SITES Certifies Eight Projects

The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) has announced eight projects that have achieved certification under the nation’s most comprehensive rating system for  the sustainable design, construction and maintenance of built landscapes. These projects, as part of a group of 150 projects participating in an extensive, two-year pilot program, have applied the SITES guidelines and met the requirements for certification.

The newly certified projects include the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden in Durham, NC; Cleveland’s Public Garden, Cleveland; Cornell University’s Mann Library Entrance in Ithaca, NY; Hunts Point Landing, an urban park in the Bronx, NY; Meadow Lake and the Main Parking Lot at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle IL; the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido, CA; the commercial SWT Design Campus in St. Louis; and the residential Victoria Garden Mews in Santa Barbara, CA.

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 in 2005 to fill a critical need for guidelines and recognition of sustainable landscapes based on their planning, design, construction and maintenance. The voluntary, national rating system and set of performance benchmarks applies to sites with or without buildings.

“This new group of showplace projects represents a tremendous amount of work toward making the built landscape more sustainable and adding to ecosystem services,” said Holly Shimizu, executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden.

Since June 2010, pilot projects have been testing the 2009 rating system created by dozens of the country’s leading sustainability experts, scientists and design professionals. The diverse projects represent various types, sizes and locations as well as stages of development.

The SITES 2009 rating system includes 15 prerequisites and 51 additional, flexible credits to choose from that add up to 250 points. The credits address areas such as soil restoration, use of recycled materials and land maintenance approaches. One through four stars are obtained for achieving 40, 50, 60 or 80 percent of those 250 points.

“The pilot program has informed and helped us refine the next iteration of the SITES Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks, which will be published in 2013.  Many additional projects are continuing to work toward certification while we proceed with our preparations for open enrollment next year.” said ASLA Executive Vice President and CEO Nancy Somerville.

The eight newly certified projects include two commercial ventures, one residence, one park, three public gardens and one educational institution.  Each project incorporates sustainable features and practices which enabled them to achieve a star rating:

The Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden at Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Two Stars. Duke University, Durham, NC. (see image at top). This garden is a demonstration center intended to help school groups, families and camp participants understand and apply sustainable landscaping ideas at home.  Salvaged materials were used throughout and a cistern, a bioswale and a rain garden collect rainwater.  Teaching elements include organic vegetable gardens in raised beds, an orchard, bee hives, a compost bin and a “Food Forest” of native plants.

Cleveland’s Public Garden: Modeling Sustainability in the Rustbelt. Three Stars. Cleveland. Cleveland Botanical Garden’s goal was to demonstrate best conservation practices its visitors could apply at home. Among the sustainable features are a low-maintenance lawn that does not require weekly mowing, additional irrigation or fertilizer; a rain garden that captures runoff; native plants; and a green roof that reduces energy costs and slows stormwater runoff.

Cornell University’s Mann Library Entrance. One Star. Ithaca, NY. The Mann Library, which houses the agriculture and horticulture collection, had been a construction site.  A Landscape Architecture/Horticulture class took on the renovation, including site assessment, design and plant installation as well as preparing documents for the certification.  Sustainable features include better soil health resulting from organic additions and percolation; a diversified selection of plants more suitable to local conditions; the removal of invasive plants; and preservation of all trees on the site.

Hunts Point Landing.
Two Stars. Bronx, NY. This 1.5 acre project converted a roadway dead-ending at a debris-strewn river bank into a recreation area in a densely-populated part of New York City. This public waterfront allows visitors to bicycle, fish, kayak or enjoy the panoramic view.  Among the sustainable features are recycled bridge stones and roadway materials used in the construction and habitat restoration and protection from storm winds provided by newly planted evergreens, flowering trees and shrubs.

Meadow Lake/Main Parking Lot at The Morton Arboretum. One Star. Lisle, IL. This project turned a man-made retention lake with eroded banks into an attractive, natural-looking waterway with wetland plantings.  It also added stormwater and water pollution controls to the main parking lot. Sustainable features include the first large-scale permeable parking lot installation in Illinois and a bioswale that captures and filters rainwater that would entered storm sewers.

Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. One Star. Escondido, CA. The outdoor patios and gardens at this craft brewery and restaurant feature a palette of climate-adapted plants.  The gardens are located in a stormwater retention basin for a surrounding industrial park, and plantings are adapted for water and drought-tolerance. The gardens include edible plants such as avocados, olives and pomegranates as well as Chinook Hops used in making beer.  Most of the boulders and rock utilized in the garden came from the site itself and many of the patio materials were made from reused salvaged materials.

SWT Design Campus. Two Stars. St. Louis. This adaptive-reuse project grafted a contemporary design office and studio addition on an existing Victorian house. The outdoor area modeled a number of sustainable practices, including managing 95 percent of rainwater on-site using a rain garden, roof garden, native Missouri plants, and pervious cover for 75 percent of the hardscape.

Victoria Garden Mews. Two Stars. Santa Barbara, CA.  Three couples who are green building professionals converted a derelict Victorian house into four highly efficient urban units that share habitat-friendly open space. Almost all home energy needs are met onsite.  Sustainable features include rainwater collection in a 14,000-gallon system, a construction waste minimization program that diverted 13 tons from landfills and the use of recycled materials including redwood siding from the Victorian house.

“Perhaps the greatest impact of the two-year SITES pilot program has been the tremendous  interest it has created among people who design, create and maintain  landscapes of all types and sizes  in creating outdoor spaces that use the benefits of nature – ecosystem services—to benefit people and the environment.  Landscape professionals and home gardeners alike are really looking for ways to make what they do sustainable,” said Susan Rieff, executive director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

About 80 of the initial 150 projects in the two-year pilot program have indicated they will continue to pursue certification. The draft 2013 credits will be available for public review and comment starting September 26.

See more images of all the projects.

Image credits: (1) Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden / Rick Fisher, (2) Cleveland’s Public Garden / Cynthia Druckenbrod, (3) Cornell University Mann Library Entrance / Nina Bassuk, (4) Hunts Point Landing / Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, P.C., (5) Meadow Lake at Morton Arboretum / Staff at Morton Arboretum, (6) Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens / Aerial Advantage, (7) SWT Design Campus / SWT Design, (8) Victoria Garden Mews / Holly Lepere Photography

Introducing The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Washington, D.C.

Top Designers of Public Spaces Offer Fresh Takes on D.C.’s Historic and Contemporary Landscapes

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is pleased to announce the launch of The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Washington, D.C. This online, mobile-friendly guide will help visitors and locals discover more than 75 historic, modern and contemporary landscapes in Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Va. Expert commentary and more than 800 photos are provided by 20 landscape architects.

According to Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA, the guide is the first of its kind devoted to Washington, D.C. It highlights historic monuments and parks—including the National Mall and Memorial Parks and Capitol Hill—and examples of new sustainable works—including Constitution Square, a cutting-edge green street that is one block long, and Diamond Teague Waterfront Park, which incorporates man-made, water-cleansing wetlands on the Anacostia River.

“The guide will provide the 19 million tourists who visit D.C. annually, along with locals, a fresh perspective on both iconic and brand-new landscapes within the nation’s capital,” says Somerville. “D.C.’s vibrant public realm didn’t just magically appear but was carefully designed over the years, and is continually evolving, through interactions among elected leaders, communities and landscape architects.”

The guide is divided into 16 distinct tours in all four quadrants of the District—as well as a tour of the new D.C. bicycle network. Each tour covers multiple neighborhoods, and includes a printable walking or biking map.

The guide was created by ASLA in partnership with 20 nationally recognized landscape architects, all of whom are designers of the public realm and leaders in sustainable design. The guides were asked to explain the sites from a landscape architect’s point of view and show how the design of these sites influences how people interact with or even feel about these places.

Explore the Web site.

The guides:

  • Claire Bedat, ASLA, Associate, RTKL Associates Inc.
  • Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, Founder and President, The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF).
  • Hallie Boyce, ASLA, Partner, OLIN
  • Dennis Carmichael, FASLA, Principal, Parker Rodriguez, and Past President of the American Society of Landscape Architects (2006)
  • Beth Carton, ASLA, Park Planner for the City of Alexandria’s Department of Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities
  • Jonathan Fitch, ASLA, Principal, Landscape Architecture Bureau
  • Skip Graffam, ASLA, Partner and Director of Research, OLIN
  • Liz Guthrie, ASLA, Manager of Professional Practice Programs and Staff Liaison to the Sustainable Sites Initiative™, ASLA
  • Joan Honeyman, ASLA, Owner, Jordan Honeyman Landscape Architecture LLC
  • Glenn LaRue Smith, ASLA, Principal, Smith + Murray studios, Inc.
  • Adrienne McCray, ASLA, Senior Associate, Lee and Associates
  • Ron Kagawa, ASLA, Division Chief of Park Planning and Capital Development with the City of Alexandria’s Department of Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities
  • Dena Kennett, ASLA, Manager of Professional Practice Programs, ASLA
  • Elizabeth Miller, ASLA, Acting Director, Physical Planning Division, National Capital Planning Commission
  • Radhika Mohan, ASLA, Senior Program Manager, Mayors’ Institute on City Design/National Endowment of the Arts
  • Jane Padelford, ASLA, Dumbarton Oaks Research Institute, Harvard University
  • Amanda Shull, Project Assistant, The Cultural Landscape Foundation.
  • Susan Spain, ASLA, Project Executive, National Park Service
  • Jennifer L. Toole, ASLA, President of Toole Design Group
  • Michael Vergason, FASLA, Founder, Michael Vergason Landscape Architects

List of Sites Featured in the Guide:

The National Mall & Memorial Parks
The Mall
National Museum of the American Indian
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Enid Haupt Garden
Washington Monument
National War II Memorial
Constitution Gardens
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool
Korean War Memorial
DC War Memorial
Martin Luther King Memorial
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
George Mason Memorial
Tidal Basin (West Potomac Park)

The White House & President’s Park
The White House & President’s Park
Lafayette Park
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
The Ellipse

Pennsylvania Avenue
John Marshall Park
Pennsylvania Avenue 
Freedom Plaza
Pershing Square Park

Capitol Hill
National Japanese American Memorial
Upper and Lower Senate Garden
Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carrillon
West Grounds of the Capitol / Summer House
Union Square
The U.S. Botanic Garden / Bartholdi Park
U.S. Capitol Visitors Center
Eastern Market
Congressional Cemetery

HUD Plaza
Benjamin Banneker Park
Southwest Duckpond

Navy Yard
Half Street Fairground
The Yards Park
Diamond Teague Waterfront Park

Chinatown / NoMA
Kogod Courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery
ASLA Green Roof
Constitution Square

Dupont Circle / Embassy Row / Cathedral Heights
Dupont Circle
Spanish Steps
Embassy Row 
National Cathedral

Georgetown Waterfront Park
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal
Cady’s Alley
The Exorcist Steps
Georgetown University
Dumbarton Oaks
Dumbarton Oaks Park
Oakhill Cemetery

Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park

U Street / Shaw
Meridian Hill (Malcolm X) Park
Union Row
African American Civil War Memorial
Howard University Quadrangle

Franciscan Monastery
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
McMillan Sand Filtration Site

Woodley Park / Upper Northwest D.C.
Smithsonian National Zoo Park
Hillwood Estate

Anacostia / Deanwood  / Mahaning Heights
Frederick Douglass Historic Site
Fort Mahan Park
Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens

Arlington / Pentagon / Rosslyn
Arlington Memorial Bridge
Women in Military Service for America Memorial
Pentagon Memorial
Arlington Cemetery
The Air Force Memorial
U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial

Bike D.C.
Tour D.C.’s Bicycle Network

Natural Landscapes Become Supernatural

Swiss artist Sylvain Meyer, who doesn’t seem to exist on the Web except for a Flickr account, has created a unique set of land art works, somewhere in the Canton of Vaud, Switzerland. He writes that his “landscape art” is about transforming natural places into supernatural ones using found, local materials. Amazingly, he doesn’t use Photoshop to create these otherworldly scenes, just lots of time and sweat, out in nature. Also amazing: he doesn’t seem to spend any time promoting himself either with a web site or blog, just letting design sites serendipitously pick up his work.

Meyer likes to set up some of his work for the grand vistas. In one work, at top and below, his team spent two full days arranging thousands of pine cones, which were collected over two months. The work is a bit O.C.D. but he stresses that he was interested in the textural contrast. 

Meyer also creates interesting works in the Swiss forest. Here he designed patterns using pine needles and wood chips, creating a spooky Tim Burton vibe, which is also sometimes found in the work of Patrick Dougherty.

And here, he moves deeper into the forest, turning a tree into an woody octopus, a new species.

An impossibly rectangular web made out of fishing wire looks like it may have been spun by his large, mossy forest tarantula, which was made out of foam.

I can imagine a few unlucky Swiss hikers had an unique response when they stumbled upon that piece.

See more images at This Is Colossal and Meyer’s Flickr site.

Image credit: Sylvain Meyer

Landscape Architects’ Network Is Global, Dense, and Inter-connected

There is a lot of noise out there about social media. Not only has social media’s use exploded over the last several years but it continues to generate interest at increasing rates, attracting the attention of landscape architects and related design professionals in the process. Many landscape architecture firms now connect and communicate through social media’s different variants, including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, to name a few.

Recent global events, like the use of Facebook in the uprisings in the Middle East, have focused attention on the changes in public space and social politics prompted by the explosion in the use of social media. Some pundits see it as a new form of voluntary association and pluralism, while others see it as a force for greater consumption, or, worse, a means of social surveillance. What is often not evident in the broader discourse of social media is a description of the location of those engaged in its use. Crowdsourcing is a way to identify the geography of social media and offers great promise in further understanding the complex networked connections within the field of landscape architecture.

The remainder of my blog post introduces the results of crowdsourcing professional social media followers of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), related organizations like the American Planning Association (APA), and landscape architecture and architecture news sites like World Landscape Architect, Architectural Record, and Architizer. Hopefully, some interesting ideas came out of analyzing the location of their twitter followers at national and also global scales.

The charts seen at top (view large version here) graphically illustrate the kinds of networks these organizations have formed, the location of their most influential users, as well as the location of all users. In examining these charts, one can see just how different the various professional organizations and news sites are in terms of their numbers, their dispersal, how intensely they communicate, and their national and global reach.

Specifically, the graphs on the left (featured below) show the conceptual forms of each network. In these graphs, the larger the circle the greater the influence of a member. The closer the circles to the center, the greater the interconnection among the most influential participants and all network followers. The greener the circle and line the more frequent the communication between network followers.

If we compare the APA network graph with the ASLA network graph, the APA followers appear less densely connected and more connected to one center. Many APA followers are tenuously inter-connected on the periphery of the network. Most of the APA’s influential followers are on the network edge and not well interconnected with its followers. The ASLA network, on the other hand, is very dense, with many followers inter-connected throughout the network. Many of the ASLA’s influential followers are well-connected to the larger network from positions close to its conceptual center. The ASLA also seems to have many more followers than the APA in this study.

The graphs on the right (featured for a closer view below) illustrate the national and global location of the network followers and their lines of connection. The most influential followers are indicated by larger-sized circles. In these graphs, the larger, the bluer and greener the circles, the greater the influence and communication frequency of the participant. The greater the change in the lines from red to yellow to green, the greater the frequency of communication between followers.

The national geo-location graphs on the left shows that the APA (the first row) has the most influential followers on the east coast and in Toronto and Texas, with significant traffic from several west coast cities. At a global scale, the APA followers showed fewer connections spread through most continents.

National ASLA followers (the 2nd row) are present throughout the United States and in Canada and Mexico in substantial numbers. Many moderately influential followers with multiple lines of communication are evident throughout the United States. At a global scale, the ASLA followers showed many connections spread through most continents, but concentrated in Europe and East Asia. There were also several influential ASLA nodes in Central Europe.

In extending this comparison to all five design-focused social networks, we see greater variation in the level of connectivity, the number of members with influence, how much they communicate with each other, and the range of their international followers. Some are clearly more uni-centric while others are more multi-centric. All of the networks connect to the urbanized continents, but most connections are in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Nationally, some of the networks are more concentrated around New York City, the northeast, and the southern and central United States.

An analysis closely related to a network analysis like this would explore the extent to which the twitter followers of the five design-focused social networks cover different topics. Analysis of the content of their communications is quite possible, as is the location of their messages. One can imagine understanding how landscape architecture ideas are nested in a particular place, how those places and messages inter-connect, and how followers from different places influence followers from another place. Perhaps in another blog post.

Read a more comprehensive analysis.

Robert Hewitt, ASLA, is an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Clemson University. He is the author of Landscape Imprints: Culture, History, Sustainability, Technology, and Learning.

Image credit: Geoff Taylor and Brooks Patrick

A Tricky Spot for Los Angeles’ New Grand Park

According to Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles has very few truly urban parks. Most reside along the periphery of the city, along the beaches and coastline or in the mountains. So the new 12-acre, rectangular $56-million Grand Park, which opened in downtown Los Angeles in July, represents an attempt to “rewrite that civic story line” and create “a central gathering spot, in the heart of downtown, for all of dizzyingly diverse L.A. County.” Unfortunately, the location for this bold attempt at creating a more public civic realm in L.A. isn’t ideal though. So the attempt, which is “imperfect but encouraging,” may be seen as just one small, incremental step in transforming L.A. into a less-car centric place. 

Hawthorne is largely positive about the park’s actual design. Landscape architects Mark Rios, FASLA, and Tony Paradowski, Affiliate ASLA, of the Los Angeles-based landscape architecture, architecture, and urban design firm Rios Clementi Hale Studios have produced a “series of spaces that are equal to that outsize ambition. With bold graphic design (by the firm Sussman/Prejza), bright magenta lawn furniture and streamlined architecture, the park rejects the easy nostalgia and the bland, focus-grouped inoffensiveness that mark so much public-sector design in L.A. these days.”

However, he also wonders whether the park is in the “right” place. It seems the park’s location and topography pose some real challenges to its future success, even if a growing residential popultion creates demand for more public programs in the park and provides enough support for a Frank Gehry-designed band shell for music.

Hawthorne writes that the park occupies what was previously the L.A. Country Civic Center Mall, an awkward space “squeezed between government buildings,” and, on one side, involves navigating a “90-foot drop” between a few streets. A “more natural location” would have been a “perfectly level” site nearby, but that has been taken up by the L.A. Police Department headquarters. In fact, Hawthorne writes, an earlier master plan saw that site as the best fit for a new central park. But negotiations among the development committee and the developer led to the unlikely Mall spot, which is largely used by visiting jurors, being turned into a park. Through a unique arrangement, the developer agreed to fork over $50 million for the park to the county if it got to develop another nearby parcel as a high-end residential and retail district.

Rios Clementi Hale faced the challenge of transforming a “relic of post-war planning” into a place with a “sense of openness,” while also connecting it with the rest of downtown. Hawthorne seems to think the sharp grade is the major issue: “There is also the site’s steep grade. With the possible exception of the Campidoglio in Rome, it is hard to think of a successful urban gathering space that is on a hilltop or (worse yet) a hillside.” Also, a few large concrete ramps leading into a parking garage that present obstacles to the user experience had to stay due to budgetary constraints.

On the positives: the hot pink furniture is exciting and moveable. “The furniture here — and this is a rarity in L.A.’s parks — isn’t tied down or fixed to the ground. Visitors will be able to move it around, grouping tables together for a large gathering or dragging chairs from the sun into the shade.” To reflect the diversity of the city’s population, the planting scheme is drawn from around the world. Instead of all natives, there’s a diversity of plants, which Hawthorne thinks is a good thing.

There are also some great views: “Perhaps the most surprising element of the new park is how dramatically it reframes views of some of downtown’s best-known landmarks. From the overlook plaza you can turn and catch a glimpse of Disney Hall. The 1962 Hall of Records by Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander, among the most underrated modernist buildings in Los Angeles, can be seen from a new angle from the performance lawn and may gain some new admirers as a result. And throughout the park the City Hall tower is a dramatic, insistent presence.”

Overall, The New York Times was more positive in its review, but perhaps in a more superficial way: “Depending on whom you ask, it elicits comparisons to New York’s Central Park or San Francisco’s Union Square — and a couple of the most enthusiastic supporters even liken it to the Champs-Élysées.” Seen as part of a broader revitalization effort for a part of the city that used to be largely abandoned, even scary, The New York Times now found people there during the day, splashing in the fountains in their bathing suits, hanging out. One resident, Lina Park, who brought some friends from Koreatown, was quoted as saying: “You can’t compare it to anything that we have anywhere else. It’s clean, safe and big — that’s the kind of place people are going to want to come to.”

Still, some others worry that this just marks another move towards gentrification in downtown L.A., and that the city is investing in green space for the wealthy. Perhaps programming the park — and designing events that will attract all the city’s diverse populations — will be key to its success, given its tough spot.

See lots more photos of the park at Rios Clementi Hale Studios.

In other news, read a fantastic story about how Moscow’s new mayor mobilized to restore the dirty Gorky Park, a place that was once the “symbol of Post-Soviet decay.” The Guardian writes that the change has been startling: “Seemingly overnight, the park was transformed into an urban paradise, a rare spot of verdant tranquility in the midst of Moscow’s overcrowded, traffic-clogged streets. There are neat rows of ping-pong tables and a pétanque court permanently occupied by the city’s hipsters. Each summer night, an open air cinema blasts out hits new and old. There are lounge chairs, free Wi-Fi, even a lawn filled with pillow-shaped beanbags for a mid-afternoon nap.”

Image credits: (1) Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times, (2-4) Rios Clementi Hale Studios, (5) Monica Almeida / NY Times, (6-7) Rios Clementi Hale Studios.

A Roadmap for Urban Agriculture

While New York City already has some 700 urban farms and gardens spread throughout its five boroughs, urban farming still feels ad-hoc, somewhat tacked-on in many places. The gains have been slow and future progress isn’t guaranteed. To boost the long-term prospects of urban farming in the U.S.’s biggest city, the Design Trust for Public Space and its partner Added Value just launched a new report some three-years in the making called Five Borough Farm: Seeding the Future of Urban Agriculture, along with a companion Web site. The project seeks to create a comprehensive “roadmap” with the goal of helping stakeholders — policymakers, community groups, farmers, and designers — “understand and weigh the benefits” of urban agriculture, while making a compelling case for significantly ramping up local government support for this growing field. Basically, if you’ve been looking for a thorough examination of all the policy aspects of urban farming, this report is it.

The Design Trust for Public Space has had a long history of strategically intervening in the public realm in NYC. They were very early supporters of the vision of the High Line founders, and provided vital aid to them, which helped underpin their later success. The group has also recently been involved in redesigning NYC’s taxis and creating sustainable guidelines for NYC’s parks, buildings, and infrastructure.

The report authors argues that a more comprehensive policy approach is needed for urban agriculture because so many of NYC’s urban farms are on city land. A “decentralized system of diverse, small-scale, community-based public spaces” exists in schoolyards, the grounds of public housing developments, community gardens, and public parks. As we know, the benefits of these spaces go beyond fresh produce. ASLA’s recent Google Sketch-up animation — The Edible City — explains how communities improve the health and wellbeing of communities and help people better engage with their urban environments. But, unfortunately, in NYC and so many other cities, there’s still a disconnect between official policy and the bottom-up grass-roots movement being led by gardeners, farmers, and landscape architects.

To remedy this, the Design Trust brought together nearly 100 experts in food policy, sustainable design, and public health. It looks like just about every major urban farm, community gardening group, and non-profit working on food issues participated, which gives their recommendations some real weight.

First, the group identified some of the obstacles to future growth. For example, farmers and gardeners face a whole host of “challenges obtaining critical resources” such as soil, compost, and growing space, as well as construction materials, financing, and skilled labour. More involvement by city farmers in policymaking could help alleviate some of those problems. Additionally, there are “race- and class-based disparities that hinder access to information, services, and funding” amoung urban farmers. It seems depending on where you are, neighborhood farmers in NYC get very different treatment. Furthermore, the city is doing very little to actually track urban agriculture so there’s no good data on the scope of the field or its growing contribution to the NYC economy. Without a better understanding of how urban agriculture creates social, ecological, and economic benefits, it’s hard to build more support for these farms. Lastly, the group said that the city government has little authority over coordinating urban agriculture, incorporating these programs into other complementary initiatives.

The Design Trust for Public Space and Added Value smartly focus on the need for better metrics. They write that while there are now tons of studies showing the benefits of urban farming, there is no way to track real progress on improving healthy eating, spurring physical activity, growing jobs, and building “community cohesiveness.” As a result, they propose a whole set of indicators that the city should be methodically collecting data against annually. And to track this data well, the city will need to ramp up its own resources, with an enhanced position for the “food policy coordinator,” who’s success should then be tied to the growth of the burgeoning field.

Their recommendations, which are detailed over many pages, fall into a few categories. The first involves boosting the resources for urban agriculture in the NYC government. The group proposes strengthening the GreenThumb program, while making the food policy coordinator a true urban farming czar for the city. The second looks at how urban agriculture can be better integrated into city policies and plans. For example, shouldn’t urban agriculture be better connected with NYC’s innovative green infrastructure program, which just got almost $200 million in financing? Maybe all those green streets could also be used to grow tomatoes. The third explores how the city’s vast roof-scape could be better used for farming. Stalled development sites, new developments, and existing buildings that can handle the structural load should all be real opportunities for rooftop farms like the innovative Brooklyn Grange. The last set of recommendations examines how disparities based on class or race could be better addressed, with more capacity building and information resources for poorer areas of the city.

Even if you don’t live in NYC, this well-designed, well-written 170-page report is certainly worth exploring, perhaps as a model for an urban agriculture plan in your own city. See some of it online or purchase via Amazon. Also, read an interesting interview with Susan Chin, executive director of the Trust, by Metropolis Magazine editor Susan Szenasy, or one with Nevin Cohen, lead writer of the report, by Urban Omnibus.

Image credit: (1) Design Trust for Public Land and Added Value (2) Rob Stephenson Photography

New Bike Racks from David Byrne

Who knew? David Byrne, famous for “burning down the house” as lead singer of iconic NYC band The Talking Heads, is an avid bicyclist and now policy wonk on transportation policy, giving power point presentations in D.C. Just a few years ago he wrote a book on his tours of global cities by bike: The Bicycle Diariesa book actually worth a read. In 2008, Byrne then partnered with the NYC Department of Transportation on a series of wild bicycle racks. Now, he has created a new set of typographically-funky racks for the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).

Byrne stumbled into creating his first public amenities. He had been a judge evaluating bicycle rack submissions and decided to submit his own, which the transportation department “enthusiastically agreed to install.” His first set of nine racks were unveiled across Brooklyn and Manhattan in the locations most appropriate to their design. A spot near Bergdorf Goodman got the high heel rack, while Wall Street got the dollar sign rack. Later, shadows were added to the pavement by a NYC artist, amplifying the effect of these artistic pieces of infrastructure.

Byrne describes how his friends at the Pace Gallery helped make his racks a reality, following the city’s legal guidelines but solving tricky fabrication challenges at the same time. Byrne writes: “It was important to me that these things be the same thickness and material as the existing U- and M-shaped racks — to help identify them as practical bike racks and not modern art. The solution was to weld pieces together and then grind the edges so it perfectly simulated the city racks, though the fabrication process was completely different.”

Just recently, Byrne partnered with the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) to complete a new set of typographical bike racks. Brokelyn writes that Byrne realized he could spell out most words using a “semi circle, line, and ‘v’ shape,” so he came up with interesting phrases like “Pink crown” (see at top) and “micro lip” for his first text installation. According to that site, the bike rack words will periodically change. BAM may even poll their visitors to see what words to spell out in rack form next. 

To learn more about Byrne’s love of bikes, check out The Bicycle Diaries.

Image credits: (1) Dino Perucci, (2-4) copyright David Neff, (5) Dino Perucci