Books – summer 2011

As I pack up my UMN office, there are piles of books that are worth sharing, before they go into a box. Here are just a few of them in no particular order:

Heat Islands: Understanding and Mitigating Heat in Urban Areas

by Lisa Gartland (Earthscan 2008)

This is a well researched and comprehensive book that explores methods of shrinking the urban heat island. It’s worth noting that Gartland provides the best explanation of albedo and emissivity I’ve yet to encounter. Where the book falls short, is it doesn’t consider going against the status quo of development and engineering practices (i.e. increasing density, or narrower streets), instead just discusses using different low albedo/pervious materials and the usual fixes.

Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning

by Timothy Beatley (Island Press  2011)

A slim volume that lays out the philosophical case for creating living cities. Doesn’t get bogged down in the technical details or process, and occasionally falls into thinking that biomimicry or a pretty garden equals a fully functioning and resilient ecosystem. Overall a good introduction to the concepts of eco-cities.

Addicted to Energy: A venture capitalist’s perspective on how to save our economy and our climate

by Elton Sherwin (Energy House 2010)

Unique among the dozens of big picture saving the planet books I’ve read over the last two years. The book is framed as a letter to a governor, which allows for discussion of policy and regulations at the state level. The author also uses examples from his personal life to keep the book from becoming too dry. Very well researched, and a good introduction for business minded folks that need the economic case made for changing their own/corporate behaviors.

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LORP revisited

the LAtimes revisits the Lower Owens River Restoration Project:

Mark Hill, the lead scientist in the Lower Owens River Project, pointed out that “if you’re a fish or a duck, the project has been a boffo box office success. We’ve created 3,000 acres of water and wetlands. There are 4,000 largemouth bass and 2,000 bluegill per mile, and 108 species of birds, 41 of them new to the area.

“The only issue plaguing us right now is too many tules and, as a result, there are huge access problems when it comes to angling and boating,” Hill said. “But we have a plan to deal with them.”

I take major issue with the LATimes characterization of the restoration project as a failure, where they portray the verdant tules is a negative feature because of how it  limits human access to the river.

Check out the 2007 video of the river 6 months after the flow was restored.

my friend and Owen Lake hero Mike Prather.

Creating Lower Owens River Master Plan seems like a great studio project!

Fracture Critical Sewershed

There was a four-alarm fire last week at one of my favorite examples of multifunctional infrastructure: NYC’s North River Wastewater Treatment Plant/Riverbank State Park. The fire damaged five engines that power the pumps that circulate the sewage, through the treatment process, so 120 million gallons of untreated sewage are being dumped into the Hudson and Bronx Rivers till the plant is back up and running. The plant serves a sewershed of 6,030 acres, home to almost 600,000 folks.

Because NYC has a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) system, the untreated sewage was discharged from 56 outfalls. If NYC had a more modern seperate storm sewer and sanitary sewer system, the untreated discharge would have been concentrated just at the plant creating a more severe local impact. This is one of those rare cases where having an obsolete CSO infrastructure may be reducing the environmental impacts by increasing the dilution of the sewage.

BTW: the treatment plant plinth was designed by Phillip Johnson in the 1960s!

map of outfalls and closed beaches impacted by the fire Continue reading

100th Post

On this  arbitrary milestone of reaching 100 posts, I wanted to invite all my subscribers and readers to share some feedback about infrascape design.

So what post do you think is the best?

Any suggestions for future topics?

Also, how often do you visit Infrascape and other thoughts about your blog consumption habits that can help improve Infrascape Design?

A  recap of all the posts is appropriate in this moment of retrospection.

Here are all the infrascape design posts arranged by number of views/clicks (of course the older post have had more views):

Post Views
Owens Lake & LA Aqueduct Bibliography 1,067
Scaling Gehry’s toxic fish 855
A Solar Farm for Owens Lake 615
The Case Against Building Integrated Wind Turbines 614
The View from the Road 593
About 560
Post-water urbanism 525
Infrastructural Art 448
Writing ‘Infrastructure of the Void’ 369
Owens Lake Dust Mitigation Team 367
renewable energy art 364
Manifesto for the Gulf Spill 317
defining infrascape 311
Gasland 298
What’s next for 2010? 276
Consulting and Design 213
OWENS LAKE Symbiosis: infrastructural ruralism 191
Louisiana Barrier Island Project 189
student work spring 2010 187
Sustainable Infrastructure by Bry Sarte 180
the role of PhD’s in Landscape Academia 173

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Global Risks Landscape

The Global Risks Landscape 2011 paints a sobering picture of the world we live in. No Virginia, climate change is very real according to the folks at the World Economic Forum…

The report pulls out three categories of that put our civilization in peril:

  • The “macroeconomic imbalances” nexus
  • The “illegal economy” nexus
  • The “water-food-energy” nexus

Not quite as scary are the ‘risks to watch’:

  • Cyber-security
  • Demographic challenges
  • Resource security
  • Retrenchment from globalization
  • Weapons of mass destruction

So what does this scaremongering have to do with the practice of Landscape Architecture or teaching? Well….

As landscape architects, we shape the physical world and are at the forefront of risk environment mitigation. We can create cities that don’t generate urban heat islands, are healthy places to walk (where we don’t need to drive), avoid building in seismic zones and other places at high risk for ‘natural’ disasters, reduce biodiversity loss by both choosing project sites wisely and specifying materials that don’t destroy ecosystems, and maybe most important for those economists writing this report, we add economic value to any project we touch. Landscape Architecture needs to be in the center of resilience planning (but right now we’re on the periphery looking in).

Perhaps the coolest part of WEF report is there review of Davos 2011 that included my hero, Cameron Sinclair in the thick of the’ Earthquake: Public and Private Roles for Risk Mitigation and Response’ workshop.


Spotted in a post by Rob Hopkins on the Post Carbon Institute’s Energy Bulletin Blog, via TransitionUS, from the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk 2011 Report [pdf]. Full report is here:  A Vision for Managing Natural Disaster Risk

Map of the Day – Energy Self-Sufficiency

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s 2009 report about available renewable energy that found that 31 states have a surplus of energy to be self-sufficient has been turned into an interactive map [here].

via grist


On the Waterfront


Van Alen Traveling Fellowship Contact Sheets – 2003

Savona Italy

These images and text were created as part of my University of Pennsylvania Van Alen Traveling Fellowship in 2003.  Fourteen of these images were exhibited in Meyerson Hall’s Dean’s Alley,  November 18th-19th, 2003.
[click on the images to enlarge them]

Exhibit Introduction:

The rise and fall of the European colonial empires were linked to the advent of their maritime trade. The seas and oceans were the super-highways of the day. Situated on coastal and riverfront sites, docks and shipyards were often built on underutilized wetlands- once the industrialization process started, new cities grew up around these sources of the wealth and trade. Venice is a renaissance example of a maritime culture expanding into a mercantile empire and prosperous city; its docks channeled the flow of goods from Asia and the Orient into the rest of Europe; the lagoon was a prime anchorage. The Pool of London became so overcrowded that successive new facilities were constructed downstream, each larger then the previous.

The introduction of containerized cargo hastened the decline from the intensive manual labor of old port facilities to the modern mechanized ports of today. The shift from the central city location of the historical ports, shipyards and warehouse facilities, to the large uninterrupted acreage with highway and rail access on the fringes of the urbanization, left a void in many cities that are being redeveloped and redefined. Bilbao, Spain is a case study for the reinvention of a shipbuilding city into a cultural center. Europe has reemerged as the center of shipbuilding (France, Denmark and Italy) have developed the traditional craft into a competitive, high technology leader in the construction of freighters, mega-yachts and tankers.

France, Italy had colonial ambitions that grew around historic harbors; today the active ports, ferry terminals and shipyards to be explored, documented, mapped and interpreted while contrasting the modern sites with the historic.

The Mediterranean was one of the earliest centers of world culture and trade. Documenting these historical ports and the modern facilities in there proximity should provide a rich study of the development of the materialistic societies that while similar, have different recent histories and modern economic success.

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infographics of the day – bicycling

Two wheel pedaling infrastructure has been in the news a few times over the recent weeks.

The  US Bike Route System map aims to create an ‘interstate’ highway system for bikes. [a large PDF is here]


While the NYTimes shared Kory Northrop’s (of University of Oregon) thesis as part of an interesting article about the ‘bicycling dividend’ by UMass Amherst Economics Prof. Nancy Folbre.

Have a happy 4th of july!