Earth Day Digest: NYC’s new climate plan, designing for fire resiliency in Washington, and more

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Earth Day Digest: NYC’s new climate plan, designing for fire resiliency in Washington, and more


Today is Earth Day. AN regularly covers stories about climate change, resiliency, and the environment, as they relate to architecture, landscape, and urbanism.

Earth Day affords us an opportunity to reflect on our impact on the world around us. It also provides a chance to rededicate ourselves in service of a greener future, in which the reuse of materials is not an afterthought but an instinct, where we don’t rebuild after the storm but in anticipation of it, and where renewable energy isn’t an alternative, but the only option.

Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 in a moment where ecological and political consciousness were intertwined. Senator Gaylord Nelson, when promoting the festivities, called “upon students to fight for environmental causes and oppose environmental degradation with the same energy that they displayed in opposing the Vietnam War,” according to the Library of Congress. A few months later, the Environmental Protection Agency was formed. In the 53 years since, the urgency for ongoing, meaningful consideration of our planet has only become more pronounced. There are many worthwhile initiatives in progress but still much work to be done.

As you consider the environment, and the structural and personal ways we can clean it up, here are a few Earth Day stories, including feel-good tales and well-researched reports.

New York City announces sustainability initiatives ahead of Earth Day

Mayor Eric Adams announced PlaNYC: Getting Sustainability Done, at a press conference in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, on Thursday. PlaNYC is the city’s new long-term strategic climate plan, which “highlights efforts the city is taking to protect New Yorkers from climate threats, improve quality of life, and build the green economy. “ This is the city’s fifth climate plan (which it is legally required to produce). It is organized around three objectives: Protecting us from climate threats; Improving our quality of life; Building the green economic engine.

On the built environment front, the city mark’s out ambitious goals alongside already-underway plans. On the milder end, PlaNYC’s objectives highlight compliance with Local Law 97, encourages the city to “pursue” making city operations free of fossil fuels, and seeks to “reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry by 2033.”

More ambitiously, the plan calls for the decarbonization of public housing and the establishment of a voluntary housing mobility and land acquisition program open to city residents in areas prone to severe flooding through existing state and federal funding.

RISD announces launch of Sustainability Design Lab

Yesterday the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) announced the launch of its Sustainability Design Lab, a program through which students can study low-impact design strategies and material culture, and think critically about pressing climate issues as they relate to the built environment.

The lab will be co-led by Landscape Architecture Department Head Johanna Barthmaier-Payne and Interior Architecture Department Head Wolfgang Rudorf.

“The Sustainability Design Lab will challenge our current relationship with land and the built environment, particularly as it relates to how climate change is intertwined with land use, material culture, and the future of professional design practice,” Barthmaier-Payne said in a press release.

Through the Sustainability Design Lab students can matriculate in a series of interior architecture and landscape architecture classes focused on topics such as adaptive reuse, public health, environmental justice, land use, and more. In addition to classroom learning, the lab will offer on-site learning, workshops, and coursework led by scientists and community groups. It will also host public talks and workshops.

“Access to these experts is imperative for creating a global dialogue based on a wide range of views from outside our familiar disciplines and cultural norms,” added Barthmaier-Payne. “We’re enthusiastic about tapping their expertise to support the cultural and environmental competence of RISD students as they engage with places and communities that are not their own.”

Washington State University students envision plans for towns damaged by wildfire

On September 7, 2020, a wildfire blew through the small Washington towns of Malden and Pine City, decimating 80 percent of their buildings. Landscape architecture students at Washington State University have envisioned plans for how the towns could rebuild and move forward from the environmental tragedy.

Prior to designing individual projects, the cohort visited the two towns, met with community members, and studied the history of the area’s landscape, as well as its indigenous roots. The project is a collaborative endeavor with the Pine Creek Community Restoration Long Term Recovery Organization, a program working on community recovery and wellbeing. Student proposals include restoring area trails, reimagining residential properties to be fire resilient, and a plan to resituate the town.

The student projects will be presented at the Malden Fire Station on April 25 from 1:30 to 4 p.m.

Pew Research Center polling shows Americans’ support for weaning off of fossil fuels

A poll conducted by Pew Research Center shows significant support for shifting America’s energy dependence on fossil fuels while noting gaps along party and age lines. The survey found that 69 percent of Americans support carbon neutrality by 2050, with a vast majority of Democrats and a slight minority of Republicans in favor. However, a majority of Republicans under 30 years old support carbon neutrality by 2050. 

While support for eliminating fossil fuels remains the minority opinion, American adults aged 18 to 29 are nearly evenly split on the issue. State-led support for domestically-produced wind and solar power is more popular, with climate change remaining a higher priority issue for Democrats compared to Republicans. Arguably the most interesting findings in the survey were regional disparities. Respondents on the Pacific Coast, particularly Democrats, were more likely to say that climate change was affecting their community in comparison to politically like-minded respondents elsewhere in the country. 51 percent of West Coast Democrats said that climate change was affecting their local community “a great deal” compared to 38 percent in all other regions, while 11 percent of West Coast Republicans responded the same compared to 10 percent in all other regions. While the West coast has seen its share of climate-induced disasters, ranging from wildfires in California and Oregon to sea-level-rise-induced migration in Alaska, flooding has lethally impacted communities along the Gulf Coast and Northeast in recent years.

And, some additional Earth Day–related reporting