The Chance of Climate Change Summit Success Fades

The United Nations Assocation of the National Capitol Area organized a panel on climate change in Asia at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Dr. Carla Freeman, Associate Director, China Studies, SAIS, Dr. Casey Delhotal, Policy Advisor, U.S. Treasury Department, and Dr. Frederick Tipson, Director, UNDP Washington Liaison Office provided background on the on-going UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process, the international obstacles preventing an agreement, and the U.S. position in the global negotiations. The panelists discussed what President Obama will most likely accomplish on climate change during an upcoming trip to China, and whether he will actually attend the Copenhagen meeting in December.

Dr. Carla Freeman, Associate Director, China Studies, SAIS: The recent Barcelona UNFCCC meeting “cast a pall over a global multilateral agreement, but raised expectations about bilateral deals between the U.S. and China or U.S. and India before Copenhagen.” Freeman said there has been an on-going debate between the developed and developing worlds about what the “common but differentiated responsibilities” on green house gas (GHG) emissions actually means for each group of nations. China is now the world’s largest emitter of CO2, and India is in 4th place.

The U.S. lacks credibility in the global negotiations. The U.S. never ratified the first UNFCCC treaty — the “Kyoto Protocol.” While the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House would reduce emissions, it isn’t clear by how much. Under some calculations, the new bill would only reduce U.S. emissions to one percent below 1995 levels (instead of the 20 percent it claims).  

Some have claimed China’s position in the negotiations has been “intransigent.” However, Freeman thinks China knows it must address climate change. Drying rivers, shrinking glaciers, declines in agricultural productivity all threaten China. “China’s leadership is committed to a solution.” However, China has limited capacity to deal with climate change. China has local capacity issues, as localities often regularly ignore central government decisions on climate change. China doesn’t want to fail in the negotiations and doesn’t want to be seen as blocking a global agreement.

Freeman added that China is concerned, or “even obsessed” with energy security. Some 80 percent of China’s energy comes from domestic coal. While much of the emissions in the U.S. come from the transportation sector, in comparison, China’s emissions come from dirty coal used in building heating / cooling, and manufacturing production. Freeman said commentators used to say China builds a new coal plant every hour. Now, it’s the case that China adds “one GW of wind power every hour.” China has shown leadership in moving to renewable energy on a massive scale. Also, the new coal plants “are relatively clean.”

President Obama’s trip to China will not yield a roadmap for Copenhagen, but more joint research and development (R&D) and technical assistance.

Frederick Tipson, Director, UNDP Washington Liaison Office: Reducing C02 emission reductions will require a lengthy and complex political and economic process; one meeting in Copenhagen won’t do the trick. What the global community needs is a framework that is compatible with national goals, because “it’s the countries and local communities that must put climate action plans into place.”

Formerly a counsel with the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tipson saw the U.S. delay on ratifying the UN Law of the Sea. The U.S. never ratified because it could set a precedent for global management over aspects of the U.S. economy. Wearing his academic cap, Tipson asked: “If the Senate couldn’t ratify the Law of the Sea, which doesn’t create real political problems for the U.S., how will it ratify a new legally-binding Copenhagen agreement?” He thinks President Obama will have a very difficult time getting a global agreement through Congress. “Issues relating to the management of the global commons are often framed as a reduction of U.S. power to manage its own resources.”

“How can we get other countries to act?” There need to be absolute numbers on C02 emission reductions, but there needs to be a collective bargaining on these. “There are so many elements.” For instance, Tipson saw negotiations on creating a global, inter-connected cap and trade system as hugely complex. Additionally, countries are still struggling to develop an internationally acceptable definition of C02 emissions, let alone the definition of an acceptable carbon credit. “Transparency will be a huge challenge.”

A new post-Kyoto agreement may need to have greater consequences or penalties for missing C02 emission reduction targets, but this may not happen. Canada, which signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, is more than 30 percent over its C02 emission reduction targets. “All the international system can do is name and shame.”

The UNFCCC process should be seen like the World Trade Organization’s Doha round, more like a process instead of just one meeting. The United Nations is “excellent at facilitating and knows how to run a global negotiation process.” UNDP hopes to play a trusted advisor role to developing countries and help “mainstream climate change” into national development plans.

Dr. Casey Delhotal, Policy Advisor, U.S. Treasury Department: Treasury’s climate change office is focused on the financial aspects of climate change. “We will need massive markets to deal with this.” The U.S. also wants to provide oversight over C02 market development, and the host of tax, investment, trade policy and other economic issues that will be involved in a move towards a cap and trade system. The U.S. treasury department was deeply involved in creating the financing mechanisms in the Waxman-Markey bill. Treasury is also interested in helping countries meet their climate change adaptation and mitigation needs through financing.

Delhotal says we have no idea how the final Senate climate bill will look once it goes through the five more committees reviewing it. “We also have no idea how it will look after the Senate – House conference on the bill.” There will be a great deal of compromise to get it passed.

Internationally, the current U.S. domestic negotiations on climate change legislation leave the U.S. in an “awkward position.” “We can’t commit to targets, put money on the table, or sign on to any legally binding agreements. The U.S. can’t pledge anything that will hurt the domestic process.” Even if the U.S. signed on to Copenhagen, the agreement wouldn”t create the authority and funding only the U.S. Senate can give to domestic agencies to go out and act on GHG emissions. The U.S. official position is in support of 50 percent emission reductions by 2050, and final cuts of 80-85 percent.

“Global negotiations have been contentious because of distrust.” As a result, a legally-binding global agreement isn’t likely. A political agreement around general language is more likely. Delhotal thinks the U.S. has a positive relationship with China on climate change, but the upcoming Obama meeting with China’s Hu Jintao also may not result in anything more than a joint statement. Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s new joint U.S.-China carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) initiative is also a bright spot in the bilateral relationship.

When asked whether the EPA could move on regulating C02 emissions under the Clear Air Act if the U.S. Senate fails to act, Delhotal says the EPA has only passed the first step in a six step process for that authority. Given the EPA may focus more on technical standards and technology, an EPA approach may not favor cap and trade, and could cost more than a Congressional approach.

On the idea that a new global framework is needed and a new forum, Delhotal says other efforts in the past have failed. “Developing countries prefer the UNFCCC forum. Any agreement must include mitigation targets and financing.” While the U.S. is seeking to create new global carbon funds, it also wants access to the Climate Development Mechanism (CDM) for the U.S. domestic market. However, under a U.S. cap and trade system, the U.S. will be looking to buy “1.5 billion tones of carbon per year.” She thought more funds / financing mechanisms, including sectoral mechanisms like REDD, would definitely be needed to meet global demand in the future.

Read Guardian (UK) coverage of the UNFCCC negotiations. Obama recently said: “If I am confident that all the countries involved are bargaining in good faith and we are on the brink of a meaningful agreement and my presence in Copenhagen will make a difference in tipping us over edge, then certainly that’s something that I will do.”

Open Air Library in East Germany

Karo Architekten collaborated with local residents of Magdeburg, Germany, to create an open air public library and cultural center, and revitalize the community. In the public center, books are free to take and leave 24 hours a day. To use a book, residents simply “walk up to a cubby and pull out a tome.” Given no membership is required, there are no barriers to access.

According to Inhabitat, the library began as an “assemblage of 1,000 empty beer cartons pulled together by residents.” The building includes green space and the recycled facade of an old warehouse. Inhabitat writes that the local community helped conceive of the design and were involved from the get-go. The design started as a “1:1 model made from beer cartons,” and was later finalized by Karo Architeckten.

The site’s green plaza also includes a reading cafe and stage for local community events. 

Read the article and see more photos.

Also, Germany celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this week. According to The New York Times, local artists have been celebrating the anniversary with public art exhibits along the former wall’s route, including a domino-like row of slabs, street festivals, and the on-going wall museum. View a slideshow and full coverage.

Philly’s Piazza

Inspired by the Piazza Navona in Rome, Bart Blatstein, the president of Tower Investments, created a public square out of an abandoned brewery lot in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of  Philadelphia. The plazza, which opened in May at 2nd street and Girard Avenue, is 80,000 square-feet. The architecture critic of The Philadelphia Inquirer said in an interview that the developer had managed to “create a public space that feels authentic.”

Modern apartment buildings with more than 30 ground-floor retail spaces provide sides for the plaza. “At the southern end, an 80-year-old rehabilitated warehouse, now an office building, serves as a backdrop for live performances. Attached to it is a 40-foot LED screen that draws fans during Phillies’ games and other televised sports events.” 

According to The New York Times, the “gritty, authentic” space is viewed as successful by local residents. Furthermore, community boards have also approved of Blatstein’s efforts.

For the piazza, the developer adhered to a few design principles, which may contribute to the space’s social success. “He limited the height of the surrounding buildings so that none were taller than seven stories. The piazza itself had to be just the right width — no more than 100 feet — so that people would feel safe there.” The site has also been economically successful. Econsult provided some figures: housing values in Northern Liberties increased from $32 a square foot to $140 a square foot since Blatstein bought the brewery. Larry Freedman, the zoning chairman for the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association, said: “It’s been a surprising success on multiple levels.” 

The piazza was designed by Erdy McHenry Architecture, a Philadelphia firm.

Read the article

Image credit: Ryan Collerd,  The New York Times

Interview with Paul Morris on Designing Healthy Communities

Paul Morris, FASLA, former president of ASLA, discusses recent efforts by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to fight widespread public health problems through healthy community design. Morris was invited by the CDC to participate in a select group advising on the development of a new center around healthy community design. He argues that the lack of access to sustainable transportation infrastructure like sidewalks, bike lanes, and low-cost public transportation creates additional disadvantages for communities with poor educational systems and problems with nutrition. Furthermore, Morris thinks that there is enormous “pent-up demand” for sustainable transportation options in communities, and it’s a case of “if you build it, they will use it.” Lastly, he thinks landscape architects and other design professionals can design healthy communities through “active” and “passive” design interventions.  

According to the CDC, “Most health disparities affect groups marginalized because of socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, disability, geographic location, or some combination of these.” Disadvantaged communities are often disadvantaged in terms of access to transportation options. Unhealthy communities lack sustainable transportation infrastructure, such as sidewalks, bike lanes, or low cost public transportation. These communities also often lack green infrastructure — parks, green roofs, trees. When asked what kind of infrastructure investment is needed to remove these inequities, Morris responded: “Land use and transportation decisions often are the biggest issues. Not only is ease of access important, but also the availability of services and things like nutritious foods as well as access to education. The lack of mobility in terms of accessibility to non-auto transportation adds to that.”

Morris says the CDC is focused on creating connections between public health, land use, and transportation. “For them, the big issue is a lot of regions or communities do not understand the kind of direct corollary between health and the interface between land use and transportation decisions. They’re not only looking for ways to improve on the availability of better transportation and a more mixed use land use environment, but they’re looking for ways to influence organizational development at the local government level. They’re looking for ways to contribute to the financial or fiscal mechanisms that are necessary to provide these services and facilities. They’re also looking to influence the political process, in that they’re trying to create factual reference points that can contribute to the conversation — whether it’s through health impact analysis (which is a tool they’ve used through their community health organizations) or things like the LEED green building certification process, the Sustainable Sites Initiative, or the ICLEI STAR Community Index process.”

There has been discussion on what needs to come first: healthy community infrastructure (sidewalks, bike lanes, promenades), or demand from local communities for this infrastructure. If communities don’t have infrastructure that enables healthy behavior, what is the best way to create demand? Morris says: “There’s a lot of debate around that. In examples around the country, what has been found is that where communities take the initiative to actually install the infrastructure, there is, in fact, a significant pent-up demand that has been unmet. It’s kind of a ‘if you build it, they will use it’ situation. In different cities around the country, where they’ve done things like added bike lanes on streets, or built sidewalks where they didn’t exist, they were surprised at the increase in usership by walkers and bicyclists for those kinds of facilities.” The key to getting these types of projects built, however, is local leadership. “It really requires some leadership on the part of local governments to devote some percentage of their infrastructure resources to making these things available and attract people to use them. You know, it isn’t enough to just say, ‘Well, people say they want them, so we’re going to build them.’ You actually have to have them there for people to know that they’re available for use.”

For Morris, landscape architects play a key role in designing healthy communities, and can contribute through a combination of “active” and “passive” design interventions. “Active elements have to do with the introduction of widespread indoor and outdoor recreational facilities. The second area in which they can help is through the development of recreational programs — the design of systems — that are adaptable to the recreational needs of a community. The passive part is really just better and more frequent design of facilities that makes it possible for people to access transportation, those recreation activities. Whether it’s backways, sidewalks, or other trails, you’ve got to have ways in which people can get access to the parks, recreational facilities and programs that are being designed.”

Read the full interview

Image credit: Urban Corridor Planning — City of Houston, Houston, TX. The Planning Partnership Limited, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

ASLA Communications and Advocacy Internship, Spring 2010

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is seeking applicants for its 2010 spring semester (January – May) internship program.

A spring internship with ASLA provides an excellent opportunity for graduate or undergraduate students interested in policy issues related to design, sustainability, and the environment. Students with an interest in policy, advocacy, and web communications are encouraged to apply.


  • Research, track, and analyze federal and state legislation focused on transportation, natural resources, environmental, water resource management, and sustainability issues, particularly as they relate to landscape architecture.
  • Assist with the Society’s direct advocacy with the Congress, the administration, and the federal agencies.
  • Assist with drafting, editing, and compilation of government affairs communications, correspondence, and publications.
  • Develop original content for the ASLA Web site and The Dirt blog.
  • Contributions to biweekly electronic newsletter, LAND Online
  • Chapter communications support and resource development.


  • Current enrollment in a Master’s degree or Bachelor’s degree program in public policy, public administration, communications, environmental studies, or related field.
  • Passionate interest in policy issues related to design, land use, sustainability, and the environment.
  • Experience or familiarity with federal and state government affairs and the federal appropriations process.
  • Demonstrated writing skills and ability to write congressional correspondence, news stories, reports, and presentations.
  • Working knowledge of Microsoft Office (Word, Outlook, Powerpoint, Excel) and proven Internet research skills.

The 2010 spring internship is unpaid. Applicants must demonstrate they are using the internship to fulfill internship requirements. Applicants are also required to receive funding through their university or an external fellowship in order to be considered.  

The spring intern should be present at ASLA offices for up to 15 hours per week. ASLA offers a flexible schedule. Please send cover letter and résumé to

Land Matters: Where Do I Play?

What makes a successful public space, the design or the program? Of course, programmers believe it’s the program and designers believe it’s the design, and the debate reverberates throughout our profession and in the pages of this issue. In reality, the answer is “everything”: location, constituency, quality of materials, and, yes, both design and program. There are parks designed and programmed for a vast array of interests, from skateboarding and sailing to music and water, to family outings and sports. You name it; there is a park for it. But the main objective we should focus on as designers and program advocates is to fit the park to the community.

From Discovery Green, Houston’s highly programmed park discussed in this issue, to New York’s High Line and Chicago’s Millennium Park, what makes a park successful is how well it represents the personality of the area. Does the park capture the imagination of the time and place? We’ve all been asked to name our favorite parks and cannot often limit ourselves to just one. Among my favorites are Gaudi’s Park Guell in Barcelona, which captures the imagination with fascinating designs in an architecture of tile and color; Parc André Citroën in Paris, a poetic space with fabulous gardens in black, white, red, and gold; and Olmsted’s iconic Central Park, with its roads, bridges, water, and trees.

Parks, like communities, vary. I’m a proponent of public process as the way to determine people’s desires and dreams—and to build a constituency—for their park. Whether you are designing a new park or renovating an older public space, you have to build the constituency. Listening to the community and introducing them to new possibilities and ideas is an engaging process that people can actually enjoy. A certain amount of drama is always involved (I refer to community process as often resembling civic theater), but I dislike hearing designers and programmers talking past each other or offering their views in a negative way that downplays other perspectives. It is incumbent on us as professionals to work together to build the best public space possible for a community, given the reality of land, time, and—often primarily—budget.

Can a park be overprogrammed? Unfortunately, yes. A dizzying array of activities is not always what we want in a park. Restful and quiet are good too. And while designing parks in Boston, Atlanta, Miami, Barcelona, and Milan, what I’ve heard in public meetings is the same request: Make the park beautiful. It is a straightforward wish, but complicated to achieve. And it should be a main goal of every park designer and advocate.

Early in my career, in my ongoing and often harried attempts to combine motherhood and profession, my three small children would accompany me to visit new parks I wanted to experience. On one such outing in suburban Washington, D.C., we looked at flowers, fountains, game tables, and sculptures, and took in the bandstand, views, and landscape. I thought it was going pretty well until my middle child piped up, “You said we were visiting a new park. Where do I play?”

And so we find that, in the end, park design and programming must together answer two simple questions. Is it beautiful? Where do I play? Kudos to Gaudi and Olmsted. They got it right. My hope is that we all do the same.

Barbara Faga, FASLA
Executive Vice President, AECOM
Chair, LAM Editorial Advisory Committee

The Effects of Population Growth on Land Use

Cropland meets the Amazon forest /

In an article in Yale University’s Environment 360, Jonathan Foley, Director of the Institute of the Environment, University of Minnesota, argues that the global community now faces a “crisis in land use and agriculture that could undermine the health, security, and sustainability of our civilization.” While climate change has received enormous attention (rightfully, Foley argues), human population growth, and the corresponding rising global demand for meat and dairy products, as well as the growing need for bio-energy from corn, sugarcane, and other sources should be equal cause for concern. “We are putting tremendous pressure on the world’s resources.” With 70 million new people per year, Foley argues, “if we want any hope of keeping up with these demands, we’ll need to double, perhaps triple, the agricultural production of the planet in the next 30 to 40 years.”

Foley said meeting the agricultural needs of a growing global population is difficult enough, but, at the same time, countries must meet growing food production needs while mitigating the effects of agricultural production on land-based ecosystems. “Already, we have cleared or converted more than 35 percent of the earth’s ice-free land surface for agriculture, whether for croplands, pastures or rangelands. In fact, the area used for agriculture is nearly 60 times larger than the area of all of the world’s cities and suburbs. Since the last ice age, nothing has been more disruptive to the planet’s ecosystems than agriculture.”

Agricultural puts pressure on lands, but also on water systems. He explains in depth: “Across the globe, we already use a staggering 4,000 cubic kilometers of water per year, withdrawn from our streams, rivers, lakes and aquifers. Of this, 70 percent is used for irrigation, the single biggest use of water, by far, on the globe. As a result, many large rivers have greatly reduced flows and some routinely dry up. And the extraction of water from deep groundwater reserves is almost universally unsustainable, and has resulted in rapidly declining water tables in many regions of the world. Future water demands from increasing population and agricultural consumption will likely climb between 4,500 and 6,200 cubic kilometers per year, hugely compounding the impacts of climate change, especially in arid regions.”

Not only are water and land resources put under stress, but current agricultural practices create pollution. “Agriculture, particularly the use of industrial fertilizers and other chemicals, has fundamentally upset the chemistry of the entire planet. Already, the use of fertilizers has more than doubled the flows of nitrogen and phosphorus compounds in the environment, resulting in widespread water pollution and the massive degradation of lakes and rivers. Excess nutrient pollution is now so widespread, it is even contributing to the disruption of coastal oceans and fishing grounds by creating hypoxic ‘dead zones,’ including one in the Gulf of Mexico.” Another form of pollution results from current agricultural and land use practices: C02 emissions. According to Foley, current practices, including clearing forests for agricultural land, contribute 30 percent of the currently unsustainable C02 emission levels.

Foley points to a few possible solutions: invest in “revolutionary” agricultural practices, a new “greener” agricultural revolution, and improve agricultural production while also mitigating environmental impacts. Foley says there is room for hope. “In recent years, for example, U.S. farmers — working with agricultural experts — have dramatically improved practices in the corn and soybean belt, cutting down on erosion, nutrient loss, and groundwater pollution, even as yields have continued to increase.”

Read the article.

Brisbane’s 470-meter Solar-powered Footbridge

A 470-meter solar-powered footbridge recently opened in Brisbane’s Central Business District, writes Inhabitat. The footbridge, designed by Cox Architects, an Australian firm, cost $63 million. Approximately 36,000 pedestrians and bikers are expected to use the bridge per year. 

According to Inhabitat, the LED lighting system is designed for maximum energy efficiency and will be used for festivals along the river. The LED lighting system is powered by 84 solar panels mounted on the bridge, which can “generate a daily output of 100KWh and an average yearly output of 38MWh.”

The solar panel system will provide enough energy to light the bridge in most instances. When the bridge is fully illuminated, it must receive 25 percent of its energy from the central grid. During the day, howerver, the bridge will return energy to the central grid.

TreeHugger added that the footbridge is expected to save 37.8 tonnes of carbon emissions each year.

Read the article and see more photos.

This project is a good example of “multiple use” or green infrastructure discussed by Ken Smith, ASLA, in a recent interview. The footbridge not only enables non-automotive access to Brisbane’s downtown area, but also creates energy.

Reconnecting a Washington State Park to the Local Community

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol and Allied Works won a design competition to create a park that will span an Interstate and connect a two-block section of Washington State’s Fort Vancouver national historic site with the City of Vancouver’s downtown. The design will include a “landscape cap” that will extend south from the existing “Evergreen Boulevard” span over the interstate.

According to The Oregonian, “a central walkway would connect downtown to the historic area. Smaller wood pathways would branch out to various pockets of the park, such as the Northwest Meadow and the reflective pond. Native plants would fill the park, basalt stone paving would create the paths, and recycled auto glass would form transparent fissure walls.” The Columbian added that the design will include “a water wall and ‘Sound Grove’ artwork. Curved steel boughs would swivel on steel posts as wind passes through the artwork. As the boughs move, they would emit low tones and create a harmonic sound.” 

The Daily Journal of Commerce Oregon writes that the design is part of the broader plan to replace an Interstate-5 bridge, a “multibillion-dollar Columbia River Crossing project whose future is unclear.” If the bridge does get built, federal rules require the additional landscape cap. 

Kathryn Gustafson, ASLA, researched the geology to create a plan for rebuilding what I-5 had destroyed. Gustafson told the Daily Journal of Commerce: “It’s all about the land. When you look at the land of Washington state, it has one of the most diverse geologies in the world.” According to Daily Journal of Commerce, Gustafson examined the “Mount St. Helens lava tubes, violent acts of simultaneous creation and destruction, for inspiration. In the winning concept, the freeway below becomes a grotto, with the forces of nature reshaping the landscape above.”

The design competition jurors said of the winning design: “The design by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol/Allied Works Architecture Team best responds to the vision of the Community Connector. It appropriately respects and celebrates the cultural history of Vancouver, truly connecting the Fort Vancouver National Site to the City. The design concept shows an understanding of the cultural history and significance of this Site. An adaptable design, it enhances the amenities on both sides as they are currently and as they could evolve into the future. The design concept provides a clarity and richness worthy of the vision of the project. It shows a spirit of place that is specific and appropriate for the Northwest. It honors the seasons and biology of the Pacific Northwest landscape and includes an elegant, yet practical, use of water.”

The mayor of Vancouver, Washington State, Royce Pollard, said the design would reconnect the historic site and local community, and undo the damage caused by the highway. “They cut a hole right through the heart of our community. They disconnected our history.”

Read more on the project

Image credit: Fort Vancouver, Washington State. Wikipedia Commons

New Landscape Rating System to Transform the Industry, Complete Green Building Puzzle

The Sustainable Sites Initiative released the nation’s first rating system for the design, construction and maintenance of sustainable landscapes, with or without buildings. A partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the U.S. Botanic Garden, the Initiative’s rating system represents four years of work by dozens of the country’s leading sustainability experts, scientists and design professionals, as well as public input from hundreds of individuals and dozens of organizations to create this essential missing link in green design.  The announcement took place at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington.

“While carbon-neutral performance remains the holy grail for green buildings, sustainable landscapes move beyond a do-no-harm approach,” said Nancy Somerville, Executive Vice President and CEO of ASLA. “Landscapes sequester carbon, clean the air and water, increase energy efficiency, restore habitats and ultimately give back through significant economic, social and environmental benefits never fully measured until now.”

“We are facing unprecedented environmental challenges such as water scarcity and climate change that require fundamental changes in the way that we interact with the land,” said Susan Rieff, Executive Director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin. “This voluntary rating system and guidelines covers all aspects of working with outdoor spaces of all sizes, and provides information for designing landscapes that go beyond beauty to actually improving ecosystem health and the health of communities for generations to come.”                 

“Landscapes can give back,” said Holly H. Shimizu, Executive Director of the United States Botanic Garden. “We believe that as these guidelines become widely used, not only will they be as transformative to the landscape industry as LEED was to buildings, but more than that, they will allow built landscapes to be regenerative like natural landscapes, and assist in mitigating some of the most pressing environmental issues we face today. We need to acknowledge our landscapes’ value, treasure them and cultivate them sustainably and responsibly. The need is urgent, the time is now and these guidelines, when used correctly, are the tools.”

The rating system works on a 250-point scale, with levels of achievement for obtaining 40, 50, 60 or 80 percent of available points, recognized with one through four stars, respectively. If prerequisites are met, points are awarded through the 51 credits covering areas such as the use of greenfields, brownfields or greyfields; materials; soils and vegetation; construction and maintenance. These credits can apply to projects ranging from corporate campuses, transportation corridors, public parks and single-family residences. The rating system is part of two new reports issued from the Initiative, The Case for Sustainable Landscapes and Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009

To test the rating system, the Sustainable Sites Initiative opened a call for pilot projects in conjunction with the release of the rating system. Any type of designed landscape is eligible, so long as the project size is at least 2,000 square feet. The call will remain open until February 15, 2010, and the initiative will work with and oversee the projects during the two-year process. 

Download and share the two new reports: The Case for Sustainable Landscapes and Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009.

Read more about the call for pilot projects at

Image credit: Sustainable Sites Initiative