Archive for the ‘urban planning’ Category

De-Construction (part I)

It’s unremarkable that the concept has been developed and adopted in multiple cities. Likely, the only remarkable aspect is my noticing it and saving the articles on the different places mentioned in stories.

Most of the demolition of old buildings that I’ve seen has been by bulldozer and grab claw. Of course, most of  what I’ve seen torn down has been cheaply made strip malls and big box sores that have passed their 10-year-old life spans. But when you have real structures, especially old house, row home and factories, the opportunity for deconstruction increases.  Deconstruction is different from salvage. Salvage uses what it can of debris while deconstruction take it apart with the idea of using most or all of it.

It seems like such a good multiple win idea.  it provides jobs for the deconstruction, warehouse management, avoidance of landfills, avoidance of harvesting of new materials,.  While it clearly takes time, and energy (although that’s debatable if you look at the life cycle analysis from initial harvesting of materials and their manufacture).

It’d be wonderful if it could be done on  a grander scale with abandoned and dilapidated buildings. Of course, laws of ownership, vandalizing (which is an uncontrolled, illegal form of deconstruction) and developing the necessary skill sets and all factors limiting it.

But still, it is a great concept; sustainability and Cradle to Cradle at it’s best.

M&M Engineering….Metro and Monument

Coincidently, this post gets published during National Engineer’s Week in the US. That wasn’t my intention when I started writing this, but it seems to have worked out appropriately, if not well.

This past year has not been a good one for engineering in the DC area.  While a major accomplishment goes unnoticed, two serious failures have rightly captured people’s attention.  Why aren’t things going better?

The good news story is the drilling of the DC Clean Rivers Project.  Two tunnels, 48″ and 108″, drilled under the city, will keep stormwater runoff from flooding the sewage treatment plant and contaminating the Anacostia and Potomac rivers.  An incredible undertaking of engineering and construction, it has been practically invisible to the public.  And it is going well (almost complete!).

Not so the other denizen of tunnels, METRO.  Nothing seems to be going right for them, and hasn’t for years.  Inspection not performed, repairs not made, maintenance left undone; from policy to execution nothing has gone right. When in the middle of the very-public, very-massive safety push you have train operators who still almost hit the Federal inspectors on the tracks, you know you have problems.  Surprisingly (and I am very surprised, as the horror stories keep coming out) no one has been charged criminally for the years of running a system that has apparently been so woefully unable to complete even simple task. Years  of falsified records and billed-but-unperformed tasks and no one has been charged?  Really?? Unbelievable.


Commuters wait for their train at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

And then there’s the other major monument to problems in the engineering world, the Washington Monument.  Closed for almost 3 years to repair damage from the earthquake of 2011, it opened in mid-2014. Almost immediately it had problems with the electrical systems and elevators. The elevator problem is so serious that the Monument will now be closed until 2019 for repairs.  So in an 8 year period, our National Monument will have been close for almost 6 of them.  Not a very good track record, not at all.

I understand complex issues, interconnected problems, deficits of money, time, and manpower.  But to have to such major problems at the same time is a sad state of affairs.  Maybe some of the infrastructure money being promised by the administration can help both of these out.

I hope so.


Dennis Cook/Associated Press



Winter felled

Marked in summer, demise foretold; Cut down at last, in a season cold

No more shade upon my walk; no more place for birds to talk

A part of the street for 20 years; Passed away with no shed tears

Nothing planted in their place to grow; Nothing to improve the barren show

It takes years and years to grow a tree; Who will see it, I fear ….. not me


Death Marks

I had first seen the signs, but forgot them.


I had passed by the signs on my walks a couple of times, and didn’t pay any attention to them.


And then it hit me.  Death marks.  The trees that graced my walk path were going to be removed.

By paint on the trunk, and marks on the road, the tree is marked for removal.

tree           road

It is, undoubtedly, due to the Emerald Ash Borer.  We’ve lost a lot of trees in the region, and in Columbia, from the pest.  I understand the need to remove them, although the change in the view of my path will be sad to see.  It was right beside the first tree in the first picture that I saw my first (and only) in-person pileated woodpecker.

I suspect my only real compliant with the process is wondering, since it has likely been known for a couple of years that the trees would eventually have to go, why new ones weren’t planted sooner, to give them a little time to grow, to give them a little shade.

It does make me more attuned to the issue of biological diversity.  For history has shown the effects of a dependency on a particular species, whether it is the potato, the elm, or the ash.  And perhaps it should be considered when we think about the other crops of corn, wheat, rice, bananas.  How dependent are we on a single sources, which can be susceptible to a particular disease….or biological weapon.

For now, I know I will have a tree-less promenade next spring and summer, and a significant change in my shade.


Ned Talks :)

Yes…that was  a deliberate play on the Ted Talks title 😀



The Howard County Library is once again having a good speaker session at the LEED Gold Miller Branch on Thursday October 20.  Local author and naturalist Ned Tillman will be speaking  on “Saving the Places We Love”, his second book (third is in the works!).  I haven’t read this one, but his first book “The Chesapeake Watershed” was a great multifaceted talk about the history, geology, biology and function of the Chesapeake Bay and the watershed that feed it.  I particularly like the discussion of the Patapsco River Valley from a natural and historical perspective. It is not a great stretch to read that book and understand how the terrible Ellicott City flood of this summer came to be so devastating.


I’d recommend coming out early…if you haven’t walked on the green roof of the Library, it is a gorgeous pieces of extensive green roof, wonderfully planted and tied into the patio, and the interior carpet to evoke the waters of the valley.



Green roof :) Reblogged

I haven’t reblogged something in a while, but both the topic and the pictures on this one thrilled me.  Both the first picture, from Armenia, and the last picture from Tokyo, appeal to me.  The undulation of the Armenian is very cool both architecturally and vegetatively, while bringing green to the indoor environment would seem to be a great concept.

Enjoy 🙂

Green roofs are a growing trend in both residential and commercial ecologically minded architecture. These types of roofs entail having a garden of sorts above your building instead of, or in addition to, on your grounds. A building with a green roof has vegetation on the roof, as in the example below, where a gardener […]

via Nature on the Rooftops: Green Roofs and the International Green Roof Congress — Urban Scrawl

Walled Off

I have been driving the section of Rt 29 through Columbia for years…decades, actually. And I’ve seen the changes over that time.  I remember driving it when I was in college, going up to Westminster to see my girlfriend Sari.  I remember driving it when I graduated from grad school, and took my first job in Columbia, thinking that I had traveled out into the boonies!  I’ve seen it change as the signalized at-grade intersections were eliminated to accommodate traffic flow (I have bad memories of the old left turn onto Owen Brown, where I had a battery problem and needed a push once day !)

Now I see that there are sound barriers going up and ….I realize it means that the view of Columbia, at least of the communities along the way, will be gone. Last year they gutted the wonderful stands of forsythia that had stood in the median south of Owen Brown, and most of the trees that were around the section at old South Entrance Road.  I hope that there will still be the view of the lake, but the other views will now be of pre-cast textured concrete walls.  No longer will the condos just north of the footbridge be visible.  Nor the old 1960’s era houses south of the footbridge.


I understand their aversion to the traffic noise.  Most assuredly, if I lived there I’d want sound barriers too. It’s just that it seems like there is something that is lost, something connective in the scenery that we pass.  What was connection, or at least noticing, the communities passed through and the history passed through, now becomes another developmental block of featureless nothing.  Where once we saw where others were, what else there was around us, and realized the differences, now we see nothing of the areas we go through.

There is a part of me that says if we HAVE to have these walls, couldn’t we at least green them up?  And I don’t mean wait for two decades for the ivy to eventually start to grow and get a foothold.  I mean intentionally plant not just at the base of the walls, but build into the wall repositories of dirt that would allow flowers or grasses or vines to grow.  Green walls are not new, nor are they even cutting edge.  Couldn’t we at least improve what we seem condemned to live with?

Sigh.  Time rolls on.




The earth along Little Patuxant Parkway is changing. I noticed in late winter, and thought it was more trees coming down due to the emerald ash borer. I really didn’t think there had been a line of ash along that edge of Howard Community College, but I just assumed that because I had seen a number of trees along the lower end of the Parkway removed last year.

But then I noticed the markings on more trees, and trees that I knew weren’t ash.  IMG_20150517_164037

And those trees providing shade along the drive started disappearing.


It was a swath of land being cleared from Ceder Lane up to Gov Warfield.

Grr >:)

I’m not sure, but I think it is the new bicycle path being installed.  It was put in last year along the land in front of Merriweather Post and beside the library.  I understand the need for a path, and the need to have it safe and available for walking and biking, for mom’s pushing strollers and bikers pulling ride-alongs.  But it does seem that an unnecessarily large swath of mature trees have been removed, where perhaps a little variation in the path might have saved more of them.  I applaud the desire to improve alternative transportation and support the human-powered transit.

I just wish it didn’t require the death of so many trees, especially the large ones 😦  It takes time, lots of it, to grow new trees.  I hope someone is planting more, because much of what makes Columbia so special is the nature and the trees that exist here.  We really are a testimony to the adage that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.  The second best time is now.



Urban agriculture

It has been a far longer hiatus from blogging that I expected it to be.  Actually, I wasn’t intentionally planning on taking a hiatus, it just sort of happened.  More on that later.


One of the more recent blogs I’ve seen (because I follow it!) involved urban agriculture, and I thought it was quite interesting. Now while the impetus for the Cuban adoption of a program of taking vacant urban land and using it for agriculture was driven by political problems and sanctions, the impact and usefulness of this approach shouldn’t be missed.  While we aren’t a third world country, there are certainly enough people living in food poverty and food deserts with unused urban (and suburban) land available that this approach could easily be applied here as well.  How much improvement in personal health could be accomplished through the combined improvement in diet and in the outdoor exercise of farming?  I know that urban ag is occurring in the dead zones of Detroit, and other cities are doing this in limited fashion in rooftops.  It strikes me as a program with no down side.

Hal’s back…..and HAL….and more..

Hal’s back.
The deer in my area who looks like the one in Gary Larson cartoon? Well, not quite, it has a white flank instead of a bullseye, but it’s still a major problem from a camouflage perspective



But when I hear the name Hal, I equally think of the HAL 9000. Was I the only one who noticed that the ads for the new Droid



looked JUST LIKE the HAL from 2001 Space Odyssey?


HAL 9000 from Wikipedia entry

I don’t know if it was urban legend or truth, but I remember someone telling me that the HAL was named by moving one letter to the left for the big computer company….IBM (okay, Wiki quotes both Clarke and Kubrick as saying nyet, that isn’t true!)

Except IBM isn’t a big computer company anymore. A report in the Washington Post about it triggers a slew of thoughts about both the decline of the semiconductor and computer industries in the US, and the horrific impact the switch to “maximizing shareholder value” has had in the destruction of industry and manufacturing in this country.  I had long thought we’d lost the bubble on the balance between corporate short-term requirements and national /community interests in long-term requirements, and the article and others helped clarify that it was indeed an idea gone rogue.

I think “maximum shareholder value” needs the same birthmark as Hal.  And that’s how Hal lead to HAL lead to that 🙂