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Archive for the ‘Public Spaces’ Category

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

This upper level will also feature shops and cafes.

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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.

This video clearly shows the progression:

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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Beauty Redeemed / Birkhauser

Beauty Redeemed / Birkhauser

Gas Works Park in Seattle. Landscape Park Duisburg-Nord in Germany. Ariel Sharon (Mount Hariya) Park in Tel Aviv. Freshkills Park in Staten Island, NY. And The High Line, in Manhattan. These landmark places transform the remnants of industrial landscapes into new parks.

Is this “transformation of formerly industrial areas for new purposes, a widespread phenomenon happening before our eyes,” simply a trend? Or are these transformations, which address our post-industrial needs, here to stay? In Beauty Redeemed: Recycling Post-Industrial Landscapes, Ellen Braae, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Copenhagen, argues the latter, writing that the emergence of post-industrial landscapes is a new kind of design that is engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the landscapes of past, present, and future.

There have been plenty of books, articles, and blog posts written on post-industrial landscapes, including quite a few on The Dirt. So why write another? Braae answers this question herself, breaking her argument into three pieces:

First, the re-use of “ruinous” post-industrial areas contributes to the practice of sustainability; this approach encourages us to reinterpret existing resources.

When most of the design proposals for Landscape Park Duisburg-Nord, which was built on a former industrial site in Germany, were presented in the early 1990s, most firms opened their project by clearing away all the old infrastructure and starting anew. Landscape architect Peter Latz, Latz + Partner, went a different route, choosing “to accept the area with all its traces and structures.” As Braae explains, “the innovation in Latz’s proposal lay in the decoding of features and qualities and the way they were highlighted and reworked.” The theme of the park became the interplay between the relics of industrialism and the processes of nature already underway in the years since the area’s industrial use.

Pedestrian bridge across old ore bunkers at Landscape Park Duisberg-Nord / Latz + Partner

Pedestrian bridge across old ore bunkers at Landscape Park Duisberg-Nord / Latz + Partner

 

Aesthetics combined with remediation for contaminated soils at Duisburg-Nord / Latz + Partner

Aesthetics combined with remediation for contaminated soils at Duisburg-Nord / Latz + Partner

Second, industrial landscapes can become new cultural heritage, as they can represent the convergence of preservation, re-use, and transformation.

The 19th and 20th century landscape has been shaped by industry — both the processes and infrastructure of industry itself, and the impact of the industrial products on urban planning and design. For example, the industrial-scale production of automobiles shaped Detroit, which Braae refers to as “a monument to the principles of Fordism, transcending our physical-spatial structures as the capital of the 20th century.”

Former Packard plant, Detroit, 2006 / Camilo Jose Vergara

As we move further into the 21st century, Braae asks what the “physical expression of the capital city of the 21st century” will be. Looking to Paris, France, and Ruhr, Germany, the emphasis on building upon “the ruins of industrialism” suggests a shift towards a relationship with history and cultural heritage that is generally reflected by post-Modernism.

Rather than History with a capital H, history and cultural heritage today are “embedded in our everyday culture and thus in our culture of remembrance. They are associated with the working lives of a large proportion of the population of the Western world. Seen in that light, the originally worthless relics of a vanished production process become suitable objects of study for a new form of cultural heritage. Preservation, re-use and transformation of what is in principle worthless become linked. These are the new interpretations of cultural heritage.”

Lastly, transforming industrial landscapes is not only an interesting creative exercise, but has created an “epistemological breakthrough in design” that emphasizes the temporary nature of things and the process of constant change.

According to Braae, we are undergoing a radical transformation in the practice of design. Whereas much of design in the 20th century may have been modeled on novelty, with its main focus on space, structure, and expression, design in the 21st century is focused on change. In doing so, the focus becomes less entirely on form and more on process.

Braae says this new thinking will fundamentally shape the way we build and create in the 21st century:”What does it imply when we no longer invent things from the beginning but create them through interaction with what already exists? It is a central question: In what ways can we decode the materials available to us?”

Sculptural reuse of demolition material at Terra Nova, Germany / Herman Prigann, Courtesy of Herman Prigann Estate

Sculptural reuse of demolition material at Terra Nova, Germany / Herman Prigann, Courtesy of Herman Prigann Estate

Beauty Redeemed is dense, with Braae’s arguments thoroughly detailed. Academics and landscape architects are the ones who will spend any significant time with the book. But the public will be also affected by the ideas found here.

Urban landscapes, which more and more people rely on for recreation and escape, tend to be “a cacophany of different forms of use, appearances, and topography, often without any mutual connection or visual significance.” The disordered nature of these urban landscapes can result in a lack of identity and aesthetic quality. But Braae’s hope is that the shift in design thinking, as demonstrated by these landmark post-industrial landscapes, will help move us towards a new 21st century post-industrial model. In this sense, Beauty Redeemed is a worthwhile read for, as Braae says, “everyone interested in visual and spatial culture, with a liking for ruinous industrial areas.”

Yoshi Silverstein is founder of Mitsui Design and director of the Jewish outdoor, food, and environmental (JOFEE) fellowship at Hazon, the country’s largest Jewish environmental organization.

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Charlotte, North Carolina street trees / Kenny Craft on Pinterest

The science is increasingly clear: trees are central to healthy, livable cities. New studies are only adding to this understanding. For example, recent research published in the prestigious journal Nature found that having 10 more trees on your block, on average, improves the perception of your own health in ways comparable to an increase in annual income of $10,000 or being 7 years younger. However, according to Cene Ketcham, a graduate student in urban forestry at Virginia Tech, the benefits of urban trees are rarely experienced equally across a city.

“We know trees have a lot of benefits. And if we know that having trees in our cities is important for our health, the converse must also be true — a lack of trees hurts your health,” Ketcham said at a conference organized by Casey Trees in Washington, D.C.

Ketcham noted that a lower tree canopy is often correlated with lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color – “areas that have historically been disproportionately impacted.” While non-profit and city-led tree planting programs are poised to bridge this gap, most are not designed with environmental justice goals in mind. The groups leading these urban tree-planting programs are increasingly aware of this problem, but what specific strategies are most effective for getting urban trees into the areas that need them the most?

Ketcham studied 11 different programs in six cities: Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Denver, Colorado; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Portland, Oregon; and Sacramento, California. Each of these programs have a different planting plan that accounts for inequalities. In Charlotte, for example, race and income are tightly tied together, so improving tree cover in underserved neighborhoods did not require a city-wide effort to make an impact in these communities. “But, of course, the closer you get to planting trees all over an entire city, the better off you’ll be,” Ketcham added.

The programs Ketcham identified as the most successful at getting trees into underserved neighborhoods are NeighborWoods in Charlotte, Friends of Trees in Portland, and CityShade in Austin. Based on the success of these programs, Ketcham identified four strategies city government and non-profit tree planting organizations can implement to make sure trees are planted where they are most needed:

Target Planting Areas

Successful tree planting programs use outreach efforts and highly targeted planting. “Portland canvassers go door to door in low-income neighborhoods advertising the benefits of trees. A lot of effort goes toward getting trees in where people want them,” Ketcham said. Of course, city-wide tree cover is the goal, but in larger cities where trees are disproportionately benefiting some neighborhoods, targeted tree-planting efforts can go a long way.

Urban forestry volunteers in Portland, OR / City of Portland

Urban forestry volunteers in Portland, OR / City of Portland

Build Strong Municipal and Non-Profit Partnerships

“It’s not just somebody some throwing labor in, it’s a tightly integrated collaboration,” Ketcham said. Programs that have been successful bring together public and private organizations. “Maybe the city buys the trees, while the non-profit runs the program.” In any case, it’s important that both groups take ownership of the tree-planting program.

For example, Treefolk’s CityShade program in Austin works very closely with Austin’s urban forestry department. From October 2014 through March 2015, the program worked with the city to plant 350 large-container trees and mulch existing trees in seven parks and greenbelts in Austin. According to CityShade, the organization also planted native trees to beautify, and provide shade and wildlife habitat in some of Austin’s lowest-income neighborhoods.

Volunteers plant trees along a highway in Austin, Texas / TreeFolks

Volunteers plant trees along a highway in Austin, Texas / TreeFolks

Reduce Property Owner Responsibility

Particularly in low-income neighborhoods, it’s important to reduce the pressure on individual property owners to plant trees. Not only are people in these areas struggling to overcome challenges bigger than increasing the tree canopy, but residents in these areas are more likely to be renters. “If you’re in an area with a lot of renters you’re not going to want to work on improving your landlord’s property. And the landlord might not even want the trees if it will change the property value,” Ketcham said. Instead, successful programs rely on volunteers and contractors to plant the trees, rather than giving trees to neighborhood residents.

However, some successful programs do provide help and guidance to residents who want trees on their own properties. Friends of Trees in Portland makes it easy for someone to plant a tree at their home with this step-by-step video.

Priotize Public Spaces

While most programs focus on getting trees onto residential properties, successful programs work on “improving tree cover, not just in residential areas but also in public spaces.” Planting trees in public spaces can provide neighborhood-wide health and environmental benefits.

For example, CityShade in Austin partnered with Austin’s watershed protection division and urban forestry department to plant thousands of small, native, tree seedlings in public areas in order to conserve water and improve water quality in Austin’s waterways. Though mainly focused on residential plantings, Charlotte’s NeighborWoods program will also help provide trees for homeowner association’s common areas when appropriate, so that everyone in the neighborhood can benefit from increased access to nature.

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The Los Angeles River / The Architect's Newspaper

The Los Angeles River / The Architect’s Newspaper

Red Rocks, Conservation Corps Camp Named National Historic Landmark The Denver Post, 8/4/15
“Red Rocks Park and the camp that housed the men who built its world-famous amphitheater have been awarded national historic landmark status.”

Brooklyn Sites Get $2.6 Million to Undo Hurricane Sandy’s Toll ­– The New York Times, 8/5/15
“Hurricane Sandy isn’t over yet. Historical sites around New York City are among the many places where — nearly three years later — damage caused by the storm has yet to be fixed or cleared.”

Architect Frank Gehry is Helping L.A. With Its Los Angeles River Master Plan, But Secrecy Troubles SomeThe Los Angeles Times, 8/7/15
“Architect Frank Gehry is working with city officials to draft a new master plan for the redevelopment of the Los Angeles River, bringing the avant-garde sensibilities of one of the world’s best-known artistic celebrities to the struggle to remake 51 miles of the Los Angeles Basin’s largely desolate central waterway.”

150 Years Ago, Olmsted Released His Historic Yosemite ReportWBUR, 8/7/15
“Sunday marks the 150th anniversary of the first reading of Olmsted’s historic report, “Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove.” It’s largely credited with providing the basis for the creation of Yosemite National Park.”

Frank Gehry Agreed to Make Over the L.A. River — With One Big Condition – The Los Angeles Times, 8/9/15
“Frank Gehry and the Los Angeles River: It’s a combination that makes zero sense (if you’re looking strictly at Gehry’s resume) and follows a natural logic (if you think about the interest the architect’s work has long shown in L.A.’s linear infrastructure and its overlooked, harder-to-love corners).”

Frank Gehry, Not a Landscape Architect, Will Help Re-Work L.A. River. Why? – The Los Angeles Times, 8/11/15
“While Frank Gehry, who will draft the master plan for the redevelopment of the Los Angeles River, is certainly one of the most talented and revolutionary architects of our time, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s comparison of him to the greatest landscape architect in North America — and yes, this is a separate credentialed profession — is nearsighted.”

Into the Current The Architect’s Newspaper, 8/12/15
“News that Gehry Partners is at work on a new master plan of the Los Angeles River took Angelenos by surprise late last week. While some had heard rumors for weeks, others were caught off guard by the somewhat strange combination.”

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AUB Landscape Society celebrates Park(ing) Day / outlookaub.com

AUB Landscape Society celebrates Park(ing) Day / outlookaub.com

Founded in 2005 by landscape architect John Bela, ASLA, a founding principal of Rebar, PARK(ing) Day is September 18 this year. PARK(ing) Day is a global, open-source phenomenon in which landscape architects and other designers transform metered parking spaces into temporary mini-parks, or parklets. The event helps the public visualize just how much of our public realm is given over to cars and all the other potential ways these spaces could be used by communities.

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) encourages its professional and student members to lead the design and installation of parklets and show the public how surprising designed parklets can be.

Rebar's original PARK(ing) Day in San Francisco, 2005 / parkingday.org

Rebar’s original PARK(ing) Day in San Francisco, 2005 / parkingday.org

Whether it’s simply a new place to sit and relax, or play a game, parklets will draw a crowd.

HBB Landscape Architecture / Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce

HBB Landscape Architecture parklet / Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce

SWA Group Landscape Architecture teamed up with the Bentley Reserve to set up a pop-up bocce ball court

SWA Group Landscape Architecture teamed up with the Bentley Reserve to set up a pop-up bocce ball court

PARK(ing) Day is an excellent opportunity to teach the public about landscape architecture. Parklets offer a glimpse of what landscape architects or designers can do, and the value design adds to public spaces. People passing-by will stop to check out your parklet and learn about its designers.

Happy PARK(ing) Day / The Penn Stater

Happy PARK(ing) Day / The Penn Stater

PARK(ing) Day can earn you plenty of local attention, but ASLA wants to show you and your parklet to the world. On September 18, post a picture of your parklet with #ASLAPD on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and ASLA will share it. We’ll put our favorite student and professional-designed parklets in an ad in Landscape Architecture Magazine.

If you would like to participate in the event, visit ASLA’s PARK(ing) Day site to get started and learn about local permitting and insurance. For inspiration for your parklet, read our PARK(ing) Day 2014 recap or contact your local ASLA Chapter. Have questions? Send them to jtaylor@asla.org.

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Plan rendering of the core area of the new Alexandria Waterfront Plan / OLIN

A new master plan for Old Town, the historic center of Alexandria, Virginia, just a few miles from Washington, D.C. which has been in the works for more than five years, is now well underway, as the city opens bidding on the plan’s flood mitigation improvements. The plan will transform one of the last “undeveloped” major urban waterfronts in the D.C. area. The $120 million project, designed by landscape architecture firm OLIN, will add 5.5 acres of public open space; develop a new signature plaza at the foot of King Street, the main thoroughfare through Old town; expand the marina; create walkable connections for the length of the waterfront; and incorporate flood mitigation measures. Three new mixed-use developments have also been proposed along the waterfront, including a plan to transform Robinson Terminal North. These plans come for approval by the local planning commission and city council in September.

Phase one of the project, which will not be completed until at least 2026, will focus on core utility, roadway, and other infrastructure construction required to support the subsequent street-level improvements, followed by attention to the flood mitigation elements, one of the more controversial elements of the project, according to The Alexandria Times. At a recent talk at the National Building Museum, “Alexandria’s New Front Door: Implementing the Waterfront Plan,” it became clear that the discussion on flood mitigation illuminates the key challenge in re-envisioning Alexandria’s waterfront: how to maintain the character of one of the U.S.’s most historic cities while protecting this architectural treasure-chest from the threat of increased flooding.

Old Town Alexandria was hit hard during Hurricane Isabel in 2003. According to The Washington Post, flooding from the Potomac River swamped the historic Torpedo Factory and many areas around King Street. Along Alexandria’s waterfront, streets were navigated by canoe and kayak, as water levels reached nearly 9 feet above sea level. More recent storms, such as Hurricane Irene in 2011, were also devastating. Long-term, Alexandria’s Potomac waterfront will experience sea level rises of more than 2.3 to 5.2 feet by 2100 — according to the Waterfront Small Area Plan — and certain areas of the city now flood at least once a month, so OLIN made flood mitigation a high priority in the master plan.

Old Dominion Boat Club Manager John Sterling rows a canoe on flooded King Street after Hurricane Isabel / Getty Images by Alex Wong

Old Dominion Boat Club Manager John Sterling rows a canoe on flooded King Street after Hurricane Isabel / Getty Images by Alex Wong

Based on a 2010 flood mitigation study commissioned by the Alexandria city government, OLIN proposed a comprehensive plan that balances mitigation, cost, and maintaining views. The waterfront plan will protect against nuisance flooding at 6 feet higher than sea level through drainage improvements, a combined sea wall and pedestrian walkway, and the use of green infrastructure techniques such as swales and rain gardens. Not only will this protect Old Town against the majority of flooding, this level of protection was found to be the most cost-effective and least visually intrusive for the majority of flooding events, according to a 107-slide presentation by OLIN.

However, the historic character of the city may still be at risk during major storms. “The level was set at 6 feet so it would not destroy the character of the viewshed or the city’s historic character, but this flood mitigation will be overtopped eventually,” said Tony Gammon, acting deputy director of the department of project implementation for Alexandria, at the National Building Museum. “It won’t be a surprise to us.”

Water levels on the Old Town Waterfront / City of Alexandria

Water levels on the Old Town Waterfront / City of Alexandria

Other elements of the waterfront project, which were decided based on extensive community input, strike a balance between preserving character and improving function quite well. According to the small area plan, “throughout the planning process, Alexandrians asked for more ‘things to do’ on the waterfront.” Once a working waterfront bustling with commercial activity, Old Town’s current attractions are now primarily located in-land. The new plan aims to bring a high level of activity back to the waterfront in a new form. A public boardwalk along the water’s edge will improve access to the river, while new public spaces, including a large public park called Fitzgerald Square, will bring people to parts of Old Town that were formerly industry-dominated. Old buildings will be memorialized, views to the river from King Street will be opened up, and three derelict sites will get new mixed-use development.

Existing site of Fitzgerald Square / OLIN studios

Existing site of Fitzgerald Square / OLIN

The new Fitzgerald Square park with a reflecting pool / OLIN studios

The new Fitzgerald Square park with a reflecting pool / OLIN studios

According to Robert M. Kerns, development division chief for Alexandria, who spoke on the National Building Museum panel, the crowning achievement of the project has been its ability “to balance new development with the city’s historic patterns.” Preserving historic character was not only a consideration for the flood mitigation strategies, but also for the city’s new promenades and public spaces. For example, the proposed Prince Street promenade, which will end at riverfront, will have a series of formal gardens that complement the scale of the surrounding structures. “Ensuring an historic scale was important to city identity, as was following the pattern of existing buildings,” Kerns said about the proposed promenade.

The existing view of the waterfront at the end of Prince Street / OLIN studios

The existing view of the waterfront at the end of Prince Street / OLIN

Rendering of the new proposal for the end of the Prince Street promenade / OLIN studios

Rendering of the new proposal for the end of the Prince Street promenade / OLIN

But do the character-conscious flood mitigation strategies go far enough to protect Old Town from the next super storm? While Alexandria is unique due to historic character, the careful approach to flood mitigation provides a contrast to cities like New York City and Boston, which have recently held design competitions that have yielded ambitious waterfront resiliency plans in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The projects that have come out of Living with Water in Boston and Rebuild by Design in NYC will be designed to withstand catastrophic storm events, far more than a 6 foot nuisance flood. While New York and Boston are bigger cities, and arguably at greater risk from sea level rise than Old Town, the effort in Old Town raises questions about the depth of resilience being planned and designed.

After years of debate over the Old Town waterfront, there is now some consensus on how to upgrade this historic place with new parks, better access to the waterfront, and improved flood mitigation. However, the project, which will be in the works for the next decade, ultimately proves just how much “new” residents of one of the country’s oldest cities are willing to accept. Continued flooding may be the price.

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Cities Safer by Design, a report by the World Resources Institute

Cities Safer by Design, a report by the World Resources Institute / WRI

Globally, 1.24 million people are killed in traffic accidents every year, with more than 90 percent of these deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries. Traffic-related incidents are the eighth-leading cause of death worldwide, and the number-one leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15-29. A response to the United Nations’ declaration to create a “Decade of Action” on improving traffic safety, Cities Safer by Design, a new report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, offers urban design best practices and real-world case studies both developed and developing world cities can use to put an end to traffic deaths and injuries.

Cities Safer by Design presents five basic urban design elements that create safer travel environments: block size, connectivity, lane width, access, and population density.

Block Size

Safe urban design is about reducing motor vehicle speeds. The faster a driver goes, the more difficult it is for him or her to avoid hitting a pedestrian in their path. Due to less frequent interruptions, larger blocks allow vehicles to accelerate more freely. More junctions mean more places where cars must stop and pedestrians can cross. According to the report, to improve safety and walkability, blocks should be 75-150 meters long. If blocks are any larger than 200 meters, mid-block pass-throughs with signals or raised crossings should be added every 100-150 meters.

Smaller block sizes have been successfully implemented in central areas of Shanghai, such as Xin Tian Di, to create more walkable neighborhoods. More Chinese cities that had mistakenly built “super blocks” are starting to apply the same approach.

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A street for pedestrians in Shanghai / Jamie Sinz

Connectivity

The report recommends increasing connectivity to multiples modes of transit in order to decrease travel distances and improve access to destinations. Creating multiple routes for pedestrians and cyclists also helps disperse traffic, discourage car use, and reduce travel time.

Mexico City has also created walkable urban landscapes around its Metrobús bus rapid transit (BRT) system that enables safe bicycle and pedestrian access.

Bikers and BRT passengers outside of the Mexico City Metrobus / EMBARQ by  Alejandro Luna

Bikers and BRT passengers outside of the Mexico City Metrobus / EMBARQ by Alejandro Luna

Vehicle Lane Width

The amount of a street devoted to vehicles shapes the amount of street available for pedestrian crossings, bike lanes, parking lanes, and landscape curb extensions. Reducing street widths creates a safer pedestrian experience because they shorten pedestrian crossing distance and exposure to cars and also slow traffic by “increasing drivers’ perception of impediments.” Again, slower traffic mitigates the potential severity of crashes.

According to the report, evidence from Mexico City shows that as the maximum pedestrian crossing distance at an intersection increases by 1 meter, the frequency of pedestrian crashes increase by up to 3 percent. Other studies highlighted in the report show the most significant relationship to injury crashes is street width and street curvature. As street width widens, crashes per mile per year increase exponentially.

Access to Destinations

Neighborhoods should be designed to include transit, parks, schools, and stores within walking distance, which is defined as 0.5-kilometers. Having a variety of destinations in neighborhood clusters encourages people to meet close to home, decreasing the need for vehicular travel and improving overall safety.

In the Coyoacan neighborhood of Mexico City, the prevalence of shops and public spaces encourage walking while discouraging vehicular traffic. Recalling an earlier area before sprawl took over the city, Coyoacan’s cobbled streets lead to garden plazas where street vendors gather.

Santa Catalina Plaza and Church located on Avenida Sosa in the Coyoacan borough of Mexico City / Thelmadatter

Santa Catalina Plaza and Church located on Avenida Sosa in the Coyoacan borough of Mexico City / Thelmadatter

Population Density

A 2009 study cited in the report found that for an increase in density of 100 persons per square mile, there was a 6 percent reduction in injurious crashes and a 5 percent reduction in all crashes after controlling for vehicle miles traveled, street connectivity, and land use. In contrast to more sprawling cities, high-density cities not only reduce the need for vehicle travel, but also reduce the need for their associated infrastructure, such as roads and sewers.

Tokyo has successfully developed high-density mixed-use neighborhoods near rail and bus stations. According to the report, Tokyo has a traffic fatality rate of 1.3 per 100,000 residents. Compare this rate to Atlanta, Georgia, one of the most sprawled-out cities in the U.S., which has 9.7 traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents.

Street in Jiyugaoka,Tokyo

Street in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo / Cozyroom_mimi (Flickr)

With the percentage of the world’s population living in cities expected to hit 70 percent by 2030, reducing traffic fatalities from unsafe streets should be a priority. Safer streets also increase the quality of life for urbanites, particularly for those in developing countries. WRI’s report shows policymakers, urban designers and planners, and landscape architects what works: designing for pedestrian safety means improving urban health and sustainability overall.

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floating pool

Floating Pool Lady, NYC / Inhabitat

Before the industrial boom that transformed waterfront cities into dirty manufacturing hubs in the 19th and 20th centuries, urbanites would take a dip in the rivers, harbors, lakes, and oceans that are a part of many cities to cool off in hotter months, enjoying a break from the steamy weather. But as these water bodies that served as conduits for cities became increasingly polluted, only the bravest or perhaps poorest swimmers would dare go in. Today, as smart cities reclaim their riverfronts as places for recreation and invest heavily in improving water quality, they are getting closer to turning their aquatic resources back into the natural swimming pools they once were.

Some cities still aren’t there with water quality, so they use floating pools in barges, which keep the river and pool water separate. In South Bronx, New York City, Baretto Point Park, which was transformed from a toxic brownfield into a park, became home to the Floating Pool Lady, a floating barge-pool in the East River, in 2008.

And in Berlin, a wooden footbridge filled with hammocks leads swimmers out to the 30-meter-long barge-pool Arena Badeschiff. There is a small cafe and bar where Berliners can hang out after playing volleyball.

badeschiff

Arena Badeschiff / Berlin Circus

A more ambitious new wave of offshore pools aims to use river water for these offshore pools, but filtering out pollutants first. In NYC, + Pool seeks to create a 200-feet wide by 200-feet long pool in a plus-sign shape; its walls will filter out pollutants using a system of membranes set right into the East River. The plus-sign shape will enable greater flexibility: the pool can be separated into four different segments for separate audiences, combined into an Olympic-length swimming pool, or opened up into a big free-for-all space. Earlier last year, they began testing a pilot membrane in the river to evaluate its performance against different conditions over 6 months.

plus-pool

+ Pool / + Pool

And Studio Octopi proposes the same thing in the Thames River in London, with their Thames Baths, which will also form a swimming pool out of river water, filtering pollutants with a bio membrane. But they imagine a more natural setting than + Pool. “Imagine swimming in the river, surrounded by reeds that frame tantalizing views of the city around you. The Baths are not just for swimmers, but provide refuge and habitat for fish, birds, and a wide range of flora.”

thames-bath

Thames Bath / Studio Octopi

Both + Pool and Studio Octopi are relying on grants and kickstarter campaigns to make their filtration-enabled pools, which will be managed by non-profit organizations, possible. + Pool has raised more than $250,000 but needs about $15 million.

While these floating pools are certainly great amenities, the most sustainable long-term solution will be to simply clean up these polluted bodies of water so urbanites can safely swim in them once again. This is what Copenhagen achieved in 2008. The city then took advantage of its newly-cleaned-up harbor with Harbor Baths, a set of designed pools that make their waterfront even more accessible. Locals get to it via pedestrian and bicycle paths that wind along the waterfront. And there’s even a heated bath in the complex for winter bathing.

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Harbor Bath / Kibisi

harbor pool

Harbor Bath / Visit Copenhagen

A floating wooden deck created by Danish architecture firm BIG and JDS features a fantastic diving board, so locals can jump right into the safe harbor sea water.

harbor pool 3

Harbor Bath / Hotels We Love

The pool is also free of charge to all Copenhageners. Now, this is the idea.

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The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag: From Modern Space to Urban Ecological Design / University of Washington Press

The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag: From Modern Space to Urban Ecological Design / University of Washington Press

If landscape architect Richard Haag had stopped with Gas Works Park and Bloedel Reserve in Seattle, Washington, “these two projects alone would have assured his place in American landscape architectural history,” Marc Treib asserts in the forward to the new book, The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag: From Modern Space to Urban Ecological Design, by Thaïsa Way, ASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington. Yet these two projects are but a fragment of the works that have earned him fame in the realm of urban ecological design. In the book, Way places Haag’s nearly five decade-long careers as a landscape architect, activist, and teacher in the context of the “changes in the practice of landscape architecture” in the U.S over the same time period, ultimately providing a lens through which landscape architects can study urban ecological design.

The book is organized both thematically and chronologically, starting with Haag’s humble upbringing in rural Kentucky. Haag’s family was closely tied to the land in their agrarian community of Jeffersontown, and the legacy of successful farmers and growers there “shaped Haag’s view of the world as he has described it: living and working with nature as a lover.” This mindset intersected with an increasing focus on the scientific understanding of ecological processes that was taking hold in profession just as Haag began learning about it. His curiosity about landscape architecture led him to academia. But despite his extensive education at the University of Illinois, the University of California at Berkeley, and Harvard’s Graduate School of Design — as well as his apprenticeships under Modernists Hideo Sasaki and Dan Kiley — Haag remained true to his roots. As Way states, he has been known to frequently quip that one should “never trust a landscape architect without mud on his shoes.”

Haag on a tractor / Washington University PRess

Haag on a tractor / University of Washington Press

Perhaps much of Haag’s success can be attributed to the many contrasts he created for himself in his professional life. Though he had a deep tie to his rural hometown, and always sought to return to it, he pursued his interests in Japanese design through a Fulbright scholarship. Way’s portrayal of Haag’s time in Japan is enough to convince any budding landscape architect to study in Kyoto. He then jumped on the bandwagon of California residential design in the early 1950s and finally headed to the Pacific Northwest where he made a name for himself.

He is portrayed throughout the book as a highly adaptable individual whose design style closely follows suit. Way notes that Haag’s teachings in the classroom at The University of Washington, where he founded the landscape architecture department, emphasized landscape architecture as not only a profession, but a life perspective. “In the 1960s, the practice of landscape architecture as a civic engagement that addressed growing concern for the environment and cultural practices offered one of the most exciting opportunities in any design field,” Way writes.

Richard Haag teaching "Poetic Response." Drawing by Laurie Olin for the College of Architecture and Urban Planning yearbook, 1960-61 / Washington University Press

Richard Haag teaching “Poetic Response.” Drawing by Laurie Olin for the College of Architecture and Urban Planning yearbook, 1960-61 / University of Washington Press

Though Way states it was not necessarily her intention to celebrate Haag’s work, it is difficult not to celebrate a landscape architect who has made such significant contributions to the field. Of the many projects highlighted in the book – entire chapters are dedicated to Gas Works Park and Bloedel Reserve – some of the Haag’s more fascinating and less recognized contributions are his dedication to the Pacific Northwestern landscape and his use of landform as art.

With his interest and training in Japanese design, Haag was uniquely suited to practice in the Pacific Northwest where there was a Japanese character to both the architecture and landscape architecture. Haag has created hundreds of residential gardens in the Pacific Northwest from Seattle to Vancouver to Portland, Oregon. While these gardens are not only expressive of Pacific Northwestern regionalism, they are also reflective of Haag’s own design intentions. The result is an identity intrinsic to both the landscape and the designer. To say it another way: Haag was inspired by the Pacific Northwest, and the style we now consider pervasive there is undoubtedly Haag-inspired.

As fascinated as Haag was by the idea of public place as democratic space, the art of form-making with earth was of equal importance to him in its ability to shape spatial experience, ecological process, and convey infinite narratives. One of his most dramatic use of land forms before the great mound at Gas Works Park was at Jordan Park in Everett, Washington. Using five thousand cubic yards of sand from the recently dredged marina, Haag experimented with this remove-and-reuse process that he would later refine at Gas Works Park. Though the park was demolished in 2008 with the intention to develop the site for mixed residential use, its memory provides a replicable example of one of Haag’s most iconic design approaches: “One man’s waste is another man’s treasure.”

Richard Haag's Jordan Park in Everett, Washington / Washington University Press

Richard Haag’s Jordan Park in Everett, Washington / Washington University Press

Though his work is not entirely finished, his legacy is already well established. Even at 90, Haag still continues to practice in Seattle. His work continues to provide an alternative to a profession that often still struggles to move away from its perception as a “luxury-oriented practice of garden design.”

If anything, Haag’s thinking and experimentation related to remediation and reclamation will only become increasingly important to a post-industrial society, making this book, and a deeper consideration of his novel design thinking, a necessity for all landscape architects.

Read the book.

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