A Balancing Act Like No Other

Michael Grab has been creating unbelievable works of land art around Boulder, Colorado. Inspired by Yoda’s maxim, “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try,” Grab demonstrates that with a bit of patience, it’s possible to create a Jedi-like sense of balance in the unlikeliest arrangements of rocks. The artist writes that he uses rocks he finds out in the woods to create his “meditative nature” sculptures.

Grab argues that many civilizations have practiced the art of balancing rocks. But he’s not interested in making some broad statement about culture and nature. He mostly finds the work therapeutic.

He writes: “Over the past few years of practicing rock balance, simple curiosity has evolved into therapeutic ritual, ultimately nurturing meditative presence, mental well-being, and artistry of design. Alongside the art, setting rocks into balance has also become a way of showing appreciation, offering thanksgiving, and inducing meditation. Through manipulation of gravitational threads, the ancient stones become a poetic dance of form and energy, birth and death, perfection and imperfection.”

In the arrangement of rocks, he finds a reflection of ourselves. The pieces are “precariously sturdy, mysterious, and fragile.”

The arrangements themselves are a thing of wonder for him. “One of the most lovely experiences in practicing rock balance is the unspoken dialogue between the rocks, the surrounding environment and my own creative flow.” Indeed, some pieces may even compete with Brancusi’s African totem-inspired sculptures.

Getting the emotional and aesthetic experience, many landscape architects might ask, how the hell do you do that? Grab writes that the key is to find some sort of “tripod” for the rock to be placed on. “Every rock is covered in a variety of tiny to large indentations that can act as a tripod for the rock to stand upright, or in most orientations you can think of with other rocks. By paying close attention to the feeling of the rocks, you will start to feel even the smallest clicks as the notches of the rocks in contact are moving over one another. In the finer point balances, these clicks can be felt on a scale smaller than millimeters.”  And while mastering the mechanics is important, Grab says that anyone practicing rock balancing must “get to know the rocks you are working with.”

Grab has some serious appreciation for his material. See more images and watch videos to see how he does it.

Image credit: copyright Michael Grab / Gravity Glue

Frost Flowers Could Deepen Our Understanding of Life

Frost flowers, sharp-edged, ice-cold blossoms, grow off of imperfections in the surface of ice at extreme sub-zero temperatures. More than just amazing natural phenomenon, these spiky structures are home to islands of psychrophiles, or “cold-loving microbes.” Design blog This Is Colossal tells us that we’re seeing photos of these beautiful natural formations because Jeffrey Bowman from the Integrated Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program and his mentor Professor Jody Deming of the University of Washington Department of Oceanography broke cracks in the ice up in the Arctic Ocean.

Once room was created for these structure to take shape, “the cold, moist air above the open cracks becomes saturated and frost begins to form wherever an imperfection can be found.” Then given the opportunity, “flower-like frost structures” quickly grew vertically, rising to centimeters in height. “The hollow tendrils of these ‘frost flowers’ begin to wick moisture from the ice surface, incorporating salt, marine bacteria, and other substances as they grow.”

The frost flowers are fascinating to these researchers because the microbes within them may provide answers as to how life survives in extreme conditions. “These delicate ice structures turn out to host microbes that survive to extremely cold temperatures, informing us about the limits of life when we search on other ice-covered planets and moons for possible extraterrestrial life. They also produce chemicals such as formaldehyde that may give clues about the origin of life on the early Earth.”

Astrobiological studies are then also occurring on earth — as we are part of the same system, too: “Since many of the planets and moons in our solar system that might harbor life are very cold and covered in ice, determining the habitability of these planets and moons requires an understanding of the limits of life (as we know it) in the very coldest environments on Earth.”

According to the IGERT web site, Bowman and Deming are now working on an “ultra-clean chamber” where they can artificially grow these frost flowers, in order to determine how life can survive elsewhere in the universe.

Image credits: Matthias Wietz / IGERT

Freshkills Park Protected Staten Island During Hurricane Sandy

In a recent blog post, The New York Times‘ architecture critic Michael Kimmelman made a great case for what our friends at the 2,200-acre Freshkills park have been doing. He said that during Hurricane Sandy, the “Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island absorbed a critical part of the storm surge.” The park’s “hills and waterways spared nearby neighborhoods like Travis, Bulls Head, New Springville and Arden Heights from much worse flooding.”

Just ten years ago, the park was a huge waste dump, creating noxious odors for residents and serving as a drain on the community. Then, James Corner, ASLA, and his team at Field Operations, won an international design competition and transformed the park. The design team saw heaps of trash, contained under membrane layers, and then “imagined decades-long, evolving earthwork of different grasses, grown, cut and replanted, creating a rich new soil and landscape.” All of these bold visions are now happening.

Kimmelman eloquently outlines the park’s value: “Since its closing [as a waste facility], Fresh Kills has become a model for landfill reclamation around the world, having been transformed into a vast green space full of wildlife. Now it is also demonstrating the role of wetland buffers in battling rising waters.”

He thinks that the park’s success in reducing storm damage will not only help the cause of green infrastructure, which involves harmessing natural systems to manage stormwater, but will also show city regulators that they need to move faster in removing the last hurdles to opening the park to visitors. These “regulatory and financial hurdles, along with the usual bureaucratic conflicts, have stalled progress. The state environmental agency wants to make sure the site is safe, which makes sense. At the same time, the price tag — by some estimates, hundreds of millions of dollars — has clearly daunted city leaders and led officials to pursue a piecemeal transformation that could undo Mr. Corner’s concept.”

For an architecture critic, Kimmelman seems to understand that good landscape architecture that delivers many benefits costs money, and may have a bigger bang for the buck than architecture. With the “$4 billion (or more) that is being squandered on a new PATH station at the World Trade Center site for perhaps 50,000 commuters, the cost of Fresh Kills doesn’t sound quite so crazy. Now there’s word that the Metropolitan Transit Authority may need to spend $600 million to restore the South Ferry subway station, which opened just in 2009 and was flooded by the storm.”

Watch a great video Kimmelman did with Eloise Hirsh, administrator of Freshkills Park for the New York City Parks Department. Also, while it will be decades before the entire 2,200-acre park is completed, public park design work is well underway. Learn more about the designs taking shape.

Image credit: Freshkills Park / NYC Parks and Recreation

A Garden Fades Back into Nature

As part of the International Festival des Jardins de Metis, which is held annually in Quebec, Berlin-based landscape architect Thilo Folkerts, 100 Landschaftsarchitektur, and Canadian artist Rodney LaTourelle created a fascinating 250-square-meter garden using about 40,000 books to show how “culture fades back into nature.”

The Jardin de la connaissance, which was actually installed in 2010, was designed to change and decay.  According to Dezeen, old books were piled up to create walls, rooms, and seats. Books laid on the forest floor created platforms.

Then, eight varieties of mushrooms were introduced and “cultivated on select books” in order to spur the decay of the book landscape.

The mushrooms include: Coprinus comatus (Shaggy Mane); Grifola frondosa (Hen of the Woods, Maitake); Pleurotus citrinopileatus (Yellow Oyster); Pleurotus columbinus (Blue Oyster); Pleurotus djamor (Pink Oyster); Pleurotus ostreatus (Pearl Oyster); Pleurotus pulmonarius ((Phoenix) Indian Oyster); and Stropharia rugoso-annulata (Wine Cap).

In addition to being philosophically interesting, the garden creates “micro-environments for a range of local creatures,” writes Folkerts. “Seedlings and insects have activated the walls, carpets, and benches.”

Recently, to update the piece, the designers amplified the sense of decay by applying “sampled moss from the forest” to the walls of the garden as a “paint mixture.” They call this “moss graffiti.” Folkerts writes: “The cover of moss material will aesthetically expedite the slow disappearance of the garden back into the forest.”

See a 360 degree tour of the site and more photos.

Another artist who explores nature and decay is the ceramicist Christopher David White.

Image credits: Thilo Folkerts / Dezeen

Landscape Architects Announce 2013 Annual Meeting Call for Presentations

Call_For _Proposal-02
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has announced the call for presentations for the 2013 Annual Meeting and EXPO in Boston. The 2013 event will take place November 15 – 18 at the Boston Convention and Exposition Center.

More than 6,000 attendees are expected, and the meeting will feature a diverse spectrum of industry experts speaking on a wide range of subjects, from sustainable design to active living to best practices and new technologies.

More than 130 education sessions and field sessions will be presented during the meeting, providing attendees with the opportunity to earn up to 21 professional development hours under the Landscape Architecture Continuing Education System (LA CES). Many of the sessions will also qualify for continuing education credit with the Green Building Certification Institute (toward LEED AP credential maintenance), the American Institute of Architects, the American Institute of Certified Planners, and other allied professional organizations and state registration boards.

Submit your proposals now. The deadline for education session proposals is February 6, 2013.

Image credit: ASLA

A Vision for a Greener Chinatown

To kick-off ASLA’s year of public service early, ASLA President Tom Tavella, FASLA, Fuss & O’neill, led a process of re-envisioning the many blocks around ASLA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown as a green, livable neighborhood. Using a framework established by D.C.’s government organizations — including the planning office and departments of environment and transportation, along with non-profits like the Downtown Business Improvement District and Anacostia Watershed Society — Tavella and his team of designers created a vision for an inter-connected series of green “complete streets,” with new, safer bicycle lanes and a pedestrian-friendly “festival street,” while also creating a central hub for all the new street-level sustainability education programs right in front of ASLA’s door (and below its green roof) right on Eye Street.

Sarah Lewis, an urban planner at Fuss & O’Neill, put the project in its broader context, asking, “what should the neighborhood look like?” Big picture changes to the neighborhood, which is rich with history, will necessarily change the “urban fabric,” but by integrating green, complete streets with true green infrastructure systems, the fabric can only be improved.

In a city “active in urban planning,” the designers sought to leverage all the existing programs and new ones coming next year as well. The city’s complete street and green infrastructure guidelines, which are in place, will soon mix with more stringent stormwater policies that impose higher fees on private property owners that create runoff. All of these local requirements shaped their concepts.

To green this neighborhood, any plan has to start with the streets — all of them. For Chris Ferrero, who runs urban planning and landscape architecture at Fuss & O’Neill, the beginning of a new green neighborhood mean tackling all the alleyways running off Eye Street that contribute to stormwater runoff. Just as Chicago has done with its innovative green alleys program, the neighborhood could put in permeable pavements along with underground cisterns in key areas that would enable cars to still have access but water to be absorbed into the ground.

Along Eye Street, the intersections at 9th, 8th, and 7th streets could become green, permeable ones. What is now a source of huge amounts of runoff in the center of the streets could become a central place for absorbing rainwater into the underlying soils. Additional layers of stone or sand underground could also help boost absorption rates.

Crisscrossing an east-west system of green streets along Eye street would be a new north-south green “festival street” running down 8th street, transforming an underused, garage-heavy street into an active, pedestrian-friendly zone (see image above). Designed to be like a Dutch woonerf or pedestrian mall, this “B or C street,” which means it doesn’t get that much car traffic, could be designed so pedestrians could move more freely between the National Portrait Gallery and the commercial complex at K street.

Throughout this new green boulevard, which could be a pedestrian “arboretum,” different materials would be used to designate different realms — those for people or for cars. There would be no curbs, creating a flat plane for pedestrians. For 8th and other streets, redesigning the street so it can evolve may be the way to go. Kent Schwendy, senior vice president at Fuss & O’Neill, said many engineers want to simply lock streets into one use, but he argued that “streets change and their uses evolve. We have to let that change happen.”

Where 8th street meets Eye, new open grates would feature prominently so that “people could actually see that water moves through this area, even when it doesn’t rain. This will help educate people about stormwater,” said Tavella. But the street-level stormwater management systems proposed for Eye Street wouldn’t be “lipstick on a pig,” said Ferrero. They could instead represent an “integrated series of events, a system.” Some six additional feet would be added onto the sidewalks, giving 2-3 feet for “green gutters along the curbs” and another 2-3 feet for a step area to get to bridges that would take people across the new gutters. Intermixed among the new green gutters would be rain gardens, which all inter-connect with the existing tree pits and proposed permeable pavement systems.

On 9th street, creating a new “two-way cycle track,” a dual-direction bicycle lane, actually creates an opportunity to create yet more green infrastructure. The bicycle lanes would be protected by a 4-foot “physical separation filled with plants, not just paint and bollards,” said Tavella. That physical separator would not only protect bicyclists from car traffic but also help create a sense of place and add greenery. The street may certainly need it: Wade Walker, Jr, head of transportation planning at Fuss & O’Neill, said the bicyclists he saw on that street were “up on the sidewalks, showing that they didn’t feel safe.”

Lastly, right in front of ASLA, there could be a new parklet, taking up two parking spaces, which would be designed to give people a place to sit and view the green roof education video and read signs about the new green features of the neighborhood. Throughout the district, “signage would show what a green street is about, what porous pavements do,” said Tavella.

According to Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, Executive Vice President and CEO, ASLA, the next steps will include pitching Fuss & O’Neill’s concepts to stakeholders in the neighborhood, starting the fundraising process, and further refining the plans to meet the approval and specifications of the many D.C. government departments involved. Hiring landscape architects to turn the concepts into real designs also sounds like a next step, given the positive early feedback from the D.C. planning office.

At the end of the intensive, two-day design charrette, Chris Shaheen, who manages the public space programs with the D.C. planning office, said, “We’ve tested many of these ideas here and there, but this brings it all together. This is what the city wants to do.” The city knows, just like ASLA does, that really ambitious proposals like this are needed if the city will reach its goals of making 1.5 million square feet of public right of way permeable by 2016.

Image credits: Fuss & O’Neill

Atlantic City Gets “Artlantic”

In Atlantic City, a set of five outdoor public art installations, curated by the non-profit arts group Fung Collaboratives, were created within a landscape designed by Balmori Associates and Cairone & Kaupp. The first piece, the $3 million Artlantic: wonder, had its preview just a few days after Hurricane Sandy wrecked havoc in New Jersey. In this case, not even the second most destructive storm in U.S. history could stop this art from happening.

Fung Collective says that “these new creative spaces will function as public meeting places, fostering social interaction and reinvigorating the community culturally and socially.” Also, the non-profit organization writes that a new Artlantic piece will be created every year up until 2016, at a total cost of $13 million. Every year, the team will “provide a unique theme reflective of Atlantic City’s environment, architecture, and history, and will invite the participating artists and designers to develop projects specific to each site.” The Atlantic City Alliance (ACA), a marketing agency, and Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) has put up the money to create the art installations in an effort to support the local community and boost Atlantic City’s already considerable tourist numbers. Interestingly, the sites are just on temporary loan from private owners.

According to Fung, Artlantic: wonder is located in two separate sites, one is seven acres and the other 8,500 square-feet. The New York Times writes that just a few months ago the seven-acre site was a barren gravel-filled void. Now, it provides a base for works by conceptual artists Illya and Emilia Kabakov, Kiki Smith, and Robert Barry. There are two open spaces “framed by one 14-foot-high and one 11-foot-high earth sculptures shaped like an infinity and covered in indigenous grasses and wildflowers.”

The earth sculptures created by Balmori Associates and Cairone & Kaupp “evoke the roller coasters, past and present, on the Steel Pier, an historic Atlantic City amusement pier.” The New York Times says that the newly-constructed forms only survived the onslaught of Sandy because they include about “22,000 sod staples, inserted just a day before the storm struck.”

The installation by Russian artist Kabakov is a “playful pirate ship that rises from the ground evoking the sunken pirate ships that line the ocean floor off New Jersey’s coast.”

Opposite the pirate ship is a garden by Smith, which is made up of “brilliant red foliage —plants with red flowers, red berries, or red leaves—that is intended to change with the seasons.” The garden will feature a sculpture by Smith called “Her,” which has a “woman tenderly embracing a doe.”

Within the earth sculpture, Robert Barry offers brightly colored, illuminated text pieces. These “will become alive at night, engaging in an informal dialogue with the city lights and the bold signage that adorns the Boardwalk.”

The second smaller site will eventually be home to Étude Atlantis by John Roloff, set within “minimalistic landscaping comprised of Japanese Black Pines” designed by Cairone & Kaupp.  The concept here is to “find Atlantis” and “connect Atlantic City with the opposite side of the world—the sea floor off the southwestern coast of Australia.” Fung writes: “Bold linear stripes converge into a spiral pattern, leading the visitor to the center of the space where an embedded cistern of lights simulating an image of trickling water that appears to be alive and weeping, suggesting a pathway into the Indian Ocean.” The stage-like setting will be used as a backdrop for performances and other public events.

Elizabeth Cartmell, president of the Atlantic City Alliance, told The New York Times: “One of the glaring gaps here is really the arts and culture scene. One of the other gaps is the lack of economic development in some of these empty, huge, blighted lots.” Art, then can serve, as a “leading-edge perception driver” and perhaps help change create new opportunities for this part of town and the city as a whole.

Fung thinks that art sends out a “positive message,” particularly in the very tough times after the storm and could even help heal the city. He’s made a point of involving year-round residents in actually constructing the works. Local painting, plumbing, and carpeting unions have donated time to build the works, while local performers will be asked to stage new theatrical and other live performances. Fung said, post-storm: “One of the most heartening things is all the e-mails I have been getting from locals asking, ‘How is the art project?’ ”

See more images from The New York Times.

Image credits: (1) Rendering / Balmori Associates, (2) Artlantic: wonder / Peter Tobia, (3) Artlantic: wonder / Layman Lee (4) Artlantic: wonder / Layman Lee

Create a New Vision for Toronto’s Green Line

The many organizers of the new Green Line international design competition seek visionary proposals from landscape architects, architects, designers, planners, artists that will revamp the public green space and bicycle and pedestrian access of Toronto’s 3-mile-long transmission line corridor (a.k.a. hydro corridor). The goal is to “imagine the electricity infrastructure as a Green Line — a pedestrian and cycling link across the middle of the city and a public space and recreational amenity to the many neighborhoods across Toronto that it links.” Design teams will look at both the overall vision of the park and identify opportunities for reusing an underpass. The organizers are looking for pragmatic proposals that address safety concerns while also providing new public space concepts and sustainable transportation solutions.

The Green Line passes through a number of neighborhoods in midtown Toronto, from Davenport Village to the Annex. “The Green Line is already well used by local residents. It has splash pads, sports fields, allotment gardens, parking lots and children’s playgrounds, but the spaces are mostly in poor condition and the corridor does not currently provide a continuous physical connection due to grade changes and fencing.”

The vision part of the competition will ask designers to create a “comprehensive” approach that will also tie into Toronto’s cycling network. “The Green Line should be considered as both a series of community spaces and a physical and psychological link across the city.” Green public spaces will need to be designed so they can be used 24/7, 365. Designs will need to be able to be implemented in phases.

For the underpass portion of the ideas competition, designers should provide a detailed approach to “improve pedestrian, cyclist and car-users’ safety and mobility, and make an improved physical, visual and/or psychological connection for the Green Line.” The goal is to create a model that can be used for the eight other underpasses along the line.

This ideas competition also has some unique constraints, which could prove to be an interesting mental challenge for designers. Given the primary purpose of the corridor is to transmit electricity, there are some stringent guidelines for how the public can interact with this infrastructure. There are also some major safety issues: Electro-magnetic fields come off the equipment. The International Agency for Research on Cancer says these fields are a possible carcinogen so “taking practical low or no-cost actions to reduce exposures to young children is prudent.”  Toronto now has a policy of “prudent avoidance” and calls for taking steps to keep young children away from the infrastructure. However, the city also recognizes “that recreational, trail and park uses of hydro corridors have health benefits for children and adults who use them which outweigh any potential risk from EMF exposure.”

The competition organizers intend to show the community the best designs. The organizers say that the ideas “will not be built, but are meant to get the communities who live, study and work near the site to start thinking about its future.”

The jury will award $6,000 CDN in cash prizes to the winners. The bulk of the prize money ($4,500) goes to the vision component of the competition, while the underpass portion of the competition will give out $1,500 CDN in prizes. Winners will also have their work published in a Canadian magazine, Spacing, and will be featured in an exhibition.

Submit proposals before February 4, 2013. Registration is free, but registrants must be members of the Toronto Society of Architects. Students can join for $25 CDN. Full membership is $50 CDN.

Image credit: Green Line ideas competition

The Home of the Future Is Now a Reality

Lakiya Culley, an administrative assistant at the U.S. State Department and mother of three, just moved into one of the most innovative, energy-efficient houses in the U.S. In Deanwood, a working class, primarily African-American neighborhood of Washington, D.C. that has recently struggled with foreclosures, Culley is now the proud owner of Empowerhouse, a home designed using “passive house” technologies by students at the New School and Stevens Institute of Technology. The home wasn’t just built from scratch though: it came out of the Solar Decathlon design competition, which was held on the National Mall in 2011. Developed in partnership with Habitat for Humanity and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, the house marks “the first time in the Solar Decathlon’s history” that a team partnered with civic and government organizations to make a house a reality in the District.

After some criticism that Solar Decathlon homes were getting out-of-control-pricey to build and therefore weren’t realistic real-world models, the organizers added a “affordability” category in which teams could earn points. Empowerhouse scored really high in that category in comparison with a home from Germany, which cost upwards of $2 million. In fact, according to a spokesperson at New School, each unit of the actual Empowerhouse in Deanwood (there are two apartments in the mini-complex) cost just $250,000, making it affordable in that neighborhood. The model has been such a hit that six more are being planned for Ivy City, another inner-city neighborhood in the District.

This “net-zero” home itself is a marvel. The home produces all its own energy needs and consumes 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than the conventional home. The bright, bold exterior lights up the whole block.

But the fine exterior and healthy, light-filled interior built out of sustainable, recycled materials shouldn’t distract from the great landscape architecture components, which were integrated into the project from the beginning, said Professor Laura Briggs, faculty lead of the project, at the New School. As Briggs explained, the home is designed to capture all rainwater that hits it and surrounding homes.

Each unit has terraces with green roofs and small plots for urban agriculture that are designed to capture some water.

In the rear of the building is a rain garden that captures any rainwater that escapes from the roof gardens. On top of that, each unit has its own underground cistern, where rainwater is collected and then used to water the property.

The integrated system also synchs up with the front and sides of the home. There’s the District’s first residential green street, a deep trough filled with dirt and plants designed to soak up street runoff and deal with the oily pollutants that the runoff collects on streets.

At the sides of the house, the parking space is actually made up permeable pavers that allow stormwater to sink into the underlying soils.

In terms of social sustainability, the piece so often left out of the puzzle, both the homes and landscape were co-designed with the community. Students met with community members, local organizations, and Culley, the owner, in a series of design charrettes. The result of all that outreach and collaboration will be more projects in the neighborhood, including a new community “learning garden.”

The project then is not only a powerful model for how to bring sustainable, affordable, community-based housing to the District, but also how to create real stormwater management solutions that address the truly local environmental problems: the heavy runoff that impacts the already polluted rivers.

Another benefit of the project worth noting: Habitat for Humanity now knows how to build out these passive house homes in a low-cost way.

While the house was built by volunteers from Habitat for Humanity, all of the landscape work was done with a few amazing local organizations: Groundwork Anacostia and D.C. Greenworks.

Image credits:(1) Lakiya Cullen and sons / Martin Seck, (2) Empowerhouse / Martin Seck, (3) Roof terrace / Sarah Garrity, (4) Rain Garden / Ashley Hartzell, (5) Green Street / Ashley Hartzell, (6) Permeable Pavers / Ashley Hartzell

Smarter Growth Is Happening Everywhere

At a presentation in the ornate wood-paneled offices of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Lisa Jackson, the EPA announced this year’s winners of their annual smart growth awards. The winners all “break old habits and development patterns and give Americans more healthy choices,” said associate administrator Michael Goo. Jackson herself applauded the winners, who all demonstrated that “great ideas are easy, but it takes work to make a great idea actually happen.” She added that each winning team was a true collaboration between multiple non-profit, private, and government partners, who worked together “to creatively overcome challenges.”

This year’s winners were selected from nearly 50 projects from 25 states:  

BLVD Transformation Project, Lancaster, California
Overall Excellence – Winner
Lancaster’s “dilapidated downtown corridor” had been in “decline for more than 20 years and desperately needed an update.” Sketchy strip malls lined a 4-lane highway so all people wanted to do “was to drive through really fast.” Some first steps included removing 2 lanes, adding in traffic calming measures, new sidewalks and bikelanes, along with creating an innovative central “Ramblas” promenade space filled with trees. The promenade space can actually transform into parking lots when needed, too. Outoor pianos, scattered around the town, are labeled with signs called “Random Acts of Music.” People stop and play them. Farmer’s Markets help bring in crowds. Small businesses have clearly seen the opportunities: more than 45 new businesses have taken root along the new streetscape, leading to $130 million in new private sector investment, boosting revenues downtown by almost 96 percent, generating $300 million in new economic output, and creating nearly 2,000 new jobs. On top of that, bird noises piped in downtown are said to be responsible for a huge decline in the crime rates. (See an interactive Web site for the new streetscape).

Mariposa District, Denver, Colorado
Equitable Development – Winner
Denver’s historic and ethnically diverse La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood was transformed from an “economically challenged area into a vibrant, transit-accessible, district.” The city housing authority worked with Mithun architects on a new master plan that “preserved affordable housing while adding energy-efficient middle-income and market-rate homes.” A series of design charrettes and personalized outreach to community members who couldn’t make the planning meetings meant a new community where sustainability is actually affordable. Representatives from the housing authority noted that the nearby light rail station keep transportation costs for residents in check. A complex green infrastructure and urban gardening plan was also put in place.

Northwest Gardens, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Equitable Development – Honorable Mention
The first LEED-Neighborhood Development (ND) project in Florida provides LEED gold homes affordably along with access to fresh local produce and green jobs training. One official said “crime is now down, happiness is up, and the vegetables are great.”

The Cooperative Building, Brattleboro, Vermont
Main Street or Corridor Revitalization – Winner
The EPA writes: “The Brattleboro Food Co-op, the town’s only downtown food store, made a commitment to remain at its downtown location by constructing an innovative, four-story green building on Main Street with a grocery store, commercial space, offices, and affordable apartments. The Main Street location provides healthy food, new jobs, and housing within walkable distances of downtown businesses and public transit.” The $14 million project, said the coop owner, “is about the health and well-being of downtown. This reflects Vermont values.” The new home for the coop has also helped them boost revenue from $500,000 a year to more than $20 million.

Larkin District, Buffalo, New York
Main Street or Corridor Revitalization – Honorable Mention 
The University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning worked with community organizations and a local developer to totally transform an “old, abandoned industrial district.” The new master plan for an urban village “now features new office space, restaurants, apartments, parks, and plazas.” Already, some 2-3,000 people come in each Wednesday for band night and drinks. The whole project was done with private money.

Destination Portsmouth, Portsmouth, Virginia
Programs and Policies – Winner
Amazingly, in just one year, the historic city of Portsmouth, site of the oldest naval base in the U.S., completely revamped all their codes to enable denser smart growth within the city center. The project basically “rezoned the entire city in order to connect growth back to the downtown core.” The goal was to “attract people to targeted areas through mixed-use developments,” new, wider sidewalks and bikelanes. The EPA writes: “Destination Portsmouth prepared a package of new plans, zoning ordinances, and other development policies in collaboration with community stakeholders.”  

Bay Area Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing Fund, San Francisco, California
Programs and Policies – Honorable Mention
The Bay Area Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing Fund created a new $50 million rotating loan fund to assist developers in building affordable homes near public transportation.

Check out the winners from last year and 2010, too.

Image credits: Theavtimes.com