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Archive for the ‘Cities’ Category

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All James River Park images / Jared Green

Richmond, Virginia, and Portland, Oregon, may not seem to have much in common, except they both have rivers that cut through their cities. In the case of Portland, it’s the Willamette River, and in Richmond, it’s the James River. Portland has invested in a wonderful loop along its waterfront parks and bridges, which connects the east and west sides of the Willamette in a seamless experience for bicyclists and pedestrians. And, soon, Richmond will have a similarly transformational circuit along its 600-acre James River Park, created as part of its smart riverfront plan, which is destined to boost revitalization efforts in this newly resurgent city.

The city’s planning department has partnered with landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Associates, which is leading a team of designers and engineers, to make the vision of a more connected Richmond a reality. The first priority in the multi-year plan is the Brown’s Island Dam Walk, which will convert old dam infrastructure into a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge across the river, connecting the city’s downtown to Manchester right through some glorious urban wilds. It’s smart reuse of a charismatic piece of old infrastructure. And the impetus for getting new circuit done fast, in this most southern of cities? The UCI World Championship bike race, which will set off bikers in a 10 mile course throughout the city in 2015.

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The old dam once powered Richmond’s economy, explained Nathan Burrell, the superintendent of the James River Park, in a tour organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) as part of their What’s Out There weekend in Richmond. Energy from the river supported flour mills along the riverfront. “Richmond was known to have the best flour” in part because of how well ground it was. As the dam fell into disrepair and was further damaged by Hurricanes Agnes and Camille, we just see the bones of it today.

While the storms caused hundreds of millions in damage across Richmond, there may have been one benefit, said Burrell. These storms cleared out decades of accumulated industrial sludge that had sunk to the bottom as well as raw effluent that had been captured by the river. Nature, in combination with a 30 million gallon sewage containment tank built to deal with the city’s combined sewage overflows, had, in effect, restored the river to a healthier state. While there are still the occasional combined sewage overflows with heavy rains, the river is in much better shape than it was decades ago.

The day we visited, kayakers were enjoying the park’s rapids.

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Burrell said he even takes his family down to the park’s beaches so they can go snorkel and see the migrating fish, including giant sturgeons, return.

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The islands that dot the river are home to migratory birds. “We have spotted 35 different species of birds, including Blue Herons.” Burrell said older residents of the area still think of the river as a filthy place, but perceptions in the region have dramatically changed in the past few years. Now, just 40 percent of the 700,000 visitors who have come to the park since summer began are from the city.

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Efforts to clean up the river and further restore the ecosystem have gotten a boost from Richmond’s stormwater management tax. And the riverfront plan will further promote the use of green infrastructure, including wetlands, to deal with runoff from the city and improve water quality. As Burrell explained, the goal is to show the James River Park’s value as a “habitat, not just pseudo-wilderness.”

Indeed, as one moves across the novel pedestrian bridge hanging from an expressway and lands on Belle Isle, it’s easy to forget you are in a city. The 64-acre island feels increasingly isolated from the city as you move further in and also feels like a true nature park, an effect only enhanced by the appealing industrial ruins.

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David Johannas, an architect and planner on Richmond’s planning commission, told me that much of the riverfront plan came out of earlier hard work on the downtown master plan. “I feel that the downtown master plan was the real turning point in our perceptions of our city. Hundreds of residents were very active in the process, which began in 2007. The study area reached to the east just past the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood to the city docks, north to interstate 95, west to include Virginia Commonwealth University, and across the river to the Manchester district. Reaching across the James River to Manchester became a defining element of the plan, as it made the James River and its natural parkland Richmond’s Central Park.”

The dam bridge really is just the first piece of an ambitious plan to further integrate the city and nature and put the James River Park at the heart of that connection. Learn more at Richmond’s planning department.

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Teresa Galí-Izard / Leena Cho

Urban design competitions are opportunities to assert the value of landscape architecture while still creating a dialogue with other design professions. At a recent review of Barcelona’s Placa des les Glories Catalanes design competition, Teresa Galí-Izard, International ASLA, chair of the landscape architecture department at the University of Virginia (UVA) and partner at Arquitectura Agronomia, explained why it’s important for landscape architects to take advantage of these competitions.

Galí-Izard believes landscape architects have an identity “crisis” and an urgent need to distinguish themselves from architects and planners. To make this point, she discussed the issue of landscape representation in photo-renderings and other promotional images in competition proposals. Too often, she noted, trees appear simply tacked onto sites, with no consideration for the conditions needed for them to fulfill their potential. This is a sign of a lack of involvement by landscape architects.

Landscape architects have a nuanced understanding of plants’ needs, as well as a deep awareness of the ground as a dynamic system. The profession has a unique ability to incorporate ecological and hydrological systems as major design elements. This knowledge is essential to the sustainability of a designed landscape. In urban design competitions, landscape architects then need to get involved and shape how a proposal is presented to clients and the public.

She also emphasized the need for landscape architects to be involved in designing briefs—that is, framing the problems—for the competitions in which they participate. Engagement at this early stage gives landscape architects greater influence in guiding the scope of large-scale urban projects.

The competition she reviewed is an effort by the Barcelona city government to revitalize a central plaza—the junction of three main avenues—and enhance its role as a ecological and cultural hub in the city. While she did submit a competition entry (“Tres Cartes”), Galí-Izard focused less on her particular proposal and more about the educational aspects of all the proposals.

The exhibit itself was provocatively presented: 10 design proposals were arranged around the gallery without attribution and visitors were asked to assess the work based on visual representation. After attendees had critiqued the proposals, Galí-Izard revealed the names of designers and background information on the entries.

Galí-Izard was frankly critical of her own proposal, explaining ways to improve and enliven the design and expressing regret for not having challenged the brief more extensively: “I feel so bad for not breaking the rules!”

Thinking through drawing, she quickly sketched revisions onto the presentation board, inserting buildings around the perimeter of the park, and proposed a mix of architecture and landscape for this central plaza.

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She showed a profound interest in her competitors’ proposals and their ideas and values. Her critical engagement with the other entries revealed an exemplary attitude toward the competition process: She understands the benefit of learning from peers and pushing her own practice and didn’t measure the merit of the experience solely in terms of winning.

For Galí-Izard, a good competition—like the Placa de les Glories Catalanes—should be grounded in real site constraints but still open to experimentation and creativity, a venue for extending the rigor and imagination of the university studio into the “real world” of contemporary practice.

This guest post by Julie Shapiro, Master of Landscape Architecture Candidate, University of Virginia

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Capital Bikeshare, Washington, D.C. / Bethesda Now

In just four years, bike share has gone from being the fantasy of a few enthusiasts to a practical and low-cost way for tens of thousands of people in cities, both large and small, across the U.S. to get around. While some cities have created their own bike share systems, many have partnered with Alta Bicycle Share, a company based out of Portland, Oregon. Alta runs bike share systems in New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, and Chattanooga, really inventing these systems as they go. Like many start-ups, Alta Bicycle Share has never turned a profit and has also gotten blasted in the press for hiccups in the roll-out of its services (see the ongoing complaints with CitiBike in NYC). But Alta Bicycle Share was recently acquired by outside investors, and Jay Walder, the former head of the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), will soon become the new CEO. According to Alta Bike Share founder Mia Birk, who spoke at Washington Ideas Forum, an event organized by The Atltantic and the Aspen Institute, this move is for the best, as “this new group can take us to the next level.” Birk said the acquisition signifies bike share is moving from niche into the mainstream, from being a start-up concept to a legitimate transportation option.

Birk, who is also the head of Alta Planning + Design, which plans and designs bicycle infrastructure, said bike share has been as transformational as any start-up in existence. “The numbers are phenomenal. To date, there have been an estimated 45 million miles traveled on bike share, ridden over 28 million trips.”

While major bike share systems like Washington, D.C. and NYC’s get all the press, Birk said there were actually 35 systems running in the U.S. Some smaller cities’ systems may just have a few hundred bikes. For example, Salt Lake City has GREENbike. Indianapolis has started its Indiana Pacer Bikeshare, and San Antonio, Texas, has also gotten on board.

Bicycling in general is up, even if safety remains a major concern. According to data from a recent Governor’s Highway Association study, bike use has increased 62 percent since 2000, but so have bike fatalities, with a 16 percent gain. Some 69 percent of those deaths have been in cities. Birk said “we’ve found that as bike use increases, there is also an increase in the raw number of crashes. However, the number of fatalities is very small, so even a few deaths can make the percentages go up.” Interestingly, some 80 percent of bicyclists killed are men, and 28 percent were shown to have been drinking. “People drinking on bikes are a real danger.”

On New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s goal of zero transportation-related deaths, Birk said this is a worthy but “probably more aspirational than realistic. Can we really expect everyone to behave? No. We don’t have sovereign control over humanity.”

To add, Birk said we must differentiate between bicyclist and bike share user deaths. “In bike share world, there have been no fatalities.”

So what’s coming up for bike share? First, Birk sees further integration with other established transportation systems. Cities will roll out “one passes,” which will enable transit users to easily shift between subways, buses, car share and bike share. “The San Francisco Bay area may be the first out of the gate.”

Second, notoriously car-centric cities like Dallas and Atlanta will become more bike-friendly, at least in parts. “These cities may not become bike meccas, but there may be pockets that change the culture.” In Dallas, Birk and her team are working on a new trail system; In Atlanta, the goal is to bring bike share to the Beltline project. Even Bentonville, Arkansas, home to Walmart, is creating a pocket of bike share, probably because it’s a cheap way to get around. “It’s not just in Portland anymore.”

Lastly, bike share and bicycling in general will become even safer. Today, only 1 percent of Americans commute by bike. “These are usually male, lycra-clad adrenaline junkies.” Another 6 percent of the population, said Birk, are “enthusiastic, confident bicyclists who bike on weekends with their kids but feel it’s too dangerous to bike to work in traffic. They are concerned about safety and parking. They want a low stress network of bikeways, and better separation between cars and bicycles, like you find in the European Union.”

To get that 6 percent commuting everyday, Birk argued that U.S. cities need “dedicated bike signals, which are used in every European transit system.” These signals are crucial to improving safety and reducing the number of irresponsible bicyclists who fail to obey traffic signals and bike up on the sidewalks. “This is really what happens when you have very little bicycle infrastructure. People behave how they want.” As one Dutch traffic engineer told her, “bicyclists are like water, they will flow into wherever they want to go.”

So cities need to get moving on building out more bicycle infrastructure — to meet growing demand and improve safety, but equally as importantly, to reduce the growing backlash against “bullying” bicyclists. In D.C., tensions have risen to such an extent between drivers and bicyclists that we can read statements like these in The Washington Post op-eds: “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.”

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SteelStacks Art and Culutral Campus, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania / Urban Land Institue, Paul Warchol

SteelStacks Art and Cultural Campus, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania / Urban Land Institute, Paul Warchol

New Singapore Public Realm Project for Grant AssociatesHorticulture Week, 10/21/14
Grant Associates, an England based landscape architecture firm, has revealed its design for a new public realm project in Capitol Singapore. The project comprises three conservation buildings and features themed residential roof gardens and terraces.”

WRT’s Design for SteelStacks Awarded ULI Global Award for ExcellenceReuters, 10/23/14
Wallace Robert & Todd announced the Urban Land Institute has awarded the SteelStacks Arts and Cultural Campus its Global Awards for Excellence. Steelstacks is located on the former Bethlehem Steel plant, which closed in 1997.”

L.A. a Fertile Ground for Garden ApartmentsLos Angeles Times, 10/24/14
Landscape architects designed Los Angeles’ garden apartments to take advantage of the California landscape. To spotlight garden apartments, the L.A. conservancy is hosting daylong tours of three notable examples as some try to replace the apartments with higher-profit alternatives.”

This Clever Train Station Doubles as a Part of the LandscapeWired, 10/27/14
“The city of Vinge, Denmark will transform from a grassy field with a train station to a full-fledged town by 2033. The centerpiece of the small town’s urban plan is the train station that will subtly blur the line between built and natural environments.”

Thirty-three foot Slide and Tree House Coming to New Buffalo Bayou Nature Park Houston Chronicle, 10/28/14
The Buffalo Bayou Partnership unveiled plans for a 28,000-square-foot children’s nature park that includes a 33-foot slide and tri-level tree house overlooking the bayou. The park aims to open in time for summer 2015.”

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Empire State Building, Earth Day / Inga’s Angle blog

Achieving sustainability requires more than just enacting forward-thinking legislation—it also requires compliance with laws and regulations. This was the message of Gina Bocra, chief sustainability officer; Emily Hoffman, director of energy code compliance; and Holly Savoia, director of sustainability enforcement, all with the New York City government, as they spoke at this year’s GreenBuild conference in New Orleans.

The three work for New York City’s department of buildings’ sustainability unit, one of the largest of its kind in the country. Informally known as “NYC’s Green SWAT Team,” the panelists and their staff are charged with helping the city meet its goal of reducing greenhouse emissions by 30 percent by 2030. They have a tremendous task, as nearly three quarters of NYC’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from the building sector.

The city’s groundbreaking Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, which was enacted in December 2009, is actually composed of four laws that address benchmarking, energy codes, audits and retro-commissioning, and lighting and submetering. [To further explain, retro-commissioning is a whole-building systems-based approach to improving an existing building’s performance.] These laws have to be enforced to be effective. “We provide some incentives, but we also hold the stick,” said Bocra. “We focus on fines and violations, but the goal is compliance.”

According to Hoffman, in January 2014 the unit began inspecting all new and renovated buildings for energy efficiency. A sustainability plan examiner reviews the energy code, and an inspection team, which may include third party inspectors, ensures the building is meeting the code as it is being built. So far, inspectors have looked at 2,600 new building applications, 4,500 major alterations applications, and 60,000 minor alterations applications.

Hoffman said the inspectors often encounter a “mind boggling” number of documentation and administrative errors and other technical issues. For instance, the square footage of areas don’t add up, or the U-factors (showing how part of a building conducts heat) are thrown in without any supporting documentation. As a result, Crain’s New York reported that nine out of ten commercial and residential projects fail on their first try to get their applications approved.

According to Savoia, sustainability inspectors make objections after comprehensive review. Half of submissions were returned last year due to “minor” issues, including missing owner signatures and improperly filled out forms. However, the unit is having an incredibly positive effect: compliance with local laws governing annual benchmarking of energy use, energy audits, and retro-commissioning increased from 76 percent in 2011 to 84 percent in 2012.

Hoffman acknowledged that “the energy code is really complex. There are different paths to compliance for residential and commercial buildings. It’s really difficult to understand this stuff, and so we have to provide more education.”

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The Alleys of The Fan / all photos by Jared Green

From Monroe Park, The Fan, a spatially-unique neighborhood, literally spreads out, with the spines of the unfolding fan taking the form of long avenues that stretch through Victorian-era residences, parks, and alleys. Through a tour organized through The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF)’s What’s Out There weekend in Richmond, Virginia, Beth Marschak, a guide with the Valentine Richmond History Center, gave us a close-up look at the alley, an often-overlooked yet vital piece of infrastructure, and how neighborhood groups are coming together to green these spaces, turning them into a rugged form of linear parks.

Marschak said that after the Civil War, “there was nothing here.” Monroe Park, the city’s first public park, was the far edge of the city. Beginning in the 1880s, the strangely-shaped district began to take shape as it was divided into subdivisions given over to developers. Together, these distinct neighborhoods formed a “sort of streetcar neighborhood.” The homes closer to Monroe Park were richer, with carved wood instead of cheaper iron decorative arts, and taller, at three stories instead of two. While Richmond was already highly segregated, the restrictive Jim Crow laws enacted in the 1870s, further institutionalized the division of the races, making The Fan entirely white.

Alleys are multi-purpose public infrastructure. They were established to provide air space between homes in case of fire, as well as access for fire trucks. Deliveries were made through alleys. When The Fan fell into decline in the 1950s through the 1970s, some neighbors banded together to enclose and wall off their alleys, to increase security. Still, the vast majority remain open.

In contrast to the sidewalks of The Fan, which are made of bricks organized into a unique herringbone pattern, the alleys feature solid granite pavers organized into a running bond pattern, except for a strip in the middle.

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Terry Clements, FASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at Virginia Tech, told me that the difference in paving patterns can be explained by cost and use. Herringbone-patterned brick sidewalks, which are found nearly everywhere in The Fan, hold up better to cross traffic as they lock together and resist sliding. The paths of the alleys were designed to be able to handle heavier loads, like fire trucks, so the running bond is laid perpendicular to the direction of traffic, making it more resistant to being pushed forward by heavy wheels. The middle of the alley subtly dips and has a vertical strip of pavers to help convey storm water out of the alleys.

As Marschak descibed, local neighborhood associations or residents have shaped the look and feel of many alleys, adding their own green spaces. In one, we see wall planters and even a sort of mini curbside parklet, just created one day by some residents.

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However, this alley was really just the appetizer for a splendid one covered in gravel and planted with a soft palette of plants by a neighbor, who decided to extend his own private garden into the public space. Over the decades, he and his neighbors have created an alley arcadia.

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Given paved, impermeable surfaces like streets and parking lots can easily cover 30-40 percent of cities, urban policymakers and designers are increasingly redesigning the alley, in large part because of stormwater management issues. Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston are all experimenting with applying permeable pavement to their ubiquitous back roads. While this material provides great environmental benefits, it really just look like pavement. The approach taken by the neighborhood groups in The Fan not only offer environmental benefits but also create beautiful public spaces and help build communities. These approaches should also be in the mix when cities consider how best to green their alleys.

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Klyde Warren Park / Thomas McConnel

Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, Texas, won the Urban Land Institute’s 2014 Open Space Award, which recognizes “public spaces that have socially and economically enriched and revitalized their communities.” Completed in 2012 by landscape architecture firm The Office of James Burnett (OJB), the 5-acre park is a green roof, decking over the sunken Woodall Rogers Freeway. As the highway was submerged, a new living, breathing space was made possible. The park now connects the city’s downtown cultural district with the mixed-use neighborhoods to the north, helping car-centric Dallas become a healthier, more walkable place.

According to OJB, the park brings it all. There is a “flexible, pedestrian-oriented design, offering a mix of active and passive spaces.” Spaces are either grand or intimate. In the grand category, there is a sweeping pedestrian promenade with botanical garden and great lawn, with fountain and performance pavilion. Smaller spaces include a children’s park, reading room, games area, and dog park.

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Klyde Warren Park / Gary Zvonkovic

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Klyde Warren Park / Dillon Diers

These spaces enable all kinds of activities, ranging from “yoga classes and lectures to outdoor concerts and film screenings.” James Burnett, FASLA, said: “Great cities have great parks, and Klyde Warren Park has quickly become the new heart of downtown Dallas.”

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Klyde Warren Park / LianeRochelle Photography

The park also incorporates sustainable design elements. The landscape itself has a “continuous canopy of Pond Cypress,” and much of the design is characterized by the “use of native tree and plant species,” which are all kept alive through the Texan summer through a water reclamation and purification system. There is a high-efficiency lighting system throughout, featuring solar-powered light poles. The buildings, which have been certified LEED Gold, use geothermal energy for temperature control.

M. Leanne Lachman, Chair of the ULI Global Awards for Excellence Jury, said: “Klyde Warren is not only successful in fixing an urban fracture that isolated development and challenged the existing potential for the area; it also demonstrates that a long-term vision and commitment are critical to foster a sense of place and community, with lasting positive rippling effects.”

See more images.

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Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece  / Princeton Architectural Press

Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece / Princeton Architectural Press

Recently restored to much ado through a six-year process, Mellon Square in Pittsburgh was the first Modernist space in the nation built over a subterranean parking garage. Considered a precursor to today’s green roof movement, Mellon Square is a showcase for urban revitalization through historic preservation, with a contemporary sensibility and the latest technologies. In the foreword of Susan Rademacher’s Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece, series editor Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, head of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) says the result of the restoration is “a renewed, enhanced, and revitalized Mellon Square that carefully balances the highest historic preservation standards with clearly articulated performance benchmarks and sustainability standards.”

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Henri Marcus Moran, “View of Mellon Square – Looking North,” ca. 1955, Gouache on board / Princeton Architectural Press

As Rademacher, parks curator at Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, tells the history of the civic space itself, she reflects Pittsburgh’s ups and downs throughout much of the twentieth century – from booming steel town to post-WWII slump, when it was nicknamed the “Smoky City” due to its heavy blankets of regular smog. Mellon Square was a key player ushering in Pittsburgh’s first renaissance, drawing innovation, entrepreneurs, and civic life to the downtown “Golden Triangle.” But the square also succumbed to the decline characterizing Pittsburgh through the 1960s to 90s. As Rademacher tells it, Mellon Square is a proxy for the status and reputation of the entire city of Pittsburgh.

Mayor David Lawrence with R.K. Mellon, in Life magazine, May 1956 / Margaret Bourke-White, Princeton Architectural Press

Mayor David Lawrence with R.K. Mellon, in Life magazine, May 1956 / Margaret Bourke-White, Princeton Architectural Press

Also woven into the narrative are personal histories of key players such as project architects James Mitchell and Dahlen Ritchey, and landscape architects John Simonds and Philip Simonds. Students and practitioners of landscape architecture will recognize the former Simonds as author of seminal text Landscape Architecture, still widely used as a foundational textbook for landscape architecture courses. We learn about his life and entry into the profession in the 1930s, and find fascinating glimpses of a highly tenuous time for the field. In a 1999 letter, Simonds recounts asking Walter Gropius, his mentor at the Harvard, about the future role for landscape architecture in contemporary society. Gropius “looked at [him] long and thoughtfully without speaking. It was quite possibly one of the most eloquent statements ever never stated.” Simonds would go on to graduate as part of the “infamous 1939 ‘class of rebels,’” we learn from Landscape Architecture co-author Barry W. Starke, FASLA. In these records, the mythos of the profession is alive and well.

Iconic copper fountains elegently lit and choreographed early in Mellon Square's history / Princeton Architectural Press

Iconic copper fountains elegantly lit and choreographed early in Mellon Square’s history / Princeton Architectural Press

At the heart of the book, of course, is the history of Mellon Square itself. Readers looking for historical details will not be disappointed. Design notes, sketches, photographs, and planting details are generously interspersed throughout the text. Just about every planting choice considered, implemented, and replaced is included, with nuggets, such as the “early use of the new thornless form of the honey locust tree,” now common and well-known to practitioners. And we learn that early design concepts discussed including “live animal displays within the pool, such as flamingos, penguins, and sea lions, which were favored for their comical movements and expressions.”

John Simonds' earliest known concept sketch / Princeton Architectural Press

John Simonds’ earliest known concept sketch / Princeton Architectural Press

Planting detail with circular platforms for sea lions are featured in an early concept sketch / Princeton Architectural Press

Planting detail with circular platforms for sea lions are featured in an early concept sketch / Princeton Architectural Press

Also noted is Simonds’ “elaborate and precise statement of design intent,” in which that the square must simultaneously act as a platform, structure, island, space, focal center, civic monument, gathering place, and oasis. “Simonds and his collaborators created a powerfully original landscape architecture and urban design solution . . . [placing] nature in high relief against the building-lined streets of downtown.”

Those hoping to gain insight for approaching a historic restoration in other cities will also find much to learn from. Mellon Square, which also features essays by Patricia O’Donnell, FASLA, Heritage Landscapes, lead landscape architect on the restoration effort, and Richard Bell, FASLA, champions the efforts of all involved. Rademacher is careful to give credit to all involved parties, from the first glimmers of an idea through the recent full restoration. As important as reconstructing the historic details of the copper fountains and rustic terrazzo paving was the building and maintaining of partnerships across disciplines. Though Mellon Square underwent a partial restoration in the 1980s, funding issues – along with design modifications largely reversed to better align with the original design – led to a lack of proper maintenance. Key to the future success of the square will be an ongoing $4 million maintenance fund devoted to perpetual stewardship of Mellon Square.

Editorial cartoon, Cy Hungerford, 1955 / Princeton Architectural Press

Editorial cartoon, Cy Hungerford, 1955 / Princeton Architectural Press

One of few Modernist landscapes fully preserved and restored, proponents hope Mellon Square will be not an anomaly but a model for other locations. Up next: how about designation as a National Historic Landmark?, suggests Birnbaum.

Read the book.

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is founder and lead designer-educator at Mitsui Design, focusing on landscape experience and connection to place. He was the ASLA summer 2014 communications intern.

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Public Produce: Cultivating Our Parks, Plazas, and Streets for Healthier Cities / Island Press

Public Produce: Cultivating Our Parks, Plazas, and Streets for Healthier Cities / Island Press

We are increasingly concerned about the provenance of our food. Movements supporting local food production, urban agriculture, and more socially-equitable food systems have gained increasing traction over the last decade. Meanwhile, our industrial food systems are increasingly vulnerable due to over-centralized facilities and ownership, reliance on fossil fuels for production and transportation, and crop monocultures, which are made only more vulnerable by climate change.

Urban agriculture is frequently cited as a response to these challenges. Cities, though, still face question of where to grow food, how to maintain farms, create access, and educate citizens about agricultural production. In Public Produce: Cultivating Parks, Plazas, and Streets for Healthier Cities, urban designer and author Darrin Nordahl proposes local governments bolster local ecosystems of public food production.

Alice Waters praised the original 2009 edition as showing “how growing food on public land can transform our civic landscape.” Marion Nestle said the book gave “all the reasons why growing food in cities would be good for alleviating poverty, for building communities, and for public policy.”

A newly revised and expanded edition does these things and fills in key details by offering numerous examples of people, organizations, communities, and governments implementing all sorts of models of food production on public lands as well as partnerships between local governments and community organizations.

The first few chapters will be highly useful for those looking for a succinct and easily-readable introduction to the arguments behind local and urban food production: food (in)security, over-reliance on fossil fuels, social equity, and resilience to climate change, to name a few. But those already well versed in the works of Michael Pollan and other sustainable agriculture advocates can skim through.

Nordahl hits his stride in the third chapter as he goes beyond the general tenets of urban agriculture and makes his case for a triad between public space, public officials, and public policy. Growing vegetables in public spaces sends a powerful message. Nordahl defines public spaces as places freely accessible to the public, “whether they are truly public or merely perceived to be . . . In essence, any space where the public can enter throughout the day without being charged and admission fee . . . and is suitable for growing food, is worthy of inclusion in a network of public produce.”

Social justice advocates will appreciate the chapter on gleaning as a public produce model, and Nordahl gives many examples of places that have developed strong access networks. Fallen Fruit in Los Angeles, for example, develops freely accessible maps showing where fruit can be publicly gleaned. He also offers an interesting take on gleaning as economic opportunity – foraging for fruit rather than, say, recyclables, and trading in one’s daily harvest for money or other essentials.

Publically accessible fruit trees in Sherman Oaks neighborhood, Los Angeles / Fallen Fruit

Publically accessible fruit trees in Sherman Oaks neighborhood, Los Angeles / Fallen Fruit

Nordahl’s strongest arguments come in chapter five, in which he addresses the perennial maintenance question: “who is going to take care of it?” Indeed, this was one of my first questions – and many others may well wonder how well-received the idea will be of rotting fruit all over public spaces, which are expensive to clean up and unappealing to the aesthetic eye. But Nordahl reminds the reader that “the fantastic aesthetics of our most prized landscape plants makes it easy for us to forget that they produce an abundance of leaf litter, drip with sticky nectar, and drop unpalatable fruit by the bunches.” Planting edibles prioritizes the value of food production, while often offering an aesthetic value as well.

“There is no doubt that food-producing plants can be messy and need some upkeep,” Nordahl admits. “But the pervasive assumption that edibles require considerably more management than ornamental plants, or are not as pretty, is bogus. . . [that said], sound design principles are not thrown out the window simply because the plant palette uses fruit-bearing trees instead of sterile cultivars. As in any landscape design, the architect needs to take into account how many people will use or pass by the space; what types of activities will take place in the space; the microclimate, solar access, and water availability of the space; and a host of other variables.”

Again, Nordahl gives several examples where communities developed multi-beneficial models for maintenance, harvesting, and clean-up of edible plants. Communities who balance an appropriate “carrying capacity,” where the availability of edibles does not exceed the demand for them, help ensure that fruit is harvested and eaten, rather than left to drop and rot on the ground.

Landscape architects and designers will appreciate the examples where aesthetic and place-making qualities were woven into designs for food production. The Curtis “50-Cent” Jackson Community Garden in Queens, NY, designed by Walter Hood, ASLA, for example, integrates huge, eye-catching rainwater-collection sculptures amid the edibles planted in French-style parterres. And designers for Disneyland’s “Tomorrowland” area planted edible fruit trees, herbs, and leafy greens in lieu of solely ornamental plantings, perhaps to suggest what urban design of the future will look like.

Sculptural rainwater collection towers amidst planting beds at the Curtis "50-Cent" Jackson Community Gardens in Queens, NY / New York Restoration Project

Sculptural rainwater collection towers amidst planting beds at the Curtis “50-Cent” Jackson Community Gardens in Queens, NY / New York Restoration Project

Citrus trees in "Tomorrowland," Disneyland / FlashBulb

Citrus trees in “Tomorrowland,” Disneyland / FlashBulb

But this book is not a design manual or a how-to guide for would-be urban farmers. A good number of photos intersperse with the text, but readers will not find design schematics, planting calendars, or detailed plant lists for every climate. Examples are woven into the narrative, not broken out as researched case studies. Nordahl lays out an alluring vision, however, and his arguments are persuasive. Peas at City Hall, persimmons along public avenues, and pawpaws in city parks? Maybe not such a crazy idea after all.

Read the book.

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is founder and lead designer-educator at Mitsui Design, focusing on landscape experience and connection to place. He was the ASLA summer 2014 communications intern.

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portland

Pioneer Courthouse Square / Kenneth Helphand, FASLA

Portland, Oregon, is more than a trendy place to visit—it has long been ahead of the curve on urban design and sustainability, thanks to smart leadership and a willingness to experiment and innovate. The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Portland, a project by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), explains Portland’s cutting-edge approach to sustainable urban design.

The guide provides both Portlanders and the millions of tourists who visit Portland annually a deeper understanding of why Portland is one of the most livable and sustainable cities in the world. The guide is also meant to educate city leaders, urban planners, and designers across the U.S. and around the globe.

According to Mark A. Focht, FASLA, president of ASLA and first deputy commissioner of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, Portland’s landscape architects have played a crucial role in making the city a better place to live. Their contributions trace back to the early 20th century, when the Olmsted Brothers laid out many of the critical urban plans and park system, and continue with today’s generation of landscape architects, who are creating waterfront parks, beloved urban plazas, and cutting-edge bicycle infrastructure.

“Portland’s designed landscapes are integral to its urban fabric,” says Focht. “Landscape architects have long played a major role in designing the city’s public realm, and the key spaces between buildings that serve as the connective tissue for communities. These spaces include parks, plazas, streets, and transportation infrastructure.”

Topical tours offer both printable bike maps and Google maps. The guide also includes tours by district. People will be able to view the guide on their smartphones, tablets or desktop computers.

The website was created by ASLA in partnership with its Oregon Chapter and 11 local landscape architects, who are designers of our public realm and leaders in sustainable design.

The guides are:

Brian Bainnson, ASLA, Quatrefoil Inc.
Bennett Burns, ASLA, independent landscape architect
Mike Faha, ASLA, GreenWorks, PC
Kenneth Helphand, FASLA, University of Oregon
Rachel Hill, ASLA, AECOM
Lloyd Lindley, FASLA, independent landscape architect
Carol Mayer-Reed, FASLA, Mayer/Reed Inc.
Jeff Schnabel, ASLA, Portland State University
Jean Senechal Biggs, ASLA, Portland Bureau of Transportation
Rebecca Wahlstrom, ASLA, Olson Engineering Inc.
Robin Wilcox, ASLA, Alta Planning + Design

The guide is organized by the facets of the sustainable city, with sections on:

  • The Built Environment – how building and landscape work together to enhance sustainability.
  • Food – how the city’s local food system works, from urban farms to “food cart pods.”
  • Energy – how Portland has among the highest renewable energy use in the U.S.
  • “Grand Parks” – how the original Olmstedian park system is still key to livability.
  • Health – how parks are designed for users with all kinds of disabilities, even Alzheimer’s.
  • “People Spaces” – how the city creates a sense of civic pride through its plazas.
  • Social Equity – how the city helps the homeless and addresses the impacts of gentrification.
  • Transportation – how Portland created one of the best-integrated, most people-friendly transportation systems.
  • Waste – how the city achieved one of the highest recycling rates in the country.
  • Water – how it led the country on green infrastructure.
  • Wildlife – how its park system also serves other species.

This is the third in a series of guides focused on sustainable American cities. The first, The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Washington, D.C., was launched in 2012, and The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Boston, was launched in 2013. They have been viewed more than 150,000 times to date.

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