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Image from the TV show Game of Thrones with Milesandre, the red witch, looking into fire with the caption "The internet is dark and full of spoilers"

Thronesian Livability

Note: Please note there are spoilers here from Game of Thrones season 7, so if you aren’t caught up by now, beware! Also note that this information is solely based on the HBO show and not the books.

In the game of thrones, you win or you die… but what’s the quality of life like for a resident of the seven kingdoms? Sure, there’s the queen’s justice, but is there environmental justice? (spoiler- no) Walkability? Connectivity? Economic Opportunities? What’s the land use like of the capitals of the seven kingdoms? What are their food systems? How does each capital fare against domestic threats?

Cumulatively, I’ve done weeks and weeks of “research” (read: watching #DemThrones) and I’ve broken down the urban form of each of the most viewed castles of Westros in the series. I’m sticking to Westros for the sake of brevity, but maybe the kingdoms of Essos will be a future part two. All of these are feudal societies that include a hierarchy of power and ownership of lands.

The Scoring

  • Defense:
    • game-thrones-loot-train-attackHigh score— Dragon spitting fire on Lannister troops
      These are incredibly defensible, strategically-built castles or cities that can fairly easily withstand any attack. This scene is from season 7, the most recent season, where Dany flies her dragons nearest to Kings Landing to attack the Lannister troops for their attacks on her allies.
    • 200w_d (9)Medium— Jon Snow facing the cavalry
      These have pretty well-established defense mechanisms or positions. The castle or city is able to be defended from most attacks. This scene is from Season 6 when Jon Snow and other fellow northerners try to take Winterfell back from the horrible, awful, no good, very bad Boltons, who caused terror in the north when they occupied the castle.
    • 200w_d (3)Low Score— Baby dragon in chains
      These areas do not score well on defense because of their vulnerabilities to attack from the ground or sea. I used a baby dragon in chains to describe these places because while they may have some fortification, there is one huge weakness that allows them to be attacked.

 

  • Environment:
    • 200w_d 2High Score— Ellaria Sand strolling through gardens
      These are lush cities or castles with plenty of access to open space, decent stormwater management (for the time), and sanitary systems. I use this image to show how the beauty and access to nature as well as the deftly placed water features with implied impeccable stormwater best management practices (BMPs).
    • main-qimg-de9e30e2fd713e17224bfaf96fbce3f6Medium— Robb Stark in the Rain
      These cities are not quite as lush, but still have access to open space and greenery. They may have challenges with stormwater management because of the amount of impervious surface and/or their sanitary sewer system. I chose Robb Stark in the rain because, rain = stormwater and he represents the places that seem unbothered by the precipitation.
    • gallery-1500298978-sam-gagLow Score— Samwell Tarly dry heaving at his cleaning duties
      These are areas that are mostly bleak mud pits or stone without much in terms of greenery, stormwater management, or sanitary systems. Samwell is how I feel like all the residents of these places must feel on a sweltering day of Summer as the mud pit off-gases its odors into the village. Yeah, you get it.
  • Food System:
    • Cutting_pigeon_pie_at_Purple_WeddingHigh score— Joffrey Baratheon cutting his wedding pie
      These areas have a wealth of food security stemming from either self-grown or payments/yields from their hinterlands, or surrounding agricultural areas. In the case of most feudal systems, some portion of the farmers’ or other craftsperson’s’ yield goes to the lord. What better “let them eat cake” moment than the gluttony of a palace feast to exhibit food security.
    • 200w_d (7)Medium— Dany eating a heart
      These areas do not have as much access or security in food resources, but there always seems to be something they can scrape together, that is to say, it may not be the most choice cut of meat.
    • 200w_d (8)Low Score— Crowds in Essos reaching for a single slice of pizza
      These areas see a shortage of food and have high food insecurity leading to many of their poorest citizens being unsure of where their next meal will come from. This gem was not of my making, but found on giphy, but it’s awesome.
  • Transportation and Connectivity:
    • MV5BMTU1ODAyMzg1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODUxOTIxOTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1502,1000_AL_High score—Ominous strolls of Tyrion and Varys
      These areas are well connected both interior to their streets and areas as well as to the rest of Westros. In these places, one can make ominous plans for creating chaos no matter if it’s a game of pits or ladders.
    • 200w_dMedium— Septan leading the walk of Shame
      These areas are somewhat connected internally and to the surrounding areas and the rest of Westros, but may face challenges like rough terrain or unestablished roads if they need to reach a place in a small amount of time. I use this image because while the transportation infrastructure may be there, the journey may not be easy.
    • Targaryen-Fleet-6x10-7Low Score— Targaryen fleet sailing to Dragonstone
      These areas are relatively disconnected. They may be very insular and difficult to access by different modes of transportation. I use the Targaryen fleet sailing to show the lengths to which you may need to go to access these places, which are often not on mainland Westros.
  • Economy:
    • main-qimg-03579a1d2697cb0cc3ff435836c0bb73High score—Tyrell loot from the sacking of Highgarden
      These areas are rich in economic industry either directly paid (gold) or indirectly paid (goods and services). They are economically independent and can afford nice things.
    • Game-of-Thrones-season-4-premiere-Jaime-Lannisters-gold-handMedium— Jamie’s gold hand
      These areas are somewhat diverse in their economic offerings, but may be limited by climate or location. They are still able to get what they need but maybe won’t have the nicest dresses from the tailors of Kings Landing.
    • 1 HBO's  "Game of Thrones" season 2 Dany- Emilia Clarke Jorah- Ian Glen Kavaro-  Steven Cole Doreah-  Roxanne Mc Kee Xaro Xhaon Daxos-  Nonso AnonzieLow — The Empty Vault of Xaro Xhoan Doxas
    • These areas are out of money or do not have much, if any, economic power to be seen. This is especially the case after the castle or city has been overthrown or a feudal lord/lady has been killed.

 

 

Summary of Livability
In part 2 of this blog, I’ll provide more information, context, and nerddom to explain each scoring.

A comparison of each most-seen place in the television series, Game of Thrones, based on their defense, environment, transportation and connectivity, food system, and economy. The comparison and scoring is done using different images from the show that are explained within the scoring text.

 

(all Photos, except the pizza gif are from the HBO series)

Christine E. Mayeur, AICP is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and hobbies, interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grassroots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems and environmental solutions that meet the needs of all users.

Department of Defense

Houston, No America, We Have A Problem!

Department of Defense
Department of Defense

 Unless you have been living under a rock, you have seen the news and know the devastation Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath has caused in Southeast Texas. When we witness such tragedy on a large scale, we immediately begin discussing ways to prevent it; however, flooding is an everyday occurrence in many cities across the United States. While this flooding in the human environment may not be enough to blanket a city or trap people in their homes, it’s enough to destroy property; cause waterborne illnesses; cause loss of life; destroy crops; and impede access to essential public services such as ambulances and firetrucks. The aforementioned list is by no means exhaustive but a snippet to illustrate some of the impacts of flooding. Sadly, it doesn’t take a hurricane to have this impact. Heavy rainfall or even sustained rainfall over a long period of time can be just as destructive.

Unfortunately, climate change is causing more frequent and extreme weather events. Unless we take action to mitigate the damage caused by these wet weather events, we will see more devastation in our communities. As an environmental engineer who happens to work on stormwater management issues, here are a few of my thoughts on the topic.

1. Preservation of natural resources – Wetlands (marshes, swamps, bogs, ponds) are land areas covered by water that consist of plant and animal life. In the context of flood control, wetlands help protect against storm surges by serving as an intermediary between larger waterbodies and land. Unfortunately, development often destroys this natural barrier allowing more water to reach land and without filtration. Jurisdictions should include preservation of natural resources as they update their land use plans, comprehensive plans, and/or zoning laws.

2. Getting smarter about growth – During wet weather events, water is looking for a place to go. Water naturally seeps into the ground; however, many of our cities are covered in asphalt, concrete, and other impenetrable barriers. This surface water runoff can overwhelm our sewers and become stuck in areas where there is little flow. In addition, waterfronts are being developed with housing and commercial space without regards to rising water levels due to climate change. As this land erodes it will impact these places that are now high value corridors of living and entertainment. Despite these challenges, waterfronts are and will continue to be popular locations for development. Developments should consider sea level rise or consider new design techniques such as floodable buildings.

3. Increase in green infrastructure -Trees, rain gardens, green roofs, bio swales, pervious pavement, rain barrels and constructed wetlands are a newer approach to managing surface water runoff. Many urban areas are using green infrastructure as a tool to imitate the natural process that should occur after wet weather events by adding soils and other vegetation back into the ecosystem. Green infrastructure has to be a part of a larger strategy to effectively minimize the impact of wet weather as well as place making in communities.

4. Increase and maintain gray infrastructure – Poor drainage, lack of maintenance, infrastructure not designed for high density populations are all issues impacting our existing gray infrastructure such as storm drains, storm sewers, holding tanks, dams and levees. In fact, both dams and levees received a grade D on the American Society of Civil Engineers 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. New gray infrastructure as well as the maintenance of older infrastructure are important components in preventing the outcomes we often witness in wet weather events.

The damage and destruction that we witnessed post Katrina, Sandy and now Harvey are not isolated to these extreme wet weather events. Until we extend our conversations and more importantly our action to maintenance and prevention, we will continue to play Monday morning quarterback. Unfortunately, it’s more than a football game at stake. Lives depend on it. America, we have a problem!

P.S. Extreme wet weather events are occurring globally but for the purposes of  making this blog brief, I limited the issue to the United States of America.

Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC an environmental consulting, urban planning and public engagement firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.

170829133404-16-harvey-0829-exlarge-169

5 Ways to Help Traffic

170829133404-16-harvey-0829-exlarge-169

Source: CNN

In the midst of Tropical Storm Harvey, our hearts and thoughts go out to the families whom are affected by this storm. Due to its flat topography, Houston is well-known for its susceptibility for flooding. Many people woke up to find they were trapped inside their flooded homes and waited to be rescued. We wish the affected families the best of luck in their journey to recovery.
 
I have never been to Houston, but I have heard many stories about Houston’s traffic and planning. In this blog, I will share what I have learned from my perspective and my extended knowledge of transportation.
 
Houston is known for its sprawl. People tend to complain about the traffic because they drive to most of their destinations. The traffic is usually at a standstill.
 
Here is a video talking about the Houston’s freeway system.
 


 
American Highway Users Alliance published a statement that the Katy freeway in Houston was the second most congested road in America. Drivers spend a combined 25.4 million hours every year sitting in traffic on that road (which is 36 lifetimes worth). That is why the government decided to spend $2.8 billion to expand the road to 28 lanes, making it the widest highway in the world. Many people thought that this extra capacity would surely solve the problem. However, between 2011 and 2014, travel time on Katy freeway went up 55% (Meaning that driving between downtown Houston and Katyland, a 28-minute drive without traffic, takes an average of 64 mins during afternoon rush hour.)

Katy freeway (I-10) in Houston, Tx

Sounds unbelievable, right?

The video explains that the road expanding solution violated the fundamental law of roads: MORE LANES=MORE TRAFFIC. When the road got extended, more people used it, causing it to reach capacity again.

Here are some solutions for traffic as discussed in the video:
 

  1. Take public transit

This is always the long-term way to solve traffic. Taking the bus and light rail can definitely reduce the daily amount of traffic and is also environmentally friendly.

METRO_Light_Rail3

Source: http://www.abrahamwatkins.com/blog/images/METRO_Light_Rail3.jpg

  1. Ramp meters

Meters on entrance and exit ramps can control the amount flow of traffic entering the highway. It slows down the number of cars merging onto the highway, ensuring traffic stays at its most efficient speed.

Screen Shot 2017-08-28 at 3.40.10 PM

Source: https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/fhwahop14020/sec1.htm

  1. Tolls

Tolls are a direct way to reduce traffic. In New York, which has high roadway tolls, people often prefer to take the train or subway into Manhattan instead of driving.

These fees can increase the overall cost of driving to a level where some people will decide the benefits of driving are not high enough and will choose alternative means of transportation.2005-03-13_15-53-32

  1. Roundabouts

Roundabouts decrease some of the worst type of collisions and still carry the same amount of traffic, according to study. Traffic tends to be smooth and consistent, albeit having a slower flow.

maxresdefault

     Source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/XcK8sjzTlWI/maxresdefault.jpg

Screen Shot 2017-08-28 at 4.08.05 PM

Source: https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Safety/roundabouts/benefits.htm

  1. Diverging diamond interchange (DDI), also called double crossover diamond interchange (DCD)
  • Fewer conflict points (14 for DDI, 26 for conventional)
  • Conflict points spread out throughout interchange
  • Better sight distance at turns
  • Virtually no driver confusion (FHWA study and new DDI observations in Springfield, MO)
  • Traffic calming features when desired
  • Wrong way entry to ramps extremely difficult
  • Shorter pedestrian crossings

chapt1pic4Screen Shot 2017-08-28 at 4.15.25 PM

Source: http://www.divergingdiamond.com/trafficmovements.html

In the DC metro area, commuters also face heavy traffic during the rush hours, especially in downtown DC, I-66, I-495, and I-395. After all, traffic is an issue for every major metropolitan area. We all contribute to solve this problem. I highly recommend everyone to take public transit like Metrorail, Metrobus, or the Capital Bikeshare.

 

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion in urban and landscape design, she also enjoy looking for the variety culture inside of the city.





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