Ecological Design the Way for the Future

From American School of Landscape Architects

If humanity ever hopes to create a sustainable future we need to create a balance between our ecology and foster biodiversity within our environment. Today’s cities act in contrast to the local ecology. We plant “traditional” greenery with grass, deciduous trees, and other water draining foliage. In this process, we ignore the natural ecology of the landscape, destroying its biodiversity in the process.

However, there has been a recent change in the mindset of planners and landscape designers to begin thinking of better systems that will both provide urban environments the greenery they need and the local ecology the fostering it deserves. Two of these ideas include the Low Impact Development plan and the implementation of the upcycled Walkway.

The Low Impact Development plan is a form of water management design aimed at purifying water runoff before it enters important ecological systems within and outside of our cities. This process includes creating new stormwater drainage sites using vegetation such as native wildflowers, shrubs, etc. along watershed sites. This filters the pollution out as the water drains down into groundwater rather than building up contaminates as the water runs along concrete drainage systems. I would implement this system into the design of a development or city because it prevents the destruction of ecologies and biodiversity that have survived thus far. It is a way of mitigating the impact our cities have been imposing on the environment since their creation.

Another more specific example of fostering ecology and biodiversity in city/development planning is the Upcycled Walkway system being implemented in India. It is a 7km long City forest including a 5.2 km long walking/ jogging track along which over 30,000 native trees and shrubs will be planted. Along the track will be a natural drainage system (similar to the low impact development plan) that will help foster the surrounding ecology. The Upcycled Walkway is a grand example of how humanity can restore their damaged environment rather than just mitigate the city’s effects. It is another design that would tremendously beneficial to any development design that desired to help foster its local ecology rather than destroying it.

For more information:

Low Impact Development-

The Upcycled Walkway-


Whakarewarewa: The Hot Springs for Many

Since the modern era, particularly in America, our landscape has become increasingly specialized. The natural human psyche has been leading us to create places and featured within our landscape that only serve single purposes. A water aqueduct is fenced off from contamination, streets are painted so that only cars can use them, there are buildings specifically to buy food, to learn in, to work in, and none of them overlap. And we all accept these rules and spaces as just the way it is because we like boxing things, patterns, an organization in our lives.

Whakarewarewa New Zealand Rotorua,

That is why when you see something with “stacked functions” you take notice. It becomes special because it doesn’t fit into the pattern. It’s new and exciting and interesting. One example of this is are the Hot Springs at Whakarewarewa, Rotorua, New Zealand. The natural geysers and hot springs in the area is one of the main reasons the Maori Village is still an active home to its people. The hot springs allow the area to be perpetually warmer than other areas in New Zealand, particularly in the winter. The soil is tangibly warmer allowing the people of Whakarewarewa to grow their own food year round. The springs are also used for commercial and domestic heating, cooking food, and the minerals in the water create nourishing spa baths for recreation.

Not to say that the use of the springs wasn’t abused. Until the 1980s when many wells were sealed over .people abused the resource by digging shallow wells across Rotorua resulting in the decline of stopping of the geysers. However, once they were sealed, the water began to fill once again and the geysers are back in action.

Whakarewarewa has become a major tourist destination in New Zealand where people can experience some of the traditions of the Maori village still there today. As a natural feature that both provides for the people who live there, a major destination for recreation, and an important part of a communities culture, the Whakarewarewa hot spring is definitely a place with “stacked functions” for the many people who enjoy it.

For More info about Whakarewarewa see this video: And see their website:

Barcelona’s Superblocks: A Mega Project for a New Future

From Twitter: C40 Cities

The superblocks of Barcelona have attracted much attention since the idea first picked up speed in 2015. They are a radical new envisioning of public space giving the streets back to pedestrians and bicyclists. The idea of the superblock is to block up to 9 blocks of a typical street plan and convert it to pedestrian-centered space filled with new courtyards, gardens, playgrounds, etc.


It has become “captivating” across the globe were other big cities with large pedestrian populations such as New York and other urban planners and advocates are looking into how they can save their streets from gridlock. Barcelona and others believe this new form of street organization can reduce traffic and air pollution and increase efficiency in city spaces.

However, Barcelona’s superblocks have also become “controversial”. While many people in Barcelona like the increased walkability of their surroundings, other are worried about being further away from bus stops, impacts of their jobs and deliveries, and finding new ways of dealing with their cars. As the New York Times described in 2016 to really be successful “the plan will require a cultural shift in the way people view and use streets.” (Sastre 10/1/2016).

Despite all the controversy people still, have hope and are excited to see the ongoing transformation of Barcelona as a new experiment a new way, and perhaps a better way, of living in the streets.

For more information read this article of New York’s interest in super blocks:

And watch this Vox video on the basics of the Barcelona Superblocks:

Automated Vehicles: Technology of Tomorrow or Dreams of the Future?

Compared to the general population I seem to be much more skeptical when it comes to automated vehicles. The initial ideas of automated vehicles spark the imagination and seem to be the path to the future but upon a second look, the future of automated vehicles reveals a struggle that may never end.

Experts constantly throw out numbers on how long we should wait before we expect automated vehicles. Even Erick Guerra in Cities, Automation, and the Self-Parking Elephant in the Room states, “Nevertheless, fully self-driving vehicles that can operate under most road conditions are likely to be commercially available and driving themselves in the next 5 to 20 years.” (Guerra 2). But where do these numbers come from? What specifically will be improved in 5-20 years that we can actually trust this claim? Because once you start listing out what still needs to be done on automated vehicles you will find we will be waiting much longer. Such questions can include:

  • How long, if ever, until AI in vehicles are competent enough to analyze the randomness of everyday life?
  • If it can, then who is willing to create a program that will solve the ethicality of situations like “The Trolley Problem”? (Example: The car knows it’s either going to hit two adult pedestrians or can swerve to hit a child. Those are its only options. Which will it choose?)
  • When situations such as “The Trolly Problem” happen who will be responsible? Who is liable? How will this affect insurance and other social industries?
  • What kind of network system will automated vehicles run on? How will we consolidate the 10 or so different companies creating automated vehicle technology into one network?
  • Will the network be regulated by the private sector or the public sector? How will the public react to their privacy being recorded by the system? (ie when and where they are going at all times)

These are only some of the many problems Automated Vehicles create not to mention the many questions Guerra mentioned in his paper or the more logistical impact automated vehicles will have on cities and transportation.

In my own personal imagination, I believe the best implementation is the use of automated vehicles as a form of public transportation especially in areas of the US which were created post-Ford model T and as a result lack efficiency in the traditional public transport systems. I believe the best situation for automated vehicles would be in their own new form of infrastructure (such as underground tunnels built from scratch designed for maximum efficiency for automated vehicles) built by the private industry (because that’s the only place we’re going to get enough money for such a big project) to create an automated version of lift or uber in a safe, specialized environment. But even this has its own questions:

  • If we are assuming that automated vehicles will never be safe enough to traverse complicated city streets how will the zero-occupancy vehicle get to your house?
  • If you have to travel to an automated vehicles station, does that defeat the purpose of using it in the first place (this is not efficient in the high suburban areas where we would want to use this as the new public transport)?  
  • If it’s controlled by the private sector will this become another form of class stratification by possibly excluding lower-income people (people who need public transport) through high prices and turn it into a highway for the rich?

And so many other problems and questions…

In the end, we might never make it to fully automated vehicles, but we shouldn’t allow us to stop trying. Even if what we innovate might not be used for driverless cars, our ideas and imagination will definitely continue to impact our lives for the greater.

For a more positive outlook on the impact of automated vehicles check out this CP Grey video:

Tactical Urbanism: The Adaptation of Cities

This week Rohit Tak, a guest speaker at UC Berkeley’s Global Cities class introduced the idea of “tactical urbanism” to continuing students in the College of Environmental Design.

Tactical Urbanism is a form of design and urban planning that focuses on designing small scale projects over long periods of time to create a bigger change in areas and communities. The strategies that tactical urbanism use includes low cost, temporary changes in the built environment to run as “tests” for a possible larger change in the future. These strategies allow for new designs to be implemented in cost-effective ways, building trust within the sanctioning process resulting in faster approvals, and input from the community strengthening the relationships between officials and the public.

Tak, an experienced designer in tactical urbanism, gave an example of implementing tactical urbanism in Mumbai, India at the HP Junction. Prior to the redevelopment of the intersection, the intersection had a high vehicle and pedestrian volume, difficulties in traffic control, dangerous overtaking, and unrefined pedestrian areas. After using simple paint and barriers, Tak and his team corrected the street geometry, improved pedestrian areas, and decreased the size of the intersection resulting in a major increase in road safety.

Tactical Urbanism in use: HP Intersection, Mumbai India
Saurabh Jain/ Rohit Tak:

There are not many intersections in the US that resemble those in Mumbai. Berkeley and most cities throughout the US were built using the grid: an echo of rationalism imposed me the early founders of the US including Thomas Jefferson. While Mumbai was a city that expanded organically, Berkeley was applied a rigid system removing many hiccups that may happen otherwise. But, this doesn’t mean that the gird made it perfect.

In fact, do you ever notice how navigating the Berkeley campus can get confusing? This is because the campus itself originated on a completely different grid than the rest of the city. As a result, many of the roads and buildings on campus are altered and slightly ajar to sync the two systems together. The best example is the Music Library. If you notice the bottom floor is parallel to the Hearst Gym (one of the oldest buildings on campus and still sitting on the old grid) and the bottom is parallel to the city streets. So while Berkeley might not be as organic as the streets of Mumbai, cities still find ways to be unique and develop innovative ways to adapt to their surroundings.

The Original Grid UC Berkeley
Seeing the Old and the New: Adaptation of Time
Google Maps: HEARST GYM and others from the OLD GRID

For more info about the American Grid Visit:

The Department Store: An Echo from the Past?

This image is Public Domain in the country of origin, Source: Wikipedia- L’illustration : journal universel, 23. März 1872, Seite 205

The department store was the first of its kind in cities with a blooming upper-middle class. Its concept was innovative because it became a new form of public space that focused not on human interaction, but rather on commercialism and the mass production of goods. It became a symbol of the bourgeoisie class that both created its possibility through the industrial revolution and benefited from such new leisure activities within cities (lecture Cenzati).

Unlike other markets of the time, individuals who shopped there could have reasonable prices, anonymity, and returnability of products due to mass production (lecture Cenzati). In addition, it was housed within one space separate from the external world. Most public spaces prior were outdoor such as parks, central squares, monuments, etc. However, due to recent building innovations such as iron and other metals in construction, department stores became some of the first public space that could be separate from the exterior around it (lecture Cenzati). It created its own form of barrier and status for those who could afford to shop there versus those who couldn’t.

The rise of the department store signaled a shift in cities away from a more feudal ideology to more of a capitalistic mentality in cities. Since the industrial revolution, the power began slowly shifting to those with specific monetary power. As department stores grew in popularity the more common market shops began dissipating. Industrialism and mass production required fewer hands for the same quantity of items resulting in many people to search for new forms of work and the spaces that were occupied for people became more openings for the bourgeoisie to expand their impact on the city (lecture Cenzati).

This trend that the department store can still be seen in echoes today. Shopping malls embody the same concept of commercial objects conglomerating under one public space geared toward commercialism. However, shopping malls have not become as integrated to city life as the department store, their history actually shares a parallel to the crystal palace.

This image is in the public domain Source: Wikipedia- Tallis’ History and Criticism of the Crystal Palace. 1852

The crystal palace was originally an instant success even the Queen stating, “To think that this great and bright time is past, like a dream, after all its successes and triumphs.” (Petrosky). However, it once it was removed from its context in Hyde Park it became a building of lost purpose losing its awe until it eventually burnt down (lecture Cenzati). Similarly, shopping malls today are facing a steady decline. The context of time and economic deflation has slowly changed many shopping malls from the go to 80’s hang out to the empty seen across the nation.

Why did something so close to the department store of old fall prey to the fate of the crystal palace? The answer is people. The department store thrived because of the upper-middle class that lasted just as long. In contrast, the people attracted to shopping malls in the 80’s became fewer and fewer as economics in the nation changed.

In the end, it is important to remember: no matter the place (department stores, the crystal palace, shopping malls, etc.), the space formed by the people. Not the other way around.

More information on the decline of the shopping mall please see this video: Vox- What America’s Shopping Mall Decline Means for Social Spaces