Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Representing Transects

Picking up on a couple of great posts on transect delineation over at FAD (and a lively discussion thread as well that is worth checking out), this idea continues to permeate the discussions around the Urban Edge.

:: image via CATS

Taking a different tack than the critique of the transect per se (of which there is plenty), I've been tooling around looking at ways to break out of the traditional mo
des of representation when showing the experience of the transect and the ability to communicate this to a viewer. As we know, the common transect has a simple expansion of the typical section cut technique. In a natural condition this slices through a number of ecosystems:

:: image via CATS

A common reference is this diagram that has become a touchstone for New Urbanist applied theory, outlining a generalized zoning diagram with their associated T-zones (transect zones):

:: image via CATS

The definition from the CATS site gives a quick idea of the concept of transect which borrows from the ecological concept: "A transect is a cut or path through part of the env
ironment showing a range of different habitats. Biologists and ecologists use transects to study the many symbiotic elements that contribute to habitats where certain plants and animals thrive. Human beings also thrive in different habitats. Some people prefer urban centers and would suffer in a rural place, while others thrive in the rural or sub-urban zones. Before the automobile, American development patterns were walkable, and transects within towns and city neighborhoods revealed areas that were less urban and more urban in character. This urbanism could be analyzed as natural transects are analyzed."

The CATS site has a range of transect images that provide some good ideas for representation. The most simple, falling along the natural ecosystem transect comes from McHarg's Design with Nature, and is represented by more of a typical scaled sectional cut through a dune landscape. An interesting interpretation via the CATS site that sort of oversimplifies the work as anti-humanitarian: "McHarg’s brilliant analytical/ operational system never integrated the human habitat, which was simply relegated to wherever nature was least valuable. In this sense. it is a step backwards from the Geddes transect of a half-century earlier."

:: image via CATS

Another adaptation is from the transect done for an Regional Plan for Western New York State shows some of the precedents in representation and analysis, which are the seeds of modern transect studies: "A regional transect of natural conditions and existing thoroughfares, drawn in 1926 with compact towns and villages, is overlaid with the present SmartCode's three basic Community types in purple."

:: image via CATS

These were inspired by the more generalized earlier transect from planner Patrick Geddes - which is delineated with this more graphical 'Valley Section' showing a typical natural system overlaid with use zones showing, for lack of a better word, exploitation zones of the landscape section. I guess that's the step backwards we're talking about by not including overt humanity into the equation.

:: image via CATS

I find it fascinating that many of the concepts in the New Urbanist pantheon are 'borrowed' from ecology including transects, zones, quadrats, and such. It's also inte
resting that these are as much a graphical exercise as they are a planning one, with a very specific intent and bias from the drawings (show me a drawing that isn't biased in some way?). For instance the 'wedge' shape denotes relative usage of land: "The wedge shape of this naturalistic illustration signifies that the more urban Transect Zones, with their greater density, use less land per capita than the more rural zones."

:: image via CATS

To say that any of these drawings is merely inert is sort of laughable - as there's typically an agenda at work behind the scenes (literally behind the scenography of these graphics). That's not to say there's some nefariousness, as they are generalized stereotypes and tools for u
se in planning, and application of some of the more robust planning materials like SmartCode (more on this later). The more traditional vertical transect drawings start to look like panels in a cartoon, showing a typical American and European iteration of the panels:

:: images via CATS

There's some parallels with the idea of movement as captured in graphic novels, film storyboards, flip-books and the like. There is also a reference back to Chinese scrolls, where the entirety of a transect can be captured on a never-ending length of paper... at an appropriate scale could be new maps of territories.

:: images via CATS

One commentor on FAD alluded to this image from R.Crumb 'A Short History of America' (posted here on L+U) which is graphically a little too similar to the stylized transects above:

:: (click to enlarge) - image via R. Crumb

Check out the Center for Applied Transect Studies site for some more great info on the topic and some great historical graphic. More about this soon, as I'm continuing to look at how the transect (the generic or ecological term that is akin to section) is valuable in urban exploration, notation, and planning in the particular context of Portland's urban edge.

There's much to learn from this in terms of both technical application as well as marketing cachet, as it leads to a pretty compelling (albeit graphically utopian or manipulated) version of (new?) urbanism that many people respond favorably to. The real question is: Does this work on a City with an urban growth boundary, or does it need the more gradual filtering of density from sprawl to really accentuate the beauty of the transect? Do we skip over a few T-zones in this way or does the construct fall apart? Can this be captured in selected explorations of our urban edge?

How to represent a line, which is a place itself and a container for a place delineating in- and out, that is dynamic with flex and pull and change of weather as well as politics and economics? It's gonna be a fun ride.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Reading List: Kerb 17: Is LA Dead?

"Landscape architecture has not evolved the necessary operational agility to manage the growing complexity of regional urban infrastructures... Contemporary landscape architecture should seek to generate new performative models of infrastructural form that renew the biophysical environment while facilitating a regional understanding of market forces. Landscape architecture has failed to embrace the technical complexity of infrastructural systems in the city as a programmatic concept with as much currency as the idea of leisure or recreation"

- from (re)tooling landscape architecture, (p. 11)

Well, I was hoping to save this one for the best of the year lists, but figured it was time to offer up the accolades that this issue of Kerb, truly deserves. Published by RMIT, issue 17 offers a simple question that opens up a complex dialogue about the very nature of what we do. In the age of information overload and constant opportunities for reading great things, it's rare to want to take the time to re-read anything - but this issue kept drawing me back - and I'd guess I went through many of the essays at least twice.

It may have been the subject matter for starters - something we grapple with on a daily basis - seeking relevance and expansion of our field. The inquiry into the health of the profession of landscape architecture isn't new (for a snapshot of this longstanding dialogue, see 'An Apocalyptic Manifesto' and the find and read much of the tepid response in the April 2005 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine) or go further back to the art v. science debates of the late 1990s.

The editors of this particular volume of KERB seem to take on really dangerous topic with a freshness that was missing in many of the iterations of this long-standing dialogue.
From the editorial (p.73):

"Dear landscape architecture,


Are you dead?

Were you ever alive?

If so, what did you achieve? What significance did you have? Will you be remembered?

Probably not... "

This sort of bluntness is a great to way to frame the conversation about the death of landscape architecture for a new era of practice. Rather than a rehash of the entire volume, I'm just going to sprinkle some choice quotes within some of the spreads... don't take my word for it - order it now!

"landscape architecture: the corpus is alive but the mind is ailing..." p.5

"Landscape Architecture is at a point of change. But if we're reliant on twentieth century capitalism and economics to drive high quality public space then I do wonder whether it might indeed be dead..."

- from 'A Conversation with site|office (p.85)

"The 'scape' is killing the profession."

- from 'land architect', (p.91)

"Landscape architecture needs to resituate itself within the world. Culturally relevant and ecologically suitable places don't appear out of the ether. Their design must be based in discourses that are grounded in scientific and artistic theories, methods, and practices."

- from Massive Change Required (p.105)

"Landscape urbanism's current theoretical argument embraces flexible operations that address fluidity, non-linearity, open-endedness and indeterminacy. The representation of these processes then asks for techniques that promote the in-between and the unexpected through abstraction "

- from 'Crisis in landscape representation' (p.53)

Another great and inspiring essay was from experimental firm Gross.MAX, that definitely had the best quote in the entire volume from page 126:

"If...landscape architecture is dead, it is dead below the waist. We need some passion in between the sheets of landscape. Some projects can act as stimulus like XTC or Viagra."

GROSS.MAX continues to elaborate on a model of praxis that is quite compelling - giving way to a new model for the post-economic boom landscape (literally and figuratively) that exists out there in the world. Sort of a post-landscape approach focuses and accepts landscape as a commodity, and capitalizes on this fact by playing with the notions of this versus trying to recapture authenticity and precious historicity. Along with a handful of others - this paves a new path for the next wave to follow.

Overall this is by far one of the best collections of landscape architecture essays, not just from this year, but ever. And the fact that it came from an educational institution, versus the traditional pathways of journalism should make the current landscape architecture press stand up and take notice. Simple format, graphically rich and diverse, and an accessible cost. This is (is this?) a glimpse towards future of landscape architecture media.

Historic Depave Portland

As previously mentioned, the main drag along the Willamette was formerly a multi-lane highway named Harbor Drive, which was removed in the mid-1970's to make way for the current resident along the river, Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

:: image via Portland Mercury

:: image via Flickr - William200549

Text, from the article 'The Dead Freeway Society' in the Portland Mercury, outlines this paradigm shift in a decade from planning massive expansion to promotion of removal:

"The first freeway to dissolve was Harbor Drive. Built in 1942, the wide slab of asphalt ran over what is today Tom McCall Waterfront Park, now where tourists and idyllic children roam with ice cream, Barack Obama spoke, and once a year the Oregon Symphony shoots live cannons in a performance of the 1812 Overture. In the '50s and '60s, the freeway, streaming with big-finned cars, was featured on postcards promoting a modern Portland. By 1975, it was gone.

"There was a shift in local government in the late-'60s. It went from a good-old-boy network to a much younger generation of politicians," explains Ballestrem. Urban planning historian Gregory L. Thompson wrote that when one young politician arrived in Portland in 1973, the politico noted that everyone had a copy of anti-freeway handbook Rites of Way tucked into their hip pocket.

When the state began buying up land next to Harbor Drive to widen the waterfront freeway in 1968, a citizen alliance against the expansion found open ears at city hall and the governor's office. Old-school traffic engineers said closing the freeway would be a disaster, but Governor Tom McCall, Mayor Neil Goldschmidt, and County Commissioner Don Clark heard the citizens' opinion that most car traffic could be rerouted to the city's newly built freeways, like the I-5. Throughout the summer of '69, Portlanders organized "consciousness-raising picnics" to rally people against Harbor Drive. Three years later, a governor's task force declared that the low-traffic, 30-year-old road should be ripped out and replaced with a park."

While not one of the stellar park spaces in town, the park really acts as a front yard to downtown, and is also a major pedestrian throughfare, as well as a consistent field for festivals throughout the summer.

:: image via Friends for our Riverfront

:: image via Portland Ground

:: image via uyau

The results aren't half-bad for a former highway.

Ghost Highway: Mount Hood Freeway

It's fascinating to dig into some of the historical legacies that have existed throughout planning over time. Some seem like missed opportunities - while others show that perhaps sometimes cooler heads will prevail, and we think of the awfulness of what might have been. Nowhere in Portland's planning history is this more evident than the thankfully unbuilt Mount Hood Freeway, which would have literally chopped to bits the inner east side in the mid 1960s with a network of high capacity roadways.

It's also interesting to see the genesis of this idea, from none other than the infamous Robert Moses. From the Permatopia site on Dead Highways: "This map from the Portland Planning Division's 1966 development plan illustrates Robert Moses' vision for a city girdled by freeways. Red indicates existing freeways; green indicates freeways that were never built."

:: image via Willamette Week

From some older coverage on the WW site: "
The story of the freeway's demise is a tale of urban America after World War II and a lesson in what distinguishes Portland from other West Coast cities. It gave us strong neighborhoods, proud schools and MAX. It cemented the region's commitment to ecology and the reputation of a brilliant political leader. The murder not only saved 1,750 households in Southeast Portland from the wrecking ball, it also established Portland's philosophy of urban livability-the idea that cities are for people, not just for commerce and cars."

It may be difficult to comprehend, but the slice of the Mount Hood Freeway would have edge along was is currently Clinton Street, one of the hip neighborhood commercial pocket in southeast. An portion of a map shows the dashed line slicing down this street.

:: image via Permatopia

And a view down current Clinton Street @ 26th:

:: image via Portlandize

Taking a cue from the planning wisdom at the time, Moses planned Portland for auto-dominated greatness. From the Portland Mercury:

"Sixty-six Septembers ago, a Portland city commissioner invited the powerful (and, these days, infamous) transportation planner Robert Moses to come to Rose City and write its road construction plan. Moses, a freeway mogul whose most lasting legacy is the massive byways slicing apart New York's boroughs, brought a team of men and holed up for two months in a downtown hotel. After exploring the city and crunching numbers, the men whipped up an 86-page blueprint for Portland's future.

It was in this plan that Portland was first divided by the inky lines that would eventually become I-205, I-84, I-5, I-405, and Highway 26. It was Moses' men who first drew the Fremont Bridge onto a photo of Portland. In white ink, they imagined the freeway to be a suspension bridge running across the river and down into the current Overlook neighborhood. But they also imagined a lot more.

To modernize and meet the demands of a growing economy and expanding population, back in 1943 Moses argued that Portland must surround itself with freeways—an inner ring carrying traffic through the city with another freeway ring encircling its outer limits."
The other part of the legacy that is visible is the dead end off- and on-ramps that show up along many of the stems of this future highway system... a reminder of what might have been.

:: image via Portland Mercury

More of this legacy: "People can drive past on Division or Clinton streets every day and never know it’s there. Indeed, it wouldn’t be there at all, if supporters of the Mount Hood Freeway had had their way. The diminutive Piccolo Park (Southeast 28th Avenue between Division and Clinton streets, 503-823-7529) cuts a grassy swath through a residential block. The land was acquired by the state in the 1970s for a freeway, which would have roared through this historic neighborhood, but the freeway planning faltered and in 1989 the parcel was turned into a charming city park."

If the benefits aren't obvious, a video from Streetfilms highlights the result, in a study on the neighborhood left behind, versus that which was destroyed through freeway expansions. "Clarence Eckerson Jr., takes us to Portland to see the results and posits that his own neighborhood in Brooklyn might have benefited from similar forethought during the planning phase of the Robert Moses-designed Brooklyn-Queens Expressway."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Soundtrack for Spaces 2

This video reminded me of a post from this past summer regarding Soundtrack for Spaces, where I speculated on the connection of space and a particular experiential musical accompaniment (particularly that viewed while in motion). Check out this one, compiled from Google Street View imagery with a soundtrack by Phoenix. (via Urban Tick) Brilliant.

Google Street View challenge /2009 from CorentinZ on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Historic Portland Maps: 1866 Portland Map

The last in this particular era of maps, this survey map highlights the tracing of ‘disappeared streams’ throughout the urban area, which requires research and layering of a number of historical maps onto the modern urban form. One map that has some interesting waterways is a Map of the City of Portland, Surveyed and drawn by order of the Common Council, By C.W. Burrage, City Surveyor, 1866.

This map traces a detailed route of Tanner Creek, the waterway that meandered through modern-day Downtown and Pearl District, through the Northwest Industrial area that was occupied by Couch Lake. The ‘lake’ which was mostly a fen, or wetland, is located in a parcel (marked J.H. Couch), but the boundaries are not delineated. There are some other maps that exist showing the boundaries, which will be layered in as well.

Another interesting waterway is along the east bank, originating in at the intersection of B & C Streets, at 5th Street. The modern location of this would be around the outfall of Sullivan’s Gulch (around the I-84/I-5 connection)… the forked creek meanders through the Central Eastside area, outletting at the Water Street at ‘J’ Street (presently Water at Oak – along the Eastbank Esplanade).

The other interesting feature was the location of the Lunatic Asylum Grounds in Southeast Portland. The location of this facility is somewhere between Ladd’s Addition and the Central Eastside Industrial District… showing that SE has always been the locus of the ‘Keep Portland Wierd’ idea.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Historic Portland Maps: 1852 Cadastral Maps

Probably the most detailed and broad ranging of these early maps are from the collection from the Public Land Survey System (or Cadastral Maps). These were generated throughout the 1850s in the Portland metro region, with the main portion of Portland encompassed in two maps, which were obviously the base material for the 1852 Survey Map, as it contains much of the same data.

Zooming in a bit on the area of current downtown Portland, we see the nascent grid forming along 'The Clearing', and see the edge of the Tualatin Mountains (West Hills) to the west, even a trail leading toward Beaverton through a slot in the Canyon where Highway 26 west (Sunset Highway) runs. On the east side of the river is the lowland marsh and streams that were subsequently filled to create the Central Eastside Industrial area. Within the Willamette River to the south, Ross Island is intact, well before the constant sand and gravel mining operations left it a ribbon of it's former self.

The detail is pretty awesome, as you really get a feel for some of the drainages that existed, still in visible dendritic forms making sub-watersheds. This section also shows the routing of a 'road' that connected to Milwaukie and Tualatin to the south.

The northern section captures the upper reaches of Downtown, as well as the current Pearl district and Northwest Industrial Zone.
Closer to downtown, the original routing of Tanner Creek is made evident by it's headwaters at the 'Tannery' adjacent to the road to the Tualatin Plains. This fed Couch Lake, a wetland adjacent to the Willamette that is currently the location of Tanner Springs Park, a metaphorical daylighting of this lowland. Finally, in the pre-bridge era, the location of ferry crossings connecting east and west are shown

Another notable items on the upper west includes Guilds Lake, a significant water body that was the site of the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted - which was later filled to create flat industrial land as it exists today.

:: image via Portland History

Taking a closer look at the northernmost section you see the level of detail shown in the marshy edge of the Columbia River called on the map 'Columbia Bayou' and some of the earliest low-density riverfront inhabitation.

I really love this map for many reasons, but the fact that it is referenced to the township, section, range mapping convention, making it easy to use as an underlayment for modern mapping to show a pre-development (or at least early development snapshot of Portland context). It also shows a relatively wide span of the region, making it useful beyond the boundaries of Portland.

I have created a few of these maps over the years which I will post when I get a chance). My ultimate goal is to reconcile these into a graphical layer in GIS that can be used for mapping analyses... any grad students out there want a project? (Find many of these maps from this post and the previous ones at the great City of Portland Publications and Maps Page)

Historic Portland Maps: 1852 Downtown Survey

A focused companion in the same vintage as the 1852 Survey Map (which includes the entire city area) comes from the early Portland 1852 Downtown Survey, a more detailed account encompassing the downtown area adjacent to the Willamette River (oriented with north to the right). One interesting pattern is the street grid running right into the waterfront – as the river was the hub of commerce and building hung right over the water. As the city evolved this interface with the river lefts some interesting patterns which became a highway, and eventually the current Waterfront Park.

A couple of early creek corridors are shown on the south portion of downtown, originating at SW Jefferson Street and winding down SW Columbia to 3rd. There’s another stream originating from Mill Street and continuing southward. I've been mesmerized for years with the idea of these 'disappeared streams' that were later buried under the developed downtown grid.

And the form that continues through of the park blocks, in this form continuing from SW Clay to SW Stark. This is a pattern of park blocks that continues north and south as shown in the 1866 Map (look for this in an upcoming post). I’m curious where in the development pattern the North and South Park blocks were severed.

Historic Portland Maps: 1852 Survey Map

Following up on the previous post, one of my all time favorite maps is the reproduction of the 1852 Survey Map offers not only development and trails, but information on soils, disappeared streams, topographic and other natural features. The map used to be available via a link to the BES website, but I can’t seem to place the source for it at the moment. The overall map covers what is considered the area of modern City of Portland (click to enlarge to a somewhat more readable scale).

A couple of details:

First, showing the area of current downtown, with natural features of Mt. Tabor and Ross Island. Note the curving depression of Sullivan’s Gulch still in full flow, replaced by what is the current routing of Interstate 84 connecting Portland from the east. There is interesting notations referring to 'Land gently rolling, soil 2nd rate, gravelly', denoting the floodplain of the original creek.

Second, focusing on North Portland, including Swan Island, the wetlands of Smith & Bybee Lakes (in proximity to what was used for Portland's landfill for many years), Forest Park, and the prominent eyebrow of the overlook ridge. The references to 'burnt timber' and trails show the marks of early habitation. The map is a great background for some of the current hydrology and ecology of modern Portland - at least to a certain level of detail.

Historic Portland Maps: 1845-1852

The discussions of Portland Urban Form (here, here) got me thinking about a series of posts I originally posted to Free Association Design of a collection of historic Portland maps that I thought worthy of reposting here. It's great to see the origins of the urban form begin to take shape, and it provides a context in which to see what happened over a century and a half previous and it's current ramifications. Starting off, this is one of the oldest maps I’ve been able to find 'The Clearing' shows the core of Portland in the early years. The large parcels on the right are owned by Francis Pettygrove and Benjamin Stark, both prominent place-names of early history. This is the first iteration, including the afforementioned 200' square blocks, which were laid out by the business-oriented duo to maximize valuable corner lots.

This map dates to the inital history of Portland – with the initial land claim by William Overton and Asa Lovejoy, and the subsequent ‘coin-toss’ by Lovejoy and Pettygrove, giving the City is current name. From City of Portland’s Historic Portland Timelines, 1843-1901:

“1945: Overton sells his share of the claim to Francis Pettygrove. Pettygrove and Lovejoy survey the land, deciding to build a city. Previously called The Clearing, Portland gets its name with the toss of a coin with Pettygrove’s home town in Maine winning over Lovejoy’s birthplace in Boston.”

While I'm much happier with the western iteration of Portland versus Boston, it's a interesting factoid to see that coin flips original history, but more telling that the City evolved from the man-made Clearing along the riverside. Tying a bit of this history to the mapping, this early settlement map shows the Lownsdale claim. Again from the City of Portland Historic Timeline 1843 to 1901:

“1850: Portland or “Stump Town”, consists of a steam sawmill, a log-cabin hotel and the weekly Oregonian. Sidewalks are rough planks and the streets are dirt turning to mud when it rains. Houses are small and simple, only 2 houses in town have a plaster interior.”

The map below shows the level of development – tied closely to the larger 1852 Portland map in amount of urbanization. You can also see on the right side where the grid shift will take place (along present day Burnside) as the blocks blend into Capt. Couch’s claim.

The inset of the western section shows the sparse development – including pastureland, orchards, and gardens. There was also some smaller gardens and potato fields along the creek (which is probably Tanner) to the NW.

The City of Portland was subsequently incorporated in on February 8th, 1851, using the established Lownsdale plan as a starting point. The inset shows the ‘developed’ downtown – expanded somewhat from the 1945 map of ‘The Clearing’. To the north was land claimed by Captain John Couch – and to the south was land claimed by James Terwilliger – place names that continue to define NW and SW areas to this day. The road shown on this map led to the Tualatin Plains, running along present-day Canyon Road, which at the time was a plank trail built in 1847 – heading towards present-day Beaverton.

To connect the maps to the level of development, an ’urban’ shot showing the City, circa 1852 – taken from the corner of First & Stark (photo via PDX History)