Just Adaptation; community building and participatory-governance

Instigated by this article from the @buellcenter on ‘Just Adaptation

Wherein we learn

In cities that have already faced the need to adapt, there have emerged three distinct, but related reasons that labor organizations should play a central role when developing a just adaptation agenda

The lesson(s)?

adaptation planning and design in the U.S., like professional planning and design more generally, has not focused on the interests of workers. Planning for a just adaptation will require making workers central participants.

Moreover, as much as some becry #publicmeetings (and I am all for re-imagining forms of #participatorygovernance) or the slow nature of infrastructure / #megaprojects in a democratic state I couldn’t agree with the following more !!!

finally, adaptation should emphasize an approach of democratic deliberation, debate, and collective decision making, wherein those who will be most impacted by climate change and adaptation efforts have a central place in shaping these processes.

On a related note, some food for thought regarding role of public input, meetings and neighborhood groups in city planning and civic activism.

I think it’s important to recognize that the historical and socioeconomic context in which calls for grassroots, democratic planning came around has in many cases vanished…There is still a threat of displacement and destructive change, but it comes from the opposite end of the spectrum, from a hyperactive real estate market and the desire of many more people than the city has been willing to build housing for wanting to live here. Already in the time period that Crockett narrates privileged voices were figuring out how to use the democratic planning process to subvert planning aims of social justice and integration. We can’t, and we won’t, throw out the baby of democratic planning and extensive public outreach with the bathwater of urban renewal and highway building. But we can, and must, recognize that there are tensions between promising all comers a democratic process and achieving egalitarian, democratic outcomes.

Finally, read Professor Eitan D. Hersh’s editorial regarding the importance of “face-to-face political communities” and why ultimately creating community and further political change is about “working in groups to turn one vote into more than one vote, one voice into more than one voice, by getting others on board with you.

Recently in Places

Two published this month;

Daegan Miller, On the liberation cartography of Henry David Thoreau, which concludes

It is tempting to read Thoreau’s river survey as a satirical anti-map, a snide rejection of disciplinary pretension that leaves its viewer wallowing in relativism. How could anyone measure anything with a tripolar scale whose differing notions of what an inch is babble over each other? But irony is only one of the tropes that Thoreau drew on. He was always more interested in improvement than deconstruction, and his countermodern map is affirming in its self-aware subjectivity, its desire to picture Concord as situated in a landscape teeming with life and human usage. This was a political choice. If Baldwin’s and Perham’s Concord River is anonymous and untouched and dead, an ahistorical space that denies change, a river that can be manipulated and controlled; then all those notes pinpointing where the plants grew, all those piles of figures and ghosts of surveys past, make of Thoreau’s a deep map — a view of an impressively interconnected world where nature, commerce, culture, history, and imagination all grow together — something nonfungible and specific: a full, a wild land living at once beyond and beneath the confined landscape of the town’s grasping improvers, both agricultural and industrial, who, despite their superficial differences, ultimately agreed that the best use of a river is to turn a profit.

Lizzie Yarina on Negotiating rhetorics and imaginaries of climate resilience, wherein she examines four large cities in Southeast Asia facing major climate risks: Jakarta, Manila, Ho Chi Minh City, and Bangkok. As she explains

Across Southeast Asia, infrastructures (often at incredible scales) are promoted as the answer to climate and environmental risks. Importantly, these projects provide an image of resilience, even if the actual merits are uncertain. But when I spoke with technical experts on the ground in these four cities, they emphasized the gap between what is attractive and what is needed….But the deeper and more insidious problem is that the technocratic language of climate adaptation rationalizes mass evictions….Too often, global media and institutions measure the impact of disasters by their monetary cost, rather than by the number of lives lost or impaired. We must ask, then, whether climate change adaptation is framed through the same lens. Do resilience projects truly alleviate risks for those who are most vulnerable to floods, storms, and heat? Or do they protect investments and foster speculative development by global elites? When adaptation planning is sponsored by developers or international banks, these categories become blurry. 

Steve Lansing on Bali’s water temples

Steve Lansing, a senior fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, discusses the Byzantine system for the distribution of water from a volcanic lake in Bali to over two hundred farming villages. Known as subak’s  are a type of water management (irrigation) system for paddy fields on Bali island, Indonesia. For Balinese, irrigation is not simply providing water for the plant’s roots, but water is used to construct a complex, pulsed artificial ecosystem.[1] Paddy fields in Bali were built around water temples and the allocation of water is made by a priest. the system has been in use since the 12th century, and is an example of an egalitarian and sustainable (still in use) hydraulic infrastructure. What is particular interesting about the system however, is the relationship between ritual/religious and the engineered landscape(s). As Professor Lansing notes “It’s one of the few functioning, ancient democratic institutions that we know about. It’s kind of beautiful”.

the “shifting steady-state mosaics” of ecological urbanism

The term “shifting steady-state mosaics” comes from an interview by Asla’s the DIRT (here) with Nina-Marie Lister on Ecological Urbanism. She is referencing the work of Canadian ecologist, C. S. “Buzz” Holling, who explored the concept in terms of resource management.

She goes on to talk about the benefits of green infrastructure. These include the obvious multi-use, landscape-ecology layers but also the importance of green infrastructure as a pedagogical tool. She is quoted “The increased use of green infrastructure in our cities is a good example in which people can see the functions of a working ecosystem… But really smart green infrastructures that are instrumental to productive ecologies go a step further: they facilitate hands-on learning or they require citizen participation in the ecological function.

For me it is that community participation which is key. These sorts of community design centered actions, they always seem to be so personally, driven though.

Lister argues for expanding the reach of  productive infrastructures to be mean not just ecological or ecosystems engineering but also “(re)mediating the metaphorical relationship between culture and nature.” through the development of hybrid civic centered ecologies.

Landscape(s) of climate change…

National Park Service, via Associated Press

In Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, plow operators are dealing with some of the deepest snow seen in years. Above, 23 feet of snow on Trail Ridge Road.

Sounds like officials are expecting flooding in the Colorado basin that could equal that currently seen in Mississippi basin currently. The upside:

Hydrologists, meanwhile, are cheering what they say will be a huge increase in water reservoir storage for tens of millions of people across the West. Lake Mead and Lake Powell, two huge dammed reservoirs on the Colorado River battered in recent years by drought, are projected to get 1.5 trillion gallons of new water between them from the mammoth melt.

More than 90 sites of recorded record snowpack for this year

More via NYT (here)

Meanwhile in Chicago:

Climate scientists have told city planners that based on current trends, Chicago will feel more like Baton Rouge than a Northern metropolis before the end of this century.

So, Chicago is getting ready for a wetter, steamier future. Public alleyways are being repaved with materials that are permeable to water. The white oak, the state tree of Illinois, has been banned from city planting lists, and swamp oaks and sweet gum trees from the South have been given new priority.”

Re-examining Manhattan’s Commissioners Plan

by Brooks Salzwedel

Alec Appelbaum who is writing a book about urban planning and climate change, writes in “New York’s Green Grid” that those looking to make NYC more resilient to climate change should look back to the grid’s genius and find ways to let nature play a constructive role in shaping the city rather than seek to stifle nature.

The piece essentially take the position that what is needed is a renewed focus on green infrastructure and an understanding of ecosystem services. The most novel idea (in the sense that I had never heard of the idea before) he proposes seems to take the idea of a bio-region to a new level. By decreasing the applied scale and also tying it into the legislative process. Appelbaum suggests that the city “should rezone the city into “eco-districts,” areas that share topography, microclimates, soil and species rather than census data. Such local attention is critical to steps like switching to renewable energy — after all, relying on tidal power makes more sense on eastern Staten Island than in central Brooklyn, where wind power might be a better option.

On systemic resilience, spatial enhanced species successioning and “Managing the Effects of Climate Change”

ASLA’s the DIRT recently published an interview with Kristina Hill, PhD, Chair of the Landscape Architecture department at the University of Virginia. In it Hill addresses the role landscape architects can play in dealing with global climate change. The two big takeaways are; first that landscape architects really need to go beyond the role of just designers. Even the best, most materially appropriate and ecologically sound design can only have so large of an impact. Hill believes that because of their holistic understanding of ecology and design what is really needed is for landscape architects “to wade into some of the policy and planning debates that surround these investments of public money.” In the future landscape architects will not just design when a client calls. Rather, by taking a more activist approach they can share their vision(s) with the public and in this the way shape policy debates not just landscape.

Additionally, in the interview Hill discusses three categories of actions: to protect, renew, and re-tool, which designers and elected officials have begun to develop in response to the climate change problem. Specifically, in terms of spatial strategies which allow significant roles for landscape architects to change cities.

Finally, drawing on the work of conservation ecologists she emphasizes the need to reduce “matrix hostility” in order to increase biodiversity and develop permanent as well as shifting/temporary buffer zones and corridors for animal and plant species diversity, distribution and climate related ecological succession. All of these attempts to mitigate the effects of climate change on the environment have spatial implications and thus suggest possible roles for landscape architects to play. Also of note was Hill’s discussion about the re-introduction of animals into urban human life. Specifically, the growing number of human/animal interactions including the presence of crows and coyotes in urban and peri-urban areas. As she notes both of these animals are long associated by indigenous peoples of the Americas with tricksterism, wisdom and and teaching. Their growing contact with urban humanity is raising new concerns and questions about urban ecologies and Hill wonders “What happens to that relationship when the teacher comes to the city and really thrives there? Will urban people learn new things about their relationship to other species?

Read more (here)