Sunday, November 28, 2010

Targeting the Public

Pioneer Courthouse Square is the central plaza of downtown - often referred to as the 'living room' of Portland and is praised as one of the best public spaces for it's flexibility and programming

:: image via MetroBabel

In this regard, the space hosts a number of large-scale public events, rallies, concerts, and gatherings - including the annual tree lighting ceremony, which is typically a large draw for families,

:: image via PDXPipeline

While the specter of terrorist attack is on people's minds when aggregating in public, this is something that most folks feel would happen in a bigger city.  Thus I was literally shocked to hear of a plot, by a 19 year old Somali who graduated from high school in Beaverton, to detonate a bomb during this year's ceremony, which happened on Friday, November 26th.
"The bomb, which was in a van parked off Pioneer Courthouse Square, was a fake — planted by F.B.I. agents as part of the elaborate sting — but “the threat was very real,” Arthur Balizan, the F.B.I.’s special agent in charge in Oregon, said in a statement released by the Department of Justice. An estimated 10,000 people were at the ceremony on Friday night, the Portland police said."
:: image via New York Times

Our sense of relatively safety in Portland was part of the approach - as he was quoted in the New York Times: "Federal agents said Mr. Mohamud thought Portland would be a good target because Americans “don’t see it as a place where anything will happen... It’s in Oregon; and Oregon, like you know, nobody ever thinks about it,” an affidavit quotes him as saying."


The bomber had been under the watch of law enforcement for months, meaning there wasn't imminent danger for the people at the festival, as mentioned: "...the F.B.I. had been tracking Mr. Mohamud since 2009 and his planning unfolded under the scrutiny and even assistance of undercover agents, officials said." That said, it's got to shake people up to hear of this happening so close.


This isn't an isolated event, as mentioned in the article: "His case resembles several others in which American residents, inspired by militant Web sites, have tried to carry out attacks in the name of the militant Islamic movement only to be captured in a sting operation.  In a similar case in September 2009, a 19-year-old Jordanian was arrested after placing a fake bomb at a 60-story Dallas skyscraper. The same month, a 29-year-old Muslim convert was charged with placing a bomb at the federal building in Springfield, Ill. And in October, a 34-year-old naturalized American citizen born in Pakistan was arrested and charged with plotting to bomb the Washington subway after meeting with undercover agents and discussing his plans and surveillance activities."


Does this change the essence and usage of public spaces, transit, or other significant targets, or is it something that is impossible to think about and lead a somewhat normal existence?  It's heartening to see that the law enforcement and intelligence is working to find these plots and protect people from all areas from danger.  It is easy to become complacent as residents (and maybe that's a good thing, as living in fear of the possible dangers would make it hard to leave the house in the morning) - so the hidden network of danger seems to become distant - happening elsewhere around the world, or sometimes creeping into the large cities of the United States.  Oklahoma City proved that high profile targets are sometimes not what we think, and the enemies may not come from outside.  The danger, everywhere is real.

Beyond the continuing efforts of law enforcement, how, if at all, do we react, and how does this impact the form and function of cities?  Do we evolve more security and barricades?   Disallow the gathering of large groups?  Do public spaces become less public?

:: image via Picassa

More cameras, surveillance, metal detectors?  Is transit, which creates density of people, perceived as dangerous - making people flee to the 'safety' of the singular car?  While not the Green Zone in Baghdad, it's interesting to see how this shapes the modern city.  The securing of buildings has definitely received plenty of attention - and the ability to control access points, beef up materials, essentially defend an object.  While much has been made of federal building security, making a better, more stylish bollard, is still using a bunker mentality that isn't really applicable for public spaces.

:: image via Thinking Shift

It's a bit different when operating in open space, as there are infinite entry points, making the perimeter harder to defend.  I was thinking of precedents, and immediately looked at the well-publicized, award-winning security measures for the Washington Monument.  While inventive in the way it doesn't detract from the monument itself, and while technically more open, this is merely a different version of the bunker protecting an object - not a way to secure outdoor public space - surrounding walls, underground tunnels forming a perimeter around the monument.

::  image via ASLA

Urban space is even different, with a context of buildings, streets, rooftops, sidewalks, leading to a massively porous boundary to spaces.  Do we look to theories like Newman's 'Defensible Space' or measures like CPTED - which are directed towards crime-prevention, or do these not work for large public gatherings?  Do physical changes make a difference, are they viable options, or do these make economic sense?  Or are public gatherings a minimal danger compared to protection of vital infrastructures that could be more catastrophic?  Or is it something we target with sophisticated technology, using an expanded network of public surveillance to target people and patterns within amorphous, hard to contain spaces like transit and public gatherings?

:: image via ZDnet 

I remember being in New York City soon after the attacks of September 11, 2001 - and although it never crossed our minds to attend the large gathering in Times Square on New Years (and there was some debate about whether the event would go forward) - while we were skirting around the area, we wanted to see what was up.  It gave the illusion of a military zone, with massive mobilization of police and barricades at every street, multiple checkpoints.  Massive security to maintain a public spectacle and tradition of our cities to gather and celebrate.  Even then, the spaces of Times Square were still full of revelers, despite the implied danger - unwilling to let fear rule their lives.

:: Times Square (circa 1954) - image via Times Square NYC

The key will be to give enough feeling of security, and use our available tools - without bunkerizing our cities with physical objects that ruin the experience of access and publicness that people desire.  Our reactions to these events - even the unsuccessful ones - will be telling as to how we will live in cities for years to come.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Landscape+Urbanism Turns 3

What a strange trip it's been since an initial post of three years ago, November 26, 2007.  Almost 750 posts, just shy of 1000 comments (not counting the 10,000 or so spamments I've deleted), and a lot more landscape-related blogs in the territory than when I started.  Plus a lot of great virtual friends made in the process.  Thanks all.

:: image via Vulgare

Black Friday

Let's make the shopping experience a bit more dangerous... Asphalt Spot in Tokamashi, Japan by R&Sie(n).




:: images via Space Invading

Thursday, November 25, 2010

City Turkey

In honor of US Thanksgiving, a snapshot stories about of the urban turkey.  As habitat shrinks due to the spreading of cities, urban turkey's much like their more domesticated brethren, the urban chicken, has begun to move to the cities (many stories such as here, here, and here) and develop a certain air of cosmopolitanism.

:: image via Boston Globe

As you can see, they have learned to assimilate to certain city rules in order to improve survivability.

:: image via Weather Underground

Sometimes, when a bright eyed newcomer isn't familiar with these customs, conflicts can arise.  From the USA Today, 'Booming turkey population ruffling feathers in urban communities' the explosion of turkey populations has inflitrated cities, such as this interloper in Cleveland: "A wild turkey holds up traffic on April 2 near Cleveland, Ohio. An animal warden was able to lure the turkey off the street to safety."

:: image via USA Today

Pittsburgh turkeys seem to occupy the green open spaces in neighborhoods (sort of a more suburban oriented breed).  In 'Turkeys turning into new pest on neighborhood block' showed that although docile, sometimes around Thanksgiving the birds can get surly: "Wild turkeys are not dangerous, but they do have occasional aggression issues. Last June the Pennsylvania Game Commission was called to Panther Hollow in Oakland, where wild turkeys were attacking bicycle riders. There were no reports of injuries to people."


:: image via Post-Gazette

The impacts of these new visitors can be both welcome and disdained, sort of reminiscent of the 'second-rate urbanism' necessary to not ruin the urban ideal.  These laid-back urban birds, being coddled by the locals, are from Eugene, Oregon:  "The local wild turkey population in urban areas has ballooned in recent years, but this is a case of turkeys, turkeys everywhere, but not a bird to eat. Visit the south hills of Eugene and you'll likely see them: wild turkeys in flocks, plucking berries, crossing streets, just hanging out. "Chris Yee of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says the problem won't stop until people stop feeding wildlife. Yee says turkeys normal habitat is 4 square miles but, "When fed inside the city limits they can limit their use to one or 2 square blocks in a residential area."


Lest we worry about being over-run by the 'farm-grown' varieties, you see the adaptations of the native turkeys (the one to the left, sort of bad ass looking, and reading for blending into the urban realm) the heritage varieties, which have maintained their native camoflague, versus the wimpy, white varieties who are woefully ill-equipped for the urban environment, and will likely end up on somebodies table - sort of a short trip from field to fork.


:: image via Washington Post

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Aquifers not Aquitards

From the recent post on watershed boundaries, a reader mentioned the concept of underground aquifers and their relation to geographical boundaries and .  My title is in jest (sort of) referring to 'Aquitards' which according to Wikipedia is "a zone within the earth that restricts the flow of groundwater from one aquifer to another", but I thought an apt metaphor for our overuse and depletion of these amazing resources.  So in a crude analysis, the map of US aquifers is pretty amazing (here's a comparison of 'watersheds' and 'aquifers' in two maps with some context of states and cities (images from National Atlas mapping tool)

aquifers

watersheds

While many aquifers develop in tandem with surface waterways, others are disconnected from these sources giving them different patterns.  Ancient sources are often tapped, with draw-down causing these to be depleted much faster than they are recharged.  One of the most familiar, the 10 million+ year old Ogallala Aquifer (synonymous with 'High Plains Aquifer') that supplies water to the agricultural bread-basket of the world - centered in Nebraska and spreading from the southern tip of South Dakota into the northern panhandle of Texas.  


:: image via Wikipedia

I hadn't considered the number of aquifers and their distribution (another great tool is an online mapping application from National Atlas, found here), but it's interesting to see the difference between more broadly based, central aquifers (not specifically linked to a river) like the Ogallala, or in Oregon the Pacific Northwest Basaltic rock aquifers (unlike the Columbia River based systems to the north.  These more agriculturally oriented aquifers can be compared to small scale aquifers like the Biscayne which supplies drinking water to much of Central Florida.

:: image via USGS

The interactive mapper allows you to zoom in on state & county boundaries, as well as locations of significant cities, to see the relationship of urban agglomeration to aquifers, for instance a closer look at the area centered on Chicago (mapped from the National Atlas).


The cause and effect of cities and aquifers is probably more significant in the impacts of urbanization on water supplies (both through depletion and pollution) and the delicate interaction between surface and subsurface conditions.

:: image via Wikipedia

While subsurface conditions do exist separate from visible surface conditions, there are impacts as many rivers as charged with these underground sources, and depletion (and diversion) has caused some rivers to no longer reach the oceans - such as the Rio Grande and the Colorado (anyone guess the reasons) or the filling of traditionally large reservoirs like Lake Mead and Powell - creating significant water scarcity issues in certain metropolitan regions.  Another great lens to look at cities, so more on this to come... seems the hydrological cycle is tied to everything we do.

:: image via EDRO

Natural Boundary / Political Boundary

I'm really glad that Strange Maps featured the interesting (albeit never realized) notion of John Wesley Powell's watershed-based approach to defining political boundaries in his 1890 'Map of the Arid Region of the United States'.  The concept reframes the Jeffersonian national grid, using drainage districts as "the essential units of government, either as states or as watershed commonwealths".

:: image via Strange Maps

Some further information: "Powell was convinced that only a small fraction of the American West was suitable for agriculture (3). His Report proposed irrigation systems fed by a multitude of small dams (instead of the few huge ones in operation today) and state borders based on watershed areas. The bulk of the arid regions should be reserved for conservation and low-intensity grazing. But other interests were at work; the railway companies lobbied for large-scale settlement and agricultural development."


:: image via Strange Maps

Just imagine the differing political geography of a West that is defined through natural boundaries of topography and hydrology, and what implications  While Powell's emphasis was on agriculture, imagine the different ways this would have allowed for looking at urbanization in the relatively dryland west that would have resulted through looking at availability of water.  Would Los Angeles and Phoenix be the same as they are today?

:: image via MIT

The concept obviously was a radically different approach to the orthagonally based, Jeffersonian approach in the late 18th Century, now continued to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management through the Public Land Survey System (a good resource of info as well from from National Atlas).

:: image via National Atlas
Some pertinent history, from the site:  "Originally proposed by Thomas Jefferson, the PLSS began shortly after the Revolutionary War, when the Federal government became responsible for large areas west of the thirteen original colonies. The government wished both to distribute land to Revolutionary War soldiers in reward for their service, as well as to sell land as a way of raising money for the nation. Before this could happen, the land needed to be surveyed.  The Land Ordinance of 1785 which provided for the systematic survey and monumentation of public domain lands, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787which established a rectangular survey system designed to facilitate the transfer of Federal lands to private citizens, were the beginning of the PLSS."
The remnant of this being the rather 'straight-edge' development of political boundaries for delineating terrain that we live with today - the only diversions being for river edges that divide states, mostly expressed in the Montana/Idaho and somewhat less in the Washington/Oregon borders.

:: image via National Atlas

Drilling down into some of the smaller scale patterns, it's easy to see the disconnect between the political 'grid' and the underlying hydrology at work.  A map of Kent County Michigan (although not of the west) illustrates this point, with the clash of political delineation over the organic, dendritic patterning of hydrology on the landscape.

:: image via Wikipedia

Which maybe reads a bit different in a drier region, such as that of agricultural Kansas (where the use of fixed pivot irrigation is evident).

:: image via Wikiipedia

My favorite example of course, growing up in North Dakota where one is intimately connected to the Jeffersonian grid, is the use of the 6x6 mile township system dividing land into an individual square mile pattern to develop a road system that literally etches gravel pathways throughout every corner of the state (allowing a significant amount of public access to territory via ca, ostensibly for access to farmland).  It's virtually possible to zig-zag your way from one end of the state to another.  It's also interesting to note, even with a seemingly barren flat landscape, the subtle patterns of water (creeks and potholes) on the land (more on this later as I sat staring at Google Earth closeups for about an hour, mesmerized).

:: image via Google Maps

The grid of course, cannot stay pure (even in the topographically flat areas), and it's funny after miles of arrow straight country roads to encounter the grid shift (scene of many a lonely automotive faux pas on a snowy day).  These shifts, beyond the topographic, offer a more telling idea of the difficulties of a grid as a pure form on the larger landscape.

:: image via Google Maps

This idea, in a different scale, was inspirational for the conceptualizing of 'Neighborsheds' or neighborhood-based watersheds - that was the topic of my ASLA National Conference talk in 2006.  More on this soon, once I dig out the materials - something I've wanted to revisit.  Thanks to John Wesley Powell, although unsuccessful, in planting a seed of bioregional planning and boundary making, well before it was popular.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Upcoming Lecture on Detroit

Detroit: the 21st Century Challenge - a test of equity, vitality, and sustainability

THURSDAY DECEMBER 9TH, 5:30 TO 7 P.M.

Please join us for a moderated discussion with Dr. Ellen Bassett of the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning and a panel of speakers including Dr. Robin Boyle of Wayne State University in Detroit; Ms. Linda Thomas of the Detroit community development corporation U-SNAP-BAC; and Ms Michelle Rudd, a partner at Stoel Rives and member of the City of Portland’s Planning and Sustainability Commission.



Location:  University Place Hotel | Columbia Falls Ballroom, 310 SW Lincoln Street | Portland, OR
RSVP by November 29th to Megan Tiede at tiede@pdx.edu or 503-725-4044

Environmental Urbanism Panel Discussion

As an addenda to the previous post, on Chris Reed's lecture, a round-about summary of the panel discussion that followed.

Panel Discussion - Environmental Urbanism: 
Ecological Design for Healthy Cities

The panel was moderated by Peter Steinbrueck, with Reed joined by additional panelists including Randy Hester (who lectured the previous evening on Design for Ecological Democracy) and Frumkin (newly installed as Dean of the UW School of Public Health).  Definitely a diverse group which ranged into ecological democracy and public health, paired with Reed's landscape urbanist approach - which offered a potentially interesting exchange of ideas, the result was less than satisfying.  A summary of some of the highlights.

The Potential for Public Health (HF)

Dr. Frumkin has written quite a bit recently about Biophilia and it's usage in a wider arena of public health, and started the discussion with a summary.  The evolutions from Environmental health (dealing with Toxicity), Urban health (focused on the urban poor), and Health Promotion (typically behavioral changes) could be married to create a new approach to urban environmental health.

The key concepts necessary for this were response to equity, considering differing health disparities, and the development of a viable body of evidence-based design strategies (proven through scientific methods) that achieved the dual public health goals of efficacy and safety.  He mentioned that design, although backed with some new environmental science, is not evidence-based, and this would make it difficult to convince public health officials of its worth, due to lack of scientific data.  While Frumkin's ideas of expanding the realm of biophilic design and evidence-based concepts to cities was interesting, a quick reading of some of his reading work shows that a mere translation of site-scale biophilic concepts to public scale is difficult.  The other issue is that there is a definite problem with balancing the cultural aspects of design with the scientific models - to avoid a overtly deterministic reading and application of ideas.

Design for Ecological Democracy (RH)

Not having a chance to hear Hester's talk from the previous evening (and only having skimmed his new book) it's difficult to capture the essence of his idea, but as he mentioned - it involves design that supports values, specifically democracy, equity, access to nature.  As he mentioned, in this context, place matters, and he outlined 3 approaches:

1. The Uniqueness of Place matters to our health (there are different flavors of democracy, much like there are different systems of ecology.
2. Awareness of Personal Ecology: Design and form matters
3. Applying Democracy and Ecology - both can be informed by key principles but are influenced by external forces (for instance free-markets) which augment their level of success.

Our typical mode of operation currently, in an age of consumerism, is that we get democracy, but rarely give back to it - and similar factors are at work in our relationship with ecology.  Take but no give.

Natural Processes & Community (RH)

Requires understanding through experience, ecology of knowledge which leads to stewardship. access to wild nature, but innately this has little evidence (other than anecdotal study - nature=good).  Connecting this back to design, Hester mentions that access to constructed nature, we want to experience nature, but also appreciate the mentorship of the designers intervention - teaching through design.  In this way, we can connect something simple, like a species of bird, to a much larger process of ecological function.

Interaction with Ecology (CR)

Reed mentions that one aspect is that it isn't a duality of nature/city that we need to provide access to, but to provide the same range of interactions to those inside the City... He defines three concepts 1) Wilderness preserve - outside; 2) Central Park - cloistered; 3) interactive ecology - inside and incorporated into the fabric of the urban area.

Landscape Urbanism Theories (CR)

The question posed was how did these connect to public health, but Reed strongly cautioned against a focus on evidence - arguing for the cultural aspects of design that can't be quantified.  In his terms, the concept of health is closely tied to ecological principles of the work - such as survivability and resilience - things found in healthy ecosystem.  Most interactions with nature are anecdotal, and the research should fit within design strategies of diversity and choice for users.
The project work, particularly small scale solutions, involve the testing of theories in metropolitan environments, trying out ideas, innovations, materials, and venues - and experimenting with small-scale ecologies.
The project work, particularly small scale solutions, involve the testing of theories in metropolitan environments, trying out ideas, innovations, materials, and venues - and experimenting with small-scale ecologies.  He mentions the role of the designer changing to accomodate monitoring over time, with landscape architects taking over more roles and responsibilities.

He also mentioned the upcoming ideas of Corner's work on the Seattle Waterfront, an opportunity to apply some landscape urbanism principles (but something developed in context).  The major opportunity is to rethink large scale systems, and redirect existing resources (waste heat, stormwater) in looped systems available in urban agglomerations.  In short, it becomes a wholly economic idea to push an ecological concept because they have value that needs to be quantified (this is where we need evidence)

Unified Field Theory of Public Health, Ecology, and Landscape Urbanism (all)


Frumkin:  Sustainability is a model - 3 legged stool and ability to specify outcomes to acheive prosperity, equity, and social goals.

Hester: The Intention of the System - develop a shared language; there are three different languages that exist: 1) those that are different, 2) those that are words for the same thing (different disciplinary languages - potential for obfuscation), and 3) those that are purposely convoluted (making something simple sound very complex - which leads to it being the next hot thing.

Reed:  Defending language, there are many ways to use it which are all appropriate (public, private, academic) - these different modes have the same principles.  We talk in public in pragmatics (design informed by professional perspectives, using disciplinary language, a different language for structuring projects and frameworks for projects,  They are in competition, but able to co-exist.  Rather than focus on language, Reed sums up the point (in what I think is the best quote of the day):
"The goal should be to use social/ecological dynamics that are flexible for futures we can't imagine."
Planning for these Spaces (CR)

There is the need to determine what we know, and what we can't know - thus the need for open-ended projects.  Some models of determination include preparedness planning - looking 30 to 40 years into the future to plan for spaces.  This will involve working at a wide range of scales - with a range of resources, for the entire lifecyle

Ephemera

  • Need to plan for aging populations - loss of ability to drive and less mobility (HF)
  • Look at co-benefits of designing for the old, the young, the disabled - all with specific by interrelated needs for space (RH)
  • The approach to research/evidence based design requires new ways of working together, identifying which types of issues to accomodate (HF)
  • Define the outputs for a range of systems, redirected within the city (CR)

Summary

Honestly, what could have been a really engaging dialogue of disparate (but related ideas) was somewhat handicapped by poor choices of questions from the moderator and audience led to a mishmash of  concepts - rather than a response and relation to the topics offered by Reed (which I guess I was predisposed to want)... the divergence from the original presentation was problematic, and the trying to tackle public health, ecological democracy, and landscape urbanism under a wide banner of 'Environmental Urbanism' left me feeling like in trying to do it all, nothing was accomplished.

While Frumkin had ample time to offer thoughts on public health implications, the focus on evidence based design was not fully discussed, and was divergent from concepts of ecological democracy (at least in this context.  Perhaps an all day exploration would yield results, but a short panel discussion was not enough to even ask, much less discuss, many of the relevant questions.

Ecology.Agency.Urbanism

I warn the reader that my take on the recent NOWurbanism lecture featuring Chris Reed, Randy Hester and Howard Frumkin may be skewed by a really bad cold and the influence of massive doses of cold medicine, along with spilling an entire water bottle inside my bag that literally muddied my notes into a semi-decipherable pulpy mess.  As all histories are individual, this will be my reading of the nights events (and I fear I will not do them justice).  But then again, perhaps this is the perfect storm of dissociation in which to warp and skew the voices into a coherent narrative.


I was really excited to hear from Reed, Principal at Boston-based Stoss Landscape Urbanism and adjunct associate professor of landscape architecture at Harvard GSD.  As recipient of the 2010 Topos International  Landscape Award, "...in recognition of the “theoretical and practical impulses the firm provides to the advancement of landscape architecture and urbanism as dynamic and open-ended systems.”  As a practitioner who embraces the project-oriented aspects of landscape urbanism, I think Reed is unique in straddling the line between theory and praxis - and approach that is often attempted, but rarely done in a legible way.  I was keenly focused on finding out the methods for achieving this balance.

Ecology.Agency.Urbanism

The bulk of Thursday's time was given to Reed's lecture entitled 'Ecology Agency Urbanism' in which he frames landscape and ecology in a context beyond the current concepts of 'sustainability' and 'LEED', arguing for the 'agency of ecology' that is not used as a palliative but as an instigator.  In our search for a positive performative approach, we often rely on the crutches of simple definitions or rating systems, which move towards luke-warm, incremental changes, but not paradigm shifts.

Some History

Reed first frames some of the historical elements of ecology as it relates to planning and design, mentioning Ian McHarg's ecological assessments (inventory, mapping, overlay) and giving value systems to data to use for design and planning-based decision-making.  While acknowledged as important in elevating the discussion, there is also the flip side of criticism's of this objectivty and quantification of processes, alluding to the lack of a cultural lens in which to perform interventions with this information.  The most interesting idea, according to Reed, from McHargian theory was that of 'propinquity', an innate acknowledgement of the proximity, but also the kinship of the environment and it's actors - aligning the needs of the people with that of the surrounding ecological landscape.


:: image via Gardenvisit

He follows this with the next phase of landscape ecology, best expressed in the work of Richard TT. Forman which "catalyze the emergence of urban-region ecology and planning", using the concepts of matrices, interconnections, and networks to express exchange of materials.  The major contribution of this is the visual, using mapping to acknowledge not a static ecological system, but to facilitate flows that observe an active and dynamic nature.   On a practical front, Reed mentions the work of Richard Haag and George Hargreaves as innovative early examples of built projects using these environmental dynamics as generators of form under the mantle of landscape architecture.  The realizations contributed to a conceptual shift of ecology from the static (equilibrium theory) to one that included fluctuations in response to disturbance and change.


:: Louisville Waterfront Park (Hargreaves) - image via Hargreaves Associates

The final phase came in some of the early large scale landscape competitions, such as Downsview Park in 1999, which featured time as part of the design brief.  All of the entires worked time into the solutions, which laid some foundations of modern landscape urbanism theories of indeterminancy.  Not the finalist, but of interest was the proposal from James Corner and Stan Allen, "Emergent Ecologies, which is described on the Downsview site: "The framework consists of an overlay of two complimentary organizational systems: circuit ecologies and throughflow ecologies. These systems seed the site with potential. Others will fill it in over time. We do not predict or determine outcomes; we simply guide or steer flows of matter and information."


Four Tendencies
The next section discussed the 'Four Tendencies' that have emerged into a set of typologies of ecological systems, summarized by Reed here (and hopefully captured in some sense of legibility):

1. Structured Ecologies:  Active habits of plant growth, water movement, habitat use - manipulated over time in response to change, factoring in resiliency and incorporating landscape as a dynamic field.


2. Analog Ecologies: Use ecological elements to achieve non-biological products, epitomized in the work of Ned Kahn and Chuck Hoberman.


3. Hybrid Ecologies:  Responsive design systems that tap into large scale system dynamics, including human and non-human interaction in space.


4. Curated Ecologies:  Structured interactions with dynamics over time, not under specific control, but poked and prodded - designers role shifts as project demands.

The work evolved from the Harvard GSD, particularly the work of Nina-Marie Lister, for a May 2010 event 'Critical Ecologies' which synthesized the historical and current practices of biology, horticulture, and anthropology as antecedents to design.  (need to find out more on what happened here, as it sounds like a great event with some amazing speakers.

Work of StossLU

In the next part, Reed explained some of the work of Stoss, to give a physical reality to some of the ideas of open-endedness and concepts in action. To provide a framework for these approaches, these were intermixed within a number of larger ideas.

Thicken the Surface:
Using the concept of multiple uses and meanings for land, imbued with both form and performance - but not strictly in a sculptural sense.  This best expressed in Riverside Park, in New Bedford, Massachusetts, an eco-park that elaborates the performance aspects of topography, with formal sculptural qualities as a result of the underlying processes.

 
:: Riverside Park - images via stossLU

Draw on Local Practices:  
The project mentioned was the Competition for the Herinneringspark in regional West Flanders, Belgium, which used ephemeral interventions over large spaces for this historical WW II site - specifically focusing on agricultural cycles to highlight specific forms.  (sorry, couldn't track down any pics on this one)

Flexible Spaces for Social Interaction:
Using the Erie Street Plaza in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as an example, mentioning the patterning of materials (lawn and pavement) and the interplay as a randomized surface that allows for a flexibility of uses.  The other aspect of interest was the connection to the water table and the fluctuating levels of moisture and the use of steam to melt portions of the snow for year-round use.

:: Erie Street Plaza - image via Architect's Newspaper

Open Ended Design:
The garden festival in Grand-Metis, Quebec is the example for open-ended design, 'Safe Zone' was designed with simple materials in new forms, for a flexibility of uses... a play area, but not prescriptive, rather a safe and injury free surface for experimentation and adaptable play (one as Reed mentions, kids get intuitively, but adults take time to adapt to)...


:: images via playscapes
(more pics here on L+U)

Civic Scale:
A more expansive explanation included the concepts of civic scale, expanding some of the more ephemeral and small-scale interventions into significant projects in urban areas.  One example Reed noted was the Fox Riverfront in Green Bay, Wisconsin, which is built above a sheetpile walll, and required the manipulations of various surfaces to accomodate a range of spaces.  The stepped benches form seats and chaise lounges, reacting to the different heights of the subsurface conditions.

:: image via Minnesota Public Radio

The overall site also responds to the flooding conditions that come up and over the bulkhead, creating a reactivated civic space while simultaneously incorporating a functional piece of civic infrastructure.


:: image via National Design Awards

Engaging/Recalibrating Infrastructure
The representative project for this concept was the controversial (locally) competition for capping the Mt.Tabor Reservoirs in Portland.  Stoss's concept was one of the more innovative, blending a new ecology while creating a social spaces.

:: image via National Design Awards

An Integrated Project: Lower Don Lands


A larger example of a project was the competition for the Waterfront and Lower Don River area in Toronto, Canada, which Reed explained in a bit more detail.  The concept (the competition eventually won by MVVA) by Stoss offers a chance to provide an integrated approach, with a goal towards both restoration of the Lower Don River and the subsequent urbanization.  This river first, city second does resonate with the landscape urbanism principles of new form-making driven by landscape/ecological processes.

:: image via The Torontoist

The condition of the existing 90 degree bend of the river, and the need for a more modulated river/lake interface required designing a river, which had both a performative and aesthetic requirement.  This involved a couple of what Reed refers to as principles and flexible tactics:

1. Amplify the Interface: between the river ecosystem and the restored estuary
2. Hybridize the Parts: changes between armored and porous materials, restoring the marsh condition and then letting the ecological systems take over, which provides flood control while creating spaces for urban activities.
3. Modify the Harbor Wall:   establishing a vocabulary of marshes and channels, which form courtyards as catalysts with flexible programs.
4. Unique Building Typologies: Flexibility of form, and flow of landscape across spits and islands, then up the faces of the buildings - green machines.


:: image via The Torontoist

:: image via Penn Design


As Reed mentioned, this provides an example of using ecologies as generative forces (agencies), which as seen from the above examples provides a snapshot into the conceptual framework that is applied to projects at a variety of scales.  Be sure to check out the full range of project work on the Stoss website and get more information on some of these projects mentioned.

Stay tuned for a synopsis of the Panel Discussion coming in a separate post.
Thanks to all the great folks at UW, as well as Chris, Howard, Randy, and Peter for the great after lecture discussions and dialogue.

NOTE: Anyone in attendance wanting to clarify, contest, or expand any of these thoughts, feel free to comment.  Look forward to hearing more.



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