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Archive for the ‘Green Infrastructure’ Category

downspout

Downspout leads to a rain garden at Mary Myer’s house / Rob Cardillo. The New York Times

One Woman’s Pipe Dream The New York Times, 10/9/14
“Mary E. Myers, a landscape architect and associate professor at Temple University, had more than absorbing storm water in mind when she created a 200-square-foot rain garden beside her sloping lawn in this shady suburb north of downtown Philadelphia.”

London Mulls Plans for a £600m Floating Bike Path BBC News, 10/13/14
“In an inspired burst of think-outside-the-street strategy, a London consortium is floating an audacious plan to turn part of the River Thames into a nearly eight-mile-long, bikes-only pathway.”

Hermann Park Marks Centennial with Opening of GardensHouston Chronicle, 10/13/14
“Since its establishment in 1914, Hermann Park has served the Houston community as a place to relax, play, engage and learn. To celebrate the Park’s 100th year, the McGovern Centennial Gardens, a new park, will have its grand opening Saturday, Oct. 18.”

Creative Parks Cost Money, and They’re Worth it: HumeToronto Star, 10/13/14
“A city park can be innovative, imaginative, and carry cultural weight. In Toronto, we’re only starting to try.”

A Plan to Turn a Queens Railway Into a ParkThe New York Times, 10/14/14
“‘The advantage of leaving the site vacant for so long is that we’ve got some very large oaks, maple and walnut trees,’ said Susannah C. Drake, the principal of DlandStudio, a landscape architecture firm. ‘On the viaduct, some smaller things have sprouted up like wild roses, sumac and cedars.’”

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cantrell

Cyborg Landscapes / Bradley Cantrell, Kristi Cheramie, Jeffrey Carney, and Matthew Seibert, Louisiana State University Coastal Sustainability Studio, the design firm Invivia, and Urbain DRC.


Design Profile: Q&A with Marcel Wilson of Bionic Landscape Architecture
The San Francisco Chronicle, 9/2/14
“Marcel Wilson, the principal of San Francisco-based Bionic Landscape Architecture, sees every project as a possibility for invention.”

Grand Park Benefits Made in America, but Is the Reverse True? – The Los Angeles Times, 9/2/14
“Luckily, even as concertgoers were tramping across Grand Park’s lawns and through its flower beds, they were also helping demonstrate pretty clearly where its design might be tweaked and improved. They made up a huge and unwitting landscape-architecture focus group.”

Unveiled: 5 Visions for Landscape Above Crissy FieldThe San Francisco Chronicle, 9/4/14
“They vary widely in looks, but each of the five new conceptual visions for the landscape above Crissy Field have two things in common. Each has seductive aspects – and each tries too hard to bedazzle, in a setting where flash is not what we need.”

Changing Skyline: Dilworth Park Has Many Irresistible Features, but It’s Stiff, Uncomfortable The Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/6/14
“They’ve reconstructed the space in front of Philadelphia’s palatial City Hall, furnished it with a cafe, a high-tech spray fountain and movable chairs, and rebranded it Dilworth Park. But the vast granite prairie is still very much a plaza, with all the weaknesses the word implies.”

These Synthetic Landscapes Respond to Nature in Real Time to Protect Us — and the Planet Fast Company, 9/8/14
“Bradley Cantrell, a landscape architect and TED fellow who will speak at the upcoming TEDGlobal2014 conference, is one of the pioneers exploring how the human-built world may begin relating differently to the natural world. ‘The goal is to embed computation, but with this kind of conservationist viewpoint,’ says Cantrell.”

“Dice Park” Fiasco Holds Lessons About Rising Expectations for Civic Design in Cleveland: Commentary The Plain Dealer, 9/12/14
“The brief life and rapid death last week of the Horseshoe Casino’s concept for the so-called ‘Dice Park’ in downtown Cleveland may have set a speed record for the public condemnation of a weak design idea.”

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green

ASLA 2012 General Design Award of Excellence. A Green Sponge for a Water-Resilient City: Qunli Stormwater Park. Haerbin City, Heilongjiang Province, China. Turenscape and Peking University, Beijing

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has launched a guide to explain the many benefits of “green infrastructure” — designed systems that harness nature to create proven benefits for communities and the environment.

Green infrastructure includes park systems, urban forests, wildlife habitat and corridors, and green roofs and green walls. These infrastructure systems protect communities against flooding or excessive heat, or help to improve air and water quality, which underpin human and environmental health.

The idea that nature is also infrastructure isn’t new, but it’s now more widely understood to be true, according to Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA. Researchers are amassing a body of evidence to prove that green infrastructure actually works: these systems are often more cost-effective than outmoded models of grey infrastructure—a term used for the concrete tunnels created to move water—and also provide far more benefits for both people and the environment.

“At all scales, green infrastructure provides real ecological, economic, and social benefits,” added Somerville. “Cities need as much green infrastructure as possible, and landscape architects are implementing it in communities across the country.”

Here are just some of the many benefits that these systems provide all at once: green infrastructure absorbs and sequesters atmospheric carbon dioxide (C02); filters air and water pollutants; stabilizes soil to prevent or reduce erosion; provides wildlife habitat; decreases solar heat gain; lowers the public cost of stormwater management infrastructure and provides flood control; and reduces energy usage through passive heating and cooling. In contrast, grey infrastructure usually provides just a single benefit.

The guide, part of ASLA’s series of sustainable design resource guides and toolkits, includes hundreds of research studies by leading scientists, news articles, and case studies on innovative uses of green infrastructure.

Resources are organized into seven sections that go from large scale (the region, the city) to the small scale (constructed wetlands, green streets, and green roofs and walls). Specifically, there are sections on forests & nature preserves; wildlife habitat & corridors; cities; constructed wetlands; green streets; and green roofs & walls. There are descriptions of the many types of green infrastructure, their quantifiable benefits, and the role of landscape architects in creating these systems.

For example, in the section on cities, there are two powerful examples showing the benefits of green infrastructure:

In Philadelphia, a comprehensive green infrastructure approach is estimated to cost just $1.2 billion over the next 25 years, compared to over $6 billion for “grey” infrastructure. The city is expecting up to 1.5 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emission to be avoided or absorbed through green infrastructure each year, the equivalent of removing close to 3,400 vehicles from roadways. The city estimates 20 deaths due to asthma will be avoided, and 250 fewer work or school days will be missed. Lastly, the economic benefits are also outstanding: the new greenery will increase property values by $390 million over 45 years, also boosting the property taxes the city takes in.

New York City’s green infrastructure plan is projected to cost $1.5 billion less than a comparable grey infrastructure approach. Green stormwater management systems alone will save $1 billion, at a cost of about $0.15 less per gallon. Also, sustainability benefits in NYC range from $139-418 million over the 20 year life of the project, depending on measures implemented. The plan estimates that “every fully vegetated acre of green infrastructure would provide total annual benefits of $8.5 in reduced energy demand, $166 in reduced CO2 emissions, $1,044 in improved air quality, and $4,725 in increased property value.”

Landscape architects were deeply involved in the creation and management of these visionary plans. Many more contribute to making these plans a reality by planning and designing urban forests, parks, and green roofs and walls.

Explore the guide.

This guide is a living resource, so the public is invited to submit additional research studies, news articles, and case studies. Please e-mail them to ASLA at info@asla.org

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WI-Green

Shoreline green infrastructure at the new Water Institute Campus in Baton Rouge / Voorsanger Architects

At a lecture on resilient waterfront design at the Center for Architecture in New York, two projects now in the works show how public spaces can still be created on shorelines, even in the era of the monster storm: the Water Institute Headquarters, Research, and Interpretive Center proposal in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by SuperMass Studio; and the Rockaways Boardwalk Reconstruction Plan in Queens, New York, from CH2M HILL, with the RBA Group and WXY. Both use green buffers to protect the shoreline and add biodiversity, but are designed to ensure easy public access.

Baton Rouge has had their share of storm events, but new shoreline green infrastructure could help mitigate the impacts of future ones. Taewook Cha, ASLA, founding principal of SuperMass Studio, presented their landscape plan for the Water Institute. Built on the old city dock, the main campus building will be parallel to the main circulation corridor between the dock and city center. This orientation creates a physical and symbolic connection to the Mississippi River.

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The Water Institute’s Headquarters is oriented parallel to the main thoroughfare to maintain public connection to the waterfront / Voorsanger Architects

Along the opposite side of the throughway, SuperMass will recreate six distinct coastal-riparian ecosystems: coastal wetland, floodplain forest, wet meadow, shallow marsh, upper prairie, and backwater marsh.

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WI-Section-1 Diverse coastal ecosystems on the Mississippi shoreline / SuperMass Studios

These constructed ecosystems will provide a range of services. They will protect the shoreline and structures, stabilize the banks, help restore the ridges, divert sediment, and enable the creation of new marshes and channels. These new systems will provide stormwater and flood management while creating new wildlife habitat.

At Rockaways beach in New York, the devastation of Hurricane Sandy is still fresh; the community won’t soon forget. The old wooden boardwalk there was torn apart by storm surges that turned the wooden planks into destructive projectiles that destroyed homes along the shoreline. In response, the New York City Parks and the Department of Design and Construction have rebuilt areas with concentrated amenities, and then filled in the stretches along the five-mile long shoreline. Future boardwalks will be made from concrete and recycled plastic lumber so they don’t splinter. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging sand from the ocean floor to build massive sand berms between homes, boardwalk, and beaches to protect the community from the next Sandy.

Boardwalk-Devastation

Boardwalk Devastation / Chang W. Lee via New York Times

The challenge, said Jackson Wandres, director of landscape architecture and planning at the RBA Group, was to create a new boardwalk that was not only structurally sound but also maintained the public space and beach access of the old boardwalk. To accomplish this, RBA Group proposed rebuilding the boardwalk along its original route, but raising it up between three and eight feet, as appropriate, to match the height of the Army Corps berms. In essence: “one giant earthwork with a giant public esplanade running along top of it – that’s the public open space we’re creating.”

Ecologically-appropriate vegetation will be planted both along the boardwalk and the berms themselves. In addition, concrete pavers, designed with a neat wave pattern that made the audience say “whoa!,” will allow bike access for the first time. Ramps will allow beach access over and down the berms. The project will be built over the next two years with federal funds, at a cost of somewhere between $200 and $260 million.

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Wave pattern in the concrete pavers / RBA Group

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Ramps from the boardwalk allow beach access / RBA Group

Should another storm surge hit Rockaways hard, much of the sand will again be wiped out. But the boardwalk is high enough above the surge line that sand will be swept out from under it. The concrete infrastructure should be left intact, avoiding the projectile damage caused during Sandy.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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Levee Lab at Hunts Point tests designed ecologies, materials, and techniques for climate-adapted industrial waterfronts to develop new regulatory frameworks / OLIN and PennDesign

Levee Lab at Hunts Point tests designed ecologies, materials, and techniques for climate-adapted industrial waterfronts to develop new regulatory frameworks / OLIN & PennDesign

Is resilience ecological, economic, cultural, or social? For Red Hook and Hunts Point, two communities in New York City, the answer is all of the above, argued Barbara Wilks, FASLA, and Richard Roark, ASLA, at a talk at the Center for Architecture in New York City.

Wilks spoke about the Red Hook community in Brooklyn, which was the focus of their Commercial Corridor Resiliency Project, a proposal submitted to the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rebuild by Design competition by HR&A Advisors, Inc., with Cooper, Robertson & Partners and W-Architecture & Landscape Architecture, where Wilks is principal and founder. Their proposal, which unfortunately didn’t win, explains: “In Red Hook, resiliency involves integrating flood protection through measures that maintain and enhance waterfront maritime and industrial activity while allowing for public access to the waterfront.”

Focusing on public corridors could help create social resiliency and civic spirit. Re-integrating the historic maritime legacy more closely with other parts of the community could strengthen local identity. And embracing the importance of water as not only threat but also opportunity could be important in a community that had some streets under as much as five feet of water following Hurricane Sandy. “Every nook and cranny in Red Hook is different,” said Wilks, so many different solutions would be needed to create redundancies across scales.

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The Gowanus Canal, typically a source of flooding in Red Hook, could become a revitalized “Maker’s District” for manufacturing and production business. A raised promenade encourages access to the space for pedestrians / HR&A Advisors

The project could also bring the community closer to the waterfront edge to create pedestrian and recreational opportunities that blur the border between water and community, rather than trying to create hard separations.

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Renderings show a new wave barrier protection to reduce wave action in a storm events while providing recreational waterfront amenities during normal conditions / HR&A Advisors

A one-mile section of Hunts Point peninsula in South Bronx is “the hub of the food supply for 22 million people, a $5 billion annual economy, over 20,000 direct jobs, and livelihoods of people in the poorest U.S. Congressional District.” Up to 60 percent of New York City’s produce, meat, and fish supply comes from Hunts Point – also home to the Food Bank for New York City. And it’s all in a floodplain, said Roark, who works at OLIN. He presented Hunts Point Lifelines, a winning Rebuild by Design proposal from OLIN and PennDesign that will receive $20 million.

The community escaped major impacts from Sandy, but if the floods had moved differently during that event, the one million pounds of food Hunts Point provided to the region in the five days following the storm could have been decimated. This would not only impact New York’s food supply. The floodwaters combined with decaying food following power outages could turn the entire neighborhood into a toxic waste site.

The economic value – and vulnerability – of Hunts Point is clear. But Roark also asked the audience to consider the social and cultural value of Hunts Point: “We sit at a tipping point where communities can become incredibly bifurcated: either wealthy places, or islands of extreme poverty.” In wealthier communities, residents who can afford flood insurance can either take a hit and rebuild, or leave altogether. With both historically impoverished residents and a large influx of poor immigrants, Hunts Point residents have neither of these luxuries. But the economic disadvantages belie the cultural contributions the area has given to not just the region but the world with a thriving street art scene and its historic legacy as the “birthplace” of hip-hop.

Hunts Points is a test site – a “crucible,” in the language of the design proposal – for the sort of future we want. For OLIN and PennDesign, the future includes a flood protection levee lab that combines protection of Hunt Point’s food hub with recreational and research opportunities.

A proposed open market honors Hunt Point's food production legacy and increases food access to residents / OLIN & PennDesign

A proposed open market honors Hunt Point’s food production legacy and increases food access to residents / OLIN & PennDesign

There will be new jobs associated with stormwater infrastructure, maritime emergency supply lines, and a state of the art “trigeneration” plant, designed to meet the district’s large refrigeration demands. These jobs will be accessible via “cleanways.”

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Urban “cleanway” / OLIN & PennDesign

Both projects drive home an important point: resiliency is ultimately about the people at the heart of the places we’re trying to keep safe. Both Wilks and Roark called for using resilient design to improve social equity, preserving community identity and historical legacies, and embracing multiple solutions across scales rather than attempting to find one catch-all “universal” solution.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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toronto

Corktown Common Park, Toronto by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and Arup / Arup

Made in the Shade: Landscaping in the Shadow of the High Line – Metropolis Magazine, 7/16/14
“The High Line proved to be the main site challenge, as it occupies much of the visual landscape and creates areas of permanent shade—limiting the plant palette and the ability to establish a lush, viable landscape.”

In Praise of Lurie Garden, Millennium Park’s Quiet Corner – Chicago Magazine, 7/18/14
“Sheltered from the city and the riotous expanse of the park by a dark curtain of evergreens, it’s less trod and less often regarded than the Bean’s plaza and the Crown Fountain, as appropriate for a sanctuary. It doesn’t get enough attention; it gets enough people.”

Bostonians Want Better Parks, More Farmer’s Markets & Preserved Historical Architecture BostInno, 7/22/14
“So why do people come to, and plant roots in, Boston? Is it its prestigious higher-ed institutions? Perhaps its the championship-caliber sports teams? A new survey done by collaborative design firm Sasaki Associates has the answer.”

New Toronto Park Is a Stormwater Treatment Plant in Disguise – The Architect’s Newspaper, 7/23/14
“Using Brooklyn Bridge Park and Hudson River Park as reference points, the reclaimed space has an array of natural plants, landscapes, ecosystems as well as lawns, athletic fields, picnic tables, play areas, and a pavilion that includes a community kitchen. That can all be seen at first glance, but the $27 million park was built as more than a play area—it was built to work.”

Hey, Mister, I’ve Got a Park I Can Sell You – The New York Times, 7/24/14
“It’s this juxtaposition of intimate little spaces and expansive views that makes the park so exhilarating and a place to return to in different light and seasons.”

At 93, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Is Still One of Canada’s Most Beloved Landscape Architects The Globe and Mail, 7/25/14
“One of the most important landscape architects of the 20th century and a pioneer in the fields of green design and rooftop landscapes, she has spoken and written often about the ‘solace’ of trees.”

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2. Living Breakwaters Beach perspective

Living Breakwaters: social, economic, and ecological resiliency through risk reduction / SCAPE Landscape Architecture PLLC

“It’s going to be unbearable outside in the southern half of the U.S. by the end of the century,” said Harriet Tregoning, director of the office of economic resilience, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), at a lecture on Rebuild by Design at the National Building Museum (NBM).

Explaining why we need new approaches to resilience, she said in just the first twelve years of this century, we’ve already seen the two costliest natural disasters in U.S. history (Hurricanes Katrina in 2005 and Sandy in 2012), along with more frequent and extreme events, such as wildfires, droughts, and flooding — which scientists say all result from climate change. Consider also the trend towards urbanization, particularly in coastal areas, and you have a precarious mix of higher exposure to risk for ever-increasing populations in some of the most vulnerable areas of the country.

Post-disaster rebuilding in the U.S. has historically focused on rebuilding the same systems that failed in the first place, as quickly as possible. But “the challenges of our time are bigger and more complex than our conventional linear thinking is capable of tackling,” said Nancy Kete, managing director at the Rockefeller Foundation.

After Sandy, the foundation was able to gain more traction for their progressive recommendations, rather than the more conventional “rebuild as usual.” The high visibility of their 2010 Rising Currents exhibition, a collaboration with New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), also helped. Together with HUD, they now seek new solutions that embrace complexity.

The foundation and HUD came together to organize the Rebuild by Design competition, which has allocated nearly $1 billion to 10 Sandy-affected areas in New York and New Jersey. As James Russell describes in Al Jazeera America, the competition seeks to“engage communities to develop a more porous relationship between land and water that recognizes the dynamism of rising seas and more violent storms.”

At NBM, three Rebuild by Design winners presented their projects:

The SCAPE team’s pilot-scale “Living Breakwaters” project running along approximately one-mile of the Staten Island shoreline, will create an innovative “reef street,” which will provide habitat for a range of sea life. Gena Wirth, ASLA, associate at SCAPE, added that a “layered approach” of risk reduction, culture, and ecology will “create moments along the shoreline that allow access.” (see image above)

The MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism (CAU) + ZUS + Urbanisten team proposed MeadowPark, which will transform New Jersey’s Meadowlands, west of Manhattan, into an accessible nature preserve filled with a set of marshes and berms that can serve as a buffer against rising water levels. Alexander D’Hooghe, associate professor, MIT School of Architecture + Planning, said: “what Central Park is to Manhattan, the Meadowpark could and should be to the entire metro region – a floodable regional park attraction.”

1. Meadowlands Aerial

New Meadowlands / MIT + ZUS + Urbanisten

The OMA team‘s proposal offers a range of interventions woven into an integrated green infrastructure fabric for the city of Hoboken, New Jersey. “Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge” uses a combination of hard engineering and “soft” landscape infrastructure to mitigate the impacts of flooding and help the city manage water better from all directions – land and sea. Mark Thomann, Landscape Director, wHY, said “we can’t just build a fortress around the city – it’s neither feasible nor desirable.”

OMA 4-leg strategy

Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge / OMA team

In a subsequent panel discussion with the design teams, HUD, and the Rockefeller Foundation, the discussion hinged on questions of how to implement these and other proposed designs, how to move progress forward with notoriously slow-moving government bureaucracies, and how to gain support from both the public and policy-makers. Part of the answer lies in the structure of the competition and its design and implementation process: public and private stakeholders were involved from the beginning.

If these projects are successful, they will then build support for being “scaled up,” said Kete. But we need to take the time to implement them at a small-scale first and then observe and analyze them to see what’s successful and how easily they can be replicated. Indeed, finding and then replicating what works will be crucial. To enable this process, the White House recently announced the National Disaster Resilience competition, which will provide winning communities with nearly $1 billion to rebuild with increased resiliency.

Still, there is no way to become fully resilient overnight. “We can’t be in a hurry,” said Rebuild by Design co-chairman Henk Ovink. We can start out by “embracing complexity, not knowing what the next thing is . . . it will take a generation. But it will also take bold decisions now.”

3. oyster school

Students at the Billion Oyster Project’s Harbor School on Staten Island / SCAPE

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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next

Next Generation Infrastructure / Island Press

Between crumbling bridges, rising sea levels, growing garbage piles, and the ravages of drought and storms, we’ve grown used to bad news when it comes to infrastructure in the United States. Old systems are failing, new challenges arising, and solutions are elusive or perplexing. Into this maelstrom enters Hillary Brown, architect, infrastructure consultant and professor at the Spitzer School of Architecture. Her new book Next Generation Infrastructure: Principles for Post-Industrial Public Works, is an inspiring argument for infrastructure that behaves like nature.

Armed with simple prescriptions, Brown argues that the next generation of infrastructure cannot resemble the hard, single-function and carbon-intensive structures of yore. Rather, we need “more diversified, distributed, and interconnected infrastructural assets that simulate the behavior of natural systems.” She walks us through the principles of a new ecological infrastructure piece by piece, with abundant case studies that show that ingenious, multi-purpose, carbon-neutral, resilient systems are not a pipe dream. She pays careful attention to how they were implemented, reinforcing the argument that these case studies are models that can be applied beyond their exceptional contexts.

On a world tour of next generation infrastructure, Brown stops to describe ingenious feats of co-location, “decarbonizing” infrastructure (that is, infrastructure which emits low or no carbon), and soft-path water systems. Highlights include a Malaysian automobile tunnel that retains stormwater, a French waste recovery center that powers public buses, and a Northern California wastewater treatment wetland that also provides walking trails and wildlife habitat.

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Aerial view, Arcata Wastewater Treatment Plant and Wildlife Sanctuary, Arcata, California / Terrence McNally

Other chapters emphasize resilient infrastructures in the light of the paradoxical abundance and scarcity of water facing areas around the globe. The clever, even artful, solutions to what seem like insurmountable solutions make for an inspiring read, even if the black and white illustrations and (unfortunately not very clear) flow charts breaking down complex loops and systems are not in the same spirit.

Particularly notable in an era of tight budgets and low expectations is Brown’s attention to the social aspects of infrastructure planning and design. An important part of her problem-solving focuses on combining amenity with utility, and close attention to siting and design. This is not only important to make sure that particular groups do not unfairly bear the brunt of everyone’s waste, water, and energy systems needs. People living near such projects can benefit from the community assets, not to mention new jobs, that new infrastructure can provide.

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View from the “Ecorium,” Naka Waste-to-Energy Plant, Hiroshima, Japan / Kenta Mabuchi

In this regard, but not only in this one, Brown argues that design is key. The design implications of co-location and systems thinking are huge, as are the opportunities for landscape architects, architects, and planners. Integrative thinking, cross-disciplinary design, and spatial imagination are essential for developing the next generation of ecological infrastructure. A leading role for designers is another piece of good news in an area often lacking for it.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Mariana Mogilevich, PhD, assistant professor, metropolitan studies program, New York University.

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Site of new NOCCA urban farm / Jared Green

“A city-wide approach to dealing with water has failed in New Orleans. We must now go neighborhood by neighborhood,” said Wes Michaels, ASLA, a partner at Spackman Mossop and Michaels (SMM), a landscape architecture firm. To address the challenges of water, “we must be tactical, strategic, nuanced, and very culturally sensitive, as New Orleans has one of the highest percentages of native-born residents. We have to focus on the ecological but also the cultural. We must create a balancing act between the two. Any ecologically-designed landscape must also work for the community.” In a wide-ranging afternoon tour of the city nearly 10 years after Hurricane Katrina, Michaels showed how his firm and others are helping the city achieve that delicate balancing act.

Our first stop is the new urban farm for the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), an innovative high school that musicians Wynton Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr. attended. In four unused lots dotted with iron pilings (see image above), SMM is creating Press Street Gardens, which will enable NOCCA students to learn about urban agriculture and produce green vegetables for the local “farm to table movement.”

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Press Street Gardens rendering / Spackman Mossop and Michaels

Michaels told me this kind of project is one of the few large-scale landscape developments moving forward in New Orleans these days (most others are trapped in a variety of morasses). “We must work at the small-scale and in-between places in this city. But we can still do really meaningful projects with low budgets.” He argued that, in a way, New Orleans has benefited from its lack of money. “The city didn’t have money to rebuild itself over and over again as other cities have.” So what you get is all that old character that draws million of tourists every year.

As we left Bywater and drove over to the Lower 9th Ward, the scene of so much turmoil ten years ago as the community was completely inundated by the failure of New Orleans’ water infrastructure, Michaels said “large-scale planning for the Lower 9th Ward broke down for historical, political reasons. Post-Katrina, there was the ‘Green Dot’ plan, a planning project that envisioned turning the lowest parts of the city into parks and green infrastructure to deal with excess stormwater. Well, the people who actually lived under this big green dot freaked out. There are some sensitive cultural issues. So the broad landscape approach was lost. But we must still deal with the stormwater problems.”

The new strategy from the New Orleans Development Authority (NORA) is to turn many of the thousands of abandoned parcels in the city into a useful green infrastructure system that also works culturally. The problem, Michaels said, is an empty lot filled with vegetation may provide a useful role in dealing with stormwater and providing wildlife habitat, but “there are negative connotations with places that aren’t taken care of. It’s like the Broken Window Syndrome.” The answer may be to create places that are “ecologically robust but have cues to care. We need to find a landscape language that gets people to value these places, instead of seeing them as ‘other’ in their cultural understanding of their neighborhood.”

To that end, a new effort by NORA will attempt to organize empty lots into a green infrastructure network that can test cultural perceptions.

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Location of test lots / Spackman Mossop and Michaels

The Louisiana State University (LSU) Urban Landscape Lab is working with NORA to experiment with 23 lots, which will range from managed forest to meadows to some hybrid in between those, a “wildflower lawn.” The goal will be to see how intensively these need to be maintained and “how these lots function in these neighborhoods.”

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Test empty lot / Jared Green

There will be low fences around the empty lots to see if they create the perceptual cue that these places are being maintained. An MLA student will be doing a two-year study, interviewing everyone around the test lots. “We’ll see how the community responds.” Michaels is cautiously optimistic that the community will be OK with managed nature “if we do it on purpose. But who knows? If they are left unmowed, people complain and then the city comes in and mows. I’m hoping that if we can show these places are cared for, maybe others will want them.”

Michaels explained that NORA also created the Growing Home program, which incentivized people who own properties next to empty lots to purchase that lot for just $4-5,000. To help sell this to the community, SMM created overlays for the web site to show how people could “build landscape credits” needed to keep ownership. NORA would refund them on the cost of materials used. Some 800 lots were turned into useful places — vegetable gardens, children’s play areas, workshops, or just places to relax.

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Growing Home example in Lower 9th Ward / Jared Green

We then move onto a part of Lower 9th Ward made famous by Brad Pitt and his Make It Right Foundation, which has financed the development of green residences for those affected by Katrina. A slew of big-name architects have come in to create some very architecture-y buildings. Mixed in all these buildings is a new park that NORA, LSU’s Urban Landscape Lab, SMM, Make It Right, and Common Ground got together. There are test beds for stormwater management, including a wetland demonstration garden.

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Make It Right Foundation community park wetland demonstration / Jared Green

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Make It Right Foundation community park wetland demonstration project / Jared Green

Amid all the pieces that deal with stormwater are some nice spots to sit and chill.

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Make It Right Foundation community park / Jared Green

Our tour then took us to where the balance between culture and ecology truly broke down. We stop at the new viewing platform created by LSU professor Austin Allen and his landscape architecture students, the University of Colorado at Denver, and community members. Once you get up to the top of the deck, you are momentarily stunned by the view of Bayou Bienvenue — a broad expanse of a “ghost swamp,” a dead Cypress forest, killed by salt water.

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Bayou Bienvenue / Jared Green

As you read the educational materials on the deck, you learn that one million acres of wetlands and forests have been lost around the Mississippi River. Wetlands are a natural buffer. “The energy in storms is dissipated by wetlands. They create friction. If a wetland is lost, it becomes open water, which only adds to a storm’s power,” Michaels explained.

As Louisiana has spent $13-14 billion rebuilding New Orlean’s pumping stations — protecting them from being destroyed themselves as they were during Katrina — the city continues its careful balancing act between the cultural and ecological. Underneath it all, creating even more challenges, the city is sinking, perhaps at an accelerated rate.

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Empty lot next to mowed lot, New Orleans / Jared Green

At the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference in New Orleans, the focus was on change — and how change will impact cities’ search for social equality. Much of urban infrastructure will need to be bolstered to survive a range of shifts: population booms or busts, economic growth or stagnation, and climate change and increasingly frequent natural disasters. But as cities adapt to these changing social, economic and climatic circumstances, are the most vulnerable being heard? When cities bounce back from all kinds of disasters, are all communities in the city, both rich and poor, equally as resilient?

Jeff Hebert, executive director of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), said, at its peak in 1960, New Orleans had a population of 630,000. After Hurricane Katrina, the “costliest natural disaster in U.S. history,” the population fell to 220,000. Now, it’s up to 369,000, still way off its peak. “We’ve been losing population for decades. Pre-existing patterns just tend to reinforce themselves in the aftermath of a disaster.” Since 1960, the population has grown in the suburbs while the core has lost density. By 2004, the number of vacant parcels was around 20-30,000. Detroit or Cleveland have a similar amount.

New Orleans is found along the banks of the Mississippi River. Land at the edges of the river is actually highest, as it has slowly accumulated there over thousands of years. Beyond these high points along the river, the city’s geography dips, forming a bowl. The French Quarter and other historic settlements are all found on high ground, meaning they are really just a few feet above sea level. Many low-Income communities like the lower 9th ward are under sea level. These neighborhoods were made possible by a pump system invented by the city. “We started building in swamps, exacerbating other environmental issues. Maybe our ancestors had it right building just on high ground.”

After Katrina struck, some 34 affected coastal parishes and New Orleans began to receive assistance through the federal Road Home Homeowner Assistance Program. As “there was no comprehensive plan, the feds took a piecemeal, local approach.” On a one-by-one basis, people could either come back to their old houses and received funds to rebuild, or got funds to rebuild somewhere else. Some 130,000 people got $8.9 billion in grants through this program. The result: “They left us with a patchwork of land.”

NORA was handed all the leftover, empty lots. They have gotten the inventory down from 5,000 to around half that. “Most of the remaining inventory is on lower ground. Some of those neighborhoods came back and others didn’t.”

So NORA initiated an innovative adaptation program for many low-income areas, with “green infrastructure, lot stabilization, alternative maintenance, and two technical assistance programs: growing green and growing home.” Hebert said these programs are about “connecting with the community about local stormwater and beautifying neighborhoods through great landscape design.”

Getting many locals in the poorer parts of the city to buy into empty lots as stormwater management systems has been tricky. “We have to change what is seen as a black eye into something beautiful that increases the quality of life and property values.” A big part of the campaign is educating many who have been there for generations about hydrology and geology. At least New Orleans is focusing on how everyone must adapt.

Roberta Feldman, an architectural activist and founder of the UIC City Design Center, then discussed how “urban redevelopment screws people,” particularly in cities like Chicago. Cities must be more sensitive to existing populations as they make way for new ones. She said Chicago’s latest housing plan will create “high-density, high-price public housing that is not socially just or cost effective.” Instead of redeveloping existing public housing complexes, the city often just tears them down and asks the poor living there to move into apartments somewhere else in the city or join in a public mixed use development. The problem is their existing community has been dismantled, “and these residents don’t want to move.” These efforts are also not cost-effective, Feldman argued, because creating new housing invariably costs much more per square foot than simply revamping older buildings. If the city had used the money more wisely, more public housing could have been developed. “The housing authority could have renovated 25,000 units for the same price as 9,000 new units.”

Cecilia Martinez, recently head of the UN-Habitat in New York, said “we must blame architects for much of the mess” we face trying to adapt cities to change. “They assume a lot. By World War II, they had initiated the Modern City movement and assumed the car would re-organize the city. Because of the car, we had super-blocks, so no one walks anymore. They said ‘let’s do low density. Let’s put towers in the middle of gardens.'” Graphed on top of this car-based system is a developer-led system, which marginalizes the poor. As a result, “Latin America is either super-highways and super-blocks or slums.” Martinez said this urban model is clearly broken because some 800 million people live in slums without access to public spaces. “While New York City, one of the world’s wealthiest cities, is comprised of some 60 percent public space — when you add in streets, parks, and plazas — the slums in Kenya have maybe 1 percent public space.” To enable everyone to adapt, “we need to focus on walking and biking, public spaces, and mixed social structures.”

“In all of the world’s deltas, large changes are taking place,” said Han Meyer, a professor at Delft University in the Netherlands who offered a broader framework for adaptation. The problem is these deltas and other coastal areas are the site of much of the world’s urbanization. There are multiple dynamics happening at once. “There are the dynamics of the natural environment. One thousand years of land-water relations change. The way deltas carry sediment changes over time. These changes have been caused by climate change since the Ice Age, and the process has been ongoing for a long time. Then, there’s the societal use of the delta. Dynamic land-uses plus nature means a very complex system that will continue to change. We need to be able to adapt both types of environments. They are at different frequencies, rhythms. The problem is nature has a different time scale for change than societies.” So his answer for how to adapt to change: “There can be no final plans. We can only build different scenarios. “

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