Did you know that the United Nations designated 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming? The honored agricultural activities operated by family members cover an array of production types: agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral, and aquaculture. Unsurprisingly, water is the key element to support these farming activities. California is now experiencing the third worst drought… Read more »
America’s reliance on coal energy is decreasing as the Environmental Protection Agency sets stricter pollution standards. Currently, the EPA’s goal is to cut thirty percent of national carbon emissions by 2030. This projected standard, along with the rise of alternative energies, will mark a clear shift in America’s energy consumption. The US Energy Information Administration… Read more »
America’s reliance on coal energy is decreasing as the Environmental Protection Agency sets stricter pollution standards. Currently, the EPA’s goal is to cut thirty percent of national carbon emissions by 2030. This projected standard, along with the rise of alternative energies, will mark a clear shift in America’s energy consumption.
The US Energy Information Administration found that 97 fewer megawatts of energy were produced by coal-fired generators from 2010 to 2012. Closures are expected to increase as natural gas becomes more affordable. These retired stations pose significant health, safety, and welfare concerns for their surrounding communities. Issues range from long-term water quality to the safety associated with large, unsupervised condemned sites.
Coal-fired power plant sites often occupy valuable real estate, including large swaths of undeveloped land along naturalistic waterways. Programming these sites as future amenities for their surrounding communities would ensure proper disposal of contaminates long after the stations are retired.
Many alternatives can be considered with these brownfield sites. Bioremediation efforts can repurpose retired plants into large parks with varying programs. The land can also be transformed by creating greenways that link surrounding communities, promoting connectivity. Retired sites have a rich history embedded in our nation’s industrialized culture and could potentially serve as educational opportunities for future generations.
The Potomac River Green project offers one innovative idea for redeveloping a retired coal-fired power plant site. Rezoning for the Potomac Power Plant in Alexandria, Virginia, is scheduled to take place by 2015. From the project’s web site:
“This mixed-use redevelopment concept for the site of the Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS) is designed to provide a catalyst for a market-based solution to the plant’s retirement. The concept features extraordinary river access and open space amenities; includes hundreds of new riverfront housing units; greatly improves community connectivity to the city’s Old Town community; and, at the heart of the site, creates a world-class new energy center for the Washington region.”
In 2012 I had the opportunity to design a retired coal-fired power plant site as a part of an academic exercise. The project was primarily concerned with the urban form created on the site, and required retaining the power station’s physical characteristics. The rehabilitation of the brownfield examined the potential for developing a mixed-use commuter community along a railroad corridor; the one-hundred-ten-acre site served as a landmark along a naturalistic waterfront. The proposal gave the local community multiple civic and commercial amenities. Historic mixed-use development was designed to serve as a destination for various recreational activities. The proposed program also allowed for the power station to provide a suburban commuter transportation hub for the greater city.
Pursuing such plans for these retired power plants will render our communities safer and cleaner places to reside. Experimenting with solutions and possibilities for these future brownfield sites should begin today, in order to start fine-tuning our practice for the increasing number of retirees.
For more information on Potomac River Green, visit: http://www.potomacrivergreen.org/
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Honestly, part of the reason I volunteered to help the Institute of Outdoor Theatre develop a guide for aspiring outdoor performance organizations was filial duty—my Dad works there, and he needed a landscape architect’s contribution. The other was that we use amphitheaters as a ubiquitous public space typology—with the implied ‘if you build it, they… Read more »
Honestly, part of the reason I volunteered to help the Institute of Outdoor Theatre develop a guide for aspiring outdoor performance organizations was filial duty—my Dad works there, and he needed a landscape architect’s contribution. The other was that we use amphitheaters as a ubiquitous public space typology—with the implied ‘if you build it, they will come’ strategy. Whenever I see these spaces, often outside of event times, I can’t help but wonder how to make them more functional and exciting.
My mentors were a sagacious and hilarious group of outdoor theater veterans who taught me that their art is struggling in a competitive entertainment industry. We have seen how Netflix is crippling movie theaters; consider the patron experience for outdoor performance. I live in San Francisco, a cool, largely bug- and rain-free paradise. By contrast, I went to high school in Louisville, Kentucky, where outdoor performances have two excellent seasons: spring and fall. To entice a family out of their cozy AC-refreshed (hopefully bug-free) family room, outdoor performances have to provide a better experience. We too readily assume that the facilities we design will be well used. We need to take into consideration audience comfort and facility flexibility, and work with facility programmers to make successful venues.
Many facilities are hamstrung by the seasons; rain can further reduce the number of performance nights, challenging the bottom line for many organizations. As a landscape architect, I get distressed by one of the potential conclusions—to build typical theaters. Picnicking under the trees at “Midsummer’s Night Dream” or listening to bluegrass out in a field are rich experiences that are diminished indoors. By providing a simple shed, either to protect the stage or cover part of the audience, the facility can dramatically increase play nights. The Globe took this into account for the good seats during Shakespeare’s era, but so have some excellent contemporary theaters, such as the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston or Louisville’s Iroquois Amphitheater.
Many historical dramas are one-show venues. Predictably, over time their attendance drops. Some organizations incorporate other shows to provide variety; other groups, notably Shakespearean troupes, have succeeded through providing a range of shows within a genre. From a landscape architecture perspective, we should push for facilities to be multifunctional, especially for venues set in public spaces. The more specialized a facility is, the more challenging it will be to accommodate alternative uses. Determining the array of activities and types of shows a space can support is just as important as the specific production that starts the design conversation.
One approach is to simply provide enabling space. If an event needs risers, then risers can be brought in. Elaborate constructed amphitheaters target a fairly specific use—and are usually only justifiable if there is an active cultural programmer. The upside to this method is the low front-end investment and a blank slate. The downside is that many of the necessary amenities for performance will require temporary installation—increasing event costs and complexity. An especially innovative example of this approach is the Ark Nova inflatable theater designed by Anish Kapoor and Arata Isozaki.
Outdoor performance productions that provide a unique and valuable experience will be successful, and the venue can be a contributing part of that experience. In some locations, such as the Minack Theatre in Cornwall, England, or the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, the setting alone creates a special experience; the former is built atop a granite outcrop over the Atlantic, and the second uses the Boise River Valley as a backdrop. The venue can also add to the experience through a careful separation from reality: Entering the theater can be compared with entering the story, such as at the Lost Colony in North Carolina, where visitors are led through a series of historic landscape features and a native woodland before reaching the staging area. Sight lines, circulation sequence, and materiality can each contribute to the full experience of the event. Using this approach, we create the place to support the experience, show the story of the landscape, and ultimately contribute to the deepening of local community culture. People have been gathering in open spaces to tell stories for as long as we have had language, and people have also been designing outdoor spaces to support stories for almost as long. We can build on those lessons in our careers to address the challenges and opportunities of today.
For a copy of the guide Outdoor Theatre Facilities, visit http://www.outdoor-theatre.org/publications/.
Photograph of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre courtesy of David Jensen.
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Drought combined with erratic patterns of excessive rain—this seems to be the new normal for North American cities. 2012 was the worst drought on the continent in 50 years. Higher-intensity hurricanes and rainfall—like we saw with Hurricane Sandy—are increasing flooding, costing the US over $2 billion annually and putting increased pressure on our already stressed… Read more »
Drought combined with erratic patterns of excessive rain—this seems to be the new normal for North American cities. 2012 was the worst drought on the continent in 50 years. Higher-intensity hurricanes and rainfall—like we saw with Hurricane Sandy—are increasing flooding, costing the US over $2 billion annually and putting increased pressure on our already stressed infrastructure. In addition to wreaking havoc to the landscape, these extreme weather cycles have dire impacts on the safety and health of residents. One of the ways these impacts can be managed is with a relatively simple and low-tech strategy—the urban forest.
Edmonton, Canada, has been in drought for more than 12 years and the city has lost more than 30,000 trees during this time—that’s over 4,000 each year. But Edmonton is not alone in its struggle. Most cities in the United States and Canada are seeing a range of moderately to severely abnormal dryness. Yes, tree loss is unsightly. But beyond their aesthetic value, trees improve air quality. They reduce extreme heat. And trees reduce storm water runoff as well as the property-damaging erosion it causes. These qualities disappear along with the trees.
In 2006, the city of Edmonton opted to preempt public health and safety risks posed by these changing climate patterns with an ambitious Urban Forest Management Plan that both replenishes lost tree cover and fortifies the city’s forest.
Finding a Solution to Both Drought and Flooding
As opposed to looking to complicated and costly unnatural solutions, cities can look to trees as their most effective natural barrier in protecting urban water supply during times of extreme weather conditions. To take on its chronic flooding during the ’50s and ’60s, Curitiba, Brazil, a city lauded by urbanists and policymakers alike as a model for sustainability, reorganized its urban landscape by relocating the favela residents in some of the most flood-prone areas and moving in trees instead.
In Curitiba and Edmonton, along with other cities that are pursuing “Million Trees” initiatives, including New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, local governments have caught on to the fact that investing in the urban forest and its role as collector and purifier of storm water is undoubtedly one of their best flood insurance options. Urban trees act as our most functional storm water filtration system, both absorbing and filtering it. In New York, street trees intercept 890.6 million gallons of storm water (an average of 1,525 gallons per tree) each year, providing over $35 million in value to the city.
Protection from Air Pollution and Extreme Heat
Climate change is leading to extreme temperatures on both sides, including frigid winters and scorching summers (those who subscribe to the Farmers’ Almanac already anticipate this summer being the hottest one on record. In cities where the urban heat-island effect comes into play, the public health value of trees becomes more important than ever. One of the biggest yet underreported public health concerns in many urban settings are respiratory issues including asthma—which one in twelve Americans now suffers from, to a large degree due to pollutants and debris in the air. Boosting the urban tree canopy is one of the most effective ways cities can address rising temperatures, poor air quality, and the health problems that come with both.
According to the American Society of Landscape Architects:
Research shows significant short-term improvements in air quality in urban areas with 100 percent tree cover. There, trees can reduce hourly ozone by up to 15 percent, sulfur dioxide by 14 percent, and particulate matter by 13 percent. U.S. trees remove some 784,000 tons of pollution annually, providing $3.8 billion in value. Furthermore, a single large healthy tree can remove greater than 300 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. In fact, New York City’s urban forest alone removes 154,000 tons of CO2 annually. Through their leaves, trees also provide evaporative cooling, which increases air humidity. Shaded surfaces may be 20-45 degrees cooler, and evapotranspiration can reduce peak summer temperatures by 2-9 degrees.
How to Build Your City’s Urban Forest
By now it should be pretty evident that trees have monetary and human health value above and beyond beautifying our cities. So what does an Urban Forest Management Plan look like in action? In Edmonton, the city is seeking to proactively address its drought and flooding woes by doubling its tree canopy—from 10 to 20 percent—through community involvement and tackling policy constraints. The city is engaging in activities including implementing a naturalization master plan, replacing molding and diseased trees with healthy new ones, and looking at strategies to improve soil quality and tree health in the city’s downtown core. The city is also looping in the community to share responsibility for the urban forest through a public education and engagement program, teaching Edmonton residents about both tree maintenance and fire safety. This program addresses the challenge and opportunity of the urban forest in short, medium, and long-term capacities.
I, for one, look forward to seeing Edmonton’s forest grow and more cities start to identify the solution to climate adaptation and public health in their trees.
For more information on Edmonton’s Urban Forest Management Plan: http://tinyurl.com/pws6upx
For information on Curituba: http://tinyurl.com/olh62rh
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I was fortunate to grow up in a house with a large backyard slightly north of Seattle. Above all, in this Pacific Northwest paradise of seasons and ample rain, my parents prioritized making time for their beautiful and prolific vegetable garden, and it remains one of the clearest memories of my childhood (in addition to… Read more »
I was fortunate to grow up in a house with a large backyard slightly north of Seattle. Above all, in this Pacific Northwest paradise of seasons and ample rain, my parents prioritized making time for their beautiful and prolific vegetable garden, and it remains one of the clearest memories of my childhood (in addition to treasure maps, tree houses, backyard baseball, and swimming lessons).
My sister and I shared an extensive chores list that included chicken feeding, setting beer traps for the abundant slugs that frequented the spinach and strawberries, pruning trees, eradicating invasive dandelions that terrorized the lawn, harvesting strawberries, raspberries, lettuce, and snap peas, planting seeds and starts, and helping spread compost and bark dust in and between the beds.
When I was 12, we moved to a house with an even larger backyard about two miles away and the first thing the developer that bought our old place did was build a huge house in the backyard—my first personally jarring experience with densification (and emotional vs. commercial property value). In my travels since then, I have seen and experienced density at its greatest (Jaipur, Tokyo, Mexico City!) and alternately seen and felt the impact of space being cheaper than anything else (Walla Walla, Eugene). And throughout, I have felt most comfortable and happy in those places where I can find my own patches of green space, and have gravitated toward that amenity when securing living arrangements.
San Francisco is the densest city I have called home. The only saving grace of my first place in the vast expanse of concrete that made up SOMA (at the time) was the lush Howard Langton Garden, which requires a key to access in order to discourage vandals and other interlopers. With the average San Franciscan’s interest bordering on obsession with farmers markets, farm-to-table, local food, and urban agriculture, it’s no surprise that San Francisco has a vast network of well-loved community gardens, the only downside being, of course, the extensive waiting lists one faces when signing up for a plot, and the lack of space to accommodate this popular desire.
As the Marketing Coordinator for SWA’s Sausalito office, I’m in a unique position to keep a metaphorical finger on the pulse of the city and region; I spend portions of each week researching and pursuing partnerships and collaborations in response to RFPs and Qs from various public and private agencies. An emerging trend in both sectors is a call for greater open and green space, and increasing emphasis on community gardens/edible landscapes and sustainable infrastructure. In a city increasingly constrained by space, like San Francisco, this presents a challenge. Enter NOMADGardens, an organization I stumbled across a few months ago, and have become increasingly impressed with as I involve myself with their work and learn more about their vision.
NOMADGardens is a roaming community garden operation that just launched a pilot project in the Mission Bay neighborhood, an area severely lacking in green space. NOMAD’s model is simple and brilliant: they find an empty lot in a neighborhood lacking garden space, fill it with portable plots of dirt, and invite the community in to invest and grow plots in the garden. Strategically designed as a hub for the community (a potential venue for movie screenings, art shows, workshops, picnics/barbecues, etc.), the site offers significant social value beyond the edible landscape, where an otherwise vacant lot would uselessly sit. When the property owner/developer of the lot is ready to build, the NOMAD team will help the raised beds “roam” to another vacant, available lot within the neighborhood.
Stephanie Goodson, NOMADgardens founder, was trained in architecture and urban design. After moving to Mission Bay, she realized that her neighborhood lacked a “third space” (apart from home and work) in which one could connect with others outdoors. Stephanie lacked access to a garden space, and she had the ability, interest, and wherewithal to do something about it. After reaching out to a local developer with the idea to install a community garden on his vacant lot, her inquiry was initially met with resistance. From a developer’s perspective, people put considerable sweat equity into gardens and become attached to the site. Not surprisingly, this results in becoming the “bad guy” (or girl, or company) when you want to develop the lot, and negatively impacts both the community and any future project. Responding to this challenge, Stephanie proposed a garden that roamed from vacant lot to vacant lot, and in 2010 the NOMADGardens idea was born.
It was not an easy path. It took over four years for Stephanie to realize her vision, and there is still much work to be done. First, she cultivated a relationship with the City of San Francisco’s Redevelopment Agency (now OCII) in order gain permission for her proposed land use of the site. Then she convinced the developer, Mission Bay Development Group, to gift the land for an initial two-year pilot project. The land lease NOMAD holds with the developer is conditional on their agreement with OCII. Finally, basic site improvements to prepare for NOMAD’s tenure there were donated by the Mission Bay Community Services Organization. In order to achieve all of this, Stephanie talked to neighbors and was able to demonstrate that vacant lots deterred people from walking around in the evenings. Her argument was that by creating a community hub, developers could reclaim the land easily, the community would feel safer, and, most importantly (at least to her), individuals would have a place to grow their own food and connect. In 2013 Stephanie met Anne Park, now co-director of NOMADGardens, who had recently moved to the Bay Area. Anne also craved a piece of land to grow her own food, shared the vision of developing roaming gardens, and had the business acumen to help launch the effort.
Fast-forward to April of 2014 and you would have found me spending an 80-degree Saturday volunteering to drill drainage holes in the bases of metal stand-up washboard tubs, shoveling donated soil and fertilizer from piles to the tubs, and MacGyvering an ailing, donated wheelbarrow back into productivity—all in preparation for NOMAD’s April 12 launch party. While volunteering, I met PhD students from UCSF, inhabitants of a SOMA micro-apartment development happy to be outside getting their hands dirty, residents of a nearby luxury housing tower, members of local garden-focused nonprofits, and random neighbors passing through with a few spare moments to pick up a shovel and dig in.
This June the garden officially opened, offering an initial 88 2’x4’ plots (of a projected 300) available for growing one’s own food, 62 of which are already spoken for. The plots will eventually include drip irrigation, which is more efficient than watering by hand. Plots are offered for slightly more than a nominal fee on a monthly or annual basis. Regardless of what you think of the changing landscape of the city, and the impacts of community investment, it has been refreshing to see a young organization approaching a community problem with enthusiasm instead of sarcasm, or yet another app. I fully believe the concept will take off, and hope it comes to my neighborhood someday soon. Until then, I’ll frequent the spots of green and keep fighting for these kinds of landscapes to survive in the urban context, because they are important for our physical, mental, and social health, and because they offer ties to my childhood, which continually threatens to escape me.
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Addressing natural disasters from a landscape architecture perspective requires a balanced approach. This statement focused my master’s project at West Virginia University. I chose the dam crisis issue as my topic when I learned that the risk of dam failure has been rapidly increasing due to the aging of dams and the high intensity of… Read more »
Addressing natural disasters from a landscape architecture perspective requires a balanced approach.
This statement focused my master’s project at West Virginia University. I chose the dam crisis issue as my topic when I learned that the risk of dam failure has been rapidly increasing due to the aging of dams and the high intensity of rainfall from climate change. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has reported that approximately 27,000 dams in the United States are classified as potential hazard dams, which is equal to 32% of all dams in the United States. Dam failure could cause massive floods and catastrophic damage to the downstream communities.
The conventional methods for combating these issues have been addressed by politics and engineering in the United States, and the main ideology lies not in terms of coexistence with the river dynamics but in the control of it. The federal flood control program has resulted in building over 8,500 miles of levees and dikes, developing about 90 major shoreline protection projects along 240 miles of the nation’s 2,700 miles of shoreline. In spite of this effort, however, an evaluation of this program after 20 years of experience concluded that flood damages continued to increase.
There are two possible reasons for this increase. One is that river control systems have also brought intensive development along the riverfront and in floodplain areas. This has increased the risk of damage from flooding, because rare catastrophes like 100-year-flood events would destroy structures and cause more catastrophic damage. Another reason is that the river dynamics lost their resiliency and flexibility against natural disturbances and could not mitigate the impact and damage from, for instance, flooding to the shoreline. In addition, the conventional methods for flood management have resulted in not only causing more flood damage, but have also created a disconnect between people and rivers while increasing taxes to keep updating flood control facilities.
So, what alternatives can landscape architects propose to address this issue? The fundamental principle of landscape architecture is to create balance—balance between the needs of people and the needs of the environment, between the manmade and the natural, between development and conservation. From this perspective, landscape architecture methods could provide different and alternative choices for flood management while bringing more benefits to our society and the natural world. Introducing green infrastructure techniques in upstream communities, for example, could reduce the risk of dam failure; building park systems along rivers will reduce the risk of damages from flooding. These balanced methods for flood management could also improve people’s quality of life, enhance natural habitats, and provide cultural and economic benefits.
Please check out the online booklet if you are interested in seeing more proposals.
The goal was to propose landscape planning and designs for flood management using a design simulation of the Bluestone Dam failure. The project is composed of two parts, one located in a community upstream from the Bluestone Dam, and the other in a community downstream. The objective of the first profile was to mitigate the risk of a Bluestone dam failure by storm water management. The objective of the downstream project was to propose planning and design to manage flooding associated with a potential Bluestone Dam failure.