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Archive for September, 2009

boxer_climate
Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry along with nine other supporters released their comprehensive climate change bill today, which offers more strict limits on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than the U.S. House version that passed three months ago.  The 820-page draft climate change bill aims to cut 20 percent of U.S. GHG emissions (recorded at 2005 levels) by 2020. The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) is only expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 17 percent  by 2020. At a Capitol Hill event, Barbara Boxer, the chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said: “We know clean energy is the ticket to strong, sustainable economic growth.” According to ABC News, John Kerry focused his comments on security: “This is really about America’s security. It’s about our economic security, our energy security and our national security.”

According to Greenwire, in the Senate draft bill, “cap-and-trade” has been relabeled “pollution reduction and investment.” The draft bill purposely leaves some details vague, and encourages Democrats and Republicans to negotiate and fill in some of the blanks. However, the bill does offer specifics on several critical issues, “ranging from incentives for natural gas and nuclear power to how Congress can promote tree planting and sustainable farming practices as alternative compliance options for industry.” For the House bill, ASLA advocacy worked to incorporate two separate pieces of legislation focused on using trees and green roofs to reduce energy use– The Energy Conservation Through Trees Act, and Green Resources for Energy Efficient Neighborhoods (GREEN) Act. (see earlier post).

A number of environmental organizations are also highlighting a key selling point — climate change legislation could create lots of “green jobs.” According to The Guardian (UK), the University of California at Berkeley released a report stating ACES, as passed in the House, would create up to 1.9 million new jobs by 2020.

According to an E&E analysis, there are currently 45 “yes” or “probably yes” supporters of the bill in the Senate. There are an additional 21 “fence-sitters.” According to Greenwire, “they include Democrats and Republicans who have offered positive statements about the legislative process, including Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Other lawmakers on that list — Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example — have sounded recently like anything but cap-and-trade supporters.”

The Guardian (UK) notes that there is growing global pressure on the U.S. to move quickly on climate change before the upcoming UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Copenhagen in December. “The targets appear chosen for their resonance with European and Asian leaders who have been looking to America to demonstrate commitment to action on global warming ahead of the meeting at Copenhagen in December cast by the United Nations as a last chance for getting the world to act on climate change before it is too late to avoid catastrophic warming.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. proposed legislation would still cut a smaller percentage of total emissions than the UK’s new plan, which aims for a 34 percent reduction by 2020 (see earlier post).

Read the article, a summary of the bill, or see the full bill

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calvertvaux
Urban Omnibus developed a feature highlighting some of NYC’s efforts to re-use brownfields to create parks. Using quotes from long-time NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Urban Omnibus frames some of the recent park projects that came out of abandoned or otherwise “useless” land. The parks illustrate one of Benepe’s ideas: “With a lot of design and a great deal of expense, any place can become a park.”

Urban Omnibus discusses some key brownfield-to-park projects in the five boroughs. Parks now in development include the Calvert Vaux Park, Bushwick Inlet, Concrete Plant Park, Fresh Kills, and Highland Park / Ridgewood Reservoir.

Calvert Vaux Park 

According to Urban Omnibus, the 77-acre park near the Coney Island inlet is bound by the bay on one side and Shore Parkway and runs from Bay 44th to Bay 49th Streets.  By January 2010, phase one will be completed and include “two synthetic turf soccer fields along with wetlands construction, an entrance garden, and additional trees.” Additional phases will bring “three baseball fields, six soccer fields, a recreation center, an amphitheater, and a playground along with picnic areas, nature trails, and a bike path.”

Read the article and learn about the other parks

Image credit: Dreier Offerman park (otherwise known as Calvert Vaux Park). Urban Omnibus / Timothy Vogel. 

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cogongrass
Cogongrass has taken over ecosystems in Alabama and USD 6 million in economic recovery funds is now being used to exterminate this invasive non-native species, writes The New York Times. Cogongrass (Imperata Cylindrica) is also known as the “perfect weed,” and considered one of the worst in the world. “It can take over fields and forests, ruining crops, destroying native plants, upsetting the ecosystem. It is very difficult to kill. It burns extremely hot. And its serrated leaves and grainy composition mean that animals with even the most indiscriminate palates — goats, for example — say no thanks.”

According to The New York Times, cogongrass first arrived in the U.S. in the early 1900’s as packing material for satsuma orange shipments from Japan. Government officials at first encouraged the use of the weed as a “forage crop” that could stem soil erosion. Records now show that the species was allowed to escape, and has spread through southern Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi, and now can be spotted in nearby regions.

Larson & McGowin, a land management company, won the Alabama state contract to eradicate the weed. Ernest Lovett, a former soldier and member of the reserves, is leading the attack, and told The New York Times: “I wanted one more war project before I quit.” His team has used GPS to identify locations of cogongrass, and will start “dispatching advance teams across this field of engagement to spray herbicides that are best known by their aggressive commercial names, Arsenal and Roundup.” The Alabama Forestry Commission web site lists 5,611 “spots” where there’s infestation.  The extermination strategy is “to draw a line using Highway 80 and eradicate north of it. Then, in phases, try to control it south. There will be a lot of parallel attacks.” Lovett fears the weed may spread to Michigan.

Many foresters and ecologists have been warning about a cogongrass crisis. Stephen Pecot, a project manager with the eradication team, told The New York Times: “They don’t understand that cogongrass can replace an entire ecosystem.” Cogongrass is also highly resilient. “It is with awe for the enemy’s almost extraterrestrial resilience … you can’t kill it with one application of herbicide. You have to return several months later and do it again.”

In addition to the ecological benefits, Alabama’s forestry commission also sees fighting the weed as a source of green jobs. Creating or retaining jobs in Alabama is part of the plan. 

Read the article and learn more at Alabama’s Cogongrass Task force site.

Image credit: Alabama Forestry Commission

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mit_senseable
M.I.T’s Senseable City Lab launched called an initiative Trash Track, which seeks to create a future where we “understand the ‘removal-chain’ as well as we do the ‘supply-chain’, and where we can use this knowledge to not only build more efficient and sustainable infrastructures but to promote behavioral change.” M.I.T. adds that the project aims to make the “invisible infrastructures of trash removal” visible, and raise awareness of the many expenses involved in transporting and treating trash.  Their goal is to change how consumers relate to waste: no more “out of sight, out of mind.”

M.I.T.’s experiment involves attaching radio-frequency identification (RFID) smart tags to “different types of trash so that these items can be followed through the city’s waste management system, revealing the final journey of our everyday objects in a series of real time visualizations.” The New York Times writes that the project has tracked the routes and final destinations of more than 3,000 pieces of trash from New York, London, and Seattle.

Karin Landsberg, an eco-friendly Seattle resident, invited M.I.T. researchers to track her trash. Landsberg was curious to see what happened to her trash upon disposal, and wanted to learn how sustainable her lifestyle really was. All together, twelve of her garbage items, including cans and flourescent lights, have been RFID tagged and await further analysis. In comments to The New York Times, Landsberg said: “If I found out that it wasn’t going where I think it does, if it is less recycled than I hoped …I might think about buying less of it or doing without. Maybe it is more about the reduce than the re-use.”

According to M.I.T.’s Senseable City Lab, the location of items of trash are periodically tracked, and “data received from the trash tags is illustrated as a visual paths overlaid on top of satellite images.” Data gathered may take up to several months to analyze, but thus far, results show that trash may take a couple of days or even weeks before it reaches a landfill or moves to other destinations. The New York Times noted that there are limits on how well they can track the garbage: “Tracking has its limitations. Even though the tags have a battery life of two to six months and can report back from overseas, they can easily be crushed in transit inside garbage trucks and at processing facilities.”

TreeHugger writes that consumers won’t be the only ones to benefit, adding that waste management firms could improve their logistics: “waste management is very interested in the results as well, hoping that finding out more about how trash goes through the systems will help them improve their logistics, from trash transportation to recycling to disposal systems.”

Visualizations and data of all the tracked trash will be presented in an Architectural League of New York exhibit, “New York Toward the Sentient City,” which will be open September 17 to November 7. 

Also, learn more about how the trash tags work.

Image credit: Trash Track, MIT Senseable City Lab

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usgbc_interior
The National Building Museum organized a private tour of the new LEED platinum spaces of RTKL, an architecture and engineering firm, and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The new spaces reside within a 1970’s office building that isn’t LEED certified. The spaces demonstrate how high-quality, sustainable spaces can be created within older buildings.

RTKL explained that their firm’s designers, engineers, planners needed more open, collaborative spaces. This resulted in a space with smaller work stations but larger shared spaces. “The firm’s cultural goals also aligned with its sustainability goals,” said one of the RTKL architects who worked on the project.

The firm engaged employees in the design process from the beginning. For two weeks a design firm “examined us like lab animals or zoo specimens.” The in-depth look at how the office actually operates, how people use and move through the space, led to a new division of internal space: work zone, meet zone, eat zone, retreat zone, etc. An internal survey of RTKL employees also found that indoor air quality was a big concern so RTKL invested heavily in improving the air. RTKL noted that the space passed the indoor air quality test the first time, which they said was almost unheard of. “There really is a sense of a healthy environment.”

Within RTKL’s space, the exposed infrastructure (IT, electricity, air) highlights the role architectural engineers play, says RTKL. “Usually, all of this infrastructure is hidden. We wanted to show all the work that goes into this.” There are multipurpose conference areas and a private terrace, which includes a lattice that will turn into a green wall.

Throughout the redesign and building process, some 95 percent of construction waste was recycled. RTKL used the development of their own office space to determine how much more expensive a green construction process would be. They used “green movers, purchasing.” RTKL said there was a tenant allowance for parts of the upgrade but they spent some USD 5-7 per sq. foot on the renovation.    

The USGBC also renovated their space with the help of Envision Design, a sustainable architecture firm. The space now has a LEED 94 rating (out of 100). Executives within the organization needed flexibility and  room to grow. There are now 230 employees, but the space, if reconfigured, can handle 300.

Additionally, USGBC hired a “biophilia consultant” to introduce natural concepts within the space. Much of the wood used was salvaged from the bottom of the Tennessee River by Timeless Timber.

Representatives on the tour said the space was also a “learning lab” for new technologies, some of which haven’t been tried elsewhere. The facility’s central stairs were built using a new carbon fibre technology so there was little need for reinforcement.

The organization also now tracks its energy and water usage through a dashboard provided by Convia, a Herman-Miller company. USGBC hopes for the “Prius effect” — “If people see the amount of energy they are using, maybe they will change their behavior.”  (The Prius, Toyota’s hybrid vehicle, includes a built-in dashboard that shows a range of performance metrics related to the car’s energy usage).

To improve the interior light, USGBC used a lighter carpet “that bounces light back in.” To reduce the expense of heating and cooling employees located right under windows, USGBC moved employees’s desks in about 6-7 feet and added an “eco-corridor” between the desks and the windows. The eco-corridor runs parellel to the windows. Air is pushed through the eco-corridor to help moderate indoor temperatures and reduce heating and cooling costs. Window shades also move up and down throughout the day based on the movement of the sun. USGBC says they didn’t plan for glare from white spaces across the street and are now factoring this into their automated shade systems.

Both the RTKL and USGBC spaces had amazingly clean air, but plants didn’t seem to be contributing much to the internal air quality (or at least there was little discussion about the plants). While USGBC also used a biophilia consultant, who added in natural images and designs into various parts of the workspace, there were few plants within their space.

The USGBC space cost USD 9 million and covers 70,000 sq feet. USGBC hopes to use the space as a case study and is tracking the amount of CO2 reduced and water and energy saved.

Read more about USGBC headquarters in an article from Metropolis magazine. Also, learn more about the “green lease” USGBC renegotiated.

Image credit: USGBC headquarters, Metropolis Magazine. Eric Laignel/courtesy Envision.

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harvardsoil
What began as a one-acre pilot project has turned into a 25-acre initiative. Harvard University is now feeding its campus soils with compost and compost tea instead of pesticides and synthetic nitrogen. In comments to The New York Times, Wayne Carbone, Harvard’s landscape manager said: “Our goal is to be fully organic on the 80 acres that we maintain within the next two years.” 

Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s president has set the university’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction target — 30 percent by 2016. According to The New York Times, Faust was “intrigued” by the Harvard Yard Soils Restoration project, and thinks it’s a key part of the broader campus sustainability plans. Faust told The New York Times: “The lumps of soil showed how grass grew when treated with chemical fertilizers and how it looked when treated organically. You could really see the root systems and how different they were. And I saw the impact, I was really excited.” 

Harvard’s grass is literally greener due to the microbes now feeding the soil. Additionally, roots now reach eight inches into soil that “was once so compacted the trees planted in it were dying.” Harvard’s soil was compacted by the enormous amounts of foot traffic it receives from some 6,000 to 8,000 people daily. Microbial activity aerates soil, and trees are now thriving, writes The New York Times. The new organic soils may also yield water and cost savings. “The university has reduced the use of irrigation by 30 percent thus saving two million gallons of water a year.”

Eric T. Fleisher, the director of horticulture at the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy, worked with Harvard’s landscape team on the original pilot tests. Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, a professor at Harvard, also advised Dr. Faust and the landscape team.

Read the article and go to Harvard’s mini online tutorial on organic landscaping.

Image credit: Jodi Hilton, The New York Times

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tal
Daniel Tal, RLA, ASLA, recently published “Google SketchUp for Site Design: A Guide to Modeling Site Plans, Terrain, and Architecture” (Wiley & Sons). The 350-page how-to tutorial covers everthing from drawing lines to developing “expressive” models through SketchUp’s modeling process. SketchUp, a 3D modeling program developed by Google, is often used by designers and planners to construct graphic illustrations for detailed site planning. SketchUp can be used to create detailed site plans as well as videos of site plan walk-throughs.

Those who buy the book also get links to SketchUp exercises, and free downloadable SketchUp models. The tutorial can accomodate all levels — from beginner to expert SketchUp users.

Daniel Tal incorporated the work of two independent landscape architects, Carol McClanahan and Natalie Vaughn, as pilot tutorial users. (Also, check out an interview with Daniel Tal on Google SketchUp).

The tutorial has four parts:

Introduction to SketchUp provides a “basic understanding of the SketchUp concepts,” from how to generate lines, create shapes, forms, and objects, to using tools and adding components. Also included is a section on how to use Ruby Scripts (aka Rubies). Custom tools developed by SketchUp and other program users are either offered for free or for a nominal fee. There are instructions on how to download.

Introduction to SketchUp Process Modeling is “a methodology for working with SketchUp.” The method is organized into three processes: “constructing a model in a logical order, adding detail by using available resources, and organizing a model to maintain computer performance and a clean 3D workspace.” A basic understanding of process modelling is critical before delving into more advanced model techniques.

The section begins by simply focusing on surfaces and objects and changing models from 2D to 3D scales. Later sections in “Introduction to SketchUp Process Modelling” focus on developing detailed site planning by adding details that can portray the built environment and turn a flatwork base into 3D. In addition, details such as textures, materials, and shadow effects, can be added. Customized items, including lighting, signage, window display, and other architectural elements can also be included.

Sandbox Tools “are powerful versatile tools for creating organic geometry,” and “refer to edges and faces composed to simulate the appearance of irregular forms and objects.” Sandbox tools enable users to add vertical depth to models, from gentle to overarching slopes. This section is complex and difficult to master — users need to be able to construct digital elevation to represent terrain. However, the use of this tool may stimulate the development of more intense graphics. It’s useful, especially for landscape architects, because users can display grade changes to show ramps, driveways, walkways, and other slope changes. In addition, the sandbox tool enables the use of various geometric shapes, including walls, building, and other structures. It also enablers users to create complex canopies and architecture surfaces and building details.

AutoCAD to SketchUp shows how to utilize these two design programs efficiently to create 3D models. Files from both programs are highly compatible, which enables users to develop detailed site modeling. This part introduces how to organize and import/export files and how to transform and convert files. Organizing files is a crucial yet time-consuming process when working between these two programs. However, with well-organized filing structures, storing and editing plans can make the process much easier. Some parts of the process “rely on five custom Ruby Scripts that are essential when working in tandem with both software platforms.”

What the tutorial lacks (and to be fair this is not it’s primary intent), is a detailed set of instructions on how to use and incorporate sustainable design tools. Some tools already exist. For instance, earlier this year Google Earth added CO2 emissions data from Purdue University’s Vulcan project into its interactive maps.  Google also just announced a new set of layers and video tours for Google Earth that demonstrate the potential effects of climate change.

However, as far as we know, other tools don’t exist. A good next step for sustainable landscape architecture would be tools and applications that are both compatible with Google and Autodesk and enable sustainable site performance analysis.

Currently, there are building performance software that are compatible with AutoDesk and can be used to assess and evaluate energy and water usage. Sustainable site performance software should also be made available to assess and evaluate site design during the actual design process. Useful tools could track a site’s ability to conserve water, clean air, sequester C02 emissions through soils and plants, increase biodiversity, create resiliency through plant diversity, and measure financial rates of return on environmental investments. These applications could inform designers of site environmental constraints prior to site construction while maximizing energy and water efficiency.

In terms of building design, Autodesk is already investing heavily in adding sustainable building design capabilities into its software. Fast Company recently spoke with Dawn Danby, a developer of Ecotect Analysis and Green Building Studio, Autodesk’s performance modeling software, which can be used to model and evaluate energy emissions and water usage. Danby said: “Whole-building energy analysis has to date required a huge amount of time by an expert who looks at a 3-D model after it’s been designed, then tells you how the building is going to operate and how much carbon it will produce. But after you’ve designed something all the way through, it’s hard to tweak at the end. Ecotect lets you do a pretty quick pass on a building when it matters, at the beginning, based on a running analysis of how the shadows fall and the wind moves through that space.”

Review research conducted by Elizabeth Lee, ASLA 2009 Advocacy and Communications Intern.

Image credit: Daniel Tal

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AM_Dirt2
At the 2009 ASLA Annual Meeting, Alexandros Washburn, Urban Design Chief, City of New York government, argued that major cities must mitigate greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions and adapt to climate change while engaging in “resource creation.” Smart cities can adapt to climate change and create new value in the form of renewable energy and open spaces at the same time.

In total, the U.S. has 8 percent of the world population, but more than 20 percent of its GHG emissions, far more than its fair share. NYC currently has .00125 percent of the world’s population, but accounts for .00250 percent of its GHG emissions. NYC is calculating GHG emissions so they can locate sources of emissions, reduce them, and “remove the penalty of urbanization.”

New York City’s Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability is calculating New York City’s total ecological footprint and carbon footprint (which is a sub-set of a city’s broader ecological footprint). “Every city has a ecological footprint that is larger than its actual size. Vancouver, a green city, has a footprint 126 times its actual size.”

Calculating cities’ ecological footprints is especially important because the world is going urban. This past year, according to Washburn, there as many people live in cities as rural areas worldwide. Worldwide, there will be 5.34 billion people in cities by 2030. In NYC, there will be one million new people by 2030. Cities with populations ranging from 500,000 to 0ne million are growing the fastest.

Washburn noted that there are different definitions of a city. Tokyo contains some 35 million residents. Mexico City has 20 million. However, in Iceland, 200 people constitutes a city. NYC’s government is working with Columbia University’s Earth Institute to “grid the globe” and determine the population density of all areas of the earth. The numbers will enable more meaningful comparisons between cities.

Climate change can impact cities in a number of ways: storm surges, precipitation /wind, rising air temperatures, and sea level rise. The cities that will be most affected are in low-lying areas along coastlines. These cities account for 2/3 of the world’s largest, fastest growing cities, and more than 600 million people.

NYC is most concerned about a possible hurricane strike. If a major hurricane like the one that hit New Orleans hit New York City, 3.1 million houses would be affected. A small rise in sea level would inundate the subway system, the critical transportation system for the city, and overwhelm the 19th century combined stormwater / sewage system. Washburn said this outdated combined water / waste management system “must be fixed, but the costs will be unbelievably high for a city of 8 million people.”

Given the city can’t adapt to the effects of a major sea level rise (there are more than 500 miles of coastline in NYC), NYC must invest in mitigation. “Energy generation is growing 148 percent, transportation usage is growing 120 percent. We have to slow down the increase, have to mitigate.” Washburn argues that city planners can play a critical role in mitigating GHGs: “How we lay out cities has a big impact.” NYC needs to invest more in sustainable planning, transportation, and energy-efficient buildings. Cities have to create resources while adapting and mitigating GHG emissions. As examples of resource creation, NYC is investing in clean power and open spaces.

NYC must also make its own energy and food. Washburn cited vertical farming as a useful strategy (see earlier post and interview with Dickson Despommier). However, instead of skyscrapers, Washburn thinks underused industrial buildings at the city’s fringe are better places for hyper-efficient indoor farms.

Washburn offered some examples of successful combined climate change adaptation and resource creation programs:

Cheongyecheon, South Korea: The mayor of Seoul saw an opportunity to restore a damaged river running through the city. The mayor removed the highway on top of the river, and created dense parks at the riverside. The restored river park serves a key adaptation function — it provides flood control — while also serving as a new green resource for the city. Washburn said “that young mayor went on to become president of South Korea” (see earlier post on this project).

Kibera, Kenya: Development agencies and local community organizations in one of Kenya’s worst slums helped turn human waste that was previously slung into the community’s river into compost. The compost is now used for local agriculture.

Bogota, Columbia: The mayor of Bogota recently said citizens with a 30 dollar bike are equal to citizens with a 30,000 dollar car. To prove this, the mayor closed off more than 70 miles of streets to cars for Ciclovia, a weekend program. The Mayor also created one of the largest networks of bike paths in Latin America and a rapid bus transit system. (NYC’s summer streets and rapid bus system were modeled after Bogota’s).

Posona 2, Tokyo: A unused bank vault in central Tokyo has been turned into a model underground farm. Using hydroponic growing systems and grow lights, the project is a model for urban agriculture. The project also helps train under-employed youth on the most cutting-edge agricultural technologies, giving them a push into a movement Washburn thinks will take off in urban areas.

Brazil’s Favelas: In Rio and other Brazilian cities, there are “walled fortresses” sealing off the planned urban infrastructure from the unplanned favelas. These need to be removed. Washburn argues that “cities can’t reach equilibrium without shared infrastructure and social equality.” Washburn cites an anonymous French artist who worked with favela residents to highlight the lack of infrastructure. The artist plastered large scale pictures of residents across buildings, stairways and other areas to demonstrate that real people live in these communities. Washburn thinks public art can play a role in developing a new “green civic,” highlighting inequality, and is a form of resource creation.

Other adaptation / resource creation projects cited as examples by Washburn: Masdar City, Abu Dhabi; Eco-Viiki, Finland; Marina Barrage, Singapore; and a new master plan incorporating high-speed rail in Stuttgart, Germany.

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AM_dirt1
Kermit Baker, a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies and the Chief Economist of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), spoke at the ASLA 2009 Annual Meeting general session this morning about the economic outlook for the landscape architecture industry. Baker acknowledged that landscape architects have been “mired in a steep downturn since 2006.” While a recovery is now underway in the residential market, he said, the non-residential market is still going through a downturn. The economic conditions for the landscape design field have been “the worst in the past 50 years.”

Baker argued that firms need to develop new strategies based on demographic change and an evolving customer base, and prepare for an evolving industry structure (including increased consolidation among design firms). Emerging markets, including China, India, and Russia, present growth opportunities for U.S. firms. Also, while sustainable design is in demand, landscape architects still need to search for these sustainable design opportunities. Baker said retrofitting existing facilities was a key opportunity.

In terms of the macro-economic outlook, federal stimulus funds have yet to kick in. Only 25 percent of allocated dollars have been spent, with much more in the pipeline for 2010, 2011. Credit conditions have improved somewhat, and consumers are also more positive. However, Baker said the recovery will likely be weak. Seven million jobs have been lost, and it will take a long time to refill or replace them. The stimulus package, in total, is expected to bring 600,000 to 1.2 million new jobs.

Additionally, immense household wealth loss means consumers are cutting back spending. International economies are also weak, so export-led growth will not lead the U.S. market into growth. A huge federal debt may also raise interest rates.

For the landscape architecture market, the business conditions index for this quarter is currently at 22.9. A score of 50 indicates stable business conditions. As Baker drilled down into ASLA Business Quarterly survey results, he found that most firms don’t think the federal stimulus funds will help. Firms right now are most focused on:

  • Coping with a weak economy
  • Identifying new project opportunities
  • The availability of financing or credit for existing projects.

In an exclusive ASLA survey of emerging business issues for the profession, firms said they are most concerned with:

  • Negotiating fees
  • Rising costs (including healthcare)
  • Competition from other firms
  • Retaining staff
  • Managing credit.

Almost half of landscape architecture firms want to be smaller. Forty percent are interested in expanding services. 34 percent are looking to diversity into new markets, and 32 percent are investing in new technology to remain competitive.

On the broader U.S. housing market, Baker added that there has been a 75 percent decline in housing starts, the worst since World War II, and, possibly since the Depression. Home prices continue to fall and 30 percent of homes are selling at a loss.

On the brighter side, there will  be strong household growth over the next decade, with two-thirds of this housing growth coming from minority families. Between 2010 and 2020, 31.2 million new households will  be added. With Baby Boomers retiring, there will also be greater population growth in the 60-80 age group, meaning higher demand for retirement housing.

Public works are also expected to increase over the next few years. New work on streets, bridges, and dams/rivers is expected to be up 15-20 percent. Water/sewer work will be up 7-8 percent.

Internationally, the real-estate construction market is $4.7 trillion. The U.S. market is $1 trillion. Another $700 billion market is found in Japan, and there is a $1 trillion market in Europe. However, there is little growth potential in these areas. The highest growth will be in Asia, followed by Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. For Western firms seeking to enter emerging markets, Baker urged,  “Find local partners who can navigate local customs, laws, regulations.” Western firms can bring “creativity, vision” but won’t be competent in the short-term on knowing how to do business.

On sustainable design, Baker said, “There has been demand for sustainable design since the 1970’s, since the first Earth Day, but it’s really just taken off in the last few years.” While sustainable building practices will continue to be a growing market, and new energy-efficient buildings will continue to be added to the housing stock replacing outdated, less energy-efficient buildings, Baker thought a key market would be retrofitting older buildings. He told designers to “look beyond obvious projects.” Futhermore, since half of the U.S. population has been born since the first Earth Day, the younger U.S. population has a “different understanding of sustainable design.” There can only be more growth in this market. Baker also said that while much of landscape architecture work is focused on energy conservation, involvement in the growing renewable energy market also presents an enormous opportunity.

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AM_Dirt2
In a session at the 2009 ASLA Annual Meeting in Chicago, London’s Development Agency and EDAW AECOM presented the London 2012 Olympics master plan, and asked whether the new Olympic games site can really help regenerate an environmentally damaged and economically depressed urban community?

London’s Development Agency expects one million new residents by 2020. Over 25 percent of this growth will occur in three percent of its already dense urban area. There are two major growth corridors: one leading north out of the center of the city, and another heading east. The east side, which includes the Lea Valley, the site of the future Olympic site and village, was predominately used for heavy industry before its shift to residential use.

The planned Olympic games site in Lea Valley is some 600 acres, and covers marshland that has been occupied for more than 3,000 years. The marshes were filled in to combat cholera. Later, WWII building rubble was poured into the site. “It’s basically landfill.” Underground there are also surprises — unexploded bombs, deeply contaminated soils, and critical utility infrastructure. “It’s an industrial archaelogical site.”

It’s enviromental state also matches current social conditions. There is 25 percent unemployment in the area, and the city’s residents are in the bottom 5 percent for most indicators.

According to London’s Development Agency, the Olympic games site needed to offer a design program that could solve the environmental, economic, and social issues in an integrated manner. The games site needs to restore the ecological balance, improve access to rivers, and extend the “landscape infrastructure” across existing river systems. Futhermore, the city has to deal with embedded site pollution. London’s Development Agency asked: Do we restore to current conditions, or develop for future sustainability? The more radical approach — to unearth and replace the green infrastructure — was taken and approved by involved environmental organizations. “We have to take everything out of the ground, clean it, and put it back in again.”

London’s planners said they are also creating a place to live. There will be 12,000 new homes built in the Olympic site, mostly affordable family housing. The city is also examining how to improve the school and health infrastructure, and increase employment opportunities so the economic and social infrastructure match the revamped green infrastructure. The wider zone may include some 70,000 new homes. Developers and city officials are working out what types of housing will be included. Developers have been more interested in single studio apartments that can be created in greater volume. At USD 4.5 million per acre, developers are looking for return on investment.

“You can’t just plug in landscape infrastructure, you have to plan for it,” noted London’s Development Agency. Additionally, open space is one of the “greatest assets” a community has, and a key “determinant of how a community feels about a site.” Neighborhoods need to be walkable — the 600 acre Olympics site will be broken into walkable community components.  Increasing the appeal of the new Olympic games site to the local community depends on improving access to water. Currently, the community is cut-off from the water. Boats and canoes will become easily accessible, creating a water-oriented urban environment.

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