worldscape

Local Elections and the Paris Climate Agreement

As an urban planner and environmental advocate, two items in the news today have really gotten my attention: the Paris Climate Agreement and local/state elections all across the country. In my mind, the two are deeply interwoven. But how do local elections affect an international movement?

In case you haven’t been following the news around the Paris Agreement, as of this afternoon (Tuesday November 7, 2017 at 12pm), Syria has announced it will sign the Paris Agreement, leaving the United States as the only country that has not yet agreed to sign on. In fact, the United States’ presentation at the United Nations Global Warming Conference in Bonn, Germany this week promotes coal, natural gas and nuclear energy as an answer to climate change.

I would be in even more despair than I already am if it wasn’t for the United States Climate Alliance, which is a bi-partisan coalition of states committed to the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The Climate Alliance is sending multiple governors to Bonn to reassure world leaders that, while the federal government is changing direction in its climate policy, multiple states are working to ensure the US meets the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement. This is meaningful because if enough states join, that will make a significant impact on emissions reductions. To put things into perspective, one of these states, California, has a GDP that ranks in the top 10 of all countries. That’s why it’s so important that these states are helping to lead the charge against climate change.

Which now brings me to local/state elections. Far too many Americans only vote in presidential elections, thinking that local government doesn’t matter as much. This couldn’t be more wrong. Change often starts at the local and state level. On a micro-level, the decisions your city council, mayor, state representatives, and other elected officials make affect your life on a daily basis. Urban planners often talk about the importance of creating sustainable cities through alternative transportation, energy efficiency, storm water management, and other infrastructure and policies. These planning decisions happen at the local and state level and improve the environment that you live in every day. On a more macro-level, however, successful innovative local policies can often become state policies, which may one day even become national policies. When elected officials see public support for policies in their home states, they are more likely to support them at a national level.

That’s why it’s important that cities and states are helping to reduce emissions, even when federal actions are not. Your councilmember can approve the addition of a bike lane to your street to help reduce traffic emissions. Your mayor can mandate that buildings are built to be more energy efficient. And your governor can just maybe work with the rest of the world to ensure that the United States meets the emission-reduction targets laid out in the Paris Agreement.

All of this is to say, if you haven’t voted in your local election yet, most polls close between 6pm and 9pm. Get out there.

*To find your local polling place and ballot information, visit www.vote.org/polling-place-locator/.

Japanese hotel

The Culture That Influenced Cities Townscape

In the book, The Aesthetic Townscape, by Japanese architect Yoshinobu Ashihara, the writer expresses the cross-culture perspective in urban design and urban spaces. Based on his experiences in Japan, North America, and Europe, he provides a very unique insight. This blog post will summarize some of his discoveries.

Home Layout

In his book, Ashihara suggests that if Western European buildings are “wall buildings”, then Japanese buildings would be “floor buildings”. Although open-floor concepts are becoming more popular, most European-style homes are often separated by into distinct, fixed rooms.  Combining rooms is a major home improvement project requiring tearing down walls.  the Japanese do not have a strong concept of walls. The Japanese, on the other hand, tend to separate rooms with bamboo curtains, wood sliding doors, or a picture screen. As a result, it is easy to combine or split space, depending on what is needed for that moment.

Japanese hotel

Typical Japanese Living Room

https://www.spinjapan.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/10-Useful-Japanese-Expressions-to-Book-a-Hotel-in-Japan-e1453888074426.jpg

2163b1bedb6272016a419404f90bc22d

A common walled living room

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/21/63/b1/2163b1bedb6272016a419404f90bc22d.jpg

Inside vs. Outside

In traditional Japanese families, people tend to take off their shoes before coming into the house. This habit is shaped by Japanese culture, which strongly separates “inside” (formal) from “outside” (informal). Shoes should only be worn “outside” and once you’re “inside”, they should always be removed. Home is a place where one should feel comfortable and relaxed, and should therefore be distinguished from the harshness of being outside in a public space. On the other hand, in Europe, people often leave their shoes on when coming into their home. Those who practice this don’t view it as bringing the outside in with them and do this out of convenience.

The Japanese even take their shoes off from the moment they walk in the hotel. They can wear their robes to walk around or just with socks. Basically, wearing a tie or shoes walking around inside would be awkward. In the West, hotel patrons wouldn’t even think about taking off their shoes until they get in their hotel room.

Japanese have a very clear line to isolate “inside” (shoes off) and “outside” (shoes on):

IMG_4602

http://onemileatatime.img.boardingarea.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/IMG_4602.jpg

shoes-in-front-of-Japanese-temple

(Do not enter a Japanese temple or home with the shoes on)

http://www.thetravelmagazine.net/wp-content/uploads/shoes-in-front-of-Japanese-temple.jpg

 

City Aesthetics

Based on this Japanese culture, people are usually indifferent about the beautification of public space. As we can see from pictures, most of Japanese streets tend to look uniform without much decoration or landscaping. Moreover, sometimes they built a wall between the house and street. In contrast, Western cities usually pay careful attention to urban design and take pride in making their communities aesthetically pleasing.

In Japan:

2

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/61/72/06/617206e17c5678aab94c7264c964e356.jpg

Japan streetscape1http://i0.wp.com/japanese-museum.com/main/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/hiroshima_2.jpg?fit=900%2C506

In Europe:colorful_apartment_building_in_burano_venice_italy_0https://www.zicasso.com/sites/default/files/styles/original_scaled_down/public/photos/tour/colorful_apartment_building_in_burano_venice_italy_0.jpg

piazza-san-marco-long

http://www.reidsitaly.com/images/veneto/venice/sights/piazza-san-marco-long.jpg

After all, it is hard to see decorations like status or fountains in Japan, whereas Europe already have their catholic and Rococo style, full of decoration on buildings. I think this is a great example of the cities built based on “internal” and “external” culture.  Every design in the city somehow got influenced by the culture, that’s why we should pay attention to the way a city design/plan when we travel, you will find interesting stories.

 

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.

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.





BEGIN NOW

TELL US ABOUT YOUR UPCOMING PROJECT!



We would love to help you with your sustainability goals.
GET STARTED