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Urban Acupuncture / Island Press

Jaime Lerner, one of the most influential urban leaders of our time, has written down all of his hard-earned wisdom about the city in one slim yet rich volume, Urban Acupuncture: Celebrating Pinpricks of Change that Enrich City Life. This set of musings, a translation of the original Brazilian Portuguese book, pulls you in with its natural, intimate tone; it’s like you are sitting and having a conversation with Lerner over a glass of wine in a cafe. Lerner is an architect and urban designer who became mayor of the Brazilian city Curitiba, where he famously brought his practical yet innovative thinking to solve some tricky urban challenges. Along the way, he created bus rapid transit, devising a low-cost alternative to subway systems for developing world cities — and now increasingly, developed world ones, too. He came up with smart ways to clean up Curitiba’s bay, partnering with local fisherman in trash collection. He turned down the World Bank, with its offer of millions in loans, to find sustainable, home-grown solutions. With his many smart alternatives, he showed other cities how to do it right, themselves.

Lerner organizes his thoughts on the city through one central theme: urban acupuncture. He writes: “I have always nurtured the dream and hope that with the prick of a needle, diseases may be cured. The notion of restoring the vital signs of an ailing spot with a simple healing touch has everything to do with revitalizing not only that specific place but also the entire area that surrounds it.” He says “good medicine” depends on a good relationship between doctor and patient. In the same way, a healthy city depends on a good relationship between urban planners and designers and the city itself, another kind of living organism. Good urban planning can awaken a city to new possibilities, creating new life. But he cautions that it’s a process. Like medical acupuncture, which is rooted in an ancient Chinese medical philosophy that calls for a sustained, long-term preventive care, urban acupuncture takes time to create cures.

What are examples of healing urban acupuncture? Lerner has traveled all over the world, carefully examining all types of pinpricks to determine their impact. These pinpricks can be buildings — like Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao but also landscapes, like the Park Guell, one of Gaudi’s masterpieces, in Barcelona.

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Bilbao Guggenheim / Karie and Scott blog

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Park Guell, Barcelona / Share the City

Size doesn’t really matter, either. “You can feel it at work in the smallest venues, like Paley Park in New York.”

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Paley Park, New York City / Wikipedia

Undoing previous damage to our urban landscape is another form of healing acupuncture. For example, taking out San Francisco freeway helped revitalize that city.

Lerner presents deceptively simple stories that reveal deeper wisdom about what makes good urban life. Brief case studies are just long enough to get you thinking in a new way. Most succeed. In one vignette, he writes: “I often say that New York should build a monument to the Unknown 24-hour Shopkeeper. This industrious group — many of them immigrants from Korea — has done the city an extraordinary service merely by keeping its grocery stores and sidewalk delicatessens open around the clock. These shops not only offer infinite shelves of merchandise but also enliven whole neighborhoods by literally lighting up countless dreary street corners.” He calls these shop owners the city’s “true lifeblood,” as they “pump oxygen into cities that must never be allowed to stop breathing.”

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Deli in NYC / Gawker

In the same vein, “street peddlers represent an institution as old as the city itself. Think of open-air markets. At a given hour, in a given neighborhood, street merchants go to work — often hours before the lights go on in traditional storefronts — and then vanish along with their wares and jerry-built booths, leaving hardly a trace.” Commerce is then kept alive day and night, which also makes streets feel safer.

Acupuncture need not be physical; it can be sensory, too, like music. “Think of Rio and you are likely to start humming ‘Copacabana,’ ‘Corcovado,’ ‘Girl from Ipanema,’ or ‘Cidade Maravilhosa.” Lerner says every city should aspire to have a song. “When a distinct song or beat takes hold of a city’s or country’s identity, then good acupuncture is at work. It has echoes in everyday living, like improvised tapping on a matchbox at a street bar in Rio, the beat of drum on the sidewalk in Bahia, or hip-hop gushing from giant boom boxes in the streets of New York.” Does your city have a song everyone knows? If not, why not?

He also points out where cities have gone astray and offers his take on how to fix these problems, using simple, common sense steps. For example, in Santiago de Cali, Colombia, he decries the destruction of the city’s identity amid “outsized avenues.” “Just to cross them, you’ll find yourself huffing up and over suspended pedestrian bridges.” Here, he argues, “good acupuncture means building things smaller and stepping aside to give way to the simple beauties of nature, like the handsome river or the caressing wind.” Those big avenues break up street life, creating tears in the urban fabric.

Gaps in the city can also kill street life. For Lerner, so many urban problems are caused by a “lack of continuity.” He points to a sad “city pocked with lifeless suburbs or tracts of urban real estate devoid of housing.” These places are just as skewed as those with “abandoned lots and ramshackle buildings.” Cities must fill in these voids, even with temporary structures. One of his strongest statements: “continuity is life.”

While he touches on so much, Lerner’s message seems to be healthy street life is central to the city. Without it, the city dies. He argues: “good acupuncture is about drawing people out to the streets and creating meeting places. Mainly, it is about helping the city become a catalyst of interactions between people.” And so, “the more cities are understood to be the integration of functions — bringing together rich and poor, the elderly and the young — the more meeting places they will create and the livelier they will become.” Here, the role of landscape architects can’t be understated. “The design of public space is important.” He goes into detail about what kinds of parks, plazas, and squares work best.

My only minor complaint with this insightful book is the sometimes mismatched text and images. We want to see the scenes Lerner gushes over. While some images speak to the scenes described in the book, some don’t. A more careful approach to images and layout would have further strengthened one of the most intriguing recent books on the city.

Read the book and an ASLA interview with Lerner.

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Earth’s Atmosphere / The Energy Collective

A United Nations scientific panel reports that the Earth’s protective ozone layer has begun to recover, in large part because the world has successfully phased out man-made halogenated hydrocarbons, including chlorofluorcarbons (CFCs), which used to be found in all aerosol sprays and refrigerators. These chemicals release chlorine and bromide, which destroy molecules far up in the atmosphere. The ozone layer protects the planet from solar radiation, which, in excess, leads to skin cancer and damage to plant life.

The Washington Post calls this a “rare piece of good news about the health of the planet.” This development proves that “when the world comes together, it can counteract a brewing ecological crisis.” Mario Molina, who won the Nobel Prize with F. Sherwood Rowland for anticipating the ozone problem, said: “It’s a victory for diplomacy and for science and for the fact that we were able to work together.” And former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called the treaty behind this global action “perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date.”

In 1987, the leading producers of CFCs signed on to the UN-organized Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which established a novel, phased approach for reducing the production and use of CFCs. This treaty led to the creation of a multilateral fund, which has directed funds to developing countries. The goal was to transition away from CFCs to hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), less active chemicals now also targeted for global phase-out, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are not covered in the treaty, as well as other replacement chemicals.

Now, 35 years later, scientists can confirm there has been “sustained increase in stratospheric ozone.” In fact, over the past 13 years, ozone levels climbed 4 percent. Had the world not taken action, the UN reports, there would have been an extra 2 million cases of skin cancer per year by 2030.

Still, we have a ways to go. The ozone hole above the Southern Hemisphere has still not yet fully closed, and the overall layer is still 6 percent thinner than it was in 1980. The United Nation’s Environmental Program estimates that the ozone layer will be fully repaired by mid century.

According to Scientific American, the efforts to reduce the use of CFCs have an added bonus: “The phase-out also helped slow global warming because CFCs are also powerful greenhouse gases. In fact, the agreement to address the ozone hole has actually cut five times the greenhouse gas emissions as has the Kyoto Protocol to address global warming.” However, others argue the HCFCs and HFCs that have replaced CFCs are equally as harmful to the climate. These compounds are up to 10,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming our atmosphere. The Montreal Protocol will phase out HCFCs by 2030, but puts no limit on HFCs.

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Cyborg Landscapes / Bradley Cantrell, Kristi Cheramie, Jeffrey Carney, and Matthew Seibert, Louisiana State University Coastal Sustainability Studio, the design firm Invivia, and Urbain DRC.


Design Profile: Q&A with Marcel Wilson of Bionic Landscape Architecture
The San Francisco Chronicle, 9/2/14
“Marcel Wilson, the principal of San Francisco-based Bionic Landscape Architecture, sees every project as a possibility for invention.”

Grand Park Benefits Made in America, but Is the Reverse True? – The Los Angeles Times, 9/2/14
“Luckily, even as concertgoers were tramping across Grand Park’s lawns and through its flower beds, they were also helping demonstrate pretty clearly where its design might be tweaked and improved. They made up a huge and unwitting landscape-architecture focus group.”

Unveiled: 5 Visions for Landscape Above Crissy FieldThe San Francisco Chronicle, 9/4/14
“They vary widely in looks, but each of the five new conceptual visions for the landscape above Crissy Field have two things in common. Each has seductive aspects – and each tries too hard to bedazzle, in a setting where flash is not what we need.”

Changing Skyline: Dilworth Park Has Many Irresistible Features, but It’s Stiff, Uncomfortable The Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/6/14
“They’ve reconstructed the space in front of Philadelphia’s palatial City Hall, furnished it with a cafe, a high-tech spray fountain and movable chairs, and rebranded it Dilworth Park. But the vast granite prairie is still very much a plaza, with all the weaknesses the word implies.”

These Synthetic Landscapes Respond to Nature in Real Time to Protect Us — and the Planet Fast Company, 9/8/14
“Bradley Cantrell, a landscape architect and TED fellow who will speak at the upcoming TEDGlobal2014 conference, is one of the pioneers exploring how the human-built world may begin relating differently to the natural world. ‘The goal is to embed computation, but with this kind of conservationist viewpoint,’ says Cantrell.”

“Dice Park” Fiasco Holds Lessons About Rising Expectations for Civic Design in Cleveland: Commentary The Plain Dealer, 9/12/14
“The brief life and rapid death last week of the Horseshoe Casino’s concept for the so-called ‘Dice Park’ in downtown Cleveland may have set a speed record for the public condemnation of a weak design idea.”

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By the Silent Line (cropped) / Pierre Folk

Since 2011, photographer Pierre Folk has traversed Paris’ Petite Ceinture, or Little Belt Railway, which has been abandoned since the 1930s. Apparently, discussions have been ongoing since last year about the line’s future. Ideas include tearing up pieces of the 20-mile (32-kilometer) railway so as to free up room for new development or preserving the railway and turning into a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly linear park. Parts of the line have been reused for contemporary railway infrastructure, but much of it remains outside the civic realm, except for a small piece opened to the public.

Access to the Little Belt — which is elevated, ground-level, or subterranean — is still forbidden, but that hasn’t kept Folk or others from getting a closer look. One tunnel of the old line even provides access to the city’s catacombs.

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According to Wikipedia, the railway was first conceived in the 1840s as a military transport system, a way to convey troops and material around the city. The railway was built in the space between an existing “tax wall” and a “larger and better-fortified ring of protection,” an outer wall. The French government couldn’t afford to complete the line on their own, so they asked the major rail companies for support in uniting all their lines in the capital. In a long-term lease with the government, these companies created the infrastructure, which evolved into railways for passenger and freight trains, and maintained it until the early 1930s, when other networks began to supersede these lines.

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As Folk captures, the Little Belt is being slowly reclaimed by nature, providing a home to opportunistic trees and plants. The railway is also a canvas for street artists.

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We hope that Folk’s photographs will lead to the preservation of this charming piece of infrastructure, much like Joel Sternfeld’s evocative photographs of a wild High Line helped convince New York City’s policymakers there was something worth saving.

Explore the layers and layers Folk finds and watch a video.

Also, check out these great abstract photographs of Parisian rooftops.

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11th Street Bridge Park Final Design Proposal / Balmori Associates / Cooper, Robertson & Partners

Six months ago, an exciting national design competition was launched for the 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, D.C. Expected to cost upwards of $40 million, the new bridge park will run 900 feet over the foundation of an old freeway spanning the Anacostia River, connecting historic Capitol Hill and Anacostia neighborhoods and creating a new venue for “healthy recreation, environmental education, and the arts.” The organizers say this new park will benefit 80,000 people in the immediate neighborhoods and hundreds of thousands more throughout the district. It may also help boost efforts to further clean-up the sewage-filled Anacostia River, which is still unsafe to swim in, and restore more of the moribund river ecosystem.

Four design teams comprised of landscape architects, architects, and engineers have spent all summer creating new visions for this park, which will displayed publicly in multiple locations in the district over the next month. The four teams selected by the jury include:

  • Balmori Associates / Cooper, Robertson & Partners
  • OLIN / OMA
  • Stoss Landscape Urbanism / Höweler + Yoon Architecture
  • Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) / NEXT Architects / Magnusson Klemencic Associates

Scott Kratz, 11th Street Bridge Park Director, whose dedication is really what’s making this amazing park happen, said: “The variety among the different renderings is really quite remarkable. With these stunning and thoughtful designs, each team transformed community-inspired ideas into a Bridge Park that will quickly become a destination for residents and tourists alike.”

The designs propose creative solutions for solving tricky access problems. They all enable a mix of uses as well, with informal lawns and gathering spaces, restaurants, amphitheaters for events or concerts, playgrounds, and opportunities to just be immersed in the Anacostia River environment, which is slowly being restored. Each proposal also extends the experience past the bridge into the surrounding riverfronts, creating extensive parks, boardwalks, and boating facilities.

Here are brief accounts of each of the original proposals; titles link to the full exhibition boards:

Balmori Associates / Cooper, Robertson & Partners (see image above)

Balmori Associates and Cooper, Robertson & Partners aim to create a bridge park with a “clasp” at the center, one swelling biomorphic form that mirrors rounded shapes on either river bank. There are many reasons behind this form: “First and foremost, it creates a grand place where diverse communities can unite above the river and celebrate their shared interests. Second, its width creates the capacity to host great events and everyday life experiences simultaneously. Third, maximizing the distance that people can get from the existing 11th Street Bridge allows people to more fully engage and experience the edge of Bridge Park and the Anacostia River.”

Parts of the bridge would be open “apertures,” enabling people on the bridge a close-up view of the Anacostia River below. This design offers a new look at the local ecosystem, perhaps even an immersion in riparian nature. There are well thought-out connections between the proposed nature experience on the bridge and the surrounding communities as well.

OLIN / OMA

The OLIN and OMA team write: “Paths from each side of the river operate as springboards — sloped ramps that elevate visitors to look-out points to landmarks in either direction. Extending over the river, the Anacostia paths join to form a loop, embracing the path from the Navy Yard side and linking the opposing banks in a single gesture. The resulting form of the bridge creates an iconic encounter, an ‘X’ instantly recognizable as a new image for the river.”

Along the X-shaped park are a series of rectilinear rooms that separate out uses — from an amphitheater and public art park, to a restaurant and educational center. This team creates multiple levels, with an added upper deck where they propose an eye-catching waterfall. There is also a careful integration between the bridge and surrounding areas, with multiple human-scale paths leading from the riverfront on either side.

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11th Street Bridge Park Final Design Proposal / OLIN and OMA

Stoss Landscape Urbanism / Höweler + Yoon Architecture

Stoss Landscape Urbanism and Höweler + Yoon Architecture write: “Our proposal for the 11th Street Bridge Park puts in place a new crossing, one that establishes new connections across and to the Anacostia River and to the burgeoning and socially / culturally rich neighborhoods along its banks. The Crossing is a new place of convergence, of congregation, of cross-breeding. It is an incubator for social and community and civic life, and a model for building healthy bodies, healthy neighborhoods, and a healthy river environment.”

Their proposal offers a “flexible, adaptive” approach, with opportunities for healthy exercise and even food production spread throughout the new infrastructure. Their proposal has fewer defined zones; everything is mixed. This team makes a point of saying their proposal could be re-arranged depending on community input. Along the pier they propose new floating gardens accessible via angular decks that jut out into the Anacostia.

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11th Street Bridge Park Final Design Proposal / Stoss Landscape Urbanism / Höweler + Yoon Architecture

Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) / NEXT Architects / Magnusson Klemencic Associates

Lastly, the WRT, Next, and Magnuson Klemencic team writes: “Anacostia Landing is the operative term that encapsulates the project goals. We take it to mean a great river park with a standout bridge, a place so distinctive that people will simply say “let’s go to the Anacostia!” anticipating hours of play, relaxation, eating, boating, learning about history, ecology and health; and otherwise enjoying art, theater, music, and performances on both sides of the river, gathering above it, or floating on its waters.”

They propose creating a “spiral and a funnel,” which will shape the structure of their bridge park and how visitors will access it. On one side, visitors will access the elevated park through a spiral staircase, taking them up into the upper decks. They will then move through the funnel into the expansive park, which offers lawns, an amphitheater, and a “fountain square” designed for kids. At the waterfront, they propose “curated ecologies,” with mussel beds to explore.

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11th Street Bridge Park Final Design Proposal / Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) / NEXT Architects / Magnusson Klemencic Associates

Learn more about the final designs and then submit your vote, which will help the judges. The winning team will be announced on October 16.

A new design competition will transform San Francisco’s Market Street into a “public platform” for three days in April 2015, showcasing 50 innovative ways to further improve this iconic civic space. According to the organizers, the Prototyping Festival will invite diverse designers to interact with the equally as diverse communities around the street to create a “more connected” San Francisco. The festival is organized by the San Francisco Planning Department, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Knight Foundation.

The organizers write: “We are looking for projects that encourage activity where people linger, socialize and spend time while simultaneously reflecting the district in which they exist. We also want projects that identify Market Street as uniquely San Francisco, creating an experience of the city’s history, diversity, environmental commitment, and leadership in cultural creativity and technological innovation.”

The idea for this project came out extensive community feedback gathered through the city’s Better Market Street project. San Franciscans said loud and clear that they wanted a “more vibrant and positive experience,” so the city has responded with a commitment to both redesign sidewalks and create “street life zones,” which competition winners will be asked to create with the community. The 50 projects will be spread along a 2-mile stretch between Market Street at the Embarcadero all the way to Van Ness Avenue.

Any person, business, or organization can submit a prototype or model. See some examples of what the organizers are looking for. Winning teams will receive a $2,000 stipend.

Submit your ideas by October 10.

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Glenn Kaino’s Bridge / Jared Green

The Washington, D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities just seriously upped their game with their latest city-wide temporary public art project called 5 x 5. Five curators brought 25 artists’ site-specific installations to all 8 wards. Each piece we toured highlights an aspect of the District’s changing identity in the face of rampant redevelopment and gentrification. Many pieces make a combative, political point, wading into some of the most troubling issues in the city, while others offered more nuanced stories, but still aim to strike a chord.

Underlying all of it was a genuine effort to bring compelling pieces to all D.C. residents. As Sarah Massey, who was doing outreach for the commission, explained, “this whole project is a dialogue between the monumental core of the city — where all the tourists go — and the actual district, where people live. Do people who live in Anacostia go to the monumental core? We don’t know. The commission wanted to bring art to where people live.”

We start at the Navy Yard, which has gone from being the site of abandoned armaments factories and strip clubs to one for high-end condos, restaurants, and a hipster-loving trapeze school in less than a decade. Many of the old naval buildings have been taken over by new restaurants, but one that has yet to be turned, a gorgeous empty shell of a building, is now the temporary home of Glenn Kaino’s magnificent Bridge (see image above). Kaino’s work overwhelms on first sight, appearing to be a hundred-foot-long dinosaur spine hanging from the ceiling. But it’s actually a bridge, made up of 200 unique slats. Each slat is a cast of athlete Tommie Smith’s arm, with a clenched fist at the end. Smith made his famous Black Power fist at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where he won a gold medal. For this political act, Smith was expelled from the games.

Kaino writes that the use of extended arm and fist was long a political symbol before it was appropriated by Black Power activists, and its meaning has since evolved, given our ever-shifting understanding. The bridge is then meant to show this path of a “revised, formed, and remitted cultural narrative.” Smith seems to reflect that changing narrative himself. When I asked him what the Kaino’s piece said about black power in the District today, he replied, “Well, I didn’t actually make the Black Power sign. I was showing solidarity with all the world’s repressed people. It was a sign of freedom.”

As we move to Anacostia, we learn about a series of billboards that match African American male poets and visual artists to create site-specific billboards around the city called Ceremonies of Dark Men. As curator A.M. Weaver explains, “D.C. used to be the Chocolate City, but it isn’t anymore. We need a new way of looking at the black male figure. We want to re-assert this figure in a changing community, with all the hipsters coming in.” Weaver picked highly visible spots in every quadrant and augmented the billboards with apps that have video slideshows. She said each juxtaposition between image and text was carefully curated.

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Ceremonies of Dark Men / Jared Green

Heading towards the Southwest Waterfront Metro stop, we are confronted with a group of five pieces in what was empty grassy space next to a D.C. government office building. There, curator Lance Fung, who was behind the ambitious Artlantic project in Atlantic City, New Jersey, explained his Nonuments public arts exhibit. Fung said with the help of the “best neighborhood” and local partner, Washington Project for the Arts, “the community now has a temporary art park.” He made a point of saying “we didn’t phone in these works of art; they all came out of the soil of this place.”

To lay the foundation for this art park, artist Peter Hutchinson threw a rope and plotted natural material along its path — in this case, 33 trees.

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Peter Hutchinson Thrown Rope / Sarah Massey

Four other works seem to orbit this central work. One is Migration, a set of otherworldly “nests” by artist Cameron Hockenson, who explains: “these nests are much like neighborhoods now on the move, embracing, adapting, or resisting forces of gentrification now sweeping the city.”

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Migration / Jared Green

There’s also Portrait Garden by Jennifer Wen Ma, a painter who magnified a picture of a local resident, chosen at random through a lottery, into a large-scale portrait through an unusual material: ink-stained plants. Ma wants to honor the “unsung heroes of daily life with plants that, like every life form, are under daily stress.”

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Portrait Garden / Jared Green

But here, Ma has added extreme stress, coating the plant’s leaves in ink, like they are rice paper in a Chinese brush painting. Ma explained that this was part of the meaning of her work. The plants, like people, will either succumb to or overcome their challenges. I expressed concern for the plants, but she said, “they prove to be amazingly resilient. The same plant can come back year after year. They will survive if they are watered.”

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Portrait Garden / Jared Green

And the most arresting piece was Peep by artist Jonathan Fung, which aims to use art to increase awareness of human trafficking, a dark undercurrent of humanity that also runs through the District. Fung told me that there are now more people enslaved at any point in human history, more than 30 million, and the district is a hub for this activity. In his piece, a shipping container, which is a common means of transporting trafficking victims, is painted bright pink, like something that would appeal to a child. This is because vulnerable foster children or young adults in this country — and around the world — are often the targets of trafficking, lured by people pretending to be their friends. Fung said the piece represents “stolen innocence, lost childhoods.”

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Peep / Jared Green

Inside Peep are rows of sewing machines and a recording playing their droning music. Fung said, “it’s about the commodification of people.” Being in there working on the piece, Fung said he also now understood why so many trafficked people don’t make it on their long journeys: The shipping containers are unbearably hot. (Learn more about human trafficking in Fung’s film, Hark, or this TED talk).

Many more pieces not covered here are on view until December. Learn more at 5 x 5.

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ASLA 2011 Professional General Design Honor Award. Central Wharf Plaza by Reed Hilderbrand / Charles Mayer Photography

Do sustainable landscapes live up to the lofty goals promised by landscape architects? How can we know? I am investigating this with University of Oregon professor Chris Enright in the department of landscape architecture and professor Yizhao Yang in the department of planning. I want to understand the role of post-occupancy evaluation (POE) in the field of landscape architecture. Though environmental, social, and economic performance goals are often identified during planning and design stages of landscape projects, most lack effective post-construction monitoring and observation to determine if — and how well — project’s design goals are being met.

Evidence-based design has gained more attention since the International Federation of Landscape (IFLA), the ASLA, and Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) identified the topic as a research priority. The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF)’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) program—born out of a need to encourage and support design firms in assessing the performance of sustainable landscape projects—is now in its fourth year. And now many leading firms are increasingly investing in in-house research on performance. Yet little is known about perceptions of POE within the profession as a whole.

So I invite landscape architects and others interested in landscape performance to participate in my study by taking a brief survey. I will report back the findings of this survey on The Dirt.

As a second part of my research, I will examine Facilitated Volunteer Geographic Information (F-VGI) as a tool for POE by comparing it with traditional approaches like direct observation and intercept surveys. I want to see how well-suited F-VGI is for post-occupancy landscape performance analysis. This technology increases the capacity for analysis by crowd sourcing data collection to users. The process is also relatively low cost, offers the opportunity for longitudinal study, and could be more objective than traditional methods, since there is less chance for bias from volunteers.

Using a project by landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand, Central Wharf Plaza in Boston, I am developing a framework for using F-VGI to evaluate landscape performance. I chose this project because it already established social, economic, and environmental performance goals and baseline data. It’s a high-traffic, urban site with a public audience. Central Wharf Plaza has a simple but clearly defined program, and it’s small enough in size for a person to objectively evaluate the whole site.

This guest post is by Andrew Louw, a graduate student at the University of Oregon.

green

ASLA 2012 General Design Award of Excellence. A Green Sponge for a Water-Resilient City: Qunli Stormwater Park. Haerbin City, Heilongjiang Province, China. Turenscape and Peking University, Beijing

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has launched a guide to explain the many benefits of “green infrastructure” — designed systems that harness nature to create proven benefits for communities and the environment.

Green infrastructure includes park systems, urban forests, wildlife habitat and corridors, and green roofs and green walls. These infrastructure systems protect communities against flooding or excessive heat, or help to improve air and water quality, which underpin human and environmental health.

The idea that nature is also infrastructure isn’t new, but it’s now more widely understood to be true, according to Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA. Researchers are amassing a body of evidence to prove that green infrastructure actually works: these systems are often more cost-effective than outmoded models of grey infrastructure—a term used for the concrete tunnels created to move water—and also provide far more benefits for both people and the environment.

“At all scales, green infrastructure provides real ecological, economic, and social benefits,” added Somerville. “Cities need as much green infrastructure as possible, and landscape architects are implementing it in communities across the country.”

Here are just some of the many benefits that these systems provide all at once: green infrastructure absorbs and sequesters atmospheric carbon dioxide (C02); filters air and water pollutants; stabilizes soil to prevent or reduce erosion; provides wildlife habitat; decreases solar heat gain; lowers the public cost of stormwater management infrastructure and provides flood control; and reduces energy usage through passive heating and cooling. In contrast, grey infrastructure usually provides just a single benefit.

The guide, part of ASLA’s series of sustainable design resource guides and toolkits, includes hundreds of research studies by leading scientists, news articles, and case studies on innovative uses of green infrastructure.

Resources are organized into seven sections that go from large scale (the region, the city) to the small scale (constructed wetlands, green streets, and green roofs and walls). Specifically, there are sections on forests & nature preserves; wildlife habitat & corridors; cities; constructed wetlands; green streets; and green roofs & walls. There are descriptions of the many types of green infrastructure, their quantifiable benefits, and the role of landscape architects in creating these systems.

For example, in the section on cities, there are two powerful examples showing the benefits of green infrastructure:

In Philadelphia, a comprehensive green infrastructure approach is estimated to cost just $1.2 billion over the next 25 years, compared to over $6 billion for “grey” infrastructure. The city is expecting up to 1.5 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emission to be avoided or absorbed through green infrastructure each year, the equivalent of removing close to 3,400 vehicles from roadways. The city estimates 20 deaths due to asthma will be avoided, and 250 fewer work or school days will be missed. Lastly, the economic benefits are also outstanding: the new greenery will increase property values by $390 million over 45 years, also boosting the property taxes the city takes in.

New York City’s green infrastructure plan is projected to cost $1.5 billion less than a comparable grey infrastructure approach. Green stormwater management systems alone will save $1 billion, at a cost of about $0.15 less per gallon. Also, sustainability benefits in NYC range from $139-418 million over the 20 year life of the project, depending on measures implemented. The plan estimates that “every fully vegetated acre of green infrastructure would provide total annual benefits of $8.5 in reduced energy demand, $166 in reduced CO2 emissions, $1,044 in improved air quality, and $4,725 in increased property value.”

Landscape architects were deeply involved in the creation and management of these visionary plans. Many more contribute to making these plans a reality by planning and designing urban forests, parks, and green roofs and walls.

Explore the guide.

This guide is a living resource, so the public is invited to submit additional research studies, news articles, and case studies. Please e-mail them to ASLA at info@asla.org

SkyCycle

London’s proposed SkyCycle, from starchitect Lord Norman Foster / Foster + Partners

This year, two designs – one proposed and one built – for elevated cycletracks, which create bicycle highways above street level, have gained considerable media attention. They highlight questions at the heart of urban design: Should cities blend or separate transportation options? How can cities best mitigate the hazards created when cars, bikes, mass transit, and pedestrians mix? How can cities create low-cost transportation networks in increasingly dense urban cores?

In January, Exterior Architects and Foster + Partners unveiled their design proposal for the London SkyCycle, a 220 km (136 mile) network of elevated cycletracks following existing rail services with over 200 entry points (see image above). The design team claims that each route will be able to “accommodate 12,000 cyclists per hour and will improve journey times by up to 29 minutes.”

This vision even extends beyond London and even its suburbs: “The dream is that you could wake up in Paris and cycle to the Gare du Nord,” says Sam Martin of Exterior Architecture, quoted in an article in The Guardian. “Then get the train to Stratford, and cycle straight into central London in minutes, without worrying about trucks and buses.”

The plan was proposed during a particularly tense time for cycling in London after a spate of traffic accidents in November 2013 resulted in six cyclists killed over a two-week period. But while the project is reportedly backed by the Network Rail and Transport for London, it’s had plenty of criticism.

Notable critics include Mayor Boris Johnson, according to cycling blog Road.cc, and Copenhagen-based urban design expert Mikael Colville-Anderson on his blog Copenhagenize. On the London radio call-in show “Ask Boris,” Mayor Johnson called the plan “fantastically expensive. I don’t actually think as a cyclist it is what the city needs, what we need is more safety measures, we need better roads, we need better protection for cyclists of all kinds, we need better investment in our streets and that’s what we’re doing.”

Colville-Anderson, less diplomatically, calls the plan “Classic Magpie Architecture. Attempting to attract people to big shiny things that dazzle, but that have little functional value in the development of a city. Ideas like these are city killers. Removing great numbers of citizens who could be cycling down city streets past shops and cafés on their way to work or school and placing them on a shelf, far away from everything else. All this in a city that is so far behind in reestablishing cycling as transport that it’s embarrassing. With most of the population already whining about bicycles on streets, sticking them up in the air, out of the way, is hardly going to help returning bicycles to the urban fabric of the city.”

With the costs for just the first 6.5 km trial stretch estimated at a whopping £220 million (approx. $365 million) and the Mayor’s criticism slowing momentum, SkyCycle’s future is unclear.

Actually completed earlier this summer, though, is Copenhagen’s Cykelslangen, or Cycle Snake, which has received widespread critical acclaim. Designed by architects at Dissing and Weitling, the 235-meter (770-feet) long cycletrack curves and winds gracefully over the harbor and one-story above a busy waterfront shopping area.

Cycle-Snake-Rendering

Cycle Snake, Illustrated / Dissing and Weitling

Thirteen-feet wide with two lanes, the elevated bike route connects Bryggebroen pedestrian-bike bridge to parts of the city beyond busy waterfront area Kalvebod Brygge, at a cost of just $5.74 million.

Cycle-Snake-under-harbor

Cycle Snake over the harbor / Ursula Bach for Dissing+Weitling Architecture

Rather than a glitzy panacea to solve a city’s transportation woes on an outdated urban renewal scale, Cycle Snake targeted a specific problem area: a tricky staircase with heavy pedestrian traffic that didn’t mix well with cyclists trying to pass through.

Cycle-Snake-Entry-Ramp

Cycle Snake entry ramp / Ursula Bach for Dissing+Weitling Architecture

“There was a missing link that forced bicycle users to use the stairs or make a huge detour around a shopping center,” says Colville-Anderson in a FastCo.Exist article. “This solution provided a fast A-to-B from a bridge to a bicycle bridge on the harbor, while freeing up the harbor front for meandering pedestrians.”

The ride offers a nice bit of downhill coasting in a very flat city, and cyclists can enjoy views of the harbor without worrying about crashing into pedestrians. Copenhagen also plans on building six new bike-pedestrian bridges over the harbor.

Cycle-Snake-Lanes

Cycle Snake lanes / Ursula Bach for Dissing+Weitling Architecture

As cities continue to increase in density, we’ll continue to run into practical, logistical challenges, writes Sam Jacobs in Dezeen. “How can the variety of road users – pedestrians, bikes, cars, trucks – co-exist in a safe and civilized way? But it’s also a philosophical and political issue: who is the city for?”

Tourists? Urban bike commuters? Professionals coming in from the suburbs? All of the above? No easy answers, but these designs certainly raise plenty of questions.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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