30 April 2008

Live Blog: Steven Handel Lecture

LIVE BLOG: Dr. Steven Handel spoke today on The Dreams and Nightmares of Restoring Urban Landscapes. As a newly announced Honorary Member of ASLA, he has worked closely with designers and shapers of landscapes throughout much of his career. His specialty is restoration ecology on sites of extreme degradation, which may explain his role on the winning team in the College Ave Design Competition. Sites he showed included a landfill in NJ, a port in Brooklyn, and a strip mine in West Virginia.

One of his larger projects has been the long-term restoration of the surfaces of the Fresh Kills Landfill, in Staten Island. While it is just seen as a landfill today, the designs for its future suggest that this area should become an important and ecologically valuable landscape. Early demonstration planting relied on common native plants that were not then as easy to purchase (like hackberry and sumac) but have since become easier to buy from nurseries.

Much less spectacular (but still important) was the urban planting at the brownfield site that is home to EPA offices in Edison, NJ. All of these projects, large and small, require recognition of the variability of the landscape - you can't just declare it urban and use a one-size-fits-all solution.

Time is an important element as you look at the impact of hard to control natural processes like seed dispersal, ants, and bees.

For students, a sign of seriousness is the academic lineage of these ideas. So, a key citation was the important 1997 paper, Ecosystem Services: Benefits Supplied to Human Societies by Natural Ecosystems, by Daily et al. in Issues in Ecology [Issues Ecol.]. Vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 1-18. 1997. This is an important paper, frequently cited, as it helps establish the important idea of evaluating sites based on the services they deliver.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park project is moving ahead with MVV. He partnered with Jim Corner on the Great Falls State Park in Paterson.

But one of his largest projects is the Great Park of Orange County on the site of the former El Toro Marine Air Base. The ecology of that site is different than his usual project - only 13 inches of rain a year. The park design, more than twice the size of Central Park in New York, includes a large wildife living corridor where the public will be forbidden from visiting. The wildlife area is hoped to become home to bobcats and coyotes. The public parts of the park will be a major attraction for almost every type of person imaginable (to the design team).

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