Thursday, February 27, 2014

Suburb Re-Do

Images: Sherwood Eng, Washington Edu, Seattle PIMithūn Arch.

From Ecobuilding Pulse:
"Revitalizing and rethinking suburban developments offers a wealth of opportunities to builders and architects, says Ellen Dunham-Jones, who is overseeing Sustainable Communities for the Hanley Wood Sustainability Council.
A lot of your work focuses on the suburbs. What are the opportunities there?
The opportunity is that we get a do-over. We built so much, but no one was thinking about environmental issues, especially when it came to the immediate postwar buildings. We drained wetlands. We built with excess. Now that so many of those properties are failing or underperforming, we have a great opportunity to redevelop them into more mixed-use, urban places, or to regreen spaces where we never should have built in the first place.
What do you mean by “regreen” them?
In some cases, especially if there is a slow market, it makes the most sense to simply tear a building down and replace it with a park. Sometimes it means reconstructing wetlands or daylighting creeks that had been put into culverts under parking lots, or putting in community gardens. Outside of Minneapolis in the low-income suburb of Phalen, there was a big strip mall built in the 1960s. It was built before the Clean Water Act, when it was perfectly normal to drain wetlands and put a culvert under the parking lot. The site also happened to be on a major migratory route. Well, the strip mall died and so did the culvert. People at the University of Minnesota’s landscape program made a case for reconstructing the wetlands. They built a beautiful lake and created lakefront property that attracted the first new private investment in over 40 years, which also happens to be next to a big public housing development. This helped trigger improvements to the public housing. The dead strip mall was bringing property values down. So, regreening the space served multiple purposes.
Another thing that’s happening is the daylighting of creeks. One of the most dramatic examples is the Northgate Mall in Seattle. The project has received a lot of press because it features new housing and senior housing on the sides of Thornton Creek, which used to be a culvert under the mall’s parking lot. Now it’s an amenity for housing, the headwaters of a major stream, and can handle the area’s flooding."         (Image: Lisatown - Inspirational Wall)
From By Katie Weeks

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Leitrim Wetland (Ottawa)

Image from: Green Space Alliance Website

From Green Space Alliance Leitrim Wetland page:

 Located in the southern part of the City of Ottawa, Leitrim Wetland is one of Canada’s finest examples of a complex wetland ecosystem and has been identified as a North American “biodiversity hotspot”. According to the Canadian Wildlife Service, “Leitrim Wetland is clearly an area of outstanding ecological significance”. Aside from containing a range of plants that is unparalleled in North America, Leitrim Wetland supplies cool, clean water to Findlay Creek – one of the most important streams in the South Nation River watershed. It is home to many rare and threatened species as well as plenty of wildlife and even boasts an old growth forest, including white pine in which Great Blue Heron nest. It is a Provincially Significant Wetland (Class I under the former classification). 
Local conservation groups launched a lawsuit late last week challenging the Ontario Municipal Board for allowing the second phase of the Findlay Creek Village housing development to proceed despite concerns that it could devastate the 9,000 year old Leitrim Wetland in the south end of the City of Ottawa. 
From: Ottawa Riverkeepers (2007)
Seven years later what has happened to Leitrim Wetland?  Greenspace Alliance has a great page providing many of the details: Saving Leitrim Wetland but nothing has happened on the forum for over two years. Looks like another wetland lost for Ottawa.

And it still seems that the wetland continues to be threatened:
In November 2010, further to a quick decision by the City of Ottawa Planning Committee in October, developer Shenkman Corporation began cutting trees before the winter freeze (reason given) in the Leitrim wetlands complex north of the Ottawa Airport. The project aims to build a hotel and convention centre. The trees were cut down in a wetland in which the Province of Ontario is conducting an assessment in order to designate it as a Provincially Significant Wetland. The National Capital Commission (NCC) was advised of the issue very recently, but the notices given to the City of Ottawa were ignored. Despite the location of this land in the Greenbelt, it is the property of Transport Canada but leased to the Ottawa Airport Authority, which claims that land belongs to it in the context of the agreement between Transport Canada and the Airport Authority. 
From: Auditor General's Office (Canada)

Photo image from John Sankey - Leitrim Wetland and the Findlay Creek Development.  

Detailed summary of the project is provided at J. Sankey's blog (information on the project from the 90's onward at John  This affects Blanding Turtle habitat - see other blog post "Wetland Area in Greenbelt (2012)" for more details.

UPDATE (2020): 

Part of the wetland has been transferred to South Nation Conservation - see post on their website:

07-Sep-2018 - SNC Continues Restoration Efforts at Leitrim Wetland

 There is a rail-trail to the left of the wetland off of Albion road that goes all the way to Kemptville. 

The Ottawa Field Naturalists' Club has also written three articles about the Albion Roads Wetland - found here: "Leitrim Wetlands"  Some great points from OFNC about the significance of this wetland include:
- Its flora is not duplicated elsewhere in North America. 
- It is unusually complex, resulting in a high degree of biodiversity. (It has been listed as one of Canada’s “hotspots” of biodiversity.1038 species of organisms identified to date). 
- It contains regionally, provincially and nationally rare species over 200 species of regionally significant plants. 
- It contains more regionally significant plants than the Mer Bleue, a Ramsar site, even though it is only one-tenth the size. 
- It harbours patches of old growth trees — up to 250 or more years old. 
- It contains 90 species of resident or breeding birds, including a sizable rookery of Great Blue Herons nesting in the tops of ancient White Pines. During migration times, up to 150 species of birds can be seen in the wetlands. The Red-shouldered Hawk, a vulnerable species, nests in wooded part of the wetland.  (OFNC)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Urban Wild "Express" - Bird Architecture Art

Photo by Austin Kennedy

Thanks to PARK-ing OTTAWA for this great post that linked to Sarah Sze sculpture on New York’s High Line. The piece is called Still Life with Landscape (Model for a Habitat).
"The architecture, complex and dynamic, acts as a bird, butterfly and insect observatory, with perches, feeding spots and birdbaths throughout.

The artwork is simultaneously an observatory, an experiment, and a metropolis, evoking urban construction, scientific models, and attempts to capture nature in situ."   

Check out this other outdoor nature art installation called The Bird Tornado!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Women for Nature

"It was on Parliament Hill, in Centre Block, where about 150 guests and one well-mannered great horned owl named Darwin attended the launch of Women for Nature. The event was hosted by Nature Canada and senators Janis Johnson and Nancy Greene Raine with nature-loving MPs Stella Ambler, Linda Duncan, Joyce Murray, Kirsty Duncan and Elizabeth May.

The female politicians are part of a new and expanding group of influential women who are using their skills and leadership to connect more Canadians to nature while also raising awareness for Nature Canada, a non-profit organization working to preserve and protect nature.

Serving as honorary chair is Johnson, who spoke about her childhood summers fishing off the dock and catching frogs in Gimli, Man. “Nature was my world,” said Johnson, who still loves to fly-fish. Her colleague, Greene Raine, summed up nicely the way nature helps to rejuvenate us. “It lets us connect with powers that are bigger than what we find in the city,” said the Olympic ski legend from British Columbia. “We get tired in our humdrum day, working all the time. We get refreshed when we step out into the nature.”

Guests included a mix of politicians and sponsors. Canadian Museum of Nature CEO Meg Beckel is a founding member of Women for Nature. So is prominent Ottawa-based photographer Michelle Valberg. Coincidentally, she’s been snapping a lot of shots of snowy owls due to their unusual migration, known as an irruption, here in the region."

Ottawa Citizen

(Great new effort (hopefully they recognize that nature is IN the city also!)

Friday, February 7, 2014

from a linked in conversation: new generation of landscape architects who are trained as social workers...

Trudy Maria Tertilt

Research Urban Biodiversity - Climate Change

Architecture & Planning

* surface waterbodies and equal distribution all over the city
* many large and old trees
* fruit trees and vegetable gardens
* no use of pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides ....artificial fertilizer
* parks with native trees and shrubs (not a lollipop design)
* no artificial lighting of parks and streets at night

But these ideas are often not implemented because:

* mosquito problem (dengue, malaria..)
* no knowledge - no interest in gardening - often look chaotic in nowadays citizen eye
* do not want to get 'dirty' hands* fruit trees causing trouble when birds are too noisy and dirtying the ground
* fruit trees are attracting unwanted insects (incl. bees, wasps...)
* old trees have an extensive root system which is a problem to infrastructure
* branches might fall and kill people

My point is: People's appreciation and understanding for real nature is missing! Mind is spoilt by to many 'manicured" green spaces in advertisements and commercialization of landscape architecture.... and most important: a sense of ownership is missing for mass housing and big apartments blocks.

Therefore we need a new generation of Landscape Architects who are trained as a social worker to work with the local community. Design and construction of outdoor space is a tool to revitalize neighborhoods. 

The journey is its own reward.