Category Archives: sustainability

Urban Ecology Reading List 2: Landscape Ecology

URBAN ECOLOGY READING LIST – 2

Beyond some of the specific books focusing  on the science of Urban Ecology, there are subsets of literature that support this study.  This is the first of three posts to expand the reading list that investigate these other, related disciplinary alignments, including landscape ecology, the hybrid books on planning and design based on ecological systems, and finally, a set of formative literature on environmental planning & design I would consider part of the historical canon.

Landscape Ecology

Closely linked is the science of landscape ecology, which according to the International Association for Landscape Ecology is “…the study of spatial variation in landscapes at a variety of scales. It includes the biophysical and societal causes and consequences of landscape heterogeneity. Above all, it is broadly interdisciplinary.  
The conceptual and theoretical core of landscape ecology links natural sciences with related human disciplines. Landscape ecology can be portrayed by several of its core themes, including the spatial pattern or structure of landscapes, ranging from wilderness to cities, the relationship between pattern and process in landscapes, the relationship of human activity to landscape pattern, process and change, [and] the effect of scale and disturbance on the landscape.”

 


Foundation Papers in Landscape Ecology   Moss, Turner, Mladenoff, Weins (eds).  Columbia University Press, November 2006.

Landscape ecology focuses on spatial heterogeneity, or the idea that where things are and where they are in relation to other things can have important consequences for a wide range of phenomena. Landscape ecology integrates humans with natural ecosystems and brings a spatial perspective to such fields as natural resource management, conservation, and urban planning. The thirty-seven papers included in this volume present the origins and development of landscape ecology and encompass a variety of perspectives, approaches, and geographies. The editors begin with articles that illuminate the discipline’s diverse scientific foundations, such as L. S. Berg’s keystone paper outlining a geoecological analysis based on soil science, physical geography, and geology. Next they include selections exemplifying landscape ecologists’ growing awareness of spatial pattern, the different ways they incorporated scale into their work, the progression of landscape ecology from a qualitative to a quantitative discipline, and how concepts from landscape ecology have come to permeate ecological research and influence land-use policy, conservation practices, landscape architecture, and geography. Together these articles provide a solid introduction to what is now widely recognized as an important area of research and application that encourages new ways of thinking about natural and human-dominated ecosystems


Landscape Ecology, 1st ed.   Richard T.T. Forman & Michel Godron.  Wiley, February 1986.

This important new work–the first of its kind–focuses on the distribution patterns of landscape elements or ecosystems; the flows of animals, plants, energy, mineral nutrients and water; and the ecological changes in the landscape over time. Includes over 1,200 references from current ecology, geography, forestry, and wildlife biology literature.

 

 


Landscape Ecology in Theory and Practice: Pattern and Process, 2nd ed.   Monica G. Turner & Robert H. Gardner, Springer, November 2015  [original publication date 2003]

This work provides in-depth analysis of the origins of landscape ecology and its close alignment with the understanding of scale, the causes of landscape pattern, and the interactions of spatial pattern with a variety of ecological processes. The text covers the quantitative approaches that are applied widely in landscape studies, with emphasis on their appropriate use and interpretation.

The field of landscape ecology has grown rapidly during this period, its concepts and methods have matured, and the published literature has increased exponentially. Landscape research has enhanced understanding of the causes and consequences of spatial heterogeneity and how these vary with scale, and they have influenced the management of natural and human-dominated landscapes. Landscape ecology is now considered mainstream, and the approaches are widely used in many branches of ecology and are applied not only in terrestrial settings but also in aquatic and marine systems. In response to these rapid developments, an updated edition of Landscape Ecology in Theory and Practice provides a synthetic overview of landscape ecology, including its development, the methods and techniques that are employed, the major questions addressed, and the insights that have been gained.”


Landscape Ecology: Theory and Application, 2nd ed.  Zev Naveh & Arthur S. Lieberman, Springer, December 1993.

In the preface to the softcover edition of this book in 1989, we stated: Since the publication of the first edition of this book, landscape ecology has made great strides. It has overcome its continental isolation and has also established itself in the English-speaking world. By attracting both problem inquiry and problem-solving-oriented scientists with different cultural, academic, and profes­ sional backgrounds from all over the world, it has broadened not only its geo­ graphical but also its conceptual and methodological scopes. We are pleased to confirm in 1993 that the growth of landscape ecology continues, and to again express our gratification at the encouraging re­ sponse to this first English-language monograph on the subject and its contribution to these developments. As before, we feel special satisfac­ tion that it has reached not only the shelves of libraries and academic re­ searchers, but that it has also appealed to professional practitioners, teachers, and their students from industrialized and developing countries, embracing the broad range of fields related to landscape ecology in the natural sciences as well as in the humanities.


Land Mosaics: The ecology of landscapes and regions, 1st edition.  Richard T.T. Forman.  Cambridge Univ. Press, November 1995.

Animals, water, wind, and people flow at different rates according to spatial patterns common to almost all landscapes and regions. This up-to-date synthesis explores the ecology of heterogeneous land areas, where natural processes and human activities interact to produce an ever changing mosaic. The subject has great relevance to contemporary society and this book reflects the breadth of this importance: there are many ideas and applications for planning, conservation, design, management, sustainability and policy. Spatial solutions are provided for society’s land-use objectives. Students and professionals alike will be drawn by the attractive and informative illustrations, the conceptual synthesis, the wide international perspective, and the range of topics and research covered.


Learning Landscape Ecology: A Practical Guide to Concepts and Techniques, 2nd ed.  Sarah E. Gergel & Monica G. Turner (eds).  Springer, April 2017.

This title meets a great demand for training in spatial analysis tools accessible to a wide audience. Landscape ecology continues to grow as an exciting discipline with much to offer for solving pressing and emerging problems in environmental science. Much of the strength of landscape ecology lies in its ability to address challenges over large areas, over spatial and temporal scales at which decision-making often occurs. As the world tackles issues related to sustainability and global change, the need for this broad perspective has only increased. Furthermore, spatial data and spatial analysis (core methods in landscape ecology) are critical for analyzing land-cover changes world-wide. While spatial dynamics have long been fundamental to terrestrial conservation strategies, land management and reserve design, mapping and spatial themes are increasingly recognized as important for ecosystem management in aquatic, coastal and marine systems.

This second edition is purposefully more applied and international in its examples, approaches, perspectives and contributors. It includes new advances in quantifying landscape structure and connectivity (such as graph theory), as well as labs that incorporate the latest scientific understanding of ecosystem services, resilience, social-ecological landscapes, and even seascapes. Of course, as before, the exercises emphasize easy-to-use, widely available software.


Urban Landscape Ecology: Science, policy and practice (Routledge Studies in Urban Ecology)  Robert A. Francis, James D.A. Millington, Michael A. Chadwick (editors), Routledge, April 2016

The growth of cities poses ever-increasing challenges for the natural environment on which they impact and depend, not only within their boundaries but also in surrounding peri-urban areas. Landscape ecology – the study of interactions across space and time between the structure and function of physical, biological and cultural components of landscapes – has a pivotal role to play in identifying sustainable solutions.  This book brings together examples of research at the cutting edge of urban landscape ecology across multiple contexts that investigate the state, maintenance and restoration of healthy and functional natural environments across urban and peri-urban landscapes. An explicit focus is on urban landscapes in contrast to other books which have considered urban ecosystems and ecology without specific focus on spatial connections. It integrates research and perspectives from across academia, public and private practitioners of urban conservation, planning and design. It provides a much needed summary of current thinking on how urban landscapes can provide the foundation of sustained economic growth, prospering communities and personal well-being.

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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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.

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:: 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.

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:: 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.

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:: 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.

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LA+ Journal

A fine addition to the ranks of landscape architecture journals that recently emerged is LA+, The Interdisciplinary Journal of Landscape Architecture, from the Penn.   From the website, the journal is billed as the “…the first truly interdisciplinary journal of landscape architecture. Within its pages you will hear not only from designers, but also from historians, artists, lawyers, psychologists, ecologists, planners, scientists, philosophers, and many more besides. Our aim at LA+ is to reveal connections and build collaborations between landscape architecture and other disciplines by exploring each issue’s theme from multiple perspectives.”

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Interest piqued.  And they were nice enough to send me a copy of their inaugural issue, WILD which explores the concept of WILD and its role in design, large-scale habitat and species conservation, scientific research, the human psyche, and aesthetics.”  

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Impressively curated and designed, this is a journal you keep around in your library long-term, for a follow-up read or to peruse the beautiful imagery.  As an introduction on the website, a short thesis on issue one:

“Wildness has long occupied a romantic and somewhat dormant position in the discussion of landscape theory and practice.  However, current initiatives aiming to “rewild” rural, urban, and suburban environments attest to its renewed significance.   It is no longer just a question of saving or protecting wilderness, but one of how we can design novel ecosystems that stimulate the emergence of new forms of biological and cultural diversity.”

The list of contributors is massive, and the breadth of topics ranges from the general, such as Mick Abbott’s ‘Practice of the Wild: A Rewilding of Landscape Architecture’, to the global, such as Richard Weller’s ‘World P-ark’, to the site-specific, like Mousseau & Moller’s ‘Landscape-Scale Consequences of Nuclear Disasters.”  I offered to do a review of the issue, and realized quickly that it was no simple task due to the amount of material contained within (which alas, i’m still reading with much enjoyment).

Thus, it is far more that can be elaborated on in terms of full reporting on every essay.  For that, order a copy and enjoy the density of information. Here’s a few snippets and thoughts of my own, in relation to landscape architecture practice and how the explorations of this concept seen through the interdisciplinary lens.

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The concept of the wild is present in our conception of landscape architecture practice at many scales.  The vision of a global park (or Ark) as Richard Weller discusses, provides the context for connected ecological corridors that connect globally across countries and continents, providing a shared concept of our earth that hopefully transcends borders.  As mentioned, a north/south and east/west route “… could catalyze global cooperation and environmental investment to help augment connections between fragments along the way.” (16)

To look at the controversial and compelling issue of rewilding, as Adela Park does, is to investigate our core relationships about native-ness, genetic engineering, and our role in not just preserving, and enhancing but in recreating extinct systems as well as creating new natural systems.  The ability to connect or open up large swaths of land as wild spaces are tame in comparison to global examples like the Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands and the Pleistocene Park in Siberia, both of which plan the creation of lost landscapes left in a state of unmanagement.  As mentioned, “…landscapes such as Oostvaardersplassen – created almost entirely by scientists – embody the very indeterminacy and self-organizational potential that has been so much a part of recent landscape architecture discourse. “ (8)

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The topic of wildlife and habitat is at play throughout, with the synergistic and conflicted relationships between humans and animals accentuated in multiple ways.  We want interaction with nature at a distance, such as the artistic wildlife viewing structure, the Reindeer Pavilion covered in Claire Fellman in ‘Watching Wild’.  We also want interaction through consumption as investigated in ‘The Taste of the New Wild’ by Orkan Telhan.

A popular strategy to engage the wild is through provision of wildlife crossings of busy roadways . as outlined by Nina-Marie Lister in ‘Xing: New Infrastructures for Landscape Connectivity,’ a movement growing in popularity worldwide and the knowledge of interdisciplinary approaches to what works is shaping the design of these systems.

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The ability to predict and proactively engage with the ‘wild’ in this context, offers a new area of interest for designers and integrated teams.  As Lister mentions:

“By redesigning the road for two clients – animal and human – wildlife crossing infrastructure presents a timely opportunity to communicate both the problem and the solution to the public.  In this endeavor, landscape architecture has a significant new niche and a potent role role in designing safer roads with new infrastructures that are visible and legible, even beautiful.  Widespread deployment of this new typology of landscape infrastructure may ultimately change the way we move and live, and with this, reconnect landscapes and habitats through inspired design.” (50)

A specific topic of interest in our northwest fire season, it was interesting to read Steve Pyne’s essay ‘Firescaping’, which provides a meditation on fire as part of our ongoing landscape, and how to think differently about our relationship to fire, and the implications and opportunities of this in the context of global climate change.

As he mentions, “We can protect our built landscape where it abuts the wild… After all, our cities used to burn as often as their surroundings; now they don’t.  The same methods, adapted, can work along the fractal frontier of exurban settlement.” (97) With much of the west currently burning, the concept of wild does hit home with multiple meanings – directly related to design and management of landscapes.

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As I mentioned, lots more content to devour, thus a full accounting of the contents of the first issue of LA+ would occupy multiple posts.  Look out for some follow-up on some topics of interest expanding upon these and other themes,  and if you’re interested, submit your work in their most recent call for papers.

And highly recommended to get a subscription to this to journal for topical, integrated ideas that shape the fabric of landscape architecture and urbanism.

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.

A Bit on Biomimicry

Since reading Janine Benyus’ book Biomimicry back in 1997, I’ve been simultaneously fascinated and frustrated by the conceptual positioning and posturing of the proponents of biomimicry. Don’t get me wrong, i think the idea of biomimicry has much potential in design, particularly product invention, industrial design, and architecture. What i have a hard time wrapping my brain around is how to differentiate biomimicry (emulating nature’s processes for application to objects – products, buildings, etc.) with the seemingly similar ecological design (emulating nature’s processes for application to the landscape).  The former is a new and exciting field or inquiry that can expand our thinking about solving problems.  The latter is an older and exciting field that continues to expand our thinking about solving problems.

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I often struggle with the inherent conflict in determining the specifics applications in a landscape setting.  Beyond the idea that ‘everything is nature’, we’re talking about a broader idea of applicability to the practice of landscape architect that includes context.  The goal of landscape architecture is broad, but the tools we use, and the products we create, are often so closely aligned as to blur the boundaries between agency and ecology.  The continuum of built work goes from the very natural (restoration) to the very urban (plazas), and means we construct everything from systems to objects, and often, much of both simulateously.

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It’s hard to separate process from product, and the use of living elements in designs (rather than static materials) complicates this further. It’s hard also to separate scope – as the milieu of landscape is vast and sometimes all-encompassing. This dilemma is perhaps less of an issue in the very urban, but as we expand sites to provide multiple overlapping functions of ecology and utility, it becomes harder to, particularly as we get into restoration.  The on-going discussions about the pastoral mimicry of Olmsted (and Picturesque English Gardens)  that was highly constructed, such as Central Park (below) or the Back Bay Fens (above) and is now mistaken for ‘nature’ as elaborated by Spirn (and covered in an old essay of mine here).

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This isn’t to say that biomimicry is not relevant to the profession and context of the landscape.  To me it’s a given, but the language to explain the connection is still escaping my grasp.   It is more of a stretch to say ‘I used biomimicry to determine the natural flow patterns of this site’ rather than ‘I used biomimicry to make glue inspired by the gooey outer layer of a slug’.  One to me is clearly biomimicry (nature process inspires biological approach to product design).  The difference i think is that the leap from natural precedent to ‘product’ is easier than from natural precedent to natural analog as landscape.  The natural flow patterns of the site are there for the revealing and part of good site context/analysis, and looking to historical origins for inspiration is just good design (or competent design i should say).  Restoration, if that is the goal of a site, uses other models and precedents of successful healthy waterways, functions, vegetation.  It is a form is mimicry in a sense, but isn’t that was all landscape architecture is?  Or is it not mimicking nature when your output IS that same nature?

Background

I’m also not saying that the proponents of biomimicry don’t willfully admit this nuance, but it’s often the case as someone positioning this ‘new’ and ‘improved’ process as some improved methodology, when in fact it’s not new or improved. I dug up some info that seems relevant for some context in furthering this understanding. Per the Biomimicry 3.8 website.

“Biomimicry is an innovation method that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies, e.g., a solar cell inspired by a leaf. The goal is to create products, processes, and policies—new ways of living—that are well-adapted to life on earth over the long haul.”

The 3.8 stands for the “more than 3.8 billion years that life has been adapting and evolving to changing conditions on the planet since the very first life forms emerged.” The other informational website from Biomimicry 3.8 is AskNature, which, according to the site, is an “online inspiration source for the biomimicry community. Think of it as your home habitat—whether you’re a biologist who wants to share what you know about an amazing organism, or a designer, architect, engineer, or chemist looking for planet-friendly solutions. AskNature is where biology and design cross-pollinate, so bio-inspired breakthroughs can be born.”

biomimicry_primerThe looking to our long history for ideas and inspiration is great.  The difficulty for me is resolving the idea of looking to nature for process and patterns (which has been happening for milennia and is inherent in site observation, i.e. genius loci) to this ‘new’ science of emulation (which to me is what designers have also been doing for milennia using nature as model). The proponents of biomimicry have done a reasonably good job of communicating the concept and some of it’s limitations. They’ve also done a great job of marketing what are age-old concepts into a ‘new’ discipline or approach (or at least a money-making endeavor).

Benyus has a Primer on Biomimicry with some more concrete discussion and examples, as well as connections to other disciplines and movements.  The language of learning from nature and humility are good reminders to think outside our anthropocentric viewpoint.  As mentioned:

“The core idea is that nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with:  energy, food production, climate control, benign chemistry, transportation, collaboration, and more.”

As we look for inspiration and ‘new mentors’ to guide us, we can bring in other methodologies (such as Cradle to Cradle design or Living Building Challenge), and that all of the interwoven theories are complementary.  The difference in emulation vs. copying is mentioned as well by Benyus:  “Biomimics may study a spider to learn about sensing, fiber manufacturing, adhesion, or tensegrity, but we are not actually trying to recreate the spider.  What we’re trying to emulate are the design principles and living lessons of the spider.”  Again, this brings up context – as in landscape the system and materials are the product of the design – so it’s more difficult to reconcile this, because we are actually trying to recreate the spider in that case.

There are three levels that are mentioned as well, which is instructive.  The first is mimicking of natural form.  The second is to mimic natural process, or how something is made.  The final level is to mimic natural ecosystems, which brings in the larger context and connections with other systems. The end result is essentially a determination of fitness, where the outcome is more self-sustaining and regenerative that other options.

Other distinctions are made between biomimicry and the subjects of bio-utilization (harvesting and using biological products) and bio-assisted technologies (which “involve domesticating an organism to accomplish a function”).  Biomimicy is to consult, not to co-opt, and to contribute to, in the words of Wes Jackson, “a deepening conversation with the organism.”  The concept of precedent is vital as well, and acknowledged by Benyus in the primer.

“…biomimicry was not new to the human species; in fact there was a time when our very survival depended on noticing and mimicking successful organisms… this latest appearance of biomimicry is not an invention, it’s a remembering.”

There’s a history of this work past the indigenous, to include designers like da Vinci, Frank Lloyd Wright, Frei Otto, Gaudi, Olmsted, and Bucky Fuller.  The lack of a coherent body of scholarship and study meant this was singular geniuses working in isolation, one-off cases rather than movements.  The goal and the desire now is consolidation of thought, framing biomimicry as a force and cultural meme.  It is also relevant and perhaps more appropriately interwoven into landscape architecture and urbanism because it deals with many of the same issues, namely the nature/culture dialogue.

Application

One specific element that i remember loving from the original book, is the concept of perennial agriculture (a la Wes Jackson), and the ability to ‘grow food like a prairie.’ This makes a lot of sense and is exciting as a biomimicry project – and perhaps has analogs in landscape architecture through outputs like permaculture that can be applied to provide productive sites and more self-sustaining plant palettes. vk_polycultureOther examples, such as the Nature’s Strategies for Managing Stormwater in the Willamette Valley: Genius of Place Project Report provide more context for this – but in execution don’t really capture (or at least only scratch the surface of) what the potential is.  I’m going to post separately on this report later, but it’s instructive on the gaps between determining ‘functions’ that exist in nature and translating them into solutions – rather than just employing them.

One case from the workshop was the function of downed wood,  and the function that it provides for water management.  If you study the function, as seen the diagram from the report below, you get a good sense of what’s happening in nature as a baseline.

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There was a perceptual disconnect between the idea of adapting this to a new thing (perhaps a in situ filter using the ideas of long-hollow cells) rather than just justifying why we would place or keep in place downed wood as part of a design.  there’s no need to mimic something when it’s possible to use the actual thing – which is again part of the issue of applicability in landscape settings.  The conversation spun around this (let’s place wood in cities) but was harded to get to new ideas generated from the discussion.  You probably won’t propose laying  dead wood laying around an urban plaza… but perhaps you could add the additional storage and transport potential into a bio-inspired piece of site furniture.

To say that we’re trying to mimick the function of the pre-development condition, in this case temperate rainforest.  If that’s the case, is it biomimicry to look to the function of a forest for evaporation, infiltration, etc. and try to capture this – much as is done in pre-/post- engineering calculations?   Would the concept of say, a green street bioretention facility be ‘biomimicry’ for using a wetland metaphor in an urban context?  Does a green wall mimic a vegetated cliff face to provide shading and cooling?

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I think the direct connection of biomimicry to landscape architecture is the next step – so finding case studies specific to the scale and context appropriate to our work.  The root of bios (life) and mimesis (imitation) is a simple analogy that can be integrated into a number of processes – so i think the issue is that the concept has now become the brand (as things will go).  So maybe it’s just semantics and we’re all, as landscape architects or bio-inspired designers, scientists, inventors and engineers, biomimics?

Anne Whiston Spirn Lecture in Portland

An upcoming lecture by Anne Whiston Spirn entitled Restoring an Urban Watershed: Ecology, Equity, and Design will be happening on Monday, January 23rd, from Noon to 1pm at the Portland Building, 1120 SW Fifth Avenue – Second Floor, Room C.  The brownbag is free and open to all.  Here’s a synopsis.

The West Philadelphia Landscape Project is a landmark of urban design, watershed management, environmental and design education, and community engagement. Anne Whiston Spirn, who has directed the project for 25 years, will describe the story of the restoration of the Mill Creek watershed as a model for how to unite ecology, design, and community engagement to address social and environmental problems in low-income communities. Anne will also discuss her book, Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field.
 
Anne Whiston Spirn is an award-winning author and distinguished landscape architect, photographer, teacher, and scholar whose work is devoted to promoting life-sustaining communities.  

Sponsored by:  
Urban Greenspaces Institute
Audubon Society of Portland
Portland Bureau of Environmental Services
Portland Office of Healthy Working Rivers.

Siftings: 01.11.12

““All great art is born of the metropolis.” – Ezra Pound

 :: image via NY Times

A great little snapshot on urban serendipity from the NY Times that looks at the accidental ‘curation’ of spaces that the urban environment yields, such as the framed view from the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge.  Perhaps the uniformity of the grid is part of the magic, as the NYT also talks about the 200th Anniversary of the Manhattan Grid, along with the exhibition at the Museum of the City.  And speaking of paving here in Portland, local group Depave got some nice coverage on OPB for their continued work on rolling back pavement in the city.  As for making money on the urban agriculture and gardens – a study in Vancouver, BC finds that it is still a challenge to make a living wage farming, even in the city.  Perhaps we can lobby for urban farm subsidies?

:: image via Museum of the City

Nate Berg at the Atlantic Cities sums up Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne’s year-long project to explore his city through its literature, and some of his conclusions on where we stand.  As quoted in the Atlantic article:

““What the books have suggested to me,” Hawthorne argues, “is that we really don’t have – and need – a new framework for understanding the city at this moment in its history as it undergoes this transition.”

A review of his most recent reading of ‘Los Angeles Plaza: Sacred and Contested Space‘ can be found here – which is an interested exploration of the role of space, and the role of social status, on the way we interpret urban histories.  Related, and probably not big news, but people are less enamored with the suburbs, and are re-urbanizing, in this case, Philadelphia along with living in more dense types of housing. 

:: image via Philly.com

More on Occupy, with the recent flurry of Global and US occupations bringing into question the ‘limits’ of how public spaces are.  As mentioned in the story:

“The Occupy Wall Street movement showed there are often limits to how long one can stay in the town square of a “free” state to express one’s opinion. Various kinds of force were used to get people out of New York’s Zuccotti Park.”

An interesting article from The Dirt on the $50 million!!!!! dollars of planning documents and designs for the Orange County Great Park, which has failed to yield much in terms of output.  It brings into question the time-scale on these massive endeavors, and how much needs to happen to create a ‘park’ in a traditional sense to satisfy some – while allowing space (and budgets) to evolve over decades.

:: image via The Dirt

Finally, a new competition from the Land Art Generator Initiative asks how renewable energy can be beautiful with a planned site at the Freshkills Park – which has a similar time-scale to the Great Park above.  And Freshkills may be an apt model for Mexico City, who is planning to close their massive landfill… And for the squeamish, a new report from the National Research Council changes the tune of reclaimed wastewater (aka toilet to tap) from a ‘option of last resort’ to a viable strategy that poses no more health risks than other sources.  Drink up!

What is the Nature of Your City?

Across the world, cities are bringing back nature to help address urban challenges.  We are healthier when we are closer to nature.  We have a greater respect for the environment that sustains us.  We are more adaptable to change when we let nature do its work.   

Join us for a free presentation by Dr. Timothy Beatley, renowned expert in sustainable city planning and author of the book BiophilicCities. Dr. Beatley is the Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities, in the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning, School of Architecture at the University of Virginia, where he has taught for the last twenty-five years.  He will share his experience and knowledge of cities across the world that have made strides to integrate nature into our neighborhoods and communities. 
A Presentation on Biophilic Cities with
Dr. Timothy Beatley
January 18th, 2012
6:00-8:00 PM
Portland Northwest College of Art – Swigert Commons
1241 NW Johnson
Portland, OR 97209
This event is free and open to the public.
Sponsored by:
City of Portland’s Environmental Services and
Office of Healthy Working Rivers,
Illahee,
The Intertwine Alliance, and
The Urban Greenspaces Institute