New Strategies for Preventing Green Gentrification

ASLA 2010 Professional General Design Honor Award. The High Line, Section 1 New York City, NY. James Corner Field Operations (project lead) and Diller Scofidio + Renfro / Iwan Baan

“How do we ensure new parks don’t cause ‘green gentrification,’ which can lead to the exclusion and displacement of underserved communities? How can we ensure we don’t displace the communities that new parks are meant to serve?,” asked Dede Petri, CEO of the Olmsted Network (formerly the National Association of Olmsted Parks), during an Olmsted 200 event.

New parks are meant to be accessible to everyone, but in many urban areas, developer-driven parks mostly attract wealthier Americans. Cities benefit from increased development adjacent to these new parks, bringing in higher tax revenues, but that raises questions about whether these spaces can, in effect, lead to community displacement.

“If there really is green gentrification, what can we do about it?,” asked Ted Landsmark, a professor at Northeastern University, civic planner, and board member of Boston Planning and Development Agency, who moderated the panel discussion.

Robert Hammond, a co-founder of the High Line in Manhattan, and founder of the High Line Network, a knowledge sharing platform, said the High Line has had significant impacts, contributing to “cultural displacement and middle class displacement” in the Meatpacking District and Chelsea neighborhoods of lower Manhattan. “The High Line isn’t a failure, but a lot of mistakes were made.”

“The High Line was built for the city, taxpayers, and homeowners; it wasn’t built for the residents of nearby low-income housing.” While the city-owned low-income housing remains, most of the stores the residents relied on were driven out due to the higher rents brought on by the High Line. “We didn’t anticipate the impact on shops.”

ASLA 2010 Professional General Design Honor Award. The High Line, Section 1 New York City, NY. James Corner Field Operations (project lead) and Diller Scofidio + Renfro / Iwan Baan

“And many of the residents of the housing developments didn’t like our programs,” Hammond said. As a result, early community perception was that the High Line was for wealthy New Yorkers and tourists.

Over the past dozen years since the first phase of the linear park opened, “we have been rethinking our programs, and visitors to the park have become more diverse.” But in retrospect, “the High Line should have formed more diverse community partnerships early on in the planning and design process” to “shape zoning opportunities with the city and state.”

The Atlanta Beltline, which is leveraging a 22-mile railroad network to create new parks, multi-use trails, and transit connections, has also faced criticism that it has contributed to gentrification and displacement.

Atlanta Beltline map / Atlanta Beltline

Clyde Higgs, CEO of the Atlanta Beltline, admitted that “ten years ago, when the project first started, we had not expected it to be a wild economic success. We didn’t secure nearby sites for future affordable housing.” With the leadership of a new Atlanta mayor, that story has changed, Higgs says. “We have now exceeded affordability goals around the Beltline by 30 percent.”

The Beltline team is now returning to the vision of the park’s framers — they had “contemplated the dangers of developing green space in a vacuum.” With any new green space, “you have to be thinking about community engagement, which is the real measure of success at the end of a project. This involves affordable housing, living wage jobs, environmental clean-up, and the arts — it’s about creating whole communities.”

Atlanta Beltline, Atlanta, Georgia / istockphoto.com, BluIz60

The High Line and early phases of the Beltline offer cautionary tales and have led to the relatively new consensus that equitable community development is integral to park making.

An “anticipatory, proactive approach” to park planning is “now required by all landscape architects at this point,” argued Jessica Henson, ASLA, a partner at OLIN. “Setting aside parcels for affordable housing, protecting existing tenants, creating land banks — this should all happen before design.”

The 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, D.C., which landscape architecture firm OLIN is co-designing with Dutch architecture firm OMA, is a “great example of how to get into a community ahead of time.” Building Bridges Across the River, the non-profit organization leading the development of the park, set up home buyer’s clubs, created robust property protections, and increased support for local businesses and artists, so more of the community will benefit from the new park, even before it’s built.

11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN
11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN

The 11th Street Bridge Park is rightfully considered a model, but its development has been more than a decade in the making. Landsmark argued that there will be intense political pressure on state and local governments to spend hundreds of billions from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, to act fast and initiate projects that can create lots of new jobs. How can the rapid distribution of these funds avoid having a gentrifying impact?

“Before dollars are assigned, it’s important to buy parcels for affordable housing ahead of time, near where you think new infrastructure is going to go. Coordinating with community-based organizations, which tend to be more nimble, is key,” Henson said.

“Through research, we have found that you also don’t need to blanket affordable housing everywhere. Prioritize the communities most at risk. Use tools to determine where the pressures are. We can target resources to protect the most vulnerable populations.”

As part of this, planners and landscape architects must also extend greater respect to local partners, paying community members and organizations for their time and ideas, whether it’s related to the new infrastructure funds or not. Communities are expected to show up to provide input that can improve projects, but for some community members there is a cost associated with that, multiple panelists noted.

There are already models for more equitable engagement out there. At the Atlanta Beltline, the “largest department is community engagement. It’s legislatively dictated that we must hold three deep community conversations annually, but we have up to 80 community meetings per year. There are many chances for people to have their say — it’s the people’s project,” Higgs said.

And with the High Line in New York City, one clear win is a program that responded to the needs of local residents: a summer jobs program for teenagers. “High Line Teens has been successful and is in its tenth year,” Hammond said. “We provided what people want — jobs. The question with these projects needs to be: what can we do for you, besides just creating a park?”

There are growing expectations that new parks will be jobs generators for local communities. The Atlanta Beltline has a goal of creating 30,000 permanent jobs along the circular park, prioritizing access to opportunities for those who live nearby. This involves discussions with a “range of organizations, not just industries focused on technology, healthcare, or hospitality. It’s about creating whole communities where residents near the Beltline can access work, church, restaurants, and medical care,” Higgs said.

And Henson noted that in their work on the Los Angeles River Masterplan with Gehry Partners, OLIN has focused on how to create more opportunities for local artists in the 51-mile river corridor revitalization. All panelists called for employing public artists of all kinds — dance, interactive, musical, sculptural, and visual — to create the cultural programs that can connect communities with each other and a new park.

New Orleans’ Equity-driven Reforestation Plan

Surface temperatures in New Orleans (2019-2021) / Spackman Mossop Michaels

New Orleans experiences the worst urban heat island effect in the country, with temperatures nearly 9 F° higher than nearby natural areas. The city also lost more than 200,000 trees from Hurricane Katrina, dropping its overall tree canopy to just 18.5 percent.

The non-profit organization Sustaining Our Urban Landscape (SOUL) partnered with landscape architects at Spackman Mossop Michaels (SMM) to create a highly accessible, equity-focused reforestation plan for the city that provides a roadmap for achieving a tree canopy of 24 percent by 2040.

But more importantly, the plan also seeks to equalize the canopy, so at least 10 percent of all 72 neighborhoods are covered in trees. Currently, more than half of neighborhoods are under the 10 percent goal.

Tree canopy coverage by neighborhood / Spackman Mossop Michaels

Wes Michaels, ASLA, a founding partner at SMM, explained that some communities in the city are almost entirely concrete and asphalt and have canopies as low as 1 percent, while others, like the famous Garden District, have nearly 30 percent.

This causes an inequitable distribution of heat risks. “With Hurricane Ida, the foremost cause of death wasn’t flooding but heat. The storm knocked out electricity, so people were in their homes without air conditioning,” explained Emily Bullock, ASLA, a principal with SMM.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, trees and plants really do have a significant cooling benefit. “Trees and vegetation lower surface and air temperatures by providing shade and through evapotranspiration. Shaded surfaces, for example, may be 20–45°F (11–25°C) cooler than the peak temperatures of unshaded materials. Evapotranspiration, alone or in combination with shading, can help reduce peak summer temperatures by 2–9°F (1–5°C).”

The New Orleans Reforestation Plan offers a new, more equitable model for reducing dangerous extreme heat — the number one climate killer — and flooding, while also lowering energy use.

“Conventional urban reforestation plans are focused on achieving an overall canopy percentage, and there is often an equity component. But this plan centers equity so that it frames all goals,” Bullock said.

Planting Cypress trees as part of New Orleans Redevelopment Authority’s alternative strategies for vacant lots program / Spackman Mossop Michaels

“The plans we reviewed from other cities were all similar, kind of boilerplate. We needed a plan that recognizes the unique neighborhoods of New Orleans,” said Susannah Burley, executive director of SOUL. “We wanted to find a local firm that understood the context of our city.”

Restoration of a vacant lot as part of New Orleans Redevelopment Authority’s alternative strategies for vacant lots program / Spackman Mossop Michaels

Burley, who has a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Louisiana State University (LSU), spearheaded the complex reforestation planning effort over the past two years.

With Traci Birch, a LSU professor and planner, SOUL organized four round table discussions with local stakeholders from the public, private, and non-profit sectors, and seven community meetings.

“Spackman Mossop Michaels was a stakeholder in those early conversations. We knew they were already invested in the plan and understood the steps taken,” Burley said.

The firm was then hired to analyze the complex GIS data gathered by SOUL, facilitate more meetings across the city, and develop the plan.

“Landscape architects know the challenges and how to intersect with utilities. We helped facilitate concrete conversations with stakeholders. We examined city regulations and came up with recommendations so that these systems can work a little better. The goal is to make planting trees a smoother, easier process,” Bullock said.

The firm’s community engagement experience also helped SOUL frame the conversations.

“Not everyone in the community is 100 percent behind planting more trees. Landscape architects know that trees = good, but we can also meet communities where they are. We heard concerns like: ‘what if a tree falls on my house or leaves clog up my gutters? What if their roots break up my driveway?'”, Michaels said.

Research shows that trees increase property values. But SMM didn’t hear concerns that more trees could lead to gentrification or displacement. “The questions were more about: ‘who will maintain the trees in rights of way? Where will the maintenance funds come from?,'” said Bullock.

In the historic Garden District, tree roots can transform sidewalks into jagged small hills, making them inaccessible. And in other older parts of the city, sidewalks are very narrow, leaving little room for trees. How will the city fit in more?

“We didn’t get into these kinds of issues, which were beyond the scope. We want to make sure we don’t repeat the current issues, including with overhead and underground utilities. The goal is to create a unified tree policy with stakeholders, including the utilities providing power, water, sewage. The idea is to create a new policy together,” Michaels explained.

The plan outlines detailed steps SOUL, other organizations, and the city can take to build capacity and ramp up tree planting to achieve the 2040 goal. But before scaling up, the plan calls for a full-year of community engagement. “This will help educate communities about the benefits of trees and lay the groundwork for the planting programs to come,” Michaels said.

Prior to tree planting, 2014 / Spackman Mossop Michaels
After tree planting, 2022 / Spackman Mossop Michaels

In five diverse, underserved neighborhoods, pilot tree planting efforts will be rolled out over coming years. In some of these neighborhoods, planting more trees will be fairly straightforward given there are open green spaces available. In other more difficult neighborhoods, which already have lower tree canopies, additional funds and support will be needed to break up and remove concrete rights of way.

According to Burley, the biggest barrier to implementing the plan is lack of funding. “In New Orleans, the Department of Parks and Parkways is extremely underfunded. The plan is an advocacy tool — it shows what can be done with additional funds and how to make it happen.”

Prior to tree planting, 2014 / Spackman Mossop Michaels
After tree planting, 2022 / Spackman Mossop Michaels

And this is why the team focused on making the plan so easy-to-understand. “Most reforestation plans I saw were missing the human component. Our plan is meant to be highly accessible, so it can be picked-up by any city government official or neighborhood association.”

This plan also offers an approach other landscape architects can apply. “Reforestation plans are in landscape architects’ wheelhouse. These plans are at the intersection of ecology, culture, and public health. It’s not just about overall tree canopy numbers. But how to plant the most trees in places where they are needed, and in the shortest amount of time, with limited resources,” Michaels said.

Call for Entries for 2023 Professional and Student Awards Now Open

ASLA 2022 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Preparing the Ground: Restorative Justice on Portland’s Interstate 5, Portland, Oregon. ZGF Architects

By Lisa Hardaway

New awards category focused on transformative solutions to the climate crisis

ASLA is now accepting submissions for its 2023 Professional and Student Awards Program including a new category– the ASLA / International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) Global Impact Award, which is focused on projects that address the climate crisis.

The ASLA Awards Program is the oldest and most prestigious in the landscape architecture profession. They honor the most innovative landscape architecture projects and the brightest ideas from up-and-coming landscape architecture students.

“Awards entries are highly competitive and showcase the projects that illustrate the highest achievement and creative solutions in the industry,” said Emily O’Mahoney, FASLA, PLA, President of ASLA. “I can’t wait to see what outstanding entries we will get for our new Award that honors the best climate action models!”

New this year, the ASLA / IFLA Global Impact Award is presented to a project in the Analysis and Planning category that demonstrates excellence in landscape architecture by addressing climate impacts through transformative action, scalable solutions, and adherence to ASLA’s and IFLA’s climate action commitments.

ASLA bestows Professional Awards in General Design, Residential Design, Urban Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, Research categories. In each of these categories, juries select a number of Honor Awards and may select one Award of Excellence. One Landmark Award is also presented each year.

The 2023 Professional Awards Jury includes:

Jury 1: General Design, Residential Design, & Urban Design

Chair: Kimberly Garza, ASLA, ATLAS Lab Inc.
Michel Borg, AIA, Page
Shuyi Chang, ASLA, SWA
Chingwen Cheng, PhD, ASLA, Arizona State University
Claude Cormier, FASLA, Claude Cormier & Associates
Jamie Maslyn Larson, FASLA, Tohono Chul
Garry Meus, National Capital Commission
Jennifer Nitzky, FASLA, Studio HIP

Jury 2 – Analysis & Planning ASLA / IFLA Global Impact Award, Research & Communications

Chair: Maura Rockcastle, ASLA, Ten x Ten
Camille Applewhite, ASLA, Site Design Group
Stephanie Grigsby, ASLA, Design Workshop, Inc
Mitchell Silver, Hon. ASLA, McAdams
Michael Stanley, FASLA, Dream Design International, Inc.
Michael Todoran, The Landscape Architecture Podcast
Yujia Wang, ASLA, University of Nebraska

Joining the professional awards jury for the selection of the Analysis & Planning – ASLA / IFLA Global Impact Award category will be a representative on behalf of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA).

Monica Pallares, IFLA Americas

Also, joining the professional jury for the selection of the Research Category will be representatives on behalf of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) and the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA).

Dongying LI, Texas A&M, CELA Representative
Jenn Engelke, ASLA, University of Washington, LAF Representative

ASLA 2022 Student Community Service Award Honor Award. 15 Weeks to Transform Colorado’s Unique Ecosystem into a Learning Landscape. Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Finley Sutton, Student ASLA; Charlotte Francisco, Student ASLA; Claire Bulik, Student ASLA; Anna Varella; Sylvia Pasquariello; Ari Solomon, Student ASLA; Alex Bullock, Associate ASLA; Eion Donelan, Associate ASLA; Miriam Hernandez Arroyo; Victoria Hancock, University of Colorado Denver

ASLA bestows Student Awards in General Design, Residential Design, Urban Design, Analysis and Planning, Communications, Research, Student Community Service, and Student Collaboration.

The 2023 Student Awards Jury includes:

Jury 1 – General Design, Residential Design, Urban Design & Student Collaboration

Chair: Michael Grove, FASLA, Sasaki
Haley Blakeman, FASLA, Louisiana State University
Adriana Hernández Aguirre, ASLA, Coleman & Associates
David Jung, FASLA, AECOM
Christina Hite, ASLA, Dix-Hite
Ellen Stewart, ASLA, City of St Paul
Mark Yoes, FAIA, W X Y architecture + urban design

Jury 2 – Analysis & Planning, Research, Communications, & Student Community Service

Chair: Kofi Boone, FASLA, NC State University
Keven Graham, FASLA, Terra Engineering
Dalton LaVoie, ASLA, Stantec
Stephanie Onwenu, ASLA, Detroit Collaborative Design Center
Naomi Sachs, ASLA, University Maryland
Andrew Sargeant, ASLA, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress

Professional Awards: Registration must be received no later than 11:59 pm PST on Friday, February 24, 2023. Submissions are due no later than 11:59 PST on Friday, March 17, 2023.

Student Awards: Registration must be received no later than 11:59 pm PST on Friday, May 5, 2023. Submissions are due no later than 11:59 PST on Friday, May 26, 2023.

Award recipients receive featured coverage in Landscape Architecture Magazine and are honored at a special Awards Presentation ceremony at the ASLA 2023 Conference on Landscape Architecture held October 27-30 in Minneapolis, MN.

New Biden-Harris Blueprint for Decarbonizing Transportation

ASLA 2022 Professional Urban Design Honor Award. Shirley Chisholm State Park. Brooklyn, New York. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / Lexi Van Valkenburgh

The Biden-Harris administration has released the U.S.’s first comprehensive blueprint for decarbonizing the transportation sector. To reach the administration’s goal of a net-zero economy by 2050, nearly all greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, which accounts for a third of total emissions, will need to be eliminated. The plan will leverage funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act and be jointly implemented by the U.S. Departments of Transportation, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The blueprint calls for “improving community design and land-use planning” in order reduce emissions — areas that landscape architects identified as key priorities in the recently released ASLA Climate Action Plan and Field Guide to Climate Action.

The plan focuses on the carbon, health, and equity benefits of denser development connected by safer and more accessible sidewalks, bike lanes and trails, and public transit.

ASLA 2022 Professional Urban Design Honor Award. Midtown Park. Houston, Texas. Design Workshop, Inc. / Brandon Huttenlocher – Design Workshop, Inc.

“More compact cities and towns with a mix of commercial, residential, and civic uses close to each other reduce the distances between where people live, work, and recreate, which makes active modes of transportation and transit even more viable and allows people to spend less time sitting in traffic,” the plan states.

Other priorities of landscape architects that are included: equitable transit-oriented development, affordable housing, and leveraging rights of way (ROWs) for climate benefits. The blueprint specifically calls for enabling federal, state, and tribal ROWs to be used for renewable energy generation, energy transmission infrastructure, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, and stormwater management.

In addition to reducing emissions through the design of communities and transportation systems, the blueprint calls for building out electric vehicle (EV) networks and swapping out fossil fuel vehicles for EVs, with the goal of half of all vehicles being zero emission by 2030, which will also yield real economic and health benefits.

At the Transportation Research Board (TRB) 2023 Annual Meeting, Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of the Department of Transportation, zoomed in on the EV part of the story.

Last fall, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved electric vehicle infrastructure deployment plans submitted by all 50 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico. These plans will leverage $5 billion to build EV chargers every 50 miles along 75,000 miles of U.S. highways, creating the backbone of a new national network.

An additional $2.5 billion in grants will be provided to spread EV chargers more equitably through both urban and rural communities.

“We can use these funds to put chargers in front of multi-family housing developments in low-income communities,” Buttigieg said. “And rural drivers need to cover larger distances, which means they can get even better gas savings. Most rural people live in single-family homes, so they can charge their vehicles at home. We want to meet people where they are.” (What he didn’t mention is EV chargers can also be co-located next to public parks, like Canal Park in Washington, D.C.)

Canal Park, Washington, D.C. / © OLIN / Sahar Coston-Hardy

At TRB, Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, also highlighted the cost savings EVs can provide all Americans. “To charge an EV — to ‘fill it up’ for a 300-mile range — costs about $12. In comparison, filling up a gas tank averages $49. That saves more than $35 every time. If you are filling up your tank once or twice a month, that’s huge savings.”

In addition to making EV chargers more accessible, the administration is focused on reducing the cost of EVs overall.

“With new incentives, drivers can save $7,500 on a new EV at dealerships. So a $25,000 Chevy Volt becomes a $17,500 vehicle.” There are also $4,000 in incentives for used EVs.

The administration is also investing in electric public transit, with the goal of zero emission buses, light rail, subways, and trains. “This will mean healthier air and cost savings for communities,” Buttigieg said.

New policies are designed to ensure more of the net-zero transformation is home-grown. “We are also focused on the supply-side with new manufacturing and industrial policies that will put more people to work,” Granholm said.

The U.S. has seen more than 75 EV battery companies set up shop in the U.S. With new incentives, they are moving into EV battery manufacturing and processing critical rare earth metals. “We will rely on China and other countries less because of these policies.”

The administration is expecting energy demand to increase with more EVs. One potential strategy is to leverage the batteries of millions of parked, plugged-in EVs to supply energy back to the grid. EV batteries could increase the resilience of the energy grid by providing an additional distributed power supply, forming virtual power plants. “There are virtual power plant pilots, and utilities are super interested.”

Still, to meet increased demand and climate goals, an additional 25 gigawatts of renewable energy must be added to the grid in coming years. This new energy is needed to ensure “those EVs aren’t powered by coal-based electricity.”

New utility-scale solar and wind power plants mean more opportunities for landscape architects and planners to better integrate facilities into communities, reducing scenic impacts, and ensuring they support pollinators and ecological restoration efforts. Transmission lines also need to be sited in consideration of existing scenic, cultural, and ecological assets.

Purdue solar headquarters / courtesy of Fresh Energy, Rob Davis

Buttigieg argued that the country is shifting to renewable energy and EVs, and this transformation can’t be stopped. The Biden-Harris administration has been trying to further optimize this shift, focusing on: “Will this transformation happen fast enough to address the climate crisis? Will this transformation be made in America? Will the benefits be distributed equitably?”

Above all, Buttigieg and Granholm see the climate and infrastructure investments as significant economic development opportunities. Improving communities and building new transportation, energy, and EV infrastructure will lead to “good paying jobs.”

And equity remains a core focus. For example, companies that build renewable energy facilities in underserved communities, including legacy fossil fuel communities, can receive up to 60 percent off their taxes. “Through the IRA and infrastructure act, we can structurally correct structural inequities.”

Landscape architects can help local governments and communities fully connect the dots with these funds, so that renewable energy and EV investments can be a driver of denser, healthier, and more multi-modal communities.

Landscape Architects as Activists

ASLA 2020 Professional Analysis and Planning Award of Excellence. Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA). Bugesera, Rwanda, Africa / MASS Design Group

A growing number of landscape architects are running mission-driven practices meant to advance social, equity, and political goals through planning and design work. For landscape architects who take this approach, the questions often are: “How do we decide to take a position? What does that look like?,” said Gina Ford, FASLA, founder of Agency Landscape + Planning, at the Oberlander Prize Forum II on Landscape Activism, organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) in Dallas, Texas.

For Sierra Bainbridge, ASLA, senior principal and managing director at MASS Design Group, making these kinds of decisions needs to be both rooted in “the head and the heart.” To get to the right position, “you have to ask the right questions, and you have to ask together with your client — what is the mission of this project?”

Bainbridge said MASS seeks out projects in Rwanda and elsewhere that can help shift policies and create structural change. “Our goal is to always hire locally, source regionally, invest in training, and uphold dignity.”

“Landscape is a way of seeing natural and cultural environments. Landscape architecture can be used to unlearn, disrupt assumptions, spark creativity, and catalyze innovations,” said Maura Rockcastle, principal and co-founder of Ten x Ten. “It’s an open-ended process.”

Too many communities have been impacted by the “slow violence of erasure, racism, injustices, fear, and intergenerational traumas.” Designers need take a compassionate approach, which requires more time, but it’s necessary to build trust in damaged communities.

ASLA 2021 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Indian Mounds Cultural Landscape Study and Messaging Plan. Saint Paul, Minnesota. Quinn Evans, Ten x Ten, Allies, Inc. / Quinn Evans

Landscapes that are described as free, inclusive, and accessible often aren’t in reality, said Chelina Odbert, ASLA, CEO and co-founder of the Kounkuey Design Collaborative (KDI), which won the Cooper Hewitt 2022 National Design Award for landscape architecture. “Landscapes are often intimidating, exclusionary, and inaccessible for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and LGBTQIA+ communities.”

This is a significant issue, because communities that either can’t access public space or don’t feel comfortable doing so experience real health impacts. “Just look at Los Angeles: In Malibu, California, which has a healthy public realm, the average life expectancy is 90 years old; in Watts, it’s 75. That’s a difference of 15 years of life. We need to do long-range planning to ensure the future is inclusive.”

How do you know if your projects are advancing your goals, Ford then asked.

“You have to start small and then leverage well. In communities with a legacy of broken promises, there is success in getting a single project done. Then you can leverage individual projects to do more,” Odbert said.

ECV Shade Equity, Oasis, California / Kounkuey Design Collaborative

In a similar vein, Bainbridge argued that success is building long-term local capacity. In Rwanda, MASS Design Group has been planning and designing projects for more than a decade, and success has taken the form of local networks and organizations who can move the work forward.

For Rockcastle, success has been about “creating multiple conversations through a multiplicity of projects. We have started to get at the bigger conversations.”

Driving forward mission-based work can lead to burn-out. “How do you maintain your energy?,” Ford wondered.

“There is a joy in committing to things. There’s also a responsibility that comes with collaboration. I’m learning all the time,” Rockcastle said.

“You have to be comfortable with struggle. Dissension and discord is part of the process. But it can push you towards your goal,” Odbert said.

“We need to resist physical, structural, and cultural violence; it’s not a choice. Resistance is a fuel. We have to keep pushing — just for some people to live. If we don’t resist, we can’t move forward.”

The Oberlander Prize Forum II on Landscape Activism began with a powerful keynote from Jane Edmonds, a co-founder of Jane’s Way and former Massachusetts Secretary of Workforce Development and Chair of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

In her talk, Edmonds relayed how she was inspired by Mel King and the Tent City movement he led to protest gentrification and displacement in Boston’s South End in 1968. In what was a prime example of “landscape activism,” King demonstrated the “power of presence,” a tactic that would later be adopted by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

She called on all landscape architects to “cultivate an activist’s mind and perceive and acknowledge all the truths.”

Carbon-First Design: The Ellinikon Metropolitan Park in Athens

Ellinikon Metropolitan Park / Sasaki

A 600-acre park in development in Athens, Greece shows the value of prioritizing carbon. The Ellinikon Metropolitan Park is being designed by landscape architects at Sasaki to significantly increase carbon sequestration, avoid emissions, and reuse embodied carbon on a massive scale. Leveraging Sasaki’s Carbon Conscience App, Climate Positive Design’s Pathfinder tool, and Atelier Ten‘s carbon analysis, the project will cut emissions by 45 percent in comparison with a business-as-usual scenario. By designing for the climate first, the project is expected to become carbon neutral in 35 years.

What will be the largest urban coastal park in Europe is taking form on top of the old Athens International Airport, which was decommissioned in 2001.

Ellinikon Metropolitan Park / Sasaki

Over the past twenty years, the city and national government have devised an approach that will keep the majority of the 1,200-acre site public through a combination of the 600-acre park, other spaces, and roadways but also ensure long-term financial sustainability. Through a 99-year lease agreement, Lamda, a Greek developer, will cover the cost of designing, constructing, and operating the park in return for revenues from new residential and commercial developments. “Making this happen required a presidential decree that superseded local regulations and created a unique permitting authority,” explained Michael Grove, FASLA, chair of landscape architecture, civil engineering, and ecology, and principal landscape architect at Sasaki.

The grand new park will be approximately 70 percent of the size of Manhattan’s Central Park and built in three phases. A comprehensive plan and framework by Foster + Partners set the boundaries of the park, which extends to the Saronic Gulf.

Ellinikon Metropolitan Park / Sasaki

Within the existing landscape are layers of history: remnants of prehistoric settlements, agricultural lands, an abandoned airport, and dilapidated Olympics venues, which have inspired novel and sustainable reinterpretations.

“It’s been a joy to be able to plug into this ambitious context — on a site with so much potential to realize what I hope sensitive landscape design can achieve in the 21st century,” said Chris Hardy, ASLA, senior associate at Sasaki and Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) Leadership and Innovation Fellow.

According to Sasaki, Athenian society has been changing, and the new park aims to fill a cultural void. “Historically, Athenians returned to family farms in the countryside on weekends. Core to the Athenian identity was a relationship to the Greek landscape. But as the Greek diaspora grew abroad and more multi-generational families stay in Athens, many contemporary Athenians no longer have access to a rural ancestral home, displacing a traditional cultural relationship with nature and resulting in a growing disconnect between urban residents and the landscape.” In addition, the majority of the open spaces in Athens don’t help reforge that connection — they are “either passive landscapes adjacent to ancient ruins, or hyper-urban plazas and streetscapes.”

Much like Central Park, the goal of Ellinikon Metropolitan Park is to bring nature back to the city in a big way. This will occur by creating natively Greek ecological landscapes that will not only resonate on a cultural level but also be designed to store vast amounts of carbon.

Ellinikon Metropolitan Park / Sasaki

The new park will include over 3.3 million Greek-sourced plants; among these are 31,000 new trees, representing 86 species. The team will also collect seeds from the site’s existing ruderal grasses and geophyte species, weaving novel ecosystems back in. More than 70 percent of the park will be designed as a demonstration of Greek landscape restoration.

And all of these landscapes will be nourished by 100 percent reclaimed water, which will be captured from sewage mined from a treatment plant that will be constructed by Lamda. In addition, “a 3.7-acre lake, repurposed from an Olympic kayak and canoe venue, will serve as an emergency stormwater reservoir, filling in the winter and slowly drawing down in the summer. The lake will be refilled with excess reclaimed water and treated through a large-scale flow-through recirculating wetland,” Hardy said.

Ellinikon Metropolitan Park / Sasaki

Working with Atelier Ten and engineering firm LDK, the team also calculated expected future energy use in the giant park, which will include playgrounds, gardens, farms, and event spaces. That enabled the team to determine what size an on-site solar energy facility has to be to meet 100 percent of energy needs.

Ellinikon Metropolitan Park / Sasaki

Hardy explained in detail how early planning and design decisions enabled them to design for carbon while achieving their other goals:

The single most important step to reduce the project’s carbon impact was to “swap out imported soil for amended soil.” Alone, this step is estimated to save approximately 43,000 metric tons of carbon across all phases of the project.

“The second biggest factor is we reduced the need for new concrete,” saving another estimated 41,000 metric tons of carbon across all phases.

Instead of specifying new concrete-based paving, Sasaki designed in stone or salvage concrete slab over aggregate base, so there is no concrete sub-base. In other places, there are just stabilized aggregate surfaces.

The third biggest carbon reduction comes from the reuse of 100 percent of nearly 310,000 cubic feet of concrete from airport runways and tarmac in the new park. The team will bring in concrete mining equipment, which will be operated on-site.

The highest quality concrete will be saved for fountains, retaining walls, custom furnishings, and various hardscapes. “Much of the concrete has marble and quartzite aggregate,” Hardy said, which means it will look appealing once polished and re-used.

Ellinikon Metropolitan Park / Sasaki

Medium quality concrete will either be used as road base or riprap. And the lowest grade salvage will be crushed up to fill in new landscape forms. “Our use of salvage hardscape is saving nearly 12,000 metric tons across all phases.”

The goal was to “upcycle in a conspicuous way,” which will convey a public message of sustainability, Grove added. Ellinikon shows that landscape architects redesigning abandoned infrastructure can find opportunities to reinvent legacy concrete. But he acknowledged there is a cost to mining and crushing concrete on site, which can only be reduced through economies of scale. In projects where this isn’t feasible, “landscape architects can help grow a marketplace for recycled concrete products that can be specified.”

While these strategies outline how Sasaki has reduced or avoided new emissions, the other side of the equation are the approaches for drawing down more carbon from the air.

One core approach is to simply increase the percentage of the project that is covered in plants and soils and only strategically use hardscape in highly trafficked central areas.

Among natural areas, “the highest carbon sequestering land are the wetlands. Those include rain gardens, daylighted culverts, green infrastructure corridor, and a demonstration salt marsh. However, these areas are less than two hectares and will only reasonably sequester approximately 500 metric tons. The highest total individual sequestering landscape is our 11-hectare Dry Mediterranean Mixed Forest, with an estimated 3,300 metric tons sequestered in the study period,” Hardy explained.

Ellinikon Metropolitan Park / Sasaki

“We can expect a total emission global warming potential (GWP) of 40,800 metric tons across all phases, which would reasonably take about 35 years for our softscape to offset. In 80 years, when the project’s landscapes will mostly reach their total ‘carbon carrying capacity,’ we will likely net sequester an additional 37,000 tons.” This means the project will become carbon positive, storing more carbon than it emitted, and then continue to function as a carbon sink far into the future.

Ellinikon Metropolitan Park shows the importance of calculating estimated carbon emissions from the get-go and letting the carbon priorities — the essential need to reduce emissions and increase sequestration — guide the design.

For Hardy, the support of the client has been critical. “Their exceptional commitment to be on cutting edge of sustainability from the beginning of the process and ‘leap frog’ other developments in Greece” enabled Sasaki to establish a climate-responsible framework for the project.

“The important part of the story is that through this process we were able to advocate for big moves towards a climate positive direction. Now we are better prepared to advocate for low-carbon strategies as we move into construction.”

With ETM Associates and LDK Waste Management, Sasaki’s team developed a low-carbon operations and maintenance manual that includes “recommendations for an all electric fleet of maintenance vehicles and landscape maintenance machinery, a large scale compost tea and composting program, and integrated pest management standards.”

Foster + Partners’ master plan also established important guiding principles. The park will integrate with the surrounding new developments, which will include a “waste management facility, enabling a source for our compost and compost tea.” In addition, a large-scale wastewater treatment plant will generate safe, treated water for irrigation.

Ellinikon Metropolitan Park / Sasaki

Light-rail networks along the coast and through the park, along with a new bicycle network, will help get residents and visitors out of their cars, reducing transportation-related emissions.

Ellinikon Metropolitan Park / Sasaki

Call for Presentations: ASLA 2023 Conference on Landscape Architecture

Minneapolis, Minnesota / istockphoto.com, Gian Lorenzo Ferretti Photography

By Katie Riddle

ASLA is currently accepting proposals for the 2023 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 27-30, 2023. Help us shape the education program by submitting a proposal through our online system by Wednesday, February 22, 2022, at 12:00 NOON PT.

The ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture is the largest gathering of landscape architects and allied professionals in the world—all coming together to learn, celebrate, build relationships, and strengthen the bonds of our incredibly varied professional community.

We are looking for education proposals that will help to drive change in the field of landscape architecture and provide solutions to everyday challenges that are informed by research and practice.

Educational Tracks

  • Biodiversity
  • Changing the Culture in Practice
  • Climate Action
  • Design and the Creative Process
  • Design Implementation
  • Leadership, Career Development, and Business
  • Planning, Urban Design, and Infrastructure

Session Formats

  • 60-, 75-, or 90-Minute Education Sessions: The standard education session with 50-75 minutes of presentation followed by 10-15 minutes of Q&A, maximum three speakers.
  • Deep Dive Sessions: Engaging, in-depth programs that explore specific landscape architecture topics, maximum five speakers. Deep dives are 2.5 hour interactive sessions that can include lectures, hands-on learning, facilitated discussions, and other creative audience engagement tools.
  • Field Sessions: Multiple speakers offer education combined with a field experience. Field sessions are organized through the host chapter. Please contact the host chapter committee leaders at aslamnfieldsessions@gmail.com before submitting.

If you’re an ASLA member, make sure you have your unique ASLA Member ID or username handy – you should use it to log into the submission system. Non-members, including allies from the fields of urban planning and design, architecture, natural and social sciences, and public art, are also most welcome to submit proposals.

Please visit the submission site to learn more about the 2023 education tracks, submission criteria, review process, and key dates.

Submit your session proposal today.

Katie Riddle, ASLA, is director of professional practice at ASLA.

Most Read DIRT Posts of 2022

ASLA 2021 Professional Urban Design Award of Excellence. Repairing the Rift: Ricardo Lara Linear Park. Lynwood, California, United States. SWA Group / SWA Group / Jonnu Singleton

Before looking ahead to what’s happening in landscape architecture in 2023, we also look back to learn what was of greatest interest to readers over the past year.

Readers wanted to know how landscape architects can best advance climate action through advocacy, planning, and design. Popular posts sought to answer the questions: What does the Biden-Harris administration’s ambitious climate legislation — the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) — mean for landscape architects and communities? How can landscape architects best design nature-based solutions to climate change?

In a similar vein, the most read contribution from ASLA members explored the significance of the Green New Deal Superstudio, with its focus on “decarbonization, jobs, and justice” and its call for landscape architects to become more engaged in national, state, and local climate policy development (and politics). wkshp/bluemarble, a collective of emerging professionals, argued that “it is crucial for landscape architecture to change if we are to have a meaningful contribution toward a habitable future.”

2022 was also the height of Olmsted 200, an exploration of the life and legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted, who is considered the founder of the profession of landscape architecture and set the field’s DNA with his focus on advocacy, planning, and design.

Readers were interested in the contemporary reframing of Olmsted led by Sara Zewde, ASLA, Ethan Carr, Rolf Diamant, Kongjian Yu, FASLA, and many other landscape architects and academics. Olmsted’s letter writing, journalism, planning, and design work were all part of his life-long mission to create democratic infrastructure, improve public health, and abolish slavery. But his exclusion of Native Americans in early National Park planning also left lasting destructive impacts.

ASLA members: Want to write an op-ed about a topic important to you? Please reach out and tell us what you are passionate about at info@asla.org.

The Inflation Reduction Act Prioritizes Landscape Architecture Solutions to the Climate Crisis

The Act recognizes and funds landscape architecture approaches to address climate change — from active transportation projects like Complete Streets and recreational trails, to nature-based water infrastructure, community tree planting, ecosystem restoration, and more. Additionally, the legislation makes significant strides in addressing environmental and climate justice and ensuring underserved communities receive resources to adapt to a changing climate.

Inglewood’s New SoFi Stadium Upends the Old Sports Arena Model

Nestled between the runways of Los Angeles International Airport, the bold SoFi Stadium by landscape architecture firm Studio-MLA and architecture firm HKS sets a new standard for sports arenas, breaking the conventional “suburban fortress” model by opening up the arena to the sky, air, and nature, and blurring the lines between stadium, botanical garden, and public park.

A Moveable Forest in the Netherlands

“We asked ourselves — if we could move 1,200 trees through a city center for over 100 days, then imagine what else we could do,” said Bruno Doedens, a Dutch landscape architect and land artist, who created the wonderful Bosk public art installation in the city of Leeuwarden with his collaborator, the late Joop Mulder.

Best Books of 2022

Over the holidays, delve into new books on history, design, and the environment that inform and inspire. Whether you are looking for the perfect gift for your favorite designer or something to read yourself, explore THE DIRT’s 12 best books of 2022.

Presidio Tunnel Tops: Infrastructure Designed for 360 Views and Fun

“It’s a new vision for this area of the Presidio — open public parkland. Before, the perception was the Presidio was a kind of commercial office park. Our goal was to invite the public in with disarming and sometimes obvious elements. On opening day, there were over two thousand children in the playground,” said Richard Kennedy, ASLA, with Field Operations.

To Climate Proof Notre-Dame, Paris Looks to a Landscape Architect

“What we are doing is using shade, humidity, wind, and water to lower the temperature in the heart of Paris,” explained Brussels-based landscape architect Bas Smets, who has won an international design competition to redesign the landscape around Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.

Yosemite Shaped Olmsted’s Vision of Public Parks

In a new book, Olmsted and Yosemite: Civil War, Abolition, and the National Park Idea, Ethan Carr, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, and Rolf Diamant, a professor at the University of Vermont, argue that the work and writings of Frederick Law Olmsted, the founder of American landscape architecture, inspired the creation of parks to benefit the public.

Interview with Sadafumi Uchiyama: Designing Peace and Harmony

Uchiyama: “An object is tangible — visible and touchable. We conceive what it is and generate feelings. But a void, or nothing, makes us think. In some ways, it actually frees us to change the mode, or forces us to change the mode of thinking, by not thinking. If you have all objects, there is friction. Having the void space provides lubricant for our thinking.”

The Green New Deal: What’s Next for Landscape Architects?

wkshp/bluemarble: “The Superstudio marks an inflection point for landscape architecture. Grounded in policy and the context of climate change and social unrest, the Superstudio is the landscape architecture community’s public acknowledgement that our work is deeply intertwined with politics.”

Nature-based Protection Against Storm Surges

“Superstorm Sandy in 2012 was a wake-up call for NYC and made the city realize it needed to better prepare for climate change,” said Adrian Smith, FASLA, vice president at ASLA and team leader of Staten Island capital projects with NYC Parks. Due to storm surges from Sandy, “several people in Staten Island perished and millions in property damage was sustained.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (December 1-15, 2022)

Franklin Park, Boston, Massachusetts / Sahar Coston-Hardy, Affiliate ASLA, courtesy of Reed Hilderbrand

Mayor Wu Announces Release of Franklin Park Action Plan – 12/13/2022, City of Boston
Developed by a design team led by landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand along with Agency Landscape + Planning and MASS Design Group, “the Action Plan is a comprehensive vision for the future of the 527-acre park, widely considered landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s crowning achievement and the conclusion of a trilogy of great parks that includes Manhattan’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.”

Palm Beach Town Council To Review Plans for Phipps Ocean Park Redesign – 12/10/2022, Palm Beach Daily News
“[The Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach] underwrote the $160,000 cost for a phased master plan for the project, and is working closely with Miami-based landscape architect Raymond Jungles, Inc. on design development.”

New York City’s Popular Online Tree Map Gets a Big Update – 12/9/2022, Bloomberg News
“The online tool now shows granular, tree-level data that highlights the public health benefits and economic contributions of urban trees.”

LA County Board Adopts Updated Park Needs Assessment – 12/6/2022, Spectrum News 1
“The LA County Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously adopted a countywide assessment of park needs identifying priority areas for development of recreational facilities, and calling for efforts to transform ‘degraded lands’ such as landfills and oil fields into open spaces, especially in lower-income communities.”

Boston City Hall Plaza Reopens – 12/6/2022, World Landscape Architect
Sasaki partnered with Shawmut Design and Construction and Skanska to implement the City of Boston’s vision of an inclusive, welcoming front yard for downtown Boston.”

Nations Must Link Climate and Nature Crises, or Risk Failing to Address Both – 12/5/2022, American Progress
“As the U.N. conference on biodiversity begins, participating nations must do what those at the recent climate change conference failed to accomplish: acknowledge the link between the climate and nature crises, setting up governments to take bold action on both.”

Trust is the Foundation of Milwaukee’s Equitable Playspace Program

Dream Build Play community engagement / Milwaukee Recreation

“Milwaukee, Wisconsin is the most segregated city in the U.S. One third of Black residents face extreme poverty. It also has the one of the highest rates of Black incarceration,” explained Pamela Zimmerman, FASLA, who runs the Dream Build Play program with Milwaukee Recreation, at the ASLA 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Francisco.

As part of the innovative Dream Build Play program, playground and playfield renovation projects were selected from a data-driven equity map that identified the most underserved communities. The city found that 62 percent of its public play spaces were either in “fair or poor” condition — and all of these were in communities that had experienced a history of redlining and predatory lending. Worst-off play spaces were put first in line for renovation.

Ensuring Equitable Access to Milwaukee’s Playfields / Milwaukee Recreation
Map of historic redlining in City of Milwaukee / courtesy of Milwaukee Recreation

“We are tackling playgrounds in communities with high levels of poverty and crime, with growing populations that are adding pressure to schoolyards,” Zimmerman said.

In their tours of the sites, Zimmerman and her team found many of the fair-to-poor sites had no shade and cracked asphalt. “We can’t do our programs, can’t feed kids in these spaces.”

Six years ago, Milwaukee initiated Dream Build Play with a budget of just $1.8 million; today, that’s up to $49 million in completed and in-progress projects.

“We now have four full-time landscape architects, work with 37 landscape architects in six firms, initiated 73 community engagements, completed seven renovation projects, and have eight in the works.”

Dream Build Play community engagement / Milwaukee Recreation
Dream Build Play community engagement / Milwaukee Recreation

Looking back on the first years of the redesign effort, Zimmerman also relayed one core lesson: “it’s hard to build credibility but easy to lose it.”

For example, one mailing error for a community engagement flyer meant that community members didn’t receive word until two weeks after the public hearing happened. Zimmerman walked for 10 miles one weekend, going door to door with new flyers to rebuild trust.

She also opened new lines of communication, hiring additional staff to answer phone calls and listen to concerns from community members.

These conversations often go beyond playgrounds. “In a community dealing with trauma from violence, schoolyard renovations become a much different situation.”

Her engagement is also personal: a number of community members Zimmerman has collaborated and engaged with have been murdered in shootings.

Amid the many struggles these communities are facing, “it’s important to keep building something positive,” she said.

Site design group, ltd., a Chicago-based landscape architecture firm, has been designing many of the updated playgrounds for Milwaukee.

ALBA School, one of the first projects from 2017, included a “vivid painted play surface,” explained Brenda Kiesgen, a project manager with the firm.

ALBA School, Milwaukee / Milwaukee Recreation

“While simple and low-cost, it has been successful.” Parents and students participated in the design process, and students use it to play a range of games, Zimmerman said.

For Greenbay Playfield, which was redeveloped in 2019, Zimmerman’s team ramped up community engagement efforts. “We had 125 people in person and showed images of alternatives. We asked the community which they preferred. We found ways to connect and listen.”

Greenbay Playfield, Milwaukee / Scott Shigley, courtesy of site design group, ltd.

As the pandemic started, community involvement in the planning and design process was re-envisioned to ensure equitable engagement. “We were on the phone, used the Internet; we re- crafted our approach.”

At the same time, with the growth in the program’s budget, schoolyard renovations became increasingly more sophisticated, weaving in more equipment, adding texture and materials, and stormwater management systems.

In one instance, community engagement involved back-tracking to maintain that community trust.

The community-approved design for the Carmen Playfield originally included a basketball half-court, splash pad, playground, and a Tuj Lub court.

Carmen Playfield, Milwaukee / site design group, ltd

Some of the community had wanted a half-court because of concerns about illegal gambling that could come with a full court. But later, other community members argued that a full court was needed for it to be a positive, inclusive space. “So we pivoted and redid the design,” Kiesgen explained.

Worth noting: the renovated public spaces includes Milwaukee’s first court for Tuj Lub, a 5,000-year-old sport played by the Hmong immigrant community. “It is kind of like shuffleboard with hard plastic tops. It had no precedent in Minneapolis. We talked to tons of suppliers and explored samples.”

“People ask us: why so much public work?,” said Bradley McCauley, ASLA, managing principal at site design group, ltd. “We want to do something for communities. But we have to do a lot of public projects to make it work.”

The firm, which was founded by Ernie Wong, FASLA, is focused on sustainable and equitable public spaces. “It’s important that a community loves what we do, because if they don’t, it won’t last.”

This focus on bottom-up design is particularly important with communities that have experienced purposeful disinvestment. Involving these communities can help create a sense of identity and positivity.

McCauley said his firm seeks to “design artful play spaces that weave in exploratory learning,” natural materials, and stormwater management systems.

Greenbay Playfield, Milwaukee / Milwaukee Recreation
Stormwater management systems at a renovated playfield / Milwaukee Recreation

“Universal access is also a focus. We design for children on the spectrum so they have places of reprieve and get away from the activity. For children who have been traumatized by violence, it’s also important they have a place to go.”

Greenbay Playfield, Milwaukee / Scott Shigley, courtesy of site design group, ltd

The Q&A brought up a question about how to manage the emotional toll of work in communities grappling with violence and poverty.

“If a community engagement doesn’t work, try something else. What is important is to have relationships in the community,” Zimmerman said.

“Keep the focus on the end goal — the change you are making — or it can rip your heart out. Self care is good,” McCauley added.