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Green Neighbourhoods

This tag is associated with 14 posts

Visions of An Organic Future

What if we lived in a green future? Cities that didn’t just have green space, but cities that were green space. Trees and plants make up the structure of the city instead of concrete and plastics.

Luc Schuiten thinks up cities using Archiborescence – the designs are cities that are grown and tended. Prairie parks, houses that hide under leaves, and skyscraper trees.

The Vegetal City is conceived as a progression in time and space, through Luc Schuiten’s eye. It takes us on the path of this thoughts about Mother Nature’s presence as a model of a new way of building named by him “archiborescence”.

For three decades, this eco-visionary has been imagining and realizing homes, urban landscapes, cities… inspired by all he has been able to observe in natural environments.

The website opens the door to a harmonious future, possible through the modifications of our behaviours in our living environments. Nature is no longer considered as an inexhaustible manna from heaven but rather as an ally, likely to cooperate in edification of a long lasting society.

Put the WeedWhacker and Herbicides Away, Get a Goat

Eco Freindly Lawn Mower

Eco Freindly Lawn Mower

A Study by University of Northern British Columbia professor Annie Booth, tracked the effectiveness and eating habits of a herd of goats over the span of two years in Prince George British Columbia.

Turns out that goats are incredibly effective in clearing weeds;

“As soon as we unloaded them, they turned around and started eating dandelions,” Booth said. “They do their job — which is clear up and clean out the weeds here.”

“We were very pleased to discover that goats do provide a very effective form of weed control, particularly for some tricky weeds that are difficult to eradicate even with the use of herbicides.”

While any farmer could have told you that this was the case, Booth’s study is the first that actually quantifies the lawn management skills of a heard of goats. Another important effect is the lessened environmental impact of the goats on the (munched) environment, unlike weed whackers and herbicides the surrounding area had very little in the way environmental impact. The only detrimental effect would be the fertiliser deposits that goats leave behind.  More a danger to shoes though, then the actual environment.

Booth suggests that municipalities could save themselves some money, and manage their green spaces by leasing herds of goats during the summer months.

Of course Booth isn’t the only one to have this idea, the University of Washington State has also had a heard of Goats running around its campus, In August of 2007 the University’s Integrated Pest Management program hired a herd of goats as an alternative to chemical processes. s

The University of Washington’s Bothell campus hired a number of goats a few weeks earlier, and is considering acquiring a permanent herd. The University has discovered that, not only are goats cheaper than human labor, but they also provide free fertilizer. The university says that  the goats are a way to cut their carbon emissions. s

NVS: e2 design II — Affordable Green Housing

“We grew out of nature and therefore we are a part of it.”

This is the fourth in a series of video podcasts for the PBS series e2 design II. Each podcast takes you beyond the episodes and deeper into the world of sustainable design. Biophilia is a hypothesis that describes humans as emotionally connected to all other living systems. Jonathan Rose, a New York City-based real estate developer, describes how biophilia can guide building design in dense urban environments. In many instances, biophilia shares the same principles as sustainable building design.

Major corporate funding for the e2 series is provided by Autodesk. More information is available at http://www.pbs.org/e2/ and http://www.e2-series.com/

Free yourself from the supermarket! Urban Farming is for Everyone

window-farmIf there is one thing that I can take from the incoming stats on Urban Neighbourhood is that a lot of people are interested in Urban Farming right now. For the past couple weeks the most heavily trafficked post on the site has been the Super Green Buildings post, about proposals for high tech vertical farms. Of course these particular structures are mostly theoretical as none of them have been built yet, but Urban farming is an active pass time that is growing more and more popular.

Urban farming can be anything from people who fill their tiny urban yards and apartments with pots and boxes, to the suburban home owner who decides that its time to get rid of that useless chunk of side lawn and turn it into something that atually gives back. Over at Wired there is an excerpt from Carol Nissen in Jersey City, New Jersey, “I’m a micro-gardener,” she says. “It’s a pretty small townhouse. But it’s amazing what you can do without much space.” s

Other people who have a yard but no time can even hire a company that will come and do the work for you, just check out the Seattle Urban Farm Co;

Are you interested in eating more fresh, organically grown vegetables? Would you like to have a secure, sustainable food source in your backyard?  Have you always wanted to have a garden, but don’t feel you have the time or know-how to get started?   If so, you might be interested in the services that the Seattle Urban Farm Company provide.   We use our collective farming and gardening experience to establish a productive organic vegetable plot in your yard.

We offer a range of services to suit your individual needs.  We can:

  1. Give a thorough garden consultation, answering your questions and giving you new ideas and advice.
  2. Help revitalize an ignored or overgrown garden space.
  3. Help you design a new garden and plan out a multi-year garden strategy.
  4. Install a ready-to-go vegetable garden complete with clean, healthy, soil, drip irrigation, raised beds, and more.
  5. After an initial garden installation, provide weekly maintenance for your vegetable garden to keep your plants vigorous and productive, organically manage pests and diseases, and by using succession and relay planting techniques, harvest a weekly supply of fresh produce for you and your family.
  6. If you’re interested in learning about organic growing, we’re happy to work together with you and share our knowledge as we seed, care for, and harvest vegetables and flowers from your garden.

We use only organic methods to manage your garden, so you’ll know your soil will be healthy and productive for years to come, and your vegetables will be free of herbicides, synthetic pesticides, and genetically modified organisms.   By bringing the farmers to your yard, you help us share the risks of growing food.  If the weather is poor, you’ll notice your garden is not as productive as it might otherwise be.  If the weather is good, you’ll be savoring a bumper crop of delectable vegetables!

One of the better things about companies like these is that they are sprouting up all over the place.  a Google of Urban Farming Companies gives over 321,000 hits.

431px-victory-gardenUrban farming is actually an old idea, if you have ever seen old war propaganda videos you may have heard about the `Victory Garden` During the World Wars governments challenged urbanites to convert their lawns and ornamental gardens into food producing plots. Slogans like `Sow the seeds of Victory`and `Your Victory garden counts more then ever!` Were published on posters and in the media. It is estimated that nearly 20 million Americans planted Victory gardens and that 40% of all vegetables consumed nationally came from these gardens.

The potential for our cities and urban environments by bringing back greenery and gardening is immense, the more food grown locally the less that needs to be trucked in, tomatoes from down the street have much lower shipping costs then tomatoes from 3000 miles away. More greenery on our roofs also helps cool the buildings and street scape below, reducing the Urban Heat Island effect and reducing Air conditioning costs. Ultimately speaking there next to no arguments against gardening in our cities that make any sense, so before you decide to plant another back yard full of ornamental plants mix in a couple rows of colourful veggies, they are still pleasing to the eye, but have the added advantage of being pleasing to the belly too!

NVS: Sustainable Buildings

“Far too many buildings, institutional buildings and residential buildings, go up looking boring and tedious and they could be anywhere, they have no sense of the place where they were built”

Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want your house to be built without using sustainable practices? Thinking long term the places tend to pay for themselves.

How a new way of thinking about the buildings we live in will help solve issues of sustainability by reducing carbon emissions so you can become carbon neutral. This is about making buildings ‘nutritious’ for mind, health and ecology.

The Litmus Garden

The site before

The site before

One of the most exciting things we have been seeing lately is the use of engineered marshlands to clean up and reclaim water systems that have been polluted by our poor stewardship of the environment. Back in April of 2001 a group of Volunteers lead by T. Allan Comp Ph.D created a series of cascading pools planted with a variety of species of plants to filter a watershed which had become severely toxic with mining waste. Vintondale, Pennsylvania is a small coal patch town in Cambria County, It was created in the early 20th century by the Vinton Coal Company to support its underground mining operation and surface works. The watershed is a neglected ecosystem and Acid mine Drainage is a large water quality problem. Much of the area had resembled a gash in the earth itself. The good doctor and his multidisciplinary team worked with the community to create the wetlands project that fit the town’s aspirations for the site and still preformed the function of cleaning the water system.

The site after

The site after

On the City of Kent website he talks about the project and how it came about.

When I first started talking about this idea that eventually became AMD&ART and won a national EPA Phoenix award among others, I’d show slides of the standard Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) treatment system, basically a series of rectangular ponds, and suggest we might be able to do more. Then I’d show Buster Simpson’s River Roll-Aids, Mel Chin’s Revival Fields and the Richards/Oppenheimer/Hargraves Bixby Park – but it was the images I had from Herbert Bayer’s Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks that finally got through to the audience. Here was a real problem with a real and art-full solution – it worked to solve the environmental problem and it worked to address something in the human soul as well. I showed Earthworks empty and I showed it full of people and, finally, my audiences started to understand how we might start with rectangular ponds to solve an environmental problem and grow that idea into a 35-acre park that treated AMD, created new wetlands and a new active recreation area while also addressing a need for deeper historical understanding and a more humane connection between past, present and even future. s


He goes on to express how these treatment systems can become living and working gardens that not only clean toxic waterways, but also offer places that engage the mind and honor the past. The projects also have the ability to turn community members from passive inhabitants into advocates for their community. The site has an excellent write up about how the project came about and how it works that I am not going to get into here but these engineered wetlands, like the Sustainable Storm Water Managment System mentioned earlier here on Urban Neighbourhood, offer the opportunity for us to create working environmental systems for our cities that offer enjoyable green space for us to use at the same time. Could you imagine wanting to go for a stroll through the water treatment plant?

The Waterfront Trail

A Floating Bridge on Hamilton's portion of the Trail

A Floating Bridge on Hamilton's portion of the Trail

The Waterfront Trail was inaugurated this past year after the community organization in charge of the trail. The Waterfront Regeneration Trust was finally able to strike a deal after twelve years of hard work. The creation of the trail was no small undertaking with seventy different municipalities and other groups involved. The goal of the trust is to make sure that everyone has access to the waterfront and that the waterfront is worth getting to.

The trail is designed to take into account the history of the area. Most of the shores of Lake Ontario and the portion of the Saint Lawrence River that the trail fronts on was settled by Loyalists fleeing the United States who wanted to remain loyal to the British crown. They exerted a profound influence on the social, political and business life of Ontario for more then two centuries and played a major role in the development of Canada. The trail bears witness to this history by passing a number of historical reminders; Loyalist College, Loyalist Parkway, Loyalist Township and even the Loyalist Motel.

The goal of the trail is for it to link waterfronts from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Brockville and, then eventually, to connect it with Upper New York State’s Seaway Trail. It currently includes 31 communities, 182 parks and natural areas, 152 arts and cultural heritage attractions, 37 major annual waterfront festivals, and 170 marinas and yacht clubs.

Map of the Entire Trail

Map of the Entire Trail

The trail is designed to be a multi-use recreation trail for use by people from all walks of life. The trail is also used by 24% of its patrons to commute to and from work. Currently the trail is about 30% off road dedicated path and 70% on residential streets or the paved shoulders of major roads. Most sections of the trail are paved but some are still gravel or packed limestone.

In the future the trust seeks to complete the few portions of the trail that are as of yet secured and expand the trail through a further 52 projects along the waterfront.

For more information on the trail check out their website.

Plus Petrina, the promotions and events manager for the trust has added some great suplementary information about the trust down below in the comments section so give it a click and check out what she has to say!

Green Rooftops for Living


There is a great little gallery of rooftops posted on Flickr by one jwilly. It is a number of photographs of different roof top gardens and green spaces on top of the city. The possibilities are amazing when you consider the type of space a rooftop could be. Quite frankly I would argue that roofs are very under utilized. Look out on the roofs in the middle of most cities and all you will see is a sea of grey, blank spaces. Think about what kind of space a rooftop can be. If you open the access and add plants, you suddenly have a space that you can spend time in, a space that you want to bring other people into. Why shouldn’t every roof have a dwelling or communal space on top of i? Sure I know that most of the roofs in the city were not designed for these uses and therefore can’t handle the load, but we should be thinking that way from now on shouldn’t we?

Rich People Rooftops NYC

Sustainable Stormwater Management

Ne Siskiyou Curb Cut

It isn’t often that I get really excited about the things I read but I positively nerded out when I started reading about a pilot program for Sustainable Stormwater Management that Kevin Robert Perry designed for the city of Portland. One of the most exciting things occurring in Urban Hydrology right now is a return to basic low-tech solutions that not only cost little to maintain, but beautify the area’s they serve.

During A Rain

During A Rain

The NE Siskiyou Green Street is a project that is so simple in its basic premise that the benefits become self evident as soon as you look at it. It is one of those visionary ideas that took a landscape architect willing to think outside of the high-tech box to come up with.

The premise, allow Mother Nature to do the work she is already equipped to do by bringing her back into the equation. The NE Siskiyou Green Street project removed a portion of the street’s parking zone and converted it into a pair of landscaped curb extensions. Curb extensions are ideally suited for residential applications on their own as they act as traffic calming devises and thereby increase pedestrian safety. In this case they go one step further. The curb extensions on this street also capture, cleanse and infiltrate storm water runoff.

The Water Slowing Berms

The Water Slowing Berms

The project basically removes NE Siskiyou St. from the city’s storm/sewer system and manages the runoff locally. Water flows down the approximately 10,000 square feet of of NE Siskiyou Street and the driveways leading off of it until it reaches the seven foot wide curb extensions. The curb extensions have an eighteen inch cut that allows the water to enter the curb extension. The landscaped area within is designed to hold up to seven inches of water, allowing the landscaped area to infiltrate the water. The water is slowed and contained using a series of rock berms that facilitate the curb extensions three inches per hour infiltration rate. In the event of a very intense storm there is a curb cut at the lower end of the planting that allows excess water to flow through and enter the city’s established storm/sewer system.

The extensions are planted with a series of native plants including Oregon grape, sword fern, and grooved rush. The grooved rush does the majority of the storm water management. The upright growth structure of the grooved rush slows down water flow and captures pollutants while its deep penetrating roots work well for water absorption.

Another advantage to this type of local solution is that it keeps the rain where nature put it. Part of the issue with the way that cities currently deal with storm water runoff is that the water is removed from where it fell and away from the local plants that could use it. This system restores water that had been shunted away, back to the local environment.

The most impressive thing about this system is that it manages nearly all of NE Siskiyou’s annual street runoff, estimated at 225,000 gallons, and deals with it locally. Taking the equivalent load off of the old city system. It gets even better, this low impact solution was built for less then $20,000

Please click here to read more.

Dealing with urban heat islands

Temperatures across the Island of Montreal (1985)

Temperatures across the Island of Montreal (1985)

The Conseil régional de l’environnement de Montréal group in Montreal was interviewed in the Gazette the other day about urban heat islands. If you are unsure as to what these are, just consider the difference between being in a parking lot at the end of a hot day vs. being in a park at the end of a hot day. Chances are you are at least subconsciously aware that the park is much more comfortable and much cooler. This effect has to do with the fact that, while plants and greenery tend to shade and absorb heat, concrete, pavement, and asphalt tend to reflect and then store heat, not only intensifying the heat during the day, but keeping the area warmer over all by releasing it later in the day. If you don’t believe it, try walking past a blank brick wall that has had sun all afternoon and once the sun is down and pay attention to the temperature. Cities tend to exacerbate this problem as these materials form the majority of their components. In many cities the temperature is 5 to 10 degrees above the regional average.

To combat hot spots, the city of Montreal has teamed up with the Conseil régional de l’environnement de Montréal and the Conférence régionale des élus, a regional development group, to create more green spaces with the help of concerned businesses and residents.

So far, their are more than 30 participants, including Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport, Alcoa and Hydro-Québec.

“We need to start building a greener city,” said Helen Fotopulos, the city of Montreal executive committee member responsible for parks and green spaces.

“Instead of heat islands, we need to create more cool islands like this,” Fotopulos said after a news conference yesterday that was held in a city garden. source

Creating more parkspace will not only improve the look of our cities it can also help our bottom line by making the city less expensive to cool. Just in case you needed another reason to love parks.

Campus Gardening

Mini Greenhouses on the McGill Campus

Mini Greenhouses on the McGill Campus

Urban gardening seems to be in the news a bunch lately.. I just came across an article in the gazette this morning over coffee and another article on Spacing Montreal.  The city has a number of community gardens scattered around town, though that number has been reduced with 167 of them having been closed due to soil contamination.

At McGill University, a group called “Campus Crops” has formed with the goal of identifying underused places on campus and turning them into productive agricultural land. The folks over at Spacing Montreal have a great article.. enjoy!

New Initiative To Increase Downtown Gardening Space

Gardens of Delight

Koi in the Japanese Garden, Photo by Jonathan Kaiser

One of the great things about living in an urban area are the extras that you only get once cities are of a certain size. Many of these gems are places that as a local you will tend to forget about until you have an out of town friend come to visit. This past weekend we headed to one of these extras when we visited the Botanical Gardens in Montreal. The Gardens in Montréal are comprised of a main pavilion done in a deco style, much like many of the assorted public markets in the city. The Main buildings were designed by Architect Lucien F. Kéroack in 1932, and are completed in 1937 after being stalled for four years. The four years saw the project left in disarray and some of the greenhouses were turned into Rabbit hutches. Work on the project was restarted in 1935 after Camilien Houde is elected mayor and Brother Marie-Victorin makes an impassioned plea about the cities need for a botanical garden.

“We will soon be celebrating Montréal’s three hundredth anniversary. You need to give a gift, a royal gift, to the City, our city. But Montréal is Ville-Marie, a woman…and you certainly can’t give her a storm sewer or a police station…It’s obvious what you must do! Give her a corsage for her lapel. Fill her arms to overflowing with all the roses and lilies of the field!” source.

Over the course of the next 70 years the gardens continued to develop after a wartime lull. The Gardens have an extensive collection of different plant types and species with number different themed gardens, after a trip to the insectarium we took a tour through the Japanese garden which would definitely have to be one of the most calming gardens I have been too in a while.

While I was disappointed by the number of stay off the lawn signs, that’s a discussion for later. If your city has a botanical or public garden take the time to reacquaint yourself.

Montreal Botanical Gardens

The Guerrilla Gardener

Guerrilla agents at work

Guerrilla Gardener’s operate under cover of night, moving in and acting as ‘agents of mass beautification’ planting flowers and other types of greenery in neglected medians and vacant spaces. They have to operate under cover of night as what they do is considered illegal, contravening bylaws that prohibit the modification of municipal lands and spaces. They lob seed bombs and plant flower mines.

In Montreal there is a guerrilla gardener turning a former railway yards into a Roerich Gardens. In case you are unfamiliar with what a Roerich Garden is, its what museums and cultural institutions planted in 1935 to mark schools, museums, and cultural landmarks to prevent them from being destroyed during aerial bombardments. The plant artist is trying to draw attention to the fact that while the medow (which is listed for redevelopment) doesn’t appear to be an active public space, plenty of people use it and enjoy it. Plus she is doing it for “sheer visual pleasure.” source.


There are people around the world who take otherwise neglected pieces of land and turn them into spots of urban beauty. I mean really, one can not argue that our cities don’t need more plants.  The Guerrilla Gardening hompage is run by a Londoner and started off simply as a blog about the illicit gardening missions he undertook and has since evolved into a resource with notes on Guerrilla Gardening missions around the world. This is one movement that I fully support and would hope that our city officials would recognise the value of letting these “agents of mass beautification” go to work unhindered. Besides its city beautification that cities don’t have to foot the bill for, how can they say no to that?

The High Line and Elevated Parkways

In New York City an organisation called “Friends of the High Line” are in the process of converting a previously abandoned freight viaduct that runs along the lower west side of Manhattan from a ‘lost space’ to a new elevated park reserved for pedestrians. The idea is not new, there is currently another elevated park in Paris called The Promenade Plantée. The project is designed to increase the available parkland in the city by turning what some have considered a blight into a unique advantage, looking through some past entries about this online it is clear that there was much debate and a serious push to have the whole structure removed. Link I for one am happy that the friends of the high line have been successful in getting the go ahead to convert the structure to an urban promenade. Unique parks and themaintenance of structures of historical significance is a big plus to me.

Structures like this begin to make us relate to the city in further levels, most people are only used to considering a city from the ground level, sure we have subways and underground structures, and sky walks in some urban areas but most don’t really consider them when thinking of the strata of an area. Subways are underground and you don’t really see anything so its easy to have no awareness of the city that you pass through on your way between your usual stations and sky walks tend to insulate us from the city by being too much like the interior of the buildings they connect. Elevated walkways like thePromenade and the future high line allow us to experience the city from above while still being in contact with its sights and smells, I have a feeling that once completed this project will become a valued part of the neighbourhoods it connects.

The High line has a specific vision;

Friends of the High Line believes the historic High Line rail structure offers New Yorkers the opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind recreational amenity: a grand, public promenade that can be enjoyed by all residents and visitors in New York City. When the High Line is converted to public open space, you will be able to rise up from the streets and step into a place apart, tranquil and green. You will see the Hudson River, the Manhattan skyline, and secret gardens inside city blocks as you’ve never seen them before. You will move between Penn Station and the Hudson River Park, from the convention center to the Gansevoort Market Historic District, without meeting a car or truck. The High Line will be a promenade—a linear public place where you will see and be seen. You will sense New York’s industrial past in the rivets and girders. You will perceive the future unrolling before you in an artfully designed environment of unprecedented innovation. It will be yours—public in the truest sense of the word. Public dollars helped build it in the 1930s. Public legislation empowers us to make it a place anyone can visit. It will be proof New York City no longer casts aside its priceless transportation infrastructure but instead creates bold new uses for these monuments to human power and ambition. source

There is a great collection of pictures of the high line in its current state here

There are three other projects in the works for structures like these; the Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago and on old Reading Viaduct elevated rail in the Callowhill section of Philadelphia Pennsylvania

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