Fire Suppression and Site Planning

by Nate Lowry, ASLA

Forest fire in California
Forest fire, Klamath National Forest, CA / image: photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

As 2020 rages on, so does a record forest fire season. In the Western United States alone, over 6.6 million acres have been burned, 7,500+ structures have been destroyed, and close to 40 people have lost their lives just this year. There is mounting pressure to address what is now a yearly occurrence and landscape architects can play a key and leading role through site design.

This issue hit home for us, with some of our own employees evacuated in what were not just wilderness fires but suburban blazes as well. The problem only seems to be getting worse, with a clear need for alternative solutions to protect properties, investments, and lives moving forward.

The first way to limit exposure and susceptibility to forest fires is initial site selection and location. Americans love their freedom and often their privacy, which has led to community development right up to the fringes of nature. Local and state agencies play a huge role in where houses are sited and what codes are required to address fire danger. Do isolated or rural community developments in the West need to stop altogether, or can certain techniques and approaches be used to more safely develop these communities?

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Micromobility & Multimodal Transportation Assimilation

by Nate Lowry, ASLA

Bicycles locked to road sign
image: Héctor López on Unsplash

Demand for flexible urban transportation options is on the rise and becoming even more vital these days. Bike, scooter, and other options have reshaped how people access, mobilize, and interact with urban spaces. Many large cities have been slow to adjust to these quickly shifting trends and the need for alternative solutions. Shifts from traditional automobiles and associated infrastructure to more micro-scale transportation uses will continue to test local government’s ability to provide adequate planning approaches.

Micromobility devices offer flexibility and freedom that traditional passenger vehicles cannot and cost less, emit little to no emissions, and are much easier to park/store. Micromobility is defined by Wikipedia as a range of small, lightweight devices operating at speeds typically below 15 mph for trips up to 6 miles. Micromobility devices include bicycles, Ebikes, electric scooters, electric skateboards, shared bicycles, and electric pedal-assisted (pedelec) bicycles.

As you can imagine, transitional passenger vehicle infrastructure does not adequately provide for micromobility device use. The City of Seattle has recently taken a different approach to traditional transportation, permanently closing down 20 miles of streets to most vehicles and making them for public access only. In Portland, Oregon, building codes recently changed to require additional micromobility storage in new structures to meet increasing demand while trying to avoid safety concerns about them littering the sidewalk. The City of Atlanta’s Department of Transportation recently approved more than $200 million in funding for transportation improvements focused on pedestrians, bikes, scooters, and other micromobility devices.

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Urban Forestry & Quality of Life

by Nate Lowry, ASLA

Boone’s Ferry Road streetscape in Wilsonville, Oregon
image: MacKay Sposito Engineering

Ever wonder what our urban streets and avenues would be without street trees or other urban forestry components? Have you ever pulled into that shopping center from yesteryear only to find not a tree, planting island, or bit of shade in sight? How did that wall-to-wall paved impervious area make you feel? Can cities and urban infrastructure even exist and provide an ample quality of life without urban forestry?

Urban forestry is essential to our built environment and population centers and is defined by Wikipedia as the “care and management of single trees and tree populations in urban settings for the purpose of improving the urban environment.”

Healthy streetscapes and efforts to employ urban forestry techniques have a number of positive effects cities could likely not live without. Street trees help curb the urban heat island effect and can be effective in carbon sequestering in urban areas where carbon footprints tend to peak. They also provide much needed shade that improves not only the pedestrian experience, but also keeps your car cooler on a 90 degree day and helps businesses reduce energy use through less air conditioning. Street trees often increase property values, aid in stormwater management, and as an added benefit, attract tourism, businesses, and economic investment.

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Preparing for the Future: O&M Manuals

by Nate Lowry, ASLA

Operations and maintenance manuals
image: courtesy of IndypendenZ at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We have all seen that new project or development get constructed, and have initial community impact and luster, only to see it become dilapidated and run-down over time. The truth is a project’s success is not determined by only the initial product or outcome—on-going maintenance and upkeep needs to be adequately addressed by designers and owners alike to ensure a project remains a success into the future.

Proper time and planning is needed to ensure operations and maintenance (O&M) manuals aren’t an afterthought or get thrown together on minimal time at the end of the project. Controlling future maintenance costs, knowing what to replace and when, troubleshooting technical products, and understanding maintenance intervals are a few aspects project owners need to be well-versed in and where O&M manuals are essential. Without adequate O&M manuals and requirements to produce them, project owners are likely set up for failure and not given the tools to make their project a continued success. A tight package of project specifications is often vital to a project’s initial success, and including complete O&M requirements is crucial for understanding perpetual maintenance and the continued success of a given project.

First things first, what is an O&M manual? An O&M (operations and maintenance) manual is generally a series of documents produced by the contractor to help the owner in perpetuity properly maintain, understand, and address key maintenance milestones and other project aspects. It is key for the design professional(s) to ensure steadfast contractor requirements in producing complete and informative O&M manuals for project hand-off.

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ADA Access: Project Retrofits and Upgrades

by Nate Lowry, ASLA

ADA-compliant residential boardwalk and ramp / image: Coastal Engineering Company, Inc.

Providing access and inclusion, to accommodate people of all abilities, continues to be a challenging proposition with many previously developed spaces. In 2013, the United States Access Board drafted guidelines for federally developed projects to harmonize with the International Building Code and to follow up on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The criteria developed from this process became mandatory in late 2013 and were incorporated into the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) accessibility standards. Amenity areas covered by these access requirements include camping facilities, picnic facilities, viewing areas, trails, and beach access routes. The requirements were not limited to only federal lands, but also covered federally funded projects.

Criteria and ideals developed during this process are great for addressing new projects, but what about previously developed spaces and retrofitting access and infrastructure to conform to the new standards?

Upgrading previously developed projects to meet codes and regulations of new construction can be an arduous task and tough to achieve in retrofit projects. Site constraints, costs, available revenues, end user input, and key stakeholder input can influence programming and inform which existing facilities are or are not upgraded. Inclusion goals and providing ADA access to previously developed sites can also vary widely from one municipality to another, and one region to another.

One constant is that individuals with disabilities are well aware of which facilities were designed for inclusion and which ones have not been upgraded for ADA access, inclusion, and mobility.

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