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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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REVIEWED BY GALE FULTON, ASLA

FROM THE OCTOBER 2017 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

To listen to some mainstream urbanists today, you have to wonder what body of theory, if any, they are paying attention to in order to make what often seem hopelessly naive and homogeneous proposals for new urban developments. Admittedly, this group is often the same bunch who don’t have time for impractical theorization because they are out there doing real work, but some idea about “good” city form obviously drives their approach. Unfortunately, many of the theories in circulation stem from a belief that the city is nothing more than a problem to be solved—it’s too dense, or not dense enough; gray and dirty rather than green; impervious and polluting; unjust and inequitable; or not living up to that crowning achievement of being “walkable.” Obviously, most if not all of these criticisms can be leveled at cities in one place or another at one time or another, but what are the implications for the urban imagination of designers if this is the only lens through which the city (arguably the greatest cultural artifact ever produced) can be viewed—a massive problem which must be “restored” to some nostalgic, fictional notion of the healthy city? And, more optimistically, what new propositions, pedagogies, and disciplinary alignments are necessary to overcome these narrow worldviews and begin to engage the phenomenon of urbanization in a more compelling and realistic way?

In his new book Landscape as Infrastructure, Pierre Bélanger, ASLA, an associate professor of landscape architecture and a codirector of the Master in Design Studies Program in Urbanism, Landscape, and Ecology at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, lays the groundwork for such an approach. Assembling a decade of design and scholarly research, Bélanger provides readers with a much-needed alternative history of urbanization (primarily in mid- to late 20th and early 21st-century North America), as well as a survey of the contemporary forces that drive urbanization patterns today. These aspects of the book are complemented by an account of the accompanying epistemological shifts brought about by new understandings of complexity and ecology as well as a resurgence of (more…)

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BY BRADFORD MCKEE

Kate Orff, ASLA. Image courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

FROM THE NOVEMBER 2017 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

Kate Orff, ASLA, became the first landscape architect to receive a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, which carries a $625,000 award over five years for “originality, insight, and potential.” Orff was among 24 fellows named by the foundation today, who also included artists, activists, scientists, and historians.

Orff is the founder of SCAPE Landscape Architecture in New York, and the director of the urban design program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. The firm’s work has achieved wide renown in recent years for its novel and intensely collaborative approaches (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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Los Angeles is an intriguing place for 2017’s ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO. It’s a car-centric metropolis in the throes of a rebirth in public transportation, a drought-parched region with a remarkably complex water infrastructure, and an image-conscious city with a deceptively robust urban foundation. The October issue celebrates the ASLA Annual Meeting with a look at Los Angeles’s, and California’s, big designs on the future.

Christopher Hawthorne’s Third L.A. Project brings to the forefront issues, including density and equity, that Los Angeles—and Angelenos—face with the reinvention of the sprawling, single-family-home-dominated city. Waving away the clouds of optimism around marijuana legalization and production, Mimi Zeiger investigates the costs and benefits to the landscape. And in a city where entertainment is king, Studio-MLA goes big with three sports stadium projects in the Los Angeles area.

Up the coast, a public housing project on San Francisco’s Potrero Hill gets connected to the city by GLS Landscape | Architecture, while trying to stave off gentrification that could follow. And AECOM’s work on the South San Francisco Bay restores ecosystems once battered by the salt industry back to their natural habitat.

Glen Dake, ASLA, talks about his firm’s commitment to resiliency and “meeting people in their language,” in Interview. Two gardens at the storied Garden Museum in London get a redesign by Dan Pearson and Christopher Bradley-Hole in Plants. A remediation plan by Fred Phillips for an Indonesian tin mining site includes providing an alternative livelihood for artisanal miners, in Planning. And in Palette, subtle layers compose the designed landscapes of Pamela Burton & Company Landscape Architecture. All this plus our regular Books, Now, and Goods columns. The full table of contents for October can be found here.

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 700 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.

Keep an eye out here on the blog, on the LAM Facebook page, and on our Twitter feed (@landarchmag), as we’ll be posting October articles as the month rolls out.

Credits: “Salt Ponds to Pickleweed,” © AECOM/David Lloyd; “Third Way L.A.,” Marc Campos/Occidental College; “The Final Hill,” Kyle Jeffers; “Altered State,” © 2017 Grace & Co., Inc.; “Fan Favorite,” Tom Lamb; “Growing Obsession,” Garden Museum; “All Landscape Is Local,” Stephanie Garcia/Brian Kuhlmann Pictures; “Play It as It Layers,” Marion Brenner, Affiliate ASLA; “Smartphone Landscape,” Telapak.

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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

A basin and spillway near Las Vegas. Image courtesy of the Center for Land Use Interpretation Photo Archive.

On the outskirts of the parched city of Las Vegas are dozens of basins dug into the earth, connected to hundreds of miles of arterial concrete channels that weave through the city to Lake Mead, some 30 miles to the east. Begun in the mid-1980s, this $2 billion land works infrastructure project is now 80 percent complete. The full plan calls for 121 basins and 800 miles of channel.

What’s the purpose of all this megascaled trench work? Las Vegas, plopped arbitrarily in the Mojave Desert with no permanent source of surface water and annual average rainfall of four inches, is prone to flash floods. These basins, spillways, and channels collect rainwater and whisk it away just every so often.

This paradox is the subject of Desert Ramparts: Defending Las Vegas from the Flood, at the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) in Los Angeles. Up through mid-September, its eerily steady gaze (more…)

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