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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

mammoth

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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nationalpark

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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drought

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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fsc

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

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.”

cruise-ship

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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map1

Ecological Tapestry of the World / ESRI and USGS

A new, free, web-based tool from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and ESRI allows us to gain a better understanding of the ecological character of any place in the world. As the team explains, the web site can be used by everyone — from local government officials and planners to landscape architects and conservationists — to visualize the world’s complex ecological patterns. This also means in the future the tool can be used to map the impacts of climate change and development on ecosystems over time.

According to Randy Vaughan, ESRI, an enormous amount of science (and data) went into creating the tool. “The globe was divided in cells at a base resolution of 250 meters.” Each cell was then assigned input layers of data that “drive ecological processes.”

When users search for any place in the world, they see a map, with four layers of information. There’s info on bio-climates, described with terms like “warm wet” or “hot dry”; landforms, with terms such as “flat plains” or “mountains”; rock type, with terms like “carbonate sedimentary rock” or “metamorphics”; and also land cover, the vegetation that results from these conditions, described with terms like “forest, farmland, or grassland.” For all data types, users can also further zoom in, all the way to the street level.

map-type
The data has resulted in an amazing number of possible combinations: There is now a “global raster data layer with 47,650 unique combinations of the four input layers. The facets were then aggregated into 3,923 ecological land units (ELUs).” These ELUs themselves represent a new, data-based way of organizing the biosphere, based in “ecological and physio-graphic land surface features.”

Roger Sayre, senior scientist for Ecosystems, USGS, said the way the tool was set up also “advances an objective, repeatable big data approach to the synthesis and classification of ecologically important data.” This big data approach means “mapping can be updated as better or more current input layers become available.”

Indeed, the team is hoping for lots more new data, given there are “known and expected deficiencies in the current input layers. For example the release of the new SRTM 30 meter elevation terrain data provides an opportunity create a higher resolution landforms map.” They are looking into adding data about social and cultural factors. USGS and ESRI also hope that other scientists will use GIS to add their own layers and do their own analysis over time.

According to Fast Company, these first maps really are the beginning of an even more compelling analysis. Sayre said: “The map is a baseline for these ecosystems, so we’ll be able to assess them for climate change or other disturbances. We see the value of the dataset as a spatial accounting framework. In the future, we’ll be able to show them as a temporal sequence [of the world unfolding].”

Also, check out a map the team created of 10 of the world’s ecological hot spots, places with high levels of ecological diversity.

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fracking

Fracking equipment in Pennsylvania / University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities via Why Files

High Volume Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” is creating soul searching among the landscape architects unlucky enough to have to deal with the mess caused by this destructive form of resource extraction. Fracking involves pumping chemicals and vast amount of water into shale formations underground, in order to break them open to release the natural gas found in the seams in the rock layers. Once the gas is captured, fracking fluids are then partially recovered and moved by trucks and pipelines to questionable disposal sites. Sometimes, toxic fluids have leaked into groundwater channels and aquifers, contaminating water supplies for thousands. The ecological damage can be massive and long-term.

At the ASLA 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver, Darla Callaway, ASLA, Design Workshop, said on the negative side, fracking “taints water and destroys landscapes.” Once a gas company extracts what it needs, it also then “abandons the community.” On the positive side, fracking can create new jobs in deeply depressed rural areas and a new sense of community, at least while it lasts. Fracking is pitting community against community, neighbor against neighbor in Pennsylvania and other states.

The question for Callaway is whether landscape architects have an ethical obligation to involve themselves in mitigating the impacts of fracking if communities decide to move forward with it. “Can landscape architects make the communities affected more resilient?” In other words, can getting involved do any good?

The Impacts of Fracking

Kim Sorvig, a research professor at the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture and Planning, gave an overview of “oil and gas 101,” and the possible negative impacts of fracking.

He explained how just .007 percent of the earth’s radius — the thin biosphere that covers Earth — hosts 90 percent of its life. This thin layer we rely on is “under threat because of efforts to get at the resources underneath it.”

The problem is almost anywhere on this thin layer can be turned into a “wasteland overnight” given oil and gas companies are “exempt from land use regulations.” Under the split-estate ownership rights scheme in the U.S., “there are different owners for the surface and subsurface.” When they come into conflict, “mineral rights are dominant.” Sorvig argued that “reforming split estate is the elephant in the room.”

Oil and gas companies lease rights to drill on a property from the surface owner, paying fees and royalties. The product — the oil or gas — is then sold to the highest bidder on international energy markets. “The industry is highly dependent on global prices.” The result: local jobs can’t be considered reliable given such a variable market.

“The industry promotes jobs and economic growth, but it’s actually a boom and bust cycle that is highly chaotic and undermines the existing structure of communities.” He added, “just as a giant truck can ruin existing infrastructure, thousands of new fracking jobs can ruin the existing economic infrastructure.”

In addition, there are real environmental impacts. “The drilling process causes surface impacts that are not just cosmetic. There can be erosion, compaction, toxic pollution. Methane can be introduced into water wells. Contaminants can be introduced into the air.” In some states, Sorvig added, “it’s even legal to dump toxic fracking chemicals into open ponds,” where they will aerate and create clouds.

Some communities can regulate how fracking will occur. However, many others have no control over what matters, like the safety of the aquifer. In some places, “there’s no flexibility to protect aquifers because well spacing has a rigid format.”

Directional drilling, in which drills extend up to 7 miles sideways underground, is one way to mitigate surface impacts, by clustering wells into one area. This approach also “enables us to do site selection to avoid aquifers.” Sorvig said some industry players are doing this voluntarily. “It’s possible with planning for landscape architects to have a good impact and create a stopgap before we shift to alternative energy.”

Mitigating the Damage

Brian Orland, FASLA, Pennsylvania State University, asked whether landscape architects who try to mitigate the damage of fracking are “idealists, realists, or cadaver cosmeticians?” Pennsylvania is at the front lines of fracking. In some counties where they have banned the practice, “people feel cheated.” In others where it’s going ahead, “it’s a source of money.” However, not everyone in those towns are financially benefiting. “It’s a real social equity issue.”

When deciding whether to allow fracking or not, people face “too much information, too many hidden or moving parts.” There’s an advantage to the energy industry to “obscure the information.” In considering a ban, local leaders face “inexorable choices.” People just “don’t know what to expect.”

One issue is that communities are largely prevented from planning the minimization of impacts. This is because “the industry is exempt from environmental regulations. Zoning is absent in rural areas. Landowners are ill informed. Mineral rights dominate.”

As a result, landscape architects are ill equipped to help communities. In theory, these designers can help “contain and repair what has happened, shape what is yet to happen, or design landscapes to be more resilient to the unexpected or accidental.” Landscape architects can help communities figure out how to create any “long-term benefits.”

In fracking communities, Orland has been trying to help. “Our strategy is storytelling, exploring relationships, providing many examples of what could happen, and creating designs. We can help communities project the impacts of wells and pipelines. We can look into the future based on past impacts.” For example, a company may say a new gas pipeline will remove 8,000 acres of forest; but the reality based on past experience may be 25,000 acres of forest. “We can model the stormwater and flooding impact of that loss of forest cover.”

Orland helps communities route pipelines strategically to “minimize the number of forests, wetlands, streams, and homes impacted.” In Tioga County, Pennsylvania, Orland even helped the community “minimize the impact of visual scenic resources.” There are ways to “disguise pipelines and fracking structures.”

The Soul Searching

The questions remain for Orland, though: “Are we cadaver cosmeticians? Are we green washers? We can mitigate the impacts of a destructive industry, but we also risk the criticism of environmental groups. We can be accused of hiding the ills of fracking. Are we working for the people, industry, or landscape?”

He seem to conclude it’s better to get involved: “Communities deserve jobs but also a clean environment. Landscape architects can help communities make an informed decision.”

Sorvig provided another perspective. “You can think you are a good person who cares about the environment, but what happens when you have to work with people who are doing bad things. How do you reconcile? Will you be an environmentalist or industry hack? Everybody will criticize you. It’s brave to be in the middle. We have a responsibility to make the landscape as healthy as possible. Fracking isn’t going away.” Still, actually working on mitigating the impacts of fracking was for him, “the most painful thing in my life.”

To ban fracking in more states, there may need to be a broader political shift, which can only happen through public pressure on elected officials and regulators and direct lobbying in state capitals. Gail Schwartz, a state senator in Colorado, discussed Colorado’s regulatory approach to fracking — and the recent conflicts between the state, which allows fracking, and the local communities, who have been trying to ban the practices and have in turn been sued by the state. She said local ASLA chapters need to be more involved in lobbying. “You must have a seat at the legislative table. You need to watch every proposal and create relationships in your statehouse. The door needs to be open for you when it matters.”

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Stegastein_forasla

Stegastein / Johanna Hoffman

Regardless of how beautiful or strange a landscape is, we’ve all done it. After the initial shock of a cliff’s craggy façade or the undulating, raw rubble of lava rock flows wears off, we’ve been lulled into sensory complacency. Amazement only lasts for so long: being stunned becomes the norm.

This is why the 120 designed projects along Norway’s National Tourist Route are so significant. They are the result of a multi-decade investment of nearly $400 million by the Norwegian government to enhance overlooks, picnic areas, and rest stops along its scenic highways. Together, theses projects exemplify design’s power to highlight nature.

A result of our hunter-gatherer heritage, we humans are good at maintaining a narrow focus. Through different creative media – film, dance – we have developed ways to compensate. Filmmakers regularly use music to highlight the feeling of a character or the insight of a narrative moment. Musicians employ lighting during live performances to cue audiences to shifts in mood. Designers of Norway’s tourist routes show how landscape architecture can do the same for our appreciation of landscapes, expanding our narrow focus.

In Stegastein (see image at top), which was created in 2006 by Todd Saunders and Tommie Wihelmsen, laminated wood contrasts with the surrounding forested hillside in color and form, reinterpreting the steep movements of the region’s hillsides.

In Storseisundet Bridge, which was completed in 1989, the rising section of the scenic highway crafts a line against the jagged outcrops of the surrounding fjord. The contrast highlights the intense sinuosity of the Norwegian shore.

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Atlantic Road Bridge / Johanna Hoffman

Other projects use design to accentuate landscape dynamics otherwise difficult to identify.

For example, in Vedahaugane, completed in 2010 by L. J. Berge and Z. Jelnikar, the designers reveal complexity in the simple — both in the path’s design and the surrounding landscape — by using curved benches.

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Vedahaugane / Johanna Hoffman

And in Sohlbergplassen, created in 2005 by Carl-Viggo Hølmebakk, the exuberance of the curves coupled with the linear nature of the concrete formwork highlight the tightness of the forest groves and dappled light falling through the trees.

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Sohlbergplassen / Johanna Hoffman

And then there are designs that use framing devices to enable new ways of relating to the space.

Gudbrandsjuvet, which was created in 2007 by Jensen & Skodvin, is a CorTen steel walkway that crisscrosses a canyon carved by a gushing waterfall, cultivating a sense of both spaciousness and fragility where there otherwise would be none. Designed to sway with use, the walkway one traverses has a sense delicacy, creating a new sense of vulnerability for visitors to the waterfall.

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Gudbrandsjuvet / Johanna Hoffman

And lastly, at Trollstigen, which was designed by Reiulf Ramstad Architects in 2010, a cliff overlooks a cascading waterfall and deep valley. The handrails and benches on the steep rock outcrops make seemingly dangerous areas approachable.

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Trollsteigen / Johanna Hoffman

The main viewing platform provides spaces for both refuge and spectacle and prospect. The combination of these moments tells us extreme outdoor spaces are places to be appreciated rather than feared.

This guest post is by Johanna Hoffman, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture Graduate, University of California – Berkeley, College of Environmental Design. 

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