Archive for April, 2012

April 30, 2012

Thomas Street , Dublin Ireland -Julia Pelaez

Here is an article about Thomas Street in Dublin Ireland and the new project that is being launched in the upcoming months in  order to redesign and  “regenerate”  the  street and bring back and illuminate the beautify that has been underappreciated for a long time .“Commissioned by Dublin City Council, the study, entitled Thomas Street – Improving the Public Face of an Historic City Centre Street, constructs a future for the historic thoroughfare in Dublin 8, which has suffered from urban blight, dereliction and vacancy, including during the recent economic boom period.” Thomas Street has always been a very important aspect to the Irish people and the Irish history and evolution, and this project wants to preserve the importance while trying to bring a new face to Ireland. I found the article very interesting!


April 30, 2012

Road Wars- Cars versus pedestrians in Toronto- Lissy D.

I came across an article on (great website, embarrassing name) about the tension between pedestrians and cars in the large city of Toronto, Canada:

The article explained how members of the Toronto Board of Health are attempting to lower speed limits to encourage pedestrian traffic.  In an in depth report, the board of health outlined the advantages of a safer walking environment for pedestrians.  I didn’t really conceptualize how pedestrian traffic was connected to public health, but this report opened my eyes to exactly how intertwined the health of the city is with pedestrian laws.

Physical and mental health of the people of the city was discussed.  The report showed how increasing the ease of physical activity in the city would improve the mental health of the citizens while in turn improving the physical health.  Diabetes and obesity would decline and the effects on the city’s health care would outweigh infrastructure costs.  There were many other benefits of the increase of pedestrian and cycling pathways through the city, and it’s hard to see how anyone could disagree with the amazing amount of logic and research that went into the report.

Unfortunately, according to the article, Toronto’s mayor and deputy mayor are very much on the side of cars in the city.  In fact, an article in CBC News Toronto online ( explained his contempt for cyclists and union members, urging inhabitants of the city not to vote for them.  This idea of the leaders of a city being so firmly against the requests of the inhabitants shows how hard it can be for legislation to be passed.  This is a problem that applies to any city attempting to pass controversial legislature.  Often times, it seems, cars take precedence to humans.  

April 29, 2012

The Stars… – Marina

Yesterday, Saturday April 28th, I attended Powershift NY. Powershift’s purpose is to fight for a green economy through green technology, policy, and social activities. A part of the day was spent split in groups, and we each wrote our “Story of Self” – a story of what brought you to Powershift, what event(s) in your life made your become passionate about the environment. A group member of mine, Sarah, shared an incredible story that I believe says a lot about the city/nature relationship and the importance of experiencing the natural world.

Sarah grew up on an organic farm in the Hudson Valley. She went to a free-thinking, private elementary school where she was allowed to design her day around her interests, play in the woods, and have fun. She could not have been more grateful for this. Moving on to high school she became disenchanted with the public education system. She dropped out at the end of 9th grade and went to a community college where she got involved with a camp that took mostly inner-city kids into the Adirondacks. There she met a 13-year old boy who had never seen the stars… Never in his whole life seen the beauty of the stars. This made Sarah cry. She felt terrible for this boy and sat with him on top of an Adirondack high peak one night and simply star gazed. She said it was one of the most special moments of her life. She also said something that I found incredible powerful: “How can someone who has never seen the beauty of a star care about hydro-fracking or deforestation? They can’t”!.

When Sarah said this I got chills down my spine…One has to know the beauty of nature, experience it and then acknowledge the importacne of it to want to preserve/conserve it. Her passion now is environmental education.

Sarah’s story exemplifies how closed off a large percentage of the population is to nature. If this boy had never seen the stars, there is no question that hundreds, maybe thousands of others have not either! This is why programs that take children, adults, people of all ages into nature are so important, and why city planners need to make an effort to create more space inside cities where people can get at least a small connection to nature. Even though bringing nature into cities is vital to a city, nothing beats the experience of physically emerging one’s self into the wilderness. The fact that this 13 year old had not seen a star is not because he could not see the sky, it is because the air is so polluted and contaminated with light that stars become obsolete…This is an issue for another post, but one I will be addressing. Here is an article that discussed light pollution that I highly recommend! It’s pretty short. but powerful.

The Dark Side: Making War on Light Pollution

April 29, 2012

More Green Space – Saving water – Depave – Antonia

Why are cities full of concrete? Although there seems to be a lot of knowledge now on having more porous ground to save water,  at least in NYC I have seen very few efforts for water conservation. In Portland Oregon. There is an awesome organization called Depave and they work on getting rid of concrete and implementing gardens instead. Their mission is: “Depave promotes the removal of unnecessary pavement from urban areas to create community green spaces and mitigate stormwater runoff. Through community partnerships and volunteer engagement, Depave strives to overcome the social and environmental impacts of pavement with the use of action-oriented educational events, community stewardship, and advocacy to reconnect people with nature and inspire others. Depave is a nonprofit organization based in Portland, Oregon.”

I think we can learn a lot from this organization to help us on the Poughkeepsie project. Maybe the Poughkeepsie project could have some Depave events with art, potlucks etc. There are many similarities between what this organization aims to do and what Ann Spirn writes about in Granite Garden.

April 29, 2012

Lower Ninth Ward – Our School at Blair Grocery – Antonia

One of my high school teachers decided to leave NYC and start a school on the lower ninth ward. Here he has started a community based school and farm. The students work and learn at the school. This school provides two elements that were lacking, education, food and hope for a future. 

All throughout the year they accept interns and volunteers. Many students from NYC go to the school and learn about social justice and farming and then take what they learned there back to their communities.

April 26, 2012

Urban Homesteading – Sorrel

Urban homesteading first began to emerge in the 80’s. The University of California, Davis, one of the most highly recognized green and environmentally aware campuses in the country, defines urban homesteading as “a household that produces a significant part of the food, including produce and livestock, consumed by its residents.” In one form or another, urban homesteading has always existed. Most notable were the Victory Gardens of World Wars I and II. But the current trend in urban homesteading has little to do with war or patriotism, per se. Rather, its impetus comes from eco- (and perhaps simply trend-) conscious city dwellers who wish to become self sustaining and independent. The Dervaes family, founders of the Dervaes Institute, is generally accepted as pioneers of urban homesteading, starting their fifth-of-an-acre homestead in Pasadena, California in the 1980s.

Urban homesteaders typically grow their own vegetables, some keep chickens or goats, and some even venture into beekeeping in their small urban backyards or courtyards. The surge of urban homesteading seems comparable to the Back-to-the-Land movement of the previous generation, except that these people now live in cities and the general attitude strikes me as much more individualistic. Instead of banding together and forming a community of mutual reliance, urban homesteaders are creating the means to support just themselves, while still keeping close bonds with other like minded folk. So, despite each homestead’s DIY (do it yourself) attitude, the type of people who normally choose to getting back to the basics are also the type of people who enjoy having a close community and will reach out to include everybody who wants to join them.

With this attitude as a backdrop, it is rather shocking to learn that Jules Dervaes recently trademarked the term “urban homestead” and “urban homesteading”, and is now hounding after other authors of all kinds who have published using the terms without crediting their “source”. One article say that there is reason to question the validity of such a trademark at all, although other, more detailed articles follow the story more closely to reveal that it did, indeed, end up passing. To read more about this bizarre issue, check out some of these articles from Electronic Frontier Foundation, Good Lifestyle (where you can watch a video of Jules Dervaes in his homestead!), and Boing Boing.

Besides this trademark issue, though, it all seemed like a great idea to me when I began my research. But I have other quips about urban homesteading, as well. The most frequently examples of urban homesteaders are in cities, especially in California, which are already so spread out that residents most definitely have to drive a great deal. A family living in an apartment building would of course have no space to homestead– maybe a window box at most. So, I have some doubts about how ecologically friendly urban homesteading actually is: how many people actually have the space for something like this who aren’t also forced, on the flip side of their spacious city, to drive a great deal? Would it be better if they, like so many others around the world, lived more closely together and eliminated car usage instead? How much does urban homesteading effect, even increase, waste output? These and other factors all tally in to having a truly “green” lifestyle and a small carbon footprint, and becoming an urban homesteader does not automatically mean a person has an environmentally friendly or low impact lifestyle.

April 26, 2012

Immigrants and Park Collaborative New York City- Zoe

April 26, 2012

Immigrants and Parks Collaborative- Zoe

In class when we talked about Manhattan being the focus of New York CIty development, I was interested to explore other programs that reach out to a broader group of city residents. My research project on the Duwamish River has examined how to engage immigrant populations and I decided to look into how immigrant populations have been engaged in New York City.

One organization that I stumbled upon was the Immigrants and Parks Collaboration. The organization ensures that parks are constructed in a democratic way and groups that are often overlooked can be included. Translators, many partner organizations, and J.M. Kaplan Foundations have all made this collaboration possible.  They’ve helped eight parks successfully be constructed through immigrant collaboration with the city.
Check out the video I’ve posted in the following post (I couldn’t figure out how to attach it here).

April 26, 2012

The Nature-Culture Question in Community Gardens – Emma Robinson

(Of course I’m obsessed with posting about community gardens since it is central to my paper… you’ll have to forgive me!)

I came across an writing today by chance after discussing its exact ideas earlier in class. The essay, “Elegy for a Garden” by Andrew Light, delves into the question of “nature” vs. “culture” (wilderness and city). In this case, New York City serves as a “ground for strong environmental responsibilities” as civic disobedience protests occur to protect a local community garden from (what else but) housing developments. If you don’t get a chance to read the article, I feel if nothing else this excerpt emphasizing community gardens’ role as a manifestation of “continuum” characteristics of the city can really add to our discussion:

The land, in this case, as has been true in so many other places, became the literal ground for intergenerational community and the sort of environmental responsibility which writers such as Rolston see as coming more from wilderness than tiny urban plots like this one. But the value of this garden was unique to this locale; it was tended by these residents because it was where it was and not somewhere else. It was worth the sacrifice of defending it because it was local, rather than remote. There was no “unrealistic” desire here to create gardens everywhere, as the Mayor contended, but to maintain this one in this particular place. If plans go forward to build on this site, then the unique set of environmental and social values embodied in this location cannot easily be replaced. The garden helped to make this community a site for local environmental responsibility even as it eventually came to stand for the larger environmental community’s dream of a greener city.

Inhabited places are not opposed to those relatively less so through any natural order of things. It is only we who drive conceptual wedges in the world. A fully “environmental” ethic ought to include all environments, not for theoretical reasons, but because urban spaces like Esperanza can and do represent an important connection between humans and the natural world. To paraphrase, and possibly extend Leopold’s intuitions, we will only have a complete environmental ethic when we turn our attention to the preservation of richly textured urban spaces as often as we do to old growth forests.

April 25, 2012

Lecture -Julia Pelaez

I really LOVED the lecture tonight! It was awesome because we touched upon a lot of things that we have talked about in class – like what the street actually means and represents the stereotype that goes along with a certain city or town, the connection and or separation that can be caused by programs like Google maps/earth. Matthew was really clear with everything thing that he was trying to convey and I really enjoyed seeing the clip from the documentary and the different websites. It was amazing to see all of his work and it was so obvious that he loves doing each and every one of his projects-I really liked to hear that his goal was to make a difference in a town like Hide Park or Poughkeepsie rather than New York City. I also really enjoyed the aspect of the tour when Matt was talking about the different definitions of what art means and how different spaces convey art/culture in a different way(museums, art gallery, graffiti) .His hide park photo collection was so cool – he was able to collect and organize nearly 1,000 pictures displaying different activities(birthdays, weddings) and over different time periods of those that have lived in Hide Park .

April 25, 2012

Pausing on PAUSE: Struggling with Perception of the City – Claire

I missed the presentation tonight as I was sick but I was taking a look at the PAUSE website and while I think the concept interesting I’m finding that I have issue with the mission statement. In the “About” section of the website PAUSE writes, “PAUSE sees the city not as the sum of its parts, but in its entirety, as a representation of the people who live there.” While conceptually seeing something in its entirety means that one does not see difference or separation I think it’s hard to do in reality. Earlier on in the about section PAUSE says it generally works with residents to rejuvenate “long depressed” areas of the city and thus sees Poughkeepsie as a sum of its parts rather than “in its entirety.” Theoretically those long depressed areas of the city define Poughkeepsie just as much as Vassar College.

The idea of seeing a city as a, “…representation of the people who live there.” brings up interesting notions of identity. Everyone has a different idea of what an American is but this notion flips that on its head. In 2008 we heard Sarah Palin prattle on about “Joe the Plumber” in an attempt to connect with the average American. I suppose I’m just struggling with the idea that one person cannot define a city or a nation but that’s not even what PAUSE argues. I suppose I don’t believe that cities accurately represent their residents. I don’t feel as if I had any input in the city I come from and so it does not represent me; rather, I represent my city. I carry it with  me. I think it is the diversity of those who carry cities with them that makes it impossible to for a city to accurately be a representation of any one of its residents. Are we the city? Or is the city beyond us?

April 25, 2012

Matthew Slaats class visit — PAUSE

Here are some links to Matthew Slaat’s projects. Please post your comments or questions below. We should continue talking about these incredibly thought-provoking projects! Matthew will check in on this page so feel free to ask him more questions.

April 24, 2012

A Vertical City – Hayley G

I’m very interested in architecture and sometimes surf the web to find competitions, student designs, etc. as a way to find inspiration and hopefully the time one day soon to actually enter my own designs. But in the meantime, I came across the CTBUH International Student Design Competition – –

“The goal of the competition is to shed new light on the meaning and value of tall buildings in modern society. As noted by the 2011 Competition Jury Chair, William Pedersen of Kohn Pedersen Fox, “There has been a major transition in the sense of the value of the tall building and what it can contribute to the urban realm, and society in general. This transition moves the tall building away from just an instrument of financial exploitation and toward a development highly concerned with its impact on the city, the environment, and the urban habitat.
In light of global climate change, public awareness of urban sustainability has forced designers to rethink and reinvent the role of the high-rise building type. They must contribute to the protection of endangered environments and offer sustainable alternatives to how cities operate, as they meet the growing demands of urban dwelling and reshaping the landscape of modern cities. It is increasingly important that tall buildings connect with the urban fabric, integrating with the existing city/street life, and reflect the nature of the city in which they are built.” – –

and was blown away by last year’s winners/finalists – 2011 was the 1st annual competition, so I can only assume the innovations will get progressively brighter. The image at the top of my post is actually the 3rd place winner, whose design caught my eye the most and whose design would be most relevant to our class. The project, “Vertical City” was designed by an architecture student – Daniel Sacristán Contreras – at the Escuela Tecnica de Arquitectura in Madrid, Spain.

“The tower aims to create a self-sustaining neighborhood with a unique element – a continuous pedestrian ramp. This ramp acts like a typical street, allowing access to all of the housing units and public facilities. When a tall building takes on the characteristics of a vertical street, it is able to move beyond the typical high-rise and become an expansion of public space while providing more opportunities for social interaction.”
Any thoughts on the possibilities/social implications of erecting something like this to replace the dilapidated infrastructures in struggling cities? I see the logic behind why people in slums like Dharavi don’t want “project” like apartment buildings because of the loss of community and isolation – but something similar to a “vertical city”, where there are street-like ramps within the building could hold the best for both worlds. Save space and keep community.

April 24, 2012

Urban Parks – Hannah

After reading Anna’s post about the function of fountains in urban spaces, and Emily’s post about the Daylighting project in Yonkers, I began considering the role of parks in urban spaces. Public parks have proved to be effective in bringing people together, thus helping the growth of the social aspect of cities. But what is the intended “purpose” of a park? Perhaps to integrate more “rural” scenery into an urban setting? More likely, to provide a space in which people can spend time outdoors, relax, and socialize; there’s a lack of the expectation to be constantly moving that can occasionally be sensed when spending time outdoors on a sidewalk or on the street.
The notion of “artificial nature”, in other words, natural elements (trees, grass, plants) that has been planted in a space, that is not part of the centuries-old “authentic” landscape, has been mentioned a few times during class discussions. Obviously, urban public parks are an example of this idea of “unnatural” nature. If these man-made green spaces have proven to be a successful way of fostering community, why shouldn’t a space focused around a truly natural element, such as the Fallkill Creek, be as successful? The fact that the Fallkill is organic means that it may have a stronger history behind it than some other parks. While the grass, trees, and other elements installed in the pocket parks alongside the creek are “artificial” in that they are being re-introduced after having been replaced by pavement for many years, the creek is still authentic, its path has not been re-routed by man. I feel like emphasizing and publicizing the historic element of the Fallkill could play a significant role in its restoration. Thus, making information about its history public, perhaps with signage, as has been suggested and discussed, is once again affirmed as an important part of the project.

April 23, 2012

Interacting with fountains – Anna

When I went to Boston, just before coming to Bard, last summer, my favorite moment in the couple of days I was in the city was when I saw the Rose Kennedy Greenway fountain. Seeing all these children playing with the water, and constantly being exited, scared, running around etc was absolutely delightful. But it was also a real revelation to me: Not only were children running around ON the fountain, but it was actually designed purposefully FOR people to interact with the fountain. For me, this was a totally foreign concept: All of the fountains I had seen so far, had always been beautiful sculptures, meant to be admired from afar,  sculptures. If one had any contact with them, it was to drink from them (In Rome, for example, a city  filled with small fountains, they have filled a historical role as the main source of drinkable water to the population as a whole, which would not otherwise necessarily have access to it), and tolerated was leaning against them, but even dipping one’s toe is usually prohibited. And here I was with people IN the fountain.

For me this is particularly exhilarating because I come from a culture which uncomfortable with the very notion of interacting with nature in the Urban landscape: Parks are strictly fenced, even when with low, small barriers, one knows that he-she is not to go on the grass(one of the reasons being the so-called delicacy of it. Most of the time, a lawn will carry the sign “Au repos”- “resting”). For this reason we have benches and ironl chairs, in the Tuileries or Luxembourg, or Palais Royale gardens for example. There will be this flamboyant fresh grass in front of you, but you have to stick to the iron chairs.

This idea of not interacting with the water is something I have often thought about when seeing the I.M Pei fountains outside of the Louvre: Their general shape is that of triangles, but the lanes separating them are so narrow, that sometimes it feels(especially when it is really hot, and the air makes things a little blurry) like people are in the water! Most of the time though, unfortunately, it is only an illusion.

The idea of having people in the water, actually, has been brought to France! I went to a conference  two years ago, given by the highly influential landscape designer Michel Corajoud, who directed the re-habilitation of the Garonne  banks in the city of Bordeaux. The part of the project he talked about was one that he lead in collaboration with the fountain designer Jean-Max Llorca. On the Place de la Bourse(name of teh square), every 15 minutes the stone is covered by 2 centimeters of water, which then reflect the surrounding architecture. After that, the water drains through small holes, while new water is sprayed in the air, creating a mist. The whole is controlled by computer systems, and the water is stored in an under-ground system. The rediscovery of water, and of the architecture, through the use of the water, is fantastic. But, as a video on youtube said, what really is amazing is the sense of magic, of fun, and most of all, of liberty.

April 23, 2012

Pedestrian Diversity – Claire

As we were driving through Poughkeepsie on Friday, towards the end of the trip, we finally got a better sense of Poughkeepsie as a city rather than just seeing the area around the train station and Mount Carmel. As we drove away from the Civic Center down Main Street, following Harvey’s Outback, we began to notice that the storefronts were empty more frequently the further we drove away from the civic district. We also noticed that pedestrian attitude began to change.

Rather than yielding to traffic and stoplights, pedestrians heedlessly made their way into traffic.  We’ve talked in class about the sense of entitlement the driver has on the road but in this part of Poughkeepsie the pedestrian seems to hold this position of carefree entitlement. There were very few “walk” signs or easily navigable intersections and pedestrians asserted their right to the street by crossing rather randomly and paying very little attention to traffic. At one point, a young man pushing a stroller crossed the street as Harvey, in front of us, screeched to a stop. The pedestrian proceeded to yell profanities and threaten Harvey as he crossed the street. When we were closer to the civic center, pedestrians were deferential to traffic and crossed according to posted signs. It’s interesting to consider this difference in pedestrian culture in a city.

April 23, 2012

Wood Heat- Jean Wong

The Alliance for Green Heat is a small non- profit organization that aims to promote wood heat as a sustainable way to heat homes. Over the summer, I was able to talk to someone who is currently working at The Alliance, and the sense that I get from her is that trying to gain support for wood heating has not been easy. This is due to the fact that there are still many issues surrounding wood heating that prevent it from being as popular as it could be. One of the problems is with regards to the uncertainty over how much wood is needed to heat a home. As there is no way of measuring the amount of heat produced in joules, and the amount of heat produced fluctuates depending on the type of wood being burnt, wood heating seems like an unreliable source of heat. However, when I spoke to the person working for The Alliance, she assured me that wood heat has the potential to be more popular especially amongst people with access to a lot of wood, given that it would be significantly cheaper than using gas.  Another problem is the emissions that occur when burning takes place. Nevertheless, this is a problem that can be prevented with “stricter and more comprehensive national emissions standards”, as stated on The Alliance for Green Heat website. As of now, not enough research is going into wood heating, and this in turn prevents the creation of more sustainable wood stoves. However, with more support from the public as well as local governments, I believe that wood heating has great sustainable potential.

Here is a link to The Alliance for Green Heat website:

April 23, 2012

Main Street Poughkeepsie – Sam M

I really want to explore the various problems with Main Street in Poughkeepsie. The further we traveled down it, the stranger it got. At first it looked like a normal but severely depressed town. There were countless vacant store fronts and areas that looked as if they had had no maintenance in several years. The effect was a very good idea of what it looks like when a town’s infrastructure collapses economically. Then, came the weird social aspect. As we got further down Main Street, the attitude began to change too. Someone in the car noted that the people had a very metropolitan attitude because they would just cross the street without looking. Something very common in NYC. However, Poughkeepsie does not have the street organization or the mass amounts of pedestrians that NYC does and therefore does not make it a place conducive to walk without looking nature. One contributing factor to this problem is the fact that there are no crosswalk lights to tell people when it is safe to go. Instead, people just prance across the street vacantly, leading our driver to have to jam on the brakes suddenly. The lights are often taken for granted, especially by people in very small or vastly metropolitan areas because traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular, do not evoke the need. However, Poughkeepsie’s averagely busy roads and average amount of pedestrians desperately need this amenity. Finally, as we got to the end of Main Street, it became a mix of closed storefronts, abandoned housing, and unwelcoming housing culminating in the now closed high school that has been turned into a center for welfare programs. It’s truly a bizarre part of town and one that I think deserves a bit more exploring.

April 22, 2012

Author Spotlight: Wendell Berry — Emma Robinson

I stumbled across professor, writer, and farmer Wendell Berry in my research today. I feel a little ashamed for not hearing of him before, thinking he may be old news for some of you, but I had to share his name and the essays I’ve read to those of you who may not have found him yet either. He has contributed a great amount to the conversation on sustainable agriculture and local economic dependance.

His essay, “Another Turn of the Crank,” gives one of the most well written introductions to the changes in the U.S.’s agricultural system over time that I have seen (it becomes a bit of a boring topic after you become familiar with it, so it was refreshing). One major message of this essay is that “the best, the safest, and most dependable source of food for a city is not the global economy, with its extreme vulnerabilities and extravagant transportation costs, but its own surrounding countryside. It is, in every way, in the best interest of urban consumers to be surrounded by productive land, well farmed and well maintained by thriving farm families in thriving farm communities.”

I highly recommend reading “Another Turn of the Crank” to both those unfamiliar or fully aware of the implications of agriculture on environmental and social well being. It may be helpful in some of your projects, too!


April 22, 2012

DIY Urban expansion- Jack Hanly

I found an interesting article about urban planning in the Netherlands, which illuminates some problems and solutions to notions of inclusive urban development. Instead of presenting a “master plan”, as we have critiqued in class as too top-down, the designers expect this community to be an organic growth of dwellings and facilities that is more driven by people themselves, instead of an apparently all-knowing architect. The site is situated on what is now farmland, and the project seeks to integrate elements of the area into spaces that are useful for both people and farming. As opposed to suburban expansion, which usually just eliminates all previous signs of what areas were used for, this project is creating an interesting symbiosis of use. This design follows the principles we have learned in class so far, which is that we cannot simply divide the world into natural and unnatural environments, but rather recognize that neither can exist on their own. It also brings to mind other themes from class, such as urban participation as a citizen. The project allows for the people inhabiting the space to determine its future, creating outlets for people to express themselves, outside of the strict and confining aspects of government dictated planning.