Garden Park Community Farm

Garden Park Community Farm
is a new coffee table book by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBW). The book highlights some of their recent and best designs, but also showcases their philosophy as landscape architects, one that “encourages a responsiveness to the environment through artful design and ecological narratives that connect people to place.”

The book begins with introductions by Warren Byrd, FASLA, and Thomas Woltz, FASLA, and with essays by University of Virginia landscape architecture professor Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA. Writing in their introductions, NBW’s design philosophy is clear: beautiful, site-specific, sustainable design accomplished through close dialogue and communication with architects, artists, engineers, scientists and residents, which adds “depth to the design process.” Of this site-specific approach, Woltz writes they “map the tangible qualities and inherent energies,” even beyond the confines of the site to create a “dynamic framework that often informs the design gesture.”

Indeed, this in-depth and thoughtful reading of sites, combined with a clear passion to create ecologically sustainable and healthy landscapes, results in some of the firm’s most successful projects, twelve of which are highlighted in the book.

Divided into four parts, with three case studies per section, Meyer’s essays set the scene for the lush images that follow, explaining design decisions and choices of plant material. But make no mistake, this book isn’t just about the creation of beautiful places. Woltz is clear when he states the aim of the book: They “hope to increase public understanding that the designed landscape is a powerful tool for implementing ecology and for telling stories of the land that promote stewardship.”

As one might guess from the title, the works in this book range in scope and scale from an intimate roof top garden in New York City to a massive restoration project in New Zealand, all the while skillfully defining these landscapes with a language of “abstraction, place-making, and memory that was inclusive of horticulture, but not limited to it.”

NBW’’s gardens play with their borders, simultaneously remaining distinct while artfully blending the edges, as seen in the garden at Iron Mountain House. As Meyer says, they exemplify the paradox of “all great gardens – that they exist as other spaces, separate from the world, while simultaneously referring to their sites and milieus.”

Frequently employing “narrative in their projects as a tool for imbuing meaning,” NBW seeks to connect many elements into a thriving whole. Citygarden in St. Louis, Missouri, is hugely successful at this, with its “abundant references to geology, hydrology and local botany,” all while creating an experiential place where residents and visitors both gather and create community.

The creation of community is important to the firm, who recognize that all “the landscapes between buildings –- whether streets, alleys, parks, plazas, quadrangles, or courtyards -– are social spaces,” and that the quality of the built environment will affect the “range and quantity of interactions” between residents. WaterColor, which won an ASLA general design award in 2003, focuses on these spaces between, creating shared communal areas, while paying careful attention to the restoration and protection the surrounding ecology.

Both Woltz and Byrd cite the natural world and rural landscapes as major influences on their path to studying and practicing landscape architecture, so it’s no surprise that their firm creates and preserves rural landscapes and farmlands. Landscape architects have historically looked to agricultural landscapes for design inspiration, but as Meyer writes, “few landscape architects have consciously taken on the shaping, transformation, and reformation of actual rural agricultural landscapes in the manner currently practiced by NBW.”

Their work in this realm integrates issues of “plant and animal biodiversity and watershed quality” to create landscapes that “express a community’s health and function, as well as its productivity.” For example, Medlock Ames, a winery project, makes a strong case for the “aesthetic possibilities of sustainable practices on a domestic scale.”

Byrd writes that the projects highlighted in Garden Park Community Farm were “borne of a desire to affirm life and to assure healthy, vital environments.” This book showcases the aesthetic and sustainable possibilities when landscape architects practice with a focus on not only making beautiful things, but ecologically-sound places.

This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and ASLA 2013 summer intern.

Read the book.

Image credits: Princeton Architectural Press

Atlantic City Re-imagines Itself, Again

Atlantic City is re-imagining itself again, said Jeff Guaracino, Atlantic City Alliance (ACA). In the 1800s, it was a prime beach destination. Then, 35 years ago, “the city had to re-imagine itself because of air travel.” Flying in planes had become something for the masses, as anyone who rides in economy can attest. The problem for the city was that people could fly anywhere, so why would they continue to visit? So the strategy became casinos. Atlantic City’s 12 gaming companies, which shared a monopoly on gambling with the casinos in Las Vegas, provided the only opportunity to legally roll the dice on the east coast. That kept the city alive for decades, but in 2007 gaming became available in 38 states, so the city had to re-imagine itself once again. The city could no longer just be a destination for gambling. In 2011, the city undertook a new master planning process in order to devise its “third future” and will spend some $200 million doing so.

In a press briefing at Caesar’s Palace Casino, Guaracino said Atlantic City still gets 27 million visitors a year and their 20,000 available hotel rooms are booked 90 percent of the time year round. However, those numbers are down from 35 million each year and continue to fall. He said the key to Atlantic City’s future is undoing the perception that it’s only a place for “blue-haired old ladies.” The city can’t simply be 12 casinos that basically act as “parked cruise ships” sitting on the boardwalk, even though they are filled with unique attractions.

One plank of their strategy for revitalizing the city is to use the arts. The site of the old Sands casino had been vacant for a few years. There were plans to put a brand-new casino there, but the market crash changed everyone’s plans, so that vacant space “needed some imagination.” The ACA and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CDRA) decided to reach out to Lance Fung, Fung Collaboratives, an independent contemporary art curator, who was just coming down from his well-received Snow Show in Scandinavia and his art project for the winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. He was given the task of using contemporary art to revitalize two key spaces — one just a few blocks from the historic 5-mile boardwalk and another smaller spot literally right on its path. The end result is Artlantic, a fascinating new sculpture park.

In his presentation, Fung said his goal is to put art before the public, not to just create “plop art.” His interest is in “free exhibitions that are open to the public,” which he says is not “public art.”

In his first venture into Atlantic City, he found “a lack of recognition of culture there, but not a vacuum.” Meeting with local arts groups, he discovered how desperate they were to do any arts education. Community groups were also telling him the city really lacked public space beyond the boardwalk, which is really like a “freeway.” There are “no roses to stop and smell” in Atlantic City.

He found that he was working in a place with a wildly different aesthetic than his own “minimal” one. Atlantic City, upon first view, is “overwhelming, with lots of visual stimulation.” So he also wanted to create a “place of respite in the loud aesthetic.” Fung also said “nature has been squeezed out with urbanization,” so he settled on creating a green public space to display art. He wanted the space to “feel safe and enclosed,” so he started playing with forms that refer to the local dunes and roller-coasters, large undulating forms with peaks and depressions.

He reached out to Noemie Lafaurie-Debany, a former intern who had risen to become a principal at landscape design firm Balmori Associates in New York City. Fung said “I gave them the original shape and they elongated and created access. They designed and realized the park and did everything a good landscape architect should do.”

With a design in place in record time, the only problem was that the park had to be actually put together in really just a few months, which seemed nearly impossible. Amazingly, Diana Balmori, FASLA, and her team agreed to do it, effectively pro-bono, because “this is what Diana believes in, too — sustainable green space in cities.” The concept they settled on was a space that would be both filled with contemporary art for adults and also be fun and safe for kids.

Fung said the exhibition design had to incorporate the landscape design. The earth-mound forms Fung and Balmori agreed on allows for three separate but connected solo exhibitions. “It’s like having three different spaces in a group context, different rooms.” Then, it was the job of getting it done.

The team trucked in 800 loads of dirt, which were used to form the underlying wavy berms. Local unions created the project along with countless volunteers. Some unions even offered volunteer time to build some of the art pieces, but when Hurricane Sandy hit, the team had to find alternative ways to build The Devil’s Rage, a massive pirate ship, because many of these workers had lost their homes. Fung said the storm definitely impacted the work, but the locals wanted it to move forward as quickly as possible in the wake of the storm. “This was done with local materials, local people” so they wanted something to point to.

The landscape has a temporary feel, which seems to be intentional, given that the team behind the project doesn’t own the land or even have a long-term lease on it. Given the site was submerged in salt water for months, it was looking pretty great. But still, Balmori and her team are replanting all the sea grasses, so those are expected to take root around the edges in a few growing seasons. Fung said that will really help create the sense that the place is enclosed and private. Right now, there’s only an unappealing chain link fence surrounding the site, closing off access a bit. There are many entrances – at the corners and the middle, but ideally that fence should go.

These are quibbles though. The overall effect is positive. The space is like no other in Atlantic City or elsewhere. Balmori and Fung succeed in creating a place you want to explore, an outdoor sculpture park you want to meander through. The effect of the landscape design is to create a figure-8 pattern on the ground in which visitors walk through and then around the two large earthen mounds.

There are also a few cafe tables and chairs, flexible seating that’s a nice touch.

Balmori’s unique ribbon-landscape aesthetic is also found in the red garden, which she co-designed with art-world star sculptor Kiki Smith. The red garden, which Fung said Balmori is still adjusting, is designed to bloom red in all seasons. In springtime, it’s covered in red poppies.

Smith, who is known to work very slowly, loaned a sculpture from her own personal garden in New York City. The powerful piece, which features a naked woman carrying what appears to be a dead female deer, is centered within the ribbons. Smith wanted the garden to be red because her sister died of AIDS, and the red ribbon is a key symbol in the fight against that disease. The piece also explores “man’s relationship with nature,” said Fung.


Smith’s piece faces off with The Devil’s Rage, the first American commission for Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Russian-born artists who now live in the States. The piece looks like a pirate ship submerging into the sand or perhaps emerging from it. Fung said the kids call it the playground, which he said was “just great.” There are pirate treasure chests. Fung said grounds keepers have found pirate swords and other things there.



Sprinkled throughout are Robert Barry’s illuminated word sculptures. A leader in the conceptual art movement, Barry conceived of these pieces for this Atlantic City site. Words are distorted, upside-down, or tilted, making you wonder at their meaning.

A few new pieces were just added, too. Robert Lach, a local New Jersey artist, just installed Refuge Nest Colony, a set of bold-colored fiberglass “nests” based on his found art assemblages.

Peter Hutchinson’s “thrown rope” pieces now dot the landscape. This artist actually throws long ropes and then traces their paths in a variety of materials. In this piece, they are traced in local boulders, native shrubs, and flowering annuals.

And Jerediah Morfit’s wonderful bas-relief, Victorian-style, metal-lawn furniture art pieces are worth examining. Embedded in each piece are visual stories from the Hurricane Sandy storm and recovery.

Down the boardwalk about a mile, there’s a separate smaller piece by John Roloff, a visual artist. His Etude Atlantis is a vortex, with a mirrored “fountain” off-center. Lots of visitors were exploring and taking photos there.

Beyond the landscape and contemporary art works, the group is now programming these spaces, too. Artlantic’s twitter feed is abuzz with arts and jazz events in the evenings and yoga classes in the morning. They aim for nearly 500 free events in less than 100 days, in their effort to make the city more than just a place to gamble.

The Artlantic team has succeeded in re-imagining Atlantic City, adding a otherworldly, contemporary space that feels like it belonged there all along. But it remains to be seen whether this project can succeed in “revitalizing” the city’s economy — or spur broader social and cultural shifts. There were very few people there when we visited the larger site, although we could imagine it being busy during other times. The questions remain: Can this project build support for more contemporary art work in Atlantic City? Can this place become a contemporary arts center in New Jersey? Can this project bolster local arts groups and boost art education there? The opportunities are certainly there. Stay tuned.

Image credits: (1-9) Layman Lee, Fung Collaboratives, (10) Heidi Petersen / ASLA, (11-13) Layman Lee, Fung Collaboratives, (14-15) Heidi Petersen / ASLA, (16-17) Layman Lee, Fung Collaboratives

Sprawl May Limit Chances for Upward Mobility

One of the biggest studies of income and inter-generational mobility, the Equality of Opportunity Project, a new research initiative by economists at Harvard University and the University of California-Berkeley, has found the metropolitan area you live in can either help or hurt your chances for upward mobility. In a review of the research in The New York Times, David Leonhardt writes: “Climbing the income ladder occurs less often in the Southeast and industrial Midwest, the data shows, with the odds notably low in Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, Raleigh, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus. By contrast, some of the highest rates occur in the Northeast, Great Plains and West, including in New York, Boston, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and large swaths of California and Minnesota.” In other words, denser communities may do better than sprawled-out places in turning poorer classes into wealthier ones over the years.

Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winner and op-ed columnist for The New York Times, said there have been many studies of social mobility across countries and all have found that the U.S. actually has more of an “inherited class system than other advanced nations.”

Analyzing the data from this study, one of the first major comparative reviews of metropolitan areas in the U.S., he said “in San Francisco, a child born into the bottom fifth of the income distribution has an 11 percent chance of making it into the top fifth, but in Atlanta the corresponding number is only 4 percent.”

He asks, “So what’s the matter with Atlanta?,” a city where it seems to be particularly difficult to move up. “The city may just be too spread out, so that job opportunities are literally out of reach for people stranded in the wrong neighborhoods.”

In interviews with residents of Atlanta, The Times highlights how difficult it is in both time and expense for poorer Atlantans to get to job opportunities in wealthier areas. One telling example: “Stacey Calvin spends almost as much time commuting to her job — on a bus, two trains and another bus — as she does working part-time at a day care center. She knows exactly where to board the train and which stairwells to use at the stations so that she has the best chance of getting to work on time in the morning and making it home to greet her three children after school.”

Krugman states the obvious about the situation for Calvin and so many others: “Atlanta is the Sultan of Sprawl, even more spread out than other major Sun Belt cities. This would make an effective public transportation system nearly impossible to operate even if politicians were willing to pay for it, which they aren’t. As a result, disadvantaged workers often find themselves stranded; there may be jobs available somewhere, but they literally can’t get there.”

The way out of this sprawl-trap may be smarter growth. “The apparent inverse relationship between sprawl and social mobility obviously reinforces the case for ‘smart growth’ urban strategies, which try to promote compact centers with access to public transit.”

While smart growth seems to offer benefits for income mobility, mixed-income development may also help, too. Upward mobility occurred more often when poor families were included with other income groups in mixed communities, as opposed to isolated in ghettos.

In Slate, Matthew Yglesias, who calls this research “groundbreaking,” adds that this study shows the “merits of mixed-income neighborhoods” and how they “strengthen the case against zoning out the poor with minimum lot size requirements, rules against apartment buildings, and trailer park bans.” Indeed, the current debate in smart growth circles is how to make densification more equitable and better enable that mix of income levels in gentrifying communities.

Initially, the researchers looked at millions of pieces of data about incomes, organized by geography, to determine how “different local and state tax breaks might affect inter-generational mobility.” They found that “larger tax credits for the poor and higher taxes on the affluent seemed to improve income mobility only slightly. The economists also found only modest or no correlation between mobility and the number of local colleges and their tuition rates or between mobility and the amount of extreme wealth in a region.”

Still, the data may also confirm what many other researchers have said about the value of strong social ties gained through family connections and affiliations with broader social and community groups. Inter-generational mobility was also found to be higher in areas with “two-parent households, better elementary schools and high schools, and more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups.”

To note, the researchers only found correlations among the data and do not present the inter-connections as causal relationships.

Explore the data and see how your city ranks.

Image credit: Atlanta traffic / CLATL

New Study: Outdoor Air Pollution Kills 2.5 Million Each Year

A new study by an international team of scientists has found that outdoor air pollution kills 2.5 million people worldwide each year. According to BBC News, the researchers calculated the vast majority of the deaths, 2.1 million, were linked with fine particulate matter, with some 470,000 deaths from ozone. In addition to contributing to these deaths, outdoor air pollution increased “respiratory and heart disease risks, with the young, elderly and infirm most vulnerable.” Other research has shown that indoor pollution, particularly in developing countries, causes another 2 million deaths annually.

The researchers wrote: “Epidemiological studies have shown that PM2.5 (particulates with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns – about 30 times thinner than the width of a human hair) and ozone have significant influences on human health, including premature mortality.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), particulate matter is a “complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. Particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles.” The EPA is most focused on particles 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller because “those are the particles that generally pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs.” Finer particles, which are 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller, are found in smoke and haze. Forest fires, residential fire places and wood stoves, agricultural burning, power plant emissions, and car exhaust pipes all release those particles.

The researchers used mathematical models to derive their estimates. Interestingly, they found that their estimate was lower than previous ones. But this may have been because of their methodology: “Our methods likely underestimate the true burden of outdoor pollution because we have limited the evaluation to adults aged 30 and older.”

In the same BBC News article, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated it’s difficult to calculate the world’s most polluted areas because “many cities with high levels of air pollution do not have monitoring systems in place.” Still, outdoor air pollution was seen to be very high in China and India’s booming cities and in major urban areas in Latin America and Africa.

Overall, the WHO stated that mortality rates in cities with higher levels of pollution are 15-20 percent more than in relatively cleaner cities. Indeed, a scary new study states that outdoor air pollution in China is decreasing the life span of the average urban Chinese by 5.5 years. In comparison, in the European Union, which has some of the world’s most stringent air pollution standards, life expectancy is reduced by just 8.6 months because of fine particulate matter.

Climate change is also exacerbating the effects of bad air, contributing about 3,700 more deaths a year. As cities become even hotter in the summer, the air becomes even more dangerous.

Interestingly, climate change may also be changing the “biochemical characteristics” of plants, and not in a good way. “Trees use chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to attract pollinators as well as deter damaging attacks from insects and larger animals. However, higher temperatures can cause many tree species to emit more VOCs into the atmosphere, which reacts with sunlight to form ozone or more particulates.”

As a recent video from ASLA demonstrates, it’s important to plant low-VOC trees in urban areas, along with dealing with power plant and car emissions. If done so, trees can actually aid in reducing air pollution because they help catch air particulates with their leaves. They also evapo-transpire and create shade, which cools the air.

Learn more about the positive benefits of urban trees.

Image credit: Beijing Air Pollution / Daily Tech

The Incredible Value of Honey Bees in Your Neighborhood

In the Chicago area alone, there are over 300 types of native bees. In addition to this bounty of diversity, there’s also the European honey bee, Apis mellifera, which was introduced by European settlers to the eastern part of North America in the early-1600s. Honey bee colonies eventually went feral and spread throughout the eastern colonies. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the honey bee finally made it to western North America.

During this time, honey bees became an important part of the U.S. agricultural system. While many native bees and butterflies are important pollinators, they are no match for the honey bee and the sheer volume of pollination that creature can accomplish. At the height of summer a single hive may contain as many as 50,000 individuals. In contrast, many native bees are solitary creatures. Through sheer number, honey bees are then more productive at pollinating our crops. Today, pollinators like the honey bee are responsible for every third bite of food we eat. For example, we couldn’t grow almonds in California without beekeepers trucking in colonies of bees.

If you’ve read about honey bees recently, it’s probably news reports about the rapid decline in their populations and the mystery surrounding the exact cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD). You may have heard about how honey bees are hard hit by pesticides, especially neonictinoids, which have been banned by the European Union for the next two years over worries about the adverse effects to all bee species. Similarly, in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is under more intense pressure to regulate these pesticides, as they have recently been sued by commercial beekeepers and environmental groups, which claim that the insecticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam – both neonictinoids – have negative effects on the central nervous systems of honey bees, not to mention other beneficial pollinators.

After CCD came to light in 2006, beekeepers across the board noted winter losses that ranged from 30 to 90 percent. While losses fell to 21.9 percent for the winter of 2011/2012 — as bees possibly benefited from what was the fourth warmest winter on record — it still remains true that keeping honey bees alive and healthy is becoming more of a challenge.

According to bee experts, most of those winter die-offs aren’t related to CCD, that mysterious ailment in which all the bees weirdly disappear from one’s hive. The vast majority of die-offs have to do with mites, diseases, decreased foraging opportunities from habitat loss, weakened immunity due to generations being exposed to pesticides and poor nutrition, and unfortunately, sometimes, neglectful beekeeping.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates there are between 139,000 and 212,000 beekeepers in the U.S., most of which are hobbyists with 25 hives or fewer. I have a hive in a back yard in Chicago, though not this summer. I went to Washington, D.C. for an internship instead. Most of the beekeepers I know don’t have more than a few hives here and there. But the fact is there are a lot of hobbyist beekeepers, more and more all the time. Chances are, even if you’ve never met me, you’ve seen my honey bees or the honey bees that belong to my fellow beekeepers. Our honey bees have a range of three to five miles from their hive. Our hives are all over the country, on city rooftops, and in suburban backyards.

This growing number of beekeepers contributes to the general population of honey bees, which helps fight a general decline in colony numbers. The number of honey bee colonies in the U.S. has decreased from 5 million hives in 1940 to 2.5 million today, even while the demands on our agricultural system increase. That demand is also local now. With the push for a return to local food systems and community gardens, honey bees are being introduced into neighborhoods. This only helps increase the yield of neighborhood gardens. Bees can help produce more and bigger fruits and vegetables. Honey bees are so worth keeping: honey fresh from a hive is a wonderful thing. Eating locally-produced honey will also go a long way to help seasonal allergies.


It isn’t hard to be a beekeeper, but it does require a lot of time and attention. There’s a lot to know about honey bees, but they are worth the time as they are endlessly fascinating creatures.

Unlike the yellow jacket wasp, the creature honey bees are constantly being mistaken for, honey bees are merely defensive, not aggressive. This is not to say that bee stings don’t hurt — they do — but honey bees would rather collect pollen. They will not bother you if you don’t bother them, they only want to defend their hive and protect their queen.

Getting started with backyard beekeeping can be as simple as ordering all the equipment, a package of bees, and just going for it. But finding a beekeeper to learn from, in addition to reading every book you can before you start, is a better option. Find your local beekeeping club and introduce yourself. Beekeepers love talking bees and share stories of tips, triumphs, and tragedies.

If you can find a place to volunteer and participate in an inspection before you get your own hive, that’s even better. I had the pleasure of volunteering with Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory, where I apprenticed under a number of experienced beekeepers before I finally got my own hive. I also took a class with the Chicago Honey Co-op, a fantastic urban apiary that offers beekeeping classes. When you’re ready to become a beekeeper in your own right, check to make sure beekeeping is actually legal in your community.


Want to help bees, but don’t really want to own a hive? There are number of things you can do. Fill your garden, patio, window boxes, and balcony with plants that honey bees and other pollinators love. If you have a garden, refrain from using pesticides. Urban and suburban bees may actually be healthier than rural bees because they aren’t subjected to an onslaught of pesticides. If you see a swarm, don’t panic. A swarm is a good thing, the natural reproduction of a colony. Call a beekeeper who will be more than happy to take the swarm out of your tree and off your hands. Please note, a swarm, despite the scary connotations of the name, is actually quite docile.

In fact, one of the main challenges for a neighborhood beekeeper is the uninformed community member, whose unfortunate first reaction to seeing a hive is to be afraid. Neighborhood beekeepers generally act as ambassadors for their bees, teaching people and reassuring community members that the honey bee is beneficial and safe. When I inspect my hive, it isn’t uncommon for neighbors to watch and ask questions.

The beekeeping resources I’ve included are those known to me in my hometown of Chicago. If you’re a beekeeper elsewhere and know of great resources in your community, please share them in the comments.

This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and ASLA 2013 summer intern.

Image credits: (1) Honey bee in Lurie Garden / Heidi Petersen, (2) Back yard hives / Heidi Petersen, (3) Frame of honey bees and queen / Donna Oppolo, (4) Friendly honey bee / Heidi Petersen, (5) Image 5: Learning to inspect at Garfield Park Conservatory / Donna Oppolo, (6) Capped honey frame / Heidi Petersen

The Case for Place-Making, Without the Sprawl

What does it take to not only slow the spread of sprawl but also fundamentally change how we design and build communities? And how do we “unsprawl” communities that have already been built? A new book from our friends at Planetizen, Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces and Places, by Simmons Buntin, editor of and Ken Pirie, who works for Walker Macy Landscape Architects, proves that there are better ways to build communities. But this isn’t a book about sprawl: It’s a book about built places, “real, human scale communities by people and for people, not cars.”

In the introduction, Galina Tachieva states, “sprawl as a built habitat has been failing for decades.” With the recent economic downturn, the fundamental inadequacies of sprawl have become apparent. The new push to “unsprawl” is a movement towards an urbanism we can all afford — one in which amenities are located centrally and walkable, where the built is balanced with the natural.

While there are clear reasons why we need to unsprawl, this is a focused how-to book. Exploring all aspects of a project from concept to design and through to its execution, there are lots of details about how projects were financed and built. We also learn about the successes and failures along the path to that “particular moment when a project becomes a true place.”

Each case study covered in the book has an accompanying question and answer section with someone who is intimately involved in the design and development of the community. Case studies of various scales are organized into four sections: new communities; in-fill and grayfield development; the redevelopment of downtowns; and examples of “green” development.

The new communities section shows that good urban design is doable in both rural and suburban communities, places that have been historically car-focused. The authors believe we can build “new and distinct places that respect the economy and heritage” of that place. One new community, Prospect New Town, located south of Longmont, Colorado, was built with a mixed-use, eclectic design aesthetic and was voted “America’s Coolest Neighborhood” by Dwell magazine.

In the in-fill and greyfield section, the authors ask: what we do when the existing form and function of our communities cease to serve us? Do we rebuild from scratch or find “innovative ways to adapt to changing social, environmental and economic circumstances?” Built on the site of Rockville, Maryland’s vacant mall, a new town square “created a daytime, evening, and weekend activity center that is easily identifiable, pedestrian-oriented and incorporates a mix of uses and activities.”


Buntin and Pirie acknowledge that wonderful things have been torn down in and around American cities, ranging from “native ecosystems to historic neighborhoods” but believe that replacing what doesn’t work with “dedicated planning, good urban design, and hard work” can turn redeveloped areas into “intentional and integral parts of their respective downtowns.”

For example, RiverPlace in Portland, Oregon, the initial development of which was possible through the city council’s 1976 decision to remove the six-lane freeway that separated the city from the Wilmette River, showcases an “early and ongoing example” of these principles in action.

In the green development section, the authors feature a few projects with especially strong sustainable credentials. The authors state: “successful, sustainable communities are not a goal to be achieved, but a process to be followed and revised: an essential pursuit if we hope to build places that will last on landscapes that will last even longer.” One such example of a green development is Prairie Crossing, in Grayslake, Illinois, north of Chicago. Prairie Crossing is transit-based, energy efficient, and community focused. The project “began as a commitment from conservation-minded investors who sought to preserve and restore native prairie and farmland being lost to suburbanization.”

The case studies provide us with an “optimistic, diverse, and common-sense direction for the future,” one in which people, and their walkable communities, live in harmony with the natural world.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and ASLA 2013 summer intern.

Image credits: (1) Unsprawl / Planetizen, (2) Live/work streetscape, Prospect, Colorado / Simmons Buntin, (3) Rockville Town Square / Simmons Buntin, (4) RiverPlace’s South Water Front Park / Walker Macy, (5) Prairie Crossing / Prairie Holdings Corporation

The Rijksmuseum’s New Outdoor Gallery

After more than ten years of work, the restored and revitalized Rijksmuseum, the Netherland’s national museum, reopened in April. Spanish architecture firm Cruz y Ortiz brought the 19th-century building into the 21-st century with a new entrance and Asian pavilion, restored galleries, and thousands of energy-efficient LED lights. While this $375 million-Euro effort rightly got a lot of attention in the architecture press, the thoughtful update to the 14,500-square-meter outdoor gallery by Dutch landscape architecture firm Copijn Tuin- en Landschapsarchitecten didn’t.

A new outdoor exhibition of sculptures by Henry Moore may help remedy that because the sculptures show that the updated landscape is just as sumptuous as the restored building.

Just as the architects modernized but honored the original building, Copijn seems to have done the same with architect Peter Cuypers’ original plans for the gardens from 1901. Copijn tells us that they did a contemporary refresh of Cuypers’ old Dutch garden style, with ponds, lawns, original classical sculptures, and “fragments of ancient buildings,” along with seasonal modern plantings.

While they honored much of Cuypers’ plans, they updated the outer rim of the garden to the point where that part no longer resembles the original from 1884. Now, a “protective bank of trees and peripheral planting will give the gardens an intimate and secluded atmosphere.” The central lawns have also been elevated to provide a landscaped plinth for the sculptures.

Scattered through the modernized gardens are relics from Holland’s past. There are historic structures, a history tour of the built environment in the Netherlands, with old city gates, iron fences, and garden benches. There are classical 18th-century garden sculptures, 19th-century bronzes and busts of Roman emperors.

Another interesting Modern artifact was added: architect Aldo van Eyck’s post-war playground equipment from Amsterdam Nieuw-West. In the 1950s, Amsterdam commissioned 700 models of these aluminum play sets for inner-city kids.

The museum and landscape architects found space for a 19th-century greenhouse where heirloom vegetables will be grown. It was set-up so as not to disturb the “monumental” Wingnut trees. A water maze was also created based on a design by Danish sculptor and installation artist Jeppe Hein.

The exhibition of twelve Henry Moore sculptures will be on view in the garden until the end of September.

Image credits: (1) Rijksmuseum Atrium. Photo credit: Pedro Pegenaute. Image courtesy of Rijksmuseum, (2-8) Rijksmuseum outdoor gallery / Image credits: Copijn Tuin- en Landschapsarchitecten

More Paver Power

Landscape architects in Europe are doing really innovative things with pavers, perhaps more so than in the United States. Some recent contemporary urban plaza projects from Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Barcelona show the amazing visual effects that can be achieved with bold paving patterns.

In a barren lot where there used to be a railway station, just west of Amsterdam’s city center, LANDLAB created Funenpark, a new courtyard for a residential complex. The standard Dutch courtyard, which usually has separate streets, pavement, parking and front and back-gardens, instead gets a contemporary take, created as one “continuous, luxurious” place. This Dutch landscape architecture firm purposefully kept things simple in order to create a distinct space residents and passers-by can easily wander through.

To achieve this, the firm writes in Landezine, “we designed an intensive network of paths made of two specially designed pentagonal concrete paving stones in three shades of grey. These were laid down in a random fashion which resulted in a directionless, rugged pattern that looks like an unidirectional stretched fishnet from above.” The green parts of their landscape also really make the pavers pop. Among the grass are scattered groups of Robinia pseudoacacia and odd daffodils.

In Copenhagen, a busy downtown shopping street gets a contemporary update. A long, curved street set in the “labyrinthine medievel city center,” Købmagergade shopping street uses “strong materials such as natural stone” in a few different colors to create a “harmonious appearance,” writes Karres en Brands and Polyform in Landezine.

There are reasons behind the use of different colors: “The layout of the three squares is varied, just as their historical situation and their location in the city are varied. On the Kultorvet the dark – almost black – paving pattern of the stone is inspired by the 18th century coal trade. On the rather more peaceful Hauser Plads square, the exciting grass play mounds form a green oasis in the urban fabric. At night, the Trinitatis Church square with its famous observatory Rundetårn is transformed by artificial lighting into an enormous starry sky. The three squares are diverse in colour, from dark coal to bright stars: ‘From Kultorvet to the Milky Way’.”


Finally, Passeig de St. Joan boulevard, a project in Barcelona, makes wonderful use of grass and pavers together to create a stunning visual effect. The boulevard was first laid in 1859. Over the years, it began to fall apart, creating accessibility problems. In remodeling the street, the Barcelona city government also wanted to revitalize Ciutadella Park, a set of small urban parks alongside it.

In Landezine, landscape architects with Spanish firm Lola Domènech write that they first re-organized the pedestrian routes. “Some 17m of pavement have been organized so that 6m are allocated to a pedestrian pavement, while the remaining 11m under the rows of trees are for recreational uses (benches, children’s play areas and bar terraces). As part of the new layout, the two-way 4m bicycle lane is physically segregated, protected and signposted, located in the middle of the road.”

Together with the new street, the park was revamped to be more sustainable. The use of pavers and vegetation works together in the park to aid in stormwater management. “In order to guarantee the sustainability of this new layout, we needed to ensure proper drainage of the subsoil and take on the challenge of incorporating a mixed pavement system in the tree-lined zone. The treatment of the soil with mixed pavements and the automatic watering system that uses phreatic water are key to ensuring substrata drainage that will guarantee the survival of the vegetation. The incorporation of local shrubs to this tree lined zone will contribute to enriching subsoil biodiversity.”

Different pavers are also associated with different human uses: “The pedestrian section the pavement is made of ‘Panot’ paving slabs (typical ensanche paving), while, in the recreational zones, a new prefabricated pavement with draining joints was laid down.”

See more interesting uses of pavers in Europe.

Image credits: (1) Funenpark / Anne ten Ham, (2) Funenpark / Jeroen Musch, (3)  Funenpark / Anne ten Ham, (4) Købmagergade shopping street / copyright Ty Stange, (5-6) Købmagergade shopping street / KBP, (7-10) Passeig de St. Joan, Barcelona / Lola Domènech

Landscapes in Photomontage

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston just opened an exhibition called Composite Landscapes: Photomontage and Landscape Architecture, which features a dozen landscape architects and some major contemporary artists. The exhibit, which was curated by Charles Waldheim, Affiliate ASLA, chair of the landscape architecture department at Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD), focuses on one of landscape architecture’s most vital forms: the montage view, the piecing together of multiple separate views to form a deeper perspective. Waldheim believes that photomontage can help us understand the “conceptual, experiential, and temporal dimensions of landscapes.”

Waldheim, who is also Ruettgers Consulting Curator of Landscape at the museum, said: “The practice of montage, the overlay or superimposition of one image over another to produce a composite image, is as old as image making itself. Various forms of photomontage emerged as critical and conceptual tools across a range of the visual arts throughout the twentieth century.”

But while photomontage was once cutting-edge, it’s now an old-school art form, made “nearly obsolete due to the evolving digital world” — except perhaps among landscape architects, who have kept the practice alive. Waldheim writes: “the practice of photomontage … is arguably the field’s dominant visual paradigm today.” It may still be used because it’s “well suited to representing the temporal, phenomenal, and transformational aspects of landscape.”

One gallery will offer up views of photomontage works by contemporary artists David Hockney, Jan Dibbets, John Stezaker, and Superstudio, while another will look at the history of landscape montage from the 18th to the 20th centuries, with works by Humphry Repton, Booth Grey, and Charles Eliot.

The main gallery will feature works by landscape architects Adriaan Geuze, International ASLA, West 8; James Corner, ASLA, Field Operations; Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, Reed Hilderbrand; Ken Smith, ASLA, Ken Smith Workshop; and Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA.

The exhibition is open until September 2, 2013. Learn more.

Image credits: (1) Mash XLVI by John Stezaker / Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, (2) Glass House Reflections II by Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA / Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The Forest Comes on Board

Homebush Bay, just west of Sydney, is a ship graveyard, a home for abandoned vessels. There, ships that had outlived their usefulness have been stripped for parts. But somehow a few of these hundred-year-old wrecks remain un-scavenged. In one case, the forest actually came on board, creating a floating beacon of green in the water. In a fascinating example of the resiliency of nature, the forest took root in the ship.

The decommissioned ship floating in the bay, the SS Ayrfield, was originally launched as the SS Corrimal. It’s massive at 1,140 tons. The ship was built in the UK in the early 20th century and registered in a Sydney in 1912 as a “steam collier.” According to My Modern Met, the ship was later used to transport supplies to American troops stationed in the Pacific during World War II. By the 1970s, the SS Ayrfield was retired and sent to the bay.

My Modern Net writes that four iron-hulled vessels over 75 years old currently float in the bay, “though none are enveloped by nature quite like the Ayrfield.” Indeed, SS Ayrfield’s container of nature seems as dense as the surrounding forest.

This Is Colossal
writes that the area has been the focus of intensive environmental remediation over the past few years. “Not far away is the Brickpit Ring Walk, a former industrial site where nearly three billion bricks were made from 1911 through the 1980s that is now a carefully protected natural habitat.” The ship can then also be seen as a symbol of that effort to undo the toxic damage from the area’s industrial past (see more images).

Another fascinating work of natural art worth checking out: Fire flies. Here on the east coast of the U.S., fire flies are definitely out, but only very briefly. In Japan, one photographer used long exposure times to capture their bioluminescent travels through the night.

See more images.

Image credits: (1) Floating Forest / Louis Evangelique from My Modern Met, (2) Floating Forest / Andy Brill from My Modern Met, (3) Floating Forest / Louise Evangelique from My Modern Met, (4-5) Fire flies / Yume Cyan from This Is Colossal.