You could shlepp your metal water bottle all over town. You could buy a three dollar plastic water bottle to throw into a landfill for the next million years. Or: you could count on a network of convenient, eco-friendly drinking fountains.
Water from a drinking fountain is arguably the best possible thing for a human to drink. With zero calories, sugar or chemicals, water is the foundation of life as we know it. Water from drinking fountains is tested to city health standards, which are higher than the standards required for bottled water. Drinking fountains (also known, in regional variations, as water fountains or bubblers) reduce dependence on the environmentally degrading plastic bottles for water and sodas (millions of which are thrown away every year). They save people money, too: according to the Pacific Institute, “total consumer expenditures for bottled water are approximately $100 billion per year.” Continue reading →
In the last post, we asked what it took to create a national park on the scale of the Golden Gate National Recreation area. In a joint effort by The Cultural Landscape Foundation and a multitude of volunteers and contributors, a 30-minute documentary explores these questions. Take a look:
Conversations with the Stewards and Designers of the Golden Gate National Parks
What does it take to create nationally-recognized landscapes like the Presidio and the Golden Gate National Parks in San Francisco, CA? The answer is more than just one designer, planner, steward, or advocate–and a lot longer than a decade. On April 4th, the Cultural Landscape Foundation honored the “exceptional number of Bay Area stewards and designers” that have played pivotal roles in creating and shaping this landscape over many decades, including three key leadership organizations: The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, The Presidio Trust, and The National Park Service.
Here are some of the photographs of the Presidio and Golden Gate National Recreation Areas, documented by SWA Group’s Principal Photographer, Tom Fox:
What does it mean for design to improve society and the environment? This weekend’s Compostmodern: Resilience conference in San Francisco brings together designers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and architects to talk about design’s role in creating a more resilient world.
The list of speakers includes David McConville, Cheryl Dahle, Adam Werbach, Alex Gilliam, Terry Irwin, John Bielenberg and many more–and the conversation topics and short-form presentations will include discussions of resilience, design, innovation, composting, social change, and living in a connected world. What does it mean to design with systems thinking and social responsibility at the top of mind? How do recycling, composting, and social change fit together? What can we learn from modeling living systems as inspirations for complex design? Why do most products create so much waste? How can we learn from the patterns of the universe to design strategies that effectively address complex problems?
Join Landscape Urbanism at the event this Friday and Saturday, and watch for our blogging coverage of the event.
Want to design your own street, or quickly show someone what variations in Right-Of-Way (ROW) do to your street? Code For America graduates, in a January 2013 hackathon, created an online drag-and-drop street builder that lets you place various street elements in different spaces, and adjusting the ROW to desired traffic (and pedestrian, and biking) levels. The project states that one of the goals is to “be a part of the national conversation around Complete Streets, or the Project for Public Spaces’ Rightsizing Streets Guide.”
A quick version created with more generous tree sizes.
Designed in part by the desire to increase real-time engagement at community planning meetings, the fellows describe the project as “in the spirit of free software,” and encourage everyone to try it out and comment or suggest new features to help improve its usability.
“By creating an web-based version of this activity, planners can reach a wider audience than they could at meetings alone, and allow community members to share and edit each other’s creations.”
This app is a work in progress, and in a very early stage. Try it out for yourself at StreetMix.Net.
What is the language of measuring cities, landscapes, or human behaviors? Urban Omnibus put forth a call for essays on “Fuzzy Math,” inviting writers “to infuse the quantitative language that pervades environmental understanding with narrative, theory, history, or humor.”
Beyond the metrics we already use to measure our cities, what are we missing? What ways can we quantify and measure actions, behaviors, politics, engagement, economics, and life in a city? What unseen dimensions and spatial parameters are critical for well-being (or quirkiness) within a city?
“Meanwhile, the cost of some of what we consume in cities – like real estate – is reflected in its price structure, yet a lot of it – like parking, parks, or pollution – is not. Even if the environmental benefits of urban density are starting to be understood, an accepted calculus of a city’s externalities remains far from precise, subsumed in a metaphorical language of carbon footprints or numerical valuations like LEED.”
“So let’s put it in personal terms. How do you measure your behavior: In rent? In square feet? The number of laps run around the park? MetroCard swipes? Brand of lightbulb? The distance food travels to end up on your plate? What are urban public goods – drinking water, open space, public access television, fireworks displays – worth to you?”
Deadline: Friday, March 22nd, 5:00PM EST.
See the call for submissions at Urban Omnibus.
How isolated was Henry David Thoreau’s romantic withdrawal at Walden? In a visual series created by designer and cartographer Meg Studer on The Distopians, she explores (“re-surveys”) these territories. Building off of Walden or Life in the Woods, this series works outward—from woodlots to fireplaces, from adjacent rails to major markets—to re-construct the domestic consumption patterns, international trade, and nascent infrastructural entanglements of Thoreau’s environment.
These initial diagrams combine Thoreau’s recounting of 1846/47 ice harvests at Walden with commercial records and policy documents, mapping the regional industry and its rail-based network of extraction, storage and glocal consumption. Continue reading →
The stately Divine Lorraine rises ten stories above Broad Street.
Originally designed in the 1890s, it closed in 1999 and now sits vacant.
Once upon a time, elephants paraded into the Metropolitan Opera House and the Divine Lorraine stood regally ten stories above North Broad Street in Philadelphia. A fantastical quality remains in these two buildings that has outlasted entertainment trends, housing fashions and urban shifts that led to the general decline of the surrounding neighborhood and the near demise of these two landmarks. I had the opportunity to explore these iconic structures on a tour led by Hidden City Philadelphia and learn about their storied pasts and aspirations for the future.
The White Company, a Cleveland-based automobile manufacturer, held its Annual Dealers Banquet at the Hotel Lorraine in 1922. Photo Courtesy Philadelphia Free Library.
The Divine Lorraine is a Philadelphia legend, if not for its striking architecture than for its resilience. Continue reading →
Last week, Tech Cocktail and the Downtown Project invited a small group of tech entrepreneurs, innovators, and city enthusiasts (like Landscape Urbanism) to take a look at the projects and grounds of the new Downtown Project area in Las Vegas. I also gave a quick 10-minute talk on questions about the future of cities (forthcoming), but in the meantime, here’s a visual assortment of photographs from both the city-at-large as well as the downtown areas, generally.
Greater Las Vegas: Residential Patterns (and Aerial Photographs)
Flying in from San Francisco, here’s a couple of photos of the cityscape from the airplane window:
Looking towards the airport and the strip, offset in the background. One of the main visual characteristics of Las Vegas is the desert landscape and the mountains surrounding the flat, tan lands. Note the patchwork of development in the foreground and the scattered suburban developments.
Residential suburban housing is an easy pattern to pick up from an aerial view: organized, repetitive, single-colored rooftops. Continue reading →
One of the marvels of contemporary publishing is the sense of urgency it enables a polemical tract like Alex Steffen’sCarbon Zero to take on. Steffan opens with a stark and still-fresh reminder of his book’s importance – the nearly 14-foot tidal wave that struck Lower Manhattan in late October, less than two months before Carbon Zero hit shelves (or Kindles, whatever). I was at first tempted to label Steffen rather morbidly lucky in that sense, before reflecting that it’s actually becoming rather difficult not to publish a book shortly after some catastrophic event linked to climate change (that link should lead you to a story about heavy downpours and potential flooding in already-soaked England and Wales, during the week of 17 Dec 2012; but if you’re reading this next week or the week after or five years from now, I’m sure a new catastrophe will spring just as readily to mind).
“Steffen’s correct when he claims that we gradualists need to step aside, that we’re not recommending anything that’ll fix these problems anywhere near fast enough. If ever there were an issue well-suited to convincing utopianism, global climate change is it. Nothing else is going to cut it.”
It’d be a stretch to claim that Steffen’s written the most important book of the 21st century – sorry, Alex – but he has written a very readable and really pretty useful book about the most important issue of the 21st century, and that’s a praiseworthy-enough feat, I should think (incidentally, it’s also cheap as these things go, and since you’ve probably got some spare time [and possibly a new e-reader? It’s that time of year] at the moment, you can buy it here). A few months ago, I castigatedFast Company’s “climate capitalist” in-residence, Boyd Cohen, for more or less groveling at the altar of neoliberalism and simply refusing to challenge the systems of production and consumption which undergird early-21st century capitalism; certainly no such criticism can be leveled at Steffen, who devotes an entire chapter to the subject. Carbon Zero really is a comprehensive piece of work, addressing not just all the major systems that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change, but also potential urban solutions to mitigate or even reverse those contributions. It’s a boldly optimistic piece of writing, the sort of thing that self-proclaimed pragmatists like myself try to dismiss as hopelessly naïve or some such. But Steffen’s correct when he claims that we gradualists need to step aside, that we’re not recommending anything that’ll fix these problems anywhere near fast enough. If ever there were an issue well-suited to convincing utopianism, global climate change is it. Nothing else is going to cut it. Continue reading →