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Archive for the ‘ENVIRONMENT’ Category

BY CAROL E. BECKER

Building the supply chain for native landscapes.

Building the supply chain for native landscapes.

From the May 2015 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

The oak is our national tree for a reason. Oaks are endemic to our native landscapes in all regions of the United States, easily identified by their leaf shape and gnarly branches. The size of the mature white oak (Quercus alba), spreading up to 120 feet, is one reason we associate oaks with strength, along with the density of the wood and an oak fire’s burning hot and long in the woodstove. Native oaks fall into two taxonomic groups, white and red, and their landscape uses vary depending on soil moisture. But most important today, as Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, points out, oaks are the “quintessential wildlife plants.” They provide food to more than 500 species of caterpillars and other insects. In this fact lies the oaks’ value to the entire food chain, from the birds that eat insects to the humans who rest in the trees’ shade.

We need more oaks in our landscapes, mostly for the food benefits they provide. But instead of being sought-after plants, oaks are underused, undermarketed, undercultivated, and therefore in short supply. Landscape architects don’t often use them, clients don’t ask for them, and thus growers don’t grow them. A reverse scenario also holds true. Few nurseries grow Quercus species, particularly Q. macrocarpa, Q. muehlenbergii, and Q. alba, because they are hard to grow and suffer significant transplant death. So clients don’t see them and don’t ask for them and, in turn, landscape architects don’t specify them. Whatever the reason and wherever you start, it’s a circle of mutually reinforcing supply and demand.

The oaks are but one example of the larger problem for design professionals working to create sustainable landscapes with hardy plants in a given region. The interest in doing so—the imperative of doing so—is unequaled by the supply of appropriate species. This shortage also helps perpetuate clients’ expectations of plant specimens they do in fact see at the retail level, plants that are well-shaped, blooming, varied, and maybe even a bit exotic. The landscape architecture profession has taught them to value this aesthetic at least since the mid-19th century, when Andrew Jackson Downing codified ornamental landscaping in A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening. Now, we find ourselves in a world where, in just the past 40 years, half the songbird species in the United States and more than 90 percent of the monarch butterflies have disappeared. Honeybees and bumblebees have fallen to a mysterious virus, a cataclysmic problem that threatens the entire food chain. We do know how to reverse these trends and preserve biodiversity in landscapes, but we can’t get it done because clients still want constantly blooming and well-shaped plants with no bugs.

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BY JANE ROY BROWN

How designers of Boston’s outdoor classrooms arrived at a “Kit of Parts” that really works.

How designers of Boston’s outdoor classrooms arrived at a “kit of parts” that really works.

From the May 2015 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

 “Ms. Thompson, what’s a log?” The question came from a kindergartener in a Boston elementary school in 2006, after his teacher (not her real name) read a story to the class about a possum hiding in a hollow log.

As shocking as the question may sound, teachers all over the country have fielded similar ones for years. By 2005, when Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods launched the term “nature-deficit disorder” into everyday use, generations of kids in some city neighborhoods had had no experience of woods, never mind logs.

Last Child in the Woods has sent all kinds of communities scrambling to offer some experience of nature to their children, and many of them have focused, logically enough, on schoolyards. As more landscape architects join the push to transform crumbling asphalt schoolyards into landscapes for play and learning, they might do worse than to take a page from the Boston Schoolyard Initiative (BSI).

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The things our art director, Chris McGee, hated to leave out of the current issue of LAM.

Extra from

Students create a mural of the Boston skyline. Credit: Boston Latin School.

From “Farm Factory” by Brian Barth, Affiliate ASLA, in the May 2015 issue, featuring a Freight Farm, a hydroponics system at the Boston Latin School.

 “I’m taken by that green color and the kids in the foreground applying the pattern to the skyline. Unfortunately this was an instance where there just wasn’t enough space to include the image.

—Chris McGee, LAM Art Director

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 200 bookstores, including many university stores and independents, as well as at Barnes & Noble. You can also buy single digital issues for only $5.25 at Zinio or order single copies of the print issue from ASLA. Annual subscriptions for LAM are a thrifty $59 for print and $44.25 for digital. Our subscription page has more information on subscription options.

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On February 28, Under the Dome: Investigating China’s Smog, a documentary about air pollution in China by Chai Jing, was released. In less than a week, the video received more than 200 million hits before it was taken down by the Chinese government. The video breaks down the composition of pollution and why it is harmful, the health effects on the human body, the most common sources for China’s pollution, the government’s roadblocks to reform, and the history of rapid industrialization and consequences experienced around the world–in Europe, for instance. There are even striking parallels to practices found in the United States, reminding us that we have a ways to go to curb our own fossil-fuel dependency. The video is 103 minutes long, and the content is well worth watching for an in-depth look at just how bad the pollution situation has become in China.

Above is a playlist of the documentary segmented into 8 videos. For the full-length documentary, please visit here.

 

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PHOTOS AND TEXT BY TOM STOELKER

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Students stop to take a group photo on their environmental justice tour in Hunts Point.

Last November, Charles Orgbon, the 19-year-old founder and CEO of Greening Forward, was in New York City to organize the annual International Young Environmentalists Youth Summit. Outside his hotel near Times Square, he heard helicopters, sirens, and chanting. People were streaming onto the streets shouting, “Black lives matter!”

Earlier that day, Orgbon had been at the Point, a community center in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx, the nation’s poorest congressional district. He met with teen leaders from ACTION, a group working on social and environmental justice issues. They took a selfie. Later that night, with frustration flowing through the streets of midtown, he studied the image, trying to make sense of the day.

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United States Capitol dome under restoration. Photo Architect of the Capitol

United States Capitol dome under restoration. Photo Architect of the Capitol

A monthly bit of headline news from ASLA’s national office.

It’s April, which at ASLA headquarters in Washington means that Advocacy Day is nigh—Thursday, April 23. Every year around this time, hundreds of ASLA members come to town ahead of the midyear meetings of the Society’s Board of Trustees and Chapter Presidents Council to spend a day on Capitol Hill visiting the offices of their senators and representatives to make the case for national issues that are important to landscape architects.

This year, the focus of advocacy efforts is on three issues: the reauthorization and full funding of the Transportation Alternatives Program and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the authorization and funding (at $100 million) of the National Park Service Centennial Challenge. Advocacy Day is about showing strength in numbers. But the individual work of telling Congress what landscape architects do and why it matters never stops—especially because design in the public realm helps create new jobs, stimulate consumer spending, increase property values, and, in turn, generate billions in new federal, state, and local tax revenues. Even design professionals not planning to take part in Advocacy Day activities should stay aware of how these issues are moving, or not, in Washington, and keep in touch with the members and staff of their congressional delegations.

Each day, Roxanne Blackwell, Mark Cason, and Leighton Yates of ASLA’s government affairs staff work with legislators on issues of importance to the profession, and you should follow them on Twitter at @ASLA_Advocacy. But members of Congress really sit up and listen to the concerns of individual constituents and business owners. To help acquaint you with ways to communicate with Congress, the government affairs staff will hold a webinar tomorrow, April 9, from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Eastern. You can register to join the webinar here. Questions? ASLA’s government affairs staff is happy to help. Contact the director of federal government affairs, Roxanne Blackwell, at rblackwell@asla.org.

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A program by the Trust for Public Land lets kids design their own schoolyards.

From the March 2015 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

“There is poop going into the East River,” the teacher says, sprinkling black specks onto a cutaway model consisting of buildings, streets, and sewer pipes. It is week three of design class at P.S. 15, the Roberto Clemente School, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and a group of third graders is participating in the New York City Playgrounds Program, which, led by the Trust for Public Land (TPL), transforms asphalt inner-city schoolyards into community parks.

The teacher, Maddalena Polletta, who is TPL’s participatory design educator, is describing how storms can overwhelm New York City’s combined stormwater–sewer system and cause it to overflow. Seated around Polletta in a semicircle, the children are wide-eyed. “Your playground is impervious, which means that nothing can get through,” Polletta explains, using the model to demonstrate how the school’s asphalt yard contributes to the stormwater runoff, which is one of New York City’s biggest environmental problems.

After the Sewer in a Suitcase lesson (so called because the model is designed to fit into a suitcase for transportation to different schools), the children discuss a list of potential amenities and design features for the new park they are helping to design. The list includes a basketball court, a butterfly garden, a trampoline, and even a Jacuzzi—an amenity that to date has not been installed in a TPL park. The students talk about replacing part of the asphalt schoolyard with a different hardtop surface. “What if we fall and hit our face?” asks a boy dressed in a gray hooded sweatshirt. “What if we fall and scrape our knees?” asks a girl who stands up to address the class. “Okay, so this is a grass class,” Polletta says, summarizing the students’ sentiments.

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