When urban infrastructure meets nature’s designers, amazing things can happen
We humans are problem solvers. We’re doers. We encounter challenges and complicated situations and we find ways to surmount them—crafting tools, erecting bridges, programming computers. We’ve innovated and designed our way out of countless predicaments and, dammit, we will forevermore.
We are also hopelessly arrogant.
See, we humans sometimes forget that we are not the only innovators and designers out there. We’re not the only ones able to creatively adapt our way through tricky or threatening conditions. We forget about nature.
Despite geologic barriers and in the face of scientific advice, huge infrastructure projects of the 20th century brought water to the arid Southwest and fueled the growth of a megaregion. But now that era of infrastructure-enabled growth is over, leaving planners, developers and policymakers looking for new ways to sustain growth and rising demand amid diminishing resources.
With the one arm he had left after fighting for the Union during the Civil War, John Wesley Powell led a team of 10 men and four boats on what was likely the most extreme and adventurous fact-finding mission since Lewis and Clark stumbled upon the West Coast of North America. It was 1869, and this was neither the first nor the last river voyage Powell would command.
The Salton Sea, Southern California’s accidental oasis-turned-environmental tragedy, is the kind of disaster for which 20th-century U.S. policymakers only have themselves to thank.
Sitting 150 miles east of Los Angeles in the dry and hot Sonoran Desert, the Salton Sea is a 375-square-mile accident of nature, industry and real estate. It’s the largest inland body of water in California, but it’s saltier than the ocean, and the diversity of fish and wildlife it can support is diminishing. And below the surface is a seabed of contaminated soil that, once dried, turns to a toxic dust that is already posing public health risks.
Oh, and the sea is evaporating rapidly, which means more toxic dust being released into the air.
Creating a 100-year plan for the Great Lakes region.
There’s a shirt you’ll see people wearing every once in a while in Detroit, or Chicago, or Milwaukee. It’s a local pride sort of thing, but less touristy than those “I Heart NY” shirts and not quite as macho as “Don’t Mess with Texas." It’s simple and speaks more directly to Detroit and Chicago and Milwaukee and all their neighbors. It’s just the outline of the Great Lakes. No cities, no states, no nations, no borders. Just the lakes.
Grounding architecture within a larger building ecology.
Regional issues such as stormwater treatment and energy production have become major elements of the design of architectural projects, even at a very small scale. As demand for natural resources rises and the impact of pollution spreads, taking these issues into consideration is likely to become a more important part of urban planning and architecture. This year’s national AIA convention recognizes the shift with its theme “Regional Design Revolution: Ecology Matters.”
But many argue that the long-term thinking of regionalism is still a burgeoning concept.
To save water, some cities let residents replace grass lawns with artificial turf. Environmentalists call for xeriscaping. Aesthetes wince.
It's the largest irrigated crop in the United States, with more than 32 million acres in production, according to a 2005 study from the journal Environmental Management. But this crop isn't eaten by people or, usually, animals. It's the front lawn, and cities across America are trying to save water by encouraging homeowners — through rebates and tax benefits — to get rid of it...
A look at the impact of recent court decisions on the Los Angeles River, and how it may affect development on the watersheds of rivers and waterways across the country.
For the federal government to protect waterways like rivers and streams, they have to ask one basic question: Is this water navigable? It seems simple enough, but hidden in this straightforward question is a jungle of nuance and intricacy. For waterways, how this question is answered can literally make or break them. But more likely, it will just make things kind of fuzzy, which is exactly what happened when the Army Corps of Engineers set out to determine how to regulate the Los Angeles River. ...
Adaptation is a way of life. But we humans have been building our habitats and cities in pursuit of permanence. This is an unreachable goal. Making our cities and communities and lifestyles adapt to outside influences is typically an afterthought. We do tend to react, and we often react very effectively. But solving problems before they happen has never been a strong suit when it comes to urban development. This is especially true with regard to our impacts on the environment. A recent and bizarre example illustrates this point.
The example revolves around water, and takes place in Los Angeles. The city is geographically a desert where water is naturally in low supply -- but because of the marvels of modern engineering and science it is now plentiful enough to meet the staggering demand of 4 million residents.