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World Landscape Architecture Month

World Landscape Architecture Month

This past month, the American Society of Landscape Architects joined World Landscape Architecture Month (WLAM), a global effort to raise awareness of the profession. During this time, our members took nearly 4,000 pictures of landscape architect-designed spaces with our “Designed by a Landscape Architect” card and posted them to social media using #WLAM2015.

These posts reached nearly 3 million people and showed how landscape architects can effectively use social media, harnessing its inherently visual nature.

The pictures featured some instantly recognizable, iconic landscapes.

Central Park / Jennifer Nitzky

Central Park / Jennifer Nitzky

But also some favorite local projects, too.

Artivio Guerrero Park / Dalton LaVoie

Artivio Guerrero Park, Sacramento, California / Dalton LaVoie

WLAM was also an opportunity to show all stages of design.

Plans /  American Society of Landscape Architects - Minnesota Chapter

Landscape plan / American Society of Landscape Architects Minnesota Chapter

Americans weren’t the only ones involved: Landscape architects from more than 30 countries participated in the campaign, often using the cards we created in 13 languages.

Turkish / URMIA Land Art

Turkish Version of the Card / URMIA Land Art

Place Design Group's China team celebrates World Landscape Architecture Month / Place Design Group

Place Design Group’s China team celebrates World Landscape Architecture Month / Place Design Group

Both future and veteran landscape architects were involved in the campaign, connecting multiple generations.

Landscape Architecture Students/ American Society of Landscape Architects - Minnesota Chapter

Landscape Architecture Students/ American Society of Landscape Architects Minnesota Chapter

John Gollings with Australian Garden Completion by Taylor Cullity Lethlean + Paul Thompson / Australian Institute of Landscape Architects

John Gollings at Australian Garden Competition / Australian Institute of Landscape Architects

World Landscape Architecture Month helped raise the visibility of landscape architecture on a global level. The “Designed by a Landscape Architect” cards helps the public understand many of the places they use and love everyday are actually designed by someone. The campaign was so successful ASLA is continuing it past April in order to continually promote the work of its members and landscape architecture around the world.

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Seniors Week, Tai Chi Academy, Royal National Park, Audley, Australia / Australian Academy of Tai Chi

The senior population is growing. By 2050, a third of the U.S. will be 65 and older. The World Health Organization, AARP, and other organizations have called for more age-friendly communities, with parks and open space that offer what seniors needs to feel safe, but not enough are heeding their call. One question that came up in a session at the American Planning Association (APA) conference in Seattle is whether future parks need to be designed to be inter-generational, or designed specifically for the elderly. Two academics and a landscape architect argued the research shows seniors do better when they are around all age groups, but they need specific things to feel safe and comfortable in parks and other open spaces. If they don’t have them, they are far less likely to venture into these places.

Lia Marshall, a PhD student at the Luskin School of Public Health, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), said older adults have a preference for “aging in place,” meaning staying in their community. They need independence. This group — like any other broad category — is amazingly diverse, both socially and culturally. Walking is their most common physical activity, so “distance to the park affects use.” But many older people are also at the risk of isolation, which can result in mental health problems. This group is also among the least active, which can also lead to physical health issues.

Parks are too often created for children or able-bodied adults. But they can be designed with a set of aging principles. Through a set of 8 focus groups conducted with elderly about their park use in Los Angeles, Marshall found that they all share “an enjoyment of natural beauty, with an appreciation for tranquility, plants, and fresh air.” Being in a park encouraged social interactions, which led to more physical activity. “Group activities — like Tai Chi in the park — lead to friendships and more exercise.”

But the elderly polled were also fearful, with their greatest fear being falling. “Breaking a hip can mean losing their homes and moving into a retirement facility.” For them, other primary threats were “disrespect by younger generation, robbery, drugs, and crime.” Environmental threats include: “uneven ground surfaces, trash caused by the homeless, a lack of visibility with walking paths, a lack of shade, and excess heat or cold.” Those with canes, walkers, and wheelchairs feel even more vulnerable outdoors. Marshall pointed to a park right next to a senior center in Los Angeles that wasn’t used by the elderly because “gang members are there.” Overall, “seniors are afraid of their communities but also want to be involved.”

So how can communities create parks where seniors feel safe? Madeline Brozen, UCLA Lewis Center, has developed a set of guidelines for senior-friendly open spaces. Recommendations, which aren’t much different from general park design best practices, include:

Improve control: Provide orientation and way finding with large, visible fonts. “The park layout needs to be legible.” Signs should be 54 inches off the ground or lower, so people in wheelchairs can also see them.

Offer greater choice: “Everyone values options, such as passive or active recreation, sun or shade, single or multiple seating. Chairs should be movable.” Brozen emphasized that the group older than 65 is incredibly diverse, from “not old to advanced dementia,” so they have different needs.

Create a Sense of Security: “There should be shade but not too much so it feels enclosed.” Parks should enable “eyes on the street.” Isolated areas need good maintenance. Sidewalks should be wide and smooth. Check spaces between paved and unpaved areas to make sure there aren’t spots where a cane or wheelchair can get caught.

Accessibility: If a park is a good distance from a senior facility, add benches along the way so there are place to stop. Parks should have no more than a 2 percent grade for those in wheelchairs.

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ASLA 2006 Professional General Design Honor Award. The Elizabeth & Nona Evans Restorative Garden Cleveland Botanical Garden, Cleveland, Ohio by Dirtworks / K. Duteil

Social support: Design should facilitate interaction. Parks can feature bulletin boards, outdoor reading rooms, sculptures and fountains that help start conversations.

Physical activity: Parks should also feature mile markers for encouragement. “These kinds of things are low impact, high benefit.” Exercise machines should be under shaded areas.

Privacy: Use buffer plants to reduce street noise.

Nature: Bring in water features, which are relaxing and beautiful. Make sure they are wheelchair accessible. And lastly, parks should highlight natural beauty.

For Portland-based landscape architect Brian Bainnson, ASLA, Quatrefoil Inc, and ASLA Oregon Chapter Trustee, there is even more that can be done, beyond A.D.A. requirements — and, really, the guidelines listed above. “ADA is really just the bare minimum. It leaves out so many users.” Bainnson said when designing for seniors, “you are really designing for everyone, but there are other hazards you have to be aware of.” For example, contemporary parks often feature these sleek, backless, armless benches that are essentially useless for the elderly. “Without an armrest, they can’t lower themselves into the bench or get out of it, so they just won’t use it.”

Bainnson recommended the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) guidelines, which call for “scheduled, programed activities that create park use; access ramps; raised beds; a profusion of plant-people interactions; and benign and supportive conditions.”

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Raised beds. ASLA 2010 Professional Research Honor Award. Access to Nature for Older Adults: Promoting Health Through Landscape Design. Multi-Regional USA / Susan Rodiek

Plants should appeal in all four seasons. Park and garden designers need to be aware of wind direction and the sun path to create both wind-free and shaded areas. He added that designers must reduce sharp differences between light and dark. “Hip fractures from falling can occur as the elderly navigate the transition from deep shadow to bright light. They think it’s a step and they can trip up. There should be a middle ground, a transition zone.”

Bainnson has designed more than 20 therapeutic landscapes, including the Portland Memory Garden and parts of the Legacy Emanuel Children’s Garden. The Portland Memory Garden, which is designed for users with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia as well as well as their care-givers and families, is an enclosed loop, with a central entrance and exit, which is not only soothing to those suffering from dementia but ensures they don’t wander off.

The single entrance and exit means nurses or family members can also keep an eye out from a central place. Built in 2002 with $750,000 in privately-raised funds, the Memory Garden has “no dead ends or choices. You just follow the curve.” Concrete pathways are tinted to reduce glare. Their outer edges have a different color. Raised curbs on the edge of the sidewalks help ensure users don’t fall into the lawns. Bathrooms are extra large in case nurses or family members need to go in with someone in their care.

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Portland Memory Garden / Brian Bainnson

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Portland Memory Garden / Brian Bainnson

For true open spaces, seniors also have special needs. Bainnson is now working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on national wildlife refuges near Portland to make them more accessible to seniors, by putting in trails, accessible paths, and readable signs. He said they may not be able to access the whole system — as the city wants to keep the trails as natural as possible — but these steps will make it easier.

Marshall, Brozen, and Bainnson all made the case: consider seniors when designing public spaces. Why exclude? “What works for seniors will work for everyone.” These spaces will also work for all those people with any other cognitive or physical challenge, like veterans dealing with PTSD, people with prosthetic legs, or anyone in a wheelchair.

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Portland Urban Growth Boundary / Portland Metro via regional governments.org

Urban growth boundaries are held up as one of the most effective tools for limiting sprawl. But do they actually constrain unplanned development? Three urban growth boundaries — in the metropolitan region of Portland, Oregon; King County, Washington; and the metropolitan area of Denver, Colorado — were examined in a session at the American Planning Association (APA) conference in Seattle. A few interesting points came out of the discussion: growth boundaries are flexible and constantly being renegotiated. When they succeed, it’s because there is widespread political support for limiting growth and directing it to urban centers. Redevelopment and infill development in the cores relieve pressure on the outer boundaries, and offering incentives to those outside the boundary to limit development can work.

Portland’s Bipartisan Boundary Holds

Ted Reid, a planner with Portland city government, explained how Oregon became the first state to adopt urban growth boundaries in 1973. “It was a rare moment of bipartisanship.” Governor Tom McCall, environmental groups, and farmers together persuaded legislators to pass Senate Bill 100, with the goal of protecting Oregon’s natural splendor from sprawl. Every community then had to develop its own long-range plan for managing growth, with the Portland area creating its urban growth boundary in 1979. Since then, the population of the Portland metro area has grown 60 percent, while the urban growth boundary has expanded just 14 percent.

The organizational structure to administer the growth boundary was deliberately set up to distribute powers among multiple players. There’s a metro planning organization, which is a land-use planning authority; an elected Metro Council that oversees the growth boundary for the greater region; and three county governments, with 25 city governments within these units. Inside metro Portland’s boundary, there are 406 square miles, with 1.5 million people and 775,000 jobs. Outside the boundary, “there are 36 miles of urban reserve, which is suitable for further urbanization. If the area inside the boundary can’t reasonably accommodate development, the growth boundary can expand,” explained Reid. And it has expanded: 32,000 acres have been added, just in the 2000s. But then a 415-square-mile rural reserve around the city acts as a strict greenbelt to limit sprawl.

Portland’s 2040 growth concept designated urban centers, “where growth is supposed to happen.” And it has largely worked: “94 percent of growth has occurred in the original 1979-established zone. There has been tremendous activity in central Portland, with many changes in close-in locations.” For example, along North Mississippi Avenue, there was a complete overhaul in about 7 years, with transformational infill development. But, Reid also argued that some things have worked less well. Some of the tacked-on land that has expanded the boundary is still vacant. Land becomes open to development, but plans fall through. “Land readiness — not land supply — is our region’s biggest growth management challenge.”

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North Mississippi Avenue Street Fair / Travel Portland

Every 6 years, the Metro Council for the Portland area does a “range forecast, looking out 20 years.” Reid admitted that “some expectations for the future will be wrong. Things can go sideways.” But as of now, Portland’s city government expects to add 400,000 people, 200,000 homes, and 300,000 jobs in the next 20 years. “We anticipate 76 of growth will be in likely redevelopment areas.” For now, Portland is not expanding its boundary.

King County’s Smart Use of Transfer Development Rights

King County’s urban growth boundary is not a straight line, it zigs and zags, explained Karen Wolff, a senior planner with the King County government, which includes Seattle and 38 other cities. The county is the 13th largest in the U.S., with 2 million people in 2,100 square miles. It has a 460 square mile growth area. In 1964, the area created its first comprehensive plan, and in 1990, there was a bipartisan agreement that led to the growth management act, which down-zoned two-thirds of the county from development areas to rural land, agriculture, and forests. In 2008, the county adopted Vision 2040, which “redefined the urban growth boundary and rewrote county planning policies. The county is now responsible for the urban growth boundary.”

seattle growth

King County Land Use / King County

With the growth management act, there are now just three land uses — urban, rural, and resource. “No more suburban half-acre or 1-acre lots.” However, much of the pre-development suburbs were grandfathered in, and they continue in their current suburban form. From 1994 to 2004, there have been many changes to the urban growth boundary. “Some land was taken out of the boundary and turned into agricultural productivity areas,” while some areas that were designated rural have become urban parkland. To date, 98 percent of growth has been in the urban growth boundary though, with 86 percent in the cities. “We have maintained the acreage of the resource and rural lands.”

Like Portland, King County is directing development to urban centers. Cities decide how they are going to increase density. But “our green wall prevents expansion.” One way this green wall has held up is King County has allowed the transfer of development rights from rural areas to inside the growth boundary. This has provided some benefits to the farmers who wanted to redevelop their land. “It was a pressure release valve. Now there’s less demand to subdivide.” Farmers sell to the city center, creating a nexus, a relationship between the city and farms that has lasted. “Farmland is protected, the cities are a little denser, and now we have farmers markets.”

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Seattle’s Pike Place Farmers Market / Philly Magazine

Wolff explained that King County’s success is rooted in widespread public concern about sprawl and local politicians who have listened, taking the “long view.” Geography has also helped — with bodies of water and mountains acting as natural boundaries. And preserving views of these natural wonders has also been a motivation. King County’s model has become the model for Washington State’s growth management act. But she added that “not everything is great: edge cities are looking to expand into green fields; there is growing pressure to expand from within the boundary out; and there are still some farmers who want to subdivide.”

Denver Uses Peer Pressure

According to Andy Taylor, a senior planner with Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), explained how 9 counties have come together to create a 980-square-mile urban growth boundary. His group is an “advisory regional planner” that helps facilitate regional consensus. In the 1990s, Denver was facing “increased traffic, loss of open space, reduced water supply that put our quality of life at risk.” To respond, in 1995, a metro vision was created, with a set of key principles and preferred scenarios. In 1997, that resulted in Plan 2020, and a urban growth boundary. This boundary wasn’t “mandated by the state or federal government; its voluntary, bottom-up.” One place where the counties discuss how development should occur is through DRCOG, which is comprised of elected officials from member governments who award allocations for development. Member jurisdictions then decide on how they will use those allocations. Staff of this organization track changes.

In 1997, at the start of the boundary, the Denver regional area boundary was 700 square miles, but over the years it has continued to grow. By 2002, it was up to 750 square miles. Then, the base changed and it jumped up to 971 square miles by 2007. In 2009, it reached 980 square miles. Counties use a “flexible approach, and can self-certify changes.” While Denver’s boundary seems to just continue to expand unabated, Taylor argues that there are success: from 2006 to 2014, density has increased 7 percent and 770 square miles of open space around communities has been protected.

denver-open-space

Colorado open space / Great Outdoors Colorado

“Peer pressure has led to tangible results. Nobody wants to be seen as a bad actor.” Counties adhere to the principles, but there are massive changes coming to the area that may put pressure on this voluntary system. Apartment vacancy rates are already at just 4.7 percent. “There is low home inventory.” A 50-mile rail system is coming online. By 2016, most of these lines will open, resulting in a 150 percent increase in the rapid transit system and a 175 percent increase in dense, mixed-use urban development.

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Map of rail transit plans, Denver / Denver Urbanism

Denver plans to continue to focus development in the region’s urban centers, with a majority of new housing coming in there. But an already limited water supply — Denver gets just 15 inches of rain per year — means there are broader existential issues. “The erosion of the water supply is a roadblock for developers. It puts a limit on growth.”

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Wooly Mammoth at Royal British Columbia Museum, Canada / A-Z Animals

Stewart Brand, who is perhaps best known for his book, Whole Earth Catalog, now runs the Long Now Foundation, which is focused on the next 10,000 years of human civilization. At the American Planning Association (APA) conference in Seattle, he called for a “planet-scale ecological restoration” over the next ten millennia, which can in part be accomplished by bringing back extinct mega-fauna like wooly mammoths. Over the past few thousands of years, the continental grasslands of the global north turned into tundra. To bring back the grasslands systems that co-evolved with wooly mammoths, scientists will need to first revive these ancient creatures using their DNA and the most cutting-edge biotechnology. Reborn grasslands would then be able to store massive amounts of carbon. The other part of this future Brand envisions: people will need to continue to crowd into cities, giving room for natural systems to be revitalized.

Healthy civilizations “balance man-made and natural infrastructures.” To get to a more healthy world, Brand says we must all become “ecological engineers,” like earthworms that aerate the soil, beavers that create dams, or Aldo Leopold, who restored the grasslands of Wisconsin and founded the field of conservation biology.

The problem with our civilization today is “we are not respecting nature’s rate of change.” Brand outlined the trends shaping the world as layers on top of each other forming a sort of onion, but with each layer moving at a different rate. Here are the moving layers listed in order from fastest to slowest: fashion, commerce, infrastructure, governance, culture, and, finally, nature. In this system, everything has its place and its own natural rate of change. If one gets out of synch, the system is violated. “For example, a too-fast rate of governance change can break the system. The U.S.S.R. moved fast with governance, violating commerce, nature, and the system self destructed.”

Brand believes when the fast parts (fashion, commerce, infrastructure) and the slow parts (governance, culture, nature) are in synch, we will have a more resilient system. Fast layers “propose, learn, absorb, discontinue, innovate, and get all the attention,” but slow layers “dispose, remember, integrate, continue, constrain, and have all the power.” In other words, “in cities, the fast layers dominate; but in the world, the slower layers dominate.” To achieve a lasting good, “we must take the long view,” nature’s view.

Cities and nature are in flux these days, as the relationship between the two is renegotiated. For example, there are now more than 2,000 coyotes in Chicago alone. And over 10,000 foxes in London. Brand pointed to Emma Marris’s Rambunctious Garden, Jim Sterba’s Nature Wars, and Fred Pierce’s The New Wild, as worthwhile new books that wade into these issues. The New Wild argues that “invasive species may be the key to nature’s salvation. We need to deal with the weird.”

As for climate change, Brand believes “it will keep things moving around.” He doesn’t see climate change causing more extinctions unless there are abrupt changes. After all, “species are constantly adjusting, eo-evolving with each other and other species. The ecological system is adjusting all the time.” Intervening in nature with biotechnology can help humans bring back useful or even beautiful species, like the passenger pigeon, and destroy dangerous diseases impacting critical species, like white nose syndrome in bats and avian malaria in birds. All of this will be part of our new role as “ecological engineers.”

Temple Baths, ArchDaily / Studio Octopi

Temple Baths by Studio Octopi / Arch Daily

Hermann Park’s Japanese Garden Serves As City Oasis The Houston Chronicle, 4/17/15
“Hermann Park’s Japanese Garden is a place where families flock to watch koi school in murky ponds, where couples rest under the trellis covered in leafy wisteria and where Houstonians steal away for quiet time in a natural setting.”

How the Drought Will Reshape Californian Landscape ArchitectureCurbed, 4/22/15
“California is dealing with a resource crisis that’s asking a West Coast accustomed to expansive growth and endless possibility to go against character and make do with less. The last time going dry has caused this much consternation was during Prohibition. Curbed spoke with four leading landscape architects to find out how their profession needs to adapt to a challenge with the potential to reshape the industry.”

‘The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Dan Kiley’ Review The Wall Street Journal, 4/22/15
“’The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Dan Kiley,’ an exhibition at the Center for Architecture, shows how modern landscapes often make a better case for modernism than the architecture itself.”

Studio Octopi Begins Crowdfunding Campaign for a Lido on London’s River Thames Arch Daily, 4/23/15
“London’s central waterway, the River Thames, has been a site of enormous interest from architects and urbanists in previous years. From a controversial garden bridge to discussions about how to appropriate what has been described as one of the city’s largest untapped public spaces, London-based practice Studio Octopi have now launched a Kickstarter campaign to help to realize their dream of creating ‘a new, natural, beautiful lido’ on its banks.”

Group Rallies to Save Cherished Spot at Children’s HospitalThe Boston Globe, 4/27/15
“Just ahead of a wrecking ball, a contingent of parents and caregivers want the city to bestow protective landmark status on Prouty Garden, a half-acre splash of green at the heart of Boston Children’s Hospital. It may be their last hope for preserving the emerald retreat.”

Three Finalists Chosen in National Design Competition to Improve Areas below the Main Avenue Bridge The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 4/28/15
“The nonprofit downtown development corporation announced on its website that it has winnowed a field of 51 landscape architecture firms to three finalists in a national competition to beautify the portion of the Flats beneath the Main Avenue Bridge.”

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A popular “food pod” in downtown Portland is across from one of the city’s administration buildings / Carol Mayer-Reed

As landscape architects and urban designers, we look for ways to create vitality in the spaces we design. In Portland, Oregon, street food has become a phenomenon, growing in popularity over the last ten years. The result has been a transformation of the public realm, as well as many privately-owned spaces in our downtown and neighborhoods. Our street food goes way beyond the hot dogs and roasted nuts commonly found on street corners in many cities; diverse food is served by more than 525 vendors operating throughout Portland.

The cuisine found on the street has become increasingly sophisticated and delicious, attracting a serious “foodie” audience, along with a hungry everyday lunch crowd looking for fresh air and convenience. Visitors can even tour the city based on the wide variety of street food they would like to sample, along with the environments they’d like to experience.

The creative entrepreneurship of food cart owners has shaped Portland’s character. The carts, which also form pods, make a positive, colorful contribution to the city’s sense of livability, promote social interaction, and support small businesses. After all, the presence of people gathering in places attracts more people.

The Evolution of Street Food: From Pushcarts to Food Pods

First, the evolution of food carts in Portland deserves some explanation; we must distinguish them from ubiquitous, roving food trucks. The city initially permitted a few vendors to offer snacks and light fare from portable pushcarts on public sidewalks and in Pioneer Square. These pushcarts, permitted and regulated through the bureau of transportation, are self-contained. Most of the limited food preparation is done off site in a licensed, commercial kitchen. Then we saw the growth of self-sufficient food trucks, with or without kitchens, which roam the city streets, tending not to be fixed in a particular location. Today, some of the most popular ones tweet their whereabouts to attract a following.

Over the past ten years, the use of private — not public — space accounted for the more recent explosion in food carts, which typically stay in one location. Entrepreneurs found a loophole: a vehicle on wheels does not have to pay systems development charges. Also, city zoning regulations and building codes do not apply to vehicles on wheels, although food preparation and handling remain regulated by the state and county heath departments, like all restaurants.

Far beyond sidewalk pushcarts, more versatile vehicles, such as travel and utility trailers, small panel trucks, and even recycled double-decker and school buses, have been retrofitted and tethered to utilities. These food carts feature more elaborate kitchens, with improved appliances and counter space, thereby allowing the more sophisticated cooking of increasingly skilled chefs.

Food carts, which can cost just $20,000 to $30,000 to set-up, enable start-up “mom and pop” businesses to inexpensively experiment with menus and gauge customer preferences without the larger risk of investment in a bricks-and-mortar establishment. A substantial number of vendors are family-run small businesses from racially diverse backgrounds. Food offerings range from the enduring to the pioneering, with offerings as diverse as tacos, burritos, and Thai food, as well as gourmet stuffed burgers, well-crafted hearty soups, BBQ, breakfast and dessert crepes, Belgian waffles, and Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken, many of which are available in a “Go Box” recyclable container. Some businesses evolve into permanent restaurants; some established restaurants now offer their fare via food carts.

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Food carts express their own individuality and culture / Carol Mayer-Reed

Parking lot owners enjoy substantially increased revenues over the simple daily rental of a space for a parked car, charging vendors about $550 per month in downtown and $300 in neighborhoods. Utilities are distributed from the interiors of the blocks. Some vendors rent two spaces to accommodate customer dining beneath wooden or fiberglass canopies, on decks or at counters tacked on the sides. Clusters of food carts are now deemed “food pods,” as they associate together in order to create more varied eating environments and amenities of a food court.

The Explosive Growth of Food Pods

Enough about the business of food carts and back to urban space: food pods have organically popped up everywhere in the city. About 40 are currently in operation, with some vendors licensed to serve beer and wine. Pods now front many block faces of streets in downtown surface parking lots. Micro-businesses crop up in parking garages or blank building frontages at sidewalk level. In one central business district location, food carts have lined the entire 200-by-200-foot block perimeter, appearing like a strip of miniature early Western storefronts or perhaps more accurately, a colorful carnival midway (see image at top).

Public safety is enhanced through this vibrancy, which yields a steady supply of customers. Adjacent parks, plazas, and building forecourts are now dotted with folks enjoying a variety of delectable lunches. The food pods are even encouraged to expand to transit stations. Put up some strings of colorful bare bulb lights and watch the ravenous bar crowds collect during the nighttime hours.

In neighborhoods, food pods overtake vacant lots and corner blocks in the commercial nodes. Increasingly sophisticated developers create pods among the hip restaurants and boutique shops. These developments provide increased outdoor dining amenities such as picnic tables, large umbrellas for rain or shine, fire pits, seasonal tents with space heaters, and porta-pots and restrooms in recycled cargo containers. Add Wi-Fi and suddenly these fragmented urban parcels are converted into animated focal points of commerce and community social gathering, complete with buskers on the street corners.

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A food pod in the Southeast Division neighborhood called Tidbit Food Farm and Garden boasts “super-cool food truckery and nick-nackery” / Carol Mayer-Reed

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Design elements such as repurposed steel scaffold structures help divide the common spaces from aisles and carry signage, banners, shade cloth, and festooned strings of light / Carol Mayer-Reed

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A vendor takes a break in a Southeast Division food pod / Carol Mayer-Reed


The Urban Design Debate

The debate, if there is one, lies in the visual appearance of the downtown’s high-rent district, given the temporal nature of the food cart structures and materials. While the vibrancy cannot be denied, the raw entrepreneurship and ad-hoc nature of the pods has resulted in an eclectic plastic-canopied, add-on visual stew. Day or night, most people will agree they are less unsightly than a full (or vacant) asphalt parking lot.

One could argue a new set of regulations should be imposed to organize, align, or govern materials, signage, lighting, and utility hookups. On the other hand, should the ingenuity of the vendors be stifled?

According to Food Cartology, Rethinking Urban Spaces as People Places, a 2008 study by the Urban Vitality Group, Portland “should allow the food carts to reflect design diversity.” In fact, “creativity in cart aesthetics should be encouraged, not limited, in order to allow vendors to creatively participate in the design of the urban fabric.”

Please know that Portland is a place where it’s arduous to gain design approval of bricks and mortar projects. Ironically, city planners, whose job it is to enforce the comprehensive downtown guidelines that support the city’s reputation as a high-quality, livable downtown, saunter across the street from their offices to enjoy a pungent pad Thai noodle dish or an aromatic Indian curry over basmati rice from the “food shack alley.”

Apparently citizens, including bureaucrats, vote with their lunch dollars in greater numbers than those who voice concerns over the visual character of this colorful chaos. Food pods have already yielded a number of positive economic and social benefits, including an increase in public safety and a sense of community.

This guest post is by Carol Mayer-Reed, FASLA, a landscape architect and partner with Mayer/Reed, Inc., a multi-disciplinary design firm based in downtown Portland, across the street from a lively food pod where she and her staff are regulars. She checks out Brett Burmeister’s website, www.foodcartsportland.com. Carol and Brett were contributors to Cartopia: Portland’s Food Cart Revolution, by Kelly Rodgers and Kelley Roy, published by RoyRodgers Press, 2010.

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Halden Prison, Norway / Katherine Cannella

“I was in the cafeteria of the Men’s Maximum Security Facility in Cranston, Rhode Island, to attend the graduation ceremony for education program participants. That morning, 16 men with life sentences received ‘Certificates for Apprentice Gardeners’ recognizing a year’s work in the prison yard garden. Seeing them stand up there with their certificates, peeking at the paper held within the black folders with gold trim, it was clear the garden had meaning for them.” – Katherine Cannella

Katherine Cannella, Assoc. ASLA, who graduated with a master’s of landscape architecture from the University of Virginia in 2014, won a traveling fellowship from UVA to study prison gardens. She wants to use landscape approaches to engage all members of the public, including those at the margins. Prison gardens offer an opportunity to create places to heal for those who must spend time outside of society.

In the summer of last year, Cannella visited ten prisons and one jail with participatory gardens across the United States and Europe, at both men’s and women’s institutions with a range of security levels. Some prison gardens are tucked in corners or between walls or fences. Others occupy prominent places, by the entry or bordering walkways. A few are found in fields.

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Halden Prison, Norway / Katherine Cannella

To prepare for each visit, she would copy plans and aerials into a sketchbook. These initial drawings provided a framework for quick annotations during the often brief time on site. She modeled her research methods on post-occupancy evaluations that included observational walks and interviews with users. While her movement throughout the facility and interaction with inmates was limited, her conversations led to a deeper understanding of the gardens.

Cannella began her conversations with inmates, officers, administrators, and garden program facilitators by asking, “What has your time in the garden meant to you?”

Speaking with inmates at places as diverse as the Men’s Max in Rhode Island and the Halden Prison in Norway, she discovered prison gardens serve many functions. They provide a sense of freedom; offer a comfortable place; supply fresh food for the prison kitchen; connect the prison and the surrounding community; create an aesthetic experience; provide a link with home; and serve as part of ecological network. Each prison is a “living institution,” with a profound impact on inmates who garden as well as the prison community as a whole.

Cannella documented the anatomy of these living institutions. Using site photos and observational drawings as well as layered axonometric drawings, Cannella showed the layout and spatial relationships of six of the sites.

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Detail of the 6,000 sq. ft. garden at Men’s Maximum Security Prison in Rhode Island / Katherine Cannella

In the end, she quoted Ann Whiston Spirn, FASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at MIT, who said, “The simple act of digging garden soil in preparation for spring planting triggers strong emotions: a sense of connection to the earth and the regeneration of life. It is an act of nurturance and an expression of faith in renewal.” The prison garden is a place of freedom and offers inmates purpose.

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

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Parading floats at the Sambadrome / AP

As finalists for this year’s Wheelwright Prize gathered at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) to present their research, Gia Wolff, the inaugural winner of the $100,000 traveling fellowship, returned after two years of funded research to give a lecture. The Brooklyn-based architect and GSD alumna won the prize for Floating City: The Community-based Architecture of Parade Floats. Her talk recast the famous Carnaval of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as an allegory of the city itself.

When Wolff began her research, she knew very little about carnival traditions, or the infrastructure, culture, and community behind the spectacle. She learned that mapping a float’s route through the streets of Mangueira by drawing a set of precise arrows on an aerial photo wasn’t helping her figure things out. Carnaval “is off the map.” In the end, it’s not about getting the sequencing and choreography of floats in the Sambadrome, a linear stadium, exactly right–“it is not really about that, but everything else.”

The first surprising notion was that in Rio, carnival is not an event as much as a practice. Its duration and influence span more than a single show or the arena of a stadium. Wolff refers to this as the “cyclical nature of Carnaval.” It pervades the urban fabric and is deeply embedded in the culture. Preparations begin long before the performance. Samba schools practice the music and dance throughout the year and the Carnavalesco designs the floats months in advance. Costumes and floats are constructed in old warehouses, disguising the work up until the eleventh hour–no small task for a float the size of a building. In fact, the floats can’t take final form until they enter the parading ground of the Sambadrome. After months of rehearsal, the “perfect image of Carnaval” is fulfilled only during the parade. It is as if sneaking a peak would jinx the final picture.

The Samba schools also operate under a fierce system of competition. Wolff likens the organization of the schools to a soccer league. Three tiers with varying degrees of monetary and cultural capital all participate in the carnival with their respective floats. But while the first and second-tier schools parade in the Sambadrome designed by Oscar Niemeyer and built in 1984, the third tier moves through the streets, the original parading ground. This reminds the audience that the Sambadrome is little more than a glorified avenue, constructed and reserved for a single purpose and only a few days each year. The surprising permanence of this structure contradicts its relative temporary function as a street, and the otherwise pervasive nature of Carnaval.

But what really captured Wolff’s imagination were the immense and utterly spectacular floats, which set the whole parade into motion. It’s the float that drives the performance, draws the crowd, consumes much of the labor, and occupies the street. The Portuguese term for float is carro alegórico, “the allegorical car.” But she considered, “could it also be an allegory for the city itself?”

If not the city, perhaps its components. When floats “move through the city like mobile buildings,” the sheer size of the floats–in this case, some of the largest in the world–transform the exterior realm of a street into a new interior. These temporary structures are made with steel frame, wooden construction, and foam, all in the name of a thematic story, which the float, the carro alegórico, tells. The final transformational act, however, that makes the “allegorical car” into a live spectacle and truly gives scale to the construction is the addition of people.

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Carro alegórico carioca, a Brazilian “allegorical car” in Rio de Janeiro / Gia Wolff

We see an image of a large, crane-like machine lifting and lowering elaborately-dressed participants into position, to become part of the float itself. Even though the performers appeared grossly out of scale, they gave the float a dimension at the “unexpected architectural scale.” And then we see a short video clip from the Sambadrome that features a boat and rowers at the center of a large blue tarp. The tarp is suspended from the hips of the performers standing in dispersed perforations, and their coordinated hip-swaying is making waves in the sea. The objects represented are everyday objects, but Wolff promises, their performance transcends the urban scale. In this way, she observes, Carnaval presents “hyper-reality as a new sort of normal reality.”

This guest post is by Lara Mehling, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

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Vista Hermosa Park (met AB 1881 and LID requirements) / Mia Lehrer + Associates

For the past century, much of California has relied on an inherently fragile and unreliable imported water infrastructure. While the current crisis attracts the attention of the media and public, the environmental community and government have been actively pursuing solutions for decades. These efforts have resulted in long-term water conservation. For example, Los Angeles has seen a dramatic increase in population since the 1970’s, but water use has actually declined, with the largest drops in use during periods of drought and recession. Efforts are now focused on decreasing demand for imported water by increasing local supplies. A few weeks ago, we wrote about ways each of us as individuals can conserve water in our landscapes by copying nature and making choices appropriate to our local micro-climates and water availability. In addition to the smaller-scale decisions we make in our own landscapes, progressive state and local policies are helping California to better conserve its limited water resources.

Here are a few across the state:

Water Conservation in Landscaping Act of 2006 (AB 1881)
This Assembly Bill spurred the creation of the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance, which established maximum allowed landscape water budgets and mandated low water-use plants and efficient irrigation strategies. AB 1881 encourages us to capture and retain on site stormwater and use recycled water. The ordinance also requires soil assessments, soil management plans, and landscape maintenance plans to accompany landscape plans submitted through municipal permit processes.

Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (AB 551, in progress)
If passed, Assembly Bill 551 will incentivize the use of currently-vacant private land for urban agriculture. Private landowners could have their property assessed at a lower property tax rate — based on agricultural use rather than its market value — in exchange for ensuring its use for urban agriculture for 10 years. Increasing local agricultural production where recycled water is readily available can reduce water and energy use in food production and increase our cities’ self-sufficiency and resilience in the face of potential natural disasters.

In Southern California:

Recycled Water
The Los Angeles County Bureau of Sanitation and Orange County Water District (OCWD) began recycling water in the 1960s and 1970s, respectively, for groundwater recharge and non-potable uses — or uses other than for drinking, such as irrigation or industry. In 2008, the OCWD district began recharging its groundwater supplies with water treated to levels above drinking water standards for reuse as potable water. A big push to educate the public about the process and its benefits smoothed the transition. The district is now expanding production from 70 to 100 million gallons per day, or enough to supply nearly one-third of Orange County’s 3.1 million people. Los Angeles, which delayed their water recycling efforts for drinking water after negative PR alarmed the public, is now planning to expand their recycled water program, including groundwater recharge, by 2035.

In Los Angeles:

Proposition O (2004)
Los Angeles voters overwhelmingly passed Prop O to use $500 million to fund projects to:
•    Protect rivers, lakes, beaches, and the ocean;
•    Conserve and protect drinking water and other water sources;
•    Reduce flooding and use neighborhood parks to decrease polluted runoff;
•    Capture, clean up, and reuse stormwater.

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Peck Canyon Park, San Pedro, funded with Prop 0 funds / Mia Lehrer + Associates

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Los Angeles Zoo Parking Lot bio-infiltration, funded by Prop 0 / Mia Lehrer + Associates

Low Impact Development Ordinance (2012)
Los Angeles’ LID Ordinance ensures that new and redevelopment projects recharge groundwater aquifers to increase future water supply; protect water quality downstream; reduce flood risk by keeping rainwater on site; remove nutrients, bacteria, and metals from stormwater runoff; and reduce and slow water that runs off of properties during storms.

But there is still much more we can do. Caroline Mini, who wrote her PhD dissertation at the University of California last year, shows how urban residential water use in Los Angeles is largely determined by income. Wealthier neighborhoods on average use three times more water than poorer neighborhoods. This is despite the fact that most wealthier neighborhoods inhabit tree-covered hillsides with ample available soil moisture, while less fortunate residents occupy dryer, flatter, and less shaded areas. Better-off communities have the opportunity to use their wealth to establish well-designed, resource-efficient, and beautiful landscapes that will become models in water conservation. And cities and counties have the opportunity to create green infrastructure projects that add tree canopy and increase permeability to regain the sponge quality of soil in those low-land neighborhoods that will benefit most.

Agriculture accounts for 80 percent water of the used by people in our state. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pacific Institute published an issue brief last year illustrating the massive water conservation potential that could come from more efficient agricultural practices. Just using the most up-to-date irrigation technologies and applying only the amount of water crops need could reduce agricultural water use by 17-22 percent. In 1975, Masanobu Fukuoka wrote The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming, describing dry rice farming techniques that matched or out-produced his most productive neighbors. This poetic story about working with nature instead of against it to grow successive crops with little effort is more relevant than ever today.

More thoughtful planning for both rural agricultural and urban water use is needed. We can determine which crops and farming methods best serve our regional and exported food needs while further conserving water. We can advance urban water efficiency plans, which could generate savings that can negate the current deficit, while creating greener, more resilient and self-reliant cities.

This guest post is by Mia Lehrer, FASLA, founder of Mia Lehrer + Associates, and Claire Latané, ASLA, senior associate, Mia Lehrer + Associates.

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Visitors to a National Park in West Virginia / WPublic Broadcasting

At the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., U.S. Interior department Secretary Sally Jewell said national parks had their highest visitation rates ever in 2014, with more than 400 million visits, and those numbers are expected to only increase in the next year, after the launch of President Obama’s Every Kid in a Park program, which will eliminate park fees for every 4th grade kid and their family for a year. “This sends a message that parks are not just for wealthy white people, but for everyone.”

National parks contributed $26 billion directly to the economy last year, said Jewell. And a few years ago, the entire outdoor recreation economy — covering everything from tent purchases to ski rentals — was estimated to be valued at $646 billion, and responsible for 6.1 million jobs.

These numbers show how outdoor jobs aren’t just related to extractive industries, like fracking. “Communities can chose between jobs in the extractive and recreation and conservation industries. It’s just not about extraction.”

To preserve and grow the outdoor recreation economy, she called for a more thoughtful balance between conservation and development. She said one way to achieve this is “acting at the landscape level.” For example, depending on the site, a place may be “appropriate or inappropriate for development; there are certainly places that are too special to develop.” Landscape level planning, Jewell argued, can help create “long term health for both habitats and communities.”

Other speakers weighed in on the outdoor recreation economy:

Paul Smith, a venture capitalist, is behind a group called Conservation for Economic Growth, which argues that open spaces have a direct economic impact. “They have an economic value beyond their tourism value.” He pointed to how real estate with a view of the water or another open space is always worth more than properties without; how a higher-level floor in an apartment building is always worth more than one on a lower floor. “There’s a value to wonderful views.” Smith said the Commerce Department is expected to launch a study exploring open space’s value.

Margaret Walls, senior fellow, Resources for the Future, said with climate change, the scenic natural systems that also provide crucial ecosystem services are only going to be worth more. The gorgeous wetland that protects a community from storms, or that scenic river headwaters that improves water quality, will be worth more the more they are needed.

Cam Bresinger, NEMO Equipment, said “numbers are powerful” and should be used by progressive candidates to promote the outdoor recreation economy in legislatures. “Give them the data they can use to build the argument.” It should be that if a representative is from a part of the country where there are lots of ski resorts or hiking trails, it will be “inconceivable if they don’t mention this.”

Lastly, someone from the audience proposed more rigorous studies on the health benefits of nature. Specifically, he called for a National Institute of Health (NIH)-funded study comparing the benefits of drugs, therapy, or exposure to nature for veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Vets with severe PTSD could be given the opportunity to join the Conservation Corps, where we could study how well they respond to the medicinal effects of being out in nature.” One day, national parks could be considered part of our healthcare system, too.

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