Having grown up in Miami and the Florida Keys, urban designer Walter Meyer has always felt most comfortable by the sea. Today, a sense of comfort on a coastline is harder to come by, but Meyer and landscape architect Jennifer Bolstad are on a mission to change that. Their Brooklyn firm, Local Office Landscape and Urban Design, focuses on projects that, as they put it, "build cities in participation with nature."
Take one of the most urgent issues: the impact of rising sea levels on where we build our homes—and water pollution that comes with unexpected flooding. Sand cordgrass and golden leather fern can buffer and absorb surging water, while oysters can help filter it, which is why all three are featured in Meyer and Bolstad’s 2018 proposal for the shoreline around the North Bay homes in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood.
At a beachfront residential complex in Far Rockaway, Queens, Local Office installed bioswales—linear channels, often vegetated, that treat and absorb stormwater runoff—to mitigate surface flooding.
For the designers, it’s critical that communities understand their options and get a say in what happens to their neighborhoods. Residents whose homes are located in vulnerable areas threatened by rising sea levels face the difficult decision of whether to stay or ultimately leave.
Bolstad explains that many of their projects are designed with this issue in mind, and they try to implement strategies that will buy residents more time to decide whether and how long to stay in their homes.
Local Office’s methods come from research, science-driven design, and their own experiments. Currently, the pair are using sensors to repropagate the threatened hart’s tongue fern growing on the facade of a townhouse in Manhattan. "Cities have many microclimates," Bolstad says.
"This plant doesn’t have to go extinct if you design its habitat into buildings where we’re already investing lots of money. Who’s to say urban facades couldn’t support butterflies or bees?"
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