Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

While Google is racing ahead to create a data-driven, self-driving car, one Dutch designer is working on the opposite end: designing a smart highway that will communicate with your car. As one of the winners of this year’s Index awards, which comes with a €100,000 prize, Daan Roosegaarde, collaborating with Hijmans Infrastructure, will test out a road that will “communicate with its drivers in order to promote both traffic safety and efficiency.”

Roosegaarde writes: “We live in cities of endless gray concrete roads, surrounded by steel lamps and they have a huge visual impact on our cities. But why do the roads remain so rough and without imagination? Why not turn them into a vision of mobility – a symbol of the future?”

His smart highway concept is pretty mind-bending. He wants to embed highways with technology that can “visually communicate when the road is slippery,” actually charge your electric vehicle as you drive, and use its own electricity to create spot lighting as needed. “The goal is to make roads more sustainable and interactive by using light, energy and road signs that automatically adapt to the traffic situation. New design concepts include the ‘Glow-in-the-Dark Road’, ‘Dynamic Paint’, ‘Interactive Light’, ‘Induction Priority Lane’ and ‘Wind Light’.”

The roads would be covered in a kind of responsive paint so that if the temperature dropped below freezing and it started raining, the paint would turn on, covering the road in snowflakes.

At night, the road could actually light itself, which Roosegaarde thinks would be more efficient. “Glow-in-the-dark paint treated with photo-luminizing powder could reduce the need for auxiliary lighting. Charged in daylight, the glow-in-the-dark road illuminates the contours of the road at night for up to 10 hours.”

With his pot of money, Roosegaarde wants to further develop and even patent these technologies. He sees other wild applications, like “taking the bioluminescence of jellyfish or fireflies and applying this to nature, thus making roadside plants and trees glow at night as an alternative to public lighting – resulting in a 100 percent new natural lighting.”

A few other projects also won Index awards. One certainly worth highlighting is Copenhagen’s climate change adaption plan. Index writes: “Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, found a way to connect and address the climate changes in one master plan. The city’s Climate Adaptation Plan aims to prepare Copenhagen for the future by developing the Danish capital as a climate proof, attractive, and green city.”

While municipalities in Denmark must create climate action plans, Copenhagen has actually gone a step further, creating a plan that “can be of pleasure and benefit to the city immediately.”

They write: “The Copenhagen Climate Adaptation Plan really stands out with its main focus on seeing flooding and climate adaptation as a resource rather than a problem, benefiting businesses and citizens alike. Thus, by rethinking climate adaptations as a whole, via in-depth analyzes, the Danish capital will use excess water as a vital resource – while implementing flexible design solutions that reduce construction work and saves money for the city.”

Index: Design to Improve Life is a Danish non-profit organization “under the patronage of HRH The Crown Prince of Denmark.”

Image credits: (1-3) Smart / Highway / Index: Design to Improve Life, (4) Copenhagen Flooding / Index: Design to Improve Life,

Read Full Post »

Suzanne Blier is Allen Whitehill Clowes Professor of Fine Arts and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. She is an historian of African art and architecture in both the History of Art and Architecture and African and African American Studies Departments. She also is a member of the  Institute for Quantitative Social Science. She is Co-Chair of an Electronic Geo-Spatial Database AfricaMap, a site that expanded into WorldMap.

WorldMap is an open source GIS tool that enables anyone anywhere in the world to create their own maps and overlay them with data for free. Why did Harvard create this?

GIS has been transformed in the last 20 years. I was using it in a project when I moved up to Harvard from Columbia in the early 1990s. I received some outside funding to put together a GIS mapping system of Africa. When that project came to a conclusion, I applied for some additional funding for innovative computing. At that time, Harvard had established a new center for geographic analysis. They hired a really brilliant young GIS scientist named Ben Lewis, who is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania program in urban planning. It was his belief that one could actually put together a system, making it available to everyone using open source technology. This is what became WorldMap.

We began with Africa. The idea was to bring together the best available mapping anywhere in a format that would allow us to overlay different kinds of data. Soon, other people around Harvard began to look at it. From the sociology to the geology to the history departments, other scholars said, “we’d love to do that as well.” And there was serendipity: this was the first large project at the new Center for Geographic Analysis. There, lots of people contributed ideas.

Why not just use Google maps engine or ArcGIS?

You can go into WorldMap, create a project there, and upload it to Google Earth. We do bring in Google mapping and other mapping data. The two are not at odds in that way but you can do more with WorldMap. For example, if you are creating a project in Google Earth, you can’t bring in other mapping data and then share with others as you can in WorldMap. With our site, you can bring in your own historic mapping data. You can bring in text, images, or video. With the system one is encouraged to draw on any available mapping resources to build one’s own. You can also create and visualize things as you want in your own way, give them your own look, and have your own data symbolized and presented as you like.

ArcGIS is a terrific product. It’s still very effective, used by many, as well it should be. As you probably know, it’s very complex to learn. I’ve approached how many undergrads and grad students, trying to convince them that it’s worth the time spent to do it. But it’s still like climbing up a cliff with a bicycle. There are cost factors, too, for people using ArcGIS. Granted, you can use it in part online now, but we didn’t think there was the same kind of potential for bringing in your own data, historic maps, sociological data into the system, then being able to share it with other people in the same kinds of ways. We’re collaborating with ESRI, too. There’s plenty of room for both kinds of products. Each of them offers something slightly different.

In some ways, WorldMap can be more easily grasped by the less technically astute among us, whether a landscape architect, planner, historian, or student. I also really love the way we can share our projects with people anywhere in the world.

I’ve seen map makers on WorldMap already overlaying river systems, poverty rates, ethnic groups, and then showing how these have changed over time. What other types of layers are people using? What are the most popular mash-ups?

We should be hungry to learn not just from what our own individual disciplines are offering, but from what everybody else is doing. This technology allows one to do that. So sociologists are bringing in different kinds of data than we might be, a lot of demographic data, information on transportation systems, neighborhoods, etc. Landscape architects and urban planners offer new data on some environmental questions, ecosystems, and city plans.

You can go through all of the different layers people have brought in and see what are the most popular. These tend to be environmental — river systems like you mentioned — and ecosystems, but also transportation, railroads, etc. A number of projects have taken up historical data we brought in from Euro Atlas, which shows the history of Europe going back to the earliest period. And because WorldMap users are generally happy sharing their data, there is a lot to chose from. Almost 90-95 percent of the map data can be used by anyone.

You can bring those layers into your own layers. It’s a little bit like Wikipedia in this sense. You can build your own map in part out of what other people put together, but done in new ways that suit your research interests.

You mentioned AfricaMap, your project that then created this larger World Map. In Africa Map, users can overlay religions and ethnic groups. They can see areas where there’s high population density. They can use the map to imagine transatlantic trade routes. There are historical maps, which I really love, dating back to 1606, which seem to magically appear over the baseline Google maps. How is this powerful tool being used? Is it being used in ways you didn’t expect?

I’m also fascinated with the seeming magic of taking early maps and laying them on top of current ones. One the most fabulous additions in the development of the system was when we created our map warper or map rectifier. This means you can take any historical map or any map, whether it’s of the world, a continent, a country, a city, a neighborhood, a street corner, and very quickly add three or four points — more if it’s a very historic map, because of discrepancies. You can then co-join the lat-longs and bring this map into your own mapping system.

You can also take a map or plan that may be poorly done or is under copyright, but you’re really interested in the data. Well, we’ve also provided the means so that you can in essence use WorldMap like tracing paper. You can basically copy it by adding lines, points, and shapes on top of it, stylize it in new ways, and create your own particular manifestation of that plan.

Some interesting work is being done within or on the perimeters of a new project in WorldMap called TweetMap. This project in WorldMap has been used to harvest all of the geo-referenced data in Twitter. You can do a search within that. You can frame it by time or a particular area for any term or phrase you might want. That could be really useful for thinking through perceptions of the city.

Twitter Map was developed originally by Todd Mostak, a student in Middle Eastern studies, and the Kennedy School here. He was interested in the Arab Spring and locating how that was being framed in Twitter.

Another fascinating map by Professor Colin Gordon, University of Iowa, maps decline in St. Louis, showing how blight took over parts of the city. The map tells a powerful visual story of blight and then redevelopment. What kind of urban stories are you also seeing told? What else could this tool be used for in terms of urban policy, advocacy, or even design?

His project is a fascinating one. There’s a corollary in Chicago, another important map in WorldMap by another sociologist named Robert Sampson. One important thing with both Professor Gordon’s and Professor Sampson’s projects is they’ve actually integrated their WorldMap projects into books that they’ve recently published.

A graduate student here is using WorldMap to analyze New Orleans, thinking through the early history of the city where the slave markets were, how the concept of neighborhoods were changing in the city from the early Spanish and French periods to the later American period. You can even correlate that with building design changes.

I’ve been fascinated with the impact of World’s Fairs on cities so I’ve put up a series of World Fair plans, whether it’s St. Louis, San Francisco, Chicago, Brussels, or New York City. You soon realize how important some of these World’s Fairs were in terms of the changing dynamic of the city. That brings in plans from great landscape architects such as Frederick Law Olmsted.

We also have a plan up of the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia. Of course, as you know, some of the World Fair buildings are still standing. You can overlay on top of this not just the plan of the fair, but also the plans of the landscapes and buildings at the fair. You can then embed into this project photographs taken at the fair. Within WorldMap, you can link directly to photographs and add points by creating particular symbolic icons so that once you click on them, you’ll be able see what was the view in 1876 or whenever.

Landscape architects, planners, and other design professionals could really use WorldMap to root designs in local social and economic contexts and even histories. These maps could also be used to create compelling presentations of different design alternatives. How do you think designers should be using WorldMap? What features do you think would be most useful for them?

There’s some terrific work being done by Europeans using WorldMap to evaluate economic disparities in European cities. There’s one on Athens. There’s another fabulous set on Barcelona. One of the great things about World Map is you can actually make it a collaborative project — not just for landscape architects per se, but also for the people who are living in and with these landscapes. You can bring in the informal. We have provided people in these communities with the tools to upload their own data, let’s say their own experiences in a landscape through text, video, or photographs. That could be a really positive addition to landscape architecture preservation, and help outline the importance of these places as lived space.

You can use this tool to promote the importance of landscape architecture in school systems, from K to 12, getting teachers and students to use this to upload information about their own experiences with their landscape and help to preserve them at the same time — to not just preserve them historically, but also to become caretakers for these spaces. You could compare the area of X plot of land versus Y plot of land or distances or simply add cell phone and other imagery of a particular landscape.

We are increasingly thinking about pooling resources in documenting the works of key individuals, whether it’s Frederick Law Olmsted or Frank Lloyd Wright. People who use these parks or live in these structures can create a project on WorldMap, with people in different locations adding information. Making these maps available on the site to the world — and really using these people to do some of the more labor intensive and expensive work of geo-referencing plans — is a great idea.

Lastly, are you worried that people will misuse these maps, display false data to build specious cases? If data can be manipulated, is there any truth in maps?

Well, personally, I would love to see the creation of fictional maps, imaginary places based on real places. That’s the positive side. Another positive side is that we now have a tool to evaluate maps, meaning that we are providing a means for users of WorldMap to tag maps and identify those that are really well done versus those that are problematic. That’s the open source nature of it.

We don’t have enough staff to go through and evaluate maps, nor is it something we want to do. We would rather keep this as a toolbox available to everyone and rely on people who are using these maps to let us know if there’s something that is indeed really problematic.

Maps are things that have this necessary complexity. There will always be disagreements on borders, for example, now between China and India. At WorldMap, we’re perfectly happy to have a Chinese and an Indian version and various ones in between. Some of these disagreements are enriched or complicated by the possibility of creating competing maps.

In the same way that river systems notoriously change over time, which is why you shouldn’t geo-reference from them, these kinds of discrepancies are great within a system.

It’s far easier to create or change something in WorldMap than in a printed book. WorldMap allows for more creative approaches and different opinions in map making.

Image credits: (1) Image credit: Suzanne Blier, (2) AfricaMap by Suzanne Blier / image credit: WorldMap, (3) Chicago Map, poverty rates in 2000 by professor Robert Sampson / Image credit: World Map, (4) Federico de Wit map, 1675 in Suzanne Blier’s AfricaMap / Image credit: WorldMap, (5) TweetMap of Manhattan / Image credit: WorldMap, (6) St. Louis map by professor Colin Gordon / Image credit: WorldMap, (7) Philadelphia Centennial Expo, 1876 / Image credit: WorldMap, (8) Rivers of Africa map / image credit: WorldMap

Read Full Post »

Frost flowers, sharp-edged, ice-cold blossoms, grow off of imperfections in the surface of ice at extreme sub-zero temperatures. More than just amazing natural phenomenon, these spiky structures are home to islands of psychrophiles, or “cold-loving microbes.” Design blog This Is Colossal tells us that we’re seeing photos of these beautiful natural formations because Jeffrey Bowman from the Integrated Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program and his mentor Professor Jody Deming of the University of Washington Department of Oceanography broke cracks in the ice up in the Arctic Ocean.

Once room was created for these structure to take shape, “the cold, moist air above the open cracks becomes saturated and frost begins to form wherever an imperfection can be found.” Then given the opportunity, “flower-like frost structures” quickly grew vertically, rising to centimeters in height. “The hollow tendrils of these ‘frost flowers’ begin to wick moisture from the ice surface, incorporating salt, marine bacteria, and other substances as they grow.”

The frost flowers are fascinating to these researchers because the microbes within them may provide answers as to how life survives in extreme conditions. “These delicate ice structures turn out to host microbes that survive to extremely cold temperatures, informing us about the limits of life when we search on other ice-covered planets and moons for possible extraterrestrial life. They also produce chemicals such as formaldehyde that may give clues about the origin of life on the early Earth.”

Astrobiological studies are then also occurring on earth — as we are part of the same system, too: “Since many of the planets and moons in our solar system that might harbor life are very cold and covered in ice, determining the habitability of these planets and moons requires an understanding of the limits of life (as we know it) in the very coldest environments on Earth.”

According to the IGERT web site, Bowman and Deming are now working on an “ultra-clean chamber” where they can artificially grow these frost flowers, in order to determine how life can survive elsewhere in the universe.

Image credits: Matthias Wietz / IGERT

Read Full Post »

If the world could only harness the collaborative genius of gamers, many of our most intractable problems could be solved. This was the central argument of the amazing Jane McGonigal, director of game research and development, Institute for the Future, and best-selling author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, at the 2012 Greenbuild in San Francisco. (A similar version of her talk can be seen from TED above).

Games can effectively be a platform for engaging people as collaborators. Given the success of some of the best-selling games, the potential scale of collective action is enormous. As an example, McGonigal said Angry Birds has had 1 billion downloads and at some point 1/10 people on earth have played the game. In total, “people have spent a total of 325,000 years avenging these poor birds.” Another game with “extraordinary reach” is Call of Duty. The average players of that game spent about 170 hours a year playing, which is about the same of one full-time month of work. “They are playing like it’s a job.” In fact, the game is so popular it also interferes with work: when a new version recently came out, some 1/4 of all players called in sick to work.

Gamers may be so intently focusing on their games because they get little stimulation at work. They aren’t alone: some 74 percent of American workers were said to be “disengaged” at work, according to a Gallup poll. This lack of engagement costs U.S. employers about $300 billion annually. Plus, a lack of engagement really equates to a lack of innovation, which is a danger for the U.S. economy as a whole. McGonigal said the real story is that “there’s passion and energy but it’s being transferred to the virtual world of gaming.” Instead of seeing this as part of the decline of Western civilization, McGonigal interestingly sees it as a huge opportunity. As NYU professor Clay Shirky, who wrote Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations (a book worth a read), noted, Wikipedia took around 100 million hours of collaborative global effort to create. “That’s just three weeks of Angry Birds. We have the potential to create 7 Wikipedias every week.” McGonigal even has a new word to define this online world: the “engagement economy,” which is made possible through “mass participation and skills and abilities.”

So for all those parents out there worried about their kids rotting their minds with online games, perhaps they should put their fears aside. Game playing, which 99 percent of boys and 92 percent of girls under 18 do, actually boosts positive emotions. Gamers associate the following feelings with games: “joy, relief, love, surprise, pride, curiosity, excitement, awe, wonder, contentment, and creativity.” In games, we are also “working with others.” Being a part of a massive multiplayer community “creates confidence, a sense of agency.”

In a survey of research, gamers were found to be more creative. “And the more time they spent gaming, the more creative they were.” Gamers spend about “80 percent of their time failing. You have to try again and again.” This builds a positive sense of self. For everyone, social games actually lead people “to help each more in real life.” Even casual gaming “outperforms pharmaceuticals for anxiety and depression.”  Interestingly, those with ADHD had their symptoms disappear when they started gaming. For those with autism, playing games helped them to “collaborate better and improve their emotional intelligence.” Games “make us resilient and create super-empowered individuals.”

McGonigal then explained how the three “super-powers” of gamers could be harnessed to address some of the world’s most daunting challenges. First, gamers can “summon crowds out of thin air.” As an example, she pointed to a real-world “Farmville,” an app called Ground Crew that enables local urban agriculture organizations to find volunteers in real time based on how far they are from the farms. Ground Crew led to a “1oo-time boost in volunteer participation” for some local organizations.

Second, gamers can “solve the unsolvable.” No joke. McGonigal pointed to a site called Fold IT by the University of Washington that used gamers to manipulate infinitely complex proteins. If proteins “fold in a certain way, you get a disease.” But unraveling the folds is no easy feat: “it’s a Rubix cube with 100 sides.” In a show of force for the gaming world, gamers solved a unbelievably complex challenge related to HIV in just 10 days. Researchers with PhDs had been working on the problem for nearly a decade. Their feat was even written up in Nature, one of the world’s best science journals.

Third, “gamers can see the future.” A new Web site called the World without Oil, which asked users to play games around the idea of peak oil and explain how they would live with oil at $4 a gallon, documented some 100 thousand stories. A year later, “when the world caught up” and gas reached those prices, the stories listed actually provided “an early warning systems.”

So getting on board with games may be the way to go. Kids gaming today will soon grow into adults who game. “It’s inevitable. Soon we’ll all be gamers.”

Read Full Post »

At the opening session of the 2012 Greenbuild conference in San Francisco, the co-hosts of “Morning Joe,” Mika Brezinski and Joe Scarborough, hosted a series of panels with leading environmental experts like Majora Carter and Paul Hawken; technnology and product innovators such as Biz Stone, a co-founder of Twitter, and David Kohler, The Kohler Group; and policymakers such as Newark Mayor Cory Booker, California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, and former New York governor George Pataki. While Morning Joe seemed a bit obsessed by the losses of his Republican Party (he says he’s on the libertarian side of the spectrum), the morning show team still ably led the panelists through a fascinating, wide-ranging discussion on the business and ideological forces pushing forward the sustainability movement and the policy actions that enable or impede it.

Perhaps the most powerful statement to come out of the session was from MacArthur “genius” Majora Carter, who said that movements for “greater equality lead to greater prosperity for all.” Following up on USGBC President Rick Fedrizzi’s argument that the green building movement is indeed a movement and comes in a long of line of movements that have expanded rights for women, African Americans, and gay Americans, Carter said “environmental equality” was the next frontier. With environmental improvements for all, “we all benefit” and the economy grows as new jobs are created.

Hawken, the author of four bestselling books on how ecology and commerce can be better integrated, said that groups like the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) are critical because they are places “where ideas have sex.” However, both he and Carter argued that “everyone needs to be in the room: poor, rich, black, white.” When everyone is in the room, “the questions become important,” and they also change because they address the needs of the underserved. Also, Carter added that “we need to preach outside the little temple we’ve built for ourselves” and truly link jobs to environmental equality. “This will be huge opportunity, one that can be embraced by all,” not just the environmental movement.

Stone succeeded in making the case that technology – whether in the Internet or green building realm — can be an enabler if used to create more understanding. He quoted Einstein, who said that “information is not knowledge.” With the rise of the Web and big data, there’s more and more information out there, but it needs to be “turned into understanding and then action.”

Lt. Governor Newsom believes that the new digital divide exists between society and the private sectory on one hand and the government on the other hand. “Technology hasn’t radically altered governance yet.” Tools like Twitter help people “amplify their voice, connect, form new coalitions.” However, government is still using an old model: one-way communication. To really connect with young people, “two-way communication is needed.” Stone added that “technology democratizes and enables us to empathize with people across the world.”

Both agreed that technology enables policymakers to better listen and “find patterns” that can be turned into support for green programs. Technology can also improve transparency so people understand what they are buying and using everyday.

For Mayor Booker, all of these new approaches and technologies need to be harnessed so they support a grand holistic vision. “Green thinking affects everything, not just the environment. The American dream must be a green dream.” He said in Newark he has started projects saying that “green is our value, but what is the multiplier effect?” As an example of the type of projects he wants with significant multiplier effects, he pointed to a new program that puts ex-offenders to work building urban gardens, which also has huge urban heat island reduction benefits.

Governor Pataki said incentives can also help create that multiplier effect. In New York, he put out a $300 million bid for “clean hybrid buses.” His advisors told him he was crazy because “they don’t exist.” Pataki said his bid actually created the market, because, sure enough, a NY-based firm stepped up and created a solution. “Someone is now making these buses. They weren’t before. That’s leadership.”

Still, Brezinski seemed to ask the telling question, which the policymakers didn’t seem to answer at all: How do you incentivize real change when the change required is a “hard sell?” For example, New York City never built out those sea walls to protect the city because they were expensive and a “hard sell.” Climate change mitigation may be another one. The true test of the innovative new approaches and technologies will be those hard sells.

Image credit: 2012 ASLA Professional Residential Design Award of Excellence. Drs. Julian and Raye Richardson Apartments. Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture / Bruce Damonte photo copyright.

Read Full Post »

At a Casey Trees‘ conference on urban forestry, David Nowak, Ph.D, research forester at the U.S. Forest service, one of the world’s foremost experts on urban forests, and a member of the team that won the Nobel Prize at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said out of the 20 biggest cities in the U.S., 17 have declining urban forests. “Tree cover is going down.” For example, researchers have found that D.C.’s urban forestry cover decreased by 1 percent in the last 20 years, while impervious cover (hard concrete) grew by 20 percent. Now and in the future, the key to boosting urban forests may be to make better use of innovative Web applications like iTree, which “estimate value and benefits” of the tree canopy.

Nowak said to really understand urban forests you have to look at their extent or structure. You have to know “how many trees you have and where they are.” The structure of an urban forest also impacts the benefits. For example, where trees are placed impacts who receives the environmental, psychological, and social benefits.

Forests can be measured in either a “bottom-up” or “top-down” manner. Bottom-up approaches involve counting species on the ground and looking at species, tree health, and the various health risks. Nowak and his team at the Forest Service participated in developing iTree, a bottom-up tool that helps manage forests. Top-down efforts are usually satellite-driven and involve high-resolution imagery and photo interpretation.

In an examination of urban forests, Nowak found that some 30 percent of vegetation is planted, while the other two-thirds is “naturally regenerating.” There are also varying levels of natural vegetation within key spaces in cities. In residential areas, the share of naturally-regenerating nature is relatively low because people plant or mow, while in parks and open spaces, it’s higher.

Invasive plants are also on the rise across the country. In D.C., invasive plants may even be shifting the composition of the forests. “Frontier plants are changing things.”

To track all this change, Nowak said it’s important to use tools like iTree, which can help local urban policymakers, planners, and landscape architects “better understand the canopy and the true value of ecosystem services.” Nowak said anytime you’ve heard a number about the dollar value of an urban forest, it was probably based in an iTree estimate. Using “local variables such as energy, air, water quality, and climate,” iTree can put a value on an area’s trees and help local policymakers optimize the performance of the forest.

While landscape architects and others understand the inherent value of trees, local programs to protect trees from pests and fungus are expensive and budgets are tight, so “we need to build the financial case.” Without “data and tools, it’s hard.”

With 20 years of data available, there are a number of applications where you can run and test models. iTree Canopy uses Google Maps to create statistically-valid estimate of tree cover, while iTree Species helps users identify the specific ecosystem service benefits of one tree over another. The system has about 5,000 trees in its database. iTree Hydro looks at tree canopy and stormwater, while iTree Design, which Nowak called the Sim City of landscape design, helps landscape architects and designers figure out the benefits of certain tree sizes and types in a landscape design. In the same way, the tool could be used to figure out the amount of financial benefits that are lost when a tree dies.

iTree 5.0 will include some new features like Google Maps, web-based data collection using mobile devices, the inclusion of data on the volatile organic compound (VOC) output of trees, and “benefit forecasting.” There will also be more data on “the risks each tree type faces from insects and diseases” as well as risks from a given forest structure. For example, too many species in one place means that part of the forest could be simply wiped out with an infestation, creating a vulnerability in the overall structure.

On the value of having a tool like iTree itself, Nowak said: “This is really about urban forestry technology transfer” through a “credible, USDA-approved, public domain software.”

For more on the benefits of urban forests, see ASLA’s animation: Urban Forests = Cleaner, Cooler Air. Nowak was an expert advisor on the animation.

Image credit: Aerial View of Logan Circle, Washington, D.C. / Wikipedia

Read Full Post »

In an effort to deal with deterioriating infrastructure along its 560-mile shoreline, reduce the expense of new waterfront construction, and achieve its ambitious multi-billion-dollar waterfront redevelopment agenda, New York City’s government has just issued a request for expressions of interest for “Change the Course,” a new waterfront construction competition that seeks “innovative and cost-saving solutions for completing marine construction projects.” New York City’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), the Hudson River Park Trust, and a host of other government groups and experts will be evaluating submissions. 

NYCEDC President Seth W. Pinsky said: “We are as committed as ever to reclaiming and transforming the city’s hundreds of miles of waterfront. This innovative competition will allow us, in an era of limited resources, to uncover new methodologies and techniques for addressing the challenges associated with our aging infrastructure, thereby ensuring its long-term sustainability.”

The first phase of the competition will seek to unearth the many factors impacting cost and sustainability. All those old, crumbling piers and sea walls that double as pedestrian promenades are clearly expensive to maintain for a number of reasons. NYC identified a few likely suspects, including “obsolete technologies, permitting processes, current regulations, environmental issues, outdated science studies, labor issues and efficiencies.”

Entrants will then provide creative solutions that are “cost effective, sustainable, and ethically sound,” addressing conditions at one of a few spots at the Lower Manhattan Waterfront: the deteriorating, expensive-to-maintain structures between Fulton Fish Market (at the South Street Seaport); Pier 35, along the East River in Manhattan; or the Hudson River Park Pier, at the substructure of Pier 40. As for using the Hudson River Park as a test-bed for cutting-edge structures, Madelyn Wils, President & CEO, Hudson River Park Trust, said: “We look forward to working together with NYCEDC to find financially sustainable solutions for the unique infrastructure challenges of waterfront parks.” 

There’s no reason why landscape architects shouldn’t partner with engineers and submit to this competition. As Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, is now demonstrating with the Brooklyn Bridge Park (BBP), landscape architects are repurposing old marine pier infrastructure to create sustainable parks. Above, see his firm’s diagram for the BBP infrastructure.

The top prize winner will get $50,000, with 2nd and 3rd place getting $25,000 and $15,000. 

The first phase request for expressions of interest are due November 16, 2012. Winners will be announced in early 2013.

Image credit: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

Read Full Post »

There is a lot of noise out there about social media. Not only has social media’s use exploded over the last several years but it continues to generate interest at increasing rates, attracting the attention of landscape architects and related design professionals in the process. Many landscape architecture firms now connect and communicate through social media’s different variants, including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, to name a few.

Recent global events, like the use of Facebook in the uprisings in the Middle East, have focused attention on the changes in public space and social politics prompted by the explosion in the use of social media. Some pundits see it as a new form of voluntary association and pluralism, while others see it as a force for greater consumption, or, worse, a means of social surveillance. What is often not evident in the broader discourse of social media is a description of the location of those engaged in its use. Crowdsourcing is a way to identify the geography of social media and offers great promise in further understanding the complex networked connections within the field of landscape architecture.

The remainder of my blog post introduces the results of crowdsourcing professional social media followers of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), related organizations like the American Planning Association (APA), and landscape architecture and architecture news sites like World Landscape Architect, Architectural Record, and Architizer. Hopefully, some interesting ideas came out of analyzing the location of their twitter followers at national and also global scales. 

The charts seen at top (view large version here) graphically illustrate the kinds of networks these organizations have formed, the location of their most influential users, as well as the location of all users. In examining these charts, one can see just how different the various professional organizations and news sites are in terms of their numbers, their dispersal, how intensely they communicate, and their national and global reach.

Specifically, the graphs on the left (featured below) show the conceptual forms of each network. In these graphs, the larger the circle the greater the influence of a member. The closer the circles to the center, the greater the interconnection among the most influential participants and all network followers. The greener the circle and line the more frequent the communication between network followers. 

If we compare the APA network graph with the ASLA network graph, the APA followers appear less densely connected and more connected to one center. Many APA followers are tenuously inter-connected on the periphery of the network. Most of the APA’s influential followers are on the network edge and not well interconnected with its followers. The ASLA network, on the other hand, is very dense, with many followers inter-connected throughout the network. Many of the ASLA’s influential followers are well-connected to the larger network from positions close to its conceptual center. The ASLA also seems to have many more followers than the APA in this study.

The graphs on the right (featured for a closer view below) illustrate the national and global location of the network followers and their lines of connection. The most influential followers are indicated by larger-sized circles. In these graphs, the larger, the bluer and greener the circles, the greater the influence and communication frequency of the participant. The greater the change in the lines from red to yellow to green, the greater the frequency of communication between followers. 

The national geo-location graphs on the left shows that the APA (the first row) has the most influential followers on the east coast and in Toronto and Texas, with significant traffic from several west coast cities. At a global scale, the APA followers showed fewer connections spread through most continents. 

National ASLA followers (the 2nd row) are present throughout the United States and in Canada and Mexico in substantial numbers. Many moderately influential followers with multiple lines of communication are evident throughout the United States. At a global scale, the ASLA followers showed many connections spread through most continents, but concentrated in Europe and East Asia. There were also several influential ASLA nodes in Central Europe.

In extending this comparison to all five design-focused social networks, we see greater variation in the level of connectivity, the number of members with influence, how much they communicate with each other, and the range of their international followers. Some are clearly more uni-centric while others are more multi-centric. All of the networks connect to the urbanized continents, but most connections are in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Nationally, some of the networks are more concentrated around New York City, the northeast, and the southern and central United States.  

An analysis closely related to a network analysis like this would explore the extent to which the twitter followers of the five design-focused social networks cover different topics. Analysis of the content of their communications is quite possible, as is the location of their messages. One can imagine understanding how landscape architecture ideas are nested in a particular place, how those places and messages inter-connect, and how followers from different places influence followers from another place. Perhaps in another blog post.

Read a more comprehensive analysis.

Robert Hewitt, ASLA, is an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Clemson University. He is the author of Landscape Imprints: Culture, History, Sustainability, Technology, and Learning.

Image credit: Geoff Taylor and Brooks Patrick

Read Full Post »

Just about every news source in the world featured amazing photos of the Martian landscape earlier this week taken by the Mars rover Curiosity. NASA has sent the $2.5 billion rover to the Red Planet in hopes of getting a better sense of the history of water there and whether the planet could ever have hosted life. Using its 100mm telephoto lens, Curiosity captured photos of an “intriguing geological ‘unconformity,'” reported BBC News, which may provide more clues about how watery its past was.

Above we see an image taken by Curiosity’s mast camera, which highlights the geology of 5-km-high Mount Sharp, a mountain that actually sits within the Gale Crater, the spot where Curiosity landed. NASA writes that earlier satellite coverage of the area, below the white dots, indicated the area bears “hydrated minerals,” perhaps the residue of water that once existed on the planet. However, earlier satellite overpasses weren’t able to capture the incline above the white dots, which, interestingly doesn’t contain these minerals.

According to NASA, this “provides independent evidence that the absence of hydrated minerals on the upper reaches of Mount Sharp may coincide with a very different formation environment than lower on the slopes. The train of white dots may represent an ‘unconformity,’ or an area where the process of sedimentation stopped.” 

Another shot below shows just how similar parts of Mount Sharp are to the Grand Canyon in the western U.S., which was carved by ancient rivers. 

The next stop for the rover will be Glenelg (who names these places?), some 400 meters to the east, which is an “intersection” between different rich geological zones.

And now that NASA has gotten Curiosity warmed up, the sturdy, plutonium-powered rover will make its way to the base of Mount Sharp over the course of the next six months or so. (Interestingly, the rover is powered by plutonium from an old Soviet nuclear weapons plant).

At the base of the Mount Sharp, the rover will fire “subatomic particles neutrons at the surface to examine levels of hydrogen- and hydroxyl-containing minerals that could hint at Mars’ prior water-rich history,” writes BBC News. Another tool in its extensive kit is the ChemCam, a laser that will be used to vapourize rocks and then chemically examine the vapour. To get a closer look at the atomic makeup of rocks and soils, Curiosity will scoop up Martian materials and move them to an internalized lab for examination. 

On Monday, the rover received and then sent back a recorded message by NASA administrator Charles Bolden. Then, a song by Will.i.am was broadcast from Mars as part of an educational event. That marks the “first voice recording to be sent from another planet.”  

See more images and learn more about what NASA is after in their tour of the Red Planet.

Image credits: NASA

Read Full Post »

The worst drought in a half a century has already caused billions of dollars of losses for farmers and communities. In parts of the country where water has long been conserved, like the west, lawn painting has unfortunately long been seen as a solution. Now, with water being conserved across the country like never before, what are all those homeowners with lawns supposed to do? Instead of replacing lawns with native plants that require little water (otherwise known as xeriscaping), more may be throwing away money trying to paint their way to a lush, verdant lawn.

The Associated Press reports that homeowners across the country are now taking this path. In Staten Island, NY, Terri LoPrimo decided to hire a local entrepreneur to spray her lawn with a “deep-green organic dye.” LoPrimo said: “It looks just like a spring lawn, the way it looks after a rain. It’s really gorgeous.” Her lawn can be seen on the left:

Many landscape architects may shake their head at such a move, but at a cost of $125 to paint her 830-square-foot-lawn, it’s certainly cheaper than ripping out the lawn and replacing with native alternatives that don’t require much water or creating a new, usable outdoor space.

Indeed, these cheap and fast approaches have yielded more business for the owner of the Staten Island company, Grass Is Greener Lawn Painting. The owner told AP that he has already painted 20 lawns this summer. The dye used is a “non-toxic, environmentally friendly turf dye that [...] is commonly used on golf courses and athletic fields to give them a lusher appearance.” Just to note: There really isn’t such a thing as an environmentally-friendly dye given the huge amount of water that actually goes into producing dyes. Also, much like a spray-on tan, the green lawn look doesn’t hold forever. In about five months, homeowners going the non-natural way will need a fresh spray. 

The AP then examined the practice in the Midwest, looking to Kansas City, Mo.-based Missouri Turf Paint Inc. The company has been painting golf courses and athletic fields for years, but has seen an uptick in residential spraying. Foreclosed homes are often sprayed, the owner said, to boost resale prospects. 

In Phoenix, Arizona, homeowners are also often painting their lawns to try to sell, or out of fear of being fined by their homeowners’ associations. Brian Howland, Arizona Lawn Painting, said: “Usually it’s people who don’t feel like messing with their yard or it’s a rental or a foreclosure or a sale — something where before everything gets going they want it to look nice.” 
Howland charges $200 for up to 3,000 square feet. 

Clearly more work needs to be done to convince homeowners everywhere that there are smart alternatives to lawns, like xeriscaping. With climate change, drought-like conditions may not be going away anytime soon.

One sustainable landscape case study shows how much cheaper a native residential landscape is to maintain over time. Also, explore ASLA’s guides to sustainable residential design: improving water efficiency, and its connected guide on maximizing the benefits of plants.   

Image credit: (1) Arizona lawn painting / Green Extreme, (2) NY lawn painting / Courier Express

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,117 other followers