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Archive for the ‘Smart Growth’ Category

highline

ASLA 2013 Professional General Design Honor Award. The High Line, Section 2 by James Corner Field Operations / Iwan Baan

ASLA President Mark Focht, FASLA, first deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia Parks department, invited the heads of four allied organizations to speak to the ASLA board and chapter leadership last week about what they perceive to be future opportunities and challenges.

Patrick Phillips, CEO of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) — who was trained as a landscape architect but ended up going into real estate economics — said ULI will continue its focus on both the global and the local. They will further expand overseas, “bringing our non-ideological perspective to urban development” to Asia and Africa, while also strengthening their local councils, which focus on the issues of immediate concern to communities. At this scale, Phillips said “education — reaching out to thousands of local high schools — is a priority.”

Long-time friend of landscape architects, Paul Farmer, CEO of the American Planning Association (APA), said “our collaboration with ASLA has been excellent.” Farmer, who is retiring from APA this summer, said “planning is about outcomes, using a open and transparent process to create what people want: livable neighborhoods and clean air and water.” Farmer said APA will increasingly focus on the “social side of sustainability — the equity side. Most organizations are too focused on the environmental or economic side of sustainability.”

He said APA is now providing direct assistance to around a third of its chapters to fight anti-planning efforts led by the Tea Party movement. “There are draconian bills coming up in legislatures, but only the one in Alabama passed.” Farmer was dismayed by this development, as “just a few years ago, smart growth was an issue both Democrats and Republicans could agree upon. Now everything is totally polarized. So our assistance is defensive. But polls still tell us that there is tremendous public support for planning.”

Barbara Tulipane, National Parks and Recreation Association (NRPA) outlined her group’s new approach to communications. She said when speaking with public officials, “we have to sell them on the many benefits of parks — how parks save us money or make us money — but when NRPA is focused on reaching the public, we use common language.” Parks are about forging “a real emotional connection with nature.” As an example, she pulled up a quote from one happy park-goer: “that was the best day of my life!”

With 40,000 members, NRPA will focus on “ensuring 300 million Americans have access to a place to play and connect with nature and each other.” Half of members are professionals and the other half are park-lovers. “So we are not about the profession of park management but the parks.” Tulipane said “parks are essential to smart growth. Parks are a solution provider, offering benefits in terms of conservation, health and wellness, and social equity.”

Randall Over, head of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), said ASCE will ramp up efforts on dealing with climate change as an engineering challenge. “There, I said it, we openly talk about climate change. Climate change has changed our design standards. We need to design more resilient infrastructure. We need to focus on the social side of resilience, too, including who will operate and maintain infrastructure in the case of a serious climatic event.”

To encourage more “sustainable horizontal infrastructure,” ASCE will soon roll out Envision, a new rating system. “Some two out of every three projects that have been certified are landscapes.” Another 25 pilots are in the pipeline.

ASCE will also continue to get a lot of out of its well-known infrastructure report card. The U.S. has gone up from a D to a D+. “We do this to get action.” Over also mentioned a $15 million fundraising campaign now underway to finance an IMAX movie about the wonders of engineering.

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ecocity

Yuelai Eco-city / Calthorpe Associates

Urbanization in China is the single biggest human migration in history. To accomodate the millions coming in from the countryside each year, China’s cities are tearing down their old human-scale, socially-rich neighborhoods, with their meandering, bicycle-friendly streets, and putting in highways and incredibly isolating towers set amid vacant-feeling “super blocks.” These are places only Le Corbusier could have loved. Or at least that’s the image some see in the West. At the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia, a group of innovative Chinese urban planners explain how some of the latest “eco-cities” as well as design interventions in existing cities may help some Chinese mayors see the wisdom of sustainable urban development and taking those super-blocks down to size.

Dongquan He, with the Energy Foundation, said China now has more than 660 cities, with 20,000 more towns under construction. Over the next 25 years, 400 million more Chinese will move into cities. And by 2050, China will be 75 percent urban.

As China grows at incredible rates, its cities have created very wide streets that connect super blocks. “These have just a single function, moving from A to B. You really have to use a car to get around.” These planning decisions have also resulted in signficant environmental damage. The air in so many Chinese cities is basically unbreathable because cars have been let loose. He said: “China’s development problem is the super block.”

The Energy Foundation has come up with a whole set of criteria to explain urban sustainability to China’s mayors. The principles are well considered: places should be walkable; bicycling should be prioritized; networks of streets should be dense; public transit should be high-quality; developments should be mixed-use; and parking should be regulated.

To test these idea, He and his team became involved in a new thousand-hectare eco-city in Yuelai, Chongquing, one of the country’s mega-cities (see image above). He’s group worked with Calthorpe Asssociates and the eco-city developers to preserve the existing landscape. “We didn’t violate the natural systems.” They then created a plan that reduced the size of the average Chinese super block, allocating density near transit, creating small town-centers with public space every 500 meters, and also smaller grid spaces that fit high-rise, mid-rise. and low-rise buildings together in a dense, walkable street network. Parks and greenways connect people to the harbor, and a custom-designed streetcar system will also improve mobility. But He admitted that with this kind of huge development, “it’s hard to created the small spaces people like.” Indeed, in these images, the blocks still look a bit super.

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Yuelai Eco-city / Calthorpe Associates

Yang Liu with the China Sustainable Transportation Center outlined his organization’s work with the Chenggong New Town, in Kunming, which is in China’s southwest. He and his team are tackling “super blocks that didn’t feel safe crossing.” They helped increase the road network density by narrowing the streets and sidewalks considerably to improve the human fabric. Development is also now clustered around transit stations.

For EMBARQ China’s director, Haitao Zhang, the aim is to transform Qingdao, a major city in the northeast, through his Qingdao Low-carbon Sustainable Transportation study. Zhang has worked on reconnecting land use and transportation planning, putting stations where there is demand, and breaking the siloed approach to the problems of sprawl in the local government. EMBARQ is also planning a slew of “small-scale urban interventions” to improve the streetscape, turning super blocks into outdoor cafes and pedestrian-friendly plazas.

To learn more about the state of China’s cities, see a new report presented by Shi Na, with UN Habitat and the Urban Planning Society in China.

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atlanta
One of the biggest studies of income and inter-generational mobility, the Equality of Opportunity Project, a new research initiative by economists at Harvard University and the University of California-Berkeley, has found the metropolitan area you live in can either help or hurt your chances for upward mobility. In a review of the research in The New York Times, David Leonhardt writes: “Climbing the income ladder occurs less often in the Southeast and industrial Midwest, the data shows, with the odds notably low in Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, Raleigh, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus. By contrast, some of the highest rates occur in the Northeast, Great Plains and West, including in New York, Boston, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and large swaths of California and Minnesota.” In other words, denser communities may do better than sprawled-out places in turning poorer classes into wealthier ones over the years.

Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winner and op-ed columnist for The New York Times, said there have been many studies of social mobility across countries and all have found that the U.S. actually has more of an “inherited class system than other advanced nations.”

Analyzing the data from this study, one of the first major comparative reviews of metropolitan areas in the U.S., he said “in San Francisco, a child born into the bottom fifth of the income distribution has an 11 percent chance of making it into the top fifth, but in Atlanta the corresponding number is only 4 percent.”

He asks, “So what’s the matter with Atlanta?,” a city where it seems to be particularly difficult to move up. “The city may just be too spread out, so that job opportunities are literally out of reach for people stranded in the wrong neighborhoods.”

In interviews with residents of Atlanta, The Times highlights how difficult it is in both time and expense for poorer Atlantans to get to job opportunities in wealthier areas. One telling example: “Stacey Calvin spends almost as much time commuting to her job — on a bus, two trains and another bus — as she does working part-time at a day care center. She knows exactly where to board the train and which stairwells to use at the stations so that she has the best chance of getting to work on time in the morning and making it home to greet her three children after school.”

Krugman states the obvious about the situation for Calvin and so many others: “Atlanta is the Sultan of Sprawl, even more spread out than other major Sun Belt cities. This would make an effective public transportation system nearly impossible to operate even if politicians were willing to pay for it, which they aren’t. As a result, disadvantaged workers often find themselves stranded; there may be jobs available somewhere, but they literally can’t get there.”

The way out of this sprawl-trap may be smarter growth. “The apparent inverse relationship between sprawl and social mobility obviously reinforces the case for ‘smart growth’ urban strategies, which try to promote compact centers with access to public transit.”

While smart growth seems to offer benefits for income mobility, mixed-income development may also help, too. Upward mobility occurred more often when poor families were included with other income groups in mixed communities, as opposed to isolated in ghettos.

In Slate, Matthew Yglesias, who calls this research “groundbreaking,” adds that this study shows the “merits of mixed-income neighborhoods” and how they “strengthen the case against zoning out the poor with minimum lot size requirements, rules against apartment buildings, and trailer park bans.” Indeed, the current debate in smart growth circles is how to make densification more equitable and better enable that mix of income levels in gentrifying communities.

Initially, the researchers looked at millions of pieces of data about incomes, organized by geography, to determine how “different local and state tax breaks might affect inter-generational mobility.” They found that “larger tax credits for the poor and higher taxes on the affluent seemed to improve income mobility only slightly. The economists also found only modest or no correlation between mobility and the number of local colleges and their tuition rates or between mobility and the amount of extreme wealth in a region.”

Still, the data may also confirm what many other researchers have said about the value of strong social ties gained through family connections and affiliations with broader social and community groups. Inter-generational mobility was also found to be higher in areas with “two-parent households, better elementary schools and high schools, and more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups.”

To note, the researchers only found correlations among the data and do not present the inter-connections as causal relationships.

Explore the data and see how your city ranks.

Image credit: Atlanta traffic / CLATL

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Book-Cover
What does it take to not only slow the spread of sprawl but also fundamentally change how we design and build communities? And how do we “unsprawl” communities that have already been built? A new book from our friends at Planetizen, Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces and Places, by Simmons Buntin, editor of Terrain.org and Ken Pirie, who works for Walker Macy Landscape Architects, proves that there are better ways to build communities. But this isn’t a book about sprawl: It’s a book about built places, “real, human scale communities by people and for people, not cars.”

In the introduction, Galina Tachieva states, “sprawl as a built habitat has been failing for decades.” With the recent economic downturn, the fundamental inadequacies of sprawl have become apparent. The new push to “unsprawl” is a movement towards an urbanism we can all afford — one in which amenities are located centrally and walkable, where the built is balanced with the natural.

While there are clear reasons why we need to unsprawl, this is a focused how-to book. Exploring all aspects of a project from concept to design and through to its execution, there are lots of details about how projects were financed and built. We also learn about the successes and failures along the path to that “particular moment when a project becomes a true place.”

Each case study covered in the book has an accompanying question and answer section with someone who is intimately involved in the design and development of the community. Case studies of various scales are organized into four sections: new communities; in-fill and grayfield development; the redevelopment of downtowns; and examples of “green” development.

The new communities section shows that good urban design is doable in both rural and suburban communities, places that have been historically car-focused. The authors believe we can build “new and distinct places that respect the economy and heritage” of that place. One new community, Prospect New Town, located south of Longmont, Colorado, was built with a mixed-use, eclectic design aesthetic and was voted “America’s Coolest Neighborhood” by Dwell magazine.

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In the in-fill and greyfield section, the authors ask: what we do when the existing form and function of our communities cease to serve us? Do we rebuild from scratch or find “innovative ways to adapt to changing social, environmental and economic circumstances?” Built on the site of Rockville, Maryland’s vacant mall, a new town square “created a daytime, evening, and weekend activity center that is easily identifiable, pedestrian-oriented and incorporates a mix of uses and activities.”

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Buntin and Pirie acknowledge that wonderful things have been torn down in and around American cities, ranging from “native ecosystems to historic neighborhoods” but believe that replacing what doesn’t work with “dedicated planning, good urban design, and hard work” can turn redeveloped areas into “intentional and integral parts of their respective downtowns.”

For example, RiverPlace in Portland, Oregon, the initial development of which was possible through the city council’s 1976 decision to remove the six-lane freeway that separated the city from the Wilmette River, showcases an “early and ongoing example” of these principles in action.

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In the green development section, the authors feature a few projects with especially strong sustainable credentials. The authors state: “successful, sustainable communities are not a goal to be achieved, but a process to be followed and revised: an essential pursuit if we hope to build places that will last on landscapes that will last even longer.” One such example of a green development is Prairie Crossing, in Grayslake, Illinois, north of Chicago. Prairie Crossing is transit-based, energy efficient, and community focused. The project “began as a commitment from conservation-minded investors who sought to preserve and restore native prairie and farmland being lost to suburbanization.”

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The case studies provide us with an “optimistic, diverse, and common-sense direction for the future,” one in which people, and their walkable communities, live in harmony with the natural world.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and ASLA 2013 summer intern.

Image credits: (1) Unsprawl / Planetizen, (2) Live/work streetscape, Prospect, Colorado / Simmons Buntin, (3) Rockville Town Square / Simmons Buntin, (4) RiverPlace’s South Water Front Park / Walker Macy, (5) Prairie Crossing / Prairie Holdings Corporation

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beltline
A bit more than 10 years ago, Ryan Gravel, a Georgia Tech architecture and urban planning master’s student, delivered a whopper of a thesis. His vision was to transform the mostly abandoned railroad lines that circle Atlanta into a new network of transit, parks, and pedestrian and bike trails. While that vision would have died in other cities, it actually took root in Atlanta and is now becoming a reality. Seven years into the wildly ambitious Atlanta Beltline, a 25-year, $3 billion project, more than 640 acres of land have been acquired and tens of millions raised. By the end of the project, more than 22 miles of modern streetcars, 1,300 acres of new parkland, and 33 miles of bike and pedestrian trails will make Atlanta a far more sustainable, livable, and inclusive place. That streetcar will connect some pretty down-on-their-heels neighborhoods to wealthy ones, creating access to new opportunities for poorer Atlantans. The new infrastructure, parks, and trails will hopefully be the tipping point that will get Atlantans out of all those cars. To make this transformation happen, some $1.8 billion will be spent on the transit, $500 million on parks, and $250 million on trails.

In a bus tour of the Beltline as part of the E.P.A.’s Brownfield conference, Heather Hussey-Coker and Lee Harrop explained how the unique industrial history of Atlanta laid the foundation for the Beltline and how a wide-ranging coalition of organizations, government agencies, and private sector firms have made the project happen.

After he completed his thesis, Gravel formed the Friends of the Beltline and started shopping the idea around Atlanta. Many presentations later, support started to build. The Trust for Public Land came in and did a research study that showed how the Beltline could become Atlanta’s Emerald Necklace. Soon thereafter, then Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin commissioned a study to determine whether the Beltline could be financed with a tax allocation district (TAD). The city found that it would raise more than 60 percent of the total cost so decided to move forward with that approach.

A TAD is basically “tax increment financing.” As Kevin Burke, ASLA, senior landscape architect for the Beltline, explained, imagine the tax value of a property goes up with rising property values. That incremental tax revenue is set aside for specific projects like the Beltline. The problem that came later was that the real estate market in Atlanta crashed, “skewing market projections of how much money the TAD would provide the Beltline.” Burke said this is the main reason “we have only delivered 60 acres” of parkland out of the planned 1,300-acre system of greenways and parks.

On top of that, the use of a TAD for the Beltline was delayed because a local resident sued, arguing that the public school portion of local taxes couldn’t be used to finance the Beltline. The case went all the way to the state supreme court, which just recently sided with the Beltline. Then, in a state-wide referendum, the voters of Georgia decided that school districts could opt in to TADs.

The Beltline is back on track though, largely because of an “aggressive fundraising campaign,” said Burke, which has brought in more than $40 million. Now in year six of the TAD, that measure will deliver money to the Beltline over the next 19 years. In reality, Burke said this will mean about “53-55 acres of parkland should be built each year.”

Hussey-Coker said the original railroad tracks that the Beltline follows were used to circulate industrial goods from manufacturing facilities on the outskirts of Atlanta to the city’s downtown, where they were then moved to other parts of the country. Residential areas then grew up around those industrial centers. “Beltlines were created to avoid the industrial downtown,” which was viewed as not a great place to live. The circular Beltline around the city served to “pause development for a long time.” Within its boundaries, “trolley suburbs” were created.

beltline
The parkland that has been added already is pretty spectacular. As the bus drove past, everyone oohed and aahed over the new historic 4th ward park, a Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) pilot project that has spurred $400 million in development around it. In a clever landscape architecture design, the Beltline team created a new basin that doubles as a park. An example of smart multi-use infrastructure, the new park, which cost $50 million, is designed to flood in severe storm events. When not flooding, there are ledges for exercise, with a theatre in the center. “We built a 17 acre park and a new piece of infrastructure for $50 million.”

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4tha
The park also leaps and bounds through the neighborhood, with additional smaller pieces dotted through the community. The nearby skatepark, which legendary skater Tony Hawk helped finance to the tune of $25,000, looked like a skater’s paradise. Burke said a new space for beginning skaters will be added soon, given what’s there now is for pretty advanced stuff.

skate
Design work has already begun on a number of other parks. James Corner Field Operations, designers of the High Line, and Perkins + Will, originally created the “25 percent-level designs,” said Harrop, creating the basic language of the greenways, parks, and trails. While Perkins + Will is doing more design work, Field Operations is no longer involved. Request for qualifications are going out for each individual park. While Burke said some $75 million has been spent so far – on parks and trails, there’s a long ways to go over the next 10-15 years. He said he’s already working 10-12 hours days getting new parks online.

One exciting park will be appearing soon at the Bellwood Quarry, an old quarry that the city bought in 2006. There will rise a new reservoir, the focal point of the new Westside Reservoir Park. In a unique partnership with the city’s department of watershed management and parks department, the Beltline will develop the park around the reservoir while the city will ensure the security and safety of the water supply. Harrop also told us that a herd of American bison, which are actually native to the area, may be imported and be used to organically amend the soils. The Beltline crew likes to set herbivores on their plant problems: goats were recently let loose on kudzu in some spots and sheep on poison ivy in others.

quarry
Still other areas near the Beltline targeted to become parks are currently brownfields. Just west of University Avenue, in the southwest segment of the Beltline, a property next to the former State Farmer’s Market, which is now a wreck, will rise like a phoenix from the ashes and become a new 5-6-acre urban farm. To make way for this transformation, several layers of asphalt were removed, along with old gas tanks, axles, and transmission tanks. Harrop said the area will be restored from an abandoned industrial site to its original use as an agricultural resource for the neighborhood. He remarked on the “poetry” of that transformation.

farmersmarket
The transit corridor itself will rise and fall through the city. Burke said it will look much like the St. Charles street car line in New Orleans. There will be grass below and on the sides of the tracks. Like in New Orleans, Atlantans will be able to walk or jog near the tracks. “It will be a porous transit line.” The big challenge, though, is that much of the Beltline isn’t at grade; much of the network will be above or below street level. Every street that crosses the line will offer an access point. The transit line itself will stop every half to quarter mile. While there are 10 at-grade access points, there will be lots of walking up and down stairs and ramps to get to the line. Burke said “it’s an extreme challenge to design access so that people don’t feel like they a deserve a piece of cheese when they reach the end of the ramp.”

lightrail
Once people find their way to the streetcar corridor, they will find a 14-foot concrete bike and pedestrian trail, said Hussey-Coker. The walking trail will run alongside the streetcar. In most places, there will be enough room between the two networks so that no physical divider between them will be needed. In the case where they are just 7-feet apart, the design team plans to add in low shrubs or fences.

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In some parts, interestingly, the trail actually diverges from the streetcar line. “The trail will be nearby but it’s not always side by side.” The trails are in fact designed to meander a bit to “connect isolated green spaces” near the light rail line. To ensure bicyclists can also easily access the trail, entrepreneurs in the city are looking at opening bicycle rental shops at key points. There is a feasibility study underway for a bike share program as well. “Before we can build the bicycle infrastructure, we need to build a bicycle culture,” said Hussey-Coker.

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A lighting scheme is being designed to enable access at night and enhance security. The team decided against security call boxes along the trail, but they will be in the transit stations. Harrop said the cost of adding security call boxes along the entire 22-mile line would have been prohibitive, plus “everyone has cell phones these days.” The Atlanta Police department is already putting together the Path Force, a team dedicated to patrolling the parks, trails, and nearby neighborhoods. In the beginning of the planning process, there were some fears that the Beltline could be used as a “criminal corridor, used for bad stuff.” But the market is saying something different. Harrop noted a marked improvement in the housing market in Beltline neighborhoods and said bidding wars for residences right off the line are becoming more frequent. In fact, speculators are buying up vacant properties along the Beltline in some areas, seeing opportunities to make lots of money.

The landscape design itself, which was informed by the work of Perkins + Will and James Corner Field Operations, will be built out in parts by Trees Atlanta, a local tree-planting organization. Some sections will be like an arboretum, while others will be a more straight-forward greenway. In many areas, the landscape itself needs to be cleaned up, with invasive plants removed and basic environmental remediation. Groups in the 45 neighborhoods the line transects are able to Adopt the Beltline and organize clean-up crews. The Beltline seems to have done an excellent job at involving the many diverse local communities in both planning and upkeep. “There have been no protests about the Beltline.”

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But the big question may be: Can this new streetcar and set of trails really get Atlantans to move around the city in ways the existing infrastructure has not? The Beltline team is serious about providing other forms of mobility, but will they succeed in uprooting the car culture? Can they get Atlantans to think it’s cool to bike to work, walk trails every day, or take the streetcar to connect to a subway or bus?

The relatively new MARTA subway system (at least in comparison with NYC and Chicago) seemed barely used when this blogger rode it about 10 times, with stations and trains largely empty. Local riders looked like they were among those unlucky enough to not own a car. There were some tourists and business travelers coming to and from the airport. The reality is that the 10-county Atlanta region has some 4.2 million people, yet just 200,000 use the MARTA subway each day, despite the billions that have been spent on the project. Another 200,000 use the bus system, which this carless blogger waited almost an hour for one day. When I went into a store and asked one shop owner how to get back downtown on the bus, she just laughed, saying that “nobody rides the bus.”

As the new infrastructure comes in, the Beltline team, Atlanta city government, non-profits, and private sector firms, will need to work together to change the culture of the city, so that this beautiful re-envisioning of Atlanta’s historic infrastructure is actually put to good use.

Learn more about the Beltline master plan and next steps and see more photos.

Image credits: (1) Beltline map / Atlanta Beltline, (2) Beltline / A is for Atlanta, (3-4) Historic 4th Ward Park / Steve Carrell, (5) Historic 4th Ward Skatepark / Steve Carrell (6) Bellwood Quarry / Tumblr, State Farmers Market / SwatsMatt blog, (7) Irwin Promenade / Atlanta Beltline, (8) North Highland Overpass / Atlanta Beltline, (9) Gateway to the Eastside Trail at 10 street and Monroe Drive, (10) Adopt the Beltline / Atlanta Beltline

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huntspoint
In a lecture at the National Building Museum (NBM), Kim Mathews, RLA, ASLA, a founding principal of Mathews Nielsen, discussed resiliency and renewal through her firm’s “Cinderella projects.” The lecture was hosted in celebration of National Landscape Architecture Month (NLAM) and as part of NBM’s Smart Growth lecture series.

“Many of our projects are, in fact, true Cinderella stories,” Mathews explained. “They are stories of perseverance, adaptation, and sometimes just plain good luck. They are landscapes that have been working all their life, often forgotten or out of view of the general public, but given the opportunity to be re-imagined.”

The presentation featured five Cinderella stories, all located in New York City riverfronts, and focus on the physical connections to the community. Here are three of the five projects:

Hunts Point Landing

Hunts Point Landing is one of twenty projects in New York City’s South Bronx Greenway master plan initiative. Mathews Nielsen is leading this major, multi-year planning and design effort. The master plan provides practical strategies for greening the Bronx, environmentally and financially. Hunts Points Landing provides new connections to the river for community residents as well as a host of waterfront activities.

Once a fully paved industrial site overlooking the river, Hunts Point Landing was transformed and now offers panoramic views (see image above). “The circulation and topography within the site were calibrated to ensure that a visitor sees the water and is led to the shoreline upon entering the park,” Mathews exlpained.

Leading to the river, the site transitions smoothly between urban and natural environments. At one end of the park, the Hunts Point extension connects to the greenway. There are sidewalks to enter into the park, the fish market, and some parking. The pathway into the park smoothly becomes more densely populated with trees, grasses, and other native plants, leading into the restored shoreline with natural wetland and tidal pools.

Weehawken Waterfront Park

Located just north of the Lincoln Tunnel in Hudson County, New Jersey, this 12-acre park is the new public centerpiece of the Weehawken restored riverfront. Previously, this area was rail yard and industrial park, a gray, desolate piece of the public esplanade around the river.

The township wanted the park to become a living environment that enables active recreation by visitors. It’s a challenge to identify locations for large play fields within waterfront settings, but Mathews explained that “through careful design, we were able to locate the large fields along the water’s edge, while keeping the sweeping views to the river.”

The fields and courts are now embedded within the landscape. Additionally, the park features a rolling terrain with high points, sloping lawns, wildflower meadows, and grassy berms. For many who live in the area, this is the only available place for play.

weehawken

Shoelace Park Master Plan

In Shoelace Park, the natural line of the river was straightened due to a now inactive roadway, leaving the Bronx River more susceptible to flooding. Also, nearly 40 percent of the park flows through a 100-year flood plain. In this new master plan, the Bronx River, with both soft and armored edges, will now meander through a revitalized Shoelace Park.

Through a public design workshop, the firm and the Bronx River Alliance were able to identify what features were necessary to turn this park into a community landmark. The features desired by the community would then be combined with water management systems. Key components would include a play area, vegetated swales, and a large, 17-foot promenade with a shared pedestrian lane and two bike and skating lanes.

shoelace

These case studies show how to renew communities with sustainable strategies. “These are urban edges that have come a bit unraveled, but through smart design and perseverance, they have been stitched back together.”

Listen to the full recording and see more images from Mathews’ presentation.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA Public Relations and Communications Coordinator

Image credits: (1) Hunts Point Landing / Mathews Nielsen, (2) Weehawken Waterfront Park / Mathews Nielsen, (3) Shoelace Park / Mathews Nielsen

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sprawl
Showing an image of sprawled-out Mexico City, Ricky Burdett, Professor of Urban Studies, London School of Economics, told the crowd at the Innovative Metropolis conference hosted by the Brookings Institution and Washington University in St. Louis that we are now living in the era of the “endless city.” These cities are endless because they are humungous and also joining up together into megapolises, region-cities. But within the endless city, there are differences. As an example, Burdett said the average commute in Mexico City is 4 hours each way, while it’s just 11 minutes in Hong Kong. In other words, some are strained to the max and not very efficient while others work pretty well.

Cities now consume 70-75 percent of the world’s energy and account for 75 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Beyond the environmental implications of rapid urbanization, there are also social impacts. One-third of all urban residents (more than a billion people) now live in slums. These slums, the edges of cities, are ever-growing. “Every minute and a half someone has moved into a slum in a city in the developing world.” With the expansion of cities, there’s also increased inequality. In Sao Paulo and other developing world mega-cities, unplanned developments can be seen right up against gated wealthy communities, displaying the wealth inequality in a dramatic way.

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While Burdett said everyone would like to be as sustainable as Copenhagen, creating true sustainability in a mega-city is a totally different story. With improved incomes, more people buy cars. Showing a graph, Burdett explained how once countries move up the human development index, their ecological footprint often climbs. The worst offenders are the U.S., Canada, and some European countries, but, increasingly, upper and middle classes in the developing world are catching up. In Sao Paulo, more than 1,000 people now commute via helicopter, around the same number as do in New York City and Hong Kong.

Many growing cities are chewing up their ecological functions. “Sao Paulo’s extraordinary city center has only grown outwards, pushing the poor out of the city.” The result: the edges have now been decimated, with people living in shacks right up to the city’s water reservoirs. Parks have almost all been totally consumed. The same story could be told for many other developing world cities.

Some developing world cities are starting to respond. Bogota, Colombia, with a population of more than 7 million, launched Transmilenio, an innovative bus rapid transit (BRT) system, to offer more sustainable transportation options that provide service to the poor who commute and also reduce congestion. For those who can’t afford the bus, there are now bicycle highways filled with bicycle commuters. Bicyclists seem to be everywhere there, supporting close-connected neighborhoods.

bogota
Other mega-cities, mostly in the developed world, are also demonstrating that growth doesn’t necessarily mean a rise in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. London and Berlin were held up as examples of large cities using “design and physicality to create density with social and environmental benefits.” (Burdett also made a point to differentiate between housing and work density: the first relates to the number of people who live in a given area, while work density relates to the density of population using infrastructure to commute. If a city has a high work density, it must accommodate heavy periods of movement during peak times. The average commute in NYC is now 1 hour. The housing density in Hong Kong is even higher than NYC’s, but the work density is far less, with commutes around 11 minutes).

London is seen as an example of an endless city actually promoting all forms of density. “The city has actually done some really smart planning. Development stops at the green belt.” By law, London’s immovable green belt forms the outer-edge of the city. Even with one million new people expected to be added in the coming years, the city has to fill in or redevelop instead of sprawling out.

One example of a project that created density through urban redevelopment was the new Olympics site. Located in an area of East London well-connected to transportation and green infrastructure (the Lea Valley), the site was an empty rail yard and home to a number of industrial firms. There was even a depot for old refrigerators, a “fridge mountain.” London purposefully targeted this area because its population had the lowest indicators in the city. Also at the edges of the community was an artist’s colony and some of the most vibrant yet poor multi-ethnic communities. “This was a real opportunity to address inequality.”

The new site master plan, created by U.S.-based landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Associates and UK-based LDA Design, created space for 15 billion pounds worth of new parks, sports facilities, and housing for all the athletes. But the city and the design team were really smart: the site was designed at the beginning to be reconfigured into a mixed-use development with 900 new affordable condos, healthcare facilities, retail malls, and parks after the Olympics. In fact, some $400 million was actually set aside at the beginning of the project to accomplish all the reconfiguration. Some examples: Zaha Hadid’s famed swimming pool had wings that came off afterwards, shrinking the footprint of a building. Another sports facility has been deconstructed all together and the Brazilians may buy it for the Rio Olympics. A really wide bridge was designed to cut in half so visitors to the now-emptier site won’t feel like they are lost in huge Modernist plaza.  A new park by James Corner Field Operations, the landscape architects behind the High Line, will transform some 55-acres of the Olympics site. Burdett, who was an advisor to the development authority, said the site has gone being a “closed event to part of an open city.”

olympicspark
While the London Olympics may prove to be a success for East London, improving density and reducing inequality, can other cities undertake similarly massive and expensive urban redevelopment projects? Burdett said that the London Olympics accelerated progress in addressing entrenched problems in East London by about 70 years, but other cities can accomplish the same if they have a “long-term vision.” Incentivizing urban redevelopment and density works if cities can set limits at the edges. In many developing world mega-cities (and even developed world ones), runaway developer-led land speculation at the edges has led to sprawl. “There have to be no-go areas outside the city.”

Burdett added that city “form doesn’t necessarily determine prosperity, what does is well-connected infrastructure that enables the possibility of integrated growth and interaction.” In other words, cities with lots of different shapes can succeed. Cities have long been formed by particular geographies or hydrologies, but well-connected density is more likely to occur through tighter urban redevelopment projects than through more amorphous sprawled-out shapes.

Watch webcasts of the conference.

Image credits: (1) Mexico City sprawl / Daily Galaxy, (2) Sao Paulo / Art GB, (3) Bogota bicyclists / Traverno, (4) London Olympics Park / James Corner Field Operations

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The new Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design (CIRD), a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Project for Public Spaces, and other organizations, is looking for proposals from rural communities who need design help. According to the group, successful applications will receive a $7,000 grant and technical assistance valued at $35,000.

CIRD, which used to be called “Your Town,” helps rural communities with fewer than 50,000 people. Through facilitated design workshops, CIRD aims to “enhance the quality of life and economic vitality” of these places. The intensive two-day workshops bring together “local leaders, non-profits, and community organizations with a team of specialists in design, planning, and creative placemaking to address challenges like strengthening economies, enhancing rural character, leveraging cultural assets, and designing efficient housing and transportation systems.”

Since the program began in 1991, more than 60 workshops have been held across the U.S., resulting in a range of new projects like new public art and business improvement districts, new waterfront parks, and complete streets.

Communities will need to find $7,000 in matching funds to participate (cash or in-kind).

Submit a proposal by March 5.

Also, the American Architectural Foundation’s innovative Sustainable Cities Design Academy (SCDA) program is asking teams that represent public-private partnerships to apply to attend design workshops in D.C.  The program connects “project teams and multi-disciplinary sustainable design experts” in workshops that “help project teams advance their green infrastructure and community development goals.” See the kinds of communities SCDA has helped in the past few years.

Image credit: ASLA 2011 Residential Honor Award. A Farm at Little Compton. Michael Vergason Landscape Architects / Michael Thomas

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At a presentation in the ornate wood-paneled offices of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Lisa Jackson, the EPA announced this year’s winners of their annual smart growth awards. The winners all “break old habits and development patterns and give Americans more healthy choices,” said associate administrator Michael Goo. Jackson herself applauded the winners, who all demonstrated that “great ideas are easy, but it takes work to make a great idea actually happen.” She added that each winning team was a true collaboration between multiple non-profit, private, and government partners, who worked together “to creatively overcome challenges.”

This year’s winners were selected from nearly 50 projects from 25 states:  

BLVD Transformation Project, Lancaster, California
Overall Excellence – Winner
Lancaster’s “dilapidated downtown corridor” had been in “decline for more than 20 years and desperately needed an update.” Sketchy strip malls lined a 4-lane highway so all people wanted to do “was to drive through really fast.” Some first steps included removing 2 lanes, adding in traffic calming measures, new sidewalks and bikelanes, along with creating an innovative central “Ramblas” promenade space filled with trees. The promenade space can actually transform into parking lots when needed, too. Outoor pianos, scattered around the town, are labeled with signs called “Random Acts of Music.” People stop and play them. Farmer’s Markets help bring in crowds. Small businesses have clearly seen the opportunities: more than 45 new businesses have taken root along the new streetscape, leading to $130 million in new private sector investment, boosting revenues downtown by almost 96 percent, generating $300 million in new economic output, and creating nearly 2,000 new jobs. On top of that, bird noises piped in downtown are said to be responsible for a huge decline in the crime rates. (See an interactive Web site for the new streetscape).

Mariposa District, Denver, Colorado
Equitable Development – Winner
Denver’s historic and ethnically diverse La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood was transformed from an “economically challenged area into a vibrant, transit-accessible, district.” The city housing authority worked with Mithun architects on a new master plan that “preserved affordable housing while adding energy-efficient middle-income and market-rate homes.” A series of design charrettes and personalized outreach to community members who couldn’t make the planning meetings meant a new community where sustainability is actually affordable. Representatives from the housing authority noted that the nearby light rail station keep transportation costs for residents in check. A complex green infrastructure and urban gardening plan was also put in place.

Northwest Gardens, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Equitable Development – Honorable Mention
The first LEED-Neighborhood Development (ND) project in Florida provides LEED gold homes affordably along with access to fresh local produce and green jobs training. One official said “crime is now down, happiness is up, and the vegetables are great.”

The Cooperative Building, Brattleboro, Vermont
Main Street or Corridor Revitalization – Winner
The EPA writes: “The Brattleboro Food Co-op, the town’s only downtown food store, made a commitment to remain at its downtown location by constructing an innovative, four-story green building on Main Street with a grocery store, commercial space, offices, and affordable apartments. The Main Street location provides healthy food, new jobs, and housing within walkable distances of downtown businesses and public transit.” The $14 million project, said the coop owner, “is about the health and well-being of downtown. This reflects Vermont values.” The new home for the coop has also helped them boost revenue from $500,000 a year to more than $20 million.

Larkin District, Buffalo, New York
Main Street or Corridor Revitalization – Honorable Mention 
The University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning worked with community organizations and a local developer to totally transform an “old, abandoned industrial district.” The new master plan for an urban village “now features new office space, restaurants, apartments, parks, and plazas.” Already, some 2-3,000 people come in each Wednesday for band night and drinks. The whole project was done with private money.

Destination Portsmouth, Portsmouth, Virginia
Programs and Policies – Winner
Amazingly, in just one year, the historic city of Portsmouth, site of the oldest naval base in the U.S., completely revamped all their codes to enable denser smart growth within the city center. The project basically “rezoned the entire city in order to connect growth back to the downtown core.” The goal was to “attract people to targeted areas through mixed-use developments,” new, wider sidewalks and bikelanes. The EPA writes: “Destination Portsmouth prepared a package of new plans, zoning ordinances, and other development policies in collaboration with community stakeholders.”  

Bay Area Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing Fund, San Francisco, California
Programs and Policies – Honorable Mention
The Bay Area Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing Fund created a new $50 million rotating loan fund to assist developers in building affordable homes near public transportation.

Check out the winners from last year and 2010, too.

Image credits: Theavtimes.com

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Greg Smallenberg, FASLA, is principal at Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg. Smallenberg, who has 20 years of experience leading large and multidisciplinary teams, is one of the most highly recognized landscape architects in Canada.

In Toronto, your firm, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, just announced the opening of Canada’s first underpass park, a public space that transforms one of the city’s least desirable spots into an asset. The first pieces of the park offer a playground for kids as well as basketball hoops and skateboard ramps for teenagers. Why put a park under a highway? Why design this park for exercise?

There are probably more examples in the United States than there are in Canada, but cities in western societies are littered with spaces that can only be considered incidental. They’re leftover pieces of the urban fabric. They’re generally a result of urban infrastructure — and usually some form of transportation infrastructure — that ran amok in the ’40s,’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Cities have been faced with all sorts of these leftover spaces ever since.

With respect to the park we developed under an overpass in Toronto, the site was centered within a newly redeveloping community that Waterfront Toronto is putting forward called the West Don Lands. So it needed to be easily traversed and it had to be done safely and securely. We felt why not actually make it interesting fun and give it some community use? Together with Waterfront Toronto, the idea was born that the space would become a park, in large part just to take advantage of the free weather protection. In Toronto, there are not a lot of places where you can play basketball, or go skateboarding 12 months of the year without getting soaking wet or covered with snow. So the project was really  about turning something that most people looked at as a constraint into an opportunity. Now, that it is partially complete — for some weird reasons — it’s achieving celebrity status in the City of Toronto.


The park is being developed in two phases. The first phase is complete. The second phase is under construction. The first phase is primarily underneath the influence of the overpasses. There’s a couple of openings in the overhead structure that have allowed us to create a softer kind of landscape with trees that humanize this space, but for the most part, it’s a space that doesn’t get a lot of light or any rain and so the solution was a hard surface one where we put in largely recreational opportunities that could best take advantage of this obvious design response. At the same time, we created enough flexible space within the first phase so there could be a farmer’s market, informal performance theater and the likes. The second phase, that will be complete by spring of 2013, is much greener. It’s almost out from underneath the overpasses—so, lots of trees, community gardens, etc. When the park is read as a whole, it’s going to feel like there’s a good balance between recreational and passive park space, hard surface and soft surface.


We have been working with the Planning Partnership from Toronto in the detailed design of the entire West Don Lands public realm. In addition, Michael Van Valkenburgh’s firm has been central to the open space of the West Don Lands, designing the Don River Park, and a smaller space called River Square. All of the public realm pieces, under the direction of Waterfront Toronto, are flowing well together to create a bigger whole. The program offering of Underpass Park is just one component of a much larger basket of public amenities that are unfolding throughout the whole community.

Your firm has played a major role in the rebirth of the Toronto waterfront. With the latest contribution being Sherbourne Common, a fascinating hybrid: a park that is both a water treatment plant and public space. Visiting the park, I noticed how the infrastructure can’t be separated from the park. How was the park designed to be both infrastructure and public space? How well does it function as a neighborhood water treatment facility?

Early on, we were involved in the precinct planning of East Bayfront, the area that Sherbourne Common sits in. We worked with Koetter Kim, an architectural firm out of Boston. They were responsible for the built form. We were responsible for the public realm. We put together a plan that essentially took this brownfield site along a fairly disused portion of the Toronto waterfront and created a plan for a new neighborhood, which was, again, part and parcel of the whole Waterfront Toronto vision.

In this work, we were able to order the community both by circulation and open space. The open spaces took on different roles. For example, Claude Cormier’s park called Sugar Beach, which just won an ASLA award this year, is part of that. West 8 / DTAH has done a waterfront promenade and they’re building a significant streetscape along Queen’s Quay that will run right through the central waterfont and the East Bayfront community.

Sherbourne Common was intended to be the heart of this new waterfront community. It needed to be many things to many people. Interestingly, because the park is an example of building public realm in advance of private development, when it was completed it appeared somewhat alien because there was nothing around it. It’s still a bit desolate in the area but very quickly evolving. A commercial office building promoting film and media was recently completed and, directly adjacent to the park, a new 3,000 student university college has just opened its doors. Hines Development out of the States is in the process of developing a significant residential and mixed use component, which is directly east of the park, so, eventually, the park is going to be bracketed by all of this really interesting and meaningful community development. It’s going to be surrounded by commercial, educational, residential, and retail, which was always the plan from the beginning. This multi-use type of new community development is going to be different than anything we’ve seen in Toronto.

Sherbourne Common was intended to be the big green heart of the community. In terms of design, it’s centered around the idea of sustainability. It’s actually one of the first LEED-rated parks in Canada. We decided early on that we wanted to do something about stormwater. In the East Bayfront planning process the idea was that we would collect all of the stormwater within the community, and, ultimately, figure out what we were going to do with it. We weren’t going to just deposit it into the city storm sewers. That wasn’t on. This was a new twenty-first century community.

When West 8 came into the planning for the central waterfront in about 2006, they had developed this idea for the water’s edge, which includes what they have built now — this hard surface promenade, and, in the future, a floating or slightly-stepped boardwalk going the full length of the East Bayfront community. Underneath the boardwalk is planned a series of connectedbox culverts that will accept all of the storm water from the whole of East Bayfront. So, generally speaking, all of this water will move by gravity from the developing area into these containment culverts along the water’s edge where sediment will filter out and eventually the water will come back into the park.

From there it travels through one of the most sophisticated UV treatment systems in the Canada if not the world. The water travels up and through the dramatic art sculptures by Jill Anholt, which you would have seen when you were in Toronto and then into biofiltration beds, taking out most of the remaining contaminants. The water eventually makes its way back into the lake in a very clean state.


The intention from the very beginning is that there wouldn’t be a dividing line between design and disciplines. First and foremost, this is landscape architecture, but it was done in a way that collaborated with artists, architects and engineers. PFS, as a firm, is always trying to do this. Landscape architecture, as a profession, is hopefully trying to do this. You do get mixed results when one discipline takes over or something else happens to skew the balance, but in Sherbourne Common, the balance was there. The engineers were very creative. The architect was very creative. The artist was very creative. PFS set out the concept andthe others plugged in all of their resources to making this thing a reality. It’s almost impossible to see where the engineering starts or where the landscape architecture ends because we intentionally wanted boundaries blurred. The same holds for the art and the architecture. So from that perspective, it’s a huge success for us.

Do you think, given the incredible lack of space in cities and the increasing value of that space, more urban, public spaces need to be like Sherbourne Common and double as infrastructure? Is this the model for urban parks of the future? What are the challenges to this approach?

I think it’s one model for some urban areas. If you can see an opportunity where you can ride on the back of an infrastructure project or an infrastructure need, why not? In Canada, the budgets that are put forward for things like sewers and roads are exponentially greater than any budget put forward for landscape. Yet, these kinds of projects can go hand-in-hand. So why not piggyback on budgets like that? Why not make something that isn’t a hindrance or a distraction in the community? If you can make it fantastic, usable, and beautiful, why not do it?

There is a real opportunity here. There’s leftover urban infrastructure everywhere and there’s all sorts of new urban infrastructure projects coming on line. Urban open space is scarce and you just don’t find many conventional open space opportunities anymore because cities are built up. The tastier bits are all gone. We have to be really creative in how we look at opportunities.

A number of other works by your firm elegantly repurpose historical buildings and landscapes, reusing sites, but making them contemporary in the process. I was struck by the Canadian Embassy in Rome, Bellevue City Hall in Washington State, as well as Coal Harbour, the historic seawall in Vancouver. Please explain how you translate cultural landscapes– large and small– significant or not– into new works.

We’re very interested in cultural landscapes and there are different ways you can look at this..a the artifact or the ritual. Personally, I’m more interested in the rituals. In other words, the things that have happened in places that we’re asked to take a look at as opposed to the artifact. They’re both important, but I think ritual is more important.

We’re very respectful of historic properties, but we will always look for a way to put a contemporary layer on any sort of historic site or project that we’re asked to come into. From our perspective, that’s the way you actually make places relevant. You need to design for the next generation. The next generation has to feel like they’re a part of it. If there’s no relevance, then they will eventually lose interest. And, ultimately, there will be a loss of the synergy that happens between users and these spaces.

In the case of Coal Harbour, it was built largely on reclaimed land. We were very interested in  tracing the old shoreline. We did it in a way that recalled some of the area’s natural processes, the scouring of the sandstone cliffs by the ocean and the granite lenses that were revealed in this process. We designed a wall in Harbour Green Park that in subtle ways picks up on this.


With respect to the Canadian Embassy in Rome, its located on a vestige of an old villa estate in Rome near the Villa Borghese. It’s called the Villa Grazioli. There’s a lot of history there. The building itself is an eighteenth century Tuscan-style villa that was renovated to accommodate the Canadian Embassy. They had pretty much finished the villa and realized that the grounds, which took up a little under five acres of property, had been ignored during the restoration. Our firm was called in to design a plan for the grounds that could do two things: appreciate what was there before in terms of historic patterns and uses and recognize that there would be a whole new program that had to be established on that site. The challenge was how to weave those two things together.


This project was on a fast track and I went to Rome several times over the course of a year. I worked hand-in-hand with clients and contractors there through a daily ritual of sketching then meeting then re-sketching. It wasn’t a design-build, but at times it felt that way, when I would go out there and work with these amazing Italian craftsmen. For me just the process was about appreciating and understanding a cultural landscape.

In Grounded, a new book on your firm’s work, you said, “Green is the future, and landscape architects are critical to meeting the challenge of green cities in the broadest sense.” What is a green city? Getting specific, what do landscape architects need to do to occupy a central role in creating this green, urban future?

Everybody has a take on green cities. There’s a different perspective whether you’re a planner, architect, or landscape architect. To me greening a city just means optimizing land and resources in a way that makes a city livable. To optimize it, it seems to me that you need to have a lot of people onboard. If you want to make a city green, it’s got to be a true collaboration. And it starts with politicians and local administration. Then, you have to have smart architects designing really smart buildings. You need great engineers designing and building fantastic transit. And you need landscape architects that are able to hold the whole thing together.

Ian McHarg nailed it years ago when he talked about how critical it was that cities understand there were these natural processes all around them and that they were a part of, and that you had to draw these processes through the city and make them real. Then, 20 years later, Jan Gehl talked about a city’s vibrancy, which got better and better with increasing social interaction and integration. For me he’s essentially talking about  people bumping into one another, striking up a conversation, or maybe just observing people with friends and families or getting a sense of what they’re doing or what interests them. I think that these ideas have influenced landscape architects and their approach to green cities. We’ve read McHarg. We’ve read Gehl. And most have read Lewis Mumford, who postulated that cities are ordered through transportation and open space.

You also said the future of cities could belong to landscape architects because people were becoming “weary of the way cities are rolling out or, in some cases, imploding.” What do you mean? As an example, how can landscape architects undo the damage of sprawl?

If we’re trying to undo the damages of sprawl, then we have to make density interesting. We have to make living in the core of the city interesting. Our firm’s from Vancouver. Vancouver has been noted around the world as one of the most livable cities in the world. A lot of that has to do with reengaging the public’s imagination in living in a dense, downtown environment.

For many cities around the world, there was a great exodus out of the core. Cities were left to the offices and some commercial pursuits. In large part, this didn’t happen in Canada to the same extreme it did in American cities, where there was a lot of hollowing out of the centers and there are still many stark reminders of that. What Vancouver ended up doing was coming up with a variety of ways to encourage people to first live in the core, and then when they started living there, to encourage them to shop there, socialize there, raise their kids there. In 25 to 35 years, it’s turned from a uninteresting, fairly unpopulated downtown into one of the most vital downtowns in the world. It’s not Tokyo, Shanghai or New York, but it’s pretty good and was partially achieved through this idea of building optimism and imagination. Landscape architecture, quite frankly, was a huge part of achieving this.

At one point in the book you say that landscape architecture in Canada is still struggling a lot. You argue that landscape architects aren’t flourishing despite the great projects all over Canada. Why is that? What are the main challenges still facing landscape architects? What are the future opportunities?

I kind of regretted saying that in the book. PFS does very well. There are a lot of firms like ours that do very well. And there are lots of successful individual practitioners. But I do think the profession continues to struggle in Canada. I think it still struggles in the U.S.

I’d be very interested in getting into more of a conversation about this with other practitioners in Canada and the U.S. For me, the profession needs to continue getting out from underneath architecture and engineering. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way to those disciplines. We enjoy working with great architects and great engineers. We seek out multidisciplinary approaches in our work. I do know that for some though there is this sense that landscape architects are the butlers or the handmaidens of these larger, more organized, better financed professions. The truth is landscape architects should end up trumping the professions of architecture and engineering. The solutions we collectively bring to bear as landscape architects on urban problems is seen in a much brighter light because people are tiring of the other solutions. I think people aresearching for solutions that reside closer to their hearts. So, in Canada, landscape architects will continue to do well. I’m optimistic about that, but, as a profession, we need to define ourselves a little bit better.

Image credits: (1) Underpass Park / Waterfront Toronto, (2) Underpass Park / PFS, (3) Sherbourne Commons / Tom Arban, (4) Sherbourne Commons / Frederick Moeser, (5) Coal Harbour / Scott Massey, (6) Canadian Embassy in Rome / Giacomo Foti Fotographia

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