Blog » Category: Water

What if John Charles Olmsted Came to Seattle Today?

Posted February 11th, 2014 by


The City of Seattle teamed with Pecha Kucha Seattle to present Big Ideas: Seattle 2035. Our own Brice Maryman presented a hypothetical scenario: What if John Charles Olmsted Came to Seattle Today. Enjoy his presentation (starting at 21:27) by clicking here to pop out the video here.

You can also hear an excerpt of Brice’s presentation on KUOW here.

“Maps codify the miracle of existence.”

Posted August 30th, 2013 by

In his biography of the Flemish cartographer Gerard Mercator, the English writer and geographer Nicholas Crane notes that “maps codify the miracle of existence.” Or, as the author Tony Horowitz says, ““I am an agnostic on most matters of faith, but on the subject of maps I have always been a true believer. It is on the map, therefore it is, and I am.”

We agree. Maps are one of those endlessly fascinating phenomena. Yet in this age of easily-accessible, easily-updated digital maps, it takes a unique example of the cartographer’s craft to really pull us in. Below are a few examples of maps that we’ve found particularly engaging; click on any of the images to learn more.



New York today versus New York 1836spacer

Map of which side of the road people drive on.


US Rivers


Global Vegetation


Density and World Population


Mapping New York City: Handmade


Map of everyone in America by race


The Best(?) Laid Plans


Geology of National Parks


Humorous Maps spacer

Finally, a bit of current events trivia: think you know where Damascus, Syria is located? Prove it.

How High Point Works in Japanese

Posted May 7th, 2013 by

We’ve rolled out yet another translation of our How High Point Works diagram, thanks this time to our illustrious civil engineer Sakaru Tsuchiya. Some green infrastructure elements, such as pervious pavements are fairly common in Japan, yet others such as bioretention systems are much less common, according to Mr. Tsuchiya. While undoubtedly the extremely dense development in many areas of the country creates a challenge for the use of green stormwater infrastructure, we hope that this translation can help explain techniques that we have used in the US and inspire new and innovative solutions abroad.

How High Point Works - Japanese version

Click the image above for the Japanese version of How High Point Works (or here for that graphic as a PDF). Other translations of the graphic include Spanish and Danish, as well as the original in English of course. Check out our Resources page for additional graphics, presentation, and links related to green stormwater infrastructure and sustainable design and development.

Weekly Reading: Trees in the Urban Landscape

Posted April 26th, 2013 by

tree tags

Exploring Portland during a weekend trip, we came across these tree “price tags” along the South Park Blocks near PSU. A phenomenal public outreach campaign, they also reminded us of the multiple benefits of the urban forest that continue to be uncovered by researchers.

For example, DesignBuild Source reminds us about the importance of software like i-Tree in quantifying the value of our urban forest canopy (and perhaps more importantly, provides the nifty graphic below). It also suggests that Portland may have been low-balling their trees’ value.

ACTrees runs down the latest research about how the urban forest affects carbon storage and sequestration, which refines previous research papers. The research found:

Total tree carbon storage in U.S. urban areas (c. 2005) is estimated at 643 million tonnes ($50.5 billion value; 95% CI = 597 million and 690 million tonnes) and annual sequestration is estimated at 25.6 million tonnes ($2.0 billion value; 95% CI = 23.7 million to 27.4 million tonnes).

Download the full research paper here.

“Perhaps we should start thinking of trees as part of our public-health infrastructure,” says this fascinating article from Scientific American about how the presence of trees in your neighborhood serves as a predictor of your public health. Studying an area of Michigan where there was a large die off of trees due to the emerald ash borer, the researchers found:

“According to their mathematical model, the presence of the borer, and the subsequent loss of trees, was associated with 6.8 additional deaths per year from respiratory causes and 16.7 additional deaths per year from cardiovascular causes per 100,000 adults. That’s more than 21,000 deaths in total.”

Fast Company brings us the story of South African photographer Dillon Marsh who studies the “peculiar nature” of cell phone towers dotting the urban landscape, disguised as trees. Some examples of his work is below but be sure to also check out his website.

Interested in learning more about value of trees and green infrastructure in the urban environment? APA has a new publication, Green Infrastructure: A Landscape Approach, that gives all of the latest, greatest research. ASLA interviews the author.

Water We Reading This Week?

Posted April 19th, 2013 by

Staying Green Cover

Didn’t you know? All the cool kids are talking about rivers. Movies, articles and reports are re-focusing attention on our traditionally under-considered and undervalued waterways. This renewed attention comes on the heels of a recent EPA funded study that, as the Atlantic reports, found that more than half of all US rivers are now deemed to be too polluted to be safe from a human health perspective, reporting:

the majority of rivers and streams in this country can’t support healthy aquatic life and the trend is going in the wrong direction. The report labels 55 percent of the nation’s water ways as being in “poor” condition and another 23 percent as just “fair.” Only 21 percent of rivers are considered “good” and “healthy biological communities.”

With this in mind, a recent article from seems especially prescient. Arguing that stormwater management agencies spend untold millions in grey infrastructure to replicate the natural, ecosystem services of the forest, the author notes:

In the United States, most gray infrastructure was built 40-50 years ago with large federal grants and few provisions for maintenance. This aging infrastructure needs significant investment to keep pace with population growth and to repair wear and tear.

Yet funds for investment in water infrastructure are drying up in an era of fiscal austerity. Naturally, water utilities, reservoir managers and storm water managers are seeking lower-cost solutions to meet water demands of the 21st century.

That’s where green infrastructure can play a significant role.

And a new report from American Rivers and Green for All, called Staying Green: Strategies to Improve Operations and Maintenance of Green Infrastructure in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed focuses on how the operations and maintenance of green infrastructure systems can create long-term green jobs. The report is quite good and closes an important hole in our discussion of green infrastructure by addressing the long-term care for these facilities and the social justice aspect of maintaining this infrastructure.

The interest in rivers isn’t reserved for the waterways we can see, but is also about re-discovering and re-claiming those hidden waterways that were long-ago covered over in our cities. A new movie, called Lost Rivers, chronicles the urban explorers, the activists, the archivists and the politicians who are leading the charge. We think that the Thornton Creek Water Quality Channel was also an example of one rediscovering a lost river. The trailer for the movie is below.

Lost Rivers – OFFICIAL TRAILER from Catbird Productions on Vimeo.

Another interesting manifestation of the urban waterway meme comes via the New York Times. Los Angeles, it turns out, has horrid beaches after it rains. Combined sewer overflows make them putrid and polluted due to stormwater runoff, but now the City is trying to improve their beaches and reuse that stormwater runoff as drinking water. The Times reports:

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board has issued new rules that include strong incentives for cities to work together on projects that capture and filter rainwater in the ground. Not only would those projects keep runoff pollution out of the waterways, they would also bolster groundwater supplies, which could eventually be used for drinking water.

Over at Sustainable Cities Collective, Adrian Benepe pens an excellent exploration of the many ways New York City is using green infrastructure strategies within its parks and school grounds. It’s forward thinking urban policy that many other cities are looking at and trying to emulate, because, as Benepe notes, “As we work to create sustainable, resilient cities, green infrastructure, with appropriate planning, will be a way to create new, well-funded, multi-functional public parks and open spaces, large and small.”

Surprising no one, we completely agree. In fact, on Wednesday Brice and Amalia presented to the WRPA conference in Vancouver, WA on very similar themes in a talk entitled Stormwater and Parks: 10 Ways Washington’s Revised Stormwater Regulations are Good for Parks. You can find a PDF of their presentation here.

Water For Humans Oaxaca Project

Posted March 22nd, 2013 by

professor sakaru

Happy World Water Day 2013! Today we spent some time with Rick McKenney and Stan Brown of Water For Humans, as well as sustainability superconnector, Charlie Cunniff. They are working on an exciting project to improve rainwater capture and sanitation in remote villages of northern Oaxaca, Mexico. Pictured is SvR’s Sakaru Tsuchiya giving us the 101 on the physics behind gabion retaining walls and cistern construction using appropriate technologies.

Must See TV: Hope for Cleaning Polluted Runoff in the Puget Sound

Posted March 21st, 2013 by

Former Representative Norm Dicks, speaking at the annual Futurewise luncheon yesterday, mentioned this remarkable video he had seen on PBS about the challenges facing Puget Sound. The images of polluted stormwater runoff billowing into the Sound are astounding and deeply concerning, but the work at WSU-Puyallup’s Washington Stormwater Center is utterly inspiring. We’re so proud to have played a role in making their state-of-the-art facility a reality, and are excited by the research the team is producing.

Watch Seattleites Make Rain Gardens to Curb Stormwater Pollution on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Weekly Reading: Soak It Up!, Land Use Morality and Space Needles as Tribbles

Posted March 15th, 2013 by

Concrete Panels with embedded LED
They look like lights, don’t they? Think again. This wall in Germany is comprised entirely of concrete.

Cool Brittania indeed! Boris Johnson, the Conservative Party Mayor of London, made waves on this side of the Atlantic with bicycle advocates when he announced a $1.4 billion plan to bring a separated bicycle path through downtown London, crossing the city safely from east to west. Sociecity notes:

“To grasp the enormity of London’s $1.4 billion bicycle investment, Janette Sadik-Khan, the sitting Commissioner of New York’s Department of Transportation (DOT) has a budget of roughly $2 billion at her disposal… that’s her entire transportation budget. The entire New York City cycling development budget over the past five years is in the neighborhood of $2 million, or about 0.009% of what London’s budget will be in 2015 alone. The proposal is enormous.”

Earlier this week, on the very day we saw the naming of a new pontiff, Kaid Benfield enumerated the seven deadly sins of land use. He reserves some special rhetorical venom for those of us in the field by chiding us for the sin of sloth:

“…the laziness that most offends me is within our own community – a failure of urbanist and smart-growth advocates to demand more of our built environment. I won’t belabor the point, since I’ve said it so often, but advocating infill, density and transit is no longer enough in the 21st century. Since the modern smart growth movement was conceived in the 1990s, there have been striking advances in thinking about green infrastructure, green buildings, healthy food systems, placemaking, equitable economic development, public health and the built environment, and more. If these things aren’t front and center of our agenda, we’re not doing our jobs.”

Get the flash player here:

Philadelphia’s Soak It Up! Competition has released the shortlist of finalists. Enjoy/critique the eye candy here.

“In what should be a surprise to no one, Canadian research have published their findings from an in-depth study of cyclists safety and have concluded that:
Erecting physical barriers between traffic and bicycle lanes, ensuring relatively flat commuting surfaces and regulating vehicle speeds all have the potential to curtail cycling injuries on city streets.”

That’s especially good news because, as Atlantic Cities reported a while back, road traffic is the “single biggest source of fatality” for young people around the world. They could use some separated bike lanes, reduced speeds and, perhaps, like New York City has done, some Slow Zones. Even the US DOT, often maligned as “highway builders” in some camps, is stepping up to the challenge and developing their own bicycle and pedestrian safety standards.

Finally, a bit of a Friday funny. With the land use debate raging about zoning in South Lake Union and concerns about views to the Space Needle being obstructed, some enterprising photoshoppers have turned the discussion on its head by asking, “If you’re worried about views to the Space Needle, why not build more Space Needles?” KOMO has the story.

What Seattle could look like with more Space Needles. Photo illustration by Michael Harthorne. Original photo by Wikimedia Commons user 'jelson25'.

Weekly Reading: Biking, Green Stormwater Infrastructure and Parks’ Anachronistic Metaphor

Posted March 11th, 2013 by

This week in Washington DC, the National Bike Summit brought together the best and brightest cycling advocates from all over the US. Streetfilms was in attendance and caught up with the attendees of the National Women’s Bicycling Forum, above.

Locally, yeoman community activists Cathy Tuttle and Eli Goldberg of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways recently presented at the Washington Institute of Transportation Engineers. You can view the video of the presentation below and see the slidedeck here.

We also were reminded this week about the consistently insightful research of Kathleen Wolf at the University of Washington, who straddles the world’s of forestry, gender studies and planning to arrive at always thoughtful conclusions about how we shape our built environment.

Just when you thought it couldn’t be done, Jeff Tumlin sets out to bring sexy back to city planning during his talk “Sex, Neuroscience and Walkable Urbanism” above.

Over at Planetizen, Steven Snell takes issue with the framing of parks as “the lungs of the city” and argues that:

“Rather than lungs of natural vegetation dispersed throughout a developed city, we can look at these fragments within a whole and ask how might these constituent elements be connected to advantage the total ecological system. To put it simply, we need to recognize that successful ecological function within an urban environment can be attributed to the quality and physical amount of green areas and the number of connections between them.”

Sweden isn’t worried about metaphors, however. No, they’re diving right in with a Commission “to suggest measures to make the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services.”

Finally, our office has been buzzing over Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s announcement this week in which he set out an ambitious green stormwater infrastructure goal. You can watch the press release with various department heads, Councilmembers and the Mayor here.

Weekly Reading: Climate Is Back

Posted January 11th, 2013 by

Articles and images this week remind us of one thing: climate change is real, and it is happening now. First there was the confirmation that 2012 was, indeed, the hottest year on record for the continental US.  (Of course, The Onion had the most sardonic headline). But, the seriousness of climate change was brought home by several images out of Australia, where a massive, extreme heat wave has caused the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to adjust the color spectrum on their temperature map, adding magenta at the top representing 129 degrees Farenheit.

The heat wave has contributed to scorching forest fires have driven families into the water seeking refuge (Image via AP):

And soil into the sea:

Fortunately, this week there has also been a lot of hope.

UW’s own Dr. Howard Frumpkin offered an inspiring opinion piece in The Seattle Times, a new report from the National Academies recognizes climate disturbance as a cause for more extreme disasters and advocates for a softer approach to risk-mitigating infrastructure, and, in real, concrete action, the City of Seattle has become the first City in the country to pledge divestment from fossil fuel investments as part of’s Do The Math campaign. And the City has a new climate mitigation and adaptation blueprint, as part of the Green Ribbon Commission’s, which our own Brice Maryman served on, Climate Action Plan.

One of the adaptation strategies the City recommends includes more adoption of low impact development as part of a comprehensive suite of adaptation strategies. Fortunately, the newest edition of the Low Impact Development Technical Guidance Manual for Puget Sound was just released to help Seattle and other Puget Sound area cities implement LID strategies. Our own Kathy Gwilym served on the Technical Advisory Committee, providing particular expertise on porous/pervious pavements and bioretention facilities. And to fund green infrastructure, the NRDC suggests that this is going to be a big year for sustainable infrastructure financing.

All of this reminds us that, now more than ever, we need people taking ideas and turning them into a more hopeful future. It’s hard work, as this commiserating presentation from Rilla Alexander attests, but “without the doing, the dreaming is useless.”