Architects are finding ingenious ways these days to address the impacts of climate change. From residential towers that increase carbon mitigation in a densely packed city, to a waste management plant that powers and heats homes with clean energy while entertaining visitors, architectural innovation is taking a prominent role in helping to both mitigate and adapt to change.
Of course, rethinking the way we use the buildings we live and work in is only part of the answer to lessening those impacts, experts tell us. Proactive land use policies, smart urban design concepts and intuitive approaches to land and species conservation are all vital tools, as well.
Unless, of course, they are combined vertically.
Milan architect Stefano Boeri's vision of urban architecture aims to transform our concept of a living space. His Vertical Forest (Bosco Verticale) residences comprise space for more than 700 trees and 15,000 shrubs and floral plants -- on the outside of the building. Specially made planters support the trees and shrubs, which are tended to lovingly by arbolists who swing from planter to planter by guy wire.The towers also serve as a natural corridor for birds and insects, helping to sustain Milan's growing pockets of parks and walking paths.
The Vertical Forest was Boeri's prototype for an urban ecosystem that could not only redesign the classic urban living environment, but facilitate the absorption of carbon from the atmosphere. Once completed in 2020, his "Forest City" in Liuzou, China, an extension of this idea, is expected to be able to absorb as much as 10,000 tons of CO2 per year.
Even its waste-to-energy plant, connected to city center by walking paths and a recreational park, lives up to Copenhagen's vision of an interactive, community-engaged destination.
When it's completed in 2018, the state-of-the-art waste conversion plant will have two very popular attributes: an 11,000 square-foot sloped roof that will double as a ski hill, and the world's largest climbing wall.
Copenhill, as the plant is affectionately called in English, ascribes to the idea that community education is enhanced when interest is piqued. And what better way to engage potential conservationists than by illustrating the benefits of clean energy production?
But the small community of Clear Lake City, where its prestigious golf course had been put out of business from endemic flooding, discovered something remarkable: Working in tandem with Mother Nature can save communities.
After a contentious battle to stop the owner of the Clear Lake Golf Course from paving it over, the city purchased the 200-square-acre green space for $6.1 million and turned it over to environmental engineers. The Clear Lake City Water Authority had already mapped out a three-stage rehabilitation plan that would place several large retention ponds at the center of a sprawling, attractive park area. The public would have year-round access to its walking paths and play areas and its carefully managed landscape would provide erosion control as well as enhance climate change mitigation efforts.
In early September, Tropical Storm Harvey became the perfect scenario in which to test the retention ponds. While golf courses and city streets across the Houston area flooded, the partially built ponds captured more than 90,000 million gallons of runoff.
The final stage of Exploration Green -- a partnership between the water authority and a nonprofit conservation organization of the same name -- is being completed just in time for next year's hurricane season. At least one other community in the Houston area is eyeing its golf course for redevelopment. With more than 150 courses spread across the city's flat terrain, Houston neighborhoods are being forced to rethink the role that green spaces can, and should play in managing climate impacts.
According to the World Resources Institute, restoring lands that have been degraded by over-development or climate impacts can help mitigate climate change. And there's evidence that ecology restoration can help communities adapt to risks as well.
Biodiversity restoration of watersheds along the Panama Canal is not only helping to combat emissions but improve erosion control and provide better access to water sources and clean power generation. Other projects the WRI supports has helped educate communities about ways to integrate smart land management principles into their business plans.
This year the WRI announced that its 20X20 plan has garnered the support of at least 12 countries and some $2 billion in financing -- all directed at improving the biodiversity that is critical to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Those improvements also help with species conservation, a global endeavor that researchers say could excel with better funding. Scientists found that just by adding $5 million more to the $14 billion that had been spent on conservation from 1992 to 2003, nations would have been able to slow species loss by as much as 50 percent. In some countries, where conservation is particularly under-funded, the projections were as high as 90 percent.
The message of this research is that conservation funding does have an impact. The researchers have developed an evidence-based model to help stakeholders better project the financial needs of their projects and the impacts they can make toward improving global biodiversity.
Images: Flickr/News Orsundi; Flickr/Forgemind ArchiMedia; Clear Lake City Water Authority and Exploration Green; Flickr/Desert LCC
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.