Monday, November 23, 2009

UNpave the City

Our predilection in US cities for spreading asphalt and concrete everywhere is taking its toll. The New York Times talks today about how the decrease in unpaved surfaces - due to development - has led to dangerous sewage overflows during rainy periods.

But New York’s system — like those in hundreds of others cities — combines rainwater runoff with sewage. Over the last three decades, as thousands of acres of trees, bushes and other vegetation in New York have been paved over, the land’s ability to absorb rain has declined significantly. When treatment plants are swamped, the excess spills from 490 overflow pipes throughout the city’s five boroughs."

What this means for many older urban areas is a massive rebuild and configuration of existing infrastructure, transportation and public areas that is most likely beyond the budget capabilities of the old-fashioned industrial model of development.

This would then leave it to a new model of development that uses the arcology concept to build a completely self-sufficient project that incorporates its own waste processing and water conservation and reuse, and including landscape and natural terrain restoration. This keeps the load off of an aging municipal system and restores the ability of the natural systems to respond to weather and provide oxygen. This is beyond "Zero Carbon" models and part of the "Energy plus" model that is appropriate for large projects and development.

Urban reforestation and watershed restoration that brings the natural environment back into existing cities, such as UNpave, is another path that can balance human needs with the carrying capacity of the planet. For example in the picture above, the brick paving is perforated in several places with round green 'pockets', planted with pine trees and seasonal flowers. The trees, which can stand the extreme temperatures of Moscow, are reminiscent of its surrounding birch-pine forest. The designer, West 8, is based out of Netherlands, and is an urban design & landscape architecture firm established since 1987.