Have you ever been to one of these Cities?

• LoDo and the Central Platte Valley, Denver, Colorado

• Short North, Columbus, Ohio

• Kitsilano, Vancouver, British Columbia

• Flamingo Park, Miami Beach, Florida

• Little Portugal, Toronto, Ontario

• Eisenhower East, Alexandria, Virginia

• The Pearl District, Portland, Oregon

• Downtown and Raynolds Addition, Albuquerque, New Mexico

• Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York

• Little Italy, San Diego, California

• Cambridgeport, Cambridge, Massachusetts

• Old Pasadena, Pasadena, California


On a regular basis, we read Better Cities & Townsand this month in their newsletter they talk a lot about transit-oriented development, walkable cities and just plain good urban design.  The cities above were featured in a book called Made for Walking and the basis of the book is a study on the above neighborhoods and why the neighborhoods in these cities are so successful.  Well, based on the title of the book, y ou can probably guess, it’s because they are “made for walking”.

When cities, developments and neighborhoods put an effort towards connecting the different neighborhoods in a variety of walk-able ways, it almost always proves to be successful.  What constitutes a walk-able neighborhood.  Well, in our experience, it has been the following:

  • People scaled streetscape elements including lamps, bike racks, architecture

    Downtown development in Lafayette
  • The architecture is also important, it has to be unique and speak to the neighborhood
  • Retail, residential, restaurants, bars, coffee shops – they all need to be there
  • Minimal vehicular circulation – meaning that one lane in each direction, or even a one-way street with one to two lanes
  • Parking located on the back sides of the streetscape – behind buildngs
  • Minimal parking located along the actual street
  • Attractive streetscape furniture and places to gather with friends, associates
  • Events, you need to have events on a regular basis to keep people coming back

So, do you have a downtown or neighborhood that needs help?  We are experts at urban design and placemaking and are here for your reference.

Drainage maintenance tips for your home

If I had to name the single greatest factor for flooding or flood related problems on properties not in flood zones, it would be the lack of maintenance to the drainage system.  By drainage system, I mean swales, ditches, storm drain inlets, downspouts, gutters, and any surface or concentration point that collects or moves rain water.  Here are what I think are some of the key points to maintaining a clean drainage system, and preventing flooding on your property.

  • Each fall, before the rainy season begins, clean out your gutters, run water (via a hose) down your roof drain downspouts to check for leaks and that water is exiting freely, and clear out any debris from drain grates, as well as within the drainage inlets and storm drain pipes.  Water test your storm drain pipes (if you have them on your property), and make sure they actually work.  Have a local sewer service company come and clean out your pipes if you can’t do it yourself.
  • Repeat the above for each spring, after the rainy season, if you had any flooding during the winter.
  • During the rainy season, a day before expected rain, check out your drain inlets on your property, and clear out trash and debris.  Are your inlets filled with silt or landscape debris (branches, mulch, leaves)?  Shovel them out.  If you do this quick check before each storm, it won’t take much time.  But, if you wait ’till there’s a problem, then it can be costly.


Michael Cook involved with national irrigation standards

Over the past year and a half, our Vice President of Planning and Landscape Architecture Michael Cook, has been involved with two different committees of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers for nationwide standards in water and irrigation.  The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers is an international scientific and educational organization dedicated to the advancement of engineering applicable to agricultural, food, and biological systems. Its 9,000 members, from more than 100 countries, are consultants, managers, researchers, and others who have the training and experience to understand the interrelationships between technology and living systems.

Michael Cook

Michael has been involved with standard X623, Standardized Procedure for Determining Landscape Plant Water Requirements, and standard X627, Standardized Testing Protocol for Weather-based or Soil Moisture-based Landscape Irrigation Control Devices.  These standards will potentially provide nationwide standards (where currently there are either regionally or state based standards).  By standardizing nationally, landscape architects, designers and contractors will more easily be able to work in multiple states or regions.

Standard X623 has an objective to “…describe a methodology to estimate net landscape plant water requirements of permanently installed, non-production based, established landscape materials.  The standard will provide minimum water requirements for acceptable plant appearance and function.

The procedure may include information and techniques to aid decisions for potential deficit watering to maintain plants under minimum survival requirements (drought conditions). ”  Michael’s experience with irrigation standards, knowledge of plant-based needs and internal knowledge of what California, as well as other states, have accomlished has proven to be irreplaceable.

“As the demand on water resources and the importance of water use efficiency grow, water agencies, regulators, land owners, landscape managers, and others are relying more heavily on irrigation controllers that use real-time weather or soil-moisture data to determine irrigation needs and scheduling.  The new document will standardize the methods for testing such controllers.”  Standard X627 will have extreme importance as these controllers become standard nationwide.

Michael has been involved significantly as Chair of subcommittees and the knowledge source for multiple different subcommittees.  It has been his pleasure to assist ASABE in their efforts.

Marin County Stormwater Program

Marin County’s Stormwater Program is undergoing changes that will affect all developments that create or replace as little as 2,500 square feet of impervious surfaces, including detached single family residences that are not part of a larger development.  Unless edits occur to the final order now on file with the State Water Resources Control Board, this change will commence July 1, 2013.  In addition, starting July 1, 2014, projects that create or replace 5,000 square feet of impervious surfaces (not including single family residences that are not part of a larger development) will require implementation of site design, source control, runoff reduction, storm water treatment and baseline hydromodification management.

What affect might this have on you or your project?  Give us a call, and we’d be happy to assist you.  Call 707-792-1800, and ask for Michael Tarnoff, vice president of engineering, and certified QSP/QSD with the California Stormwater Quality Association.  Or, email Michael at michael@firmadesigngroup.com


Jail Industries: A Hidden Nursery Gem

For those of you who live in Sonoma County, and are plant lovers like us…if you don’t know about Jail Industries – you must read this blog!

Entrance Sign

The Sonoma County Jail Industries program is a partnership with the Sheriff’s Department and the Sonoma County Office of Education.  The purpose of the program is to “train inmates to grow and nurture over 200 varieties of plants from seedlings to large 24″ box trees. In the process the inmates gain self-esteem and employable skills.”  The National Tree Trust and School Environmental  Education Docents also participate with the program.   If you haven’t been to one of the open plant sales that the Jail Industries program hosts, check out this link:  http://www.sonoma-county.org/jailindustries/plantsale.htm.  The sales happen two times a year in April and October.  But you may also make an appointment with Instructor Rick Stern by calling (707) 525-8310 or emailing jailind@mcn.org.


There are over three acres of ornamental plants for sale that equates to approximately 2,000 fifteen-gallon trees, 7,000 five-gallon trees and room for 40,000 one-gallon plants and trees. There are 1,000 flats of various annual plants.  And all of these plants are for sale at (usually) less than wholesale prices, but especially below retail prices.  Even if you are planning a small landscape remodel, it is well worth it to check out this program.  Mr. Stern has produced an amazing program at the North County Detention Center and the community needs to know about this wonderful resource!  To learn more, please visit this link:  http://www.sonoma-county.org/jailindustries/index.htm