May 14, 2012

The Importance of Public Parks – Abby Margolis

There is far more to public parks than what meets the eye. For my research paper I am studying the positive immediate and long-term effects that parks have on people. The inspiration and foundation for this topic comes from the Wallace Foundation’s Urban Parks Initiative, “a wide-ranging effort to determine how to improve the quality of urban parks, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, and to broaden urban leaders’ understanding of the importance of parks to the health and vitality of cities.” The Wallace Foundation is a national philanthropy foundation that aims to improve education and enrichment for disadvantaged children. As part of the approach, the foundation first funds projects to test new ideas for solving important social issues, then analyzes the successes and failures to fill critical knowledge gaps, and lastly communicates the results in order to help other people. The Wallace Foundation was named for DeWitt and Lila Wallace, co-founders of Reader’s Digest Magazine.

Parks have traditionally been viewed as open spaces that are mainly used and appreciated by community members. Even those who do not use parks appreciate them. One study by the Urban Parks Initiative found that 75% of respondents who said that they did not themselves use parks still reported receiving benefits from them, many of which tied to opportunities to children. Another advantage of parks is seen in studies that connect property values to proximity to green space, including neighborhood parks and urban forested areas.  For example, Pennypack Park property values in Philadelphia rose from about $1,000 per acre at 2,500 feet from the park to $11,500 per acre at 40 feet from the park. Similarly, the price of residential property in three neighborhoods in Boulder, Colorado dropped by $4.20 for every foot farther away from the greenbelt.

The “new view” focuses more on the broader contributions parks can make to the liveliness of communities, along with their residents. These contributions include:

-Providing programs and opportunities for youth to build physical, intellectual, emotional, and social strength in an effort to influence rewarding choices to adolescence and adulthood.

-Aiding new residents into the workforce to find productive jobs by offering park-based employment opportunities in the community.

-Promoting residents to work together to make their community better by encouraging participation in park planning and management.

-Helping residents improve their health by providing a space to exercise and enjoy fresh air.

The broader view of parks recognizes parks as features that can achieve more job opportunities, youth development, public health, and community building. Although the initiative concluded in 2003, Wallace supported 19 public and private partnerships in 17 cities for creating new parks, reforesting urban areas, restoring landscape, and brining new activities to neighborhood and urban parks. The initiative helped secure 350 acres of new parkland and 50 miles of greenway trails as well as restoring 300 acres of existing parkland. In my research paper I will further explore why the Urban Parks Initiative came to an end and discover other programs that advocate for public parks.

The Wallace Foundation: 

Urban Parks Initiative:

May 14, 2012

The renewal of urban waterways through art, design and architecture – Anna

My research paper focuses on the renewal of urban waterways through art, design, and architecture. To explore this theme, I focused on a great variety of contemporary projects, through the lens of three problems addressed in the various projects, that of:

– making the water more visible and present;

– being able to see and perceive the city that surrounds the waterway differently through the renovation of the waterway;

– being able to understand the potential use of the waterway in question.

I tried to be as varied as possible in the projects I chose to focus on, and to include large-scale projects as well as smaller ones; to find some that were independently pursued by artists, for example, and other large scale ones that were funded by the state or the city. I also paid great attention to the context of the project, where in the history of the place, the endeavor came in, and where the site is, spatially (geographically as well as socially).

Finally, drawing on all the themes and questions raised by the different projects, I also focused my attention onto a larger project that Emma had talked about last February on the blog, the Cheonggyecheon stream renovation project.

Here are pictures of the ten projects that I focused on in my paper (between 1 and 3 pictures of each project, and 5 of the Cheonggyecheon stream in the slideshow):

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Issues raised in my paper include the different ways professionals have managed to re-think how people already interact with and perceive the water, and the different ways they found to change those relationships and interactions, such as various architectural structures, objects, and lighting. Also discussed are the existing ecosytems, and the didactic message carried out by the projects themselves.

May 14, 2012

Research: Public Art – Sam M.

One of Ze Frank’s projects bridging digital and real spaces.

The Hydraulophone: Transforming the courtyard

A piece of interactive art (a statue/fountain that can be played like an instrument) turns this vacant courtyard into a successful space.


The Sequence: Brussels, Belgium

This renovated artistic walkway turned an allegedly unsafe walkway into a midnight stroll destination.

Street Art Promotes Environmental Education in Chicago

Bastian Heinsohn (professor at Bucknell University) thinks street art is absolutely essential to troubled spaces

Street Art Utopia acts as a gallery for these projects to facilitate more positive art in communities

Street Art Utopia – Street Art in Lebanon

Public Art resolves social issues in LA in the 1930s

Can’t talk about rogue art without mentioning Banksy

Rogue Art at the Hi-Line: Spacial Integration




May 13, 2012

The Romance of Abandonment- Jean

The Romance of Abandonment- Jean

May 13, 2012

Private Urban Food Production – Sorrel

The validity of a so-called ‘back-to-the-city’ movement has been rather undermined by Aaron Renn, in his article for the Newgeographer. He points out that although movement to the suburbs has flattened out, cities and downtowns have not experienced any sort of booms. But city and suburb life is changing, regardless of exactly how the population is flowing. Urban homesteaders are cropping up everywhere— people intent upon growing their own food, raising their own livestock, keeping their own bees, and creating a more self sustaining urban lifestyle.

Normally, practical urban homesteading still requires more space than the average apartment-dweller has (unless they have access to a roof, in which case they can grow vegetables there). However, because many American cities are so sprawled and people have lawns even in the middle of town, homesteading is a very viable option for many families. And, even without a lot of space, it can be done. (Notice also the great way to recycle plastic bottles by making them into plant pots!) In addition to just growing veggies, though, urban homesteaders keep various kinds of livestock, from simple chickens and ducks, to goats and pigs.

Urban beekeeping is also a rising trend in cities across the world— it takes less space than gardening or livestock, and bees are incredibly integral to our environment and food systems because of how much food they pollinate. Because of something called Colony Collapse Disorder, at least 30% of the bee population is disappearing. This makes beekeeping especially important.

So, despite the fact that there doesn’t seem to actually be a back-to-the-city movement parallel to the back-to-the-land movement of the 60s and 70s, there definitely seems to be a similar rise in environmental awareness, ecological and social sustainability, and do-it-yourself attitude.


May 11, 2012

More Info on Gowanus Projects – Marina

Living City Block

Sponge Park

Floating Gardens

May 11, 2012

Gowanus Canal Transformation – Marina

The Gowanus Canal has gone through tough times. It’s cleanliness is scrutinized by the EPA for industrial pollution labeling it one of the worst contaminated areas in NYC and even the country. This label does not dishearten local pride for the canal and is motivation to clean it up! It has potential to bring the community together through projects and funding. Here are a few clips and pictures to give you a sense of the Gowanus and what the future has to offer.

Since 1766 the area surrounding the Gowanus has been heavily industrialized resulting in severe damage the the environment that continues today.

I recommend watching this video for a great first glance at the issues revolving the Gowanus and the efforts aimed at revitalizing it!!

May 11, 2012

Urban Beekeeping – Sorrel

Beekeeping (called “apiculture”) is a rising trend in cities and suburbs across the US and around the world. It is relatively simple, takes very little space, and yields sweet (literally) results. Beekeeping can be done in backyards or lots, in areas with more space, or on building rooftops in denser areas. Beekeeping is a major movement and there are societies and organizations popping up in major cities everywhere. Bees normally fly under the radar, but they are in fact vital to our entire food system. According to Dennis van Engelsdorp (watch his TED talk on beekeeping here) one in every three bites of food we eat was directly or indirectly made possible by bees’ pollination.

As of 2010, beekeeping is legal in New York City, as long as beekeepers register their hives with the Department of Health. The New York City Beekeepers Association is going strong offering talks, classes and resources for all of NYC’s beekeepers. Beekeeping in dense urban environments sometimes leads bees to take their sugar from less “traditional” sources— if there is a candy factory nearby, for example, a beekeeper could end up with a rainbow of different flavored honeys. However, this is not actually a problem for the bees, it might only be an obstacle for the humans who would eat the honey. Although bees can travel several miles to find food, many urban beekeepers plant flowers and wild grasses on their rooftops to support their hives. At the end of Dennis van Engelsdorp’s talk, he discusses the problem of lawns, and encourages everybody to turn their yards into meadows, that they might support bee populations and other insect wildlife.

Beekeeping is not legal in every city, however, and bees are often considered pests. Many beekeepers are still forced “underground”. Van Engelsdorp is convinced that this is a result of what he calls “NDD”, or, Nature Deficit Disorder. We have lost touch with nature, he claims, we need to change that. Urban beekeeping and back yard meadows, just like urban homesteading and plot gardening, are excellent ways for city folk to reconnect with nature and, at the risk of sounding too dramatic, save the world.

If you’re interested in learning more about urban beekeeping, I recommend reading this article from the Scientific American.

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May 10, 2012

Hungry for Documentaries — Emma Robinson

It becomes increasingly difficult to talk about the industrial food system without some redundancy. Due to the strength of the local food and organic movements, news coverage, and countless books and films released, there is a general awareness of the current problems surrounding food production in this country which can make a discussion on certain points seem a bit patronizing. When it comes to our environmental-focused class within a liberal arts college, it is safe to say that most of you are already familiar with much of the interesting information I could post here.

Sharing a couple documentaries that are not as “main stream” as Food Inc. would be a good compromise, I thought. From my own experience I feel these films offer some fundamental knowledge about the importance of food and small-scale agriculture, along with environmental issues in general. Feel free to comment if you know any other that should be included on this list. And note that I highly reccomend Food Inc for those who have yet to watch it!


King Corn


May 9, 2012

Too good to be true? – Zach

I came across this seemingly perfect building material called the polli-brick. It’s essentially a remoulded PET bottle that is hyper-durable, sustainable, inexpensive, lightweight, and hurricane resistant. And more!  The process is this: plastic bottles are essentially remoulded so that they fit into each other in a honeycomb-like fashion (this is all done on-site) – they are then fit together to build a wall.  Polli-Bricks insulate and even have the potential to absorb solar energy.  Sounds like the perfect building material, really.  I’m skeptical, yet at the same time very hopeful…

May 7, 2012

Recycled Housing / Cargo Containers – Steve Reiman

ImageImageImageImageImage/ CarImageImageImageImageImageImage

May 7, 2012

A Walk To Remember – Sam M.

A Walk To Remember – Sam M.

I was doing research for my paper topic which is about using practical art to engage people in their surroundings and encourage the success of overlooked spaces. Ze Frank is the person who inspired me to write on this topic because, if you ask me, he has it all figured out. Mr. Frank takes the idea one step farther and integrates digital environments with real spaces so people can experience physical and emotional reactions through one of the most emotionless spaces of all: the web. I think considering the rate of technological integration, space should be thought of in both the digital and physical senses. Soon, the internet, computers, and cellphones will, in fact, influence the world we live in. After all, the tech boom has greatly effected architecture in California. Ze Frank understands perfectly that you can create art with technology and further more, that art can bring new meaning or rekindle meaning with the real world in ways that make you appreciate the spaces around you.

May 4, 2012

Designers and Architects: The problem of being aware of the extent to which what we produce has an impact on society.-Anna

Just the same way as we think of grass as being “green” because we associate it with a so-called “nature”, many objects and buildings have been designed in order to reflect take advantage of this tendency of ours to go towards the ecological. But the problem with that is that people often stay on the surface of the object or the building, on the aesthetic of it. A whole new wave of design has, for the last couple of years, reflected our craze to strive towards the ‘ethically correct” by proposing objects that reflect and propose commodities that are seemingly moral.


We do not want to serve big industries which crush smaller businesses, taking over the market, and, on top of that, employing cheap labor in far-away countries. Instead, we want to benefit the whole society…Now that the old, formally valued capitalist form has imploded, new capitalists that are under cover have immerged. Take TOMS shoes, for example: It proposes to shoe one person in an “under-developed” country for each pair of shoes you buy; or Starbucks which works with equitable commerce.

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Lets come back to the theme of nature, which has become, over the last couple of years the object of study for many designers: nature has become a branding source of inspiration. We see nature only through its pristine beauty, but not for what it is. Designers now are doing the same as designers (if we can call them that…), artists and architects during the period of the art nouveaux did. Except that now, they carry broader implication which designers have, for the most part (I will not say for all), not yet understood or realized: It is creating a whole market of commodities which are based on aesthetics but are not taking in account the implications of the message that they their objects may carry: We are buying objects that represent a far-away idealized nature, but also because we think that by doing so we are supporting it. We want to preserve it, but what we are doing is encouraging both a false, separated version of it (an idealized version, which does not go in the direction of preserving it, as we have seen in class) and are satisfying our desires of ecologically correct through object which, in reality, are not sustainable at all(examples of really cool looking designs, which, for the most part are all about the esthetics and how “cool” they look:

Here is an excelent talk about the role of the architect and the impact of architecture and public spaces on society:

The issue which links all these problems is our inability to see in depth, what is hidden behind all of this branding, and the implications of objects, which should not be seen as separate, themselves from the people who are buying and using them: We are not able to see that behind this beautiful cover of excessively granny-weedy-planty-organiquy design is a building which’s greeny façade is, in fact, entirely made of glass, and which’s shapes are all about aesthetics, but not about function. Designers and architects are creating symbols which’s depth and influence on the consumer-user (even if unconscious), they are not always able to grasp on.

May 3, 2012

Measuring Sustainability- Zoe

After our class on Wednesday, I became really intrigued with the idea of measuring sustainability. The issue of whether living in New York City or living in the country is more sustainable was not discussed fully in class. Although one of the major downsides to country living is that you have to drive great lengths to get anywhere, the city is much more consumer focused and wasteful in a different way. After much searching, I was unable to find a comprehensive study comparing city to country living in terms of waste production. Is there even a way to compare these two on average?

To further investigate this idea, I found a few articles rating the top 10 most sustainable countries in the world. Every article had a different grouping and arrangement of countries. This made me wonder what measures these rankings used. Is it ever possible to justly compare sustainability when there are so many factors that influence sustainability? 


This table is the only source of ranking I was able to find. To get these total amounts, all of the factors were averaged equally, but it seems like some of the topics should be given more or less weight in the average depending on their impact. Since measuring sustainability is a relatively new concept, it’s understandable that there are some problems when giving out sustainability scores, but what could be done to make it a better ranking system? What do you guys think? 


May 2, 2012

The New Hanging Gardens of Beirut – Levi Shaw-Faber

New York’s Central Park gives the impression that it is a vast rectangle of land left untouched by city developers in order to keep nature thriving in the heart of the city. But, Central Park is anything but untouched. It was completely designed and fabricated and hundreds of city employees and volunteers tend to it. Many cities, though, do not benefit from the kind of planning and foresight that created Central Park. In Beirut, for example, only about three percent is parkland, compared to about fourteen percent of New York. And Beirut is too developed to demolish buildings to create parkland. In response to such situations, the people at Wonder Forest ( have come up with a new idea. For only about $3.5-4 million, the Lebanese government can plant 60,000 trees on 15,000 rooftops. This would result in a major change in the city as the small trees in large pots would not require the buildings to be retrofitted with new drainage systems. The real difficulty for the project is getting the citizens of Beirut involved in watering and caring for their trees. The people at Wonder Forest combat this claim by pointing out that gardeners could earn profits from their government-subsidized trees by selling the citrus and olives.Image

May 1, 2012

Oysters: Overpriced Vacuum Cleaners? – Zach

Sorry it’s been a while. Kate Orff is a Landscape Architect based in New York.  At her most recent Ted Talk, she revealed a plan that is essentially a larger-scale Fall-Kills Project.  The concept is simple: healthy oysters can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, therefore why not reinstate oysters back into ecosystems in which they previously thrived in order to clean them up?  Orff’s area of focus is the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn – a rather putrid canal, much more polluted than the Fall Kills and filled with heavy industry.  Orff hopes that creating North-East Oyster farms in the canal will not only help revive the ecological disaster, but also socially revive the area surrounding the canal.

Projects like this make me re-think how the Fall Kills revitalization effort should go about revitalizing the creek.  Should we start with purely social revivification and focus on the social landscape that surrounds the creek?  Should the initial focus be on the “ecological-ness” of the creek? Is the eel project really working, or is it on too small of a scale?  Do areas need to be obvious ecological disasters in order for the community to fully support and promote revitalization?

VIDEO – Oysters as Architecture

May 1, 2012

The Hudson Valley and The English Countryside — Levi Shaw-Faber

Yesterday, I bicycled to Rhinebeck. The return trip was slightly downhill, so I began to daydream. As I followed Country Road 103, which becomes River Road, and passed estate after estate, I began to feel like I was cruising through the English countryside straight out of an episode of Downton Abbey. I stopped to view one particularly beautiful clear-cut meadow. It was divided into two distinct lawns separated by a perfectly straight tree-lined driveway up to a huge manor house. As I slowed, I began to wonder why this was more aesthetically beautiful to me than the miles and miles and forest that separated the estates. Why does a clear-cut lawn catch my eye more than a dense forest? At first, I thought I enjoyed looking that the meadow more than the forest because I could see farther. But as I kept thinking, I reevaluated that. I thought back to my daydream about the English countryside. This meadow, house, and path were all constructed to mimic the ordered nature of Europe after the forests were clear-cut for fuel. My daydream was not that far off. The Hudson Valley and the English countryside look very similar. This is not a coincidence. The Hudson Valley was clear-cut for fuel like most of Europe. I have been told this many times but I still find it hard to believe. If the trees were clear cut then replanted and have became as dense as they are today, how are the forests any different than they were before we cleared them? The trees would be older but I cannot believe that the forest could get any denser. The entire ecological history of the Northeast still baffles me. Were these dense and tangled forests constructed to mimic the dense and tangled forests of Europe? We can say with certainty that the estates were built to mimic European landscaping and architecture, but what about the forests and what we consider the natural, untouched, parts of the Hudson Valley? 

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