Design your way out of Climate Disaster.
Saving people is, after all, the ideal way for the profession of architecture to combine its notoriously large ego with its equally famous need to self-flagellate, with varying doses of humanism thrown in there from time to time depending on the trends.
Anecdotally I would say that weather has become more and more newsworthy over the last 10 years because of the real impact on human lives. But just to quantify that, let's remember that weather-related disasters have been going on for centuries. The reason people care now is that they have started affecting *gasp*...
People of "Developed" Nations.
Flooding that kills four people but damages everyone's 52" TV in their basement media room in Calgary? CATASTROPHIC DISASTER!!!!!
Hurricane Sandy hits Jamaica, Haiti, and many Latin American islands causing multiple deaths & displacing thousands: Meh.
Hurricane Sandy hits the Eastern seaboard of the New Jersey & New York and ruins rich people's summer homes: IRREPARABLE DEVASTATION!!!!!
What can we learn from this?
It is not until woe betides rich white people and their possessions that they will give a crap about climate change. However, once it does affect them they embrace the challenge with gusto.
The good side of experiencing the first-hand impact of climate change, outside of teaching North Americans a lesson they've had coming for years, is that design now has a very strong foothold for future urban planning. People are starting to question whether infrastructure of the city itself can help reduce the potential crises to come. And the answer is of course, YES!!! (and it could have done already!)
Landscape infrastructure is a way of thinking differently about green space. Rather than only playing a passive role for leisure & recreation (think large swathes of mowed lawn that make up school & sports fields), performative green space--urban nature--can actively contribute to the functions of the city itself; drainage, filtration, erosion-protection, flood protection & food production.
The book Landscape Infrastructure: Case Studies by SWA outlines the basic theory through several essays.
Normally I would be the first person to commiserate that Canada & North America in general are a tad behind the times when it comes to city planning and urban design, but in recent projects coming our way at work I've seen some very promising commitments to landscape infrastructure.
It seems that people are really waking up to the potential for design to take on some of the problems Modern city planning left in its wake, which bodes well for designers in the coming years.
However, the reason it makes me sad this is such a new thing is because...
Landscape Infrastructure is pretty damn simple.
I mean, it's really just about paying attention to the way nature works and then letting it happen. And keeping out of the way.
One of the main challenges of cities is managing water. That's evident whenever there's a 'large rain event' as the meteorologists so eloquently put it.
There are lots of pretty simple, easy to implement solutions to deal with water run-off and absorb rainwater. Permeable pavings instead of asphalt parking lots; "green streets" with long-grass swales to filter water and slow its flow into sewers; extensive green roofs...
At a very basic level it is simple to implement these kinds of things, with little by way of experience or design. Which is why I think it should become code to have them.
However, I also happen to think that urban landscapes, public spaces & streets are the coolest things you could work on as a designer. Public spaces are the quality of the city itself, the most open to interpretation and flexibility, and the most frequently used. Which is why I think you need designers to help curate the relationship between functioning, performative nature and the public realm it will inhabit.
Code is like the basic minimum standard for all things to go on in a relatively safe manner. Design is what gives each place a character & life, which pushes the boundaries of how things can be and how you can relate to a space. I think this is particularly important in the city, where you have so few chances to meet nature inside.
Famous example: Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord
Former ironworks factory turned "Landscape Park" - plantings are functional in that each species is chosen for its ability to re-mediate contaminated soils; but the design of the public space is what makes this a place where people want to come. This project sets a high bar for design, where existing industrial infrastructure is re-imagined as pathways, gardens, squares & natural armatures.
For more links on climate-aware planning & infrastructure, check out the following links!