Wednesday, November 9, 2011

what urban designers and planners can learn from landscape ecology?

I have read the ecology of landscapes and regions written by Dr Forman a decade ago when I was an assistant teacher to one of the world experts in ecological landscape design, Dr. Jala Makhzoumi. The book opened for me my horizons on what landscape ecology has to do with urban design .Although it has never coined the terms of Landscape Urbanism”, it definitely touches on the founding principles of what will grow to be a mainstream urban design paradigm.I have just gathered below the reflections gathered from the book comparing its holistic view to the tools I have been applying in urban design and seeing the big synergies with regional and local planning also in terms of scale analysis and sustainability tools.

Land Mosaic change in their gradient and may be spatially heterogeneous due to the mosaic they form. This heterogeneity is due to natural disturbance, human activities and in some cases to substrate (below ground) natural conditions.

FORM is The Diagram Of Force and STRUCTURE is the Function of change  _  one of the main principles on which the changes in landscapes and regional landscapes might be explained.An interesting analysis explains further the intersections between Urban Design and Landscape Ecology although both uses the same spatial language, the different terminology affect the gap in communication .

Landscape Ecology – for the definition and to introduce the subject, I will bring forward the definition that I have read in Carl Troll book -1968)- “it is the study of the entire cause effect network between the living communities and their environmental conditions which prevails in a specific section of the landscape and become apparent in a specific landscape pattern or in a natural space classification of different orders”’ .

Another interesting definition for landscape ecology stems from the research conducted in 1984 by Paul Risser .He speaks of Landscape Ecology in terms of its focus rather its activities . Landscape Ecology considers the development and dynamics of spatial heterogeneity wether it is the spatial and temporal interactions and exchanges across heterogeneous landscapes, the impact of the spatial heterogeneity on biotic and abiotic processes as well as the management of spatial heterogeneity.

Landscape Ecology uses the Patch ,Corridor, Matrix to differentiate between the different landscape types and regional territories. Urban Design uses District, Edge, Path to study the different urban and rural fabrics. The variations of the different territories (whether it is a natural landscape or urban fabric) are attributed to the same factors – Movements (transport or fauna), Patterns(Organic versus Manmade),Scale( regional versus local). The granularity is affected by Time  - the responses of the landscape or the fabric through TIME might lead to Fine or Coarse fabric or landscape pattern.

Miller(1978) has set the different domains in scale when it comes to define the landscapes in which intervention is needed:
Continents /They are characterized by distinct boundaries usually surrounded by water surfaces .Culture, Economics and Transportation connectivity make up for their uniqueness.
Regions/Broad geographical area with a common microclimate and unified sphere of human activity and interest – physical factors such as the macroclimate, soil groups and bioms and human factors such as politics, social groupings, structure, culture contribute to their emergence.
Landscape /Mosaic formed by the mix of local ecosystems – it is an ecological unit that may be formed by a repeated cluster of spatial elements – the essential elements of landscapes can be analysed through :
1-      Geological land forms
2-      Soil types
3-      Vegetation types
4-      Local fauna
5-      Natural disturbance regimes such as fire
6-      Land uses
7-      Human aggregation patterns which is the domain in which regional urban planning engages at

The ecology of regions – regions are usually the scale at which one single macroclimate prevails providing a region wide control over soils, ecosystems and natural processes. A region is the scale at which sustainability can be better pursued for its larger area that may cover many landscape types, its greater adequacy for ensuring resources complementarity and slower rate of change.

Patches are synonyms to boundaries –Patches affect the rates of flows and movements between ecosystems – flows and movements are defined through the array of objects they transfer be it wind carrying air, rivers with water streams ,animals , birds, airplanes carrying passengers or just a couple of neighbors walking a marathon. These six vectors can be flowing in locomotion – slow motion or in mass flow- rapid motion. Usually, mass flow crosses over external boundaries such as TGV crossing over and locomotion are for internal movements such as local breeze. Permeability – same term used in urban design- is linked to how diverse the flows are and how the density of these flows is building up.The flows crossing over the boundaries of the different patches relate to four main ecological processes Supply to Patch, Resistance of Patch, Retention by Patch, Disposal from Patch.

Corridors have been analyzed extensively especially relating to Rivers and Streams _ the analysis will be summarized later in another Blog Post.What I would like to focus on is some of the tools that were presented and which might be useful to reflect on in thinking about our cities as man-made ecosystems. The first spatial tools which are used to approach the territory under study is land use optimization focusing on agricultural production,natural ressources areas  as well as corridors and greenways.

A generic plan might take into consideration some of the priniciples highlighted below:

1-      Context – placing the landscape/corridor/fabric in its regional/continental scale

2-      Flows- evaluating the flows and movements of ground /surface water ,species dispersal, transportation, recreation
3-      Change- looking for changes in the natural environment such as spreading desertification, housing growth, new infrastructure ,water barriers such as damns
4-      Disturbance regimes- Hurricanes, flood, cyclones are repetitive natural phenomena that might affect the future projections and proposed interventions

Another interesting concept that is linked to Landscape Ecology work in the 1990’s is the concept of Whole /Holisitic landscapes. Dr Makhzoumi has written a reference book on landscape ecological design and how its approach can be applied on place making and other urban design spatial interventions.

The concept of whole landscapes apply more to regional sets again a number of principles if followed can contribute to a more holistic approach to framework planning – the holistic approach comes from integrating the human made environment’s and the natural environment’s in a way that does take into consideration high sensitivity topics for human activity but does not jeopardize the livability of other flora ,fauna species . it calls on identifying and maintaining natural expansion corridors, assigning biodiversity areas ,  taking into consideration natural disturbances phenomena and respecting connectivity, permeability and the granular scale of the landscape mosaic focusing on landscape linkages

I would like to end this post with an interesting statement by Carra made in 1990 .His answer to the ways in which we can  integrate human and natural habitat was:’Only if we view the world differently , we would be able to act differently. So, we need a change of perception, a shift of paradigm in our thinking and in our values. We need a shift from fragmentation to wholeness, from a mechanistic view of the world to an ecological view, from domination to partnership, from expansion to conservation, from efficiency to sustainability”. His answer encapsulated most of the different dimensions that planners, designers, policy makers and citizens deal with in their own way and the direction we all need to take in order to make sure that the aspirations of our cities and towns do not lead to their own destruction.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Metropolitan Metamorphosis: The Creation of the City, 1870 to 1965 [Slide Show]: Scientific American Slideshows

Scientific american has published a series of fascinating images showing the rise of metropolic 19th and 20th century--

the images show that the same lements that were considered at that time vital such as the subways are still on top of planning departments priorities

they show also the trend towards completlt sufficcient communities vertically laid out that is much a diagramatic perspective of urban developments such as burkhalifa in Dubai where a complete mixed use enviroment is carefully designed in a compelling experience

urban renewal may have disappeared in its total vision .But, definitely, its principles of gentrification and social purification are still present with force

i hope you enjoy it - check out link below

Metropolitan Metamorphosis: The Creation of the City, 1870 to 1965 [Slide Show]: Scientific American Slideshows:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cityscape awards architecture 2011

Over the last few years the Cityscape Awards have developed into the world’s premier Architectural Awards for the emerging markets.
This year, being  part of the judging committee,i got the chance to view  more than 120 entries in 15 categories spanning from residential to community planning - islamic architecture to enviromental design.

The entries displayed creativity, innovation, efficiency and enviromental sensitivities .It was a difficult process especially that the entries all had eye on innovation, creativity but also functionality. Most of the entries showed high interest in customising their concepts to the context they are working with especially when it comes to street level. Urban design has become a major driver in shaping the architectural elements of the building . The other main trend that i have noticed in the entries is the use of energy efficiency systems to improve the functionality of the building- Sustainability is no longer a trend - there is an increasing demand on it as an essential criteria of design evaluation by clients.

i was highly impressed by two categories:
1- the young architects category- the entries showed an edgy approach that brings optimism in the pool of futureregional  talent we have-  it also showed an increasing blurring of boundaries between architecture, urban design and planning which means that our educational systems need to be redesigned to tackle it more.
2- islamic architecture- although i have heard many debates on the qualifiers of islamic architecture, i have to say that the entries showed a transformation of the way islamic architecture is viewed- Some of the entries transcended the past meanings and presented it under a new light.

Design Awards have always been an effective tools to spread awarness over the importance of quality in designing of our built enviroment and more than ever, it represents an incentive to gain recognition.
It recognises Architects and community planners and their projects that have shown outstanding designs, performance, vision and achievement in key areas of architecture.thething about design is that when it is done with a holistic approach , it benefits on many dimensions the context and that is where the categories in the awards provide a direction on which one can perceive the value of the project For example a good residential project might be as beneficial to the community and a well designed mixed use conplex might contribute to the local tourism.

the shortlist is out and you can check it on below link 

just click to view  the Cityscape Awards shortlist 2011

I am looking forward for a heated deliberation .

Friday, August 26, 2011

a theoratical review of the elements of Planning system and the current trends in improving its design

Planning System Design

The creation and establishment of a planning system depends on the context drivers such as:

  • Legal system which is a byproduct of the  political governance system 
  • Institutional system  that stems from the government agencies mandates and  responsibilit
  •  Development Proces and its various actors
  • Existence of a defined urban planning professional bodies

Public administration efforts focused on managing new developments and improving the built environment through improving and defining the planning system. Local governments had no separate identity and were strictly controlled through a central system .presently, decentralization is happening progressively – central and local governments are partnering although power and responsibilities are being transferred, it more has to do with responsibility and expenditure .Resources and ability to make key decisions still lie with central governments.

A Systems  

The planning systems can be structured in three patterns:

1-Centralized pattern distributed in one or more planning tiers

2-Balanced responsibility distribution over different tiers

3-Decentralized system with high degree of autonomy on each tie

Planning operates within legal frameworks that are either Regulatory framework with strict public policies and rigid controls. Or Discretionary framework that are flexible and open

B Functions 
Planning systems differ in their scope, methods of operation from country. But, they are formed by three main functions:
Strategic planning-Focusing on long term vision that integrates the drivers based on an evaluation of strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities  of the built environment and its different dimensions.

Plan Making  

Providing spatial frameworks based on which developments are planned on the national, regional, city, neighborhood and specific locations. Plans may have different content such as :Strategy ,Policy ,Statutory measures ,Project, Structure Land use, Settlement pattern,Housing, Retail, Leisure and Tourism ,New planned districts 

Development controls 

Legal and administrative procedures operating at the local level aim to control the location, form, character, activity of the urban development and may include the use permutations within the building affecting the site use.
Urban planning profession is now becoming more open to address beside land use infrastructure programs and integrate more with the sectoral processes responsible for urban finances. It is producing a more open, flexible and proactive planning that takes into consideration community inputs.

C Types of plans

 Structural plans:
 Originated in the United Kingdom – their flexibility and general guiding principles enable diverse solutions Operating usually at the regional and sub regional level, they are broad in scope covering in addition to land use, infrastructure, landscape, social considerations and economic goals as well as the institutional analysis. Structural plans require intersectoral integration and a robust financial analysis.

Master Plans:
Oldest version of city planning going to 3,000 BC, the plan aims at specifying at the municipality on  local level the land use zones for an administrative area whether it is a planned district or general zone. 

Local plans:
 Usually providing detailed and specific spatial design plans for a specific area, they focus on short term goals either putting in more controls where it is needed or specifying changes spatially where changes are about to happen .

Action Plans:
Based on community participatory processes outputs. It responds to an immediate need or negotiation over specific issue or challenge. They lack the legal status of a plan and in that case highly depend on the municipality management team to support it

D Range of Urban Planning Tools

Planning tools: techniques and information to plan transport, residential housing, landscaping

Information tools: baseline and periodical data as well as impact monitoring and exchange of information through networked

Policy Tools: general or specific guidelines or indicators

Fiscal tools either incentives such as tax relief or  disincentives such as tax subsidies, lifecycle costing, procurement policies

Decision making tools assessment, mediation sessions, workshops, stakeholder engagement

 Educational tools conferences, workshops, task forces, case studies, training,
Participatory tools:
  • §  Participatory mapping of settlements for inhabitants
  • §  Community lead socio economic analysis,
  • §  collective modeling of housing,
  • §  collective analysis of trends in life histories of residents,
  • §  collective goal and priority ranking,
  • §  inspirational individuals life stories,
  • §  formal community champions

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

UK national Planning policy

Policy documents are sometimes endless pages of small font lettering that may dilutes the big visions it rest upon. they have thousand details that touches on every aspect of the planning enviroment and may reduce its liveliness into endless points to be matched for both reviewers and consultants .This forward by Greg Clark, the newly appointed cities minister in the UK, gives a simple yet highly sophisticated perspective on why planning needs to simplify itself in order to become more in touch with who it serves- the neighborhood and the wider public and then make them his own ambassadors - 

Greg Clark's Foreword to National Planning Policy

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Urban Acupuncture - Jaime Lerner - Revitalizing Cities - Harvard Business Review

This post is part of a three-week series exploring the re-invention of the social infrastructure of cities, published in partnership with the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard University.
How can cities be more vibrant, more vivacious? How can cities be "revitalized"?
First and foremost, what brings life to a city is its people — and the better the quality of life of the city, the better it will be for its citizens and the more livable and lively it will be.
Many cities are losing the battle against degradation and violence because they settled for the view that difficulties were too big and could only be dealt with after all planning instruments and financial resources were in place.

Urban Acupuncture - Jaime Lerner - Revitalizing Cities - Harvard Business Review

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Michigan Leads the Way « Project for Public Spaces - Placemaking for Communities

policy agenda for a sustainable urban future

City in the Developing World - it is one of the reference topics  to focus and centre my attention on why urban leadership is increasingly needed and how can our daily decisions be linked to a holistic perspective. A particular them in this topic that has always intrigued me is urban policies.
So what about urban policy?
Urban policy needs to be assessed in the context of development policy as a whole. But, since the 1980’s, policies took the neo-liberal turn which encouraged free market shaping urban space and its components. In that sense, policy shifted away from a policy of urbanisation containment to strategies which enabled the increase in urban areas overall productivity.
Increasingly, international development agencies are also encouraging structural adjustment programmes that link macro – economic performance of nations to the urban management programs focusing on economic, social, demographic and environmental conditions.
The thinking behind this is stated in a famous paper prepared by the World Bank in 1990 – urban policy and economic development –it explains the interrelationship between urban economic activities and the gross domestic product of nations.
The United Nations development program agrees in that increasingly, urbanisation is contributing to a stable economy –it is a major shift from neighbourhood policies that revolved around slums upgrade, housing provision, municipal services connections and housing finance schemes.
It is the city wide reforms that are capable of translating macroeconomic objectives and economic development strategies into tangible initiatives and projects that will contribute to city development.
To increase productivity, there is also a need to look at infrastructural deficiencies
  •   outdated building codes,
  •   governance structure for housing markets
  •   improvement of the municipal system and financial institutions for urban development.

Government shifts from the role of provider to enabler by creating the adequate regulatory and financial frame within which private sector, SME, community associations play an active role in fulfilling their needs.
Urban concentration is a reality that brings with it the hegemony of urban productivity. Such emphasis might impact social inequalities and may affect the urban space quality in between city regions. There will be an increased pressure on the environment due to newly formed urban nodes
Policy makers will need to balance the enormous demand for urban housing due to the increased importance of cities in national economies and the challenge of social integration and inclusiveness.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

how to revive town centres , the uk experience

Regeneration & Renewal blog: How to revive our town centres: "Richard Garlick on why one local authority regeneration director is urging the rejection of out-of-town schemes Could local authorities re..."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

urbanism might be the answer for climate change

''The problem with the techological approach is that it’s single-minded and it misses out on all the co-benefits that come from good urbanism. The reason urbanism is such a cost effective solution is that it solves more than the carbon problem. It creates a broader range of housing, which is really needed now in America; with the real estate crash we all understand that a big part of that was driven by the fact that we overbuilt one market segment (l earge lot, single family) to the point where it lost value in a dramatic way.''

Interview with Peter Calthorpe, Author of “Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change” | Sustainable Cities Collective

Monday, January 31, 2011

reflections on ecological design

The human being is a living creature. He is a part of  nature itself thus follows a defined and known life cycle; this lifecycle is  the sequence of day, month, year through out the different seasons .

The cycles of a man's life  consisting of birth, up-bringing, marriage, fatherhood, retirement, death is the complete path for one’s life leaving away for his children and his grandchildren to continue this journey.This is the definition of sustainability on the inidvidual level.

His successors will also draw other cycles for their life that connects with who they are and their personas but also connected to their fathers, family, tribe , communities, nation.

These multiple life cycles form  society and through them and their lives that the continuity of the historical, cultural aspects of a society is preserved.

These social cycles have been the foundation of anthropology in understanding how communities and societies are formed.
These interrelationships unveil  the invisible connections of the communities to the way it constructs meanings of the space  with time through its activities  
In designing our  plans and thinking about our development frameworks of design schemes, wether we are practitioners,
planners,policy makers, there needs to be more awarness to the mental plans of the city as a reflection of  these cycles .

The city becomes an ecosystem that through obeservation will reveal to us  the interaction of the different activities within it.

Sequence is  in the ecological cycles of earth, flora and fauna as well as in the sequence of the day (dawn, noon, sunset, late night) and the seasons ( winter , spring , summer, fall). 

 Our urban ecosystem is connected to the wider ecosystem in nature and thus a bigger picture also needs to be considered when we talk about enviromental consideration - it is not only how much we are impacting the enviroment around us.

it is about also how the cycles inside our masterplans link to the bigger cycles of the context we are living in and to think about how we will reflect these nodes of linkages without making the plan too rigid that it can not allow for the community to retrace meanings and emabed it in the framework.
The human life cycle is centered on the individual by excellence .As a living creature, the human being moves, migrates, grows and changes and by consequence is not static.

So, the concept of human life is one that does not accept state in one location and one era. We need to under-stand this flexibility ,resilience and adaptibility as it becomes crucial to strive to it since it is at the core of sustainable development.

One must not confuse stillness and presence with statism because it is in stillness that one observes his achievement and contemplates its proceedings. 
Therefore, he must be present to do so meaning being alert and conscious .Consciousness in this sense is a faculty that one uses to optimize his cycle. Our plans become more tolerant in  providing the community places of stillness. 
places of meaningfull meditation as people strive not only to be engaged but also to disengage , not only to connect but also to disconnect.

 The human life is a journey through out space and time- it the series of small choices we make , which route we take, which district we live in - most of our choices are affected indirectly with the planning challenges and opportunities that our city provides.In this sense, the plan needs to be in line with the choices that the community is making on daily basis and call for also a reevaluation of these choices mitigating the one chosen by constraints and putting weight on opportunistic choices- ones that may enhance the experience of one's life inside the city.

This motion through out space and time begins from the moment the human being is reflected in his small travels such as his day going to work and leaving his home. Our plans need to account for the small journeys , how they will look like , what they will mean to the community.

So, Respecting cycles of activities, of flows,of seasons, of time and space would allow our plans might to last  more than the next generation.