Monday, November 29, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What Does This Mean? Anyone?

On a trip to Philadelphia, PA this summer I saw this brass plaque embedded in a sidewalk. I really have no idea what it means. Any ideas?

Philadelphia Community Garden

On a trip to Philadelphia, PA this summer we spotted a community garden near our hotel. We were staying at a hotel outside of town, near the airport. Every day we would ride the hotel shuttle about a mile or so to the nearest train station, where we would catch the train headed into downtown. On the way back to the hotel one day, I decided that I would walk from the train station to the hotel so that I could check out the garden. Well, let's just say that this community garden was not exactly in a community. The area was largely industrial...typical of areas surrounding airports. Very wide roads. Not very pedestrian oriented. People with plots in this garden most likely have to drive to get there.

And the garden was surrounded by a 10 ft high chain-link fence. It was kind of tough to climb, but I got in.

While there, I met some old guys that said they had had their plots for over 20 years. They said that the majority of their food comes from their gardens. Many of the initial plots had been subdivided into smaller plots.

Most people probably wouldn't find the gardens to be too aesthetically pleasing, but I really enjoyed looking around. Lots of ingenuity going on. Sheds, greenhouses, cold frames, and other structures built out of found materials...sometimes just junk. Below are some pictures from around the garden.

Rotting Sculptures

Where should we put the compost pile? Maybe behind the shed. Or behind this, or behind that. And what kind of bin should we use? Should it be surrounded by wire fencing, or made out of wood? Maybe we can put it in an elaborate barrel that is turned by a super complicated computer program and series of motors.

These are generally some of the things that people think when considering starting a compost pile.

It really can be much simpler. You don't need a container. And you really can put it right in the center of your garden where it can be seen and admired.

My friend, and former employer Allen developed a technique of building compost piles that requires no structure (other than the compostable material itself). And these piles are so aesthetically pleasing that they can be placed in highly visible areas. In fact, they really possess a sort of sculptural quality. We frequently placed them throughout gardens, as sort of art pieces that could be disassembled and used where they were needed the most. They always elicit questions and comments. They frequently become departure points for in-depth discussions.

Below are a few photos of these piles. These, unfortunately, are not in the middle of a garden, but in a utility area. The piles are constructed from bags of leaves that have been placed on the side of the road in nearby neighborhoods for the garbage men to pick up and haul to the county landfill. We simply liberate these bags prior to the garbage trucks arriving. Most piles contain an average of 300-400 bags of leaves. Our record is 717 bags. The pile was ridiculously huge, something like 18 ft in diameter by 12 ft high. We had to build a scaffolding to work on it. It was mildly amusing, but impractical.

Note: These piles do not contain any structural support apart from the material being composted. No, there is not any wire surrounding the piles.

In addition to the bags of leaves, all garden waste is put in the piles. Weeds, clippings, branches, etc. Some piles are built all at once. Some gradually grow as garden waste is generated. The below picture shows a newly constructed pile. The sides have not yet been shaped. Notice the cardboard. Anything that will rot gets put in the pile. The garbage truck almost never stops at this garden.

This pile is being slowly built as garden waste is being generated. Green (and orange) materials are placed on top. When this layer reaches about 6" in depth, a layer of leaves is placed on top of it. This cycle repeats until the pile is at a reasonable height. Then the sides are shaped and the pile develops a sculptural quality.

After about 4-6 months, the piles are fully composted and ready to be spread. Black gold!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bricolage Weirs

Below are some photos of a series of five weirs that I helped build about four years ago. The weirs were built in a city drainage ditch that bisects a four acre garden that I was helping develop. The water flowing through this ditch consists of stormwater from surrounding neighborhoods. We had previously reshaped portions of the ditch, creating a pond before the ditch left the property. Water from this pond is then used to supply various water features throughout the garden.

The weirs were built for several reasons. One, we were trying to reduce sedimentation within the pond. The five weirs provide stilling points where the sediments can fall out. Two, we were attempting to control the erosion taking place during frequent flash floods. Three, we were creating a cool water feature. Water is pumped from the pond via a 3" pipe to the point where the ditch enters the property, creating a constant, recirculating flow of water in what you could now call a creek. The flat surfaces of water, only interrupted on the low side of each weir, appear as a jagged mirror cutting through the property.

All weirs were constructed entirely from recycled materials. In fact, all of the bricks, concrete blocks, roofing tiles, etc came from the ditch itself. Apparently some previous visionary had decided to fill some low land along the banks of this ditch with construction debris. After flash floods, bricks could be seen strewn along the banks of the ditch. We simply picked them up and stashed them in a pile. That pile grew quite large. Any time we were working in the vicinity of the ditch (planting trees, etc) we would find bricks to add to the pile. The only elements of these weirs that did not come from the property itself are the concrete footings that we poured beneath each. Even the rebar that we used came from broken slabs of concrete that we removed from another portion of the property.

Just below the bridge (I built that too), is the last, and smallest, in the series of five weirs. When this weir doesn't have debris piled up behind it, a very thin sheet of water pours over its entire width. This is where the ditch begins widening into a pond.

Pumps push the water to the head of the ditch to allow a constant flow through the system of weirs. Things get more exciting when it rains. During periods of drought, this system doesn't continue to operate. No potable water is used.

We purposefully left many nooks and crannies in the weirs in order to plant plants and to allow others to colonize their surfaces. What you see here is Acorus graminueus, also called Sweet Flag. Other weirs have ferns and other moisture loving plants growing from their surfaces.

It doesn't take long before mosses are colonizing the moist surfaces.

These are truly bric(k)olage weirs. The use of materials looks a bit crazy, I'll admit. We wanted these to appear to have been built out of necessity by someone using whatever they had on hand. So that's what we did. Not only bricks, but roofing tiles, chimney tiles, concrete rubble, pavers, etc were used...whatever we had found in the ditch itself. The boulders that you see in the ditch near the weirs came from a house about a block away that was being demolished.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Free Moustache Rides...Yes, I Really Just Said That

There are always interesting posts from the folks at Public Workshop. The latest is about a public art installation that turned an abandoned phone booth into a giant seesaw shaped like a moustache. Apparently it is part of a sign for a taco stand. Yes, that is what I said.

Check out the original post below:

Ride a moustache while you wait for your tacos?

Okay there are few things more joyfully absurd than this see-saw, err moustache and its accompanying over sized spectacles. In fact, when our friend Lauren mentioned that she had ridden a moustache see-saw while waiting for her tacos at the ever tasty El Chilito in Austin, Texas, it was almost as if she was speaking another language.

But folks, low and behold, an oversized moustache and spectacles see-saw does truly exist. And if you decide to stop by El Chilito for some tacos, you can ride it to. Anchored onto El Chilito’s colorful sign and located at a bland intersection of two well traveled roads, it provides an incredible moment of hilarity for passersby while taking a playful swipe at the common hipster ‘accessories’ of the neighborhood. Partially fabricated from old telephone booths by El Grupo (here), a collective comprised of Nicolas Rivard, John Algood, Davey McCeathron, and Charles Melanson- it’s pretty great.

We want to ride the moustache.

Make sure you stop by El Grupo’s website (here) to see their process photos, learn a little more about their great work and tell Nicolas Rivard, and his collaborators, ‘Mighty nice job.’.

Thank you Lauren Josephine for sharing.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Frederick Law Olmsted Designed A Hotel

"On some 20 nights over the past two months, the Fohts, 25-year-old twins from Florida, have climbed about 25 feet up the side of a tall American elm tree in Central Park, stretched nylon hammocks between its branches, unrolled sleeping bags and, with a few acrobatic moves, squirmed into their makeshift beds."

The NY Times just posted this story about creative loitering. I like it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More Of What We Already Know...But Still Interesting

Some of you might have seen this post yesterday on ASLA's blog The Dirt. about photographer Christopher Gielen's aerial photography of sprawl. Some of the photos are eerily beautiful. And scary as hell.

"To find his sites, Gielen first examined statistical databases and honed in on areas with the highest foreclosure rates, which he said indicate where the most unsustainable development is. In Houston, he found perfect web-like networks of prefabricated houses with trees exactly in the same place. One community in Nevada (see image above) is “so perfect” incoming aircraft use it as a marker on their way to the airport. As for the community, “it’s sold as active living, but it’s isolated in the middle of the Nevada desert. It’s a prison of our own making. People are really inside their cars or homes watching TV.”

Interestingly enough, Gielen has done similar projects featuring both prisons and freeways. Check out The Dirt's post here. And for more of Gielen's work, look at his website.

Community Gardens Finally Reach Jackson

There is an article in the latest Jackson Free Press about a group in town starting community gardens.

Here it is in its entirety:

Gardens, By and For the People

Whitney Grant
A community garden on Tougaloo Street is one of several urban gardens that have recently sprung up in the City of Jackson. More are on the way.

by Jesse Crow
November 10, 2010

Serenity Luckett, principal of Brown Elementary, looked down at the dirt of the soon-to-be-garden she was watering to see the water roll into pools on top of the soil. After a few minutes of watering and some tilling, most of the car-sized plot was ready for planting. Parents and older volunteers planted small, grassy shrubs around the border while School Resource Officer Diana Hollace showed students how to plant pansies: Squeeze the bottom of the plastic planter to loosen the plant, make sure the hole isn’t too deep and don’t worry about that spider, they protect the plants from pests, she said.

On an early October morning, a small but dedicated, group of students, parents and school faculty gathered in front of Brown Elementary School to plant a community garden called the People’s Garden. People’s Gardens were also planted at Galloway and Rowan Elementary Schools.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, The People’s Garden Initiative is funded through an America’s Promise Alliance grant that Operation Shoestring is administering.

The People’s Garden at Brown Elementary is comprised of two gardens—a pollination garden with flowers and shrubs, and a vegetable garden with broccoli, lettuce and red cabbage. Not only are the two gardens mutually beneficial, they also teach the students about pollination and how gardens grow.

“The gardens teach parents and children a way of giving back to the community and helps them take ownership in their community,” Promies Zone Coordinator Rolanda Alexander of Operation Shoestring said. “They also teach kids how to plant and to help each other.”

Alexander said the community has plans to plant a larger food garden in spring 2011, creating a sustainable food source for the community.

The People’s Gardens are part of the growing trend of urban gardening throughout Jackson. Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. announced the city’s Urban Garden Initiative in April and has planted gardens, so far, on Tougaloo Street and on the corner of Capitol and Adams streets. A garden at Westside Community Center is in the early plantings stages.

The city hopes to have a garden in every ward by spring 2011.

“The gardens are targeting younger people, although support of any ages is encouraged,” Jackson Policy Coordinator Beth Hamilton said. “Mississippi used to be a huge agricultural state, and now the average farmer is in his or her 50s. These gardens could open doors for kids they didn’t know existed.”

Aside from teaching kids about gardening, the goals of the city’s Urban Garden Program are to create bonds between generations, to create access to fresh fruit and vegetables, to teach children about entrepreneurship and to create a sense of pride in communities.

“We’ll know (the gardens) are successful if support continues and people are still involved a year or two from now,” Hamilton said.

Jackson Community Design Center Research Associate Whitney Grant, who is assisting with the city’s urban-garden program, said support structures are important for the garden’s success.

“The idea is to build things to make people feel like they should be occupying the space and to help the people supporting the gardens,” she said. “So (they should include) locked storage, facilities for sinks, picnic tables and pavilions. If the idea is for these to truly be community gardens, they need to be built in a way that the community wants to be there and can comfortably work in a garden.”

Grant added that garden volunteers currently have to load materials into their cars and take them offsite because there is no onsite storage, and this puts more responsibility on a few individuals.

Denver Urban Gardens, based in Denver, Colo., is a successful urban garden model. The nonprofit began in 1985 with three gardens within city limits and now oversees 100 gardens throughout the Denver metro area, 80 percent of which are in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods.

The program has 15 more gardens planned for 2011.

“I think one of the reasons that our model has been so successful is that we never go into a neighborhood and decide as an organization that it needs a community garden. We wait until the community comes to us and requests our assistance,” Communications Coordinator Abbie Harris said.

DUG is involved with the process of creating the garden, and garden leaders, who are volunteers from the community, handle the day-to-day operations of the garden.

The Colorado School of Public Health, in partnership with DUG, recently completed the Gardens for Growing Healthy Communities study, which began in 2004, on how urban gardens affect communities.

“I think one of the really powerful things about gardens is that it’s not only a place where people can grow fresh, healthy food close to home, it’s also a gathering place... (and) a sanctuary in what’s often a harsh environment,” Harris said.

“It’s a place for neighbors to connect with one another, to connect back with nature, to meet one another and to enjoy each others’ company.”

If you have an idea for where an urban garden could grow or want to volunteer at one of the city’s existing gardens, call Beth Hamilton at 601-960-0462. To read more about the Gardens for Growing Healthy Communities study at the Denver Urban Gardens website, visit

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Every Now and Then, Something Good Comes Out of the Nashville Music Scene

A guy in Nashville has used old 78 LP's as shingles on his porch roof. Looks pretty cool!

More on this here.

Let's just hope he didn't put any Waylon up there. I'd hate to see him get rained on.

Preserving Traditional Approaches to Sustainability

Originally Posted on ASLA's blog The Dirt

In India, indigenous building traditions are still relevant despite the increased availability of modern sustainable building materials and technologies, writes The Hindu. In fact, “vernacular” or native architectural techniques may be just as efficient (and even more cost-effective) than “state-of-the-art” systems. Local sustainable architecture practices in India evolved over time, and so the highly functional approaches to climate and culture can also be easily adapted.

While there was no scientific comparison between traditional and modern sustainable building technologies, The Hindu argues a few traditional approaches to sustainability still work well:


The kaatrupandal, found in the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu, is made up of a “temporary sloping thatch placed on the roofs to suck in cold air from the outside into the house, providing natural ventilation.” One Indian architect created a brick-lined, funnel-shaped one for a farmhouse and said: “It funnels air into the living room and then on to the rest of the house through modulated openings.” The design reduces energy usage: No A.C. (or even ceiling fans) are needed throughout the year.

Self-shading device

Buildings in Jaisalmer and parts of Rajasthan feature stone ledges that jut out from walls to provide shade. Instead of using stone, some architects are applying the same technique with alumnium composite panels painted white. The white ledges help reduce the urban heat island effect in city homes and corporate offices.

Mud blocks

Village homes continue to be made out of mud blocks. One architect built a two-story house with mud bricks strengthened with a little ash and cement. According to one architect, the mud blocks last as long as kiln-fired brick buildings. Also, there are far fewer CO2 emissions — kiln-fired bricks require lots of wood to fire. In addition, the “carbon foot print of the building gets even lower if you can make the mud blocks onsite while digging to lay the foundation.”

Clay filler-slabs

Clay tiles were once heavily used throughout India, but have have been replaced with other materials. Clay still has some advantages though: it absorbs less heat than concrete. To bring back this material, one architect decide to use clay for roof and wall filler slabs. ”These one-and-half inch thick clay tiles fill up spaces inside the concrete grid and cover up to 30 per cent of the roof space and proportionally lower heat gain.”

Read the article

Image credit: Mud house / The Hindu

Monday, November 8, 2010

This Post Stinks

If you read Courtney's post about the guy that paints pieces of chewing gum stuck to sidewalks in London and thought that was kind of gross, just wait. Apparently somebody is making guerilla art using dog poop. Seriously. Click here.

Sometimes I'm just not sure what people are thinking. Is this just complete juvenile fun for somebody? Or are they making some sort of statement? I don't know, but it is even more disgusting than Charles' thesis.

I thought the chewing gum painting was kind of cool, but just kind of weird.

If you're still reading, look at this.

Urban Blooz

These guys clearly have been influenced by the Situationist International.

According to their website, Urban Blooz is a game, billboards are the playground, advertising and communication are the focal point.

They claim theirs is a poetic and subvesive act, which bring into question the place of commercial messages and art in the public space.

Advertising images are the most privileged and most diffused kind of imagery in the public
space. They are exposed in places with the best visibility and everywhere it can be watched.
By erasing ads, billboards became new windows to look into the world.

This Is Getting Incredibly Ridiculous (Please See Previous 2 Posts First)

Don't Miss This Video!!!

My previous post was about a series of lofts in Japan intentionally designed to be a little difficult to live in. I just found another link to some information about them...err, well, pictures (unless you know Russian and the cyrillic alphabet. Check it out. If nothing else, please watch the video.

I love Japanese TV!

These Lofts Will Keep You On Your Toes

You can get rid of your gym membership and throw away your crossword puzzles if you live in a place like this. These lofts in Japan were intentionally designed to be a little difficult to live in in order to keep inhabitants nimble, mentally and physically. They are like giant-sized Wii Fits with real consequences. I like it! Odd sized doors, irregular flooring, shifting ceiling heights...all are to be expected. Lots more pics and info here.