Massive urban tunnel projects, like the Second Avenue Subway construction project in Manhattan, are mind-boggling in scale and complexity. The MTA just released some photos that have a lot of people talking. Read more about the project here.

Second Avenue Subway construction. MTA photo, Creative Commons license

Second Avenue Subway construction. MTA photo, Creative Commons license

Gezi Park protest - Photograph: Osman Orsal/Reuters

Gezi Park protest – Photograph: Osman Orsal/Reuters

When I first saw the now-famous “lady in the red dress” photo from the Gezi Park protest in Turkey, I had no idea that the protester was an urban planning professor from the nearby Technical University in Istanbul named Ceyda Sungur. In Luke Harding’s account in The Guardian, one of the origins of the protest, and the spark that set it off, is clearly the destruction of one of the very few green spaces in Istanbul. Harding describes it as a sort of final straw, a highly visible, in-your-face insult to the wishes of the urban population from top-down urban development decisions being made by the government.

Sungur’s urban planning department had long wrestled with the theme of how to reconcile Turkey’s economic and building boom with the fundamental needs of citizens. A petition which she and other members of the architecture faculty signed says that the rapid changes to Istanbul threaten not only “our professional field but also our living environment”. The petition adds: “All these top-down decisions disregarding planning and urban management principles are not approved by Istanbul’s citizens. We don’t accept them.”

Akgün, Sungur’s colleague, said: “The park is one of the last surviving green public spaces here. It’s calming to walk through it. You feel good.” Typically, Erdogan’s government had taken an “upside-down” approach to planning, she said, building first and considering the consequences afterwards. Akgün said she respected Sungur’s reluctance to become a poster girl for the anti-government protest movement, less of a revolution than a spontaneous citizens’ revolt.

Virtually all of Sungur’s students have taken part in the protests. Some of them are sitting finals; the dean refused a plea for exams to be postponed. On Wednesday, several of them were tinkering with architectural models in a large room next to her office. Others sat in a shady courtyard below and talked softly.

Akgün admitted: “I’ve been trying to teach my students for four years about the importance of urban planning. Now they finally understand what we are saying.”

Making Sense of the Air

Cell phones and 3D printers lead to new wave of citizen science.

Predictions for the Big Apple haven’t been so great lately, at least as far as climate is concerned. News from a week ago was that heat-related deaths are predicted to rise by 20% by the 2020s and by nearly 100% by the end of the century. Scientific American summarizes the work published this month in the journal, Nature Climate Change, and includes this quote from one of the authors:

“This serves as a reminder that heat events are one of the greatest hazards faced by urban populations around the globe,” said coauthor Radley Horton, a climate scientist at the Earth Institute’s Center for Climate Systems Research.

The record 2010 heat wave that hit Russia, killing some 55,000 people, and the 2003 one in Europe that killed 70,000 are potent examples of the devastation that extreme heat can cause, Horton added.

This week, Scientific American published another warning for NYC and the rest of the East Coast. The climate threat in this case is flooding – the possibility of Hurricane Sandy-like flooding every two years by century’s end! Salon summarizes the SA behind-the-paywall story here.  A few planning details:

Municipalities rarely plan for anything greater than the so-called one-in-100-year storm—which means that the chances of such a storm hitting during any given year is one in 100. Sandy was a one-in-500-year storm. If sea level rises by five feet, the chance in any year of a storm bringing a three-foot surge to New York City will increase to as high as one in three or even one in two, according to various projections. The 100-year-height for a storm in the year 2000 would be reached by a two-year storm in 2100.

Via Andrew Sullivan’s blog, I see that Olmsted is even credited with bringing us that all-American virtue, cleanliness. Katherine Ashenburg wrote about this in her 2008 book, The Dirt on Clean.

Oddly enough it was the Civil War that got Americans interested in being clean. The army’s initially derided Sanitary Commission, headed by the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, had proved that simple soap and water could significantly reduce military mortality, and by the end of the war cleanliness was seen as patriotic, progressive and distinctively American. Good hygiene had other virtues: it was a way to mark status and civility in a country without an aristocracy, and it could “Americanize” the hundreds of thousands of Europeans who began arriving in the 1880s.



This photograph by Nathan Carlsen is a finalist in the 10th Annual Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest. Carlsen calls it a “man-made ice geyser,” created by a water pipe that is “bled” every year to keep it from freezing. Carlsen had the idea of putting LED lights into the center of the ice mass and then shooting this picture. Syracuse does not stay cold for as long as Duluth, Minnesota, home of the ice geyser, but surely we could achieve some interesting landscape effects with ice and snow??

I had a similar post, Tracking Ideas Over Time, where I looked at ecological planning/land use planning terms. Interesting to see the ecology subfield comparison.

Just Because It's Cool

That tiny speck is Venus, as seen through Saturn’s rings. Captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

child in magnolia tree Memphis

This enchanting image was taken by a staff photographer, Alan Spearman, in my hometown newspaper, the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Alan is also an award-winning documentary filmmaker. It has been a couple of decades since I lived in Memphis, but hometowns always have a pull on your heart, don’t they? In this case, it is a poignant, even painful, pull on my heart. I discovered Alan’s work on a chance visit back in January to the Commercial Appeal’s website. I have been haunted, in particular, by the film As I Am which won a “Top 12 of 2012” Vimeo award among other awards. If you follow the link above, be sure to scroll to the bottom for the video of the tree, April, and her friend, Faith.

Landscape plays a prominent role in Am I Am. It is a landscape of poverty that lies just south of Downtown Memphis. It would be easy to produce a film of Memphis downtown revitalization that would prompt envy among city planners and urban designers (perhaps). There is nothing to envy about the world that Alan Spearman depicts. Urban poverty in the U.S. is not really acknowledged, but it occupies a significant footprint in every American city. From my perch in academia, I cannot help but see another incongruity – the fact that “urban ecology,” “ecosystem services,” and other concepts are the fodder for academic inquiry, but what actually constitutes urban open space are places just like the neighborhood depicted in this film. Cuts through the hood. What should happen at the intersection of “sustainable urbanism” and environmental justice? What is our duty to these landscapes, these neighborhoods, these people?

Alan Spearman gives us a gift, an insight into the lives of people that the middle and upper classes never encounter, even if they live nearby (and they do). Landscape architects, city planners, urban designers, urban ecologists, and other professionals who claim the city as their subject also need to grapple with the issues raised in this film, IMHO.