Athenaeum Hotel’s Eight-story Green Wall

magazine wrote about the eight-story green wall on London’s Athenaeum Hotel. Patrick Blanc, a French botanist, designed the wall, which includes 260 species and 12,000 actual plants. According to Wired, other projects from Blanc include interior green walls in Portugal and Kuwait that are larger than “four tennis courts.” 

The green wall is supported by a trellis. “A plastic-coated aluminum frame is fastened to the wall and covered with synthetic felt into which plant roots can burrow. A custom irrigation system keeps the felt moist with a fertilizer solution modeled after the rainwater that trickles through forest canopies.”

Given that the green wall is eight stories high, planting conditions vary at different floors. “The shade at ground level is perfect for rare Asian nettles; on the brighter upper stories, plants that usually cling to windblown cliff faces brave the blustery British breezes.”

Read the article and see more photos

Israeli Park Built on Garbage Dump Will Now Include 50,000-seat Amphitheater

Israel has been finalizing plans for a new 2,000-acre park on the site of a former garbage dump near Tel Aviv. Ariel Sharon Park will also now include a 50,000-seat amphitheater, says Haaretz. Concerts at existing Tel Aviv stadiums create massive traffic jams throughout the city, which is why the city seeks to move events to the park.  The park is expected to be one of the largest man-made metropolitan parks, and will also serve as a flood plain and “green lung” for the Tel Aviv area. The amphitheater will be built by the German landscape architecture firm, Latz + Partner and Broida-Maoz and Moria Sekely, two Israeli landscape architecture firms.

According to Haaretz, the theatre will have two seating areas —  one includes 5,000 seats, while the second will offer grassy terraces with space for 40,000 to 50,000 people. Access to the terraces will be free throughout the year. The amphitheater will also include a man-made lake with recycled on-site water, public transportation connections, and parking lots.

Ayalon Park director, Danny Sternberg, said to Haaretz: “this park will be opened in stages, and might only be completed in 20 or 30 years. But we must remember that until now Hiriya was a backyard that everyone suffered from, and now everyone will be able to enjoy it. This used to be a garbage dump – now it will be a park that will serve as the gateway to Israel for those coming from abroad.”

Hiriya was Israel’s largest landfill, receiving garbage from 1948 through 1999, writes Jewish Week. Flocks of birds drawn to food in the garbage posed risks to flights at nearby Ben Gurion airport. To address these safety issues, Israeli government officials closed the dump. Much like Fresh Kills park, now in development in New York City, the new Israeli park collects bio-gas from decomposing trash for clean energy, controls leachate (liquid that drains from landfills), and includes man-made wetlands and water recycling facilities.

Jewish Week adds that Hiriya’s new recycling plant is already in operation and helping to reduce the dump’s existing garbage. “Inside the recycling plant, conveyor belts churn waste through pools of murky water, in a separation mechanism that divides plastics, metals and biodegradable materials. The metals settle at the bottom of the trough, the biodegradable materials remain in the middle and the plastics — due to their lighter weight — float to the top. Cylindrical claws crunch plastic bottles together into cubical units […]. Useful byproducts from the recycling process include ferrous materials, soil compost improvers, bio-gas energy, film plastic and glass.”

There is also an educational component. At the foot of Hiriya, plans are also underway for an educational center to teach visitors about recycling and the environment. According to Jewish Week, “Admission for children is four empty plastic bottles, and they can sit on couches made of tires strung together and desk chairs made of plastic garbage bins. Hanging from the ceiling are not only functional soda bottle lamps, but also a decorative chandelier made of toilet seats, gas masks, Rollerblades and more.”

Read the article

Also, learn about Fresh Kills Park in New York City, a similar garbage dump-to-park project  

Image credit: Tree Hugger

The Economic Benefits of Parks

The Gotham Gazette
 argues that the economic development benefits of urban parks shouldn’t be underestimated, citing a report from the Central Park Conservancy that contends Central Park contributed USD 1 billion to the city’s economy in 2007. Another assessment by the Center for City Park Excellence of The Trust for Public Land calculated the “real economic benefits that parks provide, using examples from cities around the country” (see earlier post on an assessment of the economic value of Philadelphia’s park system). Furthermore, there is already discussion about how the new High Line Park helped spur economic development in Chelsea even before it opened. The New York Times says the High Line Park brought USD 4 billion in real estate investment to lower Manhattan, and is expected to generate USD 900 million in revenues over 30 years (see earlier post). 

Well-maintained, accessible parks play a role in increasing real estate values, so cutting park funding could negatively impact NYC’s property owners, argues Gotham Gazette. “A 2008 analysis found that the completion of the Greenwich Village section of the Hudson River Park raised real estate prices in the adjacent two blocks by 20 percent. In 2003, a study by Ernst & Young and New Yorkers for Parks looked at the results of investment in six city parks, with supplemental data from 30 additional parks. It found that real estate values were higher on blocks closest to well-managed and maintained parks, such as Prospect Park.” 

Gotham Gazette says parks support economic development by drawing tourists and tourist dollars. “Central Park attracts more than 25 million visitors a year, about one fifth of whom come from outside the city, according to ‘The Central Park Effect,’ which was prepared by the economic analysis firm Appleseed for the Central Park Conservancy. The study determined that in 2007, spending by visitors and enterprises in the city’s most famous park directly and indirectly accounted for $395 million in economic activity. This activity, as well as increases in property values near the park, generated $656 million in revenues for the city in 2007.”

Parks also have environmental benefits and provide valuable ecosystem services that can be quantified. “Trees and vegetation absorb runoff and reduce costs for treating stormwater; they also absorb air pollutants. Using Philadelphia as an example, the study found that the city’s park system saved $5.9 million in 2007 in stormwater management costs. In 2005, the 4,839 acres of tree cover in 7,999 acres of Washington, D.C. parkland produced savings of $1.13 million in air pollutant removal.”

In addition to real estate, tourism, and environmental benefits, parks also provide health, community or social, and “direct use” benefits, found the Center for City Park Excellence at The Trust for Public Land.

In the case of NYC, Gotham Gazette says the Bloomberg administration understands the connection between parks and economic growth, and has made more parks and plazas a component of PlaNYC 2030, the city’s sustainability plan. A few years ago, the Bloomberg administration had increased the NYC parks department operating and maintenance budget to USD 270 million a year. However, next year’s budget, says Gotham Gazette, will cut USD 16 million on top of USD 24 million in reductions since 2007.

Just as well-maintained parks can support the economy, poorly-maintained ones can be dangerous, and impact community health. “To capture the economic benefits of parks, however, a city must invest in their upkeep. Parks help the economy when they are well maintained and well used. They can have a negative effect when they are neglected, attracting vandalism, drug-dealing and other crime. During the New York City fiscal crisis of the 1970s and ’80s, dirty, worn and dangerous parks became a potent symbol of the city’s decline.”

Furthermore, parks in disrepair can also negatively impact real estate values: “Many of the neighborhoods surrounding these parks have been affected disproportionately by the mortgage crisis and declining real estate prices. Given the economic benefits of well-used and maintained parks — and the increased need for free recreation and relaxation during a time of financial stress for many residents — can the city afford to pare down the parks budget further?”

Read the article

Image credit: The Central Park Effect / Central Park Conservancy

India Focuses on Forestry in Fight Against Climate Change

India’s Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, unveiled a plan to protect Indian forests, stating that preventing additional deforestation and increasing afforestation are key parts of India’s strategy to fight climate change. Ramesh said in comments to AFP: “we are amongst the few countries in the world who are not just stopping deforestation but are actually increasing forestation. Countries like India must get adequate credit for increasing its forest cover that absorbs greenhouse gases.” 

According to AFP, India has established a forest management fund with an initial budget of USD 2.5 billion. Also, there will be annual funding of USD 1 billion for “forestry-related services.” India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests says forests cover 20 percent of Indian territory or 65 million hectares. The Wall Street Journal noted that India’s forest cover “neutralizes more than 11% of India’s total greenhouse-gas emissions at 1994 levels — equivalent to 100% of emissions from all energy in the residential and transport sectors, or 40% of total emissions from the agriculture sector.” The Wall Street Journal added that India is one of the few developing countries where the forest cover has increased over time.

India has low per-capita C02 emissions in comparison with the U.S. and Western European countries, but the size of its population make it a major player in climate change talks, along with China, the world’s number-one Co2 emittter, and Brazil and Indonesia, major sources of CO2 emissions from deforestation. India also produces a large amount of black carbon or soot, which travel from local wood-burning stoves into the atmosphere, where it absorbs heat, or falls on ice, speeding melting. (see earlier post). Ramesh was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying: “In the last 60 years, 45% of the variation in our GDP growth has been because of variations in rainfall. We are therefore acutely conscious of what will happen to different parts of India because of climate change.”

India is increasingly under pressure from the U.S. and Europe to limit Co2 emissions and sign on to aggressive emission reduction targets at the UNFCCC Copenhagen meeting in December. Climate change and U.S.-India cooperation on renewable energy and green building technology transfer and capacity-building were the main focus areas of a recent trip to India by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Climate Change Envoy Todd Stern (see earlier post). Some commentators saw little progress on the issue during recent discussions in India — in fact, going as far to add that the talks didn’t go well.

Read the article and India’s report, “India’s Forest and Tree Cover: Contribution as a Carbon Sink.”

U.K. Zoo’s Vertical Farming System

The Paignton Zoo in South Devon has implemented a new vertical farming system. According to Greener Buildings, Paignton Zoo is using the VertiCrop system developed by Valcent Products, which is capable of producing 11,000 heads of lettuce every month. “Eventually the farm will have vertical plots of red chard, mizuna, mixed leaves, various herbs, edible flowers, wheat grass and barley.” Greener Buildings says the vertical farming system will cut the zoo’s food costs by £100,000 (almost US $165,440) a year. The zoo invested in the system because it can work within its limited space and enables zoo keepers to locally source produce.

The zoo’s vertical farming system resides in a “specially constructed polytunnel” and includes “computerized controls that automate water supply, irrigation and the environment.” Additionally, there is a conveyor belt for loading and unloading planting trays. Valcent Products contends that its VertiCrop system yields 20 times more crops than traditional farming systems of the same size; requires only 5 percent of traditional farm’s water; doesn’t use herbicides or pesticides; provides the ability to produce crops all year in a climate-controlled environment; and enables farming in almost any soil condition, regardless of location.

According to Greener Buildings, a few zoo workers have been trained to monitor the farm. The site is designed to be low-maintenance and can be kept running by a single zoo worker spending a few hours per day.

Read the article, as well as an interview with Dickson Despommier, a leading proponent of vertical farming.

Also, read Despommier’s recent New York Times op-ed, “A Farm on Every Floor.”  

Image credit: VertiCrop / Valcent Products

Interview with Professor Peter Newman, Author of “Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change”

Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability, Curtin University, Australia, recently wrote a book “Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change” along with co-authors, Timothy Beatley, University of Virgnia, and Heather Boyer, Island Press. In “Resilient Cities,” Newman argues that cities are unprepared for dramatic climate change or changes in energy use brought on by the end of cheap, available oil. Newman discusses how cities need to create a long-term strategy for adaptation to climate and energy use changes; the strategies both smaller urban areas and major cities have used to address these issues; and the concept of “climate positive development,” in which cities would contribute energy back to the grid, becoming net producers of energy.  

In this interview, Newman contends that cities need to create a strategy for adapting to changes in climate and energy use. “The first thing cities should do is to make their own climate change and peak oil strategy. I am a strong believer in the power of local communities to drive their own long-term future. This should include business strategies to ensure the community is realistic about next steps. Local governments should contribute medium-term infrastructure and planning, but, in the end, the big driver of change will be when local communities set out where they want to be by 2050. In my experience, few communities can resist the idea that they can be 80 percent free of all fossil fuels and have 100 percent fuel security. The steps to achieve this should be imaginable in the long-term and support urban development demonstration projects that significantly reduce carbon emissions and oil use. It is important to include both carbon reduction and the phasing out of oil in the strategy. Otherwise, you miss out on the transportation component.”

Newman argues that the cities least resilient to change are “dominated by scattered land use,” and don’t provide the crucial urban services and employment that come with economies of scale and density. Furthermore, “the crash of 2008,” initially triggered by derivatives based on sub-prime mortgages, was, in effect, caused by “toxic land uses.” Newman says: “The need for compact land development is not just for economic advantage — most sustainability issues require it. Bill Rees calls it the ‘urban sustainability multiplier.’ The crash of 2008 was precipitated by the $140 a barrel price of oil, which exposed the vulnerability of many American urban areas that rely on scattered land use. Toxic loans were based on toxic land uses.”

Newman thinks some urban communities have gotten it right and are becoming more resilient, citing Vauban in Freiburg, Germany as an example. “There are many demonstration projects emerging around the world showing how redeveloped urban areas can be more resilient. We are keen on Vauban in Germany and BedZED in London. All urban development should now be transit-oriented, pedestrian-oriented, and green-oriented redevelopment, and aim for achieving the goal of becoming carbon-neutral, as well as oil-free. Vauban is an excellent example of how such eco-redevelopment can significantly reduce carbon emissions. With its car-free status, Vauban shows how a kind of “green freedom” has emerged, with children obviously much more free in their movements. Vauban not only demonstrates how preferable it is to have cars subordinated in a development, but that green development can simply be better development.”

Major cities can also adapt by supporting localized economic, food production, and social activities. “Many big cities like Tokyo, London, and New York already show that economic opportunity does not necessarily work against localized community redevelopment, but can even facilitate this trend. However, it is very hard to do this in scattered urban areas. Local food and slow food are growing movements that are rediscovering the benefits and qualities of localized activity within big cities. Big cities are the driving force in a globalized economy.”

When asked about the concept of climate positive development, a strategy for transforming cities into net producers of energy, instead of merely consumers, Newman is optimistic. “I am working on a number of projects moving in this direction. These projects are focused on becoming carbon-neutral or even carbon-positive, and demonstrate that cities can help regenerate the planet. There is a global process focused on auditing procedures for carbon in alternative development schemes. There is the beginning of a dialogue on how these can become part of a carbon trading scheme. Urban development will always have many features and criteria that will drive its design, but the decarbonizing of design will be increasingly on this agenda.”

Read the full interview

Image credit: Peter Newman / Curtin University

Winner of Reburbia Competition Would Turn “McMansions” into Water-Filtering Wetlands

Inhabitat and Dwell magazine have announced the winners of Reburbia, a suburban design competition, which sought new ideas for “retrofitting surburbia.” (see earlier post). After receiving hundreds of entries, Inhabitat and Dwell narrowed the selection down to 20 finalists, then three winning entries, along with one People’s Choice Award.

The grand prize went to “Frog’s Dream: McMansions turned into Biofilter Water Treatment Plants” by Calvin Chiu. Frog’s Dream would turn “abandoned suburban tract homes into wetland areas, using vegetation to filter and clean water in abandoned suburban areas for nearby urban centers.” (see image above)

The second place prize went to “Entrepreneurbia: Rezoning Suburbia for Self-Sustaining Life” by Urban Nature, F&S Design Studio and Silverlion Design. “Entrepreneurbia” would change residential area zoning laws to spur the development of small businesses, thereby “reining in sprawl and making suburban communities more vibrant and walkable.”

Third place went to “Big Box Agriculture: A Productive Suburb” by Forrest Fulton. “Big Box Architecture” proposed redeveloping big box store parking lots as farms. The interiors of the big box stores would be used as greenhouses and restaurants. Existing structural details would become renewable energy generators.

The People’s Choice Award went to “Urban Sprawl Repair Kit: Repairing the Urban Fabric” by Galina Tahchieva. According to Reburbia, the design “delineated five building typologies characteristic of suburbia, and corresponding formulas for recreating them in order to promote environmental responsibility and community building.”

Read more about the winning projects and see photos.

Image credit: Calvin Chiu / Reburbia design competition

Call for Entries for Expanded Version of “Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn”

Fritz Haeg’s project, Edible Estates, was turned into a book by Metropolis magazine’s publishing arm in early 2008. Haeg and team are now expanding the book for a 2010 edition, and have released an open call for entries. Haeg asks: “Are you growing food on your front yard? Do you live in USDA hardiness zones 3,4,5, or 9?”  To submit lawns for consideration, owners must live within certain USDA hardiness zones. (Check Haeg’s site for more details).

The first edition of Edible Estates: Attacks on the Front Lawn, won good reviews from a number of organic food and environmental gurus:

“The best ideas are usually the simplest ones.  Fritz Haeg deserves a genius award for his wonderfully subversive plan. Instead of mowing your lawn, you should eat it.” – Eric Schlosser, author, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal

“Wherever I am, I’m always looking to see what’s edible in the landscape. Every time I see the median strip in the street in front of Chez Panisse, I can’t help but imagine it planted with waving rows of corn. Edible Estates describes wonderfully how a garden in front of every house can transform a neighborhood, sprouting the seeds not just of zucchini and tomatoes but of biodiversity, sustainability, and community.” – Alice Waters, owner, Chez Panisse Restaurant

“In the future, that quarter-acre next to the house may be as valuable as the house itself. This book reminds us that there are things better than lawns–more beautiful, more hopeful, more fun.” – Bill McKibben, author, The Bill McKibben Reader

Submit entries, and check out the book

Material Ecology

Azure magazine included MIT architect / artist / researcher, Neri Oxman, in its “Ten Designers = Ten Great Ideas” feature. Oxman is pursuing a Ph.D in the computation group in MIT’s architecture department. According to Azure, Oxman’s research is so cutting-edge, it doesn’t quite have a name yet. Oxman uses the term “Material Ecology,” which explores “the idea that artificial matter continuously informs our environment and therefore should be informed by it.” Oxman describes material ecology as “an interdisciplinary research initiative that undertakes design research in the intersection between architecture, engineering, computation, biology and ecology. Material is interpreted merely as any physical entity which corresponds and reacts with its environment.”

Azure explains how Oxman develops computer algorithims to create shapes that are printed using rapid prototyping, and then built up, layer by layer. In comments to Fast Company magazine, she said: “we’re taking a bunch of environmental constraints and throwing them into computational software and letting the computer generate the form for us.” Fast Company argues that it’s a form of biomimcry. “One of her working metaphors is bone: The same rods of calcium phosphate grow stronger to support extra weight during pregnancy, or get slighter when astronauts spend time in zero gravity.” In comments to Fast Company, Paola Antonelli, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, said: “What was amazing about this work is that it uses the computer to transform the secrets of nature into algorithms, and in a biomimetic way to try to use the same stratagems nature uses.”

In terms of furniture, Oxman is inspired by Le Corbusier’s steel and leather chaise longue, with its functional use of two simple materials. Azure says one of her goals is to create a piece of furniture from just one material “that integrates structure and function,” thereby reducing material, energy, and resource use. In search of a material that can combine structure and function, Oxman developed Monocoque, a honeycomb-like material in which structure and skin are fused together. In “Cartesian Wax,” Oxman developed a waxlike membrane similar to how leaves grow.

“Instead of designing a building and then determining the construction technologies, I thought, let’s try it the other way around,” says Oxman. 

Read more about Oxman, and Azure magazine’s “top ten” design ideas, including sun-harvesting fabric developed by an architect and photovaltaics expert.

Census of Marine Life

The Census of Marine Life, a project started in 2000, is a global effort to identify and catalogue every species in the world’s oceans. Researchers are building a registry of every form of marine life, mapping where the species live and travel, and determining past, present, and expected future populations for each species. The decade-long, USD 650-million project is expected to be completed next year.

According to the L.A. Times, there have already been some intriguing discoveries: “Some bluefin tuna migrate between Los Angeles and Yokohama, Japan; one tagged tuna crossed the Pacific three times in a year. White sharks forage even farther for food, commuting between Australia and South Africa. Some turtles circumnavigate the Pacific, paddling from Baja to Borneo. And a gray-headed albatross — a member of the world’s most threatened family of birds — stunned researchers when it raced around the globe in 46 days flat.” 

The Census of Marine Life teams have gone on around 400 ocean expeditions, says the L.A. Times. Furthermore, more than 2,000 scientists from 80 countries are involved in the research, which involves “deep-sea robots, laser-based radar and super-sensitive sonar.” During the expeditions, more than 5,600 new species have been discovered, some in the most inhabitable places — extremely deep or highly salty water. “The abyssal plains, the inky-black, featureless ocean floor that covers more than half the planet, are not barren, lifeless deserts. The proof came when scientists used fine-mesh sieves to trawl nearly three miles down. To their surprise, they scooped up tens of thousands of swimming snails, worms and other tiny invertebrates in almost every net. Many had never been seen before.”

The census is also coding the smallest organisms, including bacteria and archaea, or single-celled microorganisms. According to the L.A. Times, scientists believe tiny organisms play an important role in carbon and nitrogen cycles. Paul Snelgrove, an oceanographer from Memorial University of Newfoundland, said: “Those microbes do a lot of the things that keep the Earth humming along.”

Researchers are also looking into human impact on the ocean environment. Through examining old customs records and captains’ logbooks, census researchers found that fisherman in the Gulf of Maine “hooked 20 times more cod in 1860 than commercial fleets do today.” The evidence points to the fact that people have reduced many fish populations.

By next year, the online database will include photos, DNA codes, and Web sites for 230,000 unique species, including 16,000 species of fish. As part of the process, scientists have pruned some 50,000 aliases from the lists. The same marine animal may have a number of names. “The worst case of multiple identity was a breadcrumb sponge, Halichondria panacea, which had 56 names around the world. Now it will have one.”

Read the article and images, and also see more ocean maps.

Go to the Census of Marine Life Web site.

Image explanation / credit: An area of concentrated activity between Hawaii and the Baja peninsula, known as the “White Shark Café” is revealed by 47 white sharks equipped with satellite tags. Image: TOPP / Center for Marine Life