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Posts Tagged ‘landscape planning’

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.

And on the process:

They spent two years talking to residents before they even started thinking about their first plan. They trained volunteers to go out into the community and talk to people about the problems they face. The biggest priority turned out to be pedestrian walkways, which were where most crime was happening. Khayelitsha has a series of stormwater overflow channels that run through the settlement that were just undeveloped, garbage-strewn land. They weren’t lit, and harbored gang activity and all kinds of criminal activity. But those stormwater floodways were also the informal pedestrian route between the train station and the township. So what VPUU did was formalize the informal pedestrian paths, or desire lines, by paving and lighting the barren channels and turning them into these amazing walkways and public spaces. People are now turning their homes to face these routes because they’re so well designed, and that increases passive surveillance, puts more eyes on the spaces. The murder rate has dropped by 40%. It has become a great pilot program, which they’re now expanding into other townships and to other areas in South Africa. Also, they have trained the people who live in the area to maintain and program it. The project is still evolving. They didn’t just say, “here you go, we built a path, see you later” and step away from it.

 For more on Hustwit’s thoughts, check out Urban Omnibus – or see the film!

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Apparently some publicity and your project listed in an official U.S. Government report! This one slipped by me until now, when I read the USA Today article about the new Department of Interior publication called America’s Great Outdoors: Fifty-State Report, the culmination of President Obama’s year-long Great Outdoors Initiative. Two projects from each state share the honor of being identified as worthy of being promoted. According to Interior Secretary Salazar, these 100 projects are “among the best investments in the nation to support a healthy, active population, conserve wildlife and working lands, and create travel, tourism and outdoor-recreation jobs across the nation.” These projects would promote health and create jobs, two of the nation’s highest priorities! This would be why USA Today also reports:

The projects are part of President Obama’s Great Outdoors Initiative, announced last year, and result from 50 meetings between state leaders and senior federal officials. They won’t receive new federal funding but technical support and guidance.

The development of the report itself was a jobs initiative, keeping some Interior Department staff employed as they traveled the country meeting with state reps.

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The recently announced national ASLA student awards included two graduate students in the Department of Landscape Architecture at SUNY-ESF, Marin Braco and Andrew Murphy. Their innovative remediation project received an analysis and planning honor award. Our colleague, Martin Hogue, was the faculty advisor. Nice work!

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Be the change you want to see in the world. Even if this quote has found its way onto too many bumpers, it’s still a sentiment/aspiration/call that I like. In an age when so much of the power structure seems faulty, it is natural to turn toward one’s own sphere of influence, and I’d argue that the saying is particularly relevant now. I am fortunate to be in an environmental college where many of the students seem to be answering Gandhi’s call. I spent nearly an hour on the phone today with a prospective student who clearly has a noble mission and is already taking on the role of change maker. Totally inspiring to see many other students doing the same! Much more than a bumper sticker. And a hopeful sign for us all.

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Image of McHarg on this 2007 book by Margulis, Corner, and Hawthorne

It’s a curious thing, the haunting, and conflicting, influence of Ian L. McHarg on landscape architecture. He is certainly one of a very small number of widely acclaimed, internationally recognized, landscape architects of the 20th century, and his influence extended well beyond the discipline. He’s been called “legendary.” Nevertheless, landscape architecture academics (perhaps others, but that’s the group I know) have been tied in knots over McHarg for the better part of the past few decades now.

Last week, I asked a group of 30 3rd-year landscape architecture undergraduates if they had ever heard of McHarg or the book Design With Nature. I have been asking this question for several years now, but this year is the first in which no one in the class raised their hand. This result did not come as a total surprise since the number of hands raised has been very small over the last couple of years, but it still startles me. I think there’s a very good chance that students in programs across the U.S. today graduate without ever hearing about this prominent, however polarizing, figure in the profession.

My first encounter to vehement …dislike??… of McHarg among my academic colleagues came when I started teaching 12 years ago. I was photocopying an excerpt from Design With Nature to use in class when a fellow professor said something to the effect of “Argh, what a misanthrope that guy was!”  I have tread cautiously ever since, mindful of what seemed to be a mounting volume of journal articles and book chapters that have dissected McHarg’s legacy in the profession, much of which casts it in an unfavorable light. Contrasting this with what is written about McHarg from those outside of landscape architecture, and how many times his writing continues to be cited favorably today, reveals a paradox, in my opinion.

So it is with great curiosity that I observe a number of landscape urbanists prominently featuring images of McHarg and the book, Design With Nature, in their public presentations. For example, in this video of Charles Waldheim‘s November 2010 address to architecture and urban design students at the University of North Carolina, Waldheim discusses McHarg’s ideas of ecological planning, drawing a line between landscape planning of McHarg’s generation and the newer ideas of landscape urbanism. And Waldheim’s perspective is critical too, referring to the “failed McHargian project.” But the failure that Waldheim cites has nothing to do with a schism between art-based and science-based perspectives, often the root of conflict among LA academics to date, but instead is about the reliance of the “McHargian project” on planning bureaucracy. (That’s another story – the demonization of planners who are a weak force in the U.S., at least, in the face of the moneyed interests of the Growth Machine.)

When McHarg attended Harvard in the late 1940s, he found that the works of Olmsted and Charles Eliot were barely acknowledged (according the McHarg’s biography A Quest for Life). Olmsted was essentially rediscovered in the 1960s (it’s hard for current students to believe he was ever forgotten), while Eliot remains obscure for most. As the academics of the 1980s and 90s retire and what has seemed like personal baggage among some becomes irrelevant, will McHarg be rediscovered? Is that already happening?

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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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The SENSEable City Laboratory at MIT has produced some interesting maps using US and UK phone call and text data, and they suggest new ways to think about regional identity. Aaron Saenz, of the technology blog Singularity Hub, asks if these regions make more sense than our current delineation of states. Certainly for politics, marketing, and perhaps public policy, among other things, there are implications for the kinds of connections that these maps reveal. Best of all, the SENSEable City Lab is making their call and SMS data available here for you to make your own visualizations!

Who do you call or text? Image from Saenz, Singularity Hub, & MIT

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