Archive for August, 2011

Determined to get ahead of the beginning of school demands and thinking of new profs teaching grad students…

Walt: Daddy what’s gradual school?
T. S. Garp: What?
Walt: Gradual school. Mommy say’s she teaches at gradual school.
T. S. Garp: Oh Gradual school is where you go to school and you gradually find out you don’t want to go to school anymore.

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In case you missed it, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. proved to be an interesting place to observe animal behavior during the earthquake that struck Central Virginia this week. This story in the Washington Post is worth a read.

Oh, and a hurricane is the next natural hazard to visit this part of the world – set to arrive in the nation’s capital early Sunday morning.

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On the East Coast of the U.S. today, there was a minor earthquake centered in Virginia, my former home. 370 miles away in Central New York, it could be felt, but just barely. It reminded me of a video of Japan’s Sendai earthquake from March of this year. I am not referring to the terrifying videos of the tsunami, but the far less disturbing, but still dramatic and unusual, video of liquefaction filmed in a Chiba City park by CNN iReporter Brent Kooi. The original video has apparently been removed from YouTube because of a copyright claim. Surprisingly, I did find a shorter version of the original. Take a look. Liquefaction may sound boring, but I assure you that the image of the earth “breathing” is not. Perhaps “swelling” like an ocean wave is a better metaphor. The most dramatic images are those of the opening cracks moving back and forth with the tremors, and, in one case, water sloshing around in the crack. Less obvious to the video viewer is what was clear to Brent Kooi – the fact that pools of water were suddenly appearing all around him. Landfill in an earthquake.


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I implicitly asked for comments in the post, A Blog is a Curious Thing, and two fellow bloggers kindly responded. Donovan Gillman of the Urban Choreography blog and Jason King of Landscape + Urbanism share their thoughts on why blogs are suspect among academics and also why academics just need to get over it (my crude summary).

I love the point that Donovan makes about interesting applications of science often coming from the “crazy ideas of people who barely understand the science, but are able to creatively visualize its potential and communicate it to others.” As faculty in a college of environmental science and forestry, in the lone design program, I can REALLY identify with this statement!

Jason and Donovan both identify the root cause of academic distrust of media such as this – that it is not peer-reviewed research. It is clearly something else, but can this new something lead somewhere that we couldn’t reach in the past?  Naturally, I think the answer is yes, and this opinion is partially based on my agreement that the continuum of dissemination that Jason identifies is valid/needed and partially on the unique nature of landscape architecture. More on this uniqueness in a follow-up post…

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For academics anyway. After nearly 3 months of this blog “experiment,” I find the reaction to it among academics to be curiosity and skepticism. The academic world is very conservative and has long shunned “opinion.” So blogging and social networking stretch the imagination in ways that academics find uncomfortable. I am personally excited by the possibilities, especially for landscape architecture – and for landscape architecture in the university setting. I think this media offers some interesting possibilities for linking multiple worlds – professional practice, academia, those in developing and in developed countries, etc. Outside of the university, these possibilities are well-known. I take comfort in the fact that at least one well-known Nobel Prize winner spends a little time each day blogging. Good company!

With relatively little advertising (mostly emails to people I know), this blog has received several thousand page views since it went online. That is encouraging, and I hope to keep the content frequently updated even as the hectic semester gets underway. What is less exciting is that I am finding the blog format to NOT be particularly interactive (through reader comments). It would be great if the number of comments increases over time! Otherwise, the potential of this media would seem to be more limited than it could be. I hope that readers are finding interesting and useful information here! Thank you for stopping by.

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Meadowbrook plantings

Municipal budget cuts have devastated the planting programs of many local governments. The hanging baskets and beds planted with annual flowers have disappeared in many cities, despite being loved by locals and visitors alike. Here in Syracuse, I regularly drive by some impressive floral displays in public rights-of-way that are immune to the City’s budget … because they are created by neighborhood residents. Along one street, Meadowbrook, nearby neighbors are particularly industrious, planting 27 beds, two at each intersection, along the length of the street. The results are idiosyncratic, looking quite different from “professionally designed” beds due to the broad array of plants selected, but they are effective and add to that neighborhood sense of place. Lately, custom-designed birdhouses have been added to a few of the beds. To me, this grassroots energy says “you’re in the right place,” and “this is a great place to live.” If a silver lining can be found in the rotten economy, I hope one such bright spot is more communities taking on the responsibility of making their place in the world great. It is clear that no outside help is coming…

With folk art addition

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I guess climate adaptation has arrived – featured yesterday in a USA Today column. The higher profile of adaptation planning in the U.S. owes much to a media blitz by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) over the last few weeks. It began in late July with the release of a report on water, Thirsty for Answers, summarizing previous research on water-related vulnerabilities in 12 cities. In early August, NRDC debuted its Climate Change Threatens Health website, designed to reveal climate change impacts “in your backyard.” Bringing climate change data down in scale to state and county levels is a significant need, and the work by NRDC is unique and valuable. Next up will be determining impacts at the LOCAL level, where change will be directly experienced and where (I predict) the most effective policies for human health and wellbeing will be enacted.

In the USA Today article, Brian Holland of ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA is quoted as saying that adaptation is a new field. That cannot be emphasized enough. Adaptation planning is very new, and it is difficult to take the success stories of adaptation planning (cities mentioned in the USA Today article and this list of “climate-ready cities”) too seriously. Almost everything written about climate adaptation dates from 2010 or 2011! [Note: much more has been done by cities in the area of mitigation plan development.] There is a tremendous amount of work to do! But we are fortunate that some adaptation strategies piggyback on other issues that have been studied for a longer period of time, like green infrastructure-based stormwater management. Time to get on with walking the talk.

A good starting point for additional information on adaptation planning is the ICLEI site.

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Like the Smells of New York City or the Sound Map of Toronto. Those maps that capture experiential qualities of places. Currently, the London Museum is featuring a small exhibition of hand-drawn maps solicited from Londoners in a call on the Londonist website in February of this year. There’s a nice blog post on it here.

Loos of London by Paula Simoes

Of the 11 maps in the exhibition, “Loos of London” has captured a lot of attention. There’s an extensive post on the map and its creator, Paula Simoes, here.

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It’s not your everyday, run of the mill design problem. But it is an everyday reality – cows produce significant amounts of the greenhouse gas (GHG), methane, and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are therefore point sources of GHG pollution. There are arguments for ending the CAFO practice, but these controversial land uses appear to be with us for the foreseeable future anyway. Can the impacts be mitigated? Can agroforestry techniques be used to mitigate the emissions, and, if you plant a lot of trees, do you still have enough open land to maintain farm functionality? These are the questions asked by the ESF graduate student, Au Ta, in his capstone project, supervised by Dayton Reuter and me. His study produced some very interesting results.

Forested buffer alternatives were tested

Graduate students in landscape architecture programs sometimes produce studies that are worthy of peer-reviewed publication, but these projects often remain hidden in their respective departments. As a discipline, we need to move toward the expectation that this work will be published, either in traditional print media or through online journals. Our colleagues in other disciplines would not squander these resources! Like many LA graduate theses and capstones, Au’s project was not designed from the outset to be a carefully controlled study, but instead evolved over time into something interesting, thought-provoking, and not necessarily easy to publish in science journals because of the degree of intuitive design involved. But the project is well-crafted and reaches some surprising conclusions. Click continue reading to read the abstract and get a link to the entire paper. (more…)

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Depending on the study. A new paper by Sodhi et al., featured in the Yale E360 blog, says that conservationists are doing some things right. Land and marine habitat conservation are in the plus column, with more than 100,000 protected areas, covering 7.3 million square miles globally.

Sodhi, N.S., R. Butler, W.F. Laurance, and L. Gibson. 2011. Conservation successes at micro-, meso-, and macroscales. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2011.07.002

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