Social distancing is becoming the new normal, at least for those of us who are heeding the Center for Disease Control’s warnings and guidelines. But if you don’t have reliable, high-speed broadband, it is impossible to engage in what is now the world’s largest telecommunity. As many schools and universities around the world (including those of my kids) are shut down, these institutions are optimistically converting to online and digital learning. However, with our current broadband layout, this movement will certainly leave many Americans behind.
As extreme weather conditions become the new normal—from floods in Baton Rouge and Venice to wildfires in California, we need to clean and save stormwater for future use while protecting communities from flooding and exposure to contaminated water. Changing how we manage stormwater has the potential to preserve access to water for future generations; prevent unnecessary illnesses, injuries, and damage to communities; and increase investments in green, climate-resilient infrastructure, with a focus on communities where these kinds of investments are most needed.
Cities that are serious about reducing carbon pollution from transportation need to promote walking and biking, expand transit and micro-mobility services, manage development, and use pricing to reduce traffic and parking congestion.
Many of these steps are designed to reduce the use of single occupancy cars. At the same time, though, cities will also need to electrify everything that moves, including those passenger cars. Just as our approach to solid waste requires a “reduce, reuse, recycle” approach, city transportation policy needs to pursue a “both-and” strategy. Making it easier to use an electric car does not conflict with encouraging alternative transportation options, any more than making it easier to recycle conflicts with discouraging single-use packaging.
Knowing that flooding is inevitable, we moved forward with developing the Brick Works site by testing new green design features that would mitigate risk and withstand most rain events. Stormwater management ponds collect water from the central parking lot; greenways and other hard surfaces filter sediment in the water before it’s released into the Don River. We also built out the site with wet flood-proofing, which allows water to flow in and out of buildings instead of preventing it from entering. A raised floor made of Cupolex allows water, moisture, and gases to escape from beneath the floor. Elevators default to the second floor, and mechanical systems are located above the projected water level from even the most severe flood. These measures are meant to minimize damage rather than stop the flood, and they were successfully put to the test during spring floods in 2012 and again in 2013.
Cities and towns across Massachusetts are starting bench programs, and helping seniors to stay active and healthy by making it easier for them to continue walking in their neighborhoods. As with many improvements to the walking environment, small changes can make a big difference in the quality of life for all members of the community.
I see the outcomes of Duke Pond as a representation of the importance of the profession of landscape architecture in today’s world. Once obscured by the glaring light and booming voice long-generated by building architects, landscape architects are steadily emerging as the designers needed to tackle complex 21st century problems. As both leaders and collaborators, their work is addressing the effects of rising sea level on coastal cities, creating multi-modal pedestrian and vehicular transportation systems to reduce carbon emissions, reimagining outdated infrastructure as great urban places, and as with the case of Duke Pond, mitigating the impacts of worsening drought.
The country has provided hundreds of billions of dollars to recover from recent coastal storms but done little to rethink the existing policies and programs that contribute to coastal property losses, or to define new measures that account for the new realities of more damaging storms and rising sea levels.
A key first step toward smarter policies is to improve disclosure of risk associated with coastal properties. This will require better mapping of areas at risk of both storms and rising seas. National standards are needed for disclosure of coastal flood risk prior to sale. Lenders and supporting agencies need to evaluate and disclose coastal flood risk.
The water-energy nexus is not new. The concept that our water and energy systems are reliant on each other is sometimes paired with a third issue, like food security or public health. This can make it more relevant to our daily lives. Despite a basic understanding of resource interdependencies, city and utility leaders still allow planning and implementation processes to remain predominately separate. A common local scenario finds the water utility facing system upkeep alone, the energy utility not considering other utility issues or city goals as they operate, and city leaders generally focused on more visibly troublesome urban systems, like housing or transportation.
Landscape architects have long been designing for these multiple benefits, and their broad training and systems thinking makes them well-equipped to tackle new challenges brought on by a changing climate, increasing urbanization, and growing inequity. Cities are landscapes and should be planned and designed using a landscape approach; one that considers the larger systems and flows of water, energy, waste, species, and people and how they are nested at various scales. The landscape approach results in distinct multi-functional spaces that are so well resolved that the design intricacies may not be apparent at first glance. These landscapes respond to their context to facilitate connections, transitions, circulation, and views, in addition to addressing key project goals.
Climate change impacts can be a confusing and complicated topic. What are vulnerabilities, when should we be concerned, how much is it going to cost? While all of these are critical questions, the protection of communities can start with one question:
Is our community protecting public health and safety by preparing for a future environment?
Preparing a community for climate resilience requires an understanding of future conditions, a strategy for adaptation, and a commitment to designing and building a community that values public health and safety.
While some cities across the country consider new highway projects, it is those pursuing alternative strategies that are thriving.