Articles

Please note: the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the Irish Landscape Institute

New Approaches to Flood Prevention
Cathal O’Meara MILI, Landscape Architect

Adaptive responses to our changing climate are emerging throughout the world. Rising urban populations and increasing pressure on our natural environment are demanding more creative approaches to out settlement patterns.

In much of the world these pressures are requiring new approaches to urban heat islands, drought, extremes of temperature and rising water levels. In Ireland our dominant natural characteristic is the greenness of our land, which is fed by the persistence of our rainfall. A legacy of opportunistic development, not just in recent years but throughout our history has left us with urban populations on vulnerable floodplains.

Our history with our watercourses is a fraught one. We have constantly sought to shape our water for infrastructural purposes. Our canals for transport, our callows for agriculture, and our valleys for energy. In urban areas this mechanistic view dominated to such an extent that our rivers became giant open sewers, useful for “getting rid” of our waste”.

This technical view dominates to such an extent that current thinking on flood prevention still seeks to “get rid of” excess rainfall as fast as possible. This approach ensures further problems downstream due to increased river flow, meaning greater flooding. Brought into our towns this approach necessarily manifests itself as tall massed concrete straightjackets replacing open views of the water.

This approach requires continuous maintenance, as in anticipation of flooding private contractors have to erect extra steel defences on top of the massed concrete walls. These additional structures continually have to be stored, mounted and dismounted with on-going costs.

This attitude needs to change. Sewage treatment plants have ensured that most of our beaches and rivers are again safe for swimming. Promising projects worldwide are demonstrating the union of ecology, flood prevention and recreation. For over 20 years Curitiba a poor Brazilian City has been using Federal flood prevention money to buy land adjacent to its River. With this land Curitiba has been creating sacrificial Flood/Attenuation parks. Now when flooding occurs the water in the lakes rises but prevents the flooding from damaging the city.

“Room for the River” is a Dutch government plan that seeks to mitigate flooding in the Rhine, the Waal, the Meuse and the Ijsel and spans the countries upstream of these rivers including Switzerland, France and Germany. This plan seeks to do exactly the opposite of what we are currently implementing in Ireland with a suite of measures including depoldering, removing dykes and creating flood channels. By making room for the river the plan allows flooding to happen in designated areas, and by appropriately planting and recreating these wetland landscapes flood attenuation is maximised. This plan aims to slow the rate of flow of rivers and prevent flooding from reaching the towns downstream.

We need to understand flood prevention in a spatial or landscape context as it is the treatment of the land within the wider landscape that affects the likelihood of flooding. This is due to the fact that the amount of water within a river catchment is far in excess of the amount within the river. Currently it appears our policy for flood prevention views towns on the same river catchment as separate projects when clearly they are not. We need a policy approach that takes this into account. The current one-dimensional engineering approach increases the costs and limits the benefits.

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The view of the Blackwater currently being removed from much of Fermoy Co. Cork under flood prevention works.

To reinterpret the brief with the goals of increased biodiversity, improved recreation while delivering on urban flood prevention would see semi natural biological/engineering solutions replace hard hydraulic engineering.

In effect this could mean making room for the river by recreating callows, wetlands, marshes, flood channels and alluvia carr woodlands on low lying agricultural land.

We could go further and reforest the river’s catchment hills too. Such measures would enhance the capacity of the river catchment for retaining heavy rainfall. Recent studies undertaken in Wales by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology suggest that water sinks into the soil under trees at 67 times the rate it does under grass. This does not negate the possibility for agriculture. A recent scheme undertaken in the Severn Valley demonstrates that if 5% of farmers in the catchment undertook reforestation, flooding peaks downstream would be reduced by some 29%.

Such living landscapes that retain water have a significantly increased capacity for mitigating flooding, but the benefits of such an approach go further.In a predominantly rural landscape applying solutions that affect farmland is a far more economical means of targeting flood prevention than dealing with the expense and complexity of moving services, negotiating temporary traffic solutions, buying expensive urban land or pile driving along sensitive river banks in built up areas.

However such a proposal could be expanded in recreational terms. By connecting the towns along a watercourse with a network of high quality walking and cycling paths, campsites and linear alluvial forests we could realise the full aesthetic and recreational potential of our watercourses. These could also be the driver of a resilient local economy as the recent creation of the Greenway in Mayo has established.

Solutions for reshaping our watercourses as engineering feats belong to a different era. We need to awaken to the multi-functionality of our rivers as places for us all, flora, fauna and people.

Cathal O’Meara is an Irish Landscape Institute registered Landscape Architect and runs the practice www.cathalomeara.com

 


 

 

 

Why I Am Rethinking My Relationship to Cities
David Andrews, Landscape Architect, MILI

Reposted from http://commondesigns.wordpress.com/

I have rethought my relationship with cities. After spending the first twenty odd years of my life on the rural/suburban divide, where I grew up climbing trees and swimming in oceans, I have now lived in cities for the past decade. After the birth of two sons over the last four years, I have pledged to
return to the environment of my upbringing in order to ingrain in them an appreciation for and an understanding of nature that I think is so important and grounding. This desire to return to nature is driven by the sense that city living does not fulfill the entirety of one’s needs.
But the realities of job prospects, efficiencies of local shopping and school, and proximity to friends has begun to change my perception of the possibilities of city living. My work as a landscape architect working primarily in urban environments has begun to change my mind about the benefits of city living, but not yet enough to convince me outright of raising my kids in one. What is convincing me however, is a newfound, deeper understanding of urban form and city-making. In particular, there are two concepts that if altered, might result in more humane, nurturing cities: engaging and refuge-creating edges, and an ability to alter the built environment. To me, these concepts are perhaps what engage the psyche of humans more so than the beauty of nature, and thus hold answers to creating a human-friendly built environment and one that won’t trigger that sense of flight to the country.

There is an urge in some to flee from cities, seemingly in the need for “nature.” I have felt this sense of flight. I understood it as a need to return to that place where my psyche was originally (at least partially) coded. But as I allow myself to think more openly and conceptually, I am deeply intrigued by the idea that the “smoothing” effect created by modern day building facades, with their minimal interest at ground level, results in the elimination of an ingrained sense of protection required by humans to feel safe and comfortable in their environment. This is the same type of protection early
day humans sought in the forest’s edge overlooking the prairie. Our sense of comfort and protection has been eliminated from the modern streetscape. Thus a core component to making cities more “human” is the retention of interest and refuge at the street level. It seems simplistic thinking perhaps, but if streetscapes intentionally cater for our in-built instincts, then our default response of flight may not be triggered.
The second layer to this is the concept that the citizen has been relegated to being a “recipient” of the built environment rather than acting as a participant in its creation. Trends like Tactical Urbanism and the Placemaking efforts of non-profits like Project for Public Spaces, are inspiring people to contest the traditional roles in city-making and transforming the ability of citizens to make places with heart and authenticity that reflect real community needs. My childhood allowed me to alter my environment to create whatever refuge or experience I wanted, whereas my life in cities has removed both.

This is disillusioning and I believe creates my desire to flee from the city. What I find inspiring and makes me hopeful about city living is that I think the normative built environment practices that perpetuate this type of urban form and process of city-making are changing. Given the fact that the populations of our world cities are to double in the next 30 years, there is going to be a tremendous amount of building (although probably hard to imagine given the recession). If we can engage in a humanistic urbanism then I’m staying in the city.

David Andrews, MILI

 


 

Green Infrastructure – LET’S JUST DO IT!
Aidan J. ffrench MILI, Landscape Architect

“Sustainability? The protection of land is an expression of faith in the future: it is a pact between generations”. (Green Infrastructure-Linking Landscapes and Communities. Mark A. Benedict, Edward T. McMahon)

Modernising our planning system

Compared to our more progressive EU partners, Ireland has been slow in implementing the ‘green agenda’ in a strategic and systematic manner. This is reflected by failures in sustainable land-use planning during the boom period. These failures include the inefficient use of natural resources, urban sprawl and developer rather than plan-led building, leading to environmental damage and poor living environments. Sadly these unsustainable ‘boom-time’ practices have impacted negatively on the quality of our lives, as evidenced in long commuting distances, poor health and a lack of quality green infrastructure.

There are signs that the recession is giving pause for considered reflection and for the preparation of more sustainable practices. One such example is the application of ‘Green Infrastructure’. An international conference in Malahide (November ’08) spearheaded the concept while stimulating a diverse audience. The results, three years later? More conferences, policy work and guidelines and some strategies, but seemingly few on-site projects. It is hard to know since the Government abolished COMHAR (Sustainable Development Council) in 2011, which was promoting G.I in Ireland. The baton was taken up by the Irish Landscape Institute (I.L.I) which ran an international conference (2012) and a seminar (Dec. ’13). At local level Dublin City Council is embarked on an Open Space Strategy and Limerick City Council recently participated in a European project on parks planning and management.

What is Green Infrastructure’ (G.I)

GI is the network of natural and semi-natural areas, features and green spaces in rural and urban, terrestrial, freshwater and coastal areas (Naumann et al., 2011a)[1]. It is a broad concept, and includes natural features, such as parks, forests, wetlands and marine areas, as well as man-made features, such as cycle paths.

G.I originated in the U.S.A in the 1990’s. It has two key attributes that speak directly to the green agenda. Firstly, it is uniquely placed to deliver a diverse range of inter-related socio-economic and environmental benefits. Secondly, these benefits arise by linking natural systems to decisions about land use planning and landscape management. So, a natural or manmade wetland can serve as a flood attenuation area, a wildlife reserve, an area for bio-energy crops, a recreational amenity and an educational resource.

In this way G.I places a particular emphasis on the “life support” functions provided by Nature, which policy makers call “natural assets management”. It’s a mutually sustaining cycle – a ‘win-win’. The G.I approach analyses the natural environment in a way that highlights these functions and seeks establish, through regulatory and planning policy, practices that maximize these functions. Hence Open Spaces Audits and Green Strategies in Scotland, England and the U.S.A, where G.I is an integral part of spatial and economic planning. It is be applied to all scales of planning in the aforementioned countries and in The Netherlands, Germany and Australia.

Work in Scotland – where there’s a serious commitment to G.I – points to the role of G.I becoming in economic well-being. This is particularly true in green tourism/outdoor recreation, bio-energy and engineering infrastructure. Evidence-based research in Scotland proves that economic regeneration through greenspaces is possible. To quote Greenspace Scotland, the Scottish Executive’s agency for greenspace  “Research shows that a positive approach to quality greenspaces can make a difference to local economic development”.

Current application in Dlr (Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council)

In 2014 DLR will commence a statutory review of its County Development Plan (2010-2016). To coincide with this, Dlr will appoint consultants to prepare a G.I. Strategy for the county by the end of 2014. The Strategy is to be readily integrated with a Regional G.I Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area (GDA), as and when required. Dlr Parks and Landscape Services and Planning Department’s will lead the Strategy. This is a follow-up project to Dlr’s Open Space Strategy which included the first systematic audit of the county’s open spaces, sports and play facilities.

The lead consultant shall be a landscape architectural or multi-disciplinary practice with expertise in the following areas:

  • • Land use planning
  • • Landscape planning / management,
  • • Urban and regional economics,
  • • Transportation management
  • • Water quality and hydrology

The Strategy will provide the following:-

  • an accurate picture (mapping) of the county’s green infrastructure
  • opportunities for improvements to watercourses in the county to reduce pollution, enhance amenity, permeability and environmental quality.
  • opportunities to improve permeability for pedestrians and cyclists (off road)
  • opportunities and mechanisms to improve biodiversity and G.I
  • a framework for the sustainable land and resource management
  • attract funding by demonstrating researched needs and outcomes
  • attract inward investment to the county and region.

The Strategy will include consideration of the following;-

  • Coastal habitats
  • Private gardens
  • Institutional grounds
  • Derelict land
  • Urban Trees and Woodlands
  • Allotments, community gardens and urban farms
  • Cemeteries, churchyards
  • Parks / Open Spaces
  • Existing and proposed greenways
  • Natura 2000 sites / pNHA’s
  • Water courses / Wetlands

Among the themes to be addressed by the Strategy are the following:-

  • Flood management / Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems)
  • Mental and physical health
  • Education and life-long learning
  • Social inclusion and community development
  • Access to natural greenspace
  • Economic investment; Land and property value

The EU Com mission plans to set up a financing facility, in 2014, to support people seeking to develop GI projects. The Dlr Strategy will investigate the possibility of accessing such finance to fund the delivery of outputs

In the final analysis, G.I in Ireland can best measured by the degree to which it is mainstreamed in professional practice. One measure would be using G.I demonstration projects, such as ‘Green Streets’, which represent a new and sustainable way of constructing/retrofitting streets to promote the management of polluted stormwater runoff (www.lastormwater.org). Surely, this would be timely in the light of recent weather events!

Aidan J. ffrench MILI, Landscape Architect
Past-President, Irish Landscape Institute
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council Parks & Landscape Services
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council

[1] Naumann, S., McKenna D., Kaphengst, T. et al. (2011a). Design, implementation and cost elements of Green Infrastructure projects. Final report. Brussels: European Commission.

 


 

Some Thoughts on the Education and Training of Landscape Architects
Tony Williams MILI, President ILI

International Federation of Landscape Architects (European Region)
Avenue d’Auderghem 63 (4th Floor), B-1040 Brussels, Belgium
tony.williams@europe.com

Abstract: As the education/training of landscape architects consists of both academic learning and professional practice, this paper focuses on the overall education and professional development of landscape architects. The paper focuses on the history and on-going development of landscape architecture education and training in Europe and internationally, and explores the diversity of curricula and the varied delivery of courses. An exploration of the various academic routes and professional development forms an important aspect of this paper. This paper also outlines the author’s views on the design process and the fostering of creativity and imagination as part of the education of landscape architects. Such ‘soft’ skills are considered key aspects of the skills required of landscape architects. The use of creativity and imagination are skills which must be used in tandem with the more tangible skills of science, engineering and the arts, as a discipline, may ensure an aesthetic focus in the design and construction of public and private spaces.

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