“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” — Wallace Stegner, 1983
The National Park Service (NPS) celebrates its centennial this year and is ready to move into its next 100 years by restoring its crown jewels and also embracing new parks and a diverse range of visitors. At the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Barbara Wyatt, ASLA, NPS and the National Register of Historic Places: Landscape Initiative said, the service must “maintain natural, community, historic, and cultural elements” while upholding standards of excellence far into the future. The NPS now boasts of 412 units, including vast tracts of wilderness, important cultural institutions, monuments, and historic landscapes.
Susan Olmsted, ASLA, with Mithun explained efforts to restore one of the system’s jewels: the Mariposa Groves of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite. Her efforts are about “building resilience for this cherished place.” In the midst of one of the rarest ecologies in the world, there was a parking lot and a tram to accommodate all visitors. People were about to “love these trees to death.” Over a hundred years of fire suppression (natural fires were re-introduced in 1971) had also been a setback for the species. The health and well-being of the trees was put at the center of the restoration plan.
Places like these, which feed into the national imagination and “elevate the human spirit,” are some of the most important elements of the NPS experience. The Mariposa Grove is now on its way back to a healthy and long future and will re-open next summer.
The National Mall, as tapis vert, is in many ways the opposite of the Mariposa Groves at Yosemite, but is no less important to the national imagination as the soaring heights of the giant Sequoia. We gather there for inaugurations and to hear the rallying cry of leaders calling for civil rights. It is, in a sense, the front lawn for all Americans. But with 30 million visitors a year and over 3,000 officially-permitted uses, it was in need of rehabilitation.
Michael Stachowicz is the only turf management specialist on NPS’ staff, and recognizes the importance of keeping the Mall green and healthy. The rehabilitated lawn was “designed for modern use while keeping its historic character.” Millions of feet over many years had caused serious soil compaction, terrible drainage, and patchy green. His rehabilitation efforts included thoughtful grading, specially-grown sod from seed, drainage systems, stormwater cisterns, and engineered soils. His maintenance policy has moved from “damage repair to damage prevention.” He acknowledged sometimes the best thing you can do is ask people to “keep off the lawn.”
Phil Hendricks, ASLA, Robert Peccia & Associates, offered his experience in the creation of one of the newest units in the system: the Waco Mammoth National Monument, in Waco, Texas, as well as his restoration work at the Flamingo Visitor Center and Campground in Florida’s Everglades National Park. Both parks refer back to well documented NPS styles guidelines. The original “park rustic” design was applied to Waco Mammoth, and the Flamingo Resort was restored to mid-century “Mission 66” style, even down to a new coat of flamingo-pink paint.
The NPS seeks to embrace a broader constituency of visitors across its ever expanding urban and natural landscapes, cultural heritage sites, and monuments. With its increasing embrace of public-private partnerships, it’s also finding the funding to continue into its next century. This land is your land, go out and see it.
At Fairhill, wildlife and humans alike have been funneled into only a few pathways that cut through 16 miles of fence, which neighbors have called “La Fence,” given the French heritage of the Dupont family. Bridges that cross rural roads and culverts that run underneath them are now the only way through the resource area. On either side of these passages, Drummond set up cameras to record the movement of wildlife and humans. His in-depth research found that “these crossing are vital” for wildlife connectivity, with deer and foxes using them regularly.
He is concerned about the future of the crossings, too, given some are up to 60 years old. A bridge hit by one too many trucks was removed. “We need to quantify the benefits so the state preserves these.”
Woltz argued that a good crossing is “multi-user.” He relayed his work at the 3,000-acre Orongo farm on the east coast of New Zealand. Over the past 13 years, his firm has created a protected wildlife corridor along the coastline. The original temperate rainforest found there was restored, with 600,000 trees planted. “Thousands of birds migrating now stop there.” And the forest now provides habitat for the ancient Tuatara reptile, which has been re-introduced. The landscape is now “a wildlife bridge of a damaged ecology; it enables animals to safely move over something dangerous,” which for them is the remaining sheep farm landscape.
Memorial Park in Houston is another of his firm’s projects that will increase connectivity for both wildlife and humans. A vast land bridge, a “diverse ecological corridor,” will provide a bridge over a “lethal highway” that bisects the massive park, and is “like the game Frogger to cross.” For Woltz, the new image of the earth coming up over the highway is an important one: “it’s the park triumphant.”
And, lastly, Robert Rock, ASLA — who won ARC’s design competition for wildlife crossings with Hypar-Nature, a design he created when we worked for Michael Van Valkenburg Associates (MMVA)– explained how animal and vehicle collisions are a $8 billion-a-year problem.
“Healing must begin with a discussion about woundedness,” said Todd Degner, Affil. ASLA, in a moving and powerful presentation at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans. By sharing both images of himself as a child and the story of his own trauma, Degner recalled the place that was his refuge. The canopy of a spirea hedge became a fortress, a place that called to him and helped him heal himself, and “smelled like hope.” Degner, along with Naomi Sachs, ASLA, founder of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network; Jerry Smith, FASLA, Smith/GreenHealth Consulting; and Virginia Burt, FASLA, Virginia Burt Designs, provided research, guidelines, and emotional anecdotes to inspire landscape architects and designers to heal ourselves and our landscapes.
As designers, “stories of the wounded fall in our lap without resolution,” said Degner. While we cannot know the outcome of these stories, they entreat designers to be mindful – to be merciful and healing. Through a simple landscape devise, landscape architects and designers can transfer deeper truths and offer paths to healing.
Many among us have sought out landscapes for solace for our own traumas or personal struggles, including Sachs, as she shared with the audience. She also shared research to help designers who may be met with resistance to their “best intentions,” as elements are cut through value engineering or tight budgets.
For example, a 5-minute-a-day walk in a natural environment can lead to decreased levels of depression and stress. For children with ADHD, 20-minutes in a park can result in fewer symptoms with results similar to a dose of Ritalin.
Even if a person is unwilling or unable to be active in a natural setting, studies prove just living near nature and trees can have such effects as better test scores for girls and decreased instances of domestic violence. Access to nature simply makes people exhibit “more pro-social behavior.”
But, as Smith reminds us, it isn’t just the individual that needs healing, but also our landscapes. Working through a process of “evidence based design,” landscape architects can convince clients “there is a reason we want to do these things, it’s not just a matter of taste.”
There has been a paradigm shift in how we talk about our landscapes. It is no longer enough to conserve, but we have to regenerate the land through performative landscapes in order to start healing. There are a number of initiatives to help us get there. The Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®) has taken “deep dive into sustainability,” and added to the list of the usual considerations of a place like water, soil, and plants, goals like the health and well-being of humanity.
Humans play a role in healing the landscape, and, in turn, it can heal us. If we are to accept this mutual responsibility, we must approach our designs holistically, and, as Burt said, with “intention.” Designs must acknowledge the emotional response that so often comes from plants. Smell can be a deep trigger for memory. For Burt, this pursuit of intention is spiritual and leads her design process: “where intention goes, energy flows.”
For the University Hospital Schneider Healing Garden adjacent to the Seidman Cancer Center (SCC) in downtown Cleveland, she created a healing garden at its front door. Starting with input from staff and inspiration from poetry, she arrived at a garden where the transformative process of healing can begin. The garden offers patients and staff places of quiet and contemplation, and sensory experiences that elevate and transport.
As Degner mentioned, healing is a process, and there is no quick fix. A therapeutic garden, no matter how perfectly designed, will not immediately solve all our woes.
“Healing begins with hospitality,” from our family, friends, and the professionals who help us heal. Designers can offer hospitality, too – a place that “covers, protects, and is in a setting abounding with life.” Degner offered this benediction: “say ‘yes’ to the call to help wounded people and wounded landscapes.” It is the calling of landscape architecture.
“When we talk about gentrification, there is a lot of ‘code talk’ that is often very subtle,” said Timothy Cassidy, ASLA, a landscape architect with Bernardon, at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans. That code talk is a way to hide the racial nature of a process in which a group of mostly-white newcomers move into a neighborhood predominantly made up of people of color, renovate buildings, increase property values, change the character of the place, and then, eventually, displace the existing community.
Cassidy said gentrification is often described as an incremental process, with code words like “renovation, renewal, and revival.” The problem with these seemingly-positive words is they convey the “idea of improvement,” but it’s not clear who these improvements benefit. In many cases, developers, which are “external forces,” jump in and reap the benefits with new high-rise luxury developments, particularly with adaptive reuse projects. Existing communities that may have made incremental improvements over the decades and inadvertently laid the foundation for gentrification lose out and then eventually lose their neighborhood, too.
The problem is most pronounced in the communities nearest the central business districts. This is because of some larger shifts. “The suburbs are now dead. Nobody wants to move into a single family home anymore.” Instead, companies have moved back into downtown cores, and their surrounding neighborhoods, with a range of entertainment options, are now the place to “live, work, and play.” With inner-city neighborhoods now in higher demand, increased competition means neighborhoods once cheap and undesirable are now more valuable. For Cassidy, the ultimate question is: “Can you tell people where to live?”
Unfortunately, existing studies of gentrification may not tell the full extent of the story. James Brasuell, managing editor at Planetizen, went through study after study, pointing out their limitations. For example, an often-cited 2015 report on the state of the housing marked in New York City from the Furman Center at New York University said gentrification was occurring in 15 out of NYC’s 55 neighborhoods. But the researchers made these conclusions looking at only one measure: rents. Furthermore, the report was largely financed by banks who may have an interest in downplaying any of the negative effects of gentrification.
Another study by Governing magazine, also widely cited, showed that gentrification is up 20 percent in 50 cities since 2000, in comparison to only 9 percent over the 1990s. However, he said the study only relied on “inflation adjusted home values and the percentage of adults with bachelor’s degrees.” And a footnote in the study showed that for a city to be eligible for gentrification it had to be in the bottom 40 percent of household income numbers. “Right off the bat, the study tilts the table.”
Brasuell researched and found all the possible measures used to studies to analyze gentrification. These include average rent, median home values, median incomes, percentage who are renters, population density, housing types, proximity of transit, parks, and schools — which he thought all failed to measure the complex experience of being gentrified. One scholarly study even used fried chicken restaurants and coffee shops as indicators, which he found absurd.
He identified some of the policies that are pro-development, that spur on gentrification. These include: upzoning, which is about expanding the envelope of development options in a neighborhood; regulations that reduce parking; increased redevelopment powers; loan policy reforms, and bonuses developers receive for increasing density.
There are also a set of policies cities can use to mitigate the worst impacts of gentrification, that are anti-development. These include: downzoning, which involves reducing the types of development that can occur; building moratoriums; improved tenants rights; rent control programs; inclusionary zoning that promotes an intermix of affordable housing in development projects; condo conversion protections; tax abatements; community land trusts; limited equity coop housing; and others.
He cautioned that given the complexity of these topics, planning and design media should not simply use terms like investment, revitalization, and redevelopment in their stories. “These empty euphemisms really create more of a problem.”
And that flowed into Cassidy’s broader critique of the prevailing analyses on gentrification. “We really also need to look at the impact on neighborhood composition and character rooted in community identity. When change occurs, it triggers an emotional response that’s beyond empirical measure. It’s an existential change in which neighborhood familiarity is gone. Your community literally disappears before your eyes, which is emotionally draining.”
Kelly Majewski, Affiliate ASLA, an urban designer at Superjacent in Los Angeles, delved into the ethical responsibility of landscape architects and designers in gentrifying cities. She wondered if the “spirit of a place can guide ethical building?” She said community “authenticity, distinctiveness, and narrative” are worth preserving, even if “change has become a constant.”
If a landscape architect sees gentrification happening in a community, then “it’s too late; policy and planning have already made an impact.” But she also argued that efforts to slow gentrification with projects that try to undertake the “just green enough” approach won’t work. These kinds of park and other public space projects call for making improvements that may please locals, but are not so grand as to attract outsiders. Majewski said “these projects don’t make a ton of sense; they are both inclusionary and exclusionary at the same time.” And, furthermore, how does a landscape architect decide where to stop: will that one extra tree make it too nice?
In the Q&A, Charles Cross, ASLA, an African American landscape architect with the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, stood up and said the “landscape architecture profession must diversify” if it wants to play a greater role in fighting gentrification. In a recent survey of graduating landscape architecture students, African Americans are still at only 3 percent of the student body. Much more work needs to be done to ensure landscape architects look like the communities they are helping.
“Our goal is to achieve zero negative environmental impacts by 2020,” said Erin Meezan, vice president at Interface, an innovative producer of carpets and textiles, at Greenbuild in Los Angeles. But as the firm nears its goal, it’s now pursuing an even more ambitious vision — the “factory as forest,” in which their manufacturing facilities become positive contributors to the environment, providing as much ecosystem service benefits as their surrounding landscape.
This astonishing vision comes from Interface’s deceased founder Ray Anderson and Janine Benyus, whose firm, Biomimicry 3.8, is advising them. Benyus’ guiding idea: “When the forest and the city are functionally indistinguishable, then we know we’ve embedded sustainability.” To achieve this, she calls for using biomimetic design strategies that “consciously emulate nature’s designs.” This is because nature, with 3.8 billion years of evolution, has “already solved most challenges.”
Interface plans to move past their current model, which includes “reducing negative impacts to zero; using recycled, closed-loop materials; producing low-carbon products; and creating a sustainable supply chain” — goals akmost any firm would view as almost unreachable accomplishments.
Under their new model post-2020, they intend to go beyond simply doing no-harm and become a positive contributor to the environment and society through their manufacturing.
For example, they have reached out to fishing communities in Philippines to set up centers were used, torn nylon fishing nets can be collected. Interface will then recycle and incorporate these into their products. “Communities negatively impacted by ghost nets will be paid to collect nets for us,” creating rippling benefits beyond the product.
Nicole Miller, managing director at Biomimicry 3.8, further explained how her firm will help Interface redesign their facilities to be restorative entities that mimic nearby ecosystems. She said there are three primary ways to integrate this novel approach: first, by “changing the company’s mindset and setting an ambitious north star”; second, using the surrounding ecosystems as a reference to set performance goals; and, third, by developing design concepts rooted in specific site details. “The ecological habitats next door become the guidance benchmarks.”
To redesign Interface’s factory in LaGrange, Georgia, they must understand the surrounding reference ecosystem they will measure performance against — the Southern Outer Piedmont ecosystem. Miller said Biomimicry 3.8 will carefully examine all aspects of how this ecosystem functions in order to set measurable goals. They will look at the amounts of carbon sequestered, water stored and purified, sediment retained, pollination supported, pollution detoxified, biodiversity supported, and soil fertility enhanced by the system.
“Ecological services are the entry point.” But Miller’s team will then further dig into the metrics to inform the design. For example, should a manufacturing facility really mimic the carbon functions of a forest, which releases carbon in some months and sequesters more in other months?
In the future, Interface want to bring this ecosystem-driven approach to design into the product themselves too: they seek to create products that sequester carbon, that require them to pull carbon out of the atmosphere to produce the material.
Also in this session: James Connelly, director of the living product challenge at the International Living Future Institute announced some of the first few products that have been certified as having restorative social and environmental effects, such as office furniture by HumanScale, which has no toxic chemicals and was created through 100 percent renewable energy, as well as new skateboards and sunglasses by Bureo, which are made of plastics harvested from the ocean. His group is now working with Patagonia to create a “restorative supply chain.”
We’ve all heard about complete streets — streets that provide access to everyone, with ample space for pedestrians, bicyclists, cars, and buses. But, at GreenBuild in Los Angeles, a group of landscape architects argued they are really just the bare minimum. Streets can become public spaces, taking on park-like qualities. In our increasingly dense urban world, streets can be redesigned to provide environmental benefits and create a sense of community.
Jennifer Packer, ASLA, associate principal at Melendrez, a Los Angeles-based landscape architecture firm, sees great opportunities in Los Angeles county’s 20,000 kilometers of roadways, the vast majority of which are neither complete or green. She pointed to one example showing the way forward: the $20-million MyFigueroa (MyFig) project, which re-envisions a major corridor through downtown Los Angeles. There, a 4-mile stretch is being redeveloped to include separate bus platforms and shelters, bike lanes and racks, more accessible crosswalks and clearer signage, and lots of greenery. It’s a key first step in Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Great Streets Initiative.
Monrovia, a foothill community in Los Angeles, just got a new transit village for the new station along the new metro line that heads east from downtown out to Santa Monica. There, AHBE Landscape Architects created a “complete street neighborhood,” multiplying the benefits, said Evan Mather, ASLA, principal at AHBE. A multi-modal transit center now connects bikes, cars, and pedestrians to the rail. Plants native to the foothill eco-tone were re-established and set within stormwater management systems. Around the station, there’s a new mile-long loop trail dotted with bioswales and planters. The new streets help further define a new downtown Monrovia.
For Nate Cormier, ASLA, director of landscape architecture at AECOM downtown L.A. Studio, Bell Street Park in Seattle is a prime example of what it means to go beyond complete streets: the street as a park. MIG|SvR and Hewitt designed a 4-block-long “woonerf,” which is Dutch for a street that has no curbs and purposefully creates an ambiguous zone where cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists mix. Due to this constant intermingling, everyone is more vigilant, so the street actually becomes safer. “Everyone is negotiating the street; jay walking is the norm.” Textured concrete helps send the message this isn’t a speedway for cars passing through. Trees shade small parklets with cafe tables that “act like a front porch.”
In high-density, expensive environments like Seattle, where cities can’t afford to buy up properties to create parks, Bell Street Park may offer a model. The community made the street-park happen by tapping the parks department’s “levy opportunities,” but, through a memorandum of understanding, the city’s department of transportation maintains some aspects of it.
“We can’t achieve sustainability without considering the landscape. Performance happens there,” argued Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, president of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) at GreenBuild in Los Angeles. By performance, Deutsch means just that — achieving concrete, measurable goals through sustainable and resilient landscape design: capturing stormwater, raising property prices, reducing the urban heat island effect, or improving biodiversity.
Deutsch complained that too many landscape architects still offer a laundry list of sustainable features when they discuss their work instead of focusing on real benefits. “We need to move to talk of benefits. For example, we can say a landscape captures this percent of stormwater, sequesters these many pounds of carbon, or saved thousands in energy use.”
To achieve performance and then collect these kinds of numbers, more landscape architects need to “integrate measurable performance metrics into the front end of the design process.”
To promote this approach, the LAF has built up the robust Landscape Performance Series, which includes a fast fact library, with data pulled from various credible journals; a set of benefits calculators; and, lastly, an inventory of over 100 case studies, which offer comparative before and after images, benefits data, and, to be transparent, information on how that data was collected and measured. “We also include information on lessons learned — what didn’t work.”
Deutsch and her team spend upwards of six months with landscape architecture firms and clients to put together a case study. Developing metrics and collecting and synthesizing data is a time-consuming process. “Choosing the right metric is important.” Deutsch called for using “defensible metrics, not necessarily peer-reviewed or published.”
The case studies offer a range of environmental, social, and often economic benefits. For example, the client and design team for Uptown Normal’s Circle and Streetscape in Normal, Illinois, a highly successful new town square and traffic circle, found that “104 new trees planted on site sequester 10,790 pounds of carbon.” And also, they found that the new landscape “increased property values in the Uptown tax increment financing district by $1.5 million (or 9%) from 2009 to 2010, a 31 percent increase from 2004.”
In another case study, the client and design team for the General Service Administration (GSA)’s new Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C. found the landscape’s set of terraced green roofs “retains up to 424,000 gallons of rainwater, which is equal to the 95th percentile storm event.” The site’s new social spaces are being used: “336 distinct individuals observed using the courtyard over a 6-hour period.”
But she admitted some of the data is preliminary at best. And it’s easy to conflate causation with correlation. For example, one could say that a new park reduced neighborhood crime by 50 percent if one looked at crime logs before the park was created and then after the park launched and found crime went down 50 percent. But that’s leaving out many other potential causal factors that perhaps weren’t well studied. The park could have come with additional security guards, or the police could have increased their patrols in the area during the construction process, or the buildings around the park could have been redeveloped as pricey condos. Deutsch said “misusing data is possible. But we have to start somewhere. And it’s important to always cite the specific context of the data,” rather than generalizing it.
In the coming decades, Deutsch thinks even better data will come. She sees every landscape architecture degree program teaching landscape performance as part of an integrated design process, and performance calculations included in licensing exams. “I see this approach integrated into practice and the standard procedure.”
To make the case study development process easier, LAF will release a guidebook in 2017.
Gardens by France’s Most Revered Landscape Designer – The New York Times, 10/12/16
“Gardens are ‘an expression of faith’ and ‘the embodiment of hope,’ wrote the revered English landscape architect Russell Page in his memoir, The Education of a Gardener, in 1962.”
How to Remake San Jose’s St. James Park– The Mercury News, 10/12/16
“San Jose will host one of the more fascinating design competitions in its history: The ambitious goal is to try to remake downtown’s most gaping urban sore, St. James Park.”
Certifying your landscape project with the Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®)* can seem like an expensive, onerous process. So why bother? For Jamie Statter, vice president at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), SITES gives landscape architects the “opportunity to do it right” and have an impact in the fight against climate change. In a session at GreenBuild in Los Angeles, she and two SITES consultants working with landscape architects on the first SITES v2 certified projects explained why it’s worth the extra effort.
In the face of sprawl, which is helping to speed climate change, “we must better value land as a resource. Sprawl is not about buildings; it’s about the landscape,” argued Statter. In too many places, sprawl happens because “land and water resources are undervalued.” With SITES, she said, “we can value the elements of the landscape that provide benefits that haven’t been monetized.” Through incorporating an ecosystem services-based approach, land owners can save crucial natural resources, reduce carbon emissions, and even make money.
Under SITES, landscape architects and designers can create broader impact through a range of projects: playgrounds, parks, university campuses, water reclamation projects, transportation systems, military facilities, and others. The site just must be a minimum of 2,000 square feet and must be new construction or a major renovation. The rating system tops out at 200 points, but it only takes 135 to reach platinum. SITES enables many kinds of approaches that fit local climates.
With the recent launch of SITES Approved Professional (AP), landscape architects now have “the chance to get ahead and further differentiate themselves,” she added.
For the university’s centennial celebration, they revamped their 11-acre, greyfield campus covered in parking lots, spending some $14 million to transform it into a landscape that not only reflects the beauty of the native Chihuahuan desert ecosystem, but also rebuilds the ancient arroyos (rivers) that were once covered over by parking lots. Due to all that asphalt, the campus had major flooding problems. After those arroyos were restored, the water collected and infiltrated through the campus, managing water from up to a 95th percentile storm event. Any excess now flows out to the Rio Grande River instead of inundating the campus.
Before, the campus was filled with parking lots; now, it has outdoor seating for 1,800. “Spaces for mental respite went up 64 percent.” At night, many of these social spaces have gas fire pits, so students can hold events outside under the starry desert sky. “The campus now helps students’ cognitive abilities, creating spaces for healing nature.”
The transformation led to a 61 percent reduction in water use, with a 60 percent increase in vegetation, and a 98 percent increase in the native plant palette. Some 90 percent of demolition materials were diverted from the landfill and recycled on site. Venhaus said, “let no one tell you it’s hard to recycle asphalt. It’s the easiest thing to do.”
According to Venhaus, they lost points with SITES because they weren’t able to incorporate much recycled local materials. “We just couldn’t get recycled content, because the local market in El Paso didn’t have it.”
But the process was ultimately worth it, and the costs were relatively low. She said it’s possible to “use SITES and stay within budget if you start with the rating system from the beginning, using the pre-design assessment. You may have spend more on materials and documentation, but it’s typically less than 3 percent of the overall budget. About 1-3 percent.”
In an email, Ten Eyck wrote: “We are glad that we mentioned going after the certification at the beginning of the project to Diana Natalicio, the president of UTEP. She was all for it and gave us the back up for pursuing the certification, so we were able to incorporate the SITES strategies from the beginning of the design process. We learned that it can be difficult in remote areas, such as El Paso, to meet all of the criteria, because it is so far away from many manufacturers. The campus is thrilled to have received the certification, and the project is helping to convey to the El Paso region and beyond the importance of connecting people with each other and the beauty of their unique desert regions, away from cars. Campuses of the southwest do not have to copy British or ivy league approaches. Instead, we can celebrate the beauty of the people and the places of the southwest in our own special way.”
Bryan Astheimer, an architect and sustainability consultant at Re:Vision Architecture, worked with James Corner Field Operations to achieve SITES Gold certification for the transformation of the Chicago Navy Pier. For its bicentennial the Chicago Navy Pier put out an international design competition to reimagine the pier landscape, which Corner’s firm won.
The pier is the only one of the five Chicago architect and planner David Burnham envisioned as part of the 1919 comprehensive plan for Chicago to actually have been built. For decades it was used by the Navy, and then, in 1995 it was revamped as a “festival pier,” with a convention center, children’s museum, Shakespeare theater, restaurants, and amusement park. For decades, it has been the “number-one tourist destination in the Midwest,” Astheimer said. But the city found that the pier had begun to look “tired, not contemporary.” For many Chicagoans, it’s really a place only for tourists.
The first phase of the pierscape project, some 9 acres, redesigned the entry — the Polk Brothers Park and Headhouse Plaza — and the south dock, the long spine that connects the various rooms of the pier. Field Operations more fully integrated the entry plaza into existing transit systems, adding bike racks, bike share stations.
The spine itself is a marvel of landscape engineering. Before, stormwater would simply run right off into Lake Michigan. Now, expansive tree tanks cut right into the pier with giant saws are large enough so they can store any excess water that falls on the pier. “Water is stored in the tanks where it’s used to irrigate the landscape. Any excess is filtered and then discharged.”
The number-one cost item on the project were the thousands and thousands of herringbone-patterned pavers needed to cover the pier. “We ended up custom specifying a paver with UniLock, but they couldn’t meet the SITES specification for 40 percent recycled content. They ended up creating a paver with 30 percent copper slag. It’s now on their website as part of their eco product line.” What began as a limitation ultimately resulted in market transformation.
Astheimer said “SITES makes you think through the site before you begin design. It forces you to use a quantifiable framework that creates learning opportunities” for all the designers and contractors involved. All the challenges that came out of this new process “were all opportunities for learning. Challenges create growth and ultimately value.” He believes that “SITES will drive the industry to become more sustainable and transparent.”
Sarah Weidner Astheimer, ASLA, principal, James Corner Field Operations, wrote in: “We are excited to celebrate the gold SITES certification of Navy Pier’s South Dock, the first phase in its complete renovation. SITES informed much of our design process, from access and circulation studies to plant and material specifications. It was an important tool that kept our client, our contractor, and design team accountable to a high standard of best practices and resulted in an unprecedented project—the transformation of Chicago’s Navy Pier into an authentic and green destination reflective of the city’s identity.”
*SITES was developed through a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden.
Restoring Neighborhood Streams dives deep into the details. However, all of us that are involved in restoring urban habitats — from streams, creeks, to shorelines — will benefit from reviewing how communities started these projects, analyzed opportunities, and applied lessons learned. She tells stories about the projects, but also delves into engineering technologies. Anyone involved in stream restoration can apply the ideas and results presented in the book to their urban green infrastructure projects.
The book begins and also ends with discussion on what “restoration” means. We view restoration through many lenses: engineering analyses, stormwater metrics, and urban aesthetics. She explains there are different degrees of restoration as well: we can enhance streams’ function or ecology, or preserve their history to certain levels.
In striving towards historic recreation, six case studies take the reader through the decision-making process needed to determine appropriate interventions. Case studies demonstrate the success of bio-engineering and imply the failure of traditional planting plans.
More pointedly, Riley argues for using a phased approach to stream restoration work, layering plant material while stabilizing channels at the same time. Riley stresses that successful work depends on a collaborative, multi-disciplinary team of landscape architects, engineers, scientists, communications specialists, and maintenance workers.
While stream restoration projects are now largely led by city public works departments, it’s clear the key to successful projects is participation by the community. The book uses neighborhood streams as a focal point to discuss the many issues that affect communities — wildlife habitat, water quality, public safety, homelessness, education, environmental legislation, and green jobs.
If you are doing urban restoration or green stormwater infrastructure projects, reading this book should trigger many ideas. Reading through Riley’s deconstruction of these six projects should help guide you to success.
This guest post is by Peg Staeheli, FASLA, MIG | SvR