Revealing Seneca Village, the Black Community Displaced by Central Park

Map of Seneca Village / NYC Municipal Archives, via NY1

Seneca Village was an important community. It was 40 acres, two-thirds African American, and had churches and schools,” explained Sara Zewde, ASLA, founder of Studio Zewde and assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, during a session at the ASLA 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Francisco.

The 225 residents of Seneca Village were displaced by the New York City government in the mid 1800s to make way for Central Park, which is considered one of the masterpieces of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and architect Calvert Vaux.

Today, the history of the community, which once existed near Tanner Springs on the west edge of the park, is being reinterpreted. Efforts are underway by the Central Park Conservancy to commemorate the community and its evicted African American landowners.

Central Park takes up nearly 800 acres in the midst of Manhattan. As Zewde and others have explained through the Conversations with Olmsted series as part of Olmsted 200, Olmsted saw Central Park as a way to realize his ideals about democratic urban parks.

The park was designed to provide broad access to the healing benefits of nature. It was also meant to show what free Northern cities could accomplish through transformative public infrastructure, and how slave-owning Southern communities, with their lack of shared spaces, could evolve.

Central Park, New York City / Orbon Alija, istockphoto.com

And while the decision to move Seneca Village predated Olmsted’s involvement, “how do we square this with his legacy? One has to wonder how Olmsted felt about Seneca,” Zewde said.

According to Christopher Nolan, FASLA, chief landscape architect at the Central Park Conservancy, a primarily Black community took root in Seneca Village in the early 1800s because it was not only an escape from the bustle of downtown but also next to a reservoir.

There are no remaining photos of the community, but plans and birds-eye views show a “cohesive property,” with two-story wood homes, an AME Zion Church, and other central buildings.

The community navigated an early Manhattan landscape filled with schist hills. The landscape they experienced largely remains, including Summit Rock, which is one of the dominant landscape features in the park at 140 feet above sea level. Outside Olmsted and Vaux’s designed landscape, Manhattan’s landscape was flattened to make way for the relentless grid of the contemporary city.

Summit Rock, Central Park, New York City / Central Park Conservancy

Apparently Olmsted wasn’t overly fond of the site chosen for the park. The long rectangle hemmed him in and “didn’t fit with his idealized landscape,” Nolan said. His goals were later perhaps better realized through Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which provided more opportunities for a naturalistic landscape.

While planning Central Park, Olmsted and Vaux examined the geological layers and “didn’t modify the existing landscape that much,” Nolan argued, only adding roads, a reservoir, and lake.

But as the park evolved since the late 1800s, more than 20 playgrounds were added, including one at the heart of what was once Seneca Village.

A restoration management plan was created in 1995 that emphasized Olmsted’s original vision. A few years later, the New York Historical Society held the first exhibition on Seneca Village.

Since then, the Conservancy has grappled with how to process new information about Seneca Village and continue its restoration program. The goal is for these efforts to converge in a new commemoration of Seneca Village rooted in deep community engagement and a restored natural landscape.

For John T. Reddick, director of community engagement projects at the Conservancy, there are a range of nearby precedents for this commemoration work, including a memorial to Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man, in Riverside Park; a memorial to Duke Ellington on Riverside Drive; and the Frederick Douglass Circle in Harlem, at the northwestern edge of Central Park.

Ralph Ellison Memorial, New York City / Riverside Park Conservancy
Duke Ellington Memorial, New York City / NYC Department of Design and Construction, via Twitter
Frederick Douglass Circle, New York City / NYC Parks

Reddick also pointed to Strawberry Fields, the memorial to John Lennon, who was murdered outside the Dakota building along Central Park. The simple ground-level mosaic with the word “Imagine,” referring to Lennon’s song, became the center of a broader landscape restoration effort funded in part by Yoko Ono. “The landscape became Strawberry Fields. Before, it was a run-down place. It took a major effort to transform that into something special.”

Strawberry Fields, Central Park, New York City / Ingfbruno, CC BY-SA 3.0

In 2001, the Conservancy added a sign about Seneca Village but that was really “just the beginning of research.” Recent efforts have included inviting artists, historians, and musicians to “animate stories” of Seneca Village for the public. “They have helped us understand what life there may have been like.” Reddick said the goal is to represent the displaced community in Central Park not through a plaque or statue but an interpretation of the landscape. “We want to use the land to tell their stories.”

Nolan added that this mission to tell a more holistic story about the park and its history is line with “a broader definition of stewardship.” Olmsted was a social reformer, and this approach is part of the DNA of landscape architecture.

Learning about Seneca Village has also opened Zewde’s eyes to the possibilities of reinterpretation. “Communities and their histories aren’t erased. They are hiding in plain sight. Seneca Village is not history.”

“We can use our narrative lens now. Through engagement, we can educate and amplify.”

“Parks are vehicles. The existence of a park doesn’t mean we have a functioning society and democracy. We have to use the space, navigate it as people.”

At COP27, Equity Becomes Focus of Climate Action

ASLA 2022 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Moakley Park Resilience Plan. Boston, Massachusetts. Stoss Landscape Urbanism

At the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, more than 200 governments reached a last minute deal to create a “loss and damages” fund that is expected to funnel billions from wealthy countries to the developing countries most impacted by climate change. The new fund, which will be developed over the coming year, will also focus on climate adaptation.

A 134-country coalition led by Pakistan argued that countries with the highest historic emissions, which include the U.S. and Europe, have an obligation to support developing countries experiencing increasingly severe climate flooding, drought, and heat impacts. This past summer in Pakistan, flooding exacerbated by climate change impacted more than a third of the country, affecting 33 million people and causing the loss of 1,700 lives and more than $40 billion in damages.

At COP27, two landscape architects representing ASLA and the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) — Kotchakorn Voraakhom, International ASLA, founder of Landprocess, and Pamela Conrad, ASLA, founder of Climate Positive Design — also called for more equitable investment in nature-based adaptation solutions and a greater commitment to the 2040 vision and goals of the ASLA Climate Action Plan.

Kotchakorn Voraakhom, International ASLA, and Pamela Conrad, ASLA at COP27

“While attending the conference, I heard how developing countries are not only struggling with the effects of climate change but also with making ends meet. The U.S. has historically contributed the most global emissions, yet countries that have only emitted a mere fraction of this are being impacted the most,” said Conrad, who is chair of the ASLA Climate Action Plan Task Force.

Pamela Conrad, ASLA, at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt / Kotchakorn Voraakhom, ASLA

“As a landscape architect from the global south, I don’t want nature-based solutions to become the buzzwords we all use, but then we really just continue with our business-as-usual solutions. We landscape architects are established professionals and know how nature-based solutions work. We can tackle climate change with nature-centric design,” said Voraakhom.

Thammasat University Urban Rooftop Farm, Pathum Thani Province, Thailand / Landprocess

The deal brokered at the UNFCCC calls for 24 countries to form a committee to determine how the fund will be formed, which countries will contribute, and how the funds will be distributed.

But there are still concerns that wealthy countries may fail to meet these future commitments, whatever amount is agreed to. Ten years ago, the United States, Europe, and other wealthy countries agreed to mobilize $100 billion in public and private climate finance, mostly for mitigation efforts, each year. According to The New York Times, that number still falls short by tens of billions every year.

The Biden administration sought $2.5 billion in climate support for developing countries, but only $1 billion was recently approved by a Democratic Congress. The European Union has committed another $300 million, which would also support access to insurance for countries like Pakistan, but that is much less than what is needed to achieve equitable climate action.

“We still aren’t achieving equity and justice. Loss and damage have been an important focus at this COP, but commitments for adaptation funds aren’t there yet,” said Voraakhom.

Other significant causes of concern at COP27: Countries failed to reach consensus on phasing out fossil fuels. In Glasgow, Scotland at COP26, more than 20 countries agreed to phase out coal use by 2030. However, notably, China and India, which are still heavily rely on coal power, didn’t join the pledge.

And this means the 1.5°C temperature increase limit is increasingly at risk: A recent report from the United Nations found the latest commitments from the 193 countries that signed on to the Paris Climate Accord in 2015 put the world on track to warm by 2.1 to 2.9°C by the end of the century.

Landscape architects are calling for more equitable finance and support for developing countries, which can improve access to renewable energy and resilience through ecosystem-based adaptation.

The Upper Los Angeles River and Tributaries Revitalization Plan, Los Angeles, California / Studio-MLA

“To create a more fair and just world, we must support those that have done the least to cause these problems. I still remain hopeful that once all countries are supported equitably, we can collectively reduce emissions to stave off the devastating effects of a 1.5° C (2.7° F) increase,” Conrad said.

Explore the recently released ASLA Climate Action plan, which puts equity at the center of all climate planning and design efforts.

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

ASLA 2022 Professional Urban Design Honor Award. Midtown Park. Houston, TX, USA. Design Workshop, Inc. / Brandon Huttenlocher courtesy of Design Workshop, Inc.

ASLA Unveils Framework for Achieving Zero Emissions by 2040 Through Practice, Equity, and Advocacy – 11/15/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) used its annual large-scale gathering to unveil what’s perhaps the most consequential goal-based agenda to be produced by the professional association in its 123-year history: a comprehensive Climate Action Plan.”

Fair Trade – 11/08/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Landscape architecture design studio Terremoto addresses labor exploitation in its industry.”

It’s Official: Climate Reparations Are on the Agenda at This Year’s UN Climate Conference – 11/07/2022, Grist
“After dodging the issue for more than 30 years, wealthy nations face calls to address the ‘loss and damage’ created by climate change at COP27.”

Are Trees Talking Underground? For Scientists, It’s in Dispute. – 11/07/2022, The New York Times
“From Ted Lasso to TED Talks, the theory of the ‘wood-wide web’ is everywhere, and some scientists argue that it is overblown and unproven.”

Planning Commission Pushes for Bolder One Seattle Plan Re-Envisioning City Streets – 11/07/2022, The Urbanist
“In a set of recommendations submitted to the city, the commission calls for revised land use and transportation policies that reclaim public space from cars and shift focus away from vehicle throughput to more pedestrian-oriented uses.”

How One Indiana Park Restored the Landscape to Its 19th Century Glory – 11/02/2022, Fast Company
“The Swamp Act of 1850 erased millions of acres of swampland from the U.S. In Westfield, Indiana, landscape architects are bringing one waterway back to life.”

Landscape Architects Aim for Zero Emissions by 2040

ASLA 2019 Professional General Design Honor Award. Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park Phase II: A New Urban Ecology. Long Island City, NY. SWA/BALSLEY and WEISS/MANFREDI with ARUP / copyright Vecerka/ESTO, courtesy SWA/BALSLEY and WEISS/MANFREDI

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Announces New Industry-wide Benchmarks to Address Climate Change and Biodiversity Crises

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) announced today that it has set new goals for the profession. Together the ASLA Climate Action Plan and the Climate Action Field Guide for ASLA Members chart a pathway for landscape architects to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions in their projects and operations and increase carbon sequestration by 2040.

The Climate Action Plan was developed by a high-profile Task Force of five landscape architects chaired by Pamela Conrad, ASLA, founder of Climate Positive Design, and a 17-member Advisory Group. It outlines a bold vision for 2040 and a set of 71 actions to be taken by 2025.

By 2040, all landscape architecture projects will simultaneously:

  • Achieve zero embodied and operational emissions and increase carbon sequestration
  • Provide significant economic benefits in the form of measurable ecosystem services, health co-benefits, sequestration, and green jobs
  • Address climate injustices, empower communities, and increase equitable distribution of climate investments
  • Restore ecosystems and increase and protect biodiversity

“Landscape architects are already helping communities achieve this vision. As we increasingly experience the impacts of the climate and biodiversity crises, we know we need to act faster. We are the only design professionals who bring all the pieces together to plan and design what communities need to prepare themselves for a changing world,” said ASLA President Eugenia Martin, FASLA.

“ASLA has developed its first Climate Action Plan in the spirit of great optimism. We envision communities becoming healthier and economically stronger because they have committed to drawing down carbon, restoring ecosystems and increasing biodiversity, and reducing reliance on vehicles – all while ensuring everyone in their community has equitable access to these benefits,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen.

The ASLA Climate Action Plan is based in science. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found humanity can only put a maximum of 340 more gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere if we want a good chance of only increasing temperatures by 1.5° C (2.7° Fahrenheit), instead of 2° C (3.6° Fahrenheit). To advance the goal of keeping warming to 1.5° C, ASLA signed on to the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) Climate Action Commitment in 2021. The commitment was presented at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland and is supported by 70,000 landscape architects in 77 countries.

The ASLA Climate Action Plan is rooted in the three goals (practice, equity, and advocacy) and six initiatives of IFLA Climate Action Commitment.

The ASLA plan will direct all ASLA programs and investments through 2025. Goals will be advanced through 21 objectives and 71 actions. Goals and actions will be revisited and updated in 2025 and every five years until 2040 and beyond.

To accomplish the plan, ASLA, as a mission-driven association, has also committed to achieving zero emissions in its operations by 2040. ASLA is calculating baseline Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions for its 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Francisco and headquarters operations in Washington, D.C. and has committed to reducing its overall emissions by 20% by 2024. ASLA will use its own journey to zero as a learning opportunity for its members, EXPO exhibitors, and partner organizations.

A companion to the plan – the Climate Action Field Guide for ASLA Members – provides best practice guidance, toolkits, and resources for ASLA members and their firms and organizations, along with corporate partners, to achieve the 2040 vision.

ASLA 2016 Professional Residential Design Honor Award. The Restoring of a Montane Landscape. Rocky Mountains, Colorado. Design Workshop, Inc. / D.A. Horchner, Design Workshop, Inc.

The Field Guide features six toolkits covering 18 strategies, with guidance on how to:

  • Design Climate Positive Landscapes
  • Design Pedestrian, Cyclist, and Public Transit-Centric Communities
  • Reduce Energy Use and Support Renewables
  • Help Communities Adapt to Climate Impacts
  • Explore Pathways to Financial Sustainability with Communities
  • Protect and Increase Biodiversity
  • Learn from Indigenous Communities Through Collaboration
  • Build Climate Coalitions

“Landscape architects are uniquely qualified to understand and manage complex, multi-disciplinary challenges and design sustainable, world-changing solutions. We are committed to following the science, and through this Climate Action Plan we will rapidly scale up Climate- and Biodiversity-positive solutions in the U.S. and, through our partnership with IFLA, the world,” said Pamela Conrad, ASLA, Chair of the Climate Action Plan Task Force.

Conrad will represent ASLA and highlight the vision and goals of the ASLA Climate Action Plan at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

Designing Greater Inclusion

Edward Lyons Pryce, FASLA / BlackLAN

The demographics of the U.S. are changing, leading to a majority minority country by 2045. “Who will be in this room in the future?” wondered Marc Miller, ASLA, president of the Black Landscape Architects Network (BlackLAN) at the Oberlander Prize Forum II on Landscape Activism organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas.

Miller, who is an assistant professor of landscape architecture at Penn State, highlighted data from the 2021 ASLA Graduating Student Survey, which shows current Black landscape architecture students make up just 1 percent of the total student population, while white students account for 69 percent.

For Miller, this shows that “thirty years down the road, when these students are our leaders and will be presenting at events like this, the profession will still be predominantly white.” Diversification of the profession needs to significantly increase today, so landscape architects can better engage with more diverse communities in the future.

BlackLAN organized its first meeting of Black landscape architects in 2018 and incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in 2020. “Our goal is to advance voices and create opportunities for others in the future.” Today, its 240 members worldwide focus on “education, community, and service” through symposia, events, online networking, and a new scholarship.

Their Edward Lyons Pryce Scholarship, which was inaugurated this year, honors the first Black fellow of ASLA. “At the ASLA Conference in San Francisco this year, we’ll have our 13th Black Fellow.” Pryce became a fellow in 1979 “because he stood out and went above and beyond as an activist and leader.”

The practice of landscape architecture also needs to expand to better accommodate neurodivergent communities and designers, argued Danielle Toronyi, research and development manager at OLIN. Neurodiverse or neurodivergent people may include those with autism or other sensory differences, who have a range of strengths and abilities.

With her colleague Alexa Vaughn, ASLA, a deaf landscape architect and accessibility designer now at MIG, Toronyi has focused on advancing a “social model of disability,” which focuses on “what a person can do and how the built environment limits us.”

A social model of disability “doesn’t seek to fix disabled people but instead puts disabled people and their experiences at the center.” Applying this approach, landscape architects need to increasingly “design out barriers and make social life more inclusive.”

Toronyi and Vaughn both shaped ASLA’s guide to universal design and have moved forward universal design in landscape architecture. OLIN Labs, a community of practice at her firm, includes a series of labs that coordinate project-based work, partner-led initiatives, fellowships, and areas of emerging research, including designing for neurodivergence.

Making public spaces more inclusive for LGBTQIA+ people is another area of focus for OLIN, with their “Pridescapes” community of practice, explained Max Dickson, a landscape designer there. “We are focusing on untold queer histories and new queer futures.”

Dickson said the identities of queer people have been historically linked to places, but this has often gone unrecognized. Many queer landscapes were in marginal areas. “These were marginal places for marginalized people.” With gentrification and new development, these places lost their queerness.

For decades, the pier landscapes of Hudson River Park on the west side of lower Manhattan were safe spaces for the community, but with new development were erased. And Belmont Rocks along the lake shore in Chicago, which was a gay mecca in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, lost its sense of place since a reconstruction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

At the same time, many queer landscape architects also went unrecognized, given they had to live closeted lives. Phil Winslow and Bruce Kelly, who were central to the restoration of Olmsted’s Central Park, both succumbed to AIDS. “They couldn’t be out in the workplace.”

“Queer spaces were once closed, dark spaces — discos, bathhouses, and clubs.” But the protest movements from the late 60s through to the 90s made these spaces public. In 1969, gay people at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City rose up, protesting decades of harassment by the police, sparking the modern gay rights movement. In 2016, these historic protest spaces became the first significant LGBTQIA+ place protected in perpetuity as a National Monument.

Stonewall National Monument, Greenwich Village, NYC / Rhododendrites, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

Today, Black transgender people are among the most vulnerable among the broad LGBTQIA+ community. In 2021, 50 Black trans people were killed in the U.S., and 33 percent of these crimes happened in public spaces. “We need to ensure all people can experience safe, accessible places. We need to protect queer existence in public space.”

April De Simone, principal at the architecture firm Trahan Architects and co-founder of its Designing with Democracy initiative, argued that designers of all disciplines need to “reshape practice in order to reshape consciousness.”

Growing up in the Tremont neighborhood of the Bronx, New York City, De Simone experienced the impacts of redlining and urban renewal driven by racism. The legacy of these “spatialized inequities” continues. “Systemic, structural inequities stay very rooted in.” And redlining is alive and well. “I still can’t get a loan today.”

South Bronx, New York, June 27, 1977 / AP Photo/Eddie Adams

In New York City and other cities, the New Deal programs created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt further institutionalized redlining, creating a “geographic footprint of hierarchy and home values based on race. It codified the value of humans in the built environment.”

To combat these legacies and create a more democratic built environment, Victor F. “Trey” Trahan III, FAIA, and De Simone founded Designing for Democracy, an independent non-profit research and design group, last year. “We believe people in communities have agency as well. Harnessing that agency leads to equity.”

By empowering communities’ sense of agency and in turn equity, landscapes and communities can be “radically reshaped so that communities can share the full potential of democracy. There is a collective humanity in this cause,” De Simone argued.

Parks of the 21st Century: New Ways to Reinvent Abandoned Land

Parks of the 21st Century: Reinvented Landscapes, Reclaimed Territories / Rizzoli

By Grace Mitchell Tada, ASLA

On our heterogeneous planet, finding an overarching commonality between new parks around the world seems daunting. Yet author and architectural historian Victoria Newhouse, along with Alex Pisha, argue in the new book Parks of the 21st Century: Reinvented Landscapes, Reclaimed Territories that there is one: the drive to create parks on post-industrial, degraded, or otherwise rejected land.

Think of the High Line, perhaps the park of greatest celebrity in this genre, which transformed an unused rail line into a highly visited destination in Manhattan. With this success in mind, Newhouse and Pisha turn their attention to inventorying abandoned sites around the world—from closed highways to decommissioned airports, former industrial sites to defunct quarries—that now constitute the flourishing parks.

Making parks in underused, depleted, or contaminated land is not new. To name but two 19th-century examples: Paris’ Parc des Buttes Chaumont was once a quarry, and Boston’s Emerald Necklace a sewage-filled swamp. However, Newhouse maintains that the emergence of the environmental movement, the rise of a newly post-industrial society, and the depletion of public space accelerated this trend. And unlike parks of earlier centuries that sought to create sanctuary distinctly delineated from their city, all of the volume’s selected parks merge with their urban environments.

Parks of the 21st Century is organized by site history, with chapters titles such as “Highway Caps,” “Waterside Industry: Parks,” “Inland Industry,” and “Strongholds.” The book’s structure juxtaposes sites of the same type, presenting different variations of site understanding and approach that may vary by culture or local circumstances. Park descriptions include contexts, histories, design processes, and site elements, described by Newhouse in the first person based upon her visits with Pisha.

In the chapter describing parks on former airport land, two German parks exemplify divergent approaches. In Berlin, Tempelhofer Feld exists largely as it was when the airport closed, in 2008. The public opposed any changes, including a proposal from GROSS.MAX. Today, all site amenities, from toilets to community gardens to signage, are temporary. It is, according to Westhouse, a “huge void.”

Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin, Germany / Manuel Frauendorffotografic, image courtesy of Grün Berlin GmbH

In contrast to Tempelhofer, Alter Flugplatz, the empty site of relocated airport in Bonames, Germany, offers an argument for intervention—a strikingly minimal one. Instead of trying to replicate nature, GTL Landschaftsarchitektur sought to create a space that would allow it to self-propagate. Their design entailed breaking up the site’s asphalt and concrete, and this “human manipulation of the surface provided the necessary armature for the ‘wild’ to emerge.” The park exists as a continually changing landscape, and one with inherently little maintenance.

Waterfront parks comprise a significant number of parks in the book–according to the authors, the most parks have been constructed atop former industrial sites along waterfronts than anywhere else. The authors note that the similarities and differences between parks in China and those in the West—in design approach, remediation efforts, construction timelines, implementation—are particularly apparent.

Ambitious park system projects underway in Shanghai and New York City both reimagine former industrial sites as green public amenities. In New York City, Hunter’s Point South, designed by SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi, and Brooklyn Bridge Park, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates implement a soft edge made possible by marshes, bridges, and raised walkways that make space for the inevitable flux of water. But most of the Shanghai parks remain, at the government’s direction, lined by the city’s flood wall. In their design of the Shanghai Shipyard Riverside Park, Design Land Collaborative overcame government-established design limitations including the flood wall, as well as work with too-shallow soil depth that were a result of the remediation efforts in which they had no role. Yet despite the constraints, the authors were impressed with the results—the allure of its human scale, the lush planting.

Shanghai Shipyard Riverside Park, Shanghai, China / Design Land Collaborative

While the glamour of waterfront sites attracts much attention, Newhouse and Pisha share parks on inland industrial sites that are just as captivating. Parque Bicentenario, designed by Grupo di Diseño Urbano, is one of them, representing the only Mexican park in the volume. Built atop a former oil refinery, the park and botanical garden serve simultaneously as a public green space and educational site, its eight scaled-down biomes displaying the diversity across Mexico.

Parque Bicentenario, Mexico City, Mexico / Francisco Gomez Sosa; Courtesy of Grupo de Diseño Urbano SC

Not all of the book’s spurned sites result from modern technologies, such as those parks in “Quarries” and the “Strongholds” chapters. Both types of parks are globally widespread, but take on different forms. The vast 570-acre Huadu Lake Park by Palm Design in Guangzhou, China, employs local Cantonese garden aesthetics, offering a simplicity that “delighted” the authors.

Huadu Lake Park, Guangzhou, China / Zhenlun Guan

On the small scale, 1.3-acre Thomas C. Wales Park in Seattle, Washington by Site Workshop impressed them its outsized effect: the magic bestowed by the vegetation, the “fairy-tale quality” granted by Adam Kuby’s Quarry Rings sculpture.

Thomas C. Wales Park, Seattle, WA / Site Workshop

Each of the sites in Parks of the 21st Century are included only because of the narratives we understand about them. Topotek 1’s founder Martin-Rein-Cano articulates further: he is “convinced that the perception of landscape is highly dependent on the stories that are told about it.” In his firm’s work at Germany’s Lorsch Abbey, a monastic community founded in 764 whose buildings were largely destroyed in war in the 17th century, the task was to respond to those stories by creating a park connected to the abbey site. Newhouse resonated with the design, experiencing it “as the abstraction of a lost history,” and as a “design [that] ingeniously renders the invisible visible.”

Lorsch Abbey, Lorsch, Germany / copyright Hanns Joosten

Newhouse admits to one of the book’s shortcomings—that while global in reach, it is not comprehensively so. The parks included are all in North America, Europe, and China.

Yet the fact that the book includes only parks Newhouse and Pisha personally visited also imbues the book with a personal touch. The authors’ many and far-flung travels to the sites and their thorough descriptions are altogether quite a feat. Newhouse notes the weather on a given day, conversations with park users, observations about who is coming to a park at a certain time, and insightful commentary from the park designers who sometimes toured her and Pisha through the site.

One of the other limitations of the volume is, of course, that we are only 22 years into the 21st century. We don’t know how new parks of the next three-quarters of the century will evolve, though some of the designers in the “Future” chapter offer prescient thoughts. In this chapter, the authors examine four parks currently in progress, two of which are immense projects that foremost involve rehabilitation: Freshkills Park on Staten Island, New York, and the Los Angeles River project in California.

Freshkills Park / James Corner Field Operations

Of Freshkills, landscape architect James Corner, FASLA, declared it was not a design project. “It is not about a conclusion, but about adaptive management,” he said. According to him, it needs not a definitive plan, but a strategy—not unlike that of a farmer working the land. OLIN’s Jessica Henson, ASLA, echoes the sentiment, describing her work on the Los Angeles River project as a “‘long-term adaptation framework that looks eighty years into the future.’”

These are hopeful expressions of landscape architecture’s direction, ones that suggest an acceptance of flux in the work the discipline produces. Given the state of the world, the penchant to reinvent and reclaim landscapes seems likely to continue in the coming decades. As designers continue to work in these landscapes, Parks of the 21st Century offers a valuable guide for them: a detailed compendium of successes (and sometimes misses), and a hint at how the uncertain future needs to be met.

Grace Mitchell Tada, ASLA, is with Hood Design Studio and PGAdesign and co-editor of the book Black Landscapes Matter.

Landscape Architects Will Press for Transformative Climate Action at COP27

ASLA 2019 Professional General Design Honor Award. Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park, Bangkok, Thailand / LANDPROCESS

For the first time, ASLA has secured observer status at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP27, which will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, November 6-18. And two ASLA climate leaders will be there to represent landscape architects in the U.S. and worldwide — Kotchakorn Voraakhom, International ASLA, founder of Landprocess; and Pamela Conrad, ASLA, founder of Climate Positive Design and chair of the ASLA Climate Action Plan Task Force.

At COP27, Conrad will highlight the vision and goals of the ASLA Climate Action Plan, which will be released November 12. The plan builds on the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) Climate Action Commitment announced at COP26 in 2021.

“Landscape architects are uniquely qualified to scale-up nature-based solutions that can help solve the climate crisis and prevent its adverse effects. We are going to COP27 to advocate for change that will accelerate carbon drawdown and reduce emissions while supporting health, biodiversity, and resilience for the world’s most underserved communities,” Conrad said.

DePave Park, Alameda, California / CMG Landscape Architecture

“We can’t just wait for world leaders and policymakers to fix the climate crisis. Landscape architects are stepping up, getting our seat at the table, and letting the world know our knowledge and know-how. Nature-based solutions, especially ecosystem-based adaptation, can be done through an integrated approach that respects nature and cultural integrity,” said Voraakhom.

Concerns are growing about the lack of governmental commitment to make greater progress at COP27. While President Biden is expected to attend and tout the Inflation Reduction Act, which puts the U.S. on a solid path towards mostly cutting emissions by 50 percent by 2030, other significant progress may not be forthcoming.

“At the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow last year, all countries agreed to revisit and strengthen their climate plans,” explained Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, to The Washington Post. “The fact that only 24 new or updated climate plans were submitted since COP26 is disappointing.”

A recent report from the United Nations has found the latest commitments from the 193 countries that signed on to the Paris Climate Accord in 2015 aren’t enough to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F). The world is now on track to warm by 2.1 to 2.9°C by the end of the century. And scientists have found each incremental increase in temperatures will expose tens of millions more people worldwide to increasingly dangerous heat, flooding, wildfires, and drought.

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found global emissions must be cut by 45-50 percent by 2030 to keep the 1.5°C goal within reach. But according to the recent United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Emissions Gap report, current commitments will actually lead to an increase of emissions by 10.6 percent by 2030 based on 2010 levels. (The UN notes this is slightly lower than the 13.7 percent increase projected by 2030 last year).

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, told BBC News: “We had our chance to make incremental changes, but that time is over. Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.” And that transformation must ramp up over the next 8 years.

The UNEP report has found that $4-6 trillion in investment is needed each year to equitably transition to renewable energy and transform transportation systems and the built environment and stave off future catastrophes.

At COP27, Voraakhom, Conrad, and ASLA will call for faster emission reductions and greater carbon sequestration through landscapes. This year’s COP will also focus on the needs of the Global South and ensuring equitable access to nature-based adaptation solutions. They will argue that adaptation efforts should restore and support biodiversity and ecosystems, which are increasingly threatened by climate change.

One key message to global policymakers: landscape architects are here to partner with communities around the world and plan and design transformative climate solutions that strengthen our collective resilience over the long-term.

Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, Houston, Texas. Design Workshop and Reed Hilderbrand / Brandon Huttenlocher/Design Workshop

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (October 16-31, 2022)

Wildfire / NPS Climate Change Response, Public Domain Mark 1.0.

COP27 Climate Summit: Window for Avoiding Catastrophe Is Closing Fast – 10/30/2022, The Guardian
“The effects of global heating could soon reach a tipping point, but scientists fear that the meeting in Egypt will become bogged down in recriminations.”

A Decade After Sandy, Manhattan’s Flood Barrier Is Finally in Sight — Sort Of – 10/28/2022, Grist
“The ‘Big U’ shows how climate adaptation can succeed. It also shows how hard it is.”

The Architect Helping Sinking Cities Fight Flooding – 10/28/2022, CNN
“Kotchakorn Voraakhom is using the tools of landscape architecture to tackle climate change.”

The State of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Most At-Risk Landscapes Is Examined in New TCLF Landslide 2022 Report – 10/26/2022, Archinect
“This year’s Landslide report has identified twelve Olmsted projects in nine states and Canada that are under threat of a range of challenges including climate change, maintenance delays, and the overall lack of funding.”

Should a Park Include a Burial Ground? Residents of Newburgh, N.Y., Can’t Agree – 10/26/2022, The New York Times
“Tensions have been simmering over plans for a new addition to a beloved Olmsted park: A memorial for African Americans whose nearby burial ground was taken over by municipal projects.”

SCAPE’s Town Branch Commons Greenway Opens in Downtown Lexington, Kentucky – 10/17/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“A decade in the making, the Town Branch Commons, a new multiuse urban trail flanked by stormwater landscaping, is open in downtown, Lexington.”

If You Don’t Already Live in a Sponge City, You Will Soon – 10/17/2022, Wired
“Less pavement and more green spaces help absorb water instead of funneling it all away—a win-win for people and urban ecosystems.”

The Landscapes of Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman / Benjamin F. Powelson, Public domain

Harriet Tubman stood up for what she believed in. She taught us to stand straight in a crooked world,” said Kaye Wise-Whitehead, a professor of communications at Loyola University, in a wide-ranging discussion at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The event, which was made possible by the Darwina L. Neal Cultural Landscape Fund, explored the life, legacy, and cultural landscapes of Harriet Tubman, one of the chief conductors of the Underground Railroad, which for decades conveyed Black slaves in the South to freedom in the North.

This year is the bicentennial of Tubman’s birth, and there is renewed interest in her life. Two National Park Service sites in the U.S. were initiated by President Barack Obama in 2017 to help enshrine her story — one in Church Creek, Maryland, where she was born, escaped from, and later returned to in order to save other slaves; and another in Auburn, New York, where she lived as a self-emancipated railroad conductor and helped grow a community of freed Black Americans.

In Church Creek, Maryland, GWWO Architects and Mahan Rykiel Associates, a landscape architecture firm, designed a new visitor center and museum at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park. When the project started, the team toured the landscape, which includes expansive fields with woods. “We were told there wasn’t much to interpret,” Chris Elcock, with GWWO said. “There isn’t much there.”

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park / Mahan Rykiel Associates

But the team found that an entire story could be told using the landscape Tubman called home, even later after she had freed herself. The park site, which is set within the 28,000-acre Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, was much like what Tubman would have experienced, with canals, wetlands, waterways, and swales.

Tubman was born near the site in 1822 and enslaved there for 27 years before escaping. She later returned 13 times, saving more than 70 people, including her parents and brothers, but never her sister, who had been sold south.

Elcock explained that the visitor center is purposefully organized into three buildings to represent the three options available to Tubman and her family: “be sold South, remain in place, or travel North.”

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park / Mahan Rykiel Associates, GWWO Architects

Views from within the new visitor center look north to reconnect visitors with that journey.

The pull of freedom is also represented in the landscape of the park site. “We oriented the entire site’s viewshed north through an expansive lawn,” said Peng Gu, president of Mahan Rykiel, who provided additional context in a phone interview. “The north meant freedom.”

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park / Mahan Rykiel Associates, GWWO Architects

And Scott Rykiel, FASLA, vice president at Mahan Rykiel, said that a looping pathway through meadows surrounding the site also purposefully direct visitors northward.

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park / Mahan Rykiel Associates

“As you are out there, you can see other visitors and can imagine others on journey through the landscape — either as someone who can help your cause or report you as an escapee,” Elcock said.

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park / Mahan Rykiel Associates

The meadows are natural, but Mahan Rykiel also incorporated native plants and brought in swamp white oaks, swamp chestnut oaks, sweetgum, birch, and bald cypress trees.

One path in the visitor center even starts near a wetland, which Tubman would have used on her route in order to leave no footprints slave trackers could follow, Rykiel explained.

Traveling north wasn’t a simple “linear” process. Escaped slaves had to take indirect routes through waterways to evade slave catchers, crossing back before heading to freedom. Before the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850, slaves could find freedom by moving to free states in the north; afterwards, they first needed to travel to Canada to become free before settling in northern states.

Deanna Mitchell, superintendent of the the park, said Tubman lived a rich and long life, passing in 1913.

Shepherding slaves, “she understood the stars and could navigate.” The Union Army later discovered this and enlisted her help in Beaufort, South Carolina, where she commanded the army to free more than 700 slaves. “She was the first woman commander in the U.S.” Tubman was also a spy, nurse, and cook for the North.

Her early life in Maryland was marked by brutality. At age five she was loaned out to other households to tend to enslaved babies. “She was whipped every time they cried.” She preferred working outside where she could connect with nature.

For Tubman, the landscape was a way to “escape slavery, learn survival skills, escape domestic brutality, learn a trade, earn her own money, and learn the waterways.” It was the waterways that would help bring her north.

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park / Mahan Rykiel Associates

Mitchell quoted Tubman: “God’s time is always near. He set the North Star in the heavens. He gave me the strength in my limbs. He meant I should be free.”

For the National Park Service, which has conducted studies on natural resources of the site, preserving the landscape Tubman would have known is of critical importance. But there are major threats: sea level rise is expected to flood much of the historic site and invasive phragmites have led to tree die-off in areas. Major studies with the Army Corps of Engineers and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are underway to protect a landscape that received 100,000 visitors from 50 countries last year.

The conversation then moved to Auburn, New York, the landscape of the freed Harriet Tubman and her community. Jessica Bowes, Cultural Resource Specialist for Women’s Rights and Harriet Tubman National Historical Parks in New York, said that Tubman ended up in Auburn because it is where powerful abolitionist women lived, including Frances Seward, the wife of President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State. In 1859, Seward sold a 7-acre farm to Tubman, a farm that later grew to 32 acres.

Tubman brought many of the slaves she freed from the South to Auburn, where many later settled. Auburn was also a welcoming place because it had been a long-time Black community. As freed slaves joined the existing Black community, their neighborhoods expanded and moved. A new African American school caused the community to migrate to Washington Street, and a new church created a hub over on Parker Street, near Fort Fill cemetery.

In this neighborhood, Tubman purchased a second brick home, which has become part of the Harriet Tubman National Historic Park. The AME Zion Church, where Tubman’s funeral was held, is also part of the site. The community is still home to many of Tubman’s descendants. Some homes near the church have been continuously owned by Black Americans for generations.

Harriet Tubman Residence / Lvklock, CC BY-SA 4.0
AME Zion Church / Lvklock, CC BY-SA 4.0

“While Tubman didn’t create the community, she definitely impacted it,” Bowes said. The foundation of the Underground Railroad was “church, family, and community.” And those elements are key to the cultural landscape of Auburn’s Black community.

“The boundaries of the National Park sites are fixed, but the broader cultural landscape is fluid,” Bowes also said. Those boundaries take the form of physical barriers between the sites, as well as the changing community. But these barriers also provide opportunities.

More ambitious stories about the cultural landscape in its entirety are now being told. These efforts are supported by two-hour walking tours, a restoration of the AME Zion Church, and a new bronze statue of Tubman in a small park. “Cultural landscapes are made stronger with the presence of the community.”

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

Echelon Television Center / Courtesy RIOS

RIOS Tapped for $600 Million Revamp of Television Center Complex in Hollywood – 10/14/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Vibrant-colored streetscapes and landscapes will be utilized as flexible boundaries and invite neighbors to engage with new outdoor public spaces.”

New York City to Implement Infrastructure Program That Would Convert Public Surfaces Into Floodwater Sponges – 10/13/2022, Archinect
“The New York City Department of Environmental Protection has recently proposed an array of stormwater resilience strategies.”

A New Master Plan Could Help Transform Boston Common Into a ‘Better Version’ of Itself – 10/12/2022, Boston Globe
“City officials are hoping to revamp the country’s oldest public park over the next decade.“

‘Experiencing Olmsted’ Review: A Walk in the Park – 10/06/2022, Wall Street Journal
“Frederick Law Olmsted‘s vision of beautiful green spaces has touched American lives from coast to coast.”

Why Landscape Architect Thomas Woltz Keeps a Plastic Godzilla at His Desk –10/05/2022, Fast Company
“I am pretty mild in all things, and his fangs, spikes, and claws stand in for me as an alter ego.”

Ian Exposes Cracks in Climate-Readiness – 10/03/2022, Politico
“National and city officials have already begun discussing how to rebuild southwestern Florida to withstand fierce hurricanes — a conversation taking center stage across the country as climate change turbocharges extreme weather.”