Anthropogenic Biomes

By Adam Brock


In a time when the vast majority of the world’s land area is transformed by the human touch, the classic ecological concept of the biome is somewhat misleading. A couple of professors at the University of Maryland and McGill University in Montreal have made things a little clearer by developing a world map of “anthromes“, showing the Earth’s surface as represented by a couple dozen categories of human land use. It’s worth exploring for a few minutes – I was amazed, for example, at how much of the American west is rangeland, and how uniquely dense India’s settlement pattern is.

via Worldchanging


NYC asks “What If?”

After reading my post on Re:vision, my buddy Ryan over at the New School Sustainability Committee alerted me to another effort at crowdsourcing city planning – this one a little closer to home. What If NYC is a competition sponsored by the city government to develop creative solutions to temporary housing in the wake of a natural disaster.

While it might not have the appeal of designing a city block from the ground up, the What If competition is an intelligent move on the city’s part: climate change is making weather patterns more violent and unpredictable, and New York’s dozens of miles of waterfront will be put at increasing risk. And, as the site’s brief points out, conventional trailer park-style temporary housing is poorly suited to the high density neighborhoods of New York.

Down with NPP?

By Adam Brock

I came across this map yesterday in a recent Oil Drum essay. It shows human activity as a percentage of “Net Primary Production”: the amount of solar energy in a given area that’s converted to organic matter via photosynthesis. The global average comes out to 20% NPP, while in urban areas, the figure is around 3000%.

In other words, we’re now gobbling up a fifth of the energy that is produced by all forms of land-based life every year – and thanks to fossil fuels, our cities use 300 times the energy that life there would otherwise be producing. I call that scary.

Williamsburg Rises Up…

By Adam Brock

WBurg Units small

Click to view full-scale

I wonder what it would feel like to suddenly find myself with three new roommates, or if one of my classes jumped from 20 people to 35. I suppose I’ll find out soon: that’s the shift that’s set to take place in my neighborhood over the next couple years, as a series of sleek, Big Money condo towers rise along the low-slung Williamsburg waterfront.

As part of the Domino Project, I’ve been analyzing the current demographics of my neighborhood to better understand of who lives here and how the proposed development at the Domino site would alter the streetlife and resources. I threw together the map above yesterday to demonstrate what the area looked like in terms of housing in late 2004: a mix of walkups, townhomes and warehouses, with the occasional yuppie-priced loft thrown in the mix.

But thanks to a 2005 rezoning, my map is already out of date. Williamsburg’s overstuffed L trains and continually backed up sewers will be seeing about 5,000 more people arrive in the next several years, as construction commences on a wall of luxury condos (with a helping of affordable housing thrown in for a tax break). Towards the Bedford stop, there’s the Edge, with 892 total units, and Northside Piers, with 290 in the first of three towers to go up. South of the bridge, the 350 apartments and condos at Schaefer Landing have been open for a year or so. These projects, the largest 3 of many medium-to-large new developments in the area, will bring to Williamsburg a combined total of 2,000 units of housing – 5,000 people or so – by 2010.

And then there’s Domino. According to the CPC’s current plans (PDF alert), the development there would create two 400-foot and two 300-foot towers along the water, dwarfing the Williamsburg Bridge and generating a further 2,400 units of housing.

New Domino rendering

Can it really come down to doubling the population of an already overtaxed neighborhood in order to turn a profit? There’s got to be another way – one that works not just for the market, but for the community and the ecosystem as well.