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The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag: From Modern Space to Urban Ecological Design / University of Washington Press

The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag: From Modern Space to Urban Ecological Design / University of Washington Press

If landscape architect Richard Haag had stopped with Gas Works Park and Bloedel Reserve in Seattle, Washington, “these two projects alone would have assured his place in American landscape architectural history,” Marc Treib asserts in the forward to the new book, The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag: From Modern Space to Urban Ecological Design, by Thaïsa Way, ASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington. Yet these two projects are but a fragment of the works that have earned him fame in the realm of urban ecological design. In the book, Way places Haag’s nearly five decade-long careers as a landscape architect, activist, and teacher in the context of the “changes in the practice of landscape architecture” in the U.S over the same time period, ultimately providing a lens through which landscape architects can study urban ecological design.

The book is organized both thematically and chronologically, starting with Haag’s humble upbringing in rural Kentucky. Haag’s family was closely tied to the land in their agrarian community of Jeffersontown, and the legacy of successful farmers and growers there “shaped Haag’s view of the world as he has described it: living and working with nature as a lover.” This mindset intersected with an increasing focus on the scientific understanding of ecological processes that was taking hold in profession just as Haag began learning about it. His curiosity about landscape architecture led him to academia. But despite his extensive education at the University of Illinois, the University of California at Berkeley, and Harvard’s Graduate School of Design — as well as his apprenticeships under Modernists Hideo Sasaki and Dan Kiley — Haag remained true to his roots. As Way states, he has been known to frequently quip that one should “never trust a landscape architect without mud on his shoes.”

Haag on a tractor / Washington University PRess

Haag on a tractor / University of Washington Press

Perhaps much of Haag’s success can be attributed to the many contrasts he created for himself in his professional life. Though he had a deep tie to his rural hometown, and always sought to return to it, he pursued his interests in Japanese design through a Fulbright scholarship. Way’s portrayal of Haag’s time in Japan is enough to convince any budding landscape architect to study in Kyoto. He then jumped on the bandwagon of California residential design in the early 1950s and finally headed to the Pacific Northwest where he made a name for himself.

He is portrayed throughout the book as a highly adaptable individual whose design style closely follows suit. Way notes that Haag’s teachings in the classroom at The University of Washington, where he founded the landscape architecture department, emphasized landscape architecture as not only a profession, but a life perspective. “In the 1960s, the practice of landscape architecture as a civic engagement that addressed growing concern for the environment and cultural practices offered one of the most exciting opportunities in any design field,” Way writes.

Richard Haag teaching "Poetic Response." Drawing by Laurie Olin for the College of Architecture and Urban Planning yearbook, 1960-61 / Washington University Press

Richard Haag teaching “Poetic Response.” Drawing by Laurie Olin for the College of Architecture and Urban Planning yearbook, 1960-61 / University of Washington Press

Though Way states it was not necessarily her intention to celebrate Haag’s work, it is difficult not to celebrate a landscape architect who has made such significant contributions to the field. Of the many projects highlighted in the book – entire chapters are dedicated to Gas Works Park and Bloedel Reserve – some of the Haag’s more fascinating and less recognized contributions are his dedication to the Pacific Northwestern landscape and his use of landform as art.

With his interest and training in Japanese design, Haag was uniquely suited to practice in the Pacific Northwest where there was a Japanese character to both the architecture and landscape architecture. Haag has created hundreds of residential gardens in the Pacific Northwest from Seattle to Vancouver to Portland, Oregon. While these gardens are not only expressive of Pacific Northwestern regionalism, they are also reflective of Haag’s own design intentions. The result is an identity intrinsic to both the landscape and the designer. To say it another way: Haag was inspired by the Pacific Northwest, and the style we now consider pervasive there is undoubtedly Haag-inspired.

As fascinated as Haag was by the idea of public place as democratic space, the art of form-making with earth was of equal importance to him in its ability to shape spatial experience, ecological process, and convey infinite narratives. One of his most dramatic use of land forms before the great mound at Gas Works Park was at Jordan Park in Everett, Washington. Using five thousand cubic yards of sand from the recently dredged marina, Haag experimented with this remove-and-reuse process that he would later refine at Gas Works Park. Though the park was demolished in 2008 with the intention to develop the site for mixed residential use, its memory provides a replicable example of one of Haag’s most iconic design approaches: “One man’s waste is another man’s treasure.”

Richard Haag's Jordan Park in Everett, Washington / Washington University Press

Richard Haag’s Jordan Park in Everett, Washington / Washington University Press

Though his work is not entirely finished, his legacy is already well established. Even at 90, Haag still continues to practice in Seattle, despite Way’s reference to him in the past tense. His work continues to provide an alternative to a profession that often still struggles to move away from its perception as a “luxury-oriented practice of garden design.”

If anything, Haag’s thinking and experimentation related to remediation and reclamation will only become increasingly important to a post-industrial society, making this book, and a deeper consideration of his novel design thinking, a necessity for all landscape architects.

Read the book.

30 Years of Emerging Voices / Princeton Architectural Press

30 Years of Emerging Voices / Princeton Architectural Press

The Emerging Voices Award was created in 1982 by the Architectural League of New York to showcase the work of early- to mid-career American architects, landscape architects, and urban designers. Each year, through an invited competition, a jury selects practitioners or firms with a “significant body of realized work that represents the best of its kind and has the potential to impact the future of architecture and landscape design.” 30 Years of Emerging Voices: Idea, Form, Resonance, a new book by the Architectural League of New York, documents and assesses the first three decades of the League’s Emerging Voices program, highlighting firms that have been recognized for their innovation, insight, and influence.

Organized chronologically by year of submission and interspersed with essays by leading design critics, this book is a true reference, valuable as a comprehensive snapshot of the past three decades of design. The Emerging Voices award is unique in that it recognizes professionals who are no longer students, but are not yet “fully mature practioners.” As Ashley Shafer, an associate professor of architecture at the Ohio State University, states in the book’s first essay, this career phase often gives way to work that is “idealistic, experimental, and formally clumsy on occasion.” While some of the work in the book may have been “dismissed as hypothetical, utopian, or even naïve,” it’s work we now look at with appreciation.

Take for example Steve Holl’s Bridge of Houses proposal for the then-abandoned High Line in Chelsea, Manhatttan, which was recognized among several of Holl’s other projects with the 1982 Emerging Voices Award. The firm’s proposal for the disused High Line was to construct many different houses over the rail. Each villa is, in itself, a slightly different looking bridge that provides pedestrian passage. While the ambitious project was merely conceptual, it served as a precedent for James Corner Field Operations’ High Line park, which was recognized with the award in 2001 and is also featured in the book. While seemingly unrelated projects, “a host of newly created buildings” engage the High Line as was intended by Holl almost two decades earlier.

Bridge of Houses, New York, NY, proposal, 1979 / Steve Holl Architects via Princeton Architectural Press

Bridge of Houses, New York, NY, proposal, 1979 / Steve Holl Architects via Princeton Architectural Press

The same phenomena is true of Reiser + Umemoto’s 1995 design for Yokohama’s International Port Terminal, which was recognized by the Architectural League of New York in 1996. The complex network structure for the building seemed fantastical and impossible to construct at the time of its conception. However, Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto’s Taipei Pop Music Center, which is arguably just as structurally complex as their design for the International Port Terminal, is currently under construction. While many of their ideas were considered outside the realm of possibility in the mid-late 90’s, Reiser + Umemoto’s designs became not only feasible, but well-received, at the turn of the 21st century.

Taipei Pop Music Center Competition images / Reiser + Umemoto via E-architect

Taipei Pop Music Center Competition images / Reiser + Umemoto via E-architect

While the majority of the book is devoted to architects, several landscape architects are also featured, including Susannah Drake, FASLA, Dlandstudio; Chris Reed, FASLA, Stoss Landscape Urbanism; Elana Brescia, ASLA, and Kate Orff, ASLA, SCAPE; Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, and Douglas Reed, FASLA, Reed Hilderbrand; Ken Smith, FASLA, Workshop: Ken Smith Landscape Architect; and Julie Bargmann, ASLA, D.I.R.T. Studio.

Bargmann was one of the first, if not the first, landscape architect to be recognized with the award when she won in 2000. While she has since gone on to design many recognizable projects, such as MASS MoCa in North Adams, Massachusetts, and the Urban Outfitters Headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2000, she was best known for her work at the Ford River Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan. This regenerative project transformed an industrial icon into a model of twenty-first century sustainability through the use of ambitious ecological systems, creating “a new model of environmentally integrated manufacturing.” Bargmann is a true example of the kind of practitioner the award seeks to recognize — someone who has been a novel thinker from the beginning of her career and has made this innovation a career-long pursuit.

Ford River Rouge / D.I.R.T Studio

Ford River Rouge / D.I.R.T Studio

The most recent landscape architect featured in the book is Susannah Drake, Dlandstudio, who was recognized with the award in 2013. Applauded for her unique voice in projects like BQ Green and Gowanus Canal Sponge Park, both in Brooklyn, New York, Drake has quickly proven that interdisciplinary design is the way of the future. Each of Dlandstudio’s projects emphasizes the integration of ecology, infrastructure, and design at the urban network scale — using the United States’ largest city as a primary testing ground for new ideas in a way few firms have dared to try.

BQ Green: Reviving South Williamsburg / Dlandstudio

BQ Green: Reviving South Williamsburg / Dlandstudio

Focused on firms and individuals who have tested limits and pressed the design profession forward, rather than those who are solely focused on making names for themselves, 30 Years of Emerging Voices is a unique book in its genre, prioritizing innovation over recognition and setting the stage for design breakthroughs to come.

Read the book.

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LA + cover / LA +

LA+ (Landscape Architecture Plus) is a new interdisciplinary journal of landscape architecture from the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. Published biannually, the journal explores contemporary design issues from the perspective of multiple disciplines, promoting collaboration and offering thoughtful insights and innovative ideas on each issue’s theme.

The journal’s provocative first issue, LA+ WILD, explores the shifting concept of “wild.” In the midst of the 21st century’s global environmental crisis, what is truly wild? For Tatum Hands, editor in chief of LA+, “wild is fundamental.” This idea resonates in the issue’s essays and graphic depictions, which speculate on conservation initiatives that fall under the rubric of “rewilding.”

Contributors of the issue’s 20-plus features aim to make “wild re-imagined, re-situated, and re-constituted.” Explorations into the interconnections of living things confound our preexisting notions. For example, artist Sonja Bäumel, in a project entitled Expanded Self, makes visible the bacteria on her own skin, depicting her body as an extension of the landscape.

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Expanded Self by Sonja Bäumel / Sonja Bäumel

Artist and designer Orkan Telhan observes in The Taste of the New Wild that “nature ‘as is’ is now competing with better (and wilder) alternatives.” Consumer products like bio-synthesized sandalwood and lab-grown meat are potentially more resilient, sustainable, diverse, but also more unpredictable than the sources from which they originate.

Timothy Morton’s theory on “agri-logistics” in Where the Wild Things Are and Julian Raxworthy’s appropriation of thermodynamics in Born to Be Wild: Heat Leaks, and the Wrong Sort of Rewilding challenge distinctions between humans and non-humans. Biologists Timothy Mousseau and Anders Møller reveal the darker implications of this interconnectedness in Landscape-scale Consequences of Nuclear Disasters. Findings reported from expeditions to Chernobyl, Russia, and Fukushima, Japan, demonstrate the considerable cascading biological impacts of radiation from nuclear power plant failures on ecosystems. Continued study is necessary to determine if these sites will ever be appropriate for habitation.

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Chernobyl Birds: Deformities, Albinism, and Tumors / Timothy Mousseau

So what are the implications of conservation initiatives based on “rewilding”? The movement today, as Adela Park, a landscape architecture graduate student at UPenn, reports in Re:Wilding, is entering into the province of genetic engineering that is “beguiling and frightening” and raises ethical questions regarding the invention and reinvention of life forms. Projects at Oostvaarderplassen outside Amsterdam and Pleistocene Park in northern Siberia attempt to recreate Pleistocene ecosystems to support the reintroduction of extant species like the aurochs and the de-extinction of species like the wooly mammoth. Humans are conspicuously absent from these landscapes.

But there are opportunities to encourage a meaningful and productive conversation on how to intervene in the wild. Landscape architects are positioned to redefine and reengage with the wild through initiatives that facilitate the integration and coexistence of humans and non-humans. New agencies of design and forms of practice that reach beyond traditional efforts to protect wilderness could result in novel ecosystems that both embrace and engender biological and cultural diversity.

In Tracking Wildnerness: The Architecture of Inscapes, Paul Carter, professor of design at RMIT University, shares observations on how the Shipibo people are shaping the Lupunaluz project, a cultural and biodiversity initiative in the Peruvian rainforest. From the Shipibo people’s belief that human consciousness derives from plant consciousness, contributors to the project have inferred that design is a collective endeavor shared by humans and nonhumans. Nature is not automatically arranged according to human preferences.

In Practices of the Wild: A Rewilding of Landscape Architecture, Mick Abbott, landscape architecture professor at New Zealand’s Lincoln University, explains how the Landscope DesignLab at the university is developing new technologies to engage public conservation lands. Tools like Plant-it, a mobile application that crowd-sources the replanting of forests, aim to spur the development of landscapes that value, rather than discourage, interaction between people and ecology.

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Plant-it Mobile App by Tim Reed / Tim Reed

Claire Fellman, a director at Snøhetta, argues in Watching Wild against the removal of 90 kilometers of roads within Norway’s Dovrefjell-Sundalsfjella National Park, home to a large herd of endangered wild reindeer. This conservation initiative, which prevents people from reaching the park’s interior, inhibits the creation of spaces where “blurred and overlapping boundaries can create a productive gray zone in which the rights of multiple species are actively negotiated, promoting respect, interdependence, and community.”

Gardening is an analogy for working with existing ecological processes that are both managed and adaptive. Washington University in St. Louis landscape architecture professor Rod Barnett advocates in Unpremeditated Art for conservation initiatives that are based on “an open system that creates novelty through its encounter with indeterminate conditions.” In England, farmers are being paid to create and maintain nesting plots for the Eurasian Skylark within their acreage by turning off their seeding machines for stretches of five to ten meters. This simple but innovative agricultural practice is as regulated as it is experimental.

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Unpremeditated art / Kate Rodgers

Additional opportunities emerge to experiment. UPenn planning graduate student Billy Fleming considers the efficacy of the recovery-through-competition model to create resilient cities in Can We Rebuild By Design? In Firescaping, Arizona State University environmental historian Steve Pyne discusses the potential for sculpting landscapes to control fire in conservation lands. In Xing: New Infrastructures for Landscape Connectivity, Nina-Marie Lister, Hon. ASLA, a professor at Ryerson University, presents the opportunity to design flexible, adaptive, and context-specific infrastructures for wildlife crossings that could influence the way we live and move through a landscape shared with other species.

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Hypar-Nature by HNTB and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

Physicist and climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf advocates in Wild Ocean for the design of multi-use platforms combining renewable-energy generation, aquaculture, transport services, and leisure activities in the oceans. Writer Emma Marris‘s Simian City proposes a unique conservation strategy for the Golden Lion Tamarin, a rare species that Marris suggests could — with community support — “introduce surprise and beauty to urban life” while finding refuge in the city.

In World P-ark, UPenn landscape architecture department chair Richard Weller, ASLA, considers how landscape architecture “might now go to work on a scale commensurate with that of biodiversity’s otherwise inexorable decline.” He proposes linking the world’s most biodiverse and threatened landscapes into one contiguous World Park with two continuous routes: one north-south from Alaska to Patagonia, and another east-west from Indonesia to Morocco.

The landscape architecture program at the University of Pennsylvania is engaged in an exercise to map ecological networks for the 425 ecoregions that make up the world’s 35 biodiversity hotspots. Weller is confident that landscape architects are best positioned to negotiate how these networks, once connected, would interact with the landscape.

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World Park by Claire Hoch and Richard Weller / Richard Weller

These essays demonstrate that “to be wild is to exist in a condition of extreme openness – instability, uncertainty, and continual perturbation.” LA+ WILD sparks a dialogue that could itself run wild, potentially never reaching a conclusion, but perhaps proving as dynamic as the medium in which landscape architects work. A quote by land artist Robert Smithson paired with an image of his Spiral Jetty reminds us that “nature is never finished.”

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Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty by Adela Park / Adela Park

Purchase the issue. And look for the next issue on pleasure, which comes out in September.

 This guest post is by Shannon Leahy, Associate ASLA, recent master’s of landscape architecture graduate, University of Pennsylvania and former ASLA communications intern.

The Atlantic / Toby Melville, Reuters

The Atlantic / Toby Melville, Reuters

Green Spaces Make Kids Smarter ­– The Atlantic, 6/16/15
“Spending time in nature is correlated with better mental health, attention, and mood in both children and adults. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests green spaces can boost cognitive outcomes in children.”

How the City Handled the Flooded RiverwalkChicago Magazine, 6/16/15
“The designers in charge of the Riverwalk’s recreational transformation are privy to Chicago’s penchant for flash floods. Landscape architect Gina Ford said last October that the city’s unpredictable weather played a significant role in her team’s design.”

New Queens Quay a Redesign for Everyone The Toronto Star, 6/21/15
“Perhaps for the first time, the city has built a thoroughfare for everyone. That means pedestrians, cyclists, skate boarders, roller bladers, babies in strollers, transit passengers, wheelchair users and, yes, drivers.”

Experience on the Water The Architect’s Newspaper, 6/23/15
“Crowned by an inverted pyramid structure, the Pier of St. Petersburg, Florida, leads visitors on a long and narrow journey to the end and back. However, as it stands now, it stops short of providing much value outside of that.”

A New Playground in the Bronx Soaks Up the City’s Problematic Storm WaterThe New York Times, 6/24/15
“The $1 million playground renovation was undertaken by the Trust for Public Land, a national conservation group, and the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, as part of a partnership to turn 40 asphalt-covered play spaces across the city into weapons against water pollution.”

Review: In ‘A Little Chaos,’ a Guileless Kate Winslet Offsets a Lavish Versailles – The New York Times, 6/25/15
“Into this jungle of obscene privilege arrives Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet), a sturdy, guileless everyday woman chosen by the king’s chief landscape architect, André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts), to design the Rockwork Grove, an outdoor arena-like ballroom of tiered steps through which water gushes as an unseen orchestra plays behind the shrubbery.”

A Landscape Architect’s Bridge to New Ideas – The Wall Street Journal, 6/30/15
“As president of the international landscape architecture firm EDSA, Doug Smith has worked in destinations as exotic as Egypt and as local as his home state of Florida.”

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Honey bees foraging in almonds / UC Davis Department of Entomology

“We need solutions to the bee crisis,” said Laurie Davies Adams, head of the Pollinator Partnership, at a packed briefing on Capitol Hill, which was organized by her organization and the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). The honey bee crisis Adams is deeply worried about is caused by the spread of colony collapse disorder, which has decimated hives across the U.S. Scientists say a combination of stressors is killing off honey bees, including the loss of the habitat they need for foraging, the widespread use of agricultural pesticides and fungicides, and disease. Other critical pollinators, like native bees, monarch butterflies, and bats, face similar challenges. While the destruction of these species is a cause of concern in itself, it’s also causing real fears among many of country’s farmers who rely on honey bees to pollinate their crops, at a cost of billions every year.

President and First Lady Obama have a “personal interest” in fixing the problem, said Adams. President Obama launched an inter-departmental task force that led to a new national strategy for honeybees and other pollinators, which was just released a few weeks ago. Adams called this the “most comprehensive blueprint for conservation in the 21st century.” But she cautioned that the federal government alone can’t solve this problem: it will take state and local governments, non-profit community groups, farmers, businesses, and homeowners, too. In fact, a key part of the effort will be to get people with any type of property to step up, which is the goal of the newly-launched Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. As Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, CEO of ASLA, added, landscape architects and designers also play a key role in turning landscapes at all scales into healthy habitats. “Restoring habitat for pollinators can happen even in very small patches.”

At the briefing, Anne Kinsinger, U.S. Geological Survey and one of the leaders in the presidential task force, said the group successfully brought together the many departments that can help — defense, transportation, education, and the General Services Administration (GSA). This task force, together with Reps. Alcee Hastings and Jeff Denham, have pushed for the Highway BEE Act, which would transform 17 million acres around highway right-of-ways into habitat for pollinators. For example, Interstate 35, which runs from Mexico from Canada, could be planted with milkweed, providing a source of nutrients for Monarch butterflies all along their migratory route.

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Interstate 35 / Wikipedia

Rep. Denham, who spoke at the briefing, said it would be a way to “beautify the highways while also creating a transportation system that supports healthy pollinators.” As of writing this post, the Highway BEE Act has passed the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Next steps to make this law are getting the act through the full Senate and also moving it through the House of Representatives.

While the Highway BEE Act moves through the Hill, the national strategy has already made some important contributions. It pulled together 75 leading bee scientists to come up with a “research action plan.” There are now targets: reduce colony collapse disorder by 50 percent in 10 years. Increase Monarchs’ numbers from around 37 million today to 225 million in 5 years. Restore 7 million acres of pollinator habitat through public-private partnerships, to aid all kinds of pollinators. As Kinsinger explained, “you can’t separate European honey bees from the 4,000 native bees.” The GSA is also already revising its policies for 3,000 government facilities to include best-practice land management techniques.

Robert Sneickus, FASLA, national landscape architect with the USDA’s National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), which is charged with restoring vast public wildlife habitat, said pollinators are essential to 80 percent of flowering plants. In turn, the health of pollinators themselves are dependent on access to productive habitat. For Sneickus, what’s important is planting “winter cover crops” that will be green all winter so bees will have access to forage in all seasons as well as flowering annuals that come back year after year. Also, all types of landscapes should be planted for both pollinators and beauty. “If a landscape looks great, more people will want it.” He said landscape architects can create a “pollinator master plan” to restore even small patches and corridors as healthy, beautiful habitats.

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Pollinator Paradise Garden / Master Gardener Extension School

And then John Chandler, a fourth-generation California farmer and agriculture advocate, explained how honey bees are crucial to his farm, which grows almonds, peaches, plums, and nectarines. As bees continue to die off, the cost per hive continues to go up, reaching about $200 these days. Each acre of almonds, explained Chandler, needs about two hives, so just for one growing season Chandler will spend $350 million to cover his entire 800,000-acre farm. “It’s the single largest check to payout.”

“What are we doing as an industry?”, wondered Chandler. Beginning in the 70s, Blue Diamond almonds started to finance advanced bee research and then created some pamphlets for farmers. There were some common sense ideas: When bees are out pollinating during the day, farmers shouldn’t be spraying chemical pesticides or fungicides. Farms now do that spraying at night when bees have gone home to their hives. During spraying, all water sources are also covered up so they aren’t contaminated. Chandler said “bees are like us, they want clean, fresh water.”

But, clearly, even more is needed to restore pollinators to health. According to the speakers, a key piece of the puzzle is bringing back nutritious forage wherever possible. Let’s start with better integrating forage opportunities along highways. With today’s problems, we can’t afford single-use infrastructure anymore; a highway for both cars and pollinators makes more sense. And farmers could be given greater incentives to set aside parts of their farmland as forage, a strategy the UK government has been using for some time. Communities can turn their own thoroughfares into pollinator pathways. Just about any strip will work, given many pollinators have a multiple-mile foraging range, and, as Adams, explained, “if you plant it, they will find it.”

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Pollinator Pathway / Kim Smith Design

Lastly, everyone with a yard needs some plants for pollinators, too. Learn more at the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.

Broadway and Flushing Ave under the JMZ subway lines / Krisanne Johnson for the Design Trust for Public Space

Broadway and Flushing Ave under the JMZ subway lines / Krisanne Johnson for the Design Trust for Public Space

During the early and mid-twentieth century, New York City constructed a massive transportation system, layering elevated highways, subway tracks, and rail lines to create the complicated web we are familiar with today. While this network has undoubtedly contributed to NYC’s physical and economic growth, it has also provided an untapped public asset: 700 miles of unused space (nearly four times the size of Central Park) beneath the city’s elevated transportation infrastructure.

In a comprehensive new report resulting from a two-year-long study, the Design Trust for Public Space and NYC Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) highlight sustainable ways to rethink these residual spaces. Addressing complex problems such as noise, safety, and lighting, the new study builds off of the success of the Design Trust’s 2002 study, Reclaiming the High Line (“the study that catalyzed efforts to save and reprogram the decommissioned rail line”). The result is a comprehensive document intended to inspire public and private investment in some of the city’s most neglected public spaces.

In an introductory essay that discusses New York’s elevated railways (or “els”), Thomas Campanella, an associate professor in Cornell University’s city and regional planning department, frames the importance of the study, stating: “The demesne of the elevated— I’ll call it “el-space” here— is neither tranquil nor serene, but it’s not without poetry. The root of its allure is the close juxtaposition of human life and heavy industrial infrastructure.”

Going Home Near Bloomingdales, 1946 / Lionel S. Reiss via the Collection of The New York Historical Society

Going Home Near Bloomingdales, 1946 / Lionel S. Reiss via the Collection of The New York Historical Society

In many ways, the elevated railroad is a relic of an age before zoning when people, especially the poor, were forced to live in hazardously close proximity to the factories where they worked. And while the els remains popular today — particularly in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx — Campanella claims that the fact that el-space “is almost universally described as dark and oppressive is an inaccurate cliché.” The quality of light beneath elevated tracks can be “exquisite” and the sense of enclosure created by the columns “yields an effect reminiscent of an avenue of mature trees … a kind of sturdy steampunk Elm Street.” Such sentiments are the first inklings of design inspiration the study provides.

Third Avenue Elevated Railway at 18th Street in 1942 / Marjorie Collins via The Design Trust for Public Space

Third Avenue Elevated Railway at 18th Street in 1942 / Marjorie Collins via The Design Trust for Public Space

Focusing in on elevated train lines rather than elevated highways, which are more relevant in other U.S. cities, the Design Trust for Public Space first assessed the inventory of existing el-space to identity opportunities and constraints. Surprisingly, these opportunities and constraints have largely remained unchanged since the 1960s when Jane Jacobs called attention to them in her seminal book, The Life and Death of Great American Cities. These physical structures divide low-incomes neighborhoods and produce noise, darkness, and dirt; on the other hand, the els have also brought people, commerce and cultural vibrancy to these areas. The call is the same now as it was then: Reconnect communities divided and affected by elevated infrastructure and turn these el-spaces into a positive resource.

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Map of Elevated Transit Infrastructure in New York City / The Design Trust for Public Space

So, in 2014, 146 year after the construction of the first el, is NYC any closer to reclaiming these spaces? The study explores the potential uses of el-spaces from site strategies to their associated policies, relying heavily on research and case studies from across the country to inspire designers, planners, and policymakers to action. The good news is that many of these spaces are already being reclaimed for a variety of public uses. Potential uses highlighted in the study include:

Environmental Sustainability

In Flushing, Queens, the Highway Outfall Landscape Detention (HOLD) System, invented by DLANDstudio, uses a low-cost, flexible, plant-based system to collect and filter stormwater from drainpipes on the elevated highways that run through Flushing Meadows Corona Park. This system absorbs and filters pollutants such as oil, heavy metals, and grease out of the water that drain off of the elevated highways, leading to cleaner runoff entering the city’s waterways. The system’s ability to retain water during heavy rain events also helps reduce flooding.

Highway Outfall Landscape Detention (HOLD) Systems to collect and filter storm water from highway scuppers / dlandstudio

Highway Outfall Landscape Detention (HOLD) Systems to collect and filter storm water from highway scuppers / dlandstudio

Parks

In 2002, the redesign of Queens Plaza was one of the first comprehensive el-space improvement projects in New York City. A group of designers and engineers was selected to transform Queens Plaza into Dutch Kills Green, a new park with well-lit green pathways in the heart of the Long Island City commercial district. In an article for Urban Omnibus, the project’s landscape architect, Margie Ruddick, ASLA, says that “rather than using a harsh, urban language, we tried to find a language through which lushness and beauty could coexist with the hard edge of infrastructure. The linear landscape of medians and streetscape meet in Dutch Kills Green, and this convergence, for me, challenges the notion of an urban park because its surroundings are so inhospitable. This juxtaposition would have seemed inappropriate several years ago. But these days it’s becoming more prevalent.”

Dutch Kills Green / The Design Trust for Public Space

Dutch Kills Green / The Design Trust for Public Space

Markets

In 2011, the New York City Economic Development Council (NYCEDC) and the City Council combined forces to modernize underutilized market space, add new retail space, and construct a kitchen incubator underneath the Park Avenue elevated train station between 115th and 116th Streets in El Barrio. Despite significant public investment in the area, “the new La Marqueta has struggled to attract visitors and retain retailers.” Yet just a block north of La Marqueta at 116th Street, salsa dancers have congregated under the tracks every Saturday evening in the summer months for years. In an attempt to revive the informal spirit the market once had, City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito launched La Marqueta Reto (La Marqueta Reblooms) in 2014, an initiative to bring street vendors, a farmers market, and other community events back into the space.

Children sit in front of the entrance of La Marqueta, in East Harlem / Epoch Times

Children sit in front of the entrance of La Marqueta, in East Harlem / Epoch Times

Transportation

Before New Lots Triangle Plaza in East New York, Brooklyn, was completed in 2011, subway riders exited from the train onto a narrow sidewalk with minimal protection from oncoming traffic. NYC Department of Transportation worked with the New Lots Avenue Triangle Merchants Association to join an 800-foot traffic triangle with nearby sidewalks and the exit of the three elevated train lines to create a 3,800-square-foot public space that is protected from traffic by decorative planters. According to the NYC DOT, the plaza has made the area safer for pedestrians and created “an immediate impact on business by encouraging pedestrians to linger longer in the area and visit businesses, boosting the local economy.”

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New Lots Triangle Park / Streetsblog NYC

In a dense city like New York, residual spaces under elevated transportation infrastructure can no longer be an afterthought — and these spaces in NYC are only a small piece of the more than 7,000 miles available for reclamation in cities across the country. The Design Trust for Public Space report further emphasizes the need for adaptive reuse of these spaces, looking at the infrastructure that gets us from point a to point b and creating a much-needed public space as point c.

Purchase the report.

Several years ago ASLA created an animation to introduce people to the concept of reusing transportation infrastructure as public spaces, including underpass parks. The video, which is a part of Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes, a project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), can be viewed below:

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Mia Lehrer, FASLA, advocates for Silverlake Reservoir / Mia Lehrer Associates

We work in a small, but timely profession. Our potential to impact the neighborhoods, communities, and cities where we work is huge. Though landscape architecture professionals make up just a small fraction of the design field, ours is the work that is the first to be seen. Ours is the work that brings function and beauty to parks, plazas, campuses, institutions, and transportation corridors. Ours is a profession that blends the power of design with ecological principals and environmental justice. And because we are few and far between, we have to advocate for what we know.

The responsibility is on us to make our voices heard, not for our own betterment, but for the sake of our communities.

Public awareness is growing around a range of big issues, from humanity’s need for nature to improve our health, to watersheds, drought, and climate change. And yet, those in our profession most able to speak intelligently on these issues, to guide our communities towards thoughtful solutions, remain silent too often.

Those who fill the void may be knowledgeable in some respects, but often they simply have a good sound bite. The media won’t know to ask a landscape architect for a solution, suggestion, or comment if they don’t know what landscape architects can do. And most of them don’t.

We need to educate our media, politicians, and the public on the issues we care most about. In addition to keeping each other informed about lessons learned from the field, landscape architects need to write letters to the editor, speak at city council meetings and land-use committee meetings, and join non-profit boards and advisory groups. We need to present ideas to civic groups, garden clubs, and parent groups. And we’re not talking about advocating for the profession: we’re talking about advocating for our quality of life.

We urge you to:

  • Advocate for regionally and micro climate-appropriate design that minimizes resource use while maximizing benefits;
  • Speak out to conserve existing habitat and create new parks, wildlife habitats, and greenway corridors;
  • Call for nature playgrounds and natural systems in our schools, parks, and institutions to increase human access to nature and its physical, mental, and educational benefits;
  • Ask for more flexible policies to support rainwater capture, graywater reuse, and recycled water use and reduce unnecessary use of potable water;
  • Fight to ban plastic materials, such as bags, bottles, furnishings, and grass, to stop the incessant addition of toxins into our oceans and food chain;
  • Advocate for more transit and pedestrian and bicycle options and mixing land uses to cut our need for automobiles;
  • Specify local, non-toxic, reclaimed, and reclaimable natural materials;
  • Educate the public about the need to design with plants that provide food for pollinators and people.

Our firm is widely known in Los Angeles, and beyond, for being vocal. We go to public meetings about water conservation, school sites, citizen science, agriculture, forests, and the Los Angeles River. We go to lectures about climate change, drought, food deserts, park poverty, water quality, and environmental justice. We listen, form opinions, speak and write. We get our voices heard.

We might annoy you. And that’s okay. Because we believe we can make a difference in where we live and how we live to make a better future for all of us. And we hope you do, too.

This guest op-ed is by Mia Lehrer + Associates, an internationally-known, award-winning firm made up of landscape architects, urban designers, environmental planners, and a team of multidisciplinary designers based in Los Angeles. Read their recent op-ed in The Los Angeles Times.

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Core Values: Why American Companies are Moving Downtown / Smart Growth America

In the past several years, small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike have said goodbye to suburban office parks and moved their headquarters back to city centers. Attempting to cater to a new generation of Millennial urbanites, this trend represents a “marked shift in the preferences of American companies,” who are now choosing to invest in more walkable locations, according to Core Values: Why American Companies are Moving Downtown, a new study by Smart Growth America.

The study, which was accompanied by kickoff panel discussion at the Newseum in Washington D.C., examines the motives and preferences of companies that have moved to more walkable downtown locations between 2010-2015. The launch event supplemented the study, hosting business and planning experts from cities across the country who discussed both sides of the issue: Why are companies choosing downtown locations? And how can cities create the kinds of places these companies seek?

In the late 1960s and 70s, companies across the country began leaving downtown cores for suburban office campuses. By 1996, on average, less than 16 percent of jobs were located within three miles of a traditional city center. In recent years, however, this trend is showing signs of reversing. According to the study, “between 2007 and 2011, job growth in city centers grew 0.5 percent annually on average, while the city peripheries lost jobs, shrinking 0.1 percent annually.” By 2013, 23 percent of jobs were located within 3 miles of a city’s downtown. While the majority of American jobs are still located outside of central business districts, businesses are slowly moving back to cities.

Why? Many companies are finding that downtown locations can help them better recruit employees, particularly Millennials, which are defined as people between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2015. According to Vishaan Chakrabarti’s, A Country of Cities, 62 percent of Millennials prefer to live and work in the type of mixed-use neighborhoods found in urban centers where they are in close proximity to a mix of shopping, restaurants, and offices.

In the report, Adam Klein, the chief strategist of American Underground in Durham, North Carolina, said “we wanted to be in an amenity-rich environment where our employees could walk to get a cup of coffee and participate in arts, music, and the excitement of downtown. We’re able to show potential employees a cool office in the middle of downtown and that has definitely helped us recruit people.”

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American Underground moved to the campus of the former American Tobacco factory in Durham, NC. / Scott Faber Photography via Smart Growth America

As Mike Deemer, the executive vice president of business development for the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, echoed at the launch event, “It’s not enough to create a great space and take a ‘if you build it, they will come approach.’ We need to activate spaces and draw people in.”

While great office spaces tend to be plentiful in downtown locations, the surrounding neighborhood mix is equally, if not more, important. The study found that providing live/work/play neighborhoods with places to see and things to do is important for attracting Millennials, “who are now the largest generational segment of the American workforce, with 53.5 million people making up 34 percent of all workers — more than either Gen Xers or Baby Boomers.”

According to the study, companies chose vibrant, walkable neighborhoods where people want to both live and work. “Our younger employees don’t want to go to a suburban office park. It’s boring as all get out out there. Here, they walk outside and see cool stuff and it’s fun. I wanted to be where they wanted to be,” said Reg Shiverick, President of Dakota Software in Cleveland, Ohio.

Millennials also behave differently when it comes to transportation and are generally more likely to commute by biking, walking, or public transportation. Thus, walkability and access to public transportation are also cornerstones of this shift to downtown locations. Matin Zargari, principal at Gensler’s Oakland, California office, explained that “being so close to the 19th Street BART and many other city bus lines gives our staff the opportunity to get to work easier from all over the East Bay. Our employees like our new location and, in addition, many of our clients and projects are within walking distance of our office. That’s been a game changer for us.”

According to Jim Reilly, vice president of corporate communications at Panasonic, when Panasonic moved its headquarters from a suburban corporate campus to urban Newark, New Jersey, “the percentage of employees commuting via public shifted transportation from 4 percent of employees to 57 percent of employees.” While the environmental impacts of such a shift generally fall outside the scope of the study, a decreasing reliance on automobiles is sure to mitigate some of the negative environmental effects of suburbanization.

A key takeaway from the study is that any city can learn from companies that have moved back to central business districts. While many cities already have the kinds of neighborhoods these companies are looking for, many do not. But taking the steps to draw companies into cities provides a mutually-reinforcing smart growth strategy: Companies will invest in walkable, safe downtown environments, allowing cities the opportunity to create great, quality neighborhoods that benefit businesses and residents alike.

Read the full report.

Appslarge
We want to better understand what smart phone apps landscape architects use to conceptualize, design, and construct projects.

We want to know how often you use these and how you found out about them, too.

ASLA will report findings from this survey back via The Dirt, LAND, and The Field later this summer.

The goal is to educate landscape architects about all the new options and how these tools can be applied to the design process.

Please fill out this brief 5 minute survey by July 10. You could win a $100 Amazon.com gift card.

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ASLA 2009 Professional General Design Honor Award. HtO Park by Claud Cormier and Associates, Janet Rosenberg and Studio and Hariri Pontarini Architects / Niel Fox

With the cultural and ecological context of Toronto established in part one, the second half of The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s (TCLF) Leading with Landscape symposium asked landscape architects to offer perspectives on their efforts to create a more resilient city. Conference co-organizer Jane Amidon, ASLA, professor, Northeastern University, pointed to the ingredients that could be used to make Toronto a model for the rest of the continent: the city’s ravine network, the vibrant waterfront, the breadth of public space, the high-profile place-making, and the committed design community that believes investing in landscape architecture can transform Toronto for the better.

A number of landscape architects working in Toronto described landscape architecture projects shaping the city:

Claude Cormier, ASLA, principal, Claude Cormier + Associes Inc., presented the HtO waterfront, which his firm produced in partnership with Janet Rosenberg and Studio (see image above). The designs draw inspiration from Toronto’s industrial past, but also refer to the work of painter Georges Seurat as they incorporate contemporary ideas of form and use. The undeniable pop sensibility of Cormier’s designs creates iconic landscape moments. The development that followed these waterfront parks has been tremendous and is a testament to the power of landscape architecture.

Marc Ryan, principal of Toronto-based Public Work, presented the evolution of development from the Lake Ontario waterfront to the Don River and, now, the active port lands to the west. Ryan’s analysis showed how a collaborative spirit can be created through an extensive public process. The resulting exercise produced new landscapes that allow for the city and port to connect.

Elizabeth Silver, a landscape architect with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), spoke of the firm’s recent work at Corktown Common, a park in the West Dons Land neighborhood, that shows how landscape architecture can boost resilience and attract people at the same time: the Common provides 16 acres of flood absorption at the mouth of the Don while the recreational portion of the site offers adventure playgrounds amid a constructed stormwater-fed wetland. The park is in part a response to the city hosting the upcoming Pan Am Games; but as the area around the park develops, it will become a community anchor in itself.

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Corktown Common / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

Bruce Kuwabara, a leading Canadian architect and partner at KPMB Architects, noted how the past decade has led to many high-quality public spaces. He provoked the audience to imagine what “leading with landscapes” actually means and think about Toronto as an evolving city that can serve as a model of this landscape-forward development.

Adriaan Geuze, International ASLA, principal, West 8 Urban Design & Landscape Architecture, provided a deeply personal presentation outlining his process of distilling a Canadian or Torontonian culture into the physical design. Geuze spoke of the urban renaissance currently underway in Toronto and noted that it’s primarily landscape architecture that is improving livability and spurring investment. He emphasized that the profession should not divorce itself from the social needs and responsibilities of city-building.

Geoff Cape, CEO of Evergreen Brick Works, a community environmental center, showed examples of landscape-forward projects and spoke of the often difficult process of letting landscape architects lead projects. Most importantly, Cape focused on the unique opportunities the ravine system offers, connecting with the 1.8 million-acre greenbelt surrounding the greater Toronto area and expressing Toronto’s evolving identity. Cape challenged attendees to construct sophisticated partnerships that can bring ideas to fruition and look at governance and partnerships through a creative lens.

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Evergreen Brick Works / Tom Arban Photography

As the last panelist of the day, Thomas Woltz, FASLA, principal of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBW), reinforced the conference’s overarching goals by presenting examples of funding models and public-private partnerships drawn from two projects by NBW and two precedent-setting ones by other landscape architects and organizations. Throughout his presentation, Woltz highlighted the vitality and richness that emerges when engaging in a process that considers landscape and the city within larger contexts – ecological, historical, cultural, and agricultural. And he challenged the profession to “get smarter about speaking about numbers and convincing a city council that they will, in the long-term, see the benefits of these systems.”

In closing, Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, founder and president of TCLF, reinforced the idea that urban park design and construction should aspire to offer a holistic urban design and management solution, create new cultural narratives, and embed positive values within the fabric of cities. Referring to the current debate on the future of the Gardiner Expressway, Birnbaum urged landscape architects to engage, speak out, aspire to make a difference, and act as leaders at this critical moment in the renaissance of the city.

Leading with Landscape brought together a community around the common mission of improving Toronto through landscape. And, more broadly, it brought landscape architecture to the forefront of the conversation in city building. The appearance of Mayor Tory and chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat elevated the importance of a strategic, systems-based design approach to the city.

This guest post is by Tim Popa, Communications Director, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architecture.

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