Lasers. Music. A Forest. – Well, You’ve Got Our Attention

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Forest
, a 5,000-square-foot project from the recent STRP biennal in Eindhoven, Netherlands, is a completely interactive, stunning work of light art. According to This Is Colossal, “this latest installation involves a forest of 150 interactive rods installed into an empty factory space.” The “trees” in this installation appear to be nothing more than flexible rods in the ground, but once activated, they shine green lasers, to wondrous effect.

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Visitors must interact with the trees to bring the entire forest of lasers to life. The project’s Website explains that the audience can explore by “tapping, shaking, plucking and vibrating the trees to trigger sounds and lasers.” The ambient music, somewhat reminiscent of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports or AudioTool’s ToneMatrix, paired with the surprisingly soft light, transports any visitor into a calming, yet surreal world.

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The installation comes to us from Marshmallow Laser Feast, a creative studio that merges art and technology in their works. The work was just one part of the grand plan. When the project premiered at the STRP Biennale —a 10-day hybrid festival of music, art and technology—a dozen young dancers performed a choreographed routine within the installation.

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The video below shows it in action.

Also worth checking out is the new Funnel Tunnel, an installation by artist Patrick Renner. The piece, which is made from thousands of pieces of reclaimed wood, now meanders its way through Houston, Texas.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator

Image credit: Marshmallow Laser Feast

In Seattle, Bike Lanes Are Good for Business

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The debate on whether new bike lanes help or hurt business among street-level retail stores, bicycle advocates, local transportation departments, and politicians is nothing new. Seeing the same problems come up again and again, Seattle Transit Blog guest columnist, Kyle Rowe, University of Washington, set out to shed some light on the situation by “utilizing taxable retail sales data” to show what actually happened in Seattle neighborhood retail districts when bike lanes and other bicycle infrastructure were added. In his report called Bikenomics: Measuring the Economic Impact of Bicycle Facilities on Neighborhood Business Districts, Rowe argues that bike lanes have had a positive economic impact there, at least in the areas where the research was conducted.

In the Seattle case study, Rowe attempted to “bridge that gap in knowledge” by using public retail sales data to show what happened to neighborhood business districts when bike lanes and other facilities are constructed.

In the first example, Greenwood Ave N, the area “performed very similarly to the neighborhood-wide control, while differing slightly from the neighborhood comparison” after the bicycle lane was put in. Basically, there was no down-turn in retail sales.

But for NE 65th St, the bicycle lane appears to have dramatically improved sales in the area. According to the study, two business quarters after the construction of the project (and removal of parking), NE 65th St “experienced a 350 percent increase in sales index, followed by a jump to 400 percent” in the next quarter.

Though many factors could lead to the increase of sales in the second example, the study showed the addition of bicycle lanes had no negative effect on businesses in the districts.

However, there are still other reports that dispute the positive effect of bike lanes on retail districts. In a 2011 survey of select retail stores on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, customers claimed they couldn’t find parking and businesses complain about delivery issues. “Parking tickets are up,” according to an article in The New York Times, “and business, apparently, is down.” To counter these claims, NYCDOT released a report in late 2012 claiming that businesses saw an improvement in retail sales of up to 49 percent if they were near protected bicycle lanes. This data, however, related to a three-block strip of 9th Ave. Otherwise, there was only a 3 percent boost Manhattan-wide.

There are also disputes related to bikeshare infrastructure. In another clash in New York City, one CitiBike rack placement was recently deemed not kosher after a Chelsea co-op filed suit against the NYCDOT. According to a New York Post article, city attorney Mary O’Sullivan “compared the placement of CitiBike racks to designating streets for alternate-side parking or making a street one-way.” In other words, bad for parking and business.

But without real data, retail stores have a hard time proving that putting in bike lanes or other infrastructure directly loses them business, just as planners struggle to prove the opposite.

A simple Google search can throw you into either side of the debate, depending on which link you click. Rowe’s study is a great start. If a study like this was in every city that regularly makes updates to their bicycle infrastructure, the obstacles for bicycle advocates might not be so widespread. More research is also needed on the types of bicycle lanes with the biggest economic impact.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator.

Image credit: Seattle Bike Lane / Seattle Transit Blog

Los Angeles Finally Allows Parkway Farming

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During the past month, debate over the legality of planting vegetables in public, residential parkways was raging once again in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times reported on the battle between two urban farmers and the city government, which demanded the gardeners uproot their edible landscapes, even threatening the gardeners with expensive citations. The urban farmers, backed by City Council President Herb Wesson and the local media, fought back. The end result: they finally got the city council to abandon its outdated approach and stop fining them. Patch.com reports that the city council has just agreed to let the parkways become edible.

Abbie Zands of the Los Feliz neighborhood and Angel Teger of South Los Angeles “planted lush vegetable gardens in front of their homes.” Zands recently planted three raised vegetable beds in his yard. The boxes are just 18 inches high, within a reasonable distance from the curb and serve the community. He said he is “teaching his children how to grow food [and] sharing the harvest with neighbors.”

Then, according to the LA Times, “Zands got a notice in the mail last month from the Bureau of Street Services ordering him to remove [his] vegetable beds.” Sounded pretty criminal.

Clare Fox of the L.A. Food Policy Council admits that the city’s restrictions were not entirely without merit. “She can understand the need to restrict growth” in situations that “hinder the view of drivers or blocks the light of street lamps,” for example. However, in this case, city officials explained that the citation reflects a matter of liability, stating that “if you slip and trip on the eggplant, you can sue the city.” The article suggests that there was a bigger liability issue left unattended in these “parkway” strips—technically owned by the city, such as ruptured sidewalks and other hazards caused by poor maintenance.

The debate has been going on for a while now. A few years ago, a similar situation happened to Ron Finley, an urban farmer who faced a warrant to remove edible plants set within a 150-foot-long parkways in his neighborhood. Then, Councilman Herb Wesson took the gardener’s side, introducing a motion to allow parkway vegetable gardens.

According to Patch.com, it took Wesson two years but he finally won.  With the 15-0 vote in support of immediately suspend enforcement, urban farmers across the city can now move forward, at least until a “new ‘comprehensive report’ on a new ordinance and a permitting process is prepared.” Westside Councilman Mike Bonin said “he supports the vegetable gardens because Los Angeles has a ‘wellness crisis’ and not enough access to healthy food.”

L.A. seems to be finally catching up to the agricultural revolution currently sweeping America’s cities. In March, Detroit adopted their first urban agriculture zoning ordinance to promote urban farming within their communities. New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and other cities are also far along.

In a time where one-fourth of all agricultural land is seriously degraded and some 49 million Americans experience food insecurity, cities all across the country need to put stronger support toward turning untapped land into urban gardens instead of blurring the line between true liability concerns and outdated bureaucratic rule-making.

Learn more about how urban agriculture can work in The Edible City, a recent ASLA animation.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator

Image credit: Los Angeles Times

DIY Vertical Gardening

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Who knew? You can turn those leftover soda bottles into a vertical garden with some supplies and a bit of crafting skills. This is Do-It-Yourself (DIY) vertical gardening.

This concept come to us from Brazilian design firm Rosenbaum, as part of their partnership with TV producer Luciano Huck. According to This Is Colossal, this is part of a series where “teams went through dozens of Brazilian homes” in an attempt to execute “dramatic makeovers of interior and exterior spaces.”

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This urban garden, which was featured in their 48th home in the series, was such a hit that Rosenbaum released these instructions so anyone create their own. The instructions are in Portuguese, so here is a version translated into English:

Materials

•    2-liter plastic bottle, empty and clean
•    Scissors
•    Clothesline rope, twine, or wire
•    Washers (two per bottle if rope or wire is chosen)
•    Dirt
•    Seedlings (herbs, vegetables, or other plants are all OK)

Instructions

To secure the bottles, you must make two holes at the bottom of the cylinder and two at the top of the bottle. See the pictures for an example.

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In addition to the holes to pass the rope, you need a small hole in the bottom of the bottle. The water used to irrigate the seedling needs to drain.

After that, thread the string through a hole and pull out through the other.

Note: Many people have asked how to make sure the bottles do not “slip” on the rope (or string or cordage). Either tie a large knot in the rope or tie the knot around a washer.

Then simply stretch and attach the rope to the wall.

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This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator, American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)

Image credits: Rosenbaum, via This Is Colossal

Urban Trees Save Lives

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A recent study by urban forestry guru David Nowak and other researchers at U.S. Forest Service and The Davey Institute found that urban trees save at least one life per year in most cities and up to 8 people per year in large metropolises like New York City.

“Trees growing in cities help clean the air of fine particulate air pollution — soot, smoke, dust, dirt — that can lodge in human lungs and cause health problems,” Grist explains. As an example, “trees clear 71 tons” of air particulate matter 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) from Atlanta’s air each year.

As explained in a recent post on outdoor air pollution, urban particulate air pollution kills as many as 2.5 million people each year. PM 2.5 has a drastic effect on human health, including premature mortality.

Researchers noted that larger particles between particulates 2.5 to 10 micrometers in diameter—also called coarse dust particles or PM10—are removed by trees at a substantially higher rate. However, the health benefits of PM2.5 removal is 30 to 350 times more valuable.

What happens to our health when those trees die from natural causes en masse? Apparently, as another recent study claims, people die, too. This study study showed that the “loss of trees to the emerald ash borer increased mortality related to cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illness. This finding adds to the growing evidence that the natural environment provides major public health benefits.” Untrammeled development would then also have the same negative health impacts at the ash borer.

Of course, the health benefits are not restricted to our lungs and heart, but also our minds. As can be seen in a new UK-wide study, parks, gardens, and even street trees in urban areas improve the mood and mental well-being of the surrounding residents.

The value of trees goes well beyond their immediate air quality-reducing properties, too. According to one recent U.S. Forest Service study, “urban forests are responsible for storing 708 million tons of carbon—a service valued at $50 billion.”

Not to ignore the financial side of better health, the Nowak study also claims that “the average health benefits value per hectare of tree cover was about $1,600, but varied [from city to city].”

The study concludes that “trees can produce substantial health improvements and values in cities.” Although more research is needed to improve these estimates, this study also leaves room for new research that explores the local effects of tree-filled landscapes in cities.

Read the study and check out a recent animation from ASLA: Urban Forests = Cleaner, Cooler Air.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator.

Image credit: Bryant Park, NYC / Wikipedia

Bike Sharing Needs to Be a Part of Public Transit

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Bike sharing became a surprising common theme throughout last week’s Transforming Transportation conference, which was co-hosted by EMBARQ and The World Bank and featured debates, panels, and lectures on the rise of sustainable urban transportation. Amit Bhatt, EMBARQ India, stood in front of a packed conference room to speak about the challenges he faced creating bike sharing programs in India. “If the cost outweighs the revenue,” he says as he scans the room, “how do you fund it?”

To say the least, bike sharing programs are expensive. A community can expect to spend $3,000 to $5,000 on a single bike in these programs, not including operations and management. These bikes are stronger than any mainstream bike one can find, but they are difficult to pitch to developing countries.

“India’s challenge is urbanization,” explains Bhatt.  “With urbanization comes higher motorization.” There are so many two-wheelers are on the streets now that there are as many reported accidents in India as there are vehicles.

In October 2011, Kerberon Automations launched ATCAG-Bikeshare in Bangalore, India. This has been one of the more successful attempts to bring bike sharing programs into India. This program has a similar functionality to Washington, D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare, using individual Smart Cards to unlock the bicycles.

Developing countries in Asia react well to successes in other Asian countries. Although there are successful programs in Europe and the Americas, it takes proven success in countries such as China and India to influence developing Asian countries to pursue these programs.

The volume of shared bicycles in China surpasses most, if not all other countries. According to Bhatt, the city of Hangzhou alone has 60,000 bicycles in their public bike system. For comparison, Paris’ Vélib’ has over 20,000 bicycles (see below) and Capital Bikeshare’s program has just 1,670.

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“The Chinese program is innovative,” said Li Shanshan, Bike Sharing Program Manager of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). Though it was originally copied from Paris, there are thousands of bikes at one station, with little more than a security guard and a turnstile in place to keep the program organized.

But the undeniable news is that cities around the world are starting to realize that it’s worth the expense. The panel agreed on many things throughout the day, but none more than that these bike sharing programs need to be considered a part of a public transit system.

According to Jeff Olson, Alta Planning + Design, the benefits of a bike sharing program outweigh the costs. “[One program] can bring around 200 more jobs,” he said. Among the other benefits are economic development, higher mobility, public health and safety.

Olson had the crowd imagine a fully-integrated transit system. One would be able to use the same fare card for buses, bikes, or the subway. When you look at bike sharing as part of the entire system, it’s easier to see the cost of bike sharing in a different light. Though it may be more than $3,000 per bike, what is the cost per passenger mile? What’s the cost when health benefits and traffic reduction is taken into account?

We don’t have all the data we need yet. That is because this is still a young industry.

“If I was asked to be on a panel for bike sharing three years ago,” Olson said, “I would have said no or had to spend [far too much] time explaining what bike sharing is.”

In the end, it’s nearly impossible to make a profit from these programs, according to the panelists. The benefit to these programs lies in reduced traffic and pollution from cars and two-wheelers; a happier, healthier community that can get from “Point A” to “Point B” as quickly as possible; and an improved economy with new jobs in the sustainable transportation field. Bike sharing may be in its infancy in many countries, but as long as it stays tied to public transit systems, it will be able to flourish.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA Public Relations and Communications Coordinator.

Image credits: (1) Hangzhou Bike Share system / Wikipedia, (2) Velib Bike Share system / Wikipedia