Urban Intervention: An Ideas Competition for Seattle Center

Urban Intervention: The Howard S. Wright Design Ideas Competition for Public Space invites landscape architects to create a “fresh vision” for a 9-acre site in the heart of Seattle Center. According to the organizers, the competition is seeking “bold and creative” ideas that can inspire “more broadly applicable solutions for major urban sites” around the world. Some of the core themes relate to designing innovation, building an “ecological city,” renewing culture, and generating dialogue.

Some questions asked: “How must public space perform in the coming century – Ecologically? Socially? Economically? How can public space evolve to better meet the needs of our changing social and natural systems? What kinds of public spaces will be needed in the future? Can we generate ideas today that will inform a new generation of cultural centers and public places?” 

The competition is also looking for “complex, multidisciplinary design responses” from landscape architects and a range of design professionals. There will be a public dialogue around the competition entries along with a publication designed to stimulate even more discussion. 

The jury includes some major landscape architects like Tom Leader, ASLA, and Mia Lehrer, FASLA, along with a number of architects.

Once all the entries are in, the jury will select three finalist teams, which will each receive $30,000 to fully develop their concepts. The grand prize winner will then receive a $30,000 prize. The competition won’t result in any built project though.

Register by January 27 and submit entries by February 10.

In other news, the Isabel Stewart Gardner Museum is seeking application for its inaugural fellowship in landscape studies. The fellowship will “be awarded to an emerging design talent whose work articulates the potential for landscape as a medium of design in the public realm.” According to the museum, “landscape architects and designers from a range of allied design professions, including architecture, engineering, urban design and planning, as well as the horticultural and garden arts, who can demonstrate a significant engagement with the landscape medium are invited to apply.” The lucky fellow will get to spend the summer in a Renzo Piano-designed apartment in Boston with a $5,000 a month stipend. Apply by December 15.

Image credit: Urban Intervention

ASLA 2012 Professional and Student Awards Call for Entries

The American Society of Landscape Architects has released its Call for Entries for the 2012 professional and student awards, the premiere awards programs for the profession. Award recipients will receive featured coverage in the September issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine and in many other design and construction industry and general-interest media. Award recipients, their clients, and student advisors also will be honored at the awards presentation ceremony during the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Phoenix, September 28 – October 1, 2012. The award winning projects will be featured in a video presentation at the ceremony and on the awards website following the event.

The prestige of the ASLA awards programs relies on the high-caliber juries that are convened each year to review submissions. Members of this year’s professional awards jury are:

•    José Almiñana, ASLA, Andropogon Associates, Philadelphia,  Jury Chair
•    Stephen T. Ayers, AIA, The Architect of the Capitol, Washington, D.C.
•    Gail Brinkmann, ASLA, City of Phoenix Street Transportation Department, Phoenix
•    Kathryn L. Gleason, FASLA, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
•    Christopher Hawthorne, Architecture Critic, The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles
•    Mikyoung Kim, ASLA, Mikyoung Kim Design, Boston
•    Tom Leader, ASLA, Tom Leader Studio, Berkeley, Calif.
•    Thomas R. Oslund, FASLA, oslund.and.assoc., Minneapolis
•    Jim Schuessler, ASLA, BNIM, Kansas City, Mo.

Members of the student awards jury are:

•    David Yocca, FASLA, Conservation Design Forum, Elmhurst, Ill., Jury Chair
•    Sheila A. Brady, FASLA, Oehme, van Sweden and Associates, Washington, D.C.
•    Mark A. Focht, FASLA, Fairmount Park Commission, Philadelphia
•    M. Paul Friedberg, FASLA, M. Paul Friedberg & Partners, New York City
•    Paul H. Gobster, FASLA, USDA Forest Service, Evanston, Ill.   
•    Debra Guenther, ASLA, Mithun, Seattle
•    Linda Jewell, FASLA, University of California at Berkeley
•    Chris Reed, ASLA, Stoss Landscape Urbanism, Boston
•    Andrew Wilcox, ASLA, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Calif.

Both the ASLA professional and students awards feature five categories: General Design; Residential Design; Analysis and Planning; Communications; and Research (the Professional Awards are co-sponsored by the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture). The Professional Awards also include The Landmark Award, while the Student Awards include the Student Community Service Award and Student Collaboration categories. 

Entry forms and payment must be received by:

•    Friday, February 3, 2012, for ASLA Professional Awards
•    Friday, April 27, 2012, for ASLA Student Awards

Submission binders must be received by:

•    Friday, February 17, 2012, for ASLA Professional Awards
•    Friday, May 11, 2012, for ASLA Student Awards

In need of inspiration?  View the ASLA 2011 professional and student award-winning projects.

Image credit: ASLA 2012 Professional General Design Award. Honor Award. West Seoul Lake Park, Seoul, Korea. CTOPOS DESIGN / Jongoh Kim

Design the NYC AIDS Memorial Park

In 30 years, more than 100,000 New York City men, women and children died from AIDS. To honor the victims and “celebrate the efforts of the caregivers and activists who responded to this health crisis,” a group of artists, health care providers, historians, family members, and neighbors formed the New York City AIDS Memorial Park Campaign. The campaign argues that New York City still doesn’t have a public AIDS memorial so a new park is needed to provide “a much-needed inspirational, educational, and green public oasis for the city and surrounding community.”

In NYC’s West Village, just a few blocks from Chelsea, on a 16,000-square-feet triangle of land between West 12th and Greenwich Avenue, a new park will take shape. The campaign writes: “The cultural significance of this site cannot be overstated; it stands at the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in New York City through its adjacency to the former St. Vincent’s Hospital. St. Vincent’s is the single site most associated with the AIDS crisis in New York City. The hospital figures prominently in The Normal Heart, Angels in America, As Is and other important pieces of literature and art that narrate the stories of the plague years in New York. The area is also in close proximity to the LGBT Community Center, where ACT-UP and other AIDS advocacy/support groups first organized.”

The site will need to function both as a working park and memorial. The park needs to be designed for both passive and active recreation for the surrounding “park-starved neighborhood” and include a “below-grade” space used as a learning center to “exhibit the history and facts of the ongoing epidemic.” The site will need to “creatively and comprehensively integrate the important commemorative narrative into the fabric and essence of the park to create a living memorial” while seamlessly offering access to the below-grade learning center. In addition, this public space will need to be accessible and usable by all, maximize planted areas and gardens, and provide ample seating and walkways.

The existing triangular site is challenge: bound by two subway train lines, its below-grade space is “raw,” meaning a mess. “Issues of access, egress, locating mechanical and HVAC equipment, and bringing daylight to the below-grade space must all be addressed.” A whole bunch of old equipment, including a loading dock, medical gas storage tanks, will need to be cleared for the new park. On top of this, all park plans need to be approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission because the site is in the Greenwich Village Historic District. 

The prestigious jury includes Ken Smith, ASLA, Ken Smith Workshop; Michael Arad, Partner, Handel Architects, and designer of the National September 11 memorial; Bary Bergdoll, Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art; Elizabeth Diller, Diller, Scofidio + Renfro; Robert Hammond, Founder, Friends of the High Line; and other high-profile architects, artists, activists, and journalists.

The winner will receive $5,000 and the runner-up will receive $2,000. Selected submissions will be exhibited at a Manhattan gallery. It costs $50 to submit an entry. It’s not clear whether the winning design will translate into an actual park as the future of the site is still in contention.

Register before January 20 and submit entries by January 21, 2012.

Also, another NYC ideas competition is seeking entries: Reimagining the Waterfront aims to find the best ideas for creating a new East River waterfront park and kick-start the transformation of the “entire East River pedestrian experience.” Submit concepts by January 15, 2012.

Image credits: NYC AIDS Memorial Park Design Competition

Smart Growth Goes Mainstream

At the 10th annual smart growth awards held at the E.P.A. headquarters in Washington D.C., Doug McKalip, White House Senior Policy Advisor for Rural Affairs, praised this year’s winners for demonstrating strategies that create jobs, protect the environment, and improve the quality of life. The five winners are found in both urban and rural communities and show how partnership efforts can stretch dollars. “We need more examples like this across the United States,” said McKalip, as he introduced the five winners:
The award for overall excellence in smart growth went to the Old North St. Louis Revitalization Initiative. This historic neighborhood had long been in decline until a group of residents, business owners, and community leaders formed a non-profit, the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group (ONSLRG), with the aim of rebuilding the community through housing reconstruction. Renovation of old buildings wherever possible was a goal, along with bringing in businesses not currently present, including a grocery store, coffee shop, and farmer’s market. New streetscaping and a variety of housing options near the business corridor make for a walkable neighborhood that has seen a 28 percent increase in population, drawing people in from the suburbs and reversing a 50 year trend of population decline. Sean Thomas, Executive Director of ONSLRG, who accepted the award with St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, said “it’s been a spectacular transformation.”

The Silver Garden Apartments in Albuquerque won the smart growth and green building award. The development is the result of a partnership between the City of Albuquerque, Romero-Rose LLC, and others. It’s located in downtown Albuquerque on the site of a former brownfield and is the Southwest’s first LEED Platinum affordable housing project. Energy saving features include rooftop solar panels and a wind turbine. An underground cistern collects rainwater from the infrequent but sometimes heavy rains and uses the stored water to irrigate the drought-tolerant landscaping. A major transit center located right across the street provides easy access to local and regional transportation. An on-site social services coordinator provides assistance to residents, including some who were formerly homeless. Mayor Richard Berry says that “citizens of Albuquerque embrace projects like this because they can see the big picture. It’s a good thing for our city to have a project like this within our city that’s this environmentally conscious, that’s also doing something good from a social standpoint.”

Plan El Paso 2010 received the programs, policies, and regulations award. This city of 750,000 residents, the majority of whom speak Spanish as their primary language, was faced with increasing sprawl, isolated and underserved city neighborhoods, and a need for more housing and infrastructure to accommodate growth of a nearby military base. City planners and citizens saw transit-oriented development as a way to address these needs. Focusing on four neighborhoods, including a 600-acre brownfield, the planning process envisioned sustainable, mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods connected by a bus rapid transit (BRT) system. An intensive planning process involving residents and business owners resulted in a plan that was approved by the city council in 2009, with BRT construction beginning in 2010. As Deputy Planning Director Matthew McElroy pointed out, “the really neat thing about proximity to work and walkable neighborhoods is you get a lot of your life back. So really it’s about improving the quality of life in El Paso.”

The rural smart growth award went to Maroney Commons in Howard, South Dakota, a town of 850, and the county seat of Miner County. The projects, says Randy Perry of the Rural Learning Center, “wasn’t just a top-down decision, it was a grassroots from the bottom up plan, with all kinds of charette meetings and town hall meetings to say, what did you need in this community?” The project got its start when students at the local high school began a “buy local” campaign that resulted in $16 million in additional sales for the town, with a corresponding increase in sales tax revenues. This encouraged residents to begin a visioning process that led to the development of Maroney Commons. What residents decided they wanted was to revitalize their Main Street, asking for a hotel, restaurant, training center, and retail space. Deteriorating buildings were torn down and salvaged materials were used in the new construction. With solar panels, a wind turbine, geothermal heating and cooling, and other efficiencies, Maroney Commons earned a LEED Platinum rating. The project has created jobs and is expected to bring to the local economy more than $6.5 million per year.

The Uptown Normal Roundabout in Normal, Illinois (see earlier post) received the civic places award. City Manager Mark Peterson explained that the initial impetus for the project was the convergence of five streets in the downtown area, with no good way to handle the traffic. Traffic engineers came up with the idea of a traffic circle. Turning the center of the circle into an outdoor green space required special negotiations with federal and state traffic regulators, but the city eventually prevailed. The roundabout was designed by Chicago-based landscape architecture firm Hoerr Schaudt to be an inviting space that includes grass, benches, trees, lighting, and a water feature that captures stormwater and prevents it from reaching a nearby creek. “It is the water element that made it so attractive,” says Peterson. “Most people don’t know it is also a water purification system.” The roundabout has become a destination for families, students, cyclists, and pedestrians. A rails-to-trails path leads up to the circle. New amenities nearby include a children’s museum, a hotel, and conference center. Property values in the area have increased dramatically. Mayor Chris Coos, in accepting the award, thanked E.P.A. and said, “if you can do a project like this in Normal, Illinois, you can do it anywhere.” (For landscape architects, also learn more about how the project works).

Following the awards, Bicki Corman, Deputy Associate Administrator for E.P.A., said that the purpose of the awards is to demonstrate the excellent smart growth work communities are doing. Every year, there is a flood of applications to the awards program but, she said, when the first awards were given 10 years ago, the concept of smart growth was not so well-known. Now, in big cities and in rural areas all across the country, smart growth is accepted. “The awards program,” she said, “has helped to nudge this process forward.”

Learn more about the winning projects.

This guest post is by Rachel Shaw, Manager of Professional Practice, American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)

Image credit: Uptown Normal Roundabout / Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects

Interview with Elizabeth Mossop on How Landscape Architects Can Protect New Orleans

Elizabeth Mossop, ASLA, is professor of landscape architecture and former director of the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University. Mossop is also a principal at Spackman, Mossop + Michaels, which has won numerous ASLA professional analysis and planning awards. 

Since becoming the director of the School of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University (LSU), you focused on bringing the delta region back after Hurricane Katrina. You’re on the board of LSU’s Coastal Sustainability Studio, which features a great mix of scientists, engineers, and designers focused on designing more sustainable systems and increasing resiliency within the region. One project you’re involved in, Bayou Bienvenue, calls for restoring the critical wetland forests that once protected the city. Other ecologists have noted that the Yucatan Region of Mexico recently fared much better when confronted with major storms because they left their mangroves in place. In the case of new Orleans, manmade infrastructure took the place of wetlands and ended up failing, causing the loss of life and destruction of communities. What challenges are you running up against in your efforts to bring back wetlands as coastal protection? What will it take to actually make this happen?

The destruction of the coast is a process that’s been in place for a long time, partly because of the loss of sediment from the Mississippi Delta, but also because of the real lack of regulation and the impact of the oil and gas industry throughout the whole Gulf Coast. At this point, it’s probably not a matter of being able to restore the coast or halt coastal erosion but really a question of thinking in a much more strategic way about how to balance out the demands of settlement against the sort of investment that’s needed to really make intelligent protection in the future. In other words, what will it take to make resilient communities sustainable in this very dynamic landscape? This would include strategies for retreat in some instances, as well as strategies for armoring or defense in others, and strategies so settlements can accept periods of flooding. A whole range of place- and community-specific solutions are required that integrate urban development strategies with real understanding of natural processes and dynamic change.

Working with the Coastal Sustainability Studio has been interesting in this context because of its multidisciplinary approach, bringing together scientists and engineers with designers. At the regional scale, we have looked at new strategies for river diversions in order to increase the deposition of sediment for land-building. This is an enormously productive direction for future work, trying to harness the power of the river for restoration, as well as combining this with broad-scale restoration of the indigenous coastal swamp and marshland communities.

However, the impediments to this type of approach are myriad. On the one hand, at the federal level, there is the Army Corps of Engineers with tremendous resources and power but an entrenched culture of traditional engineering and a very limited focus. From the state’s perspective, there is little appetite for the kind of integrated strategic planning and investment required for long-term conservation and development strategies. The hurdles are significant, but it’s enormously valuable to simply try to put alternatives out there and make information publicly available as a means of trying to influence the discourse.

While New Orleans rebuilds, we must also be prepared for the next, perhaps inevitable, storm. How can natural systems be used in preparation for the next storm event? What can landscape architects do to help the city and others like it bolster their preparations?

Landscape architects are uniquely placed to help cities prepare for natural hazards and mitigate their impacts. Certainly, we need to look at restoration and strengthening those natural systems that historically have provided really significant protection. In the case of New Orleans, the value of marshlands and cypress swamps, particularly to the east and south of the city, are incalculable.

As you know, one of the things that happens in storm events is a massive loss of canopy. We know a lot more now about the effectiveness of different species in terms of resilience to storms. On that smaller scale inside the city, re-planting of canopy can be fine-tuned with this knowledge to be more resilient. It’s really just thinking about a more integrated approach to storm protection and the design of everything in this city, from streets to water infrastructure, and how to make these systems more robust. For example, we can look at the technical design of road pavements that will be more resilient to inundation. A lot could be done to allow the city, which is very sparsely settled now, to absorb and hold a lot of water, mitigate against flooding, and take the pressure off the drainage and pumping systems. This could be achieved through the design of new parks and open space in combination with water and road infrastructure.

One of your award-winning projects, Scout Island, a 62-acre site located within City Park in the heart of New Orleans, was a wilderness preserve and bird-watchers’ paradise before Hurricane Katrina. In your effort to restore the area, you’re tagging and removing exotic species, giving the chance for the native ecosystem to come back. Why is restoring the native ecosystem so important for the park’s long-term survival? Will these native species fare better in another major storm?

I’m not certain indigenous species are necessarily any more resilient to storm damage, but this is really about a much longer-term strategy for the park. This area is one of the few even partly natural areas anywhere in the city and provides an incredibly significant resource both as habitat, particularly to migratory birds, but also a really significant educational resource, especially for schools and programs for inner-city kids and the general public. The potential is there for educational activity and nature-based recreation to become even more significant. Although City Park is enormous, this is a significant area of land within the park, and the only area which performs this nature education and adventure role. The other aspect of this is the restoration of the indigenous forest, restoring its biodiversity and preventing the site from becoming completely dominated by a monoculture of Chinese tallow, which is what our current work aims to prevent.

New Orleans also suffers from toxic, lead-ridden soils. Mel Chin, artist and provocateur, has launched his Operation Paydirt and Fundred Dollar Bill projects to help raise national awareness of the soils issue in New Orleans. He says $300 million will be needed to clean up the lead, but he says it’s worth it given that “30 percent of the population is poisoned before they reach adulthood.” What would be the most cost-effective way to translate this vision into action using the brownfield lots within the city? What role can landscape architects play?

Funny you should ask because my firm worked with Mel Chin on that project for a long time and I would love to see it come to fruition. He basically had three teams: an art team, a science team, and we were the implementation team, working with Dan Etheridge (of Meffert Etheridge environmental consultants). Julie Bargmann of Dirt Studio had also worked on the earliest stages of that project with Mel and helped him think through how the idea could play out in an urban landscape by creating a series of park/depots at different scales. We then took on the task of trying to figure out how to develop an implementation strategy for the city. Our approach was to use it as a tool for urban revitalization, obviously as a means of getting the contaminated soil out of those residential neighborhoods, but also as a way of participating in the process of economic revitalization for these areas. The statistics on the effects of lead contamination in New Orleans are frightening.

Our proposal involved creating a central manufacturing and distribution center for the city to distribute Mississippi sediment and manufacture soil using large-scale green waste composting. The idea was also to maximize local job training and creation. There would also be a series of resource depots strategically located on vacant land throughout the city. These demonstration sites would provide materials and training to homeowners as well as resources for urban greening generally. As the lead mitigation was completed in the surrounding neighborhoods, the sites would transition into other uses as parks, urban farms, and campuses. We had started talking to some of the more entrepreneurial people in New Orleans, who are involved in metropolitan scale distribution systems and were also looking at identifying suitable depot sites. At his point, we just need the $300 million and we’re ready to go.

Another one of your award-winning projects focused on creating an urban farm and community center for the local Vietnamese community in New Orleans, including community gardens and commercial farming plots, market pavilions, play areas, sports fields, recycling center and a major water collection and management system.  How is the project going? Do you also see this as a model for how to reuse some areas of New Orleans and the broader region

That project has hit some real roadblocks in terms of its implementation. There are certain complications with the site and its ownership and also with the permitting of it, so that it seems to have gone into a holding pattern. The Vietnamese community is currently investigating the possibility of using a different site. So, the project is eminently fundable and very highly developed at this point, but not actually moving forward. But it has so much potential for the eastern part of the city. Particularly with the elderly population of the neighborhood, you have a huge workforce of incredibly highly-motivated, highly-skilled farmers and gardeners. A lot of people are talking about community gardening and farming and small-scale agriculture as an opportunity for all this vacant land in New Orleans but in this location, we’ve actually got the workforce ready to go. You just look at the neutral ground or the median strip or whatever in their neighborhood; they’re gardening all of that already. 

I think what makes that project so interesting as a model is the different layers of use. It’s very much about passing those farming and gardening traditions from the original immigrant generation to the young people in that community today. There are also real opportunities for them to get together and boost up the entrepreneurial component of the project. That’s also why it’s really interesting on a regional scale because it’s got so much potential with the market and food processing components to really create jobs and provide structure for a whole lot of small-scale economic activity, which the city needs desperately. It really does provide an interesting model for economic activity, productive landscape, community focus, recreation, and model environmental practices that can go together in different combinations for projects all over that region.

Through your firm, you’re working on Dwyer Canal, a project that would turn a drainage easement into a social space while also addressing local flooding issues. Do green infrastructure projects need to be designed first as social spaces or as stormwater management systems? Through the design process, how do you insure you hit all needs: social, environmental, economic?

This was a project funded for the local community organization. Their interest was really water management as the area suffers flooding on a regular basis. The project moved fairly slowly and had an extensive process of community engagement with meetings, workshops, and other activities. The site is an open corridor with a ditch in the middle. The community had an image from an earlier planning study showing the canal covered over and a path down the middle of the easement. We were coming at this from the point of view of thinking how to make this mitigate the flooding, make the water course into an asset, and turn it into the centerpiece of an open space project. Like many of these issues in New Orleans, nobody really understood what was happening with the water and the engineering. We were working with the engineers, Intutition and Logic from St. Louis, who did a real detective piece of work to find out what was happening. In fact, the situation in terms of the flooding was completely different from the way anybody understood it in the neighborhood or at the Sewerage and Water Board.

What has been really interesting over time was that the community group and the steering committee have been very involved in the process. We had spent a lot of time talking with them about the technical issues of the drainage, which they now completely understand and own. Through that process of negotiation, we came up with a hybrid scheme, which keeps the drainage channel open, and uses a whole series of artificial wetlands and detention basins to slow down the water and clean it, but we also have public facilities on either side of major pedestrian links that cover the water course for substantial areas, making them very easy, safe, and visible.

In this instance, the community members are now the project’s strongest advocates. They understand better what is happening than the people who are empowered to make those decisions. We really hope to see something very positive move forward out of this process.

Lastly, moving downstream from these cities on the delta, the Gulf of Mexico is one of the world’s most polluted bodies of water on Earth, in large part due to shipping activity and runoff from the communities in the region. A comprehensive green infrastructure approach could help reduce the amount of oil and chemical-laden runoff from moving towards the water. What kind of broad-based green infrastructure solution would you propose to deal with Gulf water pollution?

The real impacts on water quality come from upstream, as well as from the Gulf region, and so what is needed is a federal initiative to address the whole of the catchment. Currently there are both incentives and regulation to try and control polluted runoff into the Mississippi, but the nature and scale of the problem mean that the measures are too fragmented and not effective in preventing the problems. There are so many different organizations involved it is difficult to even share common language on the issues. It is also difficult to target the measures specifically at the most problematic polluting areas.

We think the most effective solution would be for the federal government to purchase land in key locations, where pollution is worst and hydro-geological conditions are most favorable, and create massive wetland buffers to prevent pollution entering the river. These wetland buffers could potentially be designed to perform other functions as well, harnessing excess nutrients for the production of algae, timber, fish and other aquatic species.

Interview conducted by Jared Green.

Image credits: (1) Elizabeth Mossop / Spackman Mossop + Michaels, (2) Scout Island Strategic Plan, New Orleans, LA / Spackman Mossop + Michaels, (3) New Orleans Lead Concentrations by Neighborhood / Operation Paydirt and Fundred Dollar Bills, (4) Viet Village Urban Farm, New Orleans, LA / Spackman Mossop + Michaels, (5) Dwyer Canal / Spackman Mossop + Michaels, (6) Coastal Wetlands /

Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Health, Well-being, and Sustainability

Here are but three of the somber statistics found in the new book: Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Health, Well-being, and Sustainability:

  • Two out of every three American adults twenty years or older are overweight or obese (Flegal, 2010).
  • Since 2000, antidepressants have become the most prescribed medication in the United States (Olfson and Marcus, 2009).
  • In 2007, 16 percent of the United State’s gross domestic product – $2.3 trillion – was spent on health care (Orszag and Ellis, 2007).

This book by Dr. Andrew L. Dannenberg, Dr. Howard Frumkin, and Dr. Richard J. Jackson, and over 50 contributing authors illuminates the connection between how communities are designed and built and the impact on physical, mental, social, environmental, and economic well-being. As noted in the preface, “Nations of the twenty-first century are caught up in a perfect storm of intersecting health, environmental, and economic challenges: escalating health care and social costs, environmental threats from resource depletion and climate change, economic impacts associated with the ‘end of oil’ and an aging population and workforce, and an inadequate educational approach that rests on and perpetuates silos of knowledge and disciplines.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Here are four of the many positive findings offered by the editors:

  • Green settings have the capacity to alleviate mental fatigue and help restore a person’s capacity to pay attention.
  • Places that encourage physical activity can both prevent and treat depression.
  • Contact with nature can improve health; this effect is supported by both theory and empirical research.
  • Built environment design that improves the quality of life for one population often does so for many populations.

This 370-page book contains 27 extensively footnoted chapters organized in five sections: Introduction; The Impact of Community Design on Health; Diagnosing and Healing Our Built Environment; Strategies for Healthy Places: A Toolbox and Looking Outward; and Looking Ahead.

Each chapter begins with a bulleted list of learning outcomes and a brief introduction, which serves to illustrate the chapter with real world examples, such as the comparison between a vibrant and diverse food economy in Center City, Philadelphia and the “deserts” of its disadvantaged neighborhoods (Chapter 3); a child’s improved health after moving into an apartment renovated using green and healthy housing principles (Chapter 11); and the residents of El Sereno, California, and their successful advocacy for the development of a twenty-acre park (Chapter 19).

The book is an extensive, sometimes exhausting, overview of many related topics. The challenges it presents are sobering. The solutions it envisions are exciting. Landscape architecture is present throughout. Some may find it a “heavy lift” given its length and, in some instances, highly technical nature. But it is all there, providing landscape architects, architects, and planners with tools and strategies to think about how the built environment impacts our physical, mental, social, environmental, and economic well-being.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Mark A. Focht, FASLA, First Deputy Commissioner, Parks & Facilities, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

Image credit: Island Press

Bench Innovations in NYC

Both practicing and student architects are exploring intriguing new bench forms in New York City. In some cases, the goal is to provide benches that offer a range of benefits: multi-use infrastructure at the sidewalk-scale. In another case, the idea is to build a flexible, ergonomic model that can be scaled-up at low-cost.  

The Architect’s Newspaper focuses in on “subway vent benches” that offer seating and flood control. As a response to the floods that inundated the N and R lines in 2007, putting them out of service, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Department of Transportation teamed up to create a new “streetscape element with some wit and whimsy” that could protect the subway against debilitating flooding. Rogers Marvel Architects decided to raise the edge of the subway vents, protecting them from flood water while creating undulating waves of slates that are tall enough to sit on. The forms are also modular: “There are three typical grates designed for specific water overflow depths. They can be combined in a left- or right-hand fashion to create the continuous surface over the structural grates below.”

A similar project by Grimshaw provides flood control solution, but this time adds in both bicycle racks and bench seating. Grimshaw says they incorporate both “with an intent on maximising transparency with minimal impact on New York’s busy sidewalks. The design was engineered to be robust and to withstand significant vehicle loads. The furniture components are secured with tamper proof fixings and are fabricated from a higher grade of stainless steel, meeting NYCT durability standards and minimising ongoing maintenance.”

Both projects won AIANY design awards.

Now in the realm of prototype: How to create low-cost seating that can hold up to the elements but also meet the ergonomic needs of a city filled with people of lots of different shapes and sizes? To explore this problem, Columbia University graduate students created an urban bench inspired by “kinetic Slinkies and reverberating see-saws.” Costing just $1,000 and built by 10 students using nearly 1,000 pieces, the bench now creates a “continuous landscape, each seating condition designed according to existing ergonomic profiles in order to maximize comfort and functionality.” The project was also used to test “the limits and capabilities of digital fabrication.”

The students at Columbia write: “The scalability of the joint system and design together creates a truly parametric system in which its use is not only for aesthetics, but for construction, functionality, and comfort as well.” The bench could definitely work, but the person sitting on the other side will need to play well.

Image credits: Undulating Bench / Rogers Marvel Architects, (2) WTA Bench / Grimshaw, (3-5) Polymorphic / Charlie Able, Alexis Burson, Ivy Chan, Jennifer Chang, Aaron Harris, Trevor Hollyn-Taub, Brian Lee, Eliza Montgomery, Vernon Roether, and David Zhai, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.