Category Archives: infrastructure

Water and Cities

Interesting exploration from Architect’s Newspaper from October covering a range of water specific projects and proposals in the urban realm.  A short description:

“For landscape architects today, urbanism and water go hand in hand. Whether dealing with issues of sea level rise, groundwater retention, or just plain old water supply infrastructure, landscape architects are working with scientists, engineers, and policy makers on increasingly bigger projects that encompass more external factors and larger networks of physical, biological, environmental, and political networks. We examine some of these water landscapes and how they relate to each other in the broader context of how resources and climate-related changes are being managed.”

The grid locates these twelve projects in the field, with poles ranging on one axis from Decadence to Survival and on the other pole from Not Enough to Too Much.  It’s a simple diagram that shows the complexity of water and the need for regional and adaptive solutions that address multiple problems but are also specific to place.  This spans climate change, drinking water, development, and ecology — balancing all of the variety of needs for livability, economy and social equity of which water is intertwined.  Check out the post for more detail, but a few highlights worthy of discussion.

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The issue of climate refugees is going to continually be more and more common in the news.  One such example is Shishmaref, Alaska who have “…asking whether it’s better to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or take arms against a sea of troubles to combat a looming climate change–driven disaster.”  While consultants have said they should stay, a recent vote went in favor or relocating the town, which is on an island in the Bering Straight, to the safer mainland, and they are looking for the $200 million necessary to do so.

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Miami is an example of a much more populated city dealing with climate issue, such as flooding and access to clean drinking water, even when the city continue to grow rapidly. “Miami’s real estate value continues to rise despite the chronic flooding risks on its waterfront. Even as local governments pour millions into tackling high tides and storm surges, deeper economic and infrastructural issues loom as threats to growth and prosperity.”

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Another interesting take on flooding, Chicago is looking at underground sand deposits that were built over, and still exist, to provide a unique resilience strategy.  “The challenge is immense—for Chicago, one inch of rainfall equals four billion gallons. Until recently Chicago’s answer to the problem has been an infrastructure project no less than epic—read costly—in scale. But one landscape architect is leading an effort to change how the city can unlock its hidden potential for storm water management”

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On the flip side, proposals for water scarcity are happening in Texas, through innovative methods of protecting supply, as well as creating controversy as cities in Wisconsin start asking to draw water from Lake Michigan.

And what review of water would be complete without some discussion of the contentious LA River, (banner image above) which is being tackled by multiple teams and has created some rifts in the design community, particularly that of putting Frank Gehry in charge of the latest public sceme.  One postive from the Gehry team (in addition to including a good mix of other disciplinares) that I’m curious about is the “L.A. River VR Experience, an initiative by media producers Camilla Andersson and Anders Hjemdahl at Pacific Virtual Reality and FoLAR… The project is currently in the final stages of production and features a VR tour along the entire LA River. “

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The work of Studio Gang to develop interdisciplinary solutions to ecological projects is interesting, and the work of UrbanLab also provides some context for water projects in China.

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Lots more, so check out all of these brief articles and the matrix of abundance and scarcity and decadence and survival is a unique frame to look at water solutions.  Finally, for more in-depth look at one of these projects, check out my post over at Hidden Hydrology to find out more on the Town Branch Commons project by SCAPE and the ‘daylighting’ of an urban waterway in Lexington, Kentucky.

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Images via ArchPaper

 

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PA35: Going Live

I was really excited to receive the latest version of  Pamphlet Architecture, published by Princeton Architectural Press.  While I’ve not seen all of them, i do have at least a dozen, and they offer focused snapshots of theory and practice both as well as a longitudinal section of though spanning decades.  My first experience was PA15: War and Architecture featuring Lebbeus Woods, which i picked up as an undergrad and was blown away.  I’ve since picked up issues sporadically, including the great PA21: Situation Normal featuring the work of Lewis.Tsrumaki.Lewis (1998), PA23: Sites of Trauma with Johanna Saleh Dickson (2002),  PA28: Augmented Landscapes by Smout Allen (2007), and PA30: Coupling featuring work and thoughts by InfraNet Lab and Lateral Office (2011).

The most recent version, PA35: Going Live: From States to Systems, was published earlier in November, edited by Pierre Bélanger and featuring work from his design research arm opsys.

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I thought Bélanger’s  essay ‘Synthetic Surfaces’ in the Landscape Urbanism Reader, was interesting, and was interested to see the work as well from he and others around this topic.  For starters, some context, via the blurb snipped below on Amazon:

“”If landscape is more than milieu or environment, and encompasses a deterritorialized world, then it is the contested territory, hidden actor, and secret agent of the twentieth century. Stemming from the early work of some of the most influential landscape urbanists–Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Hilberseimer, Benton MacKaye, Patrick Geddes–this mini manifesto explores underdeveloped patterns and unfinished processes of urbanization at the precise moment when environmentalism began to fail and ecology emerged between the 1970s and 80s. Informed by systems thinking from the modern atomic age, this slim silver pamphlet takes inspiration from Howard T. Odum’s big green book A Tropical Rain Forest and brings alive the voices of a group of influential thinkers to exhume a body of ideas buried in the fallout of the explosion of digitalism, urbanism and deconstructivism during the early 1990s. Catalyzed by Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor meltdown, a counter-modernity and neo-urbanism emerged from the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of South African Apartheid. What happened during this concentrated era and area of change–across design, from architecture to planning–is nothing short of revolutionary.” 

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The opening essays start provide some more context, and the crux is really what is said about the timing of the emergence of ecology in the 70s and 80s and how this is now fully integrated, after almost 50 years, into practice.  I do want to find a copy of Odum’s ‘A Tropical Rain Forest‘ after reading the introductory info – perhaps the biggest gem this small volume offers.

Readers should be warned, this is not a trifle, but a dense exploration with a number of unexplained references and jargon – the kind of stuff that makes people roll their eyes and dismiss academic posturing as oh so much BS.  Frankly the intro is probably one of the most annoying passages I’ve read in a while and the first sections were equally obtuse.  It evens out a bit as you continue, but coupled with way too small text and only black and white imagery, it’s a bit of a slog.  As in not enjoyable to read or engage in.

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So if you’re still with me – check out the diagrams, and maybe read a section or two.  When you get into them, are quite beautiful and the text has value – exploring some of the themes of landscape and infrastructure from Keller Easterling and Sanford Kwinter.  Go to well lit room, with a magnifying glass and a lot of coffee and have fun.

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I was initially put off by the reliance on only black and white imagery, as it seems anachronistic, more of a trope than a reason for its use in this particularly context.  But they work and the idea of communication that transcends color – in these densely packed montages attempt to communicate a ton of info – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Probably the best part of this volume – sometimes it’s amazing and you find yourself staring at a page for way too long.  If they were 2x as big it’d be even better.

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So as far as the takeaway for he at this point, I’m really intrigued by the graphics, and some of the experimentation.  While i was initially put off by the black at white imagery, as i mentioned, but after looking at it multiple times, and viewing digital images, it does have a quality that perhaps obscured by our typical splashes of color.

Even as a pamphlet – the writings, well, I feel would have benefited greatly from a tougher editor that reined in some of the language and obscure references.  I’ve read enough academic and dense writings that i can muddle through the most difficult, so  I definitely don’t need my hand held. But there were so many opportunities to add one small explanation of a concept, rather than just leave the reader hanging, or googling, to understand some obscure reference or word choice.  Belanger’s other writings didn’t seem so hard to parse.  This was exhausting.

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If you read it let me know what you thing.  Got some ideas or thoughts.  Let me know.

Block’Hood

An interesting link via the A/N Blog on a game development from the Plethora Project called Block’Hood.  Taking a cue from SimCity, this game explores simulation at a bit finer grain.  From their site:

“Block’hood is a neighborhood-building simulator that celebrates the diversity and experimentation of cities. You will have full access to 90+ building blocks to combine and create unique neighborhoods, and discover the hidden inhabitants of each combination. The game will embark in a story of ecology, understanding how resources are needed to unlock new configurations and allow prosperous neighborhoods. You will need to avoid the decay of your city block by making sure each unit doesn’t run out of resources.”

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As seen from the images, a modular system of building and site elements can be arrayed in a variety of configurations.  Rather than just compositional, the inputs and outputs of each must be in alignment to create good relationships, as well as avoid negative interactions.

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The complexity offers a glimpse into the delicate balance of urban ecology and systems in terms of optimization of resources… making it part ecology, part building systems science.  As noted on the site: “Each Block you create has Inputs and Outputs. For Example, a tree might need water to create oxygen, and a shop might need consumers to create money. By understanding how each block is dependent on other blocks, you can create a productive network. Make sure to optimize your production and generate abundant resources. The game has 20+ resources that are specific to every block, so the amount of relations are enormous!”
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Once in motion, the interplay between blocks starts to create synergies or begin to decay, so fine-tuning iterations and removing blocks before they create a chain reaction that influences the rest of the City.  The scalability of the system lends itself to small experimentation and different game play modes allow for free play (Sandbox) or more structured challenges and puzzles.

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While any game or simulation is a necessary abstraction of the true complexity of interactions, I’m struck by the simplicity of design with a lot of hidden web of interactions, plus the aesthetics of the game are engaging.  I am looking forward to giving it a go and seeing how it works in action. Early access is available on Steam, and you can find out more info via this video:

Block’Hood Early Access Trailer from jomasan on Vimeo.

images via Block’Hood and A/N Blog

Sensing Water

A cool use of art to activate some overpasses in San Jose, California by Seattle based artist Dan Corson.  The first is called ‘Sensing WATER‘ which projects lighting on the underpass based on weather conditions.  From the site:

Sensing WATER is a weather-responding and interactive artwork utilizing light and paint to define a major downtown gateway in San Jose CA. The project is composed of 2 elements, the massive painted sloped wall that abstractly references flowing water, and the overhead evening lighting that illuminates with rippling patterns of light the underpass of I-87. The project uses real-time NOAA weather data to compose different patterns of light on the ceiling. (e.g.: 0-5mph winds vs thunderstorms). The projected light maintains a similar palate to the painted sloped wall, yet becomes dynamic depending on the weather.

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The use of real time sensing to activate the space, which sits atop the Guadalupe River.  Corson was “… curious to link both the awareness of water issues to the new focus of the high tech industry through the use of dynamic illumination.”

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Another take on the underpass is ‘Sensing YOU‘,  which is more interactive, allowing users to control the patterns with an app/game from their cellphones.  The goal in this case, like above, is also to “link technology and nature in this urban landscape sitting over the Guadalupe River- at the heart of Silicon Valley.”  Some more info:

“Sensing YOU is an interactive artwork utilizing light and paint to define a major downtown gateway in San Jose CA. The installation is defined by over 1000 painted circles and 81 individually controlled illuminated rings that play a variety of patterns and low-resolution mapped video over the ceiling surface of the I-87 highway underpass. The patterns are activated by pedestrians and bicyclists moving through the space- setting off pre-programmed sequences.”

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All images from www.dancorson.com

PE 1: Parallel Genealogies

As mentioned, it would be worth while to explore some essays of the Projective Ecologies book, and what better way to start than with the introductory essay by Reed and Lister, Parallel Genealogies.

The terms ‘ecologies’ and ‘ecosystems’ are co-opted for a variety of uses today beyond event these, which could lead to the eye-rolling misappropriation and leave us scrambling for a different term.  The word/concept is by nature cool.  It sounds cool, it’s integrative and connective, holistic and systemic, so of course it will be integrated into the lexicon to describe such things as media ecosystems, startup ecosystems, digital ecosystems, and others, predominately in the tech world.  Our gut reaction is to say ugh and come up with something new – resilience, regenerative, biophilic, etc. that hasn’t been corrupted, but ecology, in the true sense and applicablility, is still a valid construct.  I say rather than abandon it, we take it back.

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H.T. Odum. Energy and Matter Flow through an Ecosystems, adapted from Silver (p.25)

The parallel genealogies of the title are woven around ecology, and the interconnections between the natural sciences, the humanities and design.  These are broken down in turn, evolving the concepts from scientific roots of ecosystem and population ecology, through the connections of ecology to environmentalism which has led to it’s more popular usage.  The crux is a shift from, linear, deterministic ‘climax’ models to more of a focus on “open-endedness, flexibility, resilience, and adaptation… ecosystems are now understood to be open systems and behave in ways that are self-organizing and that are to some extend unpredictable. ”  In that vein (25):

“…change is built into living systems; they are characterized in part by uncertainty and dynamism.”

This makes it more difficult to understand, but infinitely more interesting, as things change and move in systems, leading to conceptual metaphors like mosaics which are compelling to scientists and lay-people (especially designers).  The application of ecological principles – beyond mere observation – implies the agency of humans, thus making our impacts become impossible to ignore.  We also tend to want to act in healing degraded areas, which requires sufficient data to make the correct course corrections.

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Do we possess, or can we possess, adequate information to counterbalance the human-impacted changes in climate that have (Katrina, Sandy) and will influence millions?  We can’t not act, but with what information and certainty?  As the authors point out, the concept shifts “toward complex system thinking is to realize that we cannot manage whole ecosystems; rather, we can manage ourselves and our activities… [which] will have profound implications for the way we design.” (27)

The second genealogy focuses on the humanities (which i would maybe broaden to include many social elements) in solidifying our connections to the natural world.  Similar to deterministic linear ecological models, the way we live and govern ourselves, as in the text, quoting Botkin: “our management practices must adapt themselves to this new scientific understanding of the world – that principles of order, control, and limits will eventually doom the very things we want to protect.” (29)

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Our connection to nature, or the wild, is slipping somewhat in an age of hypercommunication and technological fascination, which is maybe an extension of our overcoming the fear of the wild by naming, and then taming what we once feared.  Or maybe we just stare at phones too much.  In perhaps a counterargument to the naming of places, is the idea of experience, as argued by Neil Evernden, in The Social Creation of Nature’ where “…he argues for qualities, as opposed to nameable things, that might describe that which exists beyond human control.”  (30)

“Wildness is not ‘ours’ — indeed, it is the one that that can never be ours.  It is self-willed, independent, and indifferent to our dictates and judgements.  An entity with the quality of wildness is its own, and no others’s”

And finally with design, and the historical origins of ecological planning traced in the modern sense to McHarg in the 1960s (but built on many, many others before him).  The quantitative as a design strategy was, and indeed still is, somewhat of a foreign concept, that has weathered the art v. science debates, but did galvanize a concept of designing with nature that still evokes joy when spoken aloud.  The language of the ecological – still vivid today – evokes visions that easily spur design intention.  R.T.T. Forman gave a new language to landscape architects, thinking about “matrices, webs, and networks… characterized by adjacencies, overlaps, and juxtapositions.”  This took us beyond the simple overlay into the concept of change and flux, or as mentioned “Adaptation, appropriation, and flexibility, which became understood as the hallmarks of ‘successful’ systems.” (33)

The examples start to emerge, with no perfect exemplar but many worth studying for elements or processes worthy of emulation.  The work of Haag, Hargreaves, and numerous earthwork artists used the armature, language and symbolism of nature into works, and also left (gasp) things unfinished somewhat, with slight references to indeterminacy, which dovetailed so well into the best aspects of landscape urbanism theory.  Thus the spatial fields of  Koolhaas/OMA  at Parc de la Vilette, or the work of Desvigne and Dalnoky, which “set out strategies in which growth, succession, and careful editing of newly planted urban or industrial forests could be seen to reintroduce environmental dynamics into sites and projects that had erased – or at least significantly dampened – ecological effects.” (36)

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It’s not a hands-off ecological succession, but strategic ‘curation’ that works for the ecological and the cultural, and the binary notion of nature and human.  This led nicely into works by Allen, Corner, and further competitions such as Downsview Park, Freshkills Landfill, and others to solidify an interdisciplinary, graphically rich, and temporally based approach to landscape architecture.  While the framing of it and subsequent labeling as landscape urbanism may have not stuck in it’s original sense, the literature of LU is the best that’s come out of the profession in a decade.  My opinion is the book we’re reading is the next iteration (or maybe continuation) of that concept.

Beyond the theoretical, the shift toward application of these projects (not just competitions but works being built) offers a validation of the action-oriented approach that connects ecology, humanity, and design in ways that have rarely been accomplished.  New approaches, ecological awareness, understanding of hybrid and novel ecosystems, the role and result of humans as parts of these system –  coupled with new technology – leads to a new urban ecological paradigm.  The book, and this first essay, continues the conversation, “toward a more rigorous, robust,  and relevant engagement across the domains of ecology and design – one to be fully explored in the coming years.” (38)

I’ll probably skip next the Corner essay as it has been covered extensively (but feel free to comment or guest post welcome!) – and jump to Hight’s essay on Designing Ecologies.  Stay tuned and comment on your thoughts on this essay below.

Books: Projective Ecologies

A recent conversation with a colleague reminded me of one of the best books of 2014 — Projective Ecologies, a collaboration between Chris Reed and Nina-Marie Lister that brought together a number of essays both new and old an framed the ideas in some interesting ways.

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You can also read an adaptation of this first chapter from this article in Design Observer from mid-April.  The book has been covered by other places, such as a quick guest post overview here in The Dirt.

Fold out paper maps and diagrams are stuffed in a pocket in the back of the volume – to show some more detail on images found in the books thematic interludes, which are ready made for some LA student studio desk.

There was some redundancy of essays that were previous published elsewhere, that are maybe worth a re-read – but the new content is worth the time for perhaps the necessary extension of the dialogue on Landscape Urbanism from a few years back, both in new ideas and relevant old ideas.

As with most things it makes sense to break it down into pieces so an essay by essay overview seems in order.  Anyone else reading this or read it last year, feel free to contribute ideas in the comments section?  I’ll periodically post some ideas from the essays.

UGB – to grow or not?

A perpetual discussion in Portland revolves around the Urban Growth Boundary and the ability of the Metro region to remain compact while accommodating population growth.  Proponents of density say we have plenty of room to infill without expanding, while others say expansion is the only method for having adequate land for economic development.  Debate ensues.

A recent story on OPB, Report Shows Portland May Already Have Enough Room To Grow discusses a new report from Metro on growth management with and influx of approximately 400,000 residents, with 200,000 housing units and 10,000 acres for jobs.  This can happen within the existing boundary, or become the catalyst
A history of boundary expansions shows how the edges of the original UGB have been added to, most notably the addition of Damascus on the outer east side.  metro1

Commuter trends are another big issue – as regional transportation infrastructure is a key to accommodating growth – and also justify expenditures in transit and other transportation alternatives.  (plus these cool infographics  by Ryan Sullivan from Paste in Place make for a lot more interesting visualization than the typical charts and graphs and gis maps.)

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The process is complex, and the report is a pretty good primer for anyone looking at how to manage growth, density, and the myriad factors involved in modern urban planning.  The relatively massive size of Portland’s Metro Area (compared to other areas) and low density makes infill and redevelopment a key component of meeting increasing demand.  While there is perhaps not tons of visible vacant lands ready to build, there is lots of potential density as seen in the potential for mixed use in the inner core.  This will, as it has recently, challenge longer time residents who continue to bristle at density (such as development on Division).  It also means that density needs to be done well, and that it also needs to be supported by viable transportation options.

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There is also the need to rethink types of development – such as industrial lands – which has typically demanded large parcels (a constant complaint of those saying there is a lack of industrial land).  While some industries do require these larger parcels, there are new models for more decentralized, modular, and mixed use industry that can be woven into (rather than be zoned separate from) adjacent residential and commercial areas.

The need for livability and economic development means living close to work, and also living in communities with access to nature, places for active and passive recreation, and a number of amenities that make a place desirable.  While quality of life in some areas of the country suffer and prices skyrocket, is there possibilities to again, much like the innovative thinking that was the genesis of the urban growth boundary in the first place, for Portland to lead in how to do growth right?   Could density increase and, gasp!, the UGB actually shrink?

The report shows that a significant amount of growth can be accommodated within the existing footprint, so that’s a step in the right direction.

NYC Streets Metamorphosis

A video look at the changes to the streetscape in NY City :: Via the gothamist

NYC Streets Metamorphosis from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

There’s nothing more dramatic than looking back five or ten years at Streetfilms footage to see how much the streets of New York City have changed. In this wonderful montage, check out the incredible changes at Times Square, Herald Square, the Brooklyn waterfront, and many other places that outgoing NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and her staff have intrepidly transformed.

We have similarly high hopes for Mayor Bill de Blasio as he takes office, and look forward to what he and new NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg accomplish. Even though so much has changed, the vast majority of our streets still need to be rethought and redesigned. We need more space for efficient modes, slower speed limits, and traffic calming for our most vulnerable citizens. I hope this short gets them excited to top the transportation record of the Bloomberg administration.

Please note: This is but a short sample of the before-and-after footage at our disposal. Seriously, we could have put together a one hour version!

Get Shaking

One thing of note in Seattle is that it is a city of varied topography, and that this obviously guided the evolution of where settlement occurred, while creating districts and landmark areas (many ending with ‘Hill’).  An interesting post related to this topographic urbanism is the seismic stability of my new city.  From the Seattle Times, ‘When Seattle shakes from quakes, it’s going to slide, too’ provides a good snapshot of the impact of an earthquake on hillsides and the buildings dotting them.

University of Washington researchers performed a study which used simulation on a ‘fault rupture’ that transects the City of Seattle to see the impact.  The results are summarized in the caption from the Seattle Times:

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The issue is not just the damage, but the impact of these slides, as lead researcher Kate Allstadt mentions, in addition to “…widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure caused by the quake itself, landslides would compound the city’s problems and slow its recovery.”

This is a common issue in many cities on the West Coast, and a history of seismic activity coupled with slides is prevalent throughout the region:

The Puget Sound-area landscape is pocked with scars from slides triggered by ground shaking, but the worst of them occurred long before cities existed here. The last quake on the Seattle Fault, about 1,100 years ago, shook the ground so hard that entire hillsides slumped into Lake Washington, carrying intact swaths of forest with them.

A recent earthquake in 2001, for instance, set off over 100 landslides, according to the article.  This continuing threat of instability has interesting dimensions, particularly based on how much moisture is present, as dry soils yield far less damaging slides, at least in the models.  Unfotunately, many of the areas that would be impacted aren’t shown on current landslide risk maps, including West Seattle, Beacon Hill and Mount Baker.  A map shows the major risk areas.

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While it’s obvious why this matters, in terms of health and safety, most earthquake specific action focuses around the.  As mentioned in the Seattle Times article. “According to one scenario, a magnitude 6.7 quake on the Seattle Fault could kill 1,600 people and cause $33 billion in damage. That analysis glossed over the damage caused by landslides, but in major quakes, collapsing hillsides can cause as much — or more — destruction than the shaking itself, Allstadt pointed out.”

This additional cost and issues with access and cleanup mean serious study should be conducted related to how to deal with existing development in these areas, and what this means long-term for these areas of the city essentially waiting for the right event to collapse.

Another interesting article from The Atlantic Cities: “Seattle’s Hilly Neighborhoods Could Slide Into the Water During the Next Earthquake” delves into similar terrain looking at the UW study in more detail in areas of .  Writer John Metcalf looks at the smaller micro-impacts that the study (for instance see below), and the distinctions of the dry vs. wet scenarios.  The context is important, as in the case below, the impacts to major transportation routes in large landslide events could hinder response to areas of the City, in addition to the immediate damage.

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The summary is, that we need to be aware and prepared – as a region, but also in specific areas we know are going to be impacted and those that are key elements of the response infrastructure system.  We don’t know when, but it could be sooner than we think.  As mentioned in the Atlantic Cities article:

That’s why it’s crucial to start prepping, says Allstadt – finding out what microregions are especially vulnerable, planning rapid responses in and out of these zones, predicting what sewerage and electric infrastructure could be knocked out, educating home-buyers on the risks of living on uncertain slopes. “It could be now or a couple thousand years,” she says. “We just don’t know.”

EcoTracks

Short blurb from Sustainable Business Oregon on a new ‘EcoTrack‘ for the light rail expansion in Portland.

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“The vegetated trackway, which aims to reduce stormwater runoff, is among the first such efforts in the U.S. It will adorn a station at Southwest Lincoln Street and Third Avenue near the Portland State University campus.

The installation “will provide a colorful carpet of low-growing plants along 200 feet of light rail line,” according to the transit agency. The technique is common in Europe and consists of one-inch thick mats that contain various species of sedum, which are a hardy low-maintenance vegetation.”