Category Archives: europe

Hemp to the Rescue

We’ve heard of many plants that have phytoremediative qualities, that is, the properties that can absorb and neutralize toxic substances in soils.   For all the versatility of hemp, I hadn’t thought of it as possessing that ability until I read recent post on Roads and Kingdoms entitled Hemp and Change.  The crux of the story is one of pollution and the potential for Hemp as one of those plants that can aid in cleaning up our dirty messes.

The Italian town Taranto in Puglia, which like many areas had a rich agricultural and gastronomic history, specifically cheeses and other dairy products.  A large steel plant was constructed nearby in the 1960s, which was led to degradation of air and soil that led to conditions where animals were no longer fit for consumption.  There are also indications that the residents have and continue to suffer from ill effects of the plant.


:: image via Roads & Kingdoms

The issue is that the plant serves as the major source of jobs, so it’s a double-edged sword where residents are both in need of the economic benefit but suffer from the ill effects.  The plant owners were later charged with a number of crimes for the health and environmental issues, but beyond the legal culpability, there still remains the need for a viable clean-up of the sites, which is often too expensive and long term.

Thus phytoremediation provides a viable strategy for clean up of the toxic sites, with the potential to restore Taranto back to it’s agricultural glory.  A group called CanaPuglia and their founder Claudio Natile, who describes hemp and its use as a continuation of an Italian tradition.

“Hemp was a major Italian agricultural crop for hundreds of years. In the 1950s, the country was the second-largest hemp producer in the world after the Soviet Union. Italian hemp seeds provided some of the most resistant fibers, which were turned into clothing. However, with industrialization and the advent of synthetic fibers such as nylon, hemp started to disappear.”

They’ve planted 300 hectares of low THC hemp, which is also harvested to make a range of products, further providing economic vitality and helping to pay for the cleanup.  In this case, the toxicity doesn’t persist in the fibers, so it can be used, however there could be toxicity in the seeds so the hemp is not sold for food consumption.  The article doesn’t get too far into how hemp is working for pollution reduction, but offered a few links to explore.

According to the Huffington Post, in addition to hemp being a low-input and easy to grow plant, it “…was used at Chernobyl to harmlessly extract toxins and pollutants from the soil and groundwater. Hemp actually absorbs CO2 while it grows through natural photosynthesis, making it carbon-negative from the get-go.”

Commercial hemp, Darlingford, Manitoba, Canada.
Commercial hemp, Darlingford, Manitoba, Canada.

:: image via Huffington Post

The use a variety of plants for phytoremediation of toxic sites, including Brassicas, corn, tobacco, sunflowers and trees, to name a few, all are viable methods to uptake and capture pollutants.   The site explains that Phytoremediation is a process that takes advantage of the fact that green plants can extract and concentrate certain elements within their ecosystem. For example, some plants can grow in metal-laden soils, extract certain metals through their root systems, and accumulate them in their tissues without being damaged. In this way, pollutants are either removed from the soil and groundwater or rendered harmless.


:: image via McGraw Hill – Botany Global Issues Map

The use of hemp is explained in a bit more detail “In 1998, Phytotech, along with Consolidated Growers and Processors (CGP) and the Ukraine’s Institute of Bast Crops, planted industrial hemp, Cannabis sp., for the purpose of removing contaminants near the Chernobyl site.”  The uptake of pollutants at Chernobyl included cesium and strontium, which was bio-accumlated in root structures at high concentrations.  While some toxins are broken down in soil and plants, high-grade elements like radioactive waste are pulled from soils into plants, so there is obviously the issue of proper and safe removal of this biomass after this process has taken place.

One interesting link on the larger concept is from the United Nations Enviornment Programme, a site called “Phytoremediation: An Environmentally Sound Technology for Pollution Prevention, Control and Remediation. ” which does offer a primer on the topic.  Contrasting it with traditional remediation, the site explains: “Remediation of contaminated sites using conventional practices, such as ‘pump-and-treat’ and ‘dig-and-dump’ techniques, is often expensive, has limited potential, and is usually only applicable to small areas. Additionally, these conventional approaches to remediation often make the soil infertile and unsuitable for agriculture and other uses by destroying the microenvironment. Hence there is the need to develop and apply alternative, environmentally sound technologies (ESTs), taking into account the probable end use of the site once it has been remediated.”

The process happens in multiple ways, but essentially has two methods – the first is breaking down and degrading organic pollutants; the second is to trap  metals or non-organics so they cannot move to other animals or areas.  The roots are the main source of phytoremediation, being in contact with pollutants directly through the extensive below-grade surface area.  When areas of contamination are deeper, trees are often used where their more extensive rooting systems can go further down than herbacous plants and shrubs.   There are also cases where water can be pumped from below grade and then treated on the surface using plants.


:: image via Intech

As the above graphic shows, there are many methods at work with the phytoremediation process, many of which are working on the ‘soil-root’ interface.  There are a number of compounds released by the plants, “root exudates” that activate microorganisms that can extract, stablilize, degrade and stimulate toxics.  This changes the bioavaiability of the toxins through, as the UNEP site states “changes in soil characteristcs, release of organic substances, changes in chemical composition, and /or increase in plant-assisted microbial activity.”

There are over 30,000 sites in the US that require hazardous waste treatment, and many more worldwide.  While many plants that are viable for phytoremediation are available, many of these cannot be used for consumption because of issues with possible contamination. Hemp is perhaps one to consider as the fiber used can still be processed into useful, saleable products,  that could potentially fund the cleanup as well.  As marijuana legality relaxes somewhat, it may be more possible to use this plant to make our world a cleaner place.


Vegitecture Throwback

Oh, it’s been a bit since i’ve posted something in the category of Vegitecture (aka Vegetated Architecture).  I still follow the trend closely and although more ubiquitous, there are still some showstoppers here and there.  I thought it good to do a quick throwback to some interesting ones i’ve spotted recently, from an post from the Architect’s Newpaper on the Milan Expo 2015 Pavilions from various countries.


United States Pavilionby Biber Architects. (Courtesy Expo Milano 2015)


New Holland Pavilion  (Courtesy Ratti Associati)


Austria Pavilion at Expo Milano 2015. (Laurian Ghinitoiu)

The header image above is the Vietnam Pavilion by Vo Trong Nghia Architects. (PHOTOGRAPHERS4EXPO – Saverio Lombardi Vallauri)

Rebel Cities Pt. 1

David Harvey is somewhat of a urbanist hero, and after reading reams of his work in grad school studies, I was  really excited to nab a copy of this 2012 book ‘Rebel Cities’ online for free download in PDF format.  The subtitle of this book is ‘From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution’, and with that Harvey evokes the work of Henri Lefebvre and a wealth on interesting scholarship on the modern interpretation of public space, freedom, and how these related to the modern metropolis.


In the Preface, Harvey mentions stumbling upon a poster from a group from Paris called The Ecologistes “…a radical neighborhood action movement dedicated to creating a more ecologically sensitive mode of city living, depicting an alternative vision for the city.”  This vision was:

“It was a wonderful ludic portrait of old Paris reanimated by a neighborhood life, with flowers on balconies, squares full of people and children, small stores and workshops open to the world, cafes galore, fountains flowing, people relishing the river bank, community gardens here and there…”

Utopian visions aside, the 1960s was a time of massive change for Paris (and the rest of the world), which was when Lefebvre published ‘The Right to the City’ with, as mentioned by Harvey, an eye towards creating ‘an alternative urban life that is less alienated, more meaningful and playful but, as always with Lefebvre, conflictual and dialectical, open to becoming, to encounters (both fearful and pleasurable), and to the perpetual pursuit of unknowable novelty.” (x)

Looking forward to digging in more.   Read it?  Haven’t but want to and create a bit of ongoing dialogue?  Something conflictual and dialectical?

Let me know.

Visualizing Sagrada Familia

An amazing architectural masterpiece worth adding to anyone’s bucket list is the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  Besides its immense size and complexity, the process of development has taken from inception in 1882 and the involvement of the amazing architect Antonio Gaudi.

:: image via Wikipedia

Check out this video showing the final stages of the design that will be completed over the next 13 years, culminating in the completion, a mere 144 years lager, in 2026.

More on this to come – as i have some great photos from our trip there from a few years back to share later.

L+U Travels – The Prelude

England, Spain, Italy.  While a couple of weeks is not long enough to spend in any one of these countries (or cities for that matter), the agenda is set.  Thus I’m considering an upcoming trip to Europe and actual vacation (what the hell is that?) and a scouting trip for further visits.  The itinerary starts in London, where my sister recently moved to  so definitely no shortage of things to see.

:: image via Boston magazine

I definitely want to check out some of the early green spaces such as Hyde Park (below) as well as some of the newer public spaces but mostly, as with many of the destinations, not trying to see the sights but rather experience the place.  That said, any ideas for some more contemporary must-see public space, urbanism, open spaces – drop a line.

::  image via Fanpop

A off-the-beaten path highlight we will travelling to our birthplace in Mildenhall (near RAF Lakenheath where our father was stationed in the early 1970s).  I alas, spent my first six weeks there prior to be shipped back to the states, so this is a long-awaited homecoming and should be a wonderful part of the trip.

:: image via England Road Ways

A quintessential English town north of London, a google search yields more photos of uniforms and jets than the actual character of the town – but this one gives you a bit of the flavor.

:: image via Pfann Photography

London and family hang-out will lead to Barcelona, a city that has held fascination for me for many years.  The significance of the city has been reinforced in some recent readings discussing the transformation of the old city into the more modern gridded perimeter by Ildefons Cerdà in the 1850s.  His plan shows the application of the grid on the more organic old town.

:: image via Wikipedia

Any trip to Barcelona must of course include Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell, some of the amazing urban design built for the 1992 Olympic Games and and I particularly fascinated by the Catalan ‘modernisme’ from the late 19th to early 20th century.  And of course a wander down Las Ramblas is definitely in order…

:: image via here in van nuys

Finally, a hop over to Rome where one could spend months without making a dent in – so some of the main sights of course… what to see, is the problem.  Villas, Vatican, Colosseum, Pantheon… uh, yep, its rome.

 :: image via zoodoo’s world

Although maybe not a problem, as I am perfectly content to do some sight-seeing by let vacation-mode take over I feel like sitting and drinking along a cafe and taking in some of the street life.

:: image via Life by Days

For a little variety, we are staying in two different neighborhoods in Rome as bookends with a trip up to Tuscany to see Florence and Siena in the middle.  Florence to me says art and the Ponte Vecchio – with some chill time that will perhaps include a bottle of wine, or two.

:: image via Wikipedia

While Florence is amazing – my heart is in Siena – most likely standing in the Piazza del Campo… thinking of the wonder’s of history… (and why public space is so different in Europe than the US)…

:: image via Wikipedia

Or maybe just absorbing the adjacent hillsides from the top of the campanile…

:: image via Wikipedia

Either way, for all of these cities and countries, I will be looking forward to replacing guidebooks, historical records and internet images with good actual imagery and experiences… stay tuned mid-late September for some posts – infusing landscape, urbanism, history and more in these amazingly rich areas of the world.  A taste perhaps, part vacation, part urban studies, part landscape architecture research.  What could be better.