gallaudet 2

Gallaudet University campus / Gallaudet University

Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts university in the world that teaches its students in both English and American Sign Language, has launched an international design competition to remake its 99-acre campus in Washington, D.C. into a hub for deaf culture. According to the university, design teams will be challenged “to rethink the sensory experience of the campus through the deaf perspective.” The $60 million project also aims to create a new campus gateway and “redefine the university’s urban edge as a vibrant, mixed-used creative and cultural district.”

University officials believe Gallaudet is leading an “emerging renaissance known as Deaf Gain: a paradigm shift that switches the emphasis from hearing loss to the cultural, creative and cognitive gains of deaf ways of being in the world.” To enable this paradigm shift, they are starting with their own campus, redesigning it using “DeafSpace,” design guidelines created by deaf campus architect Hansel Bauman.


Gallaudet University campus / Gallaudet University

These guidelines better enable visual communication among the deaf. Gallaudet explains: “When deaf people congregate the group customarily works together to rearrange furnishings into a ‘conversation circle’ to allow clear sight lines so everyone can participate in the visual conversation. Gatherings often begin with participants adjusting window shades, lighting and seating to optimize conditions for visual communication that minimize eyestrain. These practical acts of making a DeafSpace are long-held cultural traditions that, while never-before formally recognized, are the basic elements of an architectural expression unique to deaf experiences.”

Bauman goes into more detail:

While the university has already been remaking its buildings according to the new guidelines, the campus revitalization will be the first time they have been applied to the public realm, addressing spatial arrangements, wayfinding, and lighting conditions outside. The guidelines will be applied to the campus, including the 14-acre historic core designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1866.

Gallaudet is looking for multidisciplinary teams, including landscape architects, architects, and specialists in human behavior, performing and fine arts, communication technology, wayfinding and engineering disciplines, among others. First-stage competitors need to express interest by October 1. Second stage finalists will each receive a $50,000 honorarium to participate in a colloquium, design charrette, and generate designs for a public exhibition. Winners will be announced by February 2016.

Another fascinating opportunity: the Burning Man festival is looking for designs for “individual elements, conforming city plans, and non-conforming city plans” for its 2017 temporary city in Nevada’s Black Rock desert. Burning Man values like “radical inclusion and de-commodification” need to be represented. Given Burning Man just keeps getting bigger, more than 70,000 people are expected for the 2017 happening. As with past Burning Mans, the goal is to leave no trace when the city comes down. Designs are due to the Black Rock Ministry of Urban Planning by December 31, 2015.

Dr. Maria Cristi Rueda and Dr. Robert Zarr with a young patient holding a copy of her park prescription / HealthIT Buzz

Dr. Maria Cristi Rueda and Dr. Robert Zarr with a young patient holding a copy of her park prescription / HealthIT Buzz

Pediatricians in Washington, D.C. are prescribing their patients a new type of medicine: parks. Presenting on the success of DC Park RX, a new community health initiative, at a conference organized by Casey Trees, Dr. Robert Zarr, the founder and director of the program, said that many doctors have started to recognize the positive impact nature has on many health conditions. “Nature clearly shows an effect on your health in terms of prevention. So you may not have a diagnosis yet, but if you’re headed that way, you can certainly turn that around by spending more time outside,” Zarr said.

DC Park RX created a searchable online database of parks, identifying 350 green spaces in the district. Every park gets a one-page summary that makes it simple for both healthcare providers and patients to find a nearby park. “If a child was obese and really liked to play basketball, a doctor can very quickly go through the parks in the database in about 5 seconds, find a park with basketball courts, and print it out for them with directions for how to get there. They get the information to them right then and there,” Zarr said. Doctors are able to integrate the database right into their workflow with patients’ charts, just as they would any other prescription.

Unity Health Care pediatrician María Rueda-González shows a patient a park near her home / The Washington Post by Kate Patterson

Unity Health Care pediatrician María Rueda-González shows a patient a park near her home / Kate Patterson, The Washington Post.

According to The Washington Post, it is hard to say how many people are currently using the public database, but at “Unity Health Care, which serves 100,000 District residents, 180 providers with access to the system have made 720 prescriptions.” Zarr said that preliminary data indicates that children who have been prescribed time in the park are getting an additional 22 minutes per week of physical activity, and are spending 6 more days per year at a park for at least 30 minutes, results he finds encouraging for such a small program.

Parks are now being recognized as critical to medically treating chronic disease. “100 million Americans suffer from chronic disease and being overweight or obese contributes to chronic disease. Chronic disease results in decreased quality of life and ultimately in premature death, but spending time in a natural environment increases physical activity, hence decreasing the risk of obesity and chronic disease,” Zarr said.

Dr. Robert Zarr leads a hike through a park in Washington, D.C. / National Park Service by Diana Bowen

Dr. Robert Zarr leads a hike through a park in Washington, D.C.
/ Diana Bowen, National Park Service

Though Park Rx is one of the first programs to give doctors a tool to prescribe parks, the idea that doing physical activity in nature offers health benefits is hardly new. Many studies have now made the connection. For example, research published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in 2008 indicated that children who are active outdoors are less prone to obesity than their peers who spend hours inside in front of their TVs and computers.

With rates of depression at an all-time high, doctors are also using DC Park Rx to treat mental health illness. “Spending all of you time inside is not good for your mental health,” Zarr said. “Common diagnoses of mental illnesses — most, if not all of them, can be ameliorated by being outside.” In 2009, Dutch researchers found that living close to parks, “or at least near many trees, can have far reaching mental health benefits for people. In turn, living in places without parks or trees, especially if you are young or poor, can have major negative impacts.”

However, Zarr noted that he doesn’t expect parks to be the cure for every patient. “Sometimes a patient just isn’t there yet,” he said. “We don’t prescribe a park to every patient, but when they are ready we will.” For patients suffering from chronic disease, or are on the verge of developing a chronic disease, prescribing increased access to nature as part of an integrated treatment plan poses few risks and offers plenty of benefits.

Zarr is currently trying to find a way to expand DC Park Rx across the entire city and improve the functionality of the database to make it more like “Yelp for parks.” He has also been given the go ahead to further research and compile the biometric data he is accumulating, which will hopefully indicate a link between patients who have been prescribed parks and a decrease in their Body mass indexes (BMIs), blood pressure, and symptoms of depression. And with a stronger base of evidence for the health benefits of nature, it is only a matter of time before more doctors add to their prescription pads an Rx for outdoor activity.

Times Square Night / Wikipedia

Times Square pedestrian plaza at night / Wikipedia

Top 5 WWI Memorial Designs for D.C. Park Lean Toward the SereneThe Washington Post, 8/19/15
“On Wednesday, when a federal commission unveiled the five design finalists for the creation of a national World War I Memorial in the District’s Pershing Park, it chose less radical, if less eyepopping, concepts.”

The Cultural Landscape Foundation Opposes Demolition of Pershing Park for a World War I Memorial – The Cultural Landscape Foundation, 8/19/15
“The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) today opposed demolition of Pershing Park for the creation of a World War I Memorial following the announcement by the U.S. World War I Memorial Commission of the five finalist designs for a new memorial, all of which call for the demolition of Pershing Park.”

‘Secret Garden’ Restored at Wright’s Masterpiece FallingwaterThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/19/15
“Eric Kobal stretches across a lush planter to examine a brown leaf on a rhododendron he planted in this garden on the Pottery Terrace at Fallingwater. The sound of running water is never far away here, especially this year as Bear Run, the stream that runs under the famous property, is flowing fast and high after a summer of plentiful rain.”

Challenging Mayor de Blasio over Times Square PlazasThe New York Times, 8/21/15
“One of Mr. de Blasio’s big initiatives, Vision Zero, aims to improve pedestrian safety. Ripping up the pedestrian plazas in Times Square, restoring cars and forcing millions of people to dodge traffic again, runs headlong into his own policy.”

A National Model for Better Streets Is Suddenly at Risk CityLab, 8/24/15
“In challenging the Times Square pedestrian plaza, New York City leaders are showing a profound misunderstanding about the impact of public space.”

A Yellow GreenThe Architect’s Newspaper, 8/26/15
“About four-and-a-half miles south of Philadelphia’s Center City, a collection of highly regarded architects are proving that office parks do not have to be soulless and stuffy.”

Landscape Design Brings Communities TogetherThe Toronto Star, 8/31/15
“You are likely experiencing the wonder and significance of landscape architecture — and also probably don’t realize it.”


Los Angeles River / Metropolis magazine

The Los Angeles landscape architecture and design community was surprised by the recent announcement that Frank Gehry is creating a new masterplan for the redevelopment of the 51-mile stretch of the Los Angeles River that runs through the city. Before The Los Angeles Times published the details of the new Gehry-led team, there were no public discussions about this new approach or the selection of the new design team. Also, it’s not clear what will happen to the approved 2007 Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan (LARRMP). The LARRMP, led by engineering firm Tetra Tech, included three landscape architecture firms: Civitas, Mia Lehrer + Associates, and Wenk Associates. The plan is deeply rooted in hydrology and ecology, aims to strengthen communities, and features parks, trails, bridges, public and private facilities, and more. The LARRMP was approved by the Los Angeles City Council and provides a blueprint based in watershed management, as plans move forward.

The LARRMP guided the development of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Los Angeles River Ecosystem Feasibility Study. The study’s ambitious “Alternative 20” plan, which will ecologically restore a 11-mile stretch of the river and improve public access, was unanimously approved by the Corps last month.

Local landscape architecture professionals have voiced concerns with Gehry’s appointment by the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation. In addition to threatening Congressional approval of the Corps’ billion-dollar-plus Alternative 20 plan due to confusion with this new, unclear planning effort, there is concern about:

The Lack of a Public Process
The project’s grand scope means the potential impact on the City of Los Angeles and the eight southern gateway cities to the south is immense. The LARRMP was born out of grassroots efforts and planned with intense community participation. During public outreach, specific projects were identified and championed by the neighborhoods most impacted. Any plan aimed at building on the LARRMP and Alternative 20 must seek public input from the beginning to gain support and assure meaningful outcomes.

The Lack of Transparency
Any project of importance requires a transparent process, regardless of who leads the effort. A transparent process ensures the decisions made, and funding sources dedicated, are clearly communicated and understood. To succeed, the design process must be overseen by all stakeholders and experienced practitioners. The process should include community outreach and well-publicized opportunities for involvement by all, especially local landscape architects who are experienced in local climatic, ecological, and community conditions. Any efforts made in the revitalization of the river should result in new places for public recreation, improved ecology and hydrology, and opportunities for local design professionals.

The nation’s second largest city faces two significant challenges: First, our communities lack significant public open space; and, second, drought conditions and climate change make water management critical to serving our current and future populations. The Los Angeles River can be transformed into green infrastructure that provides solutions to both these challenges.

la river before

la river after

Los Angeles River, current conditions and Alternative 20 after rendering / The Architect’s Newspaper

The Los Angeles River is a dynamic natural system that reacts differently to each ecological and climatic condition and community with which it interacts. Landscape architects are uniquely educated in how to best traverse the nexuses between ecology, community, and design. A green infrastructure project as important as the Los Angeles River revitalization requires an engaged process with design professionals of different experiences and expertise, with knowledge of the unique environmental, social, and political conditions of the Los Angeles River watershed.

Architects such as Frank Gehry can certainly be valuable in this process, but even he admitted he isn’t “a landscape guy” when Mayor Eric Garcetti compared him to famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The Los Angeles River deserves the attention of landscape architects who have experience analyzing and then creating visions for regionally-scaled landscape systems. This kind of experience is needed to build on the work of the 11-mile Alternative 20 plan to address the river’s full 51-mile stretch.

LA River Ecosystem Restoration Integrated Report

Before and After: Arroyo Seco Confluence in Cypress Park, Alternative 20 plan / KCET

Local landscape architects look forward to seeing the preliminary studies from the Gehry-led team. We ask for a transparent process with plenty of outreach to stakeholders and the community to ensure the foundation of previously-approved work, which reflect the public’s needs, is firmly in place. And we ask for help from our colleagues nationwide to respectfully demonstrate to Mayor Garcetti the important benefits landscape architecture provide to our lives every day.

This guest post is by Duane Border, ASLA, PLA, principal, Duane Border Design, and president-elect, Southern California Chapter ASLA.


Avenida Chapultepec / FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU

Mexico City, one of the world’s great megalopolises, with more than 20 million people, is struggling to create more green space for its ever-expanding population. Estimates put the amount of green space in the city at just a few percent. To remedy this problem, a team of architects, landscape architects, planners, and urban designers with Mexican firms FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU will transform Avenida Chapultepec, one of the city’s oldest and busiest streets, into an elevated, 1.3-kilometer-long “cultural corridor” expected to open by 2017. The project will overhaul a 10-lane highway that runs west to east between Chapultepec Park and the center of the city.

This new elevated promenade will help reduce traffic accidents along one of the most dangerous and polluted stretches in the city, writes Designboom. While the lower level will still enable cars to move through, the goal is to create a highly walkable zone in the middle of the city.

Fernando Romero, the lead designer with FR-EE, explains his thinking: “The term ‘Complete Street’ means to reshape the traffic flow and the public spaces. This project inverts the numbers: if nowadays, 70 percent of the area belongs to cars, and 30 percent to the pedestrians, the cultural corridor chapultepec is going to change these numbers by generating a new space in order to have 70 percent belong to the pedestrians and the remaining 30 percent for the organization of the traffic space.”

Heading east to the west, the elevation will gradually increase, as new pedestrian-only features eventually merge, inviting people up onto the elevated promenade.


Avenida Chapultepec / FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU

At street level on the far eastern end, the point closest to Chapultepec Park, hundreds of street trees will be added, along with separate dedicated bus and bicycle lanes, wide pedestrian promenades, and striking linear troughs filled with water.



Avenida Chapultepec / FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU

As people head further west, there are a set of ramps and stairs that will lead people up to the upper level, which will be a tree-lined promenade, with distinct lanes for both pedestrians and bicyclists.


Avenida Chapultepec / FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU

This upper level will also feature shops and cafes.


Avenida Chapultepec / FR-EE, FRENTE arquitectura, RVDG, and Mario Schjetnan GDU

At the far western end of the avenue, all the way at the end of the linear park, there will be an open-air amphitheater for movies and events. The new avenue is designed to create a sense of discovery, pulling people through to enjoy the safe passage to the views, trees, and public spaces.

While some will say Mexico City is creating a variation on the High Line, the elevated railway park in Chelsea, Manhattan, Romero thinks a closer analogue is Seoul’s transformation of the buried ChonGae Canal, once a busy transportation channel, into a open linear park. Seoul, another of the world’s most mega cities, has created vibrant public spaces with multiple levels along its revitalized waterway. A prime example is Mikyoung Kim’s ChonGae Canal Point Source Park, which leads visitors down to the canal’s edge. Romero says: “Seoul has undertaken many projects with the idea of creating public space, while respecting the existing, often-difficult-to-manipulate infrastructure.”


Beauty Redeemed / Birkhauser

Gas Works Park in Seattle. Landscape Park Duisburg-Nord in Germany. Ariel Sharon (Mount Hariya) Park in Tel Aviv. Freshkills Park in Staten Island, NY. And The High Line, in Manhattan. These landmark places transform the remnants of industrial landscapes into new parks.

Is this “transformation of formerly industrial areas for new purposes, a widespread phenomenon happening before our eyes,” simply a trend? Or are these transformations, which address our post-industrial needs, here to stay? In Beauty Redeemed: Recycling Post-Industrial Landscapes, Ellen Braae, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Copenhagen, argues the latter, writing that the emergence of post-industrial landscapes is a new kind of design that is engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the landscapes of past, present, and future.

There have been plenty of books, articles, and blog posts written on post-industrial landscapes, including quite a few on The Dirt. So why write another? Braae answers this question herself, breaking her argument into three pieces:

First, the re-use of “ruinous” post-industrial areas contributes to the practice of sustainability; this approach encourages us to reinterpret existing resources.

When most of the design proposals for Landscape Park Duisburg-Nord, which was built on a former industrial site in Germany, were presented in the early 1990s, most firms opened their project by clearing away all the old infrastructure and starting anew. Landscape architect Peter Latz, Latz + Partner, went a different route, choosing “to accept the area with all its traces and structures.” As Braae explains, “the innovation in Latz’s proposal lay in the decoding of features and qualities and the way they were highlighted and reworked.” The theme of the park became the interplay between the relics of industrialism and the processes of nature already underway in the years since the area’s industrial use.

Pedestrian bridge across old ore bunkers at Landscape Park Duisberg-Nord / Latz + Partner

Pedestrian bridge across old ore bunkers at Landscape Park Duisberg-Nord / Latz + Partner


Aesthetics combined with remediation for contaminated soils at Duisburg-Nord / Latz + Partner

Aesthetics combined with remediation for contaminated soils at Duisburg-Nord / Latz + Partner

Second, industrial landscapes can become new cultural heritage, as they can represent the convergence of preservation, re-use, and transformation.

The 19th and 20th century landscape has been shaped by industry — both the processes and infrastructure of industry itself, and the impact of the industrial products on urban planning and design. For example, the industrial-scale production of automobiles shaped Detroit, which Braae refers to as “a monument to the principles of Fordism, transcending our physical-spatial structures as the capital of the 20th century.”

Former Packard plant, Detroit, 2006 / Camilo Jose Vergara

As we move further into the 21st century, Braae asks what the “physical expression of the capital city of the 21st century” will be. Looking to Paris, France, and Ruhr, Germany, the emphasis on building upon “the ruins of industrialism” suggests a shift towards a relationship with history and cultural heritage that is generally reflected by post-Modernism.

Rather than History with a capital H, history and cultural heritage today are “embedded in our everyday culture and thus in our culture of remembrance. They are associated with the working lives of a large proportion of the population of the Western world. Seen in that light, the originally worthless relics of a vanished production process become suitable objects of study for a new form of cultural heritage. Preservation, re-use and transformation of what is in principle worthless become linked. These are the new interpretations of cultural heritage.”

Lastly, transforming industrial landscapes is not only an interesting creative exercise, but has created an “epistemological breakthrough in design” that emphasizes the temporary nature of things and the process of constant change.

According to Braae, we are undergoing a radical transformation in the practice of design. Whereas much of design in the 20th century may have been modeled on novelty, with its main focus on space, structure, and expression, design in the 21st century is focused on change. In doing so, the focus becomes less entirely on form and more on process.

Braae says this new thinking will fundamentally shape the way we build and create in the 21st century:”What does it imply when we no longer invent things from the beginning but create them through interaction with what already exists? It is a central question: In what ways can we decode the materials available to us?”

Sculptural reuse of demolition material at Terra Nova, Germany / Herman Prigann, Courtesy of Herman Prigann Estate

Sculptural reuse of demolition material at Terra Nova, Germany / Herman Prigann, Courtesy of Herman Prigann Estate

Beauty Redeemed is dense, with Braae’s arguments thoroughly detailed. Academics and landscape architects are the ones who will spend any significant time with the book. But the public will be also affected by the ideas found here.

Urban landscapes, which more and more people rely on for recreation and escape, tend to be “a cacophany of different forms of use, appearances, and topography, often without any mutual connection or visual significance.” The disordered nature of these urban landscapes can result in a lack of identity and aesthetic quality. But Braae’s hope is that the shift in design thinking, as demonstrated by these landmark post-industrial landscapes, will help move us towards a new 21st century post-industrial model. In this sense, Beauty Redeemed is a worthwhile read for, as Braae says, “everyone interested in visual and spatial culture, with a liking for ruinous industrial areas.”

Yoshi Silverstein is founder of Mitsui Design and director of the Jewish outdoor, food, and environmental (JOFEE) fellowship at Hazon, the country’s largest Jewish environmental organization.

Global Biocapacity / Global Footprint Network

Humanity is placing inordinate demands on nature, and it just keeps getting worse. In 2000, humanity had exceeded its “ecological budget” by October. This year, “Earth Overshoot Day” was August 13, according to the Global Footprint Network, a California-based environmental think tank. Earth Overshoot Day marks the moment “when humanity’s annual demands on nature exceed what Earth can regenerate that year.” This is yet another wake-up call that sustainable global development hasn’t taken root despite two decades of effort. Humanity currently needs 1.6 Earths to cover what we take from nature each year.

Global Footprint Network doesn’t quantify how the accumulated deficits have impacted the long-term ecological health of the planet, but they say they are a cause for alarm. “It is not clear whether a sustained level of overuse is possible without significantly damaging long-term biocapacity, with consequent impacts on consumption and population growth.” In other words, damaging Earth’s long-term capacity to provide ecosystem services could result in lower levels of overall services, and that means fewer crops, fish, trees, and less fresh water.

The biggest cause of the overshoot is, of course, skyrocketing carbon emissions, which demand that nature sequester carbon at far higher rates than is possible. The group says that carbon sequestration make up more than half of the total demand on nature. Other demands take the form of energy, fishing, timber and paper production, food and fiber, and settlements.

Global Footprint Network includes settlements because they believe once land has been developed, its basic ecological functions have essentially been made “non-productive.” While sustainable design practices can help make even developed land restore some its original ecological productivity, the group is largely correct because these practices are still not widespread. Estimates put the total share of green buildings worldwide at just a few percentage points, if that, and there is no data on worldwide sustainable designed landscapes.

The costs of “ecological overspending” are also clear. As carbon dioxide levels exceed the Earth’s absorptive capabilities, the excess enters the atmosphere, warming it. On the ground, the ongoing struggle between the expansion of human settlements and expanding agricultural production results in deforestation, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and reductions in fresh water availability. Cropland, grazing land, and developed land all tax nature’s ecological carrying capacity as they reduce its regenerative abilities. “All these demands compete for space. As more is being demanded for food and timber products, fewer productive areas are available to absorb carbon from fossil fuel.”

The think tank offers a smart interactive map that shows each country’s per capita biocapacity alongside its ecological footprint, measured in global hectares (there’s also an alphabetical list of all countries). Biocapacity per person is calculated each year based on a range of factors, including ecosystem management approaches; agricultural practices, including fertilizer use and irrigation; ecosystem degradation; population growth; and weather. And ecological footprint per person is calculated according to the amounts being consumed and production efficiency standards.

According to these charts, the biocapacity of the U.S. has been falling while the ecological footprint, with periodic jumps up and down, has largely held steady. But this really means that the deficit between the available biocapacity and the U.S.’s ecological footprint is only growing. China’s biocapacity has largely held steady, while it’s ecological footprint has exploded beginning around 2000, only expanding the gap. Japan now requires 5.5 Japans to support one actual Japan each year: Its biocapacity continues to shrink while its ecological footprint has only increased. But, interestingly, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s biocapacity has actually grown dramatically — one of the few positive environment outcomes from that oil and gas exporter — while its ecological footprint shrank but is now creeping up again.

How many countries 2015 v4

National biocapacity / Global Footprint Network

As part of the interactive map, the organization lists all the countries that are a “biocapacity reserve,” meaning they produce materials and consume resources far below the levels that tax nature’s abilities. These are mostly developing countries in Africa, South America, and the Middle East, along with developing countries with huge environmental bounties like Brazil.

Biocapacity Reserve / Global Footprint Network

And then, also the countries that have biocapacity deficits, meaning they consume and produce far more than their natural environments can sustain. These countries are wealthy, urbanized countries like Singapore, Japan, and Israel.

Biocapacity Deficit / Global Footprint Network

These compelling tools demonstrate what many environmentalist believe — that the Earth’s ledger is out of balance. As the famed biologist E.O. Wilson wrote in The Future of Life, one of his best books, “the constraints of the biosphere are fixed.” This means that either the earth’s biocapacity needs to be increased, or human consumption and production need to be decreased to reach a sustainable balance.

Already, the Earth has 7 billion people, with the numbers just growing each year. E.O. Wilson and other scientists have pointed to the number 10 billion as the ultimate maximum capacity. While techno-utopians believe there will be a new green revolution that will only increase the productivity of agriculture, what about the never-ending growth of grazing animals? They are not ecological assets. Wilson argues that “if everyone agreed to become vegetarian, leaving little or nothing for livestock, the present 1.4 billion hectares of arable land (3.5 billion acres) would support about 10 billion people.”

And what about forests? What new approaches can increase forests’ capacity beyond a commitment to protecting them and planting more trees? A new special report in Science argues that the world’s major forest biomes are struggling despite the best efforts of dedicated forestry officials around the world.

Global Footprint Network experts see the rise of renewable energy sources like wind and solar as one of the most positive steps in helping to keep every country in its ecological budget.

Explore the interactive map and learn more at Global Footprint Network.


Baltimore bus stop / Knstrct.com

Landscape architects, architects, and artists are having fun with words in bus stops, playgrounds, and plazas. In these instances, letters become tangible and structural, so they can be touched, sat on, climbed on. The meaning of the words is clear or ambiguous. And, in one case, the letters can even be viewed from different angles to form new words. In three different public spaces around the world, word forms draw people in and enable new ways to communicate with the public. Given their tactile nature, they also invite conversation and interaction.

In Baltimore, a group of local and European Union arts organizations got together and financed a novel work by artists at mmmm spelling the word “bus” at, of course, a bus stop on S. East Avenue in Highlandtown. Each letter, which is made of wood and steel and is about 14 feet tall and 7 feet wide, can accommodate up to four sitters and even climbers.

As Baltimore’s Creative Alliance, one of the organizers of the project, explains, “the temporary and playful urban furniture was designed to promote interaction by having those seated inside the bowls face one another. The bowls are a social place for gathering, getting to know people, and fostering dialogue in small groups.”


Baltimore bus stop / Design Boom


Baltimore bus stop / Four one oh

In Port Adelaide, Australia, a bright, fun playground is made even more inviting with the addition of word play. Landscape architects with Aspect Studios created the space for Hart’s Mills Surrounds, which is located near a wharf. As they explain in Landezine, the new play space “draws on references of numerous trade port activities.”


Hart’s Mill Surrounds / Don Brice

Words like “purify,” “flour,” and “ever” somehow relate to the wharf’s past commercial activities, but their meaning is not quite clear to us. For kids, these word forms are scattered about as pieces to sound out and read or further explore. They are made of the same coated metal as the benches and playground equipment.


Hart’s Mill Surrounds / Don Brice



Hart’s Mill Surrounds / Don Brice

And, lastly, architects with Snarkitecture, who may now be famous in design world for their indoor “beach” installation at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. this summer, which has already been visited by more than 100,000 people, created a public art installation in the plaza just to the east of the Marlins Ballpark in Miami.


A Memorial Bowing / Noah Kalina

The giant letters, scattered throughout the plaza, hark back to the enormous “Miami Orange Bowl” sign of the stadium that stood on the site from 1937 until it was demolished in 2008. The exact same letters are reconstructed in the new plaza at the original ten-foot height, explains Snarkitecture. They can be touched, leaned against, and sat on.


A Memorial Bowing / Noah Kalina


A Memorial Bowing / Noah Kalina

They write: “Their positions capture an ambiguous moment between ruin and rebuilding; some letters stand vertically, others submerge themselves in the ground, and others lay horizontally as if at rest. As visitors move through the plaza, new alignments are created between the letters, spelling out different words as the new stadium is glimpsed through fragments of the old.”


Charlotte, North Carolina street trees / Kenny Craft on Pinterest

The science is increasingly clear: trees are central to healthy, livable cities. New studies are only adding to this understanding. For example, recent research published in the prestigious journal Nature found that having 10 more trees on your block, on average, improves the perception of your own health in ways comparable to an increase in annual income of $10,000 or being 7 years younger. However, according to Cene Ketcham, a graduate student in urban forestry at Virginia Tech, the benefits of urban trees are rarely experienced equally across a city.

“We know trees have a lot of benefits. And if we know that having trees in our cities is important for our health, the converse must also be true — a lack of trees hurts your health,” Ketcham said at a conference organized by Casey Trees in Washington, D.C.

Ketcham noted that a lower tree canopy is often correlated with lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color – “areas that have historically been disproportionately impacted.” While non-profit and city-led tree planting programs are poised to bridge this gap, most are not designed with environmental justice goals in mind. The groups leading these urban tree-planting programs are increasingly aware of this problem, but what specific strategies are most effective for getting urban trees into the areas that need them the most?

Ketcham studied 11 different programs in six cities: Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Denver, Colorado; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Portland, Oregon; and Sacramento, California. Each of these programs have a different planting plan that accounts for inequalities. In Charlotte, for example, race and income are tightly tied together, so improving tree cover in underserved neighborhoods did not require a city-wide effort to make an impact in these communities. “But, of course, the closer you get to planting trees all over an entire city, the better off you’ll be,” Ketcham added.

The programs Ketcham identified as the most successful at getting trees into underserved neighborhoods are NeighborWoods in Charlotte, Friends of Trees in Portland, and CityShade in Austin. Based on the success of these programs, Ketcham identified four strategies city government and non-profit tree planting organizations can implement to make sure trees are planted where they are most needed:

Target Planting Areas

Successful tree planting programs use outreach efforts and highly targeted planting. “Portland canvassers go door to door in low-income neighborhoods advertising the benefits of trees. A lot of effort goes toward getting trees in where people want them,” Ketcham said. Of course, city-wide tree cover is the goal, but in larger cities where trees are disproportionately benefiting some neighborhoods, targeted tree-planting efforts can go a long way.

Urban forestry volunteers in Portland, OR / City of Portland

Urban forestry volunteers in Portland, OR / City of Portland

Build Strong Municipal and Non-Profit Partnerships

“It’s not just somebody some throwing labor in, it’s a tightly integrated collaboration,” Ketcham said. Programs that have been successful bring together public and private organizations. “Maybe the city buys the trees, while the non-profit runs the program.” In any case, it’s important that both groups take ownership of the tree-planting program.

For example, Treefolk’s CityShade program in Austin works very closely with Austin’s urban forestry department. From October 2014 through March 2015, the program worked with the city to plant 350 large-container trees and mulch existing trees in seven parks and greenbelts in Austin. According to CityShade, the organization also planted native trees to beautify, and provide shade and wildlife habitat in some of Austin’s lowest-income neighborhoods.

Volunteers plant trees along a highway in Austin, Texas / TreeFolks

Volunteers plant trees along a highway in Austin, Texas / TreeFolks

Reduce Property Owner Responsibility

Particularly in low-income neighborhoods, it’s important to reduce the pressure on individual property owners to plant trees. Not only are people in these areas struggling to overcome challenges bigger than increasing the tree canopy, but residents in these areas are more likely to be renters. “If you’re in an area with a lot of renters you’re not going to want to work on improving your landlord’s property. And the landlord might not even want the trees if it will change the property value,” Ketcham said. Instead, successful programs rely on volunteers and contractors to plant the trees, rather than giving trees to neighborhood residents.

However, some successful programs do provide help and guidance to residents who want trees on their own properties. Friends of Trees in Portland makes it easy for someone to plant a tree at their home with this step-by-step video.

Priotize Public Spaces

While most programs focus on getting trees onto residential properties, successful programs work on “improving tree cover, not just in residential areas but also in public spaces.” Planting trees in public spaces can provide neighborhood-wide health and environmental benefits.

For example, CityShade in Austin partnered with Austin’s watershed protection division and urban forestry department to plant thousands of small, native, tree seedlings in public areas in order to conserve water and improve water quality in Austin’s waterways. Though mainly focused on residential plantings, Charlotte’s NeighborWoods program will also help provide trees for homeowner association’s common areas when appropriate, so that everyone in the neighborhood can benefit from increased access to nature.


ASLA recently surveyed practicing landscape architects, students, and university faculty from around the world to better under understand what smartphone apps landscapes architects are using to conceptualize, design, and construct projects. We recently reported the results from the survey, which received more than 150 responses, in the first two parts of this three part series. See ppart one: Smartphone Apps for Landscape Architects: Useful Tools for Site Analysis and Design and part two: Smartphone Apps for Landscape Architects: Useful Tools for Construction and Presentation.

In addition to asking respondents which smartphone apps they used, we also asked which apps they wished were available. As can be expected, we got a range of responses. Some wishes were practical and offer real opportunities for entrepreneurial app developers, while others were perhaps fantastical, given the technology isn’t there yet and won’t be for a while. Here are some of the most desired kinds of apps that don’t yet exist:

Trees and Plants

Landscape architects are hurting for better plant apps; these are the most wished-for apps by far. While some respondents said they used apps like Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder or Leafsnap, others mused about how much easier their lives would be if they could simply “take a photo of a tree and the app could identify it,” or if there was “an app that could size a tree from a photo.” Several respondents expressed a need for plant apps that focused on “right plant, right place,” and include sun and shade analysis of sites to help guide planting design. Still others simply want a more comprehensive identification app that shows the “form of a plant, rather than just its flower or leaf.”

One thing is for certain: many landscape architects are looking for an app that will quickly identify a plant in any region in the world, and tell them where to put it. That’s not a small order, but we’ll see what the future holds.

Topography and Grading

The next most-desired category of apps relate to topography and grading. “I would be interested in an app that visualizes and makes available GIS data for soil type, site history, zoning, flood levels, etc., in a navigable interface. This would be used less for data manipulation and more for overviews on site visits,” one respondent said.

Other respondents were especially interested in an app that could use GPS data to give topography and elevation data for a given landscape or build a topographical map based on the existing grade of a user’s location. Ideally, this app would also be able to export info to AutoCAD, RhinoTerrain, and GoogleEarth.


“I would like an app that would allow you to create material palette collages that combine site furniture, planting, and paving and other materials for your project and be able to export the layers to Photoshop,” one respondent said. Some sort of collage app that would allow users to put together different images into a single palette and export for presentation was one of the more popular responses.

Perhaps an app like PhotoGrid (free; ios / android) that allows users to design layouts and create photo collages would fill this gap. But a similar app specifically geared toward landscape architects with a variety of material and plant stock images (with an option for users to upload their own photos) would likely be more widely used.

Photo Grid App Screenshot / KS Mobile, Inc. on the iTunes App Store

Photo Grid App Screenshot / KS Mobile, Inc. on the iTunes App Store

Construction Standards

Several respondents were looking for a smartphone app that would provide them with American Disability Act (ADA) and construction standards on their mobile devices. One respondent pointed to the book Time-Saver Standards for Landscape Architecture by Charles Harris, FASLA, and Nicholas Dines, FASLA, and said a “similar app version would be very helpful.” While many respondents said they typically find this information through search engines, others would prefer to have a reference guide on the go.


Time-Saver Standards for Landscape Architecture by Charles W. Harris and Nicholas T. Dines / Amazon

One respondent suggested LandCalc (free; android), an app that can calculate and convert soil, mulch and stone volumes, as well as calculate slope and the amount of plant material needed for a given space. While this may be helpful for some landscape architects, an app that goes a little bit further as a mobile reference for construction standards would help.

LACalc Screenshot / Bristle Software Inc. on the Google Play Store

LACalc Screenshot / Bristle Software Inc. on the Google Play Store

What’s an App?

Lastly, a small but significant number of respondents are reluctant to jump on the smartphone bandwagon. “Apparently people are using apps,” one respondent wrote in. Several others reported that they don’t yet have a smartphone.

While owning a smartphone is by no means necessary for practicing landscape architecture, our survey indicates that the wide range of smartphone apps available for landscape architects is already changing the way they design and build.


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