Saving One of Halloween’s Icons

Can you imagine a Halloween without bats? Unfortunately, that’s a possibility given 5.7 million bats have died in recent years from white-nose syndrome along the eastern United States, a drop of about 80 percent. To come to their aid, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has created a great overview and infographic about these maligned, misunderstood animals.

They tell us that “bats are not birds, they are not giant insects, and they are not flying rodents. They do not build nests. They will not breed like rabbits and rapidly infest your house. They are not blind. They are not flying, disease ridden vermin searching out unsuspecting humans to infect.”

In fact, they are the only mammal that can fly. As we are mammals, too, we share common traits. The bones in their wing are similar to the ones in our hands. Their wing skin is similar to the skin of our eyelids.

Bats are incredibly diverse, making up one-quarter of all mammals. There are huge differences in size among species, from the bumble-bee bat to large flying foxes, which have a 6-foot wing span. Some bats have tiny wrinkly faces while others have faces that look just like a fox’s. Some have big or small ears and long or short tails.

Bats provided valuable ecosystem services. They are important pollinators. Eating fruit, they disperse seeds. Bats also eat tons of bugs. “The thousands of insects they eat each night save farmers millions of dollars on insect control and crop damage. That makes bats the most organic form of insect control you can get.” Indeed, the estimated value of their bug-eating to farmers is somewhere between $4 and $50 billion.

As FWS mentions, some bats do eat blood, hence the association with Dracula and now Halloween, but that’s not really a cause of concern, as these vampire bats live in Central and South American and feed on livestock blood. The saliva of these unique bats has even been used to develop medicines for stroke patients.

FWS recently proposed making one species, the northern long-eared bat, endangered, given there has been a 99-percent drop in their populations due to white-nose syndrome, a “rapidly spreading fungal disease.” FWS and other U.S. agencies are working hard to understand the cause of this disease, which started in eastern New York in 2006 and has since spread to 22 U.S. states and 5 Canadian provinces.

So what can we do to help the bats? FWS tell us that one percent of wild bats do carry rabies, so if you see one lying on the ground, don’t handle it. If a bat happens to get in your house, call your local natural resource agency so they can remove them without harming them. Otherwise, FWS tells us to observe rules about cave closures — and generally avoid caves with hibernating bats. Cavers should really decontaminate before entering and leaving a cave.

Given bats are so long-lived — some live up to 30 years — and produce so few pups each year, FSW writes that “it will take many generations for populations to recover from this disease.”

This brief video visualizes many of these ideas:

Also, learn more at white-nose

Image credit: Bat Swarm / Flickr. Zach-o-matic, (2) Massachusetts tri-colored bat with white-nose syndrome / Jon Reichard via U.S. FWS

Designing Urban Agriculture

Landscape architect April Philips, FASLA, prefaces her new book, Designing Urban Agriculture: A Complete Guide to the Planning, Design, Construction, Maintenance, and Management of Edible Landscapes, by writing, “because the food system in America is broken, the health of our cities and communities are at risk.” Indeed, access to healthy food is severely limited in many urban neighborhoods, while industrial agriculture is itself a massively-polluting enterprise. By situating food systems as “part of a city’s urban systems network,” Philips frames food as a design issue instead of simply a horticultural concern. With Designing Urban Agriculture, Philips sets out to explain not only how to design urban-scale agricultural landscapes, but also how designers can collaborate with communities to change urban food systems.

Designing Urban Agriculture is an exhaustive textbook on food and urban design. Topics such as food justice, systems thinking, public health, ecological agriculture, public policy, and construction methods are supported by numerous illustrated case studies. For instance, the Lafayette Greens project in Detroit, Michigan, which recently won an ASLA professional award, shows how edible landscapes can be agents of transformation. Designed by Kenneth Weikal Landscape Architecture, this three-quarter-acre landscape replaces a recently demolished building, beautifying what would otherwise be a vacant lot. Over 200 species of edible plants are grown on the site, which functions not only as a farm, but also as a recreational space for office workers and downtown residents. In this way, Lafayette Greens serves as a catalyst for the continuing transformation of downtown Detroit. The site’s design makes extensive use of repurposed and salvaged materials, continuing this theme of regeneration.

While urban agriculture has been successful at a local scale, it has yet to economically challenge existing industrial food systems. However, efforts to increase the scale and economic viability of urban farming are underway. Big City Farms in Baltimore is a for-profit agricultural operation that aims to establish a network of farms on vacant land across the city. Big City Farms’ pilot project entails six 3,000 square-foot plastic hoop greenhouses built on top of a contaminated brownfield site. Because of this contamination, all plants are grown on top of the preexisting site using imported soil. In addition to profitability, Big City Farms’ goals include the generation of green jobs and the distribution of organic food to local consumers.

Philips stresses that the success of urban farming depends on integrating ecological, economic, and cultural systems. She writes, “with urban agricultural landscapes, the ultimate sustainability goal is to design systems that allow for accommodating a dynamic of interdependence.” For example, Our School at Blair Grocery, an urban farm and educational facility in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, responds to the neighborhood’s nutritional, economic, and social needs stemming from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The operation educates neighborhood youth in both agricultural and business practices – students not only grow food on the site, but also sell it to markets across the city, gaining valuable skills in the process.

The above examples barely scratch the surface of Designing Urban Agriculture. This is a textbook filled with tons of details. It could be the foundational text of a semester-long course in a landscape architecture school. Certainly, it should be required reading for any landscape architecture student interested in urban farming.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Ben Wellington, Master’s of Landscape architecture graduate, Louisiana State University and ASLA 2012 summer intern.

Image credits: (1) Wiley, (2) ASLA 2012 Professional General Design Award Winner. Lafayette Greens. Keith Weikal Landscape Architecture / image credit: Beth Hagenbuch, (3) Big City Farm / The Baltimore Sun, (4) School at Blair Grocery / School at Blair Grocery blog

A New Take on Suburbia

Suburban sprawl is nearly universally denigrated. Aerial photography reveals sprawl to be malignant housing divisions metastasizing across the landscape — a wasteful, ecologically devastating byproduct of a host of misguided policy decisions and cultural values. In contrast to dense urban centers, which are widely promoted as hotbeds of creative thought and innovation, suburbia is closely associated with stifling conformity. In the view of many urban planners and designers, suburban sprawl is essentially a mistake. However, given that a majority of Americans live in the suburbs, should we so quickly dismiss suburbia as a purely negative force? Has suburbia’s unique low-density environment incubated any positive cultural changes independent of the city?

In Crabgrass Crucible: Suburban Nature and the Rise of Environmentalism in Twentieth-Century America, Christopher Sellers argues that American environmentalism largely arose out of suburbia. Sellers lays out an alternative narrative for the cultural impact of the suburbs.

He argues that suburban expansion is typically viewed in terms of two distinct narratives: city building and nature destroying. In the city-building narrative, suburbanization is viewed in terms of the expansion of the built environment out from the urban core. This view ignores nature, instead concentrating on factors such as economics, infrastructure, and people. The nature-destroying narrative arose as a reaction to this viewpoint, casting suburbanization as a process of consuming natural lands. This narrative still predominates environmental thinking today.

Sellers contends that both of these narratives perpetuate an overly restrictive definition of nature, where nature only exists outside of human influence. As an alternative, he promotes an ecological narrative for suburbanization, where the environment represents a hybrid of natural and human systems. In his view, suburban expansion does not erase nature, but instead creates a new kind of hybrid suburban nature, where ecological systems unavoidably intersect with human settlement.

Using Long Island, New York, and Los Angeles as case studies, Sellers illustrates how American environmentalism first gained traction as a suburban grassroots movement. As Sellers writes, “around 1970, no cluster of issues contributed more to a new environmental politics than the multiple affronts to land, water, air, and human flesh in America’s most transformed urban edges.”

This book is significant because, whether we like them or not, the suburbs are not going anywhere. Instead of devoting all our energy toward designing new communities, shouldn’t we concentrate on improving what we already have? We can reconsider what suburbia has already given us and what it can become.

By tracing the emergence of environmentalism in suburbia and then valuing hybrid suburban nature, Crabgrass Crucible puts to rest the narrative of suburbia as a purely nature-destroying phenomenon. The challenge now is how we might exploit these low-density settlements for ecological and social benefit. Sellers writes, “Any resolve to propel an entire society toward a more sustainable future must take seriously the nature near where most people live, at least as much as the nature where fewer people reside.”

Read the book.

This guest post is by Ben Wellington, Master’s of Landscape architecture graduate, Louisiana State University and ASLA 2012 summer intern.

Image credit: University of North Carolina Press

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (October 15 – 31)

For more LA in the News, check out LAND, ASLA’s newsletter. If you see others you’d like included, please email us at

Design MattersPlanetizen, 10/18/13
“An article recently published in UrbDeZine titled ‘Thinking about the Park Planning Profession’ irritated a lot of landscape architects by seeming to misrepresent the work they do creating parks. Although the writer, Clement Lau, a planner in the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, goes out of his way to say his intention is ‘certainly not to criticize or discredit practitioners of landscape architecture,’ he does so anyway.”

Watershed MomentThe Architect’s Newspaper, 10/18/13
“The Army Corps of Engineers recently released the long-delayed Los Angeles Ecosystem Restoration Integrated Feasibility Report, a 500-plus-page document examining possibilities for restoring the Los Angeles River.”

“Make Love, Not Worse”: On the State of Landscape Preservation  – Planetizen, 10/21/13
“All landscapes have a carrying capacity for change. I think the question becomes: when does the landscape hit the tipping point? One of the book series we’re publishing is called Modern Landscapes: Transitions and Transformations. Unfortunately, the first one in this series on Lawrence Halprin’s Skyline Park, is not a happy story. It was largely demolished.”

Hurricane Sandy: One Year LaterArchitectural Record, 10/22/13
“Walter Meyer and Jennifer Bolstad, of Local Office Landscape Architecture, have designed dunes sculpted to bounce waves back to sea, with patches of trees and shrubs to diffuse high winds. Working with architects at WXY Studio, they propose a public path of hardened cementitious sand that will meander among the hillocks of ordinary sand. As bucolic as this sounds, it’s a much larger and less familiar beach intrusion than a classic boardwalk, and Meyer and Bolstad recognize that community approval may not come easily.”

Perspective: How My Firm Saved Brooklyn Bridge Park from Sandy’s FuryFast Company Design, 10/25/13
“Some public infrastructures (the subway, for instance) really need to be protected in a way that affords resistance to external forces such as flooding. However, there are other pieces of the city–parks, of course, but also highways and linear boulevard plantings–where it may be more effective to build for resilience: the incorporation of strategies that will allow the urban landscape to adapt and regenerate after flooding.”

In Detail > Dilworth Plaza, The Architect’s Newspaper, 10/28/13
“The design team’s goal was to create a more dignified civic plaza and to accentuate the area as a center for transportation, while improving access both to the subways as well as across the site. It also sought to accomplish these things while not interfering with Philadelphia’s grand, Second Empire–style city hall.”

Can Floating Island, Porous Sidewalks Save NYC from Floods?Al Jazeera America, 10/29/13
“Dams and flood walls cost many, many billions. But we’re talking about something that’s incredibly inexpensive. Plants happen to be the cheapest of all building materials.”

These articles were compiled by Phil Stamper, ASLA Public Relations and Communications Coordinator

Image credit: Los Angeles River Revitalization / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Restoration: Another Layer of History

Restoring post-industrial, particularly post-military, landscapes means adding another layer of history to places that already have many. For a group of environmental philosophers at the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) in Madison, Wisconsin, those earlier layers of history each have an important meaning — and it’s important they aren’t lost as landscapes long-damaged by industrial or military use are restored.

Preserving Ruination at Orford Ness

According to professor Caitlin DeSilvey, a cultural geographer at the University of Exeter, Orford Ness, a shingle-ridge landscape in the UK, was a secret site for military research during World War II. In 1953, the UK’s National Trust took over the land and transformed it into a sort of preserve. She said military testing, including testing with atomic and chemical weapons, had a “severe effect on the native landscape.” Now, efforts are underway to improve the habitat while managing public access.

There are signs everywhere explaining the still-lurking dangers of unexploded ordinance. If you stay on the paths, the site is “safe but not comfortable.” The remaining buildings are especially uncomfortable. She said there was a “deliberate decision to let the relics of military structures decay.”  A test pit for chemical weapons is now a lagoon filled with rainwater. Moss covers all the surfaces. Yellowhorn poppies appear inside the buildings. But even then, these structures still offer a “palpable sense of secrecy and threat.”

Beyond these structures, the weedy ruderal ecosystem is starting to appear among the disturbed shingle (rocky rubble) landscape. DeSilvey said Orford Ness’ revival as a landscape is the “naturalization of a violent period of history.” In this instance, nature softens its history.

DeSilvey also said “there’s beauty in decay.” Orford Ness provides a window into that process and change. Indeed, the site’s fascination may be its “troubling resonance and incoherence.” There are no “pure zones,” only messiness, as the shingles approach, spilling through the door of buildings.

Unfortunately, the question remains whether the National Trust will let the decay stay. If the site is moved into another category of historical value, the site may end up being “cleaned-up.” For now, there are just guided tours through the relics. Artists’ installations have also been added to the landscape. Luckily “they are making a virtue of decay.” (see more images).

Applying Nietzsche’s Three Histories to Landscape Preservation

“What role should history play in restoration?,” asked professor Jozef Keulartz, Wageningen University. This is actually a tricky question, given history can be different based on your point of view. Citing Friedrich Nietzsche, the great writer and philosopher, he said “there are no facts, only interpretations.” Nietzsche thought there were three forms of history: antiquarian, monumental, and critical. Ideally, these three forms of history will balance and correct each other.

Antiquarian history is about the “preservation and admiration of the past.” While positive from a historic preservation point of view, the danger, said Keulartz, is “everything old becomes over-estimated; everything new is thrown out.” This approach can “mummify life” and preserve the “on-going tyranny of the past.” Too often, Keulartz said, England takes an antiquarian approach with their historic sites. As an example, he pointed to the Geevor Tin Mine, which has been kept in its original state. Visitors can take tours and experience the life of a miner.

In contrast, monumental history is opposed to mummification; it’s a “counterpoint to being stuck in the past.” Monumental history is all about “inspiring contemporary man, finding teachers from the past and using them as role models to encourage future progress.” The danger there is “history can become a fiction, a grab-bag.” Keulartz said the Dutch were less conservative than the English about their historic preservation projects and use a “pragmatic style.” In one example, the Western Gas Factory, the Dutch restored a Neo-Renaissance-style building but renovated for creative uses, including exhibitions, fashion shows, and festivals. “Monumental history is about conserving through development, the creation of new spatial values.” In this model, places get a second life. “It’s a practical use of the past, but in danger of being shallow.”

In Nietzsche’s critical history, man has the strength to “shatter the past” and “erase histories.” It’s not about “examining the past but destroying it” in order to create a new future. This kind of whole-sale condemnation of the past can be dangerous because “we can destroy the past but can’t escape from it.” Keulartz cautioned, “we can hope for a more decent future but this may be a false hope.” Germany, which is “anything but proud of its past,” often takes a critical historical approach to many of its historic sites.

For Keulartz, one site achieves Neitzsche’s difficult balance of history: Landscape Park Duisborg Nord, which was created by landscape architect Peter Latz. There, lots of plants and trees are mixed within the post-industrial factory landscape. While nature has appeared spontaneously, the reoccupation of the site by nature was stimulated in other areas. Nature was designed, with gardens placed throughout. Duisborg took an old pit and made it the biggest indoor diving pool in the EU. A wall was re-purposed as a climbing course. “Duisborg is about reusing and remembering.”

Learning How to Read the Landscape

For professor Martin Drenthen, Radboud University, determining the restoration goals for a historic landscape is a loaded process filled with lots of value judgements. Historic landscapes have obviously undergone significant changes over the years, reflecting “conflicting interpretations of the landscape.” As such, with any restoration project, the “meaning of the landscape may not be immediately apparent.”

There have been a ton of books published around the theme of “reading the landscape.” These books argue that “landscapes are essentially texts,” in which layers of meaning must be mined and read. “Places embody people’s histories and cultural identities. Their context explains who we are.” Landscapes are literally “infested with meanings.” For example, he said the idyllic Dutch landscape reflects the “virtues Dutch have cultivated and represent Dutch culture. They reflect the dialogue between man and nature.”

Restoring the ecological function of a site, “rewilding” it, is another “deepening of the history of a site.” It can be “sense of place 2.0.” Underneath all of those human layers, “wilderness always reigns so re-wilding really has a moral message, too. It’s about recognizing the value of history and successive layers but that deeper layers have special importance.” Layered landscapes are like a palimpsest.

But Drenthen added that “each new interpretation of a landscape needs to be open,” too, to allow for future layers of meaning to be added. As an example, he pointed to the work of artist Michael van Bahel, who “doesn’t destroy history” with his new art works, but exposed hidden layers. In one piece, he created a viewing portal for understanding a historical war site. Here, “art is the lens.”

Restoring One of America’s Largest Superfund Sites

Back in the U.S., post-industrial sites are also being restored, raising the same sorts of issues. In Butte, Montana, efforts are underway to restore the area around the 1-mile-wide by 1.5-mile-long Berkeley Pit, one of the largest SuperFund sites in the U.S, into its natural state. According to Michigan Tech professor Frederic Quivik, the former copper mine dump site, which was owned by Anaconda Copper, has “extremely toxic water, some 1,000-feet deep.” But beyond the pit, tailings from the mining actually traveled along the Clark Fork River all the way to Missoula. Quivik said while copper mining is certainly destructive, “everyone is complicit. Everyone loves copper. Automobiles and airplanes depend on copper.”

Not only did the copper pollute Butte and other communities along the Clark Fork River, it also impacted the air and land. Quivik said in the mid-1950s, smoke pollution from the smelting process poured “arsenic, sulfur, and iron” waste materials into the atmosphere. Livestock in range of the smokestacks “were sickly or dying.” The Anaconda Copper was sued by farmers and the U.S. government. One result of their successful suit was Anaconda had to create a 585-feet stack. Tailings along the river had to be excavated and deposited elsewhere. Amazingly, today, trout are living in the creeks along the river.

Anaconda Copper created man-made ponds to manage the tailings, with artificial waterways to move the copper sulfate. These ponds actually have to be managed in perpetuity, as they remain one of the most contaminated areas. But, interestingly, around these ponds, a new golf course was put in, designed by Jack Nicklaus. Other areas have been restored as wildlife habitat. New educational signage also help visitors interpret the site. The positive changes in the Clark Fork River communities are worth exploring (read a great article on the environmental remediation effort in High Country News).

From Military Sites to Wildlife Preserves

Many former military sites in America are being swiped clean and restored to earlier versions of themselves, natural areas. According to professor David Havlick, University of Colorado, there are nearly two dozens former Department of Defense sites across the U.S. that are now wildlife preserves, some 1.2 million acres.

Havlick called these places “unique hybrid landscapes” because they are “ecologically valuable but highly contaminated.” These sites are layered with multiple meanings: They reflect national sacrifice (they are often called “sacrifice zones”) but also the resiliency of nature. The restoration process itself also generates meaning, as a “previously restricted space now comes back into view.” As these sites are restored, they also show the possibility of “military stewardship,” and the military taking environmental responsibility.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is leading the restoration at many of these former military sites. Havlick said they take a “wildlife-first policy.” At the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, FWS is restoring the short grass prairie at a former chemical weapons facility that is heavily contaminated. The old bunkers are presented as amenities. Havlick said people are really drawn to these. At the old Arsenal site, wetlands are now bringing in waterfowl.

Thousands of acres of prairie grass are now munched on by imported bison.

A visitor’s center tells the “narrative about individual and community sacrifice.”

Another Perspective on the Rocky Mountain Arsenal

For philosophy professor Marion Hourdequin, Colorado College, the question is “what is the role of history?” She argued that “most traditional ecological restoration projects aren’t up to preserving diverse values.” Historical fidelity means restoring a site to its pre-settlement conditions, prior to colonization by Europeans. This means trying to undo the legacy of human interventions in the site before then. But Hourdequin thinks this isn’t even possible. The new model for ecological restoration accepts this, offering a “dynamic view of ecology, contingency, and global warming. We are now dealing with altered and fragmented landscapes.”

Hourdequin thinks sites up for ecological restoration should instead be treated as “complex, layered landscapes that don’t ignore the past or only restore to pre-settlement conditions. We need a middle way that integrates humans and nature.” She believes this is because “human values are intertwined with places.”

At the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, there is a rich history that goes beyond the “weapons to wildlife narrative.” Before Europeans arrived, the place was used seasonally by native Americans. The area was eventually homesteaded by European settlers. Later, in the 1940s, it became a primary site for American chemical weapons production, including VX, Sarin, and Napalm. Then, it was leased to Shell for pesticide production. In the early 90s, efforts began to clean-up and restore the site. The story today is bald eagles, owls, bison, prairie dogs living in what looks like a natural site.

Hourdequin says it’s important not to forget these many important layers of history. While a wildlife refuge today, the place actually holds multiple meanings. Just look at the comments from visitors, who call it “quiet and sad” and “peaceful and redemptive.”

Image credits: (1) Orford Ness / Wikipedia, (2) Orford Ness / copyright Gareth Harmer, (3) Orford Ness / Tomoland, (4) Geevor Tin Mine / My Daily, (5) Western Gas Factory / Outerhop, (6) Landscape Park Duisborg Nord / Landezine, (7) Berkeley Pit / Wired magazine, (8) Clark Fork River restoration / High Country News, (9) Rocky Mountain Arsenal / David Mendosa, (10) Bison / The Denver Post

Abstract Landscapes: Drawing with Lluís Viu Rebés

“When was the last time you spent two hours sitting still and looking at something? Really looking,” said Lluís Viu Rebés, principal at Max de Cusa Arquitects, at a workshop for design students at the University of Virginia School of Architecture. The workshop was an exercise in the practice of learning through close observation. “If you can draw it, you’re seeing it. If you’re seeing it, you’re thinking about it. Our goal today is to reveal the hidden language of things.”

Viu Rebés is perhaps most well known for his role in the design of the Yokohama International Port Terminal by Foreign Office Architects (FOA), a design heralded for blurring the boundary between landscape and structure (see image above). He’s a practicing architect and editor in chief of the Andorran boutique architectural publishing house Editorial Andorra.

Viu Rebés descibes himself as a person who cooks, fishes, and runs a bed and breakfast in the Pyrenees, which serves local organic produce. To call Viu Rebéss passion for farming a side project would be an understatement. To say it’s an influence on his design would be reductive. He is one of those rare individuals whose professional and personal lives operate in tandem. “The way to improve the profession,” Viu Rebés said, “is to constantly look through different lenses.” As his strenuous years on the Yokohama team would indicate, he’s capable of putting in long days in the studio, but he credits his success as a designer to close, patient observation and openness to broad influences.

This philosophy of rigorous, slow observation formed the basis of the drawing workshop at the University of Virginia. On an unseasonably warm Saturday morning in early October, Viu Rebés walked two-dozen undergraduate and graduate design students to a nearby day-lit stream.

After marking off a grid with 200-foot lengths of cotton twine, he assigned pairs of students to each grid line and presented the exercise: spend two hours registering anything along the linear course that interested us, with whatever notation we felt best conveyed our objectives.

In macro view, the site was fairly homogenous — a sloping mowed field interspersed with hardwood trees and crossed by a wide gravel path. Viu Rebés encouraged students to pace their grid lines several times before choosing what to chart, to look at elements above, below, and directly touching the line of string, and avoid being too literal in how conditions were represented. For two hours we stood, stooped, sketched, and studied.

Afterwards, we returned to the studio to discuss our drawings and observe what happened at the intersections. Back on campus, Viu Rebés emphasized the ability of abstract representation to reveal unseen relationships that become inspiration for designs. “Abstract drawings have power,” he said. “They can become other things.” By way of example, he pointed out that many of our drawings were visually similar to musical scores.

After the design debrief, Viu Rebés talked about his experience working on the Yokohama Terminal. Brought on to the project as a recent graduate, largely for his unorthodox vision as well as his expertise in geometry, he spent six years hand-drafting hundreds of iterations, building complexity in the project. He recalled that one of the competition judges, Pritzker-prize winner Toyo Ito, had voted for the project because he couldn’t understand it. “Ito said ‘It doesn’t look like architecture.’ He just wanted to see it built, to see if it could happen.”

Twenty years later, what does he think of the project? “After all these years, I’m more interested in the life behind buildings than the buildings themselves,” Viu Rebés said.

This guest post is by Emily Vaughn, Masters of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of Virginia.

Image credits: (1,5) Yokohoma International Port Terminal / Lluís Viu Rebés, (2-4) Drawing with UVA Students / Emily Vaughn

Place-Making for Bees

Bees aren’t all alike. The tens of thousands of different bee species around the world need different habitat to do well. Getting unique species to take root in restored habitat is a whole other story. In a session at the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) conference in Madison, Wisconsin, ecologists discussed how challenging it is to create habitat bees will use year after year, particularly in restored landscapes.

Places for Bees in Agricultural Areas

Claire Carvell, who is a researcher at the Center for Ecology and Hydrology in the UK, outlined how English bees have responded to habitat restoration projects. The situation for bees there is pretty dire. Some 75 percent of the UK is agricultural land. Some 97 percent of wildflower meadows, places bees love, are gone. As a result, “bees have significantly declined over the 20th century.”

The UK has more than 260 bee species, with some 26 species being social. There are 25 native bumblebees (2 have gone extinct). While there are still many types of bees, Carvell said bee diversity has decreased in more than half of the UK’s landscapes — by more than 50 percent since 1980.

To combat these trends, the UK government has initiated a program that pays subsidies for the “intensification of landscape quality.” Farmers must chose wildlife-friendly options to quality for those subsidies, which can total 280 pounds a year. One common outcome of this subsidy is natural strip of land left alone within farmland. There, a mix of agricultural plants and grasses bees like are added. Bumblebees take to agricultural legumes, while sunflowers are also good for bees.

In a recent project, Carvell said ecologists tested a few different options. In land where were there simply crops, there was no value for bees. In areas without pesticides, there was only a limited response. Where the “natural generation of plant communities” was allowed, there was also only a limited response. She said the key is creating sites with pollen and nectar, a diverse seed mix, which resulted in a “significant response” from the bees.

But one seed mix, no matter how diverse, will “not have sustained benefits.” There is a seasonal component; some plants die off. Flowering plants that offer nectar need to be re-sown every 3-4 years. Diverse plant mixes must include perennials.

Former Mining Sites Can Provide Habitat

Former mining sites litter the globe. Given all the untapped land, there are lots of opportunities to restore them as habitat for bees. But how good are these sites?, asked Karen Goodell, an ecology professor at Ohio State University.

The answer: reclaimed mines “can aid bee conservation,” but they will not be as good as remnant (untouched) habitat. It’s difficult to restore plant communities that existed in mining areas before. Forests can be re-created, but the full ecosystem is another story. While “floral diversity and abundance will positively affect bee recruitment,” bees will be less diverse in these mining sites than in remnant habitats.

In an observational study of 24 sites at The Wilds, a leading conservation site in Ohio, Goodell netted bee species, counted floral resources, and assessed nest habitat. She looked at sites that “vary in proximity to natural habitat.” A few experimental sites had “augmented nest sites;” another set only got “nest blocks” in the second year.

Looking specifically at Megachilid bees, which are more solitary than honey bees and nest on or in the ground, she found that “the abundance of floral resources wasn’t really important, restoring nesting substrate was far more critical.” Nesting “subtrate” includes stem wood and bare soil. She added that “adding additional artificial nest substrate didn’t help.” To that end, she said it’s important habitats, whether they are restored or not, have ample hollow stem wood lying around, shrubs, dead wood, and bare ground, if you want to attract Megachilids.

Challenges with Ecosystem Restoration

For Neal Williams, University of California – Davis, the transformation of wild areas into agricultural areas is the primary reason for bee habitat loss. Near the Sacramento River in California, a group of farmers and other interests are restoring an 80-kilometer swath along the river corridor from Red Bluff to Chico. Williams’ study there is looking at the community of pollinators in the restored fragments in comparison with the remnant riparian forests. His interest is what factors contribute to the “persistent differences” between the two areas.

Williams said the sites were actually restored. A mono-cultural landscape filled with Walnut orchards was turned back into a forest, but now there is no understory. The issue then was that “species richness was restored, but not composition.”

Lastly, Rufus Isaacs, Michigan State University, discussed bee habitat restoration in managed lands in Michigan. He said there’s a “great diversity of fruit and vegetable production in the area and farmers are very interested in the health of bees.” Hopefully, more will actually do something about setting aside land for bees, given so much of America’s farm produce relies on pollinators.

Image credits: Bee Habitat / Honeybee Conservancy

Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. Continues to Shape American Cities

Louisville, Kentucky, and Birmingham, Alabama, have ambitiously expanded upon their Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.-designed park systems in ways that both reinforce this great designer’s legacy and provide lessons for other communities. At the Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.: Inspirations for the 21st Century symposium held at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., Dan Jones, chairman and CEO, 21st Century Parks; Philip Morris, Hon. ASLA, former executive editor of Southern Living Magazine; and Eric Tamulonis, ASLA, principal, Wallace Roberts Todd (WRT), explained Olmsted Jr.’s continuing contribution to contemporary park systems and interconnected parkways. Working in the era of the “recreational reform park”, Olmsted Jr. helped to systematize a new approach to municipal park and recreation planning.

Building on his father’s 1893 system plan for Louisville, Olmsted Jr. provided a finer grain of public amenity by way of community and neighborhood parks, recreation grounds, and squares. Progressing to a more comprehensive, statistically-based approach to addressing municipal recreation needs, Olmsted Jr. also created a comprehensive system plan for Birmingham, addressing long-term regional growth and recreation needs by targeting a range of park opportunities well beyond the city. According to Tamulonis, Louisville had implemented Olmsted’s plan “almost in its entirety” and became known as the “city of parks,” whereas Birmingham, called the “River of Steel” for its industry, did not implement as much of its own plan.

Today, both cities are reinvesting in their downtowns. Louisville and Birmingham have “parks not necessarily in the center of the city, but on the periphery, which are in a sense generating their own climate, providing a new dimension.” There is now “green infrastructure in keeping with the Olmstedian tradition of using open space, in the public realm, to shape the future growth of communities.”

Jones described the Parklands of Floyds Fork, a public park system totaling nearly 4,000 acres across four parks in eastern and southern Louisville, a project WRT has been designing and creating for years.

He outlined several principles central to Olmsted Jr. For instance, the urban world of the twenty-first century is “directly analogous” to the world faced by Olmsted in the twentieth century. Parks are “shaping city infrastructure, are equal to other infrastructure, and should be built in advance of growth.” Planning parks systematically is superior to individual park design.

Jones also noted that some critics view very high-quality design as the work of elites, but he disagreed strongly with this view, saying “both Olmsteds proved that great design matters.”

Morris outlined the development of Olmsted Jr.’s plan for Birmingham, and how the plan was republished in 2005 by the Birmingham Historical Society.

He described the city, with its 38 different municipalities, as “fragmented,” but noted that “regional connections can be created even without a central government.” For example, agreements were signed between municipalities, and many stakeholder meetings were held to develop a master plan for the Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail System, a regional greenway and street-based trail system to connect communities across Jefferson County.

According to Morris, the city was an example of “it’s never too late,” and that “these ideas can work even in adverse conditions.”

This guest post is by Karen Grajales, ASLA Public Relations Manager.

Image credits: (1) Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. / Newport Arboretum, (2) ASLA 2009 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Parklands of Floyds Fork / WRT, (3) ASLA 2012 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Red Mountain / Green Ribbon —  The Master Plan for Red Mountain Park / WRT. 

ASLA President Answers Questions on SITES Petition

Dear ASLA Members and The Dirt Readers:

I wanted to forward a brief note of appreciation to the ASLA membership for the support many of you have shown for the petition filed earlier this month to resolve issues regarding ownership of the Sustainable Site Initiative™ (SITES®) trademarks. Although it is unfortunate that ASLA was forced into a position of having to seek legal intervention, it remains our strongest desire to get this resolved so that we can move forward collaboratively with our partners to further SITES’ mission and promise.

I also wanted to let you know that we have posted online some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). These FAQs provide straight answers to basic questions and hopefully will help avoid misunderstandings and misinformation. If you have additional questions, feel free to send them to

Thank you again for your support. We remain committed to the SITES mission and ensuring that ASLA’s voice is heard in the course of the continued development and enhancement of the project in the future.


Thomas R. Tavella, FASLA
ASLA President

Frequently Asked Questions

What actions gave rise to the current dispute?

Despite eight-plus years of joint development of SITES and ongoing recognition of SITES as a collaboration of its participants, in June, The Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin (“UT”) took it upon itself to file several SITES trademark applications in its own name. These filings were made without advance notice and over ASLA’s strenuous objections.  When asked by ASLA to explain its actions, UT surprisingly claimed – for the very first time – that it is the sole and exclusive owner of the SITES trademarks.  Even though all three participants in SITES jointly developed the SITES initiative and created goodwill regarding  the SITES trademarks, UT now contends that it alone “first used” the SITES trademarks in commerce, a position that is simply wrong and contrary to historical evidence.

In its recent public statement, UT does not mention that it now claims to be the “sole and exclusive owner” of SITES trademarks – can you think of any reason why?

The SITES trademarks were developed through a partnership between ASLA, the U.S. Botanic Garden and UT.  No one party separately owns the trademarks to the exclusion of the others.  UT’s claim that it is the “sole and exclusive owner,” which goes to the very heart of the matter, is indefensible.

What efforts were made to resolve the issue through negotiation prior to filing suit?

ASLA attempted for more than three months to encourage UT to reconsider its sole and exclusive ownership claim and its improper trademark filings.  To that end, ASLA compiled a historical chronology of public announcements, marketing materials and other documentation showing that all SITES intellectual property was first used by SITES (not UT, independently) and that all SITES-related intellectual property belongs to SITES, and not any one participant. UT refused to reconsider its position or meaningfully respond to the information provided by ASLA.  ASLA disagrees with UT’s recent statement that it has “actively sought to resolve this matter.” Nonetheless, on October 21, ASLA reached out to UT yet again suggesting mediation.

What steps were taken by ASLA to understand its options?

ASLA reviewed the history of the SITES initiative, exhausted negotiations with UT, consulted with trademark experts to understand its options, and weighed the relative advantages and disadvantages of filing suit on behalf of the partnership to protect the trademarks.  In the end, the ASLA Board of Trustees, acting on the advice and guidance of legal counsel, gave its unanimous consent and approval to the filing of the Petition.

What does the Petition ask the court to do?  

Consistent with the history of collaborative effort of the SITES participants and joint ownership of all resulting intellectual property, the Petition simply asks the court to issue a declaratory ruling that SITES (not UT, individually) owns the trademarks, and order UT to withdraw the trademark applications that were improperly filed.

Is UT correct that simply giving ASLA a license to use the trademarks is effectively the same as joint ownership?  

No.  ASLA has thoroughly consulted with trademark counsel on this point.   Ownership of intellectual property is much different than rights under a license for a number of reasons.  For example, by granting a license to ASLA, both UT and ASLA would have the right to use the SITES trademarks but, if their use of the marks diverge (e.g., by the adoption of different standards), the trademarks could be severely weakened or lost entirely.  In addition, ASLA would not have influcence over how the marks are used by UT or what licenses UT might grant in the future which, again, could significantly damage the marks.  Also, because a license is only a contractual right, it could potentially be subject to termination leaving ASLA with no right to use the marks at all.  There are other reasons as well, but suffice it to say that ownership of the trademarks collectively by all three participants is much different, and much more desirable to all concerned, than the limited right to use the trademarks as a licensee.   In short, it is critical that ASLA retain co-ownership of SITES trademarks and other intellectual property in order to ensure that ASLA is able to continue to bring the voice of the profession to guide SITES’ future development.

It should be noted that UT itself refused to accept the role of licensee.  From the outset, ASLA has advocated that the trademark applications be filed in the name of the parties, jointly.   UT opposed this, instead demanding that the applications be filed solely in its own name, with a license being granted to ASLA.  When, simply for the sake of highlighting the point, ASLA suggested the opposite – that the applications be filed solely in ASLA’s name, with a license granted to UT – UT refused.

Moreover, UT’s discussion of a license diverts attention from the central problem – UT’s claim of sole ownership of property that was developed collaboratively and rightly belongs to SITES and its participants.  This is the core issue that UT apparently does not wish to address.  UT’s recent actions are not only fundamentally inconsistent with the basic tenants of trademark law, they do not promote a collaborative and productive working relationship.

Where can I get more information about this case?

The facts of this case are concisely presented in the Petition that was filed on ASLA’s behalf. You are encouraged to read the Petition and send any additional questions to

What about the future of SITES?

ASLA remains fully committed to SITES and the advancement of the project in partnership with UT and the U.S. Botanic Garden.  ASLA’s preference has been and remains to resolve the dispute informally and quickly.  We are confident that we will get past this issue.  In the meantime, ASLA will continue to do all it can to further the SITES mission and to minimize any impact that the court proceeding might otherwise have on the SITES project.

See ASLA’s statement and petition.

Teaching Ecological Restoration (Not Restoration Ecology)

In a session at the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) conference in Madison, Wisconsin, ecologist John Munro worried that SER is moving away from its focus on practical, on-the-ground, ecological restoration projects in favor of more passive, “academic research on restoration ecology.” Pointing to Temple University’s landscape architecture and horticulture program, which features the first ever-accredited concentration in ecological restoration, he said the focus must remain on “doing rather than studying.” His fear is that many restoration ecologists can no longer “see the forest for the statistics.”

The solution, according to Munro, is to boost ecological site design education in both landscape architecture and ecology degree programs. Landscape architects and restoration ecologists must understand “specifications, logistics, sequencing, planning. This can’t be handed to other professions.” A landscape architect in Philadelphia discussed the ecological issues landscape architects must increasingly know about. A landscape architect professor and graduates from the Temple program then discussed their innovative program and what they are doing with what they’ve learned.

Landscape Architects Need Ecological Know-How

According to Emily McCoy, ASLA, Andropogon, “landscape architects are finally beginning to take seriously the idea of measuring ecosystem function.” They are also beginning to “take the best scientific information and apply them to landscape design.” This is challenging because landscape architects are not trained in statistics so can’t truly understand landscape function. This means they need to work with restoration ecologists or environmental designers.

Andropogon, one of the most cutting-edge landscape architecture firms in terms of sustainable design, has actually created an “integrative research department” to help incorporate the latest research into their practice. “We are focused on collecting adaptive feedback. We want to apply the latest data on landscape performance.” The firm is doing this because they believe all the new research can support their mission of improving the “health, safety, and welfare of people.” Andropogon thinks “urban environments can positively contribute to our health.”

McCoy identified a number of research areas where Andropogon says they need help from restoration ecologists or landscape architects trained in ecology. They are soils and soil biology (here, they are interested in “how what’s under the ground affects what’s above the ground”); habitat (“how do we define this?”); native plants (“can they succeed on green roofs?”); climate change; urban heat islands; assisted migration; and plant provenance and ecotypes. They need this kind of research for their sustainable landscape projects, like the green roof for the new U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., which features native plant communities and now attracts wildlife (see image above).

She also said the Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES®), a kind of “LEED for Landscapes,” will further boost demand for ecological research services among all landscape architects. “SITES asks what is the habitat value? How do you measure performance of plants and soils in man-made landscapes?” Right now, data on ecosystem services provided by urban landscapes is largely unavailable.

Learning How to Do Ecological Restoration

Mary Myers, FASLA, professor of landscape architecture at Temple University, said Temple has the only accredited landscape architecture program with a concentration in ecological restoration. She defined landscape architecture as an “environmentally-focused profession whose mission is to promote environmental balance and human well-being through sustainable design.”

To get similar programs going in other landscape architecture departments, she advised academic program chairs to “build lateral support within and out universities, get other environmental design schools on campus involved, and bring in expert outside advisers.” At Temple, Myers brought in Andropogon Associates, BioHabitats, and Mark Focht, FASLA, first deputy commissioner, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.

To build the case for the new program, which she did as chair of the landscape architecture and horticulture department, she pointed to U.S. Labor and ASLA reports outlining booming job growth for landscape architecture and ecological restoration, along with a U.S. News and World Report article that said ecological restoration is a growing field.

Myer’s program applies ecosystem design. There are modules on woodlands and wetlands, with classes on technical engineering and ecosystem design spread throughout. The third year has a special “public lands module,” and a capstone project in the field. Myers made a point of emphasizing how important “graphic communication” was in the curriculum, too, which was accredited by LAAB in 2013.
LARC9995Captone Design schedule SP12.xlsx

How Temple University Students Approach Ecological Restoration

A group of Temple University graduates as well as current students then discussed how they are approaching ecological restoration in their work and studies. Sara Street, Construction Specialties, Inc. (C/S), a Temple University landscape architecture and ecological restoration graduate, described C/S’s efforts in designing a sustainable corporate campus for their sales office in Muncy, Pennsylvania. Located on the west branch of the Susquehanna River, the corporate campus is an industrially-zoned site in a region with a long history of human habitation. The campus’s new design includes stormwater capture and reuse, a reintroduction of native plants (including a native vegetation propagation facility), and a new trail system. Street described how the project will serve as an educational facility for local school children, teaching them about ecological restoration.

Street stressed the need for a quantifiable, objective method for judging ecological restoration projects. C/S’s new campus will be highly monitored over time. As landscape architecture and ecological restoration projects become more intertwined, Street expressed optimism for the development of new standardized system of sustainability scorecards.

Patricia Kemper, Master of Landscape Architecture Candidate, Temple University, then discussed the integration of landscape architecture and ecological restoration. She cited several built examples, including the James Clarkson Environmental Discovery Center in White Lake Township, Michigan. Completed in 2008, the project – a recipient of an ASLA 2008 Professional General Design Honor Award – involved a large-scale ecological restoration effort. MSI Design led a multidisciplinary team to accomplish this task, which required the reintroduction of 170 native plant species, the preservation of existing wetlands and woodlands, and a new ecologically-managed stormwater system. Furthermore, an underwater plexiglass classroom entices school children to learn about the aquatic ecology of the site. By merging landscape architecture and ecological restoration, the design of the James Clarkson Environmental Discover Center benefits both wildlife and the public.

Kemper followed her case studies with the results of a survey of universities with master programs in landscape architecture. Respondents were asked questions regarding the role of ecological restoration education in their landscape architecture programs. She found that while landscape students are getting exposed to the concepts of ecological restoration, they are not typically being taught nuts and bolts of ecological restoration practice. More emphasis on ecological restoration in landscape architecture education is needed.

Sue Ann Alleger, who graduated with a Master’s of Landscape Architecture degree from Temple University, then reiterating the importance of dual training in landscape architecture and ecological restoration. Alleger outlined how pressures from widespread urbanization, population expansion, and climate change are disrupting environmental systems. In this context, she felt ecological restoration should play a part in any landscape design. She described how ecological restoration is coupled with design projects at Temple University, from inventory to analysis, concept, and final plan. For example, design projects can involve an extensive site inventory of quantitative and qualitative data, which is plotted and compared to a reference model.

According to Alleger, this kind of technical rigor extends to every stage of a design project at Temple University, integrating ecological science with design at all points. Whether or not Temple’s model of merging landscape architecture and ecological restoration becomes more widespread, further collaboration between these two disciplines will be increasingly important as ecological performance is demanded of our landscapes.

This post is by Jared Green, Editor, The Dirt, and Ben Wellington, Master’s of Landscape architecture graduate, Louisiana State University and ASLA 2012 summer intern.

Image credits: (1) U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters Green Roof / Rooflite (2) Andrew Hayes. Capstone Restoration Design Project / Temple University, (3) ASLA 2008 Professional General Design Honor Award. James Clarkson Environmental Discovery Center. MSI Design / Image credit: MSI, Ellen Puckett Photography, Justin Maconochie Photography