The Foundations of Climate Change Inquiry

Jason King of Landscape+ Urbanism has written a great review and references for understanding the climate change fundamentals and I will be diving into this myself, although written for North American audience, he does reference international resources as well, for an African audience, this local book by Anton Cartwright and team from UCT’s African Centre for Cities is worth looking at Climate Change at the City Scale: Impacts, Mitigation and Adaptation in Cape Town   

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

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THE SHAPE OF WATER

From Jason King’s Landscape+Urbanism site

 

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“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:js_plan_typical-01

“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)

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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.

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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.

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The Necessity of Advocacy: Discussing the Politics of Landscape Architecture

The role of advocacy and political engagement  here espoused by ASLA in the USA is as needed in South Africa, where the demands and needs of the needy poor is sidelined by the greed of the avaricious in business and politics.
Posted by Jonathon Geels on Land8

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“When people think about what influences elected officials, nine times out of ten their first thought is money… Clearly, skepticism reigns supreme when it comes to our views of how to influence a policymaker.” – Stephanie Vance, “Citizens in Action”

Despite being “for the people, by the people,” our representative democracy can seem distant. It can appear inaccessible and elitist, particularly when sensationalized by the “yellow journalism” of contemporary news media. Lobbying, and by extension advocacy, further brings to mind a hidden element of governance. Because of that, they are both practically four letter words. While this presidential election cycle has brought to the forefront the concept of politicians being “bought” by powerful lobbies, simply viewing government as a trade deal undermines the value of advocacy and professional lobbying.

I attended my first ASLA Advocacy Summit with a similar perspective and with a far greater understanding of the concurrent Awareness Summit. At the same time, I approached the event both grateful for being there and committed to gleaming every ounce of value out of the experience for the chapter I represented*. Of the dual arms of chapter outreach, Awareness (Public Relations) is sexy and glam; who doesn’t want their picture on television? Advocacy, because of the distance of government, lacks the same initial luster. Even as I listened to a professional lobbyist describe the services that he offered the society, I still had misgivings. As he outlined case studies in landscape architecture licensure battles that had littered the ground of advocacy for the society in recent years, I was unconvinced. In a state that seemingly had a shield to any licensure attacks – Indiana has a combined board with the architects who were not likely to come under any sunset issues – it was hard to reconcile the cost of lobbying. Despite the need for vigilance, the issue of licensure did not have the same sense of urgency in my state as with other chapters. Without the urgency, advocacy remained a back-burner issue, especially compared to the draw of World Landscape Architecture Month or the need for continuing education credits and networking value of the state’s Annual Meeting.

As the presenter shifted to outline the tangent benefits of advocacy and lobbying, one line was burned into my mind: “Raising the profile of the profession.” That even without a specific “ask” or dramatic need, landscape architects would benefit from engaging policymakers if for no other reason than to make the profession more prominent in the eyes of those individuals who controlled much of the direction of the built environment through the allocation of funds or the implementation of guiding policies. This was a seminal moment for me and one that changed the way that I viewed professional practice. I began to see advocacy as a partner to awareness and public relations. At the same time, I began to view Government Affairs as the natural progression in the pursuit to work as a landscape architect. It’s a complicated feeling to watch the built environment evolve, knowing that your own involvement could improve the quality of place or positively contribute to changing public health, safety, and welfare. This was a moment of clarity, like Neo seeing the Matrix for the first time. Everything was different. I was already aware of the problems that plague the profession – lack of understanding, vague licensure laws, engineering bias; finding problems to solve is easy. Inherently, landscape architects also know that layering in solutions to the problems would produce systemic benefit. But it was through advocacy to local, state, and federal policymakers that landscape architects would have the opportunity to be a constant part of the conversation. Through better advocacy, landscape architecture can become a baseline expectation, not just an add-on or luxury component or easy to value-engineer out.

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Jan Gehl: «Architects know very little about people»

Jan Gehl on his passion and mission for liable and human scale cities

He likes high-rises only from far away, he thinks cars should be banned from city-centers and he wants the public space to be the «living room of a city»: The danish urban planner Jan Gehl visited Basel on an official mission. By Matthias Oppliger  in Tages Woche

Basile Bornand: Jan Gehl: «Traffic is like water, it goes where it can. And when it can’t go somewhere, it stops.»

As adress of welcome Jan Gehl hands a business card. Printed on its back is a photography. It shows the typical yellow-red tram from Baselland. «This should be in Switzerland.» Gehl gathered the various pictures on his business cards during numerous travels.

Despite his hometown Copenhagen being one of the most liveable places of the world, the danish architect Jan Gehl gets about a lot. With his company «Gehl Architects» he helps cities around the world to build «cities for people». A few days ago, he visited Basel on invitation from the local planning department. We met him outside the «Gundeldingerfeld», where he held a well attended public lecture about sustainable cities the day before.

Jan Gehl, how many steps did you walk so far today?

I know that precisely (he fumbles for something and brings out a little red device). This is called a pedometer and it was given to me by the mayor of Kaliningrad. It says I walked 5000 steps so far, but actually it should be more. So I have to walk another 5000 steps today. You get seven more years to live, when you walk 10’000 steps a day.

Where have you been?

I have been walking around with these crazy people here all over this neighbourhood (Gundeldingen).

I’ve read somewhere that you like to stroll around a city and that you always bring your little camera along. What pictures do you take?

People mostly. People using public spaces. And I’m also interested in good solutions to planning problems. Or, of course, in silly solutions. I use this pictures in my presentations as I did yesterday. Or in my books. I’ve done this on five continents for fifty years. So I’ve got a lot of pictures by now. Pictures of people are always interesting. You can go on for hours looking at them, but by looking at pictures of houses or motorcars you will get bored pretty soon.

Did you take a picture in Basel too?

I haven’t had time to take many, because we worked a lot during my stay.

«The mutual love affair between people and their cars has waned.»

But did you take one? What drew your interest walking through the streets of Basel?

The first picture I took was of the little ferryboat on the Rhine, which was not propelled by anything but the sun and the streaming river. It’s genius. And I also took one of the Münsterplatz. I like it, it is a fine example of a good old city square. Its dimensions are within the human scale. You can still see the people standing at the far end. Modern squares are often built outside the human scale and therefore you lose sense of its dimension.

Just a few years ago, this exact square was regularly used as parking space. Now we have somehow managed to get rid of them.

This is a general pattern all over the world. The mutual love affair between people and their cars has waned. People start to think there might be other qualities in cities than just making space for cars.

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Trevor Manuel – Minister of Planning: South Africa

From Daily Maverick – an interview with Trevor Manuel Minister of Planning – South Africa – on what the planning commission means and what it intends for working on South Africa’s extremely unequal demographics and poverty.

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Interviewing politicians can be difficult, because they hardly ever give a straight answer, and Minister for Planning in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, is a consummate politician. But in a wide-ranging interview, he spoke as openly as possible, among others, about how he has won over sceptics over the years, first as minister of finance and now as planning minister, about his displeasure at ministers whose utterances go against the Constitution, his anger at the policemen who killed a Mozambican man in Daveyton last week, his resignation in support of Thabo Mbeki and how his current job is very different from his previous one as minister of finance. He remained hesitant to speak about his future, however. By RYLAND FISHER.

We interviewed Manuel in his office at Parliament on Friday morning, a few hours after he had hosted a report-back meeting in the Rocklands Civic Centre in Mitchells Plain where he spoke about the need to rekindle the activism that was prevalent in the 1980s.

Below is an edited extract of the interview:

RF: When you were appointed minister in charge of planning in President Zuma’s Cabinet, there were obviously some sceptics who did not quite understand what it is that you had to do. Now that the National Development Plan has taken centre stage in our political life and, indeed, our economy, do you feel vindicated?

TM: I don’t actually set out with that objective. I think that too frequently we start out not being given the benefit of the doubt. What it entails is just working hard to get things right and if, in the process, you disprove the sceptics, that’s okay, but you start out to get things right.

In the last few years of Madiba, in spite of the fact that many people told him he was crazy to appoint me minister of finance, I did not set out to prove the sceptics wrong, but I hoped that through my efforts I would be able to win the trust of Madiba and the organisation that gave me the opportunity to do so. What is important is that one is able to take decisions and learn in the process.

I understand very clearly that if the only thing you want to do in a position of leadership is to please people, the quality of your leadership is going to be severely compromised. If you try and do things that go against the grain of your belief system, then you will be unhappy and feel compromised.

If you want to deal with these issues, you have to ask questions constantly about what your reference points are, about what is your value system. Some people use the term “compass”: so where are you heading and why?

The ability to think past ideological rigidity is also important.

If I take these points and try and use them to answer the question about the National Development Plan, it makes for an interesting read.

The commission [National Planning Commission] itself is an interesting construct. I’ll be bold enough to say that my initial thought was to have the commission structured more along the lines of the Indian Planning Commission which has about half a dozen ministers on it. It is chaired by the prime minister and often the president or the deputy president could chair it and I would do the spade work inside. I lost that battle, and it was not about wanting to be a prime minister. It was about wanting to follow a construct whose relationship to implementation would be understood.

The second thing about the plan and the commission is that its composition actually lives out !ke e: ǀxarra ǁke (Khoisan for “diverse people unite”). It is quite a diverse group of people and that’s a real strength.

When we approached people to participate, on the recommendation of the president, some of them said: “Why are you approaching me? I’m not even an active member of the ANC.” However, everyone accepted. There were some people who felt rejected by the ANC. In putting this together, a lot of these people got a new lease on life and have given the commission a new lease on life. It has been very important for that reason.

The third issue is that, in many ways, when, 13 months into the process, the diagnostic report was released, it was a coming out for the commission. If people thought it was a lapdog, then the release of the diagnostic report – which deals with issues such as the unevenness of the public service, the breakdown of unity, the need to tackle corruption, etc. – spoke volumes about the way so many South Africans feel.

But it also spoke to the fact that the president, in inviting the commission to take a long-term, independent view, was actually not curtailing that. There was no censorship about the views of the commission. He allowed it to happen and has built on the momentum created by the National Planning Commission. It is going to be quite important because it was a commission started on his watch and it has been allowed to generate the unity and momentum. It is something that he wants to see through and that is very positive.

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Cities: The Drivers of Sustainable Human Development and Prosperity

Information on the latest Un-Habitat report on the State of the Worlds Cities from SustainableCitiesCollective  by Maggie Comstock

Photo credit: Chernivtsi Online via Flickr

While green buildings, by their most obvious definition, address environmental impacts, they also have wide implications for human health, safety and productivity. Well-ventilated green schools can reduce instances of asthma in students. Green offices with day lit spaces boost employee productivity and attendance. Patients feel faster in green hospitals with views to nature.

As we plan for the future of our planet, it is imperative that we consider the effects of development on both the environment and human populations. A city is only truly sustainable if it uses natural resources efficiently while still fully meeting the needs of its inhabitants and a decent standard of living.

Recently, the UN Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) launched its “State of the World’s Cities Report 2012/2013” which addresses the prosperity of cities. According to the report, the first step to achieving prosperity is to define the goal: What does prosperity mean in 2012? This is a difficult question to answer given the vast disparity of living conditions throughout the world. Additionally, it is imperative that the definition of prosperity today consider the needs of future generations. To this end, UN-Habitat developed a “City Prosperity Index,” which translates the five dimensions of prosperity identified by UN-Habitiat—productivity, infrastructure development, quality of life, equity and social inclusion, environmental sustainability—into measurable indicators (see page 15 of the report). This definition of the prosperous city is consistent with the principles of a smartsustainable and just city.

Cities are ideal vehicles for mitigating the effects of and adapting to climate change. Local governments have greater flexibility to create effective policy solutions and are more likely to pursue innovative and creative strategies than their national counterparts. In addition to being better suited to address sustainability, UN-HABITAT identifies cities as a remedy to global crises, such as the financial and democratic crises that characterize conflicts plaguing all regions of the globe. If cities are a remedy to global crises, policies are the mechanism by which cities achieve prosperity.

The “State of the World’s Cities Report” outlines multiple policy best practices aimed to improve the prosperity of cities, including sustainability measures:

“Environmental sustainability offers cities huge scope for the balanced economic growth that can pave the way to prosperity. This includes opportunities for new types of employment and investment, poverty alleviation and reduced inequity together with new types of infrastructures and services” (82).

The report identifies construction projects as having the greatest potential for green job creation in urban areas compared to renewable energy, waste and recycling, and urban transport programs. Currently employing more than 111 million people worldwide, the construction industry supports approximately on average 5-10 percent of total employment per country. This figure rises to 75 percent in developing countries (84). Green construction is rapidly accelerating its market share globally, compared to conventional construction, and has the potential to support both job creation and job retention through the retrofitting of existing buildings and construction of new development to support growing urban populations.

For more examples of how sustainable design, construction and operations are driving social inclusion and urban prosperity, please see the United Nations Environment Program Sustainable Building and Climate Initiative’s report.

URBANIZED: Conversation

A discussion between Gary Hustwitt, James Corner and Ricky Burdett on the movie URBANIZED, a documentary film by Gary Hustwit

Urbanized is a feature-length documentary about the design of cities, which looks at the issues and strategies behind urban design and features some of the world’s foremost architects, planners, policymakers, builders, and thinkers. On April 12, PennDesign Dean Marilyn Jordan Taylor joined filmmaker Gary Hustwit in conversation with two of the film’s participants, James Corner, Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture at PennDesign and Principal, James Corner Field Operations and Ricky Burdett, Professor of Urban Studies and Director, LSE Cities and Urban Age/Global Distinguished Professor, New York University, following a screening of the film. Sponsored by Penn IUR, Cinema Studies and Urban Studies. For more information, visitdesign.upenn.edu/calendar/urbanized-film-screening-conversation.

Web-Based Participatory Research

A listing of some of the resources and researching live information gathering for urban dynamics from [polis] Kind of like crowd-soucing without the crowd?

The Internet is being used in exciting ways toward participatory research on cities. Beyond facilitating collaboration between academics, it is widely expanding the range of participants. Approaches include decentralized fieldwork, interactive microstudies and map-based data feeds. They are developing so quickly that the best way to understand them is, most likely, to participate.


Training youth mappers in Nairobi’s Mukuru settlement. Source: Map Kibera

Decentralized fieldwork includes as many people as possible, filling in data that contributes to sound policy, design, technology and other potential improvements to the quality of life in cities. Participants play an active role in expanding the research base, often taking responsibility for quadrants near their homes. These studies are similar to collective knowledge bases like Wikipedia or Wikimapia, but they address specific research questions. They are continuously updated and freely accessible online. Related initiatives include Community-Based Participatory Research (not necessarilyweb-based, but an important precursor to these ideas), Open Humanities PressMap Kibera and Sparrow Hills Ecocenter youth phenological studies.

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Crime- and Poverty-Challenged Design – VPUU Khayelitsha Cape Town

A feature on an innovative approach to making informal and semi formal settlement s safe by intense public participation and a radical inclusionary approach is features in Gary Hustwit’s film,Urbanised post from  from Praxis in Landscape Architecture

Khayelitsha Township via The Guardian

How can designers improve the quality of life for residents of the poorest and most dangerous parts of cities? It is a daunting problem, and the temptation is either to say that the problem is too big or that a huge infusion of cash is needed to even get started. What if some of the problems of the poorest and dangerous places could be ameliorated, at least, by design that does not cost a fortune? The figure for total world population living in cities by 2050, cited in the Gary Hustwit film, Urbanized, is 75%! And 1/3 of those people will be living in slums. It’s time for creative thinking!

One of the many interviews with Gary Hustwit on Urbanized is found in Urban Omnibus. Hustwit describes a project in a township outside of Cape Town, South Africa that is striking in its success, both as participatory design and as a well-conceived, modestly priced solution to improving quality of life for area residents. In Hustwit’s words:

the idea of participatory design — of using the public as a design compass instead of just getting a reaction to projects that are already proposed — is not being employed as much as it might. It’s really inspiring when you see it happening and working, like the VPUU (which stands for Violence Prevention by Urban Upgrading) project in Khayelitsha in Cape Town

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Hip Cities That Think About How They Work (Cape Town included!)

A post found on Archinect about another  “best cities” list – this one from the New York Times and notably for us here at the Southern tip of Africa, it includes our beloved , photogenic and somewhat dysfunctional Cape Town, this is in stark contrast to many other “livable cities ” indexes such as previously posted  City Rankings: More Harm than Help? and  Liveable v lovable amongst many other postings on these fashionable lists and  my recent posting on Richard Sennet’s views on what makes a city truly “sustainable”  WHY COMPLEXITY IMPROVES THE QUALITY OF CITY LIFE, little of which is being encouraged or actively pursued in any of these cities either, anyway here is the NYTimes’ view:

This survey is not based solely on quality of life, number of trees or the cost of a month’s rent. Instead, we examine some cities that aim to be both smart and well managed, yet have an undeniably hip vibe. Our pick of cities that are, in a phrase, both great and good… — nytimes.com

The NYT selects Auckland, Berlin, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Curitiba, Santiago, Shanghai and Vilnius as the hippest cities for young professionals.

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