Sunday, December 2, 2012

Plants as a Model for Urban Transportation

I've been thinking about how we can use our knowledge of plants as a model for urban transportation systems. It's a tantalizing concept. Plants, like cities, are open systems that interact with their environment. Taken from that commonality there's a lot we can learn from plants about how to plan urban transportation systems.



What are some of the goals for transportation systems? Efficacy of movement, low emissions, energy efficiency, safety, low noise levels.

Think about the city. Tens of thousands of people move in and out of the city every day. Inside the urban boundaries they circulate in large and small arteries, pause, and continue on their journey. Along with the people there is the movement of vehicles that carry them or, in the case of bicycles, which they propel themselves. The city also imports all kinds of materials into itself day and night. All of the imports (and exports) are carried in vehicles of every sort. They are taken to nodes, points of activity, and they are processed there. 



Plants import countless molecules of water and nutrients every day. These molecules circulate and are utilized inside the plant body through transportation, change, and excretion. Molecules of various sizes are imported, organized, stored, and built into larger (or smaller) units. All of this happens "passively," that is, there's no noise, no emission, and no use of energy outside of sunlight or the breakdown of molecules like starch that are the products of photosynthesis.



Plant transportation systems have evolved for hundreds of millions of years so that the plant body, the analogue of the urban area, is built elegantly, minimally, and conservatively. Growth for its own sake never occurs on without the concomitant development of an infrastructure. 



Plants are well known for their efficiency in retaining resources like water in dry climates. In addition, plants are built to withstand physical, chemical, and mechanical emergencies like flooding, freezing, and breaking. These are the kinds of emergencies we may be seeing more in our urban areas as climate change continues. How can we develop urban transportation infrastructures that utilize these models?



One objective is to recognize diversity. How many types of transportation actually exist in the city? What do they accomplish? What infrastructure is needed to maintain them while ensuring the goals of safety, efficiency, and other desirable "quality of life" features? 



Another objective is to encourage smart development, not just growth. Do new areas of growth go along with new developmental moves? For example, is infrastructure for alternative modes of transportation like pedestrians and bicycles in place? Are there limits to scalability? For example, can goals like safety and efficiency be met or exceeded even as capacity for transport expands? 

Finally, how can we improve accessibility and efficiency for every part of the city and every population? How can we improve emissions standards? Lower energy use? And how to maintain or improve convenience of movement and transfer of people and materials?



A closer look at plant anatomy, and a study over a range of different kinds of plants, would inform these questions and I think, lead to creative new solutions for transportation problems.



28 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post. Such a amazing pictures of the plants. The pant body, the analog of the city area, is designed beautifully, minimally, and cautiously. Market Research Report

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  2. I think it is imperative yet difficult to incorporate green spaces, efficient transportation and diverse ecosystems into cities. Yet, I think Boston does a pretty good job of this, although there is always room for improvement. There is easily accessible and cheap transportation options (the t and buses) as well as lots of sidewalks and streets for cars. Large green spaces such as the Boston Common break up the concrete and allow ecosystems to thrive even in such an urban area. I think the way of eco-friendly cities in the future involves solar panels and green roofs. These are both innovative ways of taking full advantage of the natural resources in a way that can benefit both businesses and the environment.

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  3. Even though it is pretty difficult to incorporate green spaces into cities I feel like Boston does a pretty good job at accomplishing this. Especially after lecture today and doing the lab there are plenty of affordable and eco friendly ways of getting around the city rather than driving everywhere. For example the t and the mbta buses! What we could do to make sure certain ecosystems thrive in this city is to improve the green spaces we have now in a way that can benefit the businesses and the environments that make up the city of Boston.

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  4. BU and Boston is a relatively green city is comparison to other booming urban spaces. Although it is difficult to implement green spaces for transportation purposes, the city of Boston does a good job. Most people who live within the city use the T and MBTA busses as their form of transportation when going to places too far to walk to. Driving cars is much more popular in suburban or rural areas than it is in the city; it is more green, cost effectively, and timely to bike, walk, or use public transportation. If Boston wants to continue to improve our transportation ecosystems, we must channel plants and think of more natural ways to get around.

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  5. It is very important to try to incorporate green spaces into a city, an idea which I believe Boston does very effectively. Green spaces help to produce a sustainable and healthy environment. It is very important to promote environmental sustainability in a city. With an increased number of people, many more transportation services will be used than in surrounding areas. With the popular use of MBTA busses and trains, public transportation has become a widely acceptable option.

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  6. Cities often lack green space despite the given parks that attract many people and tourist. After completing a year of school at BU at went home( to New York) for the summer and I began and internship which I would commute to the city three time a week. As I would leave from the suburbs to an urban environment the green space was limited. I feel where as New York City lacks green space, Boston on the other and does not. It is a smaller and more manageable city, but there are many parks within it. Outside CGS there is green space, at the BU beach there is green space, but the green space isn't limited to our campus. When traveling to Boston's South End, where it is a very dog friendly neighborhood I saw a dog park, and even an area where people grow vegetables. I believe Boston does a good job to sustain it environment with allowing people to get around. Through sidewalks, the bike lane, and T train or T Bus you can easily get from one side of Boston to another and experience all the amazing this about this city! In the future more solar panels can be put on building to sustain energy more widely.

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  7. Although it is hard to incorporate green space into a city, I believe that Boston does this well, especially in comparison to other cities, for example NYC. There are large green areas in Boston, such as the Boston commons, that allows ecosystems to interact with their environment, even in a more urban area. Boston also does a good job with providing sustainable ways to transport individuals around the city, which was very clear to me after completing the past two labs. For both labs, I was able to commute by MBTA bus and T, transportation options that transport a lot of people in a relatively sustainable manner.

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  8. Boston does a good job of incorporating green space into a city. Even around BU we have examples of green spaces; west campus that has a lot of green and the BU beach incorporates green. What I found interesting about this post was that the first picture provided seemed to be a close up of a leaf. To me, this leaf looked like it could be a map of Boston. The lines running through the leaf help the plant to survive, the roads running through Boston make it easier for people to commute from place to place. While there are many green spaces in Boston I believe that things can always be improved and it wouldn't hurt to incorporate even more green into the city.

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  9. Transportation in an urban environment is both the structure and the life that ebbs and flows through the city, as the stems of plans provide structure and absorb nutrients for life. Furthermore, in order for a city to expand and develop, the transportation must grow and develop. Just as in order for a plant to grow the interior just grow and develop as well.

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  10. Boston is a busy city that works hard to maintain both urban growth and development as well as keeping a green environment. Sustainability is very important to BU as well as the city. In recent years, the idea of the bike hubs located throughout the city have been an excellent way of transportation for many people. Renting a bike from one hub and riding it to your destination, where you can return the bike to any other hub station in Boston is efficient for pedestrians and extremely green for the environment. The MBTA is also a popular mode of transportation for many commuters because it is quicker rather than wasting gas while sitting in traffic every morning on their way to work. Boston makes an important effort to maintain a green space in the city - the Boston Common serves as a stable, park ecosystem that can balance the act of the urbanization going on around it. Sustainability and green space helps to ease the sense of rapid growth for both the ecosystem and the urban setting. Transportation in the city of Boston is efficient and makes a point of always trying to balance urbanization and development with keeping a clean and green ecosystem for the city environment.

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  11. The intricacies of a plant are analogous to urban ecology. Plants and urban ecology both depend on transportation, sustainability and a constant state of motion in order to function properly. Both ecosystems thrive in a particular habitat. City environments and plants must be resilient because they are confronted by a dramatic shift in environment, such as a flood or snow storm. When it snows in the city, sometime our means of transportation shut down and therefore the city cannot function properly. The same is true for a flower when the cold winter weather dries out its veins. The important thing, however, is that plants and urban environments can use transportation to bounce back from any setbacks they encounter. The flower continues to grow in the same spot every year because it has transported its seeds through its roots deep into the ground. People in a city transport themselves by foot or use machines (another form of transportation) to shovel the snow. Thus, transportation is an integral aspect of every organism's life.

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  12. Transportation in an urban environment contributes to the life stream of the city, as the stems of plans provide structure and absorb nutrients for life. Furthermore, in order for a city to expand and develop, the transportation must grow and develop as do plants as they become more complex in changing seasons.

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  13. Boston is a city filled with many different modes of transportation. Plants are also used to transport, importing countless molecules of water and nutrients every day. That is why it is so important that we have green spaces in urban environments. The city of Boston does a great job of this by providing places like the commons and putting up trees wherever they can. Boston also does a good job with cutting down emissions with options such as the bike hubs. By cutting down on emissions we can make the city a safer place for wildlife to thrive.

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  14. What an interesting comparison. Plants and cities do seem to, somewhat ironically, share many similar traits. They are both used as modes of transportation for different things and are constantly interacting with their respective environments (each other!). In class, we have not only discussed the many modes of transportation Boston has to offer, but we have also discussed the goals of transportation, one of which is to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible. I think that the city of Boston has done a great job of trying to encourage efficient, yet green forms of transportation by introducing the bike hubs to the public and trying to use electric power to power certain sections of the T lines.

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  16. Before this semester I never saw the similarities between plants and transportation and now I see how they have many qualities like diversity and seeing ways to improve the efficiency of both. I think in terms of transportation, Boston has done a very great job at making the T very accessible to people everywhere. I see a lot of people who travel on the commuter rail leave there cars in the parking lot of the stops and take the train into the city, a way to make our environment much safer and reduce emissions. I think compared to other cities like New York; Boston has put more green spaces in a variety of communities especially in underserved communities which shows how Boston is adapting to the rapid changing demographics. Although there’s always room for improvement I see that the MBTA is making more changes in order to make it more appealing for people to take the train or bus instead of driving their cars.

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  17. Isabel Vera

    The comparison between the urban transportation environment with the structure and operation of plants is a very intriguing one I had never considered before. Now the similarities between the two involving the permeability, maintenance, and efficiency of both urban & plant environments are quite clear to me. It is interesting that just as plants must adapt to their particular habitat and selective pressures, Boston's urban transportation must adapt to the limitations of space, weather conditions, and many other factors. I believe the MBTA system in Massachusetts and Boston specifically has had great success in allowing the feasible travel of those within and outside of the city while causing little obstruction in the urban community. The T's ability to go above ground and underground is a brilliant approach to the issue of limited space, while the commuter rail reaching far beyond Boston's border allows fluid travel for suburban residents into the city and vice versa.

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  18. This post really puts the class into perspective for me; plants and cities share very similar characteristics that I, myself, would have never thought about. They are both made up of parts that act as transportation systems to different types of things (people vs. nutrients). In class we have discussed different types of transportation and the extent of it's complexity throughout Boston. We've also discussed the importance of efficiency, which I believe Boston has done a great job of incorporating into it's system.

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  19. I had never before thought about the similarities between the functions of plant life and urban transportation. I can certainly see the overlap in respect to the diversity of both plants/modes of transport, as well as their efficacy in their respective areas, but I never fully realized how both have adapted to our modern human society. Our class discussion on the goals of transportation and environmental costs of transportation presented a paradox that I believe plant life serves to solve.

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  20. The comparison between plants and urban transportation is an interesting one. This article correctly compares urban transportation with the arteries of a plant. Transportation allows people to more easily get around, just like the tubes of the plant allow nutrients to be transported throughout the plant. Many cities do not balance green space with transportation, something that Boston seems to do so well. When looking to expand infrastructure in the future, planners must maintain that balance so the city can remain sustainable. Plants so effortlessly transport molecules and nutrients, grow and develop, and excrete unneeded materials without impact. City developers need to look to the model that plants provide when further developing the infrastructure of their cities.

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  21. This article does a good job of putting the similarities between plant life and urban transportation into perspective. Plants circulate countless molecules of water and nutrients every day in the same way that tens of thousands of people move in and out of the city every day. It is also interesting to see how similar the cell layouts in plant leaves are to the layout of city blocks of urban environments.

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  22. I've never thought about it, but plants do have vital transportation elements that are as important to the plant's life as subways, cars, trains, and planes are to city life. However, plants are much more efficient, and their transportation methods are both literally and figuratively "greener" than those of our modern transportation systems. Ideally, urban transportation will evolve to a level where it can meet the needs of the society and the environment they reside in.

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  23. Your article does a great job of making connections between plant life and urban transportation. Both plants and urban transportation infrastructures act as pathways for the movement of nutrients and people respectively. Its actually interesting to think about because people are often called the life blood of a city.

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  24. This post was really interesting because it creates a very unique parallel between plants and cities and how they both act as transportation systems. Plants and cities are both made up of parts that act as systems through which people/nutrients move. It's also interesting how cities and plants both look to evolve and develop more efficient characteristics.

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  25. The parallel you make on transportation between plants and cities I found interesting. Even though cities and plants are composed of different materials, they do similar work like import and export materials. They also work towards resiliency and efficiency. Thinking about it this way makes the transportation systems of cities and plants easy to compare and knowing how one works makes it easier to understand the other.

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  26. We have been discussing the history of transportation, how it evolved and how it devolved in certain capacities. This article connected the idea that biological systems are analogous to the urban transportation systems, because all plants are diverse and cities too. We discussed briefly how New York was planned in a grid formation, arguably easier to understand, and bostons system was a reaction to the land, may be the hills or the swamps. Plants sytems are efficient and make nutrients accessible to the parts of the system that need it. I find that bostons mbta system makes sense because the major parts of the cities are accessible. However, there is much to improve to make it organized and sustainable. This article showed me that there are a myriad of ways to do so, because we have a myriad of examples in plants.

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  27. Transportation, like a water molecule in a plant, helps benefit the community it inhabits. It transfers people from in and out of the city to various regions. People work in these places and without transportation, people would not be able to commute to work. This work further benefits the economy. The water molecule "commutes" to the plant to help it survive. The public transportation allows survival for the city and the people working and commuting around the area.

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