Posts tagged with "Pollution":

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Designed in Chicago, Made in China: Blair Kamin, Chicago designers mull Chinese urbanization

Blair Kamin convened a panel of designers at the Chicago Architecture Foundation last Wednesday for a discussion around themes explored in his recent series “Designed in Chicago, Made in China,” in which the Chicago Tribune architecture critic assessed the effects of that country’s rapid development on urbanism and design. “It’s often said that architecture is the inescapable art,” Kamin said to lead off the talk. “If that’s true then China’s urbanization is the inescapable story.” Joining Kamin were Jonathan D. Solomon, associate dean at the School of Architecture at Syracuse University; Thomas Hussey of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Ralph Johnson of Perkins + Will; and Silas Chiow, SOM’s China director. The event was part of the Tribune's "Press Pass" series. If you haven’t read Kamin's series, you should. It examined contemporary Chinese cities and some U.S. designers thereof, giving special attention to trends in three categories: work, live, and play. Photographer John J. Kim illustrated with visuals. “In regards to street life and public space,” said SOM’s Hussey, “there can be a lack of an attitude towards it.” Long Chinese “megablocks” in Shanghai’s soaring Pudong district facilitate an urbanism not on the street, which few Americans would find walkable, but it has given rise to a kind of vertical urbanism within mixed-use towers and urban malls. Hussey pointed to SOM’s plan for a new financial district in the port area of Tianjin, China’s fourth largest city, which seeks to restore the street life present in Chinese cities before rapid modern development. And while Chinese cities are growing up, they’re also growing out. Ralph Johnson of Perkins + Will reminded the audience that in the absence of property taxes, Chinese municipalities make money for new development by selling off land. That creates a ripple effect of rising property values and a pressure to sell that is devouring arable farmland. That trend’s not likely to slow down, said SOM’s Silas Chiow, since part of China’s national strategy to turn the largely manufacturing nation into a consumer country is to continue its rapid urbanization. That pressure helped produce China’s enviable mass transit systems and light rail connectivity, but also a homogeneity of design that some have called dehumanizing. Height limits, uniform standards for south-facing units and other design requirements that by themselves improve standard of living can breed sprawling, cookie-cutter developments that are easy to get lost in. Still, housing projects in China don’t carry the social stigma that they do in the U.S., commented a few panel members, in part because they’ve brought modern amenities to so many. Where China’s urbanization goes from here, however, is an open question. Images of smog-choked skylines remind some of Chicago in 1900, but the situation is not a perfect analogue. For one, the problem of carbon pollution is far more urgent now than it was then, and its sources far more potent. “Will China be the death of the urban world,” asked Kamin at the panel’s close, “or its savior?”
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New Research Iniatives Examine How Vital Pollinators Function In Urban Areas

As scientists search for the reasons why, large bee populations continue to die off at alarming rates. The insect's role as a vital cog in agricultural processes makes their rapid disappearance all the more concerning. Habitat destruction must certainly be considered as one explanatory factor for the troubling trend, as urbanization and sprawl have dealt a considerable blow to the ecosystems where these insects flourish. Britain alone has lost 98 percent of its wildflower meadows in the past 70 years. A new research initiative led by the University of Bristol is examining the way bees and their fellow pollinators function within the urban and suburban environs they are increasingly forced to inhabit. The Urban Pollinators Project, is studying pollinator populations in gardens in UK cities Bristol, Leeds, Edinborough, and Reading. The initiative is joined by a similar (and identically-named) project sponsored by the University of Washington that takes Seattle as its laboratory.
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Chicago Mulls Zoning Changes To Ward Off Mountains of Petcoke

Piles of dusty, black waste from coal and petroleum processing have been piling up on Chicago’s southeast side, angering residents and prompting Mayor Rahm Emanuel to weigh in on the contentious environmental issue. The Sun-Times has reported that Emanuel will introduce an ordinance at next month’s City Council meeting banning new storage facilities for so-called petcoke—a byproduct of the oil refinery process that can be sold overseas. It’s a step back from an outright ban proposed in December by Alderman Edward Burke, whose constituents were outraged by black dust clouds wafting from uncovered piles of petcoke along the Calumet River. Southeast side communities like Calumet, South Chicago, and South Deering are no strangers to industrial zoning. The Illinois-Indiana border has long been a pastiche of brownfields, residential communities, natural areas, and heavy industry. But the swirling black dust incited a class-action lawsuit filed against three storage sites last year. Chicago’s Department of Public Health shares area residents’ concerns. “We know that petcoke is a respiratory irritant and the main concern is if the petcoke is inhaled,” Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Bechara Choucair told the Sun-Times. “If you have somebody with asthma or other respiratory problems, inhaling petcoke would really lead to more problems…We are advancing this ordinance to protect our residents.” The anticipated zoning ordinance would prevent new petcoke storage facilities from entering the city, and would keep current outfits from expanding. KCBX, the largest such facility in the area, says the ordinance is unjustified, a sentiment shared by some business groups:
Mark Denzler, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association called the ordinance “a solution in search of a problem.” … The Illinois Chamber of Commerce is also questioning the ordinance, calling it an “overreaction.” “We don’t understand what the mayor is trying to accomplish here. Petcoke and coal have been handled and stored in Chicago for decades with few issues. This seems like an overreaction to one incident – good policy rarely comes from overreacting,” Doug Whitley, Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO said.
KCBX is an affiliate of Koch Industries, the business empire of brothers Charles and David H. Koch. Their company, Koch Carbon, came under fire last year for storing the same material along the Detroit River.
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Fiber Dome Glows in Response to CO2 Levels in Saginaw, Michigan

A web-like dome in Saginaw, Michigan changes colors to reflect the level of carbon dioxide in the air. Solar-powered LED lights connected to an onsite CO2 monitor illuminate the structure’s fibers in timed patterns to create the appearance of an organic response. On display in Saginaw’s First Merritt Park through October 31, the installation is part of the Great Lakes Bay Region’s “Art and Sol” celebration of art, culture, and science. The structure of Loop.pH’s SOL Dome was inspired by molecular biology. SOL Dome, eight meters in diameter, was constructed on site by volunteers over three days.
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Whew! EPA Declares Chicago's Air is Still Dirty

Most people would think that politicians would want their cities to be declared in compliance with Clean Air Act standards, but not Chicago! Illinois Governor Quinn and others the EPA lobbied to make sure  Chicago is counted as having dirty air, in spite of initial findings from that Chicago's pollution levels had improved significantly from 2008 to 2010. Why? Money of course! According to Crain's, a cleaner air ruling would have jeopardized up to $80 million in funding for projects to promote cleaner air, including transit upgrades and bike paths. While the logic is mind-bending, at least it means better public transportation and biking options!

Quick Clicks> Trip 0˚00, Thinking Gates, Growing Art, and Mapping Pollution

Walking the line. Watch artist Simon Faithfull travel both built and unbuilt environments along "the exact longitude of the Greenwich Meridian," using a GPS device in his documentary project "0˚00 Navigation."  Above is an excerpt through London, but you can also watch the whole thing here. (h/t Polis.) At the city gates. In this short article at the Sustainable Cities Collective, Chuck Wolfe muses over what a "city gate" would be in a modern city, contending that Google streetview is one form of a modern gate incarnation. Is a physical gate just an ornament of memories, or do we need the architectural drama only a physical threshold can provide? Art heals blight. As Elizabeth Currid-Halkett notes in the NY Times, art as a revitalization tool works, but not always. It takes more than just cheap rent and abandoned factory lofts to cultivate the next Soho. Take the case of Red Hook's art scene from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle: art, given its mercurial nature, may be best left alone, like the somewhat-isolated Brooklyn neighborhood. A map for Captain Planet. SkyTruth, a nonprofit environmental monitoring group, recently launched a real-time, interactive alert system that digitally maps domestic pollution events, such as toxic spills and air & water pollution. More at the LA Times blog.  
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Quick Clicks> Extreme Treehouse, Restoration Home, Bad Air for Bikes, and the Hotel Chelsea

Youth Space. Pharell Williams speaks to Wallpaper* about his plans for a new youth center in partnership with architect Chad Oppenheim. Both Keihl's and Williams' charity From One Hand to Another will support the creative vision in raising funds for the Virginia Beach project. The design draws conceptually from the construction of a treehouse with plans to be a uniquely green project and a safe place for children to learn and grow. Telly Transformations. Caroline Quentin presents a new BBC Two series entitled Restoration Home, a program that follows renovation of old buildings as they transform into sleek homes. Look forward to documentation of behind the scenes "nostalgia, architecture, and murder" as Olly Grant of the Telegraph details. Bad Air. If riding with speeding traffic weren't enough to worry about when cycling through the city, Scientific American reports on just how dirty street air really is from car and truck exhaust. In short, city air is a toxic cocktail of pollution that can pose a heart risk to urban cyclists. Time to clean up our streets? Chelsea Touch-ups. The new owner of Hotel Chelsea, Joseph Chetrit, hired architect Gene Kaufman to work on plans for expansion and renovation of the historic New York property according to the Wall Street Journal. Residents have little to worry about, though, as the hotel is a registered landmark which brings extra oversight. That being said, as the project begins, expect significant upgrades to the lobby and infrastructural repairs along with a potential additional restaurant.
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Quick Clicks> On Decq, Walkup, Toxic Town, Pei OK

Odile Speaks. French architect Odile Decq, designer of the recently completed Macro Museum in Rome, will be delivering a lecture at Hunter College in New York on Friday, March 4. The event takes place on the second floor of the MFA building (450 West 41st Street) at 6:00 PM. Walk-way-up. At 45 stories, a skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela could be the world's tallest walk-up. The New York Times has the story of the stalled tower that's now home to some 2,500 squatters. While the building lacks amenities like an elevator, proper bathrooms, or guardrails, it's said to offer a commanding view of the surrounding city. Toxic Town. Forbes ranks the ten most toxic cities in America and Philadelphia rises up as champion - toxic champion. Based on air and water quality, Superfund sites, and data from the EPA, the list generalizes that the west coast suffers from morbid air quality while New York, 4th worst, could improve its water quality. Pei Okay. The Wall Street Journal reviews I.M. Pei's Manhattan Centurion apartment building and finds that it "embodies an unfussy, functional, and elegant ethos that elevates it well above the schlocky residential construction now omnipresent in New York City." Pei collaborated with his son on the project, which might not be their last.
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Gowanus: Sunk or Saved?

The Environmental Protection Agency balked at the Bloomberg administration's controversial proposal to clean up the Gowanus Canal, favoring its own Superfund program in an announcement today, as had been expected. In a statement, regional administrator Judith Enck said  that, after much consultation with concerned parties, the EPA "determined that a Superfund designation is the best path to a cleanup of this heavily contaminated and long neglected urban waterway." The Bloomberg administration opposed the designation for fear it would stigmatize the waterway and drive off developers who were planning projects on the polluted canal's shores. Lo-and-behold, Toll Brothers, which had been planning a 2,000-unit mixed-use complex designed by GreenbergFarrow, has already nixed its plans. We also hear from a source that the Gowanus Green project by Rogers Marvel on a city-owned site is also on hold until it can shore up lending, assuming it can. As for the proposed rezoning, no word yet from the Department of City Planning, which had also been awaiting the Superfund decision before it proceeded. Marc LaVorgna, an administration spokesperson, called the EPA's decision "disappointing," though he did say that the city would still aid in the clean-up efforts. "We are going to work closely with the EPA because we share the same goal—a clean canal," he said. It appears the mayor was right about the threat Superfund designation posed to development on the canal, though the question of whether such projects should have taken place anyway, given even the possibility of Superfund levels of contamination, also has been answered. UPDATE: Looks like City Planning will be holding off for the time being, as we suspected. Here's the explanation we just received from spokesperson Rachaele Raynoff:
We’ve just gotten the news and we’re continuing to work on understanding the impacts of the designation on the potential for moving forward with a rezoning to facilitate appropriate development and remediation. Clearly, the Superfund designation adds a layer of additional complexity (and uncertainty) to an already very complex process.
UPDATE 2: Curbed has word from the folks at Gowanus Green that they have yet to give up on their project, though they do acknowledge that it will be more challenging.
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Robert Moses, Atlantic Yards & Air Pollution

Almost exactly a month ago, the Bloomberg administration released a study called the "New York City Community Air Survey." Years in the making, it was heralded as the first comprehensive study of the city's air quality ever undertaken, with results that are shocking if not obvious. As the map of particulate matter above shows—and as many of us already knew—the city can be a pretty gross place to live and breathe. There are plenty more maps like this, but they all basically come to two conclusions: Where there are cars and oil boilers, there is pollution. However, the wonk in us saw something particularly interesting: Outside of Manhattan—where congestion is a whole other animal (hence hope for congestion pricing)—the pollution tracks pretty heavily along the expressways built by none other than the Power Broker himself. We even built a handy GIF (after the jump!) to illustrate this. There is one notable exception, that big brown spot in the middle of Brooklyn, which is why we're bringing this up now. Earlier this week, the Atlantic Yards Report reported that street closures are imminent around the Atlantic Yards site, which would presumably exacerbate traffic in the area. This has long been a concern surrounding the project, back when the EIS was just an EIS and not the basis for a Supreme Court lawsuit. But as the map and GIF above illustrate, congestion—both vehicular and nasal—were a problem at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues long before Bruce Ratner, and probably even Robert Moses, showed up. Now, as more streets are closed and the traffic only gets worse, the pollution is likely to follow. Just imagine how bad it will be on game nights?
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Thrice As Smelly

On Monday, we reported on the Bloomberg administration's continued vociferous resistance to Superfund listing for the Gowanus Canal. While the main complaint by the mayor was that the Superfund stigma would poison the area for development for decades to come, we did not mention—at least not this time—that a major concern is also that the city could be held liable for some portion of the Superfund cleanup because of a number of polluting properties on the canal. That seems all the more likely now—as does the potential for listing—as the Post reported yesterday that the city has been sent a notice for its liabilities. According to the tab, "The city’s responsibility comes through previous/current ownership of an asphalt plant, incinerator, a pumping station, storage yard, and Department of Transportation garage." In an interesting new twist, the Navy was also served with a notice for at least nine "facilities where the Navy directed and oversaw government contractors which owned and/or operated facilities adjacent to the canal."

The Past Imperfect

For the 53rd Venice Art Biennial, Jorge Otero-Pailos, a professor of preservation at Columbia, made a cast of the pollution on a wall of the Doge’s Palace on the Palazzo San Marco. Trained as a conservationist, he painted liquid latex directly onto the wall and then carefully removed the cast in one sheet. The result, The Ethics of Dust, Doge’s Palace, Venice, 2009, seen in this video, is a luminous scrim that preserves the residue accrued overtime. Such pollution is typically seen negatively, but Otero-Pailos sees it as a record of human activity and questions the impulse to erase these traces of the past.