At the Transportation Research Board (TRB)’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg outlined a vision for designing a more equitable and sustainable transportation system. Leveraging the historic levels of funding available through the recently passed Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, Secretary Buttigieg said funds must be distributed in order to simultaneously create jobs, address the climate crisis and racial inequities, and reduce road traffic deaths.
The Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act provides an enormous opportunity to improve both large cities and small communities. “The law contains some of the most significant investments in our transportation infrastructure in generations. These investments are going to have a very real impact on daily lives. They are going to put people to work, reconnect communities, and save lives.”
But the “promise” of the infrastructure bill also “depends on whether we succeed in making the most of these investments.”
For example, transportation policy needs to be intentionally framed to increase jobs and economic development. “Income inequality had been rising long before the pandemic. Good transportation policy directly and indirectly creates jobs that help families build generational wealth for the future. The key is creating opportunities that reach people in places where they are most needed. Last year, I visited the tunnels underneath Atlanta’s international airport, which helped create a thriving Black middle class during its construction, simply by ensuring communities of color had a seat at the table when it came time to award the contracts to build that airfield in the first place.”
A focus on ensuring equitable access to both transportation and the economic opportunities that come with the new federal investment was woven throughout his speech. “Every transportation decision is inherently a decision about equity. That’s why we’re building equity into our grant criteria.”
He added that “transportation and racial equality are two stories that go together. We want to proactively work with communities seeking to do the right thing, over and above the legal minimum.” Another part of this approach is increasing partnerships with diverse small and medium-sized businesses, so there are “partners ready to run with opportunities.”
New transportation policy must also address past climate and environmental injustices: “We have a commitment, as an administration, to ensure 40 percent of the benefits of climate and clean energy investments go to underserved and overburdened communities.”
Shifting to climate, TRB noted that transportation now accounts for nearly 30 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Secretary Buttigieg said given transportation is the single largest sector contributing to the climate crisis, “we have an obligation to strive to be the biggest part of the solution.”
When asked what are the best ways to decarbonize transportation, he highlighted the kinds of planning and design solutions landscape architects provide: “We really need to think about every dimension of a trip, and what can be done to make it greener. Can we use design to reduce the necessity of some of thetrips people take? When people take trips, can we create alternatives so they can take those trips in other modes?”
Secretary Buttigieg also explained how electric vehicles, and the charging infrastructure to support them, along with co-siting large-scale renewable power plants with new transportation systems will be key to a more sustainable future.
As part of the combined strategy to advance goals on jobs, equity, and climate, safety also remains the “fundamental mission of this department,” Buttigieg said. “We lose 3,000 people every month to traffic crashes. We must confront the fact that these tragic deaths are not inevitable, but preventable. We need to take new steps, like a safe systems approach nationwide.” Soon the department will be releasing its first national roadway safety strategy.
“If we do this right, we’ll look back on the 2020s as a period when transportation equity reached new levels. That makes not only historically excluded groups better off, but the whole country better off, because we’ll have a stronger, more stable, richer, fairer economy for all.”
Sadafumi (Sada) Uchiyama, ASLA, is the Chief Curator and Director of the International Japanese Garden Training Center at the Portland Japanese Garden. Uchiyama is a third-generation Japanese gardener from southern Japan, where his family has been involved in gardening for over a century. In addition to his background as a gardener born and trained in Japan, Uchiyama is also a registered landscape architect in Oregon and California, with Bachelor’s and Master’s of Landscape Architecture degrees from the University of Illinois.
Interview conducted at the ASLA 2021 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Nashville.
The mission of the Portland Japanese Garden is “inspiring peace and harmony.” The Garden identifies itself as a place of inclusion, anti-racism, and cultural understanding. How has the garden advanced these goals throughout its history? How have these goals taken form in the landscape?
It’s not what we do, but who we are and how we exist. We take a passive approach, but that doesn’t mean we don’t contribute to these goals.
There’s no prescription for how to enjoy the garden. Typically, a tour involves listening to what the guide is talking about, but we intentionally do not do that and only offer basic guidance. Our tours are very quiet. We just answer questions. We leave everything up to the visitors, because they have their own reasons for coming to the garden. It could be for tourism or because someone lost a loved one or had a new baby.
We don’t prescribe but be there all the time in the same way. We listen and then if a visitor chooses, we strike up a conversation. We have conversations that may be difficult, but we listen and talk.
We see our Japanese garden as a depository of all kinds of emotions. There’s not much signage and interpretation. Each visitor comes with a bag full of things or nothing. And then when the conversations start, we are ready to engage.
Everyone is a human being. Language, cultural background, and ethnicity doesn’t matter. We are accepting. We welcome the human being. We provide the essential experience of being a human being in harmony with nature. We try to bring human beings closer to that harmony.
When Nobuo Matsunaga, former ambassador of Japan to the U.S. visited Portland Japanese Garden, he proclaimed it to be “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan.” Some 300 Japanese gardens were designed in the U.S. in the aftermath of World War II to help heal the relationship between the countries and create understanding. What makes the Portland Japanese Garden so beloved in Japan and the U.S.?
Well, it took 60 years at this point. You can imagine how bumpy the relationship was with the city just barely 10 years after the war. But we believed in the power of the garden. We owe a lot to local people, the community. We still define ourselves as caretakers of the garden for the community, which has been our tradition. Portland and the people of the city made the garden possible.
Instead of trying to overcome the differences, we embrace similarities. There are so many similarities between the Pacific Northwest and Japan. The climate is one thing. The hills, beautiful streams and rivers; that’s what Portlanders and Oregonians embrace. There was a natural acceptance of what is Japanese because it wasn’t totally foreign. We are a Japanese garden in the Pacific Northwest forest.
Designed in 1963 by Professor Takuma Tono of Tokyo Agricultural University, the garden combines eight different Japanese garden styles. What are these styles and what do they signify? How do they come together as a whole?
Professor Tono was clear from the get-go why he designed the garden. It’s really nothing but education in a broader sense: community education. He didn’t intend to create a masterpiece, but wanted to offer an introductory range of gardens.
That approach led to his original five gardens. Normally, when we design Japanese gardens, there is usually one theme or type, but he intentionally showed the spectrum of gardens, all different but what we call Japanese gardens. He designed a strolling pond garden, sand and stone garden, flat garden, tea garden, and natural garden, then we added a few, including through the recent Cultural Crossing expansion.
We are very conscious about not copying or recreating the classic garden style, but advancing it. What can Japanese gardens become? Our responsibility is to also move the tradition forward, because tradition is only one little step within a long evolution.
A new, smaller courtyard garden is more like an agricultural field. Then we added a cascade garden to the forefront of the Japanese Garden, which is actually outside of the garden itself, because we like to provide for those who are not paying admission.
Often sand and stone gardens are referred to as Zen gardens in the U.S. but that isn’t accurate. They are dry landscapes, referred to as karesansui gardens, guided by the principle of the “beauty of blank space.” These gardens are designed for contemplation, rather than meditation. How do you explain the growing interest in “blank space” landscapes and buddhism over the past few decades?
It’s about the feeling of relief. An object is tangible — visible and touchable. We conceive what it is and generate feelings. But a void, or nothing, makes us think. In some ways, it actually frees us to change the mode, or forces us to change the mode of thinking, by not thinking. If you have all objects, there is friction. Having the void space provides lubricant for our thinking.
Void space is very important in all Japanese art: calligraphy, for example. An object only exists because of the void.
It’s important, especially in today’s world, to step out. Our ability to learn is tied to our ability to step out of “us,” “me,” and “my.”
You are there in the garden because of others. It’s a similar notion: only because of the void can the object exist and be identified. It’s relevant to how we live in our society and cross-cultural. The void is a very wise tool. If we can carry that tool, we can be able to see.
The flat garden (hira-niwa) further elaborates on this dry landscape style, adding trees and plants that provide color for all seasons. The garden is meant to be experienced from a single viewpoint, looking out beyond Shogi screens in the pavilion. You describe the void as a way to focus on an object in the sand and stone garden, but here that idea has evolved. Why is the expression of seasonal change important in this landscape?
The experience of the garden has both physical and temporal aspects. The flat garden with white sand, lined with pine, cherry, and maple trees, presents the notion of the passage of the time. By providing essentially a still picture through the flat garden, you become much more keen it. You are not physically moving, so you can catch time. But time also has its own way to move independent from our movement.
Often, there are no flowers in Japanese gardens. Compared with English gardens, there are certainly less. But when flowers exist in Japanese gardens, they are manifesting the passage of time.
Japanese gardens, in a skillful way, give you a sense of the clear passage of a season. That means you can anticipate what’s coming next. That anticipation is the beautiful part. We need to place ourselves in that cycle, so there’s the reason to live and something to look for.
A few years ago, you led the Cultural Crossing expansion of the garden with Portland-based landscape architecture firm Walker Macy and Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, creating a 3.4-acre set of spaces that includes a new pathway to the garden, entry sequence, visitor buildings. The addition seamlessly blends architecture and landscape architecture, Japanese aesthetics with ecological design. What does this project mean to you and how did you guide the project?
Given I have been garden curator for 14 years, it’s really the culmination of my service. The intent of the expansion was to release pressure on the existing garden. In 2015, we started to see close to 400,000 visitors a year. That’s a lot for five and a half acres.
We knew the time to expand would come, so we were well-prepared. Our goal was not expansion in the sense of make the space bigger, but to instead create a new experience outside the garden. The goal is to maintain the tranquility of the original garden, because that’s why people come. No matter if the visitor is in high school student or elderly, they are coming for tranquility, so we have to absolutely defend and maintain that.
It’s nice to have shelters, and, in the wintertime, have a sip of tea and visit exhibition and workshop spaces. In Japan, gates delineate sacred space and secure activities. The entire new space and the facilities serve as a gate to the existing garden.
It’s a quintessential Japanese experience. Like in a small village, there’s the agricultural field surrounding the village, then semi-natural wooded areas, then wild nature. Typically, the village shrine is built right on the edge of the wild nature, so there is always the journey. We have emulated that.
When Kengo Kuma first visited the garden and looked at the site, the only one thing he said was, “Uchiyama-san, I don’t think we need to do much.” He was totally in tune with the land. We termed the concept for our expansion as editing the land, as opposed to creating something. We worked with what’s given. After all, we are surrounded by the triple environmental zone, so it’s the most difficult place in Portland to do anything. We embrace and treasure and only touch what is needed. That was the only discussion I had with him in a really substantial way. Once we agree on that editing part, the rest was really easy, because we know where we’re going. And the land actually told us.
The new entry sequence also gives people to time to switch their mindset from the hustle and bustle to being ready to see.
We live in such a divided country and world. How does Portland Japanese Garden offer principles that can guide other cultural landscape exchanges in post-conflict contexts? And can approaches taken in the Portland Japanese Garden serve as a model for other forms of cultural exchange beyond landscape?
Our goal is not necessarily to have a Japanese garden. That’s really the means. A Japanese garden is really just a beautiful means. The garden enables us to invite everyone. Everyone can enjoy. But we are a place, an occasion in time, to enable them to think and have conversation that otherwise may be harder to have elsewhere.
I’ve never seen anyone fighting in the garden. Somehow the garden brings emotional stability. The garden helps people go back to who they are — human beings, just speaking different languages and with different hair and skin colors. Those things don’t matter. We have all been around the same height for 150,000 years. Two eyes; two ears. That creature feels the same fundamental things.
We’re passive as opposed to active in terms of addressing those issues. But there is very few places in the world that just welcome any time, rain or shine. We are there to receive your emotion. And that’s what we’re talking about exactly: that is the model. We are rebuilding the model by way of Japanese garden. Creating a space where everyone can express emotions and can have a conversation. That’s all.
The garden is non-denominational. If you think of a building, once it’s complete, it has functions and names. A garden is a garden, that’s it. A garden can be a wedding venue or a place to cry. The beauty of gardens, and not just necessarily Japanese gardens, is the space is built with our psyche as human beings.
We, nature, and the garden are the facilitators. The important thing is to facilitate.
ASLA is currently accepting proposals for the 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Francisco, November 11-14, 2022. Help us shape the 2022 education program by submitting a proposal through our online system by Tuesday, February 22, 2022, at 12:00 NOON PT.
The ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture is the largest gathering of landscape architects and allied professionals in the world.
ASLA seeks education proposals that will help to drive change in the field of landscape architecture and provide solutions to everyday challenges informed by research and practice. Educational tracks include:
Changing the Culture in Practice
Design and the Creative Process
Leadership, Career Development, and Business
Olmsted & Beyond: Practice in Progress
Planning, Urban Design, and Infrastructure
Resilience and Stewardship
Technology: Trends and Workflow
“At the upcoming 2022 conference, we will explore planning and design solutions to some of the world’s most challenging issues: how to increase resilience to climate change, how to rebuild our infrastructure, and how to ensure greater racial and social equity in all communities. Landscape architects are ready to come together to share knowledge and advance best practices,“ said ASLA President Eugenia Martin, FASLA.
“We look forward to building on the success of last year’s conference in Nashville, where we created a safe, inclusive in-person educational experience for the landscape architecture community. We hope to see more of our global friends in San Francisco as well. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, we will be watching closely to ensure we can again create a safe space for everyone,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA CEO.
Please visit the submission site to learn more about the 2022 education tracks, submission criteria, review process, and key dates.
Education Session Submission Guides
Our session submission guides provide detailed information on what you need to include with expert tips on putting together a winning and help determine which session type best fits your proposal.
Education Session Guide: Education sessions are 60-, 75-, and 90-minute sessions that deliver a selection of relevant and timely topics. Session includes a minimum of 50 minutes of instruction followed by 10/15 minutes of Q&A, maximum three speakers.
Deep Dive Session Guide: Deep dive sessions are interactive, in-depth, 2.5-hour programs that explore specific landscape architecture topics, maximum five speakers.
Field Session Guide: Multiple speakers offer education combined with a field experience, highlighting local projects. Field sessions are organized through the local chapter.
Speakers are welcome to use the submission Word templates for 60-,75-, or 90-minute sessions, deep dives, and field sessions to collaborate on proposals before completing the online submission. The templates provide descriptions of the required submission information and can be edited and shared.
Conference Session Guide Examples
Review the session descriptions, learning outcomes, and session guides from past conferences.
To look ahead to the future of the built and natural environments, we should also look back to learn what was of greatest interest to readers in 2021.
Readers wanted to know how to best help communities adapt to increasingly severe climate impacts, such as extreme heat, flooding, and sea level rise. As the immediate effects of climate change become more real, debate over how to actually plan, design, and implement landscape solutions in the near term came to the forefront, with an increased focus on how to best incorporate nature-based solutions. Amid our changing relationship with the built environment, caused by climate change and COVID-19, there was also great interest in how to leverage urban design to improve mental health and well-being and bolster communities for the long-term. And readers sought new ideas and models on how to advance racial and social equity, through analyses of Frederick Law Olmsted’s writings and projects and a dive into the planned 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, D.C., which seeks to bridge the city’s long-time racial divisions.
The most read contributions from ASLA members delved into new and old models to help communities rethink their approaches to economic, social, and environmental change — from the rural-to-urban transect, to smarter arrangements of street trees, to new nature-based solutions to help coastal populations adapt to sea level rise and groundwater flooding.
ASLA members: please reach out to us with your big, timely ideas — your original op-eds or articles on topics you are passionate about. Tell us about your new projects and research. Please email us at email@example.com.
People living in dense cities are among the least happy. Their rates of depression are 40 percent higher than other populations; and their rates of anxiety are 20 percent higher. Why? Because the built environment is directly linked with happiness and well-being, and too often urban environments fail to put people at ease.
During another turbulent year, books remain a respite, enabling us to recharge and regroup in our efforts to tackle some of the most pressing problems. Over the holidays, now is a great time to delve into new books that offer fresh perspectives and help us reimagine what is possible. Whether you are looking for the perfect gift for your favorite designer or something to read yourself, explore THE DIRT’s 11 best books of 2021.
In the final decades of the 19th century, the new art of landscape architecture was born, in large part due to the efforts of Frederick Law Olmsted. This new profession offered “very specific responses” to the social, political, and environmental challenges of the time, argued Charles Waldheim, Hon. ASLA, the John E. Irving professor of landscape architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, in a panel discussion organized as part of the year-long Olmsted 200 program. “Landscape architecture was radical during his time — a whole new field focused on social progress and reform.”
Grace Mitchell Tada, Assoc. ASLA: “The Rural-to-Urban Transect can serve as a noble tool in the reformation of our urban fabric. In one of his essays, written in 2005, [Andres] Duany warns that a failure to square environmental ethos and social equity concerns with free market choice as perpetuated by the status-quo sprawl may only be solved by ‘a long economic emergency…that none of us should wish upon the nation.'”
According to Devanshi Purohit, associate principal of urban design at CBT Architects, who led a session at the American Planning Association (APA)’s virtual national conference, extreme heat is the number-one climate killer in the U.S., accounting for more deaths than sea level rise, flooding, drought, and other impacts. But, strangely, extreme heat doesn’t get the focus it deserves. Reducing urban heat islands should be a central focus of the planning and design professions.
“The Anacostia River has divided Washington, D.C. for generations,” said Scott Kratz, vice president of Building Bridges Across the River, in a public update of the 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, D.C. over Zoom. When the 11th street bridge built in the 1960s reached the end of its lifespan a decade ago, then Mayor Vince Gray and others saw an opportunity to “save part of the bridge, its precious pilings,” to create a new bridge park that would bring both sides of Washington, D.C. together.
Kristina Hill, Affil. ASLA: “Adaptation to climate change is essential. But do landscape architects and planners understand the most important impacts of higher seas, assuming the goal is to design for adaptation without accidentally blowing it? And how will communities prioritize and achieve the social goals of adaptation in a systematically unequal society? Who will pay, who will benefit, and how can communities take the first steps?”
In a Zoom interview, Kongjian Yu, FASLA — founder of Turenscape, one of China’s largest landscape architecture firms, and creator of the sponge city concept — said, “first of all, Zhengzhou is not a true sponge city. There has still been way too much development and grey infrastructure.” And many Chinese cities have been using the term “sponge city as a political slogan” and a way to attract central government funding, given the deep support for the approach from Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Robert Gibbs, FASLA: “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.”
Stoss Landscape Urbanism, led by Chris Reed, FASLA, has produced a fascinating 40-minute video about their new design for Moakley Park in South Boston, which vividly conveys how to create next-generation waterfront parks in the era of sea level rise, social and environmental injustices, and COVID-19.
A Million-Pound Artwork, Once Threatened, Finds a New Home — 12/28/21, The New York Times
“‘It’s a piece that’s part of the history of landscape architecture,’ said Jack Rasmussen, the director of the American University Museum, who will now be charged with safeguarding ‘Marabar.’ ‘A woman sculptor in the 1970s and 1980s who was doing this? It’s ground breaking.'”
Why Cycle Lanes Aren’t Responsible for Urban Congestion — 12/28/21, Streetsblog
“It’s important to note that creating cycles lanes reduces the space available for cars but does not necessarily get people out of cars. Copenhagen is a city famous for cycling, with 28 percent of journeys made by bike. Yet car traffic is only slightly less than in London.”
10 Ways Cities Came Back in 2021 — 12/27/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“Even as Covid-19 continues to disrupt urban life around the world, some cities this year still made transformative — and in some cases unprecedented — changes toward improving residents’ health, safety and overall livability.”
The West’s Race to Secure Water — 12/21/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“How four cities are trying to survive future droughts, from expanding reservoirs and tapping neighboring watersheds to pushing conservation efforts.”
How Equity Isn’t Built into the Infrastructure Bill — and Ways to Fix It — 12/17/21, Brookings Institution
“Ultimately, $1.2 trillion is nothing to sneeze at, and new public investment is welcome after years of disinvestment and neglect. But if we want to ensure prosperity for all in the future, the [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act] is only a down payment on the debt that is owed to communities who have been denied resources.”
Decades of redlining and urban renewal, rooted in racist planning and design policies, created the conditions for gentrification to occur in American cities. But the primary concern with gentrification today is displacement, which primarily impacts marginalized communities shaped by a history of being denied access to mortgages. At the ASLA 2021 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Nashville, Matthew Williams, ASLA, with the City of Detroit’s planning department, said in his city there are concerns that new green spaces will increase the market value of homes and “price out marginalized communities.” But investment in green space doesn’t necessarily need to lead to displacement. If these projects are led by marginalized communties, they can be embraced.
For example, efforts to enhance the Dequindre Cut in Detroit by transforming it into a 2-mile-long greenway were rooted in community needs and therefore have been supported. While the planning and design work by SmithGroup on the greenway corridor has led to positive economic impact, including growing nearby entrepreneurship and visitor engagement, it also expanded open space, expanded community development, and lifted up local graffiti artists. “We allowed the graffiti to stay and created canvases for more to come. It’s an avant-garde form of historic preservation, and a way to activate a latent, forgotten place.”
Another project is Ella Fitzgerald Park, in the Fitzgerald community, one of 10 key neighborhoods where the planning department has focused housing, park, and economic development investment. Given the neighborhood is experiencing high levels of bankruptcies and foreclosures, many remaining homeowners in the neighborhood can’t sell their homes. Instead of seeing a new community park and greenway designed by landscape architecture firm Spackman, Mossop, and Michaels and built by the city as a gentrifying force, it was welcomed as a safe place for children to play. “It was a needed change,” Williams said.
The Joe Louis Greenway, named after the famous athlete, spans 27.5-miles from downtown Detroit to Dearborn, once a segregated Black city. A “vision of inclusive design, the project is a form of green reparation,” Williams argued. The city has overlaid where redlining had the most destructive impact in Detroit and surrounding communities and has used green amenities to undo part of the damage. “We can focus on those red areas on the redlining maps, transforming them into productive, innovative, and ecological areas.” Planning and design efforts with SmithGroup included significant community engagement. Strategic green spaces, rooted in community desires, are one of “our best tools to address the mistakes of the past.”
Diane Jones Allen, FASLA, director and professor of landscape architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington and current fellow at Dumbarton Oaks, received a 2020 research prize from the SOM Foundation for her work, Reclaiming Black Settlements: A Design Playbook for Historic Communities in the Shadow of Sprawl. Her research has involved mapping Black Freedmen’s communities across Texas and included seven research projects in the Dallas / Ft. Worth area. Along the Trinity River, Allen has been immersing herself in “the bottom lands, the industrial lands” where many Black communities made their home. Despite the long-term environmental justice issues, these communities are still facing displacement pressures. “Riverfronts are hot right now, the place to be,” she said.
The existing community isn’t reacting negatively to Harold Simmons Park, a park planned on the Trinity River by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates because it would create “healthy social spaces along the river.” To ensure housing prices in Black communities near the park don’t go up, a development corporation linked with a local church is “getting ahead of the curve and stabilizing and renovating homes.”
Another community down river, the Garden of Eden, founded by a Black family in 1881, has been impacted by concrete companies that dug industrial gravel pits along the river. Once leases on the land ended, the companies were supposed to fill in those gravel pits but never did. So the community is “reclaiming those pits through green infrastructure, creating recreational spaces.”
And at the last of the seven sites studied along the river, Joppa, a historic Freedmen’s town, there is the Joppee Lakes project, the site of a railroad and concrete plant which is being re-imagined as a stormwater solution for downtown Dallas. The Army Corps of Engineers turned the site over to the City of Dallas, which is in turn working with Black community there to revamp the Honey Springs Branch Park surrounding the lake as a community hub with green infrastructure that can handle both sewage treatment and provide recreation.
To avoid green gentrification, Allen said it’s key to “understand the history of each place. Design has to be grounded, and history is really powerful.” Black Freedmen’s communities along the Trinity River have created a community roundtable and are “envisioning the future together.” They are sharing “funding and grant sources, and talking about the issues.” Freedmen’s town groups are also “linking green spaces, creating a trail that will connect them all.” They are “very smart about the politics and policy and the air quality issues around transportation and cement plants.” Landscape architects can work with communities like these to help them “articulate the issues” and “promote and enhance connections with each other.”
Boston has invested $5 million to re-imagine Frederick Law Olmsted’s Franklin Park in Boston’s Dorchester, Jamaica Plains, and Roxbury neighborhoods. A team led by landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand is spearheading the action plan effort and includes MASS Design Group, which is focusing on the “city edge’s and neighborhood connections,” and Agency Landscape + Planning, which is focusing on public engagement, planning, and programming. According to Sierra Bainbridge, ASLA, a landscape architect and senior principal with MASS Design Group, her organization is seeking to answer questions like: “Can we connect present and future generations to the park? Can the surrounding neighborhoods benefit from the procurement process for a redesigned park?”
Bainbridge argued that park’s ill-conceived boundaries are keeping many people out. The edges, which are “prohibiting access,” include 3-4 lane streets with no lighting for crosswalks. There are also no local businesses along the park, so if food trucks aren’t there, visitors need to bring in their own food and drink. “There is a huge opportunity to increase connections between the park and local community, particularly through large events.”
While planning and zoning changes need to happen to grow local business presence around the park, Bainbridge said procurement is also a powerful tool for increasing community engagement with the revamped Olmsted park. Looking to MASS Design Group’s work in Rwanda as a model, she said training and hiring local artists, masons, and workers was key to creating a sense of ownership around the organization’s community healthcare projects. “The question for many was ‘who is this project for?; we showed them that it is for them.” As a result, community members who worked on the project began to trust in the mission and started going to the care center and hospitals.
In the same vein, Franklin Park can create opportunities for local artists and workers. There is some flexibility in Boston’s procurement procedures if the amounts are under $10,000. “There is potentially a way to also phase larger projects in smaller amounts” to give more local businesses and artists chances to bid. As part of the project, the team is also training small minority- and women-owned businesses to take advantage of these opportunities. “Training costs less than 10 percent of the project, but the impact is multiplied throughout the community. Training is embedded in the plan.”
Why Pittsburgh Is Dimming Its Streetlights — 12/14/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“Pittsburgh is becoming the first city in the eastern U.S. to become dark sky compliant, meaning it will switch to LED lightbulbs that reduce light pollution and put the stars in view.”
Trauma-Informed Design Turns an Old Church into a Family Shelter — 12/10/21, Portland Monthly
“Cathy Corlett of Corlett Landscape Architecture planned the Family Village gardens, creating spaces specifically designed to promote joy and play through the use of curves and round forms. ‘You get a sense of freedom with soft and welcoming boundaries,’ Corlett says.”
Ensamble Studio Plans Multipurpose ‘Desert Rocks’ Landscape in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla Region — 12/09/21, DesignBoom
“‘The project departs from identifying iconic rocks of alUla and recognizing their value as places,’ notes the studio. ‘From the nabatean monument of Madain Saleh and the pre-arabic inscriptions of Jabal Ikmah, to the many natural formations – like elephant rock, arch rock or hand rock– the sculptural character and cultural meaning of these stony create strong attraction forces for both visitors and locals alike.'”
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden Redesign Is Approved — 12/02/21, The New York Times
“The much-debated plan by Hiroshi Sugimoto will overhaul the Brutalist design by Gordon Bunshaft, adding open-air galleries, a new water feature and improved access.”
Landscape architects can play a powerful role in changing lives — possibly in ways most haven’t fully contemplated. The spaces they design have the potential to measurably improve the health and well-being of those who spend time in them.
At Nature Sacred, we have spent the past 25 years creating green spaces – or what we call Sacred Places – with the sole intent of bringing nature to people so they could benefit from this restorative, healing connection. From the very beginning, we asked ourselves: how can we work with communities to create spaces that more fully capture the benefits nature has to offer? How do we incorporate established design principles while, at the same time, create spaces that resonate with people and their lived experiences? We knew instinctively that the two went hand-in-hand.
Working with landscape architects, academics, and on the ground with communities, we honed an approach to creating green spaces where people live, work, play and heal that is a blend of scientific evidence and ground truth. We’re sharing this approach in a new report that we released just two weeks ago at ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in Nashville.
The report, written by Nature Sacred’s Neha Srinivasan, MLA; and edited by Nature Sacred Design Advisor and University of Maryland Assistant Professor Naomi A. Sachs, ASLA, PhD, is intended to be a resource for landscape architects interested in creating green spaces that are designed to encourage contemplation and connection with nature.
Over the years, the science around the nature-health connection has continued to grow. While anecdotally, most wouldn’t argue with the statement that time spent in nature is health-building, the scientific evidence proves that nature has remarkable therapeutic benefits. Not to mention, our approach to designing nature spaces in cities is so critical to preserving our natural ecosystems and mitigating the negative health and ecological impacts of global warming.
The role of landscape architect is more influential than at any other point in history.
Using this research, landscape architects and designers can make stronger health-based arguments to decision makers and number crunchers to integrate thoughtful design of green spaces into larger planning projects — nature zones for recharging and wellness that will become magnets for the community.
For the research portion of this paper, we focused our attention on four domains: nature’s impact on individual, community, economic and ecological health. A few highlights of the research:
Individual health: Time spent in nature can reduce cortisol levels and symptoms of depression; research also suggests it can slow cognitive declines in people with dementia and improve memory and concentration — including in children with ADHD.
Community health: Easy access to shared green space and tree canopy in particular can influence drops in acts of aggression, violence and crime by 40-50% especially in public spaces, where trees are 40% more effective at reducing crime than trees on private property.
Economic health: Researchers have observed improvements in health perception comparable to a $10,000 increase in annual income with the addition of just 10 trees.
Ecological health: Healthy natural spaces provide carbon sequestration, filtration of air and water pollutants, reduced load on drainage systems, and decreased intensity of the deadly urban heat island effect.
All of these benefits can be reaped in small instances of nature — a pocket park, for instance.
Some of these benefits are what you might call passive; i.e. the sheer existence of the trees or well-planned green spaces will help address challenges related to carbon sequestration and water pollutants whether the community engages with the space or not. However, for many of the individual and community health benefits to kick in, people must engage with nature. Spend time in the green space.
And this is where Nature Sacred has spent a lot of energy over the past two decades — looking at how to best engage the community and how to best design so that the community embraces, and spends time in, their green space.
Suggestions for design
We grouped specific design suggestions into three outcome categories: making people feel welcomed, encouraging them to explore and play, and giving a site a specific purpose or two.
And central to the Nature Sacred approach: incorporating elements that are familiar to a community or reflective of its culture. This can go a long way toward helping nearby residents see themselves represented in a space, thereby increasing the likelihood that they will spend time in space and that it will become a Nature Sacred’s approach to designing landscapes involves four guiding principles, four design elements and one signature fixture. These ensure that our Sacred Places are optimally suited to meet the needs of the people they serve.
Four guiding principles
Every Sacred Place is designed to be:
Open and welcoming to everyone.
Nearby where people live, work, play and heal. Only when green space is conveniently reachable can it become an integral part of people’s everyday lives.
Community-led — This refers to both the creation and long-term stewardship; this is key ensuring the space is deeply rooted within the spirit of those it will serve.
Sacred — Meaning, this is a community-led space that strengthens ties, restores connection to nature and offers solace and rejuvenation.
Four design elements
Every Sacred Place incorporates a portal, path, destination and surround; a response to humans’ overarching need for cohesive structure in landscape. It’s important to note though that there are as many interpretations of these elements as there are Sacred Places.
Portal — An entry point to the site that indicates that one is stepping into an intentionally created space.
Path — A guide, slowly leading visitors deeper into the space and giving them a journey to follow.
Destination — An end point to which the path leads. In Sacred Places, this is often the Nature Sacred bench, which holds a waterproof journal to collect the thoughts and musings of visitors to the space.
Surround — A design feature that creates the sensation of being embraced and sheltered within the space — a feeling of refuge and safety.
In the paper, we share images, examples, of how these elements have been interpreted by communities in their Sacred Places. For instance, at the Sacred Place at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Falls Church, Virginia, peace poles decorated in the many languages of the diverse immigrant community around the church serve as the portal into the space. And at the Sacred Place at Brooklyn’s Naval Cemetery Landscape, a boardwalk, a suspended path, leads visitors through a wildflower meadow, allowing them to experience it without disturbing the former burial grounds and native plants growing beneath their feet.
More examples of the interpretations of these design elements can be found in the paper as well as on our website.
We believe the research and guidance laid out in this paper, coupled with a landscape architect’s own experience, can lead to the creation of more green spaces that truly improve society on multiple fronts. As advocates for nature, the planet and people, landscape architects are in an ideal position to communicate to clients and partners the crucial need to value and prioritize green space in our built environments.
During Courageous by Design, a day-long conference organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) in New York City, women leaders outlined what can be done as landscape architects, designers, and horticulturalists to address the twinned climate and biodiversity crises. From the federal and state to local and site levels, landscape architects can advocate through design to change policies, shift mindsets, and introduce more sustainable and resilient practices. Each landscape project, no matter how small, offers an opportunity for positive change and to set new standards for climate-responsible design.
For Heather Morgan, director of climate risk adaptation at AECOM, partnering with the federal government can be challenging because there are “layers of hundreds of years of rules and regulations.” Furthermore, “federal systems can’t move with the pace, agility, and innovation needed to face our climate crisis.” But she urged landscape architects to take the time to figure out the rules of engagement in the federal system.
She called on landscape architects to improve federal decision-makers’ understanding of nature-based solutions. “Many federal workers want to try these approaches and have a passion for them, so don’t assume they don’t.” Take time to empower public servants through workshops and educational opportunities. Educate Congressional representatives and their staff and invite them on site tours. At the state and local levels, advance the understanding of non-federal sponsors of projects. Infrastructural projects led by the Army Corps of Engineers require 35 percent of funding to come from state and local sources. Those local project sponsors and financing sources can be a more direct way to incorporate nature-based solutions.
Landscape architects can use “funded and real” state-funded projects to “push for more climate positive actions,” said Signe Nielsen, FASLA, a founding principal at MNLA in New York City. She asked landscape architects to “look for opportunities in site constraints to advance climate resilience and circumvent ‘this can’t be done’ attitudes.”
For example, her firm’s work on Hunts Point Riverside Park in the South Bronx, New York (see image at top), the first new park in that underserved community in 60 years, involved navigating complex state and local regulations and required a herculean effort to convince regulators to abandon sewer and water lines to the park so that the totality of an 100-foot easement could be used for the public landscape.
She also told the story of how it took her seven years to convince regulators to incorporate solar-powered, instead of hardwired, street lamps in a new park on the Lower East Side in an area at high risk of flooding. After years of providing testimonials, working with the manufacturer to study prototypes, and sharing findings with regulators, “at last, we prevailed,” and solar-powered street lamps will “be the standard in near-future flood risk areas.” Her lessons learned: “be tenacious, find solutions, and keep persevering — even small projects can make a big impact.”
Annette Wilkus, FASLA, founding partner of SiteWorks, pivoted the conversation to how to move forward ecological restoration, improve biodiversity, and realize climate-responsible landscapes through permitting, design construction, and maintenance. She said “permitting doesn’t stop when construction begins. Unexpected things happen in construction, which require more permits.” She sees her role as transforming “what landscape architects seek to evoke through their designs” into a reality that can be preserved and maintained over time.
This work involves thinking through the economic sustainability and long-term maintenance plans of new climate-smart projects. As part of the re-imagining of the Houston Botanic Garden, a project planned and designed by landscape architecture firm West 8, Wilkus worked with the garden’s board of trustees to create a staff and budget plan, wading into the organizational chart to determine where new resources need to be added to ensure the new sustainable gardens are well-supported.
And for a new project by MNLA at the 25-acre Roberto Clemente State Park in Bronx, New York, Wilkus created an easy-to-understand and highly visual maintenance manual with the team charged with maintaining the site. “The maintenance staff were ecstatic about it.” She urged the audience to “really think about maintenance” requirements at the beginning to ensure that climate solutions “survive over time.”
The conversation then shifted to how landscape architects can become better stewards of biodiversity in the age of “eco-cide,” which is caused by climate change, habitat loss, and development and a process in which ecosystems are collapsing, more species face extinction, and the number of animals, plants, and insects in our landscapes continues to decline.
At Brooklyn Bridge Park (BBP) in Brooklyn, New York, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), the landscape architecture firm that has led the development of the park over the past twenty years, purposefully designed diverse wildlife habitats into a park visited by millions of people each year, said Rebecca McMackin, the park’s director of horticulture. BBP includes wetlands and grasslands, providing critical habitat for a range of birds that fly over. Even these relatively small stop-over points are vitally important given the U.S. has lost 30 percent of its bird population in the last 50 years and over 50 percent of grassland birds.
Together with the BBP team, they crafted an ecological approach rooted in “adaptive evolution” that enabled the park to thrive as a biodiverse hub in the midst of the city. While most urban landscapes are designed with plants in a fixed place, MVVA created a series of landscapes that function like ecosystems, with plants duking it out over light, water, and resources, creating a subtly shifting park in which plants “compete, die, and reproduce.” This requires a new approach to stewardship.
McMackin evoked a sense of wonder at the profound impact of trees. When a tree shed its leaves in the fall, those leaves provide a layer that protects the tree’s roots during the winter but also creates a very “biologically active space” for beetles, bumblebees, and other insects. She showed photos of foxes and owls diving into this layer for food during lean, cold months. Those leaves also decompose and turn into soil that in turn nourishes the tree and aids carbon uptake. She explained all of this to say that “it’s important to leave the leaves, which enables all of this to happen. Gardeners at BBP have been trained to get out of the way of the natural cycle.” In the meadows, gardeners are careful when they cut back the grasses in the spring to leave seeds on the ground for birds that have nested. When trimming back Aster trees, they also do this carefully to not disturb the caterpillars that live on the roots at the base of the trees.
All of this precision stewardship of the wildlife has great benefits for park visitors, too. Katydids have transformed the park with their music, creating a biophilic response that aids in relaxation. Because BBP doesn’t spray herbicides in the park, aphids have survived, which in turns attracts charming ladybugs. Walking Stick insects have been recently spotted in the park; “they haven’t been seen in NYC for ages.” BBP is also now home to a very rare bee — the blueberry digger bee. Brooklyn Bridge Park shows that organically-managed parks, with organically-grown native plants and trees, can “become an ecological refuge in cities.” Over the long-term, “respectful, adaptive management” is key to success (and so is buying native plants not treated with any chemicals).
Deeply concerned about the impact of climate change on the next generation, and their already tenuous connection with nature, Barbara Wilks, FASLA, founding principal of W Architecture & Landscape Architecture, cited a recent survey of 1,000 park goers in New York City that found 50 percent haven’t experienced nature outside of the five boroughs. With this understanding, it’s crucial that every available space be used to advance climate positive design and also to provide pockets of biodiversity, which can forge those connections to nature so critical to future stewardship. “Landscape architects can bring systemic thinking to the small scale,” and these smaller projects can be connected into “large-scale infrastructure.”
Urban forestry presents a major opportunity to address the climate crisis and increase biodiversity. A broad-based campaign among non-profit groups in the city calls for achieving a 30 percent tree canopy by 2035; currently, only 21 percent of the city is estimated to be covered by trees, far lower than other major American cities. Her streetscape projects in the city over the past twenty years have layered in diverse tree species in urban woodlands that go beyond the typical street tree format. Wilks has also proposed “marine streets” where dead-end streets that come to the water could be transformed into living, dynamic edges. “Give nature agency” wherever possible, “keep it wild,” and embrace “the dynamics of messy landscapes.”
“Every landscape needs to be an act of activism on biodiversity,” argued East Hampton, New York-based landscape designer Edwina Von Gal, Affil. ASLA, founder of the Perfect Earth Project. Her organization is focused on creating non-toxic landscapes free of pesticides and filled with native plants.
“We’ve lost 2.9 billion birds over the past 50 years. Birds have been impacted by a loss of habitat, pesticides, and loss of insect populations.” To address this crisis, she has also launched a campaign — two-thirds for the birds and asked for a commitment from the audience of hundreds of designers to design better habitat for birds, with at least two-thirds native plants in every project. “That means two native plants for every other plant” and zero pesticides.
She also called for “less mow and blow, less pollution, cleaner water, more on-site composting and biomassing.” Appalled by pristine landscapes free of fallen leaves and insects, she said “design has become so reduced, simplistic, and controlled. That tidy look is the direction we can’t go; that sanitized look can no longer be aspirational. Nature is so beautifully designed and messy. We need to support all the little wild lives that support us.”
As British environmental writer George Monbiot argues, “human survival is now a niche interest.” Von Gal took this further, arguing that landscape architects and designers “can create places for biodiversity — nature-based places — and massively enlarge the niche.”
During another turbulent year, books remain a respite, enabling us to recharge and regroup in our efforts to tackle some of the most pressing problems. Over the holidays, now is a great time to delve into new books that offer fresh perspectives and help us reimagine what is possible. Whether you are looking for the perfect gift for your favorite designer or something to read yourself, explore THE DIRT’s 11bestbooks of 2021:
Landscape architect B. Cannon Ivers, the London-based director of LDA Design, was inspired by architecture critic and educator Michael Sorkin, who authored 250 Things an Architect Should Know and passed away from COVID-19 in 2020. Ivers brings together 50 leading landscape architects, designers, and educators from around the world, including Anita Berrizbeita, Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, James Corner, ASLA, Gina Ford, FASLA, Kongjian Yu, FASLA, and Sara Zewde, who each offer five brief musings, exhortations, poems, or reminders, accompanied by an image. Of the 250 things included: “Know when to throw confetti,” by Martí Franch; “Bitches get stuff done,” by Kate Orff, FASLA; and “Waterscape urbanism as the way forward” by Kotchakorn Voraakhom, International ASLA.
“Everyone should read this book [by Carolyn Kousky, Billy Fleming, ASLA, and Alan M. Berger] to see how the field of landscape architecture might help cities adapt to a changing climate, particularly with new federally-funded infrastructure investments. Each chapter of this book reaches beyond the conventional limits of our professional knowledge, by degrees or by leaps,” writes Kristina Hill, Affil. ASLA, associate professor of landscape architecture, environmental planning, and urban design at the University of California at Berkeley in her review. “The most important bar this anthology has set for other books about adaptation is to place questions about funding and policy side-by-side with design proposals. For setting that bar higher, we should all thank the editors.” Read the full review.
Barbara Wilks, FASLA, founding principal of W Architecture & Landscape Architecture, shares her firm’s work in this new monograph filled with inviting images. In her review, Grace Mitchell Tada, Assoc. ASLA, writes: “As our climate shifts in increasingly surprising ways, the landscape architect’s challenge is to predict how and at what rate our world will change and to create designs that will adapt accordingly. Perhaps, like Wilks argues, allowing for nature’s agency is the key to effective adaptation.” Read the full review.
This comprehensive, 635-page how-to guide by Bruce Dvorak, ASLA, associate professor of landscape architecture and urban planning at Texas A&M University, and a slew of contributors — the rare book that wins an ASLA Professional Research Honor Award — is for any landscape architect or designer serious about integrating biodiversity into their green roof projects. In the forward, landscape architect David Yocca, FASLA, chair of the Green Infrastructure Foundation, says the book makes the case for “greater exploration, trials, and research for ecological surfaces in the face of a rapidly changing climate and substantial investment in the renewal of our cities over the next 50 years and beyond. It is also a satisfying read that ties together often disparate concepts, uniting ecology, technology, and long-term maintenance and stewardship. The [book] makes very real some of the bold visions of future green neighborhoods, villages, and cities…”
“København (Copenhagen), the capital of Denmark, is at the forefront of many landscape architects and planners’ minds for both its groundbreaking moves towards sustainability and cutting-edge public spaces, bicycle culture, architecture, and food scenes.” In his review, John Bela, ASLA, said “the many innovative ideas and projects described in this book, and the exploration of some of the values and motivations that drive the work, are what make København a valuable resource for landscape architects and planners in the U.S. or anywhere in the world.” Read the full review.
Sean Anderson, associate professor at Cornell University, and Mabel O. Wilson, professor at Columbia University and winner of this year’s Vincent Scully Prize from the National Building Museum, are co-curators of a ground-breaking exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City that issued a “creative challenge” in the form of case studies in ten American cities, which aim to “re-conceive and reconstruct our built environment rather than continue giving shape to buildings, infrastructure, and urban plans that have, for generations, embodied and sustained anti-Black racism.” Walter Hood, ASLA, contributed his multimedia art work Black Towers / Black Power, imagining a set of ten 30-story skyscrapers in Oakland, California for non-profit organizations.
Thankfully, Birkhäuser has translated this new book by Elke Mertens, a professor of landscape sciences and geomatics at the Neubrandenburg University of Applied Sciences in Germany, into English. A dive into 11 in-depth case studies of cities across North and South America, this well-researched book makes the case for landscape architecture as the new infrastructure cities need to adapt to climate change. Mertens gets to the heart of the transformation that needs to happen: “Making cities more resilient means equipping them so that extreme climatic and weather events do not have a lasting impact on the inhabitants and infrastructure of a city, but that urban functions can be resumed, or at least rapidly restored, without permanent impairment.”
Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, and an evangelical Christian living in a conservative part of Texas, outlines how to have meaningful, impactful conversations about climate change with people of different politics, beliefs, and backgrounds. Like a true scientist, she assembles evidence about what approaches work in communicating climate change, and also relays her own successes and failures. She calls for avoiding shaming people into changing their views: “When others attempt to impose their value system on us, we understand, fundamentally, that it is about making themselves feel better at our expense.” Hayhoe also says to avoid spending time trying to persuade the 7 percent of the U.S. population who can be characterized as angry climate “dismissives.”
As school communities continue to grapple with gun violence, racism, drugs, and COVID-19, which all undermine a sense of safety and in turn inhibit growth and development, Claire Latané, ASLA, assistant professor of landscape architecture at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and former Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) Fellow for Leadership and Innovation, has written a timely, critically important volume on how to incorporate nature-based solutions to improve mental, social, and physical health on school campuses. Latané methodically builds her argument for designing healthy, green learning environments for young people, with spot-on case studies and research. This book should be read by every educational policymaker, school superintendent, and PTA group — and every landscape architect who wants to help them.
Marc Trieb and Susan Herrington have managed to do justice to Canadian landscape architect Claude Cormier’s bold, often humorous landscapes, which they argue are far from frivolous, but instead rooted in serious technical and ecological considerations. Landscape and public art projects designed by Cormier and his team offer a rich exploration of “kitsch and camp, gender, technical and biological expertise, and political, environmental, aesthetic, and humanistic aspects.” Immersive photography of the playful Sugar Beach and Berczy Park, with its pop-art dog sculpture fountain, in Toronto, and 18 Shades of Gay, a celebration of Montréal’s gayborhood, are complemented by those of his deeply ecological design at Evergreen Brick Works.
Gabriel Díaz Montemayor, ASLA, said this 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 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.” Read the full review.