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ravines

The ravines of Toronto / The Toronto Region and Conservation Authority

The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s (TCLF) Leading with Landscape symposium offered a deep examination of the landscape of Toronto, which was described as a complex ecological system. The presence of Toronto mayor John Tory at the conference showed the importance local policymakers place on the landscape architecture community in shaping the future of this city, the fourth largest in North America. Mayor Tory spoke of balancing growth with social and environmental responsibilities, and the integral role landscape architects play in creating a sustainable city.

The first of TCLF’s Modernism symposiums in Chicago sought to define contemporary landscape architecture by looking at its historical context. The second conference at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City championed landscape architectural practices that challenge rigid Modernist idioms through systems-based approaches, which cities increasingly need to deal with today’s complex environmental and social challenges. And the third installment, Leading with Landscape, called for responsive urban design based in a “landscape first” approach.

The day-long conference focused the conversation on how cities — with Toronto serving as the host city and model — are created and sustained through landscape. The term landscape here refers to interconnected natural systems (geologic, hydrologic, botanical and zoological); the many interventions and manipulations of land by humans — from indigenous people to contemporary landscape architects, planners, and engineers; and the resulting street grid and consequent structures.

Landscape architects explored aspects of Toronto’s history before delving into specific contemporary projects. Here, landscape architects explain the forces that have shaped the landscape of Toronto, the cultural and ecological context:

Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, founder of TCLF and organizer of the conference, presented a chronological overview of the cultural landscape of Toronto, with specific examples from Allan Gardens to the post-Modernism of Yorkville Park. Birnbaum made a passionate argument for growing Toronto from its historic fabric. He spoke of the importance of context and narrative in the creation of authentic, resilient places, which can then generate the cultural and financial investments needed for a vital urban environment.

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Yorkville park, Toronto / Landscape Voice

Landscape architect Janet Rosenberg, FASLA, founding principal, Janet Rosenberg & Studio, and Michael McClellan, principal at ERA Architects, introduced some motifs that recurred throughout the conference: the idea of a multi-verse Toronto with many socio-economic layers that exist side by side, like the suburban high-rises next to the waterfront reality; and the major role of the city’s ravines, which structure the city’s hydrology.

The ecological and cultural contexts that have shaped Toronto were further related by Nina-Marie Lister, Hon. ASLA, associate professor, school of urban + regional planning, Ryerson University. Lister showed the transformation of the city’s landscape by geologic, hydrologic and human forces, and how the expansion and the demand for economic productivity eroded critical ecological services. In 1954, Hurricane Hazel led to devastating flooding in the city, which began a movement towards a hybrid-design approach that engages development alongside a deeper consideration of natural systems.

Brendan Stewart, ASLA, landscape architect and urban designer, ERA Architects, used early city maps to show the lot plans – Toronto’s original organizing grid — and the many subsequent layers and sub-divisions that occurred over two hundred years, which all eschewed the complexities of the existing ecosystem.

Stewart also explained the role of landscape architects in the development of the city — André Parmentier’s geometries at Queen’s Park and the University Avenue landscape being enduring examples. Like Lister, Stewart noted the increased awareness of Toronto’s natural systems following Hurricane Hazel, and the subsequent shift in the goals of the parks and recreation department. Today, the department is not only focused on providing spaces for recreation for residents, but also designing a park system that can provide a hydrologic structure to protect the city.

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Queen’s Park, Toronto / Chuck Man Toronto Nostalgia Blog

Concluding the discussion of Toronto’s ecological and cultural context, Jane Wolff, associate professor, University of Toronto, presented a short history of coupled built and natural systems in Toronto, equal parts accident and intention. An example of this interplay is the bluff condition of the city that has “fed” the archipelago just off the shore of the city; the islands that formed are now an integral part of the cultural and ecologic fabric of Toronto. Another example, the Tommy Thompson Park – a spit created by the engineered redirection of the Don River – has become a flourishing ecosystem that now provides a stop for birds along their yearly migration.

Read part 2.

This guest post is by Tim Popa, Communications Director, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architecture.

Miller’s Court in Baltimore, Maryland / Courtesy of Billy Michels via Metropolis

Miller’s Court in Baltimore, Maryland / Billy Michels via Metropolis

From a pool of applicants from 40 communities in 26 states, Miller’s Court in Baltimore was awarded the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence (RBA) gold medal and a $50,000 prize. Four other projects were awarded silver medals and $10,000 each.

Since 1987, the biennial award has recognized “urban places distinguished by quality design and contributions to the social, economic, and communal vitality of our nation’s cities.” The 2013 gold medal was awarded to Inspiration Kitchens in Garfield Park, Chicago.

This year’s winning project, Miller’s Court, is a “renovation of a vacant historic tin can manufacturing building, into an affordable and supportive living and working environment for school teachers and education-focused non-profits.” Located in an economically and culturally diverse neighborhood near Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus, the project, which was conceived and developed by Seawall Development Company with Mark, Thomas Architects, was completed in 2009.

The LEED Gold-certified complex includes “40 rental apartments and 30,000 square feet of office space and shared meeting rooms with contemporary, loft-like interiors.” Other features include a teacher resource center and a cooperatively owned independent café, which has become a popular meeting place for teachers, tenants and even President Obama, who visited in January.

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Miller’s Court / Seawall Development Corporation

One of the project’s crowning achievements is generating additional investment in the surrounding community. At the urging of several building residents, Seawall purchased and renovated 30 vacant neighboring houses to create Miller’s Square. Baltimore public school teachers and police officers are eligible for $25,000 grants toward homes there. Read more about the project in Metropolis.

Renovated row houses at Miller’s Square / Courtesy of the Bruner Foundation

Renovated row houses at Miller’s Square /
Bruner Foundation

Four other projects were recognized with silver medals and $10,000 each:

Located in the center of downtown Greenville, South Carolina, Falls Park on the Reedy is an urban oasis thanks to the transformation of a forgotten 40-foot tall waterfall and overgrown river valley into a 26-acre park. Development of the park, which opened in 2006, included replacing a four-lane vehicular bridge built directly over the falls with a pedestrian suspension bridge designed by Rosales+Partners. The bridge appears to float above the river, offering a dramatic overlook of the falls. Learn more about this project at Metropolis.

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Falls Park on the Reedy in Greenville, South Carolina / Rosales+Partners via Metropolis

Grand Rapids Downtown Market is a new public space in one of West Michigan’s most challenged neighborhoods. The market “promotes local food producers, entrepreneurship, and education about nutrition and healthy lifestyles” by linking urban communities with the 13,000 farms in 11 surrounding counties and attracting a diversity of customers to the southern edge of downtown Grand Rapids. The state-of-the-art facility, designed by Hugh A. Boyd Architects, is the first LEED Gold–certified public market in the country. Learn more about the market at Metropolis.

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Grand Rapids Downtown Market / Grand Rapids Downtown Market

Quixote Village, in Olympia, Washington, is a two-acre community of tiny houses that provides “permanent, supportive housing for homeless adults, including people suffering from mental illness and physical disabilities and recovering from addiction.” Since its completion in December 2013, Quixote Village has attracted the attention of many interested in tiny houses including nonprofits and private developers, as well as The New York Times. Learn more about the project at Metropolis.

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Tiny house in Quixote Village / Courtesy of Jeremy Bittermann for The New York Times

Located three miles south of downtown Cleveland, Uptown District is the “redevelopment of a corridor that links surrounding neighborhoods with art, educational, and healthcare institutions, producing outdoor gathering spaces, retail shops and restaurants, student and market-rate housing, and public transit connections in the process.” The development has transformed two previously underused city blocks between two of the city’s most iconic cultural institutions into a “community gateway.” Learn more about the project at Metropolis.

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Uptown District in Cleveland, OH / Stanley Saitowitz, Natoma Architects Inc. via Metropolis

The 2015 RBA selection committee included: Mayor Mark Stodola, Little Rock, Arkansas; Rebecca L. Flora, Sustainable Practices Leader, Ecology & Environment, Inc.; Larry Kearns, Principal, Wheeler Kearns Architects; India Pierce Lee, Program Director, Cleveland Foundation; Mia Lehrer, FASLA, President, Mia Lehrer + Associates; James Stockard, Lecturer in Housing, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Learn more: A blog series on Metropolis’ web site is chronicling the 2015 RBA process and case studies of the winning projects.

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Restoration of Jackson Park / Project 120

On a rainy afternoon, surrounded by musicians, dancers, and dignitaries, artist Yoko Ono spoke at an “earth healing” ceremony, celebrating the dedication of the site of what will be her only permanent installation in the Americas, Sky Landing. The installation will be in Chicago’s Jackson Park, on the Wooded Island, which is currently undergoing extensive restoration work, including the reconstruction of natural areas and the creation of a new pavilion.

Sky Landing will be located on a site adjacent to the Osaka Garden in Frederick Law Olmsted’s bucolic park. The site is historically significant, as it is the location of the original Phoenix Pavilion, which was built in 1893 as a part of the World’s Fair Columbian Exposition to promote American understanding of Japanese culture and as a means to unite the East and West. The original pavilion burned to the ground in 1946.

Ono responds to this history. She explained her inspiration for the piece to Americans for the Arts’ Nora Halpern: “I want the sky to land here, to cool it, to make it well again.”

Though the actual form of Sky Landing, which is expected to open in 2016, hasn’t been revealed, the land has been formed in anticipation of the installation. Two crescent shaped mounds of earth curve into each other, creating between them a space for sky, framed by land.

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View of the crescent / Heidi Petersen

The healing ceremony was organized by Robert W. Karr, Jr., president of Project 120 Chicago, which is leading the restoration effort in Jackson Park. Karr spoke of the Japanese concept of kanreki, or the idea that rebirth happens every 60 years. In 2013, exactly 120 years after the original dedication of the Phoenix Pavilion for the 1893 World’s Fair, 120 Japanese cherry trees were planted. In a continuation of this theme, Sky Landing asks that peace and understanding be reborn.

Toshiyuki Iwado, Consul General of Japan at Chicago, said the site and Ono’s new piece represent a legacy of unity between American and Japanese cultures. Here, people will be able to experience the “richness of nature and the harmony of culture and peace.”

Ono spoke of feeling Chicago’s “incredible, incredible intense opening of the heart.” She has long felt a deep connection to Chicago, saying in an interview with Halpern that “Chicago makes me nostalgic about way, way back when I was a little girl in the 1930’s. I don’t really know why.”

Derek R. B. Douglas, vice president for civic engagement, University of Chicago, spoke of the importance of parks and green space in providing community members both access to nature and opportunities for solitude. Describing Sky Landing as “one more way for local residents to connect to the park,” he reminded us of the importance of the park as a place for people to gather, engage with the natural world, and find respite.

At the ceremony, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also took the opportunity to unveil a public art initiative, Public Art Chicago: 50 for 50, which will create a public art installation in each of the city’s 50 wards, because “public art enriches the experience of public space.”

Meanwhile, no word yet from the Obamas and Chicago city government as to whether they will take a piece of Jackson Park or nearby Washington Park for the $500-million Obama presidential library. In May, word leaked from the Obama library foundation that one of these two Olmsted-designed historic parks will be the future site, to the dismay of historic preservation and park advocates.

This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, a recent graduate of Illinois Institute of Technology’s Master of Landscape Architecture program, former ASLA Communications Intern, and a proud Chicagoan.

The 606 / The Chicago Tribune

The 606 / The Chicago Tribune

Sunrise Makes Way for Massive Mixed-Use Metropica Curbed, 6/1/15
“Sunrise’s Metropica is one of the new goliaths of development projects coming to South Florida. Architect Chad Oppenheim, landscape architecture firm EDSA, interior design firm Yoo Studio, and architectural design firm CI Design are collaborating to build a city-within-a-suburb.”

Chicago’s New 606 Trail a Boon for Open Space, Neighborhoods It Links The Chicago Tribune, 6/2/15
“The 606, which takes its name from Chicago’s ZIP code prefix and whose centerpiece is a 2.7-mile recreational and cultural trail, is a bold and potentially brilliant reinvention of a dormant and derelict elevated freight line that blighted Northwest Side neighborhoods such as Bucktown and Logan Square.”

Frick Museum Abandons Contested Renovation Plan The New York Times, 6/3/15
“Facing a groundswell of opposition to a proposed renovation that would have eliminated a gated garden to make way for a six-story addition, the museum — long admired for its intimate scale — has decided to abandon those plans and start over from scratch.”

Parks for All? The Architect’s Newspaper, 6/8/15
“Chicago’s new linear park and bike corridor, The 606, opens in June. It is hotly anticipated for its potential to transform several West Side neighborhoods, but community groups have questioned who benefits from that transformation.”

Urban, Yet Green The Bangkok Post, 6/8/15
As of last month people are able to go to Siam Square for something new: growing rice and vegetables on the rooftop of shopping complex Siam Square One.”

Grand Rapids Debuts Serene Japanese Garden Featuring Sculpture, Tea The Japan Times, 6/12/15
“Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids is opening its $22 million Japanese garden after years of construction, offering a place for tranquility and contemplation that integrates contemporary sculpture with trees and plants.”

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Artful Rainwater Design / Island Press

As our climate becomes more unpredictable, finding better ways to manage stormwater is crucial to reducing floods. However, traditional stormwater management strategies can be unforgettable at best and unsightly at worst. In the new book, Artful Rainwater Design: Creative Ways to Manage Stormwater, Pennsylvania State University professors Stuart Echols, ASLA, and Eliza Pennypacker, ASLA, prove that this doesn’t always have to be the case — it’s possible to effectively manage runoff without sacrificing aesthetics.

In this well-organized how-to guide for designers, Echols and Pennypacker highlight the benefits of Artful Rainwater Design (ARD), a term coined by Echols in 2005 to describe rainwater collection systems that are not only functional, but also attractive and engaging. These systems are usually designed to handle small rain events and the initial — and dirtiest — events, rather than major flooding from large storms. Given these smaller rain events of up to 1-½ inches typically account for 60-90 percent of all precipitation, the authors advocate ARD as “the new normal of runoff management.”

Beginning with a history of traditional approaches, then transitioning to the landscape amenity and utility values provided by ARDs, and, finally, concluding with 20 case studies, the book makes a convincing argument for ARDs as a stormwater management strategy. Echols’ and Pennypacker’s most compelling assertion is that creative, attention-grabbing stormwater management techniques do more than simply add aesthetic value to a landscape — they also serve as a reminder that rainwater is a valuable resource that feeds plant life and replenishes terrestrial water sources. In this way, ARDs can be used to “advance the agenda of environmentally-responsible design by making systems not only visible and legible, but beautiful.”

While some sections of the book may appear redundant with existing stormwater management guides, the book is an inspiring catalog of successful ARDs. Echols and Pennypacker first consider existing ARD projects for their general landscape amenities — a difference from existing resources that typically consider stormwater strictly as a problem in need of solving. The authors list the amenities of many public ARDs, such as education, recreation, safety, public relations, and aesthetic richness, and they offer several examples.

Among the more innovative projects highlighted in this section is the new Queens Botanical Garden Visitor Center in Flushing, New York, by Atelier Dreiseitl with Conservation Design Forum and BKSK Architects, which provides opportunities for people “to splash, float objects, or just watch the water.”

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Queens Botanical Garden / Stuart Echols, courtesy of Island Press

But are these amenity-providing ARDs as effective at managing stormwater as traditional methods? When considered as a starting point for site design, Echols and Pennypacker argue that ARDs can actually accomplish much more than existing strategies. They can reduce pollutant loads in rainwater, restore or create habitat, and capture water for reuse, among other benefits.

Standout projects in this section include the Beckoning Cistern by artist Buster Simpson. This project refers to Michelangelo’s painting of God’s life-giving touch as it Adam’s outstretched finger — but in this case, roof runoff is the life source and is collected into a container.

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The Beckoning Cistern / Stuart Echols, courtesy of Island Press

Most landscape architects will likely agree with Echols and Pennypacker’s arguments in favor of ARDs. As Warren Byrd, FASLA, of Nelson Byrd Woltz, asks in the first chapter: “Why wouldn’t we use ARDs?” But the question remains: Why aren’t ARD systems more widely implemented?

Many designers see ARDs as too expensive, too difficult to get through the approval process, or, more often than not, not appropriate for their geographical area. While about half of the designs featured in the book are located in Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, the authors urge readers not to consider these examples as “’out there’ and irrelevant to their own contexts” — these cities were simply ahead of the curve. As Steve Law from the Portland Tribune writes, “across the nation more than 700 cities have combined sewer overflow problems, largely communities that developed a century or more ago, like much of Portland.”

Echols and Pennypacker also assuage fears over the time and energy that can go into maintaining ARDs, offering several solutions, such as using edging to differentiate between landscapes that demand weekly maintenance (mowed lawn) from those that demand monthly maintenance (rain gardens). This strategy was successfully employed at the Oregon Convention Center, one of the featured case studies, which was designed by landscape architecture firm Mayer/Reed.

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The Rain Garden at Oregon Convention Center / Stuart Echols, courtesy of Island Press

Echols and Pennypacker are honest about the many challenges ARDs pose at this point in the history of sustainable design. However, at a time when doing nothing to manage rainwater is simply not an option, their book instills hope that the days of drab detention ponds may soon be coming to an end, ushering in a new era of rain-celebrating landscapes.

Read the book.

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Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes, 4-star SITES Certified project / Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES)

The Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) has launched its newly acquired SITES rating system, the most comprehensive program and toolkit for developing sustainable landscapes.

SITES was developed through a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden. The rating system can be applied to development projects located on sites with or without buildings – ranging from national parks to corporate campuses, streetscapes and homes, and much more.

“Landscapes knit together the fabric of our communities,” said Rick Fedrizzi, CEO, GBCI. “And sustainable landscapes are critical in their ability to reduce water demand, filter and reduce storm water runoff, provide wildlife habitat, reduce energy consumption, improve air quality, improve human health, and increase outdoor recreation opportunities. SITES is an important addition to our toolkit, and GBCI appreciates this opportunity to support this additional contribution to healthy, thriving communities and neighborhoods.”

“It is exciting to see years of work developing and field testing SITES culminate with the availability of this rating system,” said Fritz Steiner, FASLA, dean of the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin. “The depth and breadth of approaches that were implemented by pilot projects demonstrates how valuable SITES can become for revolutionizing our relationships with built landscapes.”

“Landscape architects and members of all the related design and planning fields know that the issues addressed in SITES are increasingly important to creating livable and resilient communities,” said Nancy C. Somerville, executive vice president and CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). “GBCI will take SITES to the next level and ensure its future growth and influence, and ASLA is pleased to provide continued education and communications support.”

“SITES is a powerful tool for enhancing built landscapes precisely because it puts ecosystem services, the benefits humans derive from functional ecosystems, front and center,” said Ari Novy, executive director of the United States Botanic Garden. “This approach will help maximize our collective ability to create sustainable and healthy communities. Making SITES available through GBCI will be a great boon for the quality and resilience of our built landscapes.”

The SITES rating system uses progressive industry standards for landscape design and incorporates additional recommendations from technical experts in the fields of soil science, botany and horticulture, hydrology, materials, and human health and well-being. Some of the credits for sustainable landscape performance have been developed in alignment with similar credits in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system, the world’s most widely used green building program.

SITES, originally modeled after LEED, includes best practices in landscape architecture, ecological restoration and related fields as well as knowledge gained through peer-reviewed literature, case-study precedents and projects registered in the SITES pilot program.

“Adding SITES to GBCI’s rapidly growing list of certification systems and credentials it supports not only expands GBCI’s capabilities, but it also helps us to further our mission to enact global sustainable change,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president, GBCI.

SITES draws on the experience gained from a two-year pilot program involving more than 100 projects. Forty-six of these pilot projects have achieved certification, including landscape projects at corporate headquarters, national and city parks, academic campuses and private homes.

Interested project teams can visit sustainablesites.org for more information and to register their projects and access the SITES v2: Rating System For Sustainable Land Design and Development, a guide that provides best practices, performance benchmarks, and tools for creating ecologically resilient landscapes and rewards successful projects through certification.

The Wildflower Center and ASLA will help GBCI create and implement SITES credentialing and certification offerings such as training project reviewers and will provide educational opportunities for pursuing SITES certification.

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Central Park Conservancy sign in Central Park Park, NYC / Sallanscorner.wordpress.com

In an age of ample private wealth and an increasingly constrained public sector, a number of American cities have become dependent on privately funded conservancies to maintain and refurbish their public parks. A new report by Peter Harnik, Hon. ASLA, and Abby Martin from The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence explores the rise of such city park conservancies — private organizations that use donations to rebuild, renovate, and, in some cases, maintain some of the most iconic parks in the country. Interspersed with examples from 41 conservancy organizations that have a collective experience record of nearly 750 years, the study serves as a how-to guide for building successful relationships between city governments and urban park conservancies.

While many park-support organizations exist throughout the country, including friends-of-parks groups and business improvement districts, the study defines a conservancy as a “private, nonprofit park-benefit organization that raises money independent of the city and spends it under a plan of action mutually agreed upon by the government.” Throughout the study, Harnik and Martin maintain that the key to this relationship is that the land remains the city’s and the city retains ultimate authority over everything that happens there.

New York’s Central Park Conservancy, which was founded in 1980, is generally considered the catalyst for the conservancy movement. Following a nationwide recession in the 1970s which severely damaged NYC’s already declining parks department, NYC Mayor Ed Koch and parks commissioner Gordon Davis appointed Betsy Barlow Rogers as Central Park Administrator. Rogers created a revolutionary public-private partnership that would bring private money and expertise together with the City of New York to restore Central Park. The study contends that to this day, New York has used conservancies more so than any other city and continues to provide lessons for other public-private partnerships.

Since the formation of the Central Park Conservancy, urban park conservancies have become a favored tool for revitalizing many parks across the country (about 50 percent of major cities have at least one). However, the strength of the study is that is does not gloss over the inevitable conflicts that arise when trying to build a successful public-private relationship, nor does it consider conservancy support as the panacea for urban park management. As was the case with the Central Park Conservancy, most conservancies are founded to restore dilapidated historic parks and address shortcomings in governmental funding. Yet, this can often create an ideological conflict.

For every person that is skeptical of government, there is another who is skeptical of increasing private control over public space. While many city governments often lose the capacity to maintain a park’s programs and amenities without private support, putting too much responsibility in the hands of a conservancy can lead community members to suspect a park is becoming completely privatized. For example, civil right attorney Larry Krasner, who defended a group of Occupy Wall Street protestors, states, “I think there is a trend of analogizing public space to shopping malls. I think a lot of people view that as a sad state of affairs. It seems to indicate that government is insufficiently funded or not able to provide services we used to take for granted.” The study is upfront and honest about the challenges these conflicting mentalities can create for restoring, maintaining, and improving urban parks.

Among these challenges, there are two that conservancy-supported parks appear to face time and again: Maintenance and safety. According to the study, finding the money to cover basic maintenance costs can be a challenge – often the challenge – for conservancies and city governments alike. While big capital projects are more flashy and attract private donations, maintenance is less sexy. For this, Harnik and Martin offer one thoughtful solution inspired by the Central Park Conservancy: Have conservancies build in “a long-term maintenance fee to the initial budget of each capital project – an upfront gift that becomes a permanent trust fund.” Such a solution ensures that the maintenance of donor-attracting capital projects does not fall solely on the city government’s shoulders.

The issue of maintaining public safety is slightly more complicated. The study provides several examples, including Piedmont Park in Atlanta and Civic Center Park in Denver, where public-private arrangements have gone awry in the wake of public safety concerns that discourage donors and visitors. While the Civic Center Conservancy stepped up programming and the Mayor of Denver allocated more money for policing and security after a 2013 shooting, specific suggestions for dealing with urban crime and public safety generally fall outside the scope of the study.

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Civic Center Park, Denver, CO / John Hill/World-Architects

Though the conservancy-based approach to urban park management is still emerging, the study could have benefited from more examples of conservancies that were formed hand-in-hand with brand new green spaces. Of course, private organizations that are formed in response to governmental shortcomings will face unique challenges and conflicts, but what if these relationships were established at a park’s inception? The study cites this approach as a growing trend but gives few examples to support or deny its success.

Ultimately, the report serves as a comprehensive guide for philanthropists and mayors, as well as bureaucrats and board members, who wish to create and maintain successful partnerships that benefit our urban green spaces. For the rest of us, the study provides a reminder that the free parks we often take for granted are hardly free.

Read the full report and also check out Trust for Public Land’s new City Park Facts 2015, which has tons of data on the top 100 park systems in the country.

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U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters / Taylor Lednum/GSA

The General Services Administration (GSA) granted us a rare look at a Level 5 security campus, the new U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, at the restored St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in southeast Washington, D.C. This $646-million project is just the first in a series that will transform a mid-19th-century mental asylum, founded by social reformer Dorothea Dix, into the new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, of which the Coast Guard is a major piece. In a tour, Christian Gabriel, ASLA, national design director for landscape architecture at GSA, said “the goal of the new facility is improve operational efficiency by bringing together all the Homeland Security leadership in one place.” Leaders of the department will occupy revamped asylum buildings that once housed patients like Modernist poet Ezra Pound.

The tour started with moving through multiple high-security checkpoints stacked with fully-armed guards. Once cleared, we looped up towards the upper terraces of the new 1.2-million-square-feet Coast Guard headquarters, designed by architects at Perkins + Will and landscape architects with Andropogon Associates, with HOK providing landscape architecture, interiors, and sustainability services as part of a design-build team. As Gabriel explained, new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules meant that 95 percent of stormwater had to be captured on site. On top of that, historic preservation, sight, and security considerations meant that the new Coast Guard headquarters needed to be lower than the historic asylum buildings.

What that meant in reality — for such a large site on such a steep slope — was GSA needed to set the 9-story building deep in the hill and cover it in a set of stair-step green roof terraces that funnel water down to a constructed wetland and pond. GSA ended up creating the second largest green roof in the U.S. at 550,000 square feet, and the third largest in the world. It’s so big that a deer actually grazed on the roof, not realizing it was on one.

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U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters / Taylor Lednum/GSA

Thomas Amoroso, ASLA, the landscape architect who designed the project at Andropogon, explained that while the system may look complex, it’s actually pretty simple. “It’s low-tech and common sense. The green roof terraces are a gravity-based system that move water from the higher terraces to a lower ones and then into the pond.” That the system operates in such a seamless way — and also doubles as public space for the coast guard officers operating the facility — is a testament to the depth of the design.

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Rendering of step terraces / Perkins + Will

As we make our way down through many floors to get to the 350,000-cubic-foot pond, we begin to see subtle differences in the plant life in the courtyards spread among the green roofs. Amoroso, and HOK landscape architect Brandon Hartz, ASLA, explained how they “replicated existing native eco-zones throughout the courtyards.” During the 120-foot-drop through the levels, water moves off the buildings, onto roofs and courtyards, through diverse regions, from the “Blue Ridge and rocky barrens of Piedmont to the coastal plains.”

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View of an upper courtyard / Taylor Lednum/GSA

All the courtyards that get ample light feature a mix of shrubs, grasses, and Oak community trees, a majority of which are native. “They are habitat for wildlife.” Indeed, Hartz told us how there are actually gravel pockets in the roof designed to enable nesting by Killdeer, a small bird. And a rare bald eagle and its family now live on the facility, too.

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Upper courtyard with Oak community trees / Taylor Lednum/GSA

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Courtyard with infrastructure for 100-year storm event / Taylor Lednum/GSA

Once the water leaves these upper courtyards, it makes it way to the lowest courtyard — the vernal pool, where the wetlands cleanse it.

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Vernal pool in the coastal plain / Taylor Lednum/GSA

Then, stormwater is conveyed to the huge constructed pond, where it’s aerated, recycled, and used to water the green roofs and courtyards once again.

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Constructed pond / Taylor Lednum/GSA

While we saw few people outside when we visited, Amoroso said many thousand Coast Guard officers are already hard at work there, with a few thousand more scheduled to move in. We saw a few officers pulling together cafe chairs and table together for an outdoor lunch. Hopefully, the Coast Guard will put some effort into organizing outdoor events, so they can better take advantage of their landscape.

While some may balk at the $646 million price tag, imagine the cost if the GSA had used grey instead of green infrastructure to deal with all that stormwater. For this alone, the design approach seems like a wise use of taxpayer money. And it’s good news that the biggest government construction project since the Pentagon is covered in green roofs; it would be upsetting if it wasn’t. It’s just too bad that the security is so high that more people can’t get in there to see it for themselves.

Adults and children with autism experience the world much differently than we do, so why don’t we design homes, parks, and neighborhoods with them in mind? To do this, designers need to take into account the diverse range of experiences for people with autism spectrum disorder, who now account for more than 1 percent of the population. It truly is a spectrum of disorders. As Sherry Ahrentzen, professor of housing studies at the University of Florida and co-author of the upcoming book, At Home with Autism: Designing for the Spectrum, explained at the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference in Los Angeles, “if you know one person with autism, you really know just one person with autism.”

Autism spectrum disorder is a “psychological, cognitive disorder that creates intellectual and mood disabilities.” People with autism have a “blend of cognitive strengths and weaknesses.” In general, they have the capacity for “detailed thinking, expansive long-term thinking, and examining complex patterns.” But they have problems with “understanding social nuances, filtering stimuli, and planning daily living.”

However, Ahrentzen argues that “autism isn’t just a medical condition, it’s also a cultural one.” To help people with autism, “we must first acknowledge the diversity of human conditions.” To do this, we must understand that “disability is really a social construction. We create environments that enable or disable people.”

Kim Steele, director of urban and health initiatives at the elemental group, co-author of At Home with Autism, has a daughter with autism. In her effort to create a more empathetic environment for her, Steele seems to have truly learned what it means to have autism. Steele and Ahrentzen also interviewed many people with autism to better understand how they experience the environment and to create design guidelines that will improve their quality of life:

“People with autism focus on details, not global perspective. A fleck of white on a shirt, a flickering light, a noise command attention. Their default is too many details.” While this focus may work well for some types of work that are repetitive and require attention to detail, “it can be a huge problem, as too much input is stressful.” For example, Steele’s daughter will flap and rock to help refocus attention into something more manageable. “Outside, in the neighborhood, she will fall on the ground and collapse when the details are too much.”

To alleviate the stress from all this stimuli, planners, landscape architects, and architects need to make the built environment “more predictable and familiar,” perhaps simpler. For example, for most of us, the “kitchen is a place to prepare food, socialize, and eat.” For those with autism, “it must be a place to prepare food only, you eat and socialize somewhere else.” In another example, Steele explained how hallways can only be seen as conduits. They are not places to stop and talk. “Multi-functional spaces are not acceptable. The meaning is environments is very specific.” To help those with autism, designers must create places that “create transparency through spatial sequences and smooth transitions between uses.”

Those with autism have various levels of receptivity to the environment, so creating quiet, safe spaces with high-quality lighting is important, too. “Some display hyper-receptivity. This means they may have a problem with noise.” For one person with autism they spoke to, “the noise was so disorientating, she couldn’t find her body in space.” However, in contrast, some people with autism experience “hypo-receptivity, meaning they are under responsive to stimuli.” Steele’s daughter has this issue. “She can touch a hot stove burner and not realize she is burning herself. She can scald herself in the shower and not know it.”

Outside the home, smaller spaces with fewer details may be better. For example, those with autism avoid big box stores. “The acoustics and lighting are bad.” According to one person with autism they interviewed, they only go to small shops, which are more manageable.

For landscape architects, those with autism will want residential landscapes and public gardens and parks that are “controlled environments they view as safe.” They will also want “things you can lift, engage with.” They like swings and “almost universally love to swim.” In fact, those with autism will be “drawn to water in all forms,” which can also be dangerous. “Designers will need to create safe swimming pools.” But Steele also cautioned that hyper-receptive people will be overwhelmed with “gardens with too many different plants.”

Eve Edelstein, New School of Architecture & Design, said that “moving through any environment involves the same plastic part of our brains.” Edelstein, a leader in the emerging field of “neuro-architecture,” argues that design guidelines for indoors then relate to outdoors, too. “What we learn works for hospitals will also work in gardens. It’s about brain function in space.” She added that what will be good for those with autism will also work for those with a range of other disabilities, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Edelstein believes the journey from theory and design guidelines to actual practice in the world at large will be a “tough one.” An interdisciplinary design approach is a must for any project that will be more soothing to those dealing with the constant onslaught of too many details.

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Double Indemnity / Eskimo.com

In 1971, architectural historian Reyner Banham wrote Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, which revised the view of L.A., at its lowest point, as a “polluted, monstrous, empty place,” said Vincent Brook, who teaches media studies at UCLA, at the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference in Los Angeles. “Banham was a neo-booster of the city, a revisionist, laying out a vision of a proto-New Urbanist movement.” Brooks describes the tenets of Banham’s book, and then takes them further, describing how film makers have played with idealized images of the city and its car culture, “autopia,” to create “L.A. Noir,” a special kind of noir found in classic films like Double Indemnity (seen above), Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, and, finally, Blade Runner.

The modern poet Gertrude Stein famously went to Oakland, California, and said “there’s no there there.” That sentiment, Brooks said, was widely applied to Los Angeles by the end of the 60s as well. The view was it was a “set of suburbs in search of a city.” But Banham saw the “complex unity and unique qualities of the city, with its many-centered growth.” Los Angeles, he explained, is a multi-hub city.

Banham identified four facets of this amalgamated urban landscape:

Surfurbia: A combination of surf community and suburbia. The beach-side communities, including Malibu and Santa Monica, promoted an alternative lifestyle. They formed a “city on the shore,” which was “anti-materialist and anti-consumption.” While those communities may have started out that way, today, that materialism has taken over today, as outdoor shopping malls are omnipresent.

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Bohemian beach boys and girl, Santa Monica, early 60s / Rosamondpress

The Foothills: “In Los Angeles, the higher you go, the more affluent it gets.” There, the great West Coast modernists began experimenting with new forms. In the Hollywood Hills, Richard Neutra built his many glass houses, as Pierre Koenig created the Stahl House (Case Study House #2), and John Lautner created the Bond villain getaway, the Chemosphere. Many of these modern architects were actually influenced by the Spanish hacienda style, which called for integrated indoor and outdoor spaces, with open fronts and backs.

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Chemosphere by John Lautner / Pinterest

Plains of Id: This is what Banham called the “endless grid of streets in the valley below.” There he found the “cathedrals of consumption, with its assemblage-style ‘dingbat’ architecture.” It’s there, along with New York, that subdivision mania first struck, and, unfortunately, spread across the country and the world.

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Example of Dingbat architecture in Los Angeles / Architizer

Autopia: “This is perhaps his most creative contribution to our understanding of Los Angeles.” With the car, he saw a “city of mobility playing out against its monumentality.” He saw Los Angeles as a “text that can only be read through the rear-view mirror.” The automobile, with its expansive yet fast views out the window, is deeply connected with the motion picture. “They are both about moving.” Being in a car is “not unlike being in a movie.” In the mid 50s, Disneyland created a theme park ride called Autopia; Los Angeles just scaled it up.

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Autopia at Disneyland / Disney Wikia

But just as autopia started as a exciting, shiny new thing, its dark side soon became apparent. “Los Angeles has always had a deep ambivalence. It’s both the new Jerusalem and the new Babylon. It’s a paradise and a hell. A bright but also a guilty place.”

These ideas have played out in the movies. In the classic noir Double Indemnity, the automobile plays a central role. Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), an insurance salesman, and Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) plot to kill her husband for the insurance money. Neff eventually strangles Mr. Dietrichson from the backseat of a car while Phyllis drives on.

Here, “the automobile is about mobility but then immobility,” as Neff kills Phyllis to cover his tracks and is then invariably caught by the police. “The idea of the freedom and independence of the car, the opportunity for upward mobility, is turned on its head. In noir, the car has to lead to tragedy and downfall.”

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Walter Neff in car in Double Indemnity / Eskimo.com

Brooks traced this narrative through a slew of L.A. noir films over the decades, from Chinatown to L.A. Confidential and then Crash, “where the only way to meet anyone in L.A. is through an accident.” In recent years, Drive and Nightcrawler, neo-noirs, have continued this dark dialogue with the automobile.

Finally, we get to Blade Runner, “future noir,” where there is a striking absence of cars on the streets, given they all fly through the sky in the Los Angeles of the near future. But, in the first-run release (not the later director’s cut), Harrison Ford and Sean Young drive off into the light.

“It’s an autopian note. They are heading to never, never land.”

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