Humans Are Not The First Link (In the Food Chain)

Lisa Brown for NPR

In a recent NPR article Between Pigs and And Anchovies, Where Humans Rank on the Food Chain , Michaeleen Doucleff reports on how, the first time, ecologists have calculated exactly where humans rank on the food chain and how it's been changing over the past 50 years. Spoiler alert: it ain't us.

With a rise in wealth of developing nations, as a planetary-wide species, humankinds' meat to plant ratio is increasing. This increase, however, will not save us from hungry bears whose meat to plant ratio dwarfs ours...but with far less global degradation. 

For a far more competent report, read the full text here: www.npr.org/blogs



Check out this information from Andy Giegerich, the Sustainable Business Oregon editor on Portland's new EcoTracks.  Pretty slick!

"As completion of the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail line hits the 70 percent mark, TriMet officials want future riders to take note of what they’re calling an “eco-track” at one of the project’s new stations.

The vegetated trackway, which aims to reduce stormwater runoff, is among the first such efforts in the U.S. It will adorn a station at Southwest Lincoln Street and Third Avenue near the Portland State University campus.

The installation “will provide a colorful carpet of low-growing plants along 200 feet of light rail line,” according to the transit agency. The technique is common in Europe and consists of one-inch thick mats that contain various species of sedum, which are a hardy low-maintenance vegetation.
Stacy and Witbeck Inc. installed the track last month.

The 7.3-mile project is set to open Sept. 12, 2015. It will essentially link downtown Portland with North Clackamas County via light rail."1

 Works Cited



Hopscotch Crosswalk

Photo courtesy of NPR.org
We saw this on the NPR blog and thought we would pass along. The street crossings adjacent to the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower in Baltimore of are now equipped with four different games of hopscotch.1

Photo courtesy of NPR.org
The Baltimore Sun reports that the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts' (BOP) has set out on an effort to put art in public spaces. In another part of town, for example, another artist designed a crosswalk that looked like a giant zipper opening. 1

Photo courtesy of Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts
Tracy Baskerville, a spokeswoman for BOP, made it clear that safety concerns have been addressed:
"We did work with a review panel including a representative from the Department of Transportation to approve the designs for the Crosswalk Project. We think it is always nice for residents to engage public art; however all pedestrians need to be mindful of the traffic, crosswalk signals and traffic lights."1
Check out these other cool crosswalks!

Piano Key crosswalk: Milwaukee's East Town neighborhood Kilbourn and Jefferson Streets and Wells and Jefferson Streets.2
Photo: P. Adams

Photo: P. Adams

© Atelier Cruz-Diez Paris

© Atelier Cruz-Diez Paris

Works Cited
1 http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/12/03/248461489/something-cool-a-hopscotch-crosswalk-in-baltimore?ft=1&f=5500502%2C15709577%2C93559255%2C93568166%2C97635953%2C102920358%2C103537970%2C103943429%2C104014555%2C114424647%2C128334429%2C128494978%2C129702125%2C129828651%2C139941248%2C173754155%2C181572415%2C186436538%2C193157993%2C216836710&utm_content=socialflow&utm_campaign=nprfacebook&utm_source=npr&utm_medium=facebook

2  http://onmilwaukee.com/myOMC/authors/jeffsherman/pianocrosswalks.html

3 http://www.cruz-diez.com/work/intervention-in-urban-spaces/2000-2009/crosswalks-of-additive-color/


Reference Guide for Structural Soil

Photo courtesy of:  bdglandscape.wordpress.com
Structural soil, on a technical level, is confusing. On the other hand, it is easy to make, and compared to other complicated construction practices, it is easy to install. So what, exactly, is it? 

There has been a perceived need to create growing room for trees in our urban environment along streets and in parking lots. The soil under sidewalks, adjacent to sidewalks, and in sidewalk cutouts is usually compacted to prevent the walk from settling. This prevents many tree roots from growing in soil under the walk. Growth can be severely restricted, creating unhealthy trees, especially in sidewalk cutouts, but if soil is not compacted, the walk will settle.2

A solution that creates root space without compromising soil strength for sidewalk support is "structural soil" or an "engineered soil" mix beneath the sidewalk as shown below (See: structural soil detail). This strategy appears to be especially beneficial for clayey and loamy soil where compaction beneath walks can become quite severe. One disadvantage of the engineered soil shown below is that settlement could be beyond acceptable standards in the U.S.2

The need for this soil has been assisted by federal and local stormwater regulations requiring reductions and sometimes elimination of run-off from spreading pollutants, destroying streams, and in our older cities, overburdening sewer systems.

There are options out there when shopping for your structural soil and now that an overabundance of muncipality urban design guidelines are requiring its use, the inventors of each are all vying for your support. We break each down below and hopefully help steer you in one direction or the other, depending on your project needs.


  • DESCRIPTION: Simply put, they are milkcrate-esque plastic boxes that are buried underground and filled with dirt.1 They were developed by a well spoken, well read, and very convincing landscape architect, Jim Urban.  We believe that he believes what he says, and so do a lot of other folks.  This passion, and the fact that these things just look like they make sense, accounts for their success.  Click here to buy some.
  • PROS:  Like we said, these things seem to work, at least that what Jim Urban tells us.
  • CONS:  Money.  They are expensive and quite honestly are the first thing to get the axe when we start the value engineering process.  Please, we are not whining about value engineering, just build it into your design on the front end like everyone else and roll with it from there.
  • WHERE IT HAS BEEN USED: Lincoln Center, New York City; the Olympic Village in Vancouver; Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, Washington, D.C.   
Installation of SilvaCells.  Image courtesy DeepRoot Green Infrastructure, LLC
CU-Structural Soil

  • DESCRIPTION: CU-Structural Soil is a mix of dirt and rocks designed to bear the load of pavement and whatever rolls across it, while leaving enough open space underground for tree roots, air and water. It’s since been licensed and sold to builders and landscapers across the U.S. and Canada. A mixture of 20-percent soil and 80-percent rocks (by weight) gets packed around a layer of soil surrounding the tree’s roots. The stones are all the same size and the ratio ensures that each stone touches another. When concrete or other loads press down on the soil, the stones create a rigid skeleton that bears the load while the soil itself stays loose.1 It was invented by Cornell University professor Nina Bassuk, and now holds the license for the product.1 You can find producers here.
  • PROS: Its cheap, and chances are any engineering or landscape architecture firm already has a passable specification laying around. Our advice: read your spec. If you haven't had a qualified soil scientist/structural engineer write you a fresh one in a while, it may be time. 
  • CONS: It can be tough to compact if it isn't dry. We ran into this problem on a big project and it was a struggle. In this instance, our spec was tight, but any time problems pop up during construction, it almost doesn't matter whose fault it is, it can hurt the client. Make sure you remind and double-remind the contractor that this is a tricky part of this soil and they need to pay attention.
Courtesy Nina Bassuk

Sand-Based Structural Soil
  • DESCRIPTION: The name is pretty much self explanatory. Instead of mixed-in aggregate, this is a sand based solution. A top layer of crushed rock allows air, water and minerals to get through to surface roots. The rest is filled in with sand that presses together under pressure, but leaves microspaces and remains loose enough for roots, water and air to move through. Compost gets mixed in to help hold on to water and nutrients. Landscape architect Robert Pine helped develop it, but it remains an open-source strategy and is not for sale as a product.1

  • PROS: It is most likely better for trees because it doesn't compact as well. Having said that, we don't know for sure that is true. The folks who will want to sell you the two products above will tell you that it won't compact. We currently have a big project under construction that is using one of these sand-based structural soils, we will keep you posted on what we find. 
  • CONS: You never know what you are going to get. Again, this is not a product, it is as open-sourced as you get, and there is not one specification that is going to guide you
  • WHERE IT HAS BEEN USED: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Building, Washington, D.C.; Federal Reserve Bank, Boston, Mass.; coming soon to the Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Botanical Garden, New York City.1
Photo: The great soil debate – ASLA

More Reading:



Works Cited

1  http://m.theatlanticcities.com/technology/2011/09/turf-war-soil-compaction/100/

2   http://hort.ufl.edu/woody/engineered-soil.shtml


Radical Cartography

Photo courtesy of architizer.com/blog/radical-cartography
With Design with Nature, Ian McHarg pioneered the concept of ecological planning. Mcharg did not invent cartography, a practice that can be traced back to the ancient Greeks (what can't?), nor did he necessarily invent applied cartography: that is often attributed to fellow Scotsman, Patrick Geddes. In 1915, his suggestion that plans be made for Place, Work, Folk spawned the method of planning-by-layers (Meller 1990, 46). 1

Getty's Place / Work / Folk:.  Photo courtesy of ds.cc.yamaguchi-u.ac.jp
Suitability Analysis from Design With Nature
McHarg was successful in clearly documenting and describing the layered analysis process, and  has been considered one of the premiere minds in landscape ecology, planning, and architecture. Perhaps a less well known, but no less inspiring counterpart can be found in William Bunge, Jr. who looked at and mapped cultural behavior in and around Detroit. Bunge's work was similar to that of William “Holly” White, a master urbanist, organizational analyst, journalist and people-watcher in his own right, but at the same time, much, much different.

Bungle, scaring the government.  Photo courtesy of architizer.com/blog/radical-cartography
Photo courtesy of architizer.com/blog/radical-cartography

The distinction lies in the fact Bunge’s maps are as argumentative as he is.  They demand social equality for a community that was ignored and abandoned and record it as a snapshot of truth in time. He mapped unconventional measurements:  quantities of store bought toys and rat bites, to mark the disturbing inequity he saw before his eyes. In one map, he compares the number of bars to the number of playfields in each Detroit neighborhood. Another, titled "Where Commuters Run Over Black Children," is an indictment of poverty, white flight, and President Gerald Ford himself. Below are excepts from Fitzgerald and An Atlas of Love and Hate; these maps portray Bunge's time in Detroit, and his ability (and sometimes inability) to organize the landscapes around him. 2

He shown a light on the way things were in a way that the powers that be at the time were not comfortable with. He wasn’t talking about how to better gentrify a park in NYC or how to build out the Jersey Shore. He was dangerous because he focused on the minute patterns of human movement and behavior, revealing the machinery that orchestrates our activities. His maps are based on statistics, truth, and "damn good graphic design." 2

For his efforts, again and again he lost tenure and was briefly blacklisted by the United States government as a communist sympathizer. Bunge published An Atlas of Love and Hate: Detroit Geographies in 1969, then followed it in 1971 with Fitzgerald: Geography of a Revolution (Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation). Due to his combination cartographer/community activist role, his maps are both a romantic time capsule and an invaluable source of access to a period of fundamental change in the "Great American City." Mathematically exact yet gentle, Bunge lived in the communities he mapped, and his maps remain haunting and inspirational artifacts through which we can watch the Detroit of our grandparents become the Detroit of our parents.2

Photo courtesy of architizer.com/blog/radical-cartography
Photo courtesy of architizer.com/blog/radical-cartography
Photo courtesy of architizer.com/blog/radical-cartography

1 http://jedroberts.com/documents/jed_roberts_geo515.pdf

2  http://architizer.com/blog/radical-cartography/