Chasing Patterns

By: Kristen Horine, Land Planner

If you needed me growing up, I would have been stream side peeling off leeches, in the backyard digging up red wrigglers or napping on the forest floor covered in sap. I have always felt connected to the natural world, so the transition from curious child to environmentalist felt seamless – and so did the transition from graphic designer to landscape architect.

My love for the trees led me to pursue a degree at Michigan State University in Agriculture and Natural Resource Communications with a specialization in Environmental Studies. While there, I learned how best to communicate environmental issues with the public/legislators/stakeholders/naysayers and how to make these messages effective…and pretty. I worked with non-profit environmental organizations to produce logos, marketing collateral and websites, bringing attention to their ever important messages.

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After a move across the country to Portland, Oregon (Mt. Hood calling my name), I fell in love with gardens. All of them. Messy and natural Rudbeckia maxima falling over coreopsis and gently cradling a small patch of phlox. Formal, with the boxwoods all in a row, with sage providing a fragrant and welcoming space. I became a certified Master Gardener and volunteered my time talking about garden pests, juicy tomatoes and how to make the best lavender scone. One day at a volunteer event, I met a landscape architect. She gave me the LA tour of the city I loved; Lawrence Halprin’s Lovejoy Plaza, Atelier Dreiseitl’s Tanner Springs and Washington Park’s Japanese Garden. I felt like she tore open a new portal of adventure, and I jumped in.

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Lawrence Halprin’s Lovejoy Plaza

I applied to Temple University’s School of Environmental Design (one of the few schools in the country with a graduate level landscape architecture degree with a core focus on ecological restoration). I moved from Portland to Philadelphia. I was excited to take my core skills of graphic design; contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity and blend them with interactive and ever-changing outdoor spaces.

The natural world is the most inspiring venue for beauty…texture, color and pattern seep through the fabric of space. One of my favorite landscape architects, Gary Smith – captures this idea perfectly. I heard him speak in a small venue at Winterthur Museum and Country Estate in Delaware one breezy fall day. As a trained artist, he pulls his inspiration from the nine basic patterns he finds in the world. Scattered, mosaic, naturalistic drift, serpentine, spiral, circle, radial, dendritic and fractured. In his own words, “These (patterns) can be used to describe almost everything that exists. Often when exploring the natural world, you’ll find that two or more patterns combine to create a rich visual image.” He calls on these patterns to create something remarkable in the landscape.

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Gary Smith’s Pattern’s in Nature

I started at Environmental Design Group this past January. This firm is the perfect blend of science, engineering, art and nature. I am fortunate to work with some of the greatest minds, who have the ability to seamlessly push the envelope of design to produce something beautiful as well as functional. I still have a lot to learn on this career path, but have always found nature to be a pretty patient teacher.

 

Lead – Not a Problem in Akron’s Drinking Water

By: Ray Flasco, P.E., Senior Project Engineer

Everyone knows that lead is bad; but lead in drinking water is particularly treacherous as it has been found in the water supplies in Flint, Michigan and Sebring, Ohio for example. There has been about a dozen more water suppliers in Ohio and elsewhere in other states, as well.

We have all heard in major media, the ramifications of lead in the human body – from brain damage, to kidney failure, the repercussions can have detrimental effects.

Most possible water contaminants originate at the source or the water plant, but lead is different. The lead almost always comes from the person’s own water service such as their water pipes, fittings and faucets. If the water delivered by the water plant is not corrosion resistant, lead can dissolve from the home’s interior piping.

That is why lead tests are done at customers’ homes. After the water has stood at least 6-hours without being used, it needs time for the lead to dissolve in to the water.

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As seen in the image above, this is a lead service connection. The corporation valve, which sits on the left side, screws into the cast iron water main, and the lead pipe on the right side connects to the customer’s water line. The service line is just one possible source for lead. Just as likely sources could also include the actual faucet or the soldered joints in the copper plumbing.

As big as the lead problem is in Flint, many communities have taken this as a learning opportunity to ensure it never happens where they live.

I have worked with the Akron Water Supply for more than 42-years, and there has been an environment of diligence in serving clean and safe water to Akron citizens. As for lead, Akron was generations ahead of this issue. Akron stopped installing lead services, the pipe from the water main to the property line of the house, in the 1930’s. Akron stopped using lead joints in pipes in the 1940’s. Recognizing potential problems with lead, Akron began replacing the approximate 45,000 lead services with copper in the 1950’s with about 4,000 lead services remaining as the replacement program continues.

Being a progressive utility agency, in 1982, Akron began adding a chemical to prevent lead corrosion, well before increased regulations were mandated. Akron continues to add zinc orthophosphate today at a cost of about $130,000 per year.

Beginning in 1992, Akron complied with, at the time, a new lead testing program at customers’ taps. This lead testing program continues today as Akron can provide assurance that its drinking water has always met the EPA limits for lead. In addition to the required testing of 50 customers once every three years, Akron tested over 100 additional houses this year to assure concerned customers that lead isn’t an issue in the homes of Akron citizens.

The Akron Water Supply is now preparing to test other anti-corrosion treatments for lead using the test pipes pictured below. Shown are two lead service pipes with valves on timers that open and close to simulate normal home usage of two faucets. Lead samples are taken from the faucets and sent to an outside lab for lead testing.

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So far the apparatus is still coming to chemical equilibrium from the handling associated with removal and mounting. When the lead levels approach the levels before the pipes were removed, we can begin to test different anti-corrosion treatments.

As diligent for lead as we have been, the Akron Water Supply gives similar care to protecting the drinking water from the more than one hundred other regulated contaminants including bacteria, viruses, protozoa, algal byproducts, heavy metals, radiological levels, disinfectants and disinfection byproducts, inorganics, volatile organic contaminants, pesticides, turbidity, pharmaceuticals in the environment, and endocrine disruptors. Yes, my family, friends and I drink the water we treat, and I’m so glad to work where I can help assure the quality of our water supply.

Lead is in the news now, but every known contaminant gets properly addressed by the Akron Water Supply personnel in Operations, Watershed, Laboratory, Distribution, and Regulatory Compliance. If you’d like to see what else is or isn’t in Akron’s drinking water, we have always been proud to publish the complete list of “All Water Tests” in the Akron drinking water supply at www.akronohio.gov/cms/Water/CCR/index.html.

*Ray Flasco is an employee at Environmental Design Group, but works full time at the City of Akron Water Supply Bureau.

Leadership and Consistency – Impactful Innovation Through the Lens of One Community

By: Dwayne Groll, P.E., LEED-AP, President 

What type of community would turn an area of a previous wastewater treatment facility into a constructed wetland for conservation, then develop and build connectivity ahead of a future Rails to Trails project adjacent to the community, and experiment with a new solar array providing residences a new source of power, and then construct a demonstration project for rural Green and Complete Streets?

One may think about a large suburban or urban city or perhaps a county that’s very progressive, and has funds that are fueled by growth. The answer, in this case, is a small rural community, with little funds, where everyone still knows your name.

As we drive through the rural hills of Ohio, we come upon town after town that maintains those familial characteristics, but in many, one can often sense the struggles associated with being remote, lacking the big town resources in funds and people to move the needle forward.

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So what makes this Village unique, and what can we learn from their journey to be replicated in other communities, big or small, rural or urban?

I first came to the Village nearly two decades ago, instructed by my boss at the time to help the Village in their infrastructure needs, and that, ‘they were a little behind in those needs.’ Arriving as a young engineer, with ideas and energy, I still remember the first meeting when one of the community leaders jokingly said, “We had two nickels to rub together, but somewhere we lost one and the other is a little tarnished.” I didn’t realize until the end of the meeting that he wasn’t joking.

Wow! Not knowing quite what I had stepped in to, somehow the task at hand seemed impossible. So I did what any self-respecting engineer would do – grabbed a napkin off the table and said, “Tell me every possible project and dream that you want done in the Village, and don’t think about the cost or time frame – all simple or wildly crazy ideas accepted.”  Then we broke it down into what types of improvement each item was and suddenly we had a capital plan, and every year since, it’s the same process – what’s important, what priorities have changed and what’s in the queue for the immediate future that needs to get planned, funded, designed, built and maintained?

But in reality, the capital plan, and the associated planning, design and construction that has replaced almost every piece of infrastructure over the last 20 years hasn’t been solely about the capital plan. The success rides foundationally on the community’s leadership intertwined with several other elements.

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Shortly after getting engaged with the Village, a new mayor arrived on the scene, and with the exception of a short stint in 2014-2015, is still mayor today.  Observing his actions, watching him get the right people on the bus, developing community wide engagement and observing the progress over time has been a reflection in learning, and I believe these lessons learned can and are often applied to many healthy communities and businesses, regardless of scale.  One can read about leadership in countless books detailing why and how, but observing it in real life, brings it to the forefront of reality.

Reflecting today on the journey, three key elements of the community engine bubbled to the surface:

Leadership – An absolute. When a complaint would filter in, it wasn’t always, “The Village will look into it” –  it often was, “I could use your help in resolving the issue” – or calling Environmental Design Group, a neighboring community, the county, the state, a regulator, a nonprofit – and the list goes on, to help solve the issue. Being vulnerable and humble enough to ask for help – well, it’s amazing who is willing to help.

Consistency – Always. Only so much can get done every year, but if every year something gets done, then the community gets rebuilt and keeps moving forward while maintaining the characteristics and the people that are the community ecosystem.  Looking back, most infrastructure has been replaced, utilities and roads are consistently maintained and repaired- however a year off, that would have been devastating. – to the long range success.

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Innovate – Forever.  What is the Village doing today?  Building a Green and Complete Street project. Why?  To illustrate that Green Infrastructure is viable for a rural community, not just a big urban city.  To help the environment.  Are they jumping on the Green Infrastructure bandwagon?  No, it’s just engrained in their thought process to keep improving the community through innovation. When they were building the new wastewater facility, the questions arose – what to do with the old lagoon that held and treated the wastewater before and didn’t function properly?  Help the environment, make the storm water discharge cleaner, build a constructed wetland and turn the old lagoon into something special.  One of the most memorable moments for me was at the new plant, when the operator took me over to the creek receiving the new effluent and pointed out something he had never seen before in his lifetime in the creek – fish.  The impact of that moment made it all worthwhile!

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What’s the next innovation??  A solar array, financed and built by a power company that will supply power to the Village, and built on Village property.

Leadership, Consistency, Innovation – a real life case study in rural America, better than a Harvard Business Review. Stop by the Village, coordinates, 40.9023° N, 81.7340° to see how one rural community keeps moving forward and visit the Green and Complete Street Demonstration Project under construction on Park Street.

What have you witnessed that has driven long term sustainable and successful impacts in communities?

myPath – Why the iTowpath Trail Motivates Me

By: Kyle T. Lukes, ASLA – Landscape Architect

From its original conception in the 1960’s until the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail was completed in 2012, it took roughly half a century for the Akron portion to be complete. Modern land use and laws are far more complex now, but the Ohio & Erie Canal was originally built in 9 years – all 308 miles. That’s not a knock on the Towpath Trail…far from it, actually. It has been remarkable to witness and be a part of something that has transcended a generation.

This Towath Trail connects people and places like no roadway could ever aspire to accomplish. What’s more inspiring is that time has not diminished interest in the Towpath Trail. If anything, it has allowed it to blossom. The iTowpath portion of the trail is the latest example that the original vision is still very much alive and well.

iTowpath is a grassroots effort funded by The Knight Foundation, the Akron Community Foundation, GAR Foundation and many others to improve the Towpath Trail experience through downtown Akron. Some planned improvements include wayfinding signage, bike lanes, public art, connections to Akron attractions, gateway arches, and underpass enhancements. For me, underpasses are where my story begins.

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Underpasses in Akron have largely been utilized for Towpath Trail thoroughfares on a journey to somewhere else. Most people don’t think, ‘hey, I think I will go down to the underpass for a walk, or meet my friends.’ But, what if they did? As part of iTowpath, the Ohio & Erie Canal Coalition’s (OECC) Associate’s Board adopted Russell Avenue underpass as a test project to figure out what could work and how to perform the improvements. It is the first underpass to undergo the transformation from space into place. In the future, there could be nine more underpasses to go through this same transformation.

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So far, improvements include painting, landscape bed replacement, and removal of overgrown vegetation. All of this work was completed by volunteers. While iTowpath has relied on assistance from contractors and designers, it also relies heavily on the true grit and determination of volunteers, and support from area residents and businesses. I was pleasantly surprised when January Paint and Wallpaper donated thousands of dollars of supplies and materials to help complete work. This is one example of how the initial funding is going even further because of people’s interest in the Towpath Trail.

kyle 4“True grit is literally all over me.”

The Towpath Trail is a very well-traveled corridor, and through construction, traffic didn’t slow down. It was extremely rewarding to see people’s excitement as they approached the underpass to experience the improvements. And after the work was complete, I remember hearing comments about how bright and open the underpass looked. Prior to the transformation, it felt like you were going through a dark tunnel, and with soon to be installed lighting enhancements, that new feeling will be complemented with an appealing glow that will even change color based on time of day!

Russell Avenue is a narrow underpass that has been given an identity, but other underpasses will provide opportunities to not only become places, but destinations. Imagine a mini park, an engaging public art installation, a colored light show, an amphitheater, skate park, or adventure playground happening where a  barren space exists today!  It brings personality, charm, and provides a sense of place.

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As I ride the Towpath Trail now with my daughter, I realize what she will have access to because of a big idea and persistent determination. It’s amazing to be a part of history as it repeats itself. The Towpath Trail may be more than a half century in development, but it is part of a 191-year-old dream about a transportation corridor that is still paying dividends. In this case, history repeating itself has been nothing but good.

What are your underpasses doing for you? Don’t be afraid to take another look at “completed” projects, because this experience has allowed me to re-think my own approach to transforming spaces, and as a landscape architect, I think that trying is not failing, but failing to try…well, that’s another story.

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