Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reforesting Cities

A great post on Urban Omnibus investigates the potential of implementation of urban reforestation blended into existing buildings in our urban areas. From author Vanessa Keith, author of the article: "Retrofitting our urban building stock to address climate change need not be limited exclusively to increasing their energy efficiency. If “one of the primary causes of global environmental change is tropical deforestation” (Geist & Lambin, 143), then we should approach the adaptation of our buildings as an exercise in reforestation."

:: image via Urban Omnibus

While the ideas of terrestrial re-forestation have been discussed often in urban areas, the proposals attempt to incorporated this into existing building stock is a unique way of augmenting this. The post goes through a range of typologies of interventions including white roofs, greenscreens, green roofs, windbelts, and a range of blue-roof strategies (see Veg.itecture for more exploration of this).

:: image via Urban Omnibus

So, pulling it all together, starts to looks like a eco-district scale project typology, with a range of building and terrestrial opportunities exploited: "Large scale urban farming which takes place indoors and on large expanses of roof, greenscreens to let plants to climb the vertical surfaces of the city, trees which are now able to grow on the city roofscape. Roof ponds and artificial waterfalls for cooling and electrical generation. Solar and wind devices which form sculptural elements in the city, performing a function as well as having an aesthetic. Ports for plug-in electric vehicles which gather energy from photovoltaics. Solar panels incorporated into street poles, and vertical wind turbines which form a rhythm in the streetscape. Bicycle lanes, room for walking and the incorporation of still more trees."

:: image via Urban Omnibus

The concept of building retrofit has gained much attention, both as a economic necessity as building slows down, but also as shown in the article, the usable surface area of the city isn't just composed of the left-over terrestrial parcels, but a network of building faces, as cited in: " A recent New York Times article quantifies the amount of available roofspace in the city alone as 944 million square feet, 11.5% of the total building area the city holds."

Ignoring this resource will miss a significant opportunity to incorporate more area in our attempts to reforest cities, and also expand our toolkit beyond street tree canopy and dense planting in open spaces.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bibliophilic Mecca

As a book lover, purchasing new reading materials is always one of those things that I both relish and anguish over, as it tends to put a sizable dent in the wallet. While fiction is one thing, the the high cost of many arch and landscape related volumes is sometimes laughable when deciding which $80 book to pick up. While an occasional free review copy is a welcome addition, the low-volume / high-price of design literature is cost-prohibitive to fully obtain the plethora of great titles. The library is an option, but I'm more of a owner than renter in this case (specifically in the non-fictional) - mostly as these aren't short-term relationships but long-term engagements that get visited and re-visited over the years. The other local mecca Powells and other used book stores is always a benefit - shaving a few dollars off, but more often than not the price tag is large.

So I was excited to visit local Title Wave Books here in Portland today... the word 'bookstore' here is somewhat applicable, as it's more a repository for Multnomah County Library to unload books that are taken out of circulation in the regional library system and sell them at a significantly reduced price. Today was a local special (an additional 55% off books in Architecture and Design), so I was salivating over the possible additions to the library. I wasn't disappointed.

The full list of books I acquired:

:: Building Inside Nature's Envelope - Wasowski
:: Earth Sheltered Houses - Roy
:: Theory and Design in the Second Machine Age - Pawley
:: Emilio Ambasz: The Poetics of the Pragmatic
:: The Making of a Town: Potsdam-Kirchsteigfeld - Krier & Kohl
:: AD: Sci-Fi Architecture
:: AD: The Architecture of Ecology
:: Architects: The Noted and the Ignored - Prak
:: Tight Spaces: Hard Architecture and How to Humanize It - Sommer
:: Understanding Architecture - Conway
:: The Architecture of Happiness - de Botton
:: Nature Near: Late Essays of Richard Neutra
:: The Language of Space - Lawson
:: Architecture and the Phenomenon of Transition - Gideon
:: What is Architecture? - Shepheard
:: After the City - Lerup

Total price-tag: $36

While admittedly, I may not have chosen all of these had they sold for full price, but even a chapter's worth of knowledge is worth a dollar or two sometimes, and some were just chosen for some good imagery or an interesting historical viewpoint. Many were hardcover, and a good bit where standouts, which will inevitably be mentioned in upcoming reviews or posts, so stay tuned - and check out your local library for a sale or a store... you won't be sorry.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Urban Cartography

There are some interesting links I've stumbled upon recently (a round-up of which is forthcoming), one worth some exploration is a site entitled Urban Cartography. The posts simply show collected imagery of a variety of informatics and other interesting mashups of data from around the globe. Not mapping in the traditional sense, these densely woven graphics provide some great inspiration for representation in ways that would make Edward Tufte proud (or sometimes cringe).

:: images via Urban Cartography

While many are specific and data-specific, including plans and architectural graphics, others delve into mapping the more whimsical. My favorite to day is the 'Mega Shark' which in our age of gigantism will soon pose imminent threats in such mundane activities as air travel.

:: images via Urban Cartography

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On Weather

Via InfranetLab, a fascinating book that looks interesting is entitled '-arium: Weather + Architecture' spawned from a research investigation at the University of Toronto. With a cursory glance, it looks to be something of the same genus (at least in overall ideology) to that of Gissen's recent book Subnature - which provides a focus more on process and environmental ephemera than architectural product.

:: image via InfraNet Lab

A bit of background that sets the hook: "The dynamic, turbulent and unpredictable forces that comprise the weather are shared by economic cycles of production and consumption. We are at the cusp of an intriguing moment wherein the cycles of economics and weather have collided to instigate a new green economy. The consumptive aspects of ‘green’ have granted architecture a moment to explore its nemesis – instability and disorder – the key characteristics of weather... Composed of three sections – The Weather Report, The Weather Forecast, and The Weather Outlook – that respectively, research, design and theorize on weather and architecture, -arium offers a guide for both architectural designer and critics.

As we embrace a new fluid methodologies that incorporates chance and flexibility - uncertainty and process over time - weather seems a challenging and necessary topic to incorporate into our work, and a focus on the connections between weather and architecture makes perfect sense. Pick up a copy online here.

Terrain Vague

Via Death by Architecture, a recent call for papers for Terrain Vague: The Interstitial as Site, Concept, Intervention features an opportunity for work to be included in: "This collection of essays will focus on terrain vague—marginal, semi-abandoned space in or along the edge of the city—as abstract concept, specific locale, and subject of literary, architectural, or otherwise artistic intervention."

:: Detroit Urban Void - image via Planetizen

Definitely a topical subject as we investigate shrinking cities and reinvention of urban uses - so a chance to provide some context, whatever you call them: urban voids, landscapes of transgression, strange places, ruined, abandoned, potentials, or terrain vague...

The deadline for abstracts is 1 June 2010.
Completed essays will be due on 1 February 2011.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

DC Transit Visualization

Via Urban Tick, a visualization of the Washington DC transit system. "Developed by Rahul Nair in Processing. It is visualised in processing with a data set from WMATA transit system. The transport network has made their dat available trough the open Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS)." Cool representation.

Washington D.C. Transit from Rahul Nair on Vimeo.

Check out another timelapse of transit usage for a 24 hour period here

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fringe Urbanism

Not a variation of my favorite new FOX series, but a lecture happening tomorrow at University of Oregon Department of Architecture in Portland at the White Stag.

Lecture by Nico Larco, Asst. Professor, UO Department of Architecture

Noon, Wednesday January 20

White Stag Building, 70 NW Couch, Event Room
with Live Broadcast in Eugene, Lawrence Hall, Room 206

There is currently a shift occurring within the peripheries of our cities as social constructs and physical realities collide. The re-development of suburbia holds enormous promise both as an adaptation to changing sociology and in the potential for a more sustainable approach to existing forms of development. Multidisciplinary approaches to architecture and urban design will be critical in how this transformation takes shape.

Professor Larco’s research focuses on the nexus between architecture and urbanism. He is Co- Director of the Sustainable Cities Initiative (SCI), a cross-disciplinary organization that addresses sustainability from the region down to the building. SCI is engaging Architecture and Allied Arts faculty and students in research and design while providing service and technical assistance to a different city each year.

Hydrological Infill

As an adjunct to the recent post on the abstract 'Blue Road' that attempts to restore in spirit hidden waterways, the inverse process (proposed, but thankfully not implemented) of river removal from in NYC, circa 1924 as a way to alleviate traffic congestion - via Gothamist: "In this issue of Popular Science, circa 1924, there's an article discussing New York's traffic problem — which at the time was reportedly causing the city to lose over $1M a day. One proposed solution: drain the East River and convert it into a 5-mile system accommodating roadways and the subway, while also providing parking spaces in garages and housing city centers."

:: image via Gothamist

It's shocking due to scale and prominence, but probably more shocking is how many rivers, streams, creeks, wetlands, and ponds were filled for development and progress in cities around the world. It seems apt to possibly take a cue from Venice or Amsterdam in embracing, rather than erasing, the natural (or often unnatural) water features as modes of transport and amenity. I could see a new mode of canoe commuters using these to avoid surface traffic snarls via Blue Highways.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Urban/Rural - Helvetia Part 1

Another recent piece 'Pushing the Limits' comes via the 'Slow Issue' of GOOD magazine and looks at the anti-growth policies of which we are well known regionally. It's a good piece about the current 'dialogue' about urban and rural reserves and relevant to the work we are doing for the 'Urban Edge' class.

:: image via GOOD

The idea of close-proximity farming at the urban-rural interface isn't exclusive to Portland, but it does often seems more evident due to the sharp distinction between the two land uses in our region. One major discussion point for growth has been the little pastoral enclave known as Helvetia, discussed in the article in terms of a local farm called La Finquita del Buho. Helvetia: "... is not so much a town as a hazy-bordered swath of bucolic paradise that looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, a Wendell Berry essay on sustainable agriculture or, at least, a TV commercial for a high-performance sedan. Two-lane country roads twist through lush hills, past browsing cattle and cozy farmsteads. Wheat farms dating back to the Swiss and German pioneers who settled the area in the 1850s stand next to boutique operations like La Finquita that supply heirloom tomatoes and organic kohlrabi to Portland’s rapidly expanding ranks of the food-obsessed. The whole place begs to be romanticized."

:: image via GOOD

The romantic (and economic) notions of the rural so juxtaposed with the urban is at the heart of the land-use policies that shape our region... and seems to benefit as well as be clouded by the eons of cultural baggage with hold in perceptions of city and farm. Helvetia is one of those disputed territories that make the discussions so interesting. One one hand it . How many cities the size of Portland can boast a beautiful agricultural resource so close to the urban center that hasn't been swallowed up with sprawl? As mentioned in GOOD: "Along with creating dense neighborhoods, encouraging mass-transit use, and irritating free-market zealots, the growth boundary saves farmland close to the city. The resulting proximity between country and town defines life here."

A quick measure via Google Earth shows that the center of Helvetia is about 12 miles (as the crow flies) from the Central Core:

:: image via Google Earth

As a poster child for anti-sprawl, Helvetia isn't a bad example of these policies at work - allowing for development in some areas and retention of the 'working landscape' in others. Protection of the farmland is one of the major drivers of Senate Bill 100 and the establishment of the Urban Growth Boundary that is required to be established by every municipality in the State of Oregon.

While limiting growth, this also is meant to provide for, not prohibit, opportunities for development by including a requirement to determine area to meet a 20-year supply of land for housing, industrial, commercial, and other uses and expanding the boundary accordingly. This is sometimes a vague and contentious discussion, so one way of guiding this is a recent shift to determining urban and rural reserves, or areas that will be slated for development or protection for up to 50 years. In the case of a place like Helvetia, which is only about one half mile from the UGB, this means the determination of a future for development, or the long-term retention of agricultural use and character.

The term 'slow-sprawl' is used, which I think is an apt term for the mechanism that continually expands the boundary... a state of tension that makes it impossible to determine the future. The recent planned version precludes Helvetia from the urban reserves, but there were some moments of tension when Hillsboro planned to swallow up the farmland for industrial expansion. While it's easy to take polarized sides in the argument, this distinction between economic development and protection of agricultural lands is a big deal. From GOOD:

"The land-grabbing suburb makes an almost inevitable villain in this kind of tale, but Hillsboro can make a good case for why it should grow. Around 1970—when Spencer Gates, the wheat farmer, was a kid—Hillsboro was a purely agricultural town with a population of about 15,000. Today, it is the fifth-largest city in the state, with about 90,000 people and sizeable Asian and Hispanic communities. Intel, the silicon-processor giant, built manufacturing and advanced research facilities here in the 1970s, and today employs more than 15,000 people in the area. Other tech, manufacturing, logistics, and research businesses piggyback on Intel’s massive presence. Any chance to expand on Hillsboro’s successes looks tempting in Oregon, a state currently afflicted with double-digit unemployment."
The arguments often pit 'economics' versus farming, but this tends to downplay the role that agriculture has in the State and regional economy of Oregon and Portland. The balance isn't just a question of livability, but what is more appropriate for the financial bottom line as well. Read more in-depth in the rest of the GOOD article, and stay tuned, as the discussion of course, still continues.

In Part II, i'm going to look at the progression of maps related to Helvetia and it's proximity to the Urban Growth Boundary, as well as how this area has been designated within this part of the urban-rural reserves determination process.

Picture Perfect

Check out the article in todays Oregonian authored by The Urbanophile himself Aaron Renn, entitled 'Picture Perfect Portland' explores if our fair city is worthy of the praise it receives on a regular basis. The verdict... sure, with a few caveats.

:: image via Oregon Live

Many of us in Portland don't have illusions of perfection regarding the function of our city, but also think that we may be doing some stuff right. This is echoed in Renn's column, where he mentions the idea of strategic planning related to growth and transportation, but also wonders aloud whether Portland may be the last in a line of urban areas - particularly those as small as Portland, that provide a model of contemporary urbanism: "Has there ever been a case in American history of a city as relatively small as Portland having the same sort of pervasive impact on the policy and the built environment of America? It is truly remarkable, shocking even, and something I dare to suggest will likely never happen again."

It is definitely interesting to think of cities as models and the relative absurdity of it. Many of the specific elements that make cities good or bad isn't necessary directly transferable to anywhere else, but are driven by the unique factors and context that shape them individually. For Portland, you can broadly dispute this with some of the specifics mentioned in the article: light rail, urban planning, bike culture, freeway removal, and a host of other methods that have 'worked' here. These make work elsewhere, but in whole they won't make another Portland. I think many of these are 'our' ideas, but I think a more appropriate response would be that we looked outside ourselves and took the initiative and tried some of these things out. And we also continue to do so - not content to rest on our laurels but with a desire to keep innovating. That doesn't mean that any of these in part of whole will actually work anywhere else:

"While too many places transplanted Portland's solutions into foreign and unsuitable soil, it's undeniable that Portland played a major role in making the nation respect cities again, seeing their potential with fresh eyes... Portland is, however, unique and impossible to replicate."

So copy us, no. Be inspired, yes. What Portland does well is understood and worthy of inspiring others - not in specific details, but rather in a strong desire to keep experimenting and making the city better. What the city doesn't do well is manifold - typically oriented towards giving folks that live here something to do and exploiting the concentration of intellectual creativity that exists. Or rather, the thing that draws folks to Portland is also our downfall, as we are over-run with folks coming for the dream but left making due on a shoestring when confronted with the economic drudgery that exists.

The idea of right city, right place, right time is interesting, as it is a description of all cities - because if you live somewhere, and want to continuing to live somewhere, then it is not productive to pine for the policies of Portland, but rather figure out what works in the place you want to be. Or, like many, if this is untenable, and you want to move here and jump on the wave - everyone is welcome, but be prepared, as the livability is a double-edge sword. Fortunately, and unfortunately as Renn mentions, "People move to Portland to move to Portland".

There is definitely an air of Portland being too livable, (thus creating this draw from practically anywhere for a number of reasons), as is evidenced by the large in-migration of people - particular young creatives. In landscape architecture, for instance, it is fascinating to see how many folks regularly want to come here to work, live, and study. It would be interesting to see how the actual in-migration numbers (those who actually move) stacks up with the number of folks who think of and explore moving to the region (those who want to and don't). I'd guess it's 1:10 (with no data to back this up, so I'll say based on personal experience of people I know looking to relocate). A quick dip of one toe in the waters of our flailing job market shows that it will be a challenge to come out here, particularly in certain (ok probably most) sectors.

I hate to say I've talked a good number of folks out of moving here, not for any reason beyond a caution that one may end up unemployed for a good time (especially in our current economic conditions). The example Renn uses of comparisons to Seattle in drawing and supporting 'actual' corporate businesses that are large employment centers may be our most poignant dichotomy. Our anti-corporate streak is well know with Keep Portland Weird and Stumptown over Starbucks localism. Some would say lack of diversity, land-use and anti-business policies drive and/or keep corporations out or growth at bay, but I'd say it's more distinctly more personal. It stems from our parochial, inward, localism that makes us want to live in our bubble rather than open our world to others that may have jobs or different opinions, but don't share our utopian idealism. While our mindset works for progressive planning and politics, we are our own worst enemy in this case of economic growth, as we hate those things that will make us grow too big (large corporations, industry, or playing the dirty political games it takes for maximizing growth). We want to stay small, nimble, and innovative - perhaps at the cost of becoming more successful at doing so. And hell, you can move here, live cheaply, and exist without everything figured out and co-exist with a ton of other smart people. That makes innovation a no-brainer.

While talking numbers is interesting, Renn hits the nail on the head in talking about 'deployment'... particularly in our inability to export the collective genius of our workforce and experience to other places in the world in order to keep ourselves working. While our policies and applications are not directly transferable, the brain power and folks at work creating and experimenting in our urban laboratory is. Does this become a viable economic development picture for us to hang our hat on, importing talent and exporting sustainability? I think so. The downturn impacted some of the most innovative sectors, particularly what I am most familiar with - design and construction. The talent for green building innovation is immense, but it seems that most firms locally fight for the scraps of local development versus taking a bigger picture view of what we can offer outside of the region. Some firms have leveraged the location and reputation into a national and world-wide reputation, but really, how many international architecture firms are located in Portland compared to how much relative innovation is happening here. I blame the city itself, which is comfortable, easy to live in, and difficult to leave. What's a little unemployment compared to access to the good things in life?

So I implore you out there in the world: Give us a call, it can be mutually beneficial for both of us... We have a lot to offer, and currently a lot of mouths to feed, smart folks looking to be deployed. We will outsource this innovation for a bit of an economy to support our greatest commodity, the people who live here.

Check out the full article, and read more:
:: Portland and the Limits of Urban Planning Policy (The Urbanophile)
:: Portland Creatives Find New Ways to Work Together (Good)

From Mowing to Growing

Via BLDGBLOG, a competition announcement about one of the most intriguing competitions recently. This one investigates the ideas related to food and urban agriculture, the hot topic of the last year. One Prize is Organized by Terreform 1 with a subtheme: "From Mowing to Growing is not meant to transform each lawn into a garden, but to open us up to the possibilities of self-sustenance, organic growth, and perpetual change. In particular, we seek specific technical, urbanistic, and architectural strategies not simply for the food production required to feed the cities and suburbs, but the possibilities of diet, agriculture, and retrofitted facilities that could achieve that level within the constraints of the local climate."

:: image via BLDGBLOG

Perusing the One Prize website, it looks like another open-form (i.e. siteless) competition, which seems all the rage nowadays - allowing folks to envision a range of ideas around many themes... some listed in question format on the site include:

  • How can we break the American love affair with the suburban lawn?
  • Can green houses be incorporated in skyscrapers?
  • What are the urban design strategies for food production in cities?
  • Can food grow on rooftops, parking lots, building facades?
  • What is required to remove foreclosure signs on lawns and convert them to gardens?
The jury is quite a collection, and should yield some interesting visions of answers for these questions. The real wonder for me is what the relevance of these visions will be in exploring new ways of thinking about food, agriculture, lawns, urban patterns, and economics in today's society. Many of these ideas have been tossed out in the past 12-18 months - so none of these are earth-shattering questions, and most (edible estates, vertical farming, urban agriculture, building-integrated agriculture, and vacant/ephemeral gardens) are based on older or simple ideas which have emerged and re-emerged and have become part of the overall dialogue.

I hope the competition entries will look beyond what we're already talking about in recent references and think, explore, expand, with the innate lack of competitional constraints, on the true nature and essence of these questions - not just with eye-popping visuals or new terms applied to the old... should be fun.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


While the recent explosion of interesting and application of Green Streets is well documented, the announcement of a new program to provide sustainability metrics for Greenroads comes at an opportune time when infrastructure seems to be one of the only things getting funded. From the website (which is still under construction): "Greenroads is a sustainability performance metric for roadway design and construction. It is applicable to new and reconstructed/rehabilitated roadways. It awards points for approved sustainable choices/practices and can be used to assess roadway project sustainability."

I have an increasingly growing stack of sustainable rating systems (beyond LEED) on my desk which seem to fall into three categories: 1) systems coming up with a different methods of measuring or delivering the same things (Earth Advantage, Green Globes), 2) ones that attempt to raise the bar of sustainability to new levels (Living Building Challenge), and 3) attempts to provide metrics for project types that are not addressed or applicable within current systems (Sustainable Sites).

I've just thumbed through it a bit, but the Greenroads system seems to incorporate many of these ideas and methods to include in the sustainable conversation the inclusion of roads - one of those ubiquitous elements of our world that seems lost in all of our LEED building and un-green stimulus work. It uses similar methodologies applied to a type of project that seems really difficult to make sustainable in any manner - much less, addressing some of the major issues of traffic impacts on climate change and air quality (or livability perhaps). Much like the Platinum rated McMansion, is the new 'green' roadway contributing to sustainability in a meaningful way, or merely some form of greenwashing? A question to be answered - perhaps a green road is less bad. Sustainable, debatable.

It may be oxymoronic, but it just may be the formula to transform the grey - perhaps making it possible to make it green - or better yet, Evergreen.

Revisit: Fremont Troll

From a recent trip to Seattle, always a good excuse to visit our friend under the bridge. I hadn't been up there since the roadway was renamed 'Troll Avenue'... guess it's easier to find that way and an interesting address to boot.

:: image via L+U

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Blue Road

A link worth checking out is from Dutch artist Henk Hofstra who painted roadways vibrant blue to symbolize hidden watercourses in the 2007 piece entitled 'The Blue Road'.

:: images via Henk Hofstra

"In April 2007... a road in Drachten, The Netherlands, is painted blue to symbolise the water. It is 1000 meters long and 8 meters wide. It was created to form an urban river and recreate the path of a waterway that used to be where the road currently runs. They will start to dig a new canal here in 2008. The text WATER IS LEVEN is written on the blue road. The water will bring back life again in the centre of Drachten."

:: images via Henk Hofstra

It's definitely compelling from a large-scale, but also from a pedestrian scale as the contrast with the drab gray of the cityscape is dynamic at either. It brings up interesting connotations of the way we paint our roads and public sphere to create a complex network of symbols utilizing a bright contrast on a grey canvas - such as the functional bright green Portland bike boxes, or the community building and often terribly executed idea of paint in the service of intersection repairs. Rarely do these take the scale and depth of expression as shown in Hofstra's work here and the purity is quite stunning.

:: images via Henk Hofstra

The metaphor goes even further (maybe a bit too far) with a sub-installation that shows a car being swallowed at the bank, by the reclaimed 'riverscape'. I get the idea as a piece of whimsy, but not the most compelling part of the installation by far. Maybe if the car weren't blue, and there were paved 'ripples' emanating out, it would be more successful. I guess that's my opinion, and doesn't really mean much in the big picture of this project - a detail only.

:: image via Henk Hofstra

Also, the linearity of the 'river' in this case seems to downplay the naturalness of topography and hydrology - but as it is the Netherlands, it's likely that old waterway was perhaps man-made and arrow straight. The juxtaposition of the man-made upon the natural is a challenge but somehow an opportunity... while both rivers and streets work on models of efficiency and movement, there are radically different mechanisms at play. The linear path give the opportunity for a much more abrupt statement, translated 'Water is Life' in large text upon the full length of the roadway.

:: image via Henk Hofstra

In Portland, there's been talk of taking the disappeared streams map to a larger scale - to do something like this showing the hidden pathway of previous streams in the City, those crossing roadways or meandering through neighborhoods... and abstracted 'daylighting' project, or a full-scale mapping exercise confronting us daily with what was, and could be. Powerful stuff.

spotted via Daniel Lerch on Facebook

Monday, January 11, 2010

BEST Parking Lot

I do love a good pic of James Wines BEST stores (see videos & images here), particularly those blending site with store (or in this case folding program under parking). Something about this dreary gray representation that I just love.

:: image via underpaid genius

I like the sentiment...

...but something about the tone of this article 'Landscaping as a Seductive First Step', from the NY Times Blog is a bit off-putting. Not sure if it was the reference to 'landscaping' in the title (it's kind of nit-picky but a gross simplification), the reference to Weiss/Manfredi as landscape architects (no disrespect meant at, I love their stuff, but it rings of the DS+R as lead thing with the High Line), or the reference to the site as a 'nice wedding photo-op' (literally referencing landscaping as decoration or icing on the cake that is the city).

:: image via NY Times

Nice try at least, and an indication of landscape as the armature and incentive for future development its laudable. In the scope of 'no bad press' I think it's a throwaway - neutral at best. But I'd love to hear what others think - bold statement for landscape architecture, or puff piece that misses the point?

Read, decide and comment for yourself...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

FOOD inc.

The beauty of being taken down by illness is the opportunity to lay on the couch and catch up with some movies that have been in the queue. One such film was FOOD inc., a documentary that provided a concise summary of the content of Schlosser's Fast Food Nation and Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma - two books (both now films) that, amongst others, literally spawned dozens of books and other films about our nations food industry.

A clip from the website: "... filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, herbicide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won't go bad, but we also have new strains of E. coli—the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults."

Finally, here's the trailer for the film... perhaps it was being overly medicated, or groggy, but this film really moved me and is worth checking out (for those of you on Netflix, you can stream it online if you just can't wait for that next red envelope).

Sunday, January 3, 2010

City Limits: Distance from the Center

As a follow-up to the exploration of the introduction to David Oates' book City Limits I wanted to write a bit about the first essay in the book, entitled 'Distance from the Center', which seems appropriate as a quick take on this thing we call the Urban Growth Boundary as well as the dynamic of inside versus outside. This short essay gets at the roots of contemporary urbanism by taking a measure of sorts for our planning, or at least an investigation as to whether the UGB is a mechanism for good (p.6):

"Since the inception of Oregon's land-use system in the 1970s, Portla
nd has evolved from a decaying, lackluster provincial burg, into one of the nation's most successful and distinctive cities. One of the things I'd like to figure out, as I walk, is whether the UGB might be contributing to that success. And if so, how."

:: image via

" A boundary is a lie that reveals truths. Sharp edges -- distinctions -- are indispensable to clear thinking. On a map, the UGB looks perfectly clear. It says we are separate. But in fact we are connected."

:: image via Free Association Design

Images of the edge reinforce this distinction with a defined inside and outside delineated in sharp clarity. It's easy to imagine this as a social contract - but it's as much a product of the political as the topographic and hydrologic. By walking the line the specificity is evident, and perhaps rooted in something as old as our need for prospect and refuge, a remnant from the evolutionary days on the African Savannah - as mentioned by Oates on p.7: "...I want to see how the UGB runs along the wooded hilltop just behind those houses. When I go up a cutbank to look close, I see second growth Douglas-fir crowding its whole life right up to the magic line. For one morning hour, this vivid parallel world hovers above the street... The human habitat, maybe, imprinted deep in an old part of the brain. Edge of the forest. Safety and a prospect of possible dangers, or dinners."

:: image via Prospect-Refuge Theory

Although rooted in evolutionary comfort, there is another face to the peri-urban, something many urban folks feel is mirrored in Oates comments of feeling 'unease' when far from the center. While the center seems a place, the boundary is a marker of the urban area's 'self' (p.8-9). "Distance from the center" implies that one place has a relation to other places: to the center first of all, the place of convergence, and also to the edge where intensities relax and then distinctly, cease. You can map any point by reference to center and circumference, metering the intesity, knowing where you're at: Edge or Downtown or in between... So 'distance from the center' is the physical and emotional yardstick of a place that is a place. Its center and edge are located, findable. And feelable, too; each has its paradoxical human meanings marked out as well. Emotional trade-offs, clarified by their relation to each other. This, not that. More connected (but crowded); more private (but isolated)."

The concept of a boundary assumes that there is a bit of homogeneity within the line, which a quick drive or stroll around the entirety of the urban area will quickly prove a challenge to pin down. It's all 'Portland' but is it different shades? Can we maintain individualism while adopting the share communal ideology that the structure of our urban area rests on? Oates relates this as a question of our linked humanity (p.10): "We cannot think a thought, speak our native tongue, drive down the street, or even stand there in our genes except by profound connectedness to the other humans who have built the species for a million years, body and mind, and who are doing so this very moment all around us."

"What we receive from others is, pretty much, everything. This implies reciprocal responsibility."

This responsibility is the root of what makes Portland tick. It's what allows Metro to govern and provide a net around many separate municipalities, as well as allow us to accept that there is good for one, and good for all, and that those are rarely the same thing. The application on-the ground leads to quirks like islands within the UGB that are outside while simultaneously inside and myriad other notable places. And they aren't theories and policies but places where people inhabit. And the line is merely a delineation, but not a specific container, as Oates mentions on p.11: "Ecologically, all places are connected. Economically, the life of Oregon flows into an out of Portland with little regard for the UGB. What's the line mean, after all? What's inside, what's out?"

To that end, as the ever shifting boundaries evolve, what is outside will become inside. But the distinction is perhaps less important than the result. From page 12, Oates reflects: " occurs to me that Portland could be riding that paradox of boundaries in a most productive way. 'Distance from the center' works for us. Here's how: By making Portland a center in its own right, we can be inside and outside at the same time."

The idea then is that it seems to work for us, and perhaps not for others. We are urban yet not too global to lose a feeling of togetherness. We aren't coastal, but are connected to the water. We are metropolitan and provincial at the same time. Thus the conclusion from page 13: "Portland may be building a place -- just far enough away, just close enough -- where meaningful edges and a defined center give us groundedness in place and expansiveness of spirit. That's our civic goals, our Portland commitments, argued and plotted endlessly: the good place, under the watchful view of snowy Mt. Hood, where we work on being human together."

City Limits: Where I Walked...

One of the inspirations for the Urban Edge is the book City Limits: Walking Portland's Boundary by Portland author David Oates. Aside from a great read, David is a fantastic guy and a friend. His recent work as part of the South Waterfront Artist-in-Residence program (which was led by artist Linda K. Johnson, whom also had a UGB installation of her own) showed his innate interest in both the urban in addition to the wild, nowhere more evident as in his essays on the boundary from this compilation of thoughts and voices.

:: image via Amazon

The first two essays in the book are worth some exploration. First, the introduction, entitled 'Where I Walked, What I Walked For' provides some motivation and background for the trip - providing an experiential context for the trip, or perhaps justification for getting on foot to experience the entire 260-mile trek around the edge, as mentioned in page 2: "I passed by berryfields and vineyards and orchards along this perimeter: housing on one side and edens purloinable on the other! O taste and see, said the scriptures, so I did. This made me well-disposed toward the entire Urban Growth Boundary project, despite its lumbering superstructure of laws and bureaus, planners and land-use hearings, disputes and wrangles, and to oversee it all, an entire extra layer of government the like of which does not elsewhere exist in these United States, called 'Metro' and hidden in plain site in North Portland..."

"...It is a crazy, going-forward teeter of hopefulness, this Portland."

The beauty of Oates journey isn't just the act of walking and documenting, but rather the fact that this came from a self-described 'non-planner' who didn't get too caught up on the details but rather explored and experienced with a minimum of baggage. His realization wasn't about a policy or a line, but rather, "We were working out how - and whether, to live together." Oates continues (p.2-3): "Our Boundary, both visible border and invisible symbol, is our attempt to agree on how to live: what trade-offs to make so that all (not just a few) can benefit. Oregon's planning scheme is a bit of urban utopianism, an optimistic attempt to tray and live a little better here in this blessed Northwest..."

This isn't to say Oates didn't have a knowledge of the structure, as evidenced in the text. His take really is even-handed (although I know his bias) and truly trying to understand less what the boundary is but moreso what it means as mentioned on p.3, "Portlanders are highly aware of it [UGB]. It's part of our identity... It has given Portland a pleasant and dynamic downtown, close-in neighborhoods that folks love to live in, pretty good public transit, and a fighting chance not to spread endlessly, meaninglessly, in every direction."

Thus the experience of living and not losing what is important is the point, versus the novelty of planning policy of innovative urban form. It's less about what it is than what it's not: (p.3) "We think the orchards, fields and vineyards of the Willamette Valley that have not been covered by tract housing will continue to make our lives richer. We hope to grow in and, in places, up...

"...To become richer in connections and cleverness - to get deeper - instead of wider, flatter, and shallower."

To rely on experience of walking in cities and spaces is historically relevant as a method of inquiry. The travels of the flaneur or the psychogeography of the Dérive or my favorite and more obscure idea of the Greek 'periegete' (mentioned in Placeways, by EV Walter, p.19) that describes a 'tour guide who led people around, giving commetaries on whatever was work seeing," and compiling written guides, known a a periegesis. Oates mentions inspiration of Lucy Lippard's 'Lure of the Local' (p.4): "One way to find ourselves is to walk the map, to think about how the land around us is being and has been used. Looking at land through nonexpert eyes, we can learn a lot."

A true understanding comes not from books or words, but from experiences - informed by a quest for knowledge. Oates mentions Douglas Kelbaugh and paraphrases such on p.4: "...all the theory and blueprints in the world mean little, in the achieving of a real city, without those invisible ingredients I thought about most often during my walk: that certain idealism, naive perhaps, that yearning and striving he names, from the Greek, arete," which for lack of a better term means 'excellence' or I think more appropriately 'purposeful'. Maybe that's the point - a fulfillment of purpose - not a utopian or planning ideal?

The counterpoint is that a lot of what Oates saw, and exists, on the boundary is sprawl, ticky-tack, garbage - or that much of the good and the bad 'on' the boundary would not be on the line for long - enveloped within the urban, no longer the rural. It's a line and a policy - but it's about real places and real people. Either way, it justs makes you want to walk and see - and perhaps translate this to others in a way half as witty as David does.

David included a number of other voices to augment his, which are captured in the volume - including writers, planners, government officials, and artists. I had an opportunity to walk a section of the UGB with David on his journey and it was a great experience to get into a mode of seeing and interacting with folks along the way - while picking our way through an appropriately named section of King City. My fascination with radio documentary at the time led me to record our visit along the edge, which I will try to do a final edit and get into a web-friendly format for distribution sometime in the future.

David also has a new book out entitled 'What We Love Will Save Us' (Kelson Books, 2009).

Friday, January 1, 2010

Representing Motion

Picking up on the thread of Transect Representation, I recalled that Urban Tick had recently posted a graphic from 'The View from the Road' (Kevin Lynch, Donald Appleyard et al., MIT press, Boston, 1964) - one that I hadn't previously heard of and sounds somewhat applicable to the idea of representational strategies for movement.

:: image via Ephemeral Landscape in the page

The post linked to a longer related post called 'Ephemeral Landscape: in the page' with some additional imagery and a long tangents that include storyboarding and graphic novels to name a few themes. A snippet from the text of Lynch & Appleyard begins to make this link between representation and experience: "The sense of spatial sequence is like that of large-scale architecture; the continuity and insistent temporal fl ow are akin to music and cinema. The kinaesthetic sensations are like those of the dance or the amusement park, although rarely so violent.”

This alludes to the idea of my continual exploration of 'Soundtrack of Spaces' where the sequence can be somewhat choreographed within a design concept. The idea of representation of temporal processes is fascinating, as it's a two-dimensional representation of a four-dimensional process - making it a quite a representational leap. A diagram of t'ai-chi footwork captures the essence of this notational form.

:: image via Ephemeral Landscape in the page

This notation reminds me of the very specifically of Lawrence Halprin's concepts of 'motation' that fused the representational techniques of movement and notation derived from a system of graphically representating dance steps. It's difficult to find many good images of this system to describe it fully, but here's a couple of images from a fascinating study I found from a early 1970s thesis from MIT on "Notation Systems in Architecture" which uses Halprins system of Notation as well as the methods from 'A View From the Road'.

:: images via 'Notation Systems in Architecture' by Premjit Talwar

For architecture, the concepts are broken into four ways of describing environments. These include 1) motion channels, 2) orientation, 3) anatomy of visual space, and 4) form quality. These work in tandem to provide a framework for symbol-based diagramming of spaces that include movement and use (sort of captured in the following two images).

:: images via 'Notation Systems in Architecture' by Premjit Talwar

The scores from Halprin, cannot be immediately discerned without some deep knowledge, sort of like stenographers short-hand. These are specifically taken from the idea of labanotation, which is commonly used to represent dance, as shown in this snippet from Brittanica "A page from Rudolf Laban’s Schrifttanz (1928), the origin of labanotation, which became the most widespread method of dance notation."

:: image via Encyclopedia Brittanica

I've been fascinated by these notational systems since looking at a volume of Halprin's work back in the mid-90s... along with many years playing tablature for guitar and mandolin... definitely a connection there - but is it a viable methodology for modern representation of spatial and movement dynamics? I'd love to hear more thoughts on what ideas others have for representation of motion (including new media methods for representation).

More to come on this somewhat random line of inquiry.

Personal Infrastructures

Working on some link house-cleaning and came up with a few posts that seems to thread together in an interesting narrative. The first of this was a beautiful installation for the 'Flower Street BioReactor' via Dezeen: "Los Angeles architects Emergent have designed an installation filled with green algae that produce oil by photosynthesis." This sort of decentralization of energy generation, which seemed to be a 2009 emerging idea.

:: imag
es via Dezeen

Another is a more functional pavement called Pavegen, which uses the ability to capture the continual motion of urban footsteps (via Inhabitat): "Every time a rubber Pavegen stone is stepped on it bends, producing kinetic energy that is either stored within lithium polymer batteries or distributed to nearby lights, information displays, and much more. Just five slabs spread over a lively sidewalk has the ability to generate enough energy to illuminate a bus stop throughout the night."

:: image via Inhabitat

We also carry with us powerful communication infrastructure, which uses more and more energy to stay powered. This leads to small-scale personal solar power for small devices, such as these skins for I-phones.

:: image via Treehugger

Or dual solar / wind charging like the K2 from Kinesis:

:: image via Treehugger

The ability to embed the landscape with energy-generation is one thing, but the logical next step will include a variety of wearable and portable and thus will become ubiquitous, as mentioned on Treehugger: "Yanko Design shows off an idea for a personal solar power pole. It's hardly a new idea (or hardly a bad idea...we love personal solar power around here), but the designer's concept image might slap us out of a gadget-obsessed stupor. When a beach scene looks like this, we know we're done for."

:: image via Treehugger

Perhaps this is just more junk to keep our ever expanding amount of junk running. When this is happening on the beach, it may be time to unplug.

A New Year

It's another year, and of course time to reflect on the previous year (and even decade) while looking forward to the upcoming year. Many changes are in store for the upcoming year, both professionally and with the content of Landscape+Urbanism - which is always a work in progress. Thanks for reading in 2009.

:: L+U image cloud via Wordle