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)

single_island

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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Q&A: Finn Butler on wayfinding design

Investing in evidence based design is far from common –  retail business’ mantra that “the customer is always right” is not yet firmly entrenched in the design professions way of thinking – yet – but I am sure its coming – here is an interview with a firm that believes firmly in following the evidence to promote ease of way-finding in notoriously difficult to negotiate environments – from smart planet By 

MELBOURNE – At SmartPlanet, we’ve written about wayfinding from all different angles; as environmental graphic design, operating system, cognitive map and even as an iPhone app. But as a professional practice, it’s still relatively unknown and arguably undervalued.

Pioneering wayfinding as a new discipline is Finn Butler, a specialist with over 20 years of international experience in designing for complex built environments.

Since joining the Melbourne design studio Buro North in 2008, Butler has executed strategies for some of Australia’s most public projects including the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre and Westfield in Sydney.

Butler’s early career focused on transport wayfinding systems for Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, Delhi Metro in India, and the U.K.’s major rail stations.

We recently caught up with Finn Butler to discuss wayfinding semantics — what it is, why it’s important and where it’s headed as an industry.

Wayfinding expert Finn Butler

SmartPlanet: Where did the term ‘wayfinding’ come from?

Finn Butler: I think Kevin Lynch first used the phrase wayfinding in his book Image of the City to describe the process of designing and organising space to facilitate navigation, so in its modern sense the term has been around for about 50 years. As a design discipline, wayfinding is still in its infancy and is still evolving.

SP: Is there an agreed definition?

FB: Many practitioners describe wayfinding design in terms of the navigation of physical space with a strong focus on signage. I personally believe that wayfinding design is the design of navigational behaviour and not signage, which often combines the navigation of physical space as well as processes. This requires the consideration of a broad range of measures, including the development of operational processes, environmental changes and staff training as well as information delivery in the form of signage.

This approach differs from a purely graphic or signage response, as it requires an understanding of fields and ideas that usually exist outside the design field, such as semiotics, affordance and syntax modelling.

Quite often the best wayfinding strategists come from operational backgrounds or from the sciences rather than from a design background

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Citizen Science – Enabling Urbanism – Common Science

From Common Science more on moving technology and live sensing into the real world… what if we are able to use our ubiquitous onboard computers to do more than increase the electromagnetic noise – but literally enable our survival in our increasingly hostile an poisoned world  – while a bit old (2008) still a good description of a world still to come –  the future that seed are now – for more up to date info see the website .

In this research we highlight an important new shift in mobile phone usage – from communication tool to “networked mobile personal measurement instrument”. We explore how these new “personal measurement instruments” enable an entirely novel and empowering genre of mobile computing usage called citizen science.  Through the use of sensors paired with personal mobile phones, everyday people are invited to participate in collecting and sharing measurements of their everyday environment that matter to them.

Our research hypothesis is that this new usage model for mobile phones will:

  1. improve the science literacy of everyday citizens through active participation in basic scientific principles
  2. provide professional scientists with access to richer, finer-grain data sets for modeling and analysis
  3. create new experiences and usage models for the mobile phone as a tool for grassroots participation in government and policy making
  4. by choice of sensors and software create a deeper and more informed understanding and concern for our climate and environment – hopefully effecting positive societal change

Mobile phones are rapidly becoming the computer platform of choice in developed and developing nations.  These mobile phones already shape our culture – collapsing space and time by enabling us to reach out to contact others at a distance, to perform just-in-time coordination of events, and to purchase, play, and game “on-the-go”.  While there is a growing research space around sensor based activity inferencing and a wealth of existing location applications in the market, we claim that our mobile phones still fall short in their ability to enable us to measure and understand the real world around us.

We carry mobile phones with us nearly everywhere we go; yet they sense and tell us little of the world we live in.

 

Look around you right now.

 

How hot is it? Which direction am I facing? Which direction is the wind blowing and how fast? How healthy is the air I’m breathing?  What is the pollen count right now?  How long can I stay outside without getting sunburned? Is the noise level safe here?  Were pesticides used on these fruits? Is this water safe to drink? Are my children’s toys free of lead and other toxins? Is my new indoor carpeting emitting volatile organic compounds (VOCs)? Now look to your phone for answers about the environment around you.  What is it telling you? For all of its computational power and sophistication it provides us with very little insight into the actual conditions of the atmospheres we traverse with it.  In fact the only real-time environmental data it measures onboard and reports to you is a signal to noise value for a narrow slice of the electromagnetic spectrum (i.e. “how many bars do you have?

 

Certainly, one could imagine accessing the web or other online resource from their mobile phone to find an answer to some of these questions.  But much of that online data is calculated and published for general usage, not for you specifically.  For example, the official weather station for a city may report that the temperature is currently 23ºC by taking one measurement at the center of the city or averaging several values from multiple sites across town.  But what if you’re in the shade by the wind swept waterfront where it is actually 17ºC or waiting underground for the subway where it is a muggy 33ºC. The measurement that means the most to you is likely to be the one that captures the actual conditions you are currently experiencing, not citywide averages.

Imagine you are deciding between walking to one of two subway stations and could gather live data from the passengers waiting on the platform at each stop about the temperature and humidity of each station at that very moment?  What if you were one of the 300 million people who suffer from asthma and could breath easily as you navigated your city with real-time pollen counts collected by your fellow citizens?  What if you could not just be told the level of noise pollution in your city but measure and publish your own actual decibel measurements taken in front of your home?  What if you were one of the more than 3 billion people, nearly half the world’s population, that burned solid fuels, including biomass fuels (wood, dung, agricultural residues) and coal, for their energy, heating, and cooking needs indoors and yet had no way to monitor the health effects of the resulting pollutants on yourself and your family even though nearly 2 million people die annually from indoor air pollution?

Mobile phones are allowing us to communicate, buy, sell, connect, and do miraculous things.  However, we claim that this mobile technology, coupled with new sensing and software, can enable us to go beyond finding friends, chatting with colleagues, locating hip bars, and buying music. Our research aims to expand our perceptions of mobile phones as simply a communication tool and to research our envisioned understanding of them as personal measurement instruments capable of sensing our natural environment and empowering collective action through everyday grassroots citizen scienceacross blocks, neighborhoods, cities, and nations.

Our near term goal is to build and study a series of mobile devices outfitted with novel sensors along with an infrastructure that provides public sharing and remixing of these personal sensor measurements by experts and non-experts alike.  The overall long-term goal is to develop new communication paradigms that empower communities to produce credible information that can be understood by non-experts, in order to effect positive societal change.

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The disappearing virtual library

How do we want ourselves to be seen in the future – will we be judged for our greed or our intelligence by our children’s children?

The shutdown of library.nu is creating a virtual showdown between would-be learners and the publishing industry. From ALJAZEERA by Christopher Kelly

Los Angeles, CA – Last week a website called “library.nu” disappeared. A coalition of international scholarly publishers accused the site of piracy and convinced a judge in Munich to shut it down. Library.nu (formerly Gigapedia) had offered, if the reports are to be believed, between 400,000 and a million digital books for free.

And not just any books – not romance novels or the latest best-sellers – but scholarly books: textbooks, secondary treatises, obscure monographs, biographical analyses, technical manuals, collections of cutting-edge research in engineering, mathematics, biology, social science and humanities.

The texts ranged from so-called “orphan works” (out-of-print, but still copyrighted) to recent issues; from poorly scanned to expertly ripped; from English to German to French to Spanish to Russian, with the occasional Japanese or Chinese text. It was a remarkable effort of collective connoisseurship. Even the pornography was scholarly: guidebooks and scholarly books about the pornography industry. For a criminal underground site to be mercifully free of pornography must alone count as a triumph of civilisation.

To the publishing industry, this event was a victory in the campaign to bring the unruly internet under some much-needed discipline. To many other people – namely the users of the site – it was met with anger, sadness and fatalism. But who were these sad criminals, these barbarians at the gates ready to bring our information economy to its knees?

They are students and scholars, from every corner of the planet.

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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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