“The infrastructural situation in the U.S. is bad,” said Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kantor at SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas. Traffic causes “5.5 billion of hours or about $70 billion of lost productivity, costs 2.9 billion gallons of fuel, and increases our healthcare costs by $45 billion each year.” About a quarter of American bridges are crumbling and structurally obsolete; and we hear horror stories nearly every month of another major collapse.
“But technology is the big hope.” Kantor argued that embedded sensors can be used to make roads and cars smarter so they can relay traffic reports in real time, identify structural issues and report them, and reduce traffic collisions and fatalities, which also cost the U.S. hundreds of billions each year.
And autonomous vehicles, ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft, on-demand mobility apps like Ridescout, as well as parking apps, could reduce the inefficiency of traffic. With so little investment in actual structures and asphalt, technology is seen as one cost-effective way to lengthen the life of our crumbling transportation system.
What is holding back this safer, more efficient future? For Kantor, the problem is “very silo-ed governments, from the federal to local level.” What’s instead needed is a “whole ecosystem approach, connecting across systems.”
And that’s what the U.S. department of transportation (DOT) is now attempting with its Smart City Challenge, which will give up to $50 million to one city to become the “country’s first city to fully integrate innovative technologies – self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and smart sensors – into their transportation network.”
At SXSW, DOT announced the finalists: Portland, Oregon; Kansas City, Kansas; Columbus, Ohio; San Francisco, California; Denver, Colorado; Austin, Texas; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. DOT will work with these cities to refine their plans before announcing a winner.
Mark Dowd, senior advisor at DOT, said the “car has caused disconnection in communities; but technology can reconnect communities. We can’t build our way out of our current problems. We are leaning hard on the technology piece.”
Dowd said big cities have the resources to start their own high-tech, integrated transportation programs, but “urbanization only increases pressure on mid-sized cities that can’t build their way out of the problem or attract the tech talent they need,” so they can only benefit from the involvement of the DOT.
DOT was surprised by the incredible demand for these funds. Some 78 cities sent in applications. “There is a hunger for a new way of doing things.” But $50 million only meets a slim share of that demand.
The question for Kantor is “who is going to pay for new infrastructure?, ” smart or otherwise. The only way forward may be an increase in the gas tax, which is seen as a third-rail in American politics. But perhaps a tax gas increase could happen if it’s tied to local fixes that benefit commuters and result in a measurable reduction in fatalities. “Over 36,000 people every year die on the roads, and their deaths are preventable.”
There are expected to be 20 million unmanned aerial vehicles or drones in the U.S. by 2020, according to Lisa Ellman, who ran drone policy under the Obama administration. At SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, Ellman painted a rosy portrait of a future filled with drones carrying out useful tasks like delivering packages, conducting routine crop dusting on agricultural fields, inspecting oil and gas pipelines, taking aerial photography, and even monitoring endangered wildlife. Meanwhile, the reality is many states and municipalities have restricted or outright banned these flying robots from going anywhere near people due to real safety and privacy concerns. A man in Kentucky recently shot down a drone hovering over his home, claiming the air space above his home was his property. This incident and others raise questions about how to regulate our air space for drones.
Ellman said the domestic market for drones would likely reach $13 billion by 2018 and $110 billion by 2025. But even with these huge projections, the U.S. may be falling behind other countries. “In Japan, for example, already 85 percent of crop dusting is done by drones.”
The U.S. is falling behind because Americans still have major concerns. Two examples of this can be seen in popular culture — In Modern Family, there is a hilarious moment when everyone tries to take down a drone hovering over the family yard, and in South Park, drones are put to particularly egregious use.
These satires of the dangers of these vehicles aren’t far off from Americans’ perceptions. Some 59 percent of Americans have concerns about privacy with drones, while 40 percent think they present a safety issue. To address these fears, Ellman thinks drone manufacturers need to do a “hearts and minds campaign — given they have a real PR problem” despite new regulations.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently released proposed rules for the hobby and commercial use of drones. Hobbyists must register their drones, which must be less than 55 pounds and fly less than 100 miles per hour. They can’t go higher than 500 feet and must be flown away from people and cities. “Drone operators must maintain a constant view of the drone at all times.” Furthermore, drone operators can’t fly within 5 miles of an airport.
Commercial operators must apply for a license. So far, there have been about 10,000 applications for licenses, with 4,000 granted. “Most of the early licenses went to Hollywood film producers.” Others have been granted to urban planning, landscape architecture, and other design firms to do aerial studies. Ellman called this approach a “band-aid before a final rule is released.”
Ellman said proposed rules severely limit the potential of drones, because they “need to be able to fly over congested areas and not be in visual sight lines” if we want them to “inspect oil and gas pipelines” or monitor the health of a forest.
She thinks one way to address these safety concerns is a new technology called geo-fencing, which enable operators and owners to pre-set GPS parameters that prevent drones from entering sensitive areas. Another set of new technologies could enable drones to better communicate with other flying vehicles and planes to avoid collisions.
But Ellman admitted getting over the safety concerns — a drone crashing into an airplane or a person — will be hard work. “There have been near misses with drones and aircraft caused by some irresponsible pilots.” For her, the answer is another “public campaign,” and “some enforcement to make examples of these bad actors.”
And privacy remains an issue. “Our homes are our castles and we need to have control over our personal life. There is a fear that drones could spy on us in our backyards.” And so a “privacy campaign is needed,” more than new laws and ordinances. Existing privacy laws already cover the action of any potential “creep,” and additional laws banning drones are really just “playing into people’s fears.” However, many states and cities disagree with her: “In 2015, there were 168 pieces of drone legislation. And in 2016, 33 states considered new rules, while 22 cities passed ordinances.”
Drones raise questions about airspace ownership as well. Our property rights extend above our home, but “only to a certain point.” Under American law, “we own the air rights above our property up to 83 feet, but not past 400 feet. What about the space in between?” The drone shot down by that man in Kentucky was flying 200 feet over his property. “Is that private or public air space? It’s a fascinating question.”
Ellman’s focus was entirely on the interaction of drones with people — what was missing from her analysis was drones’ potential impact on nature. How will drones impact wildlife, like migrating birds? Already, the police in Amsterdam, Netherlands, have trained eagles to take down illegal drones. While an eagle may likely be able to beat any good-sized drone, can other birds defend themselves? The noise from swarms of drones, which Amazon would like to see corralled into airborne highways, could also negatively impact all sorts of wildlife. More research is needed before millions of these are unleashed on our remaining natural world.
Some designers and engineers want to bring high-speed Wi-Fi to as many public parks and plazas as possible. But instead of expanding the style of the unobtrusive yet freely-available Wi-Fi found in New York City’s Bryant Park, they want to make a statement with advertisement-laden towers that appear to be about 15-feet tall and could be used to charge your phone or access useful neighborhood information via a high-tech interface, a sort of modern-day bulletin board. Their thinking is these towers will act as beacons to attract visitors, who can interact with them 24-7. In a session at SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, Randy Ramusack, founder of LQD Wifi, Daniel Holtzman with frog, and Francesca Birks with Arup discussed this possible vision of “smarter public spaces” created through LQD’s Palo.
Computing has rapidly evolved over the past few decades. Mainframes found in big data centers have morphed into hand-held mobile devices supported by cloud-based data services. “But the cloud is not helping communities,” asserted Ramusack. “More neighborhood information is needed to boost community interaction.”
He explained that when he picks up one of those free neighborhood newspapers to find out what’s going on in the part of New York City he lives in, he goes to more local events. So what if a glowing tower in the park showed you ads about those events, or even pushed you notifications as you walked by?
And LQD Palo could also address more basic equity issues. Vast number of people in cities still don’t have Internet access at home. In New York City, about a third of the population does without. What if these people could go to this interactive kiosk to do basic job searches? This is what Ramusack envisions for the future.
The interaction with these smart towers will also need to be two-way, said Holtzman, with frog, which designed the Palo. He thinks the high-speed connectivity these towers offer can only “further enhance the social activities that already happen in public spaces.” But others may say that it will only drive people to spend more time on their devices, sitting alone yet together, which is now a sad but common sight in so many public spaces.
Holtzman said these interactive kiosks need to be urban and contemporary but also customizable so they fit the feel of a city and perhaps the public park or plaza they inhabit. He even sees them doing well on streets or in malls and college campuses. Advertisements would be needed to finance the systems, which can’t be cheap. According to Ramusack, “targeted advertisements are viewed as less annoying, so Palo needs to display ads relevant to the places they are in.”
There are also security and privacy issues that will have to be addressed. Today, Wi-Fi hotspots are dangerous zones for transferring personal data. But Ramusack was optimistic these issues can be fixed and thinks implementing these high-profile devices would be a huge win for any city’s mayor. “Tech can make you look good. Wi-Fi gets you re-elected.” Old pay phones are already becoming Wi-Fi hubs, at least in New York City. Link NYC will replace 7,500 pay phone booth with free Wi-Fi stations, local phone calls, and phone charging.
Palo may be better suited for the streets than the middle of Central Park. Who wants to see large flashing ads in the middle of their peaceful respite from the city? Likely no one. But they could be a draw if well-incorporated into plazas and put near existing park facilities, like perhaps the bathrooms.
Daniel Tal, ASLA, is a registered landscape architect with over 17 years of experience and a 3D modeling and visualization expert. He has authored two books: SketchUp for Site Design and Rendering in SketchUp. Tal runs a 3D modeling, visualization, and BIM studio for Stanley Consultants, a 1,000 person multi-disciplinary engineering firm and is the tech-editor at large for Landscape Architecture Magazine.
A few decades ago landscape architects weren’t working with complex software. Now that many software choices are available to landscape architects, how do these new technologies change what landscape architects do? What functions are now solely done through technology?
It has completely changed the way the profession functions. The expectation now is anyone out of school has to have some level of proficiency with AutoCAD, Photoshop and SketchUp, at a minimum. Knowing Rhino, 3Ds Max, GIS, and others is expected by some firms. It has become necessary to have some understanding of 3D modeling. This is even true for the landscape design industry.
Also, the workflow has changed. The nature of deadlines has changed because we’re so dependent now on technology. The ability for us to assess design and create revisions to design is remarkable. And among clients, expectations for how much we can change and incorporate have increased, whether it’s from a client overseas or a municipality in the United States.
And, of course, there’s the push for BIM, whatever that really means. I would encourage people to read the recent Building Information Modeling (BIM) for Dummies, which clearly explains the challenges landscape architects face in implementing BIM.
Are clients driving the use of these new technologies or landscape architects? Where is the demand for these new technologies coming from?
As consultants, our approach is client driven. The owners of offices recognize the benefit of being more competitive by having specialties in different software. And the expectation is landscape architects have to do it in a shorter amount of time.
Since the Great Recession, project budgets have gotten tighter and more competitive. Every edge matters. Keeping current matters. This means landscape architects will need to explore new technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones), 3D printing and fabrication, in-house programming. Soon enough, clients will expect these skills.
How do new technologies support the development of sustainable landscapes? Do they ease the process of design and implementation?
In some cases they do. Environmental assessment or modeling companies are starting to consult with urban design companies, landscape architects, architects, or they have an energy modeler in-house.
Something like Revit and other BIM applications help an energy modeler understand the levels of impact a building or structure might have on a landscape. And we’re seeing and pushing new technologies which measure flows and water for sustainability.
You’ve authored a few books on SketchUp. What do you see as the principal benefits and drawbacks of SketchUp?
SketchUp has become a somewhat standard tool for many offices. It’s expected as part of most professionals toolkits. I know of firms who test SketchUp skills during interviews. It’s proven to allow for quick site modeling and renders. This technology enables the ability to spread the work load among production staff like other typical software like AutoCAD and Adobe products. As a design and assessment tool, it’s invaluable. It’s also pretty easy to learn and fast so it’s well suited for typical landscape architecture firm budgets.
But I also fear SketchUp is falling behind. Don’t get me wrong, it enjoys widespread adoption in the landscape architecture industry and others and it will be around for years to come. But there is a need to incorporate more powerful tools that are becoming standard in other 3D modeling applications, like the ability to import LiDar and laser scans, automated modeling, and the inclusion of GIS and similar data. For example, there is UNDET, which allows for the import of LiDar data into SketchUp. What an amazing tool! But the price is prohibitive at $3,000 vs. something like AutoDESK Recap 360, which is free.
SketchUp’s development philosophy is to let the user and developer community create these tools. This has been great, as there are many amazing SketchUp Extensions, but also challenging, as more robust tools should require the SketchUp teams direct development. We’ll see what happens. For right now SketchUp is here to stay, but my hope is we see the genuine inclusion of new, powerful tools.
SketchUp and other technologies enabled you to design at large scale. What is the relationship between these new technologies and various design philosophies? Are technologists drawn to certain design and urban planning philosophies?
That’s a very good question because there’s been a dialogue that perhaps we’re too quick to go create something visually in 3-D, or in some other program, without actually going in and assessing the design aspect or the real-world impact.
There is a bit of a lag because the excitement has been that “we can convey anything,” but at the same time, we need to make sure what we’re conveying is responsible and correct for community and resource management.
More important, 3D modeling has opened the door for more accurate and powerful simulations and site analysis without having to be at the location. This is an aspect of BIM used often for buildings, structures, and power plants. But now we are now able to simulate traffic patterns for complete streets and pedestrian movement, weather, fluid dynamics, and plant growth.
Furthermore, as more powerful computers become available, and the smart algorithms that come with artificial intelligence and drones become prevalent, we will see another shift in how we work with the landscape. It will inspire new ways to think and design.
Open source software is getting better at meeting the needs of design professionals. Can you discuss some of the pros and cons with these?
One example is Unreal Engine, which is free even for commercial use. It is a gaming engine now available for landscape architects and others to use for their work. As important, it works with the Oculus Rift VR glasses. Really powerful stuff but it does have a learning curve. Many tutorials are available online.
Having free, open source software is important, obviously. For me, there’s the spirit of just having something available that’s free for everyone. We’re finding people go out and explore these things by themselves. They don’t have to have a budget of several thousand dollars to buy software. They’re picking up new skills to better represent their ideas. And we’re actually seeing that more and more. Within our office, there are different people trying out different software, coming to the table in a forum and saying, “This is what I got, and by the way, it’s free, and this is how you use it.”
What are some basic practical steps every landscape architect can take to better incorporate technology into their design and implementation process?
People need to make sure they’re familiar with what’s out there, and at least have a basic understanding of how they’re affecting the profession and who is using them. Hiring IT experts familiar with the landscape architecture, architecture, and engineering fields can help. For example, John Hanson in Denver, Colorado, does IT for several firms. He consults and builds high powered but affordable computer systems, using VR and experiments with 3D printing. Similarly, some students coming out of school can offer guidance.
There is so much new technology it’s hard to keep up with. It used to be that you just had to know your lessons about how things come together in construction and how people design. Every office now needs somebody that’s technologically savvy and knows how computers and hardware work, what programs are out there, and even how to program custom code for existing programs. It’s about making sure you’ve got the edge.
What do these programs mean for hand drawing skills?
I did a survey with Rodney Benton, a student from Auburn University, in 2014 that found hand-drawing skills are very much alive and in use, with 70 percent of firms saying it was still part of their practice and something they looked for from perspective employees. Similar findings have come out of industry surveys.
Knowing how to design, create specifications, administer construction, and manage projects are still the keys to success. 3D is just another tool in the bucket of landscape architects.
“Someone once asked the nature photographer Ansel Adams, ‘why are there no people in your photographs?’,” said Susan Piedmont-Palladino, curator at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., at the opening of Luminous Landscapes, a new exhibition featuring the landscape photography of Alan Ward, FASLA, a principal at Sasaki Associates. “Adams replied that there are always two people in his photographs — the photographer and the viewer.” Piedmont-Palladino added that in Ward’s photography of landscape architecture, there is always a third unseen person: the landscape architect. The exhibition covers landscape works from before 1900, “before the profession of landscape architecture,” then the period from 1900 to World War II, and, lastly, post-war modern and contemporary landscapes.
Ward said photography is his second career, but his decades-long immersion in this art form is symbiotic with his day-job, which is planning and design. His first photograph, taken back in 1978 with 30 pounds of equipment, including an unwieldy tripod, was of Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts (see image above). The cemetery, which features prominently in the first part of the exhibition, opened in 1831, so it even predates Frederick Law Olmsted’s Central Park. It was one of the first picturesque Romantic landscapes in America, and Ward’s photograph similarly evokes that style’s wild feel.
The exhibition features Ward’s black and white photography, which he seems to prefer to color. As he explained, “color photography can just have too much information. Black and white helps simplify and also abstract the forms in the landscape designs.” Ward mostly takes his black and white photos in the early morning or late afternoon in order to capture the “very soft light and not over-expose.” He looks for ways to “put all the information together into a coherent image” and create a story of a landscape defined by both stark contrasts and subtle shifts of tone. Capturing all these complex layers, Ward says, is made possible through black and white, which is best at isolating the effect of light on the landscape.
Color photography, Ward added, is “often treated at face value, like reality.” But all photography, color or black and white, is highly manipulated to achieve correct tones and sought-after representations. All of photography plays with the idea of what is real. “Photography is not quite a lie, but not quite the truth. There is a lot of abstraction.”
Leaving the heavy camera behind in favor of a Canon Mach 2, Ward today contemplates the challenges of digital photography. The old camera forced photographers to be very deliberate in setting up shots, but now with a digital camera, “most take dozens of photographs and figure one will come out well,” he laughed. “Digital photography may diminish your looking and framing.” It’s important, Ward said, to continue to apply “rigorous seeing and visualization” when using a digital camera.
As we wander over to the last room filled with the modern and contemporary landscapes, we reach the photographs that made Ward so well-known among landscape architects — his shots of Dan Kiley’s Miller Garden in Columbus, Indiana. Because the garden wasn’t open to the public then, most designers only got to experience the site through Ward’s photographs. Seeing Ward’s consideration of the garden for the first time, I began to understand why so many contemporary landscape architects find the landscape so appealing. Kiley took traditional French garden forms, like allees of trees and rectilinear arrangement of hedges, and made them modern. But it’s Ward’s photographs of them, with his Modernist framing, that further “amplifies the design.”
Ward riffed on why photography can amplify the design in some landscapes and not others. He argued that Olmsted’s picturesque Central Park is so hard to shoot because the curved paths and vast meadows recede away from you, proving too elusive for the photographer to capture. The totality of the experience is somehow beyond representation. But modern landscape’s bold shapes and orthogonal forms seem to be only heightened by the framing of the photographer. “The bold use of geometry lends itself to powerful images.” Ward said that taking those photographs helped him understand what Kiley set out to achieve, and that understanding greatly influenced his own designs.
Piedmont-Palladino added later that one can see a great difference between architecture that predates photography and architecture from the era of photography, perhaps speaking to the influential role of photography in shaping our expectations of the built environment. Ward, who started out as an architecture student and first took photographs of buildings, said still to this day, the ideal architectural photograph shows sharp light cutting across a building facade — quite different from his “soft light” used to capture landscapes. Those shards of light are now often found in actual building designs; just look at Daniel Libeskind’s work.
One question the exhibition brought up: What is the role of fine black and white photography today? It can now be considered an ancient art form when compared with today’s iPhone and Instagram-generated ephemera. Piedmont-Palladino discussed the ubiquity of Apple’s new advertisements lauding the photographs taken with its latest iPhone, which make anonymous and interchangeable the person who actually made the image. She questioned whether the technology — the phone camera — mattered as much as the photographer, “the person with the great eye,” who makes the photograph possible. In the era of instant, throw-away photography, what happens to the appreciation of what Ward achieves?
And if black and white or even color photography doesn’t quite tell the truth, does another representational art form get us closer to the experience of a landscape? What about video, used more and more to convey both idealized and real landscapes? In the future, will we go to exhibitions of landscape video art, which can better capture landscape change and sound and may have new resonance in our multimedia world? Or will we continue to delve further into abstraction, with online collections of landscape Instagram or Vine works, just as there are now collections featuring animated GIFs from the 1990s?
The most reasonable conclusion may be that all media are “not quite the truth.” And, as Piedmont-Palladino said, “perhaps the truth isn’t what we are after.”
As we look forward to covering new stories on the built and natural environments this year, here’s a look back at the 10 most popular Dirt posts of 2015. The results of ASLA’s online survey, which asked landscape architects about their use of smartphone apps, were enduringly popular. On the technology front, readers also sought out an op-ed from Jordan Petersen, ASLA, on what drones will mean for planners and designers. (Speaking of which, The Dirt is always looking for original op-eds, particularly from member landscape architects, designers, and planners. If interested, please send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Also worth highlighting: The Dirt‘s readers were very interested in the latest research on the health benefits of landscape architecture. We’ll post more on this exciting field of discovery in the coming year.
1) DesignIntelligence 2015 Landscape Architecture Program Rankings Once again, Louisiana State University came in at the top of undergraduate landscape architecture programs. And for the 11th year, Harvard University came in as the best graduate program in the annual survey conducted by DesignIntelligence on behalf of the Design Futures Council.
3) What Dose of Nature Do We Need to Feel Better? There has been a boom in studies demonstrating the health benefits of spending time in nature, or even just looking at nature. But a group of ambitious landscape architects and psychologists are actually trying to determine how to prescribe a “nature pill.”
6) A New Map of the World’s Ecosystems
A new, free, web-based tool from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and ESRI allows us to gain a better understanding of the ecological character of any place in the world.
7) Do Urban Growth Boundaries Work?
Urban growth boundaries are held up as one of the most effective tools for limiting sprawl. But do they actually constrain unplanned development?
8) Drones Will Elevate Urban Design
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently released long-awaited guidelines for commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) or drones.
10) A Rare Look at the New U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters
This $646-million project is just the first in a series that will transform a mid-19th-century mental asylum, founded by social reformer Dorothea Dix, into the new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, of which the Coast Guard is a major piece.
World leaders have begun to get serious about fighting climate change, but we still face the incredible risk of a rising sea in this century and far into the future. According to Climate Central, a research organization, a 4-degree Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) global temperature increase, which is our current path, could result in sea level rise that would submerge land where 470 – 760 million people now live. If the world’s governments actually meet the declared goal of the UN climate summit in Paris and reduce and draw down carbon emissions, keeping the world to a 2 Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature increase, 130 million would need to evacuate over coming decades. To understand how serious this could be, here’s some perspective: 4 million Syrians have fled their homeland since their civil war began in 2011, with 380,000 making their way to Europe this year. Imagine millions more on the move each year, all over the world, and the political, social, and environmental effects of this migration.
In a new report, Climate Central finds that Asia, with large populations on coasts, will be hardest hit. “China, the world’s leading carbon emitter, leads the world, too, in coastal risk, with 145 million people living on land ultimately threatened by rising seas if emission levels are not reduced. China has the most to gain from limiting warming to 2°C, which would cut the total to 64 million. Twelve other nations each have more than 10 million people living on land at risk, led by India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Japan.” And the U.S. could experience huge impacts, too, with land for 25 million underwater. Major parts of coastal cities like New York City, Boston, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco; river cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C.; and smaller coastal and river communities could be submerged.
The Surging Seas Risk Zone Map, their latest interactive map, shows in startling detail what that flooding could look like, foot by foot, with a 2 degree Celsius increase. The map, which was relaunched last November to extend the coverage from the U.S. to the whole world, is designed to help policymakers and planners better plan coastal resilience efforts.
Plugging in New York City brought up a map showing the relative impact of inundation, ranging from 1 to 10 feet. As one moves up the scale in sea level rise, parts of lower Manhattan are submerged, and LaGuardia airport in Queens is totally underwater (see map above). A rising East River would flood highly populated parts of Brooklyn as well, and New Jersey would become a patchwork of islands.
In Los Angeles, almost all of the coastal communities, including ecological preserves, are completely submerged.
Looking at Washington, D.C., one could see the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers expanding beyond their banks, putting much of the Tidal Basin, East Potomac Park, the Navy Yard, and parts of the National Mall underwater. Reagan National Airport could also need to close some runways.
And an even scarier map shows side-by-side comparisons for any mapped point, with both a 2 degree Celsius and 4 degree rise.
Sea level rise will be incremental and long-term. They write: “carbon emissions this century can lock in these projected threats, but the associated sea level rise is expected to play out over a longer period, likely centuries.” To date, the seas have risen approximately 8 inches.
The data in the map is based on research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. According to Climate Central, these are just median projections — meaning real sea level rise could equally be higher or lower.
Hollywood studio backlots in southern California have been used to build whole worlds for the big screen for decades. While technologies have changed over time, the principles set designers use to create movie magic seems to be largely the same. Chip Sullivan, ASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, author, and self-professed wanna-be film director, revealed how they do it and what landscape architects can learn from their approach at the ASLA 2015 Annual Meeting in Chicago. Why learn from Hollywood? Because they are “creating the landscapes we all want to be in.”
Classic Hollywood set designs have created:
An Illusion of Depth
Movie set designers have long used visual tricks to create an “illusion of depth.” In the beginning of the 20th century, George Melies, one of the first “screen magicians,” would create matte background paintings on glass. And in the following decades, background paintings were continued to be used to create fake scenery. The first 10 feet was reserved for actors and objects, whereas the rest was just painting. The way you can tell, said Sullivan, is that the camera angle would shift every 2 seconds. This is because at “3 seconds, we can detect a fake.” Still, these elaborate set paintings received the “same amount of effort as Renaissance paintings.”
For popular mid-century films set on the South Seas, designers even transformed a Southern Californian backlot into an oceanic scene. To achieve this effect, they would dam a creek and use huge mirrors to create an infinite landscape.
Set designers also created “hammerhead streetscapes” that looked full-scale but weren’t. “The bottom floors were 20 percent shorter and the top floors 30 percent shorter.” And in How Green Was My Valley, designers actually built smaller buildings in the background, using smaller people, too (see image above). Depth was created this way to save money.
A Multiplicity of Views
Designers devised a “multiplicity of views” in amazingly small sets, adding to the depth and richness. For the 1937 film Dead End, a “socially-realist film set in the slums of an urban waterfront,”a miniature city was created through the smart layering of space. While the movie was supposed to show the dangers of slum life, Sullivan said it only clear “how much fun it was to be a dead-end kid.”
The designers of the classic science-fiction noir Blade Runner also used layering to create a sense of a complete dystopian world set 500 years in the future. “The claustrophobic effect of tightness was created by layering modern elements over the past.”
A Sense of Mystery
Movie sets’ urban and small town streetscapes almost never have right angles. Instead, dynamic angles are employed to create a “sense of mystery, a pinwheel effect.” View of town squares are a bit off center, which is a “human way to know scale.”
Dynamic angles also mean that film makers can create dramatic moments of “hide and reveal.” When there are dynamic angles, you see places in film that you can’t go, which spurs interest. Sullivan said great Japanese garden designers are masters of creating this effect.
A Sense of Drama
Portals create drama. “An arch dramatizes transition from one space to another.”
Moving from prospects to refuge also creates drama. As humans, we are innately attracted to vistas that give us a broad view but we also seek places safe from predators. Sullivan pointed to the “edge of the forest” as not only an important design element but a place of drama. “Back to Shakespeare, the truth was always revealed in the forest.”
A Feeling of Community
“We have a deep-seated need for community.” This need is met in film through the use of small-town public squares. Sullivan pointed to the role of the town square in Back to the Future. It’s central — “it pulls the whole film together.” Sullivan argued this town square is “archetypal and reflective of how we want to live.”
Other films use a “mosaic of facades to create a rich, connected urban fabric.” Copying New York City, film designers mix facades to create a rich visual feast. “They create a lively urban fabric that’s full of people and exciting scenarios.” An example of this is the always-fascinating, urban interior courtyard Hitchcock created for Rear Window. Great movies “recreate the spaces where we want to be. That’s why we go see the movies.”
Sullivan said Harry Potter World, a realization of a movie landscape, “puts drama everywhere, creates illusion and hide-and-seek moments, and features a mosaic of facades that have larger foregrounds.”
In the end, both great films and landscapes have a “strong story line.” To be successful, “films and landscapes need a strong narrative.”
British writer and philosopher John Thackara, author of How to Thrive in the Next Economy, believes changes in the global society and economy now allow people to address environmental problems at a “bio-regional” scale. At the ASLA 2015 Annual Meeting in Chicago, he described the growth of bio-regional models that use social networks to create new forms of economic gain with significant environmental benefits. This transition to a bio-regional approach is already happening in a few sectors:
The local food movement is creating a shift of economic resources that has beneficial environmental impacts. To scale this local approach up the regional level, countries should take a “food commons approach.”
In a food commons, food distribution and retail are owned by a trust and governed by local stakeholders who manage the commons. This approach better connects local resources, so communities are able “to do things locally currently not done locally.”
Thackara looks to Denmark, where the Danish Food Cluster, founded in 2013, has facilitated regional collaboration between food companies in central Denmark. He argued that in this system, “improving the connections of an economic network is at the heart of its environmental impact.”
In order to better connect cities to their resource-rich countrysides, we need to reconsider how we get around, Thackara said. In Vienna, Austria, the idea of collaborative regional mobility has led to the Cargo Bike Collaborative, a donation-based bike sharing service that allows people to transport goods in a low-cost, sustainable way.
The idea of mobility as a fee-based service also has promise. While sharing mobility through services like Uber and Lyft is currently being “told in the language of hipsters in London, New York City, and Washington D.C. with not much attention to the environmental story,” Thackara said, the concept could be re-purposed at a regional scale in order to make transportation more sustainable. “Pay-per-use” frameworks could allow regions to save money on infrastructure in the long run. He said: “one calls upon all of these bits on infrastructure so you don’t necessarily need a car or as many roads at the bio-regional scale.”
A regional example: The Greenhorns, a non-profit organization run by young farmers, sailed a schooner filled with 11 tons of crops from Maine to Boston in August 2015.
Lastly, Thackara said we need to combine expanded regional networks with “an absolute militant search for answers.” This requires building a global knowledge network all people can access. Prototypes and maps mean nothing if people around the world cannot learn from them. “We need to build a story that gives meaning and purpose to young people. It must be more than a story that is just something we tell to each other around a campfire, but grounds for action.”
How can you get people to appreciate the invisible features of their hometown? A team led by SCAPE/Landscape Architecture and MTWTF is currently conducting a unique multi-media design experiment that aims to find out by focusing on an often-forgotten but significant culvert in Lexington, Kentucky. The Town Branch Water Walk, created for the Lexington Downtown Development Authority (DDA), is a podcast-guided one-hour walking tour of downtown Lexington’s Town Branch Creek, a long-buried hidden waterway. To further enlighten users of the podcast tours, SCAPE created a set of topographical tables that show what they will explore.
The water walk, which can be completed in under an hour, is intended to transform the way Lexingtonians interpret their everyday landscape by revealing what exists underground: karst geology and hydrology. For those who may not know, karst is formed from the “dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum” and takes shape as underground drainage systems, with caves and sinkholes.
Lexington was founded on the Town Branch – a karst stream — but over time this landscape has been covered over and “put out of sight, out of mind.” The tour follows the creek downstream from its headwaters on a busy highway to where it daylights in a parking lot behind the University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena.
“The Water Walk creates links between the urban areas Lexingtonians inhabit and the rural Bluegrass region that shapes the identity of the city and region. Karst is Lexington’s hidden secret – the water that flows through this limestone bedrock is rumored to make the bluegrass grow taller, the horses’ bones grow stronger, and the bourbon taste better,” said Gena Wirth, ASLA, a principal at SCAPE.
The set of 3-minute long podcasts are modeled off of Safari 7, a self-guided tour of urban wildlife on New York City’s 7 subway. The podcasts include interviews with local experts on topics ranging from “Lexington’s green infrastructure projects to the complicated nature of Kentucky’s karst-defined hydrology.”
The free podcast and walking tour model was chosen because it can reach multiple audiences who might not typically seek out information on water quality or stormwater management. The team is also working with local schools to integrate the podcasts into the middle school science and social studies curricula.
SCAPE thinks more landscape architects should go multi-media when trying to communicate with the public. “We firmly believe in the power of systemic vision, but we also believe that visions need to be accompanied by face-to-face communication and design (or podcast-to-ear!).”
Wirth thinks these approaches can create new connections with the environment: “On the ground experience is invaluable – getting out into a new environment, occupying a familiar space in an unfamiliar space, or hearing a podcast describe the trickling stream below your feet transforms the way you experience a place and understand its potential. Landscape architects work to reveal and enhance environmental systems within urban areas, and the podcast walking tour is another way to combat inertia and catalyze appreciation and change. As designers, we need to expand our toolkit and explore more diverse techniques for speaking directly to people about the quality and potential of their built environment.”
So far, the Lexington DDA has hosted one of three Water Walk events. Vine Street was open to pedestrian and bike traffic to allow people to take the walk. A new Water Walk website was recently launched, and listening stations are becoming available for public use at destinations downtown.