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Archive for the ‘Policy and Regulation’ Category

cemetery

Sinking cemetery in Leeville, Louisiana / Mississippi Delta.org

Words, picture, video are used to convey the experience of change. But can they ever tell the whole story? In a world where all news seems ephemeral — with the next interesting tidbit just a click away — how can stories with deep complexities be easily understood and, even, remembered? At the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference in New Orleans, a set of great communicators took the big stage to offer their stories and tips for how designers can break through all the noise.

Richard Campanella, a Tulane University-based geographer, said the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe was the “searing result of generations of problems.” So many reporters began to realize the complexities in the tale. Soon, “all these arcane topics had become part of the global discourse.” He said in times like this, the only thing an expert with something to offer can do is “heed the call and communicate. You know more than most.” Campanella soon became stuck permanently on the “media rolodex, this worldwide juggernaut.”

Immediately after the storm, the “neighborhood recovery prioritization” was the most controversial topic. Not liking what he was hearing, Campanella waded in, offering proposals that helped shape the public debate. He said the effect of his guest op-eds in the local papers was critical. His argument: “Instead of moving residents out of lower areas, why not just encourage them to go to higher areas?” Using maps, he showed how 2,000 empty parcels were above sea level, providing space for 10,000 people. His report, Higher Ground, made the cover of the now web-only Times Picayune. Through his maps and analysis, Campanella showed how just 50 percent of the city is now above sea level, but how it used to be 100 percent. “The report showed that human activity has sunk us below sea level.” The report ended up “shaping the historical development of the city.”

Experts should “only opine when you have new arguments and data. Don’t rehash. Don’t get into the passions of the moment, as you can easily inflame them further.” Messages to the public must be “consistent and judicious.” He added that “the media is fickle and interviews are potentially dangerous.” Experts have the most control over their messages when they write op-eds. He said panel discussions are also fraught with potential dangers, as “you don’t know where the conversation will go. Be prudent when speaking improvisationally.”

For Michael Pasquier, who teaches religious history at Louisiana State University (LSU), images speak volumes. In Leeville, Louisiana, there was a shot of an old cemetery sinking into the delta, outside of the levees in the red zone (see image above). “This one image led to tons of news stories.” The New York Times covered it, saying “this fits with what’s happening here.” But “that’s an oversimplification of a larger set of problems.” Pasquier called these types of journalists “parachute artists. They interview a few talking heads and kooky Cajuns and then leave. The story I’m interested in is: what happens after they leave?”

Pasquier is a historian who has become a filmmaker, driven by the desire to capture and communicate change. His film, Water Like Stone, focuses on Louisiana fisherman, a group who have been “highly dehumanized through media coverage, but who have an intimate knowledge of these places.” Pasquier focused on these people’s stories, their history, also to humanize the local scientists, placing them in the landscape. “It’s not about trying to control this place, but being of this place.”

Nancy Levinson, the editor of Places, an online journal, pulled back from the conversation on New Orleans, saying “we are living through a genuine revolution” in how we communicate. The age of the press, created by Gutenberg centuries ago, is coming to an end. “It’s hard to see the edges. New technologies are disruptive as earthquakes. The old system is crumbling, and that’s messy.” The web was once something that could be ignored, but no longer. “The digital revolution is over. It has now entered a period of consolidation. As we enter a post-revolutionary future, we must rethink the old stuff.”

Places, for example, is now online only. But Levinson said the “very format of the journal may need to be rethought.” The traditional journal for one’s peers in a technical area is now “less important,” because, with the web, “these journals can be liberated from the specialists and can spur larger discourse and civic engagement.” While there may still be some tension between writing for one’s peers or the public, really, good writing should do both.

She added that the crisis in scholarly publications is already happening, as the momentum for open, digital access grows. The traditional journal provides a “vital services to academics but a low level of service to readers.” With the global connectivity of the Internet, there can be new types of publishing. Levinson pointed to Vector, a new journal that enables peer-reviewed multimedia scholarship to be accessed by all. She concluded, “design research can’t just circulate in the discipline; every investigation needs to be a narrative to build awareness among the public.”

Lastly, Makani Themba, who runs The Praxis Project, said too many advocates think if they simply marshal the right data and package it into a sensible argument, the other side will simply say, “wow, you are right.” She said, “sadly, it doesn’t happen that way. We come to every conversation with a set of beliefs. Any issue we are confronted with is set within a history and beliefs we have built over time.” Power relationships shape those beliefs. “They are embedded. We start east and go west. We start white and go black. This is what becomes normal for us. It’s deeply rooted.”

So when we communicate, “we shouldn’t start in the opposition. Some 30 percent of Americans side with progressive ideas. Another 30 percent side with conservatives. 30 percent can go either way, and 10 percent are just not in the conversation.” She said if the messages are inclusive, we can “easily find ourselves at 60-70 percent supporting us.” That inclusive message?: “we are all inter-connected. We should invest in each other.”

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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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coalplant

Coal power plant / Wikipedia

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just announced historic new rules that will cut carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. coal power plants by 30 percent by 2030. Amazingly, the country’s 1,600 power plants together account for nearly 40 percent of total U.S. emissions. Of these, there are still some 600 coal-powered plants running. And aging coal plants (their average age is 42) account for a disproportionate share of total emissions from the power sector. The EPA, which is acting through its authority under the Clean Air Act, will now open the rules for public comment. Once that process is complete, they intend to give states flexibility to act. The New York Times says President Obama’s new rules are one of the “strongest actions ever taken by the United States government to fight climate change.”

States will be given some leeway to design their own programs to cut emissions. “Rather than immediately shutting down coal plants, states would be allowed to reduce emissions by making changes across their electricity systems — by installing new wind and solar generation or energy-efficiency technology, and by starting or joining state and regional ‘cap and trade’ programs, in which states agree to cap carbon pollution and buy and sell permits to pollute.” This is a sensible approach as the energy mix varies widely state by state, with some states naturals for some types of renewable energy, but others not.

Environmental groups cheer the new regulations, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report stating the rules could lower the gross domestic product by $50 billion annually. Nobel Prize winning-economist Paul Krugman took apart that report in a recent op-ed. Krugman writes: “So what the Chamber of Commerce is actually saying is that we can take dramatic steps on climate — steps that would transform international negotiations, setting the stage for global action — while reducing our incomes by only one-fifth of 1 percent. That’s cheap!”

While the debate over economic costs and benefits — particularly for coal-producing states — will continue, it’s becoming clear the regulations may boost the health of Americans. In fact, President Obama made a point of calling the American Lung Association while new EPA administrator Gina McCarthy announced the new effort. The Obama administration argues that in its first year the new limits will cut the number of asthma attacks by 100,000 and heart attacks by 2,100. According to The Washington Post, the EPA also estimates “the new rules will cut traditional air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and soot by 25 percent…yielding a public health benefit of between $55 billion to $93 billion when it is fully implemented, with 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths avoided and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks a year avoided.”

Carbon dioxide doesn’t cause lung or heart issues by itself, but when it spews out of coal-powered plants, it comes with soot, chemicals, and particulate matter. Targeting carbon dioxide from coal is then a smart way to tackle these other pollutants as well. A study by researchers in New York City found that during days with “high levels of ozone and air pollution, hospital admissions for respiratory problems rose about 20 percent.” Already some 25 million Americans suffer from asthma, including 6.5 million children.

This is not President Obama’s first effort to reduce emissions. New vehicle emission standards for cars and light trucks produced between 2012 and 2025 will cut 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. The new rules for coal power plants will remove another 500 million metric tons annually, says The Washington Post.

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hud

U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan announced six projects will receive $920 million through HUD’s Rebuild by Design competition. HUD will give the funds to New York, New Jersey, and New York City to further develop these projects, which are designed to make the Hurricane Sandy-affected region more resilient.

The competition was created out of President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy rebuilding taskforce as a way to dramatically improve the “physical, ecological, and economic resilience of coastal areas.” According to HUD, the design competition “created coalitions with local and regional stakeholders to develop locally-responsive proposals.”

The funds will finance additional planning, the design of innovative flood protection systems made of berms and wetlands, as well as a built reef.

The winning projects are led by multidisciplinary teams comprised of landscape architects, architects, engineers, ecologists, artists, and others. The projects are diverse, spread throughout the region. Funding looks evenly split between New York and New Jersey:

  • The BIG U (East River Park), Manhattan — The BIG Team ($335 million)
  • Living with the Bay (Slow Streams), Nassau County, Long Island — The Interboro Team ($125 million)
  • New Meadowlands, Little Ferry, Moonachie, Carlstadt, Teterboro — MIT CAU+ZUS+URBANISTEN ($150 million)
  • Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge, Hoboken, Weehawken, Jersey City — OMA ($230 million)
  • Lifelines, Hunts Point, South Bronx — PennDesign/OLIN ($20 million)
  • Living Breakwaters, Tottenville, Staten Island – SCAPE/Landscape Architecture ($60 million)

HUD writes: “The winning proposals come from teams representing some of the best planning, design, and engineering talent in the world. These inventive proposals are a blueprint for how communities can maximize resilience as they rebuild and recover from major disasters. These ideas will serve as a model for how we can mitigate the effects of climate change and natural disasters in communities throughout the Sandy region, the United States, and the world.”

Secretary Donovan, said Rebuild by Design could have a powerful ripple effect: “It’s my hope that Rebuild by Design will inspire other public-private partnerships to spur innovation and resilience.”

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, New York, said, “Are there going to be other storms like Sandy? Yes. Will we be better prepared for them because of Rebuild by Design? Absolutely.”

And Dr. Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, who helped finance the design competition and has been a major force behind the new push for resilience, said the competition harnesses “creative minds of every stripe to break the models and construct innovative and creative ways to build for our future.” Indeed, HUD is spending $60 million for the first large-scale experiments with creating reefs that can act as tide-surge mitigators.

More details on the winning proposals:

The BIG U (East River Park), Manhattan – The BIG Team

The BIG team, which includes landscape architecture firm Starr Whitehouse, aims to protect ten continuous miles of low-lying Manhattan, “an incredibly dense, vibrant, and vulnerable urban area.” Funds will be used to used to create a “bridging berm” at the East River Park along the Lower East Side. “The bridging berm provides robust vertical protection for the Lower East Side from future storm surge and rising sea levels. The berm also offers pleasant, accessible routes into the park, with many unprogrammed spots for resting, socializing, and enjoying views of the park and river. Both the berms and bridges will be wide and planted with a diverse selection of salt tolerant trees, shrubs, and perennials to create a resilient urban habitat.”

Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge, Hoboken, Weehawken, Jersey City – OMA

The OMA team, which includes landscape architecture firm Balmori Associates, will protect all of the Hoboken waterfront and parts of Weehawken and Jersey City. The project “deploys programmed hard infrastructure and soft landscape for coastal defense (resist); policy recommendations, guidelines, and urban infrastructure to slow rainwater runoff (delay); a circuit of interconnected green infrastructure to store and direct excess rainwater (store); and water pumps and alternative routes to support drainage (discharge). The objectives are to manage water for both severe storms and long-term growth; enable reasonable flood insurance premiums through the potential redrawing of the FEMA flood zone following completion; and deliver co-benefits that enhance the cities and the region.”

Living with the Bay (Slow Streams), Nassau County, Long Island – The Interboro Team

The Interboro team, which includes H+N+S Landscape Architects, will develop a comprehensive resiliency plan for Nassau County’s South Shore. “The areas around Southern Nassau’s north-south tributaries are threatened both by surge water flooding and storm water inundation. The proposal will address these threats through a set of interconnected interventions, transforming the Mill River into a green-blue corridor that stores and filters water, provides public space, and creates room for new urban development. These river corridor improvements will also address other challenges such water quality, ecological recovery, and aquifer recharge.”

New Meadowlands, Little Ferry, Moonachie, Carlstadt, Teterboro – MIT CAU+ZUS+URBANISTEN

The first phase of the New Meadowlands proposal will focus on Little Ferry, Moonachie, Carlstadt, and Teterboro. “By integrating transportation, ecology, and development, the project transforms the Meadowlands basin to address a wide spectrum of risks, while providing civic amenities, and creating opportunities for new redevelopment. The project includes the creation of additional wetlands and a multi-purpose berm that will provide flood protection to the many residents of the community damaged by Sandy flooding.”

Living Breakwaters, Tottenville, Staten Island – SCAPE/Landscape Architecture

The SCAPE team aims to “reduce risk, revive ecologies, and connect educators and local students to the shoreline, inspiring a new generation of harbor stewards and a more resilient region over time.” One fascinating component of the project: an “in-water solution will reduce wave action and erosion, lowering risk from heavy storms by designing ‘reef street’ micropockets of habitat complexity to host finfish, shellfish, and lobsters.”

Lifelines, Hunts Point, South Bronx – PennDesign/OLIN

PennDesign/OLIN is taking a multi-faceted approach to protecting Hunts Point, the hub of the region’s food supply chain and one of the poorest communities in the country. “The PennDesign/OLIN proposal sets out four strategies: integrated and adaptable flood protection systems to safeguard the whole neighborhood and create public amenities along the Hunts Point waterfront; leadership efforts to build capacity for social resilience; a marine emergency supply chain to enhance the waterways as critical infrastructure; and cleanways to improve air quality.”

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dangerous
More than 47,000 people were killed while walking in the U.S. between 2003 and 2012, a rate that has been rising in the last few years. The majority of those deaths could have likely been prevented with safer street design, according to Dangerous by Design 2014, a new report released today by the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America, in conjunction with AARP and American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

The report also ranks America’s major metropolitan areas according to a pedestrian danger index that assesses how safe pedestrians are while walking. The four most dangerous — Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Miami — are all in Florida. The others in the top-10 most dangerous list are: Memphis, Phoenix, Houston, Birmingham (new to this year’s top 10), Atlanta, and Charlotte.

“We are allowing an epidemic of pedestrian fatalities — brought on by streets designed for speed and not safety — to take nearly 5,000 lives a year. This number increased six percent between 2011 and 2012,” said Roger Millar, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. “Not only is that number simply too high, but these deaths are easily prevented through policy, design, and practice. State and local transportation leaders need to prioritize the implementation of complete streets policies that keep everyone safe.”

The report presents data on pedestrian fatalities and injuries in every U.S. metro area, as well as state by state assessments and an online, interactive map showing the locations where pedestrian fatalities have occurred.

More than 676,000 pedestrians were injured over the decade, equivalent to a pedestrian being struck by a car or truck every eight minutes. That rate increases significantly for more vulnerable populations such as older adults, children, and people of color.

While just 12.6 percent of the total population, those over the age of 65 years old account for nearly 21 percent of pedestrian fatalities nationwide. “Older persons account for one in every five pedestrian fatalities and have the greatest fatality rate of any population group,” said AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond. “America’s state, federal, and community leaders should focus on making our streets safer, which will benefit everyone, including the growing number of older Americans.”

Children 15 years and younger represent a significantly at-risk population, and fatal pedestrian injury remains a leading cause of death. Between 2003 and 2010 (the most recent year for which data is available about children), 4,394 children were killed while walking.

Among people of color, blacks and African Americans suffer a pedestrian fatality 60 percent higher than non-Hispanic whites, and Hispanics of any race have a rate nearly 43 percent higher.

The majority of pedestrian deaths occur on roadways that encourage speeding, and speeding is a factor in nearly one-third of all traffic fatalities. The report finds that these deaths can be prevented through changes to the design of our streets: providing sidewalks, installing high-visibility crosswalks and refuge islands, and calming traffic speeds.

This has proved true for roads such as NE 125th St. in Seattle, WA. In 2011, the city added a marked crosswalk, reduced the number of travel lanes, and installed bike lanes, along with other measures, to provide for the safety of pedestrians in a high-crash corridor where 87 percent of drivers were speeding. The modifications have reduced the rate of collisions by 10 percent and speeding by 11 percent and led to more people walking and biking along the roadway.

“More and more Americans are choosing communities that are walkable and accessible for pedestrians, children and older Americans, but that shouldn’t be a luxury,” said Nancy Somerville, Executive Vice President & CEO of ASLA. “Simple and affordable additions or retrofits to traffic signals, pedestrian islands, and sidewalks can make a huge difference in safety and protection.”

The report recommends states take action to improve safety for pedestrians in communities nationwide:

  • Increase the available funding and maximize the use of existing federal programs for walking and bicycling projects.
  • Adopt a complete streets policy and comprehensive implementation plan.
  • Emphasize walking and bicycling in the strategic highway safety plan (SHSP).
  • Reform measures of congestion, such as level of service, to account for the needs of all travelers.
  • Update design policies and standards.
  • Standardize and gather more comprehensive data on pedestrian crashes.
  • Give local cities and towns more control over their own speed limits.
  • Encourage collaboration across transportation, public health, and law enforcement agencies.

Read the report.

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highline

ASLA 2013 Professional General Design Honor Award. The High Line, Section 2 by James Corner Field Operations / Iwan Baan

ASLA President Mark Focht, FASLA, first deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia Parks department, invited the heads of four allied organizations to speak to the ASLA board and chapter leadership last week about what they perceive to be future opportunities and challenges.

Patrick Phillips, CEO of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) — who was trained as a landscape architect but ended up going into real estate economics — said ULI will continue its focus on both the global and the local. They will further expand overseas, “bringing our non-ideological perspective to urban development” to Asia and Africa, while also strengthening their local councils, which focus on the issues of immediate concern to communities. At this scale, Phillips said “education — reaching out to thousands of local high schools — is a priority.”

Long-time friend of landscape architects, Paul Farmer, CEO of the American Planning Association (APA), said “our collaboration with ASLA has been excellent.” Farmer, who is retiring from APA this summer, said “planning is about outcomes, using a open and transparent process to create what people want: livable neighborhoods and clean air and water.” Farmer said APA will increasingly focus on the “social side of sustainability — the equity side. Most organizations are too focused on the environmental or economic side of sustainability.”

He said APA is now providing direct assistance to around a third of its chapters to fight anti-planning efforts led by the Tea Party movement. “There are draconian bills coming up in legislatures, but only the one in Alabama passed.” Farmer was dismayed by this development, as “just a few years ago, smart growth was an issue both Democrats and Republicans could agree upon. Now everything is totally polarized. So our assistance is defensive. But polls still tell us that there is tremendous public support for planning.”

Barbara Tulipane, National Parks and Recreation Association (NRPA) outlined her group’s new approach to communications. She said when speaking with public officials, “we have to sell them on the many benefits of parks — how parks save us money or make us money — but when NRPA is focused on reaching the public, we use common language.” Parks are about forging “a real emotional connection with nature.” As an example, she pulled up a quote from one happy park-goer: “that was the best day of my life!”

With 40,000 members, NRPA will focus on “ensuring 300 million Americans have access to a place to play and connect with nature and each other.” Half of members are professionals and the other half are park-lovers. “So we are not about the profession of park management but the parks.” Tulipane said “parks are essential to smart growth. Parks are a solution provider, offering benefits in terms of conservation, health and wellness, and social equity.”

Randall Over, head of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), said ASCE will ramp up efforts on dealing with climate change as an engineering challenge. “There, I said it, we openly talk about climate change. Climate change has changed our design standards. We need to design more resilient infrastructure. We need to focus on the social side of resilience, too, including who will operate and maintain infrastructure in the case of a serious climatic event.”

To encourage more “sustainable horizontal infrastructure,” ASCE will soon roll out Envision, a new rating system. “Some two out of every three projects that have been certified are landscapes.” Another 25 pilots are in the pipeline.

ASCE will also continue to get a lot of out of its well-known infrastructure report card. The U.S. has gone up from a D to a D+. “We do this to get action.” Over also mentioned a $15 million fundraising campaign now underway to finance an IMAX movie about the wonders of engineering.

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resilience

ASLA 2012 Professional General Award of Excellence. A Green Sponge for a Water-Resilient City: Qunli Stormwater Park by Turenscape / Kongjian Yu

At the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., leaders of twenty associations focused on the design, construction, operations, and management of the built environment announced the Alliance for a Resilient Tomorrow, a new partnership dedicating to promoting resilience across the board. The CEOs of the industry associations, which have more than 700,000 members generating almost $1 trillion in GDP, also used the occasion of “Building Safety Month” to issue a joint pledge on resilience.

The event featured panel discussions of several of the CEOs who have joined in this pledge:

“We, like so many in this room, realize that next steps must be taken to address disaster mitigation, resilience, and sustainability,” said Chase Rynd, Hon. ASLA., Executive Director, National Building Museum, which has just staged a major exhibition on designing for disaster.

Robert Ivy, CEO of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), said that the list of signatories was “broad and comprehensive” and included not only the design, planning, and engineering profession, but also client representatives. He noted that AIA’s members have been involved with issues of resilience for a long time and operate according to a “core set of ethics to design structures that are sound.” However, the world has changed due to climate change, which “takes us to another place.” He added that “this is the beginning, the first step” to addressing resilience in a changing world.

“Sustainability is part of the DNA of landscape architects, and resilience is a key part of sustainability,” said Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). “One of the major roles we’re now playing is making sure we share best practices and the results of what’s happening among our members.” She noted that, “while projects have always been designed for resilience, now there’s an additional emphasis placed on performance standards and tracking them. This will help ensure we not only influence design decisions but also development projects.”

Randy Fiser, Executive Vice President, American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), suggested watching communities to “see how they begin to evolve.” He added that “often times, we see communities destroyed by events. Subsequent conversations often focus on rebuilding the way it was.” Fiser sees the need to inform communities to take that leap forward.

“A history of events have already occurred in this country—hurricanes, tornadoes, and mudslides—and we now have a game plan, our statement signed today,” said Henry Green, President/CEO, National Institute of Building Science. He called for moving future discussions internally and engaging the media, which he said will make a huge difference.

“Infrastructure in the United States is in really bad shape and will have to be rebuilt in the coming years,” said Gayle Berens, senior vice president, Urban Land Institute (ULI). She also argued the rate of recovery in Sandy-affected areas is highly variable. Here, size matters: New York City is in great shape, but communities in New Jersey, with “part-time mayors,” really need help.

Tom Phoenix, President-Elect, ASHRAE, pointed out that the “economics of what we’re doing can’t be escaped. To be honest, nothing’s going to happen unless someone can pay for this. How do we educate building owners, especially in the private sector, that there’s a benefit to doing this?”

This guest post is by Karen Grajales, ASLA Public Relations Manager

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brazil slums

Slums and high-rises in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil / Christian Science Monitor

“If a city has no structure, there will be inequality,” said Joan Clos, head of the UN Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat) during the opening days of the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia. Clos, the former mayor of Barcelona, said far too often cities in the developing world appear to have been built with a total disregard for organizational structure. These cities have set themselves up for massive social unrest.

Across the developing (and developed) worlds, there has been “metastatic growth,” much like a cancerous tumor eating its way through healthy tissue. This is because “urban growth has been developer-driven. High-rises and shopping malls are placed at random, creating disaggregation and then segregation.” This segregation happens because “low-income people are absent in developers’ considerations. Developers don’t make any money off of them.”

To avoid social unrest in increasingly unequal cities, Clos said “we need to start planning public spaces again.” Developers must learn to work within the frameworks set by planners. He added that pretty master plans are not urban planning. “If the first thing you see from a developer are renderings with all the houses filled in, then there has been no public input.”

Looking at the state of global urbanization — 80 percent of the world will be living in cities by 2050 — Clos is “flabbergasted.” He sees all the social splintering and fragmentation that is to come if there isn’t a new global investment in fair planning.

Echoing his remarks, a number of urban leaders from around the world explained how they are working towards more socially-cohesive cities.

Rossyln Greef with the city of Johannesburg, South Africa, showed a wowing video of their new “corridors of freedom” initiative, which aims to create a new spatial plan that will undo the segregation built into the city with apartheid.

Johannesburg’s corridors of freedom are really high-density, mixed-use developments along bus-rapid transit (BRT) corridors. The city’s goal is to reduce commuting costs for the city’s poor, so they are targeting those areas first.

She said: “We are moving from a deliberately exclusionary framework to an inclusive one. We are getting rid of racial segregation through planning. It’s a huge challenge.”

Ali Mandanipour, a professor at Newcastle University in the UK, pointed to the 2006 strategic plan from the city of Antwerp in Belgium as a model for how to reconnect a city and envisage a more equitable future. He also highlighted Bogota, Colombia’s huge investment in the planning and design of public spaces, which are all wheelchair accessible.

Mandanipour said “public spaces are key breathing spaces that make cities more attractive for people and investors.” However, he also cautioned, that new parks and plazas can become a tool for gentrification and exclusion if their construction pushes the poor out. “Spatial linkages must connect with existing social linkages.”

The United States has had a long history of segregation and social inequality, said Lisa Rice, with the National Fair Housing Alliance. She said the fair housing laws passed in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. helped eliminate housing discrimination and advanced social cohesion but segregation persists. Detroit, Washington, D.C. and Chicago are all “hyper-segregated,” which fuels disparities in access to education, healthcare, transportation, and food. “Detroit has huge food deserts. There are no supermarkets within the city limits. You have to drive to the suburbs.” In the U.S., her organization and others are trying to “stave off predatory lending in low-income areas.”

For the minister in charge of urban development in Argentina, Daniel Chain, the words of Pope Francis are worth heeding:”If a society abandons parts of itself, it will have no peace of mind. Inequality leads to violence because, at its essence, it’s unfair.” In Buenos Aires, Chain helped undo the damage caused by the red-lining that occurred in neighborhoods near one highway, helping to bring them back to life. The city has also undergone an intensive program of building new theatres, schools, libraries in its southern areas, its poorest sections. Chain said “poor people who live right next to the wealthy receive a slap in the face, a blow to their dignity.” It’s a “true confrontation” Buenos Aires is trying to limit.

And Jean-Marie Kazadi, head of urban development for the Katanga province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) talked about the immense challenges in starting to plan communities where there has been no planning to date due to persistent civil war. Beyond war, the cities of Katanga must deal with the legacy of the harsh Belgian colonialism, which, he said, the DRC government just perpetuated after independence. “We must keep people at the center of our concerns.”

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Parque de la luces / Medellin culture department

This year, Medellin, the second largest city in Colombia, is the host of the UN-Habitat’s World Urban Forum, which attracts more than 15,000 urban leaders from around the world. This is a huge accomplishment for a city that had the highest number of homicides in the world just a decade ago. Now, Anibal Gaviria Correa, the Mayor of Medellin says, the city is not even in the top 50 ranking of dangerous cities. How did Medellin turn it around to win the title of the world’s most innovative city? The answer is complex — and the city continues to face many challenges — but the mayor said its amazing progress is really due to “social, not technological, innovation.”

Medellin (which is pronounced Medejin) is the largest city in the Antioquia province. The city, which is nestled in a valley some 5,000 feet up, had a population of around 250,000 in the 1940s. With “informal expansion,” the population exploded to 2.4 million by 2011. Without a plan, slums took root in undesirable locations along the slopes surrounding prime real estate in the valley. People from the countryside moved there to flee the civil war, only to find that a landslide could take away their home in an instant. Pushed up the slopes, these newly urbanized people experienced major displacement, resentment, and, later, incredible violence, fueled in part by drug lord Pablo Escobar and the many drug gangs.

Mayor Correa called 1990 to 2000 the decade of violence. Across the country, 48,000 people were murdered, with Medellin accounting for more than 20 percent of those deaths. Correa said it was no coincidence that during this decade Medellin had areas of extreme poverty and high inequality. In a clear warning to other developing world cities seeing their slums expand, he said violence and inequality are deeply connected.

To climb out of that dark place, the city’s leadership began to create a “structure for public participation” designed to bring all residents into a planning process, even in the midst of Colombia’s ongoing civil war. Three successive mayoral administrations continued the same good policies, creating momentum for the city’s long-term vision, which is to become a “city of life,” with a high-quality public transportation system, parks, and libraries accessible to all.

Empresas de Services Publico (EPM), a public-private utility that provides power, water, sewage, sanitation, and other services to the city also played an important part in making the dream become real. EPM provides hundreds of millions to the city each year, supporting the development of iconic projects like the subway, but also the extended Metro plus system, which includes a cable car that now provides connectivity to slums on the north side of the city.

On the Metro system, which is now the largest public transportation system in Colombia, Mayor Correa said “there is a real pride of the Metro, a culture of respect when you are in this space.”

The city has also financed fantastic “library-parks,” which offer both green space and a place to read. Here is the park for the Spanish Library in the hills of Santo Domingo, which used to be so dangerous the police would not even venture there.

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Parque de Biblioteca Espana / Bomb Magazine

Two new pieces of green under development include an extensive new riverfront park system, which will provide people with acccess to the Medellin river that cuts through the center of the city, and a greenway system, which will provide a “green belt” around the city, helping to reduce landslides and flooding for the poor communities along the steep slopes and perhaps pause sprawl.

Mayor Correa said green spaces are needed for both ethical and aesthetic reasons. If parks are found in all neighborhoods — rich or poor — they improve the ethical make-up of the city. Public green spaces provide “the civic realm where people can become citizens. It’s where everyone can be equal.” Parks also provide urban beauty, which Mayor Correa said is also “necessary for urban coexistence.”

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Parque Explora / Medellin 2009 blog

Another important symbol of how the city is addressing persistent inequality: new day care centers. Mayor Correa said 80,000 children have accessed these new facilities, where they get free meals and a place to play, and their parents get an opportunity to go out and work. The city’s goal is to provide 100,000 children services through 20 centers. At the other end of the educational spectrum, the city is planning two new universities that will serve low-income populations in the city. Mayor Correa wants those young people working in new innovation districts.

The mayor said Medellin still has a long way to go. The city is still far too unequal, even though it’s a bit more equal than other cities in Colombia. (Unfortunately, this is not saying that much, given Colombia is one of the more unequal countries in Latin America, itself the most unequal continent on earth).

After Mayor Correa spoke, UN-Habitat invited experts from around the world to comment on whether Medellin can really serve as a model for other cities.

Swedish Ambassador to Colombia Marie Andersson de Frutos said Medellin is a replicable model because it city government has really worked as a team with the private sector and non-profits. Medellin shows “there is no quick fix. Prescriptions can’t come from a doctor, they have to come from the whole hospital.”

Jose Carrera, Development Bank of Latin America, said Medellin correctly identified that violence was tied to inequality. The city made a great move removing one key aspect of inequality in providing clean drinking water for the whole city, rich or poor. However, he added Medellin, like many others in Latin America, still needs to do a better job of creating new jobs for unemployed youth, which face double the unemployment rates of adults just at a time when they should be most productive.

David Sims, a partner with urban design firm Gehl Architects, applauded Medellin for “incorporating terms like love, trust, equality, and pride” in its new city charter. He said these concepts are difficult to measure but vital goals. Sims said Medellin has learned that true innovation comes from “different people meeting each other and having a conversation.” He also thought the city was doing a great job of focusing on the small things that matter — how people get to work, how they live. “There is a great balance here between the tangible (the physical infrastructure) and the intangibles (the culture).”

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People Habitat Communications

Influential blogger and advocate Kaid Benfield’s new book, People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities, argues that sustainable places are really just places people love. Think of those places where you most feel like yourself. Would you want anything to happen to them? We feel that way about certain places because they are “people habitats,” designed not for cars but for the every-day person walking or biking. They create an irreplaceable sense of community and are healthy for both people and the environment. Benfield points to many people habitats in the U.S. and abroad. As an example, New Orleans is highlighted because it’s rich in culture, design, and, perhaps most importantly, community.

Unfortunately, Benfield writes, too much of our country has been taken over by throw-away housing and nowhere “town centers” in sprawled-out developments. These are habitats designed for cars. In so many of these places, there’s no there there.  Even “smart growth” developments are too often lackluster, he argues. While they may be better than sprawl — with their emphasis on dense, walkable, transit-oriented development — they too often lack green space and any unique character that makes a place lovable.

At his book launch party, Benfield said he’s increasingly seeing the world through the eyes of a designer, and that’s apparent in many of these essays. He speaks to the power of design to create places that matter, particularly the ability of landscape architects to harness green infrastructure to make places more livable and design public spaces central to communities’ identity. The essay, “Cities Need Nature,” which explains why green infrastructure offers so many social and ecological benefits, is worth the price of the book alone. Here, Benfield shows he is no dogmatic New Urbanist; he really understands the value of design and nature.

Benfield also shows up how green-washing has been applied to sell communities as green when they are actually “brown.” He takes aim at the U.S. Green Building Council, and its certification of green buildings and even whole new developments only accessible via car. Debunking the marketing of one such “green” development out in the middle of nowhere, he asks, “how can you be ‘net-zero’ if you have to drive long distances to anything?” For Benfield, the greenest places are the older, revitalized ones, adding a new layer upon existing historic assets. He just worries that revitalization can have unintended consequences, namely gentrification. Benfield has spoken elsewhere about how equitable revitalization can happen.

Like public health experts Drs. Richard Jackson and Howard Frumkin, Benfield sees the deep connections between health and the built environment. He delves into both the negative health impacts of sprawl and the positive health impacts of dense yet nature-laden communities. In sprawled-out places without sidewalks, it’s no wonder people don’t walk, as it’s very dangerous. He uses data on pedestrian fatalities to show this. But he also includes new studies showing the positive side of the ledger: how walking, biking, and access to nature provides a range of mental and physical health benefits. He also gets a bit “woo-woo,” as he says, about describing the many spiritual benefits of beautiful places, explaining how living in a great place increases happiness.

So what makes a sustainable, livable community? Benfield explores the many tangibles and intangibles, arguing that creating these places is as much an art as a science. It’s not just about nature and design. While he offers evocative examples and the best available data, some clever but apt “tests” really help make his points. He asks: “Can a child comfortably walk to buy a popsicle and walk back home? Does the neighborhood attract kids walking door-to-door on Halloween? Can you meet most of your daily needs within a 20 minute walk or transit ride?” For one friend, the test is “is this place good enough that people want to vacation there?” And then there’s another interesting one: “how many drinking establishments are within walking distance?” Neighborhood bars and pubs, Benfield writes, are key “third places,” which aren’t work or home, but help create community. Sustainable, livable communities have so many layers.

Unlike other environmentalists, Benfield sees cities, and, really, the greater metropolitan regions in which cities sit, as a huge piece of the answer. Cities were once viewed as a place to escape from. Suburbs were the answer to oppressive social and environmental conditions. Today, mayors and planners increasingly understand that if we want people to live in denser, more sustainable communities, these places must be well-designed, lush with greenery, and trick-o-treater-friendly. Furthermore, metropolitan areas may provide the ideal people habitat, but they also concentrate development so our vital natural resources can be conserved. Making these places loveable is really central to a more sustainable future.

Read the book.

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