The QueensWay Moves Forward

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With the success of the High Line, every city seems to be looking again at their old railroad tracks, seeing them as untapped assets instead of eyesores ready for the scrap heap. Chicago is getting ready to reveal its Bloomingdale Trail next year, while design work is moving forward with the Beltline in Atlanta. Now, a neighborhood in Queens, NYC, seeks to turn a 3.5-mile-long stretch of abandoned Long Island rail track into the foundation for a new park called the QueensWay, joining the ranks of those with major urban rails-to-trail projects. The Friends of the QueensWay and Trust for Public Land (TPL) just announced WXY architecture + urban design and landscape architecture firm dlandstudio, two New York-based firms, were selected to lead a comprehensive $1 million design and feasibility plan. These two firms beat out 29 other competitors.

The Trust for Public Land writes: “When it is finished, the QueensWay will create a 3.5 mile linear park along an old Long Island Railroad track path, stretching through central and southern Queens. It will connect multiple communities and provide green space for 250,000 people in the borough. The park will also celebrate the borough’s diversity, with art, sculpture and food from around the world.”

Susannah Drake, FASLA, AIA, Principal, dlandstudio and NY ASLA Chapter President, said: “Connected ecologies—be they natural, social or cultural—are critical in the urban environment. Where Central Park is the heart and lungs of Manhattan, QueensWay, with sensitive design, can become a critical artery of green open space for a diverse, vibrant community, offering opportunities for recreation, education, community gathering and ecological productivity to our great city.”

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The two firms will lead a strategic planning and conceptual design process for the QueensWay, inviting local participants to contribute to the vision through workshops, meetings, and social media.

The plan will be financed by a $467,000 grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, in cooperation with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council. Another $140,000 will come from NYC’s Department of Environmental Protection. City funds will be used on “environmental and green infrastructure assessments.” Additional private sector donors include Citi, the Tiger Baron Foundation, and the Booth Ferris Foundation.

Learn more about the scale of the QueensWay in this brief video:

Image credits: WXY architecture + urban design

Park by Swarm

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What if communities formed new parks when they needed them? What if these parks could be formed by swarms of bicycles? If that sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel, get ready because landscape architect John Bela, ASLA, at Rebar and artist Tim Wolfer at N55 have created Parkcycle Swarm. While this concept has been explored in a few locations in Europe, the team just created four small mobile parks for the Participate public arts festival in Baku, Azerbaijan.

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In DesignBoom, they write Parkcycle Swarm “explores the possibilities of the public sculpture, while at the same time raising awareness of cycle-power and green space through a participatory activity.”

San Francisco-based urban design and public art firm Rebar first tested the Parkcycle concept for one of its famed Park(ing) Days. They describe the system as a “human-powered open space distribution system designed for agile movement within the existing auto-centric urban infrastructure.” In their lingo, “Parkcycle effectively re-programs the urban hardscape by delivering massive quantities of green open space—up to 4,320 square-foot-minutes of park per stop—thus temporarily reframing the right-of-way as green space, not just a car space.”

Here’s one instance of the concept in Copenhagen, Denmark:

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N55, a Copenhagen-based public art group, sees each unit as modules in a broader system.”The Parkcycle Swarm can be seen as a DIY urban planning tool that is as an alternative to the top down urban planning that dominates most cities in the world. N55 encourage persons to build their own cycles and form swarms and hereby influence their local urban environments.” They even propose certain “formations” for traveling.

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According to N55, each bike-park can be designed to fit with local bicycle standards. In their open-source manual, they show how to create one to comply with EU bicycle design standards. They encourage bike-parkers to create their own local standards, too.

See more images.

These types of DIY urban planning and landscape architecture projects appear to be coalescing into a nascent movement. A number of urban design, landscape architecture, and public art organizations are exploring bottom-up concepts. Together, these experiments are being called a range of isms, including DIY Urbanism, User-generated Urbanism, Flexible Urbanism, or Adaptive Urbanism (one non-ism variation is Iterative Placemaking). Clearly, this is just the beginning, and these designers will foment more creative experiments yet.

To explore this world further, check out an upcoming 3-day conference organized by University of California, Berkeley and Rebar called Adaptive Metropolis, September 27-29.

Image credits: (1-2) Parkcycle / Yarat, via DesignBoom (3-8) Parkcycle Swarm / N55

Lasers. Music. A Forest. – Well, You’ve Got Our Attention

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Forest
, a 5,000-square-foot project from the recent STRP biennal in Eindhoven, Netherlands, is a completely interactive, stunning work of light art. According to This Is Colossal, “this latest installation involves a forest of 150 interactive rods installed into an empty factory space.” The “trees” in this installation appear to be nothing more than flexible rods in the ground, but once activated, they shine green lasers, to wondrous effect.

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Visitors must interact with the trees to bring the entire forest of lasers to life. The project’s Website explains that the audience can explore by “tapping, shaking, plucking and vibrating the trees to trigger sounds and lasers.” The ambient music, somewhat reminiscent of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports or AudioTool’s ToneMatrix, paired with the surprisingly soft light, transports any visitor into a calming, yet surreal world.

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The installation comes to us from Marshmallow Laser Feast, a creative studio that merges art and technology in their works. The work was just one part of the grand plan. When the project premiered at the STRP Biennale —a 10-day hybrid festival of music, art and technology—a dozen young dancers performed a choreographed routine within the installation.

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The video below shows it in action.

Also worth checking out is the new Funnel Tunnel, an installation by artist Patrick Renner. The piece, which is made from thousands of pieces of reclaimed wood, now meanders its way through Houston, Texas.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator

Image credit: Marshmallow Laser Feast

Near Certainty: Humans Are Behind a Warming Planet

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A leaked draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international group of hundreds of scientists, 195 governments, and more than 100 non-governmental organizations, further increases the certainty that climate change is man-made. According to BBC News, the report will say these global experts are now “95 percent certain that our use of fossil fuels is the main reason behind the global rise in temperatures since the 1950s.” The report will also update the IPCC’s direst forecasts, contending that sea levels could rise by 3 feet by 2100 if nothing is done to limit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The 5th assessment report of the IPCC is the first major report by the U.N. group since 2007.

The reports are highly influential. The New York Times writes: “Hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent on efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions, for instance, largely on the basis of the group’s findings.”

Over the years, the groups has become more and confident that humans are behind climate change. While the 2007 report was certain that the climate was warming, it punted on assigning responsibility, arguing that odds were 90 percent that human activities caused climate change. “The language in the new draft is stronger, saying the odds are at least 95 percent that humans are the principal cause.”

On how much temperatures could increase if carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere doubled, this new report will argue that the rise could be “as low as 2.7 degrees Fahreneheit.” This is a lower low-end estimate. The 2007 report “largely ruled out any number below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.” Some scientists argue that the IPCC is now being too conservative with its new estimates.

BBC News says the panel will also try to explain why temperatures have been rising more slowly since 1998, ” a controversial slowdown” that doesn’t seem to jive with the broader trends. “According to the leak, they will put it down to natural meteorological variations and other factors that could include greater absorption of heat into the deep oceans – and the possibility that the climate is less sensitive to carbon dioxide than had previously been believed.”

On sea level rise, there is also a range of numbers, depending on whether governments get emissions under control. If they can, sea level rise could be “as little as 10 inches by the end of the century. That is a bit more than the eight-inch increase in the 20th century, which proved manageable, even though it caused severe erosion along the world’s shorelines.” On the other hand, if nothing is done, sea levels could rise by 3-feet, presenting major threats for the hundreds of millions who live on coasts.

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The Guardian
writes that the report will end up being quite similar to the last one released in 2007. “There will be slight changes to our confidence in certain observations. Climate models will have improved slightly, particularly in how they handle atmospheric particulates and cloud formation. A major effort since the last report has been the use of climate models to predict changes at the regional level. The report will likely say that this endeavor has had mixed success.”

But some major events in the past 5 years are expected to get more attention. In the 4th assessment report in 2007, “ice loss, particularly from Greenland, was a minor issue. Now, it is clear that not only Greenland, but also Antarctica are melting and this melt is raising sea levels. Furthermore, Arctic sea ice is being lost faster than previously reported.”

There are still many areas where the world’s great climate scientists still disagree. According to The Guardian, debate is still on-going on how hurricanes will change in a warming world — “the most powerful hurricanes are becoming even more powerful, but the change in frequency is not known.” Furthermore, while extreme weather has increased, what will be the changes to tornadoes and thunderstorms?

IPCC spokespeople argue that the report is bound to further change so it’s best not to put too much into the leaks. In fact, the 15-page executive summary, which is expected to be ready in mid-September, has already received 1,800 comments and counting.

Image credit: (1) Coney Island, New York City, Heat Wave / SCPR.org, (2) Coastal Erosion, Norfolk, UK / FREdome Visionary Trust

In Seattle, Bike Lanes Are Good for Business

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The debate on whether new bike lanes help or hurt business among street-level retail stores, bicycle advocates, local transportation departments, and politicians is nothing new. Seeing the same problems come up again and again, Seattle Transit Blog guest columnist, Kyle Rowe, University of Washington, set out to shed some light on the situation by “utilizing taxable retail sales data” to show what actually happened in Seattle neighborhood retail districts when bike lanes and other bicycle infrastructure were added. In his report called Bikenomics: Measuring the Economic Impact of Bicycle Facilities on Neighborhood Business Districts, Rowe argues that bike lanes have had a positive economic impact there, at least in the areas where the research was conducted.

In the Seattle case study, Rowe attempted to “bridge that gap in knowledge” by using public retail sales data to show what happened to neighborhood business districts when bike lanes and other facilities are constructed.

In the first example, Greenwood Ave N, the area “performed very similarly to the neighborhood-wide control, while differing slightly from the neighborhood comparison” after the bicycle lane was put in. Basically, there was no down-turn in retail sales.

But for NE 65th St, the bicycle lane appears to have dramatically improved sales in the area. According to the study, two business quarters after the construction of the project (and removal of parking), NE 65th St “experienced a 350 percent increase in sales index, followed by a jump to 400 percent” in the next quarter.

Though many factors could lead to the increase of sales in the second example, the study showed the addition of bicycle lanes had no negative effect on businesses in the districts.

However, there are still other reports that dispute the positive effect of bike lanes on retail districts. In a 2011 survey of select retail stores on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, customers claimed they couldn’t find parking and businesses complain about delivery issues. “Parking tickets are up,” according to an article in The New York Times, “and business, apparently, is down.” To counter these claims, NYCDOT released a report in late 2012 claiming that businesses saw an improvement in retail sales of up to 49 percent if they were near protected bicycle lanes. This data, however, related to a three-block strip of 9th Ave. Otherwise, there was only a 3 percent boost Manhattan-wide.

There are also disputes related to bikeshare infrastructure. In another clash in New York City, one CitiBike rack placement was recently deemed not kosher after a Chelsea co-op filed suit against the NYCDOT. According to a New York Post article, city attorney Mary O’Sullivan “compared the placement of CitiBike racks to designating streets for alternate-side parking or making a street one-way.” In other words, bad for parking and business.

But without real data, retail stores have a hard time proving that putting in bike lanes or other infrastructure directly loses them business, just as planners struggle to prove the opposite.

A simple Google search can throw you into either side of the debate, depending on which link you click. Rowe’s study is a great start. If a study like this was in every city that regularly makes updates to their bicycle infrastructure, the obstacles for bicycle advocates might not be so widespread. More research is also needed on the types of bicycle lanes with the biggest economic impact.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator.

Image credit: Seattle Bike Lane / Seattle Transit Blog

Los Angeles Finally Allows Parkway Farming

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During the past month, debate over the legality of planting vegetables in public, residential parkways was raging once again in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times reported on the battle between two urban farmers and the city government, which demanded the gardeners uproot their edible landscapes, even threatening the gardeners with expensive citations. The urban farmers, backed by City Council President Herb Wesson and the local media, fought back. The end result: they finally got the city council to abandon its outdated approach and stop fining them. Patch.com reports that the city council has just agreed to let the parkways become edible.

Abbie Zands of the Los Feliz neighborhood and Angel Teger of South Los Angeles “planted lush vegetable gardens in front of their homes.” Zands recently planted three raised vegetable beds in his yard. The boxes are just 18 inches high, within a reasonable distance from the curb and serve the community. He said he is “teaching his children how to grow food [and] sharing the harvest with neighbors.”

Then, according to the LA Times, “Zands got a notice in the mail last month from the Bureau of Street Services ordering him to remove [his] vegetable beds.” Sounded pretty criminal.

Clare Fox of the L.A. Food Policy Council admits that the city’s restrictions were not entirely without merit. “She can understand the need to restrict growth” in situations that “hinder the view of drivers or blocks the light of street lamps,” for example. However, in this case, city officials explained that the citation reflects a matter of liability, stating that “if you slip and trip on the eggplant, you can sue the city.” The article suggests that there was a bigger liability issue left unattended in these “parkway” strips—technically owned by the city, such as ruptured sidewalks and other hazards caused by poor maintenance.

The debate has been going on for a while now. A few years ago, a similar situation happened to Ron Finley, an urban farmer who faced a warrant to remove edible plants set within a 150-foot-long parkways in his neighborhood. Then, Councilman Herb Wesson took the gardener’s side, introducing a motion to allow parkway vegetable gardens.

According to Patch.com, it took Wesson two years but he finally won.  With the 15-0 vote in support of immediately suspend enforcement, urban farmers across the city can now move forward, at least until a “new ‘comprehensive report’ on a new ordinance and a permitting process is prepared.” Westside Councilman Mike Bonin said “he supports the vegetable gardens because Los Angeles has a ‘wellness crisis’ and not enough access to healthy food.”

L.A. seems to be finally catching up to the agricultural revolution currently sweeping America’s cities. In March, Detroit adopted their first urban agriculture zoning ordinance to promote urban farming within their communities. New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and other cities are also far along.

In a time where one-fourth of all agricultural land is seriously degraded and some 49 million Americans experience food insecurity, cities all across the country need to put stronger support toward turning untapped land into urban gardens instead of blurring the line between true liability concerns and outdated bureaucratic rule-making.

Learn more about how urban agriculture can work in The Edible City, a recent ASLA animation.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator

Image credit: Los Angeles Times

DIY Vertical Gardening

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Who knew? You can turn those leftover soda bottles into a vertical garden with some supplies and a bit of crafting skills. This is Do-It-Yourself (DIY) vertical gardening.

This concept come to us from Brazilian design firm Rosenbaum, as part of their partnership with TV producer Luciano Huck. According to This Is Colossal, this is part of a series where “teams went through dozens of Brazilian homes” in an attempt to execute “dramatic makeovers of interior and exterior spaces.”

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This urban garden, which was featured in their 48th home in the series, was such a hit that Rosenbaum released these instructions so anyone create their own. The instructions are in Portuguese, so here is a version translated into English:

Materials

•    2-liter plastic bottle, empty and clean
•    Scissors
•    Clothesline rope, twine, or wire
•    Washers (two per bottle if rope or wire is chosen)
•    Dirt
•    Seedlings (herbs, vegetables, or other plants are all OK)

Instructions

To secure the bottles, you must make two holes at the bottom of the cylinder and two at the top of the bottle. See the pictures for an example.

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In addition to the holes to pass the rope, you need a small hole in the bottom of the bottle. The water used to irrigate the seedling needs to drain.

After that, thread the string through a hole and pull out through the other.

Note: Many people have asked how to make sure the bottles do not “slip” on the rope (or string or cordage). Either tie a large knot in the rope or tie the knot around a washer.

Then simply stretch and attach the rope to the wall.

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This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator, American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)

Image credits: Rosenbaum, via This Is Colossal

SITES Certifies Eight More Projects

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The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) has announced eight new projects that have achieved certification under the nation’s most comprehensive rating system for the sustainable design, construction, and maintenance of built landscapes. These projects, as part of a group of 150 projects participating in an extensive, two-year pilot program, have applied the 2009 SITES guidelines and met the requirements for pilot certification.

The newly certified projects are Blue Hole Regional Park in Wimberley, Texas; Harris County WCID 132’s Water Conservation Center in Spring, Texas; American University School for International Service in Washington, D.C.; Bat Cave Draw and Visitor’s Center at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, N.M.; Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center at Mesa Verde National Park, Colo.; George “Doc” Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Az.; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Research Support Facility in Golden, Colo. and Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park in Beacon, N.Y.

SITES is a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden. SITES was created to fill a critical need for guidelines and recognition of sustainable landscapes based on their planning, design, construction and maintenance. The voluntary, national rating system and set of performance benchmarks applies to sites with or without buildings.

“The effort and time these projects have spent to field test SITES 2009 guidelines and ensure their site is sustainable is commendable and has been a tremendous resource for informing the development of the SITES v2 Rating System, which will be released later this fall,” said SITES Director Danielle Pieranunzi.

Since June 2010, pilot projects have been testing the 2009 rating system created by dozens of the country’s leading sustainability experts, scientists and design professionals. The diverse projects represent various types, sizes, and locations as well as budgets. There are now a total of 23 certified pilot projects with more projects continuing to pursue pilot certification until the end of 2014.

A new rating system, SITES v2, will be published this fall, using information gained through the pilot project certification process. The projects certified up to that point will have qualified under the 2009 rating system. It includes 15 prerequisites and 51 additional, flexible credits that add up to 250 points. The credits address areas such as soil restoration, use of recycled materials and land maintenance approaches. Projects can achieve one through four stars by amassing 40, 50, 60 or 80 percent of the 250 points.

The eight newly certified projects each incorporate sustainable features and practices and have received ratings listed below:

Blue Hole Regional Park, One Star, Wimberley, Texas (see image above). A beloved local swimming hole degraded by overuse was transformed into an environmentally sustainable regional park in the Texas Hill Country. The park seeks to strike a balance between preservation of the site and recreational and educational opportunities for users. Sustainable landscape strategies include managing storm- water through the use of rain gardens and cisterns, irrigating recreational fields with treated effluent, minimizing impervious surfaces, protecting trees and endangered species habitat and restoring shoreline. New vegetation is primarily native plantings, and the park features on-site composting.

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Harris County Water Conservation and Improvement District (WCID) 132’s Water Conservation and Demonstration Center, One Star, Houston, Texas. As Texas struggles with water shortages, WCID 132 created a community outreach project dedicated to showing alternative methods for reducing stormwater runoff and demand for potable water. This project transformed an under-used public campus into a series of gardens that educate residents on sustainable water use and landscape strategies. Features illustrate efficient water conservation, stormwater management, and soil-centered practices. Paths and planting areas were built with locally salvaged and reused materials.

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American University School for International Service, Two Stars, Washington, D.C. This entrance plaza is a gathering place for students and faculty that is integrated with a LEED® Gold building to manage 100 percent of stormwater on the site and, as a result, needs no irrigation. The site features a Korean garden with adapted plants, an edible herb garden, an apiary and regional materials. The university has a zero-waste policy that includes recycling and composting landscape clippings and debris and coffee grounds from the student- run coffee shop inside.

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Bat Cave Draw and Visitor’s Center, Two Stars, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, N.M. After finding contaminants from parking lot runoff, including motor oil and antifreeze, in cavern pools, Carlsbad Caverns National Park removed the existing parking area and rehabilitated it to a natural state using vegetation native to the park. All native plants used for the project were grown nearby from locally-genetic stock, and additional work was done to collect and treat runoff from the new parking areas. The park near Carlsbad, N.M., was one of several parks that participated in a National Park Service pilot program to develop monitoring standards for re-vegetation.

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Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center
, Two Stars, Mesa Verde National Park, Co. The site-sensitive landscape design surrounding the center reflects the national park’s mission to educate the public about the archeological, biological and physical resources of the park and their interconnectivity. Stormwater from the site is directed through vegetated swales and retention ponds, and the area was re-vegetated with a mix of native and drought tolerant species, meanwhile addressing concerns about wildfires. The site produces 95 percent of its energy from on-site renewable energy sources and uses locally-quarried stone. The building has earned a LEED® Platinum certification.

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George “Doc” Cavalliere Park
, Three Stars, Scottsdale, Ariz. A primary strategy for the park, located on 34 acres of rugged desert terrain, was preserving and restoring its natural resources. The design uses 100 percent native plants, and all existing native trees, cacti and plant communities were preserved in place or salvaged and re-used onsite to restore desert upland and riparian plant communities. The park also incorporates a regional on-site stormwater management system. Other strategies include rainwater collection, permeable paving in parking areas and driveways, high efficiency LED lighting, net-zero energy consumption using a grid-tied 24 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system, and exclusive use of high-content recycled steel without industrial finishes.

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National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Research Support Facility, Three Stars, Golden, Co. This federal research laboratory, a former National Guard training facility, consists of a 327-acre government research campus. The Research Support Facility, one of the newest campus additions, has achieved LEED Platinum certification for its innovative building design. The landscape framework for this net-zero energy facility includes establishing natural drainage for stormwater, minimizing impacts on local habitats, protecting habitat through conservation easements, providing hiking trails for staff and community members, using porous paving surfaces, restoring existing prairie and arroyo site features, using on-site  materials for the construction of retaining walls and installing energy efficient lighting. Regional materials and high recycled content were emphasized in the selection of site materials and furnishings.

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Scenic Hudson Long Dock Park
, Three Stars, Beacon, N.Y. This project transformed a 14-acre property on the Hudson River from a degraded, post-industrial brownfield into a major waterfront park that realizes themes of recovery, remediation, reuse and re-engagement. The project returned public access to the river, remediated contaminated soils, rehabilitated degraded wetlands, re-used found materials in innovative ways and restored ecological diversity to upland, wetland and intertidal zones. Features include decks and docks popular with anglers; ADA-accessible paths; areas for picnicking, river gazing, dog-walking, and Frisbee tossing; a kayak pavilion and an outdoor classroom.

Image credits: (1) Blue Hole Regional Park / Tim Campbell, Design Workshop, (2) Harris County Water Conservation and Improvement District (WCID) 132’s Water Conservation and Demonstration Center / Ken Fraser, (3) American University School of International Service / Paul Davis, (4) Bat Cave Draw and Visitor’s Center / NPS, (5) Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center / NPS, (6) George “Doc” Cavalliere Park / Chris Brown, Floor Associates, (7) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Research Support Facility / Robb Williamson, courtesy of RNL, (8) Scenic Hudson Long Dock Park / Reed Hilderbrand LLC

 

Serious New Funding for Innovative Research on Restorative Urban Nature

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According to the TKF Foundation, more than 80 percent of the U.S. population and 50 percent of the global population now live in urban areas. To ensure people can live in dense environments packed with people, parks and open space are critical. Without those, people flee to the suburbs to get away and have access to more nature.

So to green cities, landscape architects and planners are now “comprehensively integrating ecology and nature into built environments using systems approaches, such as green infrastructure, low impact development, and urban landscape ecology.” The cost of these efforts is justified by “call outs of better air and water quality; reduced heat island effect; and reduced carbon emissions.” While those benefits are clearly very valuable to quantify, there has been a recent movement to quantify the human health and well-being benefits of all this urban green in “stress recovery, improved mental health, faster healing and improved community situations, including lower crime rates.”

But, they argue, Americans still often want their nature to be pristine — they want to access nature in “grand natural areas that inspire awe and instill a deep, meaningful sense of the power of nature.” The trick is to then create urban places where people can also experience the “power of nature.”

So they’ve started the National Open Spaces, Sacred Places, a design and research initiative, which is designed to “propel greater community commitments to creating those spaces that satisfy the soul.” To this end, the foundation recently announced $4.5 million in awards for six landscape design and research projects, involving some top researchers from the fields of neuroscience, genomics, immunology, psychology, and others.

According to the foundation, this “collection of exceptional spaces will demonstrate how nearby nature in the city can provide sacred and spiritual experiences. Each project will combine the creation of tranquil, restorative spaces in urban environments with rigorous study of their impact on users’ well-being and resilience.” The landscapes were selected because they “target and engage an urban population in need.”

The six projects will share some common characteristics, which seem rooted in biophilic design concepts:

  • They must include a “portal,” which is defined as an “archway, a gate, a stand of trees, a pergola, or other marker” where “there is a clear movement from the space of everyday life and functioning.”
  • Each site features a path, “whether linear and well-defined, or more meandering.” Paths allow people to focus their “attention and achieve a mindfulness about the surroundings.”
  • Landscapes will also have a destination, “an appealing feature or end point” that can “draw in a person to the welcoming space.” TKF Foundation describes this as a “sojourn, however brief,” that is “rewarded by a feature that encourages quiet, fascination, joy, and spiritual connection with nature.”
  • Lastly, the “surround,” or design elements, such as plantings, fencing, or trees must be included to “provide an encompassing sense of boundary, safety and enclosure. Portal, path and destination invite one to experience a space; the sense of surround ensures that one experiences a sense of being away and an emotional separation from the stress and challenges of life.”

Each landscape will also include a “signature bench” where visitors are invited to sit and write in a journal attached. Since 1995, TKF Foundation has been creating “temporary green refuges” in universities, “tough inner-city neighborhoods, in hospitals, and prisons,” writes Grist. In these places, they’ve created access to journals, where visitors can sit and write down their thoughts. From these, more than 20,000 comments have been collected and transcribed.  The foundations writes that in these journals, “one finds remarkable, heartfelt testimonials about the power of nature to transform, heal and bring clarity through reflection.” Based on these comments, the foundation decided to enroll scientists to further study the health and well-being benefits of nature.

The six projects:

The Green Road Project at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center: “Built on a woodland section of the campus, it will surround ‘Wounded Warriors’ and their families with the healing powers of nature in an oasis of respite—and combine a healing, patient-centered approach with rigorous data on what works to improve the health of veterans.”

Dr. Fred Foote (CAPT, MC, USN, Ret.) said the Green Road project will use three metrics to study the impact of the space on patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): “combined biomarkers of the stress response; qualitative analysis of journals and stories using natural language processing; and advanced genomics.”

A Green Space a Day: “Following up on findings from research conducted in Japan and the Netherlands that links being in nature with healthy immune response, A Greenspace a Day research will help determine what it is about nature that improves immune functioning and reduces stress for urban dwellers.”

According to TKF Foundation, Frances Kuo, PhD, Landscape and Human Health Laboratory, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, plans to study “existing green spaces created by the TKF Foundation and its partners in the Mid-Atlantic region to pinpoint which design features enhance the functioning of the immune system, particularly in distressed and vulnerable populations.”

Landscapes of Resilience: This project will examine how “new open space, sacred places can contribute to community resilience while supporting recovery from an array of major crises — human, natural, technological and even political.”

The research will be conducted by Keith Tidball, PhD, an Extension Associate and Associate Director of the Cornell University Civic Ecology Lab, and Erika Svendsen, PhD, a Research Social Scientist with the U.S. Forest Service.

Measuring What Works for Healthy Green Spaces: “While a body of evidence has shown that nature improves health outcomes and cognitive functioning, the missing link is still why these effects occur. Measuring What Works for Healthy Green Spaces aims to determine what it is about nature that has such tremendous effects on our brains and our health and create guidelines for the future design of natural spaces.”

The research will be conducted by Marc Berman, PhD, University of South Carolina, who wonders what about nature has a positive impact on our mental health.

Naval Cemetery Landscape in Brookyln: “As one node of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative – a 14-mile commuting route for non-motorized transportation – the Naval Cemetery Landscape project will seek to provide restorative relief to individuals from the urban environment. Sited atop an old cemetery at the former Brooklyn Navy Yard, this new meadow will revitalize the native plant and pollinator populations in the region and attract other forms of life that depend on thriving numbers of these native inhabitants.”

The project is being led by Milton Puryear, Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, who is partnering with the Green School of East Williamsburg and Brooklyn Community Housing and Services. In addition, Christopher Weiss, PhD, NYU’s Applied Quantitative Research Methods Program, will “collect data from The Green School students and BCHS residents throughout the lifetime of the project, measuring their reaction and response to the natural space as it develops.”

A Nature Place, Portland, Oregon: “A preterm baby — a child born before 37 weeks of pregnancy — is at heightened risk of physical and developmental problems. The earlier the birth, the greater the risk. And a mother’s stress is a significant contributor to preterm delivery. Realizing this, Legacy Health is combining its traditional medical expertise with the healing power of open green spaces to create a four-season garden at the Family Birth Center and Cardiovascular Care Unit at its Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland, Oregon. Patients and their families will be able to walk through and rest in the garden, adding to their peace of mind and rebuilding their strength. There will even be special equipment to make sure less-mobile patients — such as pregnant women on bed rest and patients with reduced mobility — can spend time outside.”

The research component will be lead by Roger S. Ulrich, PhD.

Explore the projects.

Image credit: A Green Space a Day / TKF Foundation via Grist.

Urban Trees Save Lives

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A recent study by urban forestry guru David Nowak and other researchers at U.S. Forest Service and The Davey Institute found that urban trees save at least one life per year in most cities and up to 8 people per year in large metropolises like New York City.

“Trees growing in cities help clean the air of fine particulate air pollution — soot, smoke, dust, dirt — that can lodge in human lungs and cause health problems,” Grist explains. As an example, “trees clear 71 tons” of air particulate matter 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) from Atlanta’s air each year.

As explained in a recent post on outdoor air pollution, urban particulate air pollution kills as many as 2.5 million people each year. PM 2.5 has a drastic effect on human health, including premature mortality.

Researchers noted that larger particles between particulates 2.5 to 10 micrometers in diameter—also called coarse dust particles or PM10—are removed by trees at a substantially higher rate. However, the health benefits of PM2.5 removal is 30 to 350 times more valuable.

What happens to our health when those trees die from natural causes en masse? Apparently, as another recent study claims, people die, too. This study study showed that the “loss of trees to the emerald ash borer increased mortality related to cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illness. This finding adds to the growing evidence that the natural environment provides major public health benefits.” Untrammeled development would then also have the same negative health impacts at the ash borer.

Of course, the health benefits are not restricted to our lungs and heart, but also our minds. As can be seen in a new UK-wide study, parks, gardens, and even street trees in urban areas improve the mood and mental well-being of the surrounding residents.

The value of trees goes well beyond their immediate air quality-reducing properties, too. According to one recent U.S. Forest Service study, “urban forests are responsible for storing 708 million tons of carbon—a service valued at $50 billion.”

Not to ignore the financial side of better health, the Nowak study also claims that “the average health benefits value per hectare of tree cover was about $1,600, but varied [from city to city].”

The study concludes that “trees can produce substantial health improvements and values in cities.” Although more research is needed to improve these estimates, this study also leaves room for new research that explores the local effects of tree-filled landscapes in cities.

Read the study and check out a recent animation from ASLA: Urban Forests = Cleaner, Cooler Air.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator.

Image credit: Bryant Park, NYC / Wikipedia