The Urban Landscape Encyclopedia
Wherein we link to ideas, designs, and issues facing urban ecosystems around the world.
Plastic Bag
Victorian Landscape Analysis
AA-06Amphibious Architecture

Amphibious Architecture submerges ubiquitous computing into the water—the substance that makes up 90% of the Earth’s inhabitable volume and envelops New York City but remains under-explored and under-engaged. Two networks of floating interactive tubes, installed at sites in the East River and the Bronx River, house a range of sensors below water and an array of lights above water. The sensors monitor water quality, presence of fish, and human interest in the river ecosystem. The lights respond to the sensors and create feedback loops between humans, fish, and their shared environment. An SMS interface allows citizens to text-message the fish, to receive real-time information about the river, and to contribute to a display of collective interest in the environment.

concrete-mushroomsEuropean Green Belt
056-OLF_BAKU_06_06_OilSOCAR Oil Fields

The main form of communication about buildings that have not yet been built is the artists’ conceptions of the imagined end state. Those sketches do, in fact, carry enormous weight around boardroom tables but, of course, they are an absolutely impossible way to deal with reality and so produce the same dead garbage. — Christopher Alexander,, 2009

“It is so ecologically out of balance that if it goes on this way, it will kill itself,” said Alan Berger, a landscape architecture professor at M.I.T. who was excitedly poking around the smelly canals on a recent day and talking to fishermen like Mr. Assunto. “You can’t remove the economy and move the people away,” he added. “Ecologically speaking, you can’t restore it; you have to go forward, to set this place on a new path.— Elisabeth Rosenthal, The New York Times, “In Italy, a Redesign of Nature to Clean It”, 2008

1253074323-oow-matsys-extSietch Nevada

[New York City] has enlisted six deep-sea divers who are living for more than a month in a sealed 24-foot tubular pressurized tank complete with showers, a television and a Nerf basketball hoop, breathing air that is 97.5 percent helium and 2.5 percent oxygen, so their high-pitched squeals are all but unintelligible. They leave the tank only to transfer to a diving bell that is lowered 70 stories into the earth, where they work 12-hour shifts, with each man taking a four-hour turn hacking away at concrete to expose the valve.The New York Times, “Plumber’s Job on a Giant’s Scale”, 2009

shasta_dam2Shasta Dam under Construction

Generality and simplicity are the substance of explanation. But they are also crucial to application. In engineering, one wants laws with a reasonably wide scope, models that can be used first in one place then another. If I am right, a law that actually covered any specific case, without much change or correction, would be so specific that it would not be likely to work anywhere else.” — Nancy Cartwright, How the Laws of Physics Lie, 1983

flight_patternsBirds over Rome
CCSM3 Cloud and Precipitation ModelCloud & Precipitation Model Forecasts

Cartographic structures precede territorial structures, rather than vice-versa. The maps create the territories, and therefore cannot simply represent the territories in any realist way.— Sergio Sismondo and Nicholas Chrisman, Deflationary Metaphysics and the Natures of Maps, 2001.

H20 Eco-BoulevardH20 Eco-Boulevard
paris_urbanForest8-Story “Forest” Facade
Animals and Architecture

Animals have a unique relationship with architecture because it is not built for them. When we are confronted with the animal’s ambiguous connection to a world designed for humans, we are better equipped to ask questions about our own relationships to architecture. Daniel Arsham

More strikingly, it requires an agnostic approach toward nature’s coexistence with urban experience: accepting (indeed, insisting on) the presence of nature in the city, while being flexible as to the “truth” of that nature. The future landscapes described in their schemes suggest that there is no such thing as an orthodoxy of nature in an urban park, and that nature cannot be held at arm’s length.— Andrew Blum, Design Observer, “Metaphor Remediation”, 2009

redwoodPhotographing an entire Redwood Tree

According to Owen, the most critical environmental issues in dense urban cores aren’t carbon footprints but “old-fashioned quality of life concerns”: crime rates, bad smells, education. The more pleasant the city, the more people will stay in it, rather than fleeing to car-dependent suburbs.The New York Times, “Urban is Good”, 2009

manhattan-mapManhattan Farms before the Grid

It is well to remind ourselves from time to time that the word “economics” derives from “ecology” the science out of the house. In such a science, the design and production of the house are causal.— Buckminster Fuller

Urban Wildlife VideoUrban Wildlife

A crisscross of tunnels, 30 to 40 feet deep underneath city streets, would provide protection against atomic blast and fallout and at the same time provide the channels for underground automobile traffic and parking and, in some cases, high speed rail transportation. The Science-Letter News, “Atomic Defense Tunnels”, 1966

monkeysSchool for Rogue Monkeys
Anne Sharp - Forest FireForest Fire Consumes Tree
Katrina AftermathAftermath of Hurricane Katrina
Metropolis (The Past and Future of Charlotte, NC)
4114283278_4409f943cc_oBamboo in Queens
1255629360Albatross Chick Corpses

Too many conservatives, who would never risk emitting so much debt that it would tank the dollar, will blithely tell you on carbon: “Emit all you want. Don’t worry. It’s all a hoax.” And too many liberals, who would never risk emitting too much carbon, will tell you on emitting more debt: “Spend away. We’ve got plenty of room to stimulate without risking the dollar.” Because of this divide . . . we’re in effect putting our kids’ future in the hands of the two most merciless forces on the planet: the Market and Mother Nature.— Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, “Our Three Bombs”, 2009

life-out-of-balanceLife Out of Balance

Normally in an ecosystem that’s been around for a while, native species have a leg up…or six, as it were. But if you cut everything down, put some dirt on it, and plant some stuff, you’re turning the ecological clock back to zero; succession and evolution happen equally for all species, natives and invasives. If we can detect an invasive species before a population gets established, then we should intervene and attempt to remove it.— James Danoff-Burg, Seed Magazine, “Workbench”, 2009

midway-atollMidway Atoll and the Pacific Garbage Patch

The progress of science and technology has now demonstrated that it is not inevitable and certainly not desirable that we do everything we can do, that the choice of what to do is, in fact, our most important problem.— Robert S. Morison, “Education for Environmental Concerns”, 1967

brooklyn_landfillFountain Avenue Landfill Restitution
Los Angeles WildfiresStation Fire, Los Angeles
Insect Flight PatternsInsect Flight Patterns

City or Wilderness; both attest … that this is a wild world and not a tame world. Jesus at the climax of his ministry went up to a city, but the gospels tell us that he went into a desert or up a mountain for temptation and transfiguration. For both New York and Navajoland, let there be prayer without grumble.— Paul Allen Carter, The Enormous Absurdity of Nature, 2009

The pollutants present in the atmosphere of a sealed environment represent the summation of many interacting dynamic processes. Those processes can be roughly separated into pollutant sources and pollutant sinks. This simple division, however, masks the complexity inherent in the behavior of each of the sources and sinks. — NASA, Isolation: NASA Experiments in Closed-Environment Living, 2002

Bird Height Guidelines DiagramBird Height Building Diagram
Manhattan Abattoir

Eventually some crow gets a bright idea that, “Hey, there’s lots of coins lying around from the first stage, lying around on the ground,” — hops down, picks it up, drops it in the slot. And then we’re off to the races. That crow enjoys a temporary monopoly on peanuts until his friends figure out how to do it, and then there we go. The main thing, the main point of all this for me is that we can find mutually beneficial systems for these species. We can find ways to interact with these other species that doesn’t involve exterminating them, but involves finding an equilibrium with them that’s a useful balance. — Joshua Klein, Ted Talks, “Joshua Klein on the Intelligence of Crows”, 2008

Internets CelebritiesInternets Celebrities

Like a lot of our movies, we chose for our subject, something we three New Yorkers have taken for granted growing up in this city. I can’t speak for Dallas and Rafi but I’m fond of the knish, the pretzel, the hot dog and very occasionally the bootleg DVD. Before we made this movie I never really wondered who comprised the workforce that brought me these city delights. Sadly, I think it’s human nature to push a lot of stuff into the background. Hopefully, this movie shines a little light on a population that has had its business and its rights compromised by an effed the eff up economy, an overzealous police force and the lobbying efforts of Big Retail.— Casimir Nozkowski, “The Vend Diagram”, 2008

Chickens, it turns out, have issues. They get diseases with odd names, like pasty butt and the fowl plague. Rats and raccoons appear out of nowhere. Hens suddenly stop laying eggs or never produce them at all. Crowing roosters disturb neighbors. The problems get worse. Unwanted urban chickens are showing up at local animal shelters. Even in the best of circumstances, chickens die at alarming rates.— Kim Severson, New York Times, “When the Problems Come Home to Roost “, 2009

08_12_05_ecosign_trysil_norwayRedesigning Mountains

Many local prey species are poorly equipped to parry a domestic cat’s stealth approach…Moreover, free-ranging domestic cats are considered subsidized predators. They eat cat food at home, and then hunt just for sport, a strategy that allows them to exist at densities far greater than carnivores achieve in nature.— Natalie Angier, “Give Birds a Break. Lock Up the Cat.”, The New York Times, 2009

sydneyRed Dust in Sydney
badass-mollysprintingHeifer Escapes Queens Slaughterhouse

Scientists are asking New Yorkers’ help to track the city’s population of the common true katydid. New Yorkers have been asked to use their cell phones to record the insects’ calls for 1 minute, and send their results and locations to scientists.NPR, All Things Considered, “NYC Cricket Crawl”, 1966

Urban BeekeepersUrban Beekeepers

The local elite must be environmentally aware and must pursue adequate policy positions in order to solve current environmental problems. The more homogeneous their awareness of the environment, with its problems, and the more homogeneous their policy orientation, the greater the chances of overcoming a dangerous environmental problem. — Werner Pleschberger, “Environmental Concern of the Local Elite”, 1995

Bird in the Suburbs

One view of minority opinion on environmental issues suggests that minority voters are focused on less esoteric concerns such as education, jobs, and crime. An alternative argument is that minorities, many of whom live proximate to the sources of pollution and environmental degradation, are actually more concerned…We suggest that increasing environmental awareness among minorities has led Latinos to become more sensitive to environmental issues than their white counterparts over time, but that this difference is manifest only on issues of proximate concern to Latinos and not on more abstract environmental principles. — Matthew Whittaker, Gary M. Segura, Shaun Bowler, “Racial/Ethnic Group Attitudes toward Environmental Protection in California”, 2005

bat_houseBat Spiral