Safer Street Design Can Spare Tens of Thousands

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More than 47,000 people were killed while walking in the U.S. between 2003 and 2012, a rate that has been rising in the last few years. The majority of those deaths could have likely been prevented with safer street design, according to Dangerous by Design 2014, a new report released today by the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America, in conjunction with AARP and American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

The report also ranks America’s major metropolitan areas according to a pedestrian danger index that assesses how safe pedestrians are while walking. The four most dangerous — Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Miami — are all in Florida. The others in the top-10 most dangerous list are: Memphis, Phoenix, Houston, Birmingham (new to this year’s top 10), Atlanta, and Charlotte.

“We are allowing an epidemic of pedestrian fatalities — brought on by streets designed for speed and not safety — to take nearly 5,000 lives a year. This number increased six percent between 2011 and 2012,” said Roger Millar, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. “Not only is that number simply too high, but these deaths are easily prevented through policy, design, and practice. State and local transportation leaders need to prioritize the implementation of complete streets policies that keep everyone safe.”

The report presents data on pedestrian fatalities and injuries in every U.S. metro area, as well as state by state assessments and an online, interactive map showing the locations where pedestrian fatalities have occurred.

More than 676,000 pedestrians were injured over the decade, equivalent to a pedestrian being struck by a car or truck every eight minutes. That rate increases significantly for more vulnerable populations such as older adults, children, and people of color.

While just 12.6 percent of the total population, those over the age of 65 years old account for nearly 21 percent of pedestrian fatalities nationwide. “Older persons account for one in every five pedestrian fatalities and have the greatest fatality rate of any population group,” said AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond. “America’s state, federal, and community leaders should focus on making our streets safer, which will benefit everyone, including the growing number of older Americans.”

Children 15 years and younger represent a significantly at-risk population, and fatal pedestrian injury remains a leading cause of death. Between 2003 and 2010 (the most recent year for which data is available about children), 4,394 children were killed while walking.

Among people of color, blacks and African Americans suffer a pedestrian fatality 60 percent higher than non-Hispanic whites, and Hispanics of any race have a rate nearly 43 percent higher.

The majority of pedestrian deaths occur on roadways that encourage speeding, and speeding is a factor in nearly one-third of all traffic fatalities. The report finds that these deaths can be prevented through changes to the design of our streets: providing sidewalks, installing high-visibility crosswalks and refuge islands, and calming traffic speeds.

This has proved true for roads such as NE 125th St. in Seattle, WA. In 2011, the city added a marked crosswalk, reduced the number of travel lanes, and installed bike lanes, along with other measures, to provide for the safety of pedestrians in a high-crash corridor where 87 percent of drivers were speeding. The modifications have reduced the rate of collisions by 10 percent and speeding by 11 percent and led to more people walking and biking along the roadway.

“More and more Americans are choosing communities that are walkable and accessible for pedestrians, children and older Americans, but that shouldn’t be a luxury,” said Nancy Somerville, Executive Vice President & CEO of ASLA. “Simple and affordable additions or retrofits to traffic signals, pedestrian islands, and sidewalks can make a huge difference in safety and protection.”

The report recommends states take action to improve safety for pedestrians in communities nationwide:

  • Increase the available funding and maximize the use of existing federal programs for walking and bicycling projects.
  • Adopt a complete streets policy and comprehensive implementation plan.
  • Emphasize walking and bicycling in the strategic highway safety plan (SHSP).
  • Reform measures of congestion, such as level of service, to account for the needs of all travelers.
  • Update design policies and standards.
  • Standardize and gather more comprehensive data on pedestrian crashes.
  • Give local cities and towns more control over their own speed limits.
  • Encourage collaboration across transportation, public health, and law enforcement agencies.

Read the report.

The Landscape Imagination

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The Landscape Imagination / Princeton Architectural Press

As the author of canonical texts — and now built projects like the High Line in New York City — James Corner, ASLA, founder of Field Operations, has achieved a unique stature in contemporary landscape architecture. The Landscape Imagination: Collected Essays of James Corner, 1990-2010, a new collection of his written work, thus serves as a sort of mid-career retrospective. The book brings together the bulk of Corner’s writings over the last two decades — from the early theoretical arguments of a young academic struggling to move the discipline beyond Ian McHarg’s ecological determinism, to an eminent practitioner discussing his major public parks.

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ASLA 2013 Professional General Design Honor Award. High Line, Section 2 by James Corner Field Operations / Iwan Baan

Corner’s initial contributions to landscape theory lean heavily on Heidegger and hermeneutics, giving intellectual weight to Corner’s mission to rescue landscape architecture from a period of stagnation and seeming irrelevance to contemporary culture. “In a globalized context of rapid and expedient production,” Corner writes, “landscape must appear an antiquated medium and, its design, a fringe activity sustained through the eccentric passions of a handful of romantics and nature-lovers.” That landscape architecture would never appear so today is the result of a shift Corner contributed to in a fundamental way.

Corner’s writings on representation and landscape urbanism chart new and exciting territory for the field. Some of Corner’s essays are classics and mainstays of landscape architecture syllabi. In this volume they appear all together and accompanied by full-color images.

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Pivot Irrigators / James Corner

Rather than the concrete arguments found in books like Corner’s Recovering Landscape (1999) or Charles Waldheim’s Landscape Urbanism Reader (2002), to which Corner contributed, The Landscape Imagination follows Corner’s evolving concerns. These extend from drawing and mapping both in and as design — to the role of landscape in and as urbanism.

Always in tension are the landscapes of the mind and the site. But Corner seeks to defy and transcend these distinctions as he expands landscape’s conceptual scope. Corner focuses on ecology while also emphasizing landscape as a cultural project dealing in meaning, creativity, and imagination — hence the title of the collection. He shows us the through-line from theory to practice.

The more recent texts focus on built or proposed projects by Corner’s firm Field Operations. “Critical experimentation in action,” Corner calls them. They are the works of a mature practitioner and landscape visionary, whose intellectual rigor and influential practice have set the terms for landscape in contemporary life.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Mariana Mogilevich, PhD, assistant professor, metropolitan studies program, New York University.

A Sense of the Past

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Wild Bergamot in a Prairie / Prairie State Outdoors

At a conference on sound and scent in the garden at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. landscape historians delved into spaces of the past in an attempt to unearth historic sensory experiences. A question that ran through all the lectures was: can we ever get a true sense of what it felt like to be in a place that no longer exists?

Barbara Burlison Mooney, University of Iowa, gave us a deeper sense of what the great Illinois prairies sounded and smelled like. She said tall grass prairies are not a designed landscape — “they are really the antithesis of Versaille” — but they were still managed. Native Americans set fire to the grasslands so as to sprout the small green shoots that would bring bison. Today, just small parcels of the original American grasslands remain. What’s left has inspired landscape architects such as Jens Jensen and James van Sweden, who have attempted to replicate the beauty of these grass landscapes everywhere.

Mooney said the first time settlers in the early 1800s saw the prairie they were totally overwhelmed by its “breathtaking magnitude.” Settlers traveling west would be in dense forest up until Ohio, when they started to experience meadows. Then, as they hit Indiana, the trees would disappear and the grasslands would open up for countless miles. Mooney said scholarship has “looked at the sight of the prairie, and artistic interpretations of it, but the auditory and olfactory experience is a more complex experience to relate.”

Mooney read from first-hand accounts of settlers who recorded their experiences crossing the prairie, including some of the first American naturalists. She played recordings of a range of birds, including wild fowl, songbirds, and turkeys; insects; dangerous animals like wolves, snakes, cougars; and less dangerous ones, like bullfrogs.

She described how scent, “our most memorable sense,” defined the prairie, too. “Prairie rose, bergamot, and sassafras all have sweet scents.” For the settlers, foul odors also foretold disaster. As an example, some of these settlers feared the smell of “bad water” and were overwhelmed by rotting vegetation.

“Early Illinois settlers understood the sensory experience of the prairie.” Unfortunately, their recounting is “unstable, limited, biased in describing ephemeral experiential cues.” The result may be we can get just a hint of what the prairie was like from these early accounts and modern sound recordings.

Mark Laird at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design (GSD) described Strawberry Hill, a Gothic revival villa created by Horace Walpole, a politician, writer, and artist, in the late 1700s. Using letters Walpole wrote over five decades, Laird discovered some aspects of the historic sounds and smells, which helped guide recent restoration efforts.

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Strawberry Hill by Paul Sandby / Wikipedia
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Strawberry Hill today / Wikipedia

Restoring the sound and smell of a place is challenging, as nature changes. Laird said the sound of field crickets were mentioned in Walpole’s letters, but today, “they no longer exist in the UK,” except for three small managed populations. Similarly, the Landrail (or Corn Crake), which was once widespread, is now confined to small parcels of Scotland. There are just about 1,200 males left.

What Halpole yearned for most, Laird said from the letters, was the smell of the “lilac tide” and the sound of nightingales in late spring. Through intensive research, Laird discovered where the lilacs, roses, and lavender was planted, but, again, a changing world has robbed us of having a similar experience, as there are just 6,700 male nightingales left in the UK. Furthermore, “it’s a secretive bird that hides in bushes.”

So more historic sensory experiences don’t go extinct, Laird and John Beardsley, head of the landscape studies program at Dumbarton Oaks, discussed efforts to create a “world heritage of sound.”

For Anatole Tchikine, a post-doctoral student at Dumbarton Oaks, sensory experiences found in Italian gardens are all political. In the early 20th century, American writers such as Vernon Lee and Edith Wharton visited Italy many times. Wharton even wrote a book, Italian Villas and Their Gardens, which argued that Italian gardens can be defined simply by their use of “stone work, evergreens, and water.” Anything like flowers were extraneous to the sensory experience of the forms in the Italian garden.

The fascists picked up on this very limited definition of an Italian garden and used it for nationalistic purposes. Before, there was no singular Italian garden, but many local vernacular gardens. The fascists chose the Tuscan garden, making it the “national language, the trans-regional and trans-temporal garden. It became part of the national agenda, helping to create a shared national identity.”

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Orti Oricellari in Tuscany / Wikipedia

Italian-style was then reclaimed from France, the UK, and elsewhere where it had been misappropriated. In 1931, during the Florence garden festival honoring Italian traditions, the Italian garden was presented as “rational, ordered, geometrical, with the emphasis of mind over body, conquest and domination over the expression of natural genius.” Tchikine said under the fascists, “Italian gardens became about intellect over experience, with an exception for sight, which was needed to experience form. Flowers were just an expression of form; they were not to be smelled.”

The sensory experience of water then became political, too. “Water has a volatile nature — it can be hot, cold, hard or soft. Water can be temporarily restrained but it can’t be subjugated.” Water was then threatening. Different themed fountains showed either militaristic installations or the trickster-nature of water, as “playful, bizarre, and unpredictable.”

The end result is Italian gardens became an “impoverished experience, filled with contradictory cliches. They became simple repositories of art works.”

Design and Construction Groups Launch Alliance for a Resilient Tomorrow

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ASLA 2012 Professional General Award of Excellence. A Green Sponge for a Water-Resilient City: Qunli Stormwater Park by Turenscape / Kongjian Yu

At the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., leaders of twenty associations focused on the design, construction, operations, and management of the built environment announced the Alliance for a Resilient Tomorrow, a new partnership dedicating to promoting resilience across the board. The CEOs of the industry associations, which have more than 700,000 members generating almost $1 trillion in GDP, also used the occasion of “Building Safety Month” to issue a joint pledge on resilience.

The event featured panel discussions of several of the CEOs who have joined in this pledge:

“We, like so many in this room, realize that next steps must be taken to address disaster mitigation, resilience, and sustainability,” said Chase Rynd, Hon. ASLA., Executive Director, National Building Museum, which has just staged a major exhibition on designing for disaster.

Robert Ivy, CEO of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), said that the list of signatories was “broad and comprehensive” and included not only the design, planning, and engineering profession, but also client representatives. He noted that AIA’s members have been involved with issues of resilience for a long time and operate according to a “core set of ethics to design structures that are sound.” However, the world has changed due to climate change, which “takes us to another place.” He added that “this is the beginning, the first step” to addressing resilience in a changing world.

“Sustainability is part of the DNA of landscape architects, and resilience is a key part of sustainability,” said Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). “One of the major roles we’re now playing is making sure we share best practices and the results of what’s happening among our members.” She noted that, “while projects have always been designed for resilience, now there’s an additional emphasis placed on performance standards and tracking them. This will help ensure we not only influence design decisions but also development projects.”

Randy Fiser, Executive Vice President, American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), suggested watching communities to “see how they begin to evolve.” He added that “often times, we see communities destroyed by events. Subsequent conversations often focus on rebuilding the way it was.” Fiser sees the need to inform communities to take that leap forward.

“A history of events have already occurred in this country—hurricanes, tornadoes, and mudslides—and we now have a game plan, our statement signed today,” said Henry Green, President/CEO, National Institute of Building Science. He called for moving future discussions internally and engaging the media, which he said will make a huge difference.

“Infrastructure in the United States is in really bad shape and will have to be rebuilt in the coming years,” said Gayle Berens, senior vice president, Urban Land Institute (ULI). She also argued the rate of recovery in Sandy-affected areas is highly variable. Here, size matters: New York City is in great shape, but communities in New Jersey, with “part-time mayors,” really need help.

Tom Phoenix, President-Elect, ASHRAE, pointed out that the “economics of what we’re doing can’t be escaped. To be honest, nothing’s going to happen unless someone can pay for this. How do we educate building owners, especially in the private sector, that there’s a benefit to doing this?”

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

Our Senses Snap Us Back to the Here and Now

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Lavender field in Provence / Wikipedia

We can read about how sensory experiences in landscapes work on our minds by exploring the latest neuroscience, but there’s no replacement for just going out an experiencing a place. “Our senses snap us back to the here and now,” said D. Fairchild Ruggles, a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, at a conference on sound and scent in the garden at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. One question, though, is: how can we use our senses in a place that no longer exists? This was the topic of discussion over a few days, as landscape historians explored the limits of words and pictures when describing landscapes of the past.

Ruggles said “vision has a privileged place in architectural history.” This is because too often architectural history is dedicated to “the pursuit of permanence.” In landscape architecture history, the most common visual is the site plan or aerial view. “But this visual representation doesn’t capture the sound or scent of the place.”

For centuries, Arab poets discussed the sensory experience of the garden. Unfortunately, today, “smells are elusive. Other than saying something is fragrant, what can we say? We compare it to something else. Something smells like… We have no sophisticated vocabulary.”

John Dixon Hunt, a landscape historian at the University of Pennsylvania, picked up the discussion, saying essentially that words and images fail us when we are trying to evoke the sound and smell of a place. “We can’t explain one person’s experiences to another. They are so subjective.” He said two people may walk through a landscape and have a “shared experience but will have different articulations, using different words, just as two painters viewing the same scene will paint it differently. Everyone has their own take. We are on our own in life.”

Given words fail, the experience of being in a historic place is lost. “We have to be depressed looking at the past because we can’t get to it. Modern landscape architects can only try to impart back or transpose things backwards.”

Still, Hunt called for a greater effort to communicate the experience of being in a place, at least in landscape and garden writing today. He complained that writers and critics focus too much on the form of a space than the experience of being there. “We must evade simple reliance on architectural forms. Movement determines mood. The mood is lost when we just look at forms.”

This challenge is not lost on the poor writers who must explain what a place sounds and smells like. “How do you capture the sound of water?” He said even Shakespeare, who described a garden as “deft of sound and scent,” really told his readers, “one must go there to enjoy.”

Hunt described a number of historic and contemporary works of landscape architecture that highlight scent. For example, the lavender fields of France “assault the senses.” The scent garden at the University of Toronto, with its aromatic pavilions, has significant impact because of its “limited focus.” There, the “blind can smell and touch.”

As to whether the impact of a sound or scent can be measured, Hunt wondered whether some things in life are “immeasurable,” simply beyond our reach. He argued that may be a good thing: “it’s terribly important to have something in one’s life that you can’t grasp.”

U.S. Report Warns Climate Impacts Coming

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National Climate Assessment / Globalchange.gov

The White House has released a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of climate change on the United States. Congress mandates these reports are to be created every four years, but no reports were issued during the presidency of George W. Bush. President Obama has made up for that, with a 1,300 page report written by 300 leading scientists and experts, the third such report created. The assessment is expected to shape the environmental strategy for the last two years of the administration. Already, President Obama has signaled he will work to reduce carbon emissions from coal power plants, as the Supreme Court has just given the administration clearance to use the Clean Air Act to limit emissions because they cross state boundaries.

The report states the effects of climate change are already being felt across the country. According to The Guardian, the assessment indicates average temperatures have risen by about 1.5 F (0.8 C) since 1895. Some 80 percent of the rise has occurred since 1980, with the last decade the hottest on record. Furthermore, temperatures are expected to rise another 2 F in the coming decades. “In northern latitudes such as Alaska, temperatures are rising even faster.”

Impacts will be felt differently across the U.S. As can be seen in this map from The New York Times, the change is not evenly distributed. Virginia Burkett, chief scientist for global change at the U.S. Geological Survey, said: “Parts of the country are getting wetter, parts are getting drier. All areas are getting hotter.”

Higher temperatures in the southwest are expected to create more droughts and lead to larger and more frequent wildfires. Meanwhile, “the north-east, midwest and Great Plains states will see an increase in heavy downpours and a greater risk of flooding.” Along the coasts, the threat of flooding will be particularly severe: “Residents of coastal cities, especially in Florida where there is already frequent flooding during rainstorms, can expect to see more. So can people living in inland cities sited on rivers.” Beyond flooding, sea levels will be inching up.

The report covers impacts for each region in detail. For the mid-atlantic, which covers the District of Colombia, Maryland, and Virginia, there are potentially scary impacts. “As sea levels rise, the Chesapeake Bay region is expected to experience an increase in coastal flooding and drowning of . . . wetlands.” The Washington Post writes these wetlands are crucial for protecting against storm surges, so this development would be “especially bad because the lower bay region is at higher risk as a result of sinking land. Water quality would decline and low-oxygen ‘dead zones’ would increase.” And if there are even higher greenhouse gas emissions, much of the area is expected to get an additional 60 days of weather topping 90 degrees, starting around 2050.

Extreme weather will test the country’s collective resilience in ways never seen before. The agricultural sector will need to adapt to hotter temperatures and more limited access to water. Higher temperatures will tax energy systems in the summer, as people crank up air conditioning. Health system will be tested, as more cases for asthma and other respiratory disorders increase with higher street-level temperatures, which exacerbate the worst effects of air pollution. Stormwater management systems will need to be redesigned to account for heavier and more frequent downpours. And natural coastal systems will need to be bolstered against sea level rise.

The goal of the report is to no doubt raise awareness of climate change as a real problem. According to a Pew survey conducted last year, Americans continue to be an outlier in how they rank climate change as a threat. Only 40 percent of Americans see climate change as a danger, while a majority of every region of the world does (except for the Middle East).

Read the report, and check out the innovative and positive adaptation efforts cities and communities are already undertaking. Philadelphia is highlighted for its game-changing green infrastructure program.

Also, explore ASLA’s comprehensive resource center on climate change.

Ken Smith Gets Social

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Yorkville Park / © Peter Mauss/Esto

Landscape architects are increasingly focused on the social side of sustainability, said Ken Smith, ASLA, principal of Ken Smith Workshop, in a lecture at the University of Oregon’s campus in Portland. Smith said: “in the 70s, Ian McHarg taught us to focus on the regional and large-scale in landscape architecture, not what the quality of what we were building. In the 80s, landscape architects began to focus on what we were designing, the physicality. For the past 15 years, there has been a new focus on sustainability, with the ecological side getting the most attention. Now, the social agenda has risen to the front. The social realm is the new focus of landscape architecture.”

Smith said much of William H. Whyte’s research on urban social spaces, which began in the 70s, is still valid, but the way people inhabitat spaces has changed. “Social spaces are now a little different.” And landscape architects need to up their game if they are going to continue to know how to design spaces for today’s urban populations. “Google and Facebook probably know more predictably how people use social spaces than landscape architects. We need to be as smart as the companies profiting off data. We need to tap the data to design.”

But for now, Smith’s approach to creating social spaces that matter for today’s mobile phone-obsessed urbanites is to weave in both ecology and craft. Smith mentioned the growing importance of craftsmanship in today’s culture, saying he’s spending lots of time thinking about “how we make things.”

One example is Yorkville Park in Toronto, where Smith, Martha Schwartz, and David Meyer brought in a 700-ton bedrock mountain, creating an active social world around it. Taking the best of biophilic landscape design principles — that people enjoy a prospect view as well as an intimate refuge — the designers carved the boulder so it was easy to climb on, and then set out moveable chairs and tables around it. “People hang out on the rock and can configure their own social space.”

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Yorkville Park / Steve Evans

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For TFANA Arts Plaza, the setting of the Theatre for a New Audience, part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Cultural Arts District in New York City, Smith brought his inspiration — nightclub banquettes, a form of highly social seating — to the outdoors. “The cocoons envelope. There’s a loucheness to these banquettes that I like.” Working with outdoor furniture manufacturer Landscape Forms, Smith tinkered with the look and feel until it was right. Getting it right meant making the perforated patterns in the steel imperfect in some spots, creating a needed “fuzziness or noise.” The plaza is made up of permeable pavements, which he thinks is a first for New York City, and a silva-cell system for hydrating the trees.

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TFANA Arts Plaza at BAM / © Francis Dzikowski/Esto

Smith saved his discussion of perhaps his most ambitious remake of the social realm for nearly last. The East River Waterfront Esplanade in New York City, which will line two miles of the lower Manhattan waterfront, is being completed in phases. The first phase, which was a pilot used to test aspects of the site in real-time, was opened in 2010. Results from the site’s post-occupancy surveys informed phase 2, which opened in 2012. Two more phases are in the works.

The esplanade is part of former-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to make the city more livable for one million new residents, which he argued the city will need to attract in order to retain its competitive edge as a global city on par with London and Shanghai. The plan includes creating whole stretches of new waterfront parks, the massive Hudson Yards development, a new 2nd avenue subway line, and lots of new public spaces. The esplanade is also central to the city’s goal of creating a central park for residents of lower Manhattan and other communities that connect via the rivers. “Cross connections will be a critical issue as the city figures out how to get people to the waterfront.”

On the esplanade design, Smith said, “I didn’t want a formal, perfectly spaced and organized esplanade like OLIN’s Battery Park City; I wanted to purposefully slow people down so they have to look up from their devices to see where they are going.”

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East River Watefront Esplanade / © Peter Mauss/Esto

The esplanade runs parallel to the FDR Memorial Drive and, in some cases, underneath it. New coastal structures were built to provide support for the soil mass needed to support enough vegetation. “The site is a series of successive walls that provide the structure for the dunes,” which Smith calls the waves of raised landscapes. Those pieces of nature were central to the design. “The ecological basis is conflated with the social purpose. We integrated the social infrastructure into the sea walls.”

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East River Watefront Esplanade / © Peter Mauss/Esto

There’s all sorts of fun places to sit along the esplanade. “The seating is a kit of parts.” There are benches set close together, which are designed to foster conversation. “You can also put your feet up and use the other bench as an ottoman.” There are wood chaise lounges for a bit of a get-away.

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East River Watefront Esplanade / © Peter Mauss/Esto

Rail-side bar stools are great for eating lunch and gazing out at the water. “Those stools are very popular.”

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East River Watefront Esplanade / © Peter Mauss/Esto

Smith was thrilled with how the lighting turned out. He said the usual New York City light pole is “horribly wrong scale, historicist, and clunky.” He ended up commissioning a new lighting system, with soft lighting reflected against FDR girders now painted lavender, and calf-level LED lighting, which will eventually wrap through the entire two-mile-long park. Smith defended the low-light approach, arguing that it’s actually safer, as “over lighting a space causes your pupils to dilate.”

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East River Watefront Esplanade / © Peter Mauss/Esto

Throughout the esplanade, there are several pavilions coming — and it seems like most of them are beer gardens. Smith laughed and said, “beer gardens are really positive activators of public space.” Each pavilion is part commercial and community space.

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East River Watefront Esplanade / © Peter Mauss/Esto

And then there’s the pop-art dog park. “Dog runs are social spaces, too. Dog runs are like playgrounds. They are supervised just like kids. There’s a social life among both the dogs and parents.” And more ominously, “there are lots of politics in dog parks.”

Dotted along the esplanade are new pier parks, some of which are still in development. One new pier park has two levels, with the upper deck made up of gardens and lawn.

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East River Watefront Esplanade / © Peter Mauss/Esto

And Pier 35, now in the works, will be an eco-park with mussel colony. “We call it mussel beach.”

In Cape Town, Urban Design Reduces Violence

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VPUU Khayelitsha / CST South Africa

One legacy of South Africa’s fragmented, racially-segregated society has been incredible violence. To change that story, the city of Cape Town and the German Development Bank are harnessing the power of design. Through an inventive program, Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU), these players and many local non-profits are transforming Khayelitsha, one of the most dangerous townships in South Africa, into a safer, more livable place. At the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia, the team behind the VPUU program said since the development of this 5-year, $11 million, community-driven project, murders are down 33 percent in Harare, one section of the township, and 22 percent in Khayelitsha overall. Furthermore, almost 90 percent of the area’s 250,000 residents say living conditions have improved.

The city assembled a team of local planners, urban designers, landscape architects, and architects to create four “safe nodes,” each serving about 50,000 residents. Leading from Harare Square all the way to the Khayelitsha railway station, these nodes provide new infrastructure, such as a well-lit pedestrian mall, which enables “safe walking,” said Michael Krause, team leader for the program.

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Khayelitsha VPUU / Skyscraper City

Along the route, there are also new public facilities, including the Peace Park community building, Ncomu road community building and urban park, and Kwamfundo school sports complex. The idea is to provide “opportunities for everyday life and spontaneous activity.” Community buildings offer spaces for meetings. These facilities are also rented out, earning income for maintaining the public spaces. There’s a new supermarket and retail area, too.

VPUU team landscape architect Tarna Klitzner designed some of the public spaces to be “learning platforms,” given only 600 of the area’s 4,000 children under 6 are in school. There’s a new interactive playground. “These educational interventions also help to create safe public spaces that foster a sense of community,” said Krause.

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Khayelitsha / Wired Communications

A sense of community seems to be forming. “People are now looking after the public spaces. Graffiti hasn’t been a problem.” If there are maintenance issues, they are fixed by an on-site crew within 24 hours or less. Also, some neighbors have been given special responsibility for maintaining the new public spaces. They are recognized with brooms.

From the photos, the landscape of Khayelitsha appears quite barren. Kathryn Ewing, and urban designer and architect with Sustainable Urban Neighborhood Development, said “planting trees is difficult given the strong winds. The native
plants are low-growing vegetation.” The few trees planted are protected with frames, but these often get stolen.

Ewing told me that Khayelitsha’s relationship with water and nature is slowly changing. Water taps are being upgraded, given they are already community gathering spots.

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Water tap redevelopment before, during “social activation,” and after / Kathryn Ewing

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The community came together around the trees planted at the water taps. The trees are supposed to be tended by the children of the area. “This is a social experiment in itself. There’s great meaning to having trees in this environment, with its harsh conditions.”

Setting up a coordinated system for dealing with excess stormwater has also proven tricky. “There are knock-off effects with stormwater, such as drainage. Where does it go? It’s going to impact someone,” said Ewing. The design team has experimented with using sand to deal with stormwater management, given applying a comprehensive system of vegetation to deal with runoff is still a ways off.

This program has become a model for other townships in Cape Town. Alistair Graham with the Cape Town city government said 10 more VPUU sites are in the works. Graham believes the first VPUU succeeded because “the development is human-scale. We also clearly defined the hierarchy of spaces, what was public, private, and semi-private.”

While these infrastructural improvements have enhanced quality of life, Graham said “we have unfortunately only scratched the surface on our gang issues.” Hopefully, this program can help show us what mix of design and social action really works to reduce violence over the long-term.

Read more about Khayelitsha in this earlier post by Cape Town-based landscape architect Tamsin Faragher.