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Conservation for Cities: How to Plan & Build Natural Infrastructure by Robert McDonald / Island Press

Conservation for Cities: How to Plan & Build Natural Infrastructure by Robert McDonald / Island Press

In my first year studying for a landscape architecture degree, our textbook for a course on environmental resources was thick, heavy, and weighed down in page upon page of extraneous jargon that obscured the portions that were legitimately interesting and useful. It’s too bad Conservation for Cities: How to Plan & Build Natural Infrastructure, by Robert McDonald, wasn’t around. Even at a quarter the length, it provides exponentially more value – not only for professionals and students in landscape architecture, engineering, planning, and the like, but also city officials, community leaders, and anyone interested in the benefits of integrating natural infrastructure into our cities.

“The twenty-first century will be the fastest period of urban growth in human history,” says McDonald, who is also senior scientist for sustainable land use at the Nature Conservancy. Will this lead to a dystopian end of nature, as predicted by some conservationists? Or will we build cities that exist in co-harmony with nature? “If the city’s plans [to integrate natural infrastructure] are conducted, what is the cumulative effect? What will the city look like? What will it feel like to live in this greener, more resilient city?”

While these are some questions we can only fully answer in the future, McDonald gives us a practical manual for getting there. McDonald’s approach – using conservation for cities – is the product of a framework rooted in the concept of ecosystem services, the many benefits nature can provide us. This is in contrast to conservation in cities, which refers to protecting biodiversity in areas or urban growth; and conservation by cities, the act of making cities more efficient in resource-use and expenditure. Conservation for cities “aims to figure out how to use nature to make the lives of those in cities better. Rather than focusing on how to protect nature from cities, this book is about how to protect nature for cities.”

Approaches to conservation - in, by, and for cities / Island Press

Approaches to conservation – in, by, and for cities / Island Press

City leaders make decisions based on qualitative and quantitative assessments and then implement strategies, which then must be tracked for success or failure. McDonald spends the core of the book going over mapping, valuation, assessment, implementation, and monitoring methods for ten key areas of ecosystem benefits, each with its own chapter: drinking water protection; stormwater; floodwater; coastal protection; shade; air purification; aesthetic value; recreation value and physical health; parks and mental health; and the value of biodiversity in cities.

When possible, McDonald refers to specific formulas, models, software, and other tools that have proven the most successful. For the more casual reader, these technical details are easy to skim. For the professional looking for practical approaches, these details will likely be useful. It’s also worth noting here that the graphics in this pre-publication proof are somewhat sparse, and tend towards the schematic. Additional footnotes, photographs, and illustrations may be included in the finished book.

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Schematic illustrations demonstrate evapotranspiration with and without natural infrastucture / Island Press

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 Beach profiles for sandy shores in a temperate climates versus coastal mangroves in tropical habitats, and the effect on tides and storm surge  / Island Press

Despite the proficient use of market valuation processes, economic indicators, and the like for assessing ecosystem services, McDonald also understands that the value of nature is simply beyond human measures. While professionals and advocates for natural infrastructure are also likely to appreciate the inherent value of nature, that value is difficult to use as an argument against grey infrastructure approaches. Value is calculated in fairly strict black and white economic terms these days.

McDonald uses the “dry and academic” term ecosystem services “because it is standard in the field now, and it makes clear the economic value of nature’s benefits. But [he hopes that] the reader haven’t lost sight of the fact that always behind ecosystem services are people’s lives.”

It’s McDonald’s hope that “rather than completely bending nature to our will, we could bend our will to match nature’s pathways, at least a little bit. The science of ecosystem services gives us some of the crucial tools to follow these other pathways, if we have the love to follow them.”

For those who feel the love, Conservation for Cities offers a compelling trail head to these pathways of the future. I kept thinking I might use that old environmental resources textbook as a resource one day. This year, I finally donated it to make room on the shelf for other books. Conservation for Cities, however, is likely to stay there for quite some time.

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is the founder of Mitsui Design and director of the Jewish outdoor, food, and environmental education fellowship at Hazon, the country’s leading Jewish environmental organization. 

Appslarge
In order to better understand what smartphone apps landscape architects use to conceptualize, design, and construct projects, ASLA recently surveyed practicing landscape architects, students, and university faculty from around the world. In this three-part series, we summarize the results of the survey, which yielded more than 150 responses over two weeks. Our goal is to let landscape architects know about all the useful apps they might not be aware of, and how these tools can be incorporated into increasingly multimedia design processes.

Some 64 percent of survey respondents are registered landscape architects. And 78 percent are ASLA members, of which 15 percent are associate and student members and 8 percent are fellows.

The survey assessed smartphone app use during multiple phases areas of the design process: site analysis, conceptualization and design, design reference, plant identification and selection, construction, and presentation. Respondents were asked which app they use most during each of these phases, how frequently they use that app, and who recommended it to them.

What App Do You Use When Analyzing a Site? 

76 percent of respondents used a smartphone app to analyze a site for all or most projects, while 15 percent of respondents have never used an app when conducting site analysis. 75 percent said they discovered the app on their own, while 15 percent said their firm encouraged them to use it. Others were informed about these apps through their university or by co-workers.

The most popular site analysis apps identified by respondents:

Google Earth App / Google Inc. on the App Store by iTunes

Google Earth App / Google Inc. on the iTunes App Store

1. Google Earth (free; ios / android): By far, the most popular app used for site analysis. The newest version of the Google Earth app allows users to search for exact locations as well as turn on and off layers that include streets names, borders, and photography. Through the 3-D street view option, users can get a real sense of what places are like on the ground.

2. Camera (free; ios /android): Built into all smartphones, the camera app is extremely popular for documenting sites. The iPhone camera has 8 megapixels, exposure controls, and panorama options. It also can shoot HD, slo-mo, and time-lapse video. The android camera offers similar features.

3. GPS Essentials (free; android): The GPS essentials app allows users to navigate maps, trace tracks, and manage waypoints. For any given area, the app show navigation values such as latitude, longitude, altitude, and sun and moon data. Routes, tracks, and waypoints drawn in the app can be exported to Google Earth and Google Maps.

4. Sunseeker ($9.99 ios; $7.49 android): Sunseeker uses GPS and magnetometer data to show the sun’s path at a given location on both a flat compass view and as a realistic camera view. The app, which shows the sun’s location in hour intervals, its winter and summer solstice path, as well as rise and set times, can give users a feel for the change in solar angle throughout the year and how it will impact a site.

Some other interesting apps respondents suggested:

Clinometer ($1.99 ios; free android): Clinometer allows users to calculate the angle of a slope using a smartphone camera. The app can display the slope in degrees, percentage, or rise over run. It can also be used as a level for simple tasks like aligning a frame or a presentation board.

My Tracks (free; ios / android): My Tracks turns your phone into a GPS logger by recording your path, speed, distance, and elevation on a map while you walk, run, or bike outdoors. The GPS tracks are stored on your phone and can be exported to Google Maps, Google Earth, or as vector linework.

Planimeter ($7.99 ios; $3.99 android): Planimeter is another GPS tracking tool that measures land area and distance on a map, as well as perimeter, and GPS coordinates. Not only can you quickly measure lawns, lot sizes, buildings, and paving from a satellite map, you can also measure a specific area by walking or driving around it.

What App Do You Use When Conceptualizing and Designing a Project?

Some 44 percent of respondents used a smartphone app when conceptualizing and designing all or most projects, whereas 27 percent of respondents never use an app when working through this stage of a landscape project. Some 70 percent said they discovered the app on their own, while 14 percent said their firm encouraged them to use it.

The most popular conceptualization and design apps identified by respondents:

iPad Screenshot of Paper by Fifty Three / FiftyThree, Inc. on the App Store by iTunes

iPad Screenshot of Paper by Fifty Three / FiftyThree, Inc. on the iTunes App Store

1. Paper by FiftyThree (free; ios): Paper is a digital notebook app that allows you to quickly sketch, write, draw, outline, and color on a clean interface that mimics real paper. It also includes tools that allow users to quickly create charts and diagrams for quick note-taking. Special pencils and styluses can be purchased to make drawing and note-taking easier on an iPad.

2.  Pinterest (free; ios / android): Pinterest is a visual bookmarking tool that allows users to find and save photos and ideas through their social networks. Users can upload, save, and share images and videos – known as Pins – from people in their social networks or they can save content found online to their Pinterest boards using the “Pin it” feature.

3. Houzz (free; ios / android): Houzz, called the “Wikipedia of interior and exterior design” by CNN, features a database of home design ideas that are extremely useful for residential designers. Users can browse photos by style and location and save them to a “virtual ideabook” for reference. Images can also be saved for offline viewing or shared with others through the app.

4. Sketchup Mobile Viewer ($9.99 ios ; $9.99 android): The Sketchup Mobile Viewer allows users to open and view their Sketchup models on their mobile devices. Sketchup models can be downloaded from 3D Warehouse, Dropbox, or email and can be viewed from a variety of angles and with any of Sketchup’s face styles.

Some other interesting apps respondents suggested:

Autodesk Sketchbook / Sketchbook Pro ($3.99 ios / $4.35 android): Autodesk Sketchbook is an intuitive drawing app that offers more than 100-plus preset brushes, pencils, pens, and brushes. It’s designed for people of all skill levels and allows users to create everything from small doodles to detailed digital artwork. Painting layers can be controlled with different blending modes, allowing users to create artwork as they would in Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, or in real life.

Morpholio Trace (free; ios): Morpholio Trace allows uses to quickly draw on top of imported images, drawings, and photos to comment on plans, progress images, or other drawings. Users can choose from a variety of trace papers such as yellow trace, vellum, or blueprint and use a variety of pens will different line types, colors, and sizes. Just as in real life, layers of digital trace can be added on top of each to build on ideas.

What App Do You Use for Design Reference (grading standards, color palettes, project photos, etc.)?

Some 47 percent of respondents said they used a smartphone app as a design reference tool for every or most projects, whereas 28 percent of respondents have never done so. 72 percent said they discovered the app on their own, while 15 percent said their firm encouraged them to use it. The majority of respondents said they used search engine apps, Houzz and Pinterest (as discussed above). Many landscape architects identified a need for better design reference apps.

The most popular design reference apps identified by respondents:

Adobe Color CC / Adobe on the iTunes App Store

Adobe Color CC / Adobe on the iTunes App Store

1. Adobe Color CC (free; ios / android): Adobe Color CC allows users to create color themes that can be transferred to Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop. The app allows users to use their screen as a viewfinder and will extract colors from camera views or photos. An interactive color wheel and color slides allow users to adjust individual colors or use pre-set selections based on color theory.

2. Palettes / Palettes Pro (free or $3.99; ios): Palettes is another color palette tool designers can use for creating color schemes. Users can grab color from a photograph, website, or select a color using a variety of color models. Compared to Adobe Color CC, Palettes offers more colors per palette (up to 25) as well as a feature that allows you to display a color full screen to compare against a real world item.

3. Synthesis Mobile (free; ios / android): Synthesis Mobile aggregates information about a user’s firm and allows him or her to stay connected with news, updates, and ideas across the company – essentially it’s a social network and employee directory for firms. Users can compose and comment on posts, as well as share photos and links firm-wide through the app. The app also keeps track of employees, projects, and future opportunities.

What App Do You Use for Identifying / Selecting Plants? 

32 percent of respondents used a smart phone app to select or identify plants for every or most projects, whereas 41 percent of respondents said they rarely or never used an app for this. 72 percent said they discovered the plant identification app on their own, while 9 percent said their firm encouraged them to use it. Many respondents said they primarily use search engines or books, or that they don’t need reference materials for plants. Some identified a need for more accurate, user-friendly plant identification apps.

The most popular plant selection and identification apps identified by respondents:

Dirr's Tree and Shrub Finder / Timber Press, Inc. on the iTunes App Store

Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder / Timber Press, Inc. on the iTunes App Store

1. Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder ($14.99, ios): Dirr’s Tree and Shrub finder is a searchable plant database that allows users to search for plants by 72 criteria including hardiness zones, water and light requirements, growth characteristics, and flowers, among many others. The app covers 1,670 species and 7,800 cultivates with more than 7,600 plant images, as well as 1,120 botanical illustrations. Plants in the app can be sorted by common and scientific name.

2. Leaf Snap (free; ios): Leaf Snap was developed by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution. The app uses visual recognition software to help identify trees species in the Northeastern United States and Canada from photographs of their leaves. It contains many high resolution images of trees, leaves, flowers, and bark to help with identification.

3. PlantAPP for PlantANT (free; ios / android): PlantAPP is an app associated with PlantANT – a website that provides a free wholesale plant and nursery directory that users can search by price, distance, size etc. With the app, users can search plant vendors and listings from their phone, while plant suppliers can upload pictures of their inventory through the app.

Some other interesting apps respondents suggested:

Virginia Tech Tree ID (free; android): Virginia Tech Tree Identification contains fact sheets for 969 woody plants from North America, including a detailed description, a range map, and thousands of images. The app can use a smartphone’s GPS signal or users can enter and address of zip code and the app will tell them what trees will survive in that location. The app can also identify a plant by asking the users a series of simple questions.

PRO Landscape Contractor (free; ios / android): PRO Landscape Contractor is made for landscape professionals. It allows users to select and create visual designs for a house or building by dragging and dropping more than 11,000 stock images of plants and hard-scape elements onto uploaded pictures. Users can search the image library for plants by common or botanical name and clone existing landscape elements into the new design.

Check out part two: smartphone apps for landscape architects: useful tools for construction and presentation.

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As If It Were Already Here / Studio Echelman

A grand new work of knots and colored rope from artist Janet Echelman floats 350 feet above the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway in downtown Boston. Commissioned by the Greenway Conservancy, the piece’s name — “As If It Were Already Here” — is as enigmatic as the art work itself. Echelman, who recently won the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award, is a remarkable sculptor of massive floating net installations and frequent collaborator with landscape architects. This new mesh work in Boston, her home town, is some 600 feet long, 2,000 pounds, and is comprised of 100 miles of fibrous twine 15 times stronger than steel set into a pattern only made possible through a half million hand-made knots.

As with another recent piece in Seattle for the 30th TED conference, Echelman is increasingly lacing interactive technologies into her sculptural experiences. In Seattle, visitors could use a smart phone app to paint lines across the sinuous surface of her piece. Here in Boston, this new piece, which cost some $1.25 million, uses “dynamic light elements” that react with the wind. “Sensors register movement and tension, manifesting data into the color of light projected onto the sculpture’s surface,” explains Wallpaper magazine.

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As If It Were Already Here color shifts / Studio Echelman

Echelman’s artwork hangs over the Fort Point Channel section of the 1.5-mile long greenway, which was tacked onto the notorious “Big Dig” project that replaced an elevated highway that cut through downtown Boston with an underground one. While the greenway is certainly better than the elevated highway, there have been numerous complaints over the years about the success of the urban design, largely because its many segmented parks are still separated from the city by 2-lane streets on either side. In a recent tour of the greenway, Christoper Hume, architecture critic for The Toronto Star, called it a “failure of the city and landscape architecture in general,” pointing out that few people seem to want to spend any time there. And Cathleen McGuigan, editor of Architectural Record, who was also underwhelmed, wondered “where can you sit?,” pointing to the dearth of public benches along the linear park.

However, local businesses seem to disagree with the critics. Boston Innovation reports that the greenway is increasingly a magnet for companies. “According to Avison Young’s Fourth Quarter 2014 Greater Boston Office Market Report, ‘vacancy in the 1.2-million-square-foot Greenway micromarket was 6.8% at the close of 2014, significantly lower than the overall market’s vacancy rate of 12.1%. The Greenway has seen 695,000 square feet of positive absorption over the past 10 quarters, a trend that has nearly halved the vacancy rate of 12.4% during the same time period.'”

Boston Innovation also argues that Echelman’s dramatic piece, with its “scope and dynamism,” has brought the greenway conservancy’s ambitious public art program to a whole new level, which could result in a sustained uptick in park use. “People are now actively searching out Echelman’s piece and are all the more likely to stroll the length of the park because of it.”

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As If It Were Already Here / Studio Echelman

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As If It Were Already Here / Studio Echelman

This is not the first time Echelman has been brought in to enliven a space that needed a boost. As she explained in an interview with The Dirt, “I am frequently part of a team that includes landscape architects who are addressing a fix to some previous plan, often the result of urban renewal.”

On her net sculpture now floating above the greenway, she said: “With my new project coming in, I’m part of the process of bringing this place back to the people.”

Go see it before it comes down in October.

And watch a video of the installation of “As If It Were Already Here,” which was so technically complex — it required attaching the piece to three nearby buildings — engineers at Arup were brought in:

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Cooperative Village, Lower East Side, NYC, apartment complex / Beyond My Ken – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

What makes a strong community? If you’ve read Jane Jacobs, an image immediately comes to mind: side-by-side row houses, corner stores, parks you can see across. But the experience of life with climate change— in its early innings, anyway—suggests that this classic model may need an overhaul. A resilient neighborhood, that is, may not look very pretty.

Take my corner of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It generally lacks awnings and stoops, and provides a view of boxy towers and empty lots for five city blocks. These features bear the legacy of top-down planning, the kind that Jane Jacobs vilified in her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities. But my experience after Superstorm Sandy suggests density can support the formation of urban community.

Superstorm Sandy left lower Manhattan without heat or power. My cluster of brick towers, set back from the street and hulking in a manner that would make Jacobs spit, fairly glowed with civic spirit. Men in their sixties made it their business to climb stairs in the dark, checking on older neighbors. Once we had all swung back into daily life, young families organized donation runs to flooded neighborhoods in Queens.

What about the design fostered civic spirit? I’d offer three overlapping categories: pathways, networks, and scale. Gracefulness had nothing to do with it – not outwardly, at least.

High-rise developments like mine have a limited number of pathways through them. People knew each other’s routine paths, so they happened to see each other coming and going. This made it easy to keep track of who was waiting out the power failure, who had access to supplies, and who needed a check-in.

Pathways became lifelines during the crisis. A much-used community room became a relief station with big jugs of water. A sidewalk became a phone-charging outpost. The two-way street that bisects our complex became headquarters for updates.

Density can support extensive networks—virtual and otherwise. People created digital communities on Facebook and other platforms so they could organize relief runs and share updates across the city. During the outage, this entailed a certain amount of complaining, but it also prompted a trove of donations to truly devastated communities near the ocean, which neighbors delivered for weeks after power returned.

The last benefit of density is scale. For example, our apartment complex employs a large staff, made economical by a sizable tenant population. During Sandy, that meant many hands were available to coordinate volunteers and tend to emergencies. And there can be safety in numbers: Crudely, going where more people have already chosen to go often means you’ll be safer.

Of course, density has downsides, as well. One is visual. Jacobs’ ideal championed narrow streets with small buildings against Robert Moses’ vision of burly highways-spanning broad skyscrapers. She held, courageously and eloquently, that cities’ character flowed from their randomness. Make a city into a maze of spires, she insisted, and you make it a sterile pod for the elite.

She was right, if the enemy was a boundless zeal for shopping malls and superhighways. But, as America reckons with the true cost of fossil fuels, urban density becomes more defensible—even desirable, as my friend Andrew Blum pointed out years before Sandy.

Policymakers and designers must take care to craft that density in a way that protects everyone, not just the highest bidders. Today, the cost of fortifying my neighborhood against storm damage begins at $335 million and will only climb. Philanthropy and government have unveiled creative, phased ways to fund the cost of including all residents in the planning. But as costs and danger mount, I can’t promise the lucky folks uphill, where it’s drier, will voluntarily share the till to protect everyone.

Danger also lies in designing big swaths of cities to depend on cloud-stored apps and automatic elevators. These dangers become clear in a power failure. When mechanical systems fail, a high-rise cluster must include ramps, rescue crews, and backup on-site power for seniors who can’t easily manage staircases or darkness (or both).

Human contact becomes more important in cities as climate change advances and sea walls and cooling centers proliferate. That may seem a romantic notion in today’s world, in which much of our contact with others takes place online. Jacobs’ street sweeper might work several neighborhoods via an app today, and her full-time parent might be inside tapping on a screen. But in dense urban developments, you have to work pretty hard to miss noticing your neighbors.

Life in a hulking high-rise might not be the graceful “sidewalk ballet” Jane Jacobs extolled. But in an era defined by climate change, density might hold our neighborhoods together.

This guest post is by Alec Appelbaum who writes about how urban design can help cities cope with the stresses of climate change. He teaches at Pratt Institute and runs a teen urban-design curriculum called AllBeforeUs.

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Plan rendering of the core area of the new Alexandria Waterfront Plan / OLIN

A new master plan for Old Town, the historic center of Alexandria, Virginia, just a few miles from Washington, D.C. which has been in the works for more than five years, is now well underway, as the city opens bidding on the plan’s flood mitigation improvements. The plan will transform one of the last “undeveloped” major urban waterfronts in the D.C. area. The $120 million project, designed by landscape architecture firm OLIN, will add 5.5 acres of public open space; develop a new signature plaza at the foot of King Street, the main thoroughfare through Old town; expand the marina; create walkable connections for the length of the waterfront; and incorporate flood mitigation measures. Three new mixed-use developments have also been proposed along the waterfront, including a plan to transform Robinson Terminal North. These plans come for approval by the local planning commission and city council in September.

Phase one of the project, which will not be completed until at least 2026, will focus on core utility, roadway, and other infrastructure construction required to support the subsequent street-level improvements, followed by attention to the flood mitigation elements, one of the more controversial elements of the project, according to The Alexandria Times. At a recent talk at the National Building Museum, “Alexandria’s New Front Door: Implementing the Waterfront Plan,” it became clear that the discussion on flood mitigation illuminates the key challenge in re-envisioning Alexandria’s waterfront: how to maintain the character of one of the U.S.’s most historic cities while protecting this architectural treasure-chest from the threat of increased flooding.

Old Town Alexandria was hit hard during Hurricane Isabel in 2003. According to The Washington Post, flooding from the Potomac River swamped the historic Torpedo Factory and many areas around King Street. Along Alexandria’s waterfront, streets were navigated by canoe and kayak, as water levels reached nearly 9 feet above sea level. More recent storms, such as Hurricane Irene in 2011, were also devastating. Long-term, Alexandria’s Potomac waterfront will experience sea level rises of more than 2.3 to 5.2 feet by 2100 — according to the Waterfront Small Area Plan — and certain areas of the city now flood at least once a month, so OLIN made flood mitigation a high priority in the master plan.

Old Dominion Boat Club Manager John Sterling rows a canoe on flooded King Street after Hurricane Isabel / Getty Images by Alex Wong

Old Dominion Boat Club Manager John Sterling rows a canoe on flooded King Street after Hurricane Isabel / Getty Images by Alex Wong

Based on a 2010 flood mitigation study commissioned by the Alexandria city government, OLIN proposed a comprehensive plan that balances mitigation, cost, and maintaining views. The waterfront plan will protect against nuisance flooding at 6 feet higher than sea level through drainage improvements, a combined sea wall and pedestrian walkway, and the use of green infrastructure techniques such as swales and rain gardens. Not only will this protect Old Town against the majority of flooding, this level of protection was found to be the most cost-effective and least visually intrusive for the majority of flooding events, according to a 107-slide presentation by OLIN.

However, the historic character of the city may still be at risk during major storms. “The level was set at 6 feet so it would not destroy the character of the viewshed or the city’s historic character, but this flood mitigation will be overtopped eventually,” said Tony Gammon, acting deputy director of the department of project implementation for Alexandria, at the National Building Museum. “It won’t be a surprise to us.”

Water levels on the Old Town Waterfront / City of Alexandria

Water levels on the Old Town Waterfront / City of Alexandria

Other elements of the waterfront project, which were decided based on extensive community input, strike a balance between preserving character and improving function quite well. According to the small area plan, “throughout the planning process, Alexandrians asked for more ‘things to do’ on the waterfront.” Once a working waterfront bustling with commercial activity, Old Town’s current attractions are now primarily located in-land. The new plan aims to bring a high level of activity back to the waterfront in a new form. A public boardwalk along the water’s edge will improve access to the river, while new public spaces, including a large public park called Fitzgerald Square, will bring people to parts of Old Town that were formerly industry-dominated. Old buildings will be memorialized, views to the river from King Street will be opened up, and three derelict sites will get new mixed-use development.

Existing site of Fitzgerald Square / OLIN studios

Existing site of Fitzgerald Square / OLIN

The new Fitzgerald Square park with a reflecting pool / OLIN studios

The new Fitzgerald Square park with a reflecting pool / OLIN studios

According to Robert M. Kerns, development division chief for Alexandria, who spoke on the National Building Museum panel, the crowning achievement of the project has been its ability “to balance new development with the city’s historic patterns.” Preserving historic character was not only a consideration for the flood mitigation strategies, but also for the city’s new promenades and public spaces. For example, the proposed Prince Street promenade, which will end at riverfront, will have a series of formal gardens that complement the scale of the surrounding structures. “Ensuring an historic scale was important to city identity, as was following the pattern of existing buildings,” Kerns said about the proposed promenade.

The existing view of the waterfront at the end of Prince Street / OLIN studios

The existing view of the waterfront at the end of Prince Street / OLIN

Rendering of the new proposal for the end of the Prince Street promenade / OLIN studios

Rendering of the new proposal for the end of the Prince Street promenade / OLIN

But do the character-conscious flood mitigation strategies go far enough to protect Old Town from the next super storm? While Alexandria is unique due to historic character, the careful approach to flood mitigation provides a contrast to cities like New York City and Boston, which have recently held design competitions that have yielded ambitious waterfront resiliency plans in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The projects that have come out of Living with Water in Boston and Rebuild by Design in NYC will be designed to withstand catastrophic storm events, far more than a 6 foot nuisance flood. While New York and Boston are bigger cities, and arguably at greater risk from sea level rise than Old Town, the effort in Old Town raises questions about the depth of resilience being planned and designed.

After years of debate over the Old Town waterfront, there is now some consensus on how to upgrade this historic place with new parks, better access to the waterfront, and improved flood mitigation. However, the project, which will be in the works for the next decade, ultimately proves just how much “new” residents of one of the country’s oldest cities are willing to accept. Continued flooding may be the price.

Peter Schaudt / http://www.hoerrschaudt.com/

Peter Schaudt / hoerrschaudt.com

In Seattle, Framing Mount RainierThe Huffington Post, 7/16/15
“Gustafson Guthrie Nichol was called in to create a ‘fountain to mountain’ walking experience called Rainier Vista. It’s now a half-mile-long pedestrian mall that visually connects Red Square to Mount Rainier through the iconic Drumheller Fountain at the heart of the campus.”

Landscape Architecture Comes to the Fore in ChicagoThe Chicago Tribune, 7/18/15
“Given its preeminent role in the birth of the skyscraper, Chicago is often called a laboratory of modern architecture. This summer, the city has put on new mantle: It has become a nationally significant testing ground for public space.”

Peter Schaudt, Distinguished Landscape Architect, Dies at 56 – The Chicago Tribune, 7/20/15
“Chicago landscape architect Peter Schaudt, whose creative and collaborative approach burnished everything from iconic Midwestern football stadiums to outdoor plazas in downtown Chicago, died Sunday at 56 of a heart attack at his Villa Park home, according to his wife, Janet.”

Rotterdam Considers Piloting Environmentally-friendly Road Made From Recycled Plastic BottlesThe Architect’s Newspaper, 7/20/15
“Always an early adopter of innovative sustainability methods, the city of Rotterdam is considering piloting roads fabricated from recycled plastic. The creators of PlasticRoad wooed the city council with their proposal of an all-plastic road that is quicker to lay and requires less maintenance than asphalt.”

A Sad Goodbye to Peter Lindsay Schaudt – Planetizen, 7/22/15
“To say he will be missed hardly begins to cover the impact his loss will have on his family, friends, colleagues, clients, the city of Chicago, and the profession of landscape architecture. He was an amazing person, a good friend, and a terrific designer.”

Jackie Kennedy’s Handmade Scrapbook Offers a Rare Glimpse of Rose Garden’s Birth The Washington Post, 7/28/15
“A new exhibit at the White House Historical Association uncovers some insights into the iconic Rose Garden just outside the Oval Office.”

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Dry Futures / Archinect

Archinect has launched a new competition that seeks “imaginative, pragmatic, idealist, and perhaps dsytopic” design proposals to address the future of water in California, as the most severe drought in a generation continues. The organizers point out that California only has about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and the state’s groundwater, which is supposed to be banked for the future, is being rapidly depleted by unabated industrial farming.

Archinect writes: “The stakes couldn’t be higher: not only is California the most populous state in country, it is by far the largest agricultural producer. According to many experts, the drought in California correlates to both unsustainable human practices and the larger product of unsustainable human activity: climate change. With current responses largely amounting to ‘too-little-too-late,’ the clock is ticking for California.”

The competition will divide submissions into two categories: “one for speculative projects that involve realities, futures or technologies not yet imagined and one for pragmatic responses that could actually be implemented within current economic and technological conditions.”

The inter-disciplinary jury includes: Allison Arieff, former editor of Dwell and now head of Spur; Geoff Manaugh, founder of BLDGBLOG; Hadley and Peter Arnold, co-founders of the Arid Land Institute, NASA’s Jay Famiglietti; Charles Anderson, FASLA, Werk; and Colleen Tuite and Ian Quate, founders of the “experimental landscape architecture studio” Green as F*ck.

Landscape architects: submit your ideas by September 1. There is an undetermined cash prize for the winners, which will be exhibited online. With very dry humor, winners will also get a 2-week food supply, including a Wings of Life Survival Pack, and Just in Case Kit.

Another opportunity worth checking out: The Walton Family Foundation is looking to fund projects that fit into its plan to “elevate the quality of architectural and landscape design in Arkansas’ Benton and Washington counties.” The foundation will fund landscape designs by local governments, including school districts, and non-profits. In 2014, the foundation provided more than $40 million in support. For this year’s round of local investments, planner Victor Dover and University of Virginia landscape architecture professor Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, are among the judges. Landscape architects should submit design proposals by September 16.

climate-protest

University of Toronto students protesting / Rabble.ca

Leading up to the UN climate change summit in Paris in December, the question is: can the heads of the world’s governments get it together and create a real game plan to stave off a 2-degree increase in global temperatures? At an event organized by the Center for American Progress and The New Republic in Washington, D.C., government and international organization leaders concluded there’s a lot more work that will need to be done leading up to Paris, and even after the summit, because any agreement reached there will only cover 2020 to 2030. The goal at Paris is to get a sense of what all countries’ national pledges to limit emissions mean in terms of hard numbers, which will then serve as the baseline upon which “ambitions can be ratcheted up” every few years.

At this point, pledges by governments fall far short of what’s needed to get on a pathway to a 2-degrees-or-less temperature increase. A 2-degree increase in itself will “not be benign,” as the World Bank’s special envoy for climate change Rachel Kyte explained. With a 2-degree rise, island countries will be consumed by rising seas, and people living across the Sahel in Saharan Africa will find they can no longer grow food. But it’s even worse, under current business as usual scenarios, the world is heading towards a 5-6 degree increase in temperatures, with hugely destructive impacts worldwide. To date, the world’s temperature has increased by 0.8 degrees due to human-caused climate change, with those in the Arctic already up by nearly 2 degrees.

Janos Pasztor, assistant-secretary general for climate change at the United Nations, explained what will happen in Paris. The talks will have a few key parts. All countries will put forward their “intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs),” which are bottom-up, voluntary pledges for cutting carbon emissions. Pasztor explained this what countries believe they are “able and willing to do.” At the same time, local governments, companies, and non-profits will put forward an “action agenda” comprised of innovations around the world that governments can refer to for ideas. As part of this, there will be a senate of global mayors, led by the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo and former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. There will need to be an agreement on financing. Developing countries will need help getting access to money from the wealthiest. And there will need to be a legally-binding agreement on the rules “for how governments are going to ratchet up pressure to move up levels of ambition.”

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COP 21, Paris Climate Summit / COP 21

For Kyte at the World Bank, what’s at stake at the next UN summit is “how ambitious do we dare to be? What will this cost? Who will pay for it?” The end-goal needs to be a zero-emission global economy. “Emissions need to peak earlier and earlier — that’s what we are looking for.” Kyte also echoed arguments made by Pope Francis with his encyclical: at Paris, the wealthiest countries have a responsibility to help the poorest. The World Bank, she said, realized it can’t end poverty, its stated mission, with climate change occuring. As countries attempt to develop and achieve their own aspirations, “climate change pulls the rug out from under them.” This is happening to everyone — “rich, middle-income, and poor countries alike.”

The World Bank is ratcheting up its own efforts, administering large climate financing funds that can move dollars from the U.S. and Europe to the least-developed countries. They have also decided to stop financing any new coal power plants worldwide, except in exceptional circumstances in which a poor country has no other cost-effective energy option available to them. She added that the end of coal is simply a fact of life, part of the grand transition that will occur over the next few decades. “And this will cause dislocation.” But she argued this transition needs to start happening soon, as “it will only become more difficult and costly later.” To speed this transition, she called for further divestment in coal companies.

The world can’t forget the poorest, who, “through no fault of their own, have come into harm’s way. As they build their resilience, we have a responsibility to help them.” Many communities are planning for “continuous change, but what about discontinuous change?” For example, coastal communities may soon have to ask themselves, “can we afford sea walls, or should we cede parts of our community back to the sea?” Some coastal communities have to figure out if they can become a “saline economy,” producing food and goods in brackish water. Just as some coastal communities will need to need let some of their land go, some mountainous communities will need to move further up the slopes. “So many communities have already had to pick up and get up out of the way.”

But Kyte was optimistic the world can make this difficult transition. She said the Industrial Revolution is an example of a global transitional process that succeeded. And in just the past few decades, there has been a shift from from state-owned-enterprises (SOEs) to private ownership of production almost everywhere. The future challenge will be not to just find the $100 billion least developed countries need to adapt, but the $1 trillion the world economy needs to make the shift. “The challenge is to build an economy that is low carbon and competitive.” To do this, countries need to undertake a few steps now: “end fossil fuel subsidies, put prices on carbon, and then set long-term prices for carbon.”

One audience member asked whether all these countries’ INDCs can be used to create a “race to the top,” a sort of environmental Olympics between countries in which they compete to see which country has achieved the most significant carbon reductions. France’s Ambassador to the U.S. Gerard Araud, there representing the summit’s host country, said “using peer pressure is a great idea, but we aren’t there yet. At Paris, we need to set the baseline and go from there.” When asked which countries would win the gold in this race, he pointed to France, with its stated goal of having 50 percent renewable energy by 2030; Denmark, with its success in hitting 100 percent wind power; and Costa Rica, with its smart efforts to preserve its rainforest and invest in renewable energy.

And, lastly, Denis McDonough, White House chief of staff, reiterated that President Obama has made fighting climate change his priority, and reaching a global agreement at Paris will be at the top of the list. In a partisan speech focused on mostly domestic climate politics, McDonough said Obama would not back down with new regulations that limit emissions from power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.)’s upcoming Clean Power Plan, which will be released in August and will reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants, the largest source of carbon pollution, will move forward despite “Republican scare tactics.” McDonough said Republicans have been using the same tactics for 40 years, since President Nixon created the E.P.A. and signed the Clean Air Act. “They say environmental regulation will kill jobs, raise prices, and lead to power failures.” The reality, he said, was “the U.S. has cut pollution by 40 percent and grown the economy by three times over the past 50 years.”

McDonough said climate change is not only a national security threat — “it’s a threat multiplier” — but it will also disproportionately affect the poorest in the U.S. and everywhere else. Already in America, “African American children are twice as likely to have asthma and four times as likely to die from it.” This is because too many African American children grow up near polluting power plants and busy transportation corridors. Climate change, which raises temperatures, only makes ozone and surface-level pollution worse, raising the threat to low-income communities. Obama also aims to bring more solar power to low-income communities so everyone can benefit from lower energy bills.

"Roads Were Not Built for Cars" by Carlton Reid / Island Press

“Roads Were Not Built for Cars” by Carlton Reid / Island Press

Many people assume roads became the way they are today because of the rise of automobiles. In Roads Were Not Built for Cars, Carlton Reid explains that infrastructure for bicycles, tricycles, and more were the precursors to the later transportation system dominated by automobiles. Cycling enthusiasts will enjoy learning about the influence of early cyclists on roadway development. But while Reid spends much of his time on cycling, he is also careful to examine the history of roads as thoroughfares, transportation networks, public spaces, as well as the roles they have played in broader trends.

For the typical reader, though, Reid’s arguments would be more usefully condensed into a long-form article in, say, The Atlantic or The New Yorker. Even for someone like me — who is more interested than the average bear in cycling, infrastructure, and urban planning — the amount of detail became tedious. Unless you’re a cycling history and policy aficionado, you probably won’t be sitting down to read this book cover to cover. For students, researchers, practitioners, and those interested in the history of infrastructure, however, it’s a worthwhile reference. Many will recognize historical figures like Carl Benz and Henry Ford among the automobile makers who, to varying degrees, got their start in the world of cycling. Others who are technically-minded will appreciate learning the difference between streets made of cobble and sett, asphalt and tarmac, tar and bitumen.
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Carl Benz’s first automobile factory used technology and manufacturing processes adapted directly from cycle manufacturing / Island Press

Early automobile technology utilized cycle tech like the knuckle hinge, allowing for better steering and handling / Island Press

Early automobile technology used cycle tech like the knuckle hinge, allowing for better steering and handling / Island Press

Reid being a Londoner, the book is biased towards London, with parallel sections examining historical developments in the U.S. But his explanation of how roadways first started out as public space but then began to be carved in spaces that are “mine” or “yours” and how this process led to unproductive roadway behaviors, laws, and planning and design resonates anywhere. “Roads were not built for cars,” writes Reid. “Nor were they built for bicycles. They were not built for sulkies, or steam engines, or any form of wheeled vehicle. Roads were not built for horses, either. Roads were built for pedestrians.” You know, people.
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Early illustrations already showed conflict zones between cyclists and motorists / Island Press

Early cyclists came mostly from the upper class / Island Press

Early cyclists came mostly from the upper class / Island Press

Not that those with power wanted it that way. Reid notes how wide roads were not built just for cars, but to increase the ability to “control” social gatherings and protests. “Air circulation for health [was important] but crowd control was a major impetus. Narrow roads can be used for throwing up barricades. The use of compacted crushed stone instead of setts, or tarred-wooden blocks, reduced the availability of ready-made missiles and fire starters.”

It’s fascinating to read about how the public associated independence with cycles and, later, automobiles, while railways were viewed as faster but restrictive. “Cyclists and, later, motorists would complain about the fixed schedules of railways, citing a lack of independence.” Reid doesn’t mention Russia much, but, for what’s it’s worth, this sentiment was shared by Russian thinkers as well. For example, Tolstoy had a deep discomfort with trains, feeling they brought an unwanted pre-destinationism (see Anna Karenina which, spoiler alert, involves a train and doesn’t end well).

Contrast this with a passage quoted from a 1896 New York Evening Post editorial on bicycles: “As a social revolutionizer, it has never had an equal. It has changed completely many of the most ordinary processes and methods of social life. It is the great leveler, for not till all Americans got on bicycles was the great American principle that every man is just as good as any other man, and generally a little better, fully realized. All are on equal terms, all are happier than ever before.”

Early debates about whether to merge all traffic into one system of streets, or separate them out mirror the debate today: “The widest and grandest path of them all — the Coney Island Cycle Path in New York — was loved by many cyclists, but not all. Some refused to ride on it, believing that such dedicated routes, while superior to the rutted roads of the day, would become the only ways open to cyclists. They feared being restricted to a small number of recreational bicycle ways, and banned from all other roads. Many in the wider Good Roads movement wanted cyclists to keep fighting for the improvement of all roads, and not be diverted by improvements to just part of the highway.”

Separate cycle paths or fully integrate them with roadways" The debate continues . . . / Island Press

“Coo, look — There’s a cyclist!” Separate cycle paths or fully integrate them with roadways?” The debate continues / Island Press

And anti-cyclists like The Washington Post‘s Courtland Milloy, whose 2014 tirade against “bicyclist bullies” is also mentioned in the book, might find solace in knowing that “scorchers, cyclists with arched backs and grim ‘bicycle faces,’ who treated the Queen’s Highway as their own — and woe betide anyone who got in their way” — were as much a problem a century and a half ago as they can be today.

There are other interesting tidbits. For example, Broadway in New York City was originally the “Wickquasgeck Trail,” stamped into the brush of Mannahatta by Native American tribes people. US Highway 12 began as the Great Sauk Trail, named after the Sauk people’s hunting trail, originally trodden down by buffalo, with paleontological evidence that it was first blazed by migrating mastodons. And “motorists driving today between Washington, D.C. and Detroit are following a route padded out 10,000 year ago by now-extinct megafauna.”

In the end, the big takeaway is that with the resurgence of cycling and changes in public perception about our auto-centric lifestyles, cars are not the way of the future, especially for dense cities. “Motor cars came to dominate our lives not by design but by stealth. Few predicted the motor car’s eventual dominance and it’s reasonable to assume that the same inability to accurately predict the future afflicts us, too. Cars ‘will become redundant in cities,’ something that’s already ‘happening organically’ because cars ‘cannot be fully enjoyed or used to potential'”, says Britain’s Automobile Association. As Reid notes, “Today, cars in ‘rush hour’ London creep along at 9 miles per hour, an average speed not much greater than capable of horse-drawn carriages in the 19th century. Some progress!”

What new, fascinating future for public roadways might await us just around the bend?

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is the founder of Mitsui Design and director of the Jewish outdoor, food, and environmental education fellowship at Hazon, the country’s leading Jewish environmental organization. 
Cities Safer by Design, a report by the World Resources Institute

Cities Safer by Design, a report by the World Resources Institute / WRI

Globally, 1.24 million people are killed in traffic accidents every year, with more than 90 percent of these deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries. Traffic-related incidents are the eighth-leading cause of death worldwide, and the number-one leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15-29. A response to the United Nations’ declaration to create a “Decade of Action” on improving traffic safety, Cities Safer by Design, a new report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, offers urban design best practices and real-world case studies both developed and developing world cities can use to put an end to traffic deaths and injuries.

Cities Safer by Design presents five basic urban design elements that create safer travel environments: block size, connectivity, lane width, access, and population density.

Block Size

Safe urban design is about reducing motor vehicle speeds. The faster a driver goes, the more difficult it is for him or her to avoid hitting a pedestrian in their path. Due to less frequent interruptions, larger blocks allow vehicles to accelerate more freely. More junctions mean more places where cars must stop and pedestrians can cross. According to the report, to improve safety and walkability, blocks should be 75-150 meters long. If blocks are any larger than 200 meters, mid-block pass-throughs with signals or raised crossings should be added every 100-150 meters.

Smaller block sizes have been successfully implemented in central areas of Shanghai, such as Xin Tian Di, to create more walkable neighborhoods. More Chinese cities that had mistakenly built “super blocks” are starting to apply the same approach.

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A street for pedestrians in Shanghai / Jamie Sinz

Connectivity

The report recommends increasing connectivity to multiples modes of transit in order to decrease travel distances and improve access to destinations. Creating multiple routes for pedestrians and cyclists also helps disperse traffic, discourage car use, and reduce travel time.

Mexico City has also created walkable urban landscapes around its Metrobús bus rapid transit (BRT) system that enables safe bicycle and pedestrian access.

Bikers and BRT passengers outside of the Mexico City Metrobus / EMBARQ by  Alejandro Luna

Bikers and BRT passengers outside of the Mexico City Metrobus / EMBARQ by Alejandro Luna

Vehicle Lane Width

The amount of a street devoted to vehicles shapes the amount of street available for pedestrian crossings, bike lanes, parking lanes, and landscape curb extensions. Reducing street widths creates a safer pedestrian experience because they shorten pedestrian crossing distance and exposure to cars and also slow traffic by “increasing drivers’ perception of impediments.” Again, slower traffic mitigates the potential severity of crashes.

According to the report, evidence from Mexico City shows that as the maximum pedestrian crossing distance at an intersection increases by 1 meter, the frequency of pedestrian crashes increase by up to 3 percent. Other studies highlighted in the report show the most significant relationship to injury crashes is street width and street curvature. As street width widens, crashes per mile per year increase exponentially.

Access to Destinations

Neighborhoods should be designed to include transit, parks, schools, and stores within walking distance, which is defined as 0.5-kilometers. Having a variety of destinations in neighborhood clusters encourages people to meet close to home, decreasing the need for vehicular travel and improving overall safety.

In the Coyoacan neighborhood of Mexico City, the prevalence of shops and public spaces encourage walking while discouraging vehicular traffic. Recalling an earlier area before sprawl took over the city, Coyoacan’s cobbled streets lead to garden plazas where street vendors gather.

Santa Catalina Plaza and Church located on Avenida Sosa in the Coyoacan borough of Mexico City / Thelmadatter

Santa Catalina Plaza and Church located on Avenida Sosa in the Coyoacan borough of Mexico City / Thelmadatter

Population Density

A 2009 study cited in the report found that for an increase in density of 100 persons per square mile, there was a 6 percent reduction in injurious crashes and a 5 percent reduction in all crashes after controlling for vehicle miles traveled, street connectivity, and land use. In contrast to more sprawling cities, high-density cities not only reduce the need for vehicle travel, but also reduce the need for their associated infrastructure, such as roads and sewers.

Tokyo has successfully developed high-density mixed-use neighborhoods near rail and bus stations. According to the report, Tokyo has a traffic fatality rate of 1.3 per 100,000 residents. Compare this rate to Atlanta, Georgia, one of the most sprawled-out cities in the U.S., which has 9.7 traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents.

Street in Jiyugaoka,Tokyo

Street in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo / Cozyroom_mimi (Flickr)

With the percentage of the world’s population living in cities expected to hit 70 percent by 2030, reducing traffic fatalities from unsafe streets should be a priority. Safer streets also increase the quality of life for urbanites, particularly for those in developing countries. WRI’s report shows policymakers, urban designers and planners, and landscape architects what works: designing for pedestrian safety means improving urban health and sustainability overall.

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