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Archive for the ‘Sustainable Transportation’ Category

A runner crosses the Rosemont Bridge as the sun rises over downtown in Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston / The Dallas Morning News

Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston / The Dallas Morning News

What Dallas Can Learn From Houston’s Buffalo Bayou for the Trinity River ProjectThe Dallas Morning News, 3/1/15
“How do you transform the flood plain of a neglected urban waterway into a grand public park and metropolitan gateway? Dallas has been struggling with this challenge for more than 20 years, making incremental progress on the Trinity River corridor while debating whether to burden it with a toll road. Houston has spent that same time successfully remaking a 10-mile stretch of the Buffalo Bayou into precisely the kind of urban amenity Dallasites have long imagined for themselves.”

Stunningly Beautiful Private Gardens of Paris  – Fox News, 3/5/15
“Paris has many famous, beautiful public gardens and even more exquisite private ones tucked behind the walls of its private houses and on the terraces and rooftops of its apartment buildings. A selection of these come beautifully to light in In & Out of Paris: Gardens of Secret Delights, a new book written by Zahid Sardar and photographed by Marion Brenner.”

A Plan to Turn Melbourne’s Elizabeth Street into a Rainforest Canal WA Today, 3/7/15
“The man who turned Melbourne’s neglected and decrepit laneways into a globally renowned attraction has another radical idea to improve the city. His proposal: rip up Elizabeth Street, currently a pretty tired and uninspiring CBD thoroughfare, and incorporate and revitalize the hidden waterway under it that runs down to the Yarra River.”

Google Plan for Mountain View Campus Shuns Walls, Roofs, Reality The San Francisco Chronicle, 3/7/15
“Google’s proposal comes with a laudable list of proposed community and environmental benefits. The design team is earnest, with a strong contingent of local firms who know the terrain, such as landscape architect CMG and Sherwood Design Engineers.”

What the New Memorial Park Could Look Like The Houston Business Journal, 3/11/15
“The master plan for Memorial Park is complete, and, if approved, Houston’s largest park will get a major makeover. The project would potentially cost $200 million over the next two decades, Sarah Newbery, project manager for the Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, told the Houston Business Journal.”

Q&A with Landscape Architect Martha SchwartzNewsweek, 3/11/15
“The profession has grown immensely. It is the fastest-growing design profession in the U.S. Many schools of landscape architecture have opened. The field is booming.”

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Russell Square, London / Ali Amir Moayed.com

“Just as all parts of an ecosystem must be healthy if the system is going to work,” an environment for people — a “people habitat” — must have “homes, shops, businesses, and an environment that fit in a harmonious way,” said urban thinker and author F. Kaid Benfield at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. For the past 50 years, “we have not been living in harmony with our environment.” To undo the damage, Benfield proposes a wiser approach, set out in his new book People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities. He covered a few ways to achieve these healthy environments in his talk:

Focus on Regions and Neighborhoods, Not Cities: Regions, Benfield argues, actually define the way we live today. Cities extend far beyond their jurisdictional boundaries. For example, “the functional region of Atlanta is 12 times the size of the city of Atlanta.” Only city governments and cartographers care about boundaries. “The environment, commerce, transportation, and people all cross borders.”

Neighborhoods, at the other end of the spectrum, are the center of people habitats and the agents of change on the ground, as they are where people spend much of their time.

Create Walkable Places: “Americans don’t walk much, and I don’t blame them.” Among a list of 20 plus developed countries, America ranks dead last in the amount they walk. Just 26 percent of Americans want often or sometimes. In 1969, Benfield says 48 percent of children walked to school; in 2009, it’s just 13 percent. There’s are many reasons for this, but the built environment is a major culprit.

Think of all those cul-de-sac neighborhoods designed for cars, or strip malls without sidewalks or crosswalks. There, people take their own lives into their hands going out for a walk. Why don’t kids walk anymore? It’s because so many suburban schools are now “bigger than Disneyland,” isolated and disconnected. Showing photos of the typical suburban school, Benfield wondered if it was a school, mall, or prison.

The death of walking has had negative ripple effects as well: It’s no surprise that places where you cannot walk face an epidemic of obesity. “Weight-related diseases are connected to a lack of walkable environments.” Today, many states’ obesity rates top 30 percent.

Integrate Nature into Cities: Benfield believes in the power of urban parks, particularly small neighborhood parks, to improve the health of a community. As an example, he pointed to Russell Square park in London (see image above), which is “big enough so you known you are in nature, but small enough so you know you are in a city.” He strongly believes that “bringing the function and beauty of nature into a neighborhood” has many positive benefits, including a boost in our health and well-being. “When we are immersed in nature, our blood pressure goes down and our mental acuity increases.”

Consider the Whole System of Energy Use and Emissions: “What is called green development in many places really isn’t green.” When examining the sustainability of a residential development, for example, we need to look at that development’s energy use and carbon expenditures vs. the amount of energy used and carbon expended by transportation getting to and from that place.

Using Prairie Ridge, a “net-zero development” outside Chicago, Benfield showed how the use of the term “net-zero” there is a misnomer because the community failed to consider the whole system of energy use and carbon emissions. While the development may produce as much energy as it consumes, its residents are expending huge amounts of energy and creating a lot of pollution getting there. This is because Prairie Ridge’s Walk score is literally zero. “It’s next to a corn field.” Residents of Prairie Ridge expend four times the amount of carbon as those in downtown Chicago.

For city after city, Benfield showed how different the carbon profile of people can be depending on where they live. “If you are living on the fringe of a city, you are driving longer distances.” In contrast, people living downtown are putting far less carbon into the atmosphere getting around.

Preserve the “Continuity of Places”: “If a place has a sense of continuity, it has a calming, reassuring effect.” In contrast, a place without it can be jarring, “disorientating.” Places treated with respect are the result of a slow accrual of layers, carefully thought out so they fit into a harmonious whole. These kinds of places spur “cultural engagement,” they invite us to “use our imaginations.” And they are the places with the most “civic vitality.” They are mixed-use and feature building of different sizes and ages.

On a related theme, Benfield argued that preserving the continuity of old buildings is also important: “the greenest building is the one already built.” Even replacing an inefficient older building filled with embedded energy with a new “green building” means starting at zero with carbon emissions. “It will take years for the new building to make up for the carbon emissions.” Benfield argued that “we have forgotten about the energy efficiency of thick old walls, solar orientation, windows, air, the basic principles. Now, it’s about gizmo green.”

Take Advantage of the Future Trends Here Now: “The future will be different from the past.” To be successful, communities need to take advantage of some emerging trends. First, cities are sprawling less today. “Greenfield development peaked in the 90s.” Second, Millennials prefer to live in the core of cities twice as much as other generations. Some 2/3 want walkable places, even in suburbs. “They value density, connectivity, and convenient access to jobs.” Third, people are driving less. The vehicle miles traveled per person per year has been falling since 2005 and staying down. Today, 46 percent of 18-year-olds don’t have a driver’s license. The miles driven by 16-34-year-olds has also fallen 40 percent in the past decade. Lastly, among all generations, bicycle use is up 24 percent and walking 16 percent.

Invest in Lovable Places: “People will take care of places they love, which makes them sustainable” (read more on this). Lovable places can be complex, like Quincy Market in Boston, or simple, like a small street cafe in Barcelona. They can be old or modern, but lovable places — like the French Quarter in New Orleans — always have culture. While many in the smart growth movement have focused solely on density and connectivity, Benfield argued that these projects ultimately fail because “they are not great places.” Great places need green spaces to attract people. “We can have both compact development and green spaces together. We can have it both ways.”

Read People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities.

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Union Square Pedestrian Mall / Urban Omnibus

“New York City’s mean streets are getting a little sweeter,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, former NYC Transportation Commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C. That sweetness takes the form of a “new ecosystem of pedestrian plazas and bike lanes.” In a wide-ranging talk, Sadik-Khan showed what NYC accomplished over her term and where the rest of the world’s cities still need to get to make streets everywhere sweeter — and, really, safer.

“New York City now has the lowest traffic fatality rates in the world. But this is not because New Yorkers are nice. It’s because global cities have a long way to go.” Worldwide, traffic deaths total around 1.25 million per year. Traffic fatalities are the 9th leading cause of death, and the number-one cause for young people. In the U.S. alone, some 33,000 people lose their lives each year in accidents. “This is a public health crisis.”

New York City has made much progress since the pedestrian-unfriendly 1920s, when official city planning documents actually included the phrase: “here, pedestrians will be removed and cars will invade.” Streets were remade by car companies and the city government to be habitats for cars, not people. For the decades that followed, “this was an issue hiding in plain sight.”

In 2010, the city created its first pedestrian safety action plan. Six years of data had been collected showing the “who, what, why, and where of traffic fatalities in the city.” For example, the research found “27 percent of accidents were caused by when drivers failed to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Another third of accidents was due to driver inattention.”

The city decided to make simple, inexpensive changes that “reversed the pyramid, putting pedestrians on top, then bicyclists and public transportation systems, with cars at the bottom.” Sadik-Khan discovered that “cities can change their streets in real time, aiming fixes at the most vulnerable — kids and seniors.” The result: between 2008 and 2012, traffic fatalities dropped 20 percent.

The plan called for hundreds of specific street-level improvements in dangerous areas. “The goal was to integrate people and transit.” With 400 miles of new bike lanes, bicycle ridership quadrupled as well.

To spread what NYC and other forward-thinking cities are doing, Sadik-Khan spearheaded the effort to create NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide. Before, many cities had outmoded traffic guidelines created by traffic engineers. “We created a new standard guidance that gave cities permission to innovate.” The U.S. Department of Transportation has since adopted the principles of the Street Design Guide. And the same NACTO team is now working on a global street design guide, with real lessons from developing world cities.

For NYC, vision zero — that is zero traffic fatalities — is the new goal. NYC’s new road safety advertising campaign, which is aimed at “cutting through the noise,” uses shocking ads to change the culture. Other cities are creating equally as dramatic campaigns to “end the indifference to death on streets.”

Sadik-Khan did warn though that changing from a car-centric to a pedestrian-centric street culture isn’t for the fainthearted. “Some people will treat each parking spot like their first born child.” Sadik-Khan was indeed brutalized by some constituencies and communities for pushing forward change so rapidly. But hats off to her. If New York City can make their mean streets sweeter, any city can.

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NYC Complete Street / Complete Street Prince

As more communities invest in green, complete streets to create environments that are both safer and more accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists, there are growing problems for those who must move goods, said Peter Plumeau, Resource Systems Group, at the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C. Complete streets by their definition must accommodate all users, but they aren’t doing as good of a job in accommodating trucks and delivery vehicles, which are critical to goods movement, argues Plumeau. For example, curb extensions, which have many benefits, are a great way to block access for a truck. And more people-friendly roundabouts, which feature tighter streets, are becoming a nightmare to get around. Plumeau said the answer is more creative thinking about how to move goods.

Some communities are creating exemptions for some streets. In Seattle, which now has a comprehensive complete street program, “there is flexibility in industrial areas where there are lots of goods being moved in and out.” Others are making it easier on those haulers: Ontario, Canada, has a “guide for local truck routes.”

Some cities are using flexible street design to accommodate goods-carrying vehicles. In some of Boston’s busy complete streets, there are “curb space allocations” just for trucks.

And still others are coming up with novel policy approaches for access: In Philadelphia, trucks can idle in traffic to make deliveries if they have the right windshield ID, effectively allowing sanctioned parking in no-parking zones. New York City is also looking into a similar approach but combined with overnight delivery, taking advantage of less-congested time frames. And in some neighborhoods in Germany, there are secure kiosks trucks deliver to, places where people must walk to in order to pick up parcels.

Plumeau’s point is “economic vitality is also key to sustainability.” And furthermore, it’s often not the truckers fault if they are stuck trying to navigate a complete street: “the goods movement is now driven by demand. These truckers are not acting on their own schedule.”

He called for “getting rid of parking regulations in cities, which undermines affordability to begin with.” He believes expensive, highly regulated parking is one reason “jobs are heading to the suburbs because these places have cheap parking.”

However, the other side of this argument — as one audience member noted — is that “more parking just creates more sprawl.” If parking is ample in a community, it can prevent more transit-oriented development.

The debate about truck access and parking will no doubt continue as more communities remake their streets.

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Traffic circle in Mexico City / Dezeen

“The science is clear. Climate change is already costly and shaping development,” said Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s chief climate representative, at the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C. “The problem is this poor trade-off has been set-up: we can either have growth, progress, prosperity, or we can halt all our dreams to reduce carbon emissions. It’s not a vote getter.” Kyte believes sustainable development needs to be sold differently. With a smarter, more sustainable approach, “we can live differently, that’s exciting. We can live in cities with clean air, that’s exciting. We can create new jobs in a greener economy, and that’s exciting. It doesn’t have to be zero-sum; we can all benefit.”

“Transportation currently accounts for 15 percent of global carbon emissions. If we do nothing, it could account for 50 percent in 20 years.” Kyte said this kind of tired, hectoring narrative no longer works. “We need to step back and revolutionize cities and make them exciting.” What excites you about cities and transportation?

A group of panelists were tasked with answering this question:

For Kevin Austin, with C40, a group of leading mayors fighting for climate-friendly development, what’s exciting is out of the C40’s list of the top things cities can do to reduce climate change, 14 relate to transportation and urban development. “These things include more compact, transit-oriented development; reclaiming brownfields; congestion charging; electric vehicles; and non-motorized transportation.” Austin said what also excites him is more global cities are actually committing to achieving measurable targets. “When cities commit, they achieve three times more.”

Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar, said “technology is what’s exciting as it enables us to share assets in a transformational way. The old idea of one household and one car is going out. Using technology, we can achieve 100 percent shared vehicles. We can even achieve shared trips on shared vehicles.” Chase pointed to the rise of Zipcar as well as Uber and Lyft as an example of how a new system can come out of “many small parts.” Today, she said most car-owners spend 18 percent of their income on their vehicle, but end up using it only 5 percent of the time, a huge waste. Car sharing, Chase believes, can also work in non-compact cities. “We could use just 10 percent of the cars on the road today to satisfy needs.”

And Vincent Kobensen, PTV Group, thinks it’s the ability of new technology to “spread out existing infrastructure.” Given so few cities have the money to build brand-new infrastructure or even significantly upgrade it, technology can be deployed to “optimize multi-modal systems.” Already, 2-4 percent of global GDP is wasted due to congestion. In the future, congestion could disappear as more people take advantage of car sharing. It could be: “I don’t own a car, but I want to use one.”

According to Holger Dalkmann, head of EMBARQ at the World Resources Institute, Mexico City’s recent gains are a cause for excitement, as is its new mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera, a “champion of sustainable urban transportation.” The city has just created a new mobility law, which aims to give each of its 17 million inhabitants the right to people-friendly transit, with complete streets, safe sidewalks and bus stops, and an easy, consolidated payment system for all public transportation. There are also ambitious new greenhouse gas reduction targets (40 percent).

Alain Flausch, International Association of Public Transportation, pointed to the growing global commitment to reach his organization’s target of doubling public transportation worldwide. “We have 110 networks that have made 350 commitments.” Flausch added that “public transportation needs to lead the pack in the climate fight. We need new fuels, vehicles, and systems.”

And for Patrick Oliva at the Michelin Group, setting urban transportation emission expectations low is what’s exciting. London’s low-emission zone, made possible with a congestion charging scheme, was launched in 2003 and has resulted in positive action on traffic and car-related emissions.

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Bus rapid transit, Jiangsu Province, China / Scania Group

The answer is a resounding yes, said Felipe Calderón, former president of Mexico and chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, who spoke at the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C. The economy and the climate are intrinsically connected and so are their problems. Today, those problems are low growth and climate change. But, in the future, higher, more productive growth could be linked with more stable climatic and ecological systems.

To create that new model for development, Calderón and Nicholas Stern, a renowned climate expert from the UK, have assembled an impressive team, with many mayors, two Nobel Prize winners, business leaders, and hundreds of institutions and research partners around the world. The commission’s goal is to create an action plan for environmentally and economically-sustainable development, which can inform the creation of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals, now being hashed out, and move government and business leaders to make more effective investments for the future.

Calderón believes three systems need to shift over time: energy, land-use, and cities.

On energy, Calderón says we must “decouple economic growth from carbon emissions.” He said the “cost of renewable energy is dropping rapidly. Solar power is now 80 percent cheaper than it was 8 years ago.” He also pointed to successful energy efficiency programs in Mexico, where over 2 million old refrigerators were swapped out for more efficient models in just 3 years.

As for land-use, which accounts for 20-25 percent of global emissions, the challenges are severe. “We need to produce 70 percent more calories over the next 20 years, meeting an expanding population’s food needs on the same surface we have now. We need a new green revolution but one that protects the environment. We must also recover degraded ecosystems.”

The city, one of our most complex systems, also needs to change. “In the next 15 years, one billion people will come to cities.” To accommodate all those new urbanites, the world will need a “Washington, D.C. every month for 5 years.” Calderón called for “connected, compact, and coordinated cities.” The cost of sprawl is just too high: In the U.S., the loss productivity of sprawl is estimate to be around $724 billion a year, if we account for public and private born costs.

To hit home the high costs of inefficiency, Calderón compared Atlanta with Barcelona, two cities with around the same population, about 2.5 million. Atlanta covers 4,280 square kilometers and each person emits about 7.5 tons of carbon per year. Barcelona covers just 162 square kilometers and each of its residents only emits about 0.7 tons of carbon.

Given it’s so hard to change old cities, “we need to create new cities right,” which is why his commission recommends aiming efforts at “emerging cities in the developing world,” where all the future urban growth will be. And what’s key to creating these connected, compact, and coordinated cities of the future? Smart transportation systems.

There are many reasons to invest in better urban transportation. In Beijing alone, the cost of congestion and pollution equals 4 percent of that city’s GDP. Air pollution does untold damage on urbanites’ health, with millions of deaths worldwide from bad air. Sprawl also “promotes inequality.” Calderón said people without a car are paying for the privilege of those who have a car. Instead, cities could invest in bus rapid transit (BRT), which “promotes equality and inclusion” and is far cheaper than subway systems.

Calderón’s commission believes the only way to support positive change in these areas is to create “better growth.” The drivers of this will be improved natural resource efficiency, labor reforms, and infrastructure investment. Over the next 15 years, the world will spend $90 trillion on energy, land-use, and cities. “We can use that money to invest in a new model with low carbon emissions and better quality growth.”

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Rhinoceros / Kruger National Park

At nearly 19,000 square kilometers, Kruger National Park, which spans both South Africa and Mozambique, is one of the largest wildlife preserves in Sub Saharan Africa. It’s home to thousands of highly endangered elephants, lions, leopards, and rhinoceroses. In fact, the park is one of the last refuges with large numbers of white and black rhinoceroses; there are only 25,000 of these magnificent animals left. According to the International Wildlife Center (IWC) Africa, tourism is what’s largely keeping them alive.

IWC are the organizers of a new international design competition, which aims to create a new center and accommodations for tourists and volunteers. The facility is meant to enable a “learning experience that includes direct contact with the species in Kruger National Park.”

IWC intends to attract tourists, volunteers, and conservation professionals who want to broaden their knowledge of Africa’s keystone species and restore their habitat. The new visitor center will provide action-oriented education and “responsible rehabilitation of the fauna.”

The competition is open to all kinds of designers worldwide. First prize offers € 3,750 as well as publication in a range of international design publications. Registration is due January 16, 2015 and costs €75 for individuals and €100 for teams.

Other competitions of interest:

In New York City: Gowanus by Design, a “community-based urban-design advocacy organization,” has launched its third international design competition, Axis Civitas, which invites participants to first map the existing conditions of the heavily-polluted yet recovering Gowanus Canal in Queens and then design an “urban field station” accessible to the public. The collective mapping exercise will lead to a comprehensive atlas of the area that can “facilitate the community’s grassroots collaboration in the continuing evolution of the neighborhood.” Submissions are due March, 6 2015. Student fees are $50; $75 for professionals.

In London: The borough of Wandsworth seeks concepts from multi-disciplinary design teams from around the world for a £40 million bicycle and pedestrian bridge that will cross the River Thames between Nine Elms and Pimlico. The competition will identify the best team and explore options, not select a specific design. According to the organizers, “partial funding has already been budgeted for the bridge’s future construction and it is hoped that the winning design can be used to attract further match funding.” Stage one submissions are due January 6, 2015. Shortlisted finalists will each receive £12,000 to create concept designs.

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William Wenk / Wenk Associates

William Wenk, FASLA, is the founder and president of Wenk Associates. This interview was conducted at the ASLA 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver. 

Denver has made great strides in its efforts to become one of the more sustainable cities in the US. What have been the major successes over the past 20 years? Where does the city still need to make progress?

The urban corridor, along the front range of the mountains between Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, is one of the fastest growing metropolitan corridors in the country. The most significant improvement has been the new regional light rail network that Denver Metro area voters approved approximately 10 years ago. This system has generated opportunities for transit-oriented developments (TODs), a” hub and spoke” system well on its way to being built out. It will be one of the most comprehensive in the country. The goal is to create more urban environments on sites often found in a suburban context.

In the heart of Denver, there has been tremendous interest in development at the rail stops. But increased density along the rail corridors can’t possibly handle the levels of growth and need for housing. In addition — with the exception of a few light rail stops — the expansion of transit in the heart of Denver is proving to be especially difficult. A number of established neighborhoods are being transformed by much denser infill development where there’s no transit other than our bus system, which isn’t very well-used. Increased density, especially in older central city neighborhoods, has been tremendously controversial. For example, the Cherry Creek District, which is an upscale shopping area two miles from downtown Denver, is achieving urban density, but isn’t served by transit. The same is true for the Lowry infill, New Urbanist development, where higher densities are being criticized because of increased traffic in surrounding streets. Controversy surrounding increased densities in the center of Denver will continue to be an issue for years.

To provide a better transit option the heart of the city, Denver is considering on-demand transit or circulators, which Boulder has found to be very successful. A system of circulator buses in Boulder called the Hop, Skip and Jump, has been a hit. We also have Zipcars and BCycle, our bike share system, that provide other options to owning a car, especially in areas close to the downtown. Because we’re such a car-oriented city, getting a typical family to shift from two cars to one car is a big deal, in spite of all of the innovations to date.

The state’s population is increasing at about 2 percent per year. As a result, we are once again seeing sprawl — low-density development at the urban fringes. Since 2008, sprawl had slowed down considerably, but it has been heating up again.

Among the city’s sustainability goals: by 2020, Denver seeks to increase transportation options so only 60 percent of commuting trips are made by single-occupant vehicles. How will the city achieve this? Is compact urban development the way forward here?

Colorado has 5 million people now but is projected to grow by 2 million people in the next 15 years. Accommodating that level of growth is going to be an enormous challenge. Colorado is a very popular destination to move to both for Millennials and Baby-Boomer seniors who are following their kids who now live here.

We have daunting issues related to growth along the front range, which is where most of the growth will occur. We can’t accommodate it all with denser infill development, although there are currently thousands of units of apartments under construction right now in the heart of Denver. We’ll also see more units coming in the TODs along the light rail system.

Some of the most dramatic examples of growth are in aging industrial areas near downtown Denver. For example, we’re currently working on the Brighton Boulevard corridor, the spine of an old industrial area that is rapidly transforming into a hip mixed-use arts and tech-oriented district.

Developers in the area are insisting we incorporate bike lanes, broader sidewalks, and stormwater treatment in the right of way. Unlike many older coastal and Midwestern cities, Denver’s not being pressured by the federal government to improve stormwater quality to the degree that these older cities are. Instead, the development community has really been pushing the city to innovate to create green infrastructure systems that also enhance the public realm at a district scale. It’s a very interesting time here, as we re-imagine the infrastructure in those neighborhoods that will be populated primarily by Millennials who don’t want to own a car.

But multiple barriers remain. The city, in partnership with the development community, is trying to identify the appropriate finance and maintenance strategy to transform the area’s infrastructure. The city is trying to catch up with the most innovative of national trends, but they don’t don’t quite know how to do it. Denver isn’t alone in this: Most larger cities are facing the same issues. I only wish we could move more quickly, be more willing to experiment with new ideas, and implement those that prove to be most feasible on a wider basis.

Another of the city’s goals is to make all rivers and creeks swimmable by 2020. How will the city achieve this goal?

All water in Colorado is owned. It’s bought and sold as a commodity, unlike water in wetter climates. There’s an old saying: “in the West, water flows uphill toward money.” Most of the water for front range communities comes from across the Continental Divide through a network of tunnels, canals, rivers. Like most rivers in the West, the South Platte River, which flows through the heart of Denver, serves as an integral part of this network to convey water that has been historically used for agricultural use. During periods of high diversion for agricultural and urban uses, rivers can be literally drained dry.

Until recently, there was no water allocated that would maintain river flows for recreation and habitat. Many rivers in the West face this issue, which will continue to be of concern far into the future because of high demands on water. Coliform, a bacteria; metals; and nutrients are a problem in the South Platte River, as they are in many urban rivers. For multiple reasons, I think the goal of making the cities, rivers, and creeks swimmable by 2020 simply isn’t possible given how we’re approaching the problem today.

It is difficult to remove coliform through passive treatment methods. Meeting that goal may always be a problem because we don’t have a complete understanding of many of the sources yet. That said, there’s a great deal that could be done if there were the political will and funding to tackle it, especially at a watershed or district or neighborhood scale. Because Denver isn’t under a federal consent decree, an improvement in the quality of urban rivers and streams will only occur through public pressure and creative means of financing and maintenance.

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Swimming in the South Platte River at Confluence Park / Wenk Associates

What is really interesting is there is significant interest on the part of a growing number of developers to be more responsible stewards of our urban water resources. For example, we are currently working developers, such as Zeppelin Development, Perry/Rose, and Urban Ventures who care deeply about Denver and are saying “We’ve got to do this.” They’re putting political pressure on the city to move beyond traditional stormwater management to employ green infrastructure approaches in a way that is good for business and the environment. Millennials are looking for green infrastructure in their living and working environments.

Denver Housing Authority, another of our long term clients, which has been instrumental in transforming a number of derelict areas the core city, is taking the same approach. As Chris Parr, their director of development, says “We want to be nutty green,” because they believe, as long-term owners of these projects, green approaches to development make good business sense. For example, the redevelopment of an outdated public housing project spanning several blocks at a light rail station very close to the downtown used stormwater infiltration as a primary management strategy to reduce development costs. Significant challenges remain though: Long-standing development standards for stormwater management and street design are still on the books, which limit change.

According to a report published in 2014, Denver is in the top 10 for U.S. cities with the highest percentage of green commercial real estate. Is the city also moving to greener commercial landscapes? If so, can you provide some examples?

We are moving towards more water-conservative landscapes. I wish to make that distinction because Denver Water, the primary regional water supplier, has emphasized water conservation for the last 20 years, resulting in at least a 10 percent reduction in water use. There is an almost universal emphasis on the use of xeriscape principles for commercial landscape design. In 2050, Colorado will have a 163 billion gallon shortage of water available for urban uses, so we’re going to have to explore further means of conservation, as well as rethinking what the larger concept of landscape means in our semi-arid climate.

Because of our water laws, we cannot harvest rainwater. Much of our effluent cannot be reused for the same reasons. That said, there is great potential to transform the urban environment using more regionally appropriate, gray/green landscapes that are more integral with natural processes, which you emerging in Portland and Philadelphia as a result of stormwater mandates.

There are some experimental green roofs here, but they tend to need irrigation because of our solar gain, which is counter to water conservation goals. Because of anticipated shortages, there is talk of “toilet to tap,” but given the vast majority of our domestic supply goes to landscape irrigation, we’ve only begun to explore the possibilities of a sustainable regional landscape aesthetic and ethic.

Our work at Taxi is a good example of a sustainable commercial landscape. We’ve worked within Colorado water law to infiltrate stormwater. We’ve used nonliving materials extensively. The plant palette consists of a broad range of native and non-native xeric plants.

Denver is in the top 10 on the Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore, which ranks cities on the quality of their park systems. What parks best exemplify the city’s commitment to providing high-quality green public spaces?

Denver has one of the more notable City Beautiful-era systems of parks and parkways. It’s on the National Register. Cheesman Park, Washington Park, City Park, and Speer Boulevard are just remarkable historic resources. The system’s been expanded significantly as part of the development of Stapleton and Lowry’s park and open space networks.

In Stapleton and Lowry, the historic Olmstedian park aesthetic has evolved to be much more regionally appropriate, in terms of incorporating large areas of more native and naturalized landscapes driven by managing stormwater on site.

Also, the city is investing heavily in an expansion of parks and natural areas along the Platte River Greenway, which was established over 40 years ago as one of the first greenway systems in the country.

We are currently involved in the $4 million first phase redevelopment of Confluence Park along the river, which is part of a $40 million long-term makeover. Confluence has become overwhelmed with out-of-town visitors and daily users who now live in the Central Platte Valley. We’re looking at public private partnerships to create landscape architecture that better manage conflicts between bikes and pedestrians. There is a level of urban use that demands new types of management and maintenance, something you find in major urban centers but Denver is only beginning to see.

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Confluence Park rendering / Wenk Associates

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Confluence Park rendering / Wenk Associates

There are some wonderful new parkways, especially in Stapleton, designed around the natural qualities of the West. These naturalized qualities make you feel like you’re in the West rather than in Cleveland or in Washington, D.C. Those parkways have been controversial, but people are getting used to them and see their inherent beauty.

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Stapleton Walking Path / Wenk Associates

Denver Parks is looking to the future in terms of how we begin to serve our rapidly expanding population, the thousands of new residents who are going to be living downtown. Existing parks in the downtown tend to be oriented to major civic events and festivals. The master plan is proposing an expansion with a range of traditional and nontraditional park types. They seek to incentivize public-private partnerships, which will lead to more private parks in ways that you see in the core of Manhattan — streets as parks, pop-up parks, for example.

Bicycling Magazine ranks Denver 12th in the country for its bicycle infrastructure, behind leaders like New York City, Portland, and even Boulder, which ranks sixth. What are the plans for improving bike infrastructure in the city?

Bike use has gone up dramatically, especially for commuting, over the last 10 years. The U.S. Census Bureau ranked us in the top 10 given some 2.3 percent of residents commute by bike. BCycles, our bike sharing system, has been really successful and expanded beyond the downtown.

There are aggressive proposals for enhancing the cycling network downtown. Our downtown business association is currently crowdsourcing funding to physically separate bike lanes because public funding isn’t currently available. Denver Public Works department has a bicycle coordinator. There’s a major initiative to create a comprehensive system of new bike lanes and sharrows. These all are a testament to the city’s commitment to enhancing our on and off street system for our outdoor-oriented population.

But in spite of all of the improvements, we have some major gaps and barriers in the system and entrenched street standards that aren’t bike friendly. These issues are going to be difficult and expensive to solve.

Why is Denver so keen on adaptive reuse? Many of your projects, such as the Taxi Redevelopment and Northside Park, reimagine old infrastructure to create parks and commercial spaces the city can use today.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, we lost a tremendous number of fabulous buildings to urban renewal, like most other cities. There was huge resistance, which resulted in the preservation of Larimer Square, the establishment of a number of historic districts, and new landmark status for many remaining buildings. These efforts also spawned Historic Denver and other preservation organizations and programs that have resulted in the preservation of a number of historic districts and buildings: our warehouse district, known as Lower Downtown (LODO), is a prime example. It has been hugely successful as a real estate venture. Although we’ve lost a great number of really valuable resources, today, there is widespread adaptive reuse of warehouses and old industrial buildings.

Taxi was a derelict taxi dispatch center surrounded by rail yards, along the Platte River. Our client, Micky Zeppelin, saw this gritty infrastructure as a place creative individuals wanted to live and work. He’s always been a student of cities around the world. He wanted us to be responsible about water use as part of a much broader agenda of creating a creative community. He wanted a rich environment that was both urban and natural, and one where natural processes could function in the heart of the city.

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Taxi redevelopment / Wenk Associates

Northside Park was a decommissioned sewage plant, an incredibly stout infrastructure too expensive to tear down, Our solution to retain the plant was primarily practical. We needed to reduce demolition/construction costs and create space for two soccer fields. Personally, I’ve always been fascinated with layers of history in the land — both visible and invisible — and the richness of expression that is possible by revealing those layers.

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Northside Park / Wenk Associates

Adaptive resuse is messy, but it’s a wonderfully rich way of way of thinking about the world. The world is not a clean and tidy place. The landscapes a lot of us want to live in aren’t necessarily clean and tidy, but they’re vital. They’re alive. This line of thinking can lead us toward the next generation of urban landscapes in the semi-arid West.

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Urban acupuncture / Island Press

Looking for the perfect present for your favorite landscape architect, designer, or planner? Or taking time off during the holidays to delve into the latest thinking on design, cities, and the environment? Well, The Dirt‘s picks for the top ten books of 2014 are worth exploring:

Urban Acupuncture: Celebrating Pinpricks of Change That Enrich City Life (Island Press, 2014)
Jaime Lerner, one of the most influential urban leaders of our time, has written down all of his hard-earned wisdom about the city in one slim yet rich volume. Read the review in The Dirt.

Berlin: Portrait of a City Through the Centuries (St. Martin’s Press, 2014)
From the book: “Berlin tells the volatile history of Europe’s capital over five centuries through a series of intimate portraits of two dozen key residents.” The Washington Post: “Berlin is the most extraordinary work of history I’ve ever read. To call it history is, in fact, reductive.”

Composite Landscapes: Photomontage and Landscape Architecture (Hatje Cantz, 2014)
This book, which releases at the end of December 2014, is based on the exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston curated by Charles Waldheim, Affil. ASLA, and Andrea Hansen. Composite Landscapes examines one of landscape architecture’s most recognizable representational forms, the montage view. Learn more about the exhibition.

Landscapes of Change: Innovative Designs and Reinvented Sites (Timber Press, 2014)
University of Oregon landscape architecture professor Roxi Thoren, Affil. ASLA, explores 26 case studies from around the world that highlight how “site can serve as design generator.” Case studies include Queens Plaza in Queens, New York; the Buffalo Bayou Promenade in Houston, Texas; and the Jaffa Landfill Park in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The Landscape Imagination: Collected Essays of James Corner, 1990-2010 (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014)
As the author of canonical texts — and now built projects like the High Line in New York City — James Corner, ASLA, founder of Field Operations, has achieved a unique stature in contemporary landscape architecture. Read the review in The Dirt.

Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014)
Recently restored to much ado through a six-year process, Mellon Square in Pittsburgh was the first Modernist space in the nation built over a subterranean parking garage. Considered a precursor to today’s green roof movement, Mellon Square is a showcase for urban revitalization through historic preservation, with a contemporary sensibility and the latest technologies. Read the review in The Dirt.

Next Generation Infrastructure: Principles for Post-Industrial Public Works (Island Press, 2014)
Architect and planner Hillary Brown’s new book is an inspiring argument for infrastructure that behaves like nature. She writes: “We need more diversified, distributed, and interconnected infrastructural assets that simulate the behavior of natural systems.” Read the review in The Dirt.

People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities (Island Press, 2014)
Influential blogger and advocate F. Kaid Benfield’s new book 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? Read the review in The Dirt.

Projective Ecologies (Harvard University Graduate School of Design and Actar, 2014)
This new collection of essays, edited by Chris Reed, ASLA, founder of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, and Nina-Marie Lister, Affil. ASLA, professor at Ryerson University, is a timely overview of contemporary thinking about ecology and design. Read the review in The Dirt.

Urban Bikeway Design Guide, 2nd Edition (Island Press, 2014)
The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has released an updated second edition as part of their “sustained commitment to making city streets safer for everyone using them.” Reformatted in an attractive hardcover with improved structure, it features photos, diagrams, and 3-D renderings of wide-ranging best practices in design for bike infrastructure. Read the review in The Dirt.

For more, check out Books by ASLA Members, a hub offering up hundreds of books written over the years (all available via Amazon.com), and the top 10 books from 2013.

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Capital Bikeshare, Washington, D.C. / Bethesda Now

In just four years, bike share has gone from being the fantasy of a few enthusiasts to a practical and low-cost way for tens of thousands of people in cities, both large and small, across the U.S. to get around. While some cities have created their own bike share systems, many have partnered with Alta Bicycle Share, a company based out of Portland, Oregon. Alta runs bike share systems in New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, and Chattanooga, really inventing these systems as they go. Like many start-ups, Alta Bicycle Share has never turned a profit and has also gotten blasted in the press for hiccups in the roll-out of its services (see the ongoing complaints with CitiBike in NYC). But Alta Bicycle Share was recently acquired by outside investors, and Jay Walder, the former head of the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), will soon become the new CEO. According to Alta Bike Share founder Mia Birk, who spoke at Washington Ideas Forum, an event organized by The Atltantic and the Aspen Institute, this move is for the best, as “this new group can take us to the next level.” Birk said the acquisition signifies bike share is moving from niche into the mainstream, from being a start-up concept to a legitimate transportation option.

Birk, who is also the head of Alta Planning + Design, which plans and designs bicycle infrastructure, said bike share has been as transformational as any start-up in existence. “The numbers are phenomenal. To date, there have been an estimated 45 million miles traveled on bike share, ridden over 28 million trips.”

While major bike share systems like Washington, D.C. and NYC’s get all the press, Birk said there were actually 35 systems running in the U.S. Some smaller cities’ systems may just have a few hundred bikes. For example, Salt Lake City has GREENbike. Indianapolis has started its Indiana Pacer Bikeshare, and San Antonio, Texas, has also gotten on board.

Bicycling in general is up, even if safety remains a major concern. According to data from a recent Governor’s Highway Association study, bike use has increased 62 percent since 2000, but so have bike fatalities, with a 16 percent gain. Some 69 percent of those deaths have been in cities. Birk said “we’ve found that as bike use increases, there is also an increase in the raw number of crashes. However, the number of fatalities is very small, so even a few deaths can make the percentages go up.” Interestingly, some 80 percent of bicyclists killed are men, and 28 percent were shown to have been drinking. “People drinking on bikes are a real danger.”

On New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s goal of zero transportation-related deaths, Birk said this is a worthy but “probably more aspirational than realistic. Can we really expect everyone to behave? No. We don’t have sovereign control over humanity.”

To add, Birk said we must differentiate between bicyclist and bike share user deaths. “In bike share world, there have been no fatalities.”

So what’s coming up for bike share? First, Birk sees further integration with other established transportation systems. Cities will roll out “one passes,” which will enable transit users to easily shift between subways, buses, car share and bike share. “The San Francisco Bay area may be the first out of the gate.”

Second, notoriously car-centric cities like Dallas and Atlanta will become more bike-friendly, at least in parts. “These cities may not become bike meccas, but there may be pockets that change the culture.” In Dallas, Birk and her team are working on a new trail system; In Atlanta, the goal is to bring bike share to the Beltline project. Even Bentonville, Arkansas, home to Walmart, is creating a pocket of bike share, probably because it’s a cheap way to get around. “It’s not just in Portland anymore.”

Lastly, bike share and bicycling in general will become even safer. Today, only 1 percent of Americans commute by bike. “These are usually male, lycra-clad adrenaline junkies.” Another 6 percent of the population, said Birk, are “enthusiastic, confident bicyclists who bike on weekends with their kids but feel it’s too dangerous to bike to work in traffic. They are concerned about safety and parking. They want a low stress network of bikeways, and better separation between cars and bicycles, like you find in the European Union.”

To get that 6 percent commuting everyday, Birk argued that U.S. cities need “dedicated bike signals, which are used in every European transit system.” These signals are crucial to improving safety and reducing the number of irresponsible bicyclists who fail to obey traffic signals and bike up on the sidewalks. “This is really what happens when you have very little bicycle infrastructure. People behave how they want.” As one Dutch traffic engineer told her, “bicyclists are like water, they will flow into wherever they want to go.”

So cities need to get moving on building out more bicycle infrastructure — to meet growing demand and improve safety, but equally as importantly, to reduce the growing backlash against “bullying” bicyclists. In D.C., tensions have risen to such an extent between drivers and bicyclists that we can read statements like these in The Washington Post op-eds: “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.”

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