The Local Option

by Don Friedman on April 4, 2018

That’s an overall view and a closeup view of a larger-than-usual tree pit facing Cooper Square. The curb between the pit and the roadbed of the street has two low points in it – see the close-up for a view of one of them – that greatly resemble curb cuts at a crosswalk. They’re not curb cuts, because there aren’t pedestrian paths at those two locations. Rather, it appears that the low points are intended to allow rain runoff to enter the pit and collect there rather than following the ordinary path along the gutter to a sewer grate. That would fit well with the large pit size: this is a form of cistern or dry well intended to hold runoff, and it incidentally has a couple of trees in it.

One such pit doesn’t do much, but if this design were to be more widely used it might make a dent in the amount of rainwater that the sewers have to handle. Since we have combined sewers in NYC, that have to carry both rainwater and sewage, excessive runoff can lead to our sewage-treatment plants being overwhelmed, which in turn leads to sewage being released into the rivers before it’s fully treated. These pits are not the only experiment that’s being tried.

What’s most interesting is that this experiment reverses the century and a half of centralization of the sewer system. In that, it’s similar to the way that rooftop solar panels reverse the long trend towards centralization of electric power. There’s a huge difference in scale between the centralized, grand-plan system and this local alternate, and it’s important to acknowledge that the local alternate could not be used at a scale that would eliminate the need for the centralized system. But the two can work together, with the local alternate reducing some of the demand for the central system, and thus helping it to work better.

Building Nature

February 27, 2018

Yesterday’s post about the possibility of creating a park in the New Jersey Meadowlands didn’t touch on an interesting aspect of the proposed park: little of it would be built by people. Instead the park would be made by removing built structures and letting nature have its way. It’s easy to forget that most urban […]

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Adaptation as a Strategy

February 26, 2018

This article by Karrie Jacobs – What if New Jersey’s Meadowlands were a national park? – speaks for itself,  but I thought I might add a little context for people unfamiliar with the geography. People have heard of “the meadowlands” because of a football stadium located there but don’t necessarily understand what it is. Most of […]

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A Permanent Short-Term Fix

February 13, 2018

When Hurricane Sandy submerged a chunk of lower Manhattan, our office was on Broadway, on the ridge at the center of the area. A little over a year ago, we moved to the corner of Broad and Stone Streets, in a lower area where a lot of neighboring buildings flooded to some extent. Various large-scale […]

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Urban Design Is More Than Roads

February 12, 2018

Via Curbed, comes notice of a report, Delivering Urban Resilience, on the intersection of urban design, resistance to extreme weather, and climate change. Three cities – El Paso, Philadelphia, and Washington – are used as examples, with Philadelphia’s circumstances being closest to New York’s. It is not really news to hear that technologies such as green […]

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Industrial Secret Gardens

February 6, 2018

On a number of occasions, I’ve been able to walk through the ruins of an old industrial site that is in the process of being reclaimed by nature. Here’s a description and a few photos of such a place in Sweden. That particular site puts me in mind of a children’s book I know that […]

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What It Looks Like

February 5, 2018

Like a lot of other technologies, recycling looks less impressive than it actually is. Given the reduction in non-recycled garbage in the course of my life, the fact that New York is recycling all of its plastic, glass, and metal through a new purpose-built facility is a big deal. It just doesn’t really look like […]

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The Second R

January 5, 2018

“Reduce Reuse Recycle” as been around for a while but it seems to me that the recycling part has stolen most of the attention. Building materials are recyclable but buildings themselves are not. What they are is reusable. That leads me to this article on Curbed about the conversion of the Brookfield Avenue Landfill in […]

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How Speciation Starts

December 9, 2017

This article on the rat population of New York is fascinating. There are genetic differences in the rats depending on where they live, with the relatively sparse population in midtown serving to separate the uptown rats from the downtown rats. Now that I have learned this fascinating tidbit, it’s unfortunate that there’s absolutely no place […]

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Changing The Meaning Of A Euphemism

December 6, 2017

Whatever your personal definition of “meadow” is, the New Jersey meadowlands are not it. The area is a vast swamp, barely above sea level. It’s the combined valley of the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers before they empty into Newark Bay, which itself is a branch of New York Bay by way of Kill Van Kull. […]

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