Posts tagged with "Water Management":

The hidden story of water’s importance to Texas urbanism

As I drive down into the future lakebed, the terrain on either side of the gravel road becomes haggard and unkempt. Signs of the area’s past as farm and ranchland are evident, but shrubs and gnarled trees have grown high to create a deserted, post-apocalyptic landscape. This is the future site of Lower Bois d’Arc Creek Reservoir, a 16,600-acre lake soon to be constructed in rural Fannin County that will provide water to the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD), serving Dallas suburbs in Collin, Dallas, Kaufman, Rockwall, and Hunt Counties. This lake recently received its permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, making it the first major reservoir in Texas since Lake Gilmer was constructed in 1999. Reservoirs provide the majority of Texas’s drinking water. Texas has been building reservoirs since 1893 (Lake Austin), with the majority created in the 1940s through the 1960s. There are currently 188 in the state, according to the Texas State Historical Association. In the Dallas area, with the limited availability of river water and an aquifer too low to be practical on a large scale, reservoirs have been the main strategy for providing water to a growing region. During a recent visit to Bonham, the Fannin County seat and nearest town to the proposed lake, a passive acceptance of the forthcoming project was evident among a number of residents. There are those who oppose it, most notably the landowners whose land will soon be flooded. However, in rural unincorporated areas, there are few options for organized resistance when a powerful water authority decides to plant a reservoir in your backyard. Yet the impact on Fannin County extends beyond the boundaries of the lake itself. The NTMWD is required to mitigate the habitat destruction caused by the new reservoir by creating new habitat nearby. Thus, an area slightly larger than the reservoir has been purchased to this end. In total, 33,441 acres of private land has been appropriated from local landowners (5 percent of Fannin County). This situation in Fannin County magnifies a common but overlooked tension in the field. Despite the extreme impact, large-scale water infrastructure is strangely absent from the architectural conversation. Architects employ water conservation and collect stormwater at a building scale, but, like most, take the availability of water for granted. They know their project simply has to tap into the existing water main in the adjacent street. Yet the construction of buildings is an extremely water-intensive process, regardless of the water-efficient fixtures they specify. A significant amount of water is used during the production of concrete, with yet more added at the building site. To complete the curing process, concrete requires approximately one pound of water for every three pounds of concrete. Unfortunately, little data is available for water use in construction sites in the U.S. Furthermore, under current infrastructural constraints, cities have no capacity to provide the resources for their own sustenance. Most cities do not generate power or harvest their drinking water within their boundaries. In light of this, cities can be seen as having a parasitic relationship with their surrounding rural areas. The ugly and unpleasant realities of power generation are located far out of sight of the cities themselves, and the inundation of private land for drinking water is undertaken in rural areas because, after all, they have plenty of land. This leeching of resources from the countryside enables cities to exist, but it is a reality that the design profession should begin to address. In February 2018, the residents of the NTMWD used an average of just under 3,000 gallons per capita. A few months earlier, in August 2017, the water use was approximately 6,200 gallons per capita, which equates to 200 gallons per day per resident. Watering St. Augustine lawns accounts for much of that summertime use in this suburban water district. While the NTMWD champions the new reservoir as critical to its supplies, it will only meet the demand for the year 2022 through 2040, a span of 18 years. At that point, additional reservoirs will be required. While Texas is a large state, land is still a finite resource, and new prime reservoir locations are very limited. Climate change also poses problems for the continued reliance on reservoirs. Record-breaking drought in 2011 meant nearly all the reservoirs were significantly below capacity, with some municipalities enacting mandatory water conservation measures. Future droughts will be harsher, posing severe challenges to water provision. As architects strive to address the challenges of building in our current environment, a knowledge of the complex and connected relationship of water to development and construction is important. Architects and planners, water officials, and more will need to be creative in solving the complex problem of providing water to future populations. While American cities have not yet had to deal with the scale of catastrophic water shortage that occurred in Cape Town, South Africa, it should give us all pause as a similar situation in North Texas is quite possible.

How the Rio Grande came to separate the U.S. and Mexico

This article is the fourth in a series that originally appeared in AN's July/August 2018 issue which focuses exclusively on Texas and was guest edited by AGENCY. The rest of the essays will be released in the coming days and examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States. In the border metropolis of El Paso-Ciudad Juárez, the power relations of international negotiation are not only performed through the apparatus of control over the movement of bodies, but are also embodied in a concrete architecture that exposes the calculus of separation and asymmetrical infrastructural development between the two countries. In the borderland, the control of water—as territory, commodity, and reproductive agent—produces its physical spaces. While the shared waters of the river and the underground aquifers contribute to the reproductive capacity of land within the desert climate, the infrastructures of water supply and sanitation are material evidence of the socio-spatial injustices and imbalances that structure and reproduce social relations within the border cities. Negotiation The geopolitical history of the river as a border and of the partitioning of its waters is inscribed within the built environment as a thick constructed zone. The international border between the United States and Mexico was defined by the 1848 and 1884 Treaties, which delineated that the border follow the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo del Norte) from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico. This rendered the border an unstable condition, as its line needed to be redefined by the International Boundary Commission each time floods caused the river to relocate. A treaty in 1933 attempted to “fix” the river by engineering it into a constructed channel. However, this location left several hundred acres of disputed Mexican territory to the north of the river—the result of a violent change in course in 1864. The 1963 Chamizal Agreement relocated the river and the international boundary once again, moving the Rio Grande back to its 1852 survey location. In this highly publicized moment of international diplomacy, the disputed land was “returned” to Mexico, and a new channel was constructed to reroute the Rio Grande north so that both river and international border aligned. The division between the two countries was now emphasized, further asserted by the open lands of the former riverbed on the Juárez side and a new elevated border highway on the U.S. side of the channel. Management The colonization of the U.S. would not have been possible without the massive campaign of dam projects in the early 20th century that commodified the waters of the West and irrigated the farms and settlements of homesteaders. Four dams manage and distribute the Rio Grande waters in the El Paso-Juárez region: Elephant Butte, Caballo, American Diversion, and the International Diversion Dam. Water is distributed according to the 1944 Water Treaty, drawn up when the population of Juárez was less than one-tenth its current size. In 1965, the binational Border Industrialization Program enabled maquiladoras, foreign-owned manufacturing plants, to be located within Mexico’s border zones, and to move materials and products with reduced tariffs and trade barriers. This propelled an influx of new residents who arrived to work in the Juárez border zone maquilas. The treaty, which retains the majority of the river water in the U.S., has not been revised since and contains no provisions for sharing the rapidly depleting Mesilla and Hueco Bolson aquifer waters, which traverse the binational region underground. The division of the river water produces politically charged urban spaces. The U.S. Franklin Canal materializes as a physical barrier within the U.S. border zone, flowing deeply and rapidly in a concrete channel alongside the Rio Grande. In Juárez, the diverted water flows along the Acequia Madre, which takes a diagonal course, traversing some of the city’s main public spaces. This once green irrigation channel and common space is now largely neglected and has deteriorated into a toxic line of sewage and trash. Biopolitics Water is not only scarce in the desert city of Juárez—it is also dangerous. The paper worlds of politics materialize as realities on the ground and in the tissues of bodies. Due to the explosive population growth of Juárez, large portions of the city have been rapidly and often informally constructed, typically without proper municipal sewage or drinking water services. The residents of these informal settlements, known as colonias, rely primarily on truck-supplied water, which has a much higher likelihood of being contaminated and results in high rates of water-borne diseases. Only about a third of the city’s sewage is actually treated.  Some colonias have additionally encroached on the city’s drainage gullies and arroyos, putting residents at further risk during flash flood events. In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly “explicitly recognized the right to clean drinking water and sanitation as essential to the realization of all human rights.” If this mandate is taken seriously by the binational region of El Paso-Ciudad Juárez, new treaties and agreements will need to be negotiated that address not only the scarcity and distribution of its shared waters, but also the shared responsibility of water rights to citizens on both sides of the border. What remains to be seen is not only what shape these take in terms of political agreements, but also how they will reshape the physical urban spaces of the paired cities.

Stephan Zirwes freezes time with summery photos of swimming pools

German photographer Stephan Zirwes may be known for his eerie, calming aerial photography, but his recent additions to the Pools series push the art to new heights. Zirwes is mesmerized by the top views of everyday settings such as golf courses, soccer fields, and swimming pools. With a drone, he captures the silent drama of these places, some occupied by visitors, while some completely void of human activity. The Pools series is a recent selection of photos that focuses on “privatization of public pools,” according to a statement from the World Photography Organization where Zirwes won the Sony World Photography Awards in 2016. Zirwes highlights the importance of water. Clean water, being one of the world’s most needed resources, is wasted in some parts of the world as a tool for excessive entertainment. He believes that the private pool is a cruel commodity that “privatizes a public asset for commercial exploitation.” The abstracted images, with surroundings edited out, focus our concern on the pools with a playful but graceful approach. In a photo of an irregularly shaped, vacated pool titled sardegna, a sunbrella, pair of sandals, and ripples on the water surface hint at the presence of a swimmer.

yellow slide

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In another photo titled yellow slide, a slide hovers above the unoccupied pool. The crisp, horizontal strips painted at the bottom of the pool are blurred by the slight ripples. The vertical bricks are seen in perpendicular to the pool’s lines, making up a peaceful composition.

A controversial decision will allow a Wisconsin city to draw water out of Lake Michigan

Waukesha, Wisconsin, has a water problem. The deep wells of the state’s fourth largest city are tainted with radium, a naturally occurring radioactive element. With a 2018 deadline to comply with federal drinking water standards, the city is scrambling to find a sustainable, long-term source of fresh water. A recent decision will allow the city to draw its drinking water from Lake Michigan, but tapping into the Great Lakes system is complicated, both politically and ecologically.

For over a decade, Waukesha has been studying and petitioning to have the right to draw water from the lake, which is only 20 miles east of the city. Restricting the city’s access to the water is the Great Lakes Compact, a 2008 federal law that stipulates that in order to draw water from the lakes, a community must be in the Great Lakes watershed. Despite the city’s proximity to the lake, it sits just west of the Saint Lawrence River Divide, outside of the watershed.

Two governing bodies maintain the Great Lakes Compact: the Great Lakes Council in the United States and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Water Resources Regional Body in Canada. The councils, consisting of governors from eight states and two Canadian provinces, would have to unanimously approve the city’s request. After the initial application in 2010, the council and city negotiated for six years, until the councils finally approved the request this June. The approval is based on the fact that the City of Waukesha is in a county that straddles the divide and the city’s aquifers are already partially naturally replenished from within the Great Lakes watershed. The decision also requires the city to return an equal amount of clean, treated water to the lake as it draws out. Not everyone is pleased with the decision though, and legal action is already pending.

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (GLSL Cities Initiative) has issued a formal appeal to the Compact members to reverse the decision. The GLSL Cities Initiative is comprised of over 120 Great Lakes region city mayors, and it feels that a dangerous precedent is being set by allowing water to be taken from the lakes. It is also critical of the lack of transparency in the process of approval, which it says did not involve enough input from the public or local governments. The initiative has also written to U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the International Joint Commission, claiming the decision “exceeds the scope of authority granted in the Compact.”

As it stands the Waukesha has begun the permit process to build a $207-million system of pipelines to draw and return water to the lake. The water would not come directly from the lake, but from a town near the lake. Water would be returned by way of the Lake Michigan tributary Root River.

One landscape architect’s plan to fuse Dallas–Fort Worth’s waterways with urban growth

In March 2013, Kevin Sloan, founder of Dallas-based landscape architecture and urban planning firm Kevin Sloan Studio, attended a lecture at the Dallas Museum of Art at which professor Kenneth Frampton, of Columbia University, recited a phrase that had been illicitly written in the 1980s on a rendering of a 1950s utopian city displayed at the New York Museum of Modern Art:

There are no cities anymore.

We are incapable of making cities anymore.

The machine is incapable of making cities anymore.

We’ll have to get used to living in the jungle.

Sloan is working on the Branch Waters Network. The concept is to make use of the waterway system in Dallas–Fort Worth (DFW) as a guideline for a new metropolitan urbanism. Back in 2013, he recognized Frampton’s use of the word “jungle” as more than just a metaphor (although DFW is one of the largest cities in the United States for the trapping, banding, and study of urban wildcats). He interpreted it as a hint that the landscape and waterways could dovetail into the urban framework of a city.

Sloan wants to make use of DFW’s “water branches,” which span approximately 65 miles east to west and 45 miles north to south. He has outlined more than 300 potential miles of waterway that are primed for development. Sloan points out that more than 90 percent of natural drainage ways in Dallas County are currently intact and untapped. So far, his plan has been well received: According to Sloan, a current Dallas council member called it the “most sustainable concept he’s yet seen for the Dallas Trinity River.”

Successful examples of his water branch concept in practice can be seen at Turtle Creek Parkway, White Rock Lake, and the ongoing Trinity River Project. Part of city planner George Kessler’s 1911 “City Plan for Dallas,” the seven-mile-long Turtle Creek Parkway is, in Sloan’s eyes, “a 100-year demonstration that nature can attract density in accordance with the edges of shaded and serene waterway.

“What is astonishing is that, in Texas, luxury and the good life are typically imagined to unfold on an expansive ranch or noble estate,” continued Sloan. “Turtle Creek Parkway produced high-rise apartments and condominiums, as early as the 1960s, that gathered along the edge and are supported by nodes and enclaves of shopping and residential neighborhoods such as the Park Cities.”

For his Branch Waters Network concept to work, Sloan argues that Americans’ preconceptions of planning and notions of “nature” need to be challenged. He advocates replacing the “cultural preference for an Anglican landscape of irrigated turf grass, clipped hedge, and parterres—where all live like squires on a patch of England” with a “re-wilding nature project along the waterways and attendant areas. The forest is out one door. The avenue and the culture of the city are out the other.”

“Whether ‘nature’ means living on a golf course, along a river, or in the mountainous environs of, say, Boulder, Colorado, one can draw a straight line between environments of natural beauty and economic value,” he continued.

Sloan also calls for an alternative to Daniel Burnham’s “Make no little plans.” “What is a plausible strategy to guide an orderly restructuring of millions of acres of unplanned growth?” Sloan asked.

He and his studio have seen two projects realized that align with the Branch Waters concept. Located in Addison, north of Dallas, spring-fed Vitruvian Park—which occupies 17 acres, as part of an 112-acre master plan, also done by Sloan—lies on Farmers Branch Creek. So far, during its eight-year existence, the project has been what many consider a success, establishing a dense, urban pocket without the daunting qualities of a downtown center.

Another project, the Dallas Urban Reserve, is also doing well. A stone’s throw away from White Rock Creek Trail, the 10.5-acre modern housing development made use of a site that was used for years as an illegal dumping ground. The site slopes asymmetrically to allow stormwater to enter a system of repetitive filtration beds, planted with bald cypress, pond cypress, and horsetail reeds. Only three of the original 50 housing lots that went up are still available, and, in 2011, the project won the ASLA Award of Excellence.

However, Sloan wants the Branch Waters Network to go further. “By using the entire waterway network as a natural attraction to form density, transit, and linkages, perhaps the anxiety and opposition to conventional planning, regulatory devices, and legislative actions can be circumvented,” he said. 

“The possibilities of the Branch Waters Network challenge architecture conventions. Chance operation replaces totalizing planning concepts and designs. In lieu of regulating plans and inflexible determinism, urbanism becomes a game, and the game is to aggregate along the branches.”

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.

This master plan calls for a brand new city to alleviate China’s water issues

Chicago-based UrbanLab has a knack for combining water infrastructure with architecture and landscape to find new urban forms. In the 2014 Venice Biennale, the studio presented the Free Water District (FWD), an urban-scale multiuse, multi-environment development that would encourage industry through a controlled, but free, use of Great Lakes water. In its latest commission, UrbanLab has been asked to address an even more complex urban situation in China.

The Yangming Archipelago in Changde, Hunan, China, will be a new district that will accommodate 600,000 people in five square miles. Changde is part of a larger program in China to implement large water-infrastructure projects in order to improve urban water quality. At the heart of the project is an island-filled lake, which will act as an ecological, as well as a social and cultural space. The Yangming Archipelago also includes a dense system of public transportation and housing, integrated into eco-boulevards.

Eco-boulevards, a concept that can be found in many of the studio’s proposals, put water at the center of urban improvement. The idea is based on case-by-base performance-based infrastructural landscapes. These rich boulevards would come in many forms and sizes, but they would all function as more than a space for vehicular movement, providing social, ecological, and energy amenities. The boulevards would traverse the city with integrated water-filtration and water-retention technologies,a space for vehicular movement, providing social, ecological, and energy amenities. The boulevards would traverse the city with integrated water-filtration and water-retention technologies, a space for vehicular movement, providing social, ecological, and energy amenities. The boulevards would traverse the city with integrated water-filtration and water-retention technologies, both passive and active. The stitching of nature to the larger urban environment would connect formerly disparate parts of the city with a common civic space.

UrbanLab is combining water infrastructure with architecture to reimagine how cities work

With work ranging from houses and storefronts to city-scale master plans, Chicago-based UrbanLab fluidly navigates architecture and urbanism. Regardless of scale, the studio addresses complex social and ecological issues with straightforward yet ambitious proposals—while managing to introduce a hint of levity in every design.

Midwest editor Matthew Messner sat down with UrbanLab to talk about the Yangming Archipelago and how the studio works with water as a design component.

The Architect’s Newspaper: How does UrbanLab approach water as a resource for architecture and urbanism?

UrbanLab: Water, we believe, is the primary infrastructural framework and life-support system of cities. We think water infrastructure has the capability to unlock questions of how to best shape urban form and support healthy lifestyles. Today, the ways in which cities address their water challenges will be critical to their ability to prosper and grow. We see water scarcity as typically the result of shortsighted or poor planning strategies (or lack thereof) that use water only once before relegating it to waste. In this simple, linear model, water is typically castoff after its first use, at which time it becomes successively more polluted. We think this is crazy: Water is rarely so toxic that it can’t be salvaged and recycled again and again. As Buckminster Fuller remarked, “Waste is merely a resource in the wrong place.” So too is “waste” water that is routinely ejected out of cities instead of being kept and put back to work. Alternatively, UrbanLab’s water-based urbanism projects view water as part of a circular economy and ecology, where it keeps its value after each use, and ultimately returns to an original source.

How does this play out in the studio’s projects?

Each of our projects is a “bowl” of varying size and shape in which water circulates in semi-closed loops. Shifting to looping circular models that store water, from linear models that discard water, can replace scarcity with abundance, and help solve challenges of long-term supply and demand. We’re very interested to combine water infrastructures with architecture and landscape to find new urban forms.

How is water-based urbanism deployed in the current Changde project?

Our client, Changde’s planning bureau, aims to realize the plan in the next five to ten years. Currently, the project site is sparsely developed farmland bordered by high-density superblocks. At the center of the site is a highly polluted lake that is prone to flooding. Our primary design concept is a continuation of ideas we’ve been developing: To reimagine water as an amenity (not a problem) for people. The lake is re-planned as a bowl-shaped “central water park” for the entire city.

What are some the ecological aspects of the design?

To help clean the lake, water-filtering infrastructures, or eco-boulevards—an idea we’ve been working on through several projects—pre-treat storm water runoff. Eco-boulevards are connected to additional water-filtering infrastructures such as tree-lined feeder roads, storm-water parks, and in-block rain gardens. Together, the streets and open green spaces are a porous framework of sub-bowls that naturally absorb and clean rainwater before [it enters] the lake. A fine-grained urban grid accommodates a mix of transportation options within and between eight new subdistricts. Compared to contemporary, car-centric urban grids in China that encircle gated superblocks, the geometry of our compact grid allows for a highly efficient bus transit system, reducing energy use and pollution. Bus stops and transfer nodes are planned within a 10-minute pedestrian walk to all new developments. In the lake, a group of new islands is planned. The “Central Business District Island” contains the most prominent new commercial buildings, and a chain of “Cultural Islands” contains new civic venues and gardens. The islands filter lake water and naturally enhance biodiversity and the living environment.

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.

Detroit engages with its community to solve its raw sewage and storm water problem

The City of Detroit is solving one of its major problems with the help of one of its other problems. Detroit is experiencing combined sewer overflow, a messy, and often downright dangerous event that happens every time it rains too much. But by leveraging the abundant city-owned vacant land, Detroit may have found a way to alleviate at least some of the overflow.

Detroit, like many cities its size, has a combined sewage and rainwater sewer system. This means that when it rains, water is flushed into the same pipes that lead to the city’s sewage treatment plant. But when it rains too much, this system can be overwhelmed, leading to massive discharges of untreated sewage into the waterways around the city. These sewer overflows pollute the Great Lakes and often flood residents’ basements with sewage. The raw sewage, filled with bacteria, chemicals, and prescription drug waste, also contributes to dangerous algae blooms in Lake Erie (though soil erosion and fertilizer runoff are also major causes).

In cities like Chicago and Milwaukee, which have partial or fully combined sewer systems, there are epic underground caverns and reservoirs to tackle the overflows. Detroit has been catching up, investing approximately $1 billion in new wastewater treatment facilities that have reduced the volume of its sewer overflows by 90 to 95 percent on average.

To take care of the rest, Detroit is turning to a more grassroots approach. One of the major issues of rainwater in any city is that so much of the ground is impermeable, forcing the water into drains instead of just soaking into the earth. As the City of Detroit controls nearly half of the land within the city limits, it has decided to actively ensure this land is permeable. Aside from simply breaking up many square miles of surface pavement, the city is working with communities to build bioswales, rain gardens, and marshlands. 

Joan Nassauer, a landscape architect and University of Michigan professor, has already implemented a set of aggressive water retention prototypes. Working with a team of university researchers, she devised a system that is now in a pilot phase. After the Detroit Land Bank demolishes homes, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department excavates the large holes formerly occupied by the houses’ basements, fills them with sand and stones, and tops them with hardy, short plants. Each resulting bioretention garden collects stormwater from the street, stopping it from entering the overburdened drains. 

For Nassauer, the gardens presented quite a design challenge: Her experiences taught her that green infrastructure in financially-stressed neighborhoods is successful and accepted by the community when it looks well-kept. So the gardens had to be low maintenance without looking wild. Moreover, an overgrown garden might create visibility and safety concerns. The plant varities Nassauer selected—such as St. John's wort, bergamot, coneflower, yarrow—are all showy but short: They remain visually appealing without growing too tall and requiring attention. Four test sites were built in Detroit’s Warrendale neighborhood; each can hold over 300,000 gallons of storm water per year. 

In legacy cities like Detroit, Nassauer said, there’s simultaneously an “opportunity to design super-efficient green infrastructure and immediately make people’s neighborhoods better places....” But much hinges on political will: In Detroit, Nassauer’s challenge to coordinate among institutions was greatly aided the mayor’s office and political climate. “There are political forces and a lot of citizen energy [going] toward taking Detroit to a new level of desirability for a place to live and work,” she said.

Along with Nassauer’s prototypes, the city’s flood mitigation plan is heavily based on the 2012 report Detroit Future City. Among other things, the report recommended changing the way the city thinks about infrastructure. Rather than focusing on hard infrastructure—roads, sewers, bridges—the report encouraged “landscapes as infrastructure.” The benefits of the plan are varied, but one of the main advantages is the community-based nature of improvements. Not only can the public see the improvements, but they are able to enact their own changes within the system. Multiple nonprofits have taught residents how to construct rain gardens, while other groups already working in vacant lots to cultivate land for food production. More formal projects by the city include permeable sidewalks and streets, improvements that can be made when streets are already in need of repair.

Detroit has set a goal of 2029 to reform its water situation. It is not expected that this plan will completely solve the city’s issue, but it represents a positive shift in its relationship with its sewer system. And who wouldn’t prefer a flowering rain garden to sewage-filled waterways?

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.

This landscape architecture firm is bringing Dutch water expertise to the U.S.

Senior editor Matt Shaw sat down with Rotterdam- and New York–based ZUS (Zones Urbaines Sensibles) partners Elma van Boxel and Kristian Koreman to see what the United States can learn from the Netherlands, a country that is almost half below sea level and leads the way in water management in landscape infrastructure design.

The Architect’s Newspaper: You have a host of urban and landscape projects that are currently in the works, some of which are very large in scale. Are any of these explicitly dealing with water?

ZUS: There are five water-related projects we are working on right now. The Almere Dune is an artificial dune landscape on the original polder (a piece of low-lying land reclaimed from the sea and protected by dikes), with 3,000 houses and a mixed-use core.

We are working on the world’s largest sea lock, at IJmuiden, which means we are doing the landscape design and architecture of three control centers. A similar project we are designing is the Hoogwatergeul Veessen, a three-mile river bypass that serves as a river flood basin, with a dynamic flood-protection bridge berm. There is also the self-initiated Delta 3000 project, which is a utopia that imagines the Netherlands as a dune metropolis. We are proposing massive dunes to counter soil inclination and rising waters.

Here in the U.S., we are working together with AECOM and ORG on the execution of our winning competition entry for Rebuild by Design: New Meadowlands. It is a very exciting combination of coastal protection, green infrastructure, and public amenities.

What are some of the issues that designers and researchers are dealing with in the Netherlands today? Is climate change an important topic for designers in the Netherlands?

Yes, of course many issues are climate related, like sea-level rise, rising temperatures, and new migration patterns. We also face a more diffuse clientele, as governments are retreating and new markets and players emerge. Therefore, designers have to be more proactive to get interesting commissions.

One of the main issues is water. As half of the country is below sea level, every project has to respond to the challenges of water coming in more intensely from all sides: Sea-level rise, river floods, rain events, and groundwater.

How do you see working in the U.S. as different from working in the Netherlands? What are the differences in attitude about water and dealing with climate change?

We face many of the same issues: Climate adaptation, bureaucracy, big companies versus small offices, less and less risk-taking. In the Netherlands, there’s a long tradition of spatial planning and the culture of design, where, for decades, they were by definition incorporated into policy making. In the last few years, a corporatism is emerging, where [experimentation] is hardly possible. The good news is that, in the U.S., we feel an emerging interest in design in all fields. However, there is still a big gap between the academic world and the real world there, including governments and bureaucracy.

What do you think other countries can learn from designers in the Netherlands, in terms of designing for water and with water?

We would say to them: Take sea-level rise really seriously, and do it together. Only if all parties—governments, designers, scientists, contractors, engineers—collaborate can the challenges be faced and countered. Build with nature, meaning that we will never win against the water unless we embrace its presence and dynamics. Introduce different levels of safety, and spread risks along hard infrastructure, adaptive landscapes, and evacuation programs.

Are attitudes to waterfront development changing in the Netherlands? How do is that possible? On-site infrastructure? Off-site?

After having the top-down Delta Works (1953) for many decades, protecting the Netherlands from 10,000-year storms, our country established a rich apparatus of water boards, such as the National WaterAuthority and local governmental agencies, to think of the next big threats. The first Delta Works turned the Netherlands into one big bathtub.

In addition to sea-level rise, extreme river floods and rain events are also severe risks to the country. Therefore, Room for the River was introduced, and the new Delta Works, which directs new policies for more local adaptations. For example, Almere Dune introduces a public–private partnership for making more resilient urban districts. This means that the dunes, privately funded, are contributing to national safety. And they are also a new way to live above sea level. The IJmuiden sea lock is made for the 200-year forecast of sea-level rise, so large-scale infrastructure is made with great responsibility toward the future.

Off-site, we witness more adaptation measures, like water squares and retention basins to deal with extreme rain events. Nowadays, many of these projects come with multiple agendas with climate adaptation also taking a social responsibility.

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.

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.

One Billion Gallons One Drop at a Time

New York City Council passed legislation Wednesday that aims to save the city one billion gallons of drinking water a year. Four bills slated to be implemented by summer 2012 will curb bottled water usage, reduce leaks, refine water efficiency standards, and ban some water-inefficient equipment. The water efficiency legislation affects new construction and changes to existing buildings and includes reducing the allowed flow rate of plumbing fixtures like faucets, showerheads, and toilets and requiring alarms and sub-meters to detect leaks in some water equipment including roof tanks. In a city that uses one billion gallons of water each day, or about 125 gallons per New Yorker, savings from these efficiency improvements add up fast. “The bills we are passing today use a multi-prong approach to increase water efficiency standards in the City," stated Council Member Erik Martin Dilan, Chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings, in a release. "They encourage the use of products that conserve water,  require the installation of sub-meters and alarms to catch water leaks, and seek to increase the use of drinking fountains. These bills not only have the potential to protect the environment, they also have the potential of saving New Yorkers a substantial amount of money." These new regulations were drafted by the Green Codes Task Force, part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Urban Green Council which has been exploring ways to green the city's construction codes.