The grow smart bay area plan is an incredible urban strategy for the growth of the San Francisco Bay area.

"We can focus all the region's needed new development in existing urban areas, especially in downtowns and around transportation hubs. We can use land now wasted on vacant lots, parking lots, and other under-used properties to build the homes people need in thriving new neighborhoods." 

Click the image above to visit the Grow Smart Bay Area website to see whats happening in San Francisco, California. Another great resource is the Greenbelt Alliances website, at www.greenbelt.org
 
 
"Good ecological design should focus on correct spatial and temporal scales, simplicity, efficient use of resources, a close fit between means and ends, durability, redundancy, and resilience. Design, too, must be place specific. Design should focus on more than one problem at a times to avoid unwanted side effects." -James Karr

Unfortunately, so many of today's 'good designs' do not follow this methodology. With man's insatiable thirst to tame the wild, time and time again we design against nature, instead of with it. By looking for narrow sighted, short term solutions, we have consistently damaged our natural world, and the consequences are quickly catching up to us. Somewhere along the line, man became disconnected from the complex living systems that we so heavily rely on, and we have not been designing with this in mind. 

"Human actions are often directed toward simplifying systems as we strive to concentrate production in those parts and processes we value most. Simplification often produces unexpected consequences. The resultant loss of complexity and diversity may threaten critical processes that provide utilitarian or functional value to humans. Loss of natural system integrity the all to common result."

By designing with nature, and using Karr's method of ecological thinking, we can restore our space in the complex network of ecology, and work to undo some of the damage to the natural environment that has already been done. By working with natural systems instead of against them, we, as well as all things living, will greatly benefit.

This unit of urban systems focuses on ecological design in Northeast Ohio, specifically the Doan Brook Watershed. My partner and I set out to map and document the site today, and thanks to the recent rainy weather, we were able to follow the water from headwaters in Beachwood, all the way to Lake Erie. It was remarkable to watch the path of water, and to note what situations and circumstances it encounters on its way down stream. As we followed the water, we were able to make many interesting connections and understandings. The path of water is something that is so overlooked, but it of such importance.  My next blog post will highlight our findings through mappings and diagrams, and I will further discuss everything that we discovered. 
 
 
In this design charrette, the objective was to locate and solve a problem within the West Creek watershed. The studio decided to divide the watershed by land use, and my partner and I specifically looked at issues within the industrial area.

We chose a site that was already a part of the West Creek Restoration Project, and saw the opportunity to further their design for a more comprehensive solution.

 A number of issues stood out within this area, and among the largest was the condition of the creek bed, the high amounts of runoff due to impervious surfaces [warehouse roofs and vast parking lots], and the speed at which water rushed across the site without natural filtration, picking up pollutants and delivering them directly into the Cuyahoga, and resultantly, Lake Erie. 

Our main goals were to slow the water down, and provide it with a more natural path before entering the Cuyahoga River. To do this, we proposed a divergent stream that would be used to handle excess water during times of heavy rain. This would allow water to be slowed down, and also to be filtered naturally before reaching the main river body. We also proposed effective solutions that could be implemented by businesses, such as porous parking lots, and bioretention. We addressed the issue of parking lot runoff feeding directly into the creek by proposing rain gardens at the edges of these lots, providing an area for water to be slowed and stored before entering the creek.

What we found is that there aren't many new ideas when working with water, it is simply knowing and applying concepts that work. This is something that can be done in any project. With knowledge of how to handle water on site, the amount of storm water runoff entering streams, creeks, and tributaries can be greatly reduced. Until now, it seems that the trend has been to get water off the site as quickly as possible, and into a storm sewer to be sent directly to the main water body. However, we are seeing the devastating effects of these practices, and with simple strategies, we must begin to design with water in mind. 
 
 
Watershed:  the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place. 

John Wesley Powell, scientist geographer, put it best when he said that a watershed is: "that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water sourse and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community."

Water is our world's most precious resource. Being made of almost 80% water, human beings rely on this molecular collection of elements more than any other in the world. Unfortunately, with urbanization and densification, natural watersheds in urban areas are being heavily damaged, and destroyed. Areas that were once natively vegetated, and filtered water naturally and gradually, have been replaced by impervious materials [roads, parking lots, buildings] and mechanized replacements [sewer and storm water drainage systems.] By stripping the land of its natural processes, we fast track the water cycle. What this means is that the rain water that rushes over a polluted industrial park winds up back in the lake, and ultimately in our tap water much much faster, and dirtier, than it ever would have. The effects of urbanization and the disruption of watersheds is not easily reversible, but good design practices can help slow the velocity of destruction which is currently taking place. 

Our studio will be looking at the West Creek Watershed, and will be coming up with design solutions that can help to slow the disruption to natural watersheds. The West Creek Preservation Committee is dedicated to doing just this, and we will be studying some of the projects and techniques they have been employing to help save our most precious resource. 

This committee has put together an excellent resource, the Watershed Action Plan.

On a much smaller scale, The University of Maryland has designed a model project that demonstrates ways that human settlements can be designed to help protect the watershed ecosystem. With designs like this making up the urban fabric of cities, our worlds watersheds could be in much better shape.
 
 
Discussion in our intro to urban design class has recently shifted to issues of technology, mechanization, and the  "synthetic reality" that seems to be a result of this recent leap forward in technology and industrialization since the turn of the 20th century. People in cities have become so far removed from their rural roots that,  according to a recent study, many inner city children are unable to make the connection between a McDonald's hamburger and the actual animal it is produced from. 

The capitalistic society that created this industrial, and mechanized way of producing food seems to be at work again; but this time, by going back to the start.


As soon as it looked like all hope may have been lost for the future of our pigs, chickens and cows, it seems that we may be on the edge of a cultural turning point. People are taking note, and it is having a huge effect. With people's will to actually know what they are eating, and to be confident in the food they purchase, the demands of a capitalistic economy have large corporations like Walmart and Chipotle listening. And with "edible education" initiatives popping up all over our nation's schools, it seems that a glimmer of hope may be emerging from what seemed like a future of chemically altered and industrialized food. 

One major company leading the way is Chipotle (and their food with integrity initiative), whose dedication to a responsible world is evident in almost every aspect of their company. Recently, they have produced this great little short film, which I believe, sums up the cultural revolution that is making its way across the country.