"Toward an Urban Ecology" Part I: Ecological Concept Lexicon
I recently finished reading Kate Orff’s / SCAPE’s excellent manifesto Toward an Urban Ecology. This book is rich with case studies, methods, and perspectives on ecological urban design. Through reading this book and conducting some supplementary research, I’ve gleaned several insights around best practices in the field and will be summarizing some of my key insights in a four-part posting. I highly recommend reading the full book in addition to these posts, as my notes only touch on a sliver of the full text.
In this first post, I want to start with definitions for some of the new terminology and concepts I was exposed to in this book.
Daylighting culverts, also referred to as daylighting rivers or streams, is the process of uncovering waterways (i.e. removing the concrete / pavement from on top) and restoring them to their previous condition. According to Naturally Resilient Communities, many streams have been covered in urban areas or redirected through pipes, culverts, and drainage systems, to make space for roads, parking lots, and buildings. Daylighting these waterways can help reduce flooding and reintroduce habitat. SCAPE’s work in Lexington, KY also demonstrated the potential for placemaking through these re-exposed waterways.
According to the USGS, bathymetric surveys are conducted to measure the depth of water bodies and their underwater features. This type of data can be useful in projects such as SCAPE’s Oyster-tecture in the Gowanus Canal. It ensures that, as designers, we are knowledgeable of and work with the existing features of a river, lake, canal, coast, etc. To me, the use of bathymetric data in a project is somewhat akin to conducting a site survey of existing plants in a garden or park ahead of planting additional.
This was a bit more difficult to find a clear definition on, as it is more of a perspective and paradigm shift. It is generally defined counter to “nativism” or “baseline nature” approaches to environmental stewardship which seek to return to a past, pristine state of nature and get rid of any invaders. Promoters of the ecological novelty perspective, such as the Save Mount Sutro Forest blog, argue that climate change, pollution, and the introduction of new species, along with other human-induced shifts, prevent us from fully restoring a past state. From my understanding, this means we should instead design and steward in a way that promotes biodiverse and healthy ecosystems within our new and evolving conditions.
FLUPSY is short for floating upweller system, a submerged nursery system used by organizations like the Fisher Island Oyster Farm, to help feed and grow baby oysters before transferring them to grow in nets. This has also been part of SCAPE’s work and proposals with oyster-tecture in the Gowanus Bay.
Ecological value of salt marshes
Salt marshes, which form along coasts in intertidal zones, offer many ecological benefits. According to British Columbia’s CRD, these benefits include providing food and habitat for bird and fish species, providing plant material that feeds into the marine food chain, filtering pollutants from urban areas, and preventing erosion from waves and precipitation. Many of these salt marsh areas are threatened by agricultural, residential, and urban development. SCAPE have proposed several salt marsh restoration projects, including one in Sunset Park in Brooklyn.