Year: 2014- ongoing
Location: Troy, New York
Supported by: The US Geological Survey (USGS) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) through the Water Resources Institute.
Graduate Assistants: Petra Marar, Jinhee Ha, Judith Yang, Rachel Jawin

Visualizing Landscape Change in Troy

This animated image compiles and analyzes aerial photographs across 60 years to describe changes in urban forest cover in the Troy sewershed. Four representative areas are then chosen and zoomed in on, and analyzed across time for change in forest cover, suburban development, and fields, three prominent landscape types in the city that affect combined sewer overflows because they have radically different runoff coefficients. This series demonstrates that forest cover and suburban development both increase during the period from 1952-2011.

Water-related urban infrastructures are complex, dynamic objects that operate at multiple temporal and spatial scales simultaneously. For instance, a constructed wetland might retain and infiltrate stormwater over a fairly short period, altering potential social uses and lessening stress on sewers, while simultaneously acting as a toxin sink over decades and creating a zone with soils or vegetation that may become harmful to certain forms of life.

Developing appropriate representational tools that capture the conflicted nature of these systems offers a potent tool for translating complex ideas between stakeholders with different perspectives. Visualization of landscape change at multiple operative scales is one powerful method for communicating complex information clearly that promises to help bridge existing divides between different technical disciplines, and specific publics affected by these dynamics.

The City of Troy offers an ideal place to study these effects, and to use the tools of landscape architecture to begin to improve human and ecosystem health. Located at the upper limit of the Hudson River Estuary and the eastern edge of the Erie Canal, a former industrial powerhouse located in the Empire State's Capital Region, with a dramatic topographic condition and strong social institutions as well as problems, the situation in the City of Troy is extremely complex and dynamic.

This project is interested in applying the representational tools of landscape architecture which have the ability to visualize structural and biological information (such as plant growth rates, or the structural members of a bulkhead) with spatial analytics at very large and very small scales simultaneously (such as exploring the relationship between changes in forest cover and changes in powerline easement specifications). This synthesis of extensive and intensive representational techniques will allow for the exploration of correlations between water-related infrastructure performance and landscape change over time.

*This research is done for the public of the State of New York and is undertaken as a public good. If you would like access to high resolution versions of these images, please contact Brian Davis, brd63|at|cornell.edu

Publications: “Event-Specific High Resolution Aerial Photography: Visualizing Landscape Change.” 2015 CELA Conference.

Water Quality and Land Use in the Hudson River Watershed

[This map shows different aspects of the Hudson River watershed that effect water quality in the estuary; in particular land use and tidal flow rate; in addition, tidal elevation change and number of days when the water exceeds EPA recommendations for recreational use are graphed; this shows that Troy is in one of the most urbanized areas, and has the worst water quality and most elevational change due to tides]

Mapping of the sewer overflow infrastructure performance in the Albany Pool region

[The map shows the volume, duration, location, and frequency of combined sewer overflows throughout the Albany Pool. ] From this visualization it is evident that while Albany has the single largest and most problematic sewer outfall, Troy has the most and widest range of these situations. Troy offers a window in to the rest of the Capital Region.]

An enlargement of the Albany Pool sewer overflow map, here showing the City of Troy

[Sewer system performance data, specifically the volume, duration, and frequency of combined sewer overflows is visualized on this map to characterize the different outfalls; this information is used to choose a smaller number for futher study; the information visualized here is pulled from the Albany Pool Combined Sewer Overflow Long Term Control Plan]

Urban Forest Cover: Changes from 1952-2011

[This map compiles and analyzes data sets across 60 years to describe changes in urban forest cover in the Troy sewershed; one of the initial hypotheses for this project was that urban forest cover had decreased over this time period and been replaced by lawn, buildings, and paving, all of which have a much higher runoff coeffecient and contribute to stormwater runoff much more than forests. This was not the case. In fact, forest cover has increased in Troy over that time period, likely due to conservation programs and increased post-industrial vacancy and subsequent rewilding]

Troy's Sewer Infrastructure: Plumbing, landscape, and land use

[This map of the city of Troy attempts to show the primary factors affecting water quality in the Hudson including land use, topography, forest cover, sewer infrastructure and sewersheds as well as prominent place names and roads in the community; we use a transect method to give additional detail in key areas related to specific outfalls, and the overflow information related to those outfalls is then graphed and photographs of the suburbanized areas in those transects are shown and annotated.]