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urban

Urban Acupuncture / Island Press

Jaime Lerner, one of the most influential urban leaders of our time, has written down all of his hard-earned wisdom about the city in one slim yet rich volume, Urban Acupuncture: Celebrating Pinpricks of Change that Enrich City Life. This set of musings, a translation of the original Brazilian Portuguese book, pulls you in with its natural, intimate tone; it’s like you are sitting and having a conversation with Lerner over a glass of wine in a cafe. Lerner is an architect and urban designer who became mayor of the Brazilian city Curitiba, where he famously brought his practical yet innovative thinking to solve some tricky urban challenges. Along the way, he created bus rapid transit, devising a low-cost alternative to subway systems for developing world cities — and now increasingly, developed world ones, too. He came up with smart ways to clean up Curitiba’s bay, partnering with local fisherman in trash collection. He turned down the World Bank, with its offer of millions in loans, to find sustainable, home-grown solutions. With his many smart alternatives, he showed other cities how to do it right, themselves.

Lerner organizes his thoughts on the city with one central theme: urban acupuncture. He writes: “I have always nurtured the dream and hope that with the prick of a needle, diseases may be cured. The notion of restoring the vital signs of an ailing spot with a simple healing touch has everything to do with revitalizing not only that specific place but also the entire area that surrounds it.” He says “good medicine” depends on a good relationship between doctor and patient. In the same way, a healthy city depends on a good relationship between urban planners and designers and the city itself, another kind of living organism. Good urban planning can awaken a city to new possibilities, creating new life. But he cautions that it’s a process. Like medical acupuncture, which is rooted in an ancient Chinese medical philosophy that calls for a sustained, long-term preventive care, urban acupuncture takes time to create cures.

What are examples of good urban acupuncture? Lerner has traveled all over the world, carefully examining all types of pinpricks to determine their impact. These pinpricks can be buildings — like Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao but also landscapes, like the Park Guell, one of Gaudi’s masterpieces, in Barcelona.

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Bilbao Guggenheim / Karie and Scott blog

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Park Guell, Barcelona / Share the City

Size doesn’t really matter, either. “You can feel it at work in the smallest venues, like Paley Park in New York.”

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Paley Park, New York City / Wikipedia

Undoing previous damage to our urban landscape is another form of healing acupuncture. For example, taking out San Francisco freeway helped revitalize that city.

Lerner presents deceptively simple stories that reveal deeper wisdom about what makes good urban life. Brief case studies are just long enough to get you thinking in a new way. Most succeed. In one vignette, he writes: “I often say that New York should build a monument to the Unknown 24-hour Shopkeeper. This industrious group — many of them immigrants from Korea — has done the city an extraordinary service merely by keeping its grocery stores and sidewalk delicatessens open around the clock. These shops not only offer infinite shelves of merchandise but also enliven whole neighborhoods by literally lighting up countless dreary street corners.” He calls these shop owners the city’s “true lifeblood,” as they “pump oxygen into cities that must never be allowed to stop breathing.”

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Deli in NYC / Gawker

In the same vein, “street peddlers represent an institution as old as the city itself. Think of open-air markets. At a given hour, in a given neighborhood, street merchants go to work — often hours before the lights go on in traditional storefronts — and then vanish along with their wares and jerry-built booths, leaving hardly a trace.” Commerce is then kept alive day and night, which also makes streets feel safer.

Acupuncture need not be physical; it can be sensory, too, like music. “Think of Rio and you are likely to start humming ‘Copacabana,’ ‘Corcovado,’ ‘Girl from Ipanema,’ or ‘Cidade Maravilhosa.” Lerner says every city should aspire to have a song. “When a distinct song or beat takes hold of a city’s or country’s identity, then good acupuncture is at work. It has echoes in everyday living, like improvised tapping on a matchbox at a street bar in Rio, the beat of drum on the sidewalk in Bahia, or hip-hop gushing from giant boom boxes in the streets of New York.” Does your city have a song everyone knows? If not, why not?

He also points out where cities have gone astray and offers his take on how to fix these problems, using simple, common sense steps. For example, in Santiago de Cali, Colombia, he decries the destruction of the city’s identity amid “outsized avenues.” “Just to cross them, you’ll find yourself huffing up and over suspended pedestrian bridges.” Here, he argues, “good acupuncture means building things smaller and stepping aside to give way to the simple beauties of nature, like the handsome river or the caressing wind.” Those big avenues break up street life, creating tears in the urban fabric.

Gaps in the city can also kill street life. For Lerner, so many urban problems are caused by a “lack of continuity.” He points to a sad “city pocked with lifeless suburbs or tracts of urban real estate devoid of housing.” These places are just as skewed as those with “abandoned lots and ramshackle buildings.” Cities must fill in these voids, even with temporary structures. One of his strongest statements: “continuity is life.”

While he touches on so much, Lerner’s message seems to be healthy street life is central to the city. Without it, the city dies. He argues: “good acupuncture is about drawing people out to the streets and creating meeting places. Mainly, it is about helping the city become a catalyst of interactions between people.” And so, “the more cities are understood to be the integration of functions — bringing together rich and poor, the elderly and the young — the more meeting places they will create and the livelier they will become.” Here, the role of landscape architects can’t be understated. “The design of public space is important.” He goes into detail about what kinds of parks, plazas, and squares work best.

My only minor complaint with this insightful book is the sometimes mismatched text and images. We want to see the scenes Lerner gushes over. While some images speak to the scenes described in the book, some don’t. A more careful approach to images and layout would have further strengthened one of the most intriguing recent books on the city.

Read the book and an ASLA interview with Lerner.

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11th Street Bridge Park Final Design Proposal / Balmori Associates / Cooper, Robertson & Partners

Six months ago, an exciting national design competition was launched for the 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, D.C. Expected to cost upwards of $40 million, the new bridge park will run 900 feet over the foundation of an old freeway spanning the Anacostia River, connecting historic Capitol Hill and Anacostia neighborhoods and creating a new venue for “healthy recreation, environmental education, and the arts.” The organizers say this new park will benefit 80,000 people in the immediate neighborhoods and hundreds of thousands more throughout the district. It may also help boost efforts to further clean-up the sewage-filled Anacostia River, which is still unsafe to swim in, and restore more of the moribund river ecosystem.

Four design teams comprised of landscape architects, architects, and engineers have spent all summer creating new visions for this park, which will displayed publicly in multiple locations in the district over the next month. The four teams selected by the jury include:

  • Balmori Associates / Cooper, Robertson & Partners
  • OLIN / OMA
  • Stoss Landscape Urbanism / Höweler + Yoon Architecture
  • Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) / NEXT Architects / Magnusson Klemencic Associates

Scott Kratz, 11th Street Bridge Park Director, whose dedication is really what’s making this amazing park happen, said: “The variety among the different renderings is really quite remarkable. With these stunning and thoughtful designs, each team transformed community-inspired ideas into a Bridge Park that will quickly become a destination for residents and tourists alike.”

The designs propose creative solutions for solving tricky access problems. They all enable a mix of uses as well, with informal lawns and gathering spaces, restaurants, amphitheaters for events or concerts, playgrounds, and opportunities to just be immersed in the Anacostia River environment, which is slowly being restored. Each proposal also extends the experience past the bridge into the surrounding riverfronts, creating extensive parks, boardwalks, and boating facilities.

Here are brief accounts of each of the original proposals; titles link to the full exhibition boards:

Balmori Associates / Cooper, Robertson & Partners (see image above)

Balmori Associates and Cooper, Robertson & Partners aim to create a bridge park with a “clasp” at the center, one swelling biomorphic form that mirrors rounded shapes on either river bank. There are many reasons behind this form: “First and foremost, it creates a grand place where diverse communities can unite above the river and celebrate their shared interests. Second, its width creates the capacity to host great events and everyday life experiences simultaneously. Third, maximizing the distance that people can get from the existing 11th Street Bridge allows people to more fully engage and experience the edge of Bridge Park and the Anacostia River.”

Parts of the bridge would be open “apertures,” enabling people on the bridge a close-up view of the Anacostia River below. This design offers a new look at the local ecosystem, perhaps even an immersion in riparian nature. There are well thought-out connections between the proposed nature experience on the bridge and the surrounding communities as well.

OLIN / OMA

The OLIN and OMA team write: “Paths from each side of the river operate as springboards — sloped ramps that elevate visitors to look-out points to landmarks in either direction. Extending over the river, the Anacostia paths join to form a loop, embracing the path from the Navy Yard side and linking the opposing banks in a single gesture. The resulting form of the bridge creates an iconic encounter, an ‘X’ instantly recognizable as a new image for the river.”

Along the X-shaped park are a series of rectilinear rooms that separate out uses — from an amphitheater and public art park, to a restaurant and educational center. This team creates multiple levels, with an added upper deck where they propose an eye-catching waterfall. There is also a careful integration between the bridge and surrounding areas, with multiple human-scale paths leading from the riverfront on either side.

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11th Street Bridge Park Final Design Proposal / OLIN and OMA

Stoss Landscape Urbanism / Höweler + Yoon Architecture

Stoss Landscape Urbanism and Höweler + Yoon Architecture write: “Our proposal for the 11th Street Bridge Park puts in place a new crossing, one that establishes new connections across and to the Anacostia River and to the burgeoning and socially / culturally rich neighborhoods along its banks. The Crossing is a new place of convergence, of congregation, of cross-breeding. It is an incubator for social and community and civic life, and a model for building healthy bodies, healthy neighborhoods, and a healthy river environment.”

Their proposal offers a “flexible, adaptive” approach, with opportunities for healthy exercise and even food production spread throughout the new infrastructure. Their proposal has fewer defined zones; everything is mixed. This team makes a point of saying their proposal could be re-arranged depending on community input. Along the pier they propose new floating gardens accessible via angular decks that jut out into the Anacostia.

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11th Street Bridge Park Final Design Proposal / Stoss Landscape Urbanism / Höweler + Yoon Architecture

Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) / NEXT Architects / Magnusson Klemencic Associates

Lastly, the WRT, Next, and Magnuson Klemencic team writes: “Anacostia Landing is the operative term that encapsulates the project goals. We take it to mean a great river park with a standout bridge, a place so distinctive that people will simply say “let’s go to the Anacostia!” anticipating hours of play, relaxation, eating, boating, learning about history, ecology and health; and otherwise enjoying art, theater, music, and performances on both sides of the river, gathering above it, or floating on its waters.”

They propose creating a “spiral and a funnel,” which will shape the structure of their bridge park and how visitors will access it. On one side, visitors will access the elevated park through a spiral staircase, taking them up into the upper decks. They will then move through the funnel into the expansive park, which offers lawns, an amphitheater, and a “fountain square” designed for kids. At the waterfront, they propose “curated ecologies,” with mussel beds to explore.

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11th Street Bridge Park Final Design Proposal / Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) / NEXT Architects / Magnusson Klemencic Associates

Learn more about the final designs and then submit your vote, which will help the judges. The winning team will be announced on October 16.

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A new design competition will transform San Francisco’s Market Street into a “public platform” for three days in April 2015, showcasing 50 innovative ways to further improve this iconic civic space. According to the organizers, the Prototyping Festival will invite diverse designers to interact with the equally as diverse communities around the street to create a “more connected” San Francisco. The festival is organized by the San Francisco Planning Department, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Knight Foundation.

The organizers write: “We are looking for projects that encourage activity where people linger, socialize and spend time while simultaneously reflecting the district in which they exist. We also want projects that identify Market Street as uniquely San Francisco, creating an experience of the city’s history, diversity, environmental commitment, and leadership in cultural creativity and technological innovation.”

The idea for this project came out extensive community feedback gathered through the city’s Better Market Street project. San Franciscans said loud and clear that they wanted a “more vibrant and positive experience,” so the city has responded with a commitment to both redesign sidewalks and create “street life zones,” which competition winners will be asked to create with the community. The 50 projects will be spread along a 2-mile stretch between Market Street at the Embarcadero all the way to Van Ness Avenue.

Any person, business, or organization can submit a prototype or model. See some examples of what the organizers are looking for. Winning teams will receive a $2,000 stipend.

Submit your ideas by October 10.

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ASLA 2011 Professional General Design Honor Award. Central Wharf Plaza by Reed Hilderbrand / Charles Mayer Photography

Do sustainable landscapes live up to the lofty goals promised by landscape architects? How can we know? I am investigating this with University of Oregon professor Chris Enright in the department of landscape architecture and professor Yizhao Yang in the department of planning. I want to understand the role of post-occupancy evaluation (POE) in the field of landscape architecture. Though environmental, social, and economic performance goals are often identified during planning and design stages of landscape projects, most lack effective post-construction monitoring and observation to determine if — and how well — project’s design goals are being met.

Evidence-based design has gained more attention since the International Federation of Landscape (IFLA), the ASLA, and Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) identified the topic as a research priority. The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF)’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) program—born out of a need to encourage and support design firms in assessing the performance of sustainable landscape projects—is now in its fourth year. And now many leading firms are increasingly investing in in-house research on performance. Yet little is known about perceptions of POE within the profession as a whole.

So I invite landscape architects and others interested in landscape performance to participate in my study by taking a brief survey. I will report back the findings of this survey on The Dirt.

As a second part of my research, I will examine Facilitated Volunteer Geographic Information (F-VGI) as a tool for POE by comparing it with traditional approaches like direct observation and intercept surveys. I want to see how well-suited F-VGI is for post-occupancy landscape performance analysis. This technology increases the capacity for analysis by crowd sourcing data collection to users. The process is also relatively low cost, offers the opportunity for longitudinal study, and could be more objective than traditional methods, since there is less chance for bias from volunteers.

Using a project by landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand, Central Wharf Plaza in Boston, I am developing a framework for using F-VGI to evaluate landscape performance. I chose this project because it already established social, economic, and environmental performance goals and baseline data. It’s a high-traffic, urban site with a public audience. Central Wharf Plaza has a simple but clearly defined program, and it’s small enough in size for a person to objectively evaluate the whole site.

This guest post is by Andrew Louw, a graduate student at the University of Oregon.

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green

ASLA 2012 General Design Award of Excellence. A Green Sponge for a Water-Resilient City: Qunli Stormwater Park. Haerbin City, Heilongjiang Province, China. Turenscape and Peking University, Beijing

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has launched a guide to explain the many benefits of “green infrastructure” — designed systems that harness nature to create proven benefits for communities and the environment.

Green infrastructure includes park systems, urban forests, wildlife habitat and corridors, and green roofs and green walls. These infrastructure systems protect communities against flooding or excessive heat, or help to improve air and water quality, which underpin human and environmental health.

The idea that nature is also infrastructure isn’t new, but it’s now more widely understood to be true, according to Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA. Researchers are amassing a body of evidence to prove that green infrastructure actually works: these systems are often more cost-effective than outmoded models of grey infrastructure—a term used for the concrete tunnels created to move water—and also provide far more benefits for both people and the environment.

“At all scales, green infrastructure provides real ecological, economic, and social benefits,” added Somerville. “Cities need as much green infrastructure as possible, and landscape architects are implementing it in communities across the country.”

Here are just some of the many benefits that these systems provide all at once: green infrastructure absorbs and sequesters atmospheric carbon dioxide (C02); filters air and water pollutants; stabilizes soil to prevent or reduce erosion; provides wildlife habitat; decreases solar heat gain; lowers the public cost of stormwater management infrastructure and provides flood control; and reduces energy usage through passive heating and cooling. In contrast, grey infrastructure usually provides just a single benefit.

The guide, part of ASLA’s series of sustainable design resource guides and toolkits, includes hundreds of research studies by leading scientists, news articles, and case studies on innovative uses of green infrastructure.

Resources are organized into seven sections that go from large scale (the region, the city) to the small scale (constructed wetlands, green streets, and green roofs and walls). Specifically, there are sections on forests & nature preserves; wildlife habitat & corridors; cities; constructed wetlands; green streets; and green roofs & walls. There are descriptions of the many types of green infrastructure, their quantifiable benefits, and the role of landscape architects in creating these systems.

For example, in the section on cities, there are two powerful examples showing the benefits of green infrastructure:

In Philadelphia, a comprehensive green infrastructure approach is estimated to cost just $1.2 billion over the next 25 years, compared to over $6 billion for “grey” infrastructure. The city is expecting up to 1.5 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emission to be avoided or absorbed through green infrastructure each year, the equivalent of removing close to 3,400 vehicles from roadways. The city estimates 20 deaths due to asthma will be avoided, and 250 fewer work or school days will be missed. Lastly, the economic benefits are also outstanding: the new greenery will increase property values by $390 million over 45 years, also boosting the property taxes the city takes in.

New York City’s green infrastructure plan is projected to cost $1.5 billion less than a comparable grey infrastructure approach. Green stormwater management systems alone will save $1 billion, at a cost of about $0.15 less per gallon. Also, sustainability benefits in NYC range from $139-418 million over the 20 year life of the project, depending on measures implemented. The plan estimates that “every fully vegetated acre of green infrastructure would provide total annual benefits of $8.5 in reduced energy demand, $166 in reduced CO2 emissions, $1,044 in improved air quality, and $4,725 in increased property value.”

Landscape architects were deeply involved in the creation and management of these visionary plans. Many more contribute to making these plans a reality by planning and designing urban forests, parks, and green roofs and walls.

Explore the guide.

This guide is a living resource, so the public is invited to submit additional research studies, news articles, and case studies. Please e-mail them to ASLA at info@asla.org

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lucas

Site of Future Lucas Museum of Narrative Art / The Architect’s Newspaper

An Award-Winning Landscape Embraces Bay Views – Houzz, August 2014
“Landscape architect Scott Lewis repeats the sentiments of many architects and designers talking about their projects when he says that his favorite part of this project was witnessing its transformation. ‘I know what it looked like before,’ he says.”

Placemaking Done Right: Three Successful Approaches Planetizen, 8/19/14
“It is often hard to quantify what makes a place memorable, successful or special, but to paraphrase an old adage, ‘You know it when you see it.'”

Hollywood’s Freeway Cap Park Begins Environmental Review ProcessThe Architect’s Newspaper, 8/25/14
“The city of Los Angeles is now preparing an environmental impact report for the project. The park, located about four miles northwest of Downtown LA and about 500 feet north of the 101′s Hollywood Boulevard overpass, would be built on an engineered deck over the freeway.”

Landscape Architecture Makes Nashville a Better Place to Live  The Tenneseean, 8/26/14
“Developers that value landscape architecture are developers that value Nashville’s residents and communities.”

Can a Park Jumpstart a Neighborhood? The Boston Globe, 8/26/14
“The Lawn on D, a new temporary park at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, sits in what might seem like a bizarre spot to build a new outdoor space. It runs along a weird stretch of no-man’s-land on D Street in South Boston.”

Return of the JediThe Architect’s Newspaper, 8/28/14
“Pursued by both San Francisco and Los Angeles, George Lucas ultimately chose Chicago for his Museum of Narrative Art, an archive for the Hollywood icon’s extensive collection of movie memorabilia and modern art.”

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Mia Lehrer / Metropolis

Mia Lehrer & the L.A. River – Metropolis, August 2014
“Defining large swaths of the city, it is perhaps the best lens through which to understand how Lehrer works … Her version of landscape architecture is more like alchemy, addressing landscape in a deeper, social sense.”

Will Toronto’s Ambitious Push to Grow its Urban Canopy Pay Off? – The Globe and Mail, 8/8/14
“The urban forest is an important part of the city’s identity, and city hall has made a formal commitment to increasing the number of trees – citing their environmental benefits as well as their positive impact on the city’s streetscapes.”

Do Evolving Neighborhoods Mean Dissolving Communities? Planetizen, 8/11/14
“As societal mores have loosened up and people become more willing to live next door to those who are different from them, these neighborhoods have come to seem less exotic and more desirable. In a certain way, places like Capitol Hill have become victims of their own success.”

New Queens Public Plaza Shows Public Space Doesn’t Take All That Much – The Architect’s Newspaper, 8/13/14
“Frankly, there’s not all that much to it – save for a new sidewalk, some planters, and a handful of bright bistro tables and chairs. But here’s what Bliss Plaza does have: People. And that’s the key.”

Geograph’s Quixotic Effort To Get Photos Of Every Square Kilometer Of Great Britain And Ireland FiveThirtyEight, 8/15/14
“Smartphone and digital-camera owners are collectively carrying out a worldwide data-collection task: photographing every nook and cranny of the world.”

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Shoreline green infrastructure at the new Water Institute Campus in Baton Rouge / Voorsanger Architects

At a lecture on resilient waterfront design at the Center for Architecture in New York, two projects now in the works show how public spaces can still be created on shorelines, even in the era of the monster storm: the Water Institute Headquarters, Research, and Interpretive Center proposal in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by SuperMass Studio; and the Rockaways Boardwalk Reconstruction Plan in Queens, New York, from CH2M HILL, with the RBA Group and WXY. Both use green buffers to protect the shoreline and add biodiversity, but are designed to ensure easy public access.

Baton Rouge has had their share of storm events, but new shoreline green infrastructure could help mitigate the impacts of future ones. Taewook Cha, ASLA, founding principal of SuperMass Studio, presented their landscape plan for the Water Institute. Built on the old city dock, the main campus building will be parallel to the main circulation corridor between the dock and city center. This orientation creates a physical and symbolic connection to the Mississippi River.

WI-Building

The Water Institute’s Headquarters is oriented parallel to the main thoroughfare to maintain public connection to the waterfront / Voorsanger Architects

Along the opposite side of the throughway, SuperMass will recreate six distinct coastal-riparian ecosystems: coastal wetland, floodplain forest, wet meadow, shallow marsh, upper prairie, and backwater marsh.

WI-Section-2

WI-Section-1 Diverse coastal ecosystems on the Mississippi shoreline / SuperMass Studios

These constructed ecosystems will provide a range of services. They will protect the shoreline and structures, stabilize the banks, help restore the ridges, divert sediment, and enable the creation of new marshes and channels. These new systems will provide stormwater and flood management while creating new wildlife habitat.

At Rockaways beach in New York, the devastation of Hurricane Sandy is still fresh; the community won’t soon forget. The old wooden boardwalk there was torn apart by storm surges that turned the wooden planks into destructive projectiles that destroyed homes along the shoreline. In response, the New York City Parks and the Department of Design and Construction have rebuilt areas with concentrated amenities, and then filled in the stretches along the five-mile long shoreline. Future boardwalks will be made from concrete and recycled plastic lumber so they don’t splinter. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging sand from the ocean floor to build massive sand berms between homes, boardwalk, and beaches to protect the community from the next Sandy.

Boardwalk-Devastation

Boardwalk Devastation / Chang W. Lee via New York Times

The challenge, said Jackson Wandres, director of landscape architecture and planning at the RBA Group, was to create a new boardwalk that was not only structurally sound but also maintained the public space and beach access of the old boardwalk. To accomplish this, RBA Group proposed rebuilding the boardwalk along its original route, but raising it up between three and eight feet, as appropriate, to match the height of the Army Corps berms. In essence: “one giant earthwork with a giant public esplanade running along top of it – that’s the public open space we’re creating.”

Ecologically-appropriate vegetation will be planted both along the boardwalk and the berms themselves. In addition, concrete pavers, designed with a neat wave pattern that made the audience say “whoa!,” will allow bike access for the first time. Ramps will allow beach access over and down the berms. The project will be built over the next two years with federal funds, at a cost of somewhere between $200 and $260 million.

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Wave pattern in the concrete pavers / RBA Group

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Ramps from the boardwalk allow beach access / RBA Group

Should another storm surge hit Rockaways hard, much of the sand will again be wiped out. But the boardwalk is high enough above the surge line that sand will be swept out from under it. The concrete infrastructure should be left intact, avoiding the projectile damage caused during Sandy.

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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aerial penn ave

Pennsylvania Avenue today / National Capital Planning Commission

Pennsylvania Avenue has one of the nation’s most famous addresses – The White House, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It forms a physical and symbolic connection between that address, which represents the president and the executive branch, and the people, represented by the U.S. Capitol building. But beyond this, what is the role of the avenue for both the District and nation in the 21st century? What does the avenue say to the rest of the nation and the world?

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) wanted participants to answer these questions at its first public workshop on the Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative. In partnership with the General Services Administration and the National Park Service, the initiative will “develop a vision for how the avenue can meet local and national needs in a 21st century capital city.”

The workshop began with opening remarks from Elizabeth Miller, FASLA, NCPC. Miller noted the avenue’s dual role as not only a national symbol but also a place where people visit, work, and live. Recognizing and celebrating this dual role is one of the challenges the initiative faces as it crafts a vision to guide the next thirty to forty years.

Sarah Moulton at NCPC then presented some history. In particular, she noted the accomplishments of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation (PADC), which helped turn the avenue around, after its post-WWII decline. PADC was dissolved in 1996.

1962 street car line

1962 was the final year street cars ran up and down Pennsylvania Avenue / National Capital Planning Commission

Without a single voice advocating for the avenue, the street today is in a bit of a slump, showing wear and tear from increased use. It’s aging infrastructure. Its deterioration may have arisen out of the jurisdictional challenges stemming from the multiple agencies responsible for planning, designing, and maintaining various areas along the avenue.

Jurisdiction issues are one of the existing challenges for Pennsylvania Avenue

Jurisdiction issues are one of the existing challenges for Pennsylvania Avenue / National Capital Planning Commission

But change along the avenue is already underway, for good or bad. The old post office is being redeveloped as a Trump conference center and hotel; the FBI is looking into possible relocation; private redevelopment is in the works for E Street; and efforts are underway to redesign historic Pershing Park as a new national WWI memorial.

Following the presentation, participants were invited to visit stations around the room, which included a gallery of posters showing comparably prominent streets in capital cities around the world. Some stations sought participants’ feedback on their visions for the future.

For example, one poster asked, “What is the role of Pennsylvania Avenue in 2040?” Responses included:

  • “The city – one great public space; iconic, walkable, wayfinding (take that tourists!)”
  • “An iconic image of Main Street USA – people, interactivity, heritage”
  • “Should be the horizontal guidepost to the Washington Monument’s vertical”
public workshop big and little ideas

Ideas from the public workshop / National Capital Planning Commission

The initiative intends to address four central issues: operations and maintenance; governance; program and animation; and planning, design, and economic health. This last issue encompasses everything from security for federal buildings to sustainable design practices, from safe transportation routes to the needs of the residential community. At the heart of all of this is ensuring economic vitality, said Moulton.

NCPC is starting a robust public outreach effort, with this initial public workshop just the beginning. To submit your thoughts, e-mail NCPC at PennAve@ncpc.gov; visit their website; or  tweet with the hashtag #MyPennAve.

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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60

What Makes a City Great? / Sasaki Associates

A new survey commissioned by planning and design firm Sasaki Associates asked 1,000 urbanites in San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. what they love most about their city. The findings, which cover diverse aspects of city life, offer truly fascinating insights for urban planners, landscape architects, and architects. One example: 60 percent of residents of these cities say they will still be in the city five years from now. Here are some other highlights.

What do urbanites love most about their cities? 

More than 40 percent cited the restaurants and food; while 32 percent said local attractions; 24 percent said historic places and landmarks; 21 percent said cultural offerings; 17 percent said parks and public spaces; and 16 percent said fairs and festivals. Some 15 percent said “the people,” while another 10 percent said they like the architecture the most, and 9 percent said the local sports scene.

And when asked, “what would get you out of your neighborhood?,” the findings are largely consistent with preferences listed above: 46 would venture out for a new restaurant; 25 percent would travel for a new store; 24 percent for a new cultural event; while just 18 percent would schlep to check out a new park or green space.

Where do urbanites’ favorite experiences happen?

While only 18 percent will travel across town for a new park, interestingly, a majority of people (65 percent) remember their favorite city experience taking place outdoors — either in a park or on a street. (A minority [just 22 percent] said their favorite experience happened in a building).

Of outdoor spaces, 47 percent say waterfronts are their favorite. Another 31 prefer large open parks, while 14 percent prefer small urban spaces, and 8 percent love their city’s trail system the most.

So where should cities make future investment in parks and open space? “41 percent support investment in making the waterfront more accessible and appealing; 40 percent would like to see more large parks that support both passive and adventurous activities; 37 percent wish their cities would make streets more pedestrian/bike friendly; 36 percent support adding outdoor music and entertainment venues; and 31 percent desire more small urban parks.”

What makes a city’s buildings iconic?

Some 36 percent said the historic nature of the building, while 30 percent said “great architecture,” and another 24 percent said a building’s “unique design.” A majority (57 percent) will stop and look at a historic building, while just 19 percent will do the same for a modern one.

What do urbanites like least about getting around in cities?

More than 40 percent said there’s “too much traffic,” while 23 percent cited the lack of parking. Some 14 percent said public transportation is not up to par, and 9 percent said biking is dangerous. Another 7 percent pointed to things being “too spread out,” while another 7 percent complained that sidewalks are too crowded.

These complaints reveal how Americans, even urbanites, get around: 58 percent use cars frequently, while 29 percent use public transportation. Another 10 percent try to walk everywhere and just 2 percent use bikes.

Surveys like Sasaki’s are important. We need to attract as many people as possible to cities, because urban life is central to a more sustainable future. In cities, per-capita carbon emissions and energy and water use are all much lower. But beyond the metrics, cities can just be great places if they are designed to be livable and beautiful, filled with outdoor spaces, historic buildings, and efficient transportation systems.

In keeping with Sasaki’s multidisciplinary approach, the team who put together the survey is comprised of a planner, landscape architect (Gina Ford, ASLA), and an architect, as it should be when dealing with all things related to our built environment.

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