Category Archives: Data

International Urban Wildlife Conference

In early June I was in San Diego for the 2017 International Urban Wildlife Conference.   This was my first time at this particular conference, and it was fascinating to experience the breadth of ideas, and the urban focus on wildlife.  It’s something that we as designers care about, but struggle with implementation that truly provides actual value.

This is predominately at conference with a science focus,  drawing from government, academia, and NGOs spanning policy, implementation, research, and more. As a participant, I definitely felt like a fish out of water in such a science-focused crowd, however, the opportunity to connect with scientists and researchers provides a unique context and some perspective (both ways) on how we can communicate better.

One highlight for me was the opening plenary by Nancy Grimm, a “Professor of Ecology in the School of Life Sciences and a Senior Sustainability Scientist at Arizona State University” who discussed the work around the Central Arizona-Phoenix Long Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER).

Aside from some of the work, she shared a model of socio-ecological systems, and the shift towards more human influence and impacts in their research.  “Our conceptual model illustrates our understanding of urban socio-ecological systems. In CAPIV we are focusing on urban infrastructure as a bridge between the biophysical and human/social components of the system. Urban infrastructure includes green, blue, turquoise, gray, and human/social infrastructures in the city”  Grimm also called on better collaboration between designers and scientists, which was a great way to kick the conference off.

Another interesting narrative told by a few speakers focused on the presence of large predators in cities, none more photogenic, or shall I say charismatic, megafauna.  The Southern California focus meant more than a few stories about P-22, the mountain lion currently living in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, and the tension between people who embrace urban predators and those that consider them a nuisance.

Multiple tracks included information on large mammals, coyotes, and new approaches to addressing human-wildlife interactions that are not just focused on negatives.  Certainly the theme of what habitat?” came up throughout, as the urban focus meant shared spaces between many species, which has positive benefits but also negatives, and guides much of the research in terms of adequate path size and connectivity and species specific interactions in fragmented urban areas.

This larger discussion were some interesting sessions on habitat connectivity and corridors, which included some interesting wildlife crossings, include a significant new project in Pima County, Arizona , near Tuscson, that took almost 30 years to be realized, showing the need for persistence.  The project included an overpass and underpass, seen under construction below:

The educational aspects and programs also occupied a good amount of the conference, with outreach and wildlife information, educational programs for children and schools, along with tracks on Citizen science, information sharing hubs, and collaboration.

The session I was part of was the final day, and was entitled “Dysfunctional urban biodiversity planning: Take home messages for (and from) ecologists and planners/designers.”  Convened by Mark Hostetler, from University of Florida it drew a multi-disciplinary panel of ecologists, planners, designers with a general focus on better communication, barriers and opportunities for how to achieve greater (and more frequent collaboration) .

In addition to Mark, who shared his online tool “Building for Birds”, speakers include Paige Warren from University of Massachusetts-Amherst, presenting on “Governing for Diversity”,  David Drake from University of Wisconsin-Madison discussing “Proactive Wildlife Management”, David Maddox from The Nature of Cities focusing on “Shared Values”, Jeffrey Brown from Rutgers University discussed “Optimal Sizes of Bird Habitat”.  From the planning side, Steve Hofstetter from Alachua County, Florida, gave perspective on Planning and Ecology, Travis Longcore from USC School of Architecture talked about “Corridors”, Sarah Jack Hinners from University of Utah elaborated on “Ways of Knowing/Doing” in interdisciplinary work, and from Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan, Keitaro Ito discussed Collaborative Ecological Design.  You can get a feel for the conference as a whole, download the abstracts for more info here.

My talk was entitled “Crossing the Science/Design Divide”, and touched on a variety of topics include experiences working with ecologists, access to research, real vs. boutique outcomes, habitat pros and cons, and novel ecosystems.  The summary included some examples of firms and groups with high levels of integration and collaboration, such as Andropogon Research,  landscape ecology resources for designers, evidence-based design approaches borrowed from healthcare, more ecological integration into rating tools like SITES, and habitat-specific certification via Salmon Safe, to name a few.  I will post on something a bit more detailed about my session and some of the takeaways.

It’s heartening to see the shift to incorporation of social systems into ecological research, a vital component for truly integrated urban wildlife management.  Our session and others highlighted some great opportunities and continuing challenges we face in truly integrated habitat into planning and design in the urban realm.

Google Timelapse

The announcement Google Earth Timelapse has created a bit of a stir, with a number of videos exploring landscape change of natural and urban systems.  From their site:

“Timelapse is a global, zoomable video that lets you see how the Earth has changed over the past 32 years. It is made from 33 cloud-free annual mosaics, one for each year from 1984 to 2016, which are made interactively explorable by Carnegie Mellon University CREATE Lab’s Time Machine library, a technology for creating and viewing zoomable and pannable timelapses over space and time.”

I’m a bit disappointed with the resolution – as it is not able to zoom in to a district level at a scale that provides appropriate level of detail.  That may be surmountable by using Google Earth Engine and delving into the API and programming tools.

There’s also a series of Datasets that are available from the Google Earth Engine that would be interesting to explore also, including maps for aerial imagery, geophysical data, climate/weather and demographics.

I used the Timelapse Tour Editor to quickly make a few maps of Seattle and Portland – with an eye towards  For Seattle, I wanted to focus on the development of South Lake Union, where Amazon and other development has been most pronounced in the past decade or so.  It shows how much redevelopment has occurred there, as well as throughout the downtown core (mostly visible with white roofs).

These are better by clicking the title and viewing in full size, as the grain for urban areas is pretty bad. 

South Lake Union and Downtown Seattle

For Portland, I wanted to zoom in on the inner Southeast area, around Division Street, which was been subject to a fair amount of density in recent years.  The inability to zoom into that level of detail makes this a bit less instructive, but does show the level of development north of downtown, and across the river the ‘fingers’ of density on transit mixed-use streets (which is what provides for vibrant, walkable urban neighborhoods that make Portland, well… Portland.

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Lots of fun exploration planned for this.

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Hortum machina B

Really like this experimental project (spotted on a post on Architects Newspaper) by Interactive Architecture Lab.  Called Hortum machina, B it’s a “rolling ecological exoskeleton” in the shape of a geodesic dome, the “half garden, half machine” hybrid is able to move through the environment using plant electro-physiology to drive the machine.  The idea of plant intelligence is worthy of a much more expansive post, but the execution here is quite brilliant.

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A quick breakdown of the idea, from the Interactive Architecture Lab website:

“Electro-physiological sensing of the state of individual plants collectively and democratically controls decision-making of the orientation of the structure and its mobility. In the near future context of driverless cars, autonomous flying vehicles, and seemingly endless other forms of intelligent robotics co-habiting our built environment. Hortum machina B is a speculative urban cyber-gardener.”

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You get a feel for the scale of it here, which is part of the beauty.  The idea that these are larger than life, which gives them added presence.

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There’s some more detailed ‘making of’ description, which delves into the prototyping, and further exploring the engineering and programming.

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The controls are programmed using  Arduino, a scalable and programmable platform for hardware and software to make interactive objects.  Click on the screen capture below, and you can see the communication of ‘getting messages’ from the plant things like temperature, vibrations, humidity, lighting – and then being able to use that ‘intelligence’ for driving actions.

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All Images above are credited to Interactive Architecture Lab – and accessed direct from their website or from the Architects Newspaper post.  Also, check out this video with it in action – more videos on their Vimeo page and website as well.

Hortum machina, B from Interactive Architecture Lab on Vimeo.

Guest Post: Geodesign

I’m happy to be able to share some information on Geodesign from mapping and visualization rock-star Nadia Amoroso.  I’ve really enjoyed following her work over the years, and did a thorough exploration of her amazing book The Exposed City: Mapping the Urban Invisibles, back in 2010 (here) and also posted about her work on Data Appeal, a mapping and visualization software tool for making map landscapes in 2011.  On my list is to check out her most recent book, Representing Landscapes: Digital, (2015 – Foreword by James Corner) which looks at the cutting edge visual techniques for graphic communication focused specifically on landscape architecture.

Nadia is still hard at work in the mapping and visualization realms – and let me know of some of the work she’s been doing around Geodesign, particularly employing some new digital mapping tools that greater expand this potential.  The following post includes a good overview of Geodesign and it’s potential to application in Urban Design and Landscape Architecture contexts.   Enjoy!

Geodesign Concept and its Solution Platform for Urban Design and Landscape Architecture

GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is important part of the urban planning and urban design process. GIS has often been associated with science, and not so much on design. Geodesign offers to shake up the notion of GIS. Geodesign provides a design framework and supporting technology for design professionals to leverage geographic information, resulting in designs that more closely follow site and natural systems. [1]

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Geodesign is a new way of thinking about the design process, utilizing site data with software such as a GIS (Geographic Information System) to create urban or landscape designs.  The Wikipedia’s entry on Geodesign states that ” Geodesign is a set of techniques and enabling technologies for planning built and natural environments in an integrated process, including project conceptualization, analysis, design specification, stakeholder participation and collaboration, design creation, simulation, and evaluation (among other stages). “

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Michael Flaxman, former MIT Professor and CEO of Geodesign Technologies, states that “Geodesign is a design and planning method which tightly couples the creation of design proposals with impact simulations informed by geographic contexts.” [2]

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Professor Carl Steinitz, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning, Emeritus, brought to the limelight the geodesign framework for landscape architects and designers of the built environment, by posing a series of fundamental questions that as designers of the built environment, should think about and address. Refer to the “Geodesign Framework- by Carl Steinitz” for the summary of questions.

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ESRI Inc, (the global mapping and GIS company, based in Redlands California), has created a geodesign solution platform (suite of software) that is specifically tailored for the landscape architecture and urban design industries, in order to make strategic urban designs and landscape plans.

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Jack Dangermond, the founder and President of Esri, studied landscape architecture at Harvard’s GSD. He has tapped into his landscape architecture roots and is revolutionizing the concept of geodesign for landscape architecture, architecture, planning and urban design fields. Dangermond claims that, “Geodesign is about integrating geographic knowledge with the spatial design process…..design with nature, or geodesign, is our next evolutionary step.”

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Esri now hosts an annual Geodesign Summit where landscape architects, architects, academics, urban and transportation planners, and leading though leaders in the industry come together to learn and share their experiences on how the geodesign technology solution platform is being used to make and create smarter cities and sustainable landscapes.

esri geodesign platform

Technology wise, think of CAD, BIM, GIS all in one.  Esri offers a suite of software from 2D mapping to 3D modeling as part of the Geodesign solutions, which combines sketching and modeling tools with the power of data, GIS and high quality renderings. The Geodesign Platform includes mainly the following suite of applications:

  •  GeoPlanner for ArcGIS, which is a web-based, easy to use sketching and mapping tool to design scenarios. It leverages geo-based dataand supports all the steps of land-based planning and urban design. This includes sketching and designing scenarios (design alternatives), understanding the impact of your designs, perform site and spatial analysis and compare alternative designs.
  • ArcGIS Pro which is a robust desktop application which render and process data faster than ever. The software allows you to design and edit your concepts in 2D and 3D with multiple view ports. You can perform 3d site analysis like wind analysis, shade/ shadow analysis, circulation patterns, density, view-shed analysis. Designers can add realistic trees, buildings and infrastructures quickly.
  • CityEngine which is a 3D modeling software which leverages parametric modeling and geo-based data to create evidence-based city and landscape designs. CityEngine creates high quality renderings. CityEngine allows you to import your urban design proposals within existing built urban context in CityEngine. Using parametric and rule procedures, the landscape architect can create, change and test mass modeling to comply with zoning regulations; test shadow area; create detailed streetscapes and create quality public realm It offers intuitive and effective tools for façade and landscape texturing, adding landscape elements and various tree species. CityEngine provides perspective correction to capture the right views. CityEngine is integrated with ArcGIS.

All these tools provide real-time feedback on your changing design concepts.

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Geodesign combines site and nature “with design by providing designers with robust tools that support rapid evaluation of design alternatives against the impacts of those designs. Geodesign infuses design with a blend of science- and value-based information to help designers, planners, and stakeholders make better-informed decisions….[the geodesign platform] offers geospatial modeling, impact simulations, and real-time feedback to facilitate holistic designs and smart decisions.”[3]

The Esri’s Geodesign Platform is a critical toolkit for urban design and landscape architecture, as a means to make smart design decisions.

Further Reading:

 Footnotes:

[1] Esri Inc. on Geodesign.- http://www.esri.com/products/arcgis-capabilities/geodesign (2015)
[2] Michael Flaxman talk at the the 2010 GeoDesign Summit.
[3] Esri Inc, http://www.esri.com/products/arcgis-capabilities/geodesign (2015)

 

Catch while Catch Can – car2go

Like many urban dwellers, I often rely on the service car2go for short trips around the city.  This is often helpful for hopping over for a quick happy hour, doctor’s appointment or meeting during the day.  It also provides a means for getting to the night meeting/workshop.  It’s a great augmentation of other modes of transportation where either timing or logistics don’t fit a bus ride.

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In Seattle, I often heard about (or witnessed) a mad scramble around 4:30 to 5:00pm to lock in a car2go in the downtown core.  I never thought of it much until a few experiences trying to get a car within reasonable walking distance late in the day (i’m talking max 1/2 mile – 15 min walk tops).  The rub of course is you can only reserve the car for half an hour – so it becomes a ‘how early can you leave’ in order to ensure there’s a car available.   How long can you wait for that last car to be snatched up – and can you make it to the car in 30 minutes?  For something that supposed to make life easier, it can get a bit stressful.

I’ve looked at it periodically, but finally did a quick ‘snapshot’ of the available car drain – specially centered around my office in the north part of downtown.  I took snapshots of the cars in proximity to the downtown core – from late morning to early evening.  Starting around 4pm, there’s a significant dropoff in available cars, and they tend to stay away for the entire commuter time.  Few if any cars are heading from outside to into the core at this time.  I took the increments and made them into a looped gif – so you can see the dynamic.

I’m sure this is pretty common in other cities, but it’s an interesting phenomenon to these car sharing services.  I long to see the animation of the internal car2go data stream that shows 24/7 movements (do they share their data and has anyone animated that yet?) through major cites.  Someone please do this.

Obviously, some of these cars would return back downtown for the later night crowd, but it’s a sizable gap during the end of workday, and i’ve seen some days where the closest car is easily a half an hour from the office.  The takeaway, book early, be ready to walk, or take the bus.

 

Ecology & Landscape Architecture

A great post on the The Dirt from a couple of months back delves into a topic near and dear to my thoughts on landscape architecture and urbanism – particularly how do we blend science and design in meaningful ways.  The article “Teaching Ecological Restoration (Not Restoration Ecology) includes the new Temple University concentration in ecological restoration as part of their dialogue, namely that there must be application ‘on-the-ground’ of ecological principles.  As noted by Temple faculty John Munro, he’s concerned that the Society for Ecological Restoration “…is moving away from its focus on practical, on-the-ground, ecological restoration projects in favor of more passive, “academic research on restoration ecology.” and that, “many restoration ecologists can no longer “see the forest for the statistics.””.

The issue of relevant knowledge for practitioners is valid, as a typical undergraduate program is going to focus on the fundamental items that a student needs to gain a thorough and holistic understanding of the profession.  Further refinement and advancement (specialization) happens through on-the-job experience and continuing education, as well as more formally through masters and PhD studies, where advanced research methods, both quantitative and qualitative are added to the toolkit.  There is a limit in practical terms, as the education and specialist knowledge takes away from one’s general knowledge base, and is the preferred role of landscape architecture to be the experts or the synthesizers of information?

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The article quotes Emily McCoy from Andropogon, stating that: “landscape architects are finally beginning to take seriously the idea of measuring ecosystem function.” They are also beginning to “take the best scientific information and apply them to landscape design.” This is challenging because landscape architects are not trained in statistics so can’t truly understand landscape function. This means they need to work with restoration ecologists or environmental designers.”

Although i might take issue at the lack of statistics education equating to “can’t truly understand landscape function.” I get the intent, and this reference to statistics is a good one.  Many (most?) types of research rely on some sort of applied research methods, particularly sciences.  Statistics is often used, but very few landscape architects have this level of knowledge.  We may begin to integrate these methods in LA education, but it will still be a far cry from the amount of work (just in general hours of class time and training) required to perform and understand, as advanced level statistics is not for the faint of heart.

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Do we want that knowledge, or do we, as mentioned, look to work more with the appropriate scientists, in order to provide the right mix of art and science required for complex contemporary work.  If we need that level of expertise, where does the trade-off come in other things we are taught?  Probably a question for the CELA members, but I guess in the end, it comes down to the questions we are asking in our design processes those we lack answers for.  As McCoy mentions, they at Andropogon seek additional knowledge from experts for:

“…soils and soil biology (here, they are interested in “how what’s under the ground affects what’s above the ground”); habitat (“how do we define this?”); native plants (“can they succeed on green roofs?”); climate change; urban heat islands; assisted migration; and plant provenance and ecotypes.”

As a graduate of a State school with a very specific and finely honed technical basis, I had a concentration) in Natural Resource management (this was North Dakota State University where i graduated in 1997).  While it wasn’t as refined in terms of how the information related specifically back to design, and in modern terms wasn’t ecological restoration, it was a preliminary ‘ecological’ education that immersed us in systems, soils, plant ecology, biology, and other natural sciences.  And it was hard for non-scientists to jump in, as these classes were taught by science professionals, and they didn’t dumb down the content for us designers because they were teaching future scientists.  It was up to us to keep up, and many failed miserably.  I also had one introductory statistics class in undergraduate education, which was a good overview of how statistical methods work, what methods are out there, and what problems they can be applied to.  Did it make me able to perform complex statistical models?  No way, but it did give me general understanding of what is possible.

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Later, in my doctoral studies in Urban Studies we learned in much greater detail a number of research methods and tools, with quantitative and qualitative requirements, including statistics, part of the basic core knowledge.  It was assumed that we were all going to be researchers and scientists, and thus a fundamental skill to have to conduct and interpret research.  I gravitated, like many designers I imagine, to GIS based spatial statistics as preferred methodology, because they are both easily applicable at various scales (from the site to urban region), and more easily grasped. That said, there are a number of social- or biological-science specific methods that would be applicable to landscape architecture and ecological design that may not be spatially based.

One side of the equation is designers understanding the tools and methods (or applying these) relevant to the sciences.  In this case, the other side of the coin is the innate question of legibility and communication (or dare I say relevance) from scientists working on research and how this applies to research.  Ideas need to be able to inform practice, and be accessible to new audiences beyond the academic cycles.  This means certain types of research that stems from actual design questions, monitoring of projects through post-occupancy evaluation, etc.  One benefit of these higher level collaborations is the blending of creative communication and graphic knowledge with the sciences – which makes ideas and concepts more accessible to designers and clients.  Another is perhaps more access to the research (both intellectually and in terms of $$$) as it is often difficult and costly to be up on the latest trends and issues if you are not in academia.

As Patricia Kemper mentions, surveys of master’s level LA program students shows that “while landscape students are getting exposed to the concepts of ecological restoration, they are not typically being taught nuts and bolts of ecological restoration practice.”  What those nuts and bolts are is fundamental to an educated and relevant set of future professionals?  Err to the side of broad education w/ exposure to a wide array of subjects and we are marginalized for lack of technical specialist knowledge.  Err on the side of ecological specialization and we becomes very skilled at a few things, but suffer from lack of relevance to wider issues.

A dilemma for us all as we grapple with what to learn and to what degree, particularly in professions such as landscape architecture and urbanism that require on many levels a broad foundation of knowledge.  What you were required to know as a professional has changed much since i started school over 20 years ago, and will continue to do so.  The conversations of art versus science has quieted somewhat and there is now shared concept that both are important.  We’re still figuring out the integration (consilience) but that will continue to evolve.  Does the pendulum swing too far back towards science and causes us to lose the fundamental unique perspective we bring to projects? I hope not, as we definitely need additional knowledge to stay relevant, but we also do best as unifiers and synthesizers, big-picture thinkers, problem solvers, and visionaries.

City Simulation

An interesting article in the Guardian, Cities and their psychology: how neuroscience affects urban planning delves into the connection between space and behavior, and more specifically, ways of using technological advances to study and understand (and experiment) with urban spaces.

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Who better to invoke with this discussion than William H. Whyte, the nerd’s nerd of urbanism research whose books have influenced designers and planners for decades.  By using direct observation methods, and as showcased in his writings and films, video of these spaces, he was able to provide specific research, with a direct connection to practice. “Whyte’s research programme, conducted with stopwatches, time-lapse videography, and lots of simple paper charts, was a spectacular success. Based on his findings, he made a series of simple and easily implemented recommendations that the city soon codified into its municipal construction codes.”

Cities: neuro, whyte, 1989

sociallifeofsmallurbanspacesIt’s interesting with the technology and ubiquity of video in our lives that there aren’t more modern adaptations of Whyte’s work (although Jan Gehl is probably most visible in this realm).  As mentioned, “Whyte’s epiphany was that the way to answer important questions about how to build a commodious and psychologically healthy city lay in careful observation, collection of data and the creative ability to lay aside preconceptions and view a streetscape with a “beginner mind”.

“What has changed dramatically is the set of tools that are available to those who would understand the detailed workings of the urban realm. Now we can go well beyond simple observations of the overt behaviour of city dwellers. We can look inside the bodies and minds of those who inhabit urban spaces. We can measure their gaze, their beating hearts, and the state of their autonomic nervous systems as they react to arousing and stressful events.

The use of physical data rather than speculation is key, and with GPS tracking, sophisticated modeling, portable biofeedback, video, audio and spatial imaging, 3D scanning and other data-driven urban solutions seeming all the rage, through universities and large corporations and focus on urbanization. Tie this to 3D GIS and simulations of city spaces or districts, and it would allow us to develop some pretty sophisticated models of actual behavior and test virtual spaces and conditions.  Using Whyte’s baseline methodology with an infusion of technology, we could provide amazing insights on space configuration, wayfinding, urban form, public health, security, and much more.  As Colin Ellard mentions in the artcle:

“We also need theory and experiment. For a truly scientific approach to the problem of the city, we need to be able to test hypotheses, and compare alternative urban realities. But how can we do this when our subject matter consists of vast constructions of concrete, glass and metal? We can’t tear down and rearrange city blocks to see what works. In tandem with our arsenal of tools for measurements, we need a way to build hypothetical city spaces. How do we develop an experimental science of urban design?”

His example from folks at research laboratory for immersive virtual environments (Relive) at the University of Waterloo provide examples of new technologies in use.  “Participants are placed into highly immersive simulations of city spaces using sophisticated head-mounted displays and precise motion tracking. They are able to walk freely through photo-realistic simulations of urban spaces that are replete with depth, colour, and motion.”  The full video here shows some quick renders of a potential study, using immersive technology (Virtual Reality) people can interact with in simulation of a range of environments.  One example shows a somewhat monotonous cityscape/street pattern.

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Or a vegetated forest area, both of which have sort of a video-game quality of First-Person Shooters or the ethereal wanderings of the old Myst series, but could also allow for rapid prototyping of parks, open spaces, nature trails, and urban plazas.  As mentioned this sort of 3D visualization isn’t new, but perhaps its use in urban space analysis is a new avenue for technologies.

“What is new is the capability and will to explore our reactions to such simulations at a fine-grained level of analysis using sophisticated methods of data collection and analysis. Using such methods, we can explore the behaviour of a visitor to a virtual urban setting whose design, because it is built only of pixels, is entirely under our control and can be arranged and rearranged with a few keystrokes on a computer.

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There’s also the ability to simulate already existing real world spaces, such as Tokyo’s Shibuya crossing (below), “one of the busiest and most chaotic pedestrian junctions in the world.”   The combination of real space in an experimental setting allows us to control conditions and focus on specific brain/space interactions.

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The question of course, is, how closely the data or simulation need to match the real conditions in order to get good feedback from users?  But does the rendering of a barren, depopulated Shibuya station really simulate the conditions of this crowded shopping street.

How much wayfining is the physical environmental cues, versus going with the flow of the other pedestrians, being carried along with the masses of urbanity at work.  I’m curious if these videos do have a sort of interactive quality (activated with traffic, pedestrians, bicycles, sounds (or even smell and tactile jostling) – and whether some of the aforementioned video- game technology could be applied to urbanism.

Either way, there are a lot of new options, using tried and true techniques of observation, augmented with technology, to provide data on existing spaces, prototype and test new spaces or changes, and to increase our understanding of how to design cities for multiple uses with lots of density.  The prospects are exciting.

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Islands of Seattle

This map of Seattle by UW Planner Jeffrey Linn via a post on The Whole U, features a speculation on sea level change in the Seattle region. The result is dramatic when taken to the level of complete world ice-sheets melting resulting in a 240′ sea level rise.  Particularly is you live in certain parts of town.  I think we’re all gonna need a bigger boat.

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While obviously turning the volume up to 11 on the flood potential (a total rise of 240 feet), it interesting is this city of hills to see the sort of archipelago-like flavor to the region.   As Linn mentions:

“This map is based on real-world information—I created the Seattle sea levels from publicly-available LiDAR data, rendering the rise of the seas in 10-foot increments for the animation, starting at the current shoreline, and ending with the 240-foot level. The Islands of Seattle poster was rendered at 240 feet of rise, which is roughly what would happen if all the world’s ice sheets melted”

The animation and a closeup detail.

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See more details, see the animation, buy posters? and check out Linn’s very new blog Spatialities for more. One thing I didn’t realize until i looked at the comments on his blog, was that some of the taller downtown buildings above the water would be sticking out, such as a half-submerged Space Needle perhaps?  I’d love to see this rendered over some aerial shots to get the full potential, and identify some current upland property that might be a nice shoreline property someday in the distant future.

While the references to the horror of “The Road or Blade Runner or Metropolis.” are evoked, i’d say it’s indicative of a much worse post-apocalyptic vision.  Enjoy.

River Maps

The Map of American Rivers has been out for a while – and this post has been sitting in my drafts – so figured i’d finish it up.  The beauty of the map, created by Nelson Minar, is the isolation of a single elements and it’s expression in the topography of the US.  I think of glaciers cutting through North Dakota, and massive basins such as the Columbia River watershed, and the patterns at nested scales.

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When zoomed in, you get the dendritic, branching structure of watersheds that evokes biology, as mentioned in the Urban Times post:  “The way they scatter in patterns and formations across the country makes it look like a giant lung. Pumping water along its veins, arteries and capillaries, The United States of America moves forward.”

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It evokes for me the book River Horse by William Least-Heat Moon, a chronicle of the impossibility (and success) of crossing the country (ala Lewis & Clark) by boat.  Pick a channel, navigate (if possible) and who knows where one will end up — i’m guessing eventually to the ocean.

 

 

Principles of Ecological Landscape Design

I’ve been busy reading through the new book ‘Principles of Ecological Landscape Design‘, an interesting addition to the growing literature blending science and design in a practical sense.  Author Travis Beck is a landscape architect and currently the Landscape and Gardens Project Manager at the New York Botanical Garden, and he has used his horticultural and design background to illuminate some of the connections, challenges, and opportunities from designing ‘ecologically’.principles_ecological_landscape_design

 

As seen on the web blurb:

“This groundbreaking work explains key ecological concepts and their application to the design and management of sustainable landscapes. It covers biogeography and plant selection, assembling plant communities, competition and coexistence, designing ecosystems, materials cycling and soil ecology, plant-animal interactions, biodiversity and stability, disturbance and succession, landscape ecology, and global change. Beck draws on real world cases where professionals have put ecological principles to use in the built landscape.”

It’s too much to cram into one post, so I’m going to be regularly updating on the information in bits and pieces, starting with this intro.  As mentioned by Carol Franklin in the Preface, the book builds on a small but important foundations of landscape ecology from Richard T.T. Forman in such books as Land Mosaics: The Ecology of Landscapes and Regions, and Landscape Ecology Principles in Landscape Architecture and Land Use Planning – both of which are more accessible in terms of ‘designer-friendly’ science.  Rather than take on the entire ecological spectrum, the focus of Beck on the horticultural, particularly the translation of plant ecology into planting design, is important, because the focus makes it a very useful resource for landscape architects and designers.

The Introduction offers some context for the book, with Beck outlining our complicated history with the concept of landscape and the roots in the pastoral and picturesque.  He mentions Olmsted and Vaux and their “Greensward” Plan for Central park, inspired by Capability Brown’s English countryside.  The hidden illusion of ‘nature’ and the massive human effort involved is a common theme in historical references to style that we’ve battled with for over 100 years.

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Now, we’ve evolved to a more nuanced idea of ‘urban’ nature, but still struggle with the idea of what the poster child of this new style being Field Operations’ High Line, the highly designed and maintained landscape atop the abandoned elevated rail corridor.  As Beck mentions, we evocation of ‘spontaneous’ vegetation required significant engineering and requires on-going maintenance to keep viable – not unlike the Central Park from a century and a half earlier.

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As urban landscapes, it is expected that we can’t perform pure ‘ecological’ restoration, but is there a more informed and ecologically appropriate approach?  This is the premise of ‘Principles’, as Beck asks “What if, instead of depicting nature, we allowed nature.” (3)  This is done through ecological landscapes, not the restorative but the actively design, “that are imagined and assembled by people.” (4)

The relevance to our better understanding of design and science can be framed in numerous ways.  One is the ecological view, that less input will be more ‘sustainable’ and a landscape that is more ‘fitted’ to it’s context would be more resilient and regenerative, or as Beck posits to be “flexible and adaptive and continually adjusts its patterns as conditions change and events unfold.” (5).  Second is a economic view, as it would be less expensive to build and maintain these sites, which allows for more green in cities, and better spaces.  Third is a professional view – one that imagines a true and relevant blending of design and science would free us from the art v. science battles and the criticism of create hollow, misinformed or ’boutique’ ecologies. It would also enable us to create landscapes to aid in larger scale assemblies (cities) or to combat global catastrophes (climate instability).

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apocalyptic landscape – image by Giacomo Costa

With the proper tools, designers are freed to have explore formal possibilities with real and testable constraints.  This greater understanding of where we plant, what we plant, and how they interact, gives us a solid foundation to justify new design modalities and forms of expression.  This, coupled with an understanding from clients and maintenance staff of the the long view of how sites will evolve and grow over time, expands the possibility of a new paradigm shift in our use of plants.

As Beck mentions:

“An ecological landscape knits itself into the biosphere so that it both is sustained by natural processes and sustains life within its boundaries and beyond.  It is not a duplicate of wild nature (that we must protect and restore where we can) but a complex system modeled after nature.” (5)

The underlying theme of ‘self-organization’ as an important aspect of this process, allowing for continuation without continual input and human agency.  This regenerative quality of establishing a self-sufficient landscape that meets all of it’s needs is important in ecological restoration to determine success.  It is more difficult to thing of this in terms of managed and urban landscapes which are extreme conditions that lack analogs in nature.

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apocalyptic landscape – image by Giacomo Costa

The range of landscape contexts and types, along with aesthetics, safety, financial, and other considerations will create a continuum of landscapes that will lend themselves to varying degrees of self-sufficiency.  Some will be able to thrive with little to no additional inputs, while others will need higher levels of care.  Our expanding set of tools driven by scientific knowledge, allows us to more directly engage in the ‘fitness’ of our materials to fill the roles we assign them, which is inherently different from our current approaches.  Principles of Ecological Landscape Design, it seems, may allow us to expand the toolbox in even more robust and novel ways.

More on initial chapters upcoming.