Freshkills Park Protected Staten Island During Hurricane Sandy

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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

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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.

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

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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).

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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.”

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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

Atlantic City Gets “Artlantic”

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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.”

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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.”

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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

The Home of the Future Is Now a Reality

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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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

A New Park Where There Was Once a Canal

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Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard has undergone an unbelievable transformation in the past few years. What was once an isolated naval base and seedy area made up of industrial buildings and strip clubs has become home to a real neighborhood — a mixed-use mecca composed of a new headquarters for the U.S. Department of Transportation and a residential and commercial complex, which is also a LEED-Neighborhood Development (ND) Gold project. The new complex, which is called the Yards, features a great new riverfront park by M. Paul Friedberg and innovative green streets by AECOM. These amenities are near a super-sustainable boat pier by local D.C. landscape architecture firm Landscape Architecture Bureau (LAB). Now, the neighborhood, which has seen an influx of upwardly-mobile urbanites, has the new “Canal Park,” a model neighborhood park by landscape architecture firm OLIN and architecture firm STUDIOS that has transformed a three-block brownfield into a simple yet enchanting space.

In recent years, the space was a drain on the neighborhood, a parking lot for buses. But way back when — before it was paved over in the 1870s — the place was part of the historic Washington City Canal, which connected the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. According to OLIN, the new $20 million park is meant to evoke that historic waterway, with a “linear rain garden reminiscent of the canal, and three pavilions, which recall floating barges that were once common.”

Achieving the clear simplicity of the park clearly took a lot of effort. Lining the long, narrow park are lots of space for lounging on nice lawns, metal kinetic-feeling sculptures by David Hess, curved benches, and, in winter, an ice-skating rink.

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The rink area is flanked by a cafe covered in publicly accessible green roof. The green roof features what must be a first: signs letting people know to curb their dogs around the sedum.

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Underlying the space are some complex green infrastructure systems that help this place give back to the neighborhood on the environmental front. “Contaminated soils were replaced with a healthy growing medium and the native plant habitat was re-introduced.” A linear rain garden, which runs the length of the park, has signs saying “Water is reclaimed and recycled,” helping to explain its role to the visiting public. The rain gardens work together with deep tree pits and underground cisterns to collect, manage, and treat “almost all stormwater runoff on site” and from the neighboring blocks, some 1.5 million gallons of water each year. Treated, recycled water collected in the park is used to “satisfy up to 95 percent of the park’s water needs for fountains, irrigation, toilets and the ice skating path.”

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Also, this truly-green park has 28 geothermal wells underground to provide a “highly-efficient energy supply for park utilities,” reducing park energy use by 37 percent. And the park is there to provide sustainable transport solutions for the broader neighborhood, too: it features the first electric vehicle charging stations this blogger has ever seen in person. Two stations with spaces for four cars (we think) can be accessed with a swipe of a credit card.

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The wood structures in the park, which were designed by STUDIOS, feature “reclaimed and sustainably harvested wood from black locust trees.” Black Locust is a great alternative to unsustainable rainforest hardwoods like Ipe. The use of this wood in these pavilions is an excellent development really worth applauding.

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Additional clear-plastic pavilions scattered at the edges of the park are opaque and both there and not there. They are apparently interactive “light cubes” that can display art and photography.

OLIN says programming will be ramped up to really maximize use of the new park. “The Canal Park Development Association, in partnership with the Capital Riverfront Business Improvement District, will host numerous events throughout the year, such as movies and concerts, holiday and seasonal festivals, farmers markets, art expositions, educational and environmental programming, storytelling events, and more.” The neighborhood clearly benefits.

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Image credits: (1-3) OLIN, (4-5) Phil Stamper / ASLA, (6-7) OLIN