With all the doom and gloom that talking about climate change in the anthropocene engenders in ones audience, all the hype and positivity I can muster flags when I read about the size of the problems faced and the inadequacies and failings of individuals and governments to act, and in fact my own poorly implemented and limited attempts to do something! It seems as if it is extreme hubris on my part to say we can change our lifestyles, consumerist habits or other people’s desires. I was pleasantly surprised while I was researching on LAF’s (Landscape Architecture Foundation) website for a recent magazine article, to discover Martha Swartz talking about the book edited by Paul Hawken’s “Drawdown The most comprehensive plan ever to reverse global warming” Having viewed the website’s info and watched the video I am eagerly awaiting the book.
As Martha Swartz says in the interview on LAF’s website ” I was introduced to Drawdown by Pamela Conrad, a Senior Associate at CMG Landscape Architecture, while preparing for a conference presentation on climate change with her two years ago. We gave a presentation about the book, why it’s important, and why it’s important specifically for landscape architects. We got up there and talked about what climate change is and why it’s so urgent that we address it. What really struck me about Drawdown is that it gave metrics for its solutions. They weren’t theoretical, but actionable ideas”
Here is Paul Hawken, the projects instigator, the books editor and the evangelist of the crusade to make a difference, telling us what inspirited him and how it can affect us and what we can do ourselves, more than just lamenting the lack of efficacy of our recycling or our governments alternative energy strategies!
Here is a load of evidence from The Dirt that new designed ecologies are possible on a large scale and that they involve code sign past the usual silo-like boundaries of academia and professional affiliation. The US Army Corps of Engineers who are often reviled for their failings e.g. in New Orleans , are here showing us that it is cheaper and more efficient to design with natural systems and flows than against them.
“We rely on natural processes and landscapes to sustain human life and well-being. Our energy, water, infrastructure, and agricultural systems use these processes and landscapes to satisfy our most basic human needs. One motivation, therefore, for protecting the environment is to sustain the ecosystem goods and services upon which we depend. As we emerge from the sixth decade of modern environmentalism, there is a growing international awareness of opportunities to efficiently and effectively integrate natural and engineered systems to create even more value.”
One might understandably think this was written by a landscape architect, or excerpted from somewhere on the ASLA website. In fact, it comes from the forward of Engineering with Nature: An Atlas, a new book by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Engineering with Nature (EWN) team, led by environmental scientist Dr. Todd Bridges.
Over the last eight years, Bridges has quietly built the EWN initiative out of the Army Corps’ Vicksburg, Mississippi headquarters, working with a team of engineers, environmental scientists, and ecologists to develop pilot projects that prove the viability of engineering large-scale infrastructure in partnership with natural systems.
Now, after successfully completing dozens of projects across the U.S., Bridges is pushing to take EWN to new heights. The initiative’s 2018-2023 strategic planenvisions an expanded portfolio of engineering strategies and project types, deeper interdisciplinary and community engagement, and heightened public awareness of EWN goals, activities, and success stories.
To that end, Engineering With Nature: An Atlas documents more than 50 engineering projects completed in recent decades that exemplify the EWN approach. The projects are grouped according to typology, including chapters on beaches, wetlands, islands, reefs, and rivers. Reflecting the collaborative approach of the EWN initiative, only half of the case studies profiled were carried out by the Army Corps. The remainder were executed by partner NGOs in the US and government agencies in England, The Netherlands, and New Zealand, countries which have made substantial investments of their own in innovative coastal and water-based
An Atlas also includes projects that retrofit conventional infrastructure to provide ecological benefits, such as creating nesting habitat for terns on top of breakwaters in Lake Erie, or efforts in the Netherlands to redesign coastal reinforcements to serve as habitat for marine plants and animals. Reminiscent of SCAPE’s Living Breakwaters project off the southern coast of Staten Island, these projects demonstrate an increasing interest in designing infrastructure that provides multiple benefits.
Despite its title, At Atlas does not contain any maps or diagrams to orient the reader–an unfortunate omission that makes it difficult to grasp the scale of the presented projects. Instead, the projects are depicted using solely perspective and aerial photos.
While these photos are informative, the book would have greatly benefited from the development of a graphic language to more clearly and visually communicate the impacts of the presented projects and the issues they seek to address.
Despite these omissions, the breadth and scope of projects presented in Engineering with Nature: An Atlas makes a considerable impression, presenting a range of strategies for designing infrastructure with ecological, social, and cultural benefits at multiple scales.
Perhaps most significantly, An Atlas suggests there is great potential for meaningful interdisciplinary collaboration between the Corps and landscape architects. As landscape architects increasingly seek to broaden the field’s scope to include the planning and design of large-scale systems and ecologies, this collaboration may prove vital. Engineering with Nature: An Atlas begins to paint a picture of what such a collaborative practice may look like.
Jason King of landscape+urbanism has posted another insightful and topical examination of the implication of the latest IPCC report on global warming and particularly what is means as a landscape architect to be able to do something ..walk the talk or just understand it at least – the extract I have chosen her is relevant to my previous post of becoming CO2+ – bu toy can read the fullest on Jason’s blog here
The background is:
The connection to the science is vital to and expanded knowledge of climate change, as I mentioned in the post on the Foundations of Climate Change Inquiry. One of those foundations mentioned is the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is the body of the United Nations focusing on the global science and impacts related to climate change. Their October 2018 IPCC Special Report focuses on “the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global green house gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.”
Likely some of us like to skip all the doom and science stuff and get to what we can do – don’t forget to read Jasons intro though….
The wide array of options for mitigation are collectively referred to as “system transformations”, as I mentioned, interesting as they include a number of landscape-specific ideas. And, based on the dire predictions of our available remaining carbon budget, reductions alone will not suffice to get us to levels that can keep warming at 1.5°C or even 2°C, especially without overshoot. Per section C.2 we require:
“…rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. These system transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options.”
As I mentioned, efficiency is one aspect, and a combination of new and existing technologies are needed, including “electrification, hydrogen, sustainable bio-based feedstocks, product substitution, and carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS)”, to name but a few. I think of the book Drawdown as a good snapshot of many of these strategies and their potential. However, as mentioned, while these are technically proven at a number of scales, large-scale deployment of these is constrained, and often has trade-offs with other strategies.
We also need changes in systems, for instance section C.2.4 mentions urban and infrastructure system transitions, which imply “changes in land and urban planning practices, as well as deeper emissions reductions in transport and buildings…” to get us to these targets. Many of these are not new, but do come with some baggage: “Economic, institutional and socio-cultural barriers may inhibit these urban and infrastructure system transitions, depending on national, regional and local circumstances, capabilities and the availability of capital.”
The final section does present some interesting options, specific to CO2removal, which are collectively referred to as CDR for “carbon dioxide removal” which range in potential. These include:
afforestation and reforestation
land restoration and soil carbon sequestration
bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)
direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS)
enhanced weathering and ocean alkanlinization
Two mentioned previously have some huge potential. For instance BECCS can capture up to 5 gigatons of CO2 per year, and afforestation an additional 3.6 gigatons of CO2 per year. As we find out more about the potential we can employ these strategies at larger scales, however there are trade-offs, such as the competition with other land use (for instance agriculture for food production) and the need to protect valuable ecosystem resources. One strategies mentioned is to use multiple, small installations, versus massive projects, to spread out impacts.
Related specifically to landscape systems, the connection to ecosystem services is highlighted with the multi-functional benefits, as mentioned in section C.3.5. The use of Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) measures for CDR, have a number of co-benefits, such as restoration of natural ecosystems providing additional soil carbon sequestration, increased biodiversity, soil quality, and food security, if managed sustainably.
“The next few years are probably the most important in our history,” said Conrad “We believe our profession can be part of the solution, and that it’s time to work together.”
Pamela Conrad has developed a calculator that predicts the emissions and carbon sequestration potential
“A few years back, I assumed I could go online and download a tool that would tell me exactly what I wanted to know. But frankly, those tools really only exist for architects right now. Because we have the ability to sequester carbon, perhaps we need our own tools to measure these impacts.”
Conrad’s tool, which is still in beta testing and has not yet been publicly released, measures sources of embodied emissions in landscape materials against the sequestration potential of vegetation on a site to calculate both the carbon footprint of a project and the amount of time it will take for sequestration to completely offset emissions. Past that point, the project will sequester additional atmospheric carbon dioxide, a condition Conrad calls being “climate positive.”
Using the calculator, Conrad has been able to estimate the carbon footprints of her recently completed projects and, by tweaking the input parameters, model strategies that could have reduced their climate impacts.
“We can plant more trees and woody shrubs; we can minimize paving, especially concrete; we can minimize lawn areas; we can use local or natural recycled materials.” With these strategies, Conrad estimates that she could have cut the time it will take for her projects to become carbon neutral in half.
“The design of those projects didn’t change at all, or the quality for that matter. But what a difference it could have made if we just had the resources to inform our design decisions.”
Conrad argued that, through climate sensitive design, landscape architects could be responsible for the sequestration of as much as 0.24 gigatons of carbon over the next thirty years, enough to place landscape architecture in the list of 80 solutions to climate change studied in Paul Hawken’s Drawdownproject.
And “if we were to include other work we do, like incorporating green roofs into projects or making cities more walkable and bikeable, that would put landscape architecture within the top 40 solutions.”
Conrad plans to release the calculator to the public next year and hopes that it will be used to set measurable goals for designing climate-friendly projects and create opportunities for accountability.
“How are we going to keep tabs on ourselves to make sure that we’re actually doing these things?” she asked her fellow panelists. “What would it take for us to have a 2030 challenge specific to landscape architecture?”
In an attempt to be intentional and informed in tying landscape architecture to climate change and asking some of the fundamental questions I posed in my introductory post, I starting to develop a plan and amass a wide range of resources. Even now, I’ve barely scratched the surface, although this initial study has been illuminating, perhaps just in posing more questions.
First, I wanted to focus on climate change mechanisms and impacts, of which there is not shortage of resources, covered in a combination of technical reports, books and articles. Second, I wanted to tap into many of the strategies from design and planning world, of which there is a steadily growing collection of articles and books, to address this in the context of solutions based in landscape architecture, architecture, and urban planning. Lastly, is the rich resource of academic journals and papers that connect the issues and approaches with a layer of evidence to further inform potential solutions. In this initial post I will focus on the first, and relate some of the initial experiences.
Climate Change Reports
One impetus for my recent obsession was the release (to much fanfare) over the Thanksgiving weekend of Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4). This report gives a detailed account of the “Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States.” Authored by an army of experts, and published by the U.S. Global Change Research Program this is the de facto standard for US Climate Science and has helped transform and amplify discussions.
Climate impact lingo
“Because the IPCC’s work is so central to global scientific understand, it is helpful to get acquainted with the particular communications style of the IPCC… [it] forms a common language across fields and thus encourages interdisciplinary understanding.”Hamin-Infield, Abunnaser, & Ryan (eds), 2019 p.10
A view that engenders heated debate and angry responses from ecologists and conservationists is questioned by Yolanda van Heezik, in an essay on the Nature of CIties. Although this essay adreeeses the topic of exotic versus local fauna, it is equally valid when considering vegetation.
“This emphasis on killing introduced species to protect native ones makes me wonder how much people involved in these activities think about why they are willing to kill some to protect others. Why do they value native species above others?”
Endemic faunas and floras make a country unique, and it is that uniqueness that engenders among its human inhabitants a sense of place or identity. Those species with populations that respond best to predator control are the most deeply endemic ones; in New Zealand they are species that have evolved for millions of years in an environment with no mammalian predators. The only terrestrial mammalian species native to New Zealand are a couple of species of rather small, insectivorous bats. When urban residents band together to trap rats or possums, it is to protect these vulnerable, endemic, native species — they want to be able to share their living spaces with them and encounter them as part of their day-to-day lives, rather than having to travel to special predator-free areas such as offshore islands to see them. NZ’s Department of Conservation’s Threatened Species Ambassador, Nicola Toki, argues that native species and introduced predators in New Zealand cannot co-exist, and that it is the indigenous subset of our biodiversity that fundamentally defines us as a nation.
This emphasis on killing introduced species to protect native ones makes me wonder how much people involved in these activities actually think about why they are willing to kill some to protect others, i.e., why they value native species above others? There has been long-standing, ongoing debate in the scientific literature on how introduced species should be managed, with some scientists arguing that the paradigm of native/non-native is no longer relevant in highly modified environments, such as urban landscapes (Davis 2011). Instead, proponents of this school of thought assert that environmental management should involve acceptance of alien species and novel ecosystems. Conciliation ecology is thought by some to be the morally acceptable course of action (references in Russell & Blackburn 2017), but is soundly rejected by others.
While there is no doubt in New Zealand that the introduction of predatory mammals into a fauna that evolved without any mammalian predator has had a disastrous impact on many of NZ’s native species, not everyone in NZ agrees with Nicola Toki’s sentiments or the concept of valuing native species above others. For example, one opponent to the “predator-free” concept asserts that “we can’t keep erasing the fact that the species that we introduced, whether managed or not, are ‘ours’ too — even the ones we later decided were a mistake. They’re our responsibility as well. And a future where people learn to accept the presence of our introduced species is not so horrifying.”
This view is being echoed more frequently in the media; in a recent opinionpiece in The Press, columnist Joe Bennett writes:
“We like our birds here. They’re our signature fauna. No-one else has got them and we haven’t got much else. But among birds we practise apartheid. We distinguish between birds that are — and here’s an adjective that chinks like a gold coin — native, and those that are not. Native birds are first-class citizens who can do no wrong. The rest are the rest and the magpie is among them. It’s an Australian import, loud, boorish, a bird to deride.”
At a more general level, in other countries, criticism has been leveled by social scientists at those advocating for native species, labelling it as a form of anti-immigrant nativism. They claim that the removal of non-natives reflects an anti-immigrant, racist, political discourse (Mastnak et al. 2014). They draw our attention to the Nazi policy of removing non-native plants, and by doing so implicitly associate the protection of native species with Nazism. An alternative perspective is that many current ecological problems are a legacy of colonialism, a process of settlement of plants, animals and people that resulted in the uprooting of native plants and indigenous peoples (Mastnak et al. 2014). This was certainly the case in New Zealand, where we even had an “Acclimatization Society” whose role was to introduce many species from the UK, where most settlers originated from, and create landscapes populated by familiar species. After early waves of extinctions this process was thought to be a means of restoring biodiversity to a depleted environment. Advocating for native plantings then becomes a process of decolonisation, which is ethically appropriate.
Others advocate for the middle-ground; they both question the dichotomy between native and non-native, but at the same time acknowledge that low-impact, non-native species should be tolerated, and that control methods to remove alien pest species can also be contentious if they involve the use of toxins (Shackelford et al. 2011). Some critics have raised the issue of involving children in the process of systematically killing predators, but also the militaristic dimensions of the entire exercise, which uses terminology such as “war on predators”, or “under siege”, and what some consider to be xenophobic expressions (Schlaepfer et al. 2010 ). Simberloff (2003) discusses the claims and suggests that it is impossible to prove that aesthetic preferences for native species are infected by nativism or xenophobia. He points out that those who criticise efforts to control non-native pest species often ignore their ecological and economic impacts, which alone comprise a valid, ethical rationale for managing introduced species.
We are the microbial systems and live in a microbial world, our survival as individuals, communities and as a species depend on it ! In the movie “War of The Worlds”, Steven Spielberg attributed the success of humans in surviving the aliens invasion, to our immune systems evolutionary adaptation to withstand our microbial environment. Heres a look at how this could impact our design thinking from The Dirt
Humans are essentially super-organisms or holobionts made up of both human cells and those of micro-organisms, such as viruses, bacteria, archea, protists, and fungi. Researchers now know the human body hosts a comprehensive ecosystem, largely established by age three, in which non-human cells vastly outnumber human cells. The latest study from the American Academy of Microbiology estimates each human ecosystem contains around 100 trillion cells of micro-organisms and just 37 trillion human cells.
But while rainforest or prairie ecosystems are now well-understood, the human ecosystem is less so. As researchers make new discoveries, there is a growing group of scientists who argue our microbiomes are deeply connected with our physical and mental health. The increased number of prebiotics and probiotics supplements on the shelf in drug stores and supermarkets, and availability of fresh pickles and kimchi in local farmers markets, are perhaps testaments to this increasingly-widespread belief.
The incredible increase of allergies among Western populations may be caused by our “sterile, germ-free environments” that cause our immune systems to over-react to everything from nuts to mold and pollen. Dr. Brett Finlay and Marie-Claire Arrieta even wrote a book exploring this: Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child from an Over-sanitized World.
Wener said we have created cities that reflect our fear of bacteria; instead we must create microbial-inclusive cities that improve our health. “Most microbes in our bodies have co-evolved with us. They are important to our vital functions. The future of urban planning and design should support healthy microbes.”
As part of this vision, landscape architects could design parks and plazas to be filled with accessible garden plots and soil-based play areas that let both adults and kids get dirty. We could design for holobionts instead of just people, boosting the health of the collective urban microbiome in the process.
“Rendering of Houston wetland channel showing ecological wetland, conservation areas, and recreation trails” p. 90-91
An amazing resource posted on ASLA’s The Dirt (here) focuses on Design Guidelines for Urban Wetlands, specifically what shapes are optimal for performance. Using simulations and physical testing to investigate hydraulic performance the team from the Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism (LCAU) at MIT. Led by Heidi Nepf, Alan Berger and Celina Balderas Guzman along with a team including Tyler Swingle, Waishan Qiu, Manoel Xavier, Samantha Cohen, and Jonah Susskind, the project aims to have a practice application in design guidance informed by research. From their site:
“Although constructed wetlands and detention basins have been built for stormwater management for a long time, their design has been largely driven by hydrologic performance. Bringing together fluid dynamics, landscape architecture, and urban planning, this research project explored how these natural treatment systems can be designed as multi-functional urban infrastructure to manage flooding, improve water quality, enhance biodiversity, and create amenities in cities.”
Starting in the beginning by outlining ‘The Stormwater Imperative’, the above goal is explained in more depth, and issues with how we’ve tackled these problems are also discussed, such as civil-focused problem solving or lack of scalability, but also explore the potential for how, through intentional design, these systems “can create novel urban ecosystems that offer recreation, aesthetic, and ecological benefits.” (1)
The evolution that has resulted in destruction of wetlands through urbanization, coupled with deficient infrastructure leads to issues like flooding, water pollution due to the loss of the natural holding and filtering capacity of these systems and the increased flows. However, as pointed out by the authors, this can be an opportunity, as constructed wetlands “can partially restore some lost ecosystem services, especially in locations where wetlands do not currently exist.” (5)
The modeled flow patterns are also interesting, showing the differentiation from fast, regular, slow flows, along with any Eddy’s that were shown in dye testing using the flumes.
Check it out and see what you think. The report is available as a online version via ISSUU or via PDF download from the LCAU site, where there are also some additional resources. All images in this post are from these reports and should be credited to the LCAU team.
Planting with species that thrive on less than 500mm of winter rainfall a year is the new reality for landscaping in Cape Town.
The politicians may have done away with the Day Zero concept, but the realities of the water situation in the Western Cape remains dire.
Water restrictions and the price of potable water have encouraged a new landscaping reality. The foundation of this reality is based on landscaping with plants that thrive with less than 500mm of winter rainfall. And in our current era of climate change, coping with dramatically wet years – followed by dramatically dry years.
Highs and lows
With an average rainfall of 464mm per annum, South Africa remains a water scarce country. In years gone by, Cape Town’s average rainfall was 820mm per annum. In 2013 and 2014, Cape Town’s annual rainfall exceeded this average with two dramatically wet years.
The winds of change arrived in 2015. Over the past three years, the rainfall received in Cape Town has swung way below the average: 549mm in 2015, 634mm in 2016 and 499mm in 2017 – the driest year since observations began in 1921.
Against this backdrop, landscapers are practising the art of resilient landscaping. “We need green spaces in our cities”, says Norah de Wet, Chairperson of the South African Landscapers’ Institute (SALI). “Professional landscapers are at the forefront of securing the intrinsic value of properties across the Western Cape by refitting, rehabilitating, restoring and installing resilient landscapes”.
Planting for resilience
“Choosing plants that can thrive in a winter rainfall area with less that 500mm a year of rainfall is key to the concept of resilient landscaping in the Western Cape”, says Deon van Eeden from Vula Environmental Services. “Only with a sound knowledge of fynbos flora, can one succeed in designing water wise, ecologically sound, resilient landscapes for the winter rainfall area”, he adds.
The High Line in New York City. Photo: David Maddox
Urban ecology has expanded in the last couple decades as a major, global, interdisciplinary field that advances biodiversity, sustainability, and fundamental ecological research in the context of cities and urbanization. With all this accumulated learning, has urban ecology made its mark in the field of ecology more generally?
In some of the most important peer-reviewed ecology journals, and on social media, it seems even the most basic of urban ecology concepts have yet to be appreciated or incorporated in the broader ecology discipline. For example, it’s been 25 years since Humans as Components of Ecosystems was published, and yet many ecologists still don’t see humans as part of how we define and study nature—despite the fact that every ecosystem on earth is affected by, and has effects on, people.
The High Line in New York City. Photo: David Maddox
In November 2017, Nature Ecology and Evolution published a major review of the field of ecology, titled “100 articles every ecologist should read” (behind a paywall, unfortunately). It must be noted that the list was a product of a extensive survey of ecologists. Nevertheless, many ecologists around the world took exception to the lack of gender and racial diversity, and its general lack of inclusivity (see here, here, and here). Notably lacking from these academic discussions has been a recognition of core contributions from urban ecology to how we understand, manage, and plan ecosystems on our urban planet.
It begs the question: what would a reading list be for the discipline of ecology in the Anthropecene? But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
No one disputes that the 100 papers listed by Nature Ecology and Evolution are important in the history of ecology. Indeed, everyone should read these papers. But is this the right list of 100 papers to understand ecology today? There are other papers that should make a reading list for a complete understanding of modern ecology. An alternative version of a “key reading” prompt could be this: what are the 100 papers that every ecologist must read to understand ecology today, in the Anthropocene? Social ecology, biophilia, justice, poverty, gender, values, the Global South, design, climate change, policy; these are just some of the topics that are core material for understanding the broad science of ecology today, These topics are largely missing from the 100 papers list.
And also missing, of course, is urban ecology.
As it happens, urban ecology routinely includes the aforementioned list of additional topics: social ecology, biophilia, justice, policy, and so on. How does urban ecology advance the state of the art in ecology more generally? It advances our understanding of how our current world works, how it might work better, and it lays foundations to turn that learning towards pressing Anthropocene challenges, both urban and non-urban.
We asked a diverse group to help our non-urban ecological colleagues understand some of the most important contributions from urban ecology for advancing the field of ecology. We asked them this question: What is one thing every ecologist should know about urban ecology? (We asked them to suggest a reading also—a start on a reading list.)
Along the way, let’s expand the idea of “ecology”.