Landscape Optimism: An Interview with Chris Reed

An interview with Chris Reed of Stoss LU by QUILIAN RIANO in The Design Observer Group reviews the practical applications of Landscape Urbanism, . Here you can judge for yourself, if LU is living up to the hype, whatever your opinion or view on wether Landscape Architects should slough off the ‘green mantle” and join the trans-disciplinary fray on reshaping the city more fundamentally.

Top: Minneapolis Riverfront Streamlines overview. Middle: Mussel ecology. Bottom: Industrial Cultural Complex with refashioned barge.

In 2000 landscape architect Chris Reed founded StossLU, or Stoss Landscape Urbanism. Since then the Boston-based office has emerged as one of the leading advocates for enlarging the scope and scale of landscape projects and practices. As Reed wrote in an essay in The Landscape Urbanism Reader, “Contemporary landscape practices are witnessing a revival of sorts, a recovery of the broader social, cultural, and ecological agendas. No longer a product of pure art history and horticulture, landscape is re-engaging issues of site and ecological succession and is playing a part in the formative roles of projects, rather than simply giving form to already defined projects.” [1]

In the past decade Stoss has indeed played a formative role in a range of ambitious projects, both built and proposed. Its growing portfolio encompasses the redevelopment of urban waterfronts, including the Fox Riverfront in Green Bay, Wisconsin and the Lower Don Lands in Toronto; the remediation of contaminated landscapes, including the Silresim Superfund Redevelopment Study, on the site of a former chemical plant in Lowell, Massachusetts; and the design of parks at multiple scales, from the recently completed, quarter-acre Erie Plaza in Milwaukee, to Streamlines, a finalist in the competition to redesign an extensive section of the Mississippi Riverfront in Minneapolis.

Along the way Stoss has racked up numerous awards, including the 2010 Landscape Award from Topos Journal, and been the subject of national and international publications, including a 2007 monograph. The firm has tenaciously articulated and acted upon the ambition not only to engage in but also to lead multidimensional and cross-disciplinary projects that blend landscape, architecture, urbanism, planning, ecology and economics; in this way it has made good on its name: stoss, from the German, means “to kick, as in ‘kick in the pants,’ to initiate, activate.” [2] And Reed and his colleagues have seen the concept of landscape urbanism emerge and grow, from an academic movement in the mid-1990s to an increasingly influential set of ideas to, most recently, the focus of lively debate on the future of urbanism.

Erie Street Plaza, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Stoss Landscape Urbanism
Erie Street Plaza, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. [Bottom two photos by John December]

Earlier this year I interviewed Chris Reed at his office at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard, where he is an Adjunct Associate Professor. We focused on the evolution of his design ideas.


South African heads up International Garden Centre Association

It is encouraging to see  South African’s recognized on the international stage thereby  drawing attention to our “little world” in the South. I am certain Nic will be a fine leader and have much to contribute in bringing fresh ideas and perspectives to a potentially moribund industry. Garden Centres and gardening is often viewed as a frivolous past time by Urbanists and Landscape Architects but as many Urban Ecologists point out gardens are one of the largest habitats for wildlife that like us, have adapted  to city life, without these extensive habitats, covering thousands of square kilometers, and the loss of “wild” habitats to large scale agriculture and urbanisation, our environment would have less biodiversity and  we much poorer. Furthermore the role of gardens in providing infiltration for storm-water runoff , acting as sinks for urban pollution, inspiring people to look after their surroundings and create unique neighborhoods with a local sense of place, provide food and not least of all being a relief form the intensity of city-life with a small corner of nature to care for and contemplate. From
At its international congress, currently running in Italy, the International Garden Centre Association (IGCA) appointed Nick Stodel, MD of Stodels Garden Centres, as president. He is its first president from the African continent and the Southern Hemisphere. Stodel will serve as president for two years and then as past president for another two.

Nick Stodel, the new president of the International Garden Centre Association.

The IGCA provides a forum for the mutual exchange of information and benefit of similar minded independent garden retailers on a world-wide basis. This objective is achieved through an annual congress held between August and October, in a different host country each year. In addition to the AGM, the congress offers a concentrated business study tour, a social programme and individual study tours organised on an ad hoc basis by national groups, which have special learning requirements.

“There have been South African board members before, but not a president,” says Stodel. “They seem to have kept it to Europe and North America before me. I was asked to join the IGCA board five years ago. As a member of the South African Nursery Association, one automatically becomes a member of IGCA.”

His main responsibilities will be to facilitate networking and communications between garden centre owners and association administrators. “We do this via online communication, an administrators’ meeting once a year and a tour of garden centres in a specific country once a year. It is also the president’s job and that of the board, to ensure that we make the right choices on which countries to visit and that the standard of the tours are exceptional.”

Before Stodel (36) joined the board of IGCA as VP, it was made up of older people who had retired from the business. “IGCA felt they needed younger generations in order to help grow the organisation. I was brought in to help with that. In the time that I’ve been there, the board has changed a lot, the biggest change being a decision we made to move the administration and secretariat from Switzerland to Canada, which allowed us to have a fresh approach,” he concludes.

Growing potential: Africa’s Urban Farmers

More on Urban Agriculture from thisbigcity including the issues that hinder and the hazards from it – once again the ideals of the humanists and the indigenous population tend to have divergetn views of what is desirable and what is actually practicable

Growing Potential: Africa’s Urban Farmers

By Anna Plyushteva – PhD student at University College London and contributor to a forthcoming book on the politics of space and place. Anna’s most recent publication is on the Right to the City. See her profile on LinkedIn.

Urban agriculture, or growing plants and rearing animals for food within the city’s limits, is a common sight in virtually every African city. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, there will be 35 million urban farmers on the continent by 2020.

At the household level, an urban garden means improved food security and access to nutritious fresh produce which might otherwise be unaffordable. Surplus is often sold locally which helps supplement income, especially for vulnerable groups like women-headed households, the unemployed, the elderly and people with disabilities. At the macro scale, urban farming addresses issues increasingly critical to African cities, such as greening the urban environment and recycling household waste  – a valuable source of nutrients for an urban garden.

Read More

African Cities are Walking Cities, but are they Walkable?

A commentary from WALKONOMICS  on some of the hazards of walking in African Cities and efforts to improve the conditions sing BRT systems, which in South Africa are aimed more at reducing mini-bus taxi’s and car traffic than improving on the conditions for walkers

If you’ve ever been in an East African city during rush hour, then you’ll know that African cities are walking cities.  In the rapidly urbanising capitals of Africa, walking is by far and away the most popular form of transport.  For instance over 60% of trips in Addis Ababa are made on foot, while just 9% of trips are made in a car and in Nairobi over 45% of people walk.  These are the kind of walking statistics that developed cities can only dream of: London struggles to get 20% of people to walk and in New York its between 10-20%.

Can a growing city keep people walking?

As a result, the current CO2 emissions of these cities are extremely low, with the vast majority of people either walking or using ‘ad-hoc’ public transport such as the small blue and white minibuses of Addis Ababa.  However most Urban Africans aren’t walking out of choice, but simply because they can’t afford to travel in any other way.  The real challenge facing urban governments in Africa is to maintain these high levels of walking as their cities grow at an incredible rate and Urban Africans start to earn enough to be able to afford to travel differently.

So walking is popular in Africa, but this isn’t because urban African streets are walking-friendly.  In fact quite the opposite: 63% of streets in Addis Ababa lack any pavements or sidewalks and crossings are rare.  Africans walk despite the un-walkable urban environment, not because of it.  Walking isn’t only difficult, its also very dangerous with 67% of road accidents involving pedestrians in Ethiopia’s capital.  Sadly this is the case in many developing countries, where road accidents are a growing epidemic and are expected to be the third biggest killer by 2020.

Walkable urban development

Faced with these huge challenges and opportunities the United Nations have recently pumped over $3 million into a project to kick-start sustainable transport in three African capital cities.  ’Sustainable transport in East African Cities‘ will support and fund improvements to walkability, bikeability and public transport in Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Kampala.  The project is built around creating Bus Rapid Transit systems (BRT) in each city, similar to schemes in Johannesburg and Bogata.  BRT are low cost and efficient bus systems with dedicated ‘busways’ and high quality enclosed stations.  They provide the usability and capacity of other Mass Rapid Transit (like trams or subways) but at a fraction of the cost, making BRT an ideal option for developing cities.

Bus Rapid Transit, like this one in Bogata, can help to create sustainable transport systems in East African Cities

As well as establishing BRT systems, the project will create more walkable and bikeable streets in each city, which will form a sustainable transport network. These improvements will include building more sidewalks, signalised crossing and improving road safety. It is hoped that by creating a holistic transport system now, each city can provide a sustainable alternative to the car-dependent development that has caused so many problems in western cities. Perhaps this will also mean that while East African cities continue to develop and grow richer, their citizens will still choose to embrace walking as the best way to move in the city.

Images courtesy of sameffron and carlosfpardo

Urban Network Analysis: A Toolbox for ArcGIS 10

A potential alternative for Space Syntax analysis of urban form has been released by MIT’s City Form Research Group. This will be of interest to many researchers and urbanists who wish to understand more of the factors that influence various attributes of urban form operation. It is especially useful that it operates within ArcGis and is available free. The following press release from MIT:

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — MIT researchers have created a new Urban Network Analysis (UNA) toolbox that enables urban designers and planners to describe the spatial patterns of cities using mathematical network analysis methods. Such tools can support better informed and more resilient urban design and planning in a context of rapid urbanization. “Network centrality measures are useful predictors for a number of interesting urban phenomena,” explains Andres Sevtsuk, the principal investigator of the City Form Research Group at MIT that produced the toolbox. “They help explain, for instance, on which streets or buildings one is most likely to find local commerce, where foot or vehicular traffic is expected to be highest, and why city land values vary from one location to another.”
Network analysis is widely used in the study of social networks, such as Facebook friends or phonebook connections, but so far fairly little in the spatial analysis of cities. While the study of spatial networks goes back to Euler and his famous puzzle of Königsberg’s seven bridges in the 18th century, there were, until recently, no freely accessible tools available for city planners to calculate computation-intensive spatial centrality measures on dense networks of city streets and buildings. The new toolbox, which is distributed as free and open-source plugin-in for ArcGIS, allows urban designers and planners to compute five types of graph analysis measures on spatial networks: Reach; Gravity; Betweenness; Closeness; and Straightness. “The Reach measure, for instance, can be used to estimate how many destinations of a particular type — buildings, residents, jobs, transit stations etc. — can be reached within a given walking radius from each building along the actual circulation routes in the area”, said Michael Mekonnen, a course six sophomore who worked on the project. “The Betweenness measure, on the other hand, can be used to quantify the number of potential passersby at each building.”The tools incorporate three important features that make network analysis particularly suited for urban street networks. First, they account for geometry and distances in the input networks, distinguishing shorter links from longer links as part of the analysis computations. Second, unlike previous software tools that operate with two network elements (nodes and edges), the UNA tools include a third network element — buildings — which are used as the spatial units of analysis for all measures. Two neighboring buildings on the same street segments can therefore obtain different accessibility results. And third, the UNA tools optionally allow buildings to be weighted according to their particular characteristics — more voluminous, more populated, or otherwise more important buildings can be specified to have a proportionately stronger effect on the analysis outcomes, yielding more accurate and reliable results to any of the specified measures.The toolbox offers a powerful set of analysis options to quantify how centrally each building is positioned in an urban environment and how easily a user can access different amenities from each location. It introduces a novel methodology for tracking the growth and change of cities in the rapidly urbanizing world and offers analytic support for their designers and policymakers.The UNA toolbox can be downloaded from the group’s website.