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Archive for the ‘CLIMATE’ Category

University of Virginia Landscape Architecture Chair Bradley Cantrell, ASLA, sees the future of landscape design as a spectrum of interactions between technologies that sense the environment, model and simulate it, and then finally affect the physical world—all without constant human input and monitoring. As argued in his March 13 LAM Lecture (and in his recent book Responsive Landscapes, written with Justine Holzman, ASLA), the future of landscape architecture is one of designing protocols for how natural systems behave, and tuning these algorithms and eventually the land itself, thus loosening the stranglehold static and monofunctional infrastructure has on the planet.  “It’s not about us controlling every aspect,” he says. “It’s about us setting a range of ways those behaviors can act within.”

Cantrell’s research is grounded in the previous century’s cutting-edge modeling and simulation methods, like the Army Corp of Engineers Mississippi River Basin Model in Clinton, Mississippi, which modeled the entire rivershed, scaled down to a mere 200 acres. From there, Cantrell details contemporary research that is equal parts computational and material, honing ever more granular data points toward more accurate models. For example, there’s USC Assistant Professor Alexander Robinson’s Office of Outdoor Research, Landscape Morphologies Lab work, which uses an articulated robot arm to scrape out dust-mitigating landforms at California’s Owens Lake. Cantrell’s own inquiries involve test bed river basin models that deposit sediment via the variable flow of water, which he has been able to manipulate as though it were a geologic 3-D printer, expanding and cutting back sediment deposit “land” where it’s desired. The resulting topographies are scanned and converted into point-cloud maps.

Cantrell’s approach pushes landscape architecture’s prevailing infrastructure fixation until it ricochets out of the physically imposing world of concrete and culverts and into abstract data, underpinning the omnipresent ways we reengineer ecologies with quantitative facts. The biggest challenge for modeling and simulating dynamic environments, Cantrell says, is not gathering all the requisite data, but getting it to interact in a way that matches reality. At its core, it’s a call for new levels of observational rigor: first, to observe all the factors that make an ecosystem function, and then to understand how those factors work together to create a landscape.

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BY ZACH MORTICE

Homes along old Highway A1A in Summer Haven, Florida. Photo courtesy St. Johns Public Works.

The McHarg Center—a new research initiative that will study the intersection of urbanism and ecology—is dedicated to studying how “urban growth and all of its related infrastructure can relate better and be better tuned to ecosystems,” says Richard Weller, ASLA, chair of the landscape architecture department at the University of Pennsylvania. The center is awaiting its formal launch next year with an exhibition, book, and conference timed to the 50th anniversary of Ian McHarg’s seminal book Design with Nature. In the meantime, the center, housed within PennDesign, has invited Jeff Goodell, the author of The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World (Little, Brown, and Company, 2017), to visit for an inaugural lecture on March 29, at 6:00 p.m. in the lower gallery of Meyerson Hall.

In the spirit of McHarg’s research, Weller envisions the McHarg Center as an intensely multidisciplinary place. “When he completely overhauled the curriculum at Penn, he stacked the building with scientists,” Weller says. Likewise, Penn’s McHarg Center will invite scientists, designers, engineers, and public policy experts into an (more…)

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BY BRADFORD MCKEE

FROM THE FEBRUARY 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

Image by Jocelyn Augustino [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

In November, Moody’s Investors Service, the bond rating agency, released a cautionary report on climate change. Looking ahead, the report said, the effects of what it describes as climate trends and climate shocks are sure to become a “growing negative credit factor” for states, localities, or utilities that don’t appear to be responding to potential climate change effects through mitigation or adaptation. Cities and others issue bonds to borrow money for building things such as infrastructure or schools. They need investors to know they’re a good risk. Moody’s came out to say that it has begun deciding, based on climate resilience among a matrix of other factors, whether a given risk is good or bad. “If you’re exposed,” one Moody’s analyst told Bloomberg, “we know that.”

The other of the two biggest rating agencies, Standard & Poor’s, is also keenly onto climate (it and Moody’s together run 80 percent of the bond rating business). It released a report in October to explain how municipal bond issuers will be affected by climate impacts. Like Moody’s, S&P specified two theaters of risk: the sudden extreme event, such as a hurricane, and “more gradual changes to the environment affecting land use, employment, and economic activity that support credit quality.”

This may all seem very back-office in the design world, and for now it is. It is also, critically, moving to the fore as the federal stance on climate change and its many hazards is not only in retreat but in vicious denial. Trump administration appointees, who are like drones for industry, are ordering the removal of references to climate change in agency communications. The administration is also purging our government of good-faith, (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

Texas National Guard and Texas Task Force responders conduct aerial search and rescue in Rockport, Holiday Beach, and the Port Aransas area. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, photo by the Texas National Guard.

An unprecedented storm that dumped more than 50 inches of rain onto Texas over just a few days, Harvey was the kind of hurricane that worsening climate change promises to bring back for a sequel. And if and when that happens, the next round of  recovery and resilience calculus might best begin with the results of the National Science Foundation’s series of research grants dedicated to studying the storm’s effects.

Last month, the agency handed out just over $5 million across 59 research projects prompted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, including several that deal with the ecological and landscape fallout of catastrophic storms. Each promises to generate valuable information about flora and fauna left reeling from extreme weather events. But these studies (four of which are detailed here) are even more vital as mile markers down the path toward a future besieged by climate change—either as guidance on forestalling it or living better within its confines.

Anna Armitage of Texas A&M Galveston is studying how the transition from salt marsh wetlands to mangroves might change how hurricanes affect the coast. In Texas, low, marshy wetlands are common, whereas dense mangroves are rare. That balance is shifting, however, as climate change heats up these ecosystems. As mangroves expand their footprint, Armitage (and researchers at Florida International University and the University of Houston) wonders if they might offer coastal ecosystems and human settlement more protection from hurricane winds and rain—at a cost of biodiversity. “It probably doesn’t provide the same value for birds, fish, and shrimp,” she says.

Climate Change Big Picture: If mangroves do offer more protection for coastal ecosystems in a climate of increasingly severe storms, then Armitage says the next question is, “Should we be planting them in restoration sites?” These kinds of “living shorelines,” she says, could be “more resilient, longer-lasting, and nicer looking protection for our communities” than concrete barriers.

Grant amount: $122,935

Paul Montagna of Texas A&M Corpus Christi is studying the inundation of fresh water (via rainfall) into saltwater ecosystems that Hurricane Harvey caused. From initial measurements after the rain, he’s observed increased amounts of dissolved organic matter in these waterways, and has seen (more…)

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Hurricane Harvey flooding and damage. Image by Jill Carlson (jillcarlson.org) from Roman Forest, Texas, USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

BY BRADFORD MCKEE

FROM THE OCTOBER 2017 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

Michael D. Talbott wasn’t shy in showing his hand about climate change. For 18 years, Talbott, an engineer, served as the head of the Harris County Flood Control District in Texas until his retirement in 2016. He flatly dismissed any links between climate change and the frequent extreme storms—four of them now since 2015—to hit Harris County, the nation’s third most populated county, and its seat, Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city. The month he retired, Talbott told a team of reporters with ProPublica and the Texas Tribune that the flood control district did not plan to look at ways climate may be driving the extreme weather that affected Harris County. “I don’t think it’s the new normal,” he said of these weather extremes. (The person to follow him in the job of executive director, Russell A. Poppe, “shares his views,” according to the report.) People who are saying it’s the new normal, Talbott said, have “an agenda” to fight development.

Just as remarkable as Talbott’s denial of climate breakdown was his acquittal of the role that urban development patterns play in worsening or relieving floods. When Hurricane Harvey sat on the region for days in late August, many indignant arguments arose online that Houston’s development habits either most certainly or in absolutely no way helped create the hazards that flooded Texas Gulf Coast neighborhoods from Katy in the west (31 inches of rain) to Beaumont and Port Arthur in the east (47 inches), with Cedar Bayou (more…)

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BY BRIAN BARTH / PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIE DERMANSKY

In Southern Louisiana, Evans + Lighter Landscape Architecture is helping the people of Isle de Jean Charles move away from a disappearing coast.

Every year LAM honors two articles that stand out in the realm of landscape architecture with the Bradford Williams Medal—one that has appeared in LAM, and one from outside the magazine. After a nomination and selection process by the LAM Editorial Advisory Committee, this year’s 2017 Bradford Williams Medal LAM winner is Brian Barth for his article “Let’s Beat It,” below, which appeared in the October 2016 issue.

Wenceslaus Billiot often spies dolphins leaping in the bay behind his house in Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana. Just shy of his 90th birthday, he remembers his backyard as a vast, forested wetland when he raised his family here as a young man. In dry weather, the land was firm enough for his kids to walk to the store in the nearby hamlet of Chauvin. This June day the water is calm—a fisherman’s paradise—but hurricane season is another story. Billiot, a World War II veteran, former tugboat captain, and boat builder, says every year the water comes higher.

He lives in a dwindling community of the Biloxi–Chitimacha–Choctaw tribe, and like most of the 27 families who remain, Billiot and his wife, Denecia, are making plans to move inland. “But I don’t want to go,” he says in a Cajun accent.

He has no choice. Isle de Jean Charles, once 22,000 acres, has lost 98 percent of its land area since 1955, and state officials warn that (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

Galveston Island State Park in the year 2060. Image courtesy of Studio Outside/Google Earth.

This is Part 3 of our conversation about Hurricane Harvey with the design team at Studio Outside in Dallas, which has won a 2017 ASLA Professional Award for Analysis and Planning for its work on Galveston Island State Park. Part 1 and Part 2 can be found below. Correction appended below on August 28.

Studio Outside’s resiliency plan for Galveston Island State Park earned a 2017 ASLA Professional Award for Analysis and Planning, drawing praise from the jury for its comprehensive and forward-looking anticipation of the havoc a hurricane could release. But Studio Outside’s Andrew Duggan and the design team, led by principal in charge Mike Fraze, knew they were pondering ironclad eventualities, not hypothetical disasters.

Over the weekend, the city of Galveston and Galveston Island State Park to its southwest found themselves in the path of Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall on Friday night, a Category 4 storm that has prompted mass evacuations of the Houston region.

Studio Outside’s project, “Storm + Sand + Sea + Strand: Barrier Island Resiliency Planning for Galveston Island State Park,” tracks the loss of habitat and land as perpetuated by sea-level rise, encroaching development, and hurricane flooding. It prescribes soft and green natural barriers to storm surges, assisted by flexible infrastructure. As a barrier island bordered by Texas’s West Bay to the northwest and the Gulf of Mexico to the southeast, there are few places to hide from floodwaters or to absorb them, and even less given that this part of the island was partially paved over to accommodate RVs in the 1970s. On Friday and over the weekend, Duggan (based safely in Dallas) and members of the design team (Fraze and Duggan of Studio Outside, and Jennifer Dowdell and Ed Morgereth of Biohabitats) emailed LAM some thoughts on how the storm might play out for Galveston Island State Park.

****Post will be updated as the storm progresses**** (more…)

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