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Ecological Tapestry of the World / ESRI and USGS

A new, free, web-based tool from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and ESRI allows us to gain a better understanding of the ecological character of any place in the world. As the team explains, the web site can be used by everyone — from local government officials and planners to landscape architects and conservationists — to visualize the world’s complex ecological patterns. This also means in the future the tool can be used to map the impacts of climate change and development on ecosystems over time.

According to Randy Vaughan, ESRI, an enormous amount of science (and data) went into creating the tool. “The globe was divided in cells at a base resolution of 250 meters.” Each cell was then assigned input layers of data that “drive ecological processes.”

When users search for any place in the world, they see a map, with four layers of information. There’s info on bio-climates, described with terms like “warm wet” or “hot dry”; landforms, with terms such as “flat plains” or “mountains”; rock type, with terms like “carbonate sedimentary rock” or “metamorphics”; and also land cover, the vegetation that results from these conditions, described with terms like “forest, farmland, or grassland.” For all data types, users can also further zoom in, all the way to the street level.

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The data has resulted in an amazing number of possible combinations: There is now a “global raster data layer with 47,650 unique combinations of the four input layers. The facets were then aggregated into 3,923 ecological land units (ELUs).” These ELUs themselves represent a new, data-based way of organizing the biosphere, based in “ecological and physio-graphic land surface features.”

Roger Sayre, senior scientist for Ecosystems, USGS, said the way the tool was set up also “advances an objective, repeatable big data approach to the synthesis and classification of ecologically important data.” This big data approach means “mapping can be updated as better or more current input layers become available.”

Indeed, the team is hoping for lots more new data, given there are “known and expected deficiencies in the current input layers. For example the release of the new SRTM 30 meter elevation terrain data provides an opportunity create a higher resolution landforms map.” They are looking into adding data about social and cultural factors. USGS and ESRI also hope that other scientists will use GIS to add their own layers and do their own analysis over time.

According to Fast Company, these first maps really are the beginning of an even more compelling analysis. Sayre said: “The map is a baseline for these ecosystems, so we’ll be able to assess them for climate change or other disturbances. We see the value of the dataset as a spatial accounting framework. In the future, we’ll be able to show them as a temporal sequence [of the world unfolding].”

Also, check out a map the team created of 10 of the world’s ecological hot spots, places with high levels of ecological diversity.

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Project Jewel at Changi Airport, Singapore / Safdie Architects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about Singapore’s ambitious green plan.

2015-awards

ASLA 2014 Landmark Award. Norman B. Leventhal Park at Post Office Square, Boston, Massachusetts. Halvorson Design Partnership / Ed Wonsek

The American Society of Landscape Architects has released its 2015 awards call for entries for the 2015 professional and student awards, the premier awards programs for the profession. For the first time, submissions will be handled online.

Award recipients will receive featured coverage in the October issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine and in many other design and construction industry and general-interest media. Award recipients, their clients and student advisors also will be honored at the awards presentation ceremony during the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Chicago, Nov. 6–9, 2015. The award-winning projects will be featured in a video presentation at the ceremony and on the awards website following the event.

The prestige of the ASLA awards programs relies on the high-caliber juries that are convened each year to review submissions. Members of this year’s professional awards jury are:

  • Keith LeBlanc, FASLA, Keith LeBlanc Landscape Architecture Inc., Boston, Jury Chair
  • Thomas Balsley, FASLA, Thomas Balsley Associates, New York City
  • René Bihan, ASLA, SWA Group, San Francisco
  • Alan Brake, The Architect’s Newspaper LLC, New York City
  • Kathleen Dickhut, ASLA, Department of Housing and Economic Development, Chicago
  • Signe Nielsen, FASLA, Mathews Nielsen, New York City
  • Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, FASLA, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • Mark Robbins, American Academy in Rome, Rome, Italy
  • Richard Weller, ASLA, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Members of the student awards jury are:

  • Kona Gray, ASLA, EDSA, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Jury Chair
  • Richard Bumstead, ASLA, University of Chicago, Chicago
  • Maurice Cox, Tulane University, New Orleans
  • Katya Crawford, Affiliate ASLA, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Lisa Gimmy, ASLA, Lisa Gimmy Landscape Architecture, Los Angeles
  • David Hill, ASLA, D.I.R.T. Studio, Auburn, Alabama
  • Fernando Magallanes, ASLA, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Katherine Orff, ASLA, Scape / Landscape Architecture PLLC, New York City
  • Laura Solano, ASLA, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts

Both the ASLA professional and student awards feature five categories: general design; residential design; analysis and planning; communications; and research. The professional awards also include the Landmark Award, while the student awards include the student community service award and student collaboration categories.

Entry submissions and payment must be received by:

March 27, 2015 for ASLA professional awards
May 22, 2015 for ASLA student awards

In need of inspiration? View the ASLA 2014 professional and student award-winning projects.

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Anne Whiston Spirn, FASLA, is a professor of landscape architecture and urban planning at MIT. Her most recent book is
The Eye is a Door: Landscape, Photography, and the Art of Discovery (2014). She is also the author of The Granite Garden (1984 ASLA President’s Award of Excellence), The Language of Landscape (1988), and Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field (2011 ASLA Honor Award). The Web site www.annewhistonspirn.com is a gateway to her work and activities.

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

This year is the 30th anniversary of your book, The Granite Garden, which argued that cities are part of nature and should be designed with nature. Since 1984, how much progress have we made? Where are we still going wrong?

We’ve made enormous progress, particularly with water. Ironically, we’ve done less well on climate and air quality. I say ironically because there’s so much awareness of climate change these days. There’s been a lot of attention paid to design proposals aimed at adapting to rising sea levels, but less to the enormous potential that the design of cities holds for reducing the factors that contribute to climate change in the first place. We need to truly reimagine the way we design cities.

Scientists and engineers are focused on technical solutions, social scientists on policy. And that’s where the public debate is focused. We designers and planners are not getting our message across as well as we should.

On the other hand, it’s a tremendous challenge for us to keep up with the latest and best scientific knowledge that would directly affect the way we design. We’re awash in information. You can’t expect a practitioner to stay abreast of all this literature, which is why we at MIT are proposing to do a monograph series on knowledge related to the urban natural environment — air, earth, water, ecosystems — and make that bridge to design. These monographs would be authored by teams of designers and scientists.

We hope to make these available at no cost, to anyone in the world. We hope that they’ll be valuable to scientists too, because most scientists don’t really know how their discoveries apply to design and planning. We are seeking funds to start with urban climate and air quality and then do our next monograph on water.

My hope is that this will prompt new experimentation and research that will give landscape architects the information we need. Right now, scientists develop their research agendas for their own purposes, mainly to document, record, and predict, but not to alter the world or make it more beautiful.

Thirty years ago, there was a sharp divide between proponents of ecological design and landscape as an art form. Examples of urban design that were both ecologically functional and artful were few and far between. I wrote “The Poetics of City and Nature: Toward a New Aesthetic for Urban Design” in 1988 and my book, The Language of Landscape, to argue for design that fuses ecology and art. Others made that argument, too. Now we have many great models of artful ecological design. So that’s another area where we have made real progress.

What do you think of the theoretical discussions born out of your book: ecological urbanism and landscape urbanism?

They’re very important in several ways. Both movements have appealed to architects, and that’s really important. Green infrastructure is something that landscape architects have been talking about for many decades, but architects weren’t thinking in those terms. Landscape urbanism and ecological urbanism were deliberately aimed to capture that audience. And that’s good. On the other hand, some proponents have claimed their approach is radically new, which it is not, and have ignored the contributions of many others to both theory and practice. Certain built projects have captured the public imagination, but for the most part, the landscape urbanism and ecological urbanism literature has been aimed at the design disciplines, not the larger public. There is a need for publications that are valuable to  designers and planners and are also challenging, interesting, and enlightening to a broader audience.

I first set out to accomplish that with The Granite Garden. It probably took me an extra 3-4 years to write the book because I had to learn how to write to this larger audience, use no jargon, and explain the concepts in a way that wouldn’t be boring to my professional colleagues but at the same time would be engaging to the public. I learned the power of that approach when The Granite Garden was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, and then abroad. It was picked up so widely because it was published as a book for a general audience, not solely as a professional text.

Landscape architects are not doing a good enough job at reaching that broader audience.

You say some things have improved; some haven’t. How would you change the way we’re communicating today? What’s the best way to reach the public?

The Web and electronic publishing have opened up powerful new opportunities. Twenty years ago, in 1995, the West Philadelphia Landscape Project Web site was in the works. Within two years, we’d had millions of visitors to the Web site, from 90 countries. This is the extraordinary power of the Web. I maintain several web sites, all geared to both a professional and a general audience, related to my research, writing, and teaching.

At AnneWhistonSpirn.com, I make available all of my writings except my books. I retain copyright and distribution rights to my articles, and so I can make them free for download on my web site. All of my courses have been online since 1996. They’re all available at no cost.

I’ve been part of the open-access movement before there was an open-access movement. I’ve always wanted to reach the broadest possible audience. There’s no single way to reach the public, but we shouldn’t dumb things down. We can engage both professionals and the public, if we go beyond the PR stuff and really try to reach the public in a serious way. As my editor would say, “Anne, your readers are not like your students. They don’t have to read. They can go get a beer and put down your book and never pick it up again, so you have to keep them engaged. You have a duty to your reader.”

E-publishing affords new ways to expand readership. With its many color photographs, a print edition of my new book, The Eye Is a Door: Landscape, Photography, and the Art of Discovery, would have been priced beyond the reach of many readers. To make it affordable, I composed and published it as an e-book.

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The Eye Is a Door / Anne Whiston Spirn

New e-book editions of The Granite Garden and The Language of Landscape will be published later this year. You will be able to read them in two ways: through verbal text (with links to images and captions) or as an essay of images and captions (with links to the book’s text). I envision this as a new kind of reading experience.

Looking at innovation today, what do you see 30 years ahead?

In the epilogue to The Granite Garden, I imagined two visions of the future: the infernal city and the celestial city. A lot of what I envisioned then is now commonplace. On the other hand, much has happened that I did not imagine. A lot can change in 30 years. Just think: the original Macintosh, the first personal computer with a mouse and graphic interface, was released in January 1984, the same month as The Granite Garden.

Today, we have the Internet and social media. Our phones can collect and upload all kinds of data. We’ve got crowd sourcing of data. 30 years down the pike, clothing, and vehicles that gather data will be commonplace. We’re going to be overwhelmed with data, so we need to be even smarter about figuring out what this data means and how to use it.

Climate change and the gross disparities in economic means and access to education and employment across the world are threatening the human species. They’re equally threatening, and social upheavals can only get worse as disparities in income and opportunities continue to get wider. Many people won’t have anything to lose. They won’t have a stake in society.

For the past 30 years, since I wrote The Granite Garden, I’ve focused on restoring the natural environment of cities at the same time as rebuilding inner-city communities and educating and empowering young people who don’t have access to a high-quality education that will set them up for having a stake in society. Those are areas where I’ll continue to devote my efforts.

What has the last 30 years of your work with the West Philadelphia Landscape Project taught you about achieving social justice through environmental action in cities?

The West Philadelphia Landscape Project, which builds on work I did in Boston from 1984 to 86, has been an investigation into how to improve environmental equality and social equity at the same time. There are obstacles, but  I’ve learned that it’s not difficult to conceptualize issues and mobilize people. Then it’s just a matter of lining up the resources and getting the administrative framework in place. It’s possible. There are many great examples. In Philadelphia alone, there are many, from the Urban Tree Connection at the grassroots to the city government’s Green City Clean Waters program.

Designers are optimistic. People don’t go into landscape architecture to create a worse world or even to maintain the status quo. We are in this business because we want to make the world a better place. I’m really worried, but I also believe we can do it. It’s possible.

Much of your writing and photography has been focused on learning how to “read” a landscape. What do you mean by this phrase? How is that different from seeing a landscape?

It’s like the difference between merely looking at a picture and understanding how it was constructed and what it means. Landscapes are full of stories. There are natural histories: stories about how a place came to be in terms of its geology, climate, and plants. There are also political stories and folk stories and stories about memory and worship. People’s gardens hold their own stories. In shaping landscape, individuals and societies express  their values, beliefs, and ideas. All these stories are embedded in landscape, and they can be read.

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Glen Loy, Scotland / Anne Whiston Spirn

Landscape literacy – the ability to read and tell such stories – is fundamental to being a landscape architect. I wrote my book The Language of Landscape because I realized that lack of fluency in the language of landscape was a barrier to more fluent and functional design, more expressive design, more eloquent design.

The West Philadelphia Landscape Project was a laboratory for working out ideas about the language of landscape and landscape literacy. It was extraordinary working with 12- and 13-year-olds in  Mill Creek, a low-income African-American neighborhood in West Philly, as they learned how to read that landscape.

So what was the best way to teach these kids landscape literacy?

Their neighborhood was called Mill Creek, but there wasn’t any creek you could see. My students showed them old maps, photographs, and other kinds of documents that described the neighborhood  at different historical periods from pre-colonial times to the present. Each week was a different period. Gradually, they came to understand through looking and investigating these old maps, newspaper articles, and planning documents that there was once this creek, Mill Creek. They found out that it was buried in a sewer and that there were cave-ins over the sewer. That’s where a lot of the vacant lands were, including in blocks  right around the school. The creek literally flowed right alongside where the school is located.

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Buried Floodplain in Mill Creek, West Philadelphia / Anne Whiston Spirn

The children also learned about socioeconomic issues of the 1930s and political decisions that led banks to stop lending money for small businesses and home mortgages in their neighborhood. And they came to understand that their neighborhood today is the result of all these things that happened in the past.

Then they took the historical maps and went out to compare them with the present neighborhood and discovered: “Oh, my goodness, this huge vacant lot block was once six blocks, and there were houses here,” and, “Oh, my gosh, there’s a fire hydrant in the middle of these woods that grew up on these lots.” It really turned their whole attitude about their neighborhood around.

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Learning Landscape Literacy at Sulzberger Middle School / Anne Whiston Spirn

Before learning to read its history, the children didn’t believe their neighborhood could ever change. When my students  had asked them how they would like to see their neighborhood in the future, they  had said, “Nothing’s going to change.” They were very cynical. After learning about its history, they began to say, “The neighborhood could change. It hasn’t always been the way it is. It could change in the future. Why couldn’t it? We know how it’s changed in the past.” Using that knowledge, what kinds of policies and actions could lead to change in the present?

About that time, I started reading Paulo Freire, who was a Brazilian community organizer. He developed literacy programs, for adults in poor, informal settlements in Brazilian cities. His findings about verbal literacy were exactly the same findings I was having in landscape literacy. He found that the most effective way to teach literacy was to collect oral histories of older people in the community, put them into text, and then teach people to read from those texts of the oral histories of their place.

So these kids were learning to read from the primary documents about their own neighborhood. The landscape itself became a primary document. They then became ambassadors. As a 12-13-year-old, to know more than the adults know is tremendously empowering. They went home and told their parents, “Guess what? This happened here and that happened there. See where that vacant land is? There was a creek there.” This is landscape literacy.

If I were working with those kids today, I’d also have them out taking photographs. My new book, The Eye Is a Door: Landscape, Photography, and the Art of Discovery, is a guide for using the camera as a tool to discover the stories that landscapes hold. Through photography, I want to inspire people to look deeply at the surface of things and beyond to the stories landscapes tell, the processes that shape human lives and communities and the earth itself. To pick up a camera and use it to see, think, and discover.

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Landscapes of Change: Innovative Designs and Reinvented Sites / Timber Press. Images taken from Landscapes of Change © Copyright 2014 by Roxi Thoren. Published by Timber Press, Portland, OR. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved

What is the purpose of landscape architecture in the 21st century? Is it to beautify public and private spaces with well-chosen plants and pavers? To increase ecological health by mimicking natural systems and processes? Or to manage stormwater and cool our built environment by incorporating green infrastructure? In Landscapes of Change: Innovative Designs and Reinvented Sites, University of Oregon professor Roxi Thoren, Affil. ASLA, argues that 21st century realities demand that landscapes do not just one but all of these things. Works of contemporary landscape architecture must connect neighborhoods, provide wildlife habitat, absorb stormwater, and combat the urban heat island effect.

The book profiles twenty-five landscape projects that meet these hybrid needs in response to the “changing context of landscape architectural design.” For example, Jaffa Landfill Park, designed by Braudo-Maoz Landscape Architecture of Tel Aviv, Israel, “used the removal of a landfill and reconstruction of a seashore to ameliorate a painful past and serve as a springboard for social discourse . . . [reestablishing] visual, climatic, and physical connections to the sea that reaffirm the identity of the city.”

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Jaffa Landfill Park / Braudo-Maoz

According to Thoren, some of the changes in landscape architecture are due to shifting perspectives internal to the profession, “as designers increasingly explore material processes, seek a theoretical basis internal to the discipline, embrace a landscape praxis of ‘reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it,’ and engage the challenges and opportunities of complex, multidisciplinary projects.”

Much of the change, however, is driven by factors external to the profession: urban growth (and decay), population growth, and global “reorganization of industry” have created a groundwork for urban redevelopment. For example, Paddington Reservoir Gardens in Sydney, Australia by JMD Design landscape architects and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer architects “combines aspects of sunken plazas, the romance of industrial ruins, and green roof technology . . . providing urban refuge, rootedness, and continuity.”

Paddington Reservoir Gardens in Sydney, Australia (JMD Design landscape architects and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer architects) “combines aspects of sunken plazas, the romance of industrial ruins, and green roof technology . . . providing urban refuge, rootedness, and continuity.” / Brett Boardman

Paddington Reservoir Gardens in Sydney, Australia  / Brett Boardman

Above all other external factors, climate change has increased demand for landscapes “that are resilient in the face of storms, flooding, or drought.” Buffalo Bayou Promenade by SWA Group, which won an ASLA Professional Award of Excellence in 2009, provides flood control, ecological restoration, and recreation in downtown Houston.

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ASLA 2009 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Buffalo Bayou Promenade by SWA Group / Tom Fox

Profiles of projects – most built, but a few that are conceptual – demonstrate that a multi-disciplinary response is needed to address these changing internal and external contexts. Profiles are organized into five categories: infrastructure, post-industrial landscapes, vegetated architecture, ecological urbanism, and edible landscapes.

An example from each:

Infrastructure: Marco Polo Airport Car Park in Tessera, Italy, by MADE Associates incorporates mature trees, porous pavers, and a “graphic soil” to propose that parking lots “can be locally specific, visually engaging, ecologically productive, and verdant.”

Infrastructure: Marco Polo Airport Car Park in Tessera, Italy (MADE associates) incorporates mature trees, porous pavers, and a “graphic soil” to propose that parking lots “can be locally specific, visually engaging, ecologically productive, and verdant.” / MADE associates

Marco Polo Airport Car Park in Tessera, Italy / MADE associates

Post-industrial Landscapes: Northala Fields Park in Northolt, West London — by Peter Fink, an artist; Igor Marko, architect, FoRM Associates; Peter Neal, ecologist; LDA Design, landscape architect — was self-financed through tipping fees “to solve the pragmatic problems of the park while also providing recreation opportunities, biodiversity, and extraordinary earth forms that attract and energize people.”

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Northala Fields Park / Chris McAleese

Vegetated Architecture: Seymour-Capilano Filtration Plant in Vancouver, British Columbia by Sharp & Diamond Landscape Architecture has a vegetated roof over a new metropolitan water filtration plant linking up with the local recreation system. Lupine, a common early successional species in the Pacific Northwest, adds color and improves the soils. This landscape recreates the early successional meadows and shrub lands estimated to have once covered a third of the Pacific Northwest landscape.

Vegetated Architecture: Seymour-Capilano Filtration Plant in Vancouver, BC (Sharp & Diamond Landscape Architecture Inc.) built a vegetated roof over a new metropolitan water filtration plant linking up with the local recreation system. Lupine, a common early successional species in the Pacific Northwest, adds color and improves the soils. Along with woody debris and other meadow species, the site recreates the early successional meadows and shrublands that are estimated to have once covered up to 35 percent of the Pacific Northwest landscape. / Sharp & Diamond

Seymour-Capilano Filtration Plant in Vancouver, BC / Sharp & Diamond

Ecological Urbanism: Wijkeroogpark in Velsen-Noord, the Netherlands, by Bureau B + B urbanism and landscape architecture and Atelier de Lyon is “an elegant, streamlined watercourse that performs a host of ecological functions” within a highly engineered landscape. It restores and newly creates “portions of a freshwater stream that was once imprisoned in a culvert,” reclaims brackish marsh habitat, and provides recreation paths and sports fields.

Ecological Urbanism: Wijkeroogpark in Velsen-Noord, the Netherlands (Bureau B + B urbanism and landscape architecture in collaboration with Atelier de Lyon) is “an elegant, streamlined watercourse performs a host of ecological functions” within a highly engineered landscape, restoring and newly creating “portions of a freshwater stream that was once imporisoned in a culvert,” reclaiming brackish marsh habitat, and providing recreation paths and sports fields. / Bureau B + B

Wijkeroogpark in Velsen-Noord, the Netherlands / Bureau B + B

Edible Landscapes: Gary Comer Youth Center Roof Garden in Chicago by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects and John Ronan Architects, which won an ASLA Professional Honor Award in 2010, serves as a model for urban agriculture, teaching students “the skills of growing, processing, preserving, and cooking food” along with business, math, and environmental science classes.

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ASLA 2010 Professional Honor Award. Gary Comer Youth Center Rooftop Garden by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architecture / Scott Shigley

While I would like to have seen a project or two more explicitly tackle drought issues — as most of the climate-related projects skew towards challenges of too much water — the book presents a compelling and modern vision of landscape architecture.

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is founder and lead designer-educator at Mitsui Design, focusing on landscape experience and connection to place. He was the ASLA summer 2014 communications intern.

Gardens by the Bay: Singapore / Livia Comandini, Getty Images

Gardens by the Bay: Singapore / Livia Comandini, Getty Images

The Slow Rebirth of Dumbarton Oaks Park The Washington Post, 12/17/14
“Given the magnitude of its slide and the limits of public and private funding, restoring the park has at times seemed like an impossible dream, but in 2010 a particularly determined group named the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy formed to take up the challenge.”

Planting for an Edible City – Metropolis POV, 12/22/14
“While these edible efforts are fairly new to New York City, the MillionTreesNYC’s fruit tree giveaway is an event to celebrate. Somewhere out there, across the five boroughs, the city has a new orchard that would comprise nearly 30 acres if planted collectively, approximating two Central Park Sheep Meadows.”

8 Incredible Green Spaces That Are Thriving In The Biggest Urban JunglesThe Huffington Post, 12/24/14
“Living and working within a system of architectural behemoths and concrete streets can be taxing, to say the least. And for many city-dwellers, a few patches of green can be a celebrated refuge from the urban landscape.”

The Biggest Arts Stories of 2014The Houston Chronicle, 12/26/14
“In October, the Hermann Park Conservancy unveiled the last major project of its long-term master plan – the spectacular $31 million John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Centennial Gardens. Along with landscape architect Doug Hoerr’s eight acres of theme gardens, dramatic 30-foot mount and nearly seven-acre, environmentally friendly parking lot, the project features a sensitively designed pavilion of glass, stone and stainless steel designed by Peter Bohlin.”

Architecture Future: How Buildings Will Begin to Make Our Lives Better The Denver Post, 12/28/14
“This holistic attitude is architecture’s greatest promise and seems to be steering trends. More and more, landscape architects are emerging as project leaders, devising how sites will be organized, used and maintained. These days, they might be the ones to hire building architects to complete their vision.”

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Rhinoceros / Kruger National Park

At nearly 19,000 square kilometers, Kruger National Park, which spans both South Africa and Mozambique, is one of the largest wildlife preserves in Sub Saharan Africa. It’s home to thousands of highly endangered elephants, lions, leopards, and rhinoceroses. In fact, the park is one of the last refuges with large numbers of white and black rhinoceroses; there are only 25,000 of these magnificent animals left. According to the International Wildlife Center (IWC) Africa, tourism is what’s largely keeping them alive.

IWC are the organizers of a new international design competition, which aims to create a new center and accommodations for tourists and volunteers. The facility is meant to enable a “learning experience that includes direct contact with the species in Kruger National Park.”

IWC intends to attract tourists, volunteers, and conservation professionals who want to broaden their knowledge of Africa’s keystone species and restore their habitat. The new visitor center will provide action-oriented education and “responsible rehabilitation of the fauna.”

The competition is open to all kinds of designers worldwide. First prize offers € 3,750 as well as publication in a range of international design publications. Registration is due January 16, 2015 and costs €75 for individuals and €100 for teams.

Other competitions of interest:

In New York City: Gowanus by Design, a “community-based urban-design advocacy organization,” has launched its third international design competition, Axis Civitas, which invites participants to first map the existing conditions of the heavily-polluted yet recovering Gowanus Canal in Queens and then design an “urban field station” accessible to the public. The collective mapping exercise will lead to a comprehensive atlas of the area that can “facilitate the community’s grassroots collaboration in the continuing evolution of the neighborhood.” Submissions are due March, 6 2015. Student fees are $50; $75 for professionals.

In London: The borough of Wandsworth seeks concepts from multi-disciplinary design teams from around the world for a £40 million bicycle and pedestrian bridge that will cross the River Thames between Nine Elms and Pimlico. The competition will identify the best team and explore options, not select a specific design. According to the organizers, “partial funding has already been budgeted for the bridge’s future construction and it is hoped that the winning design can be used to attract further match funding.” Stage one submissions are due January 6, 2015. Shortlisted finalists will each receive £12,000 to create concept designs.

What would have seemed like science fiction just a few years ago is now reality. Researchers at Burton Inc. in Japan have figured out how to create a 3D projection of text and images into the air. The projections are untethered, and also visible no matter how bright it is outside.

Burton Inc. says they were motivated to create this technology to enable floating signs that could be seen by all in an emergency.

Perhaps we can imagine this technology becoming a feature in parks and public spaces of the near future, even incorporated into next generation public art works.

Aerial Burton says, currently, most 3D displays “draw pseudo-3D images on 2D planes by using human binocular disparity.” However, this is less than ideal given “the limitation of the visual field, and the physiological displeasure due to the mis-identification of virtual images.”

According to Gizmodo, their technology uses a 1kHz infrared pulse, which is invisible to the eye. That pulse is fired into a mirror that “reflects and focuses the pulse onto specific points in the air. The area where the laser is focused becomes ionized, which then causes visible photons to be released, creating the bright white dots.”

Also worth checking out is a set of amazing photographs by Stephen Orlando, who tracks human movement with LED light sticks. The progression of the light sticks is isolated, capturing in a unique way how people move, here, through the water.

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Artwork outside the 20th UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru / 3 News, New Zealand

Last week, negotiators from nearly 200 countries built further momentum towards a global deal to limit climate change. At a United Nations conference in Lima, Peru, each nation agreed to enact domestic laws to reduce emissions and submit their plans detailing their cuts by March 2015, in advance of the major summit on climate change in Paris in just a year. These plans will be treated as non-binding “national pledges” that can form the basis for a new global accord. The goal of the Paris summit, which will be attended by many heads of state, is a legally-binding agreement to limit temperature rise by 2 degrees Celsius, but it’s unclear whether global leaders can achieve this level of commitment, given a number of attempts have failed in the past decade.

According to The New York Times, the Lima meeting’s new bottom-up approach may work well in comparison with the top-down approaches that have been attempted and failed in the past. The bottom-up approach harnesses “global peer pressure” to force countries to up their game and set more aggressive emissions reduction targets. “The hope, negotiators said, is that as the numbers and commitments of each country are publicized, compared, and discussed, countries will be shamed by the spotlight into proposing and enacting stronger plans.”

BBC News outlines the primary features of the agreement. Developed and developing countries now have a “common but differentiated responsibility” to address climate change. This loaded phrase attempts to accommodate the demands of the U.S. and other European countries who want every country — rich or poor — to step up and commit to fighting climate change, with the demands of China, India, and other developing countries, which argue that the developed world should take a greater share of responsibility for the climate crisis as they’ve been emitting more emissions over time and have more resources to deal with the challenges of mitigation and adaptation. As part of the agreement, developed countries will provide financial support to “vulnerable” developing countries, up to $100 billion a year by 2020.

As a next step, countries will submit national pledges by the end of March, 2015 that “go beyond their current undertakings.” Countries now have fewer excuses to not push the boundaries of climate action, given the historic climate change agreement between China and the U.S. in early November was perceived as upping the ante. The U.S. agreed to cut 2005 carbon emission levels by 25-28 percent by 2020, double the place President Obama had previously set, and China agreed its emissions would peak by 2030 and it would also increase the share of renewable energy to 20 percent by then as well. Europe has already pledged to cut its emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

Still, many climate watchers argue that national pledges don’t go far enough, as they fall short of a binding agreement that can limit temperatures increases to 2 degrees Celsius, which scientists have repeatedly stated is the crucial wall to prevent irreversible shifts in the planet’s complex climate system. The argument goes: Just as many developed countries have committed to giving developing countries billions to help them adapt to climate change and then have failed to deliver, these same countries may come up with grand pledges that fall short. The Telegraph (UK) writes: “In truth, as Mary Robinson – the former President of Ireland who now serves as the UN’s Special Envoy for Climate Change put it, the talks made just enough headway ‘to keep the multilateral process alive, but not enough progress to give confidence that the world is ready to adopt an equitable and ambitious legally-binding climate agreement in Paris next year.'”

To do that, more of the world’s leaders will need to personally invest in the process, earlier than they did five years ago in Copenhagen, which failed to yield a binding agreement. “Lima has underscored what we already knew: that the official negotiators – and even environment and energy ministers – are just not capable of cracking the issues on the table. These are just too big, and they simply do not have enough clout, even where they have the will. Only heads of government have the authority to do it. They came close to saving the day in Copenhagen, five years ago, and will need to engage again – and much earlier in the process – if dangerous climate change is to be averted.”

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William Wenk / Wenk Associates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Confluence Park rendering / Wenk Associates

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Confluence Park rendering / Wenk Associates

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

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Stapleton Walking Path / Wenk Associates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Taxi redevelopment / Wenk Associates

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

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Northside Park / Wenk Associates

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

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