This is a dispatch from Theodore Endreny’s sabbatical in Italy….
Not only does Portugal define mainland Europe’s western edge, it is also on the cutting edge of Europe’s urban renewal and sustainable landscape design. The country can showcase stunning graffiti and green infrastructure installations that serve environmental, social, and economic goals. Portugal’s portfolio of projects, and the leadership team helping design them, were on display during the early May 2016 workshop, “Design and implementation of urban green infrastructure: adaptation to global change”, held at the University of Beira Interior in Covilha, in the Star Mountain Range. As part of this workshop, I was invited to deliver a seminar on our i-Tree Hydro tool, explaining the new soil water balance routines; these were primarily developed by SUNY ESF ERE PhD student Tom Taggart to respond to grey infrastructure pipes that drain and leak water, as well as green infrastructure devices such as rain gardens, rain barrels, and green roofs.
The workshop was strategically small, providing greater impact by providing attendees a rare chance for long and detailed conversations on the challenges and opportunities for sustainable green infrastructure design. The organizers had arranged for participation and talks by a wide range of professionals, both academics and practitioners, and this interdisciplinary mix created several aha moments for participants as we reached beyond our own discipline and learned from our colleagues. The mix of professionals included economists, city and regional planners, landscape architects, architects, geotechnical engineers, civil engineers, water engineers, environmental scientists, and botanists. The students attending the workshop, and the panel discussion, were provided with very practical training. For example, I presented the steps to use the i-Tree Hydro tool, with details on how to obtain and process input data of land cover, precipitation, and terrain elevation, which is used to calculate a topographic index for predicting wet areas that may benefit from more tree plantings. Dr. Cristina Fael explained how to design river flood plains so that they provide riparian forest habitat as well as convey new, likely larger, flood waters due to climate change. And Carlos Ribas explained how to install a green roof that spans about 15 soccer fields, but also includes a variety of slopes, elevations, and functions.
Field tours added to the workshop learning. In Covilha, installations of green infrastructure are fitting into a streetscape that has historic tiled buildings and avant-garde graffiti, both of which celebrate the town’s wool heritage as home to the Royal Textile Factory. In such a setting, street trees and vegetated walls would need to installed such that they enhance, and not obstruct visibility of the graffiti and tiles. Working with biological growth can create graffiti and beauty, as illustrated by Artist William Kentridge who power washed specific parts of the biological muck from stone levees lining the Tiber River right bank, to create expansive, yet disappearing, murals called Triumphs and Laments. In Milan, and increasingly other cities, vertical forests are grown on buildings, again providing an example of creating and not obstructing beauty.
In Lisbon, the tour focused on the green roof for the Alcantara Wastewater Treatment Plant, designed by Carlos Ribas and Joao Nunes. This green infrastructure project performs multiple functions, including decreasing the stormwater runoff burden of the plant, the odor of the plant, and the break in landscape connectivity between hill and river initially incurred by the plant, as well as provides a picnic site for the plant workers and an inspirational aesthetic for the tens of thousands of commuters. Back in the University of Beira Interior, a tour of the engineering department featured their laboratory flume used to represent a meandering river and design sustainable floodplains. This laboratory can contribute to analysis of green infrastructure as linear systems, connecting urban to rural landscapes, and providing corridors to support biodiversity and human well being.
Contact information: Dr. Theodore Endreny, firstname.lastname@example.org
Acknowledgement: The travel for project has been supported in part by the Portugal Fulbright Commission, the University of Beira Interior, and a USDA Forest Service i-Tree award. The preparation leading to the workshop was supported by the U.S. – Italy Fulbright Commission and Parthenope University through a Fulbright Scholar grant to Theodore Endreny to serve as Distinguished Chair in Environmental Science at Parthenope University in Naples, Italy, and by the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry through a sabbatical leave to Theodore Endreny.