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Archive for the ‘Sustainable Design’ Category

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Pollinator Pathway / Bergmann

EcoDistrict planning and design can accelerate local efforts to improve sustainability. EcoDistricts offer a framework through which communities can discuss, prioritize, and enact initiatives that address climate change — by providing clean energy, conserving wildlife habitat, and encouraging low-impact development — and also social equity. If more neighborhoods begin to adopt the EcoDistrict model — wherein a range of partner organizations work in concert — we could see stronger bottom-up pushes toward city-wide sustainability.

Since 2011, the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, which is funded by the Bullitt Foundation and led by Capitol Hill Housing, has sought to improve the sustainability of the community and the equity of its constituents. This EcoDistrict is partnering with the Seattle 2030 District, a high-performance business district in downtown Seattle, that aims to reduce carbon emissions 50 percent by 2030. In 2015, Seattle’s City Council formally passed a resolution recognizing the EcoDistrict.

In the past few years, the EcoDistrict has made progress: Capitol Hill Housing and Seattle City Light started the first community solar project on an affordable housing building in Washington State. Participants in this program can “subscribe” to receive the benefits of solar via the systems built and maintained by Seattle City Light on the rooftop of the new Capitol Hill Housing, the Holiday Apartments, which houses 88 new apartments for low-income families, artist spaces, two theaters, various community organizations, and street-level retail spaces.

Also, innovative building projects are being encouraged to update the city’s outdated land-use code, using a process of design review. As an example, The Bullitt Center helped launch the city’s Living Building pilot program.

The EcoDistrict aims to address urban ecosystem fragmentation and the loss of tree canopy and open space. Capitol Hill Housing is partnering with the interdisciplinary designer Sarah Bergmann on the creation of the second certified Pollinator Pathway in the U.S. Each Pollinator Pathway connects two or more green spaces, following a set of scientific criteria.

Bergmann’s first project, Pollinator Pathway One — a mile-long, 12-foot wide landscape first developed seven years ago — connects Seattle University’s campus with Nora’s Woods, a small forested area a mile away, through a series of connected gardens (see image above). The second project, Pollinator Pathway Two, will run through the heart of the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict and will connect two Olmsted-designed parks, the grounds of an elementary school, and Seattle University.

More knowledge sharing among EcoDistricts around the country will help lead to a more replicable model. Already, a few high-profile EcoDistricts are joining together: In 2014, the Portland, Oregon-based EcoDistrict organization launched a program called Target Cities, a two-year partnership with ten projects across eight North American cities.

This guest post is by Katy Scherrer, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, University of Washington.

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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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Fourth annual Vortex competition / UVA

Hundreds of students walked down Ivy Road in the middle of January, marking the kickoff of the fourth annual Vortex competition at the University of Virginia. Undergraduate and graduate students from all disciplines at the School of Architecture gathered together for a week-long design workshop to envision a new academic commons along the Ivy Road corridor, an underused entry to the university. Focusing on improving connectivity to new student and faculty housing, the workshop examined how to bring academic and residential culture together in a new urban environment.

Thirty student teams, each advised by a faculty member, developed innovative approaches to the design problems: how to improve accessibility, connectivity, and sustainability. Using university founder Thomas Jefferson’s “academical village” concept — which called for deep interactions between students and scholars — as the basis for dialogue, teams also focused on how to further this relationship and extend it city-wide.

This year Sylvia Karres, founder of Karres en Brands Landscape Architects, which is based in the Netherlands, led the design workshop and served as the primary critic. With her expertise in campus planning, Karres called for using sustainable campus design approaches, wherein a balance between learning and living conditions is produced, enabling a holistic student experience. Desk critiques continued through the week as Karres extended the dialogue to university sprawl and the poor connections with the Ivy Road corridor.

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Karres listens to a student presentation / UVA

The final charrette was held at Sunday morning, bringing the week-long chaos to an end. Students, faculty, and community members were all in attendance.

Team 2, which was led by landscape architecture professor Julie Bargmann, won the public, student, and faculty awards. The team envisioned connecting the community and university with Ivy Road by making the road an academic, environmental, and commercial hub for the western edge of Charlottesville. Using an existing culverted stream under the site as an organizational element, the proposal included a pedestrian mall, multi-level housing, and a bridge in memory of Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech student, who disappeared there in 2009. The team sought to create a place of empowerment and community.

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Team 2 proposal / UVA

Team 26, led by architecture professor Peter Waldman, won the main prize, given by Karres, with their development of a campus collage. The team’s proposal focused on merging the various layers of university life and better connecting the community through public transportation and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. The team proposed placing several more train stops along the existing railroad. Taking cues from the existing historic sites, railroad organization, and cultural points of interest, the proposal also links this area with new housing and public spaces.

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Team 26 proposal / UVA

In a single week, the competition took a creative discussion beyond the walls of the School of Architecture into the Charlottesville community. This year, students acted as their own client, designing new models for sustainable academic life at the University of Virginia.

This guest post is by Jasmine Sohn, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of Virginia.

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COSMO / Andrés Jaque’s Office of Political Innovation

The ingenious winner of this year’s Young Architects Program (YAP) at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) PS1 in Queens, New York City, is COSMO, a mobile, transparent, and artful system for purifying wastewater. Designed by Andrés Jaque’s Office of Political Innovation, the machine makes visible the process of cleaning dirty water, exposing the value of this vital natural resource in the process.

Here’s a description of Jaque’s invention: “An assemblage of ecosystems, based on advanced environmental design, COSMO is engineered to filter and purify 3,000 gallons of water, eliminating suspended particles and nitrates, balancing the PH, and increasing the level of dissolved oxygen. It takes four days for the 3,000 gallons of water to become purified, then the cycle continues with the same body of water, becoming more purified with every cycle.” The system uses no electricity, just sunlight and gravity to accomplish all of this.

See a wild video that explains how the system works:

As architect Bjarke Ingels and others have long argued, sustainable design should not only be an improvement on the status quo but also be fun, not a drag. Taking that idea to the nth degree, Jacque believes the process of using natural engineering to clean water can actually be transfixing. Here, clean water is the life of the party. “The stretched-out plastic mesh at the core of the construction will glow automatically whenever its water has been purified. In the stone courtyard of MoMA PS1, the party will literally light up every time the environment is protected providing a dynamic backdrop for the Warm Up summer music series. It will gather people together in an environment as pleasant and climatically comfortable as a garden as visually textured as a mirrored disco ball.”

Once the partying and water purifying is over, COSMO will be dismantled, its parts redistributed, the plants used in its cleansing processes given to PS1’s neighbors.

Andrés Jaque sees his machine as a prototype for a new mobile system for cleaning water. His team will offer detailed instructions for how to create your own COSMO online.

PS1 has been using its summer installation series as a way to highlight how architecture can be designed to give back environmentally. Last year, Hy-Fi, the 2014 YAP winner, aimed to push the boundaries of bio-design, creating a 100 percent organically-grown and fully compostable structure. And in 2012, Wendy highlighted how architecture could be used to clean the air. Its spiky arms were covered in “nylon fabric treated with a groundbreaking titania nanoparticle spray to neutralize airborne pollutants.”

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Hualien Hills / BIG

The dynamics of BIG, one of the world’s hottest architecture and urban design firms, are laid bare in a new exhibition at the National Building Museum and companion book. Taking on increasingly ambitious projects all over the world, BIG, at its best, shows how building and landscape can be merged, creating novel experiences in the built environment. Much like Weiss/Manfredi and other firms with a multidisciplinary approach, BIG wants to create hybrid places. Bjarke Ingels, the founder of BIG, joked at the exhibition opening that he wanted to call the show, “BIGAMY: you can have it both ways.”

Offering another way to understand the work, Ingels dismissed the one-size-fits-all solution of Modernist architects, aligning his projects with a long history of vernacular architecture that responds to local conditions. Just as the ancient temples at Angkor Wat used long passageways and buildings with apertures to stimulate air flow and create natural air-conditioning in the blistering heat of Cambodia or arctic igloos minimize thermal loss through their round form, BIG’s buildings are designed to “respond to existing conditions.” BIG particularly emphasizes the role of climatic conditions in their work, organizing the entire exhibition around the world’s temperature zones, with the theme “Hot to Cold.” The exhibition wraps around the entire second floor of the museum, showing the “journey across the planet’s climate in 900 feet.”

Just as buildings respond to the climate, they also shape it as well. Our buildings, as Ingels explained, account for a huge share of the world’s energy and therefore carbon emissions. “With climate change, buildings must now perform more intelligently.” Given a “good and bad building costs about the same,” Ingels argued, “it’s about how the ingredients are put together.” Buildings can either adapt to their environment and make a positive contribution to climate change or do the opposite.

As you loop around the second floor of the museum, you see BIG’s tactile models hanging from above, floating in each archway. Below the models are interactive explanations, often with videos. The high-tech, and most likely expensive, exhibition was financed by the Danish government and a Danish design non-profit.

Projects that leaped out really seek to integrate building and landscape. For example, the gorgeous Hualien Residences project in Taiwan features buildings created in the shape of limestone mountains, all covered in green roofs (see image above and below), certainly a response to Taiwan’s enviroment.

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Hualien Hills / BIG

And then there’s the BIG U, which won $335 million in the Rebuild by Design competition organized by the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an impressive effort to spur more resilient coastal models in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. BIG explains how the landfill that has formed the southern tip of Manhattan is also the part of the island most at risk from massive storms. But by putting in various “pinch points,” Manhattan could add “flood compartments, much like the hull of a ship.” These compartments can open and close depending on conditions. And berms can double as parks. Public space as infrastructure, another smart hybrid.

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Big U / BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) with One Architecture, Starr Whitehouse, James Lima Planning + Development, Project Projects, Green Shield Ecology, AEA Consulting, Level Agency for Infrastructure, Arcadis, and the Parsons School of Constructed Environments

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Big U / BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) with One Architecture, Starr Whitehouse, James Lima Planning + Development, Project Projects, Green Shield Ecology, AEA Consulting, Level Agency for Infrastructure, Arcadis, and the Parsons School of Constructed Environments

And lastly, taking their ideas up to yet another scale: BIG is part of a team now working on Europa City in Paris, which is their take on “landscape urbanism.” With equal part cheek and smarts, BIG writes in the exhibition notes: “Europa City: 100 percent landscape and 100 percent building = 200 percent habitat!”

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Europa City / BIG

Explore BIG’s work in their new book Hot and Cold.

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Metropolitan Zone of the Valley of Mexico, 66 miles wide and 68 miles long. Top: hydrology and agriculture. Below: hydrology and urban systems. The Texcoco Lakebed is the large blue area at center-right / INEGI topographic charts. Maps by Gabriel Diaz Montemayor.

Last September, the Mexican government announced the construction of a new airport for Mexico City. The current airport is the second busiest, per number of passengers, in Latin America, just after Sao Paolo, Brazil. The airport was recently declared to be at full capacity. It has two runways that cannot be operated simultaneously and it’s surrounded on three flanks –north, west, and south – by dense neighborhoods. Along its east site, the airport is adjacent to the Texcoco Lake bed. There is no more space for growth, so a new airport is needed.

The new airport master plan, as presented by Sir Norman Foster and Fernando Romero from Mexico, the architects who won an international design competition, is located just 5 miles north of the current airport and will occupy 17.5 square miles of the Texcoco lake bed. The remains of this formerly grand lake covers some 50 square miles. Spared by urbanization but partially used for agriculture, the lake bed has both permanent and temporary water bodies. Although miniscule in comparison to the original lake system, the lake bed sits at the lowest part of the basin, helping concentrate and infiltrate water, supporting the unstable soils of Mexico City. The lake remnant protects the city from more flooding. And the water it collects keeps the city afloat by infiltration.

Mexico City drinks more than half of its water from the valley of Mexico’s aquifer. This valley is a closed basin draining serviced, storm, and waste water towards the Gulf of Mexico via a deep and massive underground system. The load pressing on this desiccated, lake landscape, along with aquifer exploitation, has led to Mexico City actually subsiding by over 30 feet in its central area in the last century.

A recent public presentation about the new airport plan failed to discuss how the project will address these critical environmental issues and improve water quantity and quality, support soils, recover wildlife habitat, and create a regenerative relationship between the city and its lakes.

There are ways landscape architecture can be used to help the lake system recover. Among some existing concepts is Ciudad Futura (Future City) by Alberto Kalach, Teodoro Gonzalez de Leon, their Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) architecture students, and other collaborators. Published in La Ciudad y sus Lagos (The City and its Lakes) in 1998, this project proposes the recovery of the lacustrine system through the construction of infrastructure for water management and treatment, the definition of active lake edges, the creation of new public spaces, and the development of a new airport as an island in a regenerated Texcoco Lake.

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The Future City / City of the Lakes project. The new airport as an island in the regenerated Texcoco Lake / Alberto Kalach, Teodoro Gonzalez de Leon, UNAM students, and other collaborators.

A more radical concept would be to turn the current airport into an ecological reserve and park, performing water and soil management and providing wildlife habitat. Parque Texcoco (Texcoco Park) by Iñaki Echeverria doesn’t address where to place a new airport though.

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Texcoco Park. The recovered Texcoco Lake with no airports / Iñaki Echeverria

With the new airport plans, the Mexican government promises not only first-rate architecture but also a place that creates ecological value, largely through a 1,730-acre public forest. But it remains to be seen whether the new airport’s master plan project can create a reconciliation between the built and natural environments, and this project can become a global best practice from an under-developed country. The health of the underlying ecological systems must be considered. Let’s demand this happens.

This guest post is by Gabriel Diaz Montemayor, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, The University of Texas at Austin

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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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Starry Night Bike Path, The Netherlands / Daan Roosegaarde

Future Forecasting: Landscape Architects Might Save the WorldArchitecture & Design Australia, 11/3/14
“I predict we’re going to hear a lot more from landscape architects in the coming years. There has long been a misunderstanding about what they actually do – ‘something about gardens’ being a common response.”

Minneapolis Picks Architecture Finalists for Stadium-Area Park Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, 11/6/14
“The city of Minneapolis named three finalist teams to design the two-block park near the new Vikings stadium. The three finalists are Olin Studio, Philadelphia and Snow Kreilich Architects, Hargreaves Associates and Damon Farber Associates, and WORKSHOP Ken Smith and Perkins + Will.”

Frick’s Plan for Expansion Faces Fight Over Loss of Garden The New York Times, 11/9/2014
“The Frick Collection’s plan to build a six-story addition, which destroys a garden design by landscape architect Russell Page, has met resistance. More than 2,000 critics have signed a petition organized by a consortium of preservation groups in protest of the expansion.”

In Urban Farming, a Different Taste of L.A. The Los Angeles Times, 11/12/14
“Instances of urban farming in Los Angeles have become increasingly common. From the roof of 120-year-old private clubs to local high schools, urban farming is proving its worth with gardens yielding up to $150,000 in produce annually.”

Daan Roosegaarde Opens Solar Powered Van Gogh Bike Path in the NetherlandsDesignBoom, 11/13/14
“Running 600 meters along the Brabant, the Netherlands site where Vincent Van Gogh lived from 1883 to 1885, dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde has opened the ‘Van Gogh-Roosegaarde cycle path’, comprising thousands of solar powered stones arranged in swirling compositions likened to the painter’s renowned ‘starry night.'”

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Pioneer Courthouse Square / Kenneth Helphand, FASLA

Portland, Oregon, is more than a trendy place to visit—it has long been ahead of the curve on urban design and sustainability, thanks to smart leadership and a willingness to experiment and innovate. The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Portland, a project by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), explains Portland’s cutting-edge approach to sustainable urban design.

The guide provides both Portlanders and the millions of tourists who visit Portland annually a deeper understanding of why Portland is one of the most livable and sustainable cities in the world. The guide is also meant to educate city leaders, urban planners, and designers across the U.S. and around the globe.

According to Mark A. Focht, FASLA, president of ASLA and first deputy commissioner of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, Portland’s landscape architects have played a crucial role in making the city a better place to live. Their contributions trace back to the early 20th century, when the Olmsted Brothers laid out many of the critical urban plans and park system, and continue with today’s generation of landscape architects, who are creating waterfront parks, beloved urban plazas, and cutting-edge bicycle infrastructure.

“Portland’s designed landscapes are integral to its urban fabric,” says Focht. “Landscape architects have long played a major role in designing the city’s public realm, and the key spaces between buildings that serve as the connective tissue for communities. These spaces include parks, plazas, streets, and transportation infrastructure.”

Topical tours offer both printable bike maps and Google maps. The guide also includes tours by district. People will be able to view the guide on their smartphones, tablets or desktop computers.

The website was created by ASLA in partnership with its Oregon Chapter and 11 local landscape architects, who are designers of our public realm and leaders in sustainable design.

The guides are:

Brian Bainnson, ASLA, Quatrefoil Inc.
Bennett Burns, ASLA, independent landscape architect
Mike Faha, ASLA, GreenWorks, PC
Kenneth Helphand, FASLA, University of Oregon
Rachel Hill, ASLA, AECOM
Lloyd Lindley, FASLA, independent landscape architect
Carol Mayer-Reed, FASLA, Mayer/Reed Inc.
Jeff Schnabel, ASLA, Portland State University
Jean Senechal Biggs, ASLA, Portland Bureau of Transportation
Rebecca Wahlstrom, ASLA, Olson Engineering Inc.
Robin Wilcox, ASLA, Alta Planning + Design

The guide is organized by the facets of the sustainable city, with sections on:

  • The Built Environment – how building and landscape work together to enhance sustainability.
  • Food – how the city’s local food system works, from urban farms to “food cart pods.”
  • Energy – how Portland has among the highest renewable energy use in the U.S.
  • “Grand Parks” – how the original Olmstedian park system is still key to livability.
  • Health – how parks are designed for users with all kinds of disabilities, even Alzheimer’s.
  • “People Spaces” – how the city creates a sense of civic pride through its plazas.
  • Social Equity – how the city helps the homeless and addresses the impacts of gentrification.
  • Transportation – how Portland created one of the best-integrated, most people-friendly transportation systems.
  • Waste – how the city achieved one of the highest recycling rates in the country.
  • Water – how it led the country on green infrastructure.
  • Wildlife – how its park system also serves other species.

This is the third in a series of guides focused on sustainable American cities. The first, The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Washington, D.C., was launched in 2012, and The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Boston, was launched in 2013. They have been viewed more than 150,000 times to date.

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Dogpatch Arts Plaza / CMG Landscape Architecture

Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? At the EcoDistricts Summit in Washington, D.C., two urban innovators in San Francisco, the home of so many game-changing technologies, have come up with a truly brilliant idea: the Green Benefits District (GBD), a sort of green business improvement district, designed to facilitate community investment in new tree-lined streets, parks, and gardens. Michael Yarne, with Up Urban and Build Inc. and the creator of the concept, said the GBD in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco will also aim to improve the management and upkeep of neighborhood public spaces, which they say is currently done poorly by the city government. The GBD will be like the “Uber of public space,” meaning they are adding another layer of more convenient services on top of the existing baseline service. A GBD is needed because the city government is “stuck in the 1970s.” But the GBD clearly has higher aims than just better services: Yarne sees a future with local, distributed renewable energy systems and more.

With the help of Scott Cataffa, ASLA, a partner at CMG Landscape Architecture, Yarne is in the middle of a two-year process to prototype the GBD concept. It seems creating a new assessment district in California is not an easy thing, as you first need a BID lawyer, then need to get 30 percent of the proposed assessed district to agree to a petition, and then 51 percent of the “weighted property owners” to back the idea through a ballot. Only then will the state and city governments allow you to use tax revenue to meet local ends.

Dogpatch and NW Potrero Hill, which covers some 700 acres and contains 100,000 people, has a “rich industrial heritage.” Through a survey, Yarne and his team learned the area actually has 13 sub-neighborhoods. Some of these maintain a “gritty, marginalized identity.” In contrast, some neighborhoods have a high level of “social capital,” which enables more coordinated action. Yarne decided to start in the area with higher social capital, with a history of local environmental activism and ownership of public spaces. There, a “plucky, can-do” group of locals have wrangled the state government to let them build a park where where was once transportation infrastructure. But all their efforts are “taxing.” This community clearly wants “parks and open space preserved,” but what’s the best way to do this? The neighborhood decided to pool resources into a new GBD.

The GBD will “coordinate property owners and build trust.” It will be a non-profit, public benefit corporation with an elected board and annual oversight by the city legislature. The new GBD will be “small enough to enable trust to grow and will operate in a hyper transparent manner.” It will “use an experimental ‘it’s OK to fail’ approach and aim to create long-term revenue.” Trust, he said, is the new “green,” because, without it, community action is impossible. Trust building will happen on the ground, in person, but also through a new app that will enable all GBD members to see in near real-time all reports, decisions, and expenditures.

“Like Facebook, the app will encourage GBD members to create a profile to encourage community accountability.” There will be something like the “See, Click, Fix” app, which will enable community members to report problems. The app will define the “party responsible for fixing, set the fix date, and the cost of the fix.” Yarne said listing the cost of the fix was important, because people don’t really have a clue as to cost of public services. All of the issues will be mapped, so the GBD member can see problem areas. For example, they could learn that vandalism occurs near the train stations. Like other techno-utopians in San Francisco, Yarne believes the app will “empower the community by demystifying work that’s happening.”

Landscape architect Scott Cataffa has been helping the nascent GBD map all their assets and discover where the opportunities are. Cataffa said a map of the community found only 2 percent of it is open space.  The community is already maintaining about half of the public spaces in the district, but the audit is helping the community figure out who owns what. With a list of more than 50 possible opportunities in hand, the GBD team is now figuring out what role they should play in creating new green public spaces and other sustainable features. They created a checklist to help label each project, with potential roles such as “lead, initiate, assist, or advocate.”

One proposal by CMG would create a new amphitheatre and outdoor art gallery in an unused, city-owned dead-end between two large industrial buildings. Through the audit, they also found that the very wide rights of way, which were designed for industrial use, create opportunities to create new linear parks. So they propose creating a new linear park — or green street — running from the new amphitheatre to a larger park. Cataffa said “we are looking at the right of way as a place to turn grey to green.” Other ideas being cooked up include putting a solar farm on top a freeway that cuts through the district, and creating a (black) waste water recycling system.

If they are allowed to assess the community for the GBD, Yarne says they will raise about $400,000 in their first year from taxes of about 9.46 cents per square foot of commercial and residential space and parking lots. Some non-profits would get a 50 percent discount on that tax, as would some struggling industrial site owners. Yarne expects their available funds to double over the coming years given lots of new residential complexes are coming online. He said, already, the GBD can change perceptions of new development from an unwelcome sign of gentrification into new opportunities to green.

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