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Archive for the ‘Urban Redevelopment’ Category

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Pollinator Pathway / 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Also, innovative building projects are being encouraged to update the city’s outdated land-use code, using a process of design review.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. Capitol Hill Housing is partnering with the interdisciplinary designer Sarah Bergmann on the creation of the second certified Pollinator Pathway in the U.S. Each Pollinator Pathway connects two or more green spaces, following a set of scientific criteria.

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, the grounds of an elementary school, 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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Russell Square, London / Ali Amir Moayed.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bar codes are engraved in granite towers jutting up into the sky in Topher Delaney’s “Promised Land.” – Amy Osborne / The San Francisco Chronicle

PBS Series Explores ‘A New Wild’ Sustained, Instead of Wrecked, by PeopleThe New York Times, 2/4/15
“The series ends in New York Harbor with the story of Kate Orff, a landscape architect who’s been pursuing the restoration of the region’s oyster reefs as a buffer to storms, pollution filter and more. Now a $60 million grant will help establish an oyster reef off the Tottenville section of Staten Island.”

Winter’s Stark Landscape Lets You See Yard in a New Light – The Chicago Tribune, 2/5/15
“‘This is a great time to look at your landscape without its screen of leaves,’ says Susan Jacobson, landscape architect at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle. ‘You can really see it in a new light. You’re down to the basics, and you’re not distracted by flowers and other details.'”

Renovated “Tom Sawyer’s Play Island” in Hialeah Park UnveiledThe Miami Herald, 2/10/15
“Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah now boasts a half-million-dollar new playground area for kids to experience their own adventures, both in the air — on monkey-bars and swings — and on land. Nestled between strands of oak trees and pristine lakes, ‘Tom Sawyer’s Play Island’ is the largest playground within Miami-Dade County’s parks.”

Promise Fulfilled: Required Public Art Springs up on Mid-MarketThe San Francisco Chronicle, 2/11/15
“Unfenced last week after nearly a year of anticipation, a new pathway cuts a corner from Market Street through tall slabs of granite to 10th Street. Look up and they will see that there are granite monoliths with ledges to sit on. One ledge has the word ‘Promised’ etched into it in gold, the other has the word ‘Land.'”

Billionaire Barry Diller’s $130 Million Floating Park on the Hudson Is Actually Going to Get Built, and It Looks IncredibleBusiness Insider, 2/12/15
“Media mogul Barry Diller and his wife, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, have committed to funding a floating public park and performance space on a pier in the Hudson River. Their pledge of over $113 million will be the single largest private donation to a public park in New York City history, according to Capital New York.”

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Taxis submerged in nine feet of water during Hurricane Sandy / Alan Blumberg

Taxis submerged during Hurricane Sandy / AP Photo/Charles Sykes

Fifty percent of Americans live in coastal cities now threatened by extreme storms brought on by climate change, said AIA NY President Tomas Rossant at a recent event sponsored by ASLA NY and AIA NY at the Center for Architecture in New York City. Architects, landscape architects, urban designers, and engineers need to collaborate to save our coastal cities. As ASLA NY Chapter President Jennifer Nitzky, ASLA, argued, “effective resilience planning takes great collaboration.”

Kicking-off the event, Stevens Institute of Technology professor Alan Blumberg and urban designer and professor Alexandros Washburn, Affil. ASLA, showcased their work at the new Center for Coastal Resilience and Urban Excellence (CRUX) modeling interactions of “water on cities and cities on water.” Blumberg hopes these models — if well communicated to the public — can help us better prepare for the next Sandy.

Communicating what we know is vital. One of the main issues during Sandy was researchers could predict where water would enter urban locations, but had trouble communicating this information to the public in advance. In Hoboken, New Jersey, which thought it was protected from the Hudson River swells, water would ultimately enter from the south and north. In one dramatic example, taxi companies seeking to evacuate to drier ground moved from an area where water would rise three feet to an area that would ultimately be submerged in nine feet of water, information Blumberg says he could have told them.

Can we use new technologies to communicate all the data we have? What if we could check our Google Maps before a storm to see predicted conditions for a location and an overlay showing the range of water levels in street view?

Flood level predictions via Google Maps? / CRUX

Flood level predictions via Google Maps? / CRUX

Washburn described the hybrid fluid-solid modeling he and Blumberg have been working on at CRUX. To date, software for fluid modeling and solid architectural modeling have existed in separate worlds. At CRUX, they seek to create hybrid “surf and turf” modeling programs to understand “how water affects the city and how the city affects the water, as well as ways to bring in data whether from fluid hydrological systems or topography and buildings to make the models comprehensible, accurate, and plausible.”

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“Surf and Turf” hybrid models would integrate fluid modeling software with architectural software / Alex Washburn / CRUX

Such models take grid-based software for fluid modeling and attempting to create fully three-dimensional grids. But such modeling needs to focus on specific locations since creating such grids requires tremendous computational power. Researchers need to understand where the hot spots are in the first place, then direct modeling efforts there. But Washburn believes things are looking bright with this technology: “Ten years ago, we couldn’t even come close to modeling of this type. Now, we are at the edge of being able to define the problem and finding the solution.”

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Grid mesh models are used to simulate fluid dynamics / CRUX

Urban designer Walter Meyer, ASLA, founding partner, Local Office Landscape Architecture, presented several projects seeking to implement innovative and effective approaches to resilient coastal design. Meyer described the process of what Local Office calls “forensic ecology” to assess existing “nature-based features.”

Meyer showed how wetlands could be used for “wave storage” and absorb water and energy from incoming waves.  The type of wetland, however, is critical. Herbaceous wetlands, in one study, showed only a 13 percent effect on wave energy from storm surge, whereas woody wetlands, such as afforested mangroves in India, had a 50 percent effect on surge attenuation.

Meyer also showed how sand dunes are really “root” dunes and suggested ways to “horizontally turbo-charge” these dune structures to get similar functionality in narrow spaces such as the Rockaways.

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“Forensic ecology” applied to several situations / Local Office

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Planted “double” dunes “horizontally turbocharge” ecological functionality in narrow spaces / Local Office

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Proposed planted coastal dunes in the Rockaways / Local Office

Beyond wetlands and dunes, manipulating underwater topography could also have an impact on coastal resilience. Meyer used forensic ecology to explain how “Hudson Canyon,” a gully in the sea floor just off the Rockaways in New York, correlated to hot spots of wave energy that caused further erosion. Such findings suggest that topography could be used to focus wave energy on particular hot spots of heavy impact on the coastline where more intensive infrastructure might be built to cost-effectively mitigate storm damage.

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Wave energy channeled by the “Hudson Canyon” at the Rockaways / Local Office

How can projects that use these novel approaches take root? Anthony Ciorra, US Army Corps of Engineers NY district chief of coastal restoration and special projects branch, said the Army Corps’ has its hands tied to a great extent as it awaits funding approvals and marching orders from Congress, but there has been a shift in culture there in recent years. Ongoing studies are exploring more sustainable and adaptable solutions, and the Corps is trying to integrate resiliency thinking into its projects. That said, for the Army Corps financial feasibility is primary and “recreation is secondary . . . any project must first show that risk reduction choices equal a cost benefit.”

The best approach, agreed on in theory by all presenters, is to find ways to collaborate regionally, across state lines and beyond election cycles. “Nothing happens in the city without aligning money, politics, and design,” said Washburn, recalling something he learned while working with US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynahan. “And if you can’t hold them together through an election cycle, it falls apart.”

Washburn added that “nothing will help speed our preparation for the next storm more than our ability to make decisions better at the federal and state level and do something that America as a nation was not set up to do, which is to have politicians work regionally.”

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is founder and lead designer-educator at Mitsui Design, focusing on landscape experience and connection to place. He was the ASLA summer 2014 communications intern.

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Nus de la Trinitat Barcelona, Spain / Battle i Roig

Enric Batlle, founding principal of Barcelona-based Batlle i Roig, believes landscape architects should not be afraid of to use the term “garden.” Early in his career Batlle never used the word to describe his projects. He called them parks because he felt it elevated their status. But Batlle has embraced the notion of the garden, titling his book and recent lecture at the University of Virginia, “The Gardens of the Metropolis.” The title is intriguing because it connects two scales: the intimate garden and the immense metropolis.

Batlle showed us a map of the edges between Barcelona’s built environment and open spaces. His projects are bridges that connect the two. He presented a few examples of his work in Barcelona:

Trinitat Park (see image above) occupies an inaccessible location common to many major cities: the middle of a highway interchange. These spaces left over from large-scale infrastructure projects are almost uniformly forgotten. Here, his firm used rows of trees, grade changes, and a large circular “mountain” to sonically and visually shield the park from surrounding traffic.

The park acts as a bridge, allowing urban residents to access and enjoy previously inaccessible spaces. These kinds of bridges are increasingly necessary in growing cities searching for novel public spaces.

Batlle i Roig also worked on a landfill restoration project in El Garraf National Park completed in 2010 and located more than 10 miles from the center of Barcelona. Battle remains emphatic that the Garraf landfill reclamation project is in fact “urban public space” despite its distance from the city. It’s urban because the park is filled with more than 40 years of Barcelona’s waste. “What could be more urban than that?,” he asked.

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Garraf Waste Landfill, Begues, Spain / Battle i Roig

The space is public because a path switchbacks down immense terraces and eventually wanders into the city itself. The path defines the landfill as a public space, creating a sense of both accessibility and responsibility for the visitors confronted with the magnitude of urban waste production and management.

The Garraf Landfill Project demonstrates the radical nature of Batlle’s theory of the garden’s role in the contemporary metropolis. To garden is to cultivate and tend. By treating a landfill as a garden, Battle expands the traditional definitions of the term. Are landfills, highway interchanges, and other forgotten spaces that support the metropolis all potentially gardens?

This guest post is by Luke Harris, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of Virginia.

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Living Breakwaters / SCAPE Landscape Architecture with Parsons Brinckerhoff, Dr. Philip Orton / Stevens Institute of Technology, Ocean & Coastal Consultants, SeArc Ecological Consulting, LOT-EK, MTWTF, The Harbor School and Paul Greenberg

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, “HUD didn’t want to move at the speed of government” in its effort to create more resilient coastal designs in New York and New Jersey, said Marion McFadden, deputy assistant secretary at HUD, at an event at the American Institute of Architects (AIA). To avoid this, HUD decided to partner with non-profits and universities running the Rebuild by Design competition as well as the Rockefeller Foundation, which underwrote the competition. Using a little-known feature of the America Competes Act, HUD used the competition to spur government innovation. And it continues to do so, with its newest $1 billion competition for local resilience.

From the get-go, the intensely-collaborative Rebuild by Design competition was different from other design competitions. Usually, there is just one winner, but with Rebuild by Design, a total of six projects received $930 million in funds. According to Scott Davis, a senior adviser at HUD, “each team was competing against the standard. There were 10 places, 10 problems.”

The competition set-up was tough because of the “compressed time frame and raw emotions. It was a really difficult design environment.”

Each design team was either led by an architect or landscape architect and purposefully structured to be multi-disciplinary, with planners, engineers, ecologists, scientists, and communication specialists included. Davis said, “we brought tons of resources to these teams, including workshops at universities that covered all the latest research.”

Designers were immersed in the latest climate science and asked to create elaborate cost-benefit analyses as well as meet with community groups hundreds of times.  It was also important for the design teams to be able to “know how to conceive of their efforts in economic terms. It may be boring, but it’s vital for policymakers.” The solutions that ended up being financed made the best case for how to meet a range of social, ecological, and economic requirements.

McFadden said the teams worked with a high level of uncertainty, given HUD was never sure if the $930 million was even going to be allocated. “But we learned that people can live with uncertainty if they have their hearts in it.”

Now, projects are starting to be implemented in phases, over the next 5-8 years. HUD’s funds are really meant as a kick starter, as they won’t pay for the entire projects, which must now be carried forward by the local governments tasked with coming up with action plans to be sent to HUD.

Based on the success of Rebuild by Design, HUD has now launched a new $1 billion competition to finance resilience open to state and local governments declared disaster areas in the past few years. Davis said, “we are asking cities and states to rethink from scratch and emphasize planning.” HUD is once again partnering with the Rockefeller Foundation and its resilience academies as well as local non-profits.

Davis said with its latest competition, HUD will be again be promoting the innovative use of green infrastructure in its efforts to improve local resilience to disasters. Where relevant, “we will maximize the role of green infrastructure.”

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Bus rapid transit, Jiangsu Province, China / Scania Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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