Sooner or Later at Seaside: An experimental effort by Alexander J. Felson, ASLA, to protect a shoreline neighborhood in Bridgeport, Connecticut, from frequent flooding shows how hard it is to make a whole community appreciate the existential threat of climate change. By Arthur Allen.Landscape Architecture Magazine, November 2013: 188-197.
THE YALE UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR ALEXANDER J. FELSON, ASLA, brings landscape architecture and ecology together in what he calls “designed experiments”—projects that test green urban design and management hypotheses but that also meet practical needs. In 2010, he came to Seaside Village, a century-old brick Georgia revival complex in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where the homeowners association had asked Yale’s Urban Design Workshop and the Urban Ecology and Design Lab to develop a master plan for the 257-unit community. Seaside Village is enveloped in the shade of beautiful red oaks, lindens, and silver maples but floods badly during heavy rains. At first it seemed like a marriage made in heaven. Felson, an assistant professor at Yale, runs a joint degree program between the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the School of Architecture. He has a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Harvard University and a PhD in ecology from Rutgers University. As a designer and researcher for MillionTreesNYC, the planting project in New York City, he helped devise a series of experimental plots to study urban forest health over time in different soils and settings. Seaside Village was a site with great symbolic interest, a place where idealisms past and present could meet. There were, however, big problems that come with working on former wetlands within a 100-year floodplain, on the fringe of a threatened coastline where flooding is common. Poor drainage plagues Seaside Village, which lies below high-tide levels on pancake-flat land. After a normal heavy rain, drains back up and fill the neighborhood. An inch of precipitation can leave six or seven inches of water on the streets, and most basements flood regularly. A glance at the 1893 U.S. Geological Survey map of the area shows why: The land where Seaside Village now sits once lay under a marshy inlet of the Long Island Sound.
Earlier this year, Alexander Felson suggested that the field of urban design would improve markedly if ecologists became more involved. But as Felson conceded, many ecologists have scant experience working on development projects and might not even know where to begin.
In a new article, Felson, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Yale School of Architecture, lays out a “roadmap” for integrating ecology into urban design. Writing in the journal BioScience, Felson describes strategies for ecologists to inject themselves into design projects — such as urban parks and buildings — and highlights critical moments in the process when they can have the greatest impact… more
“It’s ideal to get involved early in the contract phase because essentially you’re carving out your role in a project.”
“Land development is inevitable… and it’s happening with less ecological assessment than it should be. The more we can get ecologist involved the better.”
Guilford — Ten days before the one-year anniversary of storm Sandy’s sweep through the coastal flanks of this shoreline community, town planner George Kral surveys an area that took one of the storm’s hardest hits -– Seaside Avenue. “The road was totally inundated,” he recounted. “All of the houses had water in their basements for sure or up into the first floor depending on the exact elevation of the road.” Appropriate to its name, on this sunny, if chilly, Friday afternoon, Seaside Avenue offers an array of vistas of Long Island Sound as the road transects what in earlier times was a seaside salt marsh. “… Visit this link for the whole story on “Seaside Avenue erased?
Current urban-greening programmes are all too often based on inadequate data (see, for example, C. T. Driscollet al. BioScience62, 354–366; 2012), and models for estimating the value of urban vegetation are largely untested. To make substantive progress towards urban sustainability, city managers and researchers need to know where, when, how and which greening programmes are appropriate for urban areas.
Simplified urban-forest models have been widely used to estimate the benefits of scattered planting of trees in city parks and avenues, but these mostly fail to build in estimates of uncertainty or to consider trade-offs and costs. For example, urban forests would be unlikely to reduce atmospheric concentrations of polluting particulates and nitrogen dioxide (H. Setäläet al. Environ. Pollut.183, 104–112; 2013), and their high pollen density could exacerbate respiratory conditions such as asthma.
We suggest, therefore, that urban-greening strategies should be tailored specifically to their localities. Programmes need to be validated by testing against comparative studies that capture spatial and temporal variability in and among cities. This means that local urban data collection and ecosystem modelling will have to meet the same high standards as those applied to non-urban areas.
Ecologists who are conducting field research usually study areas that they hope will not be disturbed for a while. But in an article published in the November issue of BioScience, “Mapping the Design Process for Urban Ecology Researchers,” Alexander J. Felson of Yale University and his colleagues describe how ecologists can perform hypothesis-driven research from the start of design through the construction and monitoring phases of major urban projects. The results from such “designed experiments” can provide site-specific data that improve how the projects are conceptualized, built, and subsequently monitored.
In light of the billions of dollars spent each year on urban construction, Felson and his coauthors see important potential in improving its environmental benefits and minimizing its harms. Currently, environmental consultants advising on the designs for such projects usually rely on available knowledge and principles that were originally tested in natural settings.
The authors note that researchers must understand contracting, then must work to establish their credentials with project designers and their clients in order to be awarded a recognized role in a construction project. Felson and colleagues therefore provide maps of the process for the researchers’ benefit. Ecologist researchers should try to involve themselves at the earliest stages, even before designing starts, and be ready to accept priorities that are alien to typical research settings.
Felson and his colleagues provide two case studies to show how it can be done. One is the construction of a “green” parking lot and associated water gardens at an environmental center in New Jersey; the other is a major tree-planting project in New York City. In both cases, researchers involved themselves during the contract phases of the projects by establishing the likely value of answering research questions. Although they had to make some compromises with commercial and political imperatives, their designed experiments allowed them to influence the design and implementation and improve environmental benefits, while also establishing viable long-term research sites in highly urbanized areas.
The complete list of peer-reviewed articles in the November 2013 issue of BioScience is as follows. These are now published ahead of print.
Mapping the Design Process for Urban Ecology Researchers Alexander J. Felson, Mitchell Pavao-Zuckerman, Timothy Carter, Franco Montalto, Bill Shuster, Nikki Springer, Emilie K. Stander, and Olyssa Starry
Involving Ecologists in Shaping Large-Scale Green Infrastructure Projects Alexander J. Felson, Emily E. Oldfield, and Mark A. Bradford
Timothy M. Beardsley Editor in Chief, BioScience
American Insitute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) 1900 Campus Commons Drive, Suite 200 Reston, VA 20191 703-674-2500 x326 firstname.lastname@example.org www.aibs.org
We had a successful workday in Bridgeport, CT at Seaside Village working with the community to plant the bioretention gardens with a shrub planting (Iva frutescens, Hibiscus moschuetos, Clethra alnifolia, and Baccharis halimifolia) an herbaceous planting (Carex stricta, Solidago semipervens, Schizachyrium scoparium). Thanks to everyone in the community and to Selena and James for making it happen!
No resource is more vital to the survival of the human species than water. Beyond its obvious life-sustaining properties, water is a critical component for all aspects of human life. It feeds agriculture and energy production, drives industrial processes and transportation systems, and nourishes the ecosystems that we depend upon. Yet through waste and mismanagement, careless pollution, and ever-surging demand, humankind is careening toward a day when there will not be enough water for most people.
It doesn’t have to be this way. If we can focus on strategies that reduce demand and waste, establish practical policies, and apply smart technology for efficient use and monitoring, humankind can more sustainably manage this precious resource. But we must recognise that there can be no one-size-fits-all approach.
On October 23rd, 2013, the jury came together to discuss proposals for the FARROC competition. The jury deliberated for hours, eventually selecting the Stockholm based firm, White Arkitekter’s proposal Small Means and Great Ends as the overall winner, while Ennead Architects proposal were recognized for Leading Innovation in Resilient Waterfront Design.
Constructing Future Nature: Ethical conundrums in the design of ecosystems
Organizer/Moderator: Alex Felson
Ben Minteer, Arizona State University: The Fall of the Wild? The Ecological Ethics of Preservation, Restoration, and Design in the Anthropocene.
Eric Higgs, University of Victoria, Australia: Back to a future landscape: prospects for ecological restoration.
Alex Felson,Yale University:Shaping ecosystems through ecological land planning and research-based design.
Joy Zedler, University of Wisconsin: Embracing uncertainty: Looking back while planning ahead.
Humans are negatively impacting ecosystems locally and changing global climates. This generates a need not only to restore impaired ecosystems but to construct new ecosystems that are resilient and sustainable within a changing environment. As the demand for constructed ecosystems expands, restoration ecologists, along with other applied ecologists, are poised to address the challenge of reclaiming and restoring degraded, damaged and destroyed ecosystems and to serve as critical players in shaping the ecosystems of the future. Yet the base assumptions that have guided the field of restoration ecology for decades, including the reliance on historical reference sites in an effort to return habitats to pre-disturbance conditions, are being questioned. Restoration ecologists are obliged to reconsider how to model future ecosystems. They face ethical challenges associated with defining the appropriateness of native versus non-native species in urbanized landscapes. For example, should wildlife habitat preservation and enhancement or public access be valued more in urban parkland? Should ecologists assist in facilitating the migration of plant and animal communities affected by global warming?
This symposium will explore possible roles for restoration ecologists in defining and establishing ecosystems of the future particularly in suburban areas or urbanized coasts. It will examine the ethical, cultural, and functional challenges of constructing ecosystems. Topics include: engaging the public through outreach and education; situating restoration projects in urbanized landscapes; integrating technology, research and design into restoration projects; and responding to shifting understandings of environmental responsibility in an era of rapid environmental change.
You may not recognize his name—yet—but Alex Felson, just a touch over the age of 40, is making one for himself as a pioneer in the burgeoning field of “urban ecology.”
Felson runs the Urban Ecology and Design Laboratory—or UEDLAB—at Yale, a bright, roomy space in a building off Prospect Street. It’s half-wet lab—a space where hands-on experiments using biological and chemical materials are conducted (dried plant species lined one counter during my visit)—and half-architectural design studio, with oversized, write-on cabinets that are covered in scribbles and phrases related to various projects. Among the technical designs, I notice a drawing of The Lorax, Dr. Seuss’s famous environmental prophet from the children’s book of the same name.
Felson is busy melding two worlds in the lab—ecology and architecture—resulting in what he calls “Designed Experiments”: innovative projects that not only enhance the landscape aesthetically, but also help study it.
Joint degree (SoA/F&ES) students including Sheena and Rushyan met with F&ES students to share experiences about the program and provide feedback on portfolios for applying to SoA (Yale School of Architecture).
YCEI Town Hall Meeting on Climate with Senator Chris Murphy
2-4 pm | Kroon Hall, Burke Audtiorium Friday, September 13, 2013 195 Prospect Street New Haven, CT Hosted by Yale Climate & Energy Institute
Panelists: Senator Chris Murphy (D, CT)
Ronald Smith: Center for Earth Observation, Department of Geology and Geophysics; Yale
Kerry Emanuel: Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences; MIT
Marion McFadden: Acting Executive Director, Hurricane Sandy Task Force – Katie Scharf Dykes: Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection
Alexander Felson: Director, Urban Ecology and Design Laboratory; FES, Yale School of Architecture
Description: Global climate models all predict that the Northeastern United States will be particularly vulnerable to short- and long-term effects of global warming. Some of these effects — such as higher-than-average temperature and sea level, as well as more intense and more frequent storms and droughts — are already being felt in the New England area. As we learned from Hurricane Irene, Superstorm Sandy and winter storm Nemo, isolated weather extremes riding on gradual trends can be extraordinarily damaging. A 2011 report by the American Security Project estimated that failure to mitigate or plan for what is likely to become the new normal could result in the loss of 100,000 jobs and $22 billion from the regional economy between 2010 and 2050. Coarse global climate models indicate the overall direction of change, but much more detailed regional climate, economic and land-use models are needed to assess how global warming will affect New England, county by county, in the 21st century—and to create prudent and effective policies and plans for dealing with the coming changes.