Posts tagged with "Climate Change":

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NYC asks architects to brace for climate change

New York City architects who build or repair city-owned buildings must design with climate change in mind, per emerging guidelines. The Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency last week issued preliminary design guidelines that ask architects and engineers to factor climbing average temperatures, cloud bursts, and—crucial for a coastal city—sea level rise projections into their designs. It used to be that AEC professionals would consult National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather data when submitting plans for public projects to the city. Now, WNYC reports that the industry will consult New York City Panel on Climate Change’s projections, the same ones that shape the city's resiliency planning. The guidelines will be tested this year, and a final report will be released in December. After that, the city will decide whether to adopt the new guidelines or continue making additional changes.
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Is Jacksonville, Florida’s best hope for a post-climate change megacity?

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.”

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How is the New Jersey Meadowlands planning for climate change?

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.”

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How can cities double down on the climate change fight? Three experts share ideas

It's widely accepted that climate change affects us all, and cities in particular. So what are some of the most vulnerable cities doing to adapt to rising seas and extreme weather events? Three experts from three cities—all of whom are current or former government officials—zeroed in on cities' responses to climate change in their respective regions at a mini Columbia GSAPP conference titled Cities and Climate Action. They were: Jeffrey Hebert, from New Orleans; Adam Freed, from New York; and Rodrigo Rosa of Rio de Janeiro, a visiting scholar at Columbia University and a legislative consultant in the Brazil Federal Senate. Climate change, the experts agreed, is addressed not just through the environment—destructive hurricanes or deadly heat waves—but through a city's culture, economy, and landscape. In New Orleans, starting around 2007, post-Katrina planning responded both to hurricane damage but also looked realistically at the profound impact of climate change on the urban fabric, explained Hebert, the city's deputy mayor & chief resilience officer. Southern Louisiana, Hebert said, has the highest rate of relative sea level rise (coastal subsidence) in the world. New Orleans, consequently, has spent $14 billion in storm surge prevention, part of a $50 billion coastal master plan that covers the whole region.  Despite the destruction wrought by Katrina—over 1,800 residents died—the water in today's resilience planning is very present, in part to keep climate change adaptation at the forefront of people's consciousness. "The water will be visible," said Hebert. "We have to do that in order to remain the city we’ve always wanted to be.” A tight network of interventions supports this goal: The 25-acre Mirabeau Water Garden is parkland that controls flooding, while rain gardens in medians, disaster preparedness strategies for buildings and neighborhoods, and a pumping system (second largest only to the Netherlands) keeps the city from being inundated. Climate change planning, though, goes beyond big-ticket water management. New Orleans residents are still recovering from Katrina trauma, and a new program addresses the barriers people face when trying to rebuild after life-altering events; after all, neighborhoods are nothing without their people. Hebert said a new city program, Connect to Opportunity, aims to reduce barriers to employment, build social cohesion, promote public heath, expand access to safe and affordable housing, redesign regional transit, and improve the reliability of energy infrastructure. That program is part of the city's overall resilience plan that was adopted in 2015. Up north, New York City's infrastructure is being upgraded to accommodate a growing population—a projected one million new residents between now and 2030. According to Freed, former deputy director of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the infrastructure boost “had absolutely nothing to do with climate change" but it was a collateral benefit from the city's projected growth. To build resilience, “every facet of our built environment needs to change,” said Freed, who is now a principal at Bloomberg Associates. He noted that when he worked under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, just two percent of buildings were responsible for half of energy use in buildings. To combat this, the administration launched the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, which phased out things like heavy heating oil, one step in the city's plan to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Recent projects include CitiBike, which had more than 10 million rides last year, microgrids for local energy production, flood protection in public housing, and turning rooftops into green roofs. In a post-talk discussion, moderator and New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman was joined by Columbia's Kate Orff, founding principal of SCAPE and director of GSAPP's urban design program, and Weiping Wu, director of the urban planning program. A few key points emerged: regional collaboration, meaningfully extending resilience to include local culture, and getting people to consistently care about climate change. While cities are crucial nodes in climate change response, the commentators agreed that it's prime time to build connections between cities and regions. Even though the U.S. Department of Defense was one of the first agencies to recognize climate change as a security threat, it can be hard to get different levels of governments agree on a climate change agenda. But fighting factionalism is crucial: “To scale up what we do," Rosa said, "we have to be involved in regions.” There are surprising connections between the cities: Hebert noted that in NOLA and in Rio, carnival organizations provide deep connections for social cohesion. After all, big storms and rising seas are only the “spark in the tinder” that exposes existing problems, said Kimmelman. In the Netherlands, he added, people feel that water is "taken care of" and some fear that their fellow citizens have become complacent to the threat of climate change. Although it's true that climate change is hard to see, people care about its effects—extreme weather, compromised air and water quality. That's why, Orff said, projects that sport parks and green space but are also heavy-duty flood protection measures are a good strategy for public buy-in.
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Climate change displacement is becoming the new gentrification—here’s how to stop it

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.

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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.

For more on LOLA's projects, see their website.

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A grassroots organization starts an environmental movement in Iowa City

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.

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New Delhi and Milan scale back on automobile usage to combat runaway air pollution

New Delhi has taken emergency measures to deal with the particularly thick and noxious air that has covered India’s capital city this winter. For the first two weeks of the New Year, the city has enacted an odd-even rule, which stipulates that even-numbered license plates be allowed on the roads only on even-numbered dates, and odd-numbered license plates only on odd-numbered dates. Because the trial intervention applies to private automobile vehicles exclusively, it has been criticized for its many loopholes. High level government officials, including India’s prime minister, chief justice, and state governors are exempt from the ban, as well as female drivers not accompanied by a male over 12 years old, and motorcycles, which are said to account for a third of emissions from vehicles. Buses, taxis, and rickshaws are also exempt. Along with the two-week plan, the government announced that it would provide 3,000 extra buses to handle the expected increase in demand. Drivers caught violating the new policy could be fined up to 2,000 rupees, or $30. The odd-even initiative follows a temporary ban on the registration of diesel cars with a capacity of 2,000 cubic centimeters ordered by the Supreme Court of India in December. The Court also set a time frame for all taxis to switch to compressed natural gas, which is generally less harmful to the environment. According to the World Health Organization, New Delhi has the most polluted air of the nearly 1,600 cities around the world that it surveyed. The new measures are testament to the pressing needs to combat pollution, and follow the historic climate talks in Paris in December that committed nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, in Milan, air pollution has reached a record high, and cars and motorcycles were banned from city streets for 6 hours a day for three days during the first week of January. Rome also restricted traffic, enacting its own version of the odd-even rule this past week. The initiatives in Milan and Rome come at a time when European cities are beginning to aggressively scale back on the use of automobiles. Milan has proclaimed an incremental approach to expel cars from the city center. In Paris, motorists are to be completely barred from the River Seine by the summer of 2016, and all non-electric or hybrid vehicles are to be purged from Paris streets by 2020. Similar efforts have been endorsed in Madrid, Brussels, and Dublin.
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Architects confront global warming at Columbia GSAPP’s Climate Change and the Scales of Environment

On Friday, December 4th—while hundreds of officials gathered in Paris for the COP21 UN climate change conference—scholars, historians, scientists, architects, and designers came to Columbia GSAPP’s Avery Hall for a similarly urgent conference, “Climate Change and the Scales of Environment.” The urgency lies in the fact that buildings are accountable for approximately half of energy consumption and CO2 emissions in the United States today. At the December 4 conference, the range of experts discussed this issue across multiple scales—ranging from a single molecule to the planet as a whole. At what scale should architects engage? And how do the different scales tie together? Dean Amale Andraos explained to AN that using these disciplinary questions of scale to enter a cross-disciplinary discussion on climate-change kept the conversation focused.

HISTORY

The first topic of the day, History, was moderated by Reinhold Martin (Columbia GSAPP) and included presentations from Daniel A. Barber (University of Pennsylvania, Architecture), Deborah R. Coen (Barnard College, History), Gregg Mitman (University of Wisconsin, History), and Eyal Weizman (Goldsmiths, University of London, Visual Cultures). Addressing different moments in history, the speakers collectively unveiled how ecological understandings dictate societal development. 

POLITICS

The second topic, Politics, was moderated by Laura Kurgan (Columbia GSAPP) and included talks from Michael B. Gerrard (Columbia University, Earth Institute and School of Law), Saskia Sassen (Columbia University, Sociology), Richard Seager (Columbia University, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory), and Christian Parenti (New York University, Liberal Studies). Each presentation addressed environmental failures, which Kurgan called “sobering,” and the related risks facing architects, planners, and builders. Before heading to COP21 to represent the Marshall Islands, Gerrard told the audience in Wood Auditorium, “Architects might be legally liable for failure to design for foreseeable climate change.”

UNCERTAINTY

Jesse M. Keenan (Columbia GSAPP and CURE) moderated Uncertainty, which included talks from Radley Horton (Columbia University, Earth Institute and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies), Adrian Lahoud (Royal College of Art, London, Architecture), and Kate Orff (Columbia GSAPP and SCAPE). The presentations unveiled each profession’s individual roles and how they overlap. Horton works with quantitative climate science; Lahoud uses the qualitative method of narrative; and Orff works in both realms. Keenan concluded, “Architects and planners are mediators. They are helping make that translation to define values and vulnerabilities and to weigh what that really means.”

VISUALIZATION

The final section, Visualization, was moderated by Mark Wasiuta (Columbia GSAPP) and included presentations from Heather Davis (Pennsylvania State University, Institute for the Arts and Humanities), Laura Kurgan, Emily Eliza Scott (ETH Zurich, Architecture), and Neyran Turan (Rice University, Architecture). Again, the presentations covered a wide spectrum of curation, ranging from Davis’s discussion of subject-object relationships to Kurgan’s video visualization of climate change data, EXIT, currently on display at COP21. Wasiuta, said in the panel discussion, “Laura’s work produces a different type of knowing, or knowability. Fascinating, the idea of curating a dataset: curating as the construction of a political form.” The day’s presentations ended with keynote speaker Dipesh Chakrabarty (University of Chicago, History). Chakrabarty’s talk, “The Human Significance of the Anthropocene” was a fitting way to pull together the wide-ranging but interrelated disciplines contributing to the conference. Videos of the conference will appear on Columbia GSAPP’s YouTube channel in the coming weeks.
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Students at RISD imagine how a climate change museum in New York City could reclaim a vulnerable site

James Hansen, one of the world’s preeminent climate scientists, has issued an alarming new paper about the impacts of climate change—and the findings are way worse than what anyone expected. According to Hansen and the team of 16 scientists he worked with, sea levels could rise up to 10 feet over the next 50 years. “Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise could be devastating,” conclude the scientists. “It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.” If Hansen’s predictions are right then many American coastal cities would be uninhabitable—but not everyone in the scientific community is convinced that they are. (The paper is not peer-reviewed and predicts a significantly more dire climate reality than the consensus agreed upon by the UN's International Panel on Climate Change.) With the clock ticking, perhaps faster than previously imagined, Miranda Massie, the founder of the Climate Change Museum Launch Project, is attempting to raise awareness about the changing climate with a museum solely dedicated to the issue. The institution, the largest of its kind, would be located in New York City. Massie said she wants to have it up and running by the end of the decade—a good idea considering that sea levels continue to rise, drop by drop. The New York Times reported that “the New York museum would aim to attract at least a million visitors a year and seek to influence the world, including political leaders in the United States. At the end of the tour, visitors would be encouraged to volunteer their time to help groups that are trying to address climate change: doing anything from making calls on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council to volunteering to help elect a candidate who is determined to reduce carbon emissions.” There are no immediate plans to start work on the project, but Next City reported that the New York State Board of Regents has granted the Climate Change Museum a five-year provisional charter. As for the building’s eventual design, students at RISD have some ideas. Anne Tate, a professor of architecture at the school who is married to Massie’s cousin, tasked her students with coming up with visions for the institution. The students were given a vacant site in Lower Manhattan that is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. "One student proposed to build a cavernous stormwater catchment system beneath the building," Next City explained. “Another proposed a smaller footprint and returned the rest of the site to wetlands. Many of the designs include solar panels, some incorporated urban farms, and all were sensitive to energy loads and orientation.” All of the students proposals can be found here.
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Rising sea levels bring challenges, opportunities to South Florida

When it comes to the urban impacts of climate change, said FIU College of Architecture's Marilys Nepomechie, Miami is "the canary in the coal mine." In addition to the perennial threat of hurricanes and the challenge of managing a hot, humid environment, AEC industry professionals must grapple with South Florida's increasing vulnerability in the face of rising sea levels. "As water levels go up globally, places like Miami are affected," explained Nepomechie. "This has implications for infrastructure, as well as our assumptions as to where public life happens in the city—at street level." But for Nepomechie and fellow architect and FIU College of Architecture associate dean John Stuart, Miami's position on the front lines of environmental change presents a set of opportunities as well as challenges. Continually updated in the wake of devastating storms like 1992's Hurricane Andrew, the region's building codes—especially with respect to glazing—have made it "a model in terms of hurricane preparedness," said Nepomechie. "While these are uniquely Miami's for now, we have an opportunity to solve problems that will be in other places soon," added Stuart, citing high-wind storms and high humidity as two areas in which South Florida is innovating. While for years architects, landscape architects, and engineers have looked to the Netherlands for answers to flood management, said Nepomechie, "Miami has the opportunity to be to the 21st century what the Netherlands has been to the century before." Nepomechie and Stuart, who will co-chair a panel on "Responding to the Environment: Sea Level" at September's Facades+ Miami conference, are looking forward to an in-depth discussion of designing for resilience with panelists Marcia Tobin (AECOM) and Enrique Norten (TEN Arquitectos). "What's exciting about Marcia is that she's trained as a landscape architect and environmentalist," said Nepochie. "Performance agendas ask architects, landscape architects, and a range of engineering disciplines [to work together]. Miami is a place where we have wonderful examples of these solutions." Norton, meanwhile, represents the challenge of translating architectural solutions designed for other climates to the Miami context. "Enrique brings an interest in building at the quality he's able to achieve elsewhere," said Stuart. "He's had to rethink building skins to maintain the [standard] he's accustomed to." To hear more from Nepomechie, Stuart, Tobin, Norten, and other movers and shakers in high performance envelope design, register today for Facades+ Miami.
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Detroit gets its feet wet with “blue infrastructure”

Detroit's Water & Sewerage Department hopes an experiment in so-called blue infrastructure will help the cash-strapped city stop flushing money down the drain. The Detroit Free Press reported that a pilot project in the far east side area of Jefferson Village will divert stormwater runoff into a series of small wetlands and pieces of green infrastructure to reduce the pressure on an overloaded city sewer system. Such experiments in alternative stormwater management could save owners of large, impervious surfaces like parking lots tens of thousands of dollars each year in forgone drainage fees, while the city could save millions by scaling back or scrapping expensive, "gray infrastructure" investments like newer sewer pipes. But the plan, which is expected to be ready in a few months, is not a done deal, writes John Gallagher in the Detorit Free Press:
It is by no means a simple problem to solve. Multiple licenses and approvals would be needed from a variety of agencies, including the city itself, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and others. But there is great enthusiasm among experts for trying the experiment. Blue infrastructure is a key recommendation of the Detroit Future City visionary framework and has been much talked about in recent years, but nothing of this magnitude has been done so far in Detroit. So far, "blue infrastructure" in metro Detroit has meant the creation of porous parking lots and so-called "green alleys" that allow rain and snowmelt to filter down into the ground beneath instead of running off into sewers.
Across the nation urbanists and landscape designers are embracing innovative stormwater capture and retention techniques as concerns over climate change, flooding and drought collide with a renewed interest in public spaces and site design.