Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Architect's Brother

Stunning work by artists Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison worth checking out (link via the always great Landezine).   Not a whole lot of descriptions around to place these - so just soak them in - more at the artists website.  Happy New Year!

:: images via Landezine

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tales from Portlandia

As it is always important to laugh at oneself  - the 6-part IFC Original short-based comedy series PORTLANDIA, created, written by and starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein will premiere January 21, 2011 at 10:30 PM ET/PT. Each episode's character-based shorts draw viewers into "Portlandia," the creators' dreamy and absurd rendering of Portland, Oregon.

Bloody brilliant... Can't wait for more.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More Hidden Rivers

Always a fan of explorations of lost rivers, this one is takes the existing urban pattern and erases the former route of the Fleet River in London (via the Londonist)

"As most readers will know (and we’ve seen first hand), the river is now entirely underground and used as a sewer, but you can still pick out its course in the sloping streets of its former banks and, occasionally, a telltale street name. Reader Simon Dovar is one of many to be intrigued by this vanished river, and has put together a map of its route:  " I did a bit of research to trace the path of the lost River Fleet as it meanders under the streets of London. As you can see the map is completely hand drawn in pencil as well as the street indicators. The river is indicated by the rubbed out streets."  Nice touch – a vanished watercourse marked out in erased pencil lead."
:: image via  The Londonist

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Zappata Romana

The ease of online mapmaking leads to a democratization of the dissemination of all forms of information.  In the spirit of Greenmaps, Italian firm Urban Architecture Project presents Zappata Romana, a simple, icon-based mapping of community-run green spaces on underused and abandoned areas in Rome.

Visualizza “ZAPPATA ROMANA”: community-run green areas _by studioUAP in una mappa di dimensioni maggiori

Some additional information about the project:  "About 50 community-run green areas mapped: little urban gardens, play yards, edible gardens and areas for walking, resting, or simply talking. Citizens and associations acting together to reclaim the abandoned areas in Rome. More than 100 sites together with the 65 spontaneous gardens registered by the Rome municipality.  Urban farms too and other interesting experiences such as Partecipation Houses, “Punti Verdi Qualità” and green areas maintained by established associations." 

Imagine the growing potential, using shared geographical data from a global resource (in this case, the ubiquitous Google Map) - how the layering of information has grown, and will continue to do so, due to tools that are easy to manipulate with little technical expertise and little to no cost.  For a similar project, check out my Beta version of the PDX Greenmap - which aims to feature a range of sustainable sites and strategies around Portland (more info here).

Information=Power [thus]

City Concealed: Staten Island

I previously featured a video from the online video series "The City Concealed" produced by Thirteen, a project of New York station WNET.  The series offers glimpses into some of the terrain vague of the metropolis by: "...exploring the unseen corners of New York. Visit the places you don’t know exist, locations you can’t get into, or maybe don’t even want to. Each installment unearths New York’s rich history in the city’s hidden remains and overlooked spaces." 

The alerted me to a recent video on the Staten Island Greenbelt, which is 2,800 acres of passive natural area and more traditional parkland, a short distance from Manhattan.

A bit of context from a location map shows the full extent of this agglomerated green zone slicing through the center of the island.

A close up shows some of the detail of the connected areas and the juxtaposition of the active and passive elements.

The proximity to Fresh Kills Park is obviously not lost on the potential for expanded greenbelt potential, connecting the southwestern portions to the new park, extending to the western shore of the island.

A quick tour of the recent videos has some great finds, including this one exploring the abandoned Hincliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey and how it is slowly being enveloped by vegetation, and efforts to save this historic resource.

The City Concealed video series explores historical locations around New York City that are either off-limits to the general public, or are otherwise difficult or impossible to see. The City Concealed, now in its third season, is part of THIRTEEN.ORG’s original online video offerings for New Yorkers.

Destinations of the nine upcoming episodes include New York's last Greek Synagogue in the LES; the decommissioned Ridgewood Reservoir; the abandoned Ft. Tilden in The Rockaways; the closed-off High Bridge, plus a few more.

THIRTEEN is owned by the New York public media company WNET.ORG.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Smart Growth

One of the recent awards from the EPA for the 2010 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement went to Portland Metro region for it's 2040 Growth Concept.

Policies, Programs, and Regulations: 2040 Growth Concept, Portland metro, Oregon
EPA says: Metro, the elected regional government of the Portland, Oregon, area, is making sure that future population growth can be accommodated through its “Making the Greatest Place” effort. Building on the 2040 Growth Concept, this effort helps protect current and future residents’ quality of life by providing access to transportation choices, investing in compact communities, and preserving farms and forests.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Digital Canopy (Expanded)

It's intriguing that Google Earth 6 has started populating the virtual 'planet' with 3-Dimensional trees, which together with buildings and terrain offer the opportunity for some reasonable representation of exterior sites.  Right now, only a few cities have been added in selected cities and natural areas:

"I think we can all agree that our planet without trees would be a pretty desolate place. Besides the ever-important task of providing us with the oxygen we breathe, trees are an integral part of the landscape around us. In Google Earth, while we and our users have been busy populating the globe with many thousands of 3D building models, trees have been rather hard to come by. All that is changing with Google Earth 6, which includes beautifully detailed, 3D models for dozens of species of trees, from the Japanese Maple to the East African Cordia to my personal favorite, the cacao tree. While we’ve just gotten started planting trees in Google Earth, we already have more than 80 million trees in places such as Athens, Berlin, Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and Tokyo. Through our Google Earth Outreach program, we’ve also been working with organizations including the Green Belt Movement in Africa, the Amazon Conservation Team in Brazil and CONABIO in Mexico to model our planet’s threatened forests."
A short video from Google, particularly regarding their concept for showing specific species of trees to promote understanding and great conservation.

The problem, of course, is the rendering of trees, which is so often problematic in digital formats as to be more distracting than useful.  The trees are somewhat abstracted, due to the need to provide simple shapes lower memory usage.  (UPDATE: the images previously shown were from the old version of Google Earth - so I have no provided a comparison with these and a city that has the new Google Earth 6 Trees  - thanks to Damian @ World Landscape Architect for the heads up on this).  All images are exports from the Pro version.

Digital Trees (A Comparison)
A contextual overview is somewhat interesting, for instance, Central Park in New York City (which does not have the new trees yet) looks surprisingly robust with the old trees.

Central Park

The new trees - in this case from San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, show a more homogenous and subtle patterning of the canopy, a bit more realistic in the inability to see separate trees, and the lack of repetition.

Golden Gate Park

The distant views at eye level are interesting to provide context for the adjacent buildings, something missing in the sterility of the 3D google earth buildings.  From a flattened view, the Central Park trees do provide a foreground to the adjacent urban edges.

Central Park

Standing in a similar field looking outward, there seems to be a bit more depth in the new 3D trees, and the rendering of individual tree components is more noticeable (maybe it's just the lighter trunks?).  There's obviously less density surrounding Golden Gate park, but the foreground/background relationship of the distant hillside is pretty effective (now when is the Weather on Google Earth going to be perceptible on the ground-level view, which might make the sky look a bit more real).

Golden Gate Park

The whole thing falls apart for the old trees, similar to many other attempted representations of vegetation, at a close-up scale. You can see the X-shaped geometry of the trees (a common way of providing lo-res 3D vegetation) start to give up their individual facets and look a bit strange.

Central Park

While the new 3D trees are an improvement, as you can see a better approximation of the trunk and canopy as well as a distinction between varieties of species.  As anyone that's worked in Sketchup knows, the search for good approximations of trees is a difficult task to find good representations of trees to match diversity of real vegetation.  I think some Google Earth to actual photo matching shots would be interesting to show the differences and see how close these have come to true representation.

Golden Gate Park

An interesting first attempt (check out all of the cities with trees here), but one that still needs a lot of work.  Talking with folks that do a lot of 3D rendering, landscape is always a difficult aspect for a couple of reasons.  The overall complexity of a tree, for instance, is immense - even when compared to a building (which is typically more uniform in shape and is covered with 'flat' materials.  

The Problems of Rendering Trees.
Thinking of a tree as a complex system - there's a infinite branching system of components - trunk, branch, stem, leaf, bud, flower - radiating in 3 dimensions in an ordered, yet flexible paths.  A beautifully rendered tree is a masterpiece, but one that takes a lot of time and memory to accomplish and is a mere snapshot in time of one species, of a certain age, and at a certain time of year.

:: image via Peter Guthrie

Even with the perfect specimen, there are many other factors at work - which in essence requires each one to be slightly different, as well as the ability to capture form at different ages.  Take into account a changing canopy over the 4 seasons - often representing with spring leaf out, coloration, summer full foliage, fall color and leaf drop, and winter branching - and that adds another complex variable to the equation.  A bit simpler for evergreen species, but just think of the number of species of trees that exist in any particular city.  Thus attempts to simplify often create trees which are somewhat cartoony approximations of the real thing.  It boggles the mind - just think what it does to the CPU.

:: Revit Trees - image via YellowBryk

Finally, trees are but one aspect of the landscape - and unless you are living in a park from the picturesque era, most are juxtaposed with a layered structure from overstory, understory, shrubs, and groundcover - especially when viewed from a close-in site scale.  There are programs available that will allow for this complexity - but how many project budgets do you think have this built in, or how many firms have the technological capabilities and personnel to do this type of work. This dilemma becomes evident in the eventual jump from the 3D to more 2D forms of rendering (predominately Photoshop) which allows a snapshot to take on a much richer palette, with less time and expertise - to more accurately render vegetation.  These are relegated to a one-shot image, and lose the potential for fly-throughs and other 3D tools for representation.  The search, alas, continues - for the perfect set of tools.

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)



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.