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Archive for the ‘Public Spaces’ Category

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A’Beckett Square / © John Gollings

Typically, pop-up parks tend to be fairly small — just a thousand square feet, if that — but a few noteworthy ones show temporary places can be super-sized, too. In Melbourne, Australia, RMIT University turned a 30,000-square-foot parking lot into a vibrant community space for a game of pick-up basketball or just hanging out. Designed by Peter Elliott Architecture + Urban Design, A’Beckett Urban Square shows the amazing potential of really any empty urban parking lot. At a cost of $1.2 million Australian dollars ($970,000 U.S.), the park is not cheap, but still less than a more fully-realized, permanent park.

The designers told Landezine RMIT students and local residents can now take advantage of a multi-use sports court set up for basketball and volleyball and surrounded by spectator seating.

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A’Beckett Square / © John Gollings

Around the perimeter, there are ping-pong tables, BBQs, and bike parking. Colors help differentiate the sports zone from the areas designed for hanging out.  Throughout, WiFi is available, another draw.

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A’Beckett Square / © John Gollings

To keep the costs down, there aren’t any trees — but the design team bring a sense of green in other ways. One part of the pop-up park has astroturf dotted with planters filled with small trees and bushes.

And along two walls, the university commissioned a work by Melbourne artist Ash Keating meant to evoke an “urban forest and desert landscape.” Two panels of green paint represent the forest, while another red and orange panel, the desert. To not contaminate the environment, Keating used airless spray from “pressurized, paint-filled fire extinguishers.”

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A’Beckett Square / © John Gollings

Peter Elliot Architecture + Urban Design wrote: “Typically ‘pop-ups’ occupy leftover and underutilised spaces through the use of recycled materials and the clever adaption of everyday found objects. They are often gritty spaces that are curated rather than designed. A’Beckett Urban Square was conceived as a piece of urban theatre carved out of the surrounding city. The design approach was purposefully lean, developing upon the idea of a temporary and demountable installation.”

Pop-up parks are also getting bigger in the U.S. though, too. In Washington, D.C., the no-frills but still appealing Half Street Fairgrounds, which is modeled after the Dekalb Market in Brooklyn, New York, and started as a spill-over space for Washington Nationals games, is now home to Truckeroo, a food truck festival and musical events. This space, which also started out as a parking lot, is really just a place to hang out though, without the full range of features that A’Beckett Urban Square has.

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Half Street Fairgrounds / Move for Hunger

And in Philadelphia, there’s the Spruce Street Harbor Park, which is an estimated 7,000 square feet.

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Spruce Street Harbor Market / Jump Philly

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Spruce Street Harbor Park / Gallery Hip

An urban beach with hammocks, it really takes advantage of its Delaware River setting. It’s also home to food trucks galore.

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Russell Square, London / Ali Amir Moayed.com

“Just as all parts of an ecosystem must be healthy if the system is going to work,” an environment for people — a “people habitat” — must have “homes, shops, businesses, and an environment that fit in a harmonious way,” said urban thinker and author F. Kaid Benfield at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. For the past 50 years, “we have not been living in harmony with our environment.” To undo the damage, Benfield proposes a wiser approach, set out in his new book People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities. He covered a few ways to achieve these healthy environments in his talk:

Focus on Regions and Neighborhoods, Not Cities: Regions, Benfield argues, actually define the way we live today. Cities extend far beyond their jurisdictional boundaries. For example, “the functional region of Atlanta is 12 times the size of the city of Atlanta.” Only city governments and cartographers care about boundaries. “The environment, commerce, transportation, and people all cross borders.”

Neighborhoods, at the other end of the spectrum, are the center of people habitats and the agents of change on the ground, as they are where people spend much of their time.

Create Walkable Places: “Americans don’t walk much, and I don’t blame them.” Among a list of 20 plus developed countries, America ranks dead last in the amount they walk. Just 26 percent of Americans want often or sometimes. In 1969, Benfield says 48 percent of children walked to school; in 2009, it’s just 13 percent. There’s are many reasons for this, but the built environment is a major culprit.

Think of all those cul-de-sac neighborhoods designed for cars, or strip malls without sidewalks or crosswalks. There, people take their own lives into their hands going out for a walk. Why don’t kids walk anymore? It’s because so many suburban schools are now “bigger than Disneyland,” isolated and disconnected. Showing photos of the typical suburban school, Benfield wondered if it was a school, mall, or prison.

The death of walking has had negative ripple effects as well: It’s no surprise that places where you cannot walk face an epidemic of obesity. “Weight-related diseases are connected to a lack of walkable environments.” Today, many states’ obesity rates top 30 percent.

Integrate Nature into Cities: Benfield believes in the power of urban parks, particularly small neighborhood parks, to improve the health of a community. As an example, he pointed to Russell Square park in London (see image above), which is “big enough so you known you are in nature, but small enough so you know you are in a city.” He strongly believes that “bringing the function and beauty of nature into a neighborhood” has many positive benefits, including a boost in our health and well-being. “When we are immersed in nature, our blood pressure goes down and our mental acuity increases.”

Consider the Whole System of Energy Use and Emissions: “What is called green development in many places really isn’t green.” When examining the sustainability of a residential development, for example, we need to look at that development’s energy use and carbon expenditures vs. the amount of energy used and carbon expended by transportation getting to and from that place.

Using Prairie Ridge, a “net-zero development” outside Chicago, Benfield showed how the use of the term “net-zero” there is a misnomer because the community failed to consider the whole system of energy use and carbon emissions. While the development may produce as much energy as it consumes, its residents are expending huge amounts of energy and creating a lot of pollution getting there. This is because Prairie Ridge’s Walk score is literally zero. “It’s next to a corn field.” Residents of Prairie Ridge expend four times the amount of carbon as those in downtown Chicago.

For city after city, Benfield showed how different the carbon profile of people can be depending on where they live. “If you are living on the fringe of a city, you are driving longer distances.” In contrast, people living downtown are putting far less carbon into the atmosphere getting around.

Preserve the “Continuity of Places”: “If a place has a sense of continuity, it has a calming, reassuring effect.” In contrast, a place without it can be jarring, “disorientating.” Places treated with respect are the result of a slow accrual of layers, carefully thought out so they fit into a harmonious whole. These kinds of places spur “cultural engagement,” they invite us to “use our imaginations.” And they are the places with the most “civic vitality.” They are mixed-use and feature building of different sizes and ages.

On a related theme, Benfield argued that preserving the continuity of old buildings is also important: “the greenest building is the one already built.” Even replacing an inefficient older building filled with embedded energy with a new “green building” means starting at zero with carbon emissions. “It will take years for the new building to make up for the carbon emissions.” Benfield argued that “we have forgotten about the energy efficiency of thick old walls, solar orientation, windows, air, the basic principles. Now, it’s about gizmo green.”

Take Advantage of the Future Trends Here Now: “The future will be different from the past.” To be successful, communities need to take advantage of some emerging trends. First, cities are sprawling less today. “Greenfield development peaked in the 90s.” Second, Millennials prefer to live in the core of cities twice as much as other generations. Some 2/3 want walkable places, even in suburbs. “They value density, connectivity, and convenient access to jobs.” Third, people are driving less. The vehicle miles traveled per person per year has been falling since 2005 and staying down. Today, 46 percent of 18-year-olds don’t have a driver’s license. The miles driven by 16-34-year-olds has also fallen 40 percent in the past decade. Lastly, among all generations, bicycle use is up 24 percent and walking 16 percent.

Invest in Lovable Places: “People will take care of places they love, which makes them sustainable” (read more on this). Lovable places can be complex, like Quincy Market in Boston, or simple, like a small street cafe in Barcelona. They can be old or modern, but lovable places — like the French Quarter in New Orleans — always have culture. While many in the smart growth movement have focused solely on density and connectivity, Benfield argued that these projects ultimately fail because “they are not great places.” Great places need green spaces to attract people. “We can have both compact development and green spaces together. We can have it both ways.”

Read People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities.

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The Greenway would help make the Brooklyn waterfront more resilient - We Design / The Architect's Newspaper

The Greenway would help make the Brooklyn waterfront more resilient – We Design / The Architect’s Newspaper

Rethinking the WaterfrontThe Architect’s Newspaper, 2/17/15
“Earlier this month Brooklyn Borough president Eric Adams announced the release of Stormwater Infrastructure Design Guidelines, which have the potential to generate exemplary landscape design and benefit all of New York City. The Design Guidelines propose to integrate green infrastructure techniques with a 14-mile continuous corridor for bicycles and pedestrians along the Brooklyn waterfront.”

Plan for Obama Library in Chicago Must Respect Frederick Law Olmsted ParksThe Chicago Tribune, 2/21/15
“Maybe it’s time to erect temporary, ‘proceed with caution’ signs at the entrances to Chicago’s Jackson and Washington parks. The signs would be directed not at drivers, but at President Barack and Michelle Obama, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Barack Obama Foundation.”

Survey Open to Help Residents Choose St. Pete Pier DesignThe St. Petersburg Tribune, 2/23/15
“For the next two weeks, city residents may join in a survey to rank the seven remaining proposals to redesign the Pier and the iconic inverted pyramid that has anchored its far end since 1973. The Pier Selection Committee will use the survey rankings and send the top three design choices to Mayor Rick Kriseman and the City Council for final selection.”

Tour Philly’s Future Reading Viaduct with the Designers Behind the Visionary Linear ParkThe Architect’s Newspaper, 2/23/15
“We begin with a tour of Philadelphia’s Reading Viaduct, an abandoned rail line that advocates hope to transform into an elevated park, a grittier take on Manhattan’s celebrated High Line. With the city and state pledging millions toward the project, the Viaduct park is moving closer to reality.”

Canadian “Freezeway” Could Let Residents Skate to WorkBBC, 2/23/15
“With an average temperature of -12C (9.5F) in the heart of winter, and home to seven city-owned outdoor skating rinks, Edmonton, Alberta is no stranger to the cold. Unlike other cities in the US and Canada that have banned activities such as tobogganing because of insurance costs, Edmonton has no such laws.”

“Lost Gardens” of New England Unearths Forgotten GemsThe CT Post, 2/25/15
“New England’s great gardens always have been linked to the value of the land from which they spring. Many have been subdivided for building and housing developments or paved over for parking lots. The region’s rich garden-design history is the subject of ‘Lost Gardens of New England,’ a traveling exhibition from the nonprofit Historic New England preservation organization.”

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Schuylkill River Dog Park / FSRP.org

“Many people think parks are easy, but parks are one of the hardest things for governments to do because of the physical and human aspects,” explained Peter Harnik, Hon. ASLA, director of The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence, while introducing a panel of experts at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Baltimore. The complex undertaking of how to best to create and maintain parks — for both governments and non-profits — is a thread that connected all speakers.

Mark A. Focht, FASLA, first deputy commissioner of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and former president of ASLA, gave an overview of the amazing progress made in Philadelphia’s expansive park system over the past few years. Some 80 percent of the city’s residents are already meeting Mayor Michael Nutter’s “goal of everyone being within a ten-minute walk away from a park.” Examples of recently built green spaces and amenities that help the parks department to reach all city residents include Paine’s Park, a skate park and public space; the Schuylkill River Dog Park; and the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk.

As part of Philadelphia’s innovative, 25-year Green City Clean Waters plan, the parks department has also “made strategic investments to stabilize, improve, and green existing recreation centers and playgrounds.” It also is implementing green infrastructure for innovative stormwater management in existing neighborhood parks and bringing “high-quality amenities” like trail systems to communities.

Baltimore residents Stephanie Murdock and Jennifer Robinson described how non-profits — not the city government — are leading a resurgence in Baltimore’s parks, helping to make the city more livable. Murdock, the president of Skatepark of Baltimore, talked about her non-profit’s ten-year journey to build a public, concrete, destination skatepark in Baltimore. The first phase – a 5,000 square-feet concrete bowl — was completed last May in Roosevelt Park, a late-nineteenth century park in the Hampden neighborhood.

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Skatepark of Baltimore / Explore Baltimore County

“For a young person in Baltimore to have a place where they can be free, that’s huge,” said Murdock. She told the audience the skatepark will soon add more “shade, seating, walkways, and restrooms” so that all members of the community can enjoy the space.

Robinson, the director of Friends of Patterson Park, another park in southeast Baltimore, said her non-profit’s efforts showed her that “parks become very personal for the people who use them.” Her non-profit is transforming the once-neglected Patterson Park, an Olmsted-designed space, into the city’s “best backyard.”

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Patterson Park / Patterson Park

The group’s involvement began with the renovation of the park’s historic pagoda, which had fallen into disrepair. Today, the group ensures the park remains “a green space for all sorts of users” through community events and programs. The group is now “looking at a formal conservancy model that will elevate the friends’ role in management of the park.”

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Chris Reed, ASLA / Stoss

Chris Reed, ASLA, is founding principal of Stoss, which won the National Design Award for landscape architecture in 2012. Reed is associate professor in practice of landscape architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. His most recent book, co-edited with Nina-Marie Lister, Affiliate ASLA, is Projective Ecologies.

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

You recently started work on Trinity Riverfront, a nearly 500-acre development in Dallas that will create three new neighborhoods set within a landscape of wetlands and gardens along the river, connected by light rail. You say this project will make Trinity floodplain “the most exciting public space in Texas.” Given what we know about car-centric Dallas, that phrase is a bit shocking. What do you think this project says about Dallas and where it’s going?

Dallas is at this incredibly important turning point. It’s building right now on a very short legacy of rediscovering its downtown, the value of civic urban life and the arts, and the potential for landscape and open space to play a role. Over the last 10-20 years, philanthropic institutions, individuals, and the city government have created the arts district, with what are now very famous cultural attractions, museums, and theaters. All of these have been done by top-level landscape architects and architects from around the world, including Peter Walker, Lorenzo Piano, and others. In doing this, Dallas sent a signal to the world that they’re ready to play, right? Dallas now values urban life. They’re willing to put the money and the commitment behind it to make it happen.

Since then, we’ve seen large-scale initiatives on the Trinity River itself, as well as smaller-scale initiatives in downtown, turning vacant lots and other city-owned properties into new public spaces. The riverfront work I’m involved in is the next generation of this.

Dallas’ city government has found unique ways of doing creating projects: they team philanthropists with private developers, in concert with the city government, all coordinated by the urban design studio run by Brent Brown. The city has created an amazing coalition to help move really good projects forward. It’s all about rediscovering the center, the value of civic life, the value of being able to live and walk downtown to set a of cultural and open space resources.

The riverfront work we’re doing occupies this gap between downtown and the Trinity River, the future Trinity River Park. It’s a messy area. It’s got old stormwater “sumps,” they call them. It’s got rail infrastructure, highway clover leaves. Really, a jumble, a mess. We’re trying to use landscape to frame out some of that infrastructure, to take some of it simply out of play. Within this new context of vibrant forests, water gardens and infrastructure, these will be dense, livable mixed-use neighborhoods, places to live, work, play.

In some ways, Dallas has the opportunity to set a model for what is really the new normal for North American cities. If you think of San Francisco, New York, and Boston as being exceptions, places like Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Phoenix, Denver, Toronto are 20th century metropolises. This work signals how we might tackle some of the problems faced in many other places.

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Trinity Riverfront / Stoss

You’ve also been deeply involved in the Detroit Future City Project, which aims to create a more hopeful, long-term vision for this shrinking formerly-bankrupt city that still has so much potential. What is the vision of the future articulated by this group? What can Detroit be like in 50 years?

Everybody talks about the problems associated with Detroit — the vacancy, the economic woes, the fact that it’s just gone through a bankruptcy. We wanted to see how we could turn some of the challenges into opportunities no other city has. Take vacant land, for instance. No other city have the quantity of land available within the city borders like Detroit has, right? That allows Detroit to do things that other cities absolutely cannot do. The city can treat stormwater on the surface through a set of blue and green infrastructure.

We were just a small part of a very large collaborative team that worked for five years on the project. Our work looked at ways to take liabilities and turn them into assets. Everybody knows Detroit has a very active urban agriculture movement. We want to build on that energy. But we’re also very careful to say, urban agriculture alone cannot save the city. There’s too much land available and some of the problems go far deeper than just food.

We’re not worried about the population. Seven-hundred-thousand people is a very large city already. We’re not worried if that goes up or down. For us, it was more how do we create the right economic opportunities? How do we create employment districts on the ground? How do we create the infrastructure that allow people to get from their home to their job? How do we create the training opportunities that take a largely unskilled labor force, and train it to be able to tackle 20th century and 21st century industries and opportunities? How do we begin to think about land use, neighborhoods, and landscape?

This is where the project, from the land-use perspective, becomes quite interesting. Landscape becomes a significant component of the urban form of the city. Over 50 years, large areas will be given over to innovative and productive landscape uses, whether that’s blue and green infrastructure, food production, energy production, research, art landscapes, successional landscapes. Landscape becomes a robust contributing factor to define what urban life in this city can be in the next 50 years. This is an opportunity other cities don’t have, because they simply don’t have that land available. Landscape is a great starting point and driver for bigger questions.

In Green Bay, Wisconsin, your firm completed CityDeck, a novel riverfront park that features a design filled with “folds,” as you call them. You say these folds create diverse seating types: benches, chaise lounges, angled decks. Your goal is to give people real choice about where to sit. Is this a new thing? Why is seating choice so important?

The folds extended to larger-scale infrastructure that moved out over the water and brought you up to an elevated perch or down to the water. All of this worked together as a system at different scales. At the larger scale, the folds offers different opportunities for how to engage with the river. It was designed to create a very lively civic space that people want to come back to, because they can begin to experience the river in different ways each time they return.

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Green Bay City Deck / Mike Roemer

At the level of an individual, the folds are designed to be as comfortable when you’re there alone or just with a friend, as when you’re with a big collective of people, attending events.

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Green Bay City Deck / Mike Roemer

Ideas about choice and flexibility are really derived from the idea that we all have different body types, so we all want to sit in different ways. Sometimes that’s just the shape of our body and sometimes it’s mood-based.

It’s important that a civic space give people these opportunities because otherwise people will create their own opportunities anyway, right? They will take a planter and find ways to inhabit it. They’ll take a bunch of rocks and figure out a way to lie down, lie against, put up a laptop.

There’s a great opportunity to start to design that into public space. Some of these ideas go back to the writings and observations of William Whyte, who was really looking at the behavior of people and thinking about how to translate that into making lively public spaces. We take that research seriously.

Some of our research began earlier with a playscape we did for a garden installation in Métis, where we wanted to fold rubber surfaces to allow people to play. We had encountered a certain level of resistance from public authorities, because they had never seen something like this. The installation at Métis in rubber gave us an opportunity to test it out and to document the various ways that people would kind of engage. Of course, kids are really good at it. They’ll make up games, you know? But adults started to get involved, too, and they’d roll up and down the hills and jump and dive.

For The Plaza at Harvard University, you also create lots of seating choice — with movable café tables and chairs but also with these great ergonomic benches that enable interchangeable seating positions. These were made possible with 3-D parametric modeling and fabrication. Why did you want to reinvent the bench? And have people taken to them?

Should we all be sitting on the same kind of bench all the time? The standardization process that marked the evolution of the 20th century made it cheap and easy to manufacture repetitive elements. What we got was the same bench repeated over and over again. Today, technology allow us to do something different.

We can script out forms that use a set of components or techniques, but the overall form can change. We’re taking advantage of a set of technologies that allow us to make different variations, in this case, benches that appeal towards people’s desire to find their own place and what’s comfortable for them. The benches are sculpted in such a way so that people can lean back, sit up, sit with somebody in their lap, lounge back, snuggle. Kids can jump and play on them. People are able to inhabit these benches in any number of ways.

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The Plaza at Harvard University / Charles Mayer

In any one of those benches, if a single rib becomes damaged, it can be replaced because it’s numbered. All we have to do is go back to the fabricator, and they can very easily reproduce using their C&C machines and fit it right back in.

The benches contribute to a public space people want to come back to over and over again. They’re wildly popular. In fact, we were getting phone calls the first day that university officials started to unwrap the benches. Students immediately started to sit on them, lie on them, do all the things that we had imagined. And it surprised the university administrators. They had a certain confidence in what they were telling us, but on the other hand, they weren’t sure if people would really do the things that we were imagining them to do. And they have. And so we’ve seen it on a daily basis and are documenting it. People really love them.

The benches have become iconographic, but they’re also quite inviting. In a space really designed to host a lot of different events, the benches, in combination with the movable tables and chairs, allow for the accommodation of the every day. People feel like they’re invited to take part in this space.

Your landscapes have a unique look. They’re angular, planar, folded, and often feature zigzag shapes. These shapes have a contemporary feel, a technological vibe. We sense these shapes are only made possible through the latest modeling technologies. Is your intent for us to see the technology, process, and the end-result in the design? What attracts you to this aesthetic? Where did it come from?

We want to take advantage of all the best technologies available and use them to craft landscapes. But it’s not just about form-making, it’s about how these shapes can perform from a social and ecological standpoint. While we’re generating strong forms, they are influenced by how things need to work to create rich environments.

Design should reflect the cultural ambitions and technologies available to us at that moment. This means the tools we use change, the applications we use change, and the shapes that emerge from those tools and applications also change. They signal a particular time, place, and cultural ambition.

With landscape, somethings are age-old: how trees grow, how seeds move, how water filters through a landscape. For me, it’s about taking these new technologies in the forms and shapes they afford and allowing them to set up conditions where water, seeds, and plants, and even the movement of people begin to change. The tools set up interrelationships where it’s never just about the form but about what the form affords from a social, ecological, and economic point of view.

Eerie Street Plaza is a great small riverfront park, a stop-off spot along a three-mile pedestrian and bicycle route in Milwaukee. It’s a designed landscape that’s also integrated with the ecological functions of the river. How does this project represent the new thinking on ecological systems outlined in your book with Nina-Marie Lister, Projective Ecologies?

I think two things are at work. One is how we used underutilized resources available. In this case, stormwater, even river water, was redirected so we didn’t have to install a new set of water systems to first drain all the water that’s there away, and then second, introduce a new set of water outlets and run water to the site. We’re much more interested in being resourceful and redirecting something already at work.

The second piece is an inherent flexibility and adaptability built into the project, which goes back to the design competition proposal that really appealed to the jury. The site was surrounded by not a whole lot of anything. The question was: what kind of public space should this be? There wasn’t really a local constituency to engage.

So we developed a system through interspersed paving and planting that could actually be reconfigurable over time. It could change the combinations of hard and soft surfaces that were in the plaza, depending on future uses, desires, and activities. Some of the plants we embedded into the space could begin to inaugurate vegetal change. The plaza was set up with zones: low and wet, high and dry. Different plant materials occupied different parts of the site. As the site changes over time, there is this kind of inherent adaptability that’s designed into the project that’s really quite unique to a public space.

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Eerie Street Plaza / John December

These elements hint at the Projective Ecologies project, which looks at the opportunities involved in using complex, adaptive ecological systems and applying them to the design of public space.

Can you get specific about the rise of more creative approaches to ecological research and design, as you and Nina-Marie outline in Projective Ecologies? What ideas are you most excited about?

The book project is an opportunity to take stock of ecology and its relationship to design, as it has evolved over the last 20 years. But, also importantly, we want to look at how to reformulate the relationship between ecology and design moving forward.

Ecology has become such a part of commonplace term that we think it’s important to step back, think critically about the terms we’re using, and then use that critical reflection to think about other pathways that might emerge. Visualization tools are one pathway. New tools and technologies are another. The technologies are often borrowed from other disciplines, like engineering or hydrology. We can take the modeling tools engineers use in a very analytical way and inject into them not just an understanding of how things work, but what we want them to do, right? We can begin to think creatively about manipulating water flow that could create new types of public spaces. Functions could perform ecologically, but create entirely new experiences within the city.

The work Bradley Cantrell has been doing is really important. I’ve been experimenting in design studios at the Harvard Graduate School of Design where we use the program real flow aqua to model a set of water flows and then start to translate those into gardens and public spaces simply designed for the experience of those water phenomenon in an abstract way. They don’t necessarily have to simply perform in a functional way. They can perform in an experiential way. Bradley Cantrell’s work looks at multiple systems simultaneously and how the realms of design, ecology, and engineering can be modeled and mapped together. So, on the one hand, this becomes a common tool for people to work through some  problems. But importantly, it also becomes a creative tool for designers to begin to think in different ways.

Whether we are talking about new visualization methodologies, new tools and technologies, design labs and collaborative situations, or anthropology and social relations, these are all just different starting points for broader investigation that can inform design in the coming decades.

We’re trying to find ways to push what is possible in contemporary practice. For landscape architecture to be relevant as a discipline, it needs to do more than just check the sustainability boxes. It needs to set out a broader set of cultural, social, and environmental ambitions that allow the discipline to evolve with an evolving world. Design can enable us to address some of the bigger challenges acted out on the world stage. It’s an incredibly ripe opportunity for landscape architects to be leaders. But to take leadership, we need to be more expansive and creative about the way we think and practice.

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Pedestrian and cyclist bridge connecting the San Francisco Bay waterfront and Palo Alto / Dezeen Magazine

Nomad Studio to Create Landscape Architecture Installation in CAM’s Courtyard  The Edwardsville Intelligencer1/8/15
“The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAM) is delighted to announce that landscape architecture firm Nomad Studio will transform the Museum’s courtyard into an artful and immersive green space during the summer of 2015.”

Six Ways City Landscapes Can Be More Flood Resilient – In Pictures The Guardian, 1/9/15
“A new exhibition argues that a ‘landscape first’ approach to urban development, via innovative water management, could make our cities more resilient to flooding. But what does this look like in practice?”

City of Minneapolis Recommends Hargreaves as Landscape Architect for Downtown East Park  The Star Tribune, 1/9/14
“Minneapolis city staff are recommending the City Council approve a $1.8-million contract with Hargreaves Associates to design the Downtown East park adjacent to the new Vikings stadium.”

5 Ideas: How the Obama Library Could Enhance Chicago’s Historic Parks The Chicago Tribune, 1/9/15
“The University of Chicago’s proposal to locate the Obama presidential library in or adjacent to Jackson or Washington parks on the South Side is an opportunity to improve and revitalize these historic parks and their surrounding communities and institutions.”

Will Part of Chicago’s Historic Washington Park Be Confiscated for the Obama Presidential Library? The Huffington Post, 1/12/15
“The bidding war for the Obama Presidential Library got very controversial with the University of Chicago’s (UofC) January 6, 2015 announcement of its unprecedented proposal to confiscate land they do not own – public parkland – should they win.”

Boston Children’s Should Keep Prouty Garden The Boston Globe, 1/12/15
“The Boston Children’s Hospital leadership announced plans for a multistory, $600 million new building to include a state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care unit and more private rooms. The plan calls for the new building to be built on the site of the Prouty Garden.”

Palo Alto Footbridge Will Span the 14 Lanes of San Francisco’s 101 Freeway Dezeen Magazine, 1/12/15
“A team led by 64North Architecture has won a competition to design a pedestrian and cyclist bridge connecting the San Francisco Bay waterfront and Palo Alto.”

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Project Jewel at Changi Airport, Singapore / Safdie Architects

Singapore has long aspired to be a “city in a garden.” Since the early 1960s, the 300-square-mile city-state has been serious about preserving nature and also greening underused spaces. In 1970, President Lee Kuan Yew dictated that there were to be “no brownfields;” all empty space would be planted. Today there are 5.4 million people packed into the island, but nearly 10 percent of the country is covered in parks, many of them newly created. More than 300 neighborhood and regional parks along with four nature preserves are in the process of being connected through hundreds of kilometers of greenways. Now, Singapore’s Changi airport, the sixth busiest in the world, is getting the same treatment as the rest of the country — its being greened, in an exciting way that re-conceives the experience of the airport.

Safdie Architects and PWP Landscape Architecture are creating a spherical “air hub,” a 134,000-square-meter bio-dome, in the center of Changi so even brief visitors passing through Singapore will get a sense of this garden-city as they walk through the interior landscape.

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According to Safdie Architects, the glass dome will be home to gardens and walking trails, accessible via multiple levels.

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The centerpiece will be a “rain vortex,” a 40-meter-tall waterfall fed by recycled rainwater collected from the dome.

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This being Singapore, the land of shopping malls, some 4 million square feet of retail, hotel, restaurant and entertainment space will circle the exterior of the gardens.

The entire structure will be supported by a ring of tree-like columns at the outside edge of the gardens.

Safdie told DesignBoom: “This project redefines and reinvents what airports are all about. The new paradigm is to create a diverse and meaningful meeting place that serves as a gateway to the city and country, complementing commerce and services with attractions and gardens for passengers, airport employees, and the city at large.”

Work began at the end of 2014, and the dome is expected to open in 2018.

Learn more about Singapore’s ambitious green plan.

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William Wenk / Wenk Associates

William Wenk, FASLA, is the founder and president of Wenk Associates. This interview was conducted at the ASLA 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver. 

Denver has made great strides in its efforts to become one of the more sustainable cities in the US. What have been the major successes over the past 20 years? Where does the city still need to make progress?

The urban corridor, along the front range of the mountains between Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, is one of the fastest growing metropolitan corridors in the country. The most significant improvement has been the new regional light rail network that Denver Metro area voters approved approximately 10 years ago. This system has generated opportunities for transit-oriented developments (TODs), a” hub and spoke” system well on its way to being built out. It will be one of the most comprehensive in the country. The goal is to create more urban environments on sites often found in a suburban context.

In the heart of Denver, there has been tremendous interest in development at the rail stops. But increased density along the rail corridors can’t possibly handle the levels of growth and need for housing. In addition — with the exception of a few light rail stops — the expansion of transit in the heart of Denver is proving to be especially difficult. A number of established neighborhoods are being transformed by much denser infill development where there’s no transit other than our bus system, which isn’t very well-used. Increased density, especially in older central city neighborhoods, has been tremendously controversial. For example, the Cherry Creek District, which is an upscale shopping area two miles from downtown Denver, is achieving urban density, but isn’t served by transit. The same is true for the Lowry infill, New Urbanist development, where higher densities are being criticized because of increased traffic in surrounding streets. Controversy surrounding increased densities in the center of Denver will continue to be an issue for years.

To provide a better transit option the heart of the city, Denver is considering on-demand transit or circulators, which Boulder has found to be very successful. A system of circulator buses in Boulder called the Hop, Skip and Jump, has been a hit. We also have Zipcars and BCycle, our bike share system, that provide other options to owning a car, especially in areas close to the downtown. Because we’re such a car-oriented city, getting a typical family to shift from two cars to one car is a big deal, in spite of all of the innovations to date.

The state’s population is increasing at about 2 percent per year. As a result, we are once again seeing sprawl — low-density development at the urban fringes. Since 2008, sprawl had slowed down considerably, but it has been heating up again.

Among the city’s sustainability goals: by 2020, Denver seeks to increase transportation options so only 60 percent of commuting trips are made by single-occupant vehicles. How will the city achieve this? Is compact urban development the way forward here?

Colorado has 5 million people now but is projected to grow by 2 million people in the next 15 years. Accommodating that level of growth is going to be an enormous challenge. Colorado is a very popular destination to move to both for Millennials and Baby-Boomer seniors who are following their kids who now live here.

We have daunting issues related to growth along the front range, which is where most of the growth will occur. We can’t accommodate it all with denser infill development, although there are currently thousands of units of apartments under construction right now in the heart of Denver. We’ll also see more units coming in the TODs along the light rail system.

Some of the most dramatic examples of growth are in aging industrial areas near downtown Denver. For example, we’re currently working on the Brighton Boulevard corridor, the spine of an old industrial area that is rapidly transforming into a hip mixed-use arts and tech-oriented district.

Developers in the area are insisting we incorporate bike lanes, broader sidewalks, and stormwater treatment in the right of way. Unlike many older coastal and Midwestern cities, Denver’s not being pressured by the federal government to improve stormwater quality to the degree that these older cities are. Instead, the development community has really been pushing the city to innovate to create green infrastructure systems that also enhance the public realm at a district scale. It’s a very interesting time here, as we re-imagine the infrastructure in those neighborhoods that will be populated primarily by Millennials who don’t want to own a car.

But multiple barriers remain. The city, in partnership with the development community, is trying to identify the appropriate finance and maintenance strategy to transform the area’s infrastructure. The city is trying to catch up with the most innovative of national trends, but they don’t don’t quite know how to do it. Denver isn’t alone in this: Most larger cities are facing the same issues. I only wish we could move more quickly, be more willing to experiment with new ideas, and implement those that prove to be most feasible on a wider basis.

Another of the city’s goals is to make all rivers and creeks swimmable by 2020. How will the city achieve this goal?

All water in Colorado is owned. It’s bought and sold as a commodity, unlike water in wetter climates. There’s an old saying: “in the West, water flows uphill toward money.” Most of the water for front range communities comes from across the Continental Divide through a network of tunnels, canals, rivers. Like most rivers in the West, the South Platte River, which flows through the heart of Denver, serves as an integral part of this network to convey water that has been historically used for agricultural use. During periods of high diversion for agricultural and urban uses, rivers can be literally drained dry.

Until recently, there was no water allocated that would maintain river flows for recreation and habitat. Many rivers in the West face this issue, which will continue to be of concern far into the future because of high demands on water. Coliform, a bacteria; metals; and nutrients are a problem in the South Platte River, as they are in many urban rivers. For multiple reasons, I think the goal of making the cities, rivers, and creeks swimmable by 2020 simply isn’t possible given how we’re approaching the problem today.

It is difficult to remove coliform through passive treatment methods. Meeting that goal may always be a problem because we don’t have a complete understanding of many of the sources yet. That said, there’s a great deal that could be done if there were the political will and funding to tackle it, especially at a watershed or district or neighborhood scale. Because Denver isn’t under a federal consent decree, an improvement in the quality of urban rivers and streams will only occur through public pressure and creative means of financing and maintenance.

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Swimming in the South Platte River at Confluence Park / Wenk Associates

What is really interesting is there is significant interest on the part of a growing number of developers to be more responsible stewards of our urban water resources. For example, we are currently working developers, such as Zeppelin Development, Perry/Rose, and Urban Ventures who care deeply about Denver and are saying “We’ve got to do this.” They’re putting political pressure on the city to move beyond traditional stormwater management to employ green infrastructure approaches in a way that is good for business and the environment. Millennials are looking for green infrastructure in their living and working environments.

Denver Housing Authority, another of our long term clients, which has been instrumental in transforming a number of derelict areas the core city, is taking the same approach. As Chris Parr, their director of development, says “We want to be nutty green,” because they believe, as long-term owners of these projects, green approaches to development make good business sense. For example, the redevelopment of an outdated public housing project spanning several blocks at a light rail station very close to the downtown used stormwater infiltration as a primary management strategy to reduce development costs. Significant challenges remain though: Long-standing development standards for stormwater management and street design are still on the books, which limit change.

According to a report published in 2014, Denver is in the top 10 for U.S. cities with the highest percentage of green commercial real estate. Is the city also moving to greener commercial landscapes? If so, can you provide some examples?

We are moving towards more water-conservative landscapes. I wish to make that distinction because Denver Water, the primary regional water supplier, has emphasized water conservation for the last 20 years, resulting in at least a 10 percent reduction in water use. There is an almost universal emphasis on the use of xeriscape principles for commercial landscape design. In 2050, Colorado will have a 163 billion gallon shortage of water available for urban uses, so we’re going to have to explore further means of conservation, as well as rethinking what the larger concept of landscape means in our semi-arid climate.

Because of our water laws, we cannot harvest rainwater. Much of our effluent cannot be reused for the same reasons. That said, there is great potential to transform the urban environment using more regionally appropriate, gray/green landscapes that are more integral with natural processes, which you emerging in Portland and Philadelphia as a result of stormwater mandates.

There are some experimental green roofs here, but they tend to need irrigation because of our solar gain, which is counter to water conservation goals. Because of anticipated shortages, there is talk of “toilet to tap,” but given the vast majority of our domestic supply goes to landscape irrigation, we’ve only begun to explore the possibilities of a sustainable regional landscape aesthetic and ethic.

Our work at Taxi is a good example of a sustainable commercial landscape. We’ve worked within Colorado water law to infiltrate stormwater. We’ve used nonliving materials extensively. The plant palette consists of a broad range of native and non-native xeric plants.

Denver is in the top 10 on the Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore, which ranks cities on the quality of their park systems. What parks best exemplify the city’s commitment to providing high-quality green public spaces?

Denver has one of the more notable City Beautiful-era systems of parks and parkways. It’s on the National Register. Cheesman Park, Washington Park, City Park, and Speer Boulevard are just remarkable historic resources. The system’s been expanded significantly as part of the development of Stapleton and Lowry’s park and open space networks.

In Stapleton and Lowry, the historic Olmstedian park aesthetic has evolved to be much more regionally appropriate, in terms of incorporating large areas of more native and naturalized landscapes driven by managing stormwater on site.

Also, the city is investing heavily in an expansion of parks and natural areas along the Platte River Greenway, which was established over 40 years ago as one of the first greenway systems in the country.

We are currently involved in the $4 million first phase redevelopment of Confluence Park along the river, which is part of a $40 million long-term makeover. Confluence has become overwhelmed with out-of-town visitors and daily users who now live in the Central Platte Valley. We’re looking at public private partnerships to create landscape architecture that better manage conflicts between bikes and pedestrians. There is a level of urban use that demands new types of management and maintenance, something you find in major urban centers but Denver is only beginning to see.

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Confluence Park rendering / Wenk Associates

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Confluence Park rendering / Wenk Associates

There are some wonderful new parkways, especially in Stapleton, designed around the natural qualities of the West. These naturalized qualities make you feel like you’re in the West rather than in Cleveland or in Washington, D.C. Those parkways have been controversial, but people are getting used to them and see their inherent beauty.

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Stapleton Walking Path / Wenk Associates

Denver Parks is looking to the future in terms of how we begin to serve our rapidly expanding population, the thousands of new residents who are going to be living downtown. Existing parks in the downtown tend to be oriented to major civic events and festivals. The master plan is proposing an expansion with a range of traditional and nontraditional park types. They seek to incentivize public-private partnerships, which will lead to more private parks in ways that you see in the core of Manhattan — streets as parks, pop-up parks, for example.

Bicycling Magazine ranks Denver 12th in the country for its bicycle infrastructure, behind leaders like New York City, Portland, and even Boulder, which ranks sixth. What are the plans for improving bike infrastructure in the city?

Bike use has gone up dramatically, especially for commuting, over the last 10 years. The U.S. Census Bureau ranked us in the top 10 given some 2.3 percent of residents commute by bike. BCycles, our bike sharing system, has been really successful and expanded beyond the downtown.

There are aggressive proposals for enhancing the cycling network downtown. Our downtown business association is currently crowdsourcing funding to physically separate bike lanes because public funding isn’t currently available. Denver Public Works department has a bicycle coordinator. There’s a major initiative to create a comprehensive system of new bike lanes and sharrows. These all are a testament to the city’s commitment to enhancing our on and off street system for our outdoor-oriented population.

But in spite of all of the improvements, we have some major gaps and barriers in the system and entrenched street standards that aren’t bike friendly. These issues are going to be difficult and expensive to solve.

Why is Denver so keen on adaptive reuse? Many of your projects, such as the Taxi Redevelopment and Northside Park, reimagine old infrastructure to create parks and commercial spaces the city can use today.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, we lost a tremendous number of fabulous buildings to urban renewal, like most other cities. There was huge resistance, which resulted in the preservation of Larimer Square, the establishment of a number of historic districts, and new landmark status for many remaining buildings. These efforts also spawned Historic Denver and other preservation organizations and programs that have resulted in the preservation of a number of historic districts and buildings: our warehouse district, known as Lower Downtown (LODO), is a prime example. It has been hugely successful as a real estate venture. Although we’ve lost a great number of really valuable resources, today, there is widespread adaptive reuse of warehouses and old industrial buildings.

Taxi was a derelict taxi dispatch center surrounded by rail yards, along the Platte River. Our client, Micky Zeppelin, saw this gritty infrastructure as a place creative individuals wanted to live and work. He’s always been a student of cities around the world. He wanted us to be responsible about water use as part of a much broader agenda of creating a creative community. He wanted a rich environment that was both urban and natural, and one where natural processes could function in the heart of the city.

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Taxi redevelopment / Wenk Associates

Northside Park was a decommissioned sewage plant, an incredibly stout infrastructure too expensive to tear down, Our solution to retain the plant was primarily practical. We needed to reduce demolition/construction costs and create space for two soccer fields. Personally, I’ve always been fascinated with layers of history in the land — both visible and invisible — and the richness of expression that is possible by revealing those layers.

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Northside Park / Wenk Associates

Adaptive resuse is messy, but it’s a wonderfully rich way of way of thinking about the world. The world is not a clean and tidy place. The landscapes a lot of us want to live in aren’t necessarily clean and tidy, but they’re vital. They’re alive. This line of thinking can lead us toward the next generation of urban landscapes in the semi-arid West.

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The playground in Riverstone master-planned community, Big Adventrue Park, incorporates the natural environment as much as possible.

The playground in Riverstone master-planned community, Big Adventure Park, incorporates the natural environment as much as possible. / Houston Chronicle

FIU Students Seek Flooding Solutions if Sea Level Rises Throughout Miami-Dade CountyThe Miami Herald, 11/20/14
FIU professors Marta Canavés and Marilys Nepomechie worked with students for three years to research sea level rise projections at three, four, and six feet, and created models and proposals to keep existing city infrastructure and neighborhoods habitable. The models, designs and collected data are on display at the new Coral Gables Museum exhibit through March 1.”

S.F.’s Newest Public Space Provides Invitation to Sit, LingerThe San Francisco Chronicle, 11/25/14
“The new plaza is a patch of asphalt at Mission Street, closed to cars but with plenty of room for bicycles to coast through, below a gateway-like frame of salvaged wood adorned with hanging rat tail cactus. Its counterpart at Market Street behind the Palace Hotel spent decades as a deliberate green oasis with formal planters, until it declined to the point where now it is hidden behind construction barriers.”

Parks, Playgrounds Get New Attention in Planned CommunitiesThe Houston Chronicle, 11/26/14
“The latest amenity at River­stone creates a shady and colorful play area for families in the Fort Bend County master-planned community. On two acres of land, colorful pathways and play structures are set among the trees and twisting trails.”

A Guide to Denver’s Best Landscaped Spaces, Deep and FreeThe Denver Post, 11/28/14
“None of it got there by accident, as the new ‘What’s Out There Denver’ online guide reminds us in inviting detail. Our natural places were planned by generations of forward-thinking civic leaders and landscape architects who understood how preserved green spaces balance all of the asphalt and concrete of city life.”

New York’s High Line: Why the Floating Promenade Is So PopularThe Washington Post, 11/30/14
“It has become an archetype for cities everywhere craving their own High Line mojo. In Washington, it is the inspiration for a proposed elevated park where the old 11th Street Bridge crossed the Anacostia River and, separately, for a component in the long-range redevelopment of Union Station.”

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Urban acupuncture / Island Press

Looking for the perfect present for your favorite landscape architect, designer, or planner? Or taking time off during the holidays to delve into the latest thinking on design, cities, and the environment? Well, The Dirt‘s picks for the top ten books of 2014 are worth exploring:

Urban Acupuncture: Celebrating Pinpricks of Change That Enrich City Life (Island Press, 2014)
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. Read the review in The Dirt.

Berlin: Portrait of a City Through the Centuries (St. Martin’s Press, 2014)
From the book: “Berlin tells the volatile history of Europe’s capital over five centuries through a series of intimate portraits of two dozen key residents.” The Washington Post: “Berlin is the most extraordinary work of history I’ve ever read. To call it history is, in fact, reductive.”

Composite Landscapes: Photomontage and Landscape Architecture (Hatje Cantz, 2014)
This book, which releases at the end of December 2014, is based on the exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston curated by Charles Waldheim, Affil. ASLA, and Andrea Hansen. Composite Landscapes examines one of landscape architecture’s most recognizable representational forms, the montage view. Learn more about the exhibition.

Landscapes of Change: Innovative Designs and Reinvented Sites (Timber Press, 2014)
University of Oregon landscape architecture professor Roxi Thoren, Affil. ASLA, explores 26 case studies from around the world that highlight how “site can serve as design generator.” Case studies include Queens Plaza in Queens, New York; the Buffalo Bayou Promenade in Houston, Texas; and the Jaffa Landfill Park in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The Landscape Imagination: Collected Essays of James Corner, 1990-2010 (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014)
As the author of canonical texts — and now built projects like the High Line in New York City — James Corner, ASLA, founder of Field Operations, has achieved a unique stature in contemporary landscape architecture. Read the review in The Dirt.

Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014)
Recently restored to much ado through a six-year process, Mellon Square in Pittsburgh was the first Modernist space in the nation built over a subterranean parking garage. Considered a precursor to today’s green roof movement, Mellon Square is a showcase for urban revitalization through historic preservation, with a contemporary sensibility and the latest technologies. Read the review in The Dirt.

Next Generation Infrastructure: Principles for Post-Industrial Public Works (Island Press, 2014)
Architect and planner Hillary Brown’s new book is an inspiring argument for infrastructure that behaves like nature. She writes: “We need more diversified, distributed, and interconnected infrastructural assets that simulate the behavior of natural systems.” Read the review in The Dirt.

People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities (Island Press, 2014)
Influential blogger and advocate F. Kaid Benfield’s new book argues that sustainable places are really just places people love. Think of those places where you most feel like yourself. Would you want anything to happen to them? Read the review in The Dirt.

Projective Ecologies (Harvard University Graduate School of Design and Actar, 2014)
This new collection of essays, edited by Chris Reed, ASLA, founder of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, and Nina-Marie Lister, Affil. ASLA, professor at Ryerson University, is a timely overview of contemporary thinking about ecology and design. Read the review in The Dirt.

Urban Bikeway Design Guide, 2nd Edition (Island Press, 2014)
The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has released an updated second edition as part of their “sustained commitment to making city streets safer for everyone using them.” Reformatted in an attractive hardcover with improved structure, it features photos, diagrams, and 3-D renderings of wide-ranging best practices in design for bike infrastructure. Read the review in The Dirt.

For more, check out Books by ASLA Members, a hub offering up hundreds of books written over the years (all available via Amazon.com), and the top 10 books from 2013.

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