Brilliant Idea: The Green Benefits District

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Dogpatch Arts Plaza / CMG Landscape Architecture

Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? At the EcoDistricts Summit in Washington, D.C., two urban innovators in San Francisco, the home of so many game-changing technologies, have come up with a truly brilliant idea: the Green Benefits District (GBD), a sort of green business improvement district, designed to facilitate community investment in new tree-lined streets, parks, and gardens. Michael Yarne, with Up Urban and Build Inc. and the creator of the concept, said the GBD in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco will also aim to improve the management and upkeep of neighborhood public spaces, which they say is currently done poorly by the city government. The GBD will be like the “Uber of public space,” meaning they are adding another layer of more convenient services on top of the existing baseline service. A GBD is needed because the city government is “stuck in the 1970s.” But the GBD clearly has higher aims than just better services: Yarne sees a future with local, distributed renewable energy systems and more.

With the help of Scott Cataffa, ASLA, a partner at CMG Landscape Architecture, Yarne is in the middle of a two-year process to prototype the GBD concept. It seems creating a new assessment district in California is not an easy thing, as you first need a BID lawyer, then need to get 30 percent of the proposed assessed district to agree to a petition, and then 51 percent of the “weighted property owners” to back the idea through a ballot. Only then will the state and city governments allow you to use tax revenue to meet local ends.

Dogpatch and NW Potrero Hill, which covers some 700 acres and contains 100,000 people, has a “rich industrial heritage.” Through a survey, Yarne and his team learned the area actually has 13 sub-neighborhoods. Some of these maintain a “gritty, marginalized identity.” In contrast, some neighborhoods have a high level of “social capital,” which enables more coordinated action. Yarne decided to start in the area with higher social capital, with a history of local environmental activism and ownership of public spaces. There, a “plucky, can-do” group of locals have wrangled the state government to let them build a park where where was once transportation infrastructure. But all their efforts are “taxing.” This community clearly wants “parks and open space preserved,” but what’s the best way to do this? The neighborhood decided to pool resources into a new GBD.

The GBD will “coordinate property owners and build trust.” It will be a non-profit, public benefit corporation with an elected board and annual oversight by the city legislature. The new GBD will be “small enough to enable trust to grow and will operate in a hyper transparent manner.” It will “use an experimental ‘it’s OK to fail’ approach and aim to create long-term revenue.” Trust, he said, is the new “green,” because, without it, community action is impossible. Trust building will happen on the ground, in person, but also through a new app that will enable all GBD members to see in near real-time all reports, decisions, and expenditures.

“Like Facebook, the app will encourage GBD members to create a profile to encourage community accountability.” There will be something like the “See, Click, Fix” app, which will enable community members to report problems. The app will define the “party responsible for fixing, set the fix date, and the cost of the fix.” Yarne said listing the cost of the fix was important, because people don’t really have a clue as to cost of public services. All of the issues will be mapped, so the GBD member can see problem areas. For example, they could learn that vandalism occurs near the train stations. Like other techno-utopians in San Francisco, Yarne believes the app will “empower the community by demystifying work that’s happening.”

Landscape architect Scott Cataffa has been helping the nascent GBD map all their assets and discover where the opportunities are. Cataffa said a map of the community found only 2 percent of it is open space.  The community is already maintaining about half of the public spaces in the district, but the audit is helping the community figure out who owns what. With a list of more than 50 possible opportunities in hand, the GBD team is now figuring out what role they should play in creating new green public spaces and other sustainable features. They created a checklist to help label each project, with potential roles such as “lead, initiate, assist, or advocate.”

One proposal by CMG would create a new amphitheatre and outdoor art gallery in an unused, city-owned dead-end between two large industrial buildings. Through the audit, they also found that the very wide rights of way, which were designed for industrial use, create opportunities to create new linear parks. So they propose creating a new linear park — or green street — running from the new amphitheatre to a larger park. Cataffa said “we are looking at the right of way as a place to turn grey to green.” Other ideas being cooked up include putting a solar farm on top a freeway that cuts through the district, and creating a (black) waste water recycling system.

If they are allowed to assess the community for the GBD, Yarne says they will raise about $400,000 in their first year from taxes of about 9.46 cents per square foot of commercial and residential space and parking lots. Some non-profits would get a 50 percent discount on that tax, as would some struggling industrial site owners. Yarne expects their available funds to double over the coming years given lots of new residential complexes are coming online. He said, already, the GBD can change perceptions of new development from an unwelcome sign of gentrification into new opportunities to green.

Is Urban Revitalization Without Gentrification Possible?

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Barry Farm / The Huffington Post

Cities are the place to be these days, which means big changes for the historic communities that have populated urban cores. While much of the urban renewal experiments of the 1940s through the 1960s have been deemed disasters, word is still out on the new wave of “urban revitalization” that began in the 1990s and continues through to today in most of America’s cities. The supporters of revitalization say rising tides lift all boats. As wealth has come back to cities, everyone benefits. But critics of revitalization simply call it gentrification, and, as one speaker at the EcoDistricts Summit in Washington, D.C. said, “gentrification is a crime.” Furthermore, new discussions of turning existing urban neighborhoods into “ecodistricts” may just be gentrification in a green dress. How can cities encourage growth but also provide a sense of continuity? How can over-taxed city planning departments accommodate the forces of change while also respecting local communities and cultures?

According to Charles Hostovsky, a professor of urban planning at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., the speed of revitalization in D.C. has been extraordinarily rapid. Every neighborhood has cranes, signifying new development. There has been a corresponding shift in the demographics of the city. In 1970, the city was 77 percent African American. Today, it’s just 49 percent. “The number of people who have been displaced equals a small town.” Indeed: in the past decade, approximately 50,000 young, white Millennials have moved into the city while 35,000 African Americans have left.

Reyna Alorro, who works for the DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning, said revitalization has even spread east of the Anacostia River, perhaps the last hold out to gentrification. There, the city is supporting the redevelopment of Barry Farm, 25 acres of public housing, into a new mixed-income, mixed-use development that they hope will be an example of equitable revitalization. As HUD Hope IV funds have diminished since 2005, the District has started its own program of revamping public housing. “We want to target the areas with blight, crime, high unemployment and turn them into mixed income communities.” The theory is that reducing the concentration of the poor in communities, and relieving their isolation, will improve their conditions.

Barry Farm, a historic African American community founded by freed slaves, currently has some 400 units, with 1,200 people. The population of the housing development is 93 percent single mothers; some 86 percent are unemployed. “This is not a friendly, welcoming site.” There is only one over-priced corner store, with a bullet-proof glass wall separating the store owners from customers.

The $550 million redevelopment plan, said Kelly Smyser, DC Housing Authority, will create 1,400 public and affordable apartments at the same site. New apartments will face each other, creating open public thoroughfares that enable “eyes on the street.” There will also be a recreation center, with an indoor pool, basketball courts, and computer labs, as well as a charter school. The nearby Anacostia Metro station will get a full upgrade, with improved access to the station from the development. “We want to bring opportunity to residents. We will make the connection to Metro easier and safer.”

The District government calls this project “revitalization without gentrification,” as all current residents will be allowed to come back to the new development. “There will be zero displacement.” The city also promises it will undertake a program of “build first before demolition.” To increase the diversity of the development, some 300 of the new units will be affordable housing, rentals, or for sale. The city also wants to encourage small businesses to locate in Barry Farms. They are creating “live-work” sites that will enable people to live above their stores. “We need to get rid of the bullet proof glass.”

The neighborhood is rightly concerned about how they can preserve the best of the local culture with all the change. One example of this is the Goodman League, a basketball tournament that happens in the neighborhood every year. “People have a good time, barbequing, sitting in lawn chairs. There are no beefs on the court.” The basketball courts where this happen will remain untouched.

While Smyser was convinced this upgrade will benefit the community, one conference attendee seemed equally as convinced that with the District’s multimillion dollar investment, the city will simply be opening the neighborhood to opportunistic developers and further gentrification. Word is still out on how this urban redevelopment story will play out.

Hazel Edwards, a professor of planning at Catholic University, outlined some examples of successful revitalization without gentrification in other parts of the U.S. She pointed to Melrose Commons in South Bronx, where a group of local residents banded together in the early 1990s into a group called Nos Quedamos (We Stay) and fought back New York City government’s imposed urban renewal plan. With the help of an altruistic architect, Nos Quedamos forged their own urban design that respected the community’s unique cultural heritage. The plan and design resulted in 2,000 units of affordable housing. “There was no displacement in the community.”

In Portland, Oregon, Edwards told us about a project called Cully Main Street plan, which helped preserve one the most diverse neighborhoods in Portland, with some 40-50 percent people of color. They devised a plan to equitably bring in commercial activity to their main street while accommodating an influx of new white homeowners and preserving the neighborhood diversity.

Edwards said the key to revitalization without gentrification is “bringing residents and the community to the table often and at the beginning.” This kind of public planning process requires a great investment of time and resources by city governments, but without this investment, the only result may be inequitable, developer-led urban revitalization. “Cities have to form diverse, inclusive partnerships, foster openness, and collaborate on goals and outcomes.”

Quoting the urban leader and author, Kaid Benfield, she said, “we have to work towards a balanced solution,” and also track our progress to see whether we are living up to our goals.

Along Norway’s Tourist Route, Landscape Architecture Expands Our Narrow Focus

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Stegastein / Johanna Hoffman

Regardless of how beautiful or strange a landscape is, we’ve all done it. After the initial shock of a cliff’s craggy façade or the undulating, raw rubble of lava rock flows wears off, we’ve been lulled into sensory complacency. Amazement only lasts for so long: being stunned becomes the norm.

This is why the 120 designed projects along Norway’s National Tourist Route are so significant. They are the result of a multi-decade investment of nearly $400 million by the Norwegian government to enhance overlooks, picnic areas, and rest stops along its scenic highways. Together, theses projects exemplify design’s power to highlight nature.

A result of our hunter-gatherer heritage, we humans are good at maintaining a narrow focus. Through different creative media – film, dance – we have developed ways to compensate. Filmmakers regularly use music to highlight the feeling of a character or the insight of a narrative moment. Musicians employ lighting during live performances to cue audiences to shifts in mood. Designers of Norway’s tourist routes show how landscape architecture can do the same for our appreciation of landscapes, expanding our narrow focus.

In Stegastein (see image at top), which was created in 2006 by Todd Saunders and Tommie Wihelmsen, laminated wood contrasts with the surrounding forested hillside in color and form, reinterpreting the steep movements of the region’s hillsides.

In Storseisundet Bridge, which was completed in 1989, the rising section of the scenic highway crafts a line against the jagged outcrops of the surrounding fjord. The contrast highlights the intense sinuosity of the Norwegian shore.

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Atlantic Road Bridge / Johanna Hoffman

Other projects use design to accentuate landscape dynamics otherwise difficult to identify.

For example, in Vedahaugane, completed in 2010 by L. J. Berge and Z. Jelnikar, the designers reveal complexity in the simple — both in the path’s design and the surrounding landscape — by using curved benches.

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Vedahaugane / Johanna Hoffman

And in Sohlbergplassen, created in 2005 by Carl-Viggo Hølmebakk, the exuberance of the curves coupled with the linear nature of the concrete formwork highlight the tightness of the forest groves and dappled light falling through the trees.

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Sohlbergplassen / Johanna Hoffman

And then there are designs that use framing devices to enable new ways of relating to the space.

Gudbrandsjuvet, which was created in 2007 by Jensen & Skodvin, is a CorTen steel walkway that crisscrosses a canyon carved by a gushing waterfall, cultivating a sense of both spaciousness and fragility where there otherwise would be none. Designed to sway with use, the walkway one traverses has a sense delicacy, creating a new sense of vulnerability for visitors to the waterfall.

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Gudbrandsjuvet / Johanna Hoffman

And lastly, at Trollstigen, which was designed by Reiulf Ramstad Architects in 2010, a cliff overlooks a cascading waterfall and deep valley. The handrails and benches on the steep rock outcrops make seemingly dangerous areas approachable.

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Trollsteigen / Johanna Hoffman

The main viewing platform provides spaces for both refuge and spectacle and prospect. The combination of these moments tells us extreme outdoor spaces are places to be appreciated rather than feared.

This guest post is by Johanna Hoffman, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture Graduate, University of California – Berkeley, College of Environmental Design. 

Pressure Builds on World Leaders to Act on Climate Change

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In the wake of the world’s largest global protest on climate change — with some 300,000 people marching in New York City and another 300,000 more marching in 2,000 locations across the world this past weekend, 120 world leaders met at the United Nations in an effort to build political momentum for a legally-binding global agreement on climate change next year in Paris. The meeting was the first large-scale meeting of world leaders on climate change in five years. The meeting occurs amid new reports that carbon dioxide emissions are at their highest levels yet, with 2.3 percent growth in emissions this past year, and the world is at its hottest since global temperatures have been recorded.

The UN summit may have raised pressure on countries to act, particularly China, which has long stated that it will move on climate change once the United States does. Well, the U.S. has acted, with President Obama moving to curtail emissions from coal power plants and taking other measures in order to reduce emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and make “further ambitious cuts by 2050,” reports the The New York Times. In response, a representative from China, whose leader, Xi Jinping, decided not to attend, said China will reduce its carbon intensity by 40 percent by 2050. The Guardian quotes Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli, who said: “As a responsible major developing country, China will make an even greater effort to address climate change and take on international responsibilities that are commensurate with our national conditions.”

Former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore said the meeting was a “net positive.” “There is no question that a considerable amount of momentum was generated here. I think it was a tremendous boost to the whole movement that is towards the Paris agreement.”

Some European countries agreed to support the efforts of developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change. France, which will host the big climate negotiations, announced $1 billion for a global climate change fund. South Korea and Switzerland pledged $100 million and other countries also agreed to contribute $100 million. Last year, Germany committed $1 billion as well. Critics say the $2.3 billion in commitments falls far short of the $15-20 billion needed.

Much of the heavy lifting on climate change will be done at the local levels. News on that front was promising. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new plan to cut his city’s emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Boston, San Francisco, and Stockholm have made similar pledges. If only all the world’s other cities, which account for 70 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions, follow suit. There were also agreements among companies and non-profits to change business as usual. The Guardian reports that “more than 400 companies from 60 countries all signed on to support putting a price on carbon.” Furthermore, in two particularly environmentally damaging sectors — palm oil and paper manufacturing — some of the biggest firms agreed to stop “destructive logging by 2030, and restore an area of forest equivalent to the size of India.”

However, criticism abounded about the lack of concrete commitments among the world leaders. The Elders, a group of esteemed wise men and women from around the world, who even put out a full-page ad in The New York Times to support the global climate marches, were dismissive of the usual talk. One of The Elders, Graça Machel, the widow of Nelson Mandela, said in her speech at the UN: “There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today. The scale is much more than we have achieved.” Of the protesters, she said: “can we genuinely say we are going to preserve their lives, and ensure their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren inherit a planet which is safe and sustainable?”

Jaime Lerner’s Urban Acupuncture

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Urban Acupuncture / Island Press

Jaime Lerner, one of the most influential urban leaders of our time, has written down all of his hard-earned wisdom about the city in one slim yet rich volume, Urban Acupuncture: Celebrating Pinpricks of Change that Enrich City Life. This set of musings, a translation of the original Brazilian Portuguese book, pulls you in with its natural, intimate tone; it’s like you are sitting and having a conversation with Lerner over a glass of wine in a cafe. Lerner is an architect and urban designer who became mayor of the Brazilian city Curitiba, where he famously brought his practical yet innovative thinking to solve some tricky urban challenges. Along the way, he created bus rapid transit, devising a low-cost alternative to subway systems for developing world cities — and now increasingly, developed world ones, too. He came up with smart ways to clean up Curitiba’s bay, partnering with local fisherman in trash collection. He turned down the World Bank, with its offer of millions in loans, to find sustainable, home-grown solutions. With his many smart alternatives, he showed other cities how to do it right, themselves.

Lerner organizes his thoughts on the city through one central theme: urban acupuncture. He writes: “I have always nurtured the dream and hope that with the prick of a needle, diseases may be cured. The notion of restoring the vital signs of an ailing spot with a simple healing touch has everything to do with revitalizing not only that specific place but also the entire area that surrounds it.” He says “good medicine” depends on a good relationship between doctor and patient. In the same way, a healthy city depends on a good relationship between urban planners and designers and the city itself, another kind of living organism. Good urban planning can awaken a city to new possibilities, creating new life. But he cautions that it’s a process. Like medical acupuncture, which is rooted in an ancient Chinese medical philosophy that calls for a sustained, long-term preventive care, urban acupuncture takes time to create cures.

What are examples of healing urban acupuncture? Lerner has traveled all over the world, carefully examining all types of pinpricks to determine their impact. These pinpricks can be buildings — like Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao but also landscapes, like the Park Guell, one of Gaudi’s masterpieces, in Barcelona.

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Bilbao Guggenheim / Karie and Scott blog
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Park Guell, Barcelona / Share the City

Size doesn’t really matter, either. “You can feel it at work in the smallest venues, like Paley Park in New York.”

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Paley Park, New York City / Wikipedia

Undoing previous damage to our urban landscape is another form of healing acupuncture. For example, taking out San Francisco freeway helped revitalize that city.

Lerner presents deceptively simple stories that reveal deeper wisdom about what makes good urban life. Brief case studies are just long enough to get you thinking in a new way. Most succeed. In one vignette, he writes: “I often say that New York should build a monument to the Unknown 24-hour Shopkeeper. This industrious group — many of them immigrants from Korea — has done the city an extraordinary service merely by keeping its grocery stores and sidewalk delicatessens open around the clock. These shops not only offer infinite shelves of merchandise but also enliven whole neighborhoods by literally lighting up countless dreary street corners.” He calls these shop owners the city’s “true lifeblood,” as they “pump oxygen into cities that must never be allowed to stop breathing.”

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Deli in NYC / Gawker

In the same vein, “street peddlers represent an institution as old as the city itself. Think of open-air markets. At a given hour, in a given neighborhood, street merchants go to work — often hours before the lights go on in traditional storefronts — and then vanish along with their wares and jerry-built booths, leaving hardly a trace.” Commerce is then kept alive day and night, which also makes streets feel safer.

Acupuncture need not be physical; it can be sensory, too, like music. “Think of Rio and you are likely to start humming ‘Copacabana,’ ‘Corcovado,’ ‘Girl from Ipanema,’ or ‘Cidade Maravilhosa.” Lerner says every city should aspire to have a song. “When a distinct song or beat takes hold of a city’s or country’s identity, then good acupuncture is at work. It has echoes in everyday living, like improvised tapping on a matchbox at a street bar in Rio, the beat of drum on the sidewalk in Bahia, or hip-hop gushing from giant boom boxes in the streets of New York.” Does your city have a song everyone knows? If not, why not?

He also points out where cities have gone astray and offers his take on how to fix these problems, using simple, common sense steps. For example, in Santiago de Cali, Colombia, he decries the destruction of the city’s identity amid “outsized avenues.” “Just to cross them, you’ll find yourself huffing up and over suspended pedestrian bridges.” Here, he argues, “good acupuncture means building things smaller and stepping aside to give way to the simple beauties of nature, like the handsome river or the caressing wind.” Those big avenues break up street life, creating tears in the urban fabric.

Gaps in the city can also kill street life. For Lerner, so many urban problems are caused by a “lack of continuity.” He points to a sad “city pocked with lifeless suburbs or tracts of urban real estate devoid of housing.” These places are just as skewed as those with “abandoned lots and ramshackle buildings.” Cities must fill in these voids, even with temporary structures. One of his strongest statements: “continuity is life.”

While he touches on so much, Lerner’s message seems to be healthy street life is central to the city. Without it, the city dies. He argues: “good acupuncture is about drawing people out to the streets and creating meeting places. Mainly, it is about helping the city become a catalyst of interactions between people.” And so, “the more cities are understood to be the integration of functions — bringing together rich and poor, the elderly and the young — the more meeting places they will create and the livelier they will become.” Here, the role of landscape architects can’t be understated. “The design of public space is important.” He goes into detail about what kinds of parks, plazas, and squares work best.

My only minor complaint with this insightful book is the sometimes mismatched text and images. We want to see the scenes Lerner gushes over. While some images speak to the scenes described in the book, some don’t. A more careful approach to images and layout would have further strengthened one of the most intriguing recent books on the city.

Read the book and an ASLA interview with Lerner.

Inventive New Designs for D.C.’s 11th Street Bridge Park

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11th Street Bridge Park Final Design Proposal / Balmori Associates / Cooper, Robertson & Partners

Six months ago, an exciting national design competition was launched for the 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, D.C. Expected to cost upwards of $40 million, the new bridge park will run 900 feet over the foundation of an old freeway spanning the Anacostia River, connecting historic Capitol Hill and Anacostia neighborhoods and creating a new venue for “healthy recreation, environmental education, and the arts.” The organizers say this new park will benefit 80,000 people in the immediate neighborhoods and hundreds of thousands more throughout the district. It may also help boost efforts to further clean-up the sewage-filled Anacostia River, which is still unsafe to swim in, and restore more of the moribund river ecosystem.

Four design teams comprised of landscape architects, architects, and engineers have spent all summer creating new visions for this park, which will displayed publicly in multiple locations in the district over the next month. The four teams selected by the jury include:

  • Balmori Associates / Cooper, Robertson & Partners
  • OLIN / OMA
  • Stoss Landscape Urbanism / Höweler + Yoon Architecture
  • Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) / NEXT Architects / Magnusson Klemencic Associates

Scott Kratz, 11th Street Bridge Park Director, whose dedication is really what’s making this amazing park happen, said: “The variety among the different renderings is really quite remarkable. With these stunning and thoughtful designs, each team transformed community-inspired ideas into a Bridge Park that will quickly become a destination for residents and tourists alike.”

The designs propose creative solutions for solving tricky access problems. They all enable a mix of uses as well, with informal lawns and gathering spaces, restaurants, amphitheaters for events or concerts, playgrounds, and opportunities to just be immersed in the Anacostia River environment, which is slowly being restored. Each proposal also extends the experience past the bridge into the surrounding riverfronts, creating extensive parks, boardwalks, and boating facilities.

Here are brief accounts of each of the original proposals; titles link to the full exhibition boards:

Balmori Associates / Cooper, Robertson & Partners (see image above)

Balmori Associates and Cooper, Robertson & Partners aim to create a bridge park with a “clasp” at the center, one swelling biomorphic form that mirrors rounded shapes on either river bank. There are many reasons behind this form: “First and foremost, it creates a grand place where diverse communities can unite above the river and celebrate their shared interests. Second, its width creates the capacity to host great events and everyday life experiences simultaneously. Third, maximizing the distance that people can get from the existing 11th Street Bridge allows people to more fully engage and experience the edge of Bridge Park and the Anacostia River.”

Parts of the bridge would be open “apertures,” enabling people on the bridge a close-up view of the Anacostia River below. This design offers a new look at the local ecosystem, perhaps even an immersion in riparian nature. There are well thought-out connections between the proposed nature experience on the bridge and the surrounding communities as well.

OLIN / OMA

The OLIN and OMA team write: “Paths from each side of the river operate as springboards — sloped ramps that elevate visitors to look-out points to landmarks in either direction. Extending over the river, the Anacostia paths join to form a loop, embracing the path from the Navy Yard side and linking the opposing banks in a single gesture. The resulting form of the bridge creates an iconic encounter, an ‘X’ instantly recognizable as a new image for the river.”

Along the X-shaped park are a series of rectilinear rooms that separate out uses — from an amphitheater and public art park, to a restaurant and educational center. This team creates multiple levels, with an added upper deck where they propose an eye-catching waterfall. There is also a careful integration between the bridge and surrounding areas, with multiple human-scale paths leading from the riverfront on either side.

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11th Street Bridge Park Final Design Proposal / OLIN and OMA

Stoss Landscape Urbanism / Höweler + Yoon Architecture

Stoss Landscape Urbanism and Höweler + Yoon Architecture write: “Our proposal for the 11th Street Bridge Park puts in place a new crossing, one that establishes new connections across and to the Anacostia River and to the burgeoning and socially / culturally rich neighborhoods along its banks. The Crossing is a new place of convergence, of congregation, of cross-breeding. It is an incubator for social and community and civic life, and a model for building healthy bodies, healthy neighborhoods, and a healthy river environment.”

Their proposal offers a “flexible, adaptive” approach, with opportunities for healthy exercise and even food production spread throughout the new infrastructure. Their proposal has fewer defined zones; everything is mixed. This team makes a point of saying their proposal could be re-arranged depending on community input. Along the pier they propose new floating gardens accessible via angular decks that jut out into the Anacostia.

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11th Street Bridge Park Final Design Proposal / Stoss Landscape Urbanism / Höweler + Yoon Architecture

Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) / NEXT Architects / Magnusson Klemencic Associates

Lastly, the WRT, Next, and Magnuson Klemencic team writes: “Anacostia Landing is the operative term that encapsulates the project goals. We take it to mean a great river park with a standout bridge, a place so distinctive that people will simply say “let’s go to the Anacostia!” anticipating hours of play, relaxation, eating, boating, learning about history, ecology and health; and otherwise enjoying art, theater, music, and performances on both sides of the river, gathering above it, or floating on its waters.”

They propose creating a “spiral and a funnel,” which will shape the structure of their bridge park and how visitors will access it. On one side, visitors will access the elevated park through a spiral staircase, taking them up into the upper decks. They will then move through the funnel into the expansive park, which offers lawns, an amphitheater, and a “fountain square” designed for kids. At the waterfront, they propose “curated ecologies,” with mussel beds to explore.

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11th Street Bridge Park Final Design Proposal / Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) / NEXT Architects / Magnusson Klemencic Associates

Learn more about the final designs and then submit your vote, which will help the judges. The winning team will be announced on October 16.

5 x 5: A Powerful Commentary on Gentrification in Washington, D.C.

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Glenn Kaino’s Bridge / Jared Green

The Washington, D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities just seriously upped their game with their latest city-wide temporary public art project called 5 x 5. Five curators brought 25 artists’ site-specific installations to all 8 wards. Each piece we toured highlights an aspect of the District’s changing identity in the face of rampant redevelopment and gentrification. Many pieces make a combative, political point, wading into some of the most troubling issues in the city, while others offered more nuanced stories, but still aim to strike a chord.

Underlying all of it was a genuine effort to bring compelling pieces to all D.C. residents. As Sarah Massey, who was doing outreach for the commission, explained, “this whole project is a dialogue between the monumental core of the city — where all the tourists go — and the actual district, where people live. Do people who live in Anacostia go to the monumental core? We don’t know. The commission wanted to bring art to where people live.”

We start at the Navy Yard, which has gone from being the site of abandoned armaments factories and strip clubs to one for high-end condos, restaurants, and a hipster-loving trapeze school in less than a decade. Many of the old naval buildings have been taken over by new restaurants, but one that has yet to be turned, a gorgeous empty shell of a building, is now the temporary home of Glenn Kaino’s magnificent Bridge (see image above). Kaino’s work overwhelms on first sight, appearing to be a hundred-foot-long dinosaur spine hanging from the ceiling. But it’s actually a bridge, made up of 200 unique slats. Each slat is a cast of athlete Tommie Smith’s arm, with a clenched fist at the end. Smith made his famous Black Power fist at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where he won a gold medal. For this political act, Smith was expelled from the games.

Kaino writes that the use of extended arm and fist was long a political symbol before it was appropriated by Black Power activists, and its meaning has since evolved, given our ever-shifting understanding. The bridge is then meant to show this path of a “revised, formed, and remitted cultural narrative.” Smith seems to reflect that changing narrative himself. When I asked him what the Kaino’s piece said about black power in the District today, he replied, “Well, I didn’t actually make the Black Power sign. I was showing solidarity with all the world’s repressed people. It was a sign of freedom.”

As we move to Anacostia, we learn about a series of billboards that match African American male poets and visual artists to create site-specific billboards around the city called Ceremonies of Dark Men. As curator A.M. Weaver explains, “D.C. used to be the Chocolate City, but it isn’t anymore. We need a new way of looking at the black male figure. We want to re-assert this figure in a changing community, with all the hipsters coming in.” Weaver picked highly visible spots in every quadrant and augmented the billboards with apps that have video slideshows. She said each juxtaposition between image and text was carefully curated.

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Ceremonies of Dark Men / Jared Green

Heading towards the Southwest Waterfront Metro stop, we are confronted with a group of five pieces in what was empty grassy space next to a D.C. government office building. There, curator Lance Fung, who was behind the ambitious Artlantic project in Atlantic City, New Jersey, explained his Nonuments public arts exhibit. Fung said with the help of the “best neighborhood” and local partner, Washington Project for the Arts, “the community now has a temporary art park.” He made a point of saying “we didn’t phone in these works of art; they all came out of the soil of this place.”

To lay the foundation for this art park, artist Peter Hutchinson threw a rope and plotted natural material along its path — in this case, 33 trees.

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Peter Hutchinson Thrown Rope / Sarah Massey

Four other works seem to orbit this central work. One is Migration, a set of otherworldly “nests” by artist Cameron Hockenson, who explains: “these nests are much like neighborhoods now on the move, embracing, adapting, or resisting forces of gentrification now sweeping the city.”

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Migration / Jared Green

There’s also Portrait Garden by Jennifer Wen Ma, a painter who magnified a picture of a local resident, chosen at random through a lottery, into a large-scale portrait through an unusual material: ink-stained plants. Ma wants to honor the “unsung heroes of daily life with plants that, like every life form, are under daily stress.”

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Portrait Garden / Jared Green

But here, Ma has added extreme stress, coating the plant’s leaves in ink, like they are rice paper in a Chinese brush painting. Ma explained that this was part of the meaning of her work. The plants, like people, will either succumb to or overcome their challenges. I expressed concern for the plants, but she said, “they prove to be amazingly resilient. The same plant can come back year after year. They will survive if they are watered.”

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Portrait Garden / Jared Green

And the most arresting piece was Peep by artist Jonathan Fung, which aims to use art to increase awareness of human trafficking, a dark undercurrent of humanity that also runs through the District. Fung told me that there are now more people enslaved at any point in human history, more than 30 million, and the district is a hub for this activity. In his piece, a shipping container, which is a common means of transporting trafficking victims, is painted bright pink, like something that would appeal to a child. This is because vulnerable foster children or young adults in this country — and around the world — are often the targets of trafficking, lured by people pretending to be their friends. Fung said the piece represents “stolen innocence, lost childhoods.”

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Peep / Jared Green

Inside Peep are rows of sewing machines and a recording playing their droning music. Fung said, “it’s about the commodification of people.” Being in there working on the piece, Fung said he also now understood why so many trafficked people don’t make it on their long journeys: The shipping containers are unbearably hot. (Learn more about human trafficking in Fung’s film, Hark, or this TED talk).

Many more pieces not covered here are on view until December. Learn more at 5 x 5.

ASLA Launches Guide to Green Infrastructure

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ASLA 2012 General Design Award of Excellence. A Green Sponge for a Water-Resilient City: Qunli Stormwater Park. Haerbin City, Heilongjiang Province, China. Turenscape and Peking University, Beijing

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has launched a guide to explain the many benefits of “green infrastructure” — designed systems that harness nature to create proven benefits for communities and the environment.

Green infrastructure includes park systems, urban forests, wildlife habitat and corridors, and green roofs and green walls. These infrastructure systems protect communities against flooding or excessive heat, or help to improve air and water quality, which underpin human and environmental health.

The idea that nature is also infrastructure isn’t new, but it’s now more widely understood to be true, according to Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA. Researchers are amassing a body of evidence to prove that green infrastructure actually works: these systems are often more cost-effective than outmoded models of grey infrastructure—a term used for the concrete tunnels created to move water—and also provide far more benefits for both people and the environment.

“At all scales, green infrastructure provides real ecological, economic, and social benefits,” added Somerville. “Cities need as much green infrastructure as possible, and landscape architects are implementing it in communities across the country.”

Here are just some of the many benefits that these systems provide all at once: green infrastructure absorbs and sequesters atmospheric carbon dioxide (C02); filters air and water pollutants; stabilizes soil to prevent or reduce erosion; provides wildlife habitat; decreases solar heat gain; lowers the public cost of stormwater management infrastructure and provides flood control; and reduces energy usage through passive heating and cooling. In contrast, grey infrastructure usually provides just a single benefit.

The guide, part of ASLA’s series of sustainable design resource guides and toolkits, includes hundreds of research studies by leading scientists, news articles, and case studies on innovative uses of green infrastructure.

Resources are organized into seven sections that go from large scale (the region, the city) to the small scale (constructed wetlands, green streets, and green roofs and walls). Specifically, there are sections on forests & nature preserves; wildlife habitat & corridors; cities; constructed wetlands; green streets; and green roofs & walls. There are descriptions of the many types of green infrastructure, their quantifiable benefits, and the role of landscape architects in creating these systems.

For example, in the section on cities, there are two powerful examples showing the benefits of green infrastructure:

In Philadelphia, a comprehensive green infrastructure approach is estimated to cost just $1.2 billion over the next 25 years, compared to over $6 billion for “grey” infrastructure. The city is expecting up to 1.5 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emission to be avoided or absorbed through green infrastructure each year, the equivalent of removing close to 3,400 vehicles from roadways. The city estimates 20 deaths due to asthma will be avoided, and 250 fewer work or school days will be missed. Lastly, the economic benefits are also outstanding: the new greenery will increase property values by $390 million over 45 years, also boosting the property taxes the city takes in.

New York City’s green infrastructure plan is projected to cost $1.5 billion less than a comparable grey infrastructure approach. Green stormwater management systems alone will save $1 billion, at a cost of about $0.15 less per gallon. Also, sustainability benefits in NYC range from $139-418 million over the 20 year life of the project, depending on measures implemented. The plan estimates that “every fully vegetated acre of green infrastructure would provide total annual benefits of $8.5 in reduced energy demand, $166 in reduced CO2 emissions, $1,044 in improved air quality, and $4,725 in increased property value.”

Landscape architects were deeply involved in the creation and management of these visionary plans. Many more contribute to making these plans a reality by planning and designing urban forests, parks, and green roofs and walls.

Explore the guide.

This guide is a living resource, so the public is invited to submit additional research studies, news articles, and case studies. Please e-mail them to ASLA at info@asla.org