Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Is beauty in the environment, and in the textscape, "mine" or "ours"?

I don't really want to wade into the never-ending British battle of the architectural traditionalists vs. the modernists. British philosopher of aesthetics, Roger Scuton, published in The American this month his latest volley in defining architectural beauty / quality as a community endeavor (consciously and unconsciously): "When it comes to beauty, our view of its status is radically affected by whether we see it as a form of self-expression, or as a form of self-denial. If we see it in this second way, then the assumption that it is merely subjective begins to fall away. Instead beauty begins to take on another character, as one of the instruments in our consensus-building strategies, one of the values through which we construct and belong to a shared and mutually consoling world." While I'm a dedicated fan of the international starchitects, Scuton does have a point (in fact, I live in a Brooklyn, New York brownstone neighborhood that has a historic preservation district designed specifically to limit inidividual design choices and to create an aesthetic of the community, not of individual buildings in no relation to their neighbors). I was particularly struck with this, because of the feature in The New York Times today about The Municipal Arts Society struggling to assert a rewnewed relevance. It seems to me that one very important role for The Municipal Arts Society would be to manage the commuity dialogue designing a "shared and mutually consoling world." We all have our opinions about The Highline and Atlantic Yards (etc.), but each project and controversy has no city-wide context. Isn't that what The Municipal Arts Society in New York City should be for?

James Corner and Field Operations have a vision for downtown Cleveland

Nice piece in Fast Company about the first design concepts developed by Field Operations for Cleveland, Ohio municipal organizations.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Social media -- Snake oil?

I've had multiple Facebook friends send me this Stephen Baker article. (Yeah, they got to it before I did.) And I've been seeing ReTweets all day. Must've touched a nerve.

Google, books, the law, the French . . . What organization, public or private will control the patrimony -- on what terms? Think about it.

I confess. I haven't walked into a physical-building Library in many years. And I have no quarrel at all with Google. Nor any self-interest in supporting Google's position. And I want every book ever written or published accessible to me online -- either free or for some reasonable cost. Robert Darnton's article in NYRB helps us understand how it may be worked out for people like me (and most people who want the intellectual patrimony of Western Culture accessible to me and my children as easily and cheaply as possible). This issue is evolving in the courts, USA and internationally. The long term results are so important. And the the media and public understanding don't seem to have a clue about this critical issue. Bottom line: Where/How will your grandchildren get information about the present and the past? Who/What organization will control that access?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Urban sustainability

I came across two interesting, contrasting stories today about urban sustainability. A post by David Owen on the Project Syndicate blog demonstrates (the sometimes counterintuitive) relative sustainability dimensions of life in Manhattan. And an Associated Press filing today by Ramit Plushnick-Masti provides a view of how one of the Rust Belt's economic urban victims, (Vandergrift, Pennsylvania) but with a noble past, is working to revive itself through sustainability and re-capturing its Olmsted heritage.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Algorithms -- another Textscape

Check out this coverage about how reportage is going to be generated in the "cloud."

Who knows how it will turn out, but this is the direction it's going.

The Demand Media Story.

What AOL may be up to.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rating system for sustainable sites

The American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the U.S. Botanic Garden have announced the creation of The Sustainable Sites Initiative, a set of voluntary national guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices. It will be a LEED-like system for landscapes, with or without buildings.

What's Out There

The Cultural Landscape Foundation has created a great new website/wiki for landscapes and public spaces throughout America: What's Out There.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Emerging consensus about media, business, and public relations

Over the past two weeks I heard three interesting discussions about the state of the practice of public relations in this environment affected by the vastly changing economic and social landscapes resulting from the pressures of the recession and of the proliferation of both professional and consumer generated digital media. The three events were the Council of Public Relations Firms’ 2009 Critical Issues Forum, "Aftershock: Rebuilding Trust and Confidence in 2010,” the Institute for Public Relations Research and Education annual Distinguished Lecture and Awards Dinner, and the Echo Research sponsored Echo Chamber Breakfast Seminar, “Communications in the New Economic Reality.”

Several points of consensus clearly emerged. First, the corporate communications department and public relations agency worlds are still agonizing over what should be their roles and responsibilities with social media. I hope that this kind of public agonizing is a good sign, but I’m somewhat concerned that it is an indication of how far behind the curve many of these people are. The discussions were radically different from the kinds of dialogue – and energy -- that you’ll find at the Blogworld or SXSW conferences.

More reassuring, there was also consensus that public relations is rightly a concern for doing the right things, not for communicating things in the best possible light. Again and again it came up that there is just no way to spin Wall Street bonuses and compensation packages in a way that Americans on Main Street will find palatable. Probably nobody summed this up better than CNN’s David Gergen at the Council of Public Relations Firms’ conference. Gergen warned Wall Street that the pitchforks (aux barricades) could still come out. IBM’s John Iwata at the Institute for Public Relations dinner quite rightly pointed out that the Apple stores’ concept and customer service are exemplary of great public relations.

The final point of consensus is that even when the Recession is over, much will have changed irretrievably. We won’t be going back to the old “normal” – not in consumer behavior, not in the media, not for how Americans’ view brands and corporations. The next status quo will be a new textscape.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Another park I want to see

I've just discovered the Parque de la Ereta/ La Ereta Park in Alicante, Spain. Another place on my list to visit. See here. Great photos here.

The contours are very different, but the "feel" of what I can see of La Ereta reminds me very much of one of favorite parks in Europe, in the city of Bordeaux, the Jardin Botanique de Bordeaux Bastide.

More on biophilia

Looking at nature makes people nicer. See here.

End of an era

Lawrence Halprin dies. Here from ASLA. Here from The New York Times.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The greening of apartment buildings

The other night I went to a panel discussion on the Upper East Side of Manhattan sponsored by CIVITAS, a neighborhood organization representing the Upper East Side and East Harlem. The topic was "The Greening of Apartment Buildings," and the panelists were Jamie Gibbs, interior designer and landscape architect, of Jamie Gibbs and Associates; Laurie Kerr, senior policy advisor for the NYC Mayor's Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability; Ryan Merkin, senior project manager with Steven Winter Associates (green architecture); Elizabeth Stein, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund, and Joshua Wiener, founder of SilverLining Interiors, which does high-end residential renovations.

While some of the context was a little daunting (like the comments about routine kitchen renovations at $300,000), the discussion and questions from the (packed) audience were quite realistic and down-to-earth. Authentic concerns about issues relating to demolition, recycling of demolition and construction refuse, health and safety issues for demolition and construction crews, sustainability choices even among the highest-end projects (materials, varnishes, etc.).

It was a great example of the kind of discussion that urban neighborhood associations should have -- and, I presume, a great encouragement to the more sustainability-oriented designers, contractors, and engineers.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Parks, Plants, and People

I went tonight to a lecture / book-signing party as part of the City of New York Parks & Recreation series, Uncommon Ground, -- "a series of events presenting the ideas of thoughtful and visionary planners and practitioners on how the park system of the future can grow and flourish." Tonight's event was a presentation by Lynden Miller, on the occasion of the publication of her book Parks, Plants, and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape (New York: W. W. Norton & Company)

If you don't know Lynden Miller, her credits include the design and planting of the Conservatory Garden in Central Park, the perennial gardens at the New York Botanical Garden, Wagner Park at Battery Park, the walk/bike path in Red Hook, Brooklyn adjacent to the Fairway -- among many others.

Lynden presented a very affecting argument for design, plants, and the public realm -- how it makes better communities and city spaces. It was very impressive to note her audience -- current parks commissioner Adrian Benepe and his predecessor, Henry Stern; Alex Garvin, formerly design director of the of Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; architect Hugh Hardy; director of the Columbia University Landscape Design program, Joe Disponzio -- and about 100+ others.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Another textscape: Gardens are speech acts

Strong positive recommendation: read Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition by Robert Pogue Harrison (University of Chicago Press, 2008).

"This embodied notion of human order - taking as it does many diverse forms - links the garden to the polis, that is to say to the realm of those interactions in and through which human beings, through their own initiatives, give form and articulation to their historical worlds. To say that the transitory gardens of New York are speech acts means that they speak, in a public if nonverbal mode, of the human need to make ourselves at home on an earth that does not necessarily make room for us."

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens: The best and the worst

I recently visited the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine - a new, significant resource that just opened to the public in 2007. I was both so delighted and enthused by this new 248 acre garden, and hurt/disappointed. The history of the development of the garden is well detailed in ASLA's Landscape Architecture, November 2008, "Of Rocks and Gardens," a feature/review by Jane Roy Brown.

The site, the plant materials, and the quality/quantity of the maintenance at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens are all fabulous. The investment and care are extraordinary.

The overall site plan/design, however, is breath-takingly disappointing. There is no evidence that the designers expressed any homage / reference to the historic garden design tropes of any tradition. The overall plan as well as the circulation is disconnected and -- goofy. There are also stone, paving, and structural features that recall nothing beyond shopping mall mega-planters. I was quite frankly shocked that there was no historical resonance anywhere in the design.

The ASLA review suggests some issues. In the decade in which the gardens were under development before opening, they seem to have gone through at least a half dozen master planners and designers. I don't know the (inevitable) issues that must have been in play among the founders, funders, and developers. But while there was obviously a very successful vision for the gardens' mission, there is no evidence of any vision for the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens to be a world-class work of landscape design art.

Just one (not the only) example. The gardens include a "meditation garden" with a motley assortment of granite slabs inserted vertically (unnaturally) around a centering device of a horizontally placed boulder, sliced in half to become a water feature. A water feature not connected in any way with the landscape around it. (In nature water doesn't bubble up from huge boulders cut in half.) Whoever designed / approved this garden did a bad job. It neither respected the terrain nor the historic / trational precedents. So it becomes a quirkly, awkward stopping place through the woods where one is supposed to "meditate." (Please -- if you're constructing a garden circuit over 200+ acres, in the first 1/4 you don't build a "meditation spot". The timing, the sequence is just so wrong. Unless, you're really just (in my shopping center analolgy) creating a theme park stop, and calling in the Meditation Garden, with no expecatation that any Buddhist or Catholic will ever really stop there to meditate.

I could go on. Each of the garden sites are equally goofy. Including the silly attempt to co-0pt the "fairy house" building which was an authentic feature of Monhegan Island. At MCBG this "fairy house" stop over is 100% not authentic and totally artificial, and -- reinforces the overall design concept that MCBG is a shopping mall with "stops" along the way.

But the horticulturalists working / maintaining the Midcoast Maine Botanical Gardens are geniuses / heroes. The health, vitality of the plant material -- along with the signage of plants is the best I've ever seen. And by that, I mean that I assert that MCBG is doing as good or better job as the New York Botanical Gardens, the Washington DC Botanical Gardens, and many others.

Final takeway. Please, you folks at the Maine Coastal Botanial Gardens, double the salararies you're spending on your horticultural team. And Fire your designers. And please, please find a landscape designer who can make this garden World Class.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Review of the High Line

The New York Review of Books has a balanced review of the High Line. Most of which I would agree with. I walked the High Line the other evening with a horticulturist from The Horticultural Society of New York, which helped my appreciation for the variety in Piet Oudolf's planting strategy. One more point, however. I had been on the High Line some years ago before any work was done (I was working for Friends of the High Line at the time, and we did a press conference on the High Line with Mayor Bloomberg, (then) Senator Clinton, and actor, Ed Norton.) Now with the work done and lots of people up there, successful as the High Line is for all the reasons cited by the NYRB, the impression is decidedly not monumental. It has the feel on the east-west axis of a New York City pocket park -- which is dramatically contrasted by the north-south winding access which extends like an avenue -- and, of course, on the vertical axis, you're three stories above the streets. All in all, a distinctive experience, well adapted/integrated into the environment. But not stunning. It fits very well into the city in lots of dimensions. I don't think, however, it's going to be viewed ultimately as a transformative architectural/landscape addition to the city.

Another textscape: "adventure . . . the interrelationship between human beings and topography"

"Most great stories of adventure, from The Hobbit to Seven Pillars of Wisdom, come furnished with a map. That's because every story of adventure is in part the story of a landscape, of the interrelationship between human beings (or Hobbits, as the case may be) and topography. Every adventure story is conceivable only with reference to the particular set of geographical features that in each case sets the course, literally, of the tale. But I think there is another, deeper reason for the reliable presence of maps in the pages, or on the endpapers, of an adventure story . . . . People read stories of adventure -- and write them -- because they have themselves been adventurers. Childhood is, or has been, or ought to be, the great original adventure, a tale of privation, courage, constant vigilance, danger, and sometimes calamity. For the most part the young adventurer sets forth equipped only with the fragmentary map -- marked here and there by tygers and mean kid with air rifle -- that he or she has been able to construct out of a patchwork of personal misfortune, bedtime reading, and the accumulated local lore of the neighborhood children." Michael Chabon, "Manhood for Amateurs: the Wilderness of Childhood," The New York Review of Books, vol. 56, no. 12, July 16, 2009.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New from ASLA

ASLA's new Sustainable Urban Development Resource Guide.

People make parks

This is an interesting project in NYC for getting community participation into the design of parks/landscape. While getting community input during site analysis and planning is routine, this project seems to push it to the next level, using web-based tools, etc.

Why Grand Central works

Great analysis from Urban Omnibus.

Writing about place -- relinquishing control over your brand

Heathrow airport and the PR firm Mischief in London have undertaken a really smart textscape. It's a promotion of the airport through working with Alain de Botton -- giving him free reign, as writer in residence, to write anything he wants in his diary about his week in the airport. Neither Heathrow or the PR firm will have any control of the content. The book will be published independently. In new/social media, we talk about giving up trying to control your brand; your consumer owns and defines the brand, you don't. The Heathrow promotion shows how that principle can also apply to traditional media/marketing. I'm especially impressed by the selection of Botton.


Dwell magazine and inhabitat.com have an interesting competition for re-thinking/re-designing suburbia.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A textscape: The text of our childhood and the landscape -- can your heart leap up?

I sat in tonight as an observer of the final design studio course presentations of students about to graduate from Columbia University's MS in Landscape Design. There was, as you might imagine, lots of variation in design solutions presented. But, repeatedly, a subtext arose in students's comments about why they made a certain choice (design or planting): It reminded him/her of some experience of their childhood. And this totally, authentically resonated with me -- I know my pleasure / engagement with landscape is very much influenced by the experiences I had with nature / gardens growing up. I'd say that those of use who've had the blessing of growing up with some engagement with the natural world carry that experience with us forever -- in sensual memory, in aesthetic principal. Without belaboring the point, remember Last Child in the Woods.

Even though grimy life today makes it tough. All these memories of Grandma's garden, etc., makes it understandable why William Wordsworth's heart lept up.

Another (good) obvious idea

The NYC Department of Buildings and the AIA are encouraging the aesthetic design of the ever-present construction sheds that are a part of urban life. I'd put that in the category of little, but great, ideas whose time have come. I remember, a decade or more ago, the Eglise de la Madeleine in Paris (not a church since Napoleon de-sanctified it) was under renovation. The construction shed and scaffolding that went up over the front of the building was draped with a scrim (?) with a massive print of the underlying facade -- but brighter and and in higher definition than the real facade beneath. The construction shed, scaffolding and the printed scrim were up for some time -- more than a year. I grew greatly fond of it as a bright focal point at the top/north of the Place de la Concorde. And I must admit, ever since the scaffolding has come down, and the restored "real" facade of la Madeleine is there -- that I miss the graphic evocation of the idea of the facade, with its underlying energetic promise that all is being improved/saved. In some interesting way, the "idea" of the facade, which is some variation of the front of a Greek temple, captured my attention more in the ephemeral representation in the scrim over the construction shed than in the real facade, before and after. (I've seen more more impressive/moving fronts of Greek temples elsewhere. Sorry, Paris.) Today, we've "just" got the real facade. Anyway, back to construction sheds in NYC -- Yes, why shouldn't they be engaging design?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Naming and connecting with life: textscape

A few years ago, I was taking plant identification/botany courses at Columbia University. I don’t want to exaggerate the impact of these courses – because it was and wasn’t in particular these courses – but the ability to See and confidently to Name the living plants of all kinds in my immediate environment became an open door to an enriched kind of perception. Such learning changes the way one walks down the street or through the countryside. You See differently. Today’s New York Times Science section has an enlightening feature on “taxonomy” which makes a more eloquent argument than I can for the rewarding human experience of Seeing, Naming, and Categorizing. I am reminded of one of the most commanding insights that I had many years ago in my Ph.D. studies in reading the Spanish essayist, novelist, poet, and dramatist, Miguel de Unamuno – he asserted: Without the Word, There Is No Thing. There is a hard to grasp but powerful relationship between the Text (language) and the Landscape (our perception of the living entities around us). Hence my blog: textscape.
A plug to my plant identification/botany instructor at Columbia. (Who gave me a B-. Not that I’m still chafing under her tough grading.) Check out Jennifer Horn’s blog, New York, Plants & Other Stuff.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Upcoming conference in NYC about one of my favorite things: walkable cities -- and how and why more cities/living environments should be "walkable." And, by the way, which book or essay by Bruce Chatwin was it where he defined a human being as "human walking"? (I agree with him.)

Green roofs. White roofs.

I attended a very useful and realistic presentation on green roofs last night at The Horticultural Society of New York. Amy Norquist, president of Greensulate, gave a really balanced presentation about the practicalities of installing and maintaining a green roof in the NYC metropolitan area. Good info about the realities and limitations of the tax incentives. Coincidentally, The New York Times ran a major feature today about white roofs. According to Amy Norquist last night, the benefits of a white roof are limited -- after a few years their reflective properties are compromised; whereas, the green roof (European experience cited) have life cycles far beyond the typical warranty of traditional roofs along with consideration of the sustainability benefits. See my earlier post of getting green roofs out of the hands of starchitects, July 21. Interesting discussion.

Teardrop Park

Good overview of Teardrop Park at Battery Park City in NYC.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Journalism - blogging - evolving

This feature in The New York Review of Books, “The News About the Internet,” by Michael Massing (a contributing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review), examines in detail the emergence of a hybrid between “journalist” and “blogger” in light of the changes in the news industry we all know about. Several paragraphs detail the serious bloggers that cover Wall Street, the banks, and the relationships between Wall Street and Washington. Lots of examples of how major MSM features use these serious, focused bloggers as sources. This kind of blogger is more like an investigative reporter than a Mat Drudge or a teenager on MySpace. The article concludes with echoing Pew on “Power shifting to the individual journalists and away . . . from journalistic institutions . . . . consumers are gravitating to the work of individual writers and voices, and away somewhat from institutional brand . . . “

ROIs of street design

This article on PLANETizen is a really good overview of the various returns on investment -- property values, investment, environmental quality, civic engagement, etc. -- that come from good street design. Implicit here, also, is the idea that "design" includes the infrastructural considerations, environmental quality, social analysis, and aesthetics.

Next act for WTC

The dithering and contentions over the WTC site are really disheartening to us watching from the outside. See this Gotham Gazette article by Tom Agnotti from Hunter College.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Moving green roofs beyond starchitects

I think a lot of us have been thinking what Bill Thompson's column finally stated. The "exhibition" green roofs -- that require maintenance, water, fertilizers, etc. -- may be the green roof movement's worst enemy.

Coney Island project moving toward approval

So many major projects in NYC have either been killed, stalled or maimed -- Atlantic Yards, Convention Center, much of the WTC site -- despite some understandable misgivings about the Coney Island project, at least it's good to see something move forward.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Two views on the future of journalism

One view from Arianna Huffingon on what it means today to "bear witness" -- by both "the elite few" and the rest of us. A second view from Jim Spanfeller at Forbes.com who describes a continuing, if changing, role for professional journalists in future content sites that deal with news.

10 cities worth another look

Nice top 10 list from The Architect's Journal: list of the most compelling comic book cities.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The whales

I don't know what to make of this. But since this blog is about what "we" communicate and the "spaces" in which "we" communicate -- well, maybe "we" includes trans-species communications. (Not that this makes anything easier or feel more "normal.") Check out the NYT magazine and NPR.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ecological landscape architecture

Good overview of the landscape architecture profession -- its renaissance and integration with the environmental movement and engineered systems.

The "Conversational Era"

Interesting post from Shel Israel on social media and public relations -- and how the "Conversational Era" has replaced the "Broadcast Era."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Crisis communications - then and now -- and looking forward to Witnessing

Last night I guest lectured at the Fordham U, MBA program, in a class taught by David Kalson (on Twitter @kaldak). I went through my experience working with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2002-2005 during the clergy sexual abuse of children issue. Even though this experience was only a few years ago, it's clear how different it would be today because of social media.

TMZ posted that Michael Jackson was dead hours before mainstream media "confirmed" the story. I suppose that TMZ had a source in the UCLA hospital (or in the Jackson-family world). Huffington Post jumped on it and linked to TMZ an hour or more before any MSM confirmed it. Before I left my office tonight, my TweetDeck search for Michael Jackson was flooded with the news/rumor that MJ was dead -- long before MSM reported. When MSM reported the news it was -- "old news." However TMZ did it -- it was the first Witness.

All that said (niche/trivial) in the context of the little news/info we're getting out of Iran. (And out of Tibet, by the way.)

I'd suggest: "crisis communications" in the future is not going to be a battle just between the communications capabilities of "the victims" vs. the "victimizers" as reported by the 3-rd estate of the Media. There's a new Factor in all this: The Witnesses. With their flip-phone-videos and Twitter posts -- which, I'm sure, are just the first generation of Witnessing.

Suggestion for a change of reference: Forget about "reporting." We are now -- in the streaming world - "Witnessing."

Twitter and your organization

Steve Rubel has a nice short video on how organizations can/should use Twitter -- at least as long as it lasts.

To revive a city center . . .

Try banning cars.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dubai urban development: down but not out

Very interesting article in the LA Times about urban development Dubai-style. How while certainly hard hit by the global turndown, Dubai will very likely pull out and continue its development path. And -- most interesting -- how the Dubai model of urban development is being exported to other cities around the world, to Shanghai, yes, but also to Los Angeles.

"Dubai -- its neighborhoods unburdened by history, its developers unconstrained by zoning codes, preservation battles or community activism -- {is} an unusually pure, unfiltered example of what new cities look like in the age of globalization."

Climate change affects architecture, urban planning

Interesting new report that shows planners' and architects' responses to the fact that the "built-up urban areas . . . are turning out to be particularly susceptible to extreme weather conditions, which in the wake of climate change are becoming more and more prevalent."

Text describes landscape -- on your cell phone

The Central Park Conservancy now offers cell phone tours of Central Park in New York City.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Plant thieves. The dilemma.

This NPR story sets the stage for my own dilemma. I have a postage-stamp sized front garden out front of my Brooklyn brownstone house. Twice now this spring/summer, we have been robbed of ferns and large hostas. Somebody just pulls them out in the middle of the night.

So here is my choice. I do not need to plant that space with anything "tempting." I can leave it with nothing (mulch) or just cover it with vinca or pachysandra.

Or I can replace the hostas, or shrubs, and I can wrap them with razor wire/barbed wire and chaining them to the crabapple tree -- nastiness buried under mulch until the next thief puts his/her hands around what he/she intends to steal.

My choice is this. Less beauty for myself and neighbors. Or reasserting the beauty but underlying/supporting it with chains and razor wire.

Even small life decisions have nasty and painful dilemmas.

Remembering the Jardin Exotique, Monaco

The country is just a green blur in the mind

Verlyn Klinkenborg visits Manhattan.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cities without newspapers

American Journalism Review has a good overview of the state of U.S. newspapapers, written by Rachel Smolkin. This on a day when Ariana Huffington is reported defending herself against the charge that she's killing the American newspaper.

What the land doesn't say

Verlyn Klinkenborg doesn't like the notion of the landscape being a text. Nice essay, as always, but this blog doesn't quite agree.

The High Line

It would be hard to give too much credit to Joshua David and Robert Hammond -- the two guys whose vision, perseverance, and competence really made The High Line possible. The reviews everywhere have been consistently, and deservedly, positive. Yeah, I know, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and James Corner had something to do with it. But without David and Hammond there would be no High Line. It's a great milestone in the history of the NYC public realm. NYT today. Fast Company. Lots of other coverage.

Hudson Valley & all its implications

Tonight I went to a lecture (get ready for lots of credits): sponsored by the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America (ICACA), the 2009 Fellows' Summer Lecture Series: The Hudson River Valley -- An Allegory of its Architecture, Landscape, and Artistic Legacy 400 Years after the Voyage of the Half Moon. Tonight's lecture was "The Sanctified Landscape: Memory, Place, and the Mid-Hudson Valley in the 19th Century" given by David Schuyler, professor of American Studies at Franklin & Marshall College (full disclosure), one of my alma maters.

David was, as usual, brilliant and entertaining. Making most forcefully the point that the Hudson Valley is unique in American history for its pioneering role in creating Nature/cultural tourism, combined with its astonishing ability to inspire art (Cole, et al.) and literature (Cooper, Irving, et al.)and being probably the first focus of conservation/preservation. The only fault I could find in the lecture, is that it didn't end with a nod/audio-credit to Pete Seeger.

In any case, my evening ended with great conversation with David and Paul Gunther, president of ICACA, at the Century Club (just where an evening after this sort of lecture should end.) Check out www.classicist.org

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Worst possible outcome for Atlantic Yards

Despite the skepticism and abuse of some of my friends, I'd been a fan of Atlantic Yards. It was easy to acknowledge some of the potential problems cited by opponents, but the long-term potential -- nearly certain -- benefits of an architectural/cultural icon seems undeniable. There are so many examples of a transformative architectural development becoming a vanguard of positive economic and cultural change. Now we have the official announcement of Gehry abandoning the project and of the project going to Ellerbe Becket. All the potential urban congestion issues with none of the compensations of great architecture. Atlantic Yards will now join the less than mediocre Atlantic Terminal/Atlantic Center and the single story big box windowless stores across Flatbush. The city dynamics, the opponents, and the developers seem to have conspired for the worst possible outcome. And, by the way, a real setback for the adjacent Brooklyn Cultural District. Here is Ouroussoff's take on it.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Insight into the digital textscape

Dave Pollard's recent Salon blogpost on implementing Web 2.0 tools in an organization has some of the best insights I've read/heard on the topic. While I think about texts and spaces, my context is more often the physical, not the digital world. Yet I can see how Pollard's perspective sketches out the textscape in the digital realm.

Friday, May 29, 2009

National Geographic features green roofs

NYT writer and nature essayist/writer, Verlyn Klinkenborg, has published a good wrap-up on urban green roofs in the National Geographic: "A lofty idea is blossoming in cities around the world, where acres of potential green space lie overhead."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Preserving landscape

Fast Company's blog has an interesting take on preserving landscape: "Why do Americans value buildings, but not landscapes? For whatever reason, we tend to see open space as a blank spot waiting for development."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Disappointing NY Photo Festival

The quality of the photography at the 2nd New York Photo Festival in DUMBO this weekend was really disappointing. And the surprisingly small crowd on a Saturday afternoon with good weather also wasn't encouraging -- especially since last year the DUMBO sidewalks along with the galleries were quite mobbed. I don't know why the curators/promoters can't find/leverage the photo talent that exists in NYC to create a more exciting/important event. I'd argue that their definition of photography is, though purportedly quite progressive/contemporary, quite very narrow and parochial. The festival has no inclusion of the fashion photography world. No inclusion of the nature/geographical photo world. No inclusion of the scientific/medical/etc photo world. No inlcusion of the mainstream photojournalism community. I saw a few really beautiful, provocative images. But most of the exhibits were were quite ordinary and derivative. A big disappointment.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Atlantic Yards wins key legal victory

Good news for Atlantic Yards just reported in Crain's.

Definitions of sustainability

The Forum for Urban Design in NYC concluded its spring conference last night, "The 21st Century Park and the Contemporary City" with a panel discussion at the Century Club. Speaking were Marion Weiss (Weiss/Manfredi) John Campbell (Waterfront Toronto), David Karem (Louisville Waterfront Development Corporation) and Alex Garvin (Alex Garvin & Assocs, previously with NYC2012 and Lower Manhatten Development Corporation). Alex asserted that most people think of "sustainability" too narrowly. He posited 6 dimensions of sustainability for a park (and, by implication, any major development): 1) Environmental. 2) Functional (uses of the park). 3) Economic. 4) Social. 5) Aesthetic. and 6) Political. Major takeaway from the discussion: a park is not just a phyical place; a park is a web of collaborating/competing interests, people, and organizations along with the physical/spatial/environmental attributes all evolving over time. I'd say, a park is a textscape.

Storm King Wavefield -- not the whole story

Maya Lin's "Storm King Wavefield" has been getting some very nice, and well-deserved attention, such as this NYT review. But a big piece of the story isn't being told -- and that's the planting philosophy and strategy. The planting plan and oversight of the installation was done by Darrell Morrison, one of nation's most influential landscape architects for his promotion of planting design with native species. Darrell is professor emeritus at University of Georgia, currently teaches at Columbia University's program in Landscape Design, and works with some very high profile private and public clients, including several aspects of the field/grasses planting at Storm King. I visited Lin's Wavefield with Darrell last summer before the official opening and as he was managing the initial planting. Darrell should really be getting acknowledgement as a collaborator on Lin's very beautiful work.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I've just started reading Eric Sanderson's and Markley Boyer's Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City. It seems worth the burden of adding a physical book to the physical bookshelf, but it's the kind of book that even the larger format Kindle can't really do justice to. Book is an outgrowth of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Mannahatta Project on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Dutch settlement.

Monday, May 11, 2009


I've been a total Kindle fan from day 2. Can't imagine not having one. It's a daily part of my reading routine. The variations and future formats are, of course, evolving. But the debate about e-books is over. Here to stay. See On the Media.

Seattle: Fast Company's city of the year

And less rain / year than NYC. See here.

Twitter vs WSJ vs NYT

Just what do we make of this? Twitter getting more hits than WSJ and NYT.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Green Thoughts -- Text/Writing and Landscape

I don't know whether Eleanor Perenyi would have approved, or not, of the notion of "textscape." But her book, Green Thoughts, is one of the best, ever captures of great writing and great perception/understanding of the landscape (her Connecticut garden). If there were an Academy Award for Textscape, Perenyi would get the lifetime achievement award. If you haven't read Green Thoughts -- no excuse. Read it now. You will feel -- and be -- better for having read it. Here is the NYT obit. But look her up. Read the book.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Yet even another textscape

Architecture/buildings and landscapes mapped on Google provies another way to read the environment. See Design Under Sky

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Another perspective on textscape

Scientific American reports how neuroscience is documenting how the physical spaces we inhabit affect our internal lives -- creativity, emotion, problem solving -- as much as they structure our external/physical daily life.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Global communications -- more homogeneity?

Disconcerting thought from David Brooks last week: " . . . the most interesting factor is the way instant communications lead to unconcious conformity. You'd think that with thousands of ideas flowing at light speed around the world, you'd get a diversity of viewpoints and expectations that would balance one another out. Instead, global communications seem to have led people in the financial subculture to adopt homogenous viewpoints. They made the same one-way bets at the same time."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

We have always been our own editors.

Nicholas Kristof doesn't often get it wrong, but in his March 18th column he misunderstands how we have always used media. We have always been our own editor -- long before the web transformed news distribution we had other equally effective ways of staying within our tribe (physically, intellectually, emotionally). Kristoff suggests a past idyllic time when our social and personal discourse was much more diverse -- when we embraced conflicting opinion and sought out challenges to our worldviews. That's not the world I grew up in, in rural Pennsylvania (before the web). It's not the world my kids grew up in, in gentrified, liberal-intellectual-arts-oriented New York (in the early days of the web). The Christian and Age of Aquarius ideals have urged us to Love One Another. But the more realistic ideal of the secular, democratic, civil society has urged us to embrace a Respectful, maybe even Empathetic, Adjacency. I see no reason to believe that people are more likely to choose media they agree with today than they did fifty or a hundred years ago. It's just all more efficient now.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More on grand plans for Paris

Lost of coverage of Sarkozy's 10 plans for the future of "Grand Paris." Among lots else, here. http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jXZEiXTSIUGf0Jl7EkAcvZV737rA

We're all watching what will happen in Seattle

The transition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to an online publication (only) happened today. The Seattle Times is in trouble. Seattle is one of the most cosmopolitan, trend-sensitive, and independent thinking places in America. It's going to be a real test of how the Seattle "media" sorts itself out. See http://www.poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=160220

Monday, March 16, 2009

Plans for a new "Grand Paris"

" . . . The task is herculean, the mission quasi-impossible, but the challenge absolutely irresistible . . ." Story here. See "Grand Plans from NYC on hold," below, March 14.

The state of American journalism

Here is Pew's annual report on American journalism: The State of the News Media.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

St. Patrick's Day Parade

Spring officially comes to Brooklyn NY with the St. Patrick's Day parade.

The Warhol Economy

How cultural drivers shape the urban economy -- post from the Institute for Public Policy Research http://www.ippr.org/events/?id=3419

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Grand Plans for NYC on Hold?

NYT looks at the prospect of NYC's latest building wave stalled -- maybe ended for the foreseeable future. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/15/realestate/keymagazine/15Key-lede-t.html?scp=1&sq=after%20the%20Bubble&st=cse

Institute for PR Research and Education elects new President / CEO

News from IPR http://www.instituteforpr.org/release_single/grupp_elected_new_president_and_ceo/

Vina del Mar, Chile

Just as a reminder: keep in touch with Katie Paine

PR Communications Measurement World always here: http://kdpaine.blogs.com/

Landscape Architects and Designers Remaking Our Experience

Landscape architects and designers lead re-thinking the urban environment. http://www.planetizen.com/node/37553

Brooklyn waterfront and NYC bay parks?

We need to have the City take this over. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/13/nyregion/13island.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=brooklyn%20park%20goverors%20island%20park&st=cse

Brooklyn Botanical Garden February