Design Competition: Renew Cork’s Quays

Save Cork City / Dan Linehan


Save Cork City
, a volunteer association in Cork, Ireland, has launched a design competition calling for an innovative approach to renewing the historic city’s quayside landscape on Morrison’s Island. The international competition is co-organized with the Cork Architectural Association, with the support of the National Sculpture Factory and the Architectural Association of Ireland.

Save Cork City, a bottom-up citizens’ group that has won the support of local businesses, celebrities, designers, and advocates, was formed to protest the Irish government Office of Public Works (OPW)’s plans to raise the historic quays’ walls, thereby destroying the historic relationship between the city and waterfront.

Cork’s quays / Save Cork City

According to the group, OPW’s plan — which seeks to “build over 8 kilometers of concrete walls and 46 pump chambers around the River Lee in Cork” — will “destroy huge parts of Cork’s historic character through damage to and removal of the City’s historic quay walls and railings, replacing them with basic concrete walls; turn the city into a building site for up to 10 years during the construction, affecting trade and tourism; and visually and physically disconnect the city’s quays and Fitzgerald’s Park from the Lee due to the introduction of the proposed concrete walls and embankments along the river.”

Furthermore, the group believes that OPW’s overall approach of using concrete walls is outdated and expensive, with a high potential for failure. “River containment is a flawed system that has been abandoned as a flood defense measure in many countries as it is expensive, difficult to achieve and can increase water levels in times of flood, putting cities at even more risk. The scheme relies on rarely used mechanical systems such as water pumps and drain valves, that could fail with catastrophic results.” (An alternative OPW plan would put two tidal barriers in the deepest area of the harbor at a cost of € 1 billion).

Instead, Save Cork City has issued a three-point plan, featuring more upstream green infrastructure, a proposed tidal barrier in the harbor downstream of the city, and historic quay revitalization. The group argues the OPW’s approach only looks at the last 20 kilometers of the River Lee, but it’s in fact 90 kilometers long, so there’s ample opportunity to reduce flooding upstream. They believe their plan will cost only €135 million, much less than the €450 – 1 billion the OPW plan is expected to cost.

The group states their plan has been endorsed by a “Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Robert Devoy; the deputy director of the Dutch flood protection program, Erik Kraaij; the former dean of engineering in University College Cork, Philip O’ Kane, as well as thousands of concerned Cork citizens.”

Engineer Michael Ryan told The Irish Times that “flooding in Cork city involves a complex of factors, including upriver flows, tidal surges, a series of historic culverts and pipes under the city and the fact that the city is built on an extensive aquifer which is supplied and affected by both river flows and tidal surges.”

OPW recently dismissed Save Cork City’s proposal as “too costly,” reports the Evening Echo. OPW is still deliberating over the thousand-plus public comments it received about its flooding plan.

Save Cork City and the other organizers will give €10,000 to the winning entry, which will be presented at a public symposium. Register by September 8 and submit by September 22.

Another interesting opportunity: MIT Climate CoLab, “a global, web-based community designed to pool intelligence in a manner similar to Linux or Wikipedia,” offers seven new contests with a $10,000 grand prize. The competitions are in land use, transportation, buildings, carbon pricing, energy supply, adaptation, and shifting attitude and behaviors.

“Since its launch in 2009, Climate CoLab’s open problem-solving platform has grown into a community of over 85,000 people from all walks of life–including more than 300 of the world’s leading experts on climate change and related fields–who are working on and evaluating plans to reach global climate change goals.” Proposals are due September 10.

Proposed Design for WWI Memorial at Pershing Park Evolves

Restored pool concept / Image courtesy of National World War I Commission, designers UU+Studio, Forge Landscape Architecture, and GWWO, via NCPC

Plans for the proposed World War I memorial at Pershing Park, located just two blocks from the White House, are being steered back to the site’s original design. This month, the team designing the capital city’s first national memorial commemorating WWI took comments from the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), which pushed for keeping more of the nearly two-acre park created by landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg, FASLA, in 1981.

Since first presenting their design to the planning commission last year, the team — led by architect Joe Weishaar, landscape architect Phoebe McCormick Lickwar, ASLA, and sculptor Sabin Howard — has continued to adapt their proposal in response to feedback. The original plan, The Weight of Sacrifice, which won a competition last year held by the WWI Centennial Commission, sought to replace the sunken pool basin with a lawn to improve access and visibility and install a bas-relief commemorative wall depicting images of the war.

At this month’s meeting, the planning commission reviewed an iteration of the plan that got rid of the lawn, expanded the existing pool, and combined the site’s signature water feature with a 65-foot-long commemorative wall.

Restored pool concept / Image courtesy of National World War I Commission, designers UU+Studio, Forge Landscape Architecture, and GWWO, via NCPC

NCPC requested the proposed wall be reduced in size in order to maintain views across the park. And they pushed the design team to consider what the plaza would look like with the water feature turned off.

Restored pool concept / Image courtesy of National World War I Commission, designers UU+Studio, Forge Landscape Architecture, and GWWO, via NCPC

Considering the many changes to the original proposal, council member Evan Cash questioned whether the entire scope of the project had changed. He noted that people liked the new design because it preserved open space, but with on-going edits “…the project has changed to rehabilitation.”

“What started out as a project to look for a new WWI memorial has actually turned into a preservation project of the existing park, with some additional elements,” he said. “I just think all the problems we’ve been talking about are linked to the fact this has been a design that has been so overworked.”

Despite concerns, the planning commission approved the conceptual design and the team will move forward to refine the proposal and incorporate requested elements. Changes to the design will also need to be approved by the Commission on Fine Arts (CFA) and the National Park Service (NPS).

The park was originally design by Friedberg, who is also known for Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis. Friedberg’s views on the proposed design were shared with the commission by Margo Barajas, a representative of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), which has been advocating for restoring, rather than redesigning Pershing Park, which has been determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Pershing Park / Eduard Krakhmalnikov, 2012, via The Cultural Landscape Foundation

After the latest iteration was presented to the CFA in May, Friedberg noted he was disappointed with the design, taking particular issue with the commemorative wall, saying it is being “forced into the space and is obliterating the scale” of the space.

Friedberg’s original design is a multi-level space with a sunken pool and water feature with a fountain that housed a Zamboni to maintain the pool as an ice rink during the winter. The site’s planting was later revised by Oehme, van Sweden. The site also includes a small, presently-unused kiosk structure that once doubled as an ice-skate rental station, movable furniture, and a statue of the WWI hero.

Pershing Park / Image courtesy of M. Paul Friedberg & Partners, via The Cultural Landscape Foundation

The revised design replaces the kiosk with a flag pole and adds a walkway across the pool to allow visitors more intimate access and a more tactile connection to the commemorative wall. 

Debate has waged on over the aesthetic and functional merits of Pershing Park and the addition of a WWI memorial. The site has been poorly maintained and fallen into disrepair over the years. Many find the park difficult to access, with limited points of entry on the southern end of the site. Critics of the new plans, including TCLF, have sought to reduce changes to the site and instead restore the park to its original intent.

The addition of a national WWI memorial was hard-fought by advocates on the WWI Centennial Commission who originally wanted the commemoration on the National Mall. Met with opposition from Congress and the National Park Service, the Centennial Commission eventually settled on Pershing as the selected site. Once approved by Congress in 2014, the Centennial Commission held an international design competition for the memorial. Last January, they announced Weishaar’s design as the winner of five finalists among hundred of entries.

Unlike World War II and the Vietnam War, World War I is the only major US conflict of the 20th century not commemorated with a national monument in Washington. There is a World War I memorial on the Mall, but not a national one (it is specific to local DC soldiers who fought in the war). And some critics say, that’s OK.

As The Washington Post‘s Philip Kennicott argues, DC’s many smaller WWI memorials embedded throughout the city offer another form of remembrance. The monuments are specific and distributed, and, as such, Kennicott writes, “there is no one-stop shopping, no simple, quick way to ‘pay respects’ and move on; but there is a rich history lesson, not just about the war itself, but about how memory and monuments have changed over the past century.”

Regardless, plans for the memorial will continue to move forward with hopes for a final dedication on November 11, 2018, the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the war.

The Art of the Park with Michael Van Valkenburgh

“I don’t see parks as an escape from the city; I see them as an escape in the city, and therefore an essential part of what a city is,” explained landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, at The New York Times’ Cities for Tomorrow conference in New York City.

In a Q&A, Van Valkenburgh touched on five parks his firm designed throughout the country and Canada, beginning with his redesign of the landscape of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial on the St. Louis riverfront, which is home to Eero Saarinen’s famous Gateway Arch.

Here, Van Valkenburgh explains, his team at MVVA incorporated elements of Modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley’s original intention for the site while “creating a series of bridges – physical and metaphorical” to better stitch the previously-isolated 91-acre historic Arch ground with St. Louis.

Van Valkenburgh then discussed Maggie Daley Park in Chicago; A Gathering Place for Tulsa, a new park in Oklahoma; and Corktown Commons in Toronto.

And, finally, Van Valkenburgh, a Brooklyn resident, finished his talk on the now-famous Brooklyn Bridge Park, a set of piers once used for maritime industries now turned into a beloved 85-acre park, a project realized after 18 years of planning and design.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (July 1 – 15)

06
Manhole in Central Park, NYC / Cole Wilson, via Curbed NY

Sprucing Up Your Garden for Summer, the Tropical Way Vogue, 7/2/17
“Fernando Wong knows how to make a lush, enviable garden. The accomplished landscape architect has done so time and time again for his various private clients.”

Seven of America’s Top New Museums and Monuments The Architect’s Newspaper, 7/4/17
“Last year saw one of the biggest and most publicized museum openings in recent memory: the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).”

Why Do Some Graduate Landscape Architects Have a Poor Understanding of Planting? Landscape Architect’s Network, 7/12/17
“In the pursuit of a landscape architecture degree, students have the opportunity to acquire a wealth of knowledge on planting, but as with other subjects there are some students who take this issue more seriously than others.”

The Manhole in the Meadow Curbed NY, 7/12/17
“Standing in the Long Meadow, pondering a manhole cover, I realize that I never look at this significant urban place with the critical eye that I routinely apply to the city around me, and that my neighborhood expanse of greenery is, as it happens, a primary example of engineered nature.”

Lawrence Halprin’s Freeway Park in Seattle to Undergo Wayfinding-focused RenovationThe Architect’s Newspaper, 7/4/17
“The renovations are being undertaken by the Freeway Park Association (FPA)—a nonprofit organization created in 1993 ‘in response to the community’s demand for greater public safety in their aging neighborhood park.'”

Hamptons Homes Blur the Line Between Inside and Out The New York Times, 7/14/17
“Twenty-foot-wide glass walls retract electronically at the tap of a cellphone app at the over-the-top $39.5 million furnished mansion John Kean built last year on four acres in Southampton.”

How Joplin, Missouri, Used Nature to Recover from a Devastating Tornado

I’ve always been struck by the undeniable power of nature. It destroys—as it did on a late Sunday afternoon in May, in Joplin, Missouri, six years ago when an EF5, mile-wide tornado chewed through the city in 38 minutes. It left 161 people dead, 1,150 others injured, countless more traumatized–and the rest of us watching and aching for them all. Aside from the human toll, it also caused billions of dollars in damages, and left thousands of trees decimated, uprooted or maimed.

Joplin was devastated. It needed to recover in every sense—physically, emotionally, spiritually. Many stories have been told in the aftermath of how the city drew together, rose up, and rebuilt.

But one story that’s not been told is about how nature, the thing that brought the destruction, has been the very thing that is bringing much needed emotional recovery to the community. Nature heals too. This is the story we wanted to tell.

When I flew in to Joplin, I gasped as I saw the massive scar in the landscape left by the tornado. It was a mile wide and several miles long. From that perspective high above the city, all that I could see was the destruction. But on the ground, a different picture emerged.

Key community members shared their stories and those of the community. Chris Cotten, head of Parks and Recreation for Joplin, was one of them. I quickly began to see what he saw: hope, hard work, and resilience were everywhere. And then I heard about the butterflies. Many community members told us stories of how the butterflies had saved them. Children told stories of being protected by them–like angels–while the destruction roared around them. I was captivated; but we weren’t the only ones who saw nature as a potential piece of the city’s recovery.

Just after the tornado hit, The New York Times ran a series of haunting images, including ones of Cunningham Park, showing a devastated landscape; mangled trees that had been stripped of their canopies and bark. These caught the eye of Cornell University’s Keith Tidball, who dropped everything to go to Joplin and, in his words, begin planting. A researcher and author, Keith has done some amazing work and spent years studying how nature can be a source of resilience for communities in crisis. He had been working in post-Katrina New Orleans just prior to the tornado.

Keith connected with Chris, and the idea for a healing garden was born. They worked quickly, with the support of the TKF Foundation to assemble a diverse team that included city officials, landscape architects, psychologists, musical therapists and urban planners–and most importantly, the community. Fusing research, design and nature—a healing garden the community named the Butterfly Garden and Overlook opened to the public in May 2014. As former Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean described to us, it’s a place where children and adults go to feel safe and whole, and to reflect. To recover. The nature effect is real. And our understanding of just how powerful its benefits are continues to grow.

Stories like this one, from Joplin, have much to teach us. Even in the hardest hit places, whether the disaster is natural or man-made, nature can heal and restore—and has the power to unify and rebuild communities in lasting ways.

This guest post is by film maker Alden E. Stoner, who is also a board member of the nonprofit TKF Foundation.

The Hive: An Acoustic Playground Made out of Cardboard Tubes

Jeanne Gang describing The Hive / Dana Davidsen

Spiraling upwards into the grand space of the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. is the Hive, a trio of domed chambers designed to create unique acoustic experiences. Conceived by Chicago-based architect Jeanne Gang, the Hive towers some 60 feet and is comprised of over 2,500 cardboard tubes. Within its chambers are chimes made out of building materials, like copper pipes and wrenches, and a giant tubulum, an instrument constructed out of pipes of varying sizes that produces warm, surprising sounds.

The Hive / Dana Davidsen

In a tour of the Hive, Gang explained how she used sound to define the space. In the vast expanse of the National Building Museum, “you can’t really hear someone just 10 feet away from you. The sound gets lost, as it does in a big field.”

Within the museum, Gang instead wanted to create an intimate acoustic space. She wanted to recreate the sense of being inside a forest clearing, open but enclosed by trees, where one can sense, acoustically, the bound space as sound waves bounce off trees.

Working with acoustic engineers with Threshhold Sound, Gang and her team accomplished a similar surround sound effect inside the Hive, using catenary structures, painted silver and magenta, to create a full, harmonious timbre.

Inside The Hive / Dana Davidsen

Gang seemed particularly excited about the tubulum. “When everyone plays together, the chamber will be rocking!”

Tubulum / Dana Davidsen

The structures are inspired by both built and natural forms — Gang talked about the oculus of the Pantheon in Rome and mused about pine cones. “We see spirals in nature, too.”

The Hive is open until September 4. Interactive sound experiences will be held on Saturdays. Tickets are $16 for adults and $13 for kids and seniors. Get your tickets in advance.

Are Urban Bats the Future?

Urban bats at Congress Bridge in downtown Austin, Texas / Flickr

The plight of the honeybee has been well-documented since the term colony collapse disorder made its way into news headlines about a decade ago. The phenomena fueled public interest in the health of bee populations, ushering in a new generation of bee-keeping enthusiasts. And justifiably so. Pollinators like bees are essential to our nation’s economy and food supply.

Another, albeit less popular, pollinator is also facing a precipitous population decline. Bats are dying at an alarming rate due to an invasive fungal disease that’s wiping out entire species, and the unlikely savior may be one of their own.

Bats pollinate over 500 species of plants around the world, including cocoa and agave — fans of chocolate and tequila, take note. What’s killing them is called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease that grows on bats’ skin and wakes them up during hibernation. Repeated waking during the hibernation period depletes winter fat storage and causes starvation. The fungus needs high humidity and low temperatures to survive, typical cave-like conditions.

Millions of bats in North America have died from the disease since it was first documented in a cave in New York in 2007. Now, WNS has spread to 30 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces and is reaching the west coast. Last year, a bat in Washington state tested positive for the disease.

“Populations will likely never return to where they were,” said Amanda Bevan, lead for the Organization for Bat Conservation’s Urban Bat Initiative.

Bats in urban areas are less affected by the disease because they tend to hibernate in man-made structures that stay warmer than caves. And migratory species, like the Hoary Bat, do not spend the same amount of time in caves as bats that hibernate, and therefore have limited interaction with the fungus.

With more opportunity and reduced competition, Bevan says, it’s possible that some of these urban and migratory bats could push into the realms of cave and forest-dwelling bats.

“They are what’s going to be the saving grace for white-nose syndrome,” Bevan said. The Evening Bat, for example, more often found in southern regions of the U.S., has recently been discovered in caves in Wisconsin and Michigan where it’s possible it could help rebuild the states’ cave-dwelling bat populations. This is a relatively new, but potentially promising, phenomena that could help bolster species in decline.

Bevan thinks, given current trends suggesting changing behavior, urban bats are likely to become the majority population.

But there is a significant lack of research on the urban bat, and more broadly, trends in bat populations over time. Migratory bats especially are challenging to track because they are hard to catch multiple times. In absence of robust data, it’s difficult to understand movements and patterns across species.

To date, research has focused largely on cave-dwelling bats, but now ecologists seek a better understanding of bat activity in urbanized landscapes. In 2012, researchers from Fordham University published an acoustic monitoring study of bat activity in the Bronx. The report, which was the first of its kind documenting urban bats in the northeast, found five different species at various sites. A subsequent study reported increased bat activity over green roofs, compared to conventional roofs in the Bronx, indicating green roof provide habitat benefits for bats.

Urban gardeners who want to support their fellow urban-dwelling mammal can create habitats like bat houses and supply pollinator-attracting plants. Plants like milkweed and evening primrose attract night pollinators, like moths – a diet staples for bats. Gardeners can also use plants that bloom late in the day, are scented at night, and have a lighter in color. One of the biggest threats to urban bat populations are pesticides, which can affect a bat’s ability to navigate using echolocation.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (June 16 – 30)

SF
Shades of Green’s 630-square-foot Pacific Heights rooftop garden / Ive Haugeland

San Francisco Rooftop Terraces That Rise Above It All The San Francisco Chronicle, 6/16/17
“Just in time for summer, three local landscape designers share the San Francisco rooftop terraces they’ve transformed from barren wastelands to inviting urban escapes.”

Planned WWI Memorial Would Harm Historic Park, TCLF ArguesCurbed, 6/20/17
“It shouldn’t be any surprise that The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) is pushing against the National Park Service’s planned WWI Memorial in Washington, D.C.”

Lack of Coordination on Obama Center, Tiger Woods Golf Course Threatens Jackson Park RedesignThe Chicago Tribune, 6/23/17
“Before he became America’s foremost landscape architect, shaping Chicago’s Jackson and Washington parks as well as New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted was a fervent abolitionist.”

Creating a Garden Oasis in the CityThe New York Times, 6/23/17
“Samira Kawash and Roger Cooper bought their Park Slope brownstone five years ago with the idea of giving big dinner parties and enjoying lazy afternoons in the extra-large backyard.”

Highland Park’s First ‘Green’ Stormwater System CompletedThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6/26/17
“The first, and so far only, green infrastructure solution to flooding in Highland Park’s valleys is completed along Negley Run Boulevard — a 1,100-foot bioswale that will intercept an estimated 600,000 gallons of water running off pavement annually.”

This Is the Landscape Architect Nantucket’s Elite Have on Speed DialArchitectural Digest, 6/27/17
“Neighbors on Nantucket’s eastern end have more than faded red chinos and a desirable zip code in common; many have landscape artist Marty McGowan, too.

Engagement by Design

Staten Island Living Breakwaters Community Meeting / Rebuild by Design

It’s been just over three years since the winners of the Rebuild by Design competition were announced. Since then, there have been almost 400 meetings with communities around each of the seven project sites in the New York metro region. The competition, launched by President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, called for large-scale, cross-sector, hybrid solutions to make communities more resilient to future storms.

Long before construction begins, teams in charge of design and implementation are helping community stakeholders visualize the project, the goal being to stimulate dialogue. At each step, community feedback is integrated into plans and designs.

Staff of Rebuild by Design — a research and design organization that was formed after the competition — attended public meetings held by every design team, where they have catalogued the most effective community engagement practices. Engagement by Design, an event put on by the organization at New York University, showcased them:

Living Breakwaters, which was presented by Nans Voron, SCAPE Landscape Architects, and Victoria Cerullo, Living Breakwaters Citizens Advisory Committee, is an innovative project off the coast of Staten Island that will use constructed offshore oyster reefs to attentuate waves in future storms and reduce shoreline erosion. In addition, the project will increase biodiversity and social resiliency by providing educational and stewardship opportunities and increased access to the shoreline.

Living Breakwaters is unusual for an urban landscape design, in that much of it is underwater and over 500 feet offshore. This proved to be a challenge when it came to communicating the project to the public. “Even though we were producing renderings to try to envision the future, at the end of the day it’s still very hard to communicate the experience a boater, a swimmer, or even an oyster will have next to one of the breakwaters,” said Voron.

The team began to use virtual reality (VR) goggles to help the public visualize the project. Voron believes VR offers the opportunity for a more visceral and immersive understanding of the effects of climate change. When classic flood maps fall short in their ability to communicate urgency, VR has the potential to create a deeper emotional impact.

Hoboken, a city hit especially hard by hurricane Sandy, recently released the draft Environmental Impact Statement for an urban water management strategy with four components: Resist, Delay, Retain and Discharge. Most of the Rebuild by Design competition funding is going to the “resist” features, which keep storm surges out of the city. The resist features morph into various forms depending on surroundings, so the team decided to make a flyover animation to give context and scale to this complex infrastructural intervention.

Alexis Taylor, outreach team leader for the New Jersey department of environmental Protection, narrated as a flyover animation of the current preferred design for the urban water management plan played. The animation followed the path of the resist feature through city, as it changed from a berm with a serpentine path and integrated recreational spaces to a floodgate closure and then a way-finding device.

At certain points, Taylor interjected to tell the audience that features had been added or amended based on community recommendations. The absence of a fixed audio narrative for the animation allows anyone presenting it to describe the project in their own voice — whether they are a city official or a Hoboken community member.

All teams admitted the engagement process is not without conflict. Angela Tovar, The Point Community Development Corporation (CDC) in the Bronx, urged project teams to be patient with the “planning fatigue” of community members reticent to participate, especially in under-served communities such as the Bronx. For decades, these communities have been subjected to broken promises by city officials, discriminatory housing policies, and environmental injustices, so promises of improved quality of life can be met with justified skepticism.

For David Kooris, director of Rebuild by Design & national disaster resilience for Connecticut, community engagement is not a necessary evil, but critical to evaluating the progress of the project: “I would be very nervous to follow just the bare minimum standards, and once every few months go to a public hearing not having any idea what people were going to show up and say.” By meeting with the stakeholders in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on a near-weekly basis, “I know what all the issues are. I know the ones we can address and the ones we can’t, and we can tweak the project in response to them.”

“I think the most important thing is to arm people with information,” explained Taylor. “Whether or not they are going to come out in support or opposition is fine, at least we are giving them the tools to communicate.”

This guest post is by Chella Strong, Assoc. ASLA, landscape designer at SWA/Balsley in New York City.

Landscape Architects as Futurists

Delivery robot / Starship Technologies

We learn about landscape architecture through a study of context. Technical courses teach students to see the physical characteristics of a site. We learn to identify slope, follow the point of steepest grade in a trail of mud following a rainstorm, identify ecosystems. Theoretical courses teach students to see the intangible qualities of a site — the implications of design decisions upon usability. We learn about the exciting but unpredictable ways a site may develop and come to be used differently than originally intended.

Forward-thinking landscape architecture practice usually involves re-combining the physical and intangible characteristics of a site. Excellent waterfront and post-industrial redevelopment landscape projects have inspired a generation of landscape architects. “What can this become?” is the question that sets most of us on fire.

We imagine a behemoth dump as a park, breathing life back into a great metropolis. A concrete drainage channel transforms into a living waterway, mixed-use development, and microbreweries springing up like eddies along its length. Disused utility easements become oases for habitat in the most unexpected of urban places. We have also seen an increasing amount of “futuristic” landscapes, with high-tech features, such as interactive light or water, app-enabled components, and more.

But what of the impact of new technologies in our built environment? We have anticipated autonomous vehicles for some time (to little effect in our design decisions), but what of the possibilities of autonomous delivery vehicles, or average urban dweller navigating their day with the aid of a reality-enhancing headset, or the convenience/intrusion of biometric scanning as an Apple Pay-inspired method of negotiating daily life?

Without the human element, landscape architecture is not landscape architecture. Yet humans do not remain static and are now in the process of technology-assisted development. In light of these impending realities, what can landscape architects do to maintain an edge on the design of public spaces?

As a profession of such varied talents and individual specialties, there is a place for landscape architects as futurists. There exist landscape architects as ecologists, living systems designers, food system engineers, and health care amenity designers. Leafing through the ASLA annual meeting presentations is enough to inspire the most dispirited of practitioners with new possibilities.

A “futurist” is “a person who studies the future in order to help people understand, anticipate, prepare for and gain advantage from coming changes,” writes the Association of Professional Futurists (APF). This should resonate with landscape architects.

Whether we study the condition of a breakwater and local weather patterns in order to recommend an appropriate intervention or recommend a green roof or living system at an urban development project to address the urban heat island effect, we are in essence studying current conditions and predicting future trends in order to help people prepare for and gain advantage from coming changes.

A recent string of articles caught my eye. First, from an article on CNBC, April 21st, 2017: Robots are Now Delivering Food in San Francisco. Next, on Eater, May 17th, 2017: San Francisco Declares War on Food Delivery Robots. Also from May 17th, 2017, this time on technology blog Wired: San Francisco Tries to Ban Delivery Robots Before they Flatten Someone’s Toes.

The first article reports the San Francisco robots in question are run by a company called Marble, founded to re-think the “last mile” of the delivery supply chain. Their solution is meant as a step toward relieving vehicular and courier snarls during the final stage of delivery of small packages and items. The article goes on to refer to companies, such as Amazon, Alphabet, and Uber, which have also been investing this facet of the supply chain.

Following initial roll-out of the automated delivery system there was an offended backlash that follows an unanticipated offense, with calls to ban these small robots. The Eater article pegs the issue as one of insufficient policy paired with infrastructure. San Francisco city supervisor Norman Yee told them: “Our streets and our sidewalks are made for people, not robots. This is consistent with how we operate in the city, where we don’t allow bikes or skateboards on sidewalks.” When asked if he thought robots could safely run in a bike lane, Yee agreed it was something to think about: “Maybe in the future there will be robot lanes.”

It’s true that progress in urban policy integrating “last mile” delivery robots across the United States and internationally is being driven by robot companies that lead planning and policy initiatives, which can then result in a narrow definition of a municipality’s approved specifications that apply exclusively to that company’s product.

But the uproar was strange for a few reasons. First, given the city’s location adjacent to Silicon Valley, San Francisco residents and managers should not be unprepared for the introduction of automated systems to perform mundane tasks. Starwood Aloft hotels have been using a mobile automated system to delivery sundry items such as toiletries to hotel guests since 2014. Silicon Valley company Knightscope manufactures security robots which have been roaming buildings and industrial complexes in the Bay area for at least a year prior to deployment of Marble’s food delivery robots.

Second, as a dense West coast city with progressive urban development policies, it is surprising that San Francisco is resisting the benefits of a potentially-advantageous technological advancement. Delivery robots, especially when automated to follow given paths and arrive at specific locations (very possible using satellite mapping technology), represent a potential solution to a number of traffic headaches. The narrow streets of historic cities are often clogged by delivery trucks, a trend which is on the rise. Millennials in particular continue to invest in the convenience of home-delivered groceries, meal plans, clothing sampling services, and Amazon Prime for everything else.

This human behavior pattern has consequences for the health and function of our cities, and the policy and design response must adjust itself dynamically to accommodate such trends.

It is common in conversations with landscape architects and planners to arrive at mutual agreement about the antiquated views of traffic congestion wherein the cyclical solution is to simply add more lanes. Many praise the benefits of multi-modal transportation planning, transit-oriented development, and walkable complete streets to create healthier cities.

We must ask, however, if these views are becoming as antiquated as the automotive-focused interventions we disparage. Don’t we have technologies that can work now, complementing evolving human behavior, to produce a healthier system?

The landscape architect as futurist may be any of us of different professional specialties. We are, at heart, a profession made up of practitioners who study variations of environmental context and human influence. We have the opportunity to look to the future in order to help people understand, anticipate, prepare for and gain advantage from coming changes.

Our lifetimes will see dynamic shifts in the way humans co-evolve with technology. It is time for landscape architects to look creatively upon these changes, and ask with a futurist’s eye: what can this become?

This guest op-ed is by Alison Kelly, ASLA, LEED AP ND, a landscape designer at O’Dell Engineering in Modesto, California. She has presented on culture, landscape, and learning at the Society for Applied Anthropology national conference and the Children’s Outdoor Environments professional practice network (PPN) at the ASLA Annual Meeting.