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Archive for the ‘Urban Redevelopment’ Category

tactical

Tactical Urbanism / Island Press

Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change, a new book by urban planners Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia is the first book to really organize all the small fixes that seem to have spontaneously sprung up in so many communities in a way that everyone can understand. These fixes — some temporary and others long-term — aim to address common problems in communities today, often in streets and public spaces: a lack of safe sidewalks or crosswalks; the absence of clear signage; the dearth of neighborhood parks and plazas, and, more broadly, the lack of community connection and solidarity. Shedding its perception as an illegal or “guerrilla” approach, tactical urbanism is becoming a method of choice for innovative local governments, developers, or non-profits as well. What one learns from the book is that it’s now an approach happening everywhere, not just in New York City, with its transformation of Times Square and other car-only places into pedestrian plazas, or San Francisco, with its Pavement to Parks program, which led to the explosive growth of parklets everywhere. These types of small, yet potent interventions are going mainstream because they work — at least at fixing some problems.

As Lydon and Garcia explain in a great overview that provides deep historical context, “tactical urbanism” isn’t new. Since humans have lived together, they have been involved in city-making. The first urban street in Khoirokoitia, on the island of Cyprus, built sometime around 7,000 BCE, was 600 feet long and connected residents and merchants at different elevations, through a series of steps and walkways. “Without any formal, overarching government structure, Khoirokoita’s reidents were not only responsible for the creation and maintenance of the street. They understood its importance for the survival of the village.”

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Khoirokoita, Cyprus / Ophelia2 via Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of Island Press

Leaping forward thousands of years, Lydon and Garcia explain the woonerf, Dutch for “living yard,” which came out of a local citizen’s action in the Dutch city of Delft to slow down car traffic in a residential area. The residents tore up the street themselves in the middle of the night so cars would be forced to more carefully navigate their neighborhood. Their streets then became safe for bicycling, playing, and walking — not just a through-lane for cars. At first, the municipal government ignored the woonerf, but, seeing it succeed and spread as a model, they decided to advocate for it. In 1976, the Dutch parliament passed regulations incorporating woonerven into the national streets code. The authors identify many other planning, landscape architectural, and architectural innovations that sprouted up and spread — like the urban grid itself.

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Dutch woonerf / Dick van Veen

Lydon and Garcia do an excellent job of defining what tactical urbanism is and isn’t, and the various forms it takes. As they define it today, tactical urbanism is a “an approach to neighborhood building using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions and policies.” For citizens, “it allows the immediate reclamation, redesign, or reprogramming of public space. For developers or entrepreneurs, it provides a means of collecting design intelligence from the market they intend to serve. For advocacy organizations, it’s a way to show what is possible to garner public and political support. And for government, it’s a way to put best practices into, well, practice — and quickly!” Tactical urbanism efforts are largely targeted at “vacant lots, empty storefronts, overly wide streets, highway underpasses, surface parking lots, and other under-used public spaces.”

The authors differentiate tactical urbanism from all the other related terms that have, well, popped-up, too — “Do-It-Yourself (DIY) urbanism, pop-up urbanism, user-generated urbanism, insurgent urbanism, guerilla urbanism, and urban hacking.” They argue that “not all DIY urbanisms efforts are tactical, and not all tactical urbanism initiatives are DIY.” For example, yarnbombing, eye-bombing, and other fun, eye-catching DIY artistic happenings in the public realm can’t be considered tactical because most “usually aren’t intended to instigate long term change;” they are instead “opportunistic placemaking.”

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Yarnbombed tree / Made in slant

And they explain how not all tactical urbanist projects are illegal, carried out in the middle of the night (although many still are). Tactics run along a spectrum ranging from unsanctioned to sanctioned.

On the unsanctioned end are projects like Build a Better Block, by Streetscape Collaborative and landscape architecture firm SWA Group, which won an ASLA 2011 Professional Communications Honor Award. This first project transformed an urban street in Dallas, Texas, just for a day. “An entire block was restructured and transformed by placing new rows of street trees and a ‘median’ created of shrubs. The new open spaces created by these trees accommodated café seating and areas for vendors to sell their wares.” It gave the community a glimpse into what a more people-friendly street would do for their community. The model quickly spread to many other cities, showing many what’s possible.

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ASLA 2011 Professional Communications Honor Award. Build a Better Block / Jason Roberts, David Thompson

In the middle of the spectrum are initiatives like Park(ing) Day, which was founded by landscape architecture firm Rebar and conceived by landscape architect John Bela, ASLA, and has become a truly global movement. Each Park(ing) Day, residents turn parking spaces into pint-sized parks, highlighting not only how so much of our streets are given over to cars, but also all the other potential productive uses these spaces offer. This past year, more than 1,000 parking spaces were turned into mini-parks.

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Park(ing) Day, Onward State

And Park(ing) Day showed one responsive city, San Francisco, that people are demanding more out of their streets, which resulted in the city government making a policy shift. On the sanctioned end: the San Francisco city government created a permanent Pavement to Parks program, which has resulted in more than 50 parklets. As John King, urban critic for The San Francisco Chronicle, points out, though, five years on, not all parklets have been successful: “They are as varied and problematic as the city itself.” Still, the parklet model has since spread to many other major cities, including Vancouver.

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San Francisco Parklet / Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates

One of the only criticisms of this thoughtful, informative book is there is no candid assessment of where tactical urbanism has gone wrong. Surely, not all projects are the result of supportive, inclusive coalitions (what about the naysayers in every community? Are they just left out?) What would have been useful is a few examples of where tactical urbanism projects have failed and what can be learned from their mistakes. Not all bottom-up community improvements are beloved. Not all parklets are well-used. Not everyone likes food trucks crowding out storefront businesses. Pop-up vegetable gardens that aren’t well maintained can quickly become eyesores, or, worse, attract rodents. No matter how well-intentioned, too few contemporary projects have shown signs of successfully spurring long-term permanent change, but perhaps it’s too soon to tell.

Also, in his intro Garcia speaks to “how dysfunctional the public planning process has become.” He describes the arduous process of creating a more progressive zoning code in Miami, Florida. “The project had gone through hundreds of public meetings and was significantly better than its predecessors, yet was still attacked for being drafted behind closed doors.” He goes on about the “dozens of land-use attorneys, developers, and lobbyists” and how “the approval meetings were a dizzying circus of opposition.” He concludes that “I began to see small-scale changes as part of the answer to the stalled momentum of large projects.”

While everyone who has been involved in the depths of a bruising multi-year battle can agree with this, planners and landscape architects need to continue to fight the big fights for those large-scale, transformational projects, too. Lawsuits and well-funded opposition are just part of the territory these days with any major project where there are winners and losers; it’s part of the democratic process.

As Lydon and Garcia make very clear throughout, tactical urbanism can’t solve all problems. These projects are really about building community sustainability, empowering neighborhoods to push for pedestrian-friendly improvements. Community building can lead to new coalitions that yield real improvements in quality of life and replicable models that spread. The methodology for bottom-up empowerment and change is valid.

But it’s not clear whether many small-scale efforts can scale up or be replicated everywhere. High-profile projects like Times Square’s revamp as a pedestrian plaza seem the result of a unique set of factors, like smart, willing leadership. Will other cities follow NYC’s lead? Furthermore, can these efforts help solve our cities’ most intractable problems?

Planners and landscape architects need to continue to push for the comprehensive plans that improve walkability on the broad scale; grand, permanent parks that yield big environmental and social returns; complex multi-use infrastructure; and mixed-use developments that can enable “live, work, play,” all of those major investments that can grow and sustain livable communities, while also experimenting at the small scale. We are in the era of lawsuits and opposition.

Read the book.

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Designed for the Future / Princeton Architectural Press

“What gives you hope that a sustainable future is possible?” In Designed for the Future: 80 Practical Ideas for a Sustainable World, Jared Green — the same Green who edits this blog, and, full disclosure, was my boss when I was a communications intern at ASLA — offers 80 thought-provoking and frequently inspiring answers to this question from landscape architects, urban planners, architects, journalists, artists, and environmental leaders in the U.S. and beyond. The book’s tone is highly conversational and reflects the voices of the book’s contributors. Each passage is the result of an interview with Green, who serves largely as curator for this reading experience.

To those in the field, the names are like a who’s who of respected leaders in these professions. But while professionals will certainly enjoy it, this book is aimed squarely at the public, as it’s as scrubbed-free of design jargon as possible and offered in bite-size pieces easy to pick up for a few minutes at a time or read entirely through on a weekend afternoon.

It’s largely successful in this aspect, capturing the essence of the ideas at the core of each real world example without losing the reader in technical terms and excess detail. However, in a few cases, the description is so sparse as to leave uncertain exactly what the project is about.

Some of the projects feature new technologies applied in innovative ways. Lighting designer Leni Schwendinger, now with Arup, is inspired by Illuminate, a three-year research program in six European countries showing the way to the future of light-emitting diode (LED) lighting in public spaces. The study examined not only at energy savings and carbon reductions, but also the quality of light in terms of brightness, color temperature, and color rendition (whether the object illuminated looks true to life). It’s the artificial nature of these latter qualities that tend to sway many designers away from LEDs, despite their energy savings, but this study shows they are being improved, and LEDs may soon be able to use “intelligent controls to create malleable lighting” in our parks, plazas, and museums.

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Luminance Map, Belfast / Guilio Antonutto

Jonsara Ruth, a professor at The New School / Parsons, discusses Mushroom Board from the firm Ecovative, a product that uses mycelium, the “roots” of mushrooms, to literally grow an organic Styrofoam replacement. Styrofoam is an incredibly polluting material, but Mushroom Board, a cutting-edge use of bioengineered materials that can be grown to almost any shape and size, is completely biodegradable. Imagine appliances coming packed in Mushroom Board or homes insulated with mushroom in the walls instead of spray-in foam.

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Mushroom Board by Ecovative / Jonsara Ruth

Many projects feature materials and infrastructures from the past that have been given new life to serve contemporary needs. Landscape architect Thomas Woltz, FASLA, Nelson Byrd Woltz, describes how Braddock, Pennsylvania, is in the process of transforming much of its abandoned and toxic industrial lands, re-envisioning them as a place for urban farming and healthy community initiatives.

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Braddock, Pennsylvania / Kristen Taylor, Creative Commons, Flickr

And Peter Harnik, Hon. ASLA, director, Center for City Park Excellence, Trust for Public Land, describes how Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis is a railway that has been converted into one of the most successful trails for cyclists and pedestrians. Built in a trench to not interfere with auto traffic, it’s a delight for its users who can go for long stretches without having to negotiate intersections and vehicle conflicts.

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Midtown Greenway, Minneapolis / Ed Kohler, Creative Commons, Flickr

One overarching theme is the need to further connect social, environmental, aesthetic, and economic benefits that have been considered for too long in isolation. For decades, we’ve known, in theory, that achieving quadruple-bottom line benefits is essential for sustainability. These existing projects show how multiple benefits can be achieved in the real world, and the positive impact they can have on communities and the environment.

Green offers a lovely quote in his introduction from science fiction writer William Gibson: “The future is already here, but it’s just not evenly distributed.” Environmental advocacy and action can so easily just focus on the negative or emphasize only the compromise and sacrifice necessary for “saving the planet.” The examples in Designed for the Future show that not only is our future not all doom and gloom, but there’s plenty to be excited about here and now. The future is here. Now let’s start spreading today’s successes around as widely as possible.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, founder and lead designer-educator at Mitsui Design.

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Heavenly Water Service Center / DuoCai Photography

Amid Drought, The West Is No Place For a Lawn, As Nevada Has LearnedThe Los Angeles Times, 5/1/15
“When Gov. Jerry Brown ordered that California rip up 50 million square feet of lawns to conserve water amid the West’s deadening drought, the Golden State gasped. Meanwhile, the Silver State yawned. Desert denizens have already been there and done that — since 1999, in fact.”

Sprawling Wetland Structures by HHD_FUN Host Chinese Horticultural Show Dezeen Magazine, 5/5/15
“Beijing-based architecture studio HHD_FUN undertook two landscape architecture projects on the vast 23,000-square-metre site in Qingdao, a region in the eastern Chinese Shandong Province. The site was part of the International Horticultural Exposition, which was held between April and October last year.”

An Architectural Tour of … Parklets?The San Francisco Chronicle, 5/6/15
“Say what you like about Parklets — and there are detractors as well as devotees — they are now an established part of the scenery not only in San Francisco, but beyond.”

New Plan Would Revamp Heart of Downtown – The Baltimore Sun, 5/12/15
”New designs for McKeldin Plaza would fuse the brick space to the Inner Harbor promenade, transforming one of the busiest and most prominent intersections in the city into a 2.8-acre park, with grassy slopes and a curtain-like translucent fountain.”

An Incredible Time-Capsule View of One Downtown’s DevelopmentThe Atlantic, 5/13/15
“Exactly 50 years ago, Fresno was celebrating the inspiring opening of Fulton Mall. Can tearing up a noted artistic zone be a path to civic success? City leaders say yes, while some of their citizens say no.”

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Portland Urban Growth Boundary / Portland Metro via regional governments.org

Urban growth boundaries are held up as one of the most effective tools for limiting sprawl. But do they actually constrain unplanned development? Three urban growth boundaries — in the metropolitan region of Portland, Oregon; King County, Washington; and the metropolitan area of Denver, Colorado — were examined in a session at the American Planning Association (APA) conference in Seattle. A few interesting points came out of the discussion: growth boundaries are flexible and constantly being renegotiated. When they succeed, it’s because there is widespread political support for limiting growth and directing it to urban centers. Redevelopment and infill development in the cores relieve pressure on the outer boundaries, and offering incentives to those outside the boundary to limit development can work.

Portland’s Bipartisan Boundary Holds

Ted Reid, a planner with Portland city government, explained how Oregon became the first state to adopt urban growth boundaries in 1973. “It was a rare moment of bipartisanship.” Governor Tom McCall, environmental groups, and farmers together persuaded legislators to pass Senate Bill 100, with the goal of protecting Oregon’s natural splendor from sprawl. Every community then had to develop its own long-range plan for managing growth, with the Portland area creating its urban growth boundary in 1979. Since then, the population of the Portland metro area has grown 60 percent, while the urban growth boundary has expanded just 14 percent.

The organizational structure to administer the growth boundary was deliberately set up to distribute powers among multiple players. There’s a metro planning organization, which is a land-use planning authority; an elected Metro Council that oversees the growth boundary for the greater region; and three county governments, with 25 city governments within these units. Inside metro Portland’s boundary, there are 406 square miles, with 1.5 million people and 775,000 jobs. Outside the boundary, “there are 36 miles of urban reserve, which is suitable for further urbanization. If the area inside the boundary can’t reasonably accommodate development, the growth boundary can expand,” explained Reid. And it has expanded: 32,000 acres have been added, just in the 2000s. But then a 415-square-mile rural reserve around the city acts as a strict greenbelt to limit sprawl.

Portland’s 2040 growth concept designated urban centers, “where growth is supposed to happen.” And it has largely worked: “94 percent of growth has occurred in the original 1979-established zone. There has been tremendous activity in central Portland, with many changes in close-in locations.” For example, along North Mississippi Avenue, there was a complete overhaul in about 7 years, with transformational infill development. But, Reid also argued that some things have worked less well. Some of the tacked-on land that has expanded the boundary is still vacant. Land becomes open to development, but plans fall through. “Land readiness — not land supply — is our region’s biggest growth management challenge.”

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North Mississippi Avenue Street Fair / Travel Portland

Every 6 years, the Metro Council for the Portland area does a “range forecast, looking out 20 years.” Reid admitted that “some expectations for the future will be wrong. Things can go sideways.” But as of now, Portland’s city government expects to add 400,000 people, 200,000 homes, and 300,000 jobs in the next 20 years. “We anticipate 76 of growth will be in likely redevelopment areas.” For now, Portland is not expanding its boundary.

King County’s Smart Use of Transfer Development Rights

King County’s urban growth boundary is not a straight line, it zigs and zags, explained Karen Wolff, a senior planner with the King County government, which includes Seattle and 38 other cities. The county is the 13th largest in the U.S., with 2 million people in 2,100 square miles. It has a 460 square mile growth area. In 1964, the area created its first comprehensive plan, and in 1990, there was a bipartisan agreement that led to the growth management act, which down-zoned two-thirds of the county from development areas to rural land, agriculture, and forests. In 2008, the county adopted Vision 2040, which “redefined the urban growth boundary and rewrote county planning policies. The county is now responsible for the urban growth boundary.”

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King County Land Use / King County

With the growth management act, there are now just three land uses — urban, rural, and resource. “No more suburban half-acre or 1-acre lots.” However, much of the pre-development suburbs were grandfathered in, and they continue in their current suburban form. From 1994 to 2004, there have been many changes to the urban growth boundary. “Some land was taken out of the boundary and turned into agricultural productivity areas,” while some areas that were designated rural have become urban parkland. To date, 98 percent of growth has been in the urban growth boundary though, with 86 percent in the cities. “We have maintained the acreage of the resource and rural lands.”

Like Portland, King County is directing development to urban centers. Cities decide how they are going to increase density. But “our green wall prevents expansion.” One way this green wall has held up is King County has allowed the transfer of development rights from rural areas to inside the growth boundary. This has provided some benefits to the farmers who wanted to redevelop their land. “It was a pressure release valve. Now there’s less demand to subdivide.” Farmers sell to the city center, creating a nexus, a relationship between the city and farms that has lasted. “Farmland is protected, the cities are a little denser, and now we have farmers markets.”

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Seattle’s Pike Place Farmers Market / Philly Magazine

Wolff explained that King County’s success is rooted in widespread public concern about sprawl and local politicians who have listened, taking the “long view.” Geography has also helped — with bodies of water and mountains acting as natural boundaries. And preserving views of these natural wonders has also been a motivation. King County’s model has become the model for Washington State’s growth management act. But she added that “not everything is great: edge cities are looking to expand into green fields; there is growing pressure to expand from within the boundary out; and there are still some farmers who want to subdivide.”

Denver Uses Peer Pressure

According to Andy Taylor, a senior planner with Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), explained how 9 counties have come together to create a 980-square-mile urban growth boundary. His group is an “advisory regional planner” that helps facilitate regional consensus. In the 1990s, Denver was facing “increased traffic, loss of open space, reduced water supply that put our quality of life at risk.” To respond, in 1995, a metro vision was created, with a set of key principles and preferred scenarios. In 1997, that resulted in Plan 2020, and a urban growth boundary. This boundary wasn’t “mandated by the state or federal government; its voluntary, bottom-up.” One place where the counties discuss how development should occur is through DRCOG, which is comprised of elected officials from member governments who award allocations for development. Member jurisdictions then decide on how they will use those allocations. Staff of this organization track changes.

In 1997, at the start of the boundary, the Denver regional area boundary was 700 square miles, but over the years it has continued to grow. By 2002, it was up to 750 square miles. Then, the base changed and it jumped up to 971 square miles by 2007. In 2009, it reached 980 square miles. Counties use a “flexible approach, and can self-certify changes.” While Denver’s boundary seems to just continue to expand unabated, Taylor argues that there are success: from 2006 to 2014, density has increased 7 percent and 770 square miles of open space around communities has been protected.

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Colorado open space / Great Outdoors Colorado

“Peer pressure has led to tangible results. Nobody wants to be seen as a bad actor.” Counties adhere to the principles, but there are massive changes coming to the area that may put pressure on this voluntary system. Apartment vacancy rates are already at just 4.7 percent. “There is low home inventory.” A 50-mile rail system is coming online. By 2016, most of these lines will open, resulting in a 150 percent increase in the rapid transit system and a 175 percent increase in dense, mixed-use urban development.

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Map of rail transit plans, Denver / Denver Urbanism

Denver plans to continue to focus development in the region’s urban centers, with a majority of new housing coming in there. But an already limited water supply — Denver gets just 15 inches of rain per year — means there are broader existential issues. “The erosion of the water supply is a roadblock for developers. It puts a limit on growth.”

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A popular “food pod” in downtown Portland is across from one of the city’s administration buildings / Carol Mayer-Reed

As landscape architects and urban designers, we look for ways to create vitality in the spaces we design. In Portland, Oregon, street food has become a phenomenon, growing in popularity over the last ten years. The result has been a transformation of the public realm, as well as many privately-owned spaces in our downtown and neighborhoods. Our street food goes way beyond the hot dogs and roasted nuts commonly found on street corners in many cities; diverse food is served by more than 525 vendors operating throughout Portland.

The cuisine found on the street has become increasingly sophisticated and delicious, attracting a serious “foodie” audience, along with a hungry everyday lunch crowd looking for fresh air and convenience. Visitors can even tour the city based on the wide variety of street food they would like to sample, along with the environments they’d like to experience.

The creative entrepreneurship of food cart owners has shaped Portland’s character. The carts, which also form pods, make a positive, colorful contribution to the city’s sense of livability, promote social interaction, and support small businesses. After all, the presence of people gathering in places attracts more people.

The Evolution of Street Food: From Pushcarts to Food Pods

First, the evolution of food carts in Portland deserves some explanation; we must distinguish them from ubiquitous, roving food trucks. The city initially permitted a few vendors to offer snacks and light fare from portable pushcarts on public sidewalks and in Pioneer Square. These pushcarts, permitted and regulated through the bureau of transportation, are self-contained. Most of the limited food preparation is done off site in a licensed, commercial kitchen. Then we saw the growth of self-sufficient food trucks, with or without kitchens, which roam the city streets, tending not to be fixed in a particular location. Today, some of the most popular ones tweet their whereabouts to attract a following.

Over the past ten years, the use of private — not public — space accounted for the more recent explosion in food carts, which typically stay in one location. Entrepreneurs found a loophole: a vehicle on wheels does not have to pay systems development charges. Also, city zoning regulations and building codes do not apply to vehicles on wheels, although food preparation and handling remain regulated by the state and county heath departments, like all restaurants.

Far beyond sidewalk pushcarts, more versatile vehicles, such as travel and utility trailers, small panel trucks, and even recycled double-decker and school buses, have been retrofitted and tethered to utilities. These food carts feature more elaborate kitchens, with improved appliances and counter space, thereby allowing the more sophisticated cooking of increasingly skilled chefs.

Food carts, which can cost just $20,000 to $30,000 to set-up, enable start-up “mom and pop” businesses to inexpensively experiment with menus and gauge customer preferences without the larger risk of investment in a bricks-and-mortar establishment. A substantial number of vendors are family-run small businesses from racially diverse backgrounds. Food offerings range from the enduring to the pioneering, with offerings as diverse as tacos, burritos, and Thai food, as well as gourmet stuffed burgers, well-crafted hearty soups, BBQ, breakfast and dessert crepes, Belgian waffles, and Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken, many of which are available in a “Go Box” recyclable container. Some businesses evolve into permanent restaurants; some established restaurants now offer their fare via food carts.

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Food carts express their own individuality and culture / Carol Mayer-Reed

Parking lot owners enjoy substantially increased revenues over the simple daily rental of a space for a parked car, charging vendors about $550 per month in downtown and $300 in neighborhoods. Utilities are distributed from the interiors of the blocks. Some vendors rent two spaces to accommodate customer dining beneath wooden or fiberglass canopies, on decks or at counters tacked on the sides. Clusters of food carts are now deemed “food pods,” as they associate together in order to create more varied eating environments and amenities of a food court.

The Explosive Growth of Food Pods

Enough about the business of food carts and back to urban space: food pods have organically popped up everywhere in the city. About 40 are currently in operation, with some vendors licensed to serve beer and wine. Pods now front many block faces of streets in downtown surface parking lots. Micro-businesses crop up in parking garages or blank building frontages at sidewalk level. In one central business district location, food carts have lined the entire 200-by-200-foot block perimeter, appearing like a strip of miniature early Western storefronts or perhaps more accurately, a colorful carnival midway (see image at top).

Public safety is enhanced through this vibrancy, which yields a steady supply of customers. Adjacent parks, plazas, and building forecourts are now dotted with folks enjoying a variety of delectable lunches. The food pods are even encouraged to expand to transit stations. Put up some strings of colorful bare bulb lights and watch the ravenous bar crowds collect during the nighttime hours.

In neighborhoods, food pods overtake vacant lots and corner blocks in the commercial nodes. Increasingly sophisticated developers create pods among the hip restaurants and boutique shops. These developments provide increased outdoor dining amenities such as picnic tables, large umbrellas for rain or shine, fire pits, seasonal tents with space heaters, and porta-pots and restrooms in recycled cargo containers. Add Wi-Fi and suddenly these fragmented urban parcels are converted into animated focal points of commerce and community social gathering, complete with buskers on the street corners.

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A food pod in the Southeast Division neighborhood called Tidbit Food Farm and Garden boasts “super-cool food truckery and nick-nackery” / Carol Mayer-Reed

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Design elements such as repurposed steel scaffold structures help divide the common spaces from aisles and carry signage, banners, shade cloth, and festooned strings of light / Carol Mayer-Reed

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A vendor takes a break in a Southeast Division food pod / Carol Mayer-Reed


The Urban Design Debate

The debate, if there is one, lies in the visual appearance of the downtown’s high-rent district, given the temporal nature of the food cart structures and materials. While the vibrancy cannot be denied, the raw entrepreneurship and ad-hoc nature of the pods has resulted in an eclectic plastic-canopied, add-on visual stew. Day or night, most people will agree they are less unsightly than a full (or vacant) asphalt parking lot.

One could argue a new set of regulations should be imposed to organize, align, or govern materials, signage, lighting, and utility hookups. On the other hand, should the ingenuity of the vendors be stifled?

According to Food Cartology, Rethinking Urban Spaces as People Places, a 2008 study by the Urban Vitality Group, Portland “should allow the food carts to reflect design diversity.” In fact, “creativity in cart aesthetics should be encouraged, not limited, in order to allow vendors to creatively participate in the design of the urban fabric.”

Please know that Portland is a place where it’s arduous to gain design approval of bricks and mortar projects. Ironically, city planners, whose job it is to enforce the comprehensive downtown guidelines that support the city’s reputation as a high-quality, livable downtown, saunter across the street from their offices to enjoy a pungent pad Thai noodle dish or an aromatic Indian curry over basmati rice from the “food shack alley.”

Apparently citizens, including bureaucrats, vote with their lunch dollars in greater numbers than those who voice concerns over the visual character of this colorful chaos. Food pods have already yielded a number of positive economic and social benefits, including an increase in public safety and a sense of community.

This guest post is by Carol Mayer-Reed, FASLA, a landscape architect and partner with Mayer/Reed, Inc., a multi-disciplinary design firm based in downtown Portland, across the street from a lively food pod where she and her staff are regulars. She checks out Brett Burmeister’s website, www.foodcartsportland.com. Carol and Brett were contributors to Cartopia: Portland’s Food Cart Revolution, by Kelly Rodgers and Kelley Roy, published by RoyRodgers Press, 2010.

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Vista Hermosa Park (met AB 1881 and LID requirements) / Mia Lehrer + Associates

For the past century, much of California has relied on an inherently fragile and unreliable imported water infrastructure. While the current crisis attracts the attention of the media and public, the environmental community and government have been actively pursuing solutions for decades. These efforts have resulted in long-term water conservation. For example, Los Angeles has seen a dramatic increase in population since the 1970’s, but water use has actually declined, with the largest drops in use during periods of drought and recession. Efforts are now focused on decreasing demand for imported water by increasing local supplies. A few weeks ago, we wrote about ways each of us as individuals can conserve water in our landscapes by copying nature and making choices appropriate to our local micro-climates and water availability. In addition to the smaller-scale decisions we make in our own landscapes, progressive state and local policies are helping California to better conserve its limited water resources.

Here are a few across the state:

Water Conservation in Landscaping Act of 2006 (AB 1881)
This Assembly Bill spurred the creation of the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance, which established maximum allowed landscape water budgets and mandated low water-use plants and efficient irrigation strategies. AB 1881 encourages us to capture and retain on site stormwater and use recycled water. The ordinance also requires soil assessments, soil management plans, and landscape maintenance plans to accompany landscape plans submitted through municipal permit processes.

Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (AB 551, in progress)
If passed, Assembly Bill 551 will incentivize the use of currently-vacant private land for urban agriculture. Private landowners could have their property assessed at a lower property tax rate — based on agricultural use rather than its market value — in exchange for ensuring its use for urban agriculture for 10 years. Increasing local agricultural production where recycled water is readily available can reduce water and energy use in food production and increase our cities’ self-sufficiency and resilience in the face of potential natural disasters.

In Southern California:

Recycled Water
The Los Angeles County Bureau of Sanitation and Orange County Water District (OCWD) began recycling water in the 1960s and 1970s, respectively, for groundwater recharge and non-potable uses — or uses other than for drinking, such as irrigation or industry. In 2008, the OCWD district began recharging its groundwater supplies with water treated to levels above drinking water standards for reuse as potable water. A big push to educate the public about the process and its benefits smoothed the transition. The district is now expanding production from 70 to 100 million gallons per day, or enough to supply nearly one-third of Orange County’s 3.1 million people. Los Angeles, which delayed their water recycling efforts for drinking water after negative PR alarmed the public, is now planning to expand their recycled water program, including groundwater recharge, by 2035.

In Los Angeles:

Proposition O (2004)
Los Angeles voters overwhelmingly passed Prop O to use $500 million to fund projects to:
•    Protect rivers, lakes, beaches, and the ocean;
•    Conserve and protect drinking water and other water sources;
•    Reduce flooding and use neighborhood parks to decrease polluted runoff;
•    Capture, clean up, and reuse stormwater.

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Peck Canyon Park, San Pedro, funded with Prop 0 funds / Mia Lehrer + Associates

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Los Angeles Zoo Parking Lot bio-infiltration, funded by Prop 0 / Mia Lehrer + Associates

Low Impact Development Ordinance (2012)
Los Angeles’ LID Ordinance ensures that new and redevelopment projects recharge groundwater aquifers to increase future water supply; protect water quality downstream; reduce flood risk by keeping rainwater on site; remove nutrients, bacteria, and metals from stormwater runoff; and reduce and slow water that runs off of properties during storms.

But there is still much more we can do. Caroline Mini, who wrote her PhD dissertation at the University of California last year, shows how urban residential water use in Los Angeles is largely determined by income. Wealthier neighborhoods on average use three times more water than poorer neighborhoods. This is despite the fact that most wealthier neighborhoods inhabit tree-covered hillsides with ample available soil moisture, while less fortunate residents occupy dryer, flatter, and less shaded areas. Better-off communities have the opportunity to use their wealth to establish well-designed, resource-efficient, and beautiful landscapes that will become models in water conservation. And cities and counties have the opportunity to create green infrastructure projects that add tree canopy and increase permeability to regain the sponge quality of soil in those low-land neighborhoods that will benefit most.

Agriculture accounts for 80 percent water of the used by people in our state. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pacific Institute published an issue brief last year illustrating the massive water conservation potential that could come from more efficient agricultural practices. Just using the most up-to-date irrigation technologies and applying only the amount of water crops need could reduce agricultural water use by 17-22 percent. In 1975, Masanobu Fukuoka wrote The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming, describing dry rice farming techniques that matched or out-produced his most productive neighbors. This poetic story about working with nature instead of against it to grow successive crops with little effort is more relevant than ever today.

More thoughtful planning for both rural agricultural and urban water use is needed. We can determine which crops and farming methods best serve our regional and exported food needs while further conserving water. We can advance urban water efficiency plans, which could generate savings that can negate the current deficit, while creating greener, more resilient and self-reliant cities.

This guest post is by Mia Lehrer, FASLA, founder of Mia Lehrer + Associates, and Claire Latané, ASLA, senior associate, Mia Lehrer + Associates.

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Pollinator Pathway One (Before and After Planting), 2011 / © Sarah Bergmann

EcoDistrict planning and design can accelerate local efforts to improve sustainability. EcoDistricts offer a framework through which communities can discuss, prioritize, and enact initiatives that address climate change — by providing clean energy, conserving wildlife habitat, and encouraging low-impact development — and also social equity. If more neighborhoods begin to adopt the EcoDistrict model — wherein a range of partner organizations work in concert — we could see stronger bottom-up pushes toward city-wide sustainability.

Since 2011, the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, which is funded by the Bullitt Foundation and led by Capitol Hill Housing, has sought to improve the sustainability of the community and the equity of its constituents. This EcoDistrict is partnering with the Seattle 2030 District, a high-performance business district in downtown Seattle, that aims to reduce carbon emissions 50 percent by 2030. In 2015, Seattle’s City Council formally passed a resolution recognizing the EcoDistrict.

In the past few years, the EcoDistrict has made progress: Capitol Hill Housing and Seattle City Light started the first community solar project on an affordable housing building in Washington State. Participants in this program can “subscribe” to receive the benefits of solar via the systems built and maintained by Seattle City Light on the rooftop of the new Capitol Hill Housing, the Holiday Apartments, which houses 88 new apartments for low-income families, artist spaces, two theaters, various community organizations, and street-level retail spaces.

Also, innovative building projects are being encouraged to update the city’s outdated land-use code, using a process of design review. As an example, The Bullitt Center helped launch the city’s Living Building pilot program.

The EcoDistrict aims to address urban ecosystem fragmentation and the loss of tree canopy and open space. To do this, Capitol Hill Housing is partnering with interdisciplinary designer Sarah Bergmann to create the second certified Pollinator Pathway in the U.S. Each Pollinator Pathway connects two or more green spaces, following a set of scientific criteria, and is created through commission or partnership.

Bergmann’s first project, Pollinator Pathway One — a mile-long, 12-foot wide landscape first developed seven years ago — connects Seattle University’s campus with Nora’s Woods, a small forested area a mile away, through a series of connected gardens (see image above). The second project, Pollinator Pathway Two, will run through the heart of the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict and will connect two Olmsted-designed parks and Seattle University.

More knowledge sharing among EcoDistricts around the country will help lead to a more replicable model. Already, a few high-profile EcoDistricts are joining together: In 2014, the Portland, Oregon-based EcoDistrict organization launched a program called Target Cities, a two-year partnership with ten projects across eight North American cities.

This guest post is by Katy Scherrer, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, University of Washington.

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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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Zorlu Center playground / © IJreka

Since its founding nearly 20 years ago, Carve Landscape Architecture in the Netherlands has become one of the most interesting landscape architecture firms creating adventure-filled playgrounds. Their projects are immediately recognizable, with their use of bold colors, architectural forms, and incorporation of challenging obstacles, including steep-looking climbing objects and chutes and slides. Their embrace of strong forms and color and adventurous play makes the typical American playground, which has been made so safe out of the fear of lawsuits, look rather bland and tame in comparison. Their playgrounds are like parkour courses for kids, of all ages. Increasingly international, they’ve moved beyond the Netherlands to create exciting new projects in Turkey and Singapore.

In Istanbul, Turkey, Carve partnered with mutlti-disciplinary design firm WATG last year to create Zorlu Center playground, the largest in Istanbul. The result is a play space like no other, with a purple palette running throughout.

Carve and WATG created zones for different age groups, orchestrating a progression moving from simpler (and safer) zones for younger children to more challenging ones for older children. These zones are inspired by natural landforms, as Carve describes creating “hills, valleys, and mountains.” Using the best biophilic design principles, within the zones, there are both refuges, places where kids can hide out, and also prospects, like a net-filled climbing tower. And to the side of this adventure wonderland is a terrace where parents can socialize while also keeping an eye out.

The entry zone is for the youngest children. At Landezine, Carve explains: “The entrance area has gentle hills to climb on, slide down, and explore. On these hills, play-shapes host numerous elements for the smaller children, like trampolines, spinners, climbing nets, hammocks, and a slide.”

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Zorlu Center playground / © IJreka

At the next stage, the hills become a valley. “Here, a hidden world can be explored: a bridge, giant netting structure, and a family slide, ready to be used by a whole bunch of children at the same time. The site is embraced by a natural landform, keeping children safe in the play area.”

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Zorlu Center playground / © IJreka

And then the valleys become mountains. Rows of walls become opportunities for climbing, running, and sliding. “Together these walls act like a giant coulisse, which changes shape depending from one’s angle. It is an adventure to play here: a labyrinthian system of tunnels, sliding walls, ‘birds nests’ and lookout points and narrow alleys. Once you’re inside the mountain, there are numerous ways to get up to the highest point. The giant slide from the valley-landscape crawls up the hill, connecting both parts of the playground. In a roller-coaster slide of seconds, you’re in the heart of the playground again!”

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Zorlu Center playground / © IJreka

At its height are two towers. The three-story tower, which is only accessible via the mountain range, includes a slide that takes kids back to the center of the playground. And the top of the second, a four-story tower, can only be reached via climbing nets within. What kid wouldn’t want to play here?

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Zorlu Center playground / © IJreka

In Singapore last year, Carve created Interlace, a smaller bright-blue playground, modeled after the OMA-designed apartment blocks where most of the kids in the neighborhood live. “While most playgrounds are a contrast to their surroundings – in color, shape, and activity – the new Interlace playground is the mini-version of the surrounding residences.”

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Interlace / Tucky’s Photography

Within the blocks, there are kid-sized spaces that house a maze. “The ‘closed’ facade gives children the thrill of being invisible, while the perforations actually ensure looking both inside and outside. Also, the perforated facades allow for shading and a continuous wind breeze, creating a cool climate inside the boxes, while stretching the borders of the conception of inside-outside.”

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Interlace / Tucky’s Photography

And it’s worth highlighting Osdorp Oever, a playground Carve built in Amsterdam in 2013 that features a bright Dutch orange “climbing parkour” set between trees, with four “cocoons,” crossing points in the pathway.

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Osdorp Oever / Carve

At 15-feet off the ground, these pods are both “lounge hangout and lookout point.”

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Osdorp Oever / Carve

Check out Carve’s other projects.

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A’Beckett Square / © John Gollings

Typically, pop-up parks tend to be fairly small — just a thousand square feet, if that — but a few noteworthy ones show temporary places can be super-sized, too. In Melbourne, Australia, RMIT University turned a 30,000-square-foot parking lot into a vibrant community space for a game of pick-up basketball or just hanging out. Designed by Peter Elliott Architecture + Urban Design, A’Beckett Urban Square shows the amazing potential of really any empty urban parking lot. At a cost of $1.2 million Australian dollars ($970,000 U.S.), the park is not cheap, but still less than a more fully-realized, permanent park.

The designers told Landezine RMIT students and local residents can now take advantage of a multi-use sports court set up for basketball and volleyball and surrounded by spectator seating.

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A’Beckett Square / © John Gollings

Around the perimeter, there are ping-pong tables, BBQs, and bike parking. Colors help differentiate the sports zone from the areas designed for hanging out.  Throughout, WiFi is available, another draw.

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A’Beckett Square / © John Gollings

To keep the costs down, there aren’t any trees — but the design team bring a sense of green in other ways. One part of the pop-up park has astroturf dotted with planters filled with small trees and bushes.

And along two walls, the university commissioned a work by Melbourne artist Ash Keating meant to evoke an “urban forest and desert landscape.” Two panels of green paint represent the forest, while another red and orange panel, the desert. To not contaminate the environment, Keating used airless spray from “pressurized, paint-filled fire extinguishers.”

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A’Beckett Square / © John Gollings

Peter Elliot Architecture + Urban Design wrote: “Typically ‘pop-ups’ occupy leftover and underutilised spaces through the use of recycled materials and the clever adaption of everyday found objects. They are often gritty spaces that are curated rather than designed. A’Beckett Urban Square was conceived as a piece of urban theatre carved out of the surrounding city. The design approach was purposefully lean, developing upon the idea of a temporary and demountable installation.”

Pop-up parks are also getting bigger in the U.S. though, too. In Washington, D.C., the no-frills but still appealing Half Street Fairgrounds, which is modeled after the Dekalb Market in Brooklyn, New York, and started as a spill-over space for Washington Nationals games, is now home to Truckeroo, a food truck festival and musical events. This space, which also started out as a parking lot, is really just a place to hang out though, without the full range of features that A’Beckett Urban Square has.

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Half Street Fairgrounds / Move for Hunger

And in Philadelphia, there’s the Spruce Street Harbor Park, which is an estimated 7,000 square feet.

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Spruce Street Harbor Market / Jump Philly

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Spruce Street Harbor Park / Gallery Hip

An urban beach with hammocks, it really takes advantage of its Delaware River setting. It’s also home to food trucks galore.

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