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BY JARED BREY

Buffalo plans the country’s biggest environmental impact bond to fund green infrastructure.

FROM THE AUGUST 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

In 2018, the City of Buffalo, New York, cut the ribbon on Jesse Clipper Square, a small park named for the first Black soldier from Buffalo to die in World War I. The square, originally dedicated in the 1930s, was designed by John Edmonston Brent, one of Buffalo’s first Black architects. Today it sits in the median of William Street, a wide arterial street connecting downtown Buffalo to the neighborhood of Willert Park. As part of a broader greening of William Street, the park was expanded and planted with new trees and a rain garden. According to the Buffalo Sewer Authority, the project helps prevent some 284,000 gallons of water from entering the city’s combined sewer system during typical rain storms.

Green infrastructure projects like the William Street overhaul—small-scale interventions designed to manage stormwater on public streets, parking lots, and rooftops—are the bread and butter of the Buffalo Sewer Authority’s Rain Check program, a $380 million commitment that originated in a 2014 consent agreement between the city and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and improve water quality. Under the terms of its Long Term Control Plan, Buffalo committed to spending $93 million on green infrastructure to manage stormwater on at least 1,315 impervious acres. In the first phase of the plan, Rain Check 1.0, which began in 2015, the sewer authority focused on public projects that could be carried out relatively easily, according to documents. But Rain Check 2.0, announced last spring, is going for tougher targets, mostly on private property.

To help push the project along, Buffalo’s Mayor, Byron Brown, announced in February that the city would issue a $30 million environmental impact bond (EIB) to help fund a grant program that will encourage private landowners to install green infrastructure. Environmental impact bonds are a kind of municipal borrowing that links bond investors’ returns to the performance of the projects funded by the bond. One of the first EIBs in the United States was issued in 2016 by DC Water, Washington, D.C.’s water authority, to help fund green infrastructure related to its own agreement with the EPA (see “The River Beneath the River,” LAM, November 2018). Since then, more cities have begun experimenting with the bonds, including Atlanta, New Orleans, and Baltimore. In many cases, new funds for green infrastructure equates to more work for landscape architects. (more…)

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FOREGROUND        

Raise Some Green (Water)
With a $30 million investment, the City of Buffalo is joining a small group of cities that have
turned to environmental impact bonds to fund soft infrastructure.        

Count Them In (Planning)
Long neglected by planners, the people in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley harness a history of community advocacy and a plan by Groundworks Office to connect residents to city life.

FEATURES

The Twin Pandemics
Seven Black landscape architects and designers discuss the spatial factors around a deadly virus and
deadly policing for besieged Black people in the United States.

        A Subtropical Second Take
To reflect a change in mission, New York’s Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice reopens its renowned interior landscape, originally designed by Dan Kiley, with the lower-latitude palette of
Raymond Jungles, FASLA.

The full table of contents for August can be found here.

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 250 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 August articles as the month rolls out.

Credits: “The Twin Pandemics,” Laura Haddad, artist and landscape architect; “A Subtropical Second Take,” Barrett Doherty, ASLA; “Count Them In,” Ninon Scotto di Uccio.

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Sandra Albro’s Vacant to Vibrant initiative (detailed in “Lots of Opportunity”) converts vacant lots in struggling Great Lakes cities into rain gardens and bioswales. At an average cost of $18,000 each, they’re a fine-grained and tactical solution for reversing blight and helping beleaguered combined sewer systems from polluting the Great Lakes. As Albro, of Holden Forests & Gardens, observes, these neighborhoods were gradually disinvested from and abandoned, and have limited access to comprehensive public infrastructure improvements. As such, an equally piecemeal and gradual approach allows them to stabilize properties with desirable urban green spaces that can be wrapped into broader redevelopment efforts. An alternative to massive, centralized sewer upgrades that cost billions, this dispersed model of stormwater filtration turns an economic drain into an ecological engine.

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BY LISA OWENS VIANI

In Great Lakes cities, derelict parcels sponge up stormwater.

FROM THE AUGUST 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

Eight years ago, Sandra Albro, a research associate in applied urban ecology at the Cleveland Botanical Garden (now Holden Forests & Gardens) began to think about opportunities lurking in the city’s vacant lots—in particular how to help cities with their water quality problems. During heavy rains, raw sewage from old, leaky, combined sewer-stormwater systems is often flushed into the Great Lakes, resulting in beach closures not fun for tourists. At the same time, in Cleveland, Ohio; Buffalo, New York; and Gary, Indiana—where populations have declined by as much as 40 to 50 percent since the 1950s—derelict houses and vacant lots have increased: 30,000 in Cleveland, 7,000 in Gary, and more than 6,000 in Buffalo.

Cleveland, Buffalo, and Gary are among 158 communities with permits from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to discharge treated wastewater into the Great Lakes. The agency has also charged them with implementing Long Term Control Plans under the Clean Water Act to eliminate discharges of untreated sewage from their combined system overflows. “It’s a funny thing,” says David Rankin, the executive director of the Great Lakes Protection Fund, a private nonprofit corporation that funds projects to build the health of the lakes. “Most of the time these systems do a great job of managing stormwater—they actually treat it. It was state-of-the-art Victorian engineering that dates back to the Industrial Revolution. But in heavy rains, some waste gets flushed out, too—and when you’re looking at more than 100 dischargers, it starts to add up.” According to the EPA, in 2014 the toll was an estimated 22 billion gallons of untreated wastewater discharged into the lakes.

Rankin says Great Lakes cities need to think differently about the problem—many are trying to find funding to build massive pipes. But with their populations declining, he suggests these cities should think about solutions that don’t involve tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. So when Albro came to him with her idea for using vacant lots to capture stormwater, the fund awarded her a small grant to develop a plan. She contacted 11 Great Lakes cities, (more…)

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Design disciplines often bounce around words hinting at the experimentation with practices beyond their expertise: multidisciplinary, collaborative. And it is this idea of expansion beyond one’s discipline that Outside Design wants to explore. From now until December 19, the exhibit will be on display at the Sullivan Galleries at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as a collateral event to the first Chicago Architecture Biennial. Landscape architecture, architecture, art, materials, agriculture, biology, and more collide in “laboratories” installed on site that change throughout the period of their installment. Using frogs to measure oxygen levels in buildings, reclaimed materials for human and animal cohabitation, and a compact self-sustaining system, these installments experiment with creating fluid movement between neighboring professions.

If you are attending the 2015 ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO, be sure to stop by during the Sullivan Galleries open hours, Tuesday–Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. For more information and a list of upcoming exhibit events, please visit here.

Credit: Images courtesy the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sullivan Galleries; “Honey Windows,” “Habitat Wall,” “Amphibious Envelope,” “Biodynamic Feedback Loop,” Tony Favarula; “Black Gold Magic,” Christine Kousgaard.

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