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Archive for the ‘LAND MATTERS’ Category

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 BRADFORD McKEE

Credit: Richard Crossley [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons, left; Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons, right.

FROM THE SEPTEMBER 2017 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

Susan Combs will be back for the golden-cheeked warbler. Combs is a former Texas state comptroller, agriculture commissioner, and state representative who has been nominated by President Trump to run the policy and budget section of the U.S. Department of Interior. The job will put her in charge of all things related to the Endangered Species Act, under which the golden-cheeked warbler (Setophaga chrysoparia) is listed as being at risk of extinction. She “has an aesthetic interest in the golden-cheeked warbler and seeks to conserve the warbler and its habitat within Texas,” according to a petition she signed in June 2015 to have the bird taken off the federal Endangered Species list. But “Combs believes that local and state conservation efforts would be of greater benefit to the warbler and that continued unwarranted regulation under the Endangered Species Act can impede voluntary and local conservation efforts.”

Combs seems fond of these voluntary and local conservation efforts, as opposed to statutory mandates, to protect species, perhaps because they have little if any force. In 2011, she masterminded an effort called the Texas Conservation Plan for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus arenicolus). The plan was less about conserving the lizard than keeping it off the Endangered Species list and out of the way of the Texas Oil & Gas Association and the Texas Farm Bureau, among other cosigners of the plan, with “a locally controlled and innovative approach.” Another cosigner was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Region office. The problem, according to Gary G. Mowad, a former enforcement official and Texas administrator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was that (more…)

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BY BRADFORD MCKEE

By Rolf van Melis [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

FROM THE MAY 2017 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

Anybody who values holding a license as a landscape architect is not going to like what happens next. The current political environment and a general disdain for moderation are encouraging an assault against many forms of occupational licensing, including licensing for landscape architecture. So far this year, there have been many bills introduced to end landscape architecture licensing and revamp occupational licensing structures in the legislatures of Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Virginia, and Washington. There are no doubt more to come.

These attempts take various forms. Some would outright deregulate landscape architecture by simply removing it from the group of professions that require licensing. Others are more insidious and would reform landscape architecture as well as most all other licensing systems in the guise of “right to earn a living” or “economic liberty” measures, the premise of which is that licensure poses an unnecessary barrier to entering the occupation of one’s choice. Some would allow citizens to challenge licensure requirements in court and would shift the burden to the state to prove that licensure is necessary over other, less restrictive, forms of regulation. Others would place licensure regulations (more…)

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BY BRADFORD MCKEE

mountaintop_removal_mine_in_pike_county_kentucky_resize

Image courtesy of iLoveMountains.org [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

FROM THE MARCH 2017 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

Among the very early priorities of the new Republican-controlled Congress was to give the greenest of lights to any corporation—corporations being people—that wants to blow off the top of a gorgeous Appalachian mountain for coal, throw the spoils into the nearest headwaters, ruin the stream, ruin much downstream, and destroy a spectrum of wildlife, not to mention human life, in the process.

The instrument was a joint resolution of the House and Senate that pulled back the Stream Protection Rule, a long-sought goal of the Obama administration to prevent mountaintop removal for mining, which took effect on January 19, Obama’s last day as president. Its reversal by Congress was presented to President Trump on February 6. The resolution kills the Obama rule, which (more…)

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BY BRADFORD McKEE

Credit: Courtesy Museum of Walking/Angela Ellsworth.

Postcommodity, Repellent Fence, 2015. Image courtesy Museum of Walking/Angela Ellsworth.

From the upcoming February 2017 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Instead of a sensible and humane overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws to deal with current realities, we are apparently going to get a wall between the United States and Mexico. It was among the most outlandish promises of the Trump campaign, if only one of its rank xenophobic turns: a gigantic blockade stretching from the Pacific Ocean, through the Sonoran Desert, and down the Rio Grande River to the Gulf of Mexico, with fear as its mortar. During the first week of the new Republican-led Congress, the House Republican Policy Committee chair, Rep. Luke Messer of Indiana, told the Washington Post that legislators are looking for ways to begin work on such a wall under existing law and with American (not Mexican) money. The existing law Messer means is the Secure Fence Act of 2006, signed by President George W. Bush, which called for 700 miles of actual fencing and a “virtual fence” of beefed-up surveillance along the Mexico border. That work remains incomplete. Barriers block less than half of the 1,954 miles of international boundary. Theoretically, a resumption of building could begin to lock it all up later this spring.

The human effects of this simplistic idea will be mixed. A big wall will stop some population flow, but hardly all of it, and it will kill informal cross border commerce. Ecologically, though, it is likely to be a catastrophe. It will fragment habitat on a huge scale in one of the most biologically diverse parts of North America—the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas alone is said to have (more…)

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BY BRADFORD McKEE

Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

From the upcoming January 2017 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine

You may safely expect that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ halt on the Dakota Access pipeline will end after the close of the Obama administration. It shouldn’t. The halt should instead force a rethinking of the pipeline’s route through unceded Sioux lands near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and under the Missouri River, “to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing,” as Jo-Ellen Darcy, the army’s assistant secretary for civil works, said in announcing the cease order in early December after months of protests.

The stop on the project should also compel a total reconsideration of certain perversities that pass as common practice by government and industry in the construction of oil and gas pipelines, which have been helpfully highlighted by the rising tension over Dakota Access in the past year. If the pipeline were halted and rerouted, it would mark a rare (more…)

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BY BRADFORD McKEE

Courtesy By Peretz Partensky from San Francisco, USA (I could see Russia) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Courtesy Peretz Partensky [CC BY-SA 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.

From the December 2016 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine

There can scarcely be any overstating the threat the Trump presidency poses to the interests of the landscape architecture community, which center ardently on the welfare of human society and ecology and the planet. If design is the sum of all constraints, as Charles and Ray Eames said, this presidency will be the greatest constraint many of us will work under in our lifetimes, on the order of anathema to everything landscape architecture has ever stood for. We have to get right to work and be very canny about it, or the Trump administration, along with a Congress controlled by some of the most venal people ever to lodge themselves into American politics, will be a disaster well beyond the many ways we can name even now.

During the campaign, Trump’s positions on public policy, such as they were—and fairly obscured by endless evidence of his career as a liar, a swindler, a bully, a bigot, and a sexual predator—did not, to me, warrant detailed study. They weren’t policies in any developed sense. (OK, there was the child-care one, but what was that?) They consisted largely of frequent impulsive eruptions calculated only to produce outrage among his disaffected rabble and people of greater composure, though different strains of outrage, for sure. However masterful he is at plucking a populace, in terms of governance I kept thinking of the line about the French revanchist and anti-Semite Paul Déroulède, who was said to have “the political vision of a child.” If you heard what I heard during Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention this summer, you got a gothic harangue of wild paranoia and vengeance. It was pure Tarantino. I found myself fantasizing that Ronald Reagan would appear in the form of a fireball to relay a few words from God.

No, what got my attention most then and since is the Republican Party platform. The section on natural resources begins on page 17. On oil drilling: “[W]e support the (more…)

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