This past month, the American Society of Landscape Architects joined World Landscape Architecture Month (WLAM), a global effort to raise awareness of the profession. During this time, our members took nearly 4,000 pictures of landscape architect-designed spaces with our “Designed by a Landscape Architect” card and posted them to social media using #WLAM2015.
These posts reached nearly 3 million people and showed how landscape architects can effectively use social media, harnessing its inherently visual nature.
The pictures featured some instantly recognizable, iconic landscapes.
But also some favorite local projects, too.
WLAM was also an opportunity to show all stages of design.
Americans weren’t the only ones involved: Landscape architects from more than 30 countries participated in the campaign, often using the cards we created in 13 languages.
Both future and veteran landscape architects were involved in the campaign, connecting multiple generations.
World Landscape Architecture Month helped raise the visibility of landscape architecture on a global level. The “Designed by a Landscape Architect” cards helps the public understand many of the places they use and love everyday are actually designed by someone. The campaign was so successful ASLA is continuing it past April in order to continually promote the work of its members and landscape architecture around the world.
The senior population is growing. By 2050, a third of the U.S. will be 65 and older. The World Health Organization, AARP, and other organizations have called for more age-friendly communities, with parks and open space that offer what seniors needs to feel safe, but not enough are heeding their call. One question that came up in a session at the American Planning Association (APA) conference in Seattle is whether future parks need to be designed to be inter-generational, or designed specifically for the elderly. Two academics and a landscape architect argued the research shows seniors do better when they are around all age groups, but they need specific things to feel safe and comfortable in parks and other open spaces. If they don’t have them, they are far less likely to venture into these places.
Lia Marshall, a PhD student at the Luskin School of Public Health, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), said older adults have a preference for “aging in place,” meaning staying in their community. They need independence. This group — like any other broad category — is amazingly diverse, both socially and culturally. Walking is their most common physical activity, so “distance to the park affects use.” But many older people are also at the risk of isolation, which can result in mental health problems. This group is also among the least active, which can also lead to physical health issues.
Parks are too often created for children or able-bodied adults. But they can be designed with a set of aging principles. Through a set of 8 focus groups conducted with elderly about their park use in Los Angeles, Marshall found that they all share “an enjoyment of natural beauty, with an appreciation for tranquility, plants, and fresh air.” Being in a park encouraged social interactions, which led to more physical activity. “Group activities — like Tai Chi in the park — lead to friendships and more exercise.”
But the elderly polled were also fearful, with their greatest fear being falling. “Breaking a hip can mean losing their homes and moving into a retirement facility.” For them, other primary threats were “disrespect by younger generation, robbery, drugs, and crime.” Environmental threats include: “uneven ground surfaces, trash caused by the homeless, a lack of visibility with walking paths, a lack of shade, and excess heat or cold.” Those with canes, walkers, and wheelchairs feel even more vulnerable outdoors. Marshall pointed to a park right next to a senior center in Los Angeles that wasn’t used by the elderly because “gang members are there.” Overall, “seniors are afraid of their communities but also want to be involved.”
Improve control: Provide orientation and way finding with large, visible fonts. “The park layout needs to be legible.” Signs should be 54 inches off the ground or lower, so people in wheelchairs can also see them.
Offer greater choice: “Everyone values options, such as passive or active recreation, sun or shade, single or multiple seating. Chairs should be movable.” Brozen emphasized that the group older than 65 is incredibly diverse, from “not old to advanced dementia,” so they have different needs.
Create a Sense of Security: “There should be shade but not too much so it feels enclosed.” Parks should enable “eyes on the street.” Isolated areas need good maintenance. Sidewalks should be wide and smooth. Check spaces between paved and unpaved areas to make sure there aren’t spots where a cane or wheelchair can get caught.
Accessibility: If a park is a good distance from a senior facility, add benches along the way so there are place to stop. Parks should have no more than a 2 percent grade for those in wheelchairs.
Social support: Design should facilitate interaction. Parks can feature bulletin boards, outdoor reading rooms, sculptures and fountains that help start conversations.
Physical activity: Parks should also feature mile markers for encouragement. “These kinds of things are low impact, high benefit.” Exercise machines should be under shaded areas.
Privacy: Use buffer plants to reduce street noise.
Nature: Bring in water features, which are relaxing and beautiful. Make sure they are wheelchair accessible. And lastly, parks should highlight natural beauty.
For Portland-based landscape architect Brian Bainnson, ASLA, Quatrefoil Inc, and ASLA Oregon Chapter Trustee, there is even more that can be done, beyond A.D.A. requirements — and, really, the guidelines listed above. “ADA is really just the bare minimum. It leaves out so many users.” Bainnson said when designing for seniors, “you are really designing for everyone, but there are other hazards you have to be aware of.” For example, contemporary parks often feature these sleek, backless, armless benches that are essentially useless for the elderly. “Without an armrest, they can’t lower themselves into the bench or get out of it, so they just won’t use it.”
Bainnson recommended the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) guidelines, which call for “scheduled, programed activities that create park use; access ramps; raised beds; a profusion of plant-people interactions; and benign and supportive conditions.”
Plants should appeal in all four seasons. Park and garden designers need to be aware of wind direction and the sun path to create both wind-free and shaded areas. He added that designers must reduce sharp differences between light and dark. “Hip fractures from falling can occur as the elderly navigate the transition from deep shadow to bright light. They think it’s a step and they can trip up. There should be a middle ground, a transition zone.”
Bainnson has designed more than 20 therapeutic landscapes, including the Portland Memory Garden and parts of the Legacy Emanuel Children’s Garden. The Portland Memory Garden, which is designed for users with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia as well as well as their care-givers and families, is an enclosed loop, with a central entrance and exit, which is not only soothing to those suffering from dementia but ensures they don’t wander off.
The single entrance and exit means nurses or family members can also keep an eye out from a central place. Built in 2002 with $750,000 in privately-raised funds, the Memory Garden has “no dead ends or choices. You just follow the curve.” Concrete pathways are tinted to reduce glare. Their outer edges have a different color. Raised curbs on the edge of the sidewalks help ensure users don’t fall into the lawns. Bathrooms are extra large in case nurses or family members need to go in with someone in their care.
For true open spaces, seniors also have special needs. Bainnson is now working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on national wildlife refuges near Portland to make them more accessible to seniors, by putting in trails, accessible paths, and readable signs. He said they may not be able to access the whole system — as the city wants to keep the trails as natural as possible — but these steps will make it easier.
Marshall, Brozen, and Bainnson all made the case: consider seniors when designing public spaces. Why exclude? “What works for seniors will work for everyone.” These spaces will also work for all those people with any other cognitive or physical challenge, like veterans dealing with PTSD, people with prosthetic legs, or anyone in a wheelchair.
Urban growth boundaries are held up as one of the most effective tools for limiting sprawl. But do they actually constrain unplanned development? Three urban growth boundaries — in the metropolitan region of Portland, Oregon; King County, Washington; and the metropolitan area of Denver, Colorado — were examined in a session at the American Planning Association (APA) conference in Seattle. A few interesting points came out of the discussion: growth boundaries are flexible and constantly being renegotiated. When they succeed, it’s because there is widespread political support for limiting growth and directing it to urban centers. Redevelopment and infill development in the cores relieve pressure on the outer boundaries, and offering incentives to those outside the boundary to limit development can work.
Portland’s Bipartisan Boundary Holds
Ted Reid, a planner with Portland city government, explained how Oregon became the first state to adopt urban growth boundaries in 1973. “It was a rare moment of bipartisanship.” Governor Tom McCall, environmental groups, and farmers together persuaded legislators to pass Senate Bill 100, with the goal of protecting Oregon’s natural splendor from sprawl. Every community then had to develop its own long-range plan for managing growth, with the Portland area creating its urban growth boundary in 1979. Since then, the population of the Portland metro area has grown 60 percent, while the urban growth boundary has expanded just 14 percent.
The organizational structure to administer the growth boundary was deliberately set up to distribute powers among multiple players. There’s a metro planning organization, which is a land-use planning authority; an elected Metro Council that oversees the growth boundary for the greater region; and three county governments, with 25 city governments within these units. Inside metro Portland’s boundary, there are 406 square miles, with 1.5 million people and 775,000 jobs. Outside the boundary, “there are 36 miles of urban reserve, which is suitable for further urbanization. If the area inside the boundary can’t reasonably accommodate development, the growth boundary can expand,” explained Reid. And it has expanded: 32,000 acres have been added, just in the 2000s. But then a 415-square-mile rural reserve around the city acts as a strict greenbelt to limit sprawl.
Portland’s 2040 growth concept designated urban centers, “where growth is supposed to happen.” And it has largely worked: “94 percent of growth has occurred in the original 1979-established zone. There has been tremendous activity in central Portland, with many changes in close-in locations.” For example, along North Mississippi Avenue, there was a complete overhaul in about 7 years, with transformational infill development. But, Reid also argued that some things have worked less well. Some of the tacked-on land that has expanded the boundary is still vacant. Land becomes open to development, but plans fall through. “Land readiness — not land supply — is our region’s biggest growth management challenge.”
Every 6 years, the Metro Council for the Portland area does a “range forecast, looking out 20 years.” Reid admitted that “some expectations for the future will be wrong. Things can go sideways.” But as of now, Portland’s city government expects to add 400,000 people, 200,000 homes, and 300,000 jobs in the next 20 years. “We anticipate 76 of growth will be in likely redevelopment areas.” For now, Portland is not expanding its boundary.
King County’s Smart Use of Transfer Development Rights
King County’s urban growth boundary is not a straight line, it zigs and zags, explained Karen Wolff, a senior planner with the King County government, which includes Seattle and 38 other cities. The county is the 13th largest in the U.S., with 2 million people in 2,100 square miles. It has a 460 square mile growth area. In 1964, the area created its first comprehensive plan, and in 1990, there was a bipartisan agreement that led to the growth management act, which down-zoned two-thirds of the county from development areas to rural land, agriculture, and forests. In 2008, the county adopted Vision 2040, which “redefined the urban growth boundary and rewrote county planning policies. The county is now responsible for the urban growth boundary.”
With the growth management act, there are now just three land uses — urban, rural, and resource. “No more suburban half-acre or 1-acre lots.” However, much of the pre-development suburbs were grandfathered in, and they continue in their current suburban form. From 1994 to 2004, there have been many changes to the urban growth boundary. “Some land was taken out of the boundary and turned into agricultural productivity areas,” while some areas that were designated rural have become urban parkland. To date, 98 percent of growth has been in the urban growth boundary though, with 86 percent in the cities. “We have maintained the acreage of the resource and rural lands.”
Like Portland, King County is directing development to urban centers. Cities decide how they are going to increase density. But “our green wall prevents expansion.” One way this green wall has held up is King County has allowed the transfer of development rights from rural areas to inside the growth boundary. This has provided some benefits to the farmers who wanted to redevelop their land. “It was a pressure release valve. Now there’s less demand to subdivide.” Farmers sell to the city center, creating a nexus, a relationship between the city and farms that has lasted. “Farmland is protected, the cities are a little denser, and now we have farmers markets.”
Wolff explained that King County’s success is rooted in widespread public concern about sprawl and local politicians who have listened, taking the “long view.” Geography has also helped — with bodies of water and mountains acting as natural boundaries. And preserving views of these natural wonders has also been a motivation. King County’s model has become the model for Washington State’s growth management act. But she added that “not everything is great: edge cities are looking to expand into green fields; there is growing pressure to expand from within the boundary out; and there are still some farmers who want to subdivide.”
Denver Uses Peer Pressure
According to Andy Taylor, a senior planner with Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), explained how 9 counties have come together to create a 980-square-mile urban growth boundary. His group is an “advisory regional planner” that helps facilitate regional consensus. In the 1990s, Denver was facing “increased traffic, loss of open space, reduced water supply that put our quality of life at risk.” To respond, in 1995, a metro vision was created, with a set of key principles and preferred scenarios. In 1997, that resulted in Plan 2020, and a urban growth boundary. This boundary wasn’t “mandated by the state or federal government; its voluntary, bottom-up.” One place where the counties discuss how development should occur is through DRCOG, which is comprised of elected officials from member governments who award allocations for development. Member jurisdictions then decide on how they will use those allocations. Staff of this organization track changes.
In 1997, at the start of the boundary, the Denver regional area boundary was 700 square miles, but over the years it has continued to grow. By 2002, it was up to 750 square miles. Then, the base changed and it jumped up to 971 square miles by 2007. In 2009, it reached 980 square miles. Counties use a “flexible approach, and can self-certify changes.” While Denver’s boundary seems to just continue to expand unabated, Taylor argues that there are success: from 2006 to 2014, density has increased 7 percent and 770 square miles of open space around communities has been protected.
“Peer pressure has led to tangible results. Nobody wants to be seen as a bad actor.” Counties adhere to the principles, but there are massive changes coming to the area that may put pressure on this voluntary system. Apartment vacancy rates are already at just 4.7 percent. “There is low home inventory.” A 50-mile rail system is coming online. By 2016, most of these lines will open, resulting in a 150 percent increase in the rapid transit system and a 175 percent increase in dense, mixed-use urban development.
Denver plans to continue to focus development in the region’s urban centers, with a majority of new housing coming in there. But an already limited water supply — Denver gets just 15 inches of rain per year — means there are broader existential issues. “The erosion of the water supply is a roadblock for developers. It puts a limit on growth.”