September 23, 2008

Cours origin and allure by Henry W. Lawrence and M.F.K. Fisher

The cours, a garden allee style carriage way, was introduced to France from Italy by Queen Marie de Medici in 1616. Henry W. Lawrence, in the article "Origins of the Tree-Lined Boulevard," writes

[Marie de Medici] had a new type of quadruple allee installed along the banks of the Seine below the Tuileries. The new feature, the Cours de la Reine, was especially for carriage riding. The form was apparently inspired by the roadway, known as the Corso, along the Arno River outside Florence....The cours was especially important because it transformed the garden allee into a place for vehicles.
The cours and garden allee, according to Lawrence, are two of ten precursors to the tree-lined boulevards of the nineteenth century, popularized by Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann in Paris. Lawrence's expansion of the "Origins" article is now available in book form - "City Trees: A Historical Geography from the Renaissance through the Nineteenth Century."

Photograph: Wikipedia Commons

Mary Frances Kennedy (M.F.K.) Fisher describes the Cours Mirabeau, above, in her book "Two Towns of Provence." She begins in an "informative vein" but quickly transitions to a prose description of "its ineffable allure" -

It is probable that almost every traveler who has ever passed through Aix has been moved in some positive way by the view from one end of the Cours or the other, by the sounds of its fountains in the early hours, by the melodious play of the pure clear sunlight of Provence through its summer cave of leaves....It is a man-made miracle, perhaps indescribable, compounded of stone and water and trees, and to the fortunate it is one of the world's chosen spots for their own sentient growth.

Fisher states that the Cours Mirabeau was built in 1651 (ten years before the Cours de la Reine) by Marie de Medicis (note Lawrence's spelling of the queen's name). More about the Cours Mirabeau -

The first trees were elms, and they too grew handsomely to shade the rich gentry in their carriages and the people of the upper class who strolled beneanth their shade. They dies in a plague that killed almost every elm in Provence, and beginning in 1830 they were quickly replaced by the plane trees which now thrive along the Cours and help make it what has often been called "the most beautiful Main Street in the world."

M.F.K. Fisher was born 100 years ago this July 3. Learn more about her life and her books.

September 22, 2008

Two iron horse rides, Part 3: Chicago's lakeshore parks

Join me on a photographic procession from downtown Chicago along six miles of lakeshore to Wooded Island.

Approaching downtown via Lakeshore Boulevard

Sears Tower with the Gold Coast on the right

The El or elevated train). I took The El twice; from State/Lake to Howard (Rogers Park) on the red line and from Howard to The Loop on the purple line.

Approaching Millennium Park

Skyline view via the Cloud Gate

Observing users at Cloud Gate

Shang sculpture by di Suervo. Notice the interaction with the piece. According to a description on a park sign, the artist “encourages visitors to walk through, on and around his sculpture.”

Crown Fountain offers different ways to experience water

From the Great Lawn towards Pritzker Pavilion

Another way to experience water at Millennium Park is in Lurie Garden. Chicago is known for its unbearably hot summers. The devastating heat wave of 1995 is chronicled by Eric Klinenberg in "Heat Wave."

Lurie Garden

Going across the bridge to Grant Park

Meadow in Grant Park

Although downtown is separated from the lake by six lanes of traffic, the predominant sounds on the lakeshore path are those of waves, boats, geese, and human voices. There is a berm between the road and the lake planted with, in some sections, at least three rows of trees.

Winter Garden at North Burnham Park planted with juniper, fir, pine, spruce, witchhazel, winterberry, crabapple, dogwood, hackberry, birch, bald cypress, and meadow plants.

A memorial to fire, police, and paramedics, the sculpture reminds of Jens Jensen’s council rings.

The sanctuary sits on top of a parking structure and is visited by songbirds (kinglets, warblers, and thrushers), grassland birds (Grasshopper and Henslow’s sparrows, Eastern Meadowlark, and Dickcissel), monarch butterflies, dragonflies, and bees. The plant palette reflects the area’s former vegetation – dry upland meadow – and is planted with Showy Goldenrod, Ohio Spiderwort, Silky Aster, Grey-headed Coneflower, Bluestem, Sideoats Grama, among others.

There are numerous bird sanctuaries along the shoreline. The McCormick Sanctuary is marked with a red dot.

I observed several large picnics along the lakeshore path. This group was picnicking in North Burnham Park.

More North Burnham Park users; note the snag in the background.

My walk ended at Wooded Island and its surrounds. I was unable to stroll down the Midway Plaisance or enter the Museum of Science and Industry, both of which were built for the World Columbian Exposition of 1893. Nor did I visit Washington Park. More reasons to visit Chicago again. The landscape designs for the exposition were completed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

Rear facade of the Museum of Science and Industry, facing the Wooded Island and lagoons

Wooded Island with the eastern lagoon on the left

Japanese Garden and Ho-o Den Palace on Wooded Island was built in 1893 for the World’s Fair. A tea house was added after the exposition but a fire destroyed the garden at the start of World War II. The garden and pavilion were reconstructed in 1981 along with other features like an arched moon bridge and a waterfall.

Irimoya-style roof

Previous essays in the series:

September 21, 2008

Garden apartments: inspired by Howard's Garden City & potential biophilic design

Carl F. Horowitz, author of "The Garden Apartment" (1983) writes that this residential form was "an innovation of the early-1920s," inspired by Ebenezer Howard's garden city concept. Howard envisioned the garden city supporting populations of up to 30,000 people, with local employment, and surrounded by a greenbelt of agricultural and wooded areas. Horowitz points to Sunnyside Gardens in Queens, NY, designed by Clarence Stein and Henry Wright, as the first garden apartment in the U.S., followed by the more suburban model at Radburn, New Jersey, also designed by Stein and Wright.

Horowitz offers several "universal attributes" of a garden apartment: rental tenure; low-rise design; floor plan is on one level; clustered open space; apartments are on the same tract of land; and semi-private exterior doorways. I am skeptical about the universality of the first element - rental tenure - but I strongly agree with the remaining features.

Fox Court is a local example of a garden apartment. I knew of the community through my work with the Hidden Gems of Berkeley series but had never visited the court. On a recent walk up University I noticed a distinct change in the streetscape between California and MLK, looked right and saw the historical marker for Fox Court.

Fox Court was designed by Carl Fox with his brothers George and Herman of Fox Bros. Construction Co. The Berkeley Historical Plaque Project marker notes that Fox "envisioned [University Avenue] as a thoroughfare with well-designed buildings for both businesses and homes." Up the street from Fox Court is another Fox Bros. project, Fox Commons, which houses several small businesses. Read Susan Cerny's account of landmarked Fox Bros. projects in Berkeley.

A few months ago, I borrowed "Biophilic Design" (2008) edited by Stephen R. Kellert (former professor), Judith Heerwagen, and Martin L. Mador (former classmate). I only recently read anything from the book; it was a chapter contributed by Robin C. Moore and Clare Cooper Marcus about "designing nature into the daily spaces of childhood." Marcus is an emeritus professor of architecture at University of California and wrote authored the seminal book on medium-density family housing, "Housing as if People Mattered," with Wendy Sarkissian.

Moore and Marcus propose four design features of residential neighborhoods that promote both sustainability and positive interactions between children and nature. Cul-de-sacs (the correct term is culs-de-sac) and greenways are one element. Berkeley has numerous culs-de-sac created with the partial or full closing (except to bicycles and emergency vehicles) of streets via traffic calming structures. Moore and Marcus smartly note that "a cul-de-sac per se does not necessarily guarantee access to nature," so they advocate providing greenspaces at the bulbs of the culs-de-sac or designing "the cul-de-sac itself [to loop] around an area of greenery" (185).

Another neighborhood element is the alley. There are few of these in Berkeley (none of them are children-friendly or function as green alleys) but the city has "135 numbered, city-owned walkways" that provide numerous and safe opportunities for interaction with natural features.

The woonerf, Dutch for "residential precinct," is a form of street design that prioritizes the pedestrian experience utilizing "speed bumps, bulb-outs, planters, trees, benches, and play spaces" (193). Again, while not inherently providing interaction with natural features, the authors point to the presence of tree-lined streets and safer passage to natural areas close to home.

The first design element described by Moore and Marcus is the shared outdoor space within clustered housing, like the garden apartment. The authors define this outdoor space as "neither private (like backyards or balconies) nor fully public (such as streets or parks)" (176). While not under the exclusive purview of a single individual within the clustered housing, a shared outdoor space is often only accessible to residents. The Meadow in the Le Conte neighborhood of Berkeley - unfenced backyards open to adjoining residents - is only accessible to residents (or their guests. Fox Court is gated but I have seen other garden apartment with less cloistered designs. Moore and Marcus list the following benefits of shared open space:

  • provides "green views from home," which are associated with positive psychosocial benefits;
  • offers "traffic-free play areas" close to home (reduces parental anxiety about traffic and "stranger-danger");
  • facilitates "spontaneous play between friends living nearby";
  • provides opportunities for "nature experience" if planted with "diverse wildlife habitats"; and
  • strengthens "a sense of community, ownership, and caring."

A point worth underscoring is the provision of ecological functioning natural elements in clustered housing. David Orr and Robert Michael Pyle, writing in "Biophilic Design," make a strong argument in its favor:

Incorporate building-side gardens and dooryards that invite diversity right into the precincts of the urban capture. Too often such spaces are wasted on strictly ornamental plants with few wildlife values" (220).

September 18, 2008

Events: Berkeley PARK(ing) Days

1. BOND(ing) PARK(ing) on Center Street, September 19, 2008, 9 to 5 pm

Berkeley has a history of pioneering park provision and park design. The Berkeley PARK(ing) Day (Original concept was by REBAR. continues this tradition on Friday September 19, 2008. Berkeley Partners for Parks will host the BOND(ing) PARK(ing) on Center Street between Oxford and Shattuck beginning at 9 AM and continuing through 5 PM to showcase the importance of and need for parks and open space in our communities.

Enjoy the PARK: sit, people-watch, talk, and learn about and support Berkeley’s park measure (HH) and the East Bay Park District’s Bond Measure WW, i.e. the extension of Measure AA – passed in 1988 and which has supported the preservation of 34,000 acres of open space and the construction of over 100 miles of new trails and the development of hundreds of local parks and recreation projects. Visions for the potential public plaza with creek/water feature on this very block of Center Street by noted landscape architect, Walter Hood, may be on display as well.

For More information:

2. Park[ing] Day at Nomad Cafe, 6500 Shattuck Avenue, September 19, 2008, all day

Join Nomad Cafe and its neighbors for the transformation of a "street corner into a multi-use urban mini-park."

For more information:

Nomad Cafe's Weblog

September 14, 2008

Bike Tour: Around Arrowhead Marsh and the San Leandro Bay

On a recent Saturday, six cyclists left from Fruitvale BART in Oakland, Calif. to tour Arrowhead Marsh and the creeks of the San Leandro Bay. The tour included the confluence of the Courtland and Peralta Creeks, the confluence of the Arroyo Viejo and San Leandro Creeks, Bay Farm Island in Alameda, and Arrowhead Marsh (from above it looks like an arrowhead). The tour leader, Grey K., staff at Cycles of Change, showed the group a new marsh (above right), engineered from a Port of Oakland parking lot after the Golden Gate Audubon Society and Save the Bay successfully sued the Port for attempting to develop a casino on the site. (Bay Nature wrote about the first development attempt in 2005.)

Courtland Creek, and its confluence with Peralta Creek

Confluence of Arroyo Viejo and San Leandro Creeks

The City of Oakland was certainly named for its oaks but a comment by Moses Chase might be directly responsible for the city's name:

Once when Moody [who traded oak lumber for land from Peralta] was asked where his newly acquired land was, according to his grand-daughter, he replied, "My land is at Oak-land" and it may have been this remark that gave the city its name.
An "Atlas of the East Bay before 1775" prepared by Grey K. can be viewed below.

September 11, 2008

Tree Walk: Unidentified locusts - update

Les of A Tidewater Gardener identified the Le Conte locusts as Robinia pseudoacacia 'Purple Robe.' (Thank you Les.) The illusive "Illustrated Guide to the Street Tree Planting Program" published by the City of Berkeley lists the tree as Robinia ambigua 'Purple Robe.' The guide is available at the reference desk of the Berkeley Library's central branch; it is not available online.

September 10, 2008

Tree Walk: Large oaks and redwoods removed for campus expansion

Twenty-two months after the start of what became the longest urban tree sit-in, the tree sitters have left their perch and the trees scheduled for removal have been removed. Arborists began clearing the grove on Friday, September 5, after a court ruled in favor of the university's proposed stadium expansion, but the last tree was cut yesterday at 5:18 p.m., reports the Berkeley Daily Planet. I watched Tuesday's spectacle unfold via a live feed provided by a local news station.

Elsewhere on campus, trees have been removed for construction. Several redwoods along Bancroft were stumped in preparation for the construction of a southern addition to the law school. The construction sign notes that

the project is being implemented in accordance with [the university's] green building practices.

Also, the law school is seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. The proposed "renovated courtyard and rooftop garden" will provide a "green and vibrant" respite. I miss the trees; on a hot day, this stretch of Bancroft is uncomfortable. Setting aside the debates about large tree removal, why were the trees removed so much in advance of construction? They could have been left in place to provide shade and habitat (and capture rainwater if construction extends into the winter).

September 7, 2008

News: model plants, beyond carbon, and gardens of all sorts

The succulents in the Ruth Bancroft Garden were not only "praised by garden enthusiasts as a demonstration of what can be grown with little water," their preservation precipitated the founding of the Garden Conservancy. Ruth Bancroft celebrated her 100th birthday last week.

Tree enthusiast and botanist, Diana Beresford-Kroeger, posits that trees play a positive role in human health in two ways. One, chemicals released by trees in the natural course of things have beneficial effects on humans who come into contact with these chemicals. And the other, which has received more professional support and research, is the role of trees in ameliorating poor environmental quality, like storing carbon and filtering pollutants.

Trees can also filter odors and sound. These properties have been studied by George W. Malone, Ph.D. and colleagues from the University of Delaware. The researchers tested their "vegetative filter" model in the Delmarva Peninsula, home to numerous hog farms and relatively new residential development. Dr. Malone and his team observed that a "three-row plot of trees of various species and sizes reduced total dust by 56 percent, ammonia 53 percent, and odor 18 percent." Species arrangement is important. The first row should be planted with deciduous or waxy-leaved species while the second and third rows should be planted with evergreen [coniferous?] species.

When plants are not providing ecosystem services, they are serving as the models for energy storage. Matthew Kanan and Daniel Nocera of MIT used photosynthesis as a model to store "solar-made electricity in batteries, " reports The Economist. Kanan and Nocera used cobalt and phosphates to split water into its components - hydrogen and oxygen. If energy is needed at night (when the sun is down), hydrogen "could be burned or run through a fuel cell to create power." This is similar to what plants do with sugar: excess energy is transformed into sugar which can be used at a later time regardless of the presence of the sun. Read the MIT press release here.

Writing of energy, the Times ran two articles on wind energy in late August and early September. The first discussed the storage limitations of the existing grid. The second article featured the increasing popularity rooftop turbines.Rooftop turbines have been installed at Jay Leno's home, the Brooklyn Navy Yards, and the Logan International Airport (Boston). The price tag of a personal turbine is daunting (ex: $6500 for an AeroVironment, six were installed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard). For older buildings looking to achieve energy savings, recladding the facade is an alternative. Why?

A well-sealed facade minimizes heat loss, and modern glass is better able to filter the sunlight so that it more effectively illuminates the interior. Such qualities can help reduce electricity use, especially on hot summer days when the strain on coal-burning power plants in most intense.

Carbon is often the elemental focus of climate change debates, but Times writer Richard Morgan reported on recent studies that are making the case for the role of nitrogen in climate change.

There's a great danger in doing something like, oh, overfertilizing a cornfield to boost biofuel consumption, where the carbon benefits are far outweighed by the nitrogen damage (Dr. Viousek, Stanford University)....Look, I can start a talk by saying, 'There are 14 global warming pollutants, and we have a different solution for addressing each of them.' And it's true. But you start to lose people (Al Gore, former vice president, Noble Laureate).

It has been seasonably warm in Berkeley this week; mid-August to mid-October is summer in the East Bay. My oasis is the front stoop - two chairs and many potted plants. Oasis can be found in New York's backyards*, in a community garden* and a "bargain backyard"* in the Bronx, and in "Michigan pond gardens" in Detroit.

* A login is required for full access to the article.

September 6, 2008

Nature-made: California Habitats Indigenous Activists

The fourth Saturday of every month is the designated work day for the California Habitats Indigenous Activists or CHIA. Each work day ends with a picnic at the nearby Perlata Community Garden. Many of the regular CHIA members are gardeners at Peralta.

CHIA has been stewarding a native coastal prairie along a now approximately 500-foot long section of the Ohlone Greenway between Gilman and Peralta for a decade. Here's the story of CHIA as told to me by Carole, one of the group's founders.

The site was chosen because of its proximity to the Peralta garden; after all the restoration was initiated by some of its gardeners. These gardeners submitted a "native plants in the garden" proposal to their fellow gardeners who voted in favor of the idea. The premise was that the land on which the garden sits was "given to us to share so we should share it with animals" and the way to do so was to plant local plants that would attract local animals.

The Peralta Community Garden is one of three gardens (as well as the Berkeley EcoHouse and the Ohlone Greenway Natural and Cultural History Exhibit) that comprise the Westbrae Commons. The garden projects were initiated by the landscape architect Karl Linn. According to CHIA co-founder, Carole, Karl sought to "beautify public space with plants and involving neighbors." Peralta (and Northside) Community Gardens are located on BART-owned land which is leased to the City of Berkeley. (Ownership of the Ohlone Greenway is literally split down the middle; the western side is owned BART and the eastern side is owned by the city.) According to Carole, Karl sought support from Councilperson Linda Maio early in the negotiation process. A verbal memorandum of agreement was reached between the parties; BART did not want anything adjacent to the fence and the city wanted clearance along the path. The garden opened in 1996 with lots of neighborhood work equity and a "good relationship between the city, BART, and politicians." The City of Berkeley and BART view the Peralta garden as an asset and I think this has carried over to the coastal prairie restoration project.

Two years after the garden opened, CHIA began its work. The founders recognized the advantage of the area adjacent to the garden - it would be "open to the public at all times." Open hours are a challenge faced by the garden. The site along the greenway would showcase "native plants as beautiful," attract wildlife, save water because they are drought tolerant, "create a sense of place and home" because historically this was home to the Ohlone people "before houses and streets," and finally, it would highlight the botanical history of the area as a coastal prairie.

The CHIA group relied on the research skills of Dave, one of the co-founders. Dave found that the area in which the restoration project is sited was marshy with streams flowing from the hills; there was "marsh between courses lined with oaks and willows and vast areas of grassland without trees." There were elk and salmon, shorebirds and freshwater birds as well as Grizzly bears.

In July of 2007, there were nine regular members, two of whom did not have plots at Peralta. With nine members, one work party per month, and Cal student and local volunteers (like me), CHIA regenerated 270 feet of land into coastal prairie. As of April 2008, CHIA has regenerated an additional 210 feet. The new section was designed with the help of two landscape architects, one of whom lives across the street, while the other is involved in the Peralta garden and worked on the Schoolhouse Creek Common design.

Left, from top to bottom:

  • Clarkia concinna - Red ribbons clarkia
  • Ceanothus thyrsiflorus - California lilac
  • Achillea millefolium - Yarrow

Right, from top to bottom:

  • Triteleia laxa - Ithuriel's spear
  • Grindelia sp. - gum plant
  • Eschscholzia californica - California poppy

Bottom photograph

  • Castilleja sp. - Indian paintbrush

The plant palette is evaluated with four criteria: beauty, habitat, low maintenance, and drought tolerance. The garden and the coastal prairie restoration project has attracted bees, butterflies, birds, and mice (!). According to the Native Garden Tour website, "the Peralta Community Garden also has the greatest diversity of native bees of any garden studied by entomologist Dr. Gordon Frankie." At last month's work party picnic, one CHIA member told the group that her Peralta plot is planted with native plants for bees. She began planting for bees after learning that one reason for population decline of native bees is the lack of open spaces of native plants. Another CHIA volunteer and Northside gardener told of her failure to attract monarch butterflies to her "way station" garden. However, her South African basil, a non-native, is always buzzing with honey and native bees.

The people sigh it looks so dry the birds reply 'it's seed time, that's why.' (Poem by Carole Bennett-Simmons)

One of the challenges of the project is the difficulty of the maintenance. The plant palette is primarily grassland and during the dry season, it is "less than aesthetic appearing." It is also susceptible to weeds from neighboring yards and general disturbance vis a vis trail users. Another challenge is consistent volunteer time. The project requires "continued volunteer time" and Carole questions what would happen if CHIA stopped its work. One of the ways the group is addressing their maintenance concern is by modifying the grassland with shrubs which are easier to maintain. The successes of the restoration project include an increase in wildlife, neighborhood improvement, and enjoyment by neighbors and passersby.

From a personal point of view, Carole has enjoyed success as well. She has realized that there is a "tremendous abundance in plant and animal life." Also, her involvement with CHIA has shifted her perspective when she travels. She told me that when she travels now, she "sees watersheds!"

Plant identification provided by Dave Drummonds.

This profile was originally posted here. Read more about CHIA here and the Peralta Community Garden here and here.

September 5, 2008

Nature-made: Bradner Gardens Park

“Usually gardens are one thing or the other: all food or all something else,” I said to Joyce Moty, artist and garden organizer at Bradner Gardens Park . Bradner is a "mixed-use park" and was designed to address the diversity of the community, replied Moty. Jeff Hou, professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington, when responding to my query for "nature-made sites" suggested Bradner Gardens Parks, noting that it was not entirely nature-made. I was still interested in the decision to include a design for ecosystem services.

Bradner Gardens Park is a city park on 1.6 acres in the Mount Baker neighborhood of Seattle. One of the first things I noticed when I visited the park was the spectacular view of downtown Seattle. This view was one of the factors in the city's zoning of the parcel for high-end residential development. In response to this designation - this would have removed public park land from the city’s portfolio - neighbors organized to not only prevent development, but to propose a park design for the parcel.

In the mid-1990s, the parcel did not look like a park. It had been leased to Social Services and the School Department for 14 years. There was a basketball court, school buildings on top of asphalt, and a concrete lavatory. Moty noted that it would have been easy for the city to sell the parcel, except for the neighbor who heard about the proposal for the parcel. At the same time that the city was proposing to build housing on the Mt. Baker parcel, it was planning a park in the downtown. The basketball is still there though it has been renovated. Children who used the court were invited to the community design charette facilitated by landscape architect, John Barker. At the time of the charette, the basketball court was the only recreational space for children in the neighborhood. Other participants included Southeast Asian gardeners (the neighborhood is one-third Asian, mostly Laotians, one-third African-American, and one-third Caucasian); neighborhoods, Master and organic gardeners. Bradner remains a “collaboration of volunteers from the Mount Baker community, King County Master Gardeners, Seattle P-Patch Program, Seattle Tilth Association, and Washington Native Plant Society.”

Ten concept plans were generated during the charette and “the best one” was taken to the Mayor and the City Council. Joyce Moty recalled that the group did not have a “track record with the city.” In addition, the then mayor hoping to be appointed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), advocated for housing on the site. Fortunately, the park group collaborated with a retired city attorney with expertise in park properties.

With their experience of the threat of sale of park land, the park group and its supporters gathered 24,000 signatures for citizen Initiative #42 Protect Our Parks prohibiting the sale of park land. In 1997, the initiative was adopted as Seattle Ordinance #118477. The parcel on which Bradner sits was one of many parcels purchased by the city for the proposed Bay Freeway in the 1960s. In the same period, approximately 20 parcels were purchased with Model City funds and designated as pocket parks. In 2000, a $198.2 million parks bill – the Pro Parks Levy – passed and funding was directed towards Bradner to construct the park’s main building.

One half of the building’s roof is outfitted with solar panels. The panels generate 5.6 kilowatts and the park uses one-third of what it generates; the rest is sold to Seattle Power. Another building in the park is the lavatory. Joyce Moty is an artist. She and other volunteers created a surprisingly beautiful interior for the public restroom. It took 10 weeks to build the restroom and it “takes people unaware,” Moty smilingly commented.

In addition to the view, the other thing I noticed in the park was the windmill which is used to pump water from a pond filled by winter rains to a dry creek that curves through the children's garden and play areas. The windmill definitely contributes to the “backyard feeling” that the park’s friends were striving for. Other features include the individual garden plots (or P-Patches), the demonstration gardens (including butterfly and hummingbird habitat, xeriscape landscaping, and northwest natives), and short stature trees to maintain the views of downtown and into the park.

Bradner is a multi-use and user park: it has food plots, basketball and other play areas, paths, demonstration gardens, a dry creek, and the wildlife habitat to the rear of the park. The latter is definitely wild. I came to Bradner because of the habitat spaces, but learned that there is a huge demand for P-Patches, not for the demonstration gardens. However, it is the native landscape demonstration gardens that have influenced yard planting in the neighborhood.

The park has been a catalyst for community action: there is a block watch and neighbors are landscaping the traffic circles. At the end of our walk through the park (we would continue our conversation through the neighborhood and a nearby Olmsted-designed park), in response to my questions about lessons learned, Joyce Moty said, “it’s possible.” The beautiful public restroom, raising kids expectations of public play spaces, the three year process to rebuild the soil, and the even longer process (10 years) to construct the park attest to this sentiment.

This profile was originally posted here. Read more about Bradner Gardens Park at the Seattle Parks and Recreation website.

September 4, 2008

Nature-made: Ivy Narrow Bird Preserve

In the 1990s, a residential building was demolished at the corner of Ivy Street and Dixwell Avenue, thus creating a vacant lot. The lot is located in the center of Newhallville, a working-class black neighborhood in New Haven. The city mowed the lot, but a particular neighbor with the support of family and neighboring friends wanted to significantly improve the lot. In 2000, this group of private citizens applied for an Urban Resources Initiative (URI) Community Greenspace Program grant to work on the vacant lot. URI is a community nonprofit and its Greenspace Program is a partnership with the City of New Haven and the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

In initial meetings with the neighborhood alderperson, the group was advised to limit its improvements to the perimeter of the lot. However, the group envisioned more than a "side yard." After the perimeter of the lot had been planted including street trees on the south-side of the lot, the group held another design meeting and articulated their desire to create an urban bird habitat. The group developed a restoration plan with the help of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection’s Urban Wildlife Habitat Program. The restoration plan was implemented over the course of two years, transforming the weedy lot into a bird sanctuary. (The habitat/ preserve is located 1 mile east of the Beaver Ponds ecosystem.)

Since I left New Haven in 2001, the landscape and site programming have matured well. For example, the Ivy Narrow group has installed a solar panel to operate the pond's pump. The site has achieved "backyard habitat" status through National Wildlife Refuge. Finally, the preserve is one of several neighborhood open spaces in the Open Spaces and Learning Places Program, an environmental education program for public elementary school students.

This profile was originally posted here. Read more about the Urban Resources Initiative Community Greenspaces program.

Photos courtesy of Josh Schacter, Josh Schachter Photography, all rights reserved.

September 3, 2008

Nature-made: Plant*SF Sidewalk Gardens

Local ecology's fourth nature-made profile, Plant*SF Sidewalk Gardens, is complete (thank you to Jane Martin, Plant*SF founder). The essay is re-posted below and to celebrate this accomplishment we will be posting the other profiles throughout the week.


"Parks along the way" was Jane Martin's response to the Neighborhood Parks Council's 2003 call for locating new parks in the northeast Mission District of San Francisco. Martin imagined sidewalks transformed into very local natural areas. Martin was also responding to periodic flooding of public and private areas like sidewalks, streets, and buildings in her neighborhood whenever the city's combined sewers overflowed. Combined sewers tend to fail duing heavy rain events; stormwater runoff is carried in the same infrastructure as sewage and the system overflows when its carrying capacity is exceeded. One solution to reducing runoff - and the occurrence of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) - is to reduce the amount of impermeable surface area.

Martin's vision of "parks right out your door" fit the bill. Removing concrete to expose soil and adding vegetation and rocks (mulch) captures rain before it becomes runoff. The addition of the stormwater management element to Martin's park idea was "before the mainstream green movement" began and significantly propelled the project.

The first Plant*SF - Permeable Landscape as Neighborhood Treasure in San Francisco - project was completed in 2003. Martin adapted an existing permit - the minor sidewalk encroachment permit - to create her model permeable landscape on Shotwell Street in the Mission District. Despite her familiarity with design - she is an architect - the permit development was "cumbersome, expensive, and lengthy." Martin's diligence led to a new permit, the sidewalk landscape permit which was signed into law in 2006.

Since the legislated passage of the permit, approximately 200 Plant*SF-style sidewalk gardens have been developed. The Los Angeles Dept. of Water, the City of New Orleans, and folks from African countries, Japan, and Belgium have used Plant*SF's design of and policy framework for permeable landscapes. Plant*SF was part of a gallery exhibition in Brussels and is a member of the Alliance for a Clean Waterfront, whose mission is to "identify and promote technologies that turn 'waste' water and its treatment into public beautification projects, ground water recharge, wildlife habitat and environmental education." Like the Alliance's mission, the motivations of neighbors who implement permeable landscapes "run the gamut." Initially, on her block, Martin's neighbors emphasized aesthetic and property values but quickly realized the safety benefits the project could provide. Neighbors felt that the sidewalk garden communicated care about the neighborhood. Joan Iverson Nassauer has written about "cues to care" or culturally-specific modes of stewardship that signal care of a place.

The newest Mission-based sidewalk garden, at Harrison and 23rd Streets, is storied by two couples and highlights the psycho-social dimensions of greenspaces. The first story concerns an elderly man who one day spent half an hour thoughtfully observing the Harrison Street Greenway. The next day the man brought his female companion to share the space. Both have lived in the neighborhood since the 1940s and congratulated Martin and PlantSF for helping to restore the quality of life in a neighborhood described by Martin as formerly a "rough area." The second couple took the first walk with their newborn along the greenway "to introduce him to nature."

Plant*SF is not simply an advocacy group to Jane Martin. Her perception of nature in the city has been affected. She remarked that while she always appreciated native plants and animals - she's a "lifelong gardener" and has incorporated landscape design into her architectural practice - she has become "much more attuned" to the fact that "if we don't provide particular plants, native insects and animals will go away." Martin feels that "few people are keyed" into this connection. Private property owners are responsible for sidewalk maintenance and interventions like permeable landscapes, so advocacy and education are essential to transforming impervious sidewalks into critical, green infrastructure solutions to stormwater management.