Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (February 16-28)

Studio Zewde’s Graffiti Pier project in Philadelphia / Studio Zewde

Studio Zewde Designs for Cultural and Climate Resilience
02/24/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“With several major projects on the docket—including a five-acre park in Pittsburgh’s historically Black Homewood neighborhood—Zewde persists in combating the shibboleths of her field. Landscape has adopted the rubric of resilience as an overarching frame, but its manifestation in individual projects can often feel like an add-on or PR spin.”

Cities Are Sinking Under the Weight of Urban Development
02/23/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“A new study seeks to quantify how much the sheer weight of the built environment contributes to the sinking of cities, a geological phenomenon known as land subsidence.”

Here Are the Winning Landscape Art Installations for the 2021 International Garden Festival
02/19/21, Archinect
“The annual International Garden Festival is returning to the historic Reford Gardens in Grand-Métis, Quebec this summer, and five new projects have just been chosen to be featured alongside the existing gardens.”

WEISS/MANFREDI and Reed Hilderbrand Reveal an Expansive Reimagining at Longwood Gardens
02/18/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“WEISS/MANFREDI and Reed Hilderbrand’s ‘sweeping yet deeply sensitive’ transformation will ‘expand the public spaces of the renowned central grounds and connect them from east to west, offering a newly unified but continually varied journey from lush formal gardens to views over the open meadows of Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley.'”

Boston’s Dogs Just Wanna Run Free
02/16/21, The Boston Globe
“So, if the national ‘pandemic puppy’ trend holds up in Boston, soon-to-be mature dogs will be matriculating in public spaces and will insist that their voices are heard. And the dog-owning bloc in Boston naturally keeps sniffing for opportunity and will not take rejection lightly. How does a dog park in every Boston neighborhood sound? That’s the city’s goal, Boston officials confirmed.”

Light Art for Dark Times

Blue Night by Kiki Smith / Fung Collaboratives

In the era of the coronavirus, public spaces enable us to socialize and connect, across the masks. And public art is a powerful way to bring more people together safely, spark new connections, and add even more value to our public spaces. Illuminate, a new free public art exhibition, has brought world-class light and interactive art to Coral Gables, Florida, a community of nearly 50,000 southwest of downtown Miami. One of the country’s first planned communities, the Mediterranean Revival-style development features a two-mile-long downtown strip that now hosts eight new interior and exterior art installations. Working with the Coral Gables Community Foundation, the city, and other partners, a team of curators led by Fung Collaboratives sought to “produce a proper museum-quality group exhibition rather than a ‘light festival.’”

Blue Night by contemporary artist Kiki Smith features 42 suspended art works inspired by late 17th century drawings of constellations of the zodiac by Johannes Hevelius and others. Smith said: “In ancient times it was believed that the sky was somewhere between heaven and Earth. It’s great to be able to present light, hope, and joy for so many to experience.”

Blue Night by Kiki Smith / Fung Collaboratives

A companion augmented reality (AR) app enables visitors to interact with the aerial astrological signs. Visitors who aim their phone cameras at the artworks will see ghosted images of the animals, along with the stars and asterism that make up each constellation. There’s also a fantastic free coloring book for kids (and adults).

Blue Night by Kiki Smith / Fung Collaboratives

On the facade of the Coral Gables Museum, the video art projection You Are Here is the result of a course artist and professor Jonathan Perez taught at Florida International University (FIU) Art & Art History Department that took “an inclusive and historical look” at the city.  Perez states that the installation is “heartfelt, relevant, and another time capsule for the city to treasure.” Students that participated in the course were also credited on the final artwork.

You Are Here / Fung Collaboratives
You Are Here / Fung Collaboratives
You Are Here / Fung Collaboratives

Echoes of Souls and Echoes of My Skin by David Gumbs are a dynamic diptych video installation. Visitors passing below trigger “random computer-generated animations and patterns inspired by David Gumbs’ Caribbean cultural, fauna, and flora heritage,” the curators write. His work is also a “token to lost souls due to the COVID pandemic and social injustice.”

Echoes of Souls and Echoes of My Skin by David Gumbs / Fung Collaboratives
Echoes of Souls and Echoes of My Skin by David Gumbs / Fung Collaboratives

At Coral Gables City Hall, Cuban-born and Miami-raised artist Carlos Estévez worked with animators Mai Shirai and Johnny Sim and projection mapping artist Clifford Walker to create the mesmerizing Urban Universes. Estévez transformed his paintings and sculptures into animations that move across the surface of the historic building.

Urban Universes by Carlos Estévez / Fung Collaboratives
Urban Universes by Carlos Estévez / Fung Collaboratives

And on street corners throughout downtown Coral Gables is Yes/No by Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares. The artists state that metal barricades were once viewed as providing safety for events, but because of waves of protests have become ubiquitous in downtowns. They can now symbolize repression and control. By lighting them up, they hope to focus our attention on their complex role in the built environment.

Yes/No by Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares / Fung Collaboratives
Yes/No by Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares / Fung Collaboratives
Yes/No by Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares / Fung Collaboratives

The exhibition will run Wednesday through Sunday, sunset to either 9pm or 10pm, until March 13. For those near Miami, explore the map of installations.

Illuminate, founded by Venny Torre and Patrick O’Connell, is a project of the Coral Gables Community Foundation and includes partners such as The City of Coral Gables, The Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, the Business Improvement District (BID), and the Coral Gables Museum, along with numerous public and private sponsors.

Help Save the Weyerhaeuser Campus

Weyerhaeuser International Headquarters, Federal Way, Washington / Joe Mabel, courtesy TCLF

The 425-acre Weyerhaeuser International Headquarters in Federal Way, Washington has been called one of the world’s great corporate campuses. A foremost example of how to seamlessly integrate architecture and landscape architecture, the campus is now under threat from development plans that propose adding massive warehouses and turning the site into an industrial zone.

There is an ongoing campaign to stop development inconsistent with a mid-70s master plan created by landscape architect Peter Walker, FASLA. The campaign was initiated by a slew of organizations, including Save Weyerhaeuser Campus, the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, Rainier Audubon, Historical Society of Federal Way, SoCoCulture, Docomomo U.S., and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and its Washington Chapter have also joined the effort.

According to The New York Times, Save Weyerhaeuser Campus, a non-profit organization, filed suit to block approval of a new 226,000-square-foot warehouse on the site, “citing concerns about environmental harm, traffic, and damage to the historic site.” Unfortunately, plans for the warehouse were approved by the city. And now new plans are moving forward for another warehouse and three new buildings totaling 1.5 million square feet, which would require clear-cutting 132 acres, or nearly a third, of the 425-acre campus. The new warehouses could draw up to 800 trucks per day into a site that functions like a public park for the Federal Way community.

Earlier this year, TCLF amplified efforts to stop the inappropriate development with an international letter-writing campaign, calling the campus “worthy of National Historic Landmark status.” The campaign has resulted in a series of letters from significant landscape architects to Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, because of the city’s role in issuing land use and construction permits. Letters are also being directed to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Seattle district commander Colonel Alexander Bullock. “The Corps is conducting a review because wetlands are affected,” TCLF notes.

In his letter, Laurie Olin, FASLA, founding principal of OLIN and National Medal of Art recipient, argues that Weyerhaeuser is “a treasure of modern architecture, site planning, community benefit, and environmental leadership” — and any new development should respect and follow the original 70s-era master plan, which does make room for new development.

Weyerhaeuser International Headquarters, Federal Way, Washington / Chris Dimond, PWP Landscape Architecture, courtesy TCLF

The campus was designed by Walker, a founding principal of Sasaki, Walker and Associates (SWA) and PWP Landscape Architecture, and Edward Charles Bassett, partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), and completed in 1972.

TCLF argues that the campus was “ahead of its time in merging Modernism with environmental sensitivity. Unlike other corporate campuses of the era, Weyerhaeuser was open to the public and designed to include an extensive network of pathways. Walker termed the site a park that was gifted to the city by Weyerhaeuser.”

Weyerhaeuser International Headquarters, Federal Way, Washington / SWA Group, courtesy TCLF

The campus is now owned by Los Angeles-based developer Industrial Realty Group (IRG). TCLF states that “officials at IRG are ignoring a mid-1970s master plan that details appropriate areas for development and have rejected design assistance from Walker, SOM partner Craig Hartman, and SWA managing principal René Bihan.”

Duane Dietz, ASLA, president of the Washington Chapter – ASLA (WASLA), submitted a letter that proposes specific next steps, including using conservation easements to preserve parts of the landscape and safeguarding forested buffers to reduce any visual and ecological impact of new buildings.

WASLA asks the City of Federal Way and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “direct the property owners to maintain the campus’s design integrity by using the 1981 campus master plan as a guide for new development; examine reducing the amount of new warehouses to minimize impacts; negotiate with the City and County on conservation easements in key areas (wetlands and public use trails to ensure continuous public access) of the campus to reduce their tax impacts; and provide effective forested buffers (at least 300 feet or the recommendation of the 1981 master plan) to shield any new construction.”

National ASLA also wrote a letter, strongly urging the city to stop plans to clear-cut 132 acres of the campus and preserve the immense public recreational and health benefits of this unique landscape.

Sign on to a petition at Change.org and write a letter as part of TCLF’s campaign.

ASLA and IFLA Announce Renewed Commitment

From left to right: 2020 ASLA Award of Excellence in General Design. Cultural Crossing Transforms Portland Japanese Garden into a Place of Cultural Dialogue. Portland, Oregon, United States. Walker Macy. | Photo by James Florio. 2020 ASLA Honor Award in Urban Design. Yongquing Fang Alleyways: An Urban Transformation. Gaungzhou, China. Lab D+H Landscape and Urban Design. | Photo by Arch-Exist. 2020 ASLA Award of Excellence in Analysis & Planning. Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA). Bugesera, Rwanda, Africa. Sierra Bainbridge. | Photo by MASS Design Group. 2019 ASLA Honor Award in General Design. Barangaroo Reserve. Sydney, Australia. PWP Landscape Architecture. | Photo by PWP Landscape Architecture

ASLA has renewed its three-decades-long partnership with the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) to promote the profession of landscape architecture around the globe. This collaborative partnership will focus on battling climate change; establishing the highest standards of professional practice in design, planning, management, conservation, and development of the landscape; and facilitating exchanges of knowledge and information between IFLA Regions and member organizations and ASLA members.

“Climate change is a global crisis that needs to be addressed on a global level. As a nation, the United States is taking bold steps to address the climate crisis, like rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and convening a Climate Summit for the spring. ASLA is proud to do our part, and we look forward to taking an active role in IFLA,” said Tom Mroz, FASLA, ASLA President.

“We are excited that ASLA is partnering with IFLA, especially at this time when there is an opportunity for renewed collaboration and progress globally on climate change and other issues where the landscape architecture profession can provide leadership and insight,” added James Hayter, President of IFLA

Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA CEO, further commented: “As ASLA continues to refine its long-term goals and strategy, the timing is perfect to renew our commitment to being a part of the international conversation about the impact of landscape architecture on climate change, social justice, and other issues facing society.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (February 1-15)

Water Street master plan, Tampa, Florida / Strategic Property Partners, via Fast Company

Why One City in Car-obsessed Florida Is Prioritizing Pedestrians — 02/12/21, Fast Company
“The plan also involved breaking apart the superblocks that had formed in the area since the 1950s. Elkus Manfredi, along with the landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand, reconfigured the grid to be more easily accessible on foot, with smaller blocks and generous space for pedestrians.”

He Designed the Minnesota Zoo and Upgraded the Minneapolis Parkway System. So Why Don’t We Know This Landscape Architect’s Name? — 02/12/21, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“With the recent passing of Roger Bond Martin, Minnesota lost its greatest teacher of landscape architecture and one of the most influential American landscape architects of the past 50 years.”

A Fight to Save a Corporate Campus Intertwined with Nature — 02/12/21, The New York Times
“The campus, designed by the architect Edward Charles Bassett and the landscape architect Peter Walker, featured a low-slung building in a meadow between wooded hillsides. Ivy-covered terraces on the front of the building cascaded down to a lake, and walking paths wound through trees.”

Public Displays of Affection for Urban Life — 02/10/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“U.S. cities ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic are embracing a broader definition of love this year through Valentine’s Day art installations.”

Manhattan’s First Public Beach Is Moving Ahead as Hudson River Park Trust Issues RFPs –02/08/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Now, it looks like work on the $70 million, James Corner Field Operations-designed Gansevoort Peninsula park will kick off this spring.”

California Assembly Transportation Committee Chair Laura Friedman on Climate Leadership in Transportation — 02/04/21, The Planning Report
“Despite California’s nation-leading investments in clean energy infrastructure and zero-emissions vehicle deployment, transportation remains a stubborn sector to decarbonize and the state’s leading source of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants.”

Street Trees Are Important, But Need to Be Respectfully Sited

Misplaced trees in front of a civic building, Nantucket, Massachusetts / Robert Gibbs
Trees respecting the Civic-Commercial C-Zone / Robert Gibbs

By Robert J. Gibbs, FASLA, AICP

For most of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, American cities prospered as their region’s center of commerce. Central business districts thrived as shopping destinations by having densely populated cores, mass transportation, large employment centers, on-street parking, and numerous governmental and civic institutions. During the 1960s, America’s larger cities began installing street trees and designer furnishings in an effort to revitalize downtowns in the wake of losing significant market share to suburban shopping centers.

Even though they are a relatively recent phenomenon in many city centers, street trees enhance a downtown’s uniqueness and authenticity. A well-planned, tree-lined urban street contributes to shoppers’ perception that downtown stores offer quality goods and services not commonly found in shopping malls.

Studies dating back to the 1970s, including those by Kathleen Wolf, a research social scientist at the University of Washington, have documented the effects of trees and other plant life on the “restorative experience,” a concept advanced through two interpretations: Stress Reduction Theory and Attention Restoration Theory. The former theory contends that environments containing natural elements reduce levels of “physiological arousal” (stress) in the brain; the latter contends that the presence of vegetation in an environment is “uniquely capable” of effortlessly capturing attention, which allows those elements of the brain used for direct concentration to recuperate. This mitigates what is known as “directed attention fatigue” (DAF), or simply the depletion of the ability to focus on a directed task.

These findings have implications for urban retail areas. It has been proven that shopping, as a goal-oriented activity constrained by many external factors, can induce a stressed state in the consumer. Research has also documented a positive correlation between a shopper’s “mood state” and his or her willingness to buy. Further, the mood state of retail employees correlates with job performance. The vast array of merchandising techniques retailers employ when aggregated across the urban or mall setting can result in DAF, a form of “information overload” that affects the consumer. It has likewise been proven that DAF results in decreased consumer confidence because of poor or rushed purchasing decisions, which may translate into dissatisfaction with a specific store or the overall retail area.

However, street trees alone cannot solve the problems and challenges that commercial urban areas face. Frequently, too much emphasis has been placed on planting street trees and installing decorative streetscape enhancements in an effort to improve retail sales in historic downtowns.

Retailers, shopping center developers, and urban designers have differing opinions regarding the layout and use of trees. Some shopping center developers even design by the “24-inch rule”: any tree is acceptable in any location as long as it is less than 24 inches tall (a metaphor for no street trees of any type).

In some cities, planners have installed short shrub-like trees that block motorists’ and pedestrians’ views of storefronts and signage but fail to provide useful canopies. In some newer and renovated urban centers, trees have either been organized around an abstract grid or randomly scattered according to some new design theory. In each case, trees have been sited without regard for the visibility of signage, storefronts, and civic buildings.

To enhance the sustainability of an urban commercial center, street trees should be carefully located to provide protection from extreme heat, reduce the scale of the street, mitigate the height of tall buildings, and improve the overall aesthetics of the shopping area. Asymmetrically sized sidewalks can respond to local climate conditions: wide sidewalks accommodate more shade in hot climates or the warming sun in colder regions.

Trees are often planted in a 25-30-foot on-center grid, frequently evenly spaced between predetermined street lighting fixtures or curbside parking spaces. While this modular approach contributes to a balanced and organized urban aesthetic, trees frequently cause havoc with retailers and civic buildings. Rather than installing trees at regular intervals in a row, which may inadvertently align with and thus block the view of building entrances, each building’s significant architectural features or signage should be analyzed during the initial site analysis process. Where worthy building features are present, or proposed with new development, a Civic-Commercial C-shaped Zone should be included in site plans.

Diagram of the Civic-Commercial C-Shaped Zone at the entrance of a building. / Gibbs Planning Group

Proposed street trees, light fixtures, site furnishings, and landscaping should be planted outside of the C-Zone, near or on common property lines, clustered where they can hide blank walls, or spaced to avoid blocking the view of retail entrances, storefront windows, signage, important commercial architectural features, and civic buildings.

Trees planted along storefront edges that respect the Commercial C-Zone, Nantucket, Massachusetts. / Robert Gibbs

As an idealistic young landscape architect early in my career, I designed a textbook perfect streetscape for a small Wisconsin town. Large Linden trees were spaced exactly 25 feet apart, to align with the center of each adjacent parallel parking space and for a continues tree canopy at maturity in 25 years. Street furnishings and flower beds were precisely spaced in a “landscape zone” along the outer edge of the walkway. I was convinced that my design would almost immediately revitalize the then declining business district by creating a human-scaled, beautiful destination for eager shoppers and diners. Adjacent building features, storefronts of commercial signage were not even considered in my design. Symmetry and scale were all that mattered for my brilliant placemaking and hopefully award-winning design.

However, during the tree installation, a hardware store owner taught me a lifelong lesson. One of the new trees directly blocked all views of this historic neon sign from both passing vehicles and pedestrians. The owner explained how he would lose vital business to a competing larger chain store located in a nearby shopping center. Although I did my best to enlighten the businessman that my design would create a “sense of place” to attract many more people to the downtown, and that views of his storefront or sign were not important, or that the trees would eventually grow tall enough to expose his sign after 20 years, he wasn’t buying it and let me know his concerns in no uncertain terms. He was angry, and I knew he was right. I had mistakenly misplaced trees relative to the adjacent facades and commercial signage. One tree even blocked the portico of a historic landmark church. I had made a blunder that provided a lifelong lesson for future urban designs. This approach was later reinforced during my tenure as the director of planning for a major shopping center developer.

It’s almost unbelievable, but many landscape architects and designers still routinely align trees and furnishing in an abstract grid without consideration of the surrounding architecture.

Misplaced tree obstructing landmark historic building in Nantucket, Massachusetts / Robert Gibbs
A tree blocks views of the store’s entrance / Robert Gibbs
Another poorly located tree that could have easily been located asymetrically along the sides of the storefront in Nantucket, Massachusetts / Robert Gibbs
Misplaced tree blocks view of an entrance to a building / Robert Gibbs
Misplaced trees block view of store sign in Nantucket, Massachusetts / Robert Gibbs

Since the humbling lessons learned during my Wisconsin streetscape design, I have frequently lectured about my C-Zone theory at universities. When possible, I include photographs of local misplaced street trees, often resulting in rapid tree relocations or removal by the city. Below, see 2009 “before” and 2011 “after” photographs of a street tree blocking a luxury store along Worth Avenue, Palm Beach, Florida. The ill-located tree was moved within month of my Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce address on urban retail best practices.

In 2009, a street tree blocked the entrance to a luxury store in Palm Beach, Florida / Robert Gibbs
In 2011, the tree was removed and two street trees created space for the entrance, in Palm Beach, Florida / Robert Gibbs

Robert Gibbs, FASLA, is president of the Gibbs Planning Group, which has advised and planned commercial areas in some 500 town centers and historic cities in the U.S. and abroad. Gibbs is a charter member of the Congress for New Urbanism, a lecturer at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, author of Principles of Urban Retail Planning and Development, and co-author of eight books.

The Game Landscape of Super Nintendo World

Mario, the iconic mustachioed plumber and protagonist of the game Super Mario Bros, has become the centerpiece of a new interactive theme park: Super Nintendo World, which is scheduled to open as soon as it is safe to at Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan. A life-sized video game landscape that cost upwards of $575 million and took more than five years to plan, design, and build, Super Nintendo World creates an immersive universe that uses video projections and augmented reality to blur the lines between game life and the real world.

In his discussion of what landscape architects can learn from Hollywood, Chip Sullivan, FASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, explained how powerful films engage in the act of “world building, creating an entire logic.” One world building colossus — the Harry Potter collection — was recently transformed into the theme park The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, also at Universal Studios. According to Sullivan, the Wizarding World “puts drama everywhere, creates illusion and hide-and-seek moments, and features a mosaic of facades that have larger foregrounds.”

In the same vein, Super Nintendo World offers a complex, layered universe that seeks to amplify the experience of being totally immersed in defeating Bowser (King Koopa in Japan) in the Mario games. There are obstacles to overcome, points to win, friends to play with, and even a “secret” underground level to unlock. The game narrative — which is about discovering, honing problem-solving skills, and always moving up to the next level — takes landscape form.

Map of Super Nintendo World / Universal Studios Japan

Just as in the game, when Mario moves through a green warp pipe to ascend to the next level, visitors will enter the theme park through a real green tube, where they arrive in the lobby of Princess Peach’s Castle and can look up at Bowser’s Fortress and Mount Beanpole and see a mushroom landscape.

Super Nintendo World / Universal Studios Japan

Within Bowser’s fortress, visitors play a real-life version of Mario Kart, a popular driving game. Riders will be given augmented-reality googles that synch with elaborate video projections mapped to areas of the course.

Mario Kart: King Koopa / Super Nintendo World, Universal Studios Japan

Players can purchase a “Power Up Band” that enables them to collect points as they hit or kick objects and obtain “virtual character stamps” as they race through the course. The wristbands are also connected to an app, accessible via QR code, and all members of a party can join together, allowing them to play as a team. Points will determine scores, turning the entire Super Nintendo World into a real-time game.

Power Up Bands / Universal Studios Japan

Players will need the band to collect virtual keys spread throughout the park in order to access other game levels, including Shadow Showdow, which includes a fight with King Koopa’s son, Junior. According to the Orlando Informer, “in order to beat the dastardly villain, ‘players’ will need to join together and ‘jump, punch, and use your entire body and all your instincts.'”

Super Nintendo World / Universal Studios Japan

An underground level is also only accessible if a player earns enough points. According to the Informer, “it mimics one of the subterranean courses found in the Super Mario Bros. games.” There is a “section that changes its scale as you make your way through it, eventually making you feel as if you’ve been hit by a baddie and shrunk down to Mini-Mario size.”

For those passionate about Nintendo, watch a 15-minute video tour of the new theme park with Shigeru Miyamoto, legendary video game designer and creator of Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong. Also, take a virtual tour.

The project was designed in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team of theme park planners, designers, and engineers at Universal Creative. Additional Super Nintendo Worlds are planned for other Universal Studios in the U.S.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (January 16-31)

Terraced pocket park in Chinatown, Los Angeles / AHBE | MIG

Terraced Pocket Park Takes Shape in Chinatown — 01/28/21, Urbanize
“Landscape architecture firm AHBE | MIG designed the project and uses staircases and multiple terrace levels to account for its hillside location. The stepped levels, which provide three entrance points along Ord Street and Hill Place, will include landscaping, seating areas, viewing platforms, and exercise equipment.”

Frank Gehry Teases Plans to Build Raised Parks over the Los Angeles River — 01/28/21, Dezeen
“Concrete stilts would support deep, soil-filled concrete troughs of earth planted with plants and trees, perched four metres above the lip of the concrete-walled channel.”

The Battle Lines Are Forming in Biden’s Climate Push — 01/26/21, The New York Times
“The president is moving rapidly to address global warming, with unlikely allies backing him and huge hurdles, some from his own party, directly ahead.”

Everything We Liked (and Didn’t Like) at Buttigieg’s Transportation Secretary Confirmation Hearing — 01/25/21, Transportation for America
“‘It’s very important to recognize the importance of roadways where pedestrians, bicycles, vehicles, any other mode can coexist peacefully. And that Complete Streets vision will continue to enjoy support from me if confirmed,’ Buttgieg said.”

Turin Turned an Abandoned Tramway into a Linear Park — 01/22/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“‘Precollinear Park’ was supposed to be a temporary reuse of a dead streetcar line. Instead, it became the Italian city’s newest green space.”

Social Urbanism: From the Medellín Model to a New Global Movement

Social Urbanism: Reframing Spatial Design – Discourses from Latin America / Applied Research + Design, ORO

By Gabriel Díaz Montemayor, ASLA

Social Urbanism: Reframing Spatial Design – Discourses from Latin America, a new book by Maria Bellalta, ASLA, dean of the School of Landscape Architecture at the Boston Architectural College, is a welcome addition to the growing number of publications on the social justice-oriented form of urbanism, architecture, and public space emanating from Medellín and Colombia. The achievements of social urbanism have rightfully become synonymous with Medellín in the world of landscape architecture, urban planning and design, and architecture.

So what is social urbanism? Is it a top-down and bottom-up planning, design, and implementation process for improving the quality of life of low-income and disenfranchised communities? Appropriately, there is no single definition in the book. There are various takes, which range from comparisons to Jaime Lerner’s strategy of urban acupuncture, integrated community approaches (engagement and participation), and projects and practices in Mexico and Brazil.

While this lack of definition may leave some readers dissatisfied, the book provides a chronology of Medellín’s many social urbanist endeavors and institutional actors, which are represented by a collection of acronyms: PRIMED, POT, EDU, PUI, EPM, UVA, AEI, etc. All these point to the value of complex solutions that include multiple stakeholders and interests.

But the results are not without shortcomings. In Gloria Aponte’s critical contribution, she highlights the lack of ecological considerations in the practice of social urbanism in Medellín. This omission is further described in Juan Camilo Jaramillo’s article on the damaged environment of the city – the accumulated negative impacts on air, water, land, and biodiversity.

Social Urbanism is a predominantly graphic book. It contains appealing and comprehensive social, economic, urban, and environmental data-based maps of Latin America, Colombia, and Medellín. As such, it is a book aligned with the work of architect and professor Felipe Correa, including his books on Sao Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico; and Quito, Ecuador.

La Aurora Trece de Noviembre and Barrio Independencia informal settlement at Medellin’s urban periphery / Integrated Urban Projects, a co-production with Daniela Coray and Maria Bellalta

Social Urbanism also contains the DNA for several potential books that I hope emerge soon. Chapter One on Latin America’s geography is succinct, but as a chapter may be too ambitious. The maps describing the resource extraction of the continent are also a good companion for Correa’s Beyond the City: Resource Extraction Urbanism in South America. In Chapter Two, the book shifts its focus to the urban history of Medellín. Social urbanism, the heart of the book, makes up Chapter Three.

Chapter Four is a collection of studio projects developed through the many visits and design studios Bellalta has organized in Medellín with students from the Boston Architectural College and their student and faculty collaborators from the prestigious Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB), a private, Catholic, and powerful institutional actor in Medellín’s transformation. This chapter reveals the breadth and depth of opportunities for exploration by planning and design students. The projects speak to the unfulfilled promise of progress in Latin America and the potential of social urbanism across the region. Chapter Five, “Invited Voices,” includes short articles by some of the key contemporary actors reshaping Medellin, including Jorge Perez Jaramillo and Alejandro Echeverri Restrepo, former director of the Urban Development Company.

Social Urbanism opens with a prologue by Echeverri, who highlights the quality of the graphic presentations of data. Indeed, some of the graphics are spectacular, and their presentation is supported by the generous book format. But some graphics are not immediately digestible. Take your time to process them, especially the statistical information. (The book is bilingual, with English and Spanish in parallel, only in the index, acknowledgements, prologue, and introduction sections — a limitation I hope is resolved soon through an important and potentially impactful full translation in Spanish).

Bellalta views “landscape as a cultural space, influenced by geography.” Her introduction focuses on the exploitation of the natural resources and the people of Latin America by Europe and the United States. Latin America created wealth that Latin Americans did not enjoy, because they were enslaved and offered arduous low-paid labor. Local and foreign corruption and greed, which was fueled by resource extraction, explain Latin America’s permanent under development. In the region of Medellín, cocaine, gold, flowers, and coffee were the focus of extraction. The book is written as a criticism of this social and environmental injustice, illustrating how Europe and the United States were indifferent to the consequences of their actions. This is one of the book’s strengths.

A few years ago in Medellín, I interviewed architect and urbanist Jorge Perez Jaramillo, former dean of the School of Architecture at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, former planning director of Medellin, and author of another recent and significant book on Medellín, which is summarized in an article in the “Invited Voices” section of the book.

Perez Jaramillo described his city as a community that hit rock bottom in the early 1990s. After decades of violence and crime produced by powerful drug cartels, and the cumulative effects of decades of civil war and guerrilla activity, there was nowhere else to go except up or drown in the bottom. This springing up was fertile ground for a socially-oriented urban transformation.

If you are interested in Medellín because you know of the many beautiful public buildings, parks, and infrastructure built in the city in the last two decades, and you want to know more about these structures, then this is not your book. All the important examples — Biblioteca España, the escalators in Comuna 13, etc. — are included, but only as part of generous photographic essays woven through the chapters. The fact that the book avoids a design focus is refreshing. Social Urbanism instead targets the social and political processes that enabled these projects to exist.

Comuna 10 escalator in Medellin’s peripheral communities / Maria Bellalta

The book seeks to answer: What kind of administrative, professional, academic, social, and cultural processes spawned the great design quality so widely recognized by many publications and awards? How can other cities transform inert and obstructive infrastructure, such as municipal water tanks, which in Medellín have become social-public infrastructure in the form of the Unidades de Vida Articulada (UVAs)?

Unidades de Vida Articulada (UVAs) / Maria Bellalta

This is not a how-to book, because the story of Medellín demonstrates that the great design quality could have only happened the way it did there. It may be due to the unique social, cultural, economic, and environmental conditions; the “Paisa” history, identity, and territory; the city’s resilient community; and numerous outstanding urban planning and design leaders, politicians, and academics.

Social urbanism has improved the quality of life for many who had been systematically ignored. But inequality has also increased in Medellín, and multiple projects and plans remain truncated, postponed, or unimplemented.

The important, old-yet-also-new ideas of social urbanism remind us to be always in action. Public health, safety, and welfare, which landscape architects and others are responsible for, must be sustained. As Bellalta proposes, social urbanism must transition from model to global movement.

Sketch study, Medellin / Maria Bellalta
Sketch study, Medellin / Maria Bellalta
Sketch study, Medellin / Maria Bellalta

Gabriel Díaz Montemayor, ASLA, is Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Arkansas.

ASLA Releases Policy Recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration

ASLA 2020 Professional Urban Design Award of Excellence. Dilworth Plaza. OLIN / James Ewing, OTTO

ASLA released a comprehensive set of policy recommendations for the Biden-Harris administration titled “Landscape Architects Design Vibrant, Resilient, and Just Communities for All – Recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration.”

“Our climate is in crisis. Social and racial injustice issues continue to go unaddressed. The pandemic is forcing us to rethink public space,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). “Landscape architects aren’t just designing resilient, sustainable solutions for all these problems – they’re designing the public policies necessary to support that vital work.”

The report makes specific, actionable policy recommendations in four major areas:

  • Applying STEM-related design principles to protect communities.
  • Addressing climate change through sustainable, resilient design.
  • Supporting green community infrastructure solutions.
  • Promoting racial, social, and environmental justice in design.

ASLA’s recommendations are supported by other organizations in the industry, including the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF).

“The pandemic has revealed now more than ever the value of public open spaces: we are human beings and need to be outside and with other human beings,” said Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, CEO of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF). “These policy recommendations provide overdue support to enable landscape architects to design healthy, accessible and equitable outdoor places for people to connect with nature and each other, and rebuild the public realm infrastructure.”

“Landscape architects play a vital and irreplaceable role in the design of the built environment. It’s time their recommendations for how that design is governed are heard and implemented,” Carter-Conneen added. “ASLA urges the Biden-Harris administration and the new Congress to review these recommendations and begin the process of implementing them.”

ASLA and our partners look forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration and the new Congress on implementing these policy recommendations that will lead to vibrant, resilient and just communities across the nation.

Read the full report

About the Report

The American Society of Landscape Architects compiled a comprehensive series of specific, actionable policy recommendations designed to give landscape architects a seat at the table and support for their vital work. The report is broken down into four sections.

ASLA 2016 Professional Communications Honor Award. Sea Change: Boston, Sasaki Associates / Sasaki Associates

The first, Landscape Architects Apply STEM to Protect the Public, outlines the measures necessary to assist landscape architects in meeting the economic demands and challenges facing our nation.

Recommendations in this section include:

  • Support continued state licensure of highly complex technical professions, including landscape architecture, to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.
  • Provide targeted and sustained COVID-19 relief for small businesses, including landscape architecture firms.
  • Appoint landscape architects to key positions throughout the Biden-Harris administration, including within the Departments of Transportation, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, and Agriculture, and in the Environmental Protection Agency, General Services Administration, the U.S. Access Board, and others.
  • Include landscape architecture on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Designated Degree Program List.

The second section, Landscape Architects Lead in Climate Solutions, focuses on policy solutions that support landscape architects’ work to design resilient, sustainable spaces that help communities mitigate and adapt to the effects of the ongoing climate crisis.

Recommendations in this section include:

  • Create a comprehensive, science-based climate action plan to significantly reduce carbon emissions.
  • Establish adaptation and mitigation strategies using natural systems to make communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
  • Protect underserved communities from climate and environmental injustices.
  • Adopt the Sustainable Sites Initiative® (SITES®) for all federal projects.
  • Reverse rules, regulations, and policies from the Trump administration that weaken environmental protections and ignore climate change, specifically involving the National Environmental Policy (NEPA) and the Waters of the U.S.( WOTUS).

The third section, Landscape Architects Transform Community Infrastructure, outlines policies to encourage the designing and building of community infrastructure projects in a way that fosters sustainable development, generates jobs, encourages healthy lifestyles, and creates resilient, equitable, and economically vibrant communities.

Recommendations in this section center around the following goals:

  • Upgrade to a multimodal transportation network.
  • Fix our nation’s water management systems.
  • Recognize public lands, parks, and open space as “critical infrastructure.”
  • Design resilient communities.

The fourth and final section, Landscape Architects Seek Racial, Social, and Environmental Justice, provides specific recommendations that seek to address the inequities that harm underserved communities, including communities of color, low-income populations, and Tribal and Indigenous communities across the country.

Recommendations in this section include:

  • Work with Congress to codify Executive Order 12898, so that it is permanent law for federal agencies to identify and address the disproportionately high and adverse health and environmental effects of agency actions on low-income and minority communities.
  • Join stakeholders across the country in advancing the tenets of the Environmental Justice for All Act (H.R. 5986), which help to ensure that all communities are protected from pollution and that all voices are heard in the federal environmental decision-making.
  • Consider policies that promote design techniques as a tool to address racial, environmental, and social justice for all.

Read the full list of recommendations