Landscape as Sponge

In one session at the ASLA 2012 Annual Meeting, “Landscape as Sponge: Re-engineering a Historic Campus to Absorb the Rain,” Nicole Holmes, Nitsch Engineering, and Robert Rock, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), explained the ways landscape design plays an integral part in Princeton University’s 2008 Campus Plan.

Holmes described how the evolution and expansion of the Princeton campus have impacted hydrology. Most significantly, explosive growth over the past century has led to buildings creeping into the ecologically sensitive zone along Lake Carnegie, to the south of campus. With Princeton’s recent decision to only expand only within existing campus boundaries, the university is faced with the challenge of how to grow without compromising its character or ecology.

Thankfully, with its 2008 Campus Plan, Princeton took a progressive stance toward planning. According to Holmes, “for the first time, landscape became a critical part of the planning process.” Instead of trying to remove water as quickly as possible, or maintaining the status quo of slowing and detaining stormwater, Princeton aims to improve conditions by viewing water infrastructure as a campus amenity.

To improve the campus stormwater system, Princeton looked to the campus’ pre-development conditions. Before development, most water infiltrated into the ground or was dispersed through evapo-transpiration. Since development, the vast majority of stormwater became runoff. Integrating landscape design and stormwater into the campus plan, Princeton aims to reduce its impervious cover, preserve open space, and reduce runoff. To accomplish these goals, it calls for stormwater management to be integrated into landscape-based solutions.

Robert Rock, MVVA, showed examples of his firm’s efforts on the campus. Rock described their work on the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment as an “intricately co-mingled landscape and building project.” Faced with the challenge of integrating a 60,000 square foot building into a relatively small site, the project required an intense collaboration between landscape architects, architects, and engineers. The resulting design is a layering of landscape and building, using green roofs and highly designed soils, ultimately exceeding stormwater goals for the project.

For the Frick Chemistry Building, MVVA had to address a site that had problems with runoff, stream bank erosion, and water quality. The architects working on the project proposed the building be sited adjacent to existing woodlands. Instead, at MVVA’s urging, the building was pushed back, allowing the woodlands to expand and avoiding potential impacts. Stormwater on the site is collected and directed into rain gardens, enabling the removal of two of the three existing outfalls into the nearby stream and dramatically reducing erosion. Additionally, pedestrian pathways are included in this landscape design, improving the human experience of the site.

These examples at Princeton University demonstrate the power of integrating landscape design and landscape-based stormwater solutions into the master planning process. By using landscape as infrastructure, communities can not only become more efficient, but also ecologically and aesthetically vibrant.

This guest post is by Ben Wellington, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture Candidate, Louisiana State University and ASLA 2012 summer associate.

Image credits: (1) Princeton University (2-5) Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates 

Charles Fishman: Landscape Architects Can Be “Water Revolutionaries”

Charles Fishman
, investigative journalist and author of The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water, kicked off the ASLA 2012 Annual Meeting in Phoenix, with a thought-provoking case for “smart water.” Arguing that human civilization can use water “more smartly and creatively,” Fishman also said landscape architects can play a central role as “water revolutionaries,” moving the planet to a more respectful approach to water consumption and reuse.

Landscape architects, he said, “design the places we live in, the places we play in, the places that create our modern world.” These designers create “parks, green ways, memorials, and energetic downtowns.” They “reconnect us with the natural world.” Given everything landscape architects do requires water, these designers can help lead the change in way water is managed. And it sounds as if there’s no time for delay in many places: Fishman said the availability of water, natural systems underlying water, and consumption of water are all changing.

Fishman first became interested in water through his research and articles on Fiji bottled water. Through his investigations, he found that more than 50 percent of Fijians don’t even have access to clean water themselves, but everyone in the U.S. can buy a bottle of Fiji water. The global economy of bottled water is startling: In the U.S., 1.25 billion bottles of water are sold each week, about four bottles per person. This means Americans spend nearly $22 billion on bottled water each year, while just $29 billion is spent collectively on water infrastructure (however, it’s not clear whether this also includes numbers on green infrastructure).

Meanwhile, in much of the developing world, clean, safe drinking water is increasingly hard to come by. Some 600 million Indians don’t have access to clean water. Dealing with the scourge of diarrhea costs about 2 percent of India’s GDP per year, about $400 million a week, which is more than the GDP of about 90 countries on earth.

Still, Fishman believes that there isn’t a global water crisis like there’s an economic or climate crisis, which affects us all everywhere, regardless of whether we contributed to the problems or not. Instead, there are 1,000 or even 10,000 local water problems around the globe. The good news: these local problems are accessible, solvable. They just need local solutions. Fishman thinks one way to address many of these local water problems is to increase the value of water. If the price reflected its true value, water would be better managed, not wasted. “It’s shouldn’t be unthinkingly free.” This is where landscape architects can come in, helping to “restore water consciousness, how we engage with water everyday in public spaces,” and emotionally, by making its appeal, image more transparent.

People don’t care about water because it’s not transparent. “Water is invisible. We’ve made water invisible.” Water is channeled through underground pipes. Reservoirs are put far out of town. Water treatment plants are hidden. He said 100-120 years ago, people everywhere, even rich ones, had to think about where they were going to get their water everyday. Now, for each player to play 18 holes of golf in Las Vegas, the course will use around 2,500 gallons of water.

In examples of smart, transparent uses of water, Fishman pointed to Michell Wool, a processor of wool in Australia. In that country there are nine sheep for every person. Cleaning and processing wool takes a lot of water and effort. About half of the coat is dirt, leaf matter, sheep poop. Washing the wool requires a lot of water. Given Australia had drought-like conditions for nearly 10 years, water wasn’t as available. So Michell Wool worked with the town of Salsbury, near Adelaide, to reconfigure a 750-acre wetland so that it processed stormwater, which was then reused to clean the wool. “This was an insurgent water utility.” But green infrastructure systems like these are at the heart of “smart water use.”

In a counter-intuitive final argument, Fishman said Las Vegas, with its showy fountains and aquariums, may increasingly be one of the smartest cities in terms of water use. Given it’s one of the driest cities in the U.S., the city now reuses some 94 percent of its water. There are now a staff of 11 water police officers. “You can’t empty a pool into the drain, it must be recycled.” The city will pay you $40,000 per acre to remove your lawn in favor of native plants. While the city has tripled in size of the past 20 years, water use over that time has been cut by one-third. Who knew?

Other cities like Phoenix can follow Las Vegas’ lead and become more water smart. The solutions aren’t that hard. Landscape architects and other design professionals can create the technical solutions. It’s just a matter of solving the tricky “people” problems holding back the water revolution.

Image credit: Bellagio Water Fountain 

Nature Designs Meadows – We Only Need to Copy

Larry Weaner, Larry Weaner Landscape Associates, argued that a designed meadow will fail unless you keep very closely to how nature herself designs these highly complex, competitive ecosystems. At the ASLA 2012 Annual Meeting in Phoenix, he said in these vital spaces “plants are slugging it out.” All that fierce competition yields endlessly interesting designs that can be augmented by bold flowers that clients prefer.

One central argument Weaner made was to “match the right plant to the habitat.” While adding compost and top soil can enable landscape and ecological designers to “use a wider palette of plants,” these types of rich soils will also invite in weeds. The plants that can tolerate horrible soils may also flop if they are put in rich soils they aren’t used to. They really just need the soils they have evolved to survive in.

With large designed meadows, Weaner also said to consider the impact of micro-habitats. Plants near forests or far, in the shade or sunlight, will respond differently, creating different zones within the fields of grasses and forbs.

To ensure the meadow becomes self-sustaining, stable, and actually functions as a natural system, Weaner said to use plant communities found in nature. He defined a plant community as a “group of plants that grow together and have complementary niches.” He said this is really the only way to go given these plant communities have evolved together over thousands of years and formed relationships that we know almost nothing about. “We know so very little about their interactions.” He added that if the plant communities are incomplete, invasives will get in an alter the system.

Human disturbances of these systems almost give opportunities for plants to enter the designed meadows. Weaner, a sort of plant-world Sherlock Holmes, described how he could tell exactly when a meadow was disturbed because of the presence of Black Eyed Susans, which opportunistically enter the mix when there are disturbances. He explained how those plants would eventually get pushed out of the functioning meadow once it had recovered.

Weaner eloquently spoke of the complex interplay between plants, how early or late stage, 1st, 2nd or 3rd year seedlings all work to create a symphony of plant life. But he was also pragmatic: “You can’t maintain acres of designed meadows if you don’t get the plant communities right.”

Steve Haines, Prairie Moon Nursery, outlined all the work that goes into designed meadow seed mixes. He argued that measuring seed quality per ounce wasn’t a good way to go because seeds obviously differ in size. His spreadsheets showing percentages of seeds that constitute a designed meadow were fascinating artifacts in themselves. Nature quantified.

A landscape architecture firm well-known for its knowledge of plants and work creating grassy native landscapes, Oehme Van Sweden, also presented some of its residential designed meadows. Eric Groft, ASLA, consciously creates transitions within his landscapes from man-made to natural zones, but, of course, he’s also designing the natural zones. In one project for a client along the Chesapeake Bay, Groft described how a coastal farm was totally remade as a meadow. After “wicking out” the residual herbicides and eradicating the “bad” plants, tens of thousands of new meadow plants that like wet conditions were planted. Groft noted that these “landscapes are always changing” so were also designed to evolve.

In another example, Groft walked the crowd through the creation of a meadow in a 100-acre horse farm in upstate New York. The well-off couple wanted different things: the wife, the horse lover, wanted more space for them, while the husband didn’t want to see paddocks all the time, but a more designed landscape. The compromise landscape has rough and manicured lawns, plus a new meadow created by Weaner. It’s a combination of the landscape and meadow worlds.

All speakers argued that creating meadows is both an art and a science, a joining of nature and man. Beyond the artistic considerations, though, meadows also provide rich habitat for bird and plant life, control erosion, and capture stormwater. Recreating these complex systems is clearly worth the time and expense.

Image credit: Oehme Van Sweden

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ode to the Desert

Beginning in 1937, Frank Lloyd Wright began creating his winter studio and architectural campus Taliesin West, his ode to the majestic Sonoran desert. Still a working architectural college to this day, the place is dramatically different from his urban masterpieces like the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and Robie House in Chicago. The buildings are unassuming and seem to purposefully nestle into the cacti-filled landscape.

The campus’ main buildings took four years to build. During that time, Wright, his 3rd wife, and 25 apprentices all slept in tents under the stars. During the first years, there was no well, so water had to be brought in from miles away. On the 640 acre site, Wright left his tent to first build a document vault, then the studio, kitchen, dining and bedrooms. Using wood from local trees to build the frames and quartzite boulders to establish the foundation, the buildings are very low to the ground, and were originally filled with open window frames covered only in canvas. It was only after many years of protest by his wife that glass windows were put in.

Wright thought the glass wasn’t needed because he oriented the spaces to maximize solar and heat gain in the winter and minimize the sun’s glare in the summer. However, he eventually discovered that the glass windows only enhanced the passive solar capabilities of the buildings. Ever careful about how light interacted with interior spaces, Wright used his windows and canvas shades to further control the interplay of light and dark in the interior spaces, diffusing light and bouncing it off the interiors to create more comfortable spaces. So Wright was not only an early innovator in the use of solar passive technologies but also controlling light through shades.

The patios, gardens, building were all set in patterns of 16-foot-square grids, said our tour guide. The interior frames are also all standard sizes so once a visitor figures out the size of the grid and frames, they can quickly figure out total square footage.

Outside, the gardens were meant to deeply complement the buildings and work together as one. Like Richard Neutra’s work, Taliesin West is rooted in its native landscape. You can’t really imagine it elsewhere.

In the gardens that provide middle-grounds between the home and the desert and mountains, Wright’s original landscape architecture, one of his few works of landscape, has been faithfully preserved. In between the view of the home and Papago mountains, there’s a triangular pool, which was created as an amenity, source of comfort in the hot months, and security measure in case of fires. The triangular pool, which also mirrors the triangular shapes of the mountains, is dramatically juxtaposed with a bright red door into the studio and 75-year old Joshua trees. In this space in the early 1950s, the gravel came out in favor of grass.

The desert views Wright, his wife, and workers enjoyed are made even better by the flora and fauna: grand Sagauro cacti and fuzzy Jumping cacti make a dramatic statement and we even saw wild Gambel’s quails running together in the campus. But this landscape is no cultural desert either – it’s been used for thousands of years by the Hohokam indians. Their dense network of canals were basically copied by the settlers who took over their lands.

Wright also oriented the home so that there were distinct breezeways, which provided comfort for those living there. The breezeways double as spaces to enjoy certain perspectives of the mountains. Wright set up a few views of the mountain peaks he loved best.

Moving through one of those breezeways, there’s a central plaza, with gardens filled with native cacti set out on grids. While the space seem designed to be moved through as opposed to inhabited, the guide said Wright constantly used the space for events, reconfiguring the outdoor spaces for garden parties. The guide said Frances Nemtin, one of Wright’s original apprentices from the 1940s is still managing the gardens in keeping with Wright’s original design. The only major change: there had been a set of palm trees but they grew so large architects in residence thought they were messing with the proportions of the site. They were dug up and given to a nearby resort.

According to our tour guide, Wright knew that sprawl would eventually surround his beloved Taleisin West. Until the 1960s, they managed to keep development at bay. Now it’s basically found at the end of a cul-de-sac. Sadly, it’s one of the few remaining intact desert habitats in the broader Phoenix region, which sprawls out some to a gargantuan 1,650 square miles. Our guide said developers are ever swarming over their parcel of nature but always let down when they hear that the entire 550 remaining acres are a National Historic Landmark. Let’s hope it stays that way forever.

Image credits: Ben Wellington, Student ASLA 

Blurring the Edge in a Border City

At the ASLA 2012 Annual Meeting in Phoenix, a group of landscape architects, urban designers, and architects discussed their nearly decade-long effort to plan and design a new future for Chihuahua, a Mexican city found in the the greater border region between Mexico and the U.S. Paula Aguirre, former planning director for the city and now an urban designer at Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, said the goal was to “soften the lines between ecology and society” and increase access to nature at the urban edge. The idea: “to make urbanization more ecologically friendly.”

Gabriel Diaz Montemayor, ASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at Arizona State University, said the attempt to integrate nature into Chihuahua by better highlighting the city’s natural resources, including its rivers, is an effort to “address the void” in Mexican sprawl, which increasingly is the same void found in the U.S. As an example, he pointed to Phoenix, which at more than 500 square miles, may make it one of the world’s least sustainable cities. Unfortunately, more cities in the southwest may be becoming like Phoenix.

According to Aguirre, Chihuahua is part of a rich ecological region, a desert that is nestled between the Sacramento and Chuviscar Rivers, two tributaries of the Rio Grande. However, within the city of more than 800,000 nature is almost absent, perhaps because the desert itself is viewed as having so little value. “The cultural landscape of the desert is just about zero.” Beyond treating the desert like it doesn’t exist, Chihuahua has also “dominated or colonized its waterways,” channelizing more than 40 percent of its rivers. Even beautiful rivers views along byways aren’t treated as a resource, an amenity.

At the same time, subsidized, nearly-public housing is far flung, reaching into the outskirts of Chihuahua. Policies support the plopping down of banks of homes at the edges, where the homes line up in neat rows. These “scattered, isolated subdivisions,” said Montemayor, continually push out the edges of the city. Yet, whether rich or poor, many of these communities are increasingly gated. “There’s a gate for every lifestyle, whether for traditional or contemporary housing.” The gates are a response to a fear of violence.

Even with the challenges, these designers are creating forward-thinking plans and designs, some of which are even becoming reality. Working with a team of professors and students from Harvard Graduate School of Design, Aguirre said a new set of parks around underutilized reservoirs are actually happening. “The parks restore corridors along the reservoir.” Some mid and high-end developers are also now “reconciling the edge” with nature, breaking down the high walls that line communities at the outskirts of the city.

Rodrigo Seanez, who works for landscape architecture firm LABOR Studio, also explained how Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is coming to Chihuahua in an effort to better connect schools, public spaces, and jobs. Transit-oriented development, Chihuahua-style, will also include bicycle lanes, though BRT will remain the backbone of the new development patterns they are hoping for.

For landscape architect Montemayor, even letting some of those far-flung, financially-unsustainable subdivisions in Chihuahua, Phoenix, and other sprawled-out cities in the southwest return to desert habitat may be a way to blur the edge.

Image credit: LABOR Studio

Arcosanti: Soleri’s Otherwordly Reaction to Sprawl

Arcosanti is an experimental town located 60 miles north of Phoenix in the Arizona desert. Architect Paolo Soleri founded Arcosanti in 1970 to test his concept of “arcology,” which is a literal co-joining of the words architecture and ecology. An arcology was envisioned as a hyper-dense city within a building, concentrating the complexity of human settlement into a single, compact structure. Developed as a response to the wasteful and destructive process of suburban sprawl, Soleri describes the arcology as a process of “miniaturization,” a dramatic shrinking of the footprint of human settlement. Viewing urban expansion as fundamentally destructive to the environment, Soleri’s arcology promotes an ecologically harmonious settlement.

Arcosanti was designed as a tiny arcology prototype. Planned to develop into a community of 5,000 people, Arcosanti has only grown to a fluctuating population of around 100, as I learned on a recent tour of the site with Cosanti Foundation president Jeff Stein. Even with its small size, it’s a truly otherworldly place to visit. Consisting of a series of large, mixed-use complexes, Arcosanti describes itself as an urban laboratory where theories can be tested.

The city in the desert is composed of a series of concentric crescents and apses, with living spaces built into the edges of the crescents and open communal spaces in the centers. Benefiting from the high desert climate, these communal spaces are open to nature, designed to maximize beneficial environmental conditions. This arrangement allows the passive heating and cooling: heating is largely accomplished through buildings’ orientation toward the sun. Vents even run from the greenhouse into living spaces, providing an additional source of warmth. Built into the side of a cliff, the moderating properties of the stone help keep the buildings cool in the summer.

In addition to their environmental function, the open spaces within Arcosanti are designed as social spaces. These are spaces are flexible and intended for a variety of uses: the East Crescent is composed of living spaces that trace around the perimeter of an amphitheater, where, during my visit, a theater troupe was preparing a production.

The vaults form another flexible space. The first structures built on the site, the area enclosed by the vaults is used for large events and projects.

Perhaps the most distinctive, and surreal, characteristic of Arcosanti is its economic engine: windbell production. The inhabitants of the arcology work in the apse-enclosed foundry, pouring bronze over handmade clay and sand molds to create bells. Open to the environment and overlooking the stunning desert landscape, this process is unlike anything I have ever seen. Watching clay molds being smashed against the ground, Arcosanti felt lost in time.

Significantly, the production of windbells is not a recent development. In fact, the crafting of windbells is how Soleri has financed his career as a theoretical architect in the first place, and they are largely responsible for funding the construction of Arcosanti. In other words, windbells are not just a source of revenue for Arcosanti, but a fundamental component of the project’s existence.

Arcosanti is a strange and fascinating reaction against suburban sprawl and American car culture. While highly attuned to its environmental context, Arcosanti does not attempt to integrate ecology and settlement (as many contemporary landscape architecture projects do). Instead, it recommends we reduce our environmental impact solely by shrinking our footprint. According to Soleri, who is still active into his 90s, to preserve the natural environment we must leave it alone.

This guest post is by Ben Wellington, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture Candidate, Louisiana State University and ASLA 2012 summer associate.

Image credits: (1) Ben Wellington, (2) Cosanti Foundation, (3-9) Ben Wellington

The Games These Benches Play

Clever and talented Danish artist Jeppe Hein has been custom-making his “Modified Social Benches” for museums, arts festivals, and plazas since the mid-2000s. Most recently, he created a unique set of art you can sit on for Beaufort04, the fourth Triennial of Contemporary Art by the Sea this summer in Belgium. Kids, cool kids, and adults all seem to love playing with these.

Hein says his powder-coated aluminium “social benches” borrow their basic form from the standard park bench, but are altered to make the “act of sitting on them a conscious physical endeavor.” As they mutate, the benches become spaces to “inhabit,” rather than just places to park it and relax for a moment.

The benches become an “exchange between the users and the passers-by, thus lending the work a social quality.” Both functional and dysfunctional, Hein says they occupy some middle place between art and public amenity.

On the Beaufort04 web site, the curators of the outdoor contemporary art write: “Jeppe Hein’s work speaks to all of us, even if we haven’t asked it to. Hein excels in setting up apparently accidental happenings, that play with the laws of cause and effect and evoke an unexpected inventive behavior from the viewer.”

The pieces may seem like fun one-offs, but something then happens between the work and the community: “As is the case with much of Hein’s work, the Modified Social Benches on the dyke in De Haan seem to hide behind a disguise of fun and entertainment. But what they actually evoke is a process of interaction and communication that works on different levels.”

For other installations, Hein has gone way beyond the standard bench, creating a set of undulating, curvy forms that loop. They are part bench, part jungle gym, and adults and kids seem to enjoy them in equal measure.

Hein writes on his piece for a museum in Auckland, New Zealand: “A series of different bench designs is connected to an imaginary line of benches running along the building, on the terrace at the rooftop, the facade and inside the galleries. In some places the bench sinks into the ground, gently ascending elsewhere, sometimes providing an opportunity to take a seat and relax, sometimes only offering a sculptural impression.”

See more of Hein’s bench series and his portfolio.

Image credits: Jeppe Hein

Design the Waterfront Park Infrastructure of the Future

In an effort to deal with deterioriating infrastructure along its 560-mile shoreline, reduce the expense of new waterfront construction, and achieve its ambitious multi-billion-dollar waterfront redevelopment agenda, New York City’s government has just issued a request for expressions of interest for “Change the Course,” a new waterfront construction competition that seeks “innovative and cost-saving solutions for completing marine construction projects.” New York City’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), the Hudson River Park Trust, and a host of other government groups and experts will be evaluating submissions. 

NYCEDC President Seth W. Pinsky said: “We are as committed as ever to reclaiming and transforming the city’s hundreds of miles of waterfront. This innovative competition will allow us, in an era of limited resources, to uncover new methodologies and techniques for addressing the challenges associated with our aging infrastructure, thereby ensuring its long-term sustainability.”

The first phase of the competition will seek to unearth the many factors impacting cost and sustainability. All those old, crumbling piers and sea walls that double as pedestrian promenades are clearly expensive to maintain for a number of reasons. NYC identified a few likely suspects, including “obsolete technologies, permitting processes, current regulations, environmental issues, outdated science studies, labor issues and efficiencies.”

Entrants will then provide creative solutions that are “cost effective, sustainable, and ethically sound,” addressing conditions at one of a few spots at the Lower Manhattan Waterfront: the deteriorating, expensive-to-maintain structures between Fulton Fish Market (at the South Street Seaport); Pier 35, along the East River in Manhattan; or the Hudson River Park Pier, at the substructure of Pier 40. As for using the Hudson River Park as a test-bed for cutting-edge structures, Madelyn Wils, President & CEO, Hudson River Park Trust, said: “We look forward to working together with NYCEDC to find financially sustainable solutions for the unique infrastructure challenges of waterfront parks.” 

There’s no reason why landscape architects shouldn’t partner with engineers and submit to this competition. As Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, is now demonstrating with the Brooklyn Bridge Park (BBP), landscape architects are repurposing old marine pier infrastructure to create sustainable parks. Above, see his firm’s diagram for the BBP infrastructure.

The top prize winner will get $50,000, with 2nd and 3rd place getting $25,000 and $15,000. 

The first phase request for expressions of interest are due November 16, 2012. Winners will be announced in early 2013.

Image credit: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

Bicyclists Could Fly Through London

On the heels of London’s new bicycle “superhighways,” Mayor Boris Johnson is now seriously considering SkyCycle, a concept by British landscape architect Sam Martin that proposes a network of elevated cycled paths between London’s main tube stations. The SkyCycle would transform unused elevated rail lines and also include new infrastructure. According to The Daily Mail (UK), Martin, who is director of Exterior Architecture, is already developing feasibility studies for a few open-air tunnels, which would be sided in glass or plastic. If all goes well, the sky-highways could be open by 2015.

The proposal aims to make bicycling safer in the big city. In fact, Martin came up with the idea a few years ago when he stopped cycling because he found it too dangerous. His concerns are real: just this year, ten cyclists have died in London, writes The Times (UK), and some of the riders were very young.  

The sky-line tunnels would also ease congestion. Martin said that the number of bicycling journeys are expected to triple to 1.5 million by 2020. Indeed, they’ve already doubled since 2000. Car owners are perhaps tired of paying extra taxes and congestion fees to free up street space, and parking interests will certainly push to maintain the existing number of spots.  With streets already packed, where will these bicyclists ride? 

The system wouldn’t be free though. Bicycling commuters would use London’s ubiquitous Oyster card to gain access, paying about a pound to commute, which is still about one-third cheaper than a regular subway ride. The city would need to charge something for the privilege of using the network, giving the cost of construction can’t expected to be cheap. Martin also believes that a corporate sponsor could be roped in to help off-set some of the “tens of millions of pounds” of costs. But this idea isn’t nuts: Barclays financed the superhighways and bicycle share system, and Citibank is the primary sponsor of the bicycle share system in New York City.

Routes wouldn’t be used within neighborhoods but between them. Acting like true bicycle highways, the routes would connect far-flung London, and then on-ground superhighways and regular bike lanes would be used for neighborhood traffic. According to The Daily Mail, the first route could connect the Olympic site in east London, “linking Stratford with the City of London through Liverpool and Fenchurch Street stations.”

Still, the local transport group doesn’t seem convinced yet. Transport for London has explained it will work on making the 50 most dangerous road junctions safer in the coming months. And a local bicycling campaign also seems wary: “While we’re fascinated by Boris Johnson’s plan to put cycle routes along London’s working railways and would love to know how far his negotiations have got with Network Rail, we’d much rather hear the Mayor saying he’s prepared to build high-quality cycling facilities on the streets that Londoners use every day.”

Image credit: Exterior Architecture

In other news, check out Ground Up, a new print publication curated by graduated students in the landscape architecture department at University of California, Berkeley. The first issue, Landscapes of Uncertainty, explores contemporary landscape architecture and ecology and includes articles by Kristina Hill, Affiliate ASLA, Rebar, and others.

Bridging the Divide Between Man and Nature

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) and Central Park Conservancy are hosting a conference on October 5 in New York City called Bridging the Nature-Culture Divide II: Stewardship of Central Park’s Woodlands. The conference will focus on the challenges involved in crafting a sustainable future stewardship program for Central Park’s woodlands, but also leap off into interesting debates about man and nature in urban parks, tackling issues at the heart of what landscape architects do.

The woodlands, writes TCLF, may appear “feral” but are actually a “historic designed landscape.” In today’s world, with the focus on climate change, TCLF and the Central Park Conservancy wonder what it means to sustainably manage such a seemingly wild place, a landscape Olmsted described as representing “the superabundant, creative power of nature” but found at the heart of a great city.

TCLF writes: “The 843-acre Central Park, originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. and Calvert Vaux, with a succession of additions and refinements by Samuel Parsons, Jr., Michael Rapuano, Gilmore Clarke and others, is also host to 230 bird species, along with turtles, fish, and countless species of butterflies, dragonflies, and other insects.” Focusing in on the park’s great man-made woodlands in particular, TCLF writes that they are “among the most historically significant designed landscapes in the country, they provide valuable refuge for wildlife, and they are a vital recreational resource for New Yorkers.”

But, given these places aren’t wild, how should they be managed? TCLF and the Central Park Conservancy see a new approach: “When we expand our definition of ecology to include people and cultural values and recognize that human activity is part of any ecosystem we touch, the question becomes not ‘how do we strike a balance between nature and culture?’ but ‘how to do we interact with nature in a way that is both meaningful and sustainable?'”  

The one-day symposium will feature panels of officials from New York and San Francisco along with landscape architects and environmental designers from the around the country. The discussion will zoom in on the specific challenges involved in woodland restoration and management in Central Park, but panelists will also look at other cases from around the U.S. exploring design, management, and stewardship, and “how their lessons can be applied to Central Park’s woodlands.” 

TCLF conferences attract some of the best landscape architects, both as speakers and attendees. Moderators and speakers include Christian Zimmerman, FASLA, Vice President for Design & Construction, The Prospect Park Alliance; Elizabeth K. Meyer, FASLA, Associate Professor, University of Virginia, School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture; Dennis McGlade, FASLA, President/Partner, OLIN; Margie Ruddick, ASLA, Margie Ruddick Landscape; and Keith Bowers, FASLA, Biohabitats. See what they will be discussing in more detail.

Register for the symposium on October 5.

For those who can’t make the conference but will be in NYC, there’s no excuse to miss out on TCLF’s free What’s Out There tours, which follow on October 6-7.  The 25+ tours in all five boroughs are led by landscape architects, designers, and other professionals. TCLF writes: “Some are places we see daily, while others are ‘hidden in plain sight.'” Some great ones include the Noguchi Museum in Queens; The Cloisters in upper Manhattan; Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx; multiple Prospect Park tours in Brooklyn; and Snug Harbor in Staten Island. The Weekend is organized in cooperation with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, the New York chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (NY-ASLA), Archtober 2012, the Central Park Conservancy, the Municipal Arts Society, the New York Restoration Project, New Yorkers for Parks and Open House New York.

Image credit: Central Park Woodlands / TCLF