Landscape Architects Can Help Heal Serbia

Serbia is a land of great natural beauty—mountains, canyons, caves, gorges, and primeval forests that have been torn apart for centuries by war.

The land has been cultivated for more than seven thousand years. Around 5,300 BC, the people of the Lepen Whirl culture began to expand from Djerdap, the biggest gorge in Europe, domesticating animals and starting to farm. Fields expanded, towns became cities that included small parks, and, during the middle ages, defensive castles and religious monasteries created walled gardens for aromatic and healing herbs as well as relaxation and meditation.

Turks occupied the area from 1459 to 1804, establishing large fortifications around major cities, with open spaces in the middle. After the Turks were driven out, though, many of the forts were torn down, leaving vast spaces for new parks, and green belts around towns. For example, the Kalemegdan park in Belgrade, which was constructed in 1925, offers views of both the Danube and the Sava rivers.

The most famous park in Belgrade, Kalemegdan was constructed in 1925. 
When Yugoslavia fell into civil war after the death of President Tito and Slobodan Milosovic came into power in Serbia, the federation broke apart into smaller states and ethnic enclaves like Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia, with millions of people displaced from their homes, widespread slaughter, and heavy NATO bombing. Buildings, bridges, and parks all suffered and many collapsed.

After peace was restored, Serbia was left with an enormous rebuilding challenge. While there were established landscape architecture education programs and organizations, landscape architects continue to face the challenge of revitalizing damaged downtown and metro areas, restoring parks and green belts, and making urban forests more appealing to people who want to escape the pressures of a fragile economy, constant signs of the war, and an incessant media.

“Urban Gap” design for a pocket park.

Perhaps landscape architects will now be able to re-introduce healing and inspirational gardens where people who still suffer from trauma can find a quiet place to recuperate with family and friends. Landscape architects may also get involved in planning scenic routes, creating signage, and laying out rest areas for tourists, because Serbia has so much natural beauty and so few visitors.

Birds on the Tisa River.

“Devil Towers” National monument

This guest post is by Nevenka Milic Chavez, project coordinator for City of Albuquerque, and Maja Todorović Izquierdo, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Arts and Design, Megatrend University in Belgrade. Read the full article reprinted from the ASLA International PPN Newsletter, Winter 2012.

Image credits: (1) Povlen Mountain, Serbia / Uroš Petrović, (2) Kalemegdan /Igor Jeremićm. June 2007, (3) “Urban Gap” design for a pocket park / Youth of Serbian Association of Landscape Architects, (4) Birds on the Tisa River / Uroš Petrović, (5) “Devil Towers” National monument /Uroš Petrović

Beyond Burle Marx’s Landscapes

The paintings and drawings of Roberto Burle Marx, Hon. ASLA, one of the most influential landscape architects of the 20th century, are the subject of a new show by Rooster Gallery in downtown Manhattan. Tablecloth/Toalha features a number of his later works, which were created during his stay at a close friend’s house in Constância, Portugal. According to Lauro Cavalcanti, curator of the retrospective Roberto Burle Marx 100 anos: A permanência do Instável, Burle Marx “‘…painted every day in the morning and in the afternoon he did his gardens’ and did not enjoy the fact that his paintings were relegated to a secondary position.” Indeed, Burle Marx was an equally successful painter, with his works representing Brazil in the Venice Biennale in the 1940s.

In addition to the tablecloth he created to fit his friend’s table, the exhibition includes 12 india-ink works on paper that are evocative of his landscapes. “While dispensing color – something inherently his due to his activity as a landscape architect – Burle Marx still follows the same provocative abstract morphology that characterized South-American art during the second half of the 20th century, providing the viewer some hints on issues like urbanism and landscape.” 

On his art and landscape architecture, Rooster Gallery wonders which side of his work influenced which more. “In the end, one might question whether it is the architectural grammar that is present on Burle Marx’s paintings or the pictorial language that is present in his landscape projects.”

Burle Marx, who died in 1994, had a lifelong partnership with great Modern architect and fellow Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer. However, he is often seen as simply “complimentary” to him, writes André Escarameia in an essay for the gallery. Increasingly, though, Burle Marx’s own genius in creating lush yet also very Modern landscapes is being viewed independently of any collaborations. 

According to Escarameia, when Marx died at age 84, he had completed more than 2,000 works of landscape architecture. Just a few of his famous landscape works include Flamengo Park (Rio de Janeiro, 1965), the Copacabana promenade (Rio de Janeiro, 1970), and Inhotim Park (Brumadinho, 1984).

Escarameia quotes Coelho Frota, who writes: “He was a draftsman, painter, great connoisseur of botany, set designer, musician, sculptor, and landscape architect. To appreciate any one aspect of Burle Marx’s multifaceted personality, one must bear in mind that we are dealing with an anthropological phenomenon, a cultural complex, a whole Burle Marx tribal group in which each individual was autonomous and, at the same time, relative.”

See the paintings in New York before March 4, a slideshow of some of his landscape architecture works, and learn more about his history and influences.

Image credits: (1-3) Rooster Gallery, (4) Copacabana Promenade, Rio de Janeiro / Ark Around, (5) Terrace Garden on Former Government Building, Rio de Janeiro / Lalo de Almedia, The New York Times.

Jaime Lerner: “A City Is Like a Family Portrait”

Paley Park / Wikipedia, public domain

“A city is like a family portrait. You may not like the nose of your uncle but you don’t tear up the whole family photo. You don’t do this because the family portrait is you. In the same way, we just need to make those uglier parts of our cities more attractive. We can’t tear apart our cities,” argued Jaime Lerner, former Governor of Paraná and Mayor of Curitiba in Brazil and a practicing architect and urban designer, at EMBARQ’s Transforming Transportation conference held at the World Bank.

So how can cities deal with their ugliest, least pedestrian-friendly aspects? For Lerner, it’s all about “urban acupuncture,” targeted, sometimes temporary, interventions that address a challenging design, economic, or social issue. These acts of acupuncture are effective because they are fast. Buildings and public spaces can be quickly retrofitted to become parks, event spaces, or sites for raves. Temporary pedestrian malls on streets formerly clogged with traffic, pop-up parks, or “portable streets” set-up in unfriendly or unsafe areas can help urban policymakers and designers “avoid getting stuck in bureaucracy” and act. Lerner added that “50 percent of all innovation is just starting something.”

These interventions can also have powerful “demonstration effects.” While planning is necessary, it also takes a lot of time, and so these interventions can help the process of planning and even guide it. As an example, Lerner pointed to Paley Park in New York City (see image above), “one of Manhattan’s most successful parks,” as an example of how a small project can have an enormous impact and even influence future planning. In this instance, Paley Park helped reinforce the value of well-designed pocket parks in any neighborhood. Lerner also discussed his “portable street” concept, a configurable, moveable piece of hardware that enables storefronts to be set up quickly. Inspired by the many bouquiniste of Paris, his portable streets are being tested in Cracolandia, a “tough” part of Sao Paulo, in an effort to bring back street life.

Portable Street / Jaime Lerner Associated Architects

Lerner is well-known among the transportation crowd for inventing bus rapid transit (BRT). As he described Curitiba’s experience launching this service, it became clear that the system fits in with his broader understanding of the value of strategic interventions that have powerful demonstration effects. At very low-cost, this system, which is basically a surface subway system, takes more passengers daily than “New York City’s new $4 billion 2nd Avenue subway,” which will take 10 years or more to get going. Amazingly, Curitiba’s BRT also comes every 40 seconds during peak times but averages no less than one every minute. He said “these systems have to have a reliable frequency and be well-operated.” BRT lanes in Curitiba also now provide cover for 120 kilometers of bike lanes, which are now lined with parks and rest areas. (See an interview with Lerner on Curitiba and check out his TED talk).

Other speakers at the conference argued that urbanization is here to stay so smart, low-cost, sustainable urban transportation investments must be a top priority for developing countries. OP Agarwal, Public Transit Advisor, World Bank Group, said that “urbanization in India is inevitable,” and policies, which once focused on promoting rural development in order to encourage people to stay out of cities, have now shifted towards improving urban conditions. “India realized it can’t prevent people from going to cities.” Dario Hidalgo, EMBARQ, said another challenge is creating transportation systems in cities made up of unplanned “informal” developments. In Columbia, some 50 percent of all urban development is informal, and the car also largely rules, meaning “we need to re-develop what we have.” In Mexico, Carlos Mier y Teran, Mexican government, said there are now 35 cities with more than half a million people, and 60 million or 50 percent of the total population now live in cities. “The urban transportation problem is increasing. Motorization is gaining terribly.” Automobile ownership is up 8 percent, while population growth is only 2 percent.

Increasing the share of bicycle riders may be part of the solution. In one session, Tom Godefrooij, Dutch Cycling Embassy, said bicycling accounts for 27 percent of all trips in the Netherlands, making it the world leader for bicyclists. Denmark has a 20 percent mode share and Germany has 10 percent. Meanwhile, even the cities doing really well in the U.S., like Portland, Washington, D.C. would be lucky to top 5 percent. Godefrooij said some promising developments were happening in developing countries: Bogota now has 350 kilometers of cycle routes and bicycling is up to 4 percent of all trips; Santiago has a whopping 690 kilometers planned, while 250 have been implemented; and Sevilla, Spain, has 120 kilometers of lanes in place, pushing up bicycles’ share of total trips to 6.6 percent in just four years. Godefrooij added that bike share programs like the new one in Washington, D.C. are also now “fashionable” and may even help build support for more bicycle infrastructure.

Capital Bikeshare / CDM Cyclis

A few Chinese cities may also be getting serious about undoing some of the recent damage caused by building too much infrastructure for cars. Bram van Ooijen, ITDP-China, said that while many new Chinese cities are “hostile to cycling” and most bicyclists feel very unsafe, China has had a long history with bicycles and it may be coming back. Working with Guangzhou city officials, ITDP was the key designer of that city’s new BRT route, which also opened up opportunities for new bicycle infrastructure. The protected bike lanes separated from car traffic and pedestrians have boosted bicycle use by up 53 percent in some areas. Greenways, which are linear parks along rivers and canals and are designed for walking and biking, have also taken off, with 8,200 kilometers planned by 2015 and 1,500 kilometers now in place.

Guangzhou greenway / Karl Fjellstrom, ITDP China

Perhaps inspired by the example set by Lerner, Guangzhou, with its ever-growing population and tight resources, is simply moving forward with its own acupuncture, creating a new urban greenway model for the rest of China. “Guangzhou set the model. Now hundreds of Chinese cities want to do this,” said van Ooijen.

Who Protects Your Historic Landscape?

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) is looking for nominations for its ongoing Landslide program, an annual list of “threatened and at-risk landscapes.” This year, Landslide’s theme will focus on the “visionary patrons and/or organizations and the sites they helped create,” with the goal of honoring their accomplishments yet also inspiring new philanthropists to take action. Charles A. Birnbaum, TCLF Founder and President, said: “In 2012 we spotlight patrons and the places they helped create because patronage is intrinsic to the creation and stewardship of great designed landscapes.”

The Landslide program, which began in 2003, has highlighted more than 150 significant at-risk parks, gardens, horticultural features, and working landscapes. These are the “places that embody our shared landscape heritage.” For details on the landscapes that made it into last year’s compendium of sites, check out The Landscapes I Love. Also inspiring is to see the many landscapes TCLF have helped save with their public awareness and advocacy work. Unfortunately, for all landscape architects and their patrons, the list of “at-risk” landscapes is still far too long.

Submit your nominations by May 31.

In other news, the U.S. pavilion in the 13th International Venice Architecture Biennale is focusing on the theme “Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good.” For the pavilion, which is expected to be seen by more than 170,000 visitors in fall 2012, the U.S. team is seeking projects actually initiated by landscape architects or a local non-profit or community group that are publicly accessible, participatory, and help solve a challenging urban problem. It has to be a real project. Submit your ideas by February 6.

Image credit: Weequahic Park, Newark, New Jersey / The Landscapes I Love, 2011 Landslide®

SITES™ Announces First Certified Sustainable Landscapes

The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) has announced the first three projects to be certified by the nation’s most comprehensive system for rating the sustainable planning, design, construction, and maintenance of built landscapes.

The corporate headquarters of an international manufacturing company, a new university green space, and a children’s playground in an urban park are the first to be recognized for their sustainable land practices from among 150-plus pilot projects that began the certification process in summer 2010. These initial projects are the St. Charles, Missouri, campus of Novus International Inc.; the Green at College Park of the University of Texas at Arlington; and the Woodland Discovery Playground at Shelby Farms Park in Memphis, Tennessee.

SITES is a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden. SITES was created to fill a critical need for guidelines and recognition of green landscapes based on their planning, design, construction and maintenance. The partners have collaborated since 2005 in developing a voluntary, national rating system and set of performance benchmarks for sustainable landscapes in areas with or without buildings.

The certified pilot projects are participating in a pilot program begun in June 2010 to test the four-star rating system created by dozens of the country’s leading sustainability experts, scientists, and design professionals. Projects selected to be pilots are at various stages of development and represent a diverse mix of project types, sizes, locations, and budgets. 

The SITES rating system includes 15 prerequisites and 51 additional, flexible credits to choose from. The credit options, totaling 250 points, address areas such as the use of redeveloping brownfields or greyfields; soil restoration; water conservation; use of recycled materials and native vegetation; and sustainable construction and land maintenance approaches.

Certified pilot projects are recognized with one through four stars for obtaining 40, 50, 60 or 80 percent of those 250 points. The Novus headquarters, the Green at College Park, and Woodland Discovery Playground SITES Certified Projects received a 3-star, 1-star, and 1-star rating, respectively.

Among the features Novus developed with SWT Design and others for the 9-acre headquarters was a parking lot with stormwater retention features, a walking trail that winds through restored prairie and other habitat, and a vegetable garden that staff maintain. The garden is fed by a windmill-powered well that retrieves rainwater stored underground. A detention basin captures stormwater on site and provides aquatic habitat and a scenic view from a nearby pavilion topped with a vegetated roof.

“The innovation and analytical thinking of these first certified projects is helping point the way for the next iteration of the guidelines, which will form the basis for open certification in 2013,” said ASLA Executive Vice President and CEO Nancy Somerville.

Landscape architects and engineers with Schrickel, Rollins & Associates designed sustainable features at The Green at College Park in downtown Arlington, including a gathering lawn, shade arbors and drainage gardens. David Hopman, an associate professor of landscape architecture at UT Arlington, led the effort for SITES application and worked with the designers documenting development of the roughly three-acre green space.

The site had served mostly as a parking lot, with poor stormwater drainage that flooded a nearby creek. Now the green space sits next to Arlington’s first mixed-use development and features native and adapted plants in rain gardens and a water detention system that help slow down the flow of stormwater. That process cleanses the water of impurities and captures it for re-use on the green space’s new vegetation. 

“Developing inviting outdoor spaces that make the most of precious resources such as water is critical to our future,” said Susan Rieff, executive director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. “These projects powerfully demonstrate how sustainably designed landscapes can produce environmental, economic, and aesthetic benefits.”

The conservancy that oversees Shelby Farms Park developed the Woodland Discovery Playground with James Corner Field Operations and others to restore a woodland and promote children’s health. The 4.25 acre playground with tunnels, swings and other amenities was developed based on current children’s play theories and after workshops with children and adults. It uses recycled athletic shoe material as a surface for several play areas and loose, recycled boot material as a soft landing under a playroom of nets and tree houses. The permeable surface material allows stormwater to soak into the ground to help nourish an arbor enhanced with native trees that surrounds and links playrooms within the space.

“The educational value of these pilot projects is significant. They demonstrate what a sustainable site looks and feels like and now serve as a model to others aspiring for sustainability in a designed landscape,” said Holly H. Shimizu, executive director of the United States Botanic Garden. “Having the first pilot projects certified solidifies years of work into something tangible that we hope will be replicated all around the country.”

SITES will continue to receive feedback from the SITES Certified Pilots and the remaining pilot projects until June 2012. These projects include private residences, streetscapes, industrial complexes, and other settings. Their input as well as the public’s will be used to finalize the rating system and reference guide, expected to be released widely in 2013.

Visit SITES to learn more. Any project can apply to be certified starting in early 2013. For those interested in pursuing SITES certification, start collecting documentation now.  

Image credits: (1) SITES, (2) Novus International Headquarters, Novus International / SWT Design, (3) The Green at College Park, University of Texas at Arlington / Schrickel, Rollins and Associates Inc, (4) Shelby Farms Park, Woodland Discovery Center / James Corner Field Operations.

Responsible Urban Design

Urban Ecological Design: A Process for Regenerative Places is a comprehensive and accessible guidebook on urban design with an emphasis on ecology and sustainability. Intended for students, design and planning practitioners, developers and public officials, it’s a good primer for those less familiar with the process and a useful reference for more experienced practitioners.

The book’s authors are both educators and practitioners in design fields. Danilo Palazzo is Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Design at Politecnico di Milano, Italy, and Frederick Steiner, FASLA, is Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Texas, Austin, and a guiding force in the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES). Their purpose in writing the book is to clarify the role of urban design and outline a non-prescriptive process for transforming urban space. They describe this process as “systematic, precisely linear, and highly optimistic”, but one that is never formulaic: “urban design, like other design and planning activities, not only permits but demands that different answers and different solutions are considered for a given problem.”

Their process, dubbed the “not-only-one-solution” process, is a flexible methodology consisting of ten steps intended to be applicable across a broad range of scenarios. The steps are illustrated with theories, techniques, and case studies outlining different options for “transforming urban spaces into inviting and sustainable urban places.” They draw on standard practices of the design profession as well as philosophies and methods developed by influential practitioners like Ian McHarg and Kevin Lynch. These techniques tend toward an interpretation of urban design that “favors an objective-rational process (‘scientific’) rather than an expressive-subjective one (‘artistic’) but does not reject the latter.”

Palazzo and Steiner stress the interdisciplinary nature of the process, emphasizing that “a positive role of urban design is to transcend the boundaries of the disciplines from which it draws,” including architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning. They note that the term “urban design” does not generally refer to a discipline itself, but rather to an interface between other disciplines that requires a broad range of skills and technical knowledge. Urban design encompasses the design of all elements of the built environment and is interested in building new forms as well as managing what already exists. It also addresses issues at multiple scales in different urban environments and aims to be flexible enough to adapt to changes over time.

Palazzo and Steiner are especially interested in expanding the process of urban design to include ecology as a core component. By reconfiguring urban form to allow for the consumption of fewer resources and adding natural elements like trees, designers can help mitigate climate change and energy consumption. They can also foster “the integration of humans and nonhumans in functional and just ecosystems” by increasing connectivity between green spaces and cities to provide more robust habitats for urban wildlife. 

This added emphasis on ecology is part of what Palazzo and Steiner consider to be the “responsibility” of urban design in improving the built environment. They believe that urban designers have three responsibilities: a “species responsibility” to address ongoing environmental destruction; a “generational responsibility” to improve conditions for future generations; and a “competence responsibility” to design with the best possible skills, aptitudes, and intentions.

In outlining a process for urban design with an emphasis on ecology and sustainability, they hope to help practitioners design more resilient urban environments. The “not-only-one-solution” methodology seeks to foster better stewardship and provide guidance for a complex process that resists formulaic responses.

This guest post is by Shannon Leahy, Masters of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of Pennsylvania 

Read the book.

Image credit: Island Press

Landscapes That Fool You

Landscape architects, architects, and artists have long tried to evoke emotional reactions through their creations, using landscape and building forms to create atmospheres that influence our moods. Now, some artists and architects are toying with our perceptions, designing optical illusions that create a sense of confusion, amazement, and perhaps even awe at their technical chops.

Since 2004, architecture and landscape photographer and artist Zander Olsen has been working on Tree, Line, a series of “constructed” photographs that play with our notion of foreground and background in a forest (see image above). 
Olsen writes: “These works, carried out in Surrey, Hampshire and Wales, involve site-specific interventions in the landscape, ‘wrapping’ trees with white material to construct a visual relationship between tree, not-tree, and the line of horizon according to the camera’s viewpoint.”

In Deformscape, architect Thomas Faulders, turned a conventional backyard in San Francisco into an outdoor sculpture garden vortex. 

Faulders writes: “Situated in a tightly packed urban neighborhood, this limited space outdoor sculpture garden inherits a large tree and uses this sole arboreal presence to establish a gravitational pattern of grooves that are focused towards the tree’s centroid.” 

A “3-dimensional bulge” formed around the base of the tree connects with a distored “wire-grid projected onto a 2-dimensional surface,” creating a sense that the courtyard is plunging in around the tree. Try carrying a tray of cocktails out there on a summer evening.

Lastly, French artist Francois Abelanet, created Whom to Believe? in front of Paris’ Hotel de Ville for its “jardin éphémère” last summer. An anamorphosis, which  is a “distorted projection” that can only be reconstituted by viewing from a certain angle or using a mirror or glasses, this 1,500 square-meter landscape installation created the illusion of depth, a floating orb landscape.

The official Web site of Paris writes: “Monumental, it measured 100 feet long and required 1,200 square meters of lawn, 300 square meters of sedum, and 650 meter-cubed of sand and straw. Nearly 90 gardeners and technicians were mobilized continuously for five days for the completion of this ephemeral work of art.”

Abelanet told the city he wanted to get visitors to think critically about nature in the built world: “We live in a world where we hear the debate of environmentalists, scientists, industrialists. I wanted to just [explore] the problem of the tree and invite people to consider the place of the tree, nature, and the environment.” In changing the focus, he asks them to think differently.

See a video of Abelanet’s landscape.

Image credits: (1) Beeches, 2004 (cropped) / Zander Olsen Copyright, (2) Duncan Wood, 2004 (cropped) / Zander Olsen Copyright, (3) Jhutti, 2004 (cropped) / Zander Olsen Copyright, (4) Francois Albanet’s Whom to Believe? / Laura Prospero. Flickr, (5) Francois Albanet’s Whom to Believe? / Comment Vous Dire? Flickr, (6) Francois Albanet’s Whom to Believe? / Comment Vous Dire? Flickr

A Model of Integrated Design: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Campus

In the heart of Seattle, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the wealthiest private foundation in the world, with assets of more than $34 billion, opened a new campus with little fanfare last year. Winning a rare LEED Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, the building is a model of integrated design. Symbiotic landscape and building systems harvest rainwater, reduce potable water use, maximize solar use, and minimize energy use overall. Native plants, local materials, and “natural processes” were used by the architects, NBBJ, and landscape architects, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN), throughout the site. 

Working with the Gates, GGN replaced a parking lot with a man-made landscape inspired by Seattle’s natural setting. Design partner, Shannon Nichol, ASLA, said: “The materials and functions of the landscape are informed by the site’s distinct natural history, as a dark-watered bog in a plateau meadow that absorbed and filtered rainwater.” But here, perhaps the less-appealing aspects of the natural bog have been omitted. A plush campus landscape, filled with native plants like blueberries and Big Leaf Maples, surround a central courtyard said to “float” in a water gardens filled with reeds and cattails.

Rainwater is smartly captured and reused on site by two acres of green roofs. Any runoff from paved aspects of the campus are channeled into a “million-gallon cistern,” which fills the water gardens and is used to irrigate the site. GGN says these technologies were crucial to achieving the LEED Platinum rating: “These systems, along with efficient plumbing fixtures, reduce the campus’s potable water use by nearly 80 percent, saving approximately two million gallons of potable water per year.” The site now minimizes potable water use in the landscape, with the eventual goal of completely eliminating potable water use for irrigation.

The campus buildings also use 25 percent less energy than code requirements, incorporate recycled and local materials, and provide ample sunlight to the foundation’s employees and visitors.  

Another nice aspect of this project: The campus gives a boost to the streetscape of downtown Seattle. Keeping the city’s grid in place, the Gates Foundation improves the public street design, perhaps offering visitors a preview of the careful design extended into the visitor’s center, which offers exhibits for the Seattle community and tourists.

Nichol believes the campus manifests in landscape form the Gates’ mission: “The environmental qualities of the campus landscape are the natural outcome of designing for the Foundation’s strong philosophy of ‘local roots and global vision’.”

Learn more about the campus and watch a fly-through.

Image credits: (1) Timothy Hursley, (2) Sein Airhart / NBBJ, (3) Sein Airhart / NBBJ, (4) Sein Airhart / NBBJ, (5) Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

Climate Action Planning Is Good Community Planning

Why should a local community create and implement a comprehensive policy to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change? According to Michael Boswell, Adrienne Greve, and Tammy Seale, authors of Local Climate Action Planning, “climate action plans have the power not only to reduce vulnerability to the hazards associated with climate change but to position a city to thrive economically, environmentally, and socially well into the future.” 

The authors of Local Climate Action Planning have written the first book of best practices for forming and implementing a Climate Action Plan (CAP). After having worked on over three-dozen CAPs and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission inventories, Boswell, Greve, and Seale wrote this how-to guide for policymakers, planners, designers, and community activists wanting to take action. Now that over 120 city and county CAPs have been completed, this book aims to ensure that future local CAPs are successful in addressing key questions on design and implementation. It’s a clear, yet somewhat dense, tool filled with definitions, case-studies, and informative charts.

The authors argue that community partnerships are critical to the development of a local CAP. Chapters focus on public participation in greenhouse gas emissions inventory, emissions reduction strategies, climate change adaptation strategies, and implementation. What comes through is the critical role the public plays in creating exemplary CAPs. The authors comprehensively flush out critical choices communities face and the approaches and tools they can use. Other chapters deal with leadership, strategic planning, state policies, grant funding, and public awareness.

Each chapter ends with a summary of resources, listed by experts, which summarize the range of books, Web sites, and even software that can be employed by to gain a more-detailed understanding of the issues. 

Overall, the book is both straight-forward and comprehensive in how it outlines the value of CAP processes. “Climate action planning becomes, simply, good community planning.”

From the book, here are some steps your community can take right now:

  • Switch to energy efficient lighting such as CFLs and LEDs
  • Upgrade insulation in older residences, businesses, and government buildings.
  • Install solar panels where feasible.
  • Purchase high-fuel-efficiency and clean fuel vehicles.
  • Start or enhance your recycling program.
  • Provide and promote opportunities for transit, bicycling, and walking.
  • Purchase renewable energy (if available).
  • Conserve water through retrofit of fixtures, low-water landscaping, and rainwater catchment.
  • Plant trees.

Read the book.

Also, find out whether your state has moved forward with a CAP. Check out a map showing states that have completed or are in the process of forming their CAP. Lastly, explore ASLA’s resource guide on climate change, which offers concepts and tools.

This guest post is by Amanda Rosenberg, ASLA 2010 intern.

Image credit: Island Press

The Future of Public Space: Evolution and Revolution

The Washington, D.C. National Mall competition is heating up, with finalist teams selected for each site. In a session organized for the finalists by the National Endownment for the Arts (NEA), City Parks Alliance, National Capital Planning Commission, and Trust for the National Mall at the National Archives, Jason Shupbach, NEA Director of Design, said there are many new exciting models that can guide the future of public space, including “evolutionary parks,” which are older spaces that have creatively adapted to new uses, and “revolutionary parks” like parklets, which dramatically diverge from what’s been created before.

What Is the Future of Public Space?

For Tupper Thomas, former administrator of Prospect Park, the future of public space is programs. “Parks are not just a piece of open space where you recreate. Programs create appreciation and help parks become a part of a community.” In the case of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which is considered by many to be Frederick Law Olmsted’s masterpiece, it was about using programs to “get people to go in. Before, people were afraid.” Now, happily, the issue may the opposite: so many people visit each year that the park can’t hold up under the strain and more maintenance funds are needed.

New forms of public space can also come from reusing old buildings and even reconceiving the concept of a monument. Theaster Gates, an artist and cultural planner, has taken a two-story abandoned building in Chicago and turned it into a new form of cultural center in a place where there is a total absence of any community public space. Gates added that the history of monuments is usually linked to a specific history, a special story from a certain time. The new idea of a monument is “not born with purposefullness, they can be a carrier, a monument of the moment, and can accumulate stories.” These old buildings can be monuments, too.

Temporary spaces present a relatively new model. John Bela, ASLA, a landscape architect who started the now global Park(ing) Day movement and founded design firm Rebar, argued that the “idea of temporary has evolved very quickly.” His Park(ing) Day movement, which involves transforming parking spaces into small parks, led to the concept of more designed parklets (see earlier post), and now he’s working on expanding out the parklet model to the street scale with a new “Living Street” project in San Francisco, which will take derelict street and turn into a “living market space.” Bela thinks these types of temporary street park projects are extremely valuable given that 25 percent of San Francisco’s land is streets, far more than the percentage that make up parkland. In addition, temporary spaces like parklets and revamped street parks are examples of “iterative placemaking” that enable city planners and designers to “respond more quickly to the social dynamism of cities.” Instead of going through a lengthy planning process that may not even work, a physical demonstration project can quickly be put up to “test which programs are going to work.” Gates added that the short-term uses of old buildings and sites can co-exist with long-term planning for these locations.

How Can Public Spaces Fullfill the Needs of Their Audience?

Thomas believes the quality of design has a huge impact. Prospect Park may have been designed 150 years ago, but “Olmsted was ahead of his time. He had it right.” Olmsted designed the spaces to be flexible so now areas of the park are used for cricket while other host art exhibitions. It’s also about letting different communities access the park in different ways. A drummer’s grove, for example, reaches a certain audience. Education is very important. One of her goals as head of Prospect Park was to work with schools and libraries to get children to the park, where they can then “go home and tell their parents about the park” while creating connections to the spaces. 

While the Southside of Chicago may seem like a dangerous place from the outside, inside, there are just a “bunch of cool people who think this is home,” said Gates. Some people there need the city’s services, but many others need public spaces. Gates said his goal was to make his new community center forged out of abandoned buldings “seductive.” Once the building was cleaned out, he made sure he brought in the best jazz in the city. A backyard lot became a spot for the “best movies in the city.” Given the “expectations are so low,” the movie nights were a huge hit, even bringing in visitors from outside Southside.

The young generation, a key audience for parks, spends lots of time online, so leveraging social media tools is increasingly important. Bela said the Web and social media tools were central to the success of Park(ing) Day, which was designed to be open source, with free image use. An Ikea-like guide, a “Park(ing) Day how-to manual,” was also created so people could see models but also create their own. “The project then went viral and spread around the globe. The extent of the creativity was amazing. There were lots of diverse approaches.” Some better than others. Bela said you can see good from bad design based on how accessible the spaces felt, how inviting.

Do Public Spaces Need to Accomodate Protest?

“Every public space needs to accomodate protest. Every protest in the U.S. took place in parks,” said Thomas. While parks can be designed to provide spaces for protest, there’s also the issue of “the management of public spaces.” The Occupy Wall Street movement largely took root in privately-owned parks (POPs) because New York City regulations mean protesters can’t stay out or sleep in a park overnight.

Gates went further, arguing that “people around the world are losing their right to convene.” In the Southside of Chicago, where there are few conventional public spaces, “people stroll or convene on the corner.” They are then arrested for loitering and “locked up” as a result. Parks are increasingly off limits, either by design or through regulations. In effect, the fight for “spatial movement and political rights” are intertwined, meaning “our rights are infringed upon when a space isn’t available for protest.” The good news: “There’s not enough design we can do to stop people so that’s great.”

For Bela, “public spaces are a practice place.” The public defines how a public space is used and what it means. “The biggest protests we’ve had in years happened in POPs. It’s amazing that they didn’t happen in public spaces.” Furthermore, Bela thinks communities that create “niches for resistance – ‘Protest Here'” are missing what it means to protest. He pointed to landscape architecture students at the University of California Berkeley, who, once told the Occupation Wall Street movement could no longer have their tents on the campus, decided to fill tents with balloons, exploring the concept: Where is protest even possible?

“We need to be sensitive to the whole emotional range of people,” said Gates. While some city officials and park managers may seem some types of emotions as OK and not others, they need to be open to communities expressing anger, frustration, and other negative emotions, but also respecting the public space. Thomas said parks can be set up for electricity and water so there’s inherent flexibility.

What Public Should Landscape Architects Design For? 

Landscape architects “fall into a trap by designing for the public. There’s no one public. It doesn’t exist,” argued Bela. Instead, landscape architects should “design for how people actually use a space, not how they would like them to use it.” Following this idea, it’s not possible to replicate a huge success like the High Line park around the country because that park was driven by “vocal, committed community activists” from Chelsea. The process of creating public spaces then needs to be inclusive, diverse, robust so those other unique High Line opportunities, whatever they may be, can bubble up from their own communities.

Bela thinks this approach is increasingly important given the public planning process is largely broken. “I see more consultants in these meetings than members of the public, or there will be a few professional protesters who represent their own interests while saying they speak for the community.” Bela thinks landscape architects and planners can “get around bad planning meetings by testing new things physically,” projects like Gates’ movies in backyard lots.

The High Line means every community now wants to be recognized, argued Gates. “Cities tend to react to what other cities are doing. Models are important.” Mayor, who always want to one-up each other, are “great for us.” And in this day, it’s no longer the product of starchitects that city officials are most interested in, it’s places, added Bela. “Places like Millennium Park now enable cities to compete for talent.” Thomas agreed, adding that Mayor Daley most likely thought, “we can out-do you, we have Millennium Park.” While that park is “not a New York City park,” it works for Chicago. However, Thomas thought many of these big park initiatives are often driven by economic development concerns, not community development.

How Can Public Spaces Become More Sustainable?

In San Francisco’s open space planning process, Bela has been pushing the concept of productive landscapes. “While edible landscapes aren’t a new idea,” so many landscapes in the city are now “deadzones.” Bela hopes to tie the idea of productivity to ecology and create functional landscapes that provide many services. He added that “current landscape management programs are part of the problem.” If local residents were more involved in the stewardship of urban landscapes, you’d see maintenance costs go down.

For Thomas, Prospect Park is already a sustainable landscape. “Olmsted was way ahead and totally off the grid” when he was coming up with these ideas. Cisterns under the park move stormwater in the park through to a man-made lake. She said larger old parks like hers can even handle runoff from the communities around them. There has been some exploration of expanding Prospect Park’s cisterns to accomodate the community’s stormwater. She said with these programs it’s important to educate communities what parks can actually do in terms of environmental benefits.

“Sustainability seems like a low-hanging fruit,” said Gates, but some communities are still not taking advantage of the opportunities. “Detroit could be turning abandoned spaces into urban farms and sell soybeans to China.” However, he did add that “only certain types are interested in urban farming and often they aren’t locals.” With any big idea, it’s important to examine the social components of sustainability. “We need to reconsider the people who live next to re-activated spaces” and have been watching the changes over time. How do they feel?  

How Can Public Spaces Be Better Maintained?

“The National Mall has been loved to death,” said Thomas. Big parks like the Mall and Prospect Park may need to move from capital borrowing or bonding towards making maintenance an annual expense. Also, designers need to be aware in the beginning what the maintenance issues will be and the cost of those. “Park managers need the design understanding of maintenance.”

Bela said temporary spaces can never replace long-term investments in public spaces. Still, around the world, there are different levels of long-term investment available. In Paris, the bike lanes have granite bollards topped with brass. In NYC, in contrast, there are strips of paint. Working with the private sector and foundations may also be a way to finance public space operations and maintenance.  

For Gates, there needs to be a shift away from the “Friends of..” approach. In Chicago, “we have the friends of everything. We are a very friendly city.” Instead, there needs to be a “deep understanding of the fiscal implications of what we do.” Public spaces should be endowed like university chairs.

Is a Strong Sense of Design Important?

Gates thinks the new National Mall projects should have a “strong artistic vision” that “creates tension with users. We need big ideas for these spaces.” A design process like this can’t be about “micro-processes.” To huge laughs, Gates argued that “there are lots of big egos in this room, designers who don’t want their designs thwarted by ignorant community members who don’t know shit about design.” Thomas, laughing, agreed, adding that major public spaces “need a strong design sentiment.” Designers need to “design what we didn’t know we wanted.” However, she added in the case of the National Mall it will be important to “get buy-in from lots of different communities” who interact with the site: the institutions, locals, and tourists.

To sum up, Gates said “ambitious” National Mall designs need not create harmony and “monuments don’t have to be a thing.” Thomas said that any new National Mall designs need to leverage what already works so well. “The National Mall is already a great place that people love. Continue the tradition of the Mall.” Bela told designers to “embrace uncertainty and mystery and tap into inspiration” to locate that powerful, perhaps revolutionary design.

Image credits: (1) Prospect Park / Agaveweb, (2) Parklet / The Bay Citizen