Category Archives: Environmental Science

Architects, Freeways, Rivers, Landscapes / Plantscaping & Politics

A current proposal by architect Michael Maltzan Michael Maltzan Envisions the Future of LA’s Infrastructure  in Archinect  showing copious planting overlaid on the 134 freeway in Los Angeles illustrates what has been a trend with architects c0-operating with engineers , in this case ARUP, to envision what infrastructural interventions in the urban fabric might become in terms of making more use of them and reducing their ecological footprint through green building, carbon reduction  interventions and by covering them in photoshop planting, led me to these thoughts that are here combined  with excerpts from a recent conference paper I gave at the ILASA Conference 2016 in Pretoria: jgq850aroyn9vzt9

View from above of Michael Maltzan’s proposed Arroyo Seco bridge overlay. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture

 

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Section Perspective. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture

With impressive design diagrams and pictorial renderings the viewer is challenged to engage with a seeming reality that ignores or subsumes most of the actors emergent realities that these behemoths that they are trying to  camouflage, represent: The unsustainable and incoherent consumerism that underpins the way engineering and architectural solutions generally ignore the real environmental pickle that cities are in:

9k2me7d9w9kyzc1pGreen cruising: the view of the proposed overlay through a vehicle. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture

In a lecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Bruno Latour posed the following question:
When we ponder how the global world could be made habitable – a question especially important for architects and designers – we now mean habitable for billions of humans and trillions of other creatures that no longer form a nature or, of course, a society, but rather, to use my term, a possible collective… But why has the world been made uninhabitable in the first place? More precisely, why has it not been conceived as if the question of its habitability was the only question worth asking? I am more and more convinced that the answer lies in this extremely short formula: lack of space” (Latour, B. 2009. Spheres and Networks: Two Ways to Reinterpret Globalization, Harvard Design Magazine Spring/Summer, 30 pp. 138-144, ).
Maybe this lack of space is why we need to rethink how we live together in the world. As human actors that have so dramatically altered the world, it is said that we have entered the Anthropocene. Latour continues by answering the question posed above:
As is now well known, the notion of environment began to occupy public consciousness precisely when it was realized that no human action could count on an outside environment anymore: There is no reserve outside which the unwanted consequences of our collective actions could be allowed to linger and disappear from view. Literally there is no outside, no décharge where we could discharge the refuse of our activity” (Latour 2009 p.3).
It is now widely accepted that cities are the primary source of this problem.  With more than 50% of the world’s population being urbanised, cities must become resilient in the face of the uncertainties of climate, economy and politics. Various attempts have been made to quantify the resource imbalances of cities’ consumption and waste in the form of: ecological footprints , urban metabolism and urban political ecology . These quantifications are needed so that the extent of the problems become visible. Research may lead to solutions to limit ongoing damage to the environment and may also redress this imbalance by making cities more sustainable and resilient for the survival of all their occupants, human and non-human, both now and in the future.

The smart cities and engineered solutions of architects and engineers fall far short of this goal in their version of “greenscaping” with aesthetically beautiful structures in verdant “nature” with scattered people looking on in wonder at their grand creations.

elijj3frik4jv5nrRendering for the new Sixth Street Bridge. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture

Maltzan describes his proposal

Well, the proposal for the 134 freeway, the reason I got extremely excited about the 134 is the piece of infrastructure that we would take on, it could carry so many different pieces of the larger puzzle—not only in how you change infrastructure’s role in the city but how you change all of the pieces of the environmental portfolio of benefit. In our proposal, we’re dealing with sounds, lessening the negative acoustic impacts that extend way beyond the freeway. We’re talking about miles of effect that any piece of the freeway has because of how far sound travels. We were looking at a collection of water because It’s a little like a menu: you can pick and choose which pieces you useyou have a significant amount of acreage that the top of the bridge or any piece of the highway creates. We were looking at solar and electricity generation for exactly the same reason: it’s very difficult to find large places to put solar farms in a dense urban environment. And one of the most underutilized pieces of land literally are the air rights over any of the highways, whether they’re elevated or sunken or a bridge. And then the greening of the sides of the bridge to work from an environmental standpoint, and just aesthetically for the visual environment of where that bridge goes through. And then finally the catalytic roof that we’re proposing, that takes the emissions from the cars and converts it, because of the way UV reacts to these titanium dioxide crates, and that acts as a catalytic converter.”

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Section Detail. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture

While I am sure that their intentions are laudable and their goal is to stimulate large scale public works to counter the past and present environmental and social crisis, it is unlikely that the results of their visions will improve anyone except a select fews lives into city.

Maltzan continues:

All of these pieces don’t have to be in play for every mile of the highway all combined. It’s a little like a menu: you can pick and choose which pieces you use or you employ depending on what the different characteristics of the freeway are, and if it’s elevated or sunken down or at grade. I think that if you begin to take this and other ideas that could be added to the laundry list, and started to look at the highway network as a real positive and begin to retrofit pieces of it (especially when it goes through and affects different neighborhoods), I think it could be one of the largest transformative urban projects of any city, for any place on the planet.

CalTrans used to dream at that scale. The highways, when they were being built, coming out of post-World War II, were seen as one of the most progressive civic governmental projects that was being done any place on the planet. There were all these positive things that were meant to come from that. And I think it’s possible for an agency like CalTrans to reinvigorate the benefit of the highways. I think they’re going to be under more and more pressure to do that, especially as you start looking at the realities of autonomous cars and other means of transportation. That’s going to start to minimize or reduce traffic on the freeways, or at least the traffic footprint. I think it’s going to open up more and more space for the highways to perform in a very different way.”

The proposal, although on grand scale and while attacking many problems of the inefficient metabolism of cites, largely ignores the underlying causes of this problem: the unsustainable  consumerism that architects, engineers and city planners are dependent on for their livelihood – yes folks we have created the problem, through our designs, but designs alone, however smart they are, will not be enough to solve these problems

Overcoming these limitations requires a rethinking of the current development design process both by the relevant authorities, bureaucracies and by the design professions, the two entities who appear to be in cahoots in this process and who benefit the most by the exclusion of significant others from participating in the development agenda. They, the authorities and design professionals, have in, Latour’s terminology, “black-boxed” this process i.e. hidden its working from view  and any attempts by politicians or others to disentangle it or make its workings transparent seem doomed to failure . Some local examples of how this process results in urban “white elephants” in our local South African context are the Cape Town Stadium and Green Point Urban Park, built for the Soccer World Cup 2010, the Cape Town BRT system and the Gautrain, all of which are in my opinion examples of vested interests gaining control of huge public budgets to facilitate their own economic or political agendas. While admitting that the large-scale improvements in public spaces related to the stadiums generated an awareness of the importance of public space improvement and management, Edgar Pieterse  head of the African Centre for Cities criticises the results of these public space enhancements that were carried out in this process, as not having achieved the potential they might have. He writes;

It [the design of the public spaces] remains predominately an imaginary infused with middle class café culture expectations, replete with Lavazza cappuccinos and generous pedestrian orientated pavements. To be sure these are elements that greatly enhance the public realm but at the same time reinforce the dramatic bifurcation of public life for the rich and poor.” (Pieterse 2012 ).

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Cape Town Stadium  Source Wikipedia

I believe that a political engagement is required to ignite a renewed interest in re-imaging the roles of the built environments’ participants, ecological environmentalists, social activists and those seeking a future for themselves and their offspring. It seems we should change from thinking about ourselves alone and think rather, for everyone as a whole, thereby supporting this process of change to more equitable and liveable settlements and cities. This applies especially to the “have-nots” who, if not catered for, will topple the entire structure with their neediness, frightening the “haves” with their greediness.
Pieterse suggests that in order to realise more dynamic and original public spaces, we need a more inclusive approach, one that encompasses and incorporates more of who we really are as a South African public:

….such sensibility calls for a [landscape?] architectural agenda, design approach, urban aesthetic and built fabric that opens up opportunities for frank engagements across lines of difference and privilege in order to induce the necessary discomfort and untidiness that can lead to the thorny conversations about who we are, and how we represent ourselves in space and where we may be going as cities and distinctive cultures” (Pieterse 2012 p.87).

The situation that ~Pieterse criticizes in the context of the South Africa is equally relevant to LA as was highlighted at the ILASA conference by landscape architect Astrid Sykes from Mia Lehrer Associates who are based in LA right next toto the river, in presenting their work of the last 20 years on the LA River  and a 2007 study done by a large multidisciplinary team for the city of Los Angeles on the future of the river that MLA were part of. While very positive in achieving consultation and buy-in from residents and the Mayor, it seems that this has been subverted by the City now 8 years later in appointing Frank Gehry’s  office to do a project on the future of the river that teemingly ignores the previous work and as yet shows no signs of the public participation and co-design the earlier project was tasked with. It remains to be seen if this is an extension earlier work or more “green sky” City Brand building that Gehry is famous for with his Bilboa Effect.

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ARMY CORPS APPROVES $1.3-BILLION LOS ANGELES RIVER RESTORATION PROPOSAL

In the same newsletter of Archinect that the Michael Maltzan project featured above comes from is a post Archinect presents Next Up: The L.A. River, at the A+D Museum on Saturday, October 29!  Quoting from the newsletter

For the latest installment of Archinect’s live podcasting series, Next Up, we’re focusing on the L.A. River, and the wide swath of urbanist concerns within its ongoing master planning efforts.

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It could be the project that makes, or breaks, Los Angeles. With a complex historical legacy and an often-misunderstood ecology, the L.A. River’s 51-mile stretch is at once a huge urban opportunity, and to many, an even bigger eyesore. Thirty years ago, nonprofit Friends of the Los Angeles River was founded to protect and advocate for the river, and shortly after, the City of L.A. began looking at ways to take better advantage of the immense resource. Since then, many more communities and stakeholders have joined the conversation, raising concerns of ecology, sustainability, gentrification, public space, affordable housing, social equity—a wealth of complexities that testifies to what a lightning rod of urbanist discourse the River has become.

While conversations about the L.A. River’s future have been percolating for decades, not until only a few years ago did the plans become a divisive topic for the general public—in no small part due to the appointment of Frank Gehry’s office as a leader in the city’s master planning initiative. Reporting on the public’s first peek at the firm’s plans, Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, wrote, “as the river takes on new shades of economic and political meaning—becoming a magnet for attention and investment after decades of near invisibility—the race to reimagine it is growing more crowded.”

This engagement with the physical infrastructure, social dynamics and politics of the city  might seem far from Landscape Architectures usual verdant concerns. To paraphrase the words of Brenner, Latour, Pieterse and Swyngedouw, “everything is political now” and if we wish our discipline to survive in this sea of change, we must become political and design and proselytize our own future place in this new cyborg or assemblage. Research is needed on how to create a transdisciplinary environment that can facilitate higher levels of engagement, participation and co-learning by politicians, publics, professionals and authorities alike, and is something that seems to be lacking in much of the current design process.

From the examples quoted above, it seems that large scale infrastructure is the very place to focus this engagement and to get out of the office, away from the computer and to get involved in a river, freeway proposal or  public space project near you now!

With my apologies to Michael Maltzan Architecture, Frank Gehry and ARUP .

Donovan Gillman

19 October 2016

This Onsite Pop-up Plant Turns Excavation Waste into Building Material

A promising new applications technology and innovative thinking reblogged from ARCHDAILY  
This Onsite Pop-up Plant Turns Excavation Waste into Building Material, Courtesy of Watershed Materials
Courtesy of Watershed Materials
 

Excavation is usually a bane for real estate developers. To make way for new buildings, truckloads of excavated waste are removed from site in a noisy, time-consuming and gas-guzzling process. Exploring a more sustainable solution, the California-based company Watershed Materials have developed an onsite pop-up plant which repurposes excavated material right at the job site to create concrete masonry units (CMUs) used in the development. By eliminating truck traffic, reusing waste and reducing imported materials, the result is a win for the environment.

The machine is shown here at Watershed Materials’ pilot block factory and research lab in Napa, California. Image Courtesy of Watershed Materials

The machine is shown here at Watershed Materials’ pilot block factory and research lab in Napa, California. Image Courtesy of Watershed Materials

The pop-up plant itself works by applying ultra-high compression to loose excavation spoils, transforming it into a sustainable CMU. The pressure turns the mineral grains into a sort of sedimentary rock, mimicking the natural geological process of lithification. This unique manufacturing technology is the brainchild of Watershed Materials, who previously developed the compression technique in order to reduce the amount of cement used in concrete blocks by 50%.

Sample structural masonry block produced by Watershed Materials using excavated soil samples from the Kirkham site. Image Courtesy of Watershed Materials

Sample structural masonry block produced by Watershed Materials using excavated soil samples from the Kirkham site. Image Courtesy of Watershed Materials

As the founder of the sustainable building materials startup David Easton points out: “There’s absolutely nothing new about building masonry structures from local materials. Some of the oldest and best-known architecture in the world has been constructed from stone and clay sourced directly on site.” But according to Easton, “what is new and absolutely groundbreaking is that with upgraded technology and improved material science, a construction waste product the developer had to pay to dispose of can now become an asset and provides environmental benefits as well.”

The Kirkham Project Community Plaza, a one-quarter acre accessible open space in the center of the development, provides excellent opportunities for installation of Watershed Materials blocks as pavers and landscaping features. Image Courtesy of Watershed Materials

The Kirkham Project Community Plaza, a one-quarter acre accessible open space in the center of the development, provides excellent opportunities for installation of Watershed Materials blocks as pavers and landscaping features. Image Courtesy of Watershed Materials

The pop-up plant was born when Naomi Porat, development manager of Alpha Group and part of the team working on the Kirkham Project, approached the startup to bring their technology straight to the construction site. The Kirkham Project is an urban infill redevelopment in San Francisco spanning across 445 new housing units, community plazas and gardens. While addressing the city’s need for additional housing, neighbors expressed concern over construction traffic, making it the perfect place to explore this onsite approach.

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Autonomous Vehicles: Expect the Unexpected

A very insightful prediction of a future thats almost arrived but is just not evenly distributed yet, if even half of this turns out to be true, then the design of cites and their interstitial networks will be radically changed – and its not long from now – I can’t get my head around what all the extra people will do, but it certainly does not look good of the “workers” APRIL 3, 2016 BY 

A recent trip to the tax attorney’s office put me in close proximity to a fellow client as we waited. This guy was one of the lead developers of autonomous vehicles so I picked his brain for a while. He said his company is on track to have products on the road in four or five years. Here’s a little heads up for those of you who think you know how driver-less cars will play out in the culture and economy.

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The first commercial adopters of this technology (other than the military) will be fleets of long haul trucks. The big box retailers have already calculated the savings on labor and fuel efficiency as well as just-in-time delivery optimization with vehicles that aren’t burdened by humans.

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Uber and other taxi services have already announced their desire to convert to driverless cars in an attempt to improve service and lower costs. Car sharing services may convert to the on demand driverless taxi model as well. The U-Haul folks will eventually morph with the storage pod pick up and delivery services that are already in operation.screen-shot-2016-03-27-at-10-18-21-pm

Municipal governments hemorrhaging cash for salaries, health insurance, and pension costs will find it irresistible to phase out humans for sanitation vehicles. When I was a kid there were three men (and they were, in fact, always men) on each truck. Today there’s one person with a video camera and a robotic arm collecting the trash. Soon the truck and the robot arm won’t need a human at all. We can expect the same trajectory for mail carriers, utility meter readers, and other such activities.

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City buses will eventually see the end of human drivers, particularly as dedicated bus lanes and BRT come to dominate the surviving transit systems. In many suburban locations public buses may cease to exist at all due to loss of funding and competition from decentralized on demand services

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Even ambulances and fire trucks can be made more cost efficient if drivers are eliminated. The real value of humans is in their skill as EMS workers and firefighters rather than drivers. There’s already a well established precedent for existing unionized workers to accept such innovation in order to preserve their positions and benefits at the expense of future hires.

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You need look no farther than the fully digitized and mechanized toll both or parking garage to see how this is going to play out over time. The end result of all this is that some highly skilled workers are going to make lots of money in innovative technologies while large numbers of less educated people are going to be made redundant.

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For those of you who expect to be sitting in your own personal car being whisked around in effortless comfort and privacy as you commute to distant suburban locations…Not quite. The true promise of autonomous vehicles isn’t about you. It’s about the larger institutions that are relentlessly squeezing costs out of the system and optimizing expensive existing infrastructure. Aging highways will be maintained by charging for their use on a mile-by-mile pay-per-view basis. Traffic congestion will be solved by having more people ride in fewer vehicles. The rich will have stylish robotic SUV chauffeurs. Everyone else will be climbing inside a fully loaded eight or twelve passenger minivan bound for the office park. And in the future you will choose this voluntarily based on price.

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Here’s something else to consider. Insurance companies will become more and more influential players in the culture and economy. A few insurers are already offering customers a discount for having their cars chipped and monitored. Sooner rather than later auto coverage will be based on how well and how often a human drives. In the not-too-distant future the chips and monitoring may not be entirely negotiable unless you’re willing to pay a great deal extra for the privilege of opting out. You may think you’re a good driver, but you may quickly and expensively be informed otherwise by the authorities. That’s going to pull a lot of people off the road, especially when the gooey details of your swerving and speeding are cross referenced with local law enforcement. But the cops won’t necessarily be in squad cars. They’ll be the cars themselves. That’s coming too. And sooner than you think. Brace yourself.

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Yes! Brace yourself – Here comes robocop!!

This is why the price of water needs to go up substantially

Sungula Nkabinde on Moneyweb Today :

 

“Proposed revisions to South Africa’s water pricing strategy are as broad as they are complex, but what is clear is that water will become significantly more expensive in the future.

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWAS) has gazetted a draft of the revised water pricing strategy, which outlines a theoretical framework that would engender a fully functioning water eco system. The 2013 document has led the discussion on how South Africa can reduce the financial burden on municipalities, which are required by law to provide water to those who cannot afford to pay for it, by transferring the full cost of delivering water services onto users. They will  incur a raft of charges that will see water pricing reflect the level of water scarcity in the country.

Domestic and commercial users will pay for charges related to planning, capital costs, operation and maintenance, depreciation, and future infrastructure build on government water schemes. A new polluter pays principle will also be imposed to ensure users discharging water containing waste into a water resource or onto land pay an additional amount.

According to the DWAS, South Africa ranks as one of the 30 driest countries in the world with an average rainfall of about 40% less than the annual world average rainfall.

Even though the implications could potentially be disastrous for an already struggling economy, the consequences of not the addressing the water security problem could be worse. The revised pricing strategy seeks to incentivise more efficient use of water, and ensure the much needed upgrade to the country’s water infrastructure is properly funded.

Municipalities struggling with poor billing systems, significant water leakage and high rates of non-revenue water (water provided for which no income is received) are a big part of the reason why there significant capital is required to resolve the water crisis in South Africa.

Sanlam economist Arthur Kamp says it’s not possible to give a definitive, or even a ball-park figure of how much the cost of water is going to increase by, saying price structures are going to be quite complicated because it is going to be a hybrid model. There will be a wide range of charges that will be determined on a national level, other times sectoral level.

Says Kamp: “What (the draft revised water pricing strategy) does is it gives one the flavour of what they’re trying to achieve. There is a lot of infrastructure coming and we can’t afford it so the user is going to pay. And I don’t think anybody is going to dispute that water is a scarce resource and that tariffs need to reflect that”.

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Biomimicry Tools to Inspire Designers

While many are sceptical of the idea that we can use the complexity of natural systems to design man-made systems , here is evidence that the process can in fact provide valuable design inspirations and alternative strategies . From the Dirt by Jared Green

 

Rainforest epiphyte leaf formation / Reforestation.me

“Biomimicry is about learning from nature to inspire design solutions for human problems,” said Gretchen Hooker with the Biomimicry Institute at SXSW Eco in Austin, Texas. To enable the spread of these exciting solutions, Hooker, along with Cas Smith, Terrapin Bright Green, and Marjan Eggermont, Zygote Quarterly (ZQ), gave a tour of some of the best resources available for designers and engineers of all stripes:

AskNature.org

Hooker walked us through AskNature.org, a web site with thousands of biomimicry strategies, set up by the Biomimicry Institute. The site organizes biological information by function. “Everything nature does fits into a function. And these functions enable us to connect biology to design.”

AskNature first organizes strategies into broad functions and then zooms down into the specific. For example, a user could click on the broad function group, “Get / Store / Distribute Resources,” and then navigate to “Capture, Absorb, and Filter,” and then select “Liquids,” which has 52 strategies. One such strategy describes how the nasal surfaces of camels help these desert animals retain water. Another looks at how the horny devil, a desert lizard, uses its grooves to gather water from the atmosphere. There are just as many plant-derived strategies as there are animal ones. One such strategy looks at how the arrangement of epiphytes’ leavesaids in water collection (see image above).

All of these strategies are written in a non-technical way for a general audience. Hooker said they have selected the most “salient examples, backed with credible research citations.” Users can then go explore the citations and pull out excerpts.

Tapping into Nature

Terrapin Bright Green, a sustainable design consultancy, produced Tapping into Nature, a comprehensive online report covering the world of biomimetic design, which includes an amazing interactive graph. Cas Smith, a biological engineer, explained that the report and graph seek to “uncover the landscape of biomimetic innovation, with a roadmap that shows designs and their their stage of development: concept, prototype, development, or in the marketplace.”

“Biomimetic design is now found in almost all industries — power generation, electronics, buildings.” But to make things easier, Terrapin organizes the design strategies into the following sections: water, materials, energy conservation and storage, optics & photonics, thermal regulation, fluid dynamics, data & computing, and systems.

Using the graph, Smith picked out one story: the firm Blue Planet, which is mimicking the bio-mineralization processes of coral reefs, which pull carbon dioxide out of the water to create their unique structures, to create a new type of carbon-based building material. The firm is also creating pigments and powders. Another highlight: early exploration of termite humidity damping devices. Termites create massive mounds, mostly underground, which are equal in scale to a skyscraper for us. Within the mound, temperature and humidity levels are tightly controlled so they can grow the fungi they live on. In some of the mound’s subterranean rooms and chambers are bright yellow objects about the size of a fist. These structures are termite-created sponges that actually pull water from the air. Smith related to this to HVAC systems in human buildings, and how new systems could be created to remove humidity with giant sponges in a more energy efficient way.

Smith said the process of creating biomimetic innovations is similar to that of a typical innovation development process. “There’s just the added layer up front.” While there are risks in any process, biomimetic designs, he argued, will be the source of “breakthrough products for solving our problems.” If the designers and engineers creating these new products and processes follow nature, “they can embed sustainability throughout.”

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Why We Need Design Guidelines for Urban Non-Humans -Beyond the Selfie

Are we really so self centred that we think we need only design for ourselves – yes to seems we are – so when we design urban futures,  we are supposed to consult with its occupants – so who will speak for the birds, foxes and coyotes?

Paul Downton in a post on the Nature of Cities  contend we need rules that include natural systems as having their own needs and we  must take into account  and should have their own rights

‘Alive rather than inert’, Christie Walk in Adelaide, South Australia is a downtown ecocity development in which ‘a profusion of sprouting, breathing, photosynthesising, living things surround and entwine human dwellings’. Image: Paul Downton

Design Table.xlsxBeyond the selfie

Cities are quintessentially human constructions, so it’s hardly surprising that reasons given for having ‘more nature in cities’ are almost invariably anthropocentric (think ‘nature-deficit disorder’ or biophilia). These reasons are typically to do with improving the quality of life for people, or even just their real estate values, but the bottom line for promoting urban nature is more profound; it is about human survival—without healthy natural environments our species cannot survive and cities make or break the natural environment. If cities fail to embrace nature in a demonstrably positive and sustaining way there can be little hope for the environment outside the city walls. Our reasons for valuing nature in cities needs to move beyond the ‘selfie’ view that puts a bit of greenery in the frame of urban portraiture and beyond the very reasonable proposition that integrating nature in our cities is good for livability, resilience, sustainability and human life generally. We need to simply accept that nature has needs of its own, and those needs may or may not be of benefit to human strands in the web of life.

This partly parallels ways of seeing the world found in a number of cultural forms, like Buddhism and Animism; it is close to the Daoist tradition in its acceptance of the natural world as ‘a self-generating, complex arrangement of elements that are continuously changing and interacting’ in which humans are a crucial component but one that should ‘follow the flow of nature’s rhythms’. It is specifically not about an enchanted view of nature and it is not about the worship of nature, not least because we are ultimately part of nature and any degree of self-reverence is dangerous.

No, it’s simply accepting that for natural systems to function certain requirements have to be met and understanding that conditions and pre-conditions for the successful operation of biological processes are set by the nature of the systems and not by the predilections of the human animal. Where human activities affect those systems there are identifiable areas of contact and interaction where we need clear indications as to how to allow or support natural system (ecosystem) function.

Responsive it may be, but Nature does not negotiate

Nature is fractal. Each part of it is a microcosm of the larger whole. An urbanism that gave priority to the needs of nature and the requirements of non-human species would itself need to be fractal and support and nurture the essential functions of natural systems. To some degree it would need to be codified, just as we codify the expectations we have of our artificial human habitat, and that means establishing appropriate design guidelines, rules and regulations. If this agenda is to be taken seriously (and why shouldn’t it?), every city and town on Earth will need to develop such guidelines—to be acted upon as a result of both sensible persuasion (through the political process) and as a response to non-negotiable demands (of ecological necessity). Nature may be astonishingly responsive and receptive, but it does not negotiate

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Boston Living with Water

The proposal for structural new protection of Boston – by Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes prize winning entry in the city’s competition– against coastal flooding turns a safety precaution into an opportunity to create a multifaceted ecology feature

This article was originally published, feature-lenght, in the Green special report, Domus 994, September 2015

The focus of our competition entry “Total Resilient Approach” is based on the redesign of Morrissey Boulevard, a strategy that works on local and territorial levels.

Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes, Boston Living with Waters. Top: preliminary sketch showing waterways and the grid of the built environment. Above: site plan of the project area

Operating on different scales within a single ecological network, the protection plan can be implemented over time and is therefore adaptable to climate changes. The Boston Bay is destined to undergo rapid changes due to rising sea levels. The defence proposals afford an opportunity to speed up landscape transformations with a multidisciplinary approach. A long-term element of our project for the Bay is the rehabilitation of its ecosystems in order to protect the coastline by means of sea-grass meadows, oyster barriers and dunes, and improve biodiversity by enhancing self-adaptive systems such as salt marshes.

Continue reading Boston Living with Water

The Myths of Alien Species: An Alternate Perspective on “Wild”

Ditya Gopal reviews a new book on of The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature’s Salvation, by Fred Pearce from The Nature of Cities  that will add grits to the dispute between conservationists, landscape architects and the public on what constitutes  an acceptable stance to non-native species and invasive aliens and how we view wilderness and wildness along with the age old debate on how nature is constructed.

“The New Wild is an intriguing book that looks at non-native species and nature in new light, challenging popular notions of ‘nativism,’ ‘wild’ and nature’s ‘fragility.’ Although the author, Fred Pearce, has taken on a controversial topic, his sources show that he is not alone as an increasing number of ecologists and scientists are questioning the “good natives, bad aliens,” narrative. As a seasoned journalist with years of experience reporting environmental and development issues, Pearce strengthens his arguments with plenty of examples—most of which he has personally observed. The book critically reviews the vilification of non-native species, common misconceptions in ecosystem restoration, and pitfalls in conventional conservation”

This topic is of particular relevance here in Cape Town which is situated right in the middle one of the worlds ecological hotspots and with its unique vegetation is the site of frequent conflicts between the ruthless eradication  of all alien plant species including what many see as valuable urban forests. The position that many of us have is that it is preferable to have the large exotic trees and shrubs in the urban environment for their social, aesthetic and habitat benefits for urban birds and other wildlife than to revert to the natural vegetation of the place (mostly sand veld fynbos or renosterveld, that cannot be recreated in a viable dimension within the fragmented urban fabric, nor do these vegetation types support large trees and human scale environments, most of the large deciduous northern hemisphere tree species are  benign and not able to survive as C and are classified as such by the CARA legislation.

“As a unique and extreme form of novel ecosystems, Pearce urges conservationists to see the great potential in urban badlands/brownfields that nurture numerous rare species. The success of brownfields suggests that nature just needs places that are left alone, with little human intervention. Brownfields might not fit the conventional definition of nature, but they have a huge potential for conservation. Pearce quotes the case of the Chernobyl nuclear station as one of the most remarkable brownfields where nature is making a huge comeback, including the return of large mammals, rodents, birds, and so on. Although highly radioactive, Chernobyl is an extreme example of “nature’s salvation and resilience.” He adds, “nature doesn’t care about conservationists’ artificial divide between urban and rural or native and alien species” or pristine and badlands. This is a powerful statement that we, as conservationists, ecologists, and nature enthusiasts, need to bear in mind. Pearce suggests that conservationists should move on from conventional conservation and its two main aims—“saving threatened species” and restoring nature to its pristine state; and adapt to current environmental realities that include changes due to climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and intensive agriculture. Aliens seem to be “rapidly changing from being part of the problem to part of the solution.” And they are the ‘new wild.’

With the onset of climate change, which is giving rise to an increasing number of climate refugees, adopting a zero tolerance approach towards migrants seems problematic. Previous ice ages and extreme climatic events are testament to massive migrations of species and evolutionary changes. As Prof. Chris Thomas of the University of York is quoted, “A narrow preservationist agenda will reduce rather than increase the capacity of nature to respond to the environmental changes that we are inflicting on the world.”

In the last paragraphs, Pearce expresses that there is no harm in intervening to protect certain aspects of nature that we cherish, nor is there harm in defending against “pests, diseases and inconvenient invaders.” But, “we are serving our own desires and not nature’s needs.” Nature might organize differently than we would like it to. “Open up to evolutionary changes. Let go and let nature take its course.” “…Nature never goes back, it always moves on. Alien invasions will not always be convenient for us, but nature will re-wild in its own way. That is the new wild.”

“The New Wild is persuasive, with well-supported arguments that make for a good read. The simple language and case studies make it easy for even a non-ecologist to follow. This book should be a must-read at the university level for future scientists, researchers, and conservationists, to develop an open mind towards non-native species.

As an ecologist who works in cultural landscapes, this book is refreshing. ‘Wild,’ to me, means spontaneous and not domesticated or cultivated. In many big European cities that I have visited, the median strip along roadways, the small patches of green at road junctions and other nooks and crannies in the city are beautifully decorated with colourful flowers—almost nearing perfection. It was only when I moved to Berlin that I noticed something different. It is refreshing to see dandelions and daffodils appear and vanish on their own. There seems to be a deliberate attempt to bring back the urban wild and it seems to be popular. Yes, it differs drastically from my notions of ‘wild’ as a child who grew up reading encyclopedias and watching National Geographic Channel and Discovery Channel. But, there is something magical about seeing what nature has to offer. Many of the spontaneously growing plants, often considered weeds elsewhere, add character to the city. Some are natives, some aliens. It doesn’t matter. To me, these spontaneous species are the new wild.”

Divya Gopal
Berlin

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New York and California are Building the Grid of the Future

How we integrate the distributed  energy network into the existing power supply system is a key question fro sustainable energy growth and the problem of vested interests delaying this process is a evident in Cape Town, where pilot projects are only now getting underway and the City of Cpae Town as the power supplier is at odds with allowing the resale of power at the same price as it pays, as it is electricity sales that are one of the prime sources of income of the City, these examples from New York and California , show our situation is not unique From RMI Outlet

In The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell popularized the process—first described by Everett Rogers—by which innovative ideas, policies, and products start with a small but influential minority of early adopters and then spread rapidly to a much wider segment of the market. The planning and design of the electric grid could be at just such a tipping point, with New York and California leading the chargeon how to integrate significantly higher amounts of distributed energy resources (DERs) onto a grid historically built around centralized assets like large power plants.

While New York and California have different existing levels of DER adoption, electricity policy objectives, history, and market structures, the two initiatives share common drivers. Both states recognize the importance of fundamental changes to the regulated investor-owned utility business model and distribution planning process. Both processes are designed to position the electric system to succeed in an environment of changing technology costs and capabilities, improve system resilience and customer opportunities, and address the electric system’s impact on climate.

NY AND CA’S INITIATIVES AT A GLANCE

In April 2014, the New York Public Service Commission launched the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceeding. The ambitious initiative is the first in the nation to propose an entity to perform the role of a “distributed system platform (DSP) provider.” The DSP model gives life to a new market for distributed resources to provide energy services, similar to a distribution-level independent system operator (ISO) but focused on DERs rather than central grid assets.

The DSP in NY will interface between the bulk power system, utilities, DER providers, and retail customers. While much is yet to be decided, the REV proceeding envisions DSPs as platforms for innovation and market-based deployment of DERs.

California launched a rulemaking proceeding in July 2014 pursuant to Assembly Bill 327, which requires the state’s investor-owned utilities to develop distribution resources plans (DRPs) to better integrate DERs onto the grid. California is the national leader in installed capacity of solar PV, and therefore faces unique challenges related to an existing, scaled deployment of DERs that has not yet materialized in New York.  Moreover, due to the California statutory requirement to focus on DRPs, the process is focused on technical matters related to DER integration, and does not explicitly explore how utility business models may need to change to better integrate DERs. The California initiative does not create a new distributed resource market like the one envisioned in NY. However, like NY, the California process intends “to mov(e) the IOUs towards a more full integration of DERs into their distribution system planning, operations and investment.”

FOUR BIG QUESTIONS

To understand where each state may be headed, we focus on four key questions:

  • What is the role of markets versus mandates in creating the future system?
  • What does distribution system planning look like in a high-DER future?
  • What is the best market structure and regulatory framework to attract data-driven innovation and new energy services?
  • What are the roles of the customer and the utility in the future system

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A Wilderness in the City: How Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Zaryadye Park Could Help Fix Moscow

Moscow’s proposed park, that is using a naturalised “theme park culture” as a model, has to withstand the criticism of being as artificial as its environment, not that the idea is without precedent i.e botanical gardens around the world have been using this  “ecological theme park-ism” for years, its just how its implemented that has changed, with technologies that provide control of the environment and the use of process based horticulture to grow these artificial renditions of natural habitats, which by their nature, have to be configured and edited to fit into limited space, the idea of wild design is fraught with design decisions of what to put in and what to leave out.

From archdaily

 

Courtesy of Zaryadye Park
In late 2013, Diller Scofidio + Renfro won first prize in the international competition to design Zaryadye Park, Moscow’s first new park in 50 years. The project is a headliner in a series of high-profile schemes that aim to improve the city’s green space, including the renovation of Gorky Park and the recently revealed plans for the Moscow River. This article, originally published by The Calvert Journal as part of their How to Fix Moscow series examines how DS+R’s urban “wilderness” will impact the city.

In a 2010 interview, the critic and historian Grigory Revzin complained that Muscovites wishing to “walk in parks and get pleasure from the city” would have to “come out into the streets” before anything was done. Hoping that architects would respond to the problem, one of Revzin’s suggestions was a park to replace the site of Hotel Rossiya, which had become overgrown since being abandoned in 2007. This wild area in the city centre was, in fact, a harbinger of what is to come: Zaryadye Park, Moscow‘s first new park in 50 years, which the American design studio Diller Scofidio+Renfro won the international competition to design in November 2013.


Courtesy of Zaryadye Park
A popular idea in the early stages of the park was that it could be made up of plants that appear all over Russia. Diller Scofidio+Renfro took this further, proposing that native flora be included, but as part of four artificial microclimates that mimic the landscape typologies specific to Russia: the steppe, the forest, the wetland and tundra. The principle behind this is similar to Park Russia, the proposed theme park south of Moscow, which promises to represent every region of the country in one space. Zaryadye’s microclimates will be maintained at consistent temperatures throughout the year by means of heating and cooling technologies, making Russia’s ”wilderness” into both an attraction and an exhibition.

Courtesy of Zaryadye Park
Diller Scofidio+Renfro plan to meet halfway between the wild and the urban, and create a periphery in the centre of Moscow. This is appropriate for the area of Zaryadye which, located on the edge of the river in one of the oldest districts of Moscow, within 300 metres of Red Square and the Kremlin, is a suburb of the old city, but in today’s city centre. The term “wild urbanism”, used in Diller Scofidio+Renfro’s proposal, is described by the firm as “an opportunity to leave the city, and at the same time be closer to it”. Zaryadye Park isn’t the first project by the firm that explores the intersection between nature and the city. Diller Scofidio+Renfro are responsible for the High Line in New York, a singular linear park, 1.45 miles long, built on an abandoned freight-railway.

 

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