Ending “Code Talk” about Gentrification

Brooklyn anti-gentrification activists / Kirra magazine
Brooklyn anti-gentrification network activists / Kirra magazine

“When we talk about gentrification, there is a lot of ‘code talk’ that is often very subtle,” said Timothy Cassidy, ASLA, a landscape architect with Bernardon, at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans. That code talk is a way to hide the racial nature of a process in which a group of mostly-white newcomers move into a neighborhood predominantly made up of people of color, renovate buildings, increase property values, change the character of the place, and then, eventually, displace the existing community.

Cassidy said gentrification is often described as an incremental process, with code words like “renovation, renewal, and revival.” The problem with these seemingly-positive words is they convey the “idea of improvement,” but it’s not clear who these improvements benefit. In many cases, developers, which are “external forces,” jump in and reap the benefits with new high-rise luxury developments, particularly with adaptive reuse projects. Existing communities that may have made incremental improvements over the decades and inadvertently laid the foundation for gentrification lose out and then eventually lose their neighborhood, too.

The problem is most pronounced in the communities nearest the central business districts. This is because of some larger shifts. “The suburbs are now dead. Nobody wants to move into a single family home anymore.” Instead, companies have moved back into downtown cores, and their surrounding neighborhoods, with a range of entertainment options, are now the place to “live, work, and play.” With inner-city neighborhoods now in higher demand, increased competition means neighborhoods once cheap and undesirable are now more valuable. For Cassidy, the ultimate question is: “Can you tell people where to live?”

Unfortunately, existing studies of gentrification may not tell the full extent of the story. James Brasuell, managing editor at Planetizen, went through study after study, pointing out their limitations. For example, an often-cited 2015 report on the state of the housing marked in New York City from the Furman Center at New York University said gentrification was occurring in 15 out of NYC’s 55 neighborhoods. But the researchers made these conclusions looking at only one measure: rents. Furthermore, the report was largely financed by banks who may have an interest in downplaying any of the negative effects of gentrification.

Another study by Governing magazine, also widely cited, showed that gentrification is up 20 percent in 50 cities since 2000, in comparison to only 9 percent over the 1990s. However, he said the study only relied on “inflation adjusted home values and the percentage of adults with bachelor’s degrees.” And a footnote in the study showed that for a city to be eligible for gentrification it had to be in the bottom 40 percent of household income numbers. “Right off the bat, the study tilts the table.”

Brasuell researched and found all the possible measures used to studies to analyze gentrification. These include average rent, median home values, median incomes, percentage who are renters, population density, housing types, proximity of transit, parks, and schools — which he thought all failed to measure the complex experience of being gentrified. One scholarly study even used fried chicken restaurants and coffee shops as indicators, which he found absurd.

He identified some of the policies that are pro-development, that spur on gentrification. These include: upzoning, which is about expanding the envelope of development options in a neighborhood; regulations that reduce parking; increased redevelopment powers; loan policy reforms, and bonuses developers receive for increasing density.

There are also a set of policies cities can use to mitigate the worst impacts of gentrification, that are anti-development. These include: downzoning, which involves reducing the types of development that can occur; building moratoriums; improved tenants rights; rent control programs; inclusionary zoning that promotes an intermix of affordable housing in development projects; condo conversion protections; tax abatements; community land trusts; limited equity coop housing; and others.

He cautioned that given the complexity of these topics, planning and design media should not simply use terms like investment, revitalization, and redevelopment in their stories. “These empty euphemisms really create more of a problem.”

And that flowed into Cassidy’s broader critique of the prevailing analyses on gentrification. “We really also need to look at the impact on neighborhood composition and character rooted in community identity. When change occurs, it triggers an emotional response that’s beyond empirical measure. It’s an existential change in which neighborhood familiarity is gone. Your community literally disappears before your eyes, which is emotionally draining.”

Kelly Majewski, Affiliate ASLA, an urban designer at Superjacent in Los Angeles, delved into the ethical responsibility of landscape architects and designers in gentrifying cities. She wondered if the “spirit of a place guide can guide ethical building?” She said community “authenticity, distinctiveness, and narrative” are worth preserving, even if “change has become a constant.”

She said that if a landscape architect sees gentrification happening in a community, then “it’s too late; policy and planning have already made an impact.” But she also argued that efforts to slow gentrification with projects that try to undertake the “just green enough” approach won’t work. These kinds of park and other public space projects call for making improvements that may please locals but not be so grand as to attract outsiders. Majewski said “these projects don’t make a ton of sense; they are both inclusionary and exclusionary at the same time.” And, furthermore, how does a landscape architect decide where to stop: will that one extra tree make it too nice?

For her, designers can ensure they don’t inadvertently (or perhaps intentionally) contribute to gentrification by working with communities in developing their own visions. “If communities can plan out their vision before a rezoning process, they can get ahead.” She pointed to a planning initiative started by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as a model: the Planning for Livability, Affordability, Community, Economic Opportunity and Sustainability (PLACES) program, which creates a larger role for communities in planning processes. Majewski talked about the Bridging Gowanus process and the East Harlem neighborhood plan, which empowered communities. These plans help ensure that “growth advances community goals.”

In the Q&A, Charles Cross, ASLA, an African American landscape architect with the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, stood up and said the “landscape architecture profession must diversify” if it wants to play a greater role in fighting gentrification. In a recent survey of graduating landscape architecture students, African Americans are still at only 3 percent of the student body. Much more work needs to be done to ensure landscape architects look like the communities they are helping.

The Factory as Forest

Georgia forest / Wikipedia
Georgia forest / Wikipedia

“Our goal is to achieve zero negative environmental impacts by 2020,” said Erin Meezan, vice president at Interface, an innovative producer of carpets and textiles, at Greenbuild in Los Angeles. But as the firm nears its goal, it’s now pursuing an even more ambitious vision — the “factory as forest,” in which their manufacturing facilities become positive contributors to the environment, providing as much ecosystem service benefits as their surrounding landscape.

This astonishing vision comes from Interface’s deceased founder Ray Anderson and Janine Benyus, whose firm, Biomimicry 3.8, is advising them. Benyus’ guiding idea: “When the forest and the city are functionally indistinguishable, then we know we’ve embedded sustainability.” To achieve this, she calls for using biomimetic design strategies that “consciously emulate nature’s designs.” This is because nature, with 3.8 billion years of evolution, has “already solved most challenges.”

Interface plans to move past their current model, which includes “reducing negative impacts to zero; using recycled, closed-loop materials; producing low-carbon products; and creating a sustainable supply chain” — goals akmost any firm would view as almost unreachable accomplishments.

Under their new model post-2020, they intend to go beyond simply doing no-harm and become a positive contributor to the environment and society through their manufacturing.

For example, they have reached out to fishing communities in Philippines to set up centers were used, torn nylon fishing nets can be collected. Interface will then recycle and incorporate these into their products. “Communities negatively impacted by ghost nets will be paid to collect nets for us,” creating rippling benefits beyond the product.

Nicole Miller, managing director at Biomimicry 3.8, further explained how her firm will help Interface redesign their facilities to be restorative entities that mimic nearby ecosystems. She said there are three primary ways to integrate this novel approach: first, by “changing the company’s mindset and setting an ambitious north star”; second, using the surrounding ecosystems as a reference to set performance goals; and, third, by developing design concepts rooted in specific site details. “The ecological habitats next door become the guidance benchmarks.”

To redesign Interface’s factory in LaGrange, Georgia, they must understand the surrounding reference ecosystem they will measure performance against — the Southern Outer Piedmont ecosystem. Miller said Biomimicry 3.8 will carefully examine all aspects of how this ecosystem functions in order to set measurable goals. They will look at the amounts of carbon sequestered, water stored and purified, sediment retained, pollination supported, pollution detoxified, biodiversity supported, and soil fertility enhanced by the system.

“Ecological services are the entry point.” But Miller’s team will then further dig into the metrics to inform the design. For example, should a manufacturing facility really mimic the carbon functions of a forest, which releases carbon in some months and sequesters more in other months?

In the future, Interface want to bring this ecosystem-driven approach to design into the product themselves too: they seek to create products that sequester carbon, that require them to pull carbon out of the atmosphere to produce the material.

Also in this session: James Connelly, director of the living product challenge at the International Living Future Institute announced some of the first few products that have been certified as having restorative social and environmental effects, such as office furniture by HumanScale, which has no toxic chemicals and was created through 100 percent renewable energy, as well as new skateboards and sunglasses by Bureo, which are made of plastics harvested from the ocean. His group is now working with Patagonia to create a “restorative supply chain.”

Beyond Complete Streets

MyFigueroa / Los Angeles Downtown News
MyFigueroa / Los Angeles Downtown News

We’ve all heard about complete streets — streets that provide access to everyone, with ample space for pedestrians, bicyclists, cars, and buses. But, at GreenBuild in Los Angeles, a group of landscape architects argued they are really just the bare minimum. Streets can become public spaces, taking on park-like qualities. In our increasingly dense urban world, streets can be redesigned to provide environmental benefits and create a sense of community.

Jennifer Packer, ASLA, associate principal at Melendrez, a Los Angeles-based landscape architecture firm, sees great opportunities in Los Angeles county’s 20,000 kilometers of roadways, the vast majority of which are neither complete or green. She pointed to one example showing the way forward: the $20-million MyFigueroa (MyFig) project, which re-envisions a major corridor through downtown Los Angeles. There, a 4-mile stretch is being redeveloped to include separate bus platforms and shelters, bike lanes and racks, more accessible crosswalks and clearer signage, and lots of greenery. It’s a key first step in Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Great Streets Initiative.

Monrovia, a foothill community in Los Angeles, just got a new transit village for the new station along the new metro line that heads east from downtown out to Santa Monica. There, AHBE Landscape Architects created a “complete street neighborhood,” multiplying the benefits, said Evan Mather, ASLA, principal at AHBE. A multi-modal transit center now connects bikes, cars, and pedestrians to the rail. Plants native to the foothill eco-tone were re-established and set within stormwater management systems. Around the station, there’s a new mile-long loop trail dotted with bioswales and planters. The new streets help further define a new downtown Monrovia.

Monrovia transit village / AHBE Landscape Architects
Monrovia transit village / AHBE Landscape Architects

For Nate Cormier, ASLA, director of landscape architecture at AECOM downtown L.A. Studio, Bell Street Park in Seattle is a prime example of what it means to go beyond complete streets: the street as a park. MIG|SvR and Hewitt designed a 4-block-long “woonerf,” which is Dutch for a street that has no curbs and purposefully creates an ambiguous zone where cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists mix. Due to this constant intermingling, everyone is more vigilant, so the street actually becomes safer. “Everyone is negotiating the street; jay walking is the norm.” Textured concrete helps send the message this isn’t a speedway for cars passing through. Trees shade small parklets with cafe tables that “act like a front porch.”

Bell Street Park / NACTO
Bell Street Park / NACTO

In high-density, expensive environments like Seattle, where cities can’t afford to buy up properties to create parks, Bell Street Park may offer a model. The community made the street-park happen by tapping the parks department’s “levy opportunities,” but, through a memorandum of understanding, the city’s department of transportation maintains some aspects of it.

How to Measure the Benefits of a Landscape

Uptown Normal Circle and Streetscape / Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects
Uptown Normal Circle and Streetscape / Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects

“We can’t achieve sustainability without considering the landscape. Performance happens there,” argued Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, president of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) at GreenBuild in Los Angeles. By performance, Deutsch means just that — achieving concrete, measurable goals through sustainable and resilient landscape design: capturing stormwater, raising property prices, reducing the urban heat island effect, or improving biodiversity.

Deutsch complained that too many landscape architects still offer a laundry list of sustainable features when they discuss their work instead of focusing on real benefits. “We need to move to talk of benefits. For example, we can say a landscape captures this percent of stormwater, sequesters these many pounds of carbon, or saved thousands in energy use.”

To achieve performance and then collect these kinds of numbers, more landscape architects need to “integrate measurable performance metrics into the front end of the design process.”

To promote this approach, the LAF has built up the robust Landscape Performance Series, which includes a fast fact library, with data pulled from various credible journals; a set of benefits calculators; and, lastly, an inventory of over 100 case studies, which offer comparative before and after images, benefits data, and, to be transparent, information on how that data was collected and measured. “We also include information on lessons learned — what didn’t work.”

Deutsch and her team spend upwards of six months with landscape architecture firms and clients to put together a case study. Developing metrics and collecting and synthesizing data is a time-consuming process. “Choosing the right metric is important.” Deutsch called for using “defensible metrics, not necessarily peer-reviewed or published.”

The case studies offer a range of environmental, social, and often economic benefits. For example, the client and design team for Uptown Normal’s Circle and Streetscape in Normal, Illinois, a highly successful new town square and traffic circle, found that “104 new trees planted on site sequester 10,790 pounds of carbon.” And also, they found that the new landscape “increased property values in the Uptown tax increment financing district by $1.5 million (or 9%) from 2009 to 2010, a 31 percent increase from 2004.”

In another case study, the client and design team for the General Service Administration (GSA)’s new Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C. found the landscape’s set of terraced green roofs “retains up to 424,000 gallons of rainwater, which is equal to the 95th percentile storm event.” The site’s new social spaces are being used: “336 distinct individuals observed using the courtyard over a 6-hour period.”

But she admitted some of the data is preliminary at best. And it’s easy to conflate causation with correlation. For example, one could say that a new park reduced neighborhood crime by 50 percent if one looked at crime logs before the park was created and then after the park launched and found crime went down 50 percent. But that’s leaving out many other potential causal factors that perhaps weren’t well studied. The park could have come with additional security guards, or the police could have increased their patrols in the area during the construction process, or the buildings around the park could have been redeveloped as pricey condos. Deutsch said “misusing data is possible. But we have to start somewhere. And it’s important to always cite the specific context of the data,” rather than generalizing it.

In the coming decades, Deutsch thinks even better data will come. She sees every landscape architecture degree program teaching landscape performance as part of an integrated design process, and performance calculations included in licensing exams. “I see this approach integrated into practice and the standard procedure.”

To make the case study development process easier, LAF will release a guidebook in 2017.

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

A rendering of an overhead view of San Jose’s St. James Park as re-imagined by CMG Landscape Architecture / Courtesy City of San Jose

Land Bridge Could Transform a Section of I-94 in St. PaulThe Star Tribune, 10/8/16
“A land bridge over Hiawatha Avenue includes Longfellow Gardens. The idea is not a new one, but it is catching on among highway planners.”

The Key to Creating Sydney’s Friendliest Streets Is to Add PlantsDomain, 10/11/16
“As Sydney’s population grows with expectations it will reach 6.25 million in the next 20 years, one added side effect is the increased anonymity that comes with big-city living.”

Gardens by France’s Most Revered Landscape DesignerThe New York Times, 10/12/16
“Gardens are ‘an expression of faith’ and ‘the embodiment of hope,’ wrote the revered English landscape architect Russell Page in his memoir, The Education of a Gardener, in 1962.”

How to Remake San Jose’s St. James Park The Mercury News, 10/12/16
“San Jose will host one of the more fascinating design competitions in its history: The ambitious goal is to try to remake downtown’s most gaping urban sore, St. James Park.”

New York’s Biggest Ever Green Wall Flies the Flag for Eco-Friendly CitiesThe Huffington Post, 10/13/16
“Recent reports that global carbon dioxide levels have hit an all-time high have also reinforced the need for action, and the quest for sustainability is more pressing than ever.”

First SITES v2 Certified Landscapes Create Real Impact

University of Texas at El Paso / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects
University of Texas at El Paso / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects

Certifying your landscape project with the Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®)* can seem like an expensive, onerous process. So why bother? For Jamie Statter, vice president at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), SITES gives landscape architects the “opportunity to do it right” and have an impact in the fight against climate change. In a session at GreenBuild in Los Angeles, she and two SITES consultants working with landscape architects on the first SITES v2 certified projects explained why it’s worth the extra effort.

In the face of sprawl, which is helping to speed climate change, “we must better value land as a resource. Sprawl is not about buildings; it’s about the landscape,” argued Statter. In too many places, sprawl happens because “land and water resources are undervalued.” With SITES, she said, “we can value the elements of the landscape that provide benefits that haven’t been monetized.” Through incorporating an ecosystem services-based approach, land owners can save crucial natural resources, reduce carbon emissions, and even make money.

Under SITES, landscape architects and designers can create broader impact through a range of projects: playgrounds, parks, university campuses, water reclamation projects, transportation systems, military facilities, and others. The site just must be a minimum of 2,000 square feet and must be new construction or a major renovation. The rating system tops out at 200 points, but it only takes 135 to reach platinum. SITES enables many kinds of approaches that fit local climates.

With the recent launch of SITES Approved Professional (AP), landscape architects now have “the chance to get ahead and further differentiate themselves,” she added.

The First SITES v2 Certified Project: The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP)

Heather Venhaus, an environmental designer and author of Designing the Sustainable Site: Integrated Design Strategies for Small-Scale Sites and Residential Landscapes, was a consultant on the campus redesign project led by Christine Ten Eyck, FASLA, at Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, which was the first SITES v2 certified project, achieving a Silver rating. As Venhaus explained, UTEP is among the top rated campuses for upward mobility, meaning many of its students are the first among their families to attend university, so this project is also about social equity.

For the university’s centennial celebration, they revamped their 11-acre, greyfield campus covered in parking lots, spending some $14 million to transform it into a landscape that not only reflects the beauty of the native Chihuahuan desert ecosystem, but also rebuilds the ancient arroyos (rivers) that were once covered over by parking lots. Due to all that asphalt, the campus had major flooding problems. After those arroyos were restored, the water collected and infiltrated through the campus, managing water from up to a 95th percentile storm event. Any excess now flows out to the Rio Grande River instead of inundating the campus.

University of Texas at El Paso arroyos / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects
University of Texas at El Paso arroyos / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects

Before, the campus was filled with parking lots; now, it has outdoor seating for 1,800. “Spaces for mental respite went up 64 percent.” At night, many of these social spaces have gas fire pits, so students can hold events outside under the starry desert sky. “The campus now helps students’ cognitive abilities, creating spaces for healing nature.”

University of Texas at El Paso / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects
University of Texas at El Paso / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects

The transformation led to a 61 percent reduction in water use, with a 60 percent increase in vegetation, and a 98 percent increase in the native plant palette. Some 90 percent of demolition materials were diverted from the landfill and recycled on site. Venhaus said, “let no one tell you it’s hard to recycle asphalt. It’s the easiest thing to do.”

According to Venhaus, they lost points with SITES because they weren’t able to incorporate much recycled local materials. “We just couldn’t get recycled content, because the local market in El Paso didn’t have it.”

But the process was ultimately worth it, and the costs were relatively low. She said it’s possible to “use SITES and stay within budget if you start with the rating system from the beginning, using the pre-design assessment. You may have spend more on materials and documentation, but it’s typically less than 3 percent of the overall budget. About 1-3 percent.”

In an email, Ten Eyck wrote: “We are glad that we mentioned going after the certification at the beginning of the project to Diana Natalicio, the president of UTEP.  She was all for it and gave us the back up for pursuing the certification, so we were able to incorporate the SITES strategies from the beginning of the design process. We learned that it can be difficult in remote areas, such as El Paso, to meet all of the criteria, because it is so far away from many manufacturers. The campus is thrilled to have received the certification, and the project is helping to convey to the El Paso region and beyond the importance of connecting people with each other and the beauty of their unique desert regions, away from cars. Campuses of the southwest do not have to copy British or ivy league approaches. Instead, we can celebrate the beauty of the people and the places of the southwest in our own special way.”

The Second SITES v2 Certified Project: Chicago Navy Pier

Bryan Astheimer, an architect and sustainability consultant at Re:Vision Architecture, worked with James Corner Field Operations to achieve SITES Gold certification for the transformation of the Chicago Navy Pier. For its bicentennial the Chicago Navy Pier put out an international design competition to reimagine the pier landscape, which Corner’s firm won.

The pier is the only one of the five Chicago architect and planner David Burnham envisioned as part of the 1919 comprehensive plan for Chicago to actually have been built. For decades it was used by the Navy, and then, in 1995 it was revamped as a “festival pier,” with a convention center, children’s museum, Shakespeare theater, restaurants, and amusement park. For decades, it has been the “number-one tourist destination in the Midwest,” Astheimer said. But the city found that the pier had begun to look “tired, not contemporary.” For many Chicagoans, it’s really a place only for tourists.

The first phase of the pierscape project, some 9 acres, redesigned the entry — the Polk Brothers Park and Headhouse Plaza — and the south dock, the long spine that connects the various rooms of the pier. Field Operations more fully integrated the entry plaza into existing transit systems, adding bike racks, bike share stations.

Chicago Navy Pier entry plaza / Sahar Coston-Hardy
Chicago Navy Pier entry plaza / Sahar Coston-Hardy

The spine itself is a marvel of landscape engineering. Before, stormwater would simply run right off into Lake Michigan. Now, expansive tree tanks cut right into the pier with giant saws are large enough so they can store any excess water that falls on the pier. “Water is stored in the tanks where it’s used to irrigate the landscape. Any excess is filtered and then discharged.”

Chicago Navy Pier / Sahar Coston-Hardy
Chicago Navy Pier / Sahar Coston-Hardy

The number-one cost item on the project were the thousands and thousands of herringbone-patterned pavers needed to cover the pier. “We ended up custom specifying a paver with UniLock, but they couldn’t meet the SITES specification for 40 percent recycled content. They ended up creating a paver with 30 percent copper slag. It’s now on their website as part of their eco product line.” What began as a limitation ultimately resulted in market transformation.

Chicago Navy Pier / Sahar Coston-Hardy
Chicago Navy Pier / Sahar Coston-Hardy

Astheimer said “SITES makes you think through the site before you begin design. It forces you to use a quantifiable framework that creates learning opportunities” for all the designers and contractors involved. All the challenges that came out of this new process “were all opportunities for learning. Challenges create growth and ultimately value.” He believes that “SITES will drive the industry to become more sustainable and transparent.”

Sarah Weidner Astheimer, ASLA, principal, James Corner Field Operations, wrote in: “We are excited to celebrate the gold SITES certification of Navy Pier’s South Dock, the first phase in its complete renovation. SITES informed much of our design process, from access and circulation studies to plant and material specifications. It was an important tool that kept our client, our contractor, and design team accountable to a high standard of best practices and resulted in an unprecedented project—the transformation of Chicago’s Navy Pier into an authentic and green destination reflective of the city’s identity.”

*SITES was developed through a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden.

How to Restore Neighborhood Streams

Restoring Neighborhood Streams / Island Press
Restoring Neighborhood Streams / Island Press

Over the last 30 years, urban stream restoration has evolved from neighborhood and non-profit-led volunteer projects to full-scale public works projects. Dr. Ann Riley, executive director of the Waterways Restoration Institute, explained this evolution of stream restoration in her 1998 book, Restoring Streams in Cities: A Guide for Policymakers, Planners, and Citizens. Eighteen years later, she documents the path of six important projects in the San Francisco Bay area in her new book, Restoring Neighborhood Steams: Planning, Design and Construction.

Restoring Neighborhood Streams dives deep into the details. However, all of us that are involved in restoring urban habitats — from streams, creeks, to shorelines — will benefit from reviewing how communities started these projects, analyzed opportunities, and applied lessons learned. She tells stories about the projects, but also delves into engineering technologies. Anyone involved in stream restoration can apply the ideas and results presented in the book to their urban green infrastructure projects.

The book begins and also ends with discussion on what “restoration” means. We view restoration through many lenses: engineering analyses, stormwater metrics, and urban aesthetics. She explains there are different degrees of restoration as well: we can enhance streams’ function or ecology, or preserve their history to certain levels.

In striving towards historic recreation, six case studies take the reader through the decision-making process needed to determine appropriate interventions. Case studies demonstrate the success of bio-engineering and imply the failure of traditional planting plans.

More pointedly, Riley argues for using a phased approach to stream restoration work, layering plant material while stabilizing channels at the same time. Riley stresses that successful work depends on a collaborative, multi-disciplinary team of landscape architects, engineers, scientists, communications specialists, and maintenance workers.

While stream restoration projects are now largely led by city public works departments, it’s  clear the key to successful projects is participation by the community. The book uses neighborhood streams as a focal point to discuss the many issues that affect communities — wildlife habitat, water quality, public safety, homelessness, education, environmental legislation, and green jobs.

If you are doing urban restoration or green stormwater infrastructure projects, reading this book should trigger many ideas. Reading through Riley’s deconstruction of these six projects should help guide you to success.

This guest post is by Peg Staeheli, FASLA, MIG | SvR

Bjarke Ingels Wants Cities to Embrace Resilience

“The Big U is the love child of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs,” said Bjarke Ingels, founder of the multidisciplinary design firm BIG, to huge laughs at GreenBuild‘s finale in Los Angeles. “It’s both a holistic, contiguous project” that Moses, the master of top-down planning, would appreciate, and the result of lots of local community input, which Jacobs, the advocate for bottom-up, small-scale planning, would approve of.

Ingels was speaking of his vision for a system of green berms and parks that will protect lower Manhattan from the next Hurricane Sandy, swinging from West 54th street south to The Battery and up to East 40th Street.

The Big U was one of the major winners of the Rebuild by Design competition, which was organized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Rockefeller Foundation, receiving some $335 million. (For their part in the project, Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners received a 2016 ASLA Professional Analysis and Planning Award).

In a fantastic, hybrid video and animation (see above), Ingels showed how the project will make New York City much safer while also creating more green public space. The project, which will break ground in 2017 with the eastern portion, is expected to save lower Manhattan from some $3 billion in damages from the next super storm.

Ingels believes that “resilient infrastructure is not a sea wall; it’s premeditated social and environmental infrastructure.” In keeping with his argument that designers must emphasize fun while surreptitiously improving sustainability and resilience, “the Big U will make lower Manhattan more accessible and enjoyable.”

For Ingels, it’s a no brainer: more cities need to “embrace resilience as a driver of design.”

USGBC Readies Major Push on SITES

University of Texas at El Paso by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects / Terry Moore
University of Texas at El Paso by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects / Terry Moore

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has been on a rating system shopping spree for the past year. In addition to purchasing the Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®)*, it has since incorporated ParkSmart, a new rating system for parking garages; PEER, which covers power stations; and, most recently, Envision, a tool for making civic infrastructure more sustainable, developed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI). At GreenBuild in Los Angeles, representatives from USGBC and its certification arm, Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), explained how their goal is to now identify all synergies across their expanded portfolio of 10 rating systems and then create “cross walks” that enable developers and designers to leverage credits across complex projects and rating systems. They want to streamline the process and reduce the cost and time in pursuing multiple certifications at once. A new online, data-based system called ARC, which will launch in December, is supposed to enable all of this.

In a session, Micah Silvey, director of certification at GBCI, said “with ARC, we can go broader and deeper. We can make integration happen.” But he admitted the next step, which is to align the rating systems’ real “intents and goals” will be a “harder,” more lengthy process. Already, USGBC and GBCI have identified 6 credits that can be shared between LEED v4 and SITES v2. But the mapping of synergies between all the other rating systems can be expected to take years.

Silvey made the case for adding SITES to USGBC’s portfolio of rating systems, arguing it will help raise the profile of landscape architects. “Landscape is no longer an afterthought. SITES can elevate a whole industry and profession,” bringing them to the table earlier on as part of an integrated design team. He also said it will increase the focus on landscape performance: “SITES is a tool to create a collaborative ecology to guide project teams and clients according to a set of performance-based goals.” Like LEED, SITES can also provide landscape project owners with “recognition, third-party verification, and accountability.”

To date, some 100 projects are now exploring certification with SITES v2, and 40 have registered. Two projects have achieved certification: The first out of the gate was the University of Texas at El Paso campus by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, which received SITES Silver (see image above); and then, just last week, the Chicago Navy Pier by James Corner Field Operations, which received SITES Gold.

Chicago Navy Pier / The Architect's Newspaper
Chicago Navy Pier / The Architect’s Newspaper

Many more SITES certified projects are expected soon, in part because, earlier this year, the General Services Administration (GSA) issued a new policy: starting in fiscal year 2017, all landscape projects moving forward must be SITES certified. For Christian Gabriel, ASLA, national design director for landscape architecture, who championed this policy, “SITES is a way to enforce sustainability goals and get important third party verification,” said David Witek, senior vice president at USGBC, who also sees more governments following GSA’s lead. “Federal, state, and local governments helped launch LEED in the marketplace. They can do the same for SITES.” Already, California’s state government has made an exception to their moratorium on large-scale landscape architecture projects during the drought for SITES-certified projects.

GBCI also recently launched SITES Accredited Professional (AP) for landscape architects and designers who seek to “distinguish themselves in the marketplace.” Like the LEED AP exam, it will include 100 multiple choice questions, explained Khunteang Pa, director of credentialing at GBCI. If landscape architects register for the exam before June 30, 2017, they can take advantage of discount pricing of $300, or $100 off. Registrants can use the rating system, which is free, the reference guide, and the test specifications, which cover 7 knowledge domain areas, to prepare for the exam. Like LEED AP, those with SITES AP will need to maintain their credential by taking 30 hours of continuing education every two years.

USGBC and GBCI have high hopes for SITES: They want 200 SITES AP candidates registered by the end of November, in part to ensure they have enough people to finish their beta testing. “We still have about 50 percent to go with developing the exam,” said Pa.

Long-term, Silvey said, USGBC and GBCI want to see “thousands of SITES accredited professionals, with human resource departments adding SITES AP as a hiring requirement.” He sees SITES itself becoming a household name, with a billion square feet of projects certified. “We just need to scale up now.”

*SITES was developed through a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden.

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

© 2016 Ana Ka'ahanui (USGBC)
Kites, by Jacob Hashimoto, was created specifically for the east and west atria of GSA headquarters building in Washington, D.C. / USGBC

A Rare Tel Aviv Tree, a Landscape Architect and a Tragedy ForetoldHaaretz, 9/17/16
“I meet landscape architect Ram Eisenberg next to Gan Ha’ir Mall in Tel Aviv. Eisenberg is conducting a study for the municipality’s strategic planning unit. Its aim: To find ways to improve the walking experience for the city’s pedestrians.”

One Surprising Secret Weapon Against Natural Disasters? Landscape Architecture Fast Company, 9/22/16
“In an era when cities are ravaged by drought, flooding, wildfires, and more, infrastructure projects tend to get most of the attention when it comes to resiliency. But good landscape design can be powerful, too.”

Ready for its Close-Up, Hong Kong Tourist Attraction Avenue of Stars to Get HK$100m Facelift The South China Morning Post, 9/22/16
“The popular Avenue of Stars along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront will get a facelift worth over HK$100 million with a drastic increase in greenery and shaded space as well as enhanced mobile technology so that visitors can better feel the presence of their idols and classic movies, it emerged on Thursday.”

Louisiana Flood of 2016 Made Worse by Growth-Focused Policies The Times-Picayune, 9/23/16
“There’s nothing new about flooding in southeast Louisiana. But in the Baton Rouge area, at least, the devastation wreaked by heavy rains is getting worse.”

In Toronto, Looking to the Future in an Abandoned Park The New York Times, 9/23/16
“For the first time in five summers, Toronto’s waterfront amusement park is open, overgrown though it may be.”

Neighbors Group Pitches in on Caring for Washington Square Trees The San Francisco Chronicle, 9/29/16
“Trees maintenance is technically the city’s responsibility, but Friends of Washington Square Park spent $10,000 in 2010 to prune and assess the canopy. Now, the group is working with the city’s Recreation and Park Department to update that assessment with HortScience, a horticulture consultant.”

Is City Ready to Fulfill Broken Pledge for ‘World-Class’ Park at Miami Marine Stadium? The Miami Herald, 9/29/16
“Almost a year after the city of Miami hurriedly spent $18 million to accommodate the Miami International Boat Show at the historic Miami Marine Stadium’s vast parking lot, administrators said they will seek to hire a “world-class” design firm to develop a blueprint for a long-promised public “flex-park” at the site.”

Driving Sustainability Beyond the BuildingUSGBC, 2016 September-October
“Can landscape architecture help save the world? The way Christian Gabriel, the national design director for landscape architecture at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), describes the federal agency’s recent work in the field makes a compelling case for the affirmative.”