Archive for the ‘Public Spaces’ Category


Luminous void / 88888 Studio, via DesignBoom

Sunday Conversation with Shane Coen, Landscape Architect The Star Tribune, 9/19/15
“Minneapolis-based Coen + Partners, a small firm in the Warehouse District, received the nation’s highest honor in design, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Award. Its founder, Shane Coen, now finds himself on a larger national stage and with a louder voice in the design world.”

Green Peace: The Healing Power of Parks for Young and OldAARP.com, 9/22/15
“Parks are public spaces, but they can be very personal ones, too. They can be homes to our daily rituals — from morning jogs to dog walks — as well as our milestone celebrations. They also can be our quiet places of solace after a long day or after a deep loss, as I experienced.”

Frank Gehry Draws Ire for Joining Los Angeles River Restoration Project The New York Times, 9/23/15
“Yet none of Mr. Gehry’s farewell enterprises seem more daunting — and fraught — than his involvement in rebuilding the Los Angeles River, a bleak and dispiriting 51-mile channel that winds its way through fields, suburbs, dark city corners and industrial wastelands from the San Fernando Valley to the Pacific Ocean.”

A Garden Where You’d Least Expect ItThe Wall Street Journal, 9/27/15
“A far more ambitious project alighted last week, when Diana Balmori, a celebrated landscape architect and urban designer, oversaw the launch of a floating landscape at the foot of the Whole Foods parking lot that overlooks the canal.”

88888 Sculpts Luminous Void Within the Water Surrounding the Castle of Horst  DesignBoom, 9/29/15
“In the water surrounding the ancient castle of horst in belgium, 88888 studio — the collaboration of karel burssens and jeroen verrecht — have sculpted into the earth, forming an unexpected, abstract interruption in the natural landscape.”

The Cultural Landscape Foundation Releases New Pioneers Oral History with Landscape Architect Nicholas Quennell – The Cultural Landscape Foundation, 9/30/15
“Quennell, in practice for more than 50 years, is esteemed for his work on iconic New York City parks including the Central Park Children’s Zoo and Fort Tryon Park, his innovative collaborations with artists such as Alice Aycock, Barbara Kruger, and Maya Lin, and his role in the civic realm as President of the Art Commission and with other organizations.”

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parking day

ASLA PARK(ing) Day, Washington, D.C. / ASLA

On September 18, landscape architects and other designers celebrated PARK(ing) Day. Founded in 2005 by landscape architecture firm Rebar, PARK(ing) Day is an annual event in which metered parking spaces are transformed into miniature parks, or parklets, for the day. The event demonstrates the value of designed public spaces, even ones just 130 square feet. PARK(ing) Day also shows just how much of our shared space has been taken over by cars — about 30 percent of the total surface of our built environment — and how many of those spaces could instead be used to strengthen local communities.

ASLA asked landscape architects to share how they transformed a parking space with #ASLAPD on social media. Here are a few highlights:

The theme of Mahan Rykiel Associates’ parklet in Baltimore was “Back to Basics.” The firm simply created a parklet for the public to use as they pleased, exemplifying how flexible urban public space can be. The firm used the parklet for yoga in the morning, a place to eat for lunch around noon, and a game of cornhole in the afternoon.

Mahan Rykiel Associates, Inc. celebrates PARK(ing) Day with some cornhole / Mahan Rykiel Associates, Inc.

Mahan Rykiel Associates, Inc. celebrates PARK(ing) Day with games / Mahan Rykiel Associates, Inc.

The landscape architecture and horticulture department at Temple University in Philadelphia and volunteers, including local architects, landscape architects, horticulturalists, artists, and citizens, created a two-day parklet in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. This space offered live music, story time for kids, and other activities. This parklet, and the hundreds of others across the country, brought communities together, showing the countless uses made possible through welcoming public space.

Story time on PARK(ing) Day / PARKing for People

Story time on PARK(ing) Day / PARKing for People

Other parklets sought to raise awareness of environmental issues. SWA’s parklet in Houston educated the public on importance of urban pollinators, like honeybees, bats, and butterflies. Part of 13 parklets that took up an entire block, SWA’s space featured pollinator-themed benches, educational signs, and pollinator-friendly plants.

SWA Group's Houston PARK(ing) Day urban pollinators parklet / SWA Group

SWA Group’s Houston PARK(ing) Day urban pollinators parklet / SWA Group

In Los Angeles, Rios Clementi Hale Studio illustrated the benefits of capturing stormwater, which is vitally important in the midst of California’s historic drought. Their team calculated a single parking spot could capture 1,344 gallons of water annually. To put that figure into perspective for the public, the firm created a cloud of balloons above the space that showed the amount of water required for a daily task — 105 gallons for five load of laundry, 30 gallons for one bath, etc.

Photo: Rios Clementi Hale Studios

A single parking space could collect 1,344 gallons of water annually / Rios Clementi Hale Studios

Landscape architecture students from the University of New Mexico created a space that visualized the effects of climate change — melting polar ice, and rising sea levels. Students suspended blocks of ice in their parklet that melted throughout the day.

Blocks of ice to demonstrate climate change / University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning

Blocks of ice to demonstrate climate change / University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning

To see more PARK(ing) Day parklets, check out our #ASLAPD Tagboard.

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Pershing Square Park / Snipview

Pershing Square Park is Los Angeles’ oldest park. First opened in 1867 as St. Vincent’s Park, in 1870 it was officially renamed Los Angeles Park. Over the decades, the park underwent numerous revisions. In 1886, a dedicated bandstand pavilion was created, making it a public space for concerts. In the interim years, various statues were added. In 1910, architect John Parkinson redesigned the park, adding a fountain. After World War I, the park was renamed Pershing Park in honor of General John Joseph Pershing. In the 1920s and 30s, tropical plants were added, creating zones of greenery. Then, in 1994, a $14.5-million renovation by Mexican architect and landscape architect Ricardo Legorreta and American landscape architect Laurie Olin, FASLA, was completed. The bright, boxy post-modern design, which is in place today, notably features a 10-story purple bell tower, fountain, and small enclaves of trees. And today, AEG corporation, which created the massive Staples Center and L.A. Live spaces in downtown Los Angeles, has sponsored a new design competition to remake the 5-acre space once again.

According to the competition organizers, a new park is needed for a new downtown Los Angeles booming after decades of decline. The organizers says the transformation of the area is due to the city’s “adaptive reuse ordinance,” which has allowed developers to transform great old buildings in the historic core of downtown into commercial and residential space. Nearby, cool kids of all ages congregate at the Ace Hotel. And the Grand Central Market is now drawing others beyond the Latino community who have historically made up the district. Hotels and shops have popped up to serve both tourists and new waves of locals who have moved in. In 2000, downtown Los Angeles’ population was a mere 20,000; by 2010, it had doubled to 40,000.

Other city-wide efforts create impetus for a new downtown central square. Los Angeles is building a streetcar network that will make downtown even more accessible; Los Angeles City Councilmember José Huizar has launched “Bringing Back Broadway,” which aims to revitalize this historic avenue; and the ongoing Los Angeles River revitalization efforts continue.

According to The Architect’s Newspaper, the effort to create a new Pershing Square grew out of a task force established by Councilmember Huizar, who led a team with local designers, developers, and policymakers such as Macarlane Partners, Gensler, NBBJ, JFM Development, LA Recreation & Parks, and the Urban Land Institute. These taskforce members have already pledged support for a redesign. “MacFarlane Partners, which is developing 99,000 square-foot site overlooking the square, pledged $1 million pledge to seed Pershing Square Renew. The Department of Recreation and Parks earmarked $1 million for ‘immediate future for infrastructure improvements and amenities.'”

The goal is to create a dog-friendly community space with “less concrete and more green space” that can be used safely both day and night. They call for “tearing down the walls, ripping up the concrete, and planting more trees.” We would add there should be more easily-accessible public restrooms. When we visited the park during a conference this spring, much of it smelled like a urinal.

One big challenge will be figuring out how to keep the parking under Pershing Square Park accessible. Ramps for cars suck up a lot of space today, creating an unfortunate pedestrian experience that needs to be navigated on the north side of the park.


Pershing Square Park / Snipview

Councilmember Huizar is putting a great emphasis on public input at every stage of the design process. Project for Public Spaces, which have been highly critical of the existing park, led public public workshops this spring. The competition web site also enables residents to submit comments.

Letter of interest are due September 25, followed by a request for qualifications in October. Final designs will be open for public and jury review in February next year. A revamped Pershing Square park is expected to open by 2020.

For a contrary view, read a piece in the L.A. Weekly: Let’s Keep Downtown Los Angeles’ Pershing Park Weird.

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Proposal for the existing MPath near Brickell Backyard in Miami / James Corner Field Operations

Proposal for the existing MPath near Brickell Backyard in Miami / James Corner Field Operations

While the High Line sparked an international conversation about how to reuse elevated transportation infrastructure in our cities, planners and designers have become increasingly focused on what lies beneath these elevated highways, subway tracks, and rail lines. Across the U.S., cities are rethinking these residual spaces, which have long been underused and neglected. The Underline in Miami, Florida is one such project that seeks to transform the area beneath one of the city’s major elevated transportation systems: the MetroRail. Following a national design competition, James Corner Field Operations, the same firm that designed the High Line, was selected to transform the underused space into “the green spine for a future 250-mile-long network of bicycle and walking trails.”

Beating out 19 other firms in a competition held by Friends of the Underline, Field Operation’s design for the first segment of the Underline, which will be 10 miles long, will be the first transportation corridor in Miami-Dade County to integrate all modes of traffic. According to Friends of the Underline, “the Underline will connect to downtown and the Miami River Greenway on the north and to the proposed Ludlam Trail and the existing South Dade Trail on the south.”

Map of the proposed underline, with other existing and proposed trails / Friends of the Underline

Map of the proposed underline, with other existing and proposed trails / Friends of the Underline

In a public meeting on June 25, Corner identified four “character” zones that will be designed along the length of The Underline. “In the Brickell area, residents were focused on nature and play; in the Grove area, residents were interested in arts and crafts and cultural incubators; around the University of Miami, there was a focus on green tech and sustainability initiatives; and around South Miami and Dadeland, residents favored active recreation and health and fitness.”

Each of these zones will have specific “places” related to the interests of each group of residents. For example, underserved communities in Dadeland that don’t have access to parks for active recreation will get playing fields, playgrounds, and exercise areas within their zone of the Underline.

Rendering of the proposed Dadeland Trail Connection / James Corner Field Operations

Rendering of the proposed Dadeland Trail Connection / James Corner Field Operations

The Underline will also connect these different communities by making improvements that will attract them to the MPath, an off-road shared path for bikers and pedestrians that currently runs beneath the rail line. According to Isabel Castilla, a project manager at Field Operations, the new design plan calls for two adjacent paths: one dedicated for cycling and one for running and walking.

The plan aims to increase pedestrian and bicyclist safety along the MPath as well. According to Friends of the Underline, one of the biggest concerns when pursuing the project was user safety. “Currently the MPath, the bike path underneath MetroRail, has limited lighting or amenities, and needs wider and safer crosswalks. All of these, and other safety issues, are being addressed,” their website says.

Throughout the space, which will create more that one hundred acres of open space and restored natural habitats, existing vegetation will be used where possible. Elsewhere, Field Operations plans to use historically-occurring plants that will decrease the need for maintenance and minimize water usage, as the firm did on the High Line. “We envision a lot of native plantings that will only grow in a robust way and will bring other species with them, like birds and butterflies,” James Corner said in a video interview. These plantings will be divided into different ecosystems found throughout South Florida, such as pine rocklands, hardwood hammocks, and wet prairies.

The proposed Hammock Trail portion of the underline will feature species native to the Brickell hammock / James Corner Field Operations

The proposed Hammock Trail portion of the underline will feature species native to the Brickell hammock / James Corner Field Operations

Corner also discussed other proposed design elements  which focus on creating an experience that is “consistent, and unified and wholesome.” For example, Field Operations may decide to use “the distinctive graphic ‘U’ in The Underline logo … in the design of seating, trash receptacles, bike parking, etc.”

As part of a commitment to provide “a 10-mile canvas for artistic expression,” Friends of the Underline plans to allow public art on the existing MetroRail infrastructure. The project recently received a $200,000 grant from ArtPlace America’s 2015 national grant program, which will go toward public art installations created by recognized national and Miami-based artists. “The artwork along The Underline will reflect the unique characteristics of the major neighborhoods along the corridor,” said Meg Daly, founder of Friends of The Underline.

The proposed Grove Gallery, near the Coconut Grove Metrorail Station, will feature public art / James Corner Field Operations

The proposed Grove Gallery, near the Coconut Grove Metrorail Station, will feature public art / James Corner Field Operations

The masterplan for the project will be completed later this month. After approvals from various agencies, construction will begin on the two demonstration projects, first at Brickell in the fall of 2016 and then at University in 2017.

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Institute for Forestry and Nature Research by Behnisch Architekten in the Netherlands / esb8fj.wordpress.com

Landscape architects are increasingly called upon to address the challenges of changing economic, demographic, and environmental conditions, all of which have a significant effect on the character and distribution of public health problems. One need look no further than this blog or ASLA’s guide to the health benefits of nature to grasp how the potential for using nature to improve our health excites both designers and academics alike. A recent article in The Dirt, What Dose of Nature Do We Need to Feel Better?, covered new research on the health benefits of nature and spurs me to write a comment about how we measure anyone’s responses to a “dose” of nature.

I work in public health research and focus on the contribution of biophilic design to human health and well-being. Biophilia is a term elevated by famed evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson. He defined it as an innate emotional attachment to and affinity for nature, and the design community has transformed that insight into an approach called biophilic design. In both indoor and outdoor environments, biophilic design is thought to support health and well-being through the use of natural features, materials, and settings that tap into deep-seated evolutionary preferences.

Through my work, I field questions from essentially three descending geological strata: The “leaf litter,” if you will, are the questions characterized by idle curiosity, such as: “I know intuitively that I feel better in natural environments, but what can research tell me about why?” The next layer of questions graduates to more granular humus and minerals: “What types of landscapes and specific design features support the range of outcomes (productivity, health, and well-being) that I see cited in the popular press?” But the bedrock questions relate to mechanisms (what constellation of design features work, for whom, and under what circumstances) and metrics of assessment (which biomarkers over what interval credibly link landscape exposure to desirable behavioral, psychological, and physiological responses?). These are the methods used to assess any other public health intervention at a population scale and, increasingly, they are applied to natural or “green” environments as well.

Careful readers ask questions of anything upheld as evidence-based or “true.” Most studies relating to the health benefits of nature don’t provide enough detail about landscape features and participants to delve too far beyond the leaf litter. Often, it’s as if the participants arrive in a green space as a blank slate, without the etchings of a lifetime of learning or even the residual dustings of the morning’s events. Large, statistically-significant populations can help us rise above individual differences in dose-response studies, but we are still missing many critical insights that might, in the future, allow us to tailor recommendations for healthy environments to individuals.

Popular interest in the use of biophilic design to bring nature, and natural design cues, into the built environment also introduces interesting bedrock questions about the affect of indoor priming on our responses to outdoor environments. Priming happens when we are exposed to a stimulus and that initial exposure colors our responses to subsequent stimuli. The effect of indoor environments on priming restoration isn’t well understood.

By way of example, a 2010 meta-analysis produced by Jo Barton and Jules Pretty looked at the benefits of exercise in green settings. They found that participants in research studies derived notable benefits from a relatively short period of exercise in nature, with diminishing but positive returns thereafter. Put another way, short exposures to green spaces — perhaps as small as 40 seconds, as detailed in a recent study of viewing green roofs from Australia — capitalize on the shift between where you’ve just come from and where you are. Our bodies and psyches adjust to exposure, just as they should, although the benefits continue to accrue after (what is essentially) neurobiological acclimatization.

Visions of healthier, more sustainable futures often include the use of biophilic design to bring the outside inside, softening the upwards of 90 percent of time we spend indoors. How then will our neurobiological resting states – and the conditions that provoke short-term restoration – shift? Is the research participant who steps out of a biophilic building effectively primed differently than the one who steps out of a more conventional office setting? If so, should the structure of nearby restorative landscapes change in response to the levels of biophilic design found in abutting buildings in order to reliably produce a restorative response?

It’s unclear if the future of health research even holds space for questions which are, effectively, not essential to human survival. If we allow ourselves the luxury to consider optimizing landscape design for human health and well-being, however, I believe we should pay more attention to the transitional spaces and mind states that often set the tenor of experience: the doorway, the window, the moment at which a vista assembles itself into an intelligible and pleasing frame.

Where we come from matters and, if we’re thoughtful about where we’ve just been, it will also change where we’re about to go.

This guest post is by Julia Kane Africa, program leader, Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

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gallaudet 2

Gallaudet University campus / Gallaudet University

Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts university in the world that teaches its students in both English and American Sign Language, has launched an international design competition to remake its 99-acre campus in Washington, D.C. into a hub for deaf culture. According to the university, design teams will be challenged “to rethink the sensory experience of the campus through the deaf perspective.” The $60 million project also aims to create a new campus gateway and “redefine the university’s urban edge as a vibrant, mixed-used creative and cultural district.”

University officials believe Gallaudet is leading an “emerging renaissance known as Deaf Gain: a paradigm shift that switches the emphasis from hearing loss to the cultural, creative and cognitive gains of deaf ways of being in the world.” To enable this paradigm shift, they are starting with their own campus, redesigning it using “DeafSpace,” design guidelines created by deaf campus architect Hansel Bauman.


Gallaudet University campus / Gallaudet University

These guidelines better enable visual communication among the deaf. Gallaudet explains: “When deaf people congregate the group customarily works together to rearrange furnishings into a ‘conversation circle’ to allow clear sight lines so everyone can participate in the visual conversation. Gatherings often begin with participants adjusting window shades, lighting and seating to optimize conditions for visual communication that minimize eyestrain. These practical acts of making a DeafSpace are long-held cultural traditions that, while never-before formally recognized, are the basic elements of an architectural expression unique to deaf experiences.”

Bauman goes into more detail:

While the university has already been remaking its buildings according to the new guidelines, the campus revitalization will be the first time they have been applied to the public realm, addressing spatial arrangements, wayfinding, and lighting conditions outside. The guidelines will be applied to the campus, including the 14-acre historic core designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1866.

Gallaudet is looking for multidisciplinary teams, including landscape architects, architects, and specialists in human behavior, performing and fine arts, communication technology, wayfinding and engineering disciplines, among others. First-stage competitors need to express interest by October 1. Second stage finalists will each receive a $50,000 honorarium to participate in a colloquium, design charrette, and generate designs for a public exhibition. Winners will be announced by February 2016.

Another fascinating opportunity: the Burning Man festival is looking for designs for “individual elements, conforming city plans, and non-conforming city plans” for its 2017 temporary city in Nevada’s Black Rock desert. Burning Man values like “radical inclusion and de-commodification” need to be represented. Given Burning Man just keeps getting bigger, more than 70,000 people are expected for the 2017 happening. As with past Burning Mans, the goal is to leave no trace when the city comes down. Designs are due to the Black Rock Ministry of Urban Planning by December 31, 2015.

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Dr. Maria Cristi Rueda and Dr. Robert Zarr with a young patient holding a copy of her park prescription / HealthIT Buzz

Dr. Maria Cristi Rueda and Dr. Robert Zarr with a young patient holding a copy of her park prescription / HealthIT Buzz

Pediatricians in Washington, D.C. are prescribing their patients a new type of medicine: parks. Presenting on the success of DC Park RX, a new community health initiative, at a conference organized by Casey Trees, Dr. Robert Zarr, the founder and director of the program, said that many doctors have started to recognize the positive impact nature has on many health conditions. “Nature clearly shows an effect on your health in terms of prevention. So you may not have a diagnosis yet, but if you’re headed that way, you can certainly turn that around by spending more time outside,” Zarr said.

DC Park RX created a searchable online database of parks, identifying 350 green spaces in the district. Every park gets a one-page summary that makes it simple for both healthcare providers and patients to find a nearby park. “If a child was obese and really liked to play basketball, a doctor can very quickly go through the parks in the database in about 5 seconds, find a park with basketball courts, and print it out for them with directions for how to get there. They get the information to them right then and there,” Zarr said. Doctors are able to integrate the database right into their workflow with patients’ charts, just as they would any other prescription.

Unity Health Care pediatrician María Rueda-González shows a patient a park near her home / The Washington Post by Kate Patterson

Unity Health Care pediatrician María Rueda-González shows a patient a park near her home / Kate Patterson, The Washington Post.

According to The Washington Post, it is hard to say how many people are currently using the public database, but at “Unity Health Care, which serves 100,000 District residents, 180 providers with access to the system have made 720 prescriptions.” Zarr said that preliminary data indicates that children who have been prescribed time in the park are getting an additional 22 minutes per week of physical activity, and are spending 6 more days per year at a park for at least 30 minutes, results he finds encouraging for such a small program.

Parks are now being recognized as critical to medically treating chronic disease. “100 million Americans suffer from chronic disease and being overweight or obese contributes to chronic disease. Chronic disease results in decreased quality of life and ultimately in premature death, but spending time in a natural environment increases physical activity, hence decreasing the risk of obesity and chronic disease,” Zarr said.

Dr. Robert Zarr leads a hike through a park in Washington, D.C. / National Park Service by Diana Bowen

Dr. Robert Zarr leads a hike through a park in Washington, D.C.
/ Diana Bowen, National Park Service

Though Park Rx is one of the first programs to give doctors a tool to prescribe parks, the idea that doing physical activity in nature offers health benefits is hardly new. Many studies have now made the connection. For example, research published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in 2008 indicated that children who are active outdoors are less prone to obesity than their peers who spend hours inside in front of their TVs and computers.

With rates of depression at an all-time high, doctors are also using DC Park Rx to treat mental health illness. “Spending all of you time inside is not good for your mental health,” Zarr said. “Common diagnoses of mental illnesses — most, if not all of them, can be ameliorated by being outside.” In 2009, Dutch researchers found that living close to parks, “or at least near many trees, can have far reaching mental health benefits for people. In turn, living in places without parks or trees, especially if you are young or poor, can have major negative impacts.”

However, Zarr noted that he doesn’t expect parks to be the cure for every patient. “Sometimes a patient just isn’t there yet,” he said. “We don’t prescribe a park to every patient, but when they are ready we will.” For patients suffering from chronic disease, or are on the verge of developing a chronic disease, prescribing increased access to nature as part of an integrated treatment plan poses few risks and offers plenty of benefits.

Zarr is currently trying to find a way to expand DC Park Rx across the entire city and improve the functionality of the database to make it more like “Yelp for parks.” He has also been given the go ahead to further research and compile the biometric data he is accumulating, which will hopefully indicate a link between patients who have been prescribed parks and a decrease in their Body mass indexes (BMIs), blood pressure, and symptoms of depression. And with a stronger base of evidence for the health benefits of nature, it is only a matter of time before more doctors add to their prescription pads an Rx for outdoor activity.

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Times Square Night / Wikipedia

Times Square pedestrian plaza at night / Wikipedia

Top 5 WWI Memorial Designs for D.C. Park Lean Toward the SereneThe Washington Post, 8/19/15
“On Wednesday, when a federal commission unveiled the five design finalists for the creation of a national World War I Memorial in the District’s Pershing Park, it chose less radical, if less eyepopping, concepts.”

The Cultural Landscape Foundation Opposes Demolition of Pershing Park for a World War I Memorial – The Cultural Landscape Foundation, 8/19/15
“The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) today opposed demolition of Pershing Park for the creation of a World War I Memorial following the announcement by the U.S. World War I Memorial Commission of the five finalist designs for a new memorial, all of which call for the demolition of Pershing Park.”

‘Secret Garden’ Restored at Wright’s Masterpiece FallingwaterThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/19/15
“Eric Kobal stretches across a lush planter to examine a brown leaf on a rhododendron he planted in this garden on the Pottery Terrace at Fallingwater. The sound of running water is never far away here, especially this year as Bear Run, the stream that runs under the famous property, is flowing fast and high after a summer of plentiful rain.”

Challenging Mayor de Blasio over Times Square PlazasThe New York Times, 8/21/15
“One of Mr. de Blasio’s big initiatives, Vision Zero, aims to improve pedestrian safety. Ripping up the pedestrian plazas in Times Square, restoring cars and forcing millions of people to dodge traffic again, runs headlong into his own policy.”

A National Model for Better Streets Is Suddenly at Risk CityLab, 8/24/15
“In challenging the Times Square pedestrian plaza, New York City leaders are showing a profound misunderstanding about the impact of public space.”

A Yellow GreenThe Architect’s Newspaper, 8/26/15
“About four-and-a-half miles south of Philadelphia’s Center City, a collection of highly regarded architects are proving that office parks do not have to be soulless and stuffy.”

Landscape Design Brings Communities TogetherThe Toronto Star, 8/31/15
“You are likely experiencing the wonder and significance of landscape architecture — and also probably don’t realize it.”

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Los Angeles River / Metropolis magazine

The Los Angeles landscape architecture and design community was surprised by the recent announcement that Frank Gehry is creating a new masterplan for the redevelopment of the 51-mile stretch of the Los Angeles River that runs through the city. Before The Los Angeles Times published the details of the new Gehry-led team, there were no public discussions about this new approach or the selection of the new design team. Also, it’s not clear what will happen to the approved 2007 Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan (LARRMP). The LARRMP, led by engineering firm Tetra Tech, included three landscape architecture firms: Civitas, Mia Lehrer + Associates, and Wenk Associates. The plan is deeply rooted in hydrology and ecology, aims to strengthen communities, and features parks, trails, bridges, public and private facilities, and more. The LARRMP was approved by the Los Angeles City Council and provides a blueprint based in watershed management, as plans move forward.

The LARRMP guided the development of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Los Angeles River Ecosystem Feasibility Study. The study’s ambitious “Alternative 20” plan, which will ecologically restore a 11-mile stretch of the river and improve public access, was unanimously approved by the Corps last month.

Local landscape architecture professionals have voiced concerns with Gehry’s appointment by the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation. In addition to threatening Congressional approval of the Corps’ billion-dollar-plus Alternative 20 plan due to confusion with this new, unclear planning effort, there is concern about:

The Lack of a Public Process
The project’s grand scope means the potential impact on the City of Los Angeles and the eight southern gateway cities to the south is immense. The LARRMP was born out of grassroots efforts and planned with intense community participation. During public outreach, specific projects were identified and championed by the neighborhoods most impacted. Any plan aimed at building on the LARRMP and Alternative 20 must seek public input from the beginning to gain support and assure meaningful outcomes.

The Lack of Transparency
Any project of importance requires a transparent process, regardless of who leads the effort. A transparent process ensures the decisions made, and funding sources dedicated, are clearly communicated and understood. To succeed, the design process must be overseen by all stakeholders and experienced practitioners. The process should include community outreach and well-publicized opportunities for involvement by all, especially local landscape architects who are experienced in local climatic, ecological, and community conditions. Any efforts made in the revitalization of the river should result in new places for public recreation, improved ecology and hydrology, and opportunities for local design professionals.

The nation’s second largest city faces two significant challenges: First, our communities lack significant public open space; and, second, drought conditions and climate change make water management critical to serving our current and future populations. The Los Angeles River can be transformed into green infrastructure that provides solutions to both these challenges.

la river before

la river after

Los Angeles River, current conditions and Alternative 20 after rendering / The Architect’s Newspaper

The Los Angeles River is a dynamic natural system that reacts differently to each ecological and climatic condition and community with which it interacts. Landscape architects are uniquely educated in how to best traverse the nexuses between ecology, community, and design. A green infrastructure project as important as the Los Angeles River revitalization requires an engaged process with design professionals of different experiences and expertise, with knowledge of the unique environmental, social, and political conditions of the Los Angeles River watershed.

Architects such as Frank Gehry can certainly be valuable in this process, but even he admitted he isn’t “a landscape guy” when Mayor Eric Garcetti compared him to famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The Los Angeles River deserves the attention of landscape architects who have experience analyzing and then creating visions for regionally-scaled landscape systems. This kind of experience is needed to build on the work of the 11-mile Alternative 20 plan to address the river’s full 51-mile stretch.

LA River Ecosystem Restoration Integrated Report

Before and After: Arroyo Seco Confluence in Cypress Park, Alternative 20 plan / KCET

Local landscape architects look forward to seeing the preliminary studies from the Gehry-led team. We ask for a transparent process with plenty of outreach to stakeholders and the community to ensure the foundation of previously-approved work, which reflect the public’s needs, is firmly in place. And we ask for help from our colleagues nationwide to respectfully demonstrate to Mayor Garcetti the important benefits landscape architecture provide to our lives every day.

This guest post is by Duane Border, ASLA, PLA, principal, Duane Border Design, and president-elect, Southern California Chapter ASLA.

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Avenida Chapultepec / FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU

Mexico City, one of the world’s great megalopolises, with more than 20 million people, is struggling to create more green space for its ever-expanding population. Estimates put the amount of green space in the city at just a few percent. To remedy this problem, a team of architects, landscape architects, planners, and urban designers with Mexican firms FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU will transform Avenida Chapultepec, one of the city’s oldest and busiest streets, into an elevated, 1.3-kilometer-long “cultural corridor” expected to open by 2017. The project will overhaul a 10-lane highway that runs west to east between Chapultepec Park and the center of the city.

This new elevated promenade will help reduce traffic accidents along one of the most dangerous and polluted stretches in the city, writes Designboom. While the lower level will still enable cars to move through, the goal is to create a highly walkable zone in the middle of the city.

Fernando Romero, the lead designer with FR-EE, explains his thinking: “The term ‘Complete Street’ means to reshape the traffic flow and the public spaces. This project inverts the numbers: if nowadays, 70 percent of the area belongs to cars, and 30 percent to the pedestrians, the cultural corridor chapultepec is going to change these numbers by generating a new space in order to have 70 percent belong to the pedestrians and the remaining 30 percent for the organization of the traffic space.”

Heading east to the west, the elevation will gradually increase, as new pedestrian-only features eventually merge, inviting people up onto the elevated promenade.


Avenida Chapultepec / FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU

At street level on the far eastern end, the point closest to Chapultepec Park, hundreds of street trees will be added, along with separate dedicated bus and bicycle lanes, wide pedestrian promenades, and striking linear troughs filled with water.



Avenida Chapultepec / FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU

As people head further west, there are a set of ramps and stairs that will lead people up to the upper level, which will be a tree-lined promenade, with distinct lanes for both pedestrians and bicyclists.


Avenida Chapultepec / FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU

This upper level will also feature shops and cafes.


Avenida Chapultepec / FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU

At the far western end of the avenue, all the way at the end of the linear park, there will be an open-air amphitheater for movies and events. The new avenue is designed to create a sense of discovery, pulling people through to enjoy the safe passage to the views, trees, and public spaces.

While some will say Mexico City is creating a variation on the High Line, the elevated railway park in Chelsea, Manhattan, Romero thinks a closer analogue is Seoul’s transformation of the buried ChonGae Canal, once a busy transportation channel, into a open linear park. Seoul, another of the world’s most mega cities, has created vibrant public spaces with multiple levels along its revitalized waterway. A prime example is Mikyoung Kim’s ChonGae Canal Point Source Park, which leads visitors down to the canal’s edge. Romero says: “Seoul has undertaken many projects with the idea of creating public space, while respecting the existing, often-difficult-to-manipulate infrastructure.”

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