Posts tagged with "Climate Change":
The United States must remain a leader in the battle to cease harmful and needless practices that damage the planet and its climate, acting out of both environmental concerns and national economic interests. Instead of helping our economy, as the Administration contends, withdrawing from the Paris Agreement will put us behind our major global competitors. The AIA will not retreat from its long-established efforts to conserve energy and to deploy renewable resources in buildings. We will continue to lead in efforts to curb the use of fuels and technologies that needlessly pollute our atmosphere and harm our environment. This makes good sense economically, and it is in the best interests of those we serve: our clients and the public. We will also urge our members throughout the United States and the world to assist cities, states, organizations and citizen groups in meeting the aims of the climate accord. By adhering to our values as a profession that is concerned with human habitat and the health of our environment, we will help to mitigate the harm this decision will do to our economy and to America's stature across the globe.Mahesh Ramanujam, president & CEO, U.S. Green Buildings Council (USGBC) and Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI):
As many know the Paris Agreement, under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), establishes voluntary actions to address greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change mitigation and adaptation—and 194 countries around the world are signatories. The United States government has an opportunity to lead on this and, in so doing, strengthen global partnerships, yet has chosen to walk away. We are deeply disappointed to learn of the Administration’s decision to withdraw from the historic Paris Agreement today. We are facing an important crossroads and America must keep building. We need to keep building bridges and bonds and breaking barriers in the push for a sustainable future for all. While the pullout of the U.S. government from the Paris Agreement will be felt across the world, the surge of climate commitments and actions by the private sector, NGO’s, governments, cities and states, will only serve to strengthen the green building movement and keep pushing us forward. For 24 years, USGBC has led the green building movement with a strong vision – that buildings, communities, and cities will regenerate and sustain the health and vitality of all life within this generation. Today, our efforts continue unabated and with stronger than ever commitment and hope. Yes, hope. We are hopeful for the future because we know that our movement is a community of 13 million strong and growing. We are encouraged by their continued commitment to build a sustainable future for all. U.S. companies, including many USGBC members, are already working to address business risks from climate change and to adapt their businesses to domestic and global opportunities created around climate mitigation needs. Businesses and local governments are wisely seeking and investing in low-carbon fuels and technologies to stay on the cutting edge of the global economy. And with platforms like Arc, more and more companies and government entities are tracking their carbon emissions, committing to reduction targets, and taking action. Right now, business as usual is no longer an option. With the work of our organization, our members, our volunteers and many others, we have reached the point where the transition to a low-carbon economy is inevitable; but remains urgent. And all around us, we see that there are new leaders who are ready to rise, inspired by the promise of a brighter future for our children and for generations to come. They are the big corporations and small business owners, educators and innovators, scientists and activists, non-profit employees and policy makers, advocates and so many more who are working every day to change our world, definitively, for the better. To these leaders, green building is the key solution to pushing our built environment to be supportive and restorative of all life.James Miner, AICP, Managing Principal, Sasaki:
It appears that the president has decided to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. We gathered as a firm just yesterday to discuss the importance of moving from intent to action. We also talked about the need to take a stand together at times when our collective values are being called into question. Now is one of those times. As a community of designers that aspire to bring positive change to the world through the power of place, I would like to make clear that our position on climate change remains strong. As we all understand and appreciate, the topic of climate change is one that will far outlast the current political cycle. We cannot and will not change our stance towards responsible stewardship of our planet. Read the full statement from Sasaki here.Van Alen Institute
This past December, in response to the divisions revealed by the presidential election, we launched Crossroads Conversations on the Red Steps in Times Square. The program, which has since become a multipart series, invited people from all walks of life and political convictions to engage in a ten-minute conversation with a stranger. One participant, a young firefighter from New Orleans, introduced himself with, “I’m a Trump guy.” When the topic of climate change arose, his response was, “It’s undeniable. When you walk outside in Louisiana, you know this isn’t right.” He continued to rattle off statistics about the escalating global temperature, emphasizing the need to address climate change on an international level. Though only a brief moment at the “Crossroads of the World,” the conversation highlighted how the broader national belief in the reality of climate change and faith in science, particularly among younger generations, can overcome last week’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords amid ongoing partisan divide. We can envision a future in which climate change is no longer a politicized issue, in the same way the issue doesn’t divide populations in other countries, where scientific research is the foundation of collective goals. Van Alen Institute’s work in the young firefighter’s home state of Louisiana has renewed our commitment to developing projects that address climate change issues in communities around the world. In that particular region, we served as a key partner with the Environmental Defense Fund and BuroHappold Engineering on Changing Course, a design competition that launched in 2011 to envision a more sustainable Lower Mississippi River Delta; the competition’s findings are now informing regional master plans. Of course, our approach to climate change goes far beyond the Gulf Coast. Back in our own region, we served as a lead partner on Rebuild by Design, an initiative of President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to address the structural and environmental vulnerabilities that Hurricane Sandy exposed in communities throughout the region, and develop fundable solutions to better protect residents from future climate events. We invite you to browse all of our climate-related work here.[Statement from the Van Alen Institute continues on vanalen.org]
Dear Members of the U.S. House of Representatives: As members of the American design and construction industry, we are dedicated to tackling the challenging issues that threaten our planet by creating healthy, productive, and safe communities for all, today and in the future. We are on the front lines addressing climate change in a meaningful and impactful way, facing current issues such as energy efficiency, water conservation, sustainable land use, resiliency, and adaptive reuse. More can be and must be done. We strongly support the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus and thank the following 40 representatives for their courage in working across party lines to find solutions to this urgent real-world challenge: Nevada: Mark Amodei, R, 2nd New York: John Faso, R, 19th Peter King, R, 2nd Tom Reed, R, 23rd Elise Stefanik, R, 21st Thomas Suozzi, D, 3rd Claudia Tenney, R, 22nd Lee Zeldin, R, 1st Oregon: Earl Blumenauer, D, 3rd Suzanne Bonamici, D, 1st Pennsylvania: Brendan Boyle, D, 13th Ryan Costello, R, 6th Brian Fitzpatrick, R, 8th Patrick Meehan, R, 7th Utah: Mia Love, R, 4th Virginia: Don Beyer, D, 8th
Vermont: Peter Welch, D, at large Washington: Dave Reichert, R, 8th Wisconsin: Mike Gallagher, R, 8th California: Salud Carbajal, D, 24th Eshoo, D, 18th Darrell Issa, R, 49th Alan Lowenthal, D, 47th Jerry McNerney, D, 9th Scott Peters, D, 52nd Mike Thompson, D, 5th Juan Vargas, D, 51st Colorado: Mike Coffman, R, 6th Connecticut: Jim Himes, D, 4th Florida: Charlie Crist, D, 13th Carlos Curbelo, R, 26th Ted Deutch, D, 22nd Brian Mast, R, 18th Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R, 27th Illinois: Rodney Davis, R, 13th Daniel Lipinski, D, 3rd Massachusetts: Seth Moulton, D, 6th Maryland: John Delaney, D, 6th Nebraska: Don Bacon, R, 2nd New Hampshire: Annie Kuster, D, 2nd We are reaching out to encourage the remaining 395 House members from across all 50 states to join the Caucus as well to help face this unprecedented common challenge. We are finding that the rule requiring new Caucus members to join in pairs of one Republican and one Democrat is welcomed in an overwhelmingly positive way by the American people. Of course, we would be pleased to join you and lend our expertise as needed to help move our communities forward in a healthy and prosperous way. Thank you and sincerely, Architects AdvocateWithin hours of publishing the letter Architects Advocate have received hundreds of signatures from architects endorsing the letter. Those interested in signing the letter can do so here.
This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.
Increasing economic and environmental pressures have the potential to challenge the resiliency of South Florida’s low-lying urban areas in the near future. As Florida’s population continues to grow in the midst of the increasingly obvious impacts of gentrification, global climate change, and sea level rise, economic and environmental displacement are likely to make the northern city of Jacksonville a beacon of hope for a climate-ravaged state.
Why? Because Jacksonville is huge and has room to grow. The city, named after President Andrew Jackson, also first governor of Florida, is the state’s largest by population and the 12th largest in the U.S., population-wise, with 868,031 residents. Jacksonville is also the largest city in the U.S. by land area—874.3 square miles—making it almost twice the size of Los Angeles and about three times that of New York City. The city’s corresponding 1,142 people per square mile density—L.A. and New York are many times denser—means there is plenty of room to grow.
Ruth L. Steiner, professor and director at the Center for Health and the Built Environment in the department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Florida, Gainesville, said: “I think the area is amenable to accepting large amounts of new growth,” adding that though the region could likely support an influx of new residents, its schools, transportation, and land-use policies would need a healthy dose of re-thinking to be ready.
A question regarding the massive growth in southern and central Florida, however, centers around the long-term sustainability of these new population centers as the impacts of climate change and sea level rise threaten the state’s coastal communities. With sea levels predicted to rise between four inches and up to ten feet across the region, low-lying areas of the Miami region will see massive losses in real estate and untenable retrofitting costs. The simultaneous and ongoing population growth across that region will likely ultimately push residents to flee to higher, cheaper ground.
That’s where Jacksonville comes in. Though some parts of the city lie on the coast, much of the city’s land area currently sits roughly 16 feet above sea level. As of 2010, Jacksonville had 366,273 households with an 11.8 percent vacancy rate, meaning that roughly 43,220 units are currently unoccupied. The relatively high vacancy rate means lower rents and, maybe more importantly, lower economic barriers to homeownership for first-time buyers—a growing problem for Miami’s millennial residents. Jacksonville is also home to the nation’s largest urban parks system, with 80,000 acres of parkland distributed across 337 sites, which according to Steiner, “bodes well” for any future urban development. She explained, “Investment in public infrastructure like parks has a high level of pay-back in terms of raising quality-of-life.”
Steiner added that the city faces challenges in terms of its urban layout; “another dilemma is the city’s sprawled out urban form,” she said, adding that because most of the development in the city has happened since World War II, the city is organized along “a series of major arterials and mega-blocks,” a 3,400-mile long network of roads that deters pedestrian-oriented design. Jacksonville also has a bus-only transit system that, aside from a downtown monorail line, leaves much to be desired in terms of mass transit.
The city, a short drive from the University of Florida’s Gainesville campus, is, however, poised for knowledge worker growth. Not only that, but the vast majority of Florida’s recent population growth is not from an increase in births or even migration from other American states, but from a net influx of individuals moving to the state from foreign countries, with Cuban, Venezuelan, and Haitian immigrants showing up in the highest numbers. The impact of climate change on those countries is currently unknown, but it is safe to assume that those communities would continue to grow should conditions back home deteriorate.
In a not-too-far-off future, could Jacksonville provide a relief valve for the growing state? It’s likely, and if city officials can prepare accordingly, Jacksonville’s new residents might learn to love the city. “Sometimes,” Steiner added, “I think Jacksonville is a diamond in the rough.”
Although many in the tristate area know it as a place to just drive through, the New Jersey Meadowlands is a critical micro-region just west of New York City. A quarter-million people commute on Amtrak and local rail through the area every day, and it’s the warehouse and distribution hub for the region—Amazon just purchased a 600,000-square-foot warehouse there, near the Teterboro Airport, to expedite its shipping operations. With 800 acres of preserved wetlands, the Meadowlands also sustains fisheries and migrating birds. That ecology co-exists with critical infrastructure: power and wastewater treatment plants, as well as petroleum production, but its soil and water holds contaminants that pose great risk to human health. Together, the value of all property in the Meadowlands is assessed at $6.2 billion.
The low-lying area is also particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. Last Friday at Assembly, the Regional Plan Association’s annual conference, stakeholders convened to discuss its future. “Facing Climate Change in the Meadowlands” brought together Robert Ceberio, president and founder of consulting firm RCM Ceberio; Stephen Dilts, office leader at New Jersey’s HNTB, an infrastructure planning firm; Debbie Mans, executive director of NY/NJ Baykeeper; and Catherine Seavitt Nordenson, principal of Catherine Seavitt Studio and assistant professor of landscape architecture at CUNY. The talk was moderated by Eugenie Birch, the Lawrence C. Nussdorf Chair of Urban Research and Education at the University of Pennsylvania.
The panel raised big questions: Where do we retreat from, and where do we protect? How can fixed infrastructure be adapted? How will resiliency planning sustain natural ecosystems? And—with sea levels projected to rise three feet in the next 60 to 80 years—how soon can we start?
From 1969 through the early 2000s, the Meadowland’s growth was guided by a master plan. That plan called for the major development of the wetlands, backed by literal tons of infill (the debris from Penn Station and the London blitz lives there now, below some NJ Turnpike spur). After the plan expired in 2004, the residential population dropped to 30,000 from 70,000 while commercial space more than doubled to 6.5 million square feet of warehouses, stores, and offices.
It used to be that no one cared about the health of the wetlands, Ceberio said. The former executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission added that now, though, “resiliency and flood control is on the top of everyone’s mind,” When planning the area, “we used to look at heights of buildings in relation to the Teterboro Airport. Now we’re looking at FEMA maps.”
But the will to act is another question. “Are people in state and federal government are going to step up and do it?” he asked, sort of rhetorically, but other panelists were eager to jump in.
The lack of a major plan—and a timeline—for sustaining a critical area was a running theme, foreshadowing words of warning from conference keynote Joe Biden. The former vice president told elected officials, planners, and AEC professionals in the audience to “stop being polite” and “sound the alarm” on the “shameful” state of the region’s infrastructure. “You need to start shouting about how bad things are,” he said.
In New Jersey, at least, the stakeholders are vocal. Debbie Mans said that obstacles to resiliency planning abounded. Since the state legislature dissolved the Meadowlands Commission seven years ago, she said, there’s been a piecemeal approach to what should be a comprehensive regional strategy. She took issue with grand plans put forth by Rebuild By Design, HUD’s National Disaster Resilience Competition. The plans called for hard and soft infrastructure, including a wall in the middle of the wetland. They're soft, Mans said, is levees and berms. But with green infrastructure already intact, “bisecting and filling it intuitively doesn’t make sense.” The implementation, too, is scattershot; she questioned what the state and the region would receive for the millions being spent in the Meadowlands.
There was a consensus among panelists that more needed to be done to re-orient the crisis-by-crisis response approach towards a more proactive planning framework. Ceberio pointed out that the Gateway Program's tunnel entry point is in the Meadowlands. (The project will build a massive rail tunnel under the Hudson River to replace Hurricane Sandy–damaged tubes used by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit.) But he noted climate change puts the project in a precarious position: “If flood scenarios become reality those tunnels are gone. Gone!”
Beyond trains, around 1,900 people in the area could be displaced due to rising sea levels within the next 30 years. Despite the risks, residents want to stay. But there are hard conversations that need to happen. When people are passionate about a place like residents are about the Meadowlands, “they do things to sustain it,” Seavitt said. “In all of its tawdriness, it’s beautiful.” There's a long way to go: “If there was a reasonable, strategic, well-thought-out plan we’d get behind it,” said Mans. “But we don’t see that right now.”
Partisan political discourse still pretends as if there’s a climate change “debate,” yet the government is already acting extensively to prevent crises from rising global temperatures. Across the country, local and federal agencies are working with architects and planners to protect communities and redevelop neighborhoods in the aftermath of climate-related natural disasters. But what happens to residents who are too poor to get out of the way of storms—and too poor to return—and why is anyone rushing to live in disaster zones?
Catastrophic natural disasters share a common feature with accelerated processes of economic development: at vastly different rates, both can result in large-scale displacement. An article by Brentin Mock on environmental news site Grist uses a pithy phrase for the disparate impact climate change can have on lower-income residents: it’s the “ultimate gentrifier,” he wrote, citing the exodus of more than 300,000 low-income residents from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
The description may be provocative, but studies by environmental scientists at the EPA’s Climate Change Division partly support the notion. Within the 6,000-square-mile area at high risk of flooding by 2100 due to a mid-range two-foot sea-level rise, almost 750,000 residents belong to the most socially vulnerable groups. These are most likely to be disproportionately impacted by storms and least likely to have the resources to move.
But are rich people really are moving into areas where low-income residents are being displaced by storms? Sadly, in some cases, yes. A New York Times story on high-rise condo construction in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, reports that, far from retreating from flooded areas, a building boom is driving up prices.
Currently, local and federal agencies only spottily provide the necessary infrastructure and policy frameworks to protect against climate-related catastrophes ranging from forest fires in Southern California, earthquakes along the Pacific Coast, tornados and flash flooding in the Midwest, and hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. Adequate planning, federal aid, and environmental regulations can and should prevent disparate impacts of climate-change related severe weather events on low-income residents. In practice, prioritizing where to improve infrastructure falls to local governments that have worse financial constraints and often carry an implicit economic bias toward the most financially important areas.
In Alaska, higher temperatures are increasing erosion and thawing the permafrost, causing homes to sink in the mud. More than a dozen Inuit towns have already voted to move, including Newtok, which has acquired a relocation site through an act of Congress, and the 650-person Bering Sea village of Shishmaref, which commissioned AECOM’s Anchorage office to study the feasibility of relocation sites. Yet the cost of these moves, estimated at $214 million for Shishmaref alone, is far beyond the means of the inhabitants; a UN report on climate change and displacement notes the lack of state and federal governance structures to support these moves.
Some low-lying neighborhoods in New Orleans are undergoing a similar policy of unofficial abandonment, swallowed up by nature through neglect. These places are not gentrifying—they’re simply disappearing.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), reorganized in 2003 under the Department of Homeland Security and reformed since 2009 by Obama administration appointee Craig Fulgate, now talks about what it calls a “whole community” approach, emphasizing participation and engagement of a wide range of stakeholders. It needs to do more.
“FEMA has changed its rhetoric,” said Deborah Gans, who has conducted planning studies for low-lying neighborhoods in New Orleans and Red Hook, Brooklyn, most of which flooded in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy. “They don’t really know how to do it yet, but at least they’re talking the talk.”
In 2008, Homeland Security established the Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant program to encourage collaborative emergency planning in America’s ten largest urban regions. In New York’s combined statistical area, which includes New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, the Regional Catastrophic Planning Team coordinated a series of Participatory Urban Planning workshops that included city and state agencies, nonprofits, community groups, private sector representatives, and even local Occupy affiliates to streamline emergency preparedness, housing recovery plans, and recovery processes in five types of communities.
In the New York area, Hurricane Sandy has increased the sense of urgency. “In New York, about a third of our housing is within our six evacuation zones,” said Cynthia Barton, who participated in the workshops as manager of the Housing Recovery Program for the New York City Office of Emergency Management.
Barton leads the FEMA-supported initiative to prototype interim housing units, designed by James Garrison, which would substitute for the improvised mesh of hotels that sheltered displaced low-income residents in the aftermath of Sandy. The interim housing units, IKEA-like prefab condo boxes that stack up to three stories high in various configurations, facilitate an urban density allowing vulnerable residents to remain within their neighborhoods in the aftermath of severe storms.
“The basis for the project has always been that none of the federal temporary housing options would work in cities and that it’s very important to keep people close to home after a disaster,” Barton said. “In terms of economic stability for people and for neighborhoods, it’s important to keep people close to their jobs. It’s important for mental health reasons to keep people close to schools and close to their support networks.”
But on the federal level, long-term infrastructure improvements are not adequately funded. In New Orleans, landscape architect Susannah Drake of DLANDstudio is working on a gray and green streetscape program for 20 blocks of the St. Roch neighborhood. “The issue is that the base condition was low in terms of the infrastructure that existed,” Drake said. “We’re adding basic amenities for what would be a normal streetscape in New York, but we’re also dealing with the challenge of having very little infiltration and having a lot of water to manage…They’re not things the federal government is necessarily willing to pay for.”
Without federal insurance and public investment in infrastructure, wealthy homeowners don’t tend to move into flood zones. But storm protection, unevenly funded by federal grants, frequently has to be supported by local real-estate development tax revenues that provide lopsided advantages to upper-income residents.
“There’s a historical inequity environmentally in a lot of these neighborhoods in need, and it’s exacerbated by climate change,” said Gans, who led a Pratt Institute planning study on how to locate emergency housing in low-lying Red Hook, Brooklyn. “New York City Housing Authority projects were generally located on land that wasn’t that valuable, and guess what? It tended to be low-lying and out of the way.”
The problem centers on whether to save the threatened neighborhoods or rezone them to exclude residential use. Shoring up a city’s flood defenses can become an opportunity to improve a neighborhood’s environmental equity, but using the prevailing market-based model, focusing stormwater infrastructure in a waterfront community will only push more housing into vulnerable areas.
“As long as we keep allowing people to build market-rate waterfront property, there will be gentrification,” Gans said. “Any development that takes place on the water will be so expensive that it will necessarily gentrify the waterfront. There’s just no doubt about it.”
In Red Hook and Sunset Park, AECOM recently released a plan to place 30-50,000 units of new housing on the waterfront—25 percent of it affordable—as well as subsidize a new subway stop, and implement green and gray infrastructure for coastal protection and flood management. Arguing for the plan as a boost to Mayor de Blasio’s OneNYC ambition to build 200,000 affordable units by 2020, the proposal also runs counter to the idea of limiting exposure to areas of growing risk.
“Why would you build more housing in an area that’s underserved by transportation and that’s in a really dangerous zone, a flood area,” asked Drake, who designed the Sponge Park concept as a green infrastructure element for the Gowanus Canal. “I’m not an economist, but I’m very pragmatic and down on building in flood plains.”
Officially, there is no means testing of emergency planning or recovery aid. Eligibility for the National Flood Insurance Program and high insurance rates affect individual decision-makers. Not so for public housing, where residents’ lack of access to resources makes issues of planning that much more grave. Because of its 6,500 public housing residents, two-thirds of the Red Hook is below the poverty line. Economically, the light-manufacturing industries scattered among its low-rises generate relatively little revenue for the city to justify hundreds of millions in flood protection.
The conflict between access to revenues and local needs seems to underlie the rapidly advancing East Side and Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency projects, sections of Bjarke Ingels Group’s winning Rebuild by Design competition proposal for the protection of Lower Manhattan up to 59th Street. The projects essentially erect a wall adorned with parks as a bulwark against the sea. They implicitly prioritize the centrally important economic drivers of New York City.
“Ultimately there’s a cost-benefit analysis,” said Drake. “I’m not saying that lives are less valuable in other parts of the city, but when you do an economic cost-benefit analysis between Lower Manhattan and Red Hook, and you’re looking on purely financial terms, then Lower Manhattan wins because it’s an economic driver of the city.”
If it can really be done for that amount, the estimated cost for the Lower Manhattan projects is negligible in comparison to the economic benefit. The Office of Recovery and Resiliency and the Economic Development Corporation of New York have dedicated $100 million to an integrated flood protection system (IFPS) for Red Hook. City capital is supporting a $109 million Raise Shorelines Citywide project that would mitigate sea level rise in Old Howard Beach, Gowanus Canal, East River Esplanade, Mott Basin, Canarsie, Norton Basin, and the North Shore of Coney Island Creek.
“Emergency planning should really be about future planning,” Gans said. “The way you avert an emergency is by making sure you have integrative future plans that don’t put people in harm’s way and mitigate all of the bad decisions you made historically.”
In contrast to the oblivious political climate change “debate,” local governments have already learned from recent extreme weather events that they need to act to improve their planning capacity and infrastructure. Federal agencies are also acting, putting limited resources into protecting against climate change-related disasters. Highly engineered solutions are possible, but they’re unwise as a long-term strategy in the absence of a leveling off of global temperatures and will be cost-prohibitive for low-income communities. Unless the next Congress is prepared to fund a national infrastructure program, the best way to equitably protect low-income residents will be to downzone vulnerable areas and build new public housing on higher ground. Otherwise, we’ll need to accept the fact that our celebrated revitalized waterfront is mainly for the rich.
From the Everglades to the Rockaways, this Brooklyn firm works with communities to design for resiliency
Walter Meyer and Jennifer Bolstad, founders of and partners in Local Office Landscape and Urban Design (LOLA), are earning a reputation for their innovative resiliency projects at the edges of civilization—coastlines and islands. With a multipronged approach that they describe as part architecture, part environmental remediation, and part community organization, Meyer and Bolstad are battling the effects of environmental change on cities and their populations. Managing editor Olivia Martin talked with them about LOLA’s approach to resiliency and future-proofing the planet—from working on post-Hurricane Sandy conditions in the Rockaways to remediating coastal areas of Florida.
The Architect’s Newspaper (AN): You say that resiliency is the new sustainability. Why?
Walter Meyer: It’s a new buzzword, so people confuse it and interchange it with sustainability as though they are the same thing. But sustainability is a derivative of Frederic Clements’s climax theory, in which a field, for example, will change each decade, from soil to weeds to shrubs to trees and then climax as a hardwood forest—this is a snapshot of nature in 3-D.
What emerged after World War II was a new theory of the natural cycles of time. Rather than seeking an equilibrium theory of nature, there is a disequilibrium, where nature is trying to balance itself and adapt to change. Those who can anticipate and respond to change quicker are the ones who have the upper hand.
The big difference is that resiliency is dynamic and changing, while sustainability is static. In terms of scale, sustainability is holistic and more big-picture, and resiliency is more local. So I think of sustainability as an old model but still an important tool.
AN: Do you have examples of where sustainability failed us and why it should no longer be considered the gold standard, so to speak?
Jennifer Bolstad: Well, a few years ago, I consulted on One World Trade Center, which is a very sustainable building [LEED Gold]. But when the mechanical system drowned in Hurricane Sandy and couldn’t be used anymore, the firm in charge ultimately decided it was cheaper to abandon it and leave several floors uninhabited rather than fix it.
Meyer: Also during Hurricane Sandy, all of the buildings that ran on photovoltaics failed because the city grid was down. So, literally, every single building with solar was down. This is because there is a law that if the grid goes down, you can’t back charge the line with your solar panels, because you’ll zap the workers trying to fix the grid. Since then, they invented a hybrid inverter that “islands” the building into a microgrid, so it can function independently off of the grid. There needs to be a dynamic relationship with nature, and we should be creating multilayered systems.
AN: You have a lot of work in Florida right now that deals with water management. How does resiliency factor into those projects?
Meyer: All of the articles written about Miami focus on the ocean and city. It’s all about the ocean—and that makes for good headlines. But what’s missed is that Miami’s most vulnerable areas are in the Everglades, on the west side of the city, because they have freshwater, five feet higher than the ocean, that can’t become diluted with salt water or else Miami loses its water source.
The area near Everglades National Park is particularly at risk because the main flow of the water runs north–south, down from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, and a secondary flow of water runs east–west—like a spine and ribs. Originally, the secondary water flow moved through transverse glades and occasionally wet bogs and sloughs. Since the channels weren’t actual rivers, the city filled them in, and now, when it rains, the houses on those streets along these former sloughs flood. The homes are considered Repetitive Loss properties and the owners cannot collect insurance for the damage anymore. The buildings’ foundations are cracking, due to the water infiltrating the alkaline bedrock, literally melting it. We are trying to open up more options to the people who are stuck in these houses but don’t want to leave their community.
Normally, there is a lot of discussion about design activists, but we are more like community organizers—we want to engage the residents themselves. It’s a lot of listening and then designing and showing them what legal options are available, or creating new ones. One option is a CLT, a community land trust—where everyone buys into this idea, and you work with a public–private partnership, such as a developer and the county. For this neighborhood, it’s about creating high density along the edge of the vulnerable corridor, along the slough of the transverse glades, and doing this three blocks at a time.
If you can organize just three blocks—the center of the slough, a transitional, and a bank—then this creates a housing swap, where the residents can continue their normal lives and not have their schedules disrupted. So, for example, you can move out of the home into a temporary housing unit; then the home will be demolished and turned into a flood storage park, and you will have the option of moving or the right of first refusal to a new high-density, 40-percent affordable housing unit nearby. This makes more sense than simply moving everyone to higher ground because, then, those who are already at higher ground could be dislocated due to rising real estate costs—already Florida developers are looking at luxury housing inland—and this creates new levels of climate refugees.
AN: So, resiliency aside, is relocating more responsible than fixing?
Meyer: Well, that is what leads to climate gentrification; the issue of scale is a major one. If you take a holistic approach and just get everyone out of harm’s way, then you aren’t paying attention to the social fabric. For example, Staten Island was a state buyout project; the government essentially said, “We’ll buy your house, and you can take the money and run.” The problem with that is then the people basically had to move out to Newark because the buyout price point doesn’t acknowledge the gentrification, and $200,000 or $300,000 won’t get you another house in the city. In the Edgemere Urban Renewal Area, in Rockaway, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Office of Recovery and Resiliency offered more options than just a buyout—such as housing swaps and other solutions at the neighborhood scale.
Bolstad: We focus on the built environment in a way that looks at how cultural issues touch the ecological issues. In the Florida project, people very much want out of their houses that are constantly flooding, but they still want to stay within a five-mile radius so they can be near family and keep their routines. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, even if you believe in a long-term retreat from those areas. Otherwise, you end up with people who are not there by choice, like when Robert Moses dislocated people in the Bronx in the 1960s and moved them out to the beach. Economically vulnerable populations ended up in environmentally vulnerable areas.
And it’s not just the built environment. Even if we aren’t preserving the area for housing in the long term, then the environmental situation needs to remain. That barrier [the Rockaway peninsula] is the first line of defense in the city and Lower Manhattan, and, without active management of the environment of that place, it risks the rest of New York City.
Meyer: I like to quote my mentor and city planner Ronald Shiffman when we talk about these issues: “These disturbances don’t discriminate, but our reaction to them can.” We want to make the most just city we can.
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One might not expect Iowa City, a midsize heartland town of 70,000, to be on the forefront of urban sustainability issues. But Iowa City has everything to lose if climate change isn’t addressed. In 2008, a massive flood caused an estimated $64 billion in damage to the state, roughly equivalent to that caused by Hurricane Sandy. That flood was preceded by 239 tornados, which hit the Midwest over a nine-day period.
Iowa City, a UNESCO City of Literature, has a strong, culturally active citizenry, and now it is working to channel that energy into securing its environmental future. After the flood waters subsided, and the tornado damage was clear (damage from both of those events is still evident eight years later), a group of Iowa City residents began to seriously think about how design could be used to achieve a more sustainable urban center. “Ecopolis Iowa City” was organized to brainstorm urban restoration, biodiversity, local food, inclusionary and urban designs, renewable energy, and transportation initiatives for the future of the city. Initially holding informal meetings, Ecopolis Iowa City eventually started to sponsor forums that would use storytelling, music, and conversation to identify and generate ideas. From 2014 to 2016, the events eventually turned into a movement.
The city’s 2015 fall election saw a progressive council majority win for the first time in nearly 50 years. In spring 2016, Mayor Jim Throgmorton issued a “Regenerative City” proclamation. The proclamation set goals to “replant native prairies and trees to store carbon in the soils; expand urban agriculture; to power our city and neighborhoods efficiently through green building designs and renewable energy; to expand citywide recycling and composting through a zero waste ordinance; to make low-carbon transportation choices; to grow green jobs and support companies actively greening their operations.” By summer, the ideas from the Ecopolis Forums were worked into a proposed Iowa City Climate Action Plan.
The plan aims to expand and guide the regenerative city initiatives. Iowa City is already investing $60 million into raising a major route into the city above the 100-year flood level, but the plan calls for many more actions at different scales. From establishing protected “ecodistricts” to enforcing new sustainable building requirements, the plan may greatly affect the city’s future fabric. The plan sets greenhouse gas emission and transit diversity goals through 2030, with an eye on changing the way average citizens understand their impact on the environment.
Though the Iowa City Action Plan has not been formally adopted by the city, Ecopolis points out that the six million sandbags Iowa City residents filled to try and save their city in 2008 is a sign they are ready and able to make major changes. And with Ecopolis founders now on the city council, the time is better than ever.
This article was part of our Oct. 12 issue which focused on how water is shaping today’s landscape architecture and urbanism. Communities face deluges and droughts—for some, the stakes can be survival itself, but others see opportunities for decadence. To explore these stories from around the U.S. and the world, click here.