Archive for May, 2012

Google Earth

As any landscape architect knows, parks are good for more than recreation. They can help control floods, prevent sewers from overflowing, and aid in the revival of neighborhoods. In Tehran, Iranian officials may have discovered a new use for parks—to hide a site’s nuclear history from international inspectors.

Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk tells the story of Lavisan-Shian, a site in Tehran that some people believe may have been involved in Iranian efforts to produce nuclear weapons—a claim Iran disputes. The truth remains a mystery because before inspectors could sample soils here, the suspect buildings were knocked down and the site was scraped clean and redeveloped as a park. Today, the site is known as Kowsar Park and has promenades planted with flowers and a skating area. Lewis provides more aerial imagery and photos on his blog.

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Courtesy The West Virginia Surf Report

Have we fallen out of love with our cars? Recent statistics seem to show that people, particularly the younger generation, prefer a walkable neighborhood to a suburban lawn and two-car garage. An article on Mother Nature Network looks at some of the indicators trendmongers are citing: In 2008, less than half of potential drivers 19 and under had driver’s licenses, compared to two-thirds of that population in 1998. People born since 1980 like cities—88 percent of them say they want to live in one. And the cost to own a small sedan is about 44.9 cents per mile driven. Time will tell if this is a meaningful trend or an anomaly.

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Wikipedia/J. M. Garg

Drop some food on the ground in New York or Boston and you’ll soon have pigeons fighting for the scraps. It seems pigeons are everywhere in America’s urban parks. But have you ever wondered why you don’t see many dead pigeons lying around? John Metcalfe has an odd but fascinating piece on The Atlantic Cities that strives to answer this question. The article provides a mini-lesson on urban ecology and the many different animals that eat pigeon.

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“The majority of existing playgrounds are still of the level asphalt type, with fixed equipment chosen from an ironmonger’s catalogue. Rarely is there grass, or trees, or flowers, or animals or any beauty. Children are increasingly condemned to live in a harsh, stark desert of hard surfacing. This antiseptic approach kills play stone dead…

It is the adventure playgrounds, where children can ‘do it themselves’, that are liberating, especially for those who live in the crowded cities and over-regulated and over-tidy housing estates. They are places where children can test themselves against new challenges in complete freedom.”

Lady Allen of Hurtwood wrote those words in her 1968 manifesto, Planning for Play. Hurtwood was an English landscape architect and one of the preeminent advocates for adventure playgrounds on both sides of the Atlantic. Finding vintage playground books can be a bit of a struggle, and the books can cost a pretty penny. But thanks to the blogger Paige Johnson, Hurtwood’s book is now available to inspire the next generation of playground designers

Johnson is a bit of a polymath; at her day job she works as a scientist  studying nano-structures. In her spare time she blogs about playground design and history at Playscapes(more…)

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The Small Streets Blog, co-founded by Phil LaCombe and Lou Thomas, wants to take you for a walk through Copenhagen’s Old City to show you what they think is an example of an ideal walkable city. No need to board a plane; the bloggers used Google Earth street views to illustrate a mapped out walk that captures the soul of Copenhagen.

Courtesy Google Earth and Small Streets Blog

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The media can’t get enough of the obesity epidemic and the chance to show humiliating sidewalk footage of Americans from the necks down and the knees up. It’s so ubiquitous it can be easy to tune out and change the channel, but a new documentary on HBO, The Weight of the Nation, goes beyond the typical scare tactics of late night news reports and actually delivers a thoughtful examination of the problem, including some mention of how the design of our cities perpetuates obesity. HBO partnered with the Institute of Medicine, in association with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, to look at the obesity problem from a number of angles, including evolution and biology, advertising and the food industry, economics and government policy, and car dependence and neighborhood design. A particularly heartbreaking segment focuses on a poor neighborhood in Sacramento, California, where the mothers take their children to an empty parking lot to play because there are no parks within walking distance. If you don’t have HBO, the films (there are four parts to the documentary) are available online here.

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Watercolor of velvet worm by Gelweo via Wikimedia Commons

In today’s New York Times, the great Constance Casey, the author of LAM‘s Species column, reviews Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms by Richard Fortey, about the few creatures that have survived Earth’s greatest mass extinctions.

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