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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

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Designed for the Future / Princeton Architectural Press

“What gives you hope that a sustainable future is possible?” In Designed for the Future: 80 Practical Ideas for a Sustainable World, Jared Green — the same Green who edits this blog, and, full disclosure, was my boss when I was a communications intern at ASLA — offers 80 thought-provoking and frequently inspiring answers to this question from landscape architects, urban planners, architects, journalists, artists, and environmental leaders in the U.S. and beyond. The book’s tone is highly conversational and reflects the voices of the book’s contributors. Each passage is the result of an interview with Green, who serves largely as curator for this reading experience.

To those in the field, the names are like a who’s who of respected leaders in these professions. But while professionals will certainly enjoy it, this book is aimed squarely at the public, as it’s as scrubbed-free of design jargon as possible and offered in bite-size pieces easy to pick up for a few minutes at a time or read entirely through on a weekend afternoon.

It’s largely successful in this aspect, capturing the essence of the ideas at the core of each real world example without losing the reader in technical terms and excess detail. However, in a few cases, the description is so sparse as to leave uncertain exactly what the project is about.

Some of the projects feature new technologies applied in innovative ways. Lighting designer Leni Schwendinger, now with Arup, is inspired by Illuminate, a three-year research program in six European countries showing the way to the future of light-emitting diode (LED) lighting in public spaces. The study examined not only at energy savings and carbon reductions, but also the quality of light in terms of brightness, color temperature, and color rendition (whether the object illuminated looks true to life). It’s the artificial nature of these latter qualities that tend to sway many designers away from LEDs, despite their energy savings, but this study shows they are being improved, and LEDs may soon be able to use “intelligent controls to create malleable lighting” in our parks, plazas, and museums.

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Luminance Map, Belfast / Guilio Antonutto

Jonsara Ruth, a professor at The New School / Parsons, discusses Mushroom Board from the firm Ecovative, a product that uses mycelium, the “roots” of mushrooms, to literally grow an organic Styrofoam replacement. Styrofoam is an incredibly polluting material, but Mushroom Board, a cutting-edge use of bioengineered materials that can be grown to almost any shape and size, is completely biodegradable. Imagine appliances coming packed in Mushroom Board or homes insulated with mushroom in the walls instead of spray-in foam.

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Mushroom Board by Ecovative / Jonsara Ruth

Many projects feature materials and infrastructures from the past that have been given new life to serve contemporary needs. Landscape architect Thomas Woltz, FASLA, Nelson Byrd Woltz, describes how Braddock, Pennsylvania, is in the process of transforming much of its abandoned and toxic industrial lands, re-envisioning them as a place for urban farming and healthy community initiatives.

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Braddock, Pennsylvania / Kristen Taylor, Creative Commons, Flickr

And Peter Harnik, Hon. ASLA, director, Center for City Park Excellence, Trust for Public Land, describes how Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis is a railway that has been converted into one of the most successful trails for cyclists and pedestrians. Built in a trench to not interfere with auto traffic, it’s a delight for its users who can go for long stretches without having to negotiate intersections and vehicle conflicts.

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Midtown Greenway, Minneapolis / Ed Kohler, Creative Commons, Flickr

One overarching theme is the need to further connect social, environmental, aesthetic, and economic benefits that have been considered for too long in isolation. For decades, we’ve known, in theory, that achieving quadruple-bottom line benefits is essential for sustainability. These existing projects show how multiple benefits can be achieved in the real world, and the positive impact they can have on communities and the environment.

Green offers a lovely quote in his introduction from science fiction writer William Gibson: “The future is already here, but it’s just not evenly distributed.” Environmental advocacy and action can so easily just focus on the negative or emphasize only the compromise and sacrifice necessary for “saving the planet.” The examples in Designed for the Future show that not only is our future not all doom and gloom, but there’s plenty to be excited about here and now. The future is here. Now let’s start spreading today’s successes around as widely as possible.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, founder and lead designer-educator at Mitsui Design.

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Brightwater / Jared Green

Imagine a wastewater treatment facility where people get married, amid 40-acres of restored salmon habitat with designed ponds and wetlands. It sounds far-fetched but it’s reality in Snohomish County, Washington, near the border with King County, about an hour northeast from downtown Seattle. In a tour of the Brightwater facility during the American Planning Association (APA) conference by Michael Popiwny, the landscape architect who managed this $1 billion project for the King County government, we learn how wastewater treatment plants can become assets instead of drains on communities and the environment. The key to success was an interdisciplinary management, design, and construction team that was highly responsive to community feedback and deeply sensitive to environmental concerns. Plus, Brightwater was paid for by growth in the region. As new people are attracted to the quality of life the Seattle area offers, they move in and pay a $4,000 – $8,000 sewer hook-up fee. “The fact that new people were paying for the system helped us to sell it to the community.”

Brightwater, a 15-year endeavor that began operations in 2011, is a wastewater treatment facility, environmental education and community center, and ecological system rolled into one. It’s a 114-acre site, nestled in a wealthy residential area, with some 70 acres of trails and parks open to the public. There are 13 miles of underground conveyance pipes that direct wastewater to the plant. When it reaches the plant, the wastewater is cleaned through the largest membrane bioreactor system in North America, which makes the water 70 percent cleaner than conventional approaches. It is then sent out through a 600-foot-deep outfall pipe a mile out into the Puget sound. Excess materials are turned into “loop,” a biosolid that is sold to local farms and orchards at very low cost.

However, this description of the system doesn’t do justice the experience of being at Brightwater. Popiwny explained the critical role excellent design played in “selling this place to the community.” He said, “we realized that this place needed to be beautiful. We need it to be very well designed.” Just siting the project won King and Snohomish counties, along with CHM2Hill and Environmental Design Associates, an ASLA 2005 Professional Analysis and Planning award. Then, engineers with CHM2Hill and landscape architects with Hargreaves Associates and Mithun along with restoration ecologists and conservation biologists came together in an interdisciplinary design team to create a welcoming place that actually restored the ecological function of the landscape, turning into a place that aids salmon in their annual migration.

Popiwny briefly described the design and construction process: “We had separate contracts for the engineering and design teams. We needed the strongest engineering team and the strongest landscape architecture team. The teams completed their work separately and then we combined their efforts in the final design. Internally, we had an engineer lead the engineering team, and I led the design team. It’s important that you set up competitions for top notch talent in each category and then give them equal status.”

As the deep processing facilities were dug out of the landscape, the excess soil was turned into “decorative, geometric landforms,” by Hargreaves Associates. “These landforms alone took thousands of trucks off the highway, saved lots of carbon,” explained Popiwny.

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On the way to the North 40 acres, Brightwater / Jared Green

Amid these landforms in the “north 40 acres” is an elaborate system of forests, meadows, raingardens, wetlands, and ponds that hold and clean rainwater before directing it to the streams salmon use. What was once an auto depot is now a place that provides great environmental benefits.

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Restored forested habitat / Jared Green

The process of restoring the habitat and turning into a publicly-accessible park was complex, involving stream and wetland biologists, who guided ecological decisions, and landscape architects with Hargreaves. The team used 15 different types of rocks to create two different stream corridors that empty into ponds where salmon rest on their uphill climb to the places where they spawn. “The result is something similar to the original stream.”

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Restored stream / Jared Green

To restore the forested wetland, the Brightwater team made it an environmental education and community outreach project. Kids from the area helped plant over 20,000 native willows. “Native willows are easy for children to plant. We had about 4-6 busloads of kids from the surrounding area per week.” This effort really helped create community buy-in and grow a sense of greater investment in the success of the project.

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Forested wetland / Jared Green

As you walk out of the park and into the environmental education center, which was designed and built to a LEED Platinum level, you can see how an open-minded couple would actually want to host a wedding here. Popiwny laughed and said one comment he read about the onsite wedding online was, “it’s today — get with it!” There are pleasing views of the green infrastructure. One of the larger buildings is also a frequent host for local non-profits and community meetings.

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Environmental education center / Jared Green

All of this is a result of efforts to stave off protracted lawsuits that would have delayed the project from the beginning. The parkland, environmental education and community centers, were all part of the $149 million set aside as part of the “mitigation budget.” According to Popiwny, “budgeting this kind of work upfront meant saving money over the long run.” However, the Brightwater project was still sued by local sewer districts who argued that the project “spent too much on mitigation.” The state supreme court eventually sided with Brightwater. Popiwny said “lawsuits are an inevitable part of large projects.”

Now the challenges to projects like Brightwater are “often in the guise of environmental protection.” But Popiwny just sees this as part of the broader system of checks in a democratic system. “There needs to be multiple checks as these projects can affect communities. The region benefited from the opposition to the project as it pushed us towards a higher performance, but it also made it more expensive.” The Brightwater team included other forms of technical fail-safe systems, like multiple, isolated ponds to separate acid or bases if there was an overflow or accident caused by an earthquake, and engineering all pipes and systems to withstand high levels of seismic activity.

As we walk out of the environmental education center, which features flexible classrooms for groups of all ages and enables a range of hands-on learning about the water cycle, we head to the facility itself, which is strangely odorless. “There are three levels of odor control.”

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Brightwater wastewater treatment plant / Jared Green

Spread throughout the site is public art, as the project was part of the state’s 1 percent for art program. Climbing up a stairwell to the spot where the millions of gallons of cleaned water is sent out to the sound, there is artist Jane Tsong’s poem, which actively blesses the elements of the plant (air, water, biosolids) as “they depart from the treatment process and continue their life cycle into the natural world.”

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Poems by Jane Tsong / Jared Green

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Poems by Jane Tsong / Jared Green

Popiwny said the facility staff particularly connect with these poems, as it is reminder of how meaningful their work really is.

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Heavenly Water Service Center / DuoCai Photography

Amid Drought, The West Is No Place For a Lawn, As Nevada Has LearnedThe Los Angeles Times, 5/1/15
“When Gov. Jerry Brown ordered that California rip up 50 million square feet of lawns to conserve water amid the West’s deadening drought, the Golden State gasped. Meanwhile, the Silver State yawned. Desert denizens have already been there and done that — since 1999, in fact.”

Sprawling Wetland Structures by HHD_FUN Host Chinese Horticultural Show Dezeen Magazine, 5/5/15
“Beijing-based architecture studio HHD_FUN undertook two landscape architecture projects on the vast 23,000-square-metre site in Qingdao, a region in the eastern Chinese Shandong Province. The site was part of the International Horticultural Exposition, which was held between April and October last year.”

An Architectural Tour of … Parklets?The San Francisco Chronicle, 5/6/15
“Say what you like about Parklets — and there are detractors as well as devotees — they are now an established part of the scenery not only in San Francisco, but beyond.”

New Plan Would Revamp Heart of Downtown – The Baltimore Sun, 5/12/15
”New designs for McKeldin Plaza would fuse the brick space to the Inner Harbor promenade, transforming one of the busiest and most prominent intersections in the city into a 2.8-acre park, with grassy slopes and a curtain-like translucent fountain.”

An Incredible Time-Capsule View of One Downtown’s DevelopmentThe Atlantic, 5/13/15
“Exactly 50 years ago, Fresno was celebrating the inspiring opening of Fulton Mall. Can tearing up a noted artistic zone be a path to civic success? City leaders say yes, while some of their citizens say no.”

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Wooly Mammoth at Royal British Columbia Museum, Canada / A-Z Animals

Stewart Brand, who is perhaps best known for his book, Whole Earth Catalog, now runs the Long Now Foundation, which is focused on the next 10,000 years of human civilization. At the American Planning Association (APA) conference in Seattle, he called for a “planet-scale ecological restoration” over the next ten millennia, which can in part be accomplished by bringing back extinct mega-fauna like wooly mammoths. Over the past few thousands of years, the continental grasslands of the global north turned into tundra. To bring back the grasslands systems that co-evolved with wooly mammoths, scientists will need to first revive these ancient creatures using their DNA and the most cutting-edge biotechnology. Reborn grasslands would then be able to store massive amounts of carbon. The other part of this future Brand envisions: people will need to continue to crowd into cities, giving room for natural systems to be revitalized.

Healthy civilizations “balance man-made and natural infrastructures.” To get to a more healthy world, Brand says we must all become “ecological engineers,” like earthworms that aerate the soil, beavers that create dams, or Aldo Leopold, who restored the grasslands of Wisconsin and founded the field of conservation biology.

The problem with our civilization today is “we are not respecting nature’s rate of change.” Brand outlined the trends shaping the world as layers on top of each other forming a sort of onion, but with each layer moving at a different rate. Here are the moving layers listed in order from fastest to slowest: fashion, commerce, infrastructure, governance, culture, and, finally, nature. In this system, everything has its place and its own natural rate of change. If one gets out of synch, the system is violated. “For example, a too-fast rate of governance change can break the system. The U.S.S.R. moved fast with governance, violating commerce, nature, and the system self destructed.”

Brand believes when the fast parts (fashion, commerce, infrastructure) and the slow parts (governance, culture, nature) are in synch, we will have a more resilient system. Fast layers “propose, learn, absorb, discontinue, innovate, and get all the attention,” but slow layers “dispose, remember, integrate, continue, constrain, and have all the power.” In other words, “in cities, the fast layers dominate; but in the world, the slower layers dominate.” To achieve a lasting good, “we must take the long view,” nature’s view.

Cities and nature are in flux these days, as the relationship between the two is renegotiated. For example, there are now more than 2,000 coyotes in Chicago alone. And over 10,000 foxes in London. Brand pointed to Emma Marris’s Rambunctious Garden, Jim Sterba’s Nature Wars, and Fred Pierce’s The New Wild, as worthwhile new books that wade into these issues. The New Wild argues that “invasive species may be the key to nature’s salvation. We need to deal with the weird.”

As for climate change, Brand believes “it will keep things moving around.” He doesn’t see climate change causing more extinctions unless there are abrupt changes. After all, “species are constantly adjusting, eo-evolving with each other and other species. The ecological system is adjusting all the time.” Intervening in nature with biotechnology can help humans bring back useful or even beautiful species, like the passenger pigeon, and destroy dangerous diseases impacting critical species, like white nose syndrome in bats and avian malaria in birds. All of this will be part of our new role as “ecological engineers.”

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Temple Baths, ArchDaily / Studio Octopi

Temple Baths by Studio Octopi / Arch Daily

Hermann Park’s Japanese Garden Serves As City Oasis The Houston Chronicle, 4/17/15
“Hermann Park’s Japanese Garden is a place where families flock to watch koi school in murky ponds, where couples rest under the trellis covered in leafy wisteria and where Houstonians steal away for quiet time in a natural setting.”

How the Drought Will Reshape Californian Landscape ArchitectureCurbed, 4/22/15
“California is dealing with a resource crisis that’s asking a West Coast accustomed to expansive growth and endless possibility to go against character and make do with less. The last time going dry has caused this much consternation was during Prohibition. Curbed spoke with four leading landscape architects to find out how their profession needs to adapt to a challenge with the potential to reshape the industry.”

‘The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Dan Kiley’ Review The Wall Street Journal, 4/22/15
“’The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Dan Kiley,’ an exhibition at the Center for Architecture, shows how modern landscapes often make a better case for modernism than the architecture itself.”

Studio Octopi Begins Crowdfunding Campaign for a Lido on London’s River Thames Arch Daily, 4/23/15
“London’s central waterway, the River Thames, has been a site of enormous interest from architects and urbanists in previous years. From a controversial garden bridge to discussions about how to appropriate what has been described as one of the city’s largest untapped public spaces, London-based practice Studio Octopi have now launched a Kickstarter campaign to help to realize their dream of creating ‘a new, natural, beautiful lido’ on its banks.”

Group Rallies to Save Cherished Spot at Children’s HospitalThe Boston Globe, 4/27/15
“Just ahead of a wrecking ball, a contingent of parents and caregivers want the city to bestow protective landmark status on Prouty Garden, a half-acre splash of green at the heart of Boston Children’s Hospital. It may be their last hope for preserving the emerald retreat.”

Three Finalists Chosen in National Design Competition to Improve Areas below the Main Avenue Bridge The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 4/28/15
“The nonprofit downtown development corporation announced on its website that it has winnowed a field of 51 landscape architecture firms to three finalists in a national competition to beautify the portion of the Flats beneath the Main Avenue Bridge.”

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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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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.

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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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Wet Matter / Harvard Graduate School of Design

Wet Matter, Harvard Design Magazine’s latest issue, asks us to reconsider our oceans, which cover the vast majority of our planet. Edited by Pierre Bélanger, ASLA, associate professor of landscape architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, the issue brings together a range of fields and an array of lenses to “unlearn our binary, dichotomous relationship with the ocean,” as the magazine’s editor-in-chief Jennifer Sigler writes in the opening remarks. How?, she asks. With an eye to the oceanic, not defined as “not land” — but a matter to be investigated on its own terms. Below are brief summaries of some of the articles in this rich compendium:

In The Other 71 Percent, Bélanger stares what he considers “the glaring blind spot in the Western imagination” straight in the eye. He urges the reader to take the oceanic turn: recalibrating our attention away from the space race and back to the earth’s oceans to better understand how we are shaping and shaped by this “vast logistical landscape.” By recognizing the oceans, the other 71 percent of the planet, as a key dimension of climate change, Bélanger challenges “the dry, closed, terrestrial frameworks that shape today’s industrial, corporate, and economic patterns” to imagine an alternate and more fluid future.

CUNY professor Catherine Seagitt Nordenson reads the ocean by its flora. She begins her piece, The Bottom of the Bay, Or How to Know the Seaweeds, by claiming “to know the seaweeds is to know the ocean.” Protista, these “brackish-water dwellers,” display no roots, stems, or leaves, present an illuminating, telescopic view of an otherwise elusive, dark territory– the benthic zone. Collecting seaweed for study is a “local enterprise,” requiring “actual immersion into the waters of the littoral ocean.” From the literal bottom up, Nordenson’s article suggests that “benthic thinking rescales the oceanic, reinserting the body.”

In Destination Whatever: Touring the Cruise Industry of the Caribbean, Martin Delgado, Zuanna Koltowska, Félix Madrazo, and Sofia Saavedra with Supersudaca warn us that indulging our delusional expectations of a perfectly familiar yet still “exotic” vacation destination in the very bowels and on the decks of a cruise ship may lead to a “terrorism of tourism.” The cruise industry has transformed piers, “once perceived as extensions of land” into extensions of the ship, a new “fictional territory” that tethers the cruise ship to the port town by only a provisional string. As the “distance between travelers and islanders grows at an alarming rate,” they forewarn us of a grim future in which “floating fantasies” may become “economic albatrosses, en route to somewhere other than paradise.”

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Costa Maya, Quintana Roo, Mexico, 2013 / Supersudaca: Martin Delgado, Zuzanna Koltowska, Félix Madrazo & Sofia Saavedra

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Day at sea on the Carnival Valor, 2007 / Supersudaca: Martin Delgado, Zuzanna Koltowska, Félix Madrazo & Sofia Saavedra

Architect Hilary Sample and engineer Bryon Stigge trace both ancient and new approaches for inhabiting coastal regions. Building Soft suggests that by capitalizing on the ebbs and flows rather than resisting environmental dynamics, “these ‘soft’ construction techniques are constantly operating and responding to alternating calendars of climatic and oceanic forces.” Jacking, leaking, weakening, slipping, and swapping make up the “collective lexicon of spatial interventions” emphasizing “slow systems, soft structures, and weak infrastructures.” This photo essay depicts stilts, flotation structures, permeable exteriors, relocation, flexible materials, and wet proofing to reform both architectural and cultural attitudes of “building strong.”

German sociologist Ulrich Beck, who just died in January, makes a compelling argument in How Climate Change Might Save the World: Metamorphosis. He turns the question of whether climate change has “the potential to alter the political order of the world” around by claiming that “climate has already altered our ‘being’ in the world–the way we think about the world and engage in politics.” Through seven theses, Beck explains why we should focus on “what is now emerging–future structures, norms, and new beginnings” rather than be tempted by “a supermarkets of apocalyptic scenarios,” falling back on an old “nation-state perspective” that separates the decision makers from those most affected. Beck urges us to break out of this imperialistic structure and to instead adopt a “cosmopolitan perspective,” which recognizes “the world city” as “becoming the main cosmopolitan actor” in addressing global issues.

University of Pennsylvania landscape architecture professor Anuradha Mathur, ASLA, and her design partner Dilip da Cunha call into question the line between land and sea. Through both historical references and a contemporary case study, Sundarbans: A Space of Imagination addresses the “chasm between the incommensurable natures of earth and ocean.” Tracing the term “ocean” back the ancients, Mathur and da Cunha discover Oceanus, “the watery element that escapes the disciplines of geometry.” A lyrical description of the source of all rivers and seas is replaced by a map, an arrangement of points and lines. Using the Sundarbans at the mouth of the Ganges as an example, with its “field-like condition being far too complex to mark and hold with points and lines of geometry,” the authors create a new design approach that considers “a temporal and material appreciation of ocean,” including all the “states and cycles of hydrology.”

In Interplay, Yale University architecture professor Keller Easterling, author of the ingenious book Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space, proposes a radically new approach to coastal planning. Calling on urban planners, landscape architects, and environmentalists to use site analysis as a way of rating properties for their more qualitative indicators, Easterling imagines an index to supplement the “bureaucratic layers of jargon” of banks, insurance companies, and real estate firms in which the “many of the physical, volumetric, and climatic attributes of a property are ironically called ‘intangibles.’” Recovering from hurricanes may necessitate a more innovative approach, “a parallel market of spatial variables could offer more tangible risks and rewards.”

Ballast Water follows “alien, invasive stowaways” into the hidden compartments of cargo ships. Author Rose George explains the practice of filling compartments around the hull of ships mostly empty of cargo as a necessary defense. To stay afloat, cargo ship’s bowels are filled like a Trojan horse, carrying along seawater, species, and bacteria (“7,000 alien invasive species are also imported every hour”), disrupting local habitat, and occasionally causing pathogenic effects or infectious disease. Adequate testing standards and ballast water management systems lag behind the “mobility and fluidity” of the sea’s organisms.

For University of Florida architecture professor Charlie Hailey, “‘Inland’ is a multivalent term.” In Camps, Corridors, and Clouds: Inland Ways to the Ocean, he addresses how Internet access can pave a “way to the ocean” for Somali refugees at Dadaab, an “archipelago of five camps, constituting the world’s largest refugee settlement.” For a place defined by as “geographically landlocked, politically adrift, and economically blockaded,” a new network cloud and telecommunications corridor enables new digital interactivity, “allowing it to become not just a surrogate state but an inland camp with its own inherent possibilities for livelihood.”

Rebecca Gomperts, founder of Women on Waves and Women on Web, shows how to use international waters and the Internet to provide safe abortions to women around the world in Bodies, Boats, and Borders. “The idea of the ship was the basis of the organization.” Furthermore, “the ocean is a space of solidarity,” enabling the organization to exploit international law in their efforts to provide “life-saving treatment” to women in countries where abortion is illegal.

In Oan Bubbles: Fact or Fiction?, <smythsmuths 22012143> surprises the reader as a small booklet inserted into the center of the magazine. An excerpt from Sundogz by Mark von Schlegell, forthcoming from Semiotext(e) 2015, this piece of science fiction tells of a future astro-marine world, “an artificial anti-bubble of Earthside Ocean,” “a hydro-ecology” realized by an international panel of scientists, “spacer amateurs,” and fishing unions.

With the assistance of Jean and John Comaroff, both anthropology professors at Harvard University, Bélanger identifies man-made tidal swimming pools along the shores of the KwaZulu-Natal coast in South Africa as democratic structures in a place otherwise governed by the 1947 Law of Apartheid. Between the Tides of Apartheid recognizes the intertidal pools as “marginal spaces constantly in flux…attracting a cultural diversity rarely seen in South African cities or the interior hinterlands.” Bélanger explains how through informality and low-tech infrastructure, “beaches and pools edified a non-state, or extra-state, manifest as spaces of political others.”

Wet Matter concludes with Flotsam: A Visualization of Swimmers, Sinkers, and Spills in the Urban Ocean, a contribution from Colombian architect Luis Callejas with Martin Pavlinic, a designer at MASS Studio. Each of the 35 silhouetted items in the I Spy-arrangement corresponds to an index of oceanic items, characters, terms, and stories. From Mobro 4000, a notorious waste-loaded barge, to Laura Dekker, the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the world on her own, the index juxtaposes the unlikely bedfellows of an urban ocean.

Purchase a copy of Wet Matter. 

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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Under the Dome, a Chinese documentary film that exposes the truth about pollution in China, has been watched by more than 200 million viewers there. It was just shown in Washington, D.C. at the Woodrow Wilson Center, at an event sponsored by the Kissinger Institute on China and the China Environmental Forum, as part of the D.C. Environmental Film Festival.

While the film’s release was first supported by the new Chinese environmental minister, it has since been removed from public view by Chinese government censors. This is because the film, which has the feel of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, has sparked a national outcry. Several of the speakers at this event suggested the impact of Under the Dome may be similar to that of Rachel Carson’s famous book Silent Spring in America, which documented the impact of pesticides in the environment in the early 60’s and is credited with starting the U.S. environmental movement.

The film is one of the first presentations of scientific data to the Chinese public by an individual citizen, Chai Jing, a former investigative reporter at CCTV, rather than through an official agency of government. Much of the data concerning the pollutants PM 2.5 (fine respirable particles) and PM10 (coarse particles) were obtained from the U.S. Embassies in China, which collect and disseminate accurate numbers on air pollution, much to the chagrin of local authorities. Chai’s film may help Chinese citizens take on the powerful coal and steel industries, limiting their ability to unlawfully pollute.

It’s estimated some 500,000 Chinese die prematurely from cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory disease brought on by air pollution each year.

Learn more about Under the Dome in an op-ed in The New York Times.

This guest post is by Laurence E. Coffin, FASLA.

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