America’s riverfronts have long been landscapes of industry and technology. They have also been historically misused and mistreated. Speaking at the National Building Museum’s lecture, D.C. Builds: Along the Waterfonts, panel member Harriet Tregoning, Director, Washington, D.C. Office of Planning said, “we are at a unique moment in time, we are turning to our rivers now and embracing them.” Along with Tregoning, members of the panel included Alex Nyhan, VP of Development, Forest City; Howard Ways, AICP, Executive Director, Prince Georges County Redevelopment Authority; Joe Sternlieb, CEO, Georgetown Business Improvement District; Nathan M. Macek, Member of City of Alexandria Planning; and Uwe Brandes, Senior VP, Urban Land Institute (ULI), who acted as moderator. While the forum focused on D.C.’s rivers, the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, the ideas discussed have broader application for any city that has a river running through it. An important point was raised by Macek, who asked the question, “is the waterfront a back door or a front door?”
Municipalities have traditionally lined their waterfronts with factories, industry, and in the case of a portion of D.C.’s Potomac river, a lot for garbage trucks and towed vehicles — clearly all back doors. Sternlieb asked the audience how many people remember having their cars towed to the Georgetown Port City waterfront lot? Quite a number of people, it turns out, as people raised their hands, laughing. But this isn’t what the majority of people want on their water fronts, as the desire for direct and walkable access to the waterfront grows. In fact, as Brandes mentioned, just 10 years ago, there wasn’t any rowing along the Anacostia, where as now “there’s a vibrant community.” So what does it take to make these changes?
A challenge with D.C.’s waterfronts is dealing with different governmental agencies who are hesitant to make changes without first having a study. For instance, Sternlieb told the story of how the National Park Service was initially lobbied for recreational non-motorized boating activities along the river in 1984. Overwhelmingly, people supported the initiative. In 1989, they conducted another study, the result of which was that even more people support the idea. And on this cycle went, every few years, until their most recent non-motorized boating study in 2013 that found there is “enormous demand” for recreation of this type, yet they still haven’t “built a single structure to do it.” In fact, said Sternlieb, the demand is so high there’s not enough land to accommodate it all.
Nyhan, who worked with 34 different public and private sectors to bring D.C.’s popular park, The Yards, designed by M. Paul Friedberg, FASLA, to life, stressed the need to see the planning vision through on projects of this nature, saying, “you have to keep on persevering through thick and thin,” while keeping an eye on social equity and the importance that art and culture can have on a redevelopment. The Yards Park is a great example of a front door.
But dealing with a city’s waterways isn’t all recreational fun. As Ways said, while Prince Georges County has a “strong and rich history of connecting” to the riverfront, it has also had to deal with the “dual-edged sword” of the river, and that means flooding.
Rising sea levels and the effects of climate change were addressed by the panel. Tregoning stressed the importance of making sure there is enough height to accommodate sea level rise, but said that the city needs to be prepared for things to be “episodically wetter” and in some places, “permanently wetter.” After all, D.C. was historically a swamp and “in many ways it ways it wants to be a swamp again,” joking that she “personally thinks that the monuments would be beautiful by gondola.”
But the issue of flooding and sea levels rising is a real and serious one. To deal with this, the level of The Yards was raised to get it out of the flood plain, as well as integrating rain gardens to mitigate excessive storm water. Prince Georges County has been raising their levees since 2007 and has instituted the “Rain Tax,” as constituents are calling it, something Ways says forces people to think about the impact that acres of impervious surfaces on their property have on storm water.
The overall consensus of the panel: rivers are not only important arteries for commerce, they are places for recreation and are an indicator of a community’s health. It’s important that cities and communities that border rivers “redefine their edges,” as Brandes said, and seize the opportunity to make these changes. They should be front doors, not just back doors.
This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, Student ASLA, ASLA 2013 summer intern and Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT)
Image credits: (1) Washington, D.C. Google Maps, (2) The Yards Park / Doing the District, (3) The Yard Park Boardwalk / JD Land, (4) The Yards Park / Carol Joynt
Where people see despair, some architects see opportunities for change. These architects can use the power of design to transform communities and even nations, said Architecture for Humanity co-founder Cameron Sinclair, during a keynote presentation at the American Institute of Architects (AIA)’s annual conference in Denver. Sinclair explored what he called the core passion of the architectural profession: the desire to leave the world better than we found it. Founded in 1999, Architecture for Humanity works with architects around the world, drawing upon their skills and enthusiasm to meet humanitarian crises through design and pro-bono projects.
Sinclair says his desire to positively shape the world started during his childhood in a very poor South London neighborhood. When he was around five or six years old, he would play with Legos, “trying to reorganize towns so people would feel good living there.” He realized he wanted to become an architect and improve lives.
Sinclair described the evolution of Architecture for Humanity — from its early start in 1999 as a small studio in New York City to what he called “the largest architectural firm in the world” with offices across the globe that have built structures for 2.5 million people.
Economic development is actually an integral part of this work. The key, said Sinclair, is to partner with locally-licensed professionals and design communities with the people who actually live in them. Training is provided to construction professionals, local craftsmanship is integrated within buildings, and project ownership is eventually transferred to community leaders.
In Sinclair’s view then, sustainability also involves more than just material and energy issues. It also includes social and cultural heritage elements on the ground that can’t be ignored. “The most sustainable building in the world is one that’s loved,” said Sinclair. “People will take care of it.”
He also described the value of healthy spaces. “We have built cities and towns that create inactivity,” he said, pointing out that today’s children are the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. He called the creation of more active spaces a “design problem” that could provide architects with more work for the next decade in five key areas–open spaces, urban design and land use, transportation, schools, and the workplace.
In the end, Sinclair believes the value of architecture lies in “our ability to translate the solution-based approach we use. Right now, 71 percent of the world is in dire need of decent design, good, well-thought, meaningful buildings. Guess who can do it? All of you. There shouldn’t be a single architect out of work in the United States if we can tap the 71 percent of people who are looking for dignified shelter and strong communities.”
In a highly anticipated speech at Georgetown University, President Obama unveiled his long-over due plan for tackling climate change. While his plan will only take a small dent out of total emissions worldwide, it’s a step in the right direction. His approach: reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants for the first time, open up more federal lands in order to double wind and solar power capacity, further tighten car and truck fuel efficiency standards, expand the use of renewable energy by the federal government, and support local communities in climate adaptation planning. President Obama punted again on making a decision on the Keystone pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada’s tar sands, but argued that the project couldn’t move forward if it was found to “exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
President Obama said Americans must prepare for the adverse effects of climate change while also taking advantage of the opportunities found in a move to a cleaner economy and society, namely the chance to spur economic growth and create healthier, more resilient communities. He said more than 20 states and a 1,000 mayors have already moved forward with plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and adapt to changing sea levels and temperatures, but the Capitol’s political class is still stuck in the past. “It’s time for D.C. to catch up with the rest of the country.”
He joked that we no longer have “time for the meeting of the flat earth society,” comparing climate change deniers to those who too long remain unconvinced that the Earth was round. “We can’t stick our heads in the sand” on this one. Indeed, the President said the past 12 out of 15 years have been the hottest ever recorded, as global carbon dioxide emissions have reached record highs. 2012 was actually the hottest single year on record. Average ocean temperatures have reached their highest points, while the Arctic’s ice has shrunk to its smallest size ever.
While “droughts, floods, and extreme storms go back to ancient times,” weather events are becoming more extreme as water levels rise. President Obama said the water in New York harbor is one feet higher than it was a century ago, which made Hurricane Sandy far worse. Temperature changes were also behind the recent destructive dust bowl that hit the Midwest, and the subsequent heavy rains and storms that inundated farmers. This past year, wildfires consumed an area larger than Maryland.
Beyond the effects on human lives and livelihoods, climate change will simply cost a lot more, said President Obama. “Emergency services and disaster relief will cost billions more. How are we going to pay for more expensive fire seasons?” Food costs are also expected to go up with more frequent crop damages. “Americans will be paying for the price of inaction.”
While some environmental and conservation organizations have criticized Obama for not doing enough on the environment, he said progress was made over his first term. The U.S. has managed to further reduce carbon dioxide emissions, recently hitting a 20-year low. “No country has reduced carbon emissions as much as us since 2006.” His administration has doubled wind and solar power, building on investments President George W. Bush made as well. By the middle of the next decade, the Obama administration will have doubled mileage per gallon. The U.S. is now producing more of its own energy, with the rise of destructive hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to get at more natural gas.
Moving forward, President Obama will ask the E.P.A. to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from both new and existing power plants, the first time the U.S. government is doing this. “Right now, there are no federal regulations on carbon from these plants. They can dump for free. It’s not right or safe and needs to stop.” The president said he would take a flexible approach and ask the E.P.A. to “develop standards in an open and transparent way.” Already some states are modernizing how they regulate power plant emissions.
He plans to double again wind and solar energy capacity by asking the department of the Interior to open up more lands. Right now, these renewable energy sources account for about 12-13 percent of current energy production. Given this approach will certainly put conservationists at odds with renewable energy environmentalists, a balanced and sensitive approach will be needed. President Obama also noted that 75 percent of all wind power is now produced in Republican states, creating “tens of thousands of good jobs.” The department of defense will be asked to install gigawatts of new renewable power plants on its properties, enough to power 6 million homes by 2020. “This will equal the power found in 3 million tons of coal.”
There wasn’t much discussion on energy efficiency, other than that administration will push for more stringent energy standards for appliances. He mentioned that buildings account for more than 30 percent of emissions, but didn’t reach out to the design community to ask them to accelerate progress on Architecture 2030 through efforts like LEED and the Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES®). The design and construction industries are making progress on changing practices but green buildings and landscapes still remain a stubbornly small share of the total stock out there.
Speaking of landscapes though, President Obama did seem to make the case for incorporating green infrastructure into the mix when dealing with climate adaptation efforts. “We can reduce the risks of flooding by using natural barriers. Dunes and wetlands can do double duty as storm and flood protection.” Perhaps he’s the first president to make the case for using natural systems to deal with these difficult water challenges. His broader remarks though were about the need for “smarter, more resilient infrastructure,” whether it’s green or grey. As an example, he pointed to a number of communities like Miami Beach, Florida, which have asked the federal government for funds to adapt to climate change by strengthening their infrastructure against storms, flooding, and salt water intrusion. More federal funds will be made available to communities to plan and implement these kinds of projects.
Lastly, while the president said the U.S. is still a leader overseas on climate change (something the Europeans may dispute), his administration can still do more. His administration will push for increasing climate change finance available to developing countries, as part of an effort to put an end to coal plants worldwide, unless there is really no other energy sources available. He wants to promote the use of clean energy technologies through a global free trade agreement, so “more countries can avoid making the same mistakes we did.”
A good place to start is the beginning, which in this case is to define a garden. This is what Chantel Colleu-Dumond does in her book, Talk About Contemporary Gardens, when she recalls the words of philosopher Michel Foucault who said, “The garden is the smallest parcel of the world and then it is the totality of the world.” Colleu-Dumond brings us into this totality as she explores contemporary garden design. Her deep love of gardens is apparent here. Her writing feels warm and her passion for the subject is clear. She says “this is an acceptable addiction and I am gently hooked.”
There is a “pluri-disciplinality” in contemporary garden design that allows landscape architects and designers, along with artists, architects, and designers, to become involved in the creation of the gardens the author highlights. This pluri-disciplinality adds to the diversity of ideas, innovative practices, and mash-up of seemingly-dissimilar styles that characterize contemporary gardens. Colleu-Dumond knows that trying to make sense of all of it may be hard to handle when she says, “You just need to let yourself be astonished, charmed, and carried along by the magic of these new spaces to live and dream in, these spots for traveling without going anywhere that gardens have become. The aim of this book is to accompany you on that journey.”
Indeed, this book could be used as a travel guide. Colleu-Dumond has gathered a list of 24 contemporary gardens that she considers “must-sees.” These gardens range from the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech, Morrocco, which was designed by Jacques Majorelle, a French painter, to the Jardins de l’Imaginaire (Gardens of the Imagination) in Terrasson, France, designed by American landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson, ASLA, and the Red Sand Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne in Cranbourne, Australia, which was designed by Taylor Cullity Lethlean and Paul Thompson, two landscape artists. These must-see gardens all over the world offer something for everyone.
Talk About Contemporary Gardens can also be used as primer for design students. There’s a chapter dedicated to the 30 influential landscape architects, artists, and designers whose work Colleu-Dumond thinks best epitomize the range and depth of contemporary gardens. She gives a brief biography, a summary of the designer’s body of work, and, perhaps, most interestingly, their philosophy and design approach. Dutch garden designer, Piet Oudolf, who did the planting design for the popular High Line in New York and Chicago’s Lurie Garden, is well known for his “in-depth knowledge of plants,” and plays “like a painter with plant structures and textures just as well as with their colors.”
This is contrasted with the philosophy of a designer like American landscape architect, Martha Schwartz, FASLA, who is known for her plantless gardens. Schwartz is “critical of the artificial nature of urban gardens” and makes us reconsider our standard idea of a garden. The only greenery in her Splice Garden is artificial topiary. Her garden is a combination of a traditional Italian Renaissance garden and a Japanese Zen garden.
Colleu-Dumond recognizes that the key to understanding contemporary gardens is knowledge of garden design history, so she has a chapter on classic styles and their present incarnations. For example, the contemporary gardens of Japanese landscape architect and Zen Buddhist monk Shunmyo Masuno are “linked in tradition and yet perfectly grounded in today’s world.”
There are a number of ways to take advantage of this book, not least of which is to flip through and enjoy the pictures. Talk About Contemporary Gardens is a gorgeous book, jam packed with beautiful photographs of the gardens that Chantal Colleu-Dumond clearly loves.
Suzanne Blier is Allen Whitehill Clowes Professor of Fine Arts and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. She is an historian of African art and architecture in both the History of Art and Architecture and African and African American Studies Departments. She also is a member of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science. She is Co-Chair of an Electronic Geo-Spatial Database AfricaMap, a site that expanded into WorldMap.
WorldMap is an open source GIS tool that enables anyone anywhere in the world to create their own maps and overlay them with data for free. Why did Harvard create this?
GIS has been transformed in the last 20 years. I was using it in a project when I moved up to Harvard from Columbia in the early 1990s. I received some outside funding to put together a GIS mapping system of Africa. When that project came to a conclusion, I applied for some additional funding for innovative computing. At that time, Harvard had established a new center for geographic analysis. They hired a really brilliant young GIS scientist named Ben Lewis, who is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania program in urban planning. It was his belief that one could actually put together a system, making it available to everyone using open source technology. This is what became WorldMap.
We began with Africa. The idea was to bring together the best available mapping anywhere in a format that would allow us to overlay different kinds of data. Soon, other people around Harvard began to look at it. From the sociology to the geology to the history departments, other scholars said, “we’d love to do that as well.” And there was serendipity: this was the first large project at the new Center for Geographic Analysis. There, lots of people contributed ideas.
You can go into WorldMap, create a project there, and upload it to Google Earth. We do bring in Google mapping and other mapping data. The two are not at odds in that way but you can do more with WorldMap. For example, if you are creating a project in Google Earth, you can’t bring in other mapping data and then share with others as you can in WorldMap. With our site, you can bring in your own historic mapping data. You can bring in text, images, or video. With the system one is encouraged to draw on any available mapping resources to build one’s own. You can also create and visualize things as you want in your own way, give them your own look, and have your own data symbolized and presented as you like.
ArcGIS is a terrific product. It’s still very effective, used by many, as well it should be. As you probably know, it’s very complex to learn. I’ve approached how many undergrads and grad students, trying to convince them that it’s worth the time spent to do it. But it’s still like climbing up a cliff with a bicycle. There are cost factors, too, for people using ArcGIS. Granted, you can use it in part online now, but we didn’t think there was the same kind of potential for bringing in your own data, historic maps, sociological data into the system, then being able to share it with other people in the same kinds of ways. We’re collaborating with ESRI, too. There’s plenty of room for both kinds of products. Each of them offers something slightly different.
In some ways, WorldMap can be more easily grasped by the less technically astute among us, whether a landscape architect, planner, historian, or student. I also really love the way we can share our projects with people anywhere in the world.
I’ve seen map makers on WorldMap already overlaying river systems, poverty rates, ethnic groups, and then showing how these have changed over time. What other types of layers are people using? What are the most popular mash-ups?
We should be hungry to learn not just from what our own individual disciplines are offering, but from what everybody else is doing. This technology allows one to do that. So sociologists are bringing in different kinds of data than we might be, a lot of demographic data, information on transportation systems, neighborhoods, etc. Landscape architects and urban planners offer new data on some environmental questions, ecosystems, and city plans.
You can go through all of the different layers people have brought in and see what are the most popular. These tend to be environmental — river systems like you mentioned — and ecosystems, but also transportation, railroads, etc. A number of projects have taken up historical data we brought in from Euro Atlas, which shows the history of Europe going back to the earliest period. And because WorldMap users are generally happy sharing their data, there is a lot to chose from. Almost 90-95 percent of the map data can be used by anyone.
You can bring those layers into your own layers. It’s a little bit like Wikipedia in this sense. You can build your own map in part out of what other people put together, but done in new ways that suit your research interests.
You mentioned AfricaMap, your project that then created this larger World Map. In Africa Map, users can overlay religions and ethnic groups. They can see areas where there’s high population density. They can use the map to imagine transatlantic trade routes. There are historical maps, which I really love, dating back to 1606, which seem to magically appear over the baseline Google maps. How is this powerful tool being used? Is it being used in ways you didn’t expect?
I’m also fascinated with the seeming magic of taking early maps and laying them on top of current ones. One the most fabulous additions in the development of the system was when we created our map warper or map rectifier. This means you can take any historical map or any map, whether it’s of the world, a continent, a country, a city, a neighborhood, a street corner, and very quickly add three or four points — more if it’s a very historic map, because of discrepancies. You can then co-join the lat-longs and bring this map into your own mapping system.
You can also take a map or plan that may be poorly done or is under copyright, but you’re really interested in the data. Well, we’ve also provided the means so that you can in essence use WorldMap like tracing paper. You can basically copy it by adding lines, points, and shapes on top of it, stylize it in new ways, and create your own particular manifestation of that plan.
Some interesting work is being done within or on the perimeters of a new project in WorldMap called TweetMap. This project in WorldMap has been used to harvest all of the geo-referenced data in Twitter. You can do a search within that. You can frame it by time or a particular area for any term or phrase you might want. That could be really useful for thinking through perceptions of the city.
Twitter Map was developed originally by Todd Mostak, a student in Middle Eastern studies, and the Kennedy School here. He was interested in the Arab Spring and locating how that was being framed in Twitter.
Another fascinating map by Professor Colin Gordon, University of Iowa, maps decline in St. Louis, showing how blight took over parts of the city. The map tells a powerful visual story of blight and then redevelopment. What kind of urban stories are you also seeing told? What else could this tool be used for in terms of urban policy, advocacy, or even design?
His project is a fascinating one. There’s a corollary in Chicago, another important map in WorldMap by another sociologist named Robert Sampson. One important thing with both Professor Gordon’s and Professor Sampson’s projects is they’ve actually integrated their WorldMap projects into books that they’ve recently published.
A graduate student here is using WorldMap to analyze New Orleans, thinking through the early history of the city where the slave markets were, how the concept of neighborhoods were changing in the city from the early Spanish and French periods to the later American period. You can even correlate that with building design changes.
I’ve been fascinated with the impact of World’s Fairs on cities so I’ve put up a series of World Fair plans, whether it’s St. Louis, San Francisco, Chicago, Brussels, or New York City. You soon realize how important some of these World’s Fairs were in terms of the changing dynamic of the city. That brings in plans from great landscape architects such as Frederick Law Olmsted.
We also have a plan up of the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia. Of course, as you know, some of the World Fair buildings are still standing. You can overlay on top of this not just the plan of the fair, but also the plans of the landscapes and buildings at the fair. You can then embed into this project photographs taken at the fair. Within WorldMap, you can link directly to photographs and add points by creating particular symbolic icons so that once you click on them, you’ll be able see what was the view in 1876 or whenever.
Landscape architects, planners, and other design professionals could really use WorldMap to root designs in local social and economic contexts and even histories. These maps could also be used to create compelling presentations of different design alternatives. How do you think designers should be using WorldMap? What features do you think would be most useful for them?
There’s some terrific work being done by Europeans using WorldMap to evaluate economic disparities in European cities. There’s one on Athens. There’s another fabulous set on Barcelona. One of the great things about World Map is you can actually make it a collaborative project — not just for landscape architects per se, but also for the people who are living in and with these landscapes. You can bring in the informal. We have provided people in these communities with the tools to upload their own data, let’s say their own experiences in a landscape through text, video, or photographs. That could be a really positive addition to landscape architecture preservation, and help outline the importance of these places as lived space.
You can use this tool to promote the importance of landscape architecture in school systems, from K to 12, getting teachers and students to use this to upload information about their own experiences with their landscape and help to preserve them at the same time — to not just preserve them historically, but also to become caretakers for these spaces. You could compare the area of X plot of land versus Y plot of land or distances or simply add cell phone and other imagery of a particular landscape.
We are increasingly thinking about pooling resources in documenting the works of key individuals, whether it’s Frederick Law Olmsted or Frank Lloyd Wright. People who use these parks or live in these structures can create a project on WorldMap, with people in different locations adding information. Making these maps available on the site to the world — and really using these people to do some of the more labor intensive and expensive work of geo-referencing plans — is a great idea.
Lastly, are you worried that people will misuse these maps, display false data to build specious cases? If data can be manipulated, is there any truth in maps?
Well, personally, I would love to see the creation of fictional maps, imaginary places based on real places. That’s the positive side. Another positive side is that we now have a tool to evaluate maps, meaning that we are providing a means for users of WorldMap to tag maps and identify those that are really well done versus those that are problematic. That’s the open source nature of it.
We don’t have enough staff to go through and evaluate maps, nor is it something we want to do. We would rather keep this as a toolbox available to everyone and rely on people who are using these maps to let us know if there’s something that is indeed really problematic.
Maps are things that have this necessary complexity. There will always be disagreements on borders, for example, now between China and India. At WorldMap, we’re perfectly happy to have a Chinese and an Indian version and various ones in between. Some of these disagreements are enriched or complicated by the possibility of creating competing maps.
In the same way that river systems notoriously change over time, which is why you shouldn’t geo-reference from them, these kinds of discrepancies are great within a system.
It’s far easier to create or change something in WorldMap than in a printed book. WorldMap allows for more creative approaches and different opinions in map making.
Image credits:(1) Image credit: Suzanne Blier, (2) AfricaMap by Suzanne Blier / image credit: WorldMap, (3) Chicago Map, poverty rates in 2000 by professor Robert Sampson / Image credit: World Map, (4) Federico de Wit map, 1675 in Suzanne Blier’s AfricaMap / Image credit: WorldMap, (5) TweetMap of Manhattan / Image credit: WorldMap, (6) St. Louis map by professor Colin Gordon / Image credit: WorldMap, (7) Philadelphia Centennial Expo, 1876 / Image credit: WorldMap, (8) Rivers of Africa map / image credit: WorldMap
People rarely dispute that Americans love their cars or that our infrastructure is built around them. However, what to do about these problems is a source of debate. In their book, Creating Green Roadways: Integrating Cultural, Natural, and Visual Resources into Transportation, James L. Sipes, ASLA, and Matthew L. Sipes offer up practical design and construction advice on how we can move beyond basic transportation. Sipes and Sipes, a landscape architect and engineer respectively, haven’t just written a book about roads. As they say in their introduction, they’ve written a book about “pedestrians and bicycle facilities, streetscapes, community character; protecting cultural and natural resources and ensuring creatures large and small can cross the road safely. It is about multimodality, natural processes, and energy efficiency.”
With common language, thorough research and numerous case studies, the Sipes provide the reader with sound arguments for making our roadways green. They define green roadways as highways and roads that are site specific, that respect both the visual character of the place as well as plant and animal life. Green roadways work with a site’s watershed, maintain green corridors, and protect open spaces. It is possible, the authors maintain, to create roads that both meet traditional engineering standards and minimize their impact on the environment. More than that, though, green roadways are about getting people out of their cars – walking, biking and using public transportation.
They contend that the time is ripe for this green conversion, citing quite a few scary statistics: 33 percent of our nation’s roadways are in “poor or mediocre” condition; 36 percent of our major urban highways are congested; and 26 percent of bridges are “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.” They point to the collapse of the I-35 W bridge over the Mississippi in Minneapolis as an example of what might happen if we don’t make these changes. And not to put too fine a point on it, since the book has gone to press, yet another bridge has collapsed, this time on I-5 over the Skagit River in Washington State.
The number of cars on our roads has quadrupled from 65 million cars and trucks in 1955 to 246 million today, and where in 1970 vehicles in the US traveled 1 trillion miles per year, in 2010 that number had increased to 3 trillion miles per year while the amount of paved roads increased only 1.97 percent. These numbers are staggering, and the basic argument that the Sipes make is that building more roads won’t solve these problems. After all, how will laying down more roadways provide a solution when we can’t maintain what we have? Instead, their book makes a strong case for integrating roads, bridges, trails, walkways and other elements so they become assets, not liabilities. As they say, “roads and highways have such an impact on our communities that we need to start thinking about them in terms of quality of life.”
In urban and suburban areas, especially on local and neighborhood roads, the move should be on “de-emphasizing roads.” They should be narrowed and their visual impact lessened, sidewalks widened, and opportunities for sociability increased. The use of rain gardens and bioswales rather than a reliance on drains also lessens the environmental impact of roads.
Greener roundabouts can be used to slow traffic, and in the case of the roundabout in Normal, Illinois, it was designed as a community gathering places as well as a system for underground storm water collection.
Our interstates can be retrofitted to allow for wildlife crossings, either as land bridges or underpasses, which protect habitat and wildlife populations that live around highways. The authors note that the average cost of repair to a vehicle after a crash involving an animal is $2,900, a figure that certainly makes these changes worthwhile.
Both Sipes, who do believe there is still a place for pleasure driving, especially along the nation’s scenic and historic roads, provide the reader with examples of roads that are done well. They also offer recommendations for protecting the environmental, cultural and historical resources along these roadways.
The authors are dedicated to turning our transportation systems to assets, not liabilities, and have written a book to help guide this transformation.
I have been under stress watching the recent events take place in my native Turkey. These events began with peaceful demonstrations on May 29 by environmentally-minded citizens who wanted to preserve one of the last remaining green spaces in Istanbul. They did not want to see the demolition and privatization of a public park known as Gezi (Promenade) Park in a major public open space in the district of Taksim. However, excessive use of force by the riot police — with their use of water cannons, rubber bullets, and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators — quickly brought more protesters, who then introduced an anti-government agenda. Public gatherings in support of the Gezi Park as well as anti-government demonstrations quickly spread over to other major cities and 78 of Turkey’s 81 provinces. The use of excessive force by police to disperse the protestors in Istanbul, the capital city of Ankara, and the third largest city Izmir, has been clearly documented by the international media. As a result, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his religious-based conservative government look vulnerable for the first time in his ten-year administration. Despite significant economic successes under his leadership, this episode has the potential to tarnish the international image and reputation of Turkey, a majority Muslim country with a strongly secular tradition.
I believe these sad developments can be linked to the top-down planning style of the Prime Minister, who once again took center stage to explain his vision for this public square and park during these tragic events. Furthermore, instead of trying to calm the protestors and approve the requested dialog for public participation, the PM sent in his supporters in addition to riot police.
The plans by the Istanbul city government, which were strongly promoted by the PM, initially called for razing the park to build a shopping mall inspired by a demolished Ottoman Military Barracks. Based on initial protests, the PM backed off plans for a shopping mall on the site, but there are still plans to remove the existing park and building “something” there. For the rest of the Taksim Square, the PM calls for removing several stores to bring an existing church into the open and build a “major mosque” on the other side of the street, in a location that used to be a private theater for musical performances. This is proposed under the guise of open dialog and respect for both religions.
As for the proposed plans and designs: The overall plan, which calls for the removal of the park, would create several underground tunnels to alleviate the traffic congestion that currently plagues the square. They would add very large turf areas in the shape of tulips, which are a revered flower in Turkey and also known to have religious symbolism referring to the Prophet Muhammad. The PM’s statement suggesting that “something” will be built there proves there is no design thought given either to the master plan or the street-level designs (see videos below):
As an educator, I would call the proposed overall plan for the square and the park sophomoric at best. This park has been the subject of many of my projects when I was an undergraduate student in late 1970s. Over the years the park has been encroached upon along its edges and has received minimal maintenance and care; an occasional bench replacement is about that seems to be done.
Despite their neglect, trees have matured and provide the only shaded area and refuge from the highly-motorized greater Taksim square. The current state of the park reminds me of Bryant Park in New York City prior to its most recent renovations. It’s true that something needs to be done to take advantage of this wonderful green oasis in the sea of cars dominating Taksim Square. However, the proposed removal of the park to establish a private shopping center or “something” is not what is needed.
The use of earlier Ottoman Military Barracks as an inspiration for the proposed shopping center (or some other type of building) is also highly questionable. These barracks were the scene of one of the bloodiest uprisings by mullahs, who wanted religious laws enacted during the last decades of the Ottoman Empire (similar to those used in Iran or by the Taliban today). Atatürk (Father of Turks), the founder of today’s modern Turkey, was the Ottoman Military commander who quashed these uprisings in the late 1800s and consequently ordered the destruction of the barracks after the establishment of Turkey in 1923. The promotion of the image of these barracks by the PM as a back drop to the proposed developments begs the question: how much respect does the current government have for the strong secular traditions of the country?
The proposed plans do not seem to give even a cursory thought to the needs of pedestrians. They do not offer any significant design elements for the human scale. Perhaps another unstated objective of the PM is to minimize and eventually remove the monument to the Independence War, which houses sculptures of Atatürk, his commanders, and the unknown soldiers during the final days of the occupied Ottoman Empire. The videos released by the metropolitan city government of the proposed development make this meaningful landmark look as insignificant as an ant.
PM Erdoğan’s government owes some of its economic successes to the privatization of many government institutions, holdings, and services. Some of these privatization efforts were perhaps necessary to encourage private financing and development. But selling national treasures is highly questionable. The government has sold parts of the first model farm in Ankara established by Ataturk to international clients to establish a private resort. At the present, there is extensive clear cutting in the Atatürk Farm.
Let me explain the significance of this: Could you imagine the U.S. Government selling President Jefferson’s Monticello? Similarly, how would the American public react if the U.S. Government or the National Parks Service were to sell some of much-cherished open fields not covered by memorials in the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for a private shopping mall development? This is exactly what is happening in Istanbul and other cities in Turkey.
All of these tragic events could have been avoided if either the PM Erdoğan or his representatives were to institute a public hearing system in their planning and design process. Instead the PM is more concerned with the demonstrators questioning his authority and calls them “çapulcu,” meaning marginal and extreme. At other times, he’s called these concerned citizens of Turkey “terrorists.” This is quite ironic considering that it’s the PM’s government who is holding talks with a convicted killer and the head of the internationally recognized terrorist group PKK (Kurdish Separatists).
Prime Minister Erdogan PM and all of his representatives must recognize they are elected to represent the people. These people have shown up in unprecedented numbers to express their opinions and represent themselves. If the PM and his government continue to ignore the voice of the people, they may not be re-elected as the peoples’ representatives. Finally, Mr. Erdoğan needs to make up his mind if he wants to be the Prime Minister of Turkey, the Mayor of City of Istanbul, or an urban designer. If the Prime Minister has no intention of going back to school, then he should let the real design professionals do their job and concentrate on managing the government in a way that will make all Turkish citizens proud.
This guest post is by Professor Sadik Artunc, FASLA, RLA, head of the department of landscape architecture, Mississippi State University. A native of Turkey, Professor Artunc has a BS and MS in forestry and forest engineering from the University of Istanbul and an MLA from the University of Michigan. Prior to arriving in the United States in 1975, he worked in Turkey as a forester for the Ministry of Forestry, as a recreation planner in the Central Planning Office, and as the planning director of the Olympus National Park for the Department of National Parks.
Image credits: (1-2) Turkish Revolution, (3) The Huffington Post, (4-5) Taksim Square / Wikipedia
By 2050, one in five Americans will be 65 years of age or older, but, unfortunately, less than half of our country’s jurisdictions are prepared for this massive demographic shift. At The Atlantic’s “Conversation on Generations” forum at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., Steven Clemens, Washington editor-at-large of The Atlantic and Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and other bestsellers, discussed how communities can better prepare for their aging populations. The big point they made: what makes these communities healthier for older people will really benefit Americans of all ages.
Florida defined aging baby-boomer populations as Empty-Nesters, those 45-64, and retirees, those 65 and older. These groups are now replicating the trends of the Millennials: they are moving to urban centers. Boomers are moving to cities to be closer to their children and grandchildren. In part, they may be moving there to build a sense of community that may be missing in the suburbs.
But at least with the aging, the differences between the suburbs and urban areas may not be so stark. Florida said the traditional “categories of city and suburb don’t cut it anymore.” The distinction is now between whether a community is livable or not. A livable community is safe, secure, and offers access to transit, health care. These places are walkable and enable a high level of sociability. All of these things combine to help people age in place. According to the AARP, this is something the vast majority of older Americans want to do.
Clemens added that “cities have become better at being cities,” but there is still work to be done to make the majority of our communities truly livable. Transit systems need to be expanded or built in the majority America’s communities. Improving the connectivity of neighborhoods via networks of sidewalks and bike lanes is important. And the things that used to draw people downtown, “the SOBs – symphony, opera and ballet,” as Florida jokingly called them, aren’t enough of a draw anymore. Boomers and Millennials alike both call for more street-level vibrancy.
Florida admits this move by the boomers to urban centers, rather than retirement communities set in warmer climates, may lay the “seeds of generational conflict,” simply because boomers have more money and freedom of movement and can therefore potentially squeeze out younger people in their 20s and 30s.
That said, it isn’t just older people who will benefit from what Clemens called the “density and connectivity” of these livable communities. Florida noted that 33 million Americans across all age groups live in solo households. The more social ties a person has between friends and family, the longer and richer their life will be. Older Americans are more and more looking to live among a diversity of ages and experiences, which living in urban centers can give them.
While livable communities allow older people to age in place, the assets that allow them to do it with dignity – sociability, walkability, access to affordable and quality healthcare, proximity to community parks and greens spaces – are also the things that make cities healthy and livable places for people of all ages. “Cities are not just places and built environments, they are collections of people,” said Florida, also noting that, “the places that really do well, do well across the board.”
This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, Student ASLA, ASLA 2013 summer intern and Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT)
Image credit: ASLA 2012 Professional General Design Award. Lafayette Greens: Urban Agriculture, Urban Fabric, Urban Sustainability. Kenneth Weikal Landscape Architecture / Image credit: Beth Hagenbuch
Green infrastructure is now big time, given the head of water for the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) is now promoting its benefits. At the E.P.A’s Brownfields conference in Atlanta, Nancy Stoner, assistant administrator for water, said she tells people who don’t know what green infrastructure is that it’s about “spreading water out, slowing it down, and soaking it in.” Stoner; Joe Dufficy, land revitalization manager, E.P.A.; and Walt Ray, a registered landscape architect and director of visioning, Park Pride, then moved through a set of projects to illustrate how green infrastructure works, how the E.P.A. can help, and how one group in Atlanta is addressing some challenging flooding problems.
Why Green Infrastructure Now?
Stoner said increasingly powerful “wet weather events are impairing our water quality.” Combined sewage overflows (CSOs) now hit 700 municipalities in 31 states and the District of Columbia. Together, these CSOs lead to 850 billion gallons of discharge into streams, lakes, and oceans annually. All of that polluted stormwater caused nearly 11,000 beach closings and advisory days in 2011. With so many problems, clearly just adding more grey systems (pipes) isn’t the answer.
Green infrastructure is “one solution for many objectives.” It can be defined as an interconnected network of green systems that “reduce flooding risks, create habitat, improve water quality, and manage stormwater.” Unlike single-use infrastructure like those concrete underground water conveyance pipes, green infrastructure uses “soil, vegetation to deal with stormwater and improve our quality of life.”
She further described green infrastructure as “systems and practices that mimic natural processes.” It’s about “adapting, renaturalizing the built landscape, introducing trees and vegetation into the built environment.” These systems can include bioretention technologies (planter boxes, bioswales, rain gardens), green roofs, and permeable pavements. She said increasingly these systems are being added into our public spaces, including our streets and alleys.
To note, though, Stoner took issue with the idea of Complete Streets as they are currently defined — streets with space for all types of users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and cars — arguing that “a street can’t be complete unless you have room for the water, too.” Complete streets then need to also be green.
There’s a lot of overlap between green infrastructure and brownfield redevelopment. “These things all mesh because it’s about revitalizing communities, improving aesthetics, creating a better quality of life, while boosting economic development.” Green infrastructure is about making “eyesores” like brownfields beautiful. In fact, one E.P.A. program started by former administrator Lisa Jackson, Urban Waters, seeks to connect brownfield redevelopment with improved access to waterfronts.
Green Infrastructure Works
Stoner pointed to the Solaire building rooftop garden in Battery Park, which was designed by Diana Balmori, FASLA, Balmori Associates, as a great example of how a building can use green infrastructure to “achieve zero water footprint” (see image above). The additional benefits of green roofs like these are they “reduce heat, improve air quality, create wildlife habitat, improve energy efficiency, and boost property values.” The E.P.A. is now conducting community-scale studies to quantify these benefits.
At the broader scale, Stoner pointed to Nashville’s Cumberland Park as a great example of a park that is using green infrastructure to deal with water. There, a 4-acre parking lot was transformed into a park with a 100,000 gallon cistern underground that stores rainwater for future irrigation use.
In Cleveland, one community even demonstrated that green infrastructure can work in very polluted areas. With the Slavic Village Union Avenue green street, liners were used to separate contaminated soils in a green street median from the new soils and vegetation added on top. “There are significant stormwater management benefits even with the liners.” A 33-acre site near the Willamette River in Portland scaled-up this approach, putting a cap on top of polluted soils and green infrastructure on top.
For these types of project, Stoner said “resources are tight, so communities have to look at all possible revenue streams, including tax credits or stormwater utility fees.” There can be funding from multiple sources. But she said spending the initial money on “cleaning water and greening communities” is truly worth it, given that “every $1 spent yields a $7 dollar boost in housing wealth.” (To help communities communities figure out where to spend their money on green infrastructure in contaminated sites, the E.P.A. will also soon release a “Brownfield and Vacant Parcel Stormwater Infiltration Decision Making” tool.)
TheE.P.A. Will Help If You Turn Your Vacant Properties into Green Infrastructure
Joe Dufficy, who works on land revitalization programs at the E.P.A., said the E.P.A. can offer communities “technical support, brownfield grants, and partnerships.” Technical assistance shows “communities how to safely demolish vacant properties.” If this work is done improperly, the land become contaminated and remediation becomes even more expensive to clean up for green infrastructure. The E.P.A. has actually done “test demolitions to see what works best.”
The E.P.A. also offers brownfield area-wide planning grants. For example, Cleveland has taken advantage of this program to create a plan for an “opportunity corridor” that will transform 500-600 vacant properties into a green infrastructure system. The E.P.A. helped “assemble the environmental information, do the cost comparisons.” The city decided to merge together hundreds of smaller parcels together into larger parcels for redevelopment. Now, the sewage district is using some areas for stormwater management, while another 27-acre zone has just become a massive urban farm.
Again, Dufficy said this was all worth it, given green infrastructure does so much, including boosting property values. One recent University of Wisconsin study showed new green infrastructure yielded a $1.7 million bump in nearby property values. Who doesn’t want to live next to clean water and parks?
Vine City’s Bottom-up Fix for Flooding
Walt Ray, Park Pride’s head of park visioning, said at Park Pride, an Atlanta non-profit that helps communities create new parks, “we don’t want to inflict a park on anyone.” The idea is to let communities figure out their own solutions and then help them make it happen. In the case of the Proctor Creek North Avenue (PNA) Watershed Vision project, Ray is working with communities in Vine City and English Avenue, two poor inner-city Atlanta neighborhoods, to deal with the atrocious flooding problems. The area used to be “the headwaters of the Proctor Creek.” More than 100 years ago, it was all paved over. Now, the water is coming back.
Ray showed how flooding is a systemic issue. The nearby World Congress center, where the Brownfields conference was held, is a source of 30 million gallons of runoff. Water moves from the World Congress Center and other huge buildings, like hotels, office buildings, and the stadium, down towards the bowl at the center of Atlanta, where Vine City and English Avenue lie. “They are downsteam, downpipe.”
Interestingly, many of the vacant properties in Vine City are right on top where streams used to be, so there’s really a reason why people didn’t want to live there. Ray said when it rains a little, it floods a lot in those houses. One family just opens their door to let the water move through their house faster.
The big watershed vision project had a small start. The PNA Coalition wanted to turn a block filled with vacant properties into a park. While this project got started, Ray asked, “Why not look at other blocks, the whole neighborhood?” Park Pride ended up doing a whole watershed analysis and then involving the community in formulating a new green infrastructure approach to solving the flooding problems. “We’ve held 12 meetings, 6 public hearings, and 9 briefings.”
Through this process, Ray said the “community had to educate itself about what green infrastructure can and should do.” Local directed the design team. They wanted to eliminate the flooding but not totally bulldoze the neighborhood. They wanted to keep the historic character while also creating new green jobs training programs. “Can we do the green infrastructure work in our own neighborhood?,” they asked.
The conceptual plan that resulted called for a new green street project along with parks that will have detention ponds to store water. Green infrastructure can then also help deal with flooding. “We are going to save the water here. We’re going to become a big sponge.”
Image credits:(1) The Solaire / Hydrotech USA, (2) Nashville Cumberland Park / Nurture Valley blog, (3) Cleveland Urban Farm / The Huffington Post, (4) Vine City, Atlanta / Atlanta History Center.
“Oh, my god, America has changed,” exclaimed Dr. Manuel Pastor, Professor of Sociology, University of Southern California, mock-shocked, at the E.P.A.’s Brownfield conference in Atlanta. And even more change is coming. By 2043, the U.S. will become like California, with whites in the minority and the majority minorities. Currently, white Americans make up 64 percent of the population. By 2050, they are expected to only make up 45 percent.
Over the past ten years, white people have had the lowest growth rates, while Latinos and Asian Americans have had the highest. Pastor said in the past decade the Latino population has grown 43 percent, Asian Pacific population 42 percent, African American population 12 percent, and whites — just 1 percent.
Interestingly, the fast growth in Latinos is not due to increased immigration. “Immigration is no longer defining demographic change.” Instead, it’s actually the rise of “the second generation, those born from immigrants.” Also, immigrants from Mexico may not be as high as many people think. “The Mexican economy is doing well so there’s actually negative immigration. People are moving back.”
The American Latino population is also rising in aggregate number, particularly among young people. “The number of young Latinos is up 4.8 million.” In comparison, there are 4 million fewer young whites than a decade ago. Pastor showed tables that also demonstrated how the white population is relatively older than other groups. The current median age for whites is 42, 35 for Asian, 32 for African Americans, 32 for Native Americans, and 27 for Latinos. The future is literally old white people and younger minorities.
But demographic change isn’t uniform across all parts of the country. “It’s happening most rapidly in America’s suburbs.” It’s also not as much about minorities moving into predominately white areas, but African Americans and Latinos coming into closer proximity. “Latinos are moving more into African American areas.”
Pastor raised a note of caution about the big demographic shifts that are about to occur, arguing that it could lead to broader societal conflict. From 1980 to 2000, when California was becoming non-majority white, “it was a turbulent time for race relations, with riots and conflicts around immigration. We’re just now coming to the end of this process.”
Environmental inequality is also a stubborn problem. Historically, wealthy white populations have received the most environmental benefits. “Brownfields are most often found in communities of color.” Pastor said cleaning up brownfields then wasn’t just about giving more people access to environment benefits, but also “dealing with environmental justice.”
Other sources of tension could be generational differences. It may be that the “older generation increasingly doesn’t see itself in the younger generation,” in part because the younger generations just superficially looks different. The younger generations coming up also faces a very different world. “The educational gap is really generational. The generation coming up has not been invested in as much.” And many aren’t very happy about this.
Beyond the moral issues in inter-race and inter-generational inequality though, Pastor argued that being more equitable and inclusive just pays. “Communities that aren’t inclusive don’t build a base for the economy over the long run.” Looking at the data, he believes that “the places that are more equitable and have less segregation grow more rapidly, sustainably over time.” Cleaning up those brownfields that predominately affect poorer neighborhoods of color then benefits everyone.
While the coming demographic and generational changes that will change the face of the U.S. could lead to increased tensions, Pastor was positive, viewing it as a “huge opportunity.”
He could have been speaking to the design professions and development community when he said new approaches were needed to adjust to a changing country. For example, he said the upcoming generation, which has lost out of many educational opportunities and is loaded with debt, “isn’t fundamentally angry, but aspirational.” They want a better world. He said this generation views “equity and inclusion as essential to any project, not just add-on benefits.” So environmental remediation isn’t viewed as just more economically sustainable over the long-term, but “transformational.”
Image credit: ASLA 2012 Professional General Design Award Winner. Powell Street Promenade, San Francisco, CA, by Hood Design / Image credit: Marion Brenner and Beth Amann