape, is selling a series of plant/furniture couches, chairs, and seats called “Peddy.” These outdoor furniture pieces grow what looks to be a thick coat of grass over a semi-porous subsurface. The majority of the company site is in Japanese, but click through to their blog to see shots of the pieces growing. How’s that for an alternative to plastic lawn chairs?

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