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Archive for the ‘Ag and Natural Resources’ Category

These lines from a great article in The Atlantic about sustainable farming in Arizona (ht: leslie_a_ryan via Twitter) remind me of what I like best about landscape architecture. I can devote time, energy, and even some anxiety to big questions like urban futures, resilient communities, or climate change, and I can also enjoy the comparatively immediate gratification of garden construction and, even more basic, planting. And I can call it all landscape architecture! Gary Paul Nabhan describes solace found after fighting for sustainable agriculture and food security in his region:

the most reassuring gestures for me are the personal acts of planting, water-harvesting, and soil-building. These practices provide a sense of rootedness to a more resilient future. Whenever words fail to offer me much hope, I get down on my knees and put my hands into the earth.

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And on to the details of climate adaptation (facilitating change in practices and land use). Presently, there are few studies like the one that is now getting attention about the effect of climate change on winegrape production. Diffenbaugh et al. predict that warming will limit land suitable for premium winegrape production by as much as 50% in some California counties. You can see how this finding might garner attention!  A key motivation for the research was to “quantify the potential effectiveness of different adaptation strategies.” In this example, the alternative strategies include planting in new locations, planting different varieties or clones, and altering vineyard design. The researchers identified characteristics of locations that might be better in the future. What are other climate change impacts that need this kind of analysis?

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PlaceMatters, a nonprofit that developed from the Orton Family Foundation, recently published Bridging the Divide Between Science and Planning: Lessons From Ecosystem-Based Planning Approaches to Local and Regional Planning in the United States. There are six case studies in the report, chronicling the efforts of a partnership between PlaceMatters, the Packard Foundation, and NatureServe to better integrate ecosystem science into community planning. The subjects of the planning efforts are quite varied, and the locations range from Maine to Hawaii. The report is a welcomed contribution, especially given that there are not enough documented cases like the ones detailed here. I was struck, though, by a key finding:

Throughout all of the case studies and lessons, one underlying theme becomes apparent: although good data, robust models, and a logical decision process all matter, the politics matter even more. How effectively a community planning process unfolds is determined in large part by who participates, how they participate, and what power they each wield. How effectively such a planning process incorporates good scientific information depends on how much credibility the experts and their tools have in the process. In other words, community planning efforts are not exercises in abstracted rationality, but rather they are fundamentally political processes involving multiple parties with divergent interests. All community planning processes and decisions, not to mention subsequent implementation, are subject to the politics of their communities, and any approach to EBM that fails to recognize this is much less likely to produce effective implementation of a scientifically appropriate plan. [Emphasis added.]

Whoa, how was this not known from the outset? Because of the gulf between the science of the landscape and the real world of land use decision making. And this is precisely why efforts like this are needed, and why the title, Bridging the Divide is so appropriate. Using scientific knowledge to enhance land use decision making is valid and important, but the local politics of place have to be acknowledged from the get-go, or the planning effort will be doomed.

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What do you do with the relentless stream of bad environmental news? The local newspaper today featured an angry reader comment that said we’d better enjoy the little time we have left in response to what is possibly the most significant environmental news of the week, the release of an IUCN report and UN presentation today on the dire condition of the world’s oceans. So, what do you do with information like this? Compartmentalize it? Use it as fuel for action? Feed depression? What? Does it feel like a disconnect to visit and enjoy some beautiful, “natural” landscape and then think that we’re on the verge of catastrophe?

Can designers be pessimists? Personally, I think we have to remain optimistic to act and to design. In teaching about the relationship between ecological science and design, I choose not to dwell on depressing information, but instead to focus on what positive actions are possible. Young people today have heard since childhood that the earth is on life support and that they were going to be the ones responsible for fixing it. That is an overwhelming message. At some point, the bad news becomes so great that action seems futile. The challenge is to acknowledge the bad news, but still see a way out, actions that you personally can undertake to make a difference. Designers, in particular, have much to offer, as they can often see potential where others cannot, and they can help others visualize new states of being, alternative realities. That’s a powerful response to otherwise overwhelming distress.

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Interesting agriculture-related effort in nearby Cayuga County to create a closed loop (or close to it) industrial system – a proposed biogas pipeline to be routed from several dairy farms with anaerobic digesters to a new industrial park. Electricity and heat would be offered at a discount rate to businesses in the park. Milk processing and related dairy businesses could be powered by manure! Looks like this might happen – industrial ecology in action. The images are from the Cayuga County Planning Department. This is one of the examples from my State of Upstate talk.

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