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Archive for the ‘Ecosystem Restoration’ Category

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Pollinator Pathway One (Before and After Planting), 2011 / © Sarah Bergmann

EcoDistrict planning and design can accelerate local efforts to improve sustainability. EcoDistricts offer a framework through which communities can discuss, prioritize, and enact initiatives that address climate change — by providing clean energy, conserving wildlife habitat, and encouraging low-impact development — and also social equity. If more neighborhoods begin to adopt the EcoDistrict model — wherein a range of partner organizations work in concert — we could see stronger bottom-up pushes toward city-wide sustainability.

Since 2011, the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, which is funded by the Bullitt Foundation and led by Capitol Hill Housing, has sought to improve the sustainability of the community and the equity of its constituents. This EcoDistrict is partnering with the Seattle 2030 District, a high-performance business district in downtown Seattle, that aims to reduce carbon emissions 50 percent by 2030. In 2015, Seattle’s City Council formally passed a resolution recognizing the EcoDistrict.

In the past few years, the EcoDistrict has made progress: Capitol Hill Housing and Seattle City Light started the first community solar project on an affordable housing building in Washington State. Participants in this program can “subscribe” to receive the benefits of solar via the systems built and maintained by Seattle City Light on the rooftop of the new Capitol Hill Housing, the Holiday Apartments, which houses 88 new apartments for low-income families, artist spaces, two theaters, various community organizations, and street-level retail spaces.

Also, innovative building projects are being encouraged to update the city’s outdated land-use code, using a process of design review. As an example, The Bullitt Center helped launch the city’s Living Building pilot program.

The EcoDistrict aims to address urban ecosystem fragmentation and the loss of tree canopy and open space. To do this, Capitol Hill Housing is partnering with interdisciplinary designer Sarah Bergmann to create the second certified Pollinator Pathway in the U.S. Each Pollinator Pathway connects two or more green spaces, following a set of scientific criteria, and is created through commission or partnership.

Bergmann’s first project, Pollinator Pathway One — a mile-long, 12-foot wide landscape first developed seven years ago — connects Seattle University’s campus with Nora’s Woods, a small forested area a mile away, through a series of connected gardens (see image above). The second project, Pollinator Pathway Two, will run through the heart of the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict and will connect two Olmsted-designed parks and Seattle University.

More knowledge sharing among EcoDistricts around the country will help lead to a more replicable model. Already, a few high-profile EcoDistricts are joining together: In 2014, the Portland, Oregon-based EcoDistrict organization launched a program called Target Cities, a two-year partnership with ten projects across eight North American cities.

This guest post is by Katy Scherrer, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, University of Washington.

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Chrysanthemums grow at the base of Mount Hariya, a former landfill / Latz+Partners

Chrysanthemums grow at the base of Mount Hariya, a former landfill / Latz+Partners

The “Mountain of Crap,” the nickname for Hiriya landfill, and Freshkills share more than just evocative names. They are also two of the most outstanding examples of landscape transformation, in this case, urban landfills that have become parks – Ariel Sharon Park, outside of Tel Aviv, Israel and Freshkills Park, in Staten Island, New York.

Both were the wastelands of their respective cities. They began receiving garbage over 60 years ago, and closed at nearly the same time – Hiriya in 1999 and Freshkills in 2001. When complete, Ariel Sharon Park – like Freshkills – will be roughly three times the size of Central Park. The two parks signed a “twin parks” agreement last year to share information and plan cooperatively. Leaders from both parks will also present at April’s Greater & Greener Urban Parks Conference in San Francisco.

While much is known about Freshkills, less is known about the history of Ariel Sharon Park, at least in the U.S. Hiriya landfill is some 200-feet-high given because it sits on 25 million tons of waste. The landfill is located directly under the flight paths to Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport. As massive flocks of birds swarming Hiriya caused a few too many close-misses and toxic runoff leached into streams adjacent to the landfill, public outcry to close the landfill grew.

By its final year of operation in 1998, Hiriya was receiving 3,000 tons of household waste per day. In 1999, it became a transfer station, and rehabilitation plans began in 2001. But even as park development move forward, the site continues waste operations. Municipal and agricultural waste is sorted and transferred at a large recycling center that captures methane from organic waste in anaerobic biogas digesters. The facility captures enough methane to power the entire recycling facility and sell back excess electricity to the Tel Aviv grid.

Anaerobic Biogas Digesters / Chris Tackett

Anaerobic Biogas Digesters / Chris Tackett

As much as 80 percent of incoming waste is reportedly recycled or reused by the Arrow Bio management company.

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Waste transfer & recycling station / Yoshi Silverstein

An environmental education center near the recycling facilities features landfill-derived art from sponsored competitions alongside other interpretive resources.

Landfill art in the environmental education center / Yoshi Silverstein

Landfill art in the environmental education center / Yoshi Silverstein

As a first step, landscape architect Peter Latz, who is famous for Landscape Park Duisborg-Nord in Germany, designed an innovative “bio-plastic” layer covered with gravel and a meter of soil to protect wildflowers and vegetation from the underlying methane and other contaminants. Rainwater collection pools between the bio-plastic and soil layers will provide a source for the irrigation system for trees.

"Mount" Hariya Landfill / Latz+Partners

“Mount” Hariya Landfill / Latz+Partners

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Water collection pool during construction / Yoshi Silverstein

Because it lies in the Ben-Gurion flyway and is in the center of the road connecting Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the road connecting Tel Aviv to Haifa, the area is ill-suited for housing, even without the landfill. So in addition to the mountain capping the landfill itself, surrounding agricultural fields and waterways are being developed as wildlife habitat with man-made ponds, which will be accessible via bike and walking trails.

Pergola with views of Tel Aviv / Jessica Steinberg-Times of Israel

Pergola with views of Tel Aviv / Jessica Steinberg-Times of Israel

The paths winding through orchards, agricultural terraces, and native plantings will be laid on beds of recycled material. A lake and re-directed water systems will help alleviate flooding issues for South Tel Aviv and Holon, and a promenade and 50,000-seat amphitheater will draw people. Laura Starr, ASLA, Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects, led the initial international planning and design charette to create a vision for the park.

See a brief video outlining this vision:

Hiriya took its name from the former Arab village, al-Hariya, whose residents were evacuated prior to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. While its counterpart, Jaffa Landfill Park, designed by Braudo-Maoz Landscape Architecture of Tel Aviv, Israel, used the removal of a landfill and reconstruction of a seashore to ameliorate a painful past and serve as a springboard for social discourse, it’s unclear whether designs for the park include any official acknowledgement of Hiriya’s pre-landfill history.

What cannot be hidden is Hiriya’s mountain of crap. If all goes as planned, though, it will serve as a beacon for environmental restoration.

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is founder of Mitsui Design.

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Anne Whiston Spirn, FASLA, is a professor of landscape architecture and urban planning at MIT. Her most recent book is
The Eye is a Door: Landscape, Photography, and the Art of Discovery (2014). She is also the author of The Granite Garden (1984 ASLA President’s Award of Excellence), The Language of Landscape (1988), and Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field (2011 ASLA Honor Award). The Web site www.annewhistonspirn.com is a gateway to her work and activities.

This interview was conducted at the ASLA 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver.  

This year is the 30th anniversary of your book, The Granite Garden, which argued that cities are part of nature and should be designed with nature. Since 1984, how much progress have we made? Where are we still going wrong?

We’ve made enormous progress, particularly with water. Ironically, we’ve done less well on climate and air quality. I say ironically because there’s so much awareness of climate change these days. There’s been a lot of attention paid to design proposals aimed at adapting to rising sea levels, but less to the enormous potential that the design of cities holds for reducing the factors that contribute to climate change in the first place. We need to truly reimagine the way we design cities.

Scientists and engineers are focused on technical solutions, social scientists on policy. And that’s where the public debate is focused. We designers and planners are not getting our message across as well as we should.

On the other hand, it’s a tremendous challenge for us to keep up with the latest and best scientific knowledge that would directly affect the way we design. We’re awash in information. You can’t expect a practitioner to stay abreast of all this literature, which is why we at MIT are proposing to do a monograph series on knowledge related to the urban natural environment — air, earth, water, ecosystems — and make that bridge to design. These monographs would be authored by teams of designers and scientists.

We hope to make these available at no cost, to anyone in the world. We hope that they’ll be valuable to scientists too, because most scientists don’t really know how their discoveries apply to design and planning. We are seeking funds to start with urban climate and air quality and then do our next monograph on water.

My hope is that this will prompt new experimentation and research that will give landscape architects the information we need. Right now, scientists develop their research agendas for their own purposes, mainly to document, record, and predict, but not to alter the world or make it more beautiful.

Thirty years ago, there was a sharp divide between proponents of ecological design and landscape as an art form. Examples of urban design that were both ecologically functional and artful were few and far between. I wrote “The Poetics of City and Nature: Toward a New Aesthetic for Urban Design” in 1988 and my book, The Language of Landscape, to argue for design that fuses ecology and art. Others made that argument, too. Now we have many great models of artful ecological design. So that’s another area where we have made real progress.

What do you think of the theoretical discussions born out of your book: ecological urbanism and landscape urbanism?

They’re very important in several ways. Both movements have appealed to architects, and that’s really important. Green infrastructure is something that landscape architects have been talking about for many decades, but architects weren’t thinking in those terms. Landscape urbanism and ecological urbanism were deliberately aimed to capture that audience. And that’s good. On the other hand, some proponents have claimed their approach is radically new, which it is not, and have ignored the contributions of many others to both theory and practice. Certain built projects have captured the public imagination, but for the most part, the landscape urbanism and ecological urbanism literature has been aimed at the design disciplines, not the larger public. There is a need for publications that are valuable to  designers and planners and are also challenging, interesting, and enlightening to a broader audience.

I first set out to accomplish that with The Granite Garden. It probably took me an extra 3-4 years to write the book because I had to learn how to write to this larger audience, use no jargon, and explain the concepts in a way that wouldn’t be boring to my professional colleagues but at the same time would be engaging to the public. I learned the power of that approach when The Granite Garden was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, and then abroad. It was picked up so widely because it was published as a book for a general audience, not solely as a professional text.

Landscape architects are not doing a good enough job at reaching that broader audience.

You say some things have improved; some haven’t. How would you change the way we’re communicating today? What’s the best way to reach the public?

The Web and electronic publishing have opened up powerful new opportunities. Twenty years ago, in 1995, the West Philadelphia Landscape Project Web site was in the works. Within two years, we’d had millions of visitors to the Web site, from 90 countries. This is the extraordinary power of the Web. I maintain several web sites, all geared to both a professional and a general audience, related to my research, writing, and teaching.

At AnneWhistonSpirn.com, I make available all of my writings except my books. I retain copyright and distribution rights to my articles, and so I can make them free for download on my web site. All of my courses have been online since 1996. They’re all available at no cost.

I’ve been part of the open-access movement before there was an open-access movement. I’ve always wanted to reach the broadest possible audience. There’s no single way to reach the public, but we shouldn’t dumb things down. We can engage both professionals and the public, if we go beyond the PR stuff and really try to reach the public in a serious way. As my editor would say, “Anne, your readers are not like your students. They don’t have to read. They can go get a beer and put down your book and never pick it up again, so you have to keep them engaged. You have a duty to your reader.”

E-publishing affords new ways to expand readership. With its many color photographs, a print edition of my new book, The Eye Is a Door: Landscape, Photography, and the Art of Discovery, would have been priced beyond the reach of many readers. To make it affordable, I composed and published it as an e-book.

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The Eye Is a Door / Anne Whiston Spirn

New e-book editions of The Granite Garden and The Language of Landscape will be published later this year. You will be able to read them in two ways: through verbal text (with links to images and captions) or as an essay of images and captions (with links to the book’s text). I envision this as a new kind of reading experience.

Looking at innovation today, what do you see 30 years ahead?

In the epilogue to The Granite Garden, I imagined two visions of the future: the infernal city and the celestial city. A lot of what I envisioned then is now commonplace. On the other hand, much has happened that I did not imagine. A lot can change in 30 years. Just think: the original Macintosh, the first personal computer with a mouse and graphic interface, was released in January 1984, the same month as The Granite Garden.

Today, we have the Internet and social media. Our phones can collect and upload all kinds of data. We’ve got crowd sourcing of data. 30 years down the pike, clothing, and vehicles that gather data will be commonplace. We’re going to be overwhelmed with data, so we need to be even smarter about figuring out what this data means and how to use it.

Climate change and the gross disparities in economic means and access to education and employment across the world are threatening the human species. They’re equally threatening, and social upheavals can only get worse as disparities in income and opportunities continue to get wider. Many people won’t have anything to lose. They won’t have a stake in society.

For the past 30 years, since I wrote The Granite Garden, I’ve focused on restoring the natural environment of cities at the same time as rebuilding inner-city communities and educating and empowering young people who don’t have access to a high-quality education that will set them up for having a stake in society. Those are areas where I’ll continue to devote my efforts.

What has the last 30 years of your work with the West Philadelphia Landscape Project taught you about achieving social justice through environmental action in cities?

The West Philadelphia Landscape Project, which builds on work I did in Boston from 1984 to 86, has been an investigation into how to improve environmental equality and social equity at the same time. There are obstacles, but  I’ve learned that it’s not difficult to conceptualize issues and mobilize people. Then it’s just a matter of lining up the resources and getting the administrative framework in place. It’s possible. There are many great examples. In Philadelphia alone, there are many, from the Urban Tree Connection at the grassroots to the city government’s Green City Clean Waters program.

Designers are optimistic. People don’t go into landscape architecture to create a worse world or even to maintain the status quo. We are in this business because we want to make the world a better place. I’m really worried, but I also believe we can do it. It’s possible.

Much of your writing and photography has been focused on learning how to “read” a landscape. What do you mean by this phrase? How is that different from seeing a landscape?

It’s like the difference between merely looking at a picture and understanding how it was constructed and what it means. Landscapes are full of stories. There are natural histories: stories about how a place came to be in terms of its geology, climate, and plants. There are also political stories and folk stories and stories about memory and worship. People’s gardens hold their own stories. In shaping landscape, individuals and societies express  their values, beliefs, and ideas. All these stories are embedded in landscape, and they can be read.

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Glen Loy, Scotland / Anne Whiston Spirn

Landscape literacy – the ability to read and tell such stories – is fundamental to being a landscape architect. I wrote my book The Language of Landscape because I realized that lack of fluency in the language of landscape was a barrier to more fluent and functional design, more expressive design, more eloquent design.

The West Philadelphia Landscape Project was a laboratory for working out ideas about the language of landscape and landscape literacy. It was extraordinary working with 12- and 13-year-olds in  Mill Creek, a low-income African-American neighborhood in West Philly, as they learned how to read that landscape.

So what was the best way to teach these kids landscape literacy?

Their neighborhood was called Mill Creek, but there wasn’t any creek you could see. My students showed them old maps, photographs, and other kinds of documents that described the neighborhood  at different historical periods from pre-colonial times to the present. Each week was a different period. Gradually, they came to understand through looking and investigating these old maps, newspaper articles, and planning documents that there was once this creek, Mill Creek. They found out that it was buried in a sewer and that there were cave-ins over the sewer. That’s where a lot of the vacant lands were, including in blocks  right around the school. The creek literally flowed right alongside where the school is located.

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Buried Floodplain in Mill Creek, West Philadelphia / Anne Whiston Spirn

The children also learned about socioeconomic issues of the 1930s and political decisions that led banks to stop lending money for small businesses and home mortgages in their neighborhood. And they came to understand that their neighborhood today is the result of all these things that happened in the past.

Then they took the historical maps and went out to compare them with the present neighborhood and discovered: “Oh, my goodness, this huge vacant lot block was once six blocks, and there were houses here,” and, “Oh, my gosh, there’s a fire hydrant in the middle of these woods that grew up on these lots.” It really turned their whole attitude about their neighborhood around.

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Learning Landscape Literacy at Sulzberger Middle School / Anne Whiston Spirn

Before learning to read its history, the children didn’t believe their neighborhood could ever change. When my students  had asked them how they would like to see their neighborhood in the future, they  had said, “Nothing’s going to change.” They were very cynical. After learning about its history, they began to say, “The neighborhood could change. It hasn’t always been the way it is. It could change in the future. Why couldn’t it? We know how it’s changed in the past.” Using that knowledge, what kinds of policies and actions could lead to change in the present?

About that time, I started reading Paulo Freire, who was a Brazilian community organizer. He developed literacy programs, for adults in poor, informal settlements in Brazilian cities. His findings about verbal literacy were exactly the same findings I was having in landscape literacy. He found that the most effective way to teach literacy was to collect oral histories of older people in the community, put them into text, and then teach people to read from those texts of the oral histories of their place.

So these kids were learning to read from the primary documents about their own neighborhood. The landscape itself became a primary document. They then became ambassadors. As a 12-13-year-old, to know more than the adults know is tremendously empowering. They went home and told their parents, “Guess what? This happened here and that happened there. See where that vacant land is? There was a creek there.” This is landscape literacy.

If I were working with those kids today, I’d also have them out taking photographs. My new book, The Eye Is a Door: Landscape, Photography, and the Art of Discovery, is a guide for using the camera as a tool to discover the stories that landscapes hold. Through photography, I want to inspire people to look deeply at the surface of things and beyond to the stories landscapes tell, the processes that shape human lives and communities and the earth itself. To pick up a camera and use it to see, think, and discover.

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Gardens by the Bay: Singapore / Livia Comandini, Getty Images

Gardens by the Bay: Singapore / Livia Comandini, Getty Images

The Slow Rebirth of Dumbarton Oaks Park The Washington Post, 12/17/14
“Given the magnitude of its slide and the limits of public and private funding, restoring the park has at times seemed like an impossible dream, but in 2010 a particularly determined group named the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy formed to take up the challenge.”

Planting for an Edible City – Metropolis POV, 12/22/14
“While these edible efforts are fairly new to New York City, the MillionTreesNYC’s fruit tree giveaway is an event to celebrate. Somewhere out there, across the five boroughs, the city has a new orchard that would comprise nearly 30 acres if planted collectively, approximating two Central Park Sheep Meadows.”

8 Incredible Green Spaces That Are Thriving In The Biggest Urban JunglesThe Huffington Post, 12/24/14
“Living and working within a system of architectural behemoths and concrete streets can be taxing, to say the least. And for many city-dwellers, a few patches of green can be a celebrated refuge from the urban landscape.”

The Biggest Arts Stories of 2014The Houston Chronicle, 12/26/14
“In October, the Hermann Park Conservancy unveiled the last major project of its long-term master plan – the spectacular $31 million John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Centennial Gardens. Along with landscape architect Doug Hoerr’s eight acres of theme gardens, dramatic 30-foot mount and nearly seven-acre, environmentally friendly parking lot, the project features a sensitively designed pavilion of glass, stone and stainless steel designed by Peter Bohlin.”

Architecture Future: How Buildings Will Begin to Make Our Lives Better The Denver Post, 12/28/14
“This holistic attitude is architecture’s greatest promise and seems to be steering trends. More and more, landscape architects are emerging as project leaders, devising how sites will be organized, used and maintained. These days, they might be the ones to hire building architects to complete their vision.”

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Metropolitan Zone of the Valley of Mexico, 66 miles wide and 68 miles long. Top: hydrology and agriculture. Below: hydrology and urban systems. The Texcoco Lakebed is the large blue area at center-right / INEGI topographic charts. Maps by Gabriel Diaz Montemayor.

Last September, the Mexican government announced the construction of a new airport for Mexico City. The current airport is the second busiest, per number of passengers, in Latin America, just after Sao Paolo, Brazil. The airport was recently declared to be at full capacity. It has two runways that cannot be operated simultaneously and it’s surrounded on three flanks –north, west, and south – by dense neighborhoods. Along its east site, the airport is adjacent to the Texcoco Lake bed. There is no more space for growth, so a new airport is needed.

The new airport master plan, as presented by Sir Norman Foster and Fernando Romero from Mexico, the architects who won an international design competition, is located just 5 miles north of the current airport and will occupy 17.5 square miles of the Texcoco lake bed. The remains of this formerly grand lake covers some 50 square miles. Spared by urbanization but partially used for agriculture, the lake bed has both permanent and temporary water bodies. Although miniscule in comparison to the original lake system, the lake bed sits at the lowest part of the basin, helping concentrate and infiltrate water, supporting the unstable soils of Mexico City. The lake remnant protects the city from more flooding. And the water it collects keeps the city afloat by infiltration.

Mexico City drinks more than half of its water from the valley of Mexico’s aquifer. This valley is a closed basin draining serviced, storm, and waste water towards the Gulf of Mexico via a deep and massive underground system. The load pressing on this desiccated, lake landscape, along with aquifer exploitation, has led to Mexico City actually subsiding by over 30 feet in its central area in the last century.

A recent public presentation about the new airport plan failed to discuss how the project will address these critical environmental issues and improve water quantity and quality, support soils, recover wildlife habitat, and create a regenerative relationship between the city and its lakes.

There are ways landscape architecture can be used to help the lake system recover. Among some existing concepts is Ciudad Futura (Future City) by Alberto Kalach, Teodoro Gonzalez de Leon, their Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) architecture students, and other collaborators. Published in La Ciudad y sus Lagos (The City and its Lakes) in 1998, this project proposes the recovery of the lacustrine system through the construction of infrastructure for water management and treatment, the definition of active lake edges, the creation of new public spaces, and the development of a new airport as an island in a regenerated Texcoco Lake.

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The Future City / City of the Lakes project. The new airport as an island in the regenerated Texcoco Lake / Alberto Kalach, Teodoro Gonzalez de Leon, UNAM students, and other collaborators.

A more radical concept would be to turn the current airport into an ecological reserve and park, performing water and soil management and providing wildlife habitat. Parque Texcoco (Texcoco Park) by Iñaki Echeverria doesn’t address where to place a new airport though.

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Texcoco Park. The recovered Texcoco Lake with no airports / Iñaki Echeverria

With the new airport plans, the Mexican government promises not only first-rate architecture but also a place that creates ecological value, largely through a 1,730-acre public forest. But it remains to be seen whether the new airport’s master plan project can create a reconciliation between the built and natural environments, and this project can become a global best practice from an under-developed country. The health of the underlying ecological systems must be considered. Let’s demand this happens.

This guest post is by Gabriel Diaz Montemayor, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, The University of Texas at Austin

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Projective Ecologies / Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Actar

Projective Ecologies, by Chris Reed, ASLA, founder of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, and Nina-Marie Lister, Affil. ASLA, professor at Ryerson University, is a timely overview of contemporary thinking about ecology and design. The book is organized conceptually, moving from critical foundations to the connections between nature and culture, the relationship between urban design and ecology, and, finally, to new ways of unifying ecology and design. Previously-published seminal essays in ecological and design theory are interspersed with new contributions, effectively reframing and clarifying some of the concepts explored in the landscape urbanism movement. Projective Ecologies uses ecology as a lens for understanding the role of design in a complex, interconnected, and changing world.

Reed and Lister describe how ecological thought has shifted from classical determinism — epitomized by the notion of linear ecological succession toward a stable climax state — to a complex systems approach in which ecological systems are interconnected, self-organizing, relatively unpredictable, and constantly changing. With this new thinking, human settlement is not separate from nature. Instead, human activity and nature are inextricably bound. Therefore, we can never successfully control ecological systems from a top-down perspective; we can only manage our own activities within them.

This shift in thinking demands new approaches to large-scale environmental design. What does it mean to design within a complex and dynamic ecological system? What constitutes success in ecological design when the end goal isn’t a predefined climax community?

When a successful system is no longer defined by a predictable, steady end state, Reed and Lister write, “adaptation, appropriation, and flexibility [become] understood as the hallmarks of ‘successful’ systems, and it is now widely accepted (if not fully understood) that it is through an ecosystem’s ability to respond to changing environmental conditions that persistence is possible.”

Now, instead of imposing order on an ecological system to achieve a desired end state, the designer works within the ecological system to guide it to a state of relative stability. A truly sustainable complex-systems approach to large-scale design involves the adaptive management of systems not entirely within our control. This approach may become more critical as global climate change threatens to destabilize and alter the ecological systems we depend upon.

Jane Wolff’s excellent contribution, “Cultural Landscapes and Dynamic Ecologies: Lessons from New Orleans,” explores the catastrophic failures of New Orleans’s infrastructure and flood control policies to align with the ecological reality of its dynamic delta environment. Notably, Wolff stresses the challenge of implementing a complex systems approach to flood management, writing: “Though design professionals and scholars have made a wide range of interesting proposals that capitalize on landscapes’ fluctuating tendencies, there has been much less conversation about the challenge of implementing such ideas.” Wolff stresses the need for public education about ecological problems in order to implement solutions, and suggests that in the case of New Orleans, the greatest barrier to implementing such an approach may be cultural.

I wished more of the essays explored these kinds of hurdles to implementing large-scale ecological design. Reed and Lister describe Projective Ecologies as the beginning of a more ambitious project, writing, “the bigger project initiated by this volume is to better and more critically understand both the context for and the implications of the various relationships that have developed between ecological and design thinking.”

Projective Ecologies lays out an effective course for designing within a complex and changing world, and, in this sense, it’s successful. As the project develops, the next step may be to consider strategies for implementation, including how to communicate the adaptive management of complex ecological systems to the general public.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Ben Wellington, Associate ASLA, designer, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, recent Louisiana State University Master’s of Landscape Architecture graduate, and former ASLA summer intern.

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SCAPE / Landscape Architecture, founded by Kate Orff, ASLA, has just received $100,000 from the Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI) for their “comprehensive climate change adaptation and community development project” called Living Breakwaters. This innovative project in Tottenville, at the southern tip of Staten Island, New York, will be first large-scale experiment with “oyster-tecture.” It has already been slated to receive $60 million in financing from the U.S. government, as it also won HUD’s Rebuild by Design competition. With the added support from BFI, Living Breakwaters is now considered one of the most promising systems-based designs for coastal resilience.

The BFI uses its annual challenge to highlight game-changing systems-based designs, that is approaches that can truly upset current modes of operating and lead to paradigm shifts. Last year’s winner, Ecovative, came up with a novel approach to packaging, inventing a new biodegradable form of Styrofoam made of mycelium and agricultural waste. According to BFI, Living Breakwaters takes a system-based approach as it combines “ecologically-engineered” oyster-tecture with education around coastal resilience, and a focus on the “restoration of livelihoods traditional to the community of Tottenville in Staten Island,” while also spurring regulatory changes.

Bill Browning of Terrapin Bright Green, a 2014 senior adviser and jury member, said what’s exciting about SCAPE’s project is that it’s about partnering with natural systems instead of fighting them. Furthermore, the project deals with seemingly separate ecological and social systems together as one. “It is on the one hand an engineering and infrastructure-related intervention, but it also has a unique biological function as well. The project team understand that you cannot keep back coastal flooding due to climate change, but you can ameliorate the force and impact of 100 and 500 year storm surges through ecological interventions while simultaneously catalyzing dialog to nurture future stewards of the built environment.”

The project will deploy “innovative, layered ecologically-engineered breakwaters;” strengthen biodiversity and coastal habitats through “reef streets”; nurture and resuscitate fisheries and historic livelihoods; and engage the community through new partnerships and educational programs meant to address the social side of sustainability.

Orff describes the concept in more detail: “Rather than cutting communities off from the water with a levee or wall, our approach embraces the water and its economic and recreational opportunities, using shallow water landscapes to stabilize the shore and rebuild diverse habitats. Sitting at the mouth of the New York Bight, Staten Island is particularly vulnerable to wave action and erosion. Our pilot project in Tottenville utilizes a layered system of breakwaters, constructed of ecologically engineered concrete, to attenuate wave action, create habitat for juvenile fish, and provide calm waters for recreation on the landward side. We have designed ‘reef street’ micro-pockets of habitat complexity to host finfish, shellfish, and lobsters, and hydrodynamically modeled the breakwater system at a macro scale to understand how and where they can most effectively protect communities. Structures called Water Hubs are located at critical points along the shore to serve as places of gathering for classes, orientation, kayak & equipment.”

And she articulates the potential systems impact of her thinking: “Our initial project aims to protect the South Shore of Staten Island but the concept, through site-specific study, could be replicable along much of the U.S. coastline.”

A new system may come at not a moment too soon. So much of our coastal ecosystems are under threat, with sea level rise, temperature changes, and the rise of nitrogen levels. Orff says our critical estuaries and bays could be at risk of “disappearing within decades, if not years.” Let’s all hope this experiment works — and can truly be replicated at reasonable cost.

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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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Larry Weaner in Meadow 1 at Dumbarton Oaks Park / Jared Green

“We are at the volatile beginning period when all the plants are fighting it out. We have to help the newly planted grasses dominate,” said Larry Weaner, Larry Weaner Landscape Associates, at the kick-off of the restoration of the 9-acre meadow at Dumbarton Oaks Park in Washington, D.C. The first two meadows in a five-meadow necklace have already been seeded with warm season grasses, embedded in a protective layer of grasses that will later die back. In a carefully-sequenced succession, the new warm season grasses will slowly take over, restoring the original vision of landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, who designed the park in the 1920s and 30s, and creating rich wildlife habitat in the process.

Liza Gilbert, ASLA, one of the leaders of the restoration process at Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy and the latest landscape designer to be appointed to the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts, said Farrand meant the 27-acre landscape to be a “wild garden” distinct from the formal gardens of Dumbarton Oaks just up the hill. “There is a progression of spaces, with narrow paths leading to grand vistas. She was a master of creating spatial experiences, moving from dark to light.” The land had been used as a farm for decades; Farrand “created a paradise out of land that had been worked.”

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Meadow 1 at Dumbarton Oaks Park / Jared Green

Farrand believed “topography must dictate design. She was a master at reading curves, the sculptural quality of the land, and using plants to highlight those features.” As such, Farrand saw five meadows, divided into rooms by loose hedgerows, interconnected into a necklace. “That’s why we are inexplicably drawn to the next one and the next.” Meadow 5, the final one, is “a broad expanse where I always feel a little lost,” which is perhaps what she wanted us to feel. Weaner echoed these thoughts, adding that “Farrand was sensitive to letting the land express itself.” Like Farrand, “we must follow the place’s natural inclinations,” even with restoring the meadow. “It’s not about what I envision here.”

Since the 1950s, the park has been left to its own devices. The result was the total takeover of the historic design by invasive non-native plants, including Japanese stiltgrass, porcelain berry, wineberry, and others, until the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy started up in earnest a few years ago. Over literally thousands of hours of volunteer labor, the mighty team at the conservancy has turned the tide, enabling Farrand’s design to reappear in many key places. The next phase is recreating the five meadows, all of which had all been overrun except for one.

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Existing native meadow after mowing / Jared Green

Meadows are incredibly complex ecosystems and designing them is as much art as science. In a lecture hosted by the George Washington University landscape design program, Weaner said warm season grasses, which are native, are more desirable than cool season grasses, which were imported from Europe, because they sustain the local ecosystem. Cool season grasses mat when they grow, whereas warm season grasses allow for little pockets of life to more easily live amid individual plants. Warm season grasses are natural homes for solitary, non-hive bees and other insects that birds eat. As Doug Tallamy, one of the world’s foremost wildlife ecologists has explained, birds are “insect specific.” Native birds want to eat native bugs, which feed on native plants. If meadows disappear, so do the insects and then the birds. Restoring the native meadows at Dumbarton Oaks Park is then vital to creating the “little rest stops birds need” on their journeys.

Once you’ve intervened in a landscape and you are trying to turn it into a native meadow, you have to work with existing natural processes. Weaner described a meadow as a “system with early and late stage players.” Succession, which is “the changing nature of plants in a place,” is happening at all times. “If we bulldoze a place, we’ll first see small herbaceous grasses, then pioneer shrubs and trees, and then more mature trees.” Trees will eventually push out most of the ground cover, unless they are stopped. But Weaner explained that a sort of micro-succession also occurs within the meadow stage of succession as well. Given some grasses are annual, others are biannual and still others are perennial, “in a one year time period, the dominant species will completely change.”

In a warm season native meadow, perennial plants dominate. “The problem is they establish themselves slowly. They put their energy into root growth as a long-term investment. Perennials are conservative whereas annuals crash and burn. It’s a relay over time.” Given some perennials take up to 7-10 years to flower, and therefore only then create seeds that can restore the ground’s seed bank, “the first 1-3 years are volatile.” Cool season grasses found in meadows 1 and 2 will continue to co-exist alongside new warm season perennials planted in July — Purple Top, Beaked Panicgrass, Side Oats Gamma, and Little Blue Stem — giving the perennials time to get situated and eventually dominate. The idea is the warm season grasses, if supported with mowing each spring, will eventually take over, as the cool season grasses will not be given the opportunity to grow and will eventually die.

Weaner said the conservancy team will need to keep a close watch over the nascent native meadows as any disturbance can easily “push a meadow back to its early stage of succession. Succession can also go backwards.” Invasive plants are a constant threat; they are a “permanent disturbance.” But if invasive can no longer produce new seeds and add to the seed bank, they can be held at bay indefinitely.

Dumbarton Oaks Park, working with nature’s processes, is like a perennial itself, making a long-term investment in the future. More meadows in the necklace will soon be planted with warm season grasses and shepharded. The results of their labors won’t be seen for many years, but the seeds have been planted.

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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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