The silver lining to the recent unrelenting cold snap is that many types of invasive insects can’t survive the frigid conditions. These invasive insects include the emerald ash bore, known for killing millions of trees in the last decade, and the gypsy moth, which eats the leaves of trees, such as those used to grow agricultural crops. All told, the damage by these tiny pests costs the US government and homeowners billions of dollars in damages each year. The good news is that reports show that the recent cold snap may have eliminated 80-100% of some of these pests in certain areas.
Unfortunately, there is also, of course, some bad news. The same climatic changes that have contributed to the polar vortex are also predicted to ultimately cause milder winters in the eastern United States, so the insects’ geographical range will expand further north from where it was once restricted by colder temperatures. The cold may also be killing parasitoid wasps, one of the few predators for the emerald ash bore. This means that when temperatures rise again this spring, the emerald ash bore may be able to bounce back in even greater numbers. Ecological systems are complex and highly interdependent, so it is rare that something will change just one piece of the system; the response to climate change by these invasive insects may have additional unpredicted results because of unidentified feedbacks (for instance, how might climate change affect their food sources or the other insects with whom they are in direct competition?).
Climatic changes won’t just affect invasive insects, but will also influence invasive plants, like the phragmites, or common reed, which we often encounter at Freshkills Park. Recent studies indicate that phragmites will thrive under increased carbon dioxide levels, meaning that the plant overgrowth will become even more of a problem as climate change progresses. While we have taken some steps to control the ever-present phragmites at Freshkills Park, even using goats in one restoration project, the interaction of climate change with these invasive species will pose a challenge for years to come and demand the ecosystem to adapt.
How do you design a space to maximize its social and ecological resiliency? A green space where the community gathers and plants help clean the air and absorb storm water. You might think that such a space could only be achieved in a large park like Freshkills, but the newly released 2013 Street Design Manual demonstrates how the street in front of your doorstep can be transformed into a place that fosters social interactions and supports wildlife.
The street design manual unveiled by Transportation Commissioner Sadik-Kahn at the 2013 MAS Summit highlights designs for “place making plazas” that transform endless swaths of concrete into gathering places. While the most visible of these transformations was the closing of Time Square, these plazas can be developed on a run-of-the-mill sidewalk by adding seating and landscaping to a barren wide stretch of concrete. These types of designs are successful at fostering community precisely because they are requested and maintained by the communities where they are installed. Adding places where neighbors can stop, smell the flowers, and get to know one another could be another way to boost social resiliency.
Not only do the new street designs foster more social connections amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, but they also strive to improve physical resiliency with suggestions for landscape design. The manual has recommendations for tree pits, bio swells, and rain gardens that will help reduce the issue of combined sewage overflow that overwhelms the city’s infrastructure. The guidelines on plantings also include information on storm and drought tolerance so that plantings can be made with future climate change in mind. While these plantings work to adapt to the effects of climate change, the plan also proposes steps to reduce carbon emissions with new LED street lamps.
We’re looking forward to seeing how this new street design manual transforms the urban landscape of NYC into one that has more capacity to withstand and adapt to climate change.
To engage best practices and innovative thinking from around the world, the city has invited designers and urban planners to submit plans for an 80-acre site in Far Rockaway, Queens. The FAR ROC [For a Resilient Rockaway] competition entries will provide inventive solutions to be applied directly in the Rockaways, as well as new ideas for other at-risk waterfront neighborhoods throughout the city.
Hurricane Sandy demonstrated the need for new ideas about development along NYC’s vulnerable coastline. The damage to buildings, beaches, and utility systems on the Rockaway Peninsula calls for a difficult discussion as to whether certain areas should be “rebuilt, maintained and defended, or simply abandoned.” Challenges posed by climate change, sea level rise, and increasingly frequent major storm events cannot be resolved by designers and planners alone, but new development strategies, like the ones to be tested in the Rockaways, can provide a laboratory to solicit the most innovative ideas. Submissions are required to consider the environmental and physical challenges of the at-risk site as well as the economic development, housing, and infrastructure needs of the area.
The Phase I submission deadline is June 14, 2013. The competition is organized by city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, L+M Development Partners, the Bluestone Organization, Enterprise Community Partners, Triangle Equities, and the AIA NY.
Across the pond, the nonprofit organization greenspace scotland, in partnership with Scottish National Heritage, has created a fascinating new e-resource called “Creating Climate Change Parks.” The resource provides important design guidance for both the retro-fitting of older parks with climate change-friendly updates, such as tree planting schemes, green roofs and water management techniques, as well as guidelines for newly designed parks. This important initiative, although based in Scotland, is carving out an essential and potentially universal role for 21st century parks as leaders in the field of sustainable design.
Learn more about this exciting project on greenspace scotland’s website.