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arts

Dogpatch Arts Plaza / CMG Landscape Architecture

Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? At the EcoDistricts Summit in Washington, D.C., two urban innovators in San Francisco, the home of so many game-changing technologies, have come up with a truly brilliant idea: the Green Benefits District (GBD), a sort of green business improvement district, designed to facilitate community investment in new tree-lined streets, parks, and gardens. Michael Yarne, with Up Urban and Build Inc. and the creator of the concept, said the GBD in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco will also aim to improve the management and upkeep of neighborhood public spaces, which they say is currently done poorly by the city government. The GBD will be like the “Uber of public space,” meaning they are adding another layer of more convenient services on top of the existing baseline service. A GBD is needed because the city government is “stuck in the 1970s.” But the GBD clearly has higher aims than just better services: Yarne sees a future with local, distributed renewable energy systems and more.

With the help of Scott Cataffa, ASLA, a partner at CMG Landscape Architecture, Yarne is in the middle of a two-year process to prototype the GBD concept. It seems creating a new assessment district in California is not an easy thing, as you first need a BID lawyer, then need to get 30 percent of the proposed assessed district to agree to a petition, and then 51 percent of the “weighted property owners” to back the idea through a ballot. Only then will the state and city governments allow you to use tax revenue to meet local ends.

Dogpatch and NW Potrero Hill, which covers some 700 acres and contains 100,000 people, has a “rich industrial heritage.” Through a survey, Yarne and his team learned the area actually has 13 sub-neighborhoods. Some of these maintain a “gritty, marginalized identity.” In contrast, some neighborhoods have a high level of “social capital,” which enables more coordinated action. Yarne decided to start in the area with higher social capital, with a history of local environmental activism and ownership of public spaces. There, a “plucky, can-do” group of locals have wrangled the state government to let them build a park where where was once transportation infrastructure. But all their efforts are “taxing.” This community clearly wants “parks and open space preserved,” but what’s the best way to do this? The neighborhood decided to pool resources into a new GBD.

The GBD will “coordinate property owners and build trust.” It will be a non-profit, public benefit corporation with an elected board and annual oversight by the city legislature. The new GBD will be “small enough to enable trust to grow and will operate in a hyper transparent manner.” It will “use an experimental ‘it’s OK to fail’ approach and aim to create long-term revenue.” Trust, he said, is the new “green,” because, without it, community action is impossible. Trust building will happen on the ground, in person, but also through a new app that will enable all GBD members to see in near real-time all reports, decisions, and expenditures.

“Like Facebook, the app will encourage GBD members to create a profile to encourage community accountability.” There will be something like the “See, Click, Fix” app, which will enable community members to report problems. The app will define the “party responsible for fixing, set the fix date, and the cost of the fix.” Yarne said listing the cost of the fix was important, because people don’t really have a clue as to cost of public services. All of the issues will be mapped, so the GBD member can see problem areas. For example, they could learn that vandalism occurs near the train stations. Like other techno-utopians in San Francisco, Yarne believes the app will “empower the community by demystifying work that’s happening.”

Landscape architect Scott Cataffa has been helping the nascent GBD map all their assets and discover where the opportunities are. Cataffa said a map of the community found only 2 percent of it is open space.  The community is already maintaining about half of the public spaces in the district, but the audit is helping the community figure out who owns what. With a list of more than 50 possible opportunities in hand, the GBD team is now figuring out what role they should play in creating new green public spaces and other sustainable features. They created a checklist to help label each project, with potential roles such as “lead, initiate, assist, or advocate.”

One proposal by CMG would create a new amphitheatre and outdoor art gallery in an unused, city-owned dead-end between two large industrial buildings. Through the audit, they also found that the very wide rights of way, which were designed for industrial use, create opportunities to create new linear parks. So they propose creating a new linear park — or green street — running from the new amphitheatre to a larger park. Cataffa said “we are looking at the right of way as a place to turn grey to green.” Other ideas being cooked up include putting a solar farm on top a freeway that cuts through the district, and creating a (black) waste water recycling system.

If they are allowed to assess the community for the GBD, Yarne says they will raise about $400,000 in their first year from taxes of about 9.46 cents per square foot of commercial and residential space. Some non-profits would get a 50 percent discount on that tax, as would some struggling industrial site owners. Parking lot owners would also be expected to pay the tax. Yarne expects their available funds to double over the coming years given lots of new residential complexes are coming online. He said, already, the GBD can change perceptions of new development from an unwelcome sign of gentrification into new opportunities to green.

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barryfarm

Barry Farm / The Huffington Post

Cities are the place to be these days, which means big changes for the historic communities that have populated urban cores. While much of the urban renewal experiments of the 1940s through the 1960s have been deemed disasters, word is still out on the new wave of “urban revitalization” that began in the 1990s and continues through to today in most of America’s cities. The supporters of revitalization say rising tides lift all boats. As wealth has come back to cities, everyone benefits. But critics of revitalization simply call it gentrification, and, as one speaker at the EcoDistricts Summit in Washington, D.C. said, “gentrification is a crime.” Furthermore, new discussions of turning existing urban neighborhoods into “ecodistricts” may just be gentrification in a green dress. How can cities encourage growth but also provide a sense of continuity? How can over-taxed city planning departments accommodate the forces of change while also respecting local communities and cultures?

According to Charles Hostovsky, a professor of urban planning at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., the speed of revitalization in D.C. has been extraordinarily rapid. Every neighborhood has cranes, signifying new development. There has been a corresponding shift in the demographics of the city. In 1970, the city was 77 percent African American. Today, it’s just 49 percent African American. “The number of people who have been displaced equals a small town.” Indeed: in the past decade, approximately 50,000 young, white Millennials have moved into the city while 35,000 African Americans have left.

Reyna Alorro, who works for the DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning, said revitalization has even spread east of the Anacostia River, perhaps the last hold out to gentrification. There, the city is supporting the redevelopment of Barry Farm, 25 acres of public housing, into a new mixed-income, mixed-use development that they hope will be an example of equitable revitalization. As HUD Hope IV funds have diminished since 2005, the District has started its own program of revamping public housing. “We want to target the areas with blight, crime, high unemployment and turn them into mixed income communities.” The theory is that reducing the concentration of the poor in communities, and relieving their isolation, will improve their conditions.

Barry Farm, a historic African American community founded by freed slaves, currently has some 400 units, with 1,200 people. The population of the housing development is 93 percent single mothers; some 86 percent are unemployed. “This is not a friendly, welcoming site.” There is only one over-priced corner store, with a bullet-proof glass wall separating the store owners from customers.

The $550 million redevelopment plan, said Kelly Smyser, DC Housing Authority, will create 1,400 public and affordable apartments at the same site. New apartments will face each other, creating open public thoroughfares that enable “eyes on the street.” There will also be a recreation center, with an indoor pool, basketball courts, and computer labs, as well as a charter school. The nearby Anacostia Metro station will get a full upgrade, with improved access to the station from the development. “We want to bring opportunity to residents. We will make the connection to Metro easier and safer.”

The District government calls this project “revitalization without gentrification,” as all current residents will be allowed to come back to the new development. “There will be zero displacement.” The city also promises it will undertake a program of “build first before demolition.” To increase the diversity of the development, some 300 of the new units will be affordable housing, rentals, or for sale. The city also wants to encourage small businesses to locate in Barry Farms. They are creating “live-work” sites that will enable people to live above their stores. “We need to get rid of the bullet proof glass.”

The neighborhood is rightly concerned about how they can preserve the best of the local culture with all the change. One example of this is the Goodman League, a basketball tournament that happens in the neighborhood every year. “People have a good time, barbequing, sitting in lawn chairs. There are no beefs on the court.” The basketball courts where this happen will remain untouched.

While Smyser was convinced this upgrade will benefit the community, one conference attendee seemed equally as convinced that with the District’s multimillion dollar investment, the city government will simply be opening the neighborhood to opportunistic developers and further gentrification. Word is still out on how this urban redevelopment story will play out.

Hazel Edwards, a professor of planning at Catholic University, outlined some examples of successful revitalization without gentrification in other parts of the U.S. She pointed to Melrose Commons in South Bronx, where a group of local residents banded together in the early 1990s into a group called Nos Quedamos (We Stay) and fought back New York City government’s imposed urban renewal plan. With the help of an altruistic architect, Nos Quedamos forged their own urban design that respected the community’s unique cultural heritage. The plan and design resulted in 2,000 units of affordable housing. “There was no displacement in the community.”

In Portland, Oregon, Edwards told us about a project called Cully Main Street plan, which helped preserve one the most diverse neighborhoods in Portland, with some 40-50 percent people of color. They devised a plan to equitably bring in commercial activity to their main street while accommodating an influx of new white homeowners and preserving the neighborhood diversity.

Edwards said the key to revitalization without gentrification is “bringing residents and the community to the table often and at the beginning.” This kind of public planning process requires a great investment of time and resources by city governments, but without this investment, the only result may be inequitable, developer-led urban revitalization. “Cities have to form diverse, inclusive partnerships, foster openness, and collaborate on goals and outcomes.”

Quoting the urban leader and author, Kaid Benfield, she said, “we have to work towards a balanced solution,” and also track our progress to see whether we are living up to our goals.

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urban

Urban Acupuncture / Island Press

Jaime Lerner, one of the most influential urban leaders of our time, has written down all of his hard-earned wisdom about the city in one slim yet rich volume, Urban Acupuncture: Celebrating Pinpricks of Change that Enrich City Life. This set of musings, a translation of the original Brazilian Portuguese book, pulls you in with its natural, intimate tone; it’s like you are sitting and having a conversation with Lerner over a glass of wine in a cafe. Lerner is an architect and urban designer who became mayor of the Brazilian city Curitiba, where he famously brought his practical yet innovative thinking to solve some tricky urban challenges. Along the way, he created bus rapid transit, devising a low-cost alternative to subway systems for developing world cities — and now increasingly, developed world ones, too. He came up with smart ways to clean up Curitiba’s bay, partnering with local fisherman in trash collection. He turned down the World Bank, with its offer of millions in loans, to find sustainable, home-grown solutions. With his many smart alternatives, he showed other cities how to do it right, themselves.

Lerner organizes his thoughts on the city through one central theme: urban acupuncture. He writes: “I have always nurtured the dream and hope that with the prick of a needle, diseases may be cured. The notion of restoring the vital signs of an ailing spot with a simple healing touch has everything to do with revitalizing not only that specific place but also the entire area that surrounds it.” He says “good medicine” depends on a good relationship between doctor and patient. In the same way, a healthy city depends on a good relationship between urban planners and designers and the city itself, another kind of living organism. Good urban planning can awaken a city to new possibilities, creating new life. But he cautions that it’s a process. Like medical acupuncture, which is rooted in an ancient Chinese medical philosophy that calls for a sustained, long-term preventive care, urban acupuncture takes time to create cures.

What are examples of healing urban acupuncture? Lerner has traveled all over the world, carefully examining all types of pinpricks to determine their impact. These pinpricks can be buildings — like Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao but also landscapes, like the Park Guell, one of Gaudi’s masterpieces, in Barcelona.

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Bilbao Guggenheim / Karie and Scott blog

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Park Guell, Barcelona / Share the City

Size doesn’t really matter, either. “You can feel it at work in the smallest venues, like Paley Park in New York.”

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Paley Park, New York City / Wikipedia

Undoing previous damage to our urban landscape is another form of healing acupuncture. For example, taking out San Francisco freeway helped revitalize that city.

Lerner presents deceptively simple stories that reveal deeper wisdom about what makes good urban life. Brief case studies are just long enough to get you thinking in a new way. Most succeed. In one vignette, he writes: “I often say that New York should build a monument to the Unknown 24-hour Shopkeeper. This industrious group — many of them immigrants from Korea — has done the city an extraordinary service merely by keeping its grocery stores and sidewalk delicatessens open around the clock. These shops not only offer infinite shelves of merchandise but also enliven whole neighborhoods by literally lighting up countless dreary street corners.” He calls these shop owners the city’s “true lifeblood,” as they “pump oxygen into cities that must never be allowed to stop breathing.”

deli

Deli in NYC / Gawker

In the same vein, “street peddlers represent an institution as old as the city itself. Think of open-air markets. At a given hour, in a given neighborhood, street merchants go to work — often hours before the lights go on in traditional storefronts — and then vanish along with their wares and jerry-built booths, leaving hardly a trace.” Commerce is then kept alive day and night, which also makes streets feel safer.

Acupuncture need not be physical; it can be sensory, too, like music. “Think of Rio and you are likely to start humming ‘Copacabana,’ ‘Corcovado,’ ‘Girl from Ipanema,’ or ‘Cidade Maravilhosa.” Lerner says every city should aspire to have a song. “When a distinct song or beat takes hold of a city’s or country’s identity, then good acupuncture is at work. It has echoes in everyday living, like improvised tapping on a matchbox at a street bar in Rio, the beat of drum on the sidewalk in Bahia, or hip-hop gushing from giant boom boxes in the streets of New York.” Does your city have a song everyone knows? If not, why not?

He also points out where cities have gone astray and offers his take on how to fix these problems, using simple, common sense steps. For example, in Santiago de Cali, Colombia, he decries the destruction of the city’s identity amid “outsized avenues.” “Just to cross them, you’ll find yourself huffing up and over suspended pedestrian bridges.” Here, he argues, “good acupuncture means building things smaller and stepping aside to give way to the simple beauties of nature, like the handsome river or the caressing wind.” Those big avenues break up street life, creating tears in the urban fabric.

Gaps in the city can also kill street life. For Lerner, so many urban problems are caused by a “lack of continuity.” He points to a sad “city pocked with lifeless suburbs or tracts of urban real estate devoid of housing.” These places are just as skewed as those with “abandoned lots and ramshackle buildings.” Cities must fill in these voids, even with temporary structures. One of his strongest statements: “continuity is life.”

While he touches on so much, Lerner’s message seems to be healthy street life is central to the city. Without it, the city dies. He argues: “good acupuncture is about drawing people out to the streets and creating meeting places. Mainly, it is about helping the city become a catalyst of interactions between people.” And so, “the more cities are understood to be the integration of functions — bringing together rich and poor, the elderly and the young — the more meeting places they will create and the livelier they will become.” Here, the role of landscape architects can’t be understated. “The design of public space is important.” He goes into detail about what kinds of parks, plazas, and squares work best.

My only minor complaint with this insightful book is the sometimes mismatched text and images. We want to see the scenes Lerner gushes over. While some images speak to the scenes described in the book, some don’t. A more careful approach to images and layout would have further strengthened one of the most intriguing recent books on the city.

Read the book and an ASLA interview with Lerner.

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cantrell

Cyborg Landscapes / Bradley Cantrell, Kristi Cheramie, Jeffrey Carney, and Matthew Seibert, Louisiana State University Coastal Sustainability Studio, the design firm Invivia, and Urbain DRC.


Design Profile: Q&A with Marcel Wilson of Bionic Landscape Architecture
The San Francisco Chronicle, 9/2/14
“Marcel Wilson, the principal of San Francisco-based Bionic Landscape Architecture, sees every project as a possibility for invention.”

Grand Park Benefits Made in America, but Is the Reverse True? – The Los Angeles Times, 9/2/14
“Luckily, even as concertgoers were tramping across Grand Park’s lawns and through its flower beds, they were also helping demonstrate pretty clearly where its design might be tweaked and improved. They made up a huge and unwitting landscape-architecture focus group.”

Unveiled: 5 Visions for Landscape Above Crissy FieldThe San Francisco Chronicle, 9/4/14
“They vary widely in looks, but each of the five new conceptual visions for the landscape above Crissy Field have two things in common. Each has seductive aspects – and each tries too hard to bedazzle, in a setting where flash is not what we need.”

Changing Skyline: Dilworth Park Has Many Irresistible Features, but It’s Stiff, Uncomfortable The Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/6/14
“They’ve reconstructed the space in front of Philadelphia’s palatial City Hall, furnished it with a cafe, a high-tech spray fountain and movable chairs, and rebranded it Dilworth Park. But the vast granite prairie is still very much a plaza, with all the weaknesses the word implies.”

These Synthetic Landscapes Respond to Nature in Real Time to Protect Us — and the Planet Fast Company, 9/8/14
“Bradley Cantrell, a landscape architect and TED fellow who will speak at the upcoming TEDGlobal2014 conference, is one of the pioneers exploring how the human-built world may begin relating differently to the natural world. ‘The goal is to embed computation, but with this kind of conservationist viewpoint,’ says Cantrell.”

“Dice Park” Fiasco Holds Lessons About Rising Expectations for Civic Design in Cleveland: Commentary The Plain Dealer, 9/12/14
“The brief life and rapid death last week of the Horseshoe Casino’s concept for the so-called ‘Dice Park’ in downtown Cleveland may have set a speed record for the public condemnation of a weak design idea.”

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WI-Green

Shoreline green infrastructure at the new Water Institute Campus in Baton Rouge / Voorsanger Architects

At a lecture on resilient waterfront design at the Center for Architecture in New York, two projects now in the works show how public spaces can still be created on shorelines, even in the era of the monster storm: the Water Institute Headquarters, Research, and Interpretive Center proposal in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by SuperMass Studio; and the Rockaways Boardwalk Reconstruction Plan in Queens, New York, from CH2M HILL, with the RBA Group and WXY. Both use green buffers to protect the shoreline and add biodiversity, but are designed to ensure easy public access.

Baton Rouge has had their share of storm events, but new shoreline green infrastructure could help mitigate the impacts of future ones. Taewook Cha, ASLA, founding principal of SuperMass Studio, presented their landscape plan for the Water Institute. Built on the old city dock, the main campus building will be parallel to the main circulation corridor between the dock and city center. This orientation creates a physical and symbolic connection to the Mississippi River.

WI-Building

The Water Institute’s Headquarters is oriented parallel to the main thoroughfare to maintain public connection to the waterfront / Voorsanger Architects

Along the opposite side of the throughway, SuperMass will recreate six distinct coastal-riparian ecosystems: coastal wetland, floodplain forest, wet meadow, shallow marsh, upper prairie, and backwater marsh.

WI-Section-2

WI-Section-1 Diverse coastal ecosystems on the Mississippi shoreline / SuperMass Studios

These constructed ecosystems will provide a range of services. They will protect the shoreline and structures, stabilize the banks, help restore the ridges, divert sediment, and enable the creation of new marshes and channels. These new systems will provide stormwater and flood management while creating new wildlife habitat.

At Rockaways beach in New York, the devastation of Hurricane Sandy is still fresh; the community won’t soon forget. The old wooden boardwalk there was torn apart by storm surges that turned the wooden planks into destructive projectiles that destroyed homes along the shoreline. In response, the New York City Parks and the Department of Design and Construction have rebuilt areas with concentrated amenities, and then filled in the stretches along the five-mile long shoreline. Future boardwalks will be made from concrete and recycled plastic lumber so they don’t splinter. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging sand from the ocean floor to build massive sand berms between homes, boardwalk, and beaches to protect the community from the next Sandy.

Boardwalk-Devastation

Boardwalk Devastation / Chang W. Lee via New York Times

The challenge, said Jackson Wandres, director of landscape architecture and planning at the RBA Group, was to create a new boardwalk that was not only structurally sound but also maintained the public space and beach access of the old boardwalk. To accomplish this, RBA Group proposed rebuilding the boardwalk along its original route, but raising it up between three and eight feet, as appropriate, to match the height of the Army Corps berms. In essence: “one giant earthwork with a giant public esplanade running along top of it – that’s the public open space we’re creating.”

Ecologically-appropriate vegetation will be planted both along the boardwalk and the berms themselves. In addition, concrete pavers, designed with a neat wave pattern that made the audience say “whoa!,” will allow bike access for the first time. Ramps will allow beach access over and down the berms. The project will be built over the next two years with federal funds, at a cost of somewhere between $200 and $260 million.

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Wave pattern in the concrete pavers / RBA Group

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Ramps from the boardwalk allow beach access / RBA Group

Should another storm surge hit Rockaways hard, much of the sand will again be wiped out. But the boardwalk is high enough above the surge line that sand will be swept out from under it. The concrete infrastructure should be left intact, avoiding the projectile damage caused during Sandy.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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Levee Lab at Hunts Point tests designed ecologies, materials, and techniques for climate-adapted industrial waterfronts to develop new regulatory frameworks / OLIN and PennDesign

Levee Lab at Hunts Point tests designed ecologies, materials, and techniques for climate-adapted industrial waterfronts to develop new regulatory frameworks / OLIN & PennDesign

Is resilience ecological, economic, cultural, or social? For Red Hook and Hunts Point, two communities in New York City, the answer is all of the above, argued Barbara Wilks, FASLA, and Richard Roark, ASLA, at a talk at the Center for Architecture in New York City.

Wilks spoke about the Red Hook community in Brooklyn, which was the focus of their Commercial Corridor Resiliency Project, a proposal submitted to the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rebuild by Design competition by HR&A Advisors, Inc., with Cooper, Robertson & Partners and W-Architecture & Landscape Architecture, where Wilks is principal and founder. Their proposal, which unfortunately didn’t win, explains: “In Red Hook, resiliency involves integrating flood protection through measures that maintain and enhance waterfront maritime and industrial activity while allowing for public access to the waterfront.”

Focusing on public corridors could help create social resiliency and civic spirit. Re-integrating the historic maritime legacy more closely with other parts of the community could strengthen local identity. And embracing the importance of water as not only threat but also opportunity could be important in a community that had some streets under as much as five feet of water following Hurricane Sandy. “Every nook and cranny in Red Hook is different,” said Wilks, so many different solutions would be needed to create redundancies across scales.

RH-Gowanus-Waterfront

The Gowanus Canal, typically a source of flooding in Red Hook, could become a revitalized “Maker’s District” for manufacturing and production business. A raised promenade encourages access to the space for pedestrians / HR&A Advisors

The project could also bring the community closer to the waterfront edge to create pedestrian and recreational opportunities that blur the border between water and community, rather than trying to create hard separations.

RH-Water-Taxi

Renderings show a new wave barrier protection to reduce wave action in a storm events while providing recreational waterfront amenities during normal conditions / HR&A Advisors

A one-mile section of Hunts Point peninsula in South Bronx is “the hub of the food supply for 22 million people, a $5 billion annual economy, over 20,000 direct jobs, and livelihoods of people in the poorest U.S. Congressional District.” Up to 60 percent of New York City’s produce, meat, and fish supply comes from Hunts Point – also home to the Food Bank for New York City. And it’s all in a floodplain, said Roark, who works at OLIN. He presented Hunts Point Lifelines, a winning Rebuild by Design proposal from OLIN and PennDesign that will receive $20 million.

The community escaped major impacts from Sandy, but if the floods had moved differently during that event, the one million pounds of food Hunts Point provided to the region in the five days following the storm could have been decimated. This would not only impact New York’s food supply. The floodwaters combined with decaying food following power outages could turn the entire neighborhood into a toxic waste site.

The economic value – and vulnerability – of Hunts Point is clear. But Roark also asked the audience to consider the social and cultural value of Hunts Point: “We sit at a tipping point where communities can become incredibly bifurcated: either wealthy places, or islands of extreme poverty.” In wealthier communities, residents who can afford flood insurance can either take a hit and rebuild, or leave altogether. With both historically impoverished residents and a large influx of poor immigrants, Hunts Point residents have neither of these luxuries. But the economic disadvantages belie the cultural contributions the area has given to not just the region but the world with a thriving street art scene and its historic legacy as the “birthplace” of hip-hop.

Hunts Points is a test site – a “crucible,” in the language of the design proposal – for the sort of future we want. For OLIN and PennDesign, the future includes a flood protection levee lab that combines protection of Hunt Point’s food hub with recreational and research opportunities.

A proposed open market honors Hunt Point's food production legacy and increases food access to residents / OLIN & PennDesign

A proposed open market honors Hunt Point’s food production legacy and increases food access to residents / OLIN & PennDesign

There will be new jobs associated with stormwater infrastructure, maritime emergency supply lines, and a state of the art “trigeneration” plant, designed to meet the district’s large refrigeration demands. These jobs will be accessible via “cleanways.”

HP-Cleanway

Urban “cleanway” / OLIN & PennDesign

Both projects drive home an important point: resiliency is ultimately about the people at the heart of the places we’re trying to keep safe. Both Wilks and Roark called for using resilient design to improve social equity, preserving community identity and historical legacies, and embracing multiple solutions across scales rather than attempting to find one catch-all “universal” solution.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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toronto

Corktown Common Park, Toronto by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and Arup / Arup

Made in the Shade: Landscaping in the Shadow of the High Line – Metropolis Magazine, 7/16/14
“The High Line proved to be the main site challenge, as it occupies much of the visual landscape and creates areas of permanent shade—limiting the plant palette and the ability to establish a lush, viable landscape.”

In Praise of Lurie Garden, Millennium Park’s Quiet Corner – Chicago Magazine, 7/18/14
“Sheltered from the city and the riotous expanse of the park by a dark curtain of evergreens, it’s less trod and less often regarded than the Bean’s plaza and the Crown Fountain, as appropriate for a sanctuary. It doesn’t get enough attention; it gets enough people.”

Bostonians Want Better Parks, More Farmer’s Markets & Preserved Historical Architecture BostInno, 7/22/14
“So why do people come to, and plant roots in, Boston? Is it its prestigious higher-ed institutions? Perhaps its the championship-caliber sports teams? A new survey done by collaborative design firm Sasaki Associates has the answer.”

New Toronto Park Is a Stormwater Treatment Plant in Disguise – The Architect’s Newspaper, 7/23/14
“Using Brooklyn Bridge Park and Hudson River Park as reference points, the reclaimed space has an array of natural plants, landscapes, ecosystems as well as lawns, athletic fields, picnic tables, play areas, and a pavilion that includes a community kitchen. That can all be seen at first glance, but the $27 million park was built as more than a play area—it was built to work.”

Hey, Mister, I’ve Got a Park I Can Sell You – The New York Times, 7/24/14
“It’s this juxtaposition of intimate little spaces and expansive views that makes the park so exhilarating and a place to return to in different light and seasons.”

At 93, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Is Still One of Canada’s Most Beloved Landscape Architects The Globe and Mail, 7/25/14
“One of the most important landscape architects of the 20th century and a pioneer in the fields of green design and rooftop landscapes, she has spoken and written often about the ‘solace’ of trees.”

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aerial penn ave

Pennsylvania Avenue today / National Capital Planning Commission

Pennsylvania Avenue has one of the nation’s most famous addresses – The White House, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It forms a physical and symbolic connection between that address, which represents the president and the executive branch, and the people, represented by the U.S. Capitol building. But beyond this, what is the role of the avenue for both the District and nation in the 21st century? What does the avenue say to the rest of the nation and the world?

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) wanted participants to answer these questions at its first public workshop on the Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative. In partnership with the General Services Administration and the National Park Service, the initiative will “develop a vision for how the avenue can meet local and national needs in a 21st century capital city.”

The workshop began with opening remarks from Elizabeth Miller, FASLA, NCPC. Miller noted the avenue’s dual role as not only a national symbol but also a place where people visit, work, and live. Recognizing and celebrating this dual role is one of the challenges the initiative faces as it crafts a vision to guide the next thirty to forty years.

Sarah Moulton at NCPC then presented some history. In particular, she noted the accomplishments of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation (PADC), which helped turn the avenue around, after its post-WWII decline. PADC was dissolved in 1996.

1962 street car line

1962 was the final year street cars ran up and down Pennsylvania Avenue / National Capital Planning Commission

Without a single voice advocating for the avenue, the street today is in a bit of a slump, showing wear and tear from increased use. It’s aging infrastructure. Its deterioration may have arisen out of the jurisdictional challenges stemming from the multiple agencies responsible for planning, designing, and maintaining various areas along the avenue.

Jurisdiction issues are one of the existing challenges for Pennsylvania Avenue

Jurisdiction issues are one of the existing challenges for Pennsylvania Avenue / National Capital Planning Commission

But change along the avenue is already underway, for good or bad. The old post office is being redeveloped as a Trump conference center and hotel; the FBI is looking into possible relocation; private redevelopment is in the works for E Street; and efforts are underway to redesign historic Pershing Park as a new national WWI memorial.

Following the presentation, participants were invited to visit stations around the room, which included a gallery of posters showing comparably prominent streets in capital cities around the world. Some stations sought participants’ feedback on their visions for the future.

For example, one poster asked, “What is the role of Pennsylvania Avenue in 2040?” Responses included:

  • “The city – one great public space; iconic, walkable, wayfinding (take that tourists!)”
  • “An iconic image of Main Street USA – people, interactivity, heritage”
  • “Should be the horizontal guidepost to the Washington Monument’s vertical”
public workshop big and little ideas

Ideas from the public workshop / National Capital Planning Commission

The initiative intends to address four central issues: operations and maintenance; governance; program and animation; and planning, design, and economic health. This last issue encompasses everything from security for federal buildings to sustainable design practices, from safe transportation routes to the needs of the residential community. At the heart of all of this is ensuring economic vitality, said Moulton.

NCPC is starting a robust public outreach effort, with this initial public workshop just the beginning. To submit your thoughts, e-mail NCPC at PennAve@ncpc.gov; visit their website; or  tweet with the hashtag #MyPennAve.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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helsinki

Helsinki / Wikipedia

The Guardian‘s excellent environmental coverage has been supplemented by a new section on cities, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Here, we learn about an ambitious plan in Helsinki, Finland, to create a revolutionary “mobility on demand” system by 2025. The system would enable all “shared and public transport” to be paid for with a single payment network available via smartphones. People would create their own transportation infrastructure from scratch. This is a complete rethinking of urban mobility for the age of ubiquitous connectivity.

The Guardian writes: “The hope is to furnish riders with an array of options so cheap, flexible, and well-coordinated that it becomes competitive with private car ownership not merely on cost, but on convenience and ease of use.”

Helsinki residents will use a new app to simply indicate start and end points, with perhaps a few preferences for mode of transit. “The app would then function as both journey planner and universal payment platform, knitting everything from driverless cars and nimble little buses to shared bikes and ferries into a single, supple mesh of mobility.” The app would be like Google Maps mated with a public Uber, but across all transportation options.

This city-wide mobility-on-demand system may build off of the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority’s new minibus service, Kutsuplus, which already lets riders indicate their own origins and destinations. With Kutsuplus, “requests are aggregated, and the app calculates an optimal route that most closely satisfies all of them.” Kutsuplus is expected to reduce car ownership, and even Zipcar membership.

The Guardian wonders whether this system can actually work in practice for everyone though. Riders would need a smartphone to be able to buy in. While this may work for upwardly mobile segments of Helsinki, does everyone there actually own a smartphone? What about the elderly, or people with disabilities?

Getting cost right will also be important. As an example, “Kutsuplus costs more than a conventional journey by bus, but less than a taxi fare over the same distance – and Goldilocks-style, that feels just about right.” How much will people pay extra for mobility on demand? And should they even pay extra, if this is to be a publicly-managed service?

Furthermore, could this model actually work elsewhere? The Guardian asks whether mobility on demand will be as effective in the spread-out, low-density suburbs of Helsinki.

And further afield, is this model transferable? Cities in the developing world that don’t have well-established public transportation systems (buses or subways) already rely on a network of private mini-buses and vans to move people around. These form a decentralized network that also responds to supply and demand. Could a Helsinki model be superimposed on such systems? And could it augment recent developments? Many developing world cities are moving towards more a more integrated public transportation network, often with new bus-rapid-transit (BRT) systems as the backbone. According to The City Fix from EMBARQ, 31 million urbanites now use BRT.

App-based urban transportation experiments are underway, perhaps showing the way to a new form of mobility. Almost all major urban transportation systems in the U.S. and Europe have their own apps that enable easy route planning; that’s a new thing. San Francisco is even testing an app to manage supply and demand for parking spaces. Uber and other taxi-on-demand services are now ubiquitous in the developed world, and have even caused widespread protests in Europe. But can an app really kill the car?

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What Makes a City Great? / Sasaki Associates

A new survey commissioned by planning and design firm Sasaki Associates asked 1,000 urbanites in San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. what they love most about their city. The findings, which cover diverse aspects of city life, offer truly fascinating insights for urban planners, landscape architects, and architects. One example: 60 percent of residents of these cities say they will still be in the city five years from now. Here are some other highlights.

What do urbanites love most about their cities? 

More than 40 percent cited the restaurants and food; while 32 percent said local attractions; 24 percent said historic places and landmarks; 21 percent said cultural offerings; 17 percent said parks and public spaces; and 16 percent said fairs and festivals. Some 15 percent said “the people,” while another 10 percent said they like the architecture the most, and 9 percent said the local sports scene.

And when asked, “what would get you out of your neighborhood?,” the findings are largely consistent with preferences listed above: 46 would venture out for a new restaurant; 25 percent would travel for a new store; 24 percent for a new cultural event; while just 18 percent would schlep to check out a new park or green space.

Where do urbanites’ favorite experiences happen?

While only 18 percent will travel across town for a new park, interestingly, a majority of people (65 percent) remember their favorite city experience taking place outdoors — either in a park or on a street. (A minority [just 22 percent] said their favorite experience happened in a building).

Of outdoor spaces, 47 percent say waterfronts are their favorite. Another 31 prefer large open parks, while 14 percent prefer small urban spaces, and 8 percent love their city’s trail system the most.

So where should cities make future investment in parks and open space? “41 percent support investment in making the waterfront more accessible and appealing; 40 percent would like to see more large parks that support both passive and adventurous activities; 37 percent wish their cities would make streets more pedestrian/bike friendly; 36 percent support adding outdoor music and entertainment venues; and 31 percent desire more small urban parks.”

What makes a city’s buildings iconic?

Some 36 percent said the historic nature of the building, while 30 percent said “great architecture,” and another 24 percent said a building’s “unique design.” A majority (57 percent) will stop and look at a historic building, while just 19 percent will do the same for a modern one.

What do urbanites like least about getting around in cities?

More than 40 percent said there’s “too much traffic,” while 23 percent cited the lack of parking. Some 14 percent said public transportation is not up to par, and 9 percent said biking is dangerous. Another 7 percent pointed to things being “too spread out,” while another 7 percent complained that sidewalks are too crowded.

These complaints reveal how Americans, even urbanites, get around: 58 percent use cars frequently, while 29 percent use public transportation. Another 10 percent try to walk everywhere and just 2 percent use bikes.

Surveys like Sasaki’s are important. We need to attract as many people as possible to cities, because urban life is central to a more sustainable future. In cities, per-capita carbon emissions and energy and water use are all much lower. But beyond the metrics, cities can just be great places if they are designed to be livable and beautiful, filled with outdoor spaces, historic buildings, and efficient transportation systems.

In keeping with Sasaki’s multidisciplinary approach, the team who put together the survey is comprised of a planner, landscape architect (Gina Ford, ASLA), and an architect, as it should be when dealing with all things related to our built environment.

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