While high-profile urban tree planting campaigns like New York City’s get a lot of attention, most U.S. cities have experienced a decline in their urban forests, with a loss of about 4 million trees each year, or about “1.3 percent of the total tree stock.” The Nature Conservancy builds the case for recommitting to expanding our urban canopies for health reasons, instead of just letting them slowly diminish.
The many benefits of trees are well-documented: they clean and cool the air, combat the urban heat island effect, capture stormwater, mitigate the risk of floods, boost water quality, and, importantly, improve our mental and physical health and well-being.
According to the report, the U.S. Forest Service and University of California, Davis found that “for every $1 spent in Californian cities on tree planting and maintenance, there were $5.82 in benefits.” Another study found that for every $1, benefits ranged from $1.37 to $3.09.
In particular, urban forests can help catch harmful particulate matter in their leaves and reduce “ground-level ozone concentrations by directly absorbing ozone and decreasing ozone formation.” High levels of particulate matter and ozone can trigger asthma and cause other respiratory problems. Planting trees to deal with these issues in New York City alone could result in $60 million in health benefits annually.
Researchers are more closely examining how trees fight air pollution. In Louisville, Kentucky, Green for Good is now testing a “vegetative buffer” at the St. Margaret Mary Elementary School designed to filter the particulate air pollution coming off a nearby heavily-trafficked roadway. Initial results show that “under certain conditions, level of particulate matter were 60 percent lower behind the buffer than in the open side of the front yard. Among the health study participants, immune system function increased and inflammation levels decreased after planting.”
A Harvard Nurses Study found a 12 percent reduction in all-cause mortality for those who lived within 250 meters of a high level of greenness. And an exciting study now underway will look at 4 million Kaiser Permanente members in Northern California with the goal of determining if there is a relationship between healthcare use and the proximity and amount of nearby tree canopy.
Despite all the great research, the news still hasn’t reached the general public or even arborists. This is reflected in the fact that average U.S. municipal spending on urban forestry has fallen by more than 25 percent since 1980, to around $5.83 per urbanite today.
If the 27 largest American cities instead reinvested in their urban forests, “planting in the sites with the greatest health benefits (the top 20 percent of all potentially plantable sites in a city)” the cost would be around $200 million a year. Maintenance funds would also need to increase. The total gap between current realities and this needed reinvestment in our communities’ health is only $8 per person — so in a city of one million residents, $8 million.
Trees just get a tiny share of municipal budgets. But with these arguments backed by numbers, the hope is a relatively cheap investment in trees for public health — which would also result in so many gains in livability and property values — can win greater support.
Gray infrastructures made of steel and concrete, which we built to connect our physical world, are shallow or even fake constructs that are destroying the real and deep connections between human beings and nature and among various natural processes and flows. The alternative is green infrastructure, or ecological infrastructure, the construction of which can be inspired by the ancient wisdoms of peasantry.
For the past twenty years, I have tried to revive some of these peasantry wisdoms and combine them with modern sciences and technologies to solve some of the most annoying problems in today’s urban environment, particularly around water. The solutions are simple, inexpensive, and beautiful and have been applied on a massive and extensive scale in over two hundred cities in China and beyond.
Gray Infrastructure and Broken Connections
Some people may think that our world, through our built infrastructure, is more connected digitally and physically than ever before: we have Facebook and WeChat on the one hand, and ubiquitous highways and pipelines on the other. But actually the opposite is true. More than ever we are disconnected from the communities we belong to, and we have alienated ourselves from our neighbors and from those we love.
Physically, the landscapes that we inhabit are visibly interconnected: motorways connect urban and rural settlements; power lines that transport energy connect power stations to individual families; pipelines that drain waste water connect our toilets to sewage treatment plants; aqueducts that transport drinking water connect reservoirs to our kitchens; airlines that transport food connect the farm in the southern hemisphere to the refrigerators in the north; trucks that carry fertilizers and herbicides on the highways connect city factories in the east with the peasants who farm in the rice paddies in the mountainous west.
We have created a connected world, but these connections are false: the landscape matrix and its invisible processes are fragmented and disconnected. The movement and cycles of water, nutrients, food, energy, species, and people are broken. The interconnected relationship between air, water, soil, nutrient, species, and people is being interrupted, and in a harmful way, more than ever before.
Let me offer an example concerning water. Over 75 percent of the surface water in China is polluted; 50 percent of China’s more than 660 cities are facing floods and urban inundation; and over 60 percent of China’s cities do not have enough water for drinking and for other uses. The groundwater table in the North China Plain drops over one meter each year; and over 50 percent of the wetland habitats have been lost in the past fifty years.
All these water-cycle related issues that impact our cities and our landscapes are actually interconnected, but the conventional infrastructural solutions designed to solve these problems are fragmented, isolated, and single-minded: We build water treatment plants to remove the nutrients that could be used in fertilizers for farming; billions of dollars are spent yearly on the construction of concrete dikes, dams, and pipes to control floods and stormwaters, but these structures eventually produce fiercer droughts, declines in groundwater levels, and habitat loss; a thousand-mile-long aqueduct built to divert water from Southern to Northern China caused serious damage to the ecosystem in the lower and middle reaches of the Yangtze River; ornamental gardens and landscapes as well as agricultural fields are over-fertilized and all those nutrients flush into the water system, polluting the rivers and the lakes. And again, the conventional solution is single-minded – build expensive water treatment plants that need huge amounts of energy (mainly from coal burning) to operate, which in turn create more air pollution.
An alternative solution might be the construction of green infrastructure, or ecological infrastructure, which creates a deep and true connection between man and nature and among various natural processes and flows.
The Ancient Wisdom of Peasantry
The connections between peasants and their farmlands illustrate the timeless interdependence of human culture and nature. One alternative to rebuilding the deep connections between human beings and nature and among various natural processes comes from the wisdom of peasantry, of field-making, irrigating, fertilizing, growing, and harvesting, which have transformed landscapes on a large scale and sustained humanity for thousands of years.
One category of peasantry wisdom is the making of fields through a cut-and-fill action. The peasant’s approach to cut and fill is one integrated action, meaning the earthworks created for farming happen on-site, with minimum costs for labor and minimum transportation of material to or from the site. It has, therefore, a minimum impact on the natural processes and patterns in the region. This tactic has been implemented by peasants in almost all parts of the world as a way to transform their otherwise unsuitable environments into productive and livable landscapes.
The second category of ancient peasantry wisdom lies in managing water and irrigating the fields. Modern methods of irrigation used in both farming and landscaping are represented by a system of pipes and pumps that is nearly invisible. It doesn’t relate to surrounding terrain and available water resources. The peasant’s approach to irrigation is deeply rooted in natural processes and patterns. Thousands of years of farming experience have made irrigation one of the most sophisticated techniques in agricultural societies. The use of gravity to irrigate the field requires precise knowledge, and the harmony between nature and subtle human intervention can turn such a serious science into an art form, an interactive medium of community building, and even a spiritual force.
The third category of peasantry wisdom is fertilizing. It is a magical component of traditional farming and a critical link, closing the circle by reusing the materials of human living. All wastes from humans and domestic animals as well as vegetative materials are recycled into fertilizers. Such a nutrient cycle is broken in our urbanized and industrialized settings. What peasants call fertilizers are today defined as “pollutants” in our lakes and rivers.
The fourth category of peasantry wisdom is growing and harvesting. Unlike planting and pruning in gardening to create a pleasant ornamental form, the peasant’s approach to planting is focused on productivity. Planting begins with the sowing of seeds, and the management process follows nature’s rhythm as a strategy of adaptation to the surrounding climate and conditions. Again, the self-sufficient nature of ancient agricultural economies requires each household to grow diverse crops, including grains, vegetables, fibers, medicines, fruits, timber, fuel, and even fertilizer proportionately to the seasonal needs of the family, and within the limits of nature and human capabilities. The meaning of harvest goes far beyond the production of foods and products. Harvests are productive in terms of their capacity to enrich the soil, purify the water, and make the land healthy. In other words, the peasant’s fields are net producers instead of net consumers of energy and resources.
This is not to say that one should give up the comfort of urbanization and go back to a peasant’s primitive life. These essential features of peasantry illuminate the underlying basis for rebuilding the connections between nature and human desires, balancing natural processes and cultural intervention, and help us to reclaim the harmonious relationships between human beings and nature.
Revival of the Ancient Wisdom to Create an Alternative Infrastructure
Imagine what our cities would look like if we did not drain the rainwater away through pipes and pumps, but instead used the ancient wisdom of peasantry in field-making to create a green sponge in the city that retains the rain water, creating diverse habitats and recharging the aquifer. In this way, the green spaces in the city become an ecological infrastructure that provides multiple ecosystem services that regulate the urban environment to be resilient to flood or drought, allowing clean water and food to be produced right in the middle of the city. Biodiversity would be enhanced dramatically; urban residents would have a green network for jogging, commuting, and relaxing; and real estate values would increase because of the beauty of, and access to, nature! That is what we have tried to do in many cities in the past twenty years: to transform the city into a sponge city.
Imagine what our cities would look like if we abandon the high and rigid concrete flood walls and instead revive the ancient wisdom of peasantry and create vegetated terraces at the river banks that adapt to the up and down of the water flow. Ecofriendly solutions like ponds and low weirs are designed to slow down the flow of water and let nature take time to nourish itself, so that diverse habitats can be created that enrich vegetation and wild life, allowing nutrients to be absorbed by the biological processes! That is what we have done to transform the mother rivers in many Chinese cities.
Imagine what our cities would look like if the nutrient-rich (eutrophic) river and lake water could be cleansed through the landscape as a living system, in the way that peasants have recycled organic waste, instead of using expensive sewage plants to remove the nutrients. We could produce clean water and nourish the lush vegetation. Native biodiversity could be improved. We could turn recreational spaces into urban parks and, in this way, urban parks could become producers instead of consumers of energy and water. That is what we have done to transform the landscape into a living system that mediates polluted water.
Imagine what our cities would look like if the brown fields of industrial sites are recovered by the processes of nature, where the ancient wisdom of the pond-and-dyke system is adapted to create a terrain that collects rainwater (instead of draining it away through pipes) and initiates the evolution of a plant community, remediating the contaminated soil during this process. At the same time, the industrial structures are preserved as sites of cultural heritage in the city. A unique landscape is created, featuring dynamic native vegetation and a touchable memory of the past, which attract urban residents because of its beauty as well as the diverse wild life that it maintains in the middle of the city. This is what we have done in several industrial cities.
Imagine what our cities would look like if we turn some of the urban land back into productive landscapes instead of into expensive lawns or ornamental gardens, so that the long-distance transportation of food can be reduced. Let the rice, sunflowers, beans, and vegetables be grown in the city, let the sun and moon tell the time for sowing and harvesting, let the seasonal change be noticed by the urban residents, let the process of food growing be known to the young, and let the beauty of crops be appreciated! This will not only make our city more productive and sustainable, but nourish a new aesthetic and a new ethics of land and food. This is what we have done in some Chinese cites.
By reviving the ancient wisdom of field making, irrigating, fertilizing, growing, and harvesting, and integrating this wisdom with the contemporary sciences and arts, we are able to build alternative infrastructures – nature-based green infrastructures replacing the conventional gray infrastructures – that are able to solve some of the problems in today’s urban environment, particularly around water, which are difficult or very expensive to solve through conventional means. Living with nature is inexpensive and easy, comfortable and beautiful, and an art of survival.
This guest post is by Kongjian Yu, FASLA, founder and dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape and Cheung Kong Scholar Chair Professor at Peking University, and founder and president of Turenscape. He was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016.
This article was first published in Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Summer 2017, volume LXX, number 4).
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma might have passed by, but their consequences haven’t. Vast areas of Texas and Florida were devastated, and we’re only starting to assess the damage they left in their paths. Not only are natural disasters becoming more frequent, but they are hitting us with greater force. If you turned on the news in the past two weeks to view the coverage, you’ve seen firsthand that our nation’s cities have not been built with an eye to for resilience in the face of extreme climate events; the scale of the damages and displaced are evidence of that.
Now that tragedy has hit Texas and Florida, we can either dwell on the past and play the blame-game, or we can look to the future and decide to rebuild the affected cities in a way that will minimize the damage when another natural disaster hits – because it will.
Infrastructure and foresight are central to rebuilding efforts. As communities rebuild from disasters such as Harvey and Irma, they have an opportunity to invest in and adapt their landscapes to meet the changing climate conditions. This includes transportation and land planning that integrates green infrastructure to provide critical services for communities, protect against flooding and excessive heat, and help to improve air and water quality.
Taking action now and rebuilding our nation’s cities the right way can reduce damage resulting from future natural disasters.
We know how to do this. An excellent example of resilient design is Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park. Built in Queens, New York, it addresses urban resilience and sustainability. The City of New York commissioned the designers, Thomas Balsley Associates and Weiss/Manfredi, to create a park with an infrastructure ready to withstand rising water levels during storm surges and 100-year flood conditions.
The park quickly proved why planning meant everything. Even before it was publicly open, Hurricane Sandy hit New York and the park in 2012. While the Big Apple suffered the consequences of Sandy, Hunter’s Point South drained as planned and completion of the project continued with little setback. Landscape architecture projects such as Hunter’s Point South demonstrate how innovative design can create sustainable and resilient urban environments.
The consequences of climate change are inevitable. We urge federal, state, and local policy makers to invest in thoughtful and climate-resilient solutions to systemic infrastructure issues. That’s why ASLA is convening a multidisciplinary blue ribbon panel of experts to create actionable recommendations. The 11 experts will meet on Thursday, September 21, through Friday, September 22, 2017, and publicly present their findings and policy recommendations in the form of a report in January 2018.
Our hope is that the findings and recommendations of this report will inspire our decision makers to take action as we rebuild our cities and prepare for intensifying natural disasters.
This post is by Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, Executive Vice President and CEO, American Society of Landscape Architects
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has announced its 38 professional award recipients for 2017. Selected from 465 entries, the awards recognize the best of landscape architecture in the general design, analysis and planning, communications, research, and residential design categories from the United States and around the world.
The winners will receive their awards at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Los Angeles on Monday, October 23, at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
The following is a complete list of 2017 professional award winners:
General Design Category
Award of Excellence
Klyde Warren Park – Bridging the Gap in Downtown Dallas, Dallas (see image above)
by OJB Landscape Architecture for the Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation
The Entrance Garden, Sao Paulo, Brazil
by Alex Hanazaki Paisagismo for Eliane Revestimentos
Windhover Contemplative Center, San Francisco
by Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture for Stanford University
Owens Lake Land Art, Inyo County, California
by NUVIS Landscape Architecture for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
SteelStacks Arts + Cultural Campus, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
by WRT for the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Bethlehem
Central Seawall Project, Seattle
by James Corner Field Operations LLC for the City of Seattle Department of Transportation and Office of The Waterfront
The Yue-Yuan Courtyard, Suzhou, China
by Z+T Studio Landscape Architecture for Avic Legend Co. Ltd.
Merging Culture and Ecology at The North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina
by Surface 678 for the North Carolina Museum of Art
Chicago Botanic Garden: The Regenstein Learning Campus, Chicago
by Mikyoung Kim Design and Jacobs/Ryan Associates for the Chicago Botanic Garden
Workplace as Landscape – Facebook MPK20, San Francisco
by CMG Landscape Architecture for Facebook
Analysis and Planning Category
Award of Excellence
Storm + Sand + Sea + Strand — Barrier Island Resiliency Planning for Galveston Island State Park, Galveston, Texas
by Studio Outside for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
The Olana Strategic Landscape Design Plan: Restoring an American Masterpiece, Hudson, New York
by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects for the Olana Partnership and The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
Waterfront Botanical Gardens, Louisville, Kentucky
by Perkins+Will for Botanica
Positioning Pullman, Chicago
by Site for the National Parks Conservation Association
Conservation at the Edge – Prototyping Low-intervention Conservation in the Patagonian Wilderness, Cambridge, Massachusetts
by Reed Hilderbrand LLC Landscape Architecture for Victor F. Trahan III, FAIA
Fitzgerald Revitalization Project: Landscapes as the Framework for Community Reinvestment, Detroit
by Spackman Mossop Michaels for the City of Detroit
Texas Capitol Complex Master Plan, Austin, Texas
by Page and Sasaki Associates for the Texas Facilities Commission
Award of Excellence
Digital Library of Landscape Architecture History
by Benjamin George, ASLA
Ecology as the Inspiration for a Presidential Library Park
by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. for the George W. Bush Presidential Center
The Landscape Architecture of Lawrence Halprin
by The Cultural Landscape Foundation
Toward an Urban Ecology
by Scape, published by The Monacelli Press
‘Jens Jensen The Living Green,’ A Feature Documentary
by Viva Lundin Productions and the University of Michigan
Championing Connectivity: How an International Competition Captured Global Attention and Inspired Innovation in Wildlife Crossing Design
by ARC Solutions
Award of Excellence
Fluid Territory: A Journey into Svalbard, Norway
by Kathleen John-Alder, ASLA, Rutgers University, Tromsø Academy
Climate Change Impacts on Cultural Landscapes in the Pacific West Region, National Park System
by Cultural Landscape Research Group, University of Oregon for the Pacific West Region, National Park Service
Seeding Green Roofs for Greater Biodiversity and Lower Costs
by Richard Sutton, FASLA, for the Sandhills Publishing Inc., Arbor Day Foundation, Tetrad Property Group, LPS NRD, and Lincoln Urban Development
Rendering Los Angeles Green: The Greenways to Rivers Arterial Stormwater System (GRASS)
by Lee-Anne Milburn, FASLA, for the City of Los Angeles, Bureau of Sanitation
The Ecological Atlas Project
by Studio Roberto Rovira
Residential Design Category
Award of Excellence
Birmingham Residence, San Francisco
by Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture for Linda Dresner
Telegraph Hill Residence, San Francisco
by Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture
Northeast Harbor, a Restoration on Mount Desert Island, Hancock County, Maine
by Stephen Stimson Associates | Landscape Architects
by Roche + Roche Landscape Architecture
Casa Las Brisas – Formation of a Coastal Retreat, Las Condes, Chile
by C. Stuart Moore Design
Proving Grounds – A 20-Year Education in American Horticulture
by Reed Hilderbrand LLC Landscape Architecture for Adam R. Rose and Peter R. McQuillan
Agrarian Modern – The Recovery and Renewal of Manatuck Farm
by Reed Hilderbrand LLC Landscape Architecture
by HOLLANDERdesign | Landscape Architects
Northpoint Apartments, Orinda, California
by JETT Landscape Architecture + Design Inc. for Aline Estournes, Northpoint Apartments LLC
The Landmark Award
The J. Paul Getty Center, Los Angeles
by OLIN for the J. Paul Getty Trust
The professional awards jury included:
Elizabeth Miller, FASLA, Chair, National Capital Planning Commission, Washington, D.C.
Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, DesignJones LLC, New Orleans
Maureen Alonso, U.S. General Services Administration, Washington, D.C.
James Lord, ASLA, Surfacedesign Inc., San Francisco\
Janet Rosenberg, FASLA, Janet Rosenberg Studio, Toronto
Glen Schmidt, FASLA, Schmidt Design Group Inc., San Diego
Todd Wichman, FASLA, Stantec, St. Paul
Barbara Wyatt, ASLA, National Park Service, Washington, D.C.
For the selection of the Research Category, the jury was joined by M. Elen Deming, ASLA, University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois, on behalf of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) and Charlene LeBleu, FASLA, Auburn University, Auburn, Ala., on behalf of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA).
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has announced the 28 winners of the 2017 Student Awards. Selected from 295 entries representing 52 schools, the awards honor the top work of landscape architecture students in the U.S. and around the world.
The winners will receive their awards at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Los Angeles on Monday, October 23, at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
The following is a complete list of 2017 student award winners:
General Design Category
Award of Excellence
Invisible Works: A Public Introduction to the Dynamic Life of Wastewater Treatment (see image above)
by Bridget Ayers Looby, Associate ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota
Weaving the Waterfront
by a graduate team at Cornell University
by Zhiqiang Zeng, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania
Concrete Nurse Logs: Spawning Biodiversity from Ballard’s Century-Old Locks
by Hillary Pritchett, Associate ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Washington
Creating Dynamic Hybrid: Towards Landscape Innovation in a Smart City
by Fang Wei, Student Affiliate ASLA, a graduate student at Tsinghua University
Create a Walkable History: Editing the Historical Percorsi of Pienza
by Zhengneng Chen, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania
The Turning Point: A Focused Design Study for the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York
by Christopher O. Anderson, Student ASLA, a graduate student at State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF)
Residential Design Category
Micro-infrastructure as Community Preservation: Kampung Baru
by a team of graduate students at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design
Analysis and Planning Category
Award of Excellence
Water and the Agricultural Landscape of Illinois
by an undergraduate student team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Desert River Water Conservation
by Zhuofan Wan, Student Affiliate ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Toronto
Disaster Autopsy Model
by an undergraduate student team at the Louisiana State University
Climate Change Armor
by Zixu Qiao, Student ASLA, a graduate student at Texas A&M University
Reviving the 30 Meters
by Tianjiao Yan, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Toronto
Landscape in Evolution: Creating a Resilient Nomadic Landscape from Bottom Up in Hulunbuir
by a team of graduate students from Beijing Forestry University
Forests on the Edge: Plant-Based Economies Driving Ecological Renewal in Haiti
by Christine Facella, Student ASLA, a graduate student at City College
Award of Excellence
HydroLIT: Southeast Tennessee Water Quality Playbook
by a team of graduate students from the University of Tennessee
Agro-pelago (Foodscapes for the Future)
by Jaclyn Kaloczi, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia
Urban Landscape Metrics: Re-imagining the Class Field Trip in New York City’s Great Parks
by Quinn Pullen, Associate ASLA, a graduate student at the Pennsylvania State University
Tactile MapTile: Working Towards Inclusive Cartography
by Jessica Hamilton, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Washington
Fairy Tales to Forest
by Amy Taylor, Student ASLA, a graduate student at Ohio State University
Student Collaboration Category
Award of Excellence
RISE, a Coastal Observation Platform
by a team of graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin
The White House Kitchen Garden
by a team of graduate students at the University of Virginia
Follow the Water: Rain Garden as Diagram
by a team of graduate students at Mississippi State University
Community Service Category
Award of Excellence
by Nahal Sohbati, Student Affiliate ASLA, a graduate student at the Academy of Art University
Earth and Sky Garden: A Therapeutic Garden for the Puget Sound Veteran’s Affairs Hospital
by a team of graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Washington
An Outdoor Learning Environment for and with a Primary School Community in Bangladesh
by Matluba Khan, Student Affiliate ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh
The student awards jury included:
Barbara Swift, FASLA, Chair, Swift Company llc, Seattle
Michael Albert, ASLA, Design Workshop, Aspen, Colorado
Meg Calkins, FASLA, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana
Mark Focht, FASLA, New York City Parks & Recreation, New York
Robert Page, FASLA, Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, Boston
James Richards, FASLA, Townscape Inc., Fort Worth, Texas
Roberto Rovira, ASLA, Florida International University, Studio Roberto Rovira, Miami
Meghan Stromberg, American Planning Association, Chicago
Mercedes Ward, ASLA, New York City Parks, Flushing, New York
Green Roofs Are Getting a Big Trial in Hoboken– Next City, 8/18/17
“The movement toward green building and sustainability-minded development is at an odd crossroads. On one hand, some progressive cities have made regulation strides toward more energy-efficient and less environmentally harmful building practices, while a viable industry has grown up around green construction and roofing materials.”
The Pre-Oscar Snub– The Huffington Post, 8/23/17
“Well, it’s not Oscar season but we already have one of the biggest snubs of the year. It’s pioneering Modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley in the recent motion picture Columbus.”
‘Project Birdland’ Transforms Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School– The Baltimore Sun, 8/27/17
“School doesn’t start for another week, but 6-year-old Kyle Schuller spent Sunday afternoon running around in front of Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School. The soon-to-be first-grader watered some freshly planted shrubs in a “habitat lab” that will soon welcome him and other students to school each day.”
Any residential landscape can be designed to both conserve water in times of water scarcity and reduce flooding during storms. Homeowners can use green infrastructure approaches, like bioswales and bioretention ponds; rain gardens; rain water harvesting; water recycling; and drip irrigation to more sustainably manage water.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates flooding has caused some $260 billion in damages from 1980 to 2013. And in the past decade, flood insurance claims now total $1.6 billion annually, putting further pressure on the already deeply-indebted flood insurance system. Sustainable landscape architecture practices — including green infrastructure — can significantly reduce the impacts of flooding on residences.
Homeowners also waste water by irrigating their lawns with water that should be reserved for human consumption. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), nearly 9 billion gallons of water is used for residential outdoor water use, mainly for landscape irrigation, some 30 percent of total residential water use.
Sustainable residential landscape architecture—if part of an integrated site design, a comprehensive approach to sustainable building and site design—can dramatically reduce water usage while creating a healthy residential environment.
Homeowners can promote the infiltration, storing, and recycling of water, and limit the use of valuable potable water for landscapes. Bioswales / bioretention ponds, rainwater gardens, and local sustainable water recycling and drip irrigation systems can all be used to efficiently manage water. Homeowners can recycle and reuse greywater (and even blackwater) for landscape maintenance, car washing, and toilet flushing.
It’s important to note that degraded and compacted soil will reduce water and air infiltration into the ground. Homeowners can maximize the benefits of natural stormwater systems by improving the quality of soil on their property though remediation techniques.
Homes that include natural green infrastructure not only better manage stormwater runoff, but also reduce the massive energy costs associated with running complex water management systems. Water and waste utilities are heavy users of energy and major producers of greenhouse gas emissions.
The NACTO Urban Street Stormwater Guide should first be commended for the sheer amount of information it compresses into a succinct guide that touches upon nearly every consideration in the planning and design of green streets. I can only imagine the amount of coordination that took place to assemble the different national green street case studies, as well as the nearly impossible task of reigning in different perspectives on streetscape design from various planning and design disciplines.
While past NACTO guidebooks have successfully focused solely on street, bikeway, or transit design, the Urban Street Stormwater Guide delivers one of the most comprehensive guides on how to combine complete street design and green infrastructure stormwater management. Having a volume like this on one’s shelf is extremely helpful to anyone who is engaged in even general streetscape planning and design, as it points out the importance of having green infrastructure integrated into the right-of-way.
Design guidebooks are always a unique snapshot in time. They highlight our current understanding of design application and what, at the moment, can be implemented. This is an important consideration for the Urban Street Stormwater Guide — it reflects our design comprehension of green infrastructure at the current moment. This too will, and must, evolve over time.
Early sections of the guide provide a powerful argument for why “Streets are Ecosystems.” Stormwater runoff is no longer treated as a waste but as a valuable resource that should be managed in the right-of-way using a green infrastructure approach. The design community, I believe, comprehends and embraces this basic premise, but there is still a lack of understanding, which is reflected in this guidebook and reverberates in today’s built green street projects.
While stormwater runoff is now not considered a waste, it is still mistakenly labeled as a source of the problem of urban stormwater management. Runoff is not the source, but a symptom and result of the larger problem that urbanization has dramatically removed natural landscape systems and replaced them with impervious area.
We now focus on treating the symptom of “too much stormwater runoff” by designing small-footprint, deep-profile “landscapes” that force water back into the ground to prevent urban flooding, reduce the burden on grey stormwater infrastructure systems, or comply with state and federal regulations.
While reducing flooding and infrastructure capacity issues are important, these approaches create a water-centric approach very much reflected in this guidebook, which dilutes the focus and urgency to address the real problem of landscape loss. The only way to address this issue is to dramatically spread the footprint of vegetation and perviousness in our built environments. Only when we advocate and create a greater balance of green space and perviousness in our cities can we then accurately label our streets as “ecosystems.”
The Urban Street Stormwater Guide provides a series of “stormwater streets” as hypothetical scenarios of different urban conditions, such as a green transitway, ultra-urban green street, boulevard, neighborhood main street, and a host of other urban contexts. These are valuable glimpses of the possibilities of introducing vegetated swales, stormwater planters, pervious paving, rain gardens, and other green infrastructure and complete street elements into urban conditions.
However, the models shown have a definite tilt towards very urban conditions with the huge rights-of-way commonly found in larger American cities. The hypothetical boulevards, transit streets, and even the neighborhood main streets green street examples in the guidebook look nothing like those that I have worked on in smaller cities. Where are the examples outside of the big city? How about strip mall or big-box arterial streets, small-town main streets with tight sidewalks and packed with on-street parking, and the ultra-wide suburban residential streets that have covered mass landscapes in this country?
I raise this question, because these latter streets are just as impervious and incomplete. They produce massive amounts of stormwater runoff, just like our big city downtown streets, but are completely forgotten in the Urban Street Stormwater Guide vernacular.
From a stormwater management perspective, I define an urban street as any street that has a curb, gutter, and sidewalk that produces excessive stormwater runoff. It appears that the Urban Street Stormwater Guide defines an urban street similarly, but focuses largely in ultra-urban downtown conditions. Perhaps there is an opportunity to follow up this guide with a “less-urban” street stormwater companion guide.
I think that this omission is largely due, again, to the “snapshot in time” effect and focuses more on examples where green streets are currently being implemented: in big cities that are trying to comply with stormwater consent decrees and/or dealing with infrastructure capacity issues. The truth is that we need green streets in all urban contexts, and those should be better represented in this guide.
As I mentioned before, the Urban Street Stormwater Guide packs in an incredible amount of information in a finite number of pages. It feels almost too dense, where some graphics and photos are reduced to a miniscule scale, and text flows as if one is simply reading a series of bullet points (albeit good bullet points). In fact, some of the very important cross-sections of types of stormwater facilities are so cryptic, with minimal or no text call-outs or dimensions, that they remind me of the pictures illustrated when one is trying to follow an IKEA shelve assembly instructions manual. When dealing with urban stormwater, cross-sections illustrating very specific horizontal and vertical layout are critical.
Lastly, I worry that many of the cross-sections, and even the built project photo examples, suggest too much hardscape in the form of vertical walls to contain landscape and soil. Excessively-engineered green street facilities go against the very principles of green infrastructure to keep things simple, shallow, cost-effective, and beautiful.
One of the most successful elements in the Urban Street Stormwater Guide is the numerous design, planning, and policy case study examples shown throughout the United States. Each case study describes the project’s goals, project overview, design details, keys to success, lessons learned, and qualitative and quantitative outcomes. There are excellent pictures of projects shown in action.
Some case projects are clearly more successful than others, but it is extremely valuable for everyone to understand what has been built and how the project is performing, regardless of its real or perceived level of success.
Another very successful piece of the guide is Section 5: Partnerships and Performance, which highlights successful green street programs and policies from around the United States, details the need for inter-agency and private-public partnerships, and outlines operation and maintenance roles and responsibilities. The discussion of operations and maintenance should take a more formative role earlier in the guide, as maintenance often defines what can be built, to what extent, and how it will perform in the long-term.
In conclusion, the Urban Street Stormwater Guide is an valuable resource to those planning and designing green street projects. It makes a very strong argument that green streets and complete streets can live symbiotically and details different examples on how to combine these design strategies.
This guide is a wonderful snapshot in time of what has been built, but the guide also shows that we still have much to learn and that green infrastructure strategies are still evolving. I again really commend the amount of information provided in the guide and the level of coordination that was needed to complete it. I look forward to the next edition of the Urban Street Stormwater Guide.
The health benefits of nature have been well-established. From improved well-being to a reduction in respiratory illnesses, access to green space is crucial to improving public health in urban areas. The problem, according to Dr. Cecil Konijnendijk van den Bosch, is that “nature is still not an integral part of our healthcare system.”
Konijnendijk van den Bosch, along with his wife, Matilda van den Bosch, are professors at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Their research focuses on trees, green spaces, and public health in urban environments.
Studies published in prestigious journals like the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), BMC Public Health, and Nature affirm the health benefits of nature. Summarizing the research, Konijnendijk van den Bosch said tree canopies and green space can reduce the health gap caused by socioeconomic inequality; and lower rates of ADHD, cardiovascular and respiratory illness, depression, and overall mortality while boosting cognition and happiness.
“There’s so much potential in these benefits,” but they are not being widely translated into our healthcare systems, despite all of the credible research.
“Things are happening here and there. Step by step,” he said. “It’s not a major campaign. It’s not a movement of integrating green space and trees into our healthcare systems.”
So far, urban foresters have failed to promote the public health benefits of their work. Konijnendijk van den Bosch gives a number of reasons for this: cognitive bias; barriers between research and practice; unbalanced messaging on issues like outdoor safety for children and the risks posed by nature; and competing interests for already cash-strapped city budgets.
So what can urban foresters, landscape architects and designers, and advocates do to inject nature into the discourse on healthcare?
“We have to change people’s mindset,” he said.
First, Konijnendijk van den Bosch argued, medical professionals and urban foresters need to build alliances. “If you want to get this message across, if you really want to be successful, you need to the doctors. You need them to tell the story,” he said, citing the credibility that comes with having a medical degree. While a number of pioneering doctors are already prescribing time in a park, the medical education system does not yet teach the preventative healthcare benefits of green spaces.
Second, urban foresters need to build strategic partnerships with organizations like the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), American Planning Association (APA), American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and American Institute of Architects (AIA) to create a cross-disciplinary approach.
Lastly, more public outreach can raise awareness of nature’s health benefits. But we need to be creative about fostering deeper emotional connections with nature. Take Amsterdam, for example. The city lost many of its Elm trees to Dutch Elm disease. Now there’s a perfume that bottles that now-nostalgic scent. It’s a marketing tactic that’s “tapping into something. It’s tapping into people’s emotions,” he said.
Save Cork City, a volunteer association in Cork, Ireland, has launched a design competition calling for an innovative approach to renewing the historic city’s quayside landscape on Morrison’s Island. The international competition is co-organized with the Cork Architectural Association, with the support of the National Sculpture Factory and the Architectural Association of Ireland.
Save Cork City, a bottom-up citizens’ group that has won the support of local businesses, celebrities, designers, and advocates, was formed to protest the Irish government Office of Public Works (OPW)’s plans to raise the historic quays’ walls, thereby destroying the historic relationship between the city and waterfront.
According to the group, OPW’s plan — which seeks to “build over 8 kilometers of concrete walls and 46 pump chambers around the River Lee in Cork” — will “destroy huge parts of Cork’s historic character through damage to and removal of the City’s historic quay walls and railings, replacing them with basic concrete walls; turn the city into a building site for up to 10 years during the construction, affecting trade and tourism; and visually and physically disconnect the city’s quays and Fitzgerald’s Park from the Lee due to the introduction of the proposed concrete walls and embankments along the river.”
Furthermore, the group believes that OPW’s overall approach of using concrete walls is outdated and expensive, with a high potential for failure. “River containment is a flawed system that has been abandoned as a flood defense measure in many countries as it is expensive, difficult to achieve and can increase water levels in times of flood, putting cities at even more risk. The scheme relies on rarely used mechanical systems such as water pumps and drain valves, that could fail with catastrophic results.”
Instead, Save Cork City has issued a three-point plan, featuring more upstream green infrastructure, a proposed tidal barrier in the harbor downstream of the city, and historic quay revitalization. The group argues the OPW’s approach only looks at the last 20 kilometers of the River Lee, but it’s in fact 90 kilometers long, so there’s ample opportunity to reduce flooding upstream. They believe their plan will cost only €135 million, much less than the €450 – 1 billion the OPW plan is expected to cost.
The group states their plan has been endorsed by a “Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Robert Devoy; the deputy director of the Dutch flood protection program, Erik Kraaij; the former dean of engineering in University College Cork, Philip O’ Kane, as well as thousands of concerned Cork citizens.”
Engineer Michael Ryan told The Irish Times that“flooding in Cork city involves a complex of factors, including upriver flows, tidal surges, a series of historic culverts and pipes under the city and the fact that the city is built on an extensive aquifer which is supplied and affected by both river flows and tidal surges.”
OPW recently dismissed Save Cork City’s proposal as “too costly,” reports the Evening Echo. OPW is still deliberating over the thousand-plus public comments it received about its flooding plan.
Another interesting opportunity: MIT Climate CoLab, “a global, web-based community designed to pool intelligence in a manner similar to Linux or Wikipedia,” offers seven new contests with a $10,000 grand prize. The competitions are in land use, transportation, buildings, carbon pricing, energy supply, adaptation, and shifting attitude and behaviors.
“Since its launch in 2009, Climate CoLab’s open problem-solving platform has grown into a community of over 85,000 people from all walks of life–including more than 300 of the world’s leading experts on climate change and related fields–who are working on and evaluating plans to reach global climate change goals.” Proposals are due September 10.