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Archive for the ‘Green Infrastructure’ Category

2. Living Breakwaters Beach perspective

Living Breakwaters: social, economic, and ecological resiliency through risk reduction / SCAPE Landscape Architecture PLLC

“It’s going to be unbearable outside in the southern half of the U.S. by the end of the century,” said Harriet Tregoning, director of the office of economic resilience, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), at a lecture on Rebuild by Design at the National Building Museum (NBM).

Explaining why we need new approaches to resilience, she said in just the first twelve years of this century, we’ve already seen the two costliest natural disasters in U.S. history (Hurricanes Katrina in 2005 and Sandy in 2012), along with more frequent and extreme events, such as wildfires, droughts, and flooding — which scientists say all result from climate change. Consider also the trend towards urbanization, particularly in coastal areas, and you have a precarious mix of higher exposure to risk for ever-increasing populations in some of the most vulnerable areas of the country.

Post-disaster rebuilding in the U.S. has historically focused on rebuilding the same systems that failed in the first place, as quickly as possible. But “the challenges of our time are bigger and more complex than our conventional linear thinking is capable of tackling,” said Nancy Kete, managing director at the Rockefeller Foundation.

After Sandy, the foundation was able to gain more traction for their progressive recommendations, rather than the more conventional “rebuild as usual.” The high visibility of their 2010 Rising Currents exhibition, a collaboration with New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), also helped. Together with HUD, they now seek new solutions that embrace complexity.

The foundation and HUD came together to organize the Rebuild by Design competition, which has allocated nearly $1 billion to 10 Sandy-affected areas in New York and New Jersey. As James Russell describes in Al Jazeera America, the competition seeks to“engage communities to develop a more porous relationship between land and water that recognizes the dynamism of rising seas and more violent storms.”

At NBM, three Rebuild by Design winners presented their projects:

The SCAPE team’s pilot-scale “Living Breakwaters” project running along approximately one-mile of the Staten Island shoreline, will create an innovative “reef street,” which will provide habitat for a range of sea life. Gena Wirth, ASLA, associate at SCAPE, added that a “layered approach” of risk reduction, culture, and ecology will “create moments along the shoreline that allow access.” (see image above)

The MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism (CAU) + ZUS + Urbanisten team proposed MeadowPark, which will transform New Jersey’s Meadowlands, west of Manhattan, into an accessible nature preserve filled with a set of marshes and berms that can serve as a buffer against rising water levels. Alexander D’Hooghe, associate professor, MIT School of Architecture + Planning, said: “what Central Park is to Manhattan, the Meadowpark could and should be to the entire metro region – a floodable regional park attraction.”

1. Meadowlands Aerial

New Meadowlands / MIT + ZUS + Urbanisten

The OMA team‘s proposal offers a range of interventions woven into an integrated green infrastructure fabric for the city of Hoboken, New Jersey. “Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge” uses a combination of hard engineering and “soft” landscape infrastructure to mitigate the impacts of flooding and help the city manage water better from all directions – land and sea. Mark Thomann, Landscape Director, wHY, said “we can’t just build a fortress around the city – it’s neither feasible nor desirable.”

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Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge / OMA team

In a subsequent panel discussion with the design teams, HUD, and the Rockefeller Foundation, the discussion hinged on questions of how to implement these and other proposed designs, how to move progress forward with notoriously slow-moving government bureaucracies, and how to gain support from both the public and policy-makers. Part of the answer lies in the structure of the competition and its design and implementation process: public and private stakeholders were involved from the beginning.

If these projects are successful, they will then build support for being “scaled up,” said Kete. But we need to take the time to implement them at a small-scale first and then observe and analyze them to see what’s successful and how easily they can be replicated. Indeed, finding and then replicating what works will be crucial. To enable this process, the White House recently announced the National Disaster Resilience competition, which will provide winning communities with nearly $1 billion to rebuild with increased resiliency.

Still, there is no way to become fully resilient overnight. “We can’t be in a hurry,” said Rebuild by Design co-chairman Henk Ovink. We can start out by “embracing complexity, not knowing what the next thing is . . . it will take a generation. But it will also take bold decisions now.”

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Students at the Billion Oyster Project’s Harbor School on Staten Island / SCAPE

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

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Next Generation Infrastructure / Island Press

Between crumbling bridges, rising sea levels, growing garbage piles, and the ravages of drought and storms, we’ve grown used to bad news when it comes to infrastructure in the United States. Old systems are failing, new challenges arising, and solutions are elusive or perplexing. Into this maelstrom enters Hillary Brown, architect, infrastructure consultant and professor at the Spitzer School of Architecture. Her new book Next Generation Infrastructure: Principles for Post-Industrial Public Works, is an inspiring argument for infrastructure that behaves like nature.

Armed with simple prescriptions, Brown argues that the next generation of infrastructure cannot resemble the hard, single-function and carbon-intensive structures of yore. Rather, we need “more diversified, distributed, and interconnected infrastructural assets that simulate the behavior of natural systems.” She walks us through the principles of a new ecological infrastructure piece by piece, with abundant case studies that show that ingenious, multi-purpose, carbon-neutral, resilient systems are not a pipe dream. She pays careful attention to how they were implemented, reinforcing the argument that these case studies are models that can be applied beyond their exceptional contexts.

On a world tour of next generation infrastructure, Brown stops to describe ingenious feats of co-location, “decarbonizing” infrastructure (that is, infrastructure which emits low or no carbon), and soft-path water systems. Highlights include a Malaysian automobile tunnel that retains stormwater, a French waste recovery center that powers public buses, and a Northern California wastewater treatment wetland that also provides walking trails and wildlife habitat.

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Aerial view, Arcata Wastewater Treatment Plant and Wildlife Sanctuary, Arcata, California / Terrence McNally

Other chapters emphasize resilient infrastructures in the light of the paradoxical abundance and scarcity of water facing areas around the globe. The clever, even artful, solutions to what seem like insurmountable solutions make for an inspiring read, even if the black and white illustrations and (unfortunately not very clear) flow charts breaking down complex loops and systems are not in the same spirit.

Particularly notable in an era of tight budgets and low expectations is Brown’s attention to the social aspects of infrastructure planning and design. An important part of her problem-solving focuses on combining amenity with utility, and close attention to siting and design. This is not only important to make sure that particular groups do not unfairly bear the brunt of everyone’s waste, water, and energy systems needs. People living near such projects can benefit from the community assets, not to mention new jobs, that new infrastructure can provide.

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View from the “Ecorium,” Naka Waste-to-Energy Plant, Hiroshima, Japan / Kenta Mabuchi

In this regard, but not only in this one, Brown argues that design is key. The design implications of co-location and systems thinking are huge, as are the opportunities for landscape architects, architects, and planners. Integrative thinking, cross-disciplinary design, and spatial imagination are essential for developing the next generation of ecological infrastructure. A leading role for designers is another piece of good news in an area often lacking for it.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Mariana Mogilevich, PhD, assistant professor, metropolitan studies program, New York University.

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Site of new NOCCA urban farm / Jared Green

“A city-wide approach to dealing with water has failed in New Orleans. We must now go neighborhood by neighborhood,” said Wes Michaels, ASLA, a partner at Spackman Mossop and Michaels (SMM), a landscape architecture firm. To address the challenges of water, “we must be tactical, strategic, nuanced, and very culturally sensitive, as New Orleans has one of the highest percentages of native-born residents. We have to focus on the ecological but also the cultural. We must create a balancing act between the two. Any ecologically-designed landscape must also work for the community.” In a wide-ranging afternoon tour of the city nearly 10 years after Hurricane Katrina, Michaels showed how his firm and others are helping the city achieve that delicate balancing act.

Our first stop is the new urban farm for the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), an innovative high school that musicians Wynton Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr. attended. In four unused lots dotted with iron pilings (see image above), SMM is creating Press Street Gardens, which will enable NOCCA students to learn about urban agriculture and produce green vegetables for the local “farm to table movement.”

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Press Street Gardens rendering / Spackman Mossop and Michaels

Michaels told me this kind of project is one of the few large-scale landscape developments moving forward in New Orleans these days (most others are trapped in a variety of morasses). “We must work at the small-scale and in-between places in this city. But we can still do really meaningful projects with low budgets.” He argued that, in a way, New Orleans has benefited from its lack of money. “The city didn’t have money to rebuild itself over and over again as other cities have.” So what you get is all that old character that draws million of tourists every year.

As we left Bywater and drove over to the Lower 9th Ward, the scene of so much turmoil ten years ago as the community was completely inundated by the failure of New Orleans’ water infrastructure, Michaels said “large-scale planning for the Lower 9th Ward broke down for historical, political reasons. Post-Katrina, there was the ‘Green Dot’ plan, a planning project that envisioned turning the lowest parts of the city into parks and green infrastructure to deal with excess stormwater. Well, the people who actually lived under this big green dot freaked out. There are some sensitive cultural issues. So the broad landscape approach was lost. But we must still deal with the stormwater problems.”

The new strategy from the New Orleans Development Authority (NORA) is to turn many of the thousands of abandoned parcels in the city into a useful green infrastructure system that also works culturally. The problem, Michaels said, is an empty lot filled with vegetation may provide a useful role in dealing with stormwater and providing wildlife habitat, but “there are negative connotations with places that aren’t taken care of. It’s like the Broken Window Syndrome.” The answer may be to create places that are “ecologically robust but have cues to care. We need to find a landscape language that gets people to value these places, instead of seeing them as ‘other’ in their cultural understanding of their neighborhood.”

To that end, a new effort by NORA will attempt to organize empty lots into a green infrastructure network that can test cultural perceptions.

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Location of test lots / Spackman Mossop and Michaels

The Louisiana State University (LSU) Urban Landscape Lab is working with NORA to experiment with 23 lots, which will range from managed forest to meadows to some hybrid in between those, a “wildflower lawn.” The goal will be to see how intensively these need to be maintained and “how these lots function in these neighborhoods.”

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Test empty lot / Jared Green

There will be low fences around the empty lots to see if they create the perceptual cue that these places are being maintained. An MLA student will be doing a two-year study, interviewing everyone around the test lots. “We’ll see how the community responds.” Michaels is cautiously optimistic that the community will be OK with managed nature “if we do it on purpose. But who knows? If they are left unmowed, people complain and then the city comes in and mows. I’m hoping that if we can show these places are cared for, maybe others will want them.”

Michaels explained that NORA also created the Growing Home program, which incentivized people who own properties next to empty lots to purchase that lot for just $4-5,000. To help sell this to the community, SMM created overlays for the web site to show how people could “build landscape credits” needed to keep ownership. NORA would refund them on the cost of materials used. Some 800 lots were turned into useful places — vegetable gardens, children’s play areas, workshops, or just places to relax.

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Growing Home example in Lower 9th Ward / Jared Green

We then move onto a part of Lower 9th Ward made famous by Brad Pitt and his Make It Right Foundation, which has financed the development of green residences for those affected by Katrina. A slew of big-name architects have come in to create some very architecture-y buildings. Mixed in all these buildings is a new park that NORA, LSU’s Urban Landscape Lab, SMM, Make It Right, and Common Ground got together. There are test beds for stormwater management, including a wetland demonstration garden.

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Make It Right Foundation community park wetland demonstration / Jared Green

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Make It Right Foundation community park wetland demonstration project / Jared Green

Amid all the pieces that deal with stormwater are some nice spots to sit and chill.

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Make It Right Foundation community park / Jared Green

Our tour then took us to where the balance between culture and ecology truly broke down. We stop at the new viewing platform created by LSU professor Austin Allen and his landscape architecture students, the University of Colorado at Denver, and community members. Once you get up to the top of the deck, you are momentarily stunned by the view of Bayou Bienvenue — a broad expanse of a “ghost swamp,” a dead Cypress forest, killed by salt water.

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Bayou Bienvenue / Jared Green

As you read the educational materials on the deck, you learn that one million acres of wetlands and forests have been lost around the Mississippi River. Wetlands are a natural buffer. “The energy in storms is dissipated by wetlands. They create friction. If a wetland is lost, it becomes open water, which only adds to a storm’s power,” Michaels explained.

As Louisiana has spent $13-14 billion rebuilding New Orlean’s pumping stations — protecting them from being destroyed themselves as they were during Katrina — the city continues its careful balancing act between the cultural and ecological. Underneath it all, creating even more challenges, the city is sinking, perhaps at an accelerated rate.

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Empty lot next to mowed lot, New Orleans / Jared Green

At the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference in New Orleans, the focus was on change — and how change will impact cities’ search for social equality. Much of urban infrastructure will need to be bolstered to survive a range of shifts: population booms or busts, economic growth or stagnation, and climate change and increasingly frequent natural disasters. But as cities adapt to these changing social, economic and climatic circumstances, are the most vulnerable being heard? When cities bounce back from all kinds of disasters, are all communities in the city, both rich and poor, equally as resilient?

Jeff Hebert, executive director of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), said, at its peak in 1960, New Orleans had a population of 630,000. After Hurricane Katrina, the “costliest natural disaster in U.S. history,” the population fell to 220,000. Now, it’s up to 369,000, still way off its peak. “We’ve been losing population for decades. Pre-existing patterns just tend to reinforce themselves in the aftermath of a disaster.” Since 1960, the population has grown in the suburbs while the core has lost density. By 2004, the number of vacant parcels was around 20-30,000. Detroit or Cleveland have a similar amount.

New Orleans is found along the banks of the Mississippi River. Land at the edges of the river is actually highest, as it has slowly accumulated there over thousands of years. Beyond these high points along the river, the city’s geography dips, forming a bowl. The French Quarter and other historic settlements are all found on high ground, meaning they are really just a few feet above sea level. Many low-Income communities like the lower 9th ward are under sea level. These neighborhoods were made possible by a pump system invented by the city. “We started building in swamps, exacerbating other environmental issues. Maybe our ancestors had it right building just on high ground.”

After Katrina struck, some 34 affected coastal parishes and New Orleans began to receive assistance through the federal Road Home Homeowner Assistance Program. As “there was no comprehensive plan, the feds took a piecemeal, local approach.” On a one-by-one basis, people could either come back to their old houses and received funds to rebuild, or got funds to rebuild somewhere else. Some 130,000 people got $8.9 billion in grants through this program. The result: “They left us with a patchwork of land.”

NORA was handed all the leftover, empty lots. They have gotten the inventory down from 5,000 to around half that. “Most of the remaining inventory is on lower ground. Some of those neighborhoods came back and others didn’t.”

So NORA initiated an innovative adaptation program for many low-income areas, with “green infrastructure, lot stabilization, alternative maintenance, and two technical assistance programs: growing green and growing home.” Hebert said these programs are about “connecting with the community about local stormwater and beautifying neighborhoods through great landscape design.”

Getting many locals in the poorer parts of the city to buy into empty lots as stormwater management systems has been tricky. “We have to change what is seen as a black eye into something beautiful that increases the quality of life and property values.” A big part of the campaign is educating many who have been there for generations about hydrology and geology. At least New Orleans is focusing on how everyone must adapt.

Roberta Feldman, an architectural activist and founder of the UIC City Design Center, then discussed how “urban redevelopment screws people,” particularly in cities like Chicago. Cities must be more sensitive to existing populations as they make way for new ones. She said Chicago’s latest housing plan will create “high-density, high-price public housing that is not socially just or cost effective.” Instead of redeveloping existing public housing complexes, the city often just tears them down and asks the poor living there to move into apartments somewhere else in the city or join in a public mixed use development. The problem is their existing community has been dismantled, “and these residents don’t want to move.” These efforts are also not cost-effective, Feldman argued, because creating new housing invariably costs much more per square foot than simply revamping older buildings. If the city had used the money more wisely, more public housing could have been developed. “The housing authority could have renovated 25,000 units for the same price as 9,000 new units.”

Cecilia Martinez, recently head of the UN-Habitat in New York, said “we must blame architects for much of the mess” we face trying to adapt cities to change. “They assume a lot. By World War II, they had initiated the Modern City movement and assumed the car would re-organize the city. Because of the car, we had super-blocks, so no one walks anymore. They said ‘let’s do low density. Let’s put towers in the middle of gardens.'” Graphed on top of this car-based system is a developer-led system, which marginalizes the poor. As a result, “Latin America is either super-highways and super-blocks or slums.” Martinez said this urban model is clearly broken because some 800 million people live in slums without access to public spaces. “While New York City, one of the world’s wealthiest cities, is comprised of some 60 percent public space — when you add in streets, parks, and plazas — the slums in Kenya have maybe 1 percent public space.” To enable everyone to adapt, “we need to focus on walking and biking, public spaces, and mixed social structures.”

“In all of the world’s deltas, large changes are taking place,” said Han Meyer, a professor at Delft University in the Netherlands who offered a broader framework for adaptation. The problem is these deltas and other coastal areas are the site of much of the world’s urbanization. There are multiple dynamics happening at once. “There are the dynamics of the natural environment. One thousand years of land-water relations change. The way deltas carry sediment changes over time. These changes have been caused by climate change since the Ice Age, and the process has been ongoing for a long time. Then, there’s the societal use of the delta. Dynamic land-uses plus nature means a very complex system that will continue to change. We need to be able to adapt both types of environments. They are at different frequencies, rhythms. The problem is nature has a different time scale for change than societies.” So his answer for how to adapt to change: “There can be no final plans. We can only build different scenarios. “

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U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan announced six projects will receive $920 million through HUD’s Rebuild by Design competition. HUD will give the funds to New York, New Jersey, and New York City to further develop these projects, which are designed to make the Hurricane Sandy-affected region more resilient.

The competition was created out of President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy rebuilding taskforce as a way to dramatically improve the “physical, ecological, and economic resilience of coastal areas.” According to HUD, the design competition “created coalitions with local and regional stakeholders to develop locally-responsive proposals.”

The funds will finance additional planning, the design of innovative flood protection systems made of berms and wetlands, as well as a built reef.

The winning projects are led by multidisciplinary teams comprised of landscape architects, architects, engineers, ecologists, artists, and others. The projects are diverse, spread throughout the region. Funding looks evenly split between New York and New Jersey:

  • The BIG U (East River Park), Manhattan — The BIG Team ($335 million)
  • Living with the Bay (Slow Streams), Nassau County, Long Island — The Interboro Team ($125 million)
  • New Meadowlands, Little Ferry, Moonachie, Carlstadt, Teterboro — MIT CAU+ZUS+URBANISTEN ($150 million)
  • Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge, Hoboken, Weehawken, Jersey City — OMA ($230 million)
  • Lifelines, Hunts Point, South Bronx — PennDesign/OLIN ($20 million)
  • Living Breakwaters, Tottenville, Staten Island — SCAPE/Landscape Architecture ($60 million)

HUD writes: “The winning proposals come from teams representing some of the best planning, design, and engineering talent in the world. These inventive proposals are a blueprint for how communities can maximize resilience as they rebuild and recover from major disasters. These ideas will serve as a model for how we can mitigate the effects of climate change and natural disasters in communities throughout the Sandy region, the United States, and the world.”

Secretary Donovan, said Rebuild by Design could have a powerful ripple effect: “It’s my hope that Rebuild by Design will inspire other public-private partnerships to spur innovation and resilience.”

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, New York, said, “Are there going to be other storms like Sandy? Yes. Will we be better prepared for them because of Rebuild by Design? Absolutely.”

And Dr. Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, who helped finance the design competition and has been a major force behind the new push for resilience, said the competition harnesses “creative minds of every stripe to break the models and construct innovative and creative ways to build for our future.” Indeed, HUD is spending $60 million for the first large-scale experiments with creating reefs that can act as tide-surge mitigators.

More details on the winning proposals:

The BIG U (East River Park), Manhattan — The BIG Team

The BIG team, which includes landscape architecture firm Starr Whitehouse, aims to protect ten continuous miles of low-lying Manhattan, “an incredibly dense, vibrant, and vulnerable urban area.” Funds will be used to used to create a “bridging berm” at the East River Park along the Lower East Side. “The bridging berm provides robust vertical protection for the Lower East Side from future storm surge and rising sea levels. The berm also offers pleasant, accessible routes into the park, with many unprogrammed spots for resting, socializing, and enjoying views of the park and river. Both the berms and bridges will be wide and planted with a diverse selection of salt tolerant trees, shrubs, and perennials to create a resilient urban habitat.”

Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge, Hoboken, Weehawken, Jersey City — OMA

The OMA team, which includes landscape architecture firm Balmori Associates, will protect all of the Hoboken waterfront and parts of Weehawken and Jersey City. The project “deploys programmed hard infrastructure and soft landscape for coastal defense (resist); policy recommendations, guidelines, and urban infrastructure to slow rainwater runoff (delay); a circuit of interconnected green infrastructure to store and direct excess rainwater (store); and water pumps and alternative routes to support drainage (discharge). The objectives are to manage water for both severe storms and long-term growth; enable reasonable flood insurance premiums through the potential redrawing of the FEMA flood zone following completion; and deliver co-benefits that enhance the cities and the region.”

Living with the Bay (Slow Streams), Nassau County, Long Island — The Interboro Team

The Interboro team, which includes H+N+S Landscape Architects, will develop a comprehensive resiliency plan for Nassau County’s South Shore. “The areas around Southern Nassau’s north-south tributaries are threatened both by surge water flooding and storm water inundation. The proposal will address these threats through a set of interconnected interventions, transforming the Mill River into a green-blue corridor that stores and filters water, provides public space, and creates room for new urban development. These river corridor improvements will also address other challenges such water quality, ecological recovery, and aquifer recharge.”

New Meadowlands, Little Ferry, Moonachie, Carlstadt, Teterboro — MIT CAU+ZUS+URBANISTEN

The first phase of the New Meadowlands proposal will focus on Little Ferry, Moonachie, Carlstadt, and Teterboro. “By integrating transportation, ecology, and development, the project transforms the Meadowlands basin to address a wide spectrum of risks, while providing civic amenities, and creating opportunities for new redevelopment. The project includes the creation of additional wetlands and a multi-purpose berm that will provide flood protection to the many residents of the community damaged by Sandy flooding.”

Living Breakwaters, Tottenville, Staten Island — SCAPE/Landscape Architecture

The SCAPE team aims to “reduce risk, revive ecologies, and connect educators and local students to the shoreline, inspiring a new generation of harbor stewards and a more resilient region over time.” One fascinating component of the project: an “in-water solution will reduce wave action and erosion, lowering risk from heavy storms by designing ‘reef street’ micropockets of habitat complexity to host finfish, shellfish, and lobsters.”

Lifelines, Hunts Point, South Bronx — PennDesign/OLIN

PennDesign/OLIN is taking a multi-faceted approach to protecting Hunts Point, the hub of the region’s food supply chain and one of the poorest communities in the country. “The PennDesign/OLIN proposal sets out four strategies: integrated and adaptable flood protection systems to safeguard the whole neighborhood and create public amenities along the Hunts Point waterfront; leadership efforts to build capacity for social resilience; a marine emergency supply chain to enhance the waterways as critical infrastructure; and cleanways to improve air quality.”

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Central Falls Comprehensive Master Plan / Brown University and RISD

For more LA in the News, check out LAND, ASLA’s newsletter. If you see others you’d like included, please email us at info@asla.org.

Landscape and MemoryPlaces, 5/5/14
“I’ve never seen war photographs like Jo Röttger’s. The structure of his project Landscape and Memory is familiarly photojournalistic—Röttger accompanies a German military unit as they train in Saxony-Anhalt, deploy to Afghanistan and return to Germany—but the work is an unusual hybrid of genres.”

Five Landscape Designers and Architects Who Pair Soil with Toil The New York Post, 5/6/14
“Back in 2004, Oudolf was charged with ‘illustrating a series of moods, capturing open woodland, prairie and meadow’ in one of the densest—yet most underutilized—spots in the city. Today, the famed Dutch horticulturalist’s 1¹/₂-mile-long plantings on the High Line provide a giraffe’s-eye view onto the Hudson and West Chelsea. The breezy, carefree space is enough to inspire even the most jaded New Yorker.”

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan on How Design can Prepare Us for Climate ChangeFast Company Design, 5/6/14
“In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development launched Rebuild by Design, a design competition aimed at developing innovative storm resilience strategies in the places that Sandy devastated.”

Millennium Park Turns TenThe Architect’s Newspaper, 5/13/14
“Happy birthday, Millennium Park! Yes, the Chicago park named for the chronological milestone now 14 years in the rearview mirror is turning 10—it went famously over-schedule and over-budget but we love it nonetheless. Last year 4.75 million people visited Chicago’s front yard, taking in free concerts and events, and probably taking at least as many selfies with Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate and the flowing titanium locks of Frank Gehry‘s Pritzker Pavilion in the background.”

Brown, RISD Students Unveil Plan to Transform Central Falls’ Urban Landscape The Providence Journal, 5/13/14
“Elizabeth Dean Hermann, a professor of landscape architecture at RISD, said that as many as 100 students from Brown, RISD and Javeriana University in Bogota, Colombia, will flood Central Falls this summer with plans to help turn around the city that emerged from bankruptcy less than two years ago.”

These articles were compiled by Phil Stamper-Halpin, ASLA Public Relations and Communications Coordinator.

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Yorkville Park / © Peter Mauss/Esto

Landscape architects are increasingly focused on the social side of sustainability, said Ken Smith, ASLA, principal of Ken Smith Workshop, in a lecture at the University of Oregon’s campus in Portland. Smith said: “in the 70s, Ian McHarg taught us to focus on the regional and large-scale in landscape architecture, not what the quality of what we were building. In the 80s, landscape architects began to focus on what we were designing, the physicality. For the past 15 years, there has been a new focus on sustainability, with the ecological side getting the most attention. Now, the social agenda has risen to the front. The social realm is the new focus of landscape architecture.”

Smith said much of William H. Whyte’s research on urban social spaces, which began in the 70s, is still valid, but the way people inhabitat spaces has changed. “Social spaces are now a little different.” And landscape architects need to up their game if they are going to continue to know how to design spaces for today’s urban populations. “Google and Facebook probably know more predictably how people use social spaces than landscape architects. We need to be as smart as the companies profiting off data. We need to tap the data to design.”

But for now, Smith’s approach to creating social spaces that matter for today’s mobile phone-obsessed urbanites is to weave in both ecology and craft. Smith mentioned the growing importance of craftsmanship in today’s culture, saying he’s spending lots of time thinking about “how we make things.”

One example is Yorkville Park in Toronto, where Smith, Martha Schwartz, and David Meyer brought in a 700-ton bedrock mountain, creating an active social world around it. Taking the best of biophilic landscape design principles — that people enjoy a prospect view as well as an intimate refuge — the designers carved the boulder so it was easy to climb on, and then set out moveable chairs and tables around it. “People hang out on the rock and can configure their own social space.”

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Yorkville Park / Steve Evans

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For TFANA Arts Plaza, the setting of the Theatre for a New Audience, part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Cultural Arts District in New York City, Smith brought his inspiration — nightclub banquettes, a form of highly social seating — to the outdoors. “The cocoons envelope. There’s a loucheness to these banquettes that I like.” Working with outdoor furniture manufacturer Landscape Forms, Smith tinkered with the look and feel until it was right. Getting it right meant making the perforated patterns in the steel imperfect in some spots, creating a needed “fuzziness or noise.” The plaza is made up of permeable pavements, which he thinks is a first for New York City, and a silva-cell system for hydrating the trees.

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TFANA Arts Plaza at BAM / © Francis Dzikowski/Esto

Smith saved his discussion of perhaps his most ambitious remake of the social realm for nearly last. The East River Waterfront Esplanade in New York City, which will line two miles of the lower Manhattan waterfront, is being completed in phases. The first phase, which was a pilot used to test aspects of the site in real-time, was opened in 2010. Results from the site’s post-occupancy surveys informed phase 2, which opened in 2012. Two more phases are in the works.

The esplanade is part of former-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to make the city more livable for one million new residents, which he argued the city will need to attract in order to retain its competitive edge as a global city on par with London and Shanghai. The plan includes creating whole stretches of new waterfront parks, the massive Hudson Yards development, a new 2nd avenue subway line, and lots of new public spaces. The esplanade is also central to the city’s goal of creating a central park for residents of lower Manhattan and other communities that connect via the rivers. “Cross connections will be a critical issue as the city figures out how to get people to the waterfront.”

On the esplanade design, Smith said, “I didn’t want a formal, perfectly spaced and organized esplanade like OLIN’s Battery Park City; I wanted to purposefully slow people down so they have to look up from their devices to see where they are going.”

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East River Watefront Esplanade / © Peter Mauss/Esto

The esplanade runs parallel to the FDR Memorial Drive and, in some cases, underneath it. New coastal structures were built to provide support for the soil mass needed to support enough vegetation. “The site is a series of successive walls that provide the structure for the dunes,” which Smith calls the waves of raised landscapes. Those pieces of nature were central to the design. “The ecological basis is conflated with the social purpose. We integrated the social infrastructure into the sea walls.”

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East River Watefront Esplanade / © Peter Mauss/Esto

There’s all sorts of fun places to sit along the esplanade. “The seating is a kit of parts.” There are benches set close together, which are designed to foster conversation. “You can also put your feet up and use the other bench as an ottoman.” There are wood chaise lounges for a bit of a get-away.

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East River Watefront Esplanade / © Peter Mauss/Esto

Rail-side bar stools are great for eating lunch and gazing out at the water. “Those stools are very popular.”

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East River Watefront Esplanade / © Peter Mauss/Esto

Smith was thrilled with how the lighting turned out. He said the usual New York City light pole is “horribly wrong scale, historicist, and clunky.” He ended up commissioning a new lighting system, with soft lighting reflected against FDR girders now painted lavender, and calf-level LED lighting, which will eventually wrap through the entire two-mile-long park. Smith defended the low-light approach, arguing that it’s actually safer, as “over lighting a space causes your pupils to dilate.”

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East River Watefront Esplanade / © Peter Mauss/Esto

Throughout the esplanade, there are several pavilions coming — and it seems like most of them are beer gardens. Smith laughed and said, “beer gardens are really positive activators of public space.” Each pavilion is part commercial and community space.

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East River Watefront Esplanade / © Peter Mauss/Esto

And then there’s the pop-art dog park. “Dog runs are social spaces, too. Dog runs are like playgrounds. They are supervised just like kids. There’s a social life among both the dogs and parents.” And more ominously, “there are lots of politics in dog parks.”

Dotted along the esplanade are new pier parks, some of which are still in development. One new pier park has two levels, with the upper deck made up of gardens and lawn.

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East River Watefront Esplanade / © Peter Mauss/Esto

And Pier 35, now in the works, will be an eco-park with mussel colony. “We call it mussel beach.”

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Meditation labyrinth by Beth Henson. Louisville Lots of Possibility competition. / The Architect’s Newspaper

For more LA in the News, check out LAND, ASLA’s newsletter. If you see others you’d like included, please email us at info@asla.org.

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Imagines a Pedestrian-friendly SeattleThe Architect’s Newspaper, 4/16/14
“The streets of downtown Seattle are set for a major overhaul, thanks to a new master plan by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol. As AN reported in our recent West Coast edition, the Seattle-based firm has made recommendations to improve the pedestrian realm ‘centers on uniting the fragmented parts of the Pike-Pine corridor, two major thoroughfares at the heart of the retail core running east-west from Interstate 5 to the waterfront.’”

Green Roofs Keep Pollutants out of Urban WaterwaysAmerican University News, 4/17/14
“Rooftop gardens, or green roofs, are known to reduce energy use in buildings and catch stormwater runoff, but new research from American University shows that green roofs also absorb pollutants. The research, which takes on an area that previously has not been explored widely by scientists, has implications for how cities can improve the health of their rivers, streams and estuaries.”

Designing Cities and Factories with Urban Agriculture in MindThe Guardian, 4/23/14
“Urban farms are transforming inner city spaces – rooftops, infrastructure, streetscapes, building skin – into generative ecologies that support the lives of people, and pollinators too. They are bringing into cities, and into plain view, the natural systems that sustain urban life.”

Frederick Law Olmsted, Poet of the Urban LandscapeThe Boston Globe, 4/25/14
“If leaving the world in better condition than you found it is a measure of greatness, Olmsted deserves to rank high on our list of great Americans. Working in the second half of the 19th century, a time of disorientingly rapid industrialization and urbanization, he did more than anyone else to make our cities livable, humane, and inspiring.”

Louisville Names Winners in Competition to Creatively Reuse Abandoned Lots Across the CityThe Architect’s Newspaper, 4/28/14
“In January, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer implored local designers and developers to propose ideas for 250 of the city’s several thousand vacant lots. Last week they announced four winners, which included gardens of dye plants for local textile production; a Habitat for Humanity–style homeownership program; environmental remediation via lavender fields; and meditation gardens made of recycled materials.”

These articles were compiled by Phil Stamper-Halpin, ASLA Public Relations and Communications Coordinator.

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American beech grove, Dumbarton Oaks Park / Jim Osen Photography

Unlike the 16 acres of formal gardens at Washington, D.C.’s Dumbarton Oaks, there are no remaining plans for Dumbarton Oaks Park, the wild garden that is its complement. Perhaps Beatrix Farrand, one of the most prominent landscape architects of the 20th century, laid out most of the design in response to the larger scale of the landscape and wilder conditions of the lower 27-acre parcel? But how does one know? And how does one restore and rehabilitate a landscape without the plan of the original designer?

One must read the traces that remain. As the cultural landscape report written by the National Park Service in 1999 describes, what remains at Dumbarton Oaks Park is rich enough to suggest the journey Farrand created.

There is a manipulated watercourse with 18 weirs, which harness the water flow through the park as well as create a rich sensory experience.

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Dumbarton Oaks Park / Jared Green

There is a path system that meanders the visitor though forest, stream, and meadow, creating a circuit of experience.

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Dumbarton Oaks Park path / Jared Green

There are the remains of stone-garden follies, which once provided shade and a moment to reflect on the land, the past, and the future.

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Dumbarton Oaks Park / Jared Green

In one circuit through the park, a visitor can experience all of these landscape moments. It’s a living work of art that provides a different journey for each visitor. Dumbarton Oaks Park is a living canvas upon which the light can change many times in one day.

Farrand designed landscapes and gardens with the deep understanding that they were not static but living, breathing, changing environments. She was capable of reading a site and creating a design that evolved from that understanding.

She was a self-taught master of proportion, texture, and horticultural form. At Princeton University, where she worked for 28 years, she mastered the simple elegance of a quadrangle with the use of vertical plant material, and panels of grass to keep the space open and defined by the edges of the buildings meeting the ground plane.

Dumbarton Oaks Park is a treasure because of this landscape architect’s vision. Farrand, though she was a founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), was overlooked for many of the public park commissions in the first part of the century because she was a woman. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., Jens Jensen, and others were selected instead. But it is our great fortune that her only remaining wild garden now belongs to us all.

And so it is with great respect of Farrand’s mastery that we work to reveal the design of this urban wilderness garden. We work within a framework of design that exists, while balancing the current site conditions, such as soil erosion and compaction and invasive plants.

In our signature project area, the removals of invasive trees, shrubs, and vines has opened up the sweeping views a visitor now experiences once he or she walks through the entrance gates. Here we see the beech grove stone wall after we enter…

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American beech grove wall, before restoration / Ann Aldrich, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy

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American beech grove wall, during restoration / Ann Aldrich, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy

…and, then, through the American Beech Grove…

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American beech grove, before restoration / Ann Aldrich, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy

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American beech grove, after restoration / Ann Aldrich, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy

…and up to the Northern Woodland in the distance.

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Bridge hollow, before restoration / Ann Aldrich, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy

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Bridge hollow, during restoration / Ann Aldrich, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy

From bridge to bridge, one can now see the stream course running towards its wild neighbor, Rock Creek. The breathtaking scale of this silver-trunked grove of trees is made evident.

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Dumbarton Oaks Park Signature Project / Jim Osen Photography

Our efforts on a small scale are no less important. The recent replanting of a Black Gum tree in an existing tree pit notched into the Dumbarton Oaks wall will once again mark the entrance with its commanding trunk.

Farrand’s use of human-scale landscape markers to suggest a path, an intersection, or a view was highly attuned. They are still in evidence. From the human-scaled path — edged with stone and drifts of herbaceous planting or from under the cover of a wood arbor — Farrand developed views out to the larger landscapes beyond, such as the meadow and woods. Farrand carefully orchestrated the experience as one moved through the park.

To be successful in the restoration of this wild garden we must keep in the forefront of our minds the landscape scale and the human scale simultaneously. Farrand left us this legacy as a guide.

This guest post is by Liza Gilbert, ASLA, chair of the Signature Committee, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy.

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Queens Plaza / Margie Ruddick

Design responses to New York City’s tangled infrastructure, both instant and painstaking, were the subject of a conversation between “design patron” Janette Sadik-Kahn and landscape designer Margie Ruddick, ASLA. Sadik-Kahn is best known for her recently completed tenure as commissioner of New York City’s department of transportation (DOT) under Mayor Bloomberg. Ruddick, as designer of a complex re-imagining of New York’s Queens Plaza, has been one of the beneficiaries of that design-conscious administration’s patronage. Both speakers, winners of 2013 National Design Awards from the event’s sponsor, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, turned a retrospective eye on their recent work in urban infrastructure. The last eight or so years, both speakers claimed, marks a sea change in New York City’s infrastructure and design culture, as design innovations marked a turn from privileging cars and drivers to supporting the comfort and mobility of pedestrians and cyclists.

Ruddick focused on the painstaking work of transforming the complex site of Queens Plaza from gateway and transit hub “morass” into a green refuge in a span of ten years (see image above). Ruddick argued that what was radical in 2006 has become mainstream today: the idea that urban infrastructure can operate aesthetically and ecologically is accepted in a way that was unthinkable when the project began.

Sadik-Kahn reviewed a series of pilot programs for city streets that were rapidly implemented and subsequently institutionalized under her tenure. Where previously streets encouraged speeding, visual clutter, and cycling accidents, these interventions have struck a new balance. Sadik-Kahn spoke of the city’s “new vocabulary” of designs for bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, benches, and green infrastructure. After years of “suspended animation,” the DOT showed that it was possible to change the DNA of city streets.

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Before and After: St Nicholas Ave & Amsterdam Ave / NYC DOT

Looming large over the discussion was the role of patronage and leadership in guiding better design for cities. Now that Bloomberg is gone, what might happen in New York? And who can spearhead similar changes in other cities?

For Ruddick, Queens Plaza, a complex and multi-agency project, was an object lesson in the importance of having a design process and the need to maintain a strong design vision, integrate performance, and avoid design by committee. But the story of her failure to implement a water filtration system across three jurisdictions without talking to the right people demonstrated that politics trumps design. The designer must have a firm hand, but they can’t make the project whole without the “fiat of the person at the top.”

Sadik-Kahn, one of those people at the top, emphasized the necessity of acting quickly, harnessing innovation. And as for the future of sustainable cities, it lies in selling mayors on the value of design as an economic development strategy and hoping for a “global competition of who can be greener.” Citing cities that have followed New York’s example — including Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon and Mexico City — Sadik-Kahn’s new role is to export New York’s “new vocabulary,” as codified in the Urban Street Design Guide, worldwide.

This guest post is by Mariana Mogilevich, PhD, assistant professor, metropolitan studies program, New York University.

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