Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Our Newly Lush Life

WHENEVER you doubt that the future can improve upon the past or that government can play a pivotal role in that, consider and revel in the extraordinary greening of New York.

This city looks nothing — nothing — like it did just a decade and a half ago. It’s a place of newly gorgeous waterfront promenades, of trees, tall grasses and blooming flowers on patches of land and peninsulas of concrete and even stretches of rail tracks that were blighted or blank before. It’s a lush retort to the pessimism of this era, verdant proof that growth remains possible, at least with the requisite will and the right strategies.

The transformation of New York has happened incrementally enough — one year the High Line, another year Brooklyn Bridge Park — that it often escapes full, proper appreciation. But it’s a remarkable, hopeful stride.

It’s also emblematic of a coast-to-coast pattern of intensified dedication to urban parkland. While so much of American life right now is attended by the specter of decline, many cities are blossoming, with New York providing crucial inspiration.

In Urban Parks, Our Newly Lush Life (New York Times)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Industrial Reuse

The Plant, as it is known, is a complex food production system for raising tilapia, growing mushrooms and nurturing aquaponic vegetable gardens. It is also a hub for small artisanal food businesses like a bakery, a kombucha (fermented tea) maker and eventually a beer brewery. On top of that, this unique set-up will soon be running solely on green energy thanks to an anaerobic digester that will transform organic food waste — both from within The Plant and businesses in the surrounding community — into biogas that will power a turbine generator.

 This bright project blooms from an unexpected spot: an abandoned pork processing plant in a huge infamous former stockyard that was essentially the birthplace of today’s industrialized meat business. From the mid 19th through the first half of the 20th century, Union Stockyards was the site that spelled death for an estimated 400 million animals, as it was accessible to all railroads serving Chicago.

Symbiotic urban farming and industrial reuse in Chicago (Our World 2.0)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Is That a Forest Downtown?

Since 1979, Eddee Daniel has been hiking Milwaukee’s Cambridge Woods, part of an 800-acre swath of wilderness now called the Milwaukee River Greenway. Back then, the forest, which cuts straight through Wisconsin’s most crowded ZIP code, was largely shunned by the public. “There were vandals and drug dealers,” says Daniel. “It’s changed in a big way, and mostly in a healthy way.”

Today, on any given summer weekend, the Greenway teems with hikers, canoers and mountain bikers. But it’s still more wilderness than anything, with few of the accouterments of an organized park. In it, you can see one of modern urbanism’s most unexpected traits unfolding: a renewed appreciation for wild space in cities — not just “green space,” but actual swamps, forests, wetlands and streams.

Part of this is the result of changing demographics — the growing number of “urbaneers” dragging kayaks into aqueducts, the same city dwellers who prompted REI to open a giant store in Manhattan. But it’s also part of a growing realization that the earth’s natural processes can be harnessed in ways that benefit even the most urbanized area.

Is that a forest downtown? (Salon)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Urban Agriculture in Los Angeles

In a dry and sunny city like Los Angeles, planting grass is one of the more useless ways to use your property. It takes a lot of water to grow and it's expensive—but beyond that, what's the point when the climate supports much more interesting flora, like succulents, and delicious ones, like fruits and vegetables? A company called Farmscape is proving that there's enough of an appetite for farming on residential land to turn the proposition into a high-growth business. The less-than-four-year-old company has 12 full-time employees—including seven farmers who receive a living wage plus healthcare—and is looking to keep growing. "

One of the things that people don’t talk about when they talk about the food system is who is working," says Rachel Bailin, Farmscape's marketing manager. It's often poorly paid and vulnerable migrant workers. But the company is changing that by bringing farm labor out into the open, into the yards of city-dwellers and businesses. So far they've installed more than 300 urban farms throughout the L.A. area and maintain 150 of them weekly.

Projects range from a rooftop garden on a downtown Los Angeles highrise to small plots for families. An exciting project in the works is a three-quarter acre-sized farm for a restaurant in the West San Fernando Valley. And the diversity of the projects is echoed by the diversity of their clients. "When we first started, we expected that our clients would be of a higher income level and would be two-parent working families," says Bailin. Instead, Farmscape has been delighted to build gardens for preschool teachers, single mothers, and institutions and businesses that want employee gardens as perks.

Bailin says the challenges of farming in Los Angeles are manifold. "You have to account for spaces that haven't had life or biodiversity for decades and then you kind of have to bring it back." The company uses raised beds to avoid contaminated soil and drip irrigation systems to provide water.

Farmscape Brings Urban Agriculture to Los Angeles (GOOD)

Wild Urban Plants

Peter Del Tredici’s Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast serves not only as an absorbing field guide to spontaneous urban plants but also as a razor-sharp critique of how we value urban plants in general. In clear, jargon-free language, Del Tredici lays out his challenge to our ecological assumptions in the book’s introduction. He describes how we have a tendency to negatively judge plants that grow without human intention. Indeed, most of the plants described in this book are traditionally dismissed as weeds. Furthermore, we negatively judge plants based on their place of origin, labeling non-native species as “invasive.” Del Tredici argues that by automatically tagging these spontaneous urban plants as ecologically harmful, we ignore their potential benefits.

 The entire concept of native and non-native becomes complicated when we consider the reality of urban conditions. Del Tredici challenges the notion that native plants can always be restored in urban landscapes, writing “(1) most urban land has been totally transformed from what it once was; (2) the climate conditions that the original flora was adapted to no longer exist; and (3) most urban habitats are strictly human creations with no natural analogs and no indigenous flora.” Cities represent entirely new conditions that native species are not necessarily adapted to. For this reason, native plants often require extensive human management to survive. Accordingly, Del Tredici dismisses the concept of urban ecological restoration as “really just gardening dressed up to look like ecology.” Instead, the plants that thrive in cities are already evolutionarily adapted for harsh conditions. Because they grow in cities without human input, they are, in a sense, the natural urban flora. These species can deliver significant benefits to urban ecosystems and should not be disregarded. For example, these species reduce the urban heat island effect, protect against erosion, stabilize stream banks, manage stormwater, create wildlife habitat, produce oxygen, and store carbon.

The Easily Ignored Plants of Daily Life (The Dirt - ASLA)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bringing the Forest to the City

"The master planning process here is extremely important because it connects to the president's Great Outdoors Initiative," Mr. Blazer said. "When people think 'great outdoors,' they think of places like Yosemite. They need to start thinking about places like Pittsburgh, too. Eighty percent of our country's population is in urban areas, and we know the importance trees have on the psyches of humans."

The master plan reports the city has more than 2.5 million trees that sequester 13,900 tons of carbon dioxide a year, saved residents $3 million in energy bills last year and remove 519 tons of pollution at a savings of $3.6 million a year. Street trees alone diverted 41.8 million gallons of stormwater last year.

Danielle Crumrine, executive director of Tree Pittsburgh, said the plan will spur tree advocates to increase the size of the canopy, improve its condition, diversify its species and plant in neighborhoods that have been neglected. Although 42 percent of the city is covered in trees, most of the canopy is in parks and more affluent neighborhoods.

At the nursery, high school students from Homewood's Junior Green Corps, an Operation Better Block job training program, were harvesting seeds and planting under a tent at the back of the nursery, which was established two years ago in part with a grant from The Sprout Fund.

Kahlil Morris, a supervisor of the Green Corps, said all 21 participants are training to be Tree Tenders, a volunteer program run by Tree Pittsburgh to teach residents about the proper care and pruning of trees.
"We want to keep this partnership," he said. "It's a cool program and it's close" to Homewood.

"I'm excited to see the work these young people are doing and the things they are learning," Mr. Blazer said. "As you implement your plan and improve upon your urban forest, we on the federal level can work with the city and local organizations to create more opportunities for young people."

The maple plan: Bringing the forest to the city (Pittsburg Post-Gazette)

Date Palm Houses

Date palm leaves are an important resource in the Middle East: the trunks, fibre and leaves are all used in the construction of these buildings. They have provided shelter from the extreme climate of the Arabian peninsula for 7,000 years. The astonishing thing is that only 60 years ago most of the housing in coastal cities consisted of small clusters of these houses, with private courtyards in the middle. They housed market stalls, airports, and shops. Now there are none.

The buildings are simple but sophisticated in design, practical to transport, and yet strong enough to withstand the vagaries of the desert. Even when the houses were made out of stone, the roof was still made of the palm leaves.

Palm leaves are similar to bamboo in that both are sustainable and easily grown and can be used as construction materials that are indigenous to the culture. In the last fifty years, with the onslaught of new development and destruction of the old, these traditions are in jeopardy of being lost.

Palm Leaf Architecture is Both Historic and Contemporary