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Jobs Bill for Landscape Architects: EPA Stormwater Ruling

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is drafting new stormwater regulations to modernize stormwater management, scheduled for release this fall. The new rules are likely to focus on locally appropriate performance standards for capturing stormwater onsite, giving a strong impetus for LID and green infrastructure techniques. Current regulations simply require cities to use best management practices with no performance goal.
 
This rule change would not only promote sustainable practices, but would deliver the largest jobs bill for landscape architects of our time.
 
EPA needs to make the case to Congress that green infrastructure meets stormwater performance objectives as well as creates jobs and costs less. We know this is true but we need to show it.  The case studies in LAF’s Landscape Performance Series achieve this, but we need more – more case studies, in more geographic locations, and with more land use examples.
 
Please support ASLA’s effort to collect 300 LID case studies by March 31st, and then develop your case study further to submit to LAF to be a part of the Landscape Performance Series.  
 
With budget cuts, program eliminations, and upcoming legislation, we need to make the case for sustainable landscape solutions now more than ever, so please make the time to document your good work accordingly.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Waste Landscapes

by Caitlin Harrigan, 2010 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

Simultaneously fascinating and repelling, waste landscapes reveal much about the ways in which we order and respond to our environments, and how we will evolve with those environments in the future. I believe that landscape architects have much to offer to the design of waste landscapes. By shaping these typically marginalized places in an ecologically revealing way, we can begin to unveil and recognize the destructive effects of our consumptive lifestyles. But more importantly, we can create spaces that inspire people to contemplate and recognize the value of environmental quality as well as the development of strategies that enhance ecological function. As places that facilitate meaningful human interaction and activity focused on recycling, waste and reuse operations can galvanize a group of people around a common cause. They can help facilitate the paradigm shift from mindless consumption to thoughtful conservation. There is immense potential for waste places to act as local rallying points – spaces that remind us that there is such a thing as enough.

harrigan-image-1-bsmThe Marpole WasteWorks: An eco-revelatory precinct

As a graduate student, I studied the intersection between waste, landscape, and design while working on my thesis, The Marpole WasteWorks. I considered an alternative way of thinking about waste landscapes by viewing garbage as a potential, rather than a problem. I proposed redesigning a municipal waste transfer station into an eco-revelatory materials recovery precinct that diverted refuse into economically-viable reuse and recycling ventures. The benefits of the redesign included increased public awareness regarding consumption and waste generation, reduced waste transport costs, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced demand for landfill space, and improved site ecological functioning.

harrigan-image-2The Marpole WasteWorks: Elevated walkway / viewing gallery constructed out of repurposed shipping containers

The redesign acted as a publicly visible and accessible model of sustainable municipal infrastructure. It employed eco-revelatory design principles to highlight currently hidden processes as a means of reconnecting community members to solid waste and operational systems. The precinct addressed the need to embrace a paradigm shift – one that champions sustainability principles and reconnects people’s behaviours and actions with their physical consequences.

This past September, I traveled to South America to stretch my legs and explore a continent that has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. While in Boliva, I passed through the small town of Uyuni, a once-crucial mineral transport junction high in the Andean plateau. When Bolivia lost its seaports to Chile in the Pacific War, the national railway col- lapsed, and with it, Uyuni’s economic importance.

harrigan-image-3-m81Train graveyard in Uyuni, Bolivia

Locomotives rolled to a final stop in the outskirts of town, where the skeletal remains of hundreds of rusted-out steam engines still sit. Every year, this train graveyard is visited by thousands of tourists, including myself. While I walked the old tracks and explored the corroding train carcasses, the surreal beauty of this entirely unique waste landscape struck me. To think, this place has become both an attraction and amenity by virtue of the waste that sits here.

Waste landscapes come in all forms — landfills, transfer stations, train graveyards — and all possess qualities that can provoke, inspire, and delight.  Their inherent disorder is compelling. As landscape architects, we have the ability to illuminate the significance of the disarray through sensitive design intention. The aesthetic, ecological, and educational opportunities buried within are remarkable. Let’s dig in.

Caitlin Harrigan received her Masters Degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of British Columbia in May. She is now back in Canada after four months of traveling in South America and is currently updating her portfolio.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Movement as Experience

by Elise Hubbard, 2010 Olmsted Scholar

Streets are influential public spaces that hold potential to positively affect people’s daily routines.

ehubbardimage1-6czBeing a recent graduate from Kansas State University, and new to the working professional world at BNIM in Kansas City, my walk to work has become one of the most valued parts of my day. I love the simple morning atmosphere filling my lungs and stimulating my senses. As my body moves, so also does my mind to engage in the world around me. Walking to work is a part of my day that supports “an expanded state of awareness, accountability for daily actions, and the potential for a richer spectrum of experience for individuals and communities” (SlowLab).

ehubbardimage2I am passionate about the role of streets in urban life because I see how much the street environment can affect people’s daily lives. I believe bicycle and pedestrian circulation is a slower-pace transportation mode that allows for deeper, more meaningful human experience and perception of the world outside ourselves. For these qualities to surface in human experience, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure must be an integral part of the transportation network. As integral parts of the transportation network, safe and enjoyable bicycle and pedestrian circulation can foster meaningful time in transit through more natural speeds of engagement and active presence.  

It is my hope that Landscape Architects and other Planning and Design Professionals can strengthen meaningful experience in transit. Elizabeth Meyer says, “I do not believe that design can change society, I do believe it can alter an individual’s consciousness and perhaps assist in restructuring her priorities and values” (Meyer 2008). Movement corridors should be wonderfully designed landscapes because they are public places used by people every day. I believe the design of these public places holds great potential to positively influence people’s mind, body and spirit.

Although I do believe design can inhibit or assist in positively impacting people’s lives, improving the quality of people’s lives ultimately comes down to being aware of the world outside ourselves. As we become more aware of the world outside ourselves, we begin to meet the needs of people and improve the quality of life around us. I appreciate how Allan Jacobs describes community: “people acting and interacting to achieve in concert what they might not achieve alone” (Jacobs 1993). We should strive to live in greater community, engaging with and serving people around us. I believe that landscape architects, as a body of designers who love, respect and care for the environment, have the power and responsibility to assist in re-centering human consciousness to see, hear, taste and feel the beauty of life within and around us.

 

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Community Engagement: A Design Tool for Cultural Landscape Networks

by Denise Wood, 2010 Olmsted Scholar

wood-pic-1-c9sDenise Wood and Justin Barnett note the pros and cons of Harborview Park schematics.

During my senior studio, I had the honor of working on a project with the City of Cape May, NJ.  We redesigned three underused parks and developed a city pedestrian and bike trail. We held a series of four community meetings at different stages of the design process to determine the program that would best fit the community. This was our first opportunity to design based on feedback from community members; the lessons that transpired during this journey were truly remarkable. I realized how important community engagement can be during the design process.

Throughout this experience we learned about building relationships while listening to the end users and responding with design solutions. Members of the community learned from the experience, too. They learned more about what made their city special, and about aspects of sustainable design. We led discussions about rain gardens, native plants and the ecological uniqueness of this special town, which helped many citizens to better understand what landscape architects do. Even community members who were unable to attend meetings in person were able to participate, as each meeting was covered in the local newspaper. It was a very profound and touching experience to get to know this community and it influenced my own goals and desires.

wood-pic-2-r96Kali Whyte and Denise Wood lead a break out group discussion.

I have known all along that I wanted to be a landscape architect to make a difference in people’s lives by creating sustainable communities. Once I was engulfed in the magic of this Victorian beach town and its heartwarming community members, I knew that I had found my calling and I would strive to listen to what the community wanted in the future when designing public spaces. Taking this approach, I can reach many people within a community, and help them better understand their special and unique local ecology. Also, I want to educate the public on the role of landscape architects in creating sustainable communities, and help members of those communities realize what they can do to make a difference, even in their own backyards.

Community engagement in the design process benefits everyone.  It’s crucial we listen to what the end users want in order to best serve their needs. Community engagement can be a powerful educational design tool.

Denise Wood earned her Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture from Temple University School of Environmental Design in May.  She is currently residing in Reading, PA as a sustainable landscape designer. Click for more information on this project and the City of Cape May, NJ.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Sustainability and Water Quality, An International Topic

by Leslie Batten, 2010 Olmsted Scholar

batten-pic-2University of Waikato hosted the 7th International Conference on Sustainability

I started the New Year by attending the 7th annual International Conference on Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability held at the University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Each day of the three-day conference was filled with an array of presentations that covered both academic and professional work. Attendees and presenters from 28 countries shared their disciplinary theories and practices about how to inspire, and cultivate sustainability on a local scale. The conference was an opportunity to broaden this body of work to the global scale by encouraging collaboration between participants and across disciplines. Some of the diverse topics included: sustainability in the fashion industry, low-carbon technology, migrant mine workers in South Africa, traditional Malay cultural practices as models for sustainability, improving water quality sampling methodology to improve water supply in Israel, Marine Protected Areas in Indonesia, the effects and opportunities for Eco-tourism in Africa, how to teach sustainability, cultural consumption in Slovakia, Chinese Medicine in modern culture, and transit oriented development in Taipei. The rich, multidisciplinary themes of the conference showcase the breadth of research and professional fields that are currently working towards sustainability, and on a global scale; an encouraging prospect! These topics and many more can be found at the conference website: On Sustainability

I presented my thesis work through the Green Futures Research and Design Lab at the University of Washington’s Department of Landscape Architecture titled: Waterfront Stormwater Solutions. My thesis focuses on transforming current waterfront stormwater systems that directly convey polluted stormwater without prior treatment into the Puget Sound, a Pacific Northwest icon and home to charismatic orca whales and endangered salmon. Scientists and watershed managers conclude that stormwater is the leading cause of degradation to Puget Sound. The current practice of stormwater treatment often allows entry of a soup of toxins that arise from everyday human land use activities such as oil and gas dripped on pavement, pet waste, fertilizers and pesticides from our lawns and farms (and in some cases greenroofs), heavy metals from cars and industrial pollutants. As a result, aquatic life is devastated, the shellfish industry (a state economic driver) is impaired, and people are told to stay away from the water.

My thesis will continue my current work of addressing such an egregious issue. I will spend the next six months refining alternative design prototypes for local municipalities to collect, clean, cool and harvest stormwater at the water’s edge. I will work to develop alternative end-of-the-pipe systems that incorporate people and wildlife by removing pollutants, restoring habitat for aquatic wildlife, and inviting people to play, relax, learn, enjoy and access their waterfront. I am particularly excited about the multifaceted technical and social aspects required to complete this project. Technical aspects like engineering, hydrology, soil chemistry, horticulture and marine ecology are paired equally alongside human experience, art, education and recreation. At the end of the thesis process, I intend to develop a toolbox of solutions that other municipalities throughout the region, and perhaps beyond, may use to treat stormwater and to improve their waterfronts, such that outfalls become design opportunities.

Stormwater pollution is not limited to the Puget Sound. It is an international issue as evidenced by presentations at the Sustainability Conference and articles in the associated Sustainability Journal. For instance, the floods in Australia occurred while I was attending the conference. Since then, ongoing flooding has caused a tremendous amount of environmental, social and economic damage over a short period of time. Pollutants washed from urban and rural surfaces into the Coral Sea may greatly impact the Great Barrier Reef, an already sensitive ecosystem. Concurrent with this environmental challenge were presentations from other contexts. Huynh Viet Khai from Kyushu University, Japan reports that water pollution from industrial activities in the upper Me Kong watershed has impacted downstream rice production in Vietnam. It is likely that stormwater runoff is just one of several contributing sources to the Me Kong’s substantial water quality issues. Another presentation by Dr Yuming Wen of the University of Guam further substantiates that human land use is correlated to water quality with forested and natural areas showing zero to limited impacts. Lastly, Abel Enrique Navarro of New York University presented his research developing a reusable magnetized algae that attracts and removes toxic artificial dyes from water. As a biologically based filtration mechanism this process might serve well to remove stormwater conveyed contaminants. Several other notable presentations regarding water quality were submitted to the conference and while they did not appear in the final agenda, their work may appear in the conference journal, the Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability or as a virtual presentation available at the conference website listed above.

batten-pic-1Water tanks with rainwater connections are a common feature in New Zealand homes.

During session breaks, I was fortunate to discuss local water issues with attendees from New Zealand. I was impressed on a previous bike tour with all the rainwater cisterns and wanted to commend the Kiwi’s for their foresight. This proved to be a heated topic. While they relied on large tank systems (cisterns) as opposed to municipal water for their water supply, they do not rely solely on rainwater alone. Rainwater only tops off the tank supply. Instead, Kiwi’s refill the tanks by a water delivery truck. So far many had already refilled their tanks more than once this summer due to the droughts (and by not adapting their use to sustain the low volumes) at quite an expense. While tanks may be a result of limited municipal infrastructure, it is a feature that can greatly assist efforts to decrease harmful stormwater runoff by intercepting the rain and reusing it. This can also help with water conservation by using rainwater instead of importing freshwater from other sources where withdrawals might be competing with wildlife needs or other natural processes. A greywater recycling system would further reduce water demand and showcase a complete water system.

The bodies of work presented at the conference suggest that it will take a variety of solutions to achieve water quality goals. Until we work out source control mechanisms to prevent water pollution in the first place, we will need to rely on treatment mechanisms such as Waterfront Stormwater Solutions that will provide additional benefits to wildlife and humans while simultaneously treating stormwater. 

The next International Sustainability Conference will be held in Vancouver, BC next January. Maybe I’ll see you there!