Green Spaces Make Kids Smarter– The Atlantic, 6/16/15
“Spending time in nature is correlated with better mental health, attention, and mood in both children and adults. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests green spaces can boost cognitive outcomes in children.”
How the City Handled the Flooded Riverwalk – Chicago Magazine, 6/16/15
“The designers in charge of the Riverwalk’s recreational transformation are privy to Chicago’s penchant for flash floods. Landscape architect Gina Ford said last October that the city’s unpredictable weather played a significant role in her team’s design.”
New Queens Quay a Redesign for Everyone– The Toronto Star, 6/21/15
“Perhaps for the first time, the city has built a thoroughfare for everyone. That means pedestrians, cyclists, skate boarders, roller bladers, babies in strollers, transit passengers, wheelchair users and, yes, drivers.”
Experience on the Water– The Architect’s Newspaper, 6/23/15
“Crowned by an inverted pyramid structure, the Pier of St. Petersburg, Florida, leads visitors on a long and narrow journey to the end and back. However, as it stands now, it stops short of providing much value outside of that.”
A New Playground in the Bronx Soaks Up the City’s Problematic Storm Water – The New York Times, 6/24/15
“The $1 million playground renovation was undertaken by the Trust for Public Land, a national conservation group, and the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, as part of a partnership to turn 40 asphalt-covered play spaces across the city into weapons against water pollution.”
Review: In ‘A Little Chaos,’ a Guileless Kate Winslet Offsets a Lavish Versailles– The New York Times, 6/25/15
“Into this jungle of obscene privilege arrives Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet), a sturdy, guileless everyday woman chosen by the king’s chief landscape architect, André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts), to design the Rockwork Grove, an outdoor arena-like ballroom of tiered steps through which water gushes as an unseen orchestra plays behind the shrubbery.”
A Landscape Architect’s Bridge to New Ideas– The Wall Street Journal, 6/30/15 “As president of the international landscape architecture firm EDSA, Doug Smith has worked in destinations as exotic as Egypt and as local as his home state of Florida.”
“We need solutions to the bee crisis,” said Laurie Davies Adams, head of the Pollinator Partnership, at a packed briefing on Capitol Hill, which was organized by her organization and the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). The honey bee crisis Adams is deeply worried about is caused by the spread of colony collapse disorder, which has decimated hives across the U.S. Scientists say a combination of stressors is killing off honey bees, including the loss of the habitat they need for foraging, the widespread use of agricultural pesticides and fungicides, and disease. Other critical pollinators, like native bees, monarch butterflies, and bats, face similar challenges. While the destruction of these species is a cause of concern in itself, it’s also causing real fears among many of country’s farmers who rely on honey bees to pollinate their crops, at a cost of billions every year.
President and First Lady Obama have a “personal interest” in fixing the problem, said Adams. President Obama launched an inter-departmental task force that led to a new national strategy for honeybees and other pollinators, which was just released a few weeks ago. Adams called this the “most comprehensive blueprint for conservation in the 21st century.” But she cautioned that the federal government alone can’t solve this problem: it will take state and local governments, non-profit community groups, farmers, businesses, and homeowners, too. In fact, a key part of the effort will be to get people with any type of property to step up, which is the goal of the newly-launched Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. As Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, CEO of ASLA, added, landscape architects and designers also play a key role in turning landscapes at all scales into healthy habitats. “Restoring habitat for pollinators can happen even in very small patches.”
At the briefing, Anne Kinsinger, U.S. Geological Survey and one of the leaders in the presidential task force, said the group successfully brought together the many departments that can help — defense, transportation, education, and the General Services Administration (GSA). This task force, together with Reps. Alcee Hastings and Jeff Denham, have pushed for the Highway BEE Act, which would transform 17 million acres around highway right-of-ways into habitat for pollinators. For example, Interstate 35, which runs from Mexico from Canada, could be planted with milkweed, providing a source of nutrients for Monarch butterflies all along their migratory route.
Rep. Denham, who spoke at the briefing, said it would be a way to “beautify the highways while also creating a transportation system that supports healthy pollinators.” As of writing this post, the Highway BEE Act has passed the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Next steps to make this law are getting the act through the full Senate and also moving it through the House of Representatives.
While the Highway BEE Act moves through the Hill, the national strategy has already made some important contributions. It pulled together 75 leading bee scientists to come up with a “research action plan.” There are now targets: reduce colony collapse disorder by 50 percent in 10 years. Increase Monarchs’ numbers from around 37 million today to 225 million in 5 years. Restore 7 million acres of pollinator habitat through public-private partnerships, to aid all kinds of pollinators. As Kinsinger explained, “you can’t separate European honey bees from the 4,000 native bees.” The GSA is also already revising its policies for 3,000 government facilities to include best-practice land management techniques.
Robert Sneickus, FASLA, national landscape architect with the USDA’s National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), which is charged with restoring vast public wildlife habitat, said pollinators are essential to 80 percent of flowering plants. In turn, the health of pollinators themselves are dependent on access to productive habitat. For Sneickus, what’s important is planting “winter cover crops” that will be green all winter so bees will have access to forage in all seasons as well as flowering annuals that come back year after year. Also, all types of landscapes should be planted for both pollinators and beauty. “If a landscape looks great, more people will want it.” He said landscape architects can create a “pollinator master plan” to restore even small patches and corridors as healthy, beautiful habitats.
And then John Chandler, a fourth-generation California farmer and agriculture advocate, explained how honey bees are crucial to his farm, which grows almonds, peaches, plums, and nectarines. As bees continue to die off, the cost per hive continues to go up, reaching about $200 these days. Each acre of almonds, explained Chandler, needs about two hives, so just for one growing season Chandler will spend $350 million to cover his entire 800,000-acre farm. “It’s the single largest check to payout.”
“What are we doing as an industry?”, wondered Chandler. Beginning in the 70s, Blue Diamond almonds started to finance advanced bee research and then created some pamphlets for farmers. There were some common sense ideas: When bees are out pollinating during the day, farmers shouldn’t be spraying chemical pesticides or fungicides. Farms now do that spraying at night when bees have gone home to their hives. During spraying, all water sources are also covered up so they aren’t contaminated. Chandler said “bees are like us, they want clean, fresh water.”
But, clearly, even more is needed to restore pollinators to health. According to the speakers, a key piece of the puzzle is bringing back nutritious forage wherever possible. Let’s start with better integrating forage opportunities along highways. With today’s problems, we can’t afford single-use infrastructure anymore; a highway for both cars and pollinators makes more sense. And farmers could be given greater incentives to set aside parts of their farmland as forage, a strategy the UK government has been using for some time. Communities can turn their own thoroughfares into pollinator pathways. Just about any strip will work, given many pollinators have a multiple-mile foraging range, and, as Adams, explained, “if you plant it, they will find it.”
During the early and mid-twentieth century, New York City constructed a massive transportation system, layering elevated highways, subway tracks, and rail lines to create the complicated web we are familiar with today. While this network has undoubtedly contributed to NYC’s physical and economic growth, it has also provided an untapped public asset: 700 miles of unused space (nearly four times the size of Central Park) beneath the city’s elevated transportation infrastructure.
In a comprehensive new report resulting from a two-year-long study, the Design Trust for Public Space and NYC Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) highlight sustainable ways to rethink these residual spaces. Addressing complex problems such as noise, safety, and lighting, the new study builds off of the success of the Design Trust’s 2002 study, Reclaiming the High Line (“the study that catalyzed efforts to save and reprogram the decommissioned rail line”). The result is a comprehensive document intended to inspire public and private investment in some of the city’s most neglected public spaces.
In an introductory essay that discusses New York’s elevated railways (or “els”), Thomas Campanella, an associate professor in Cornell University’s city and regional planning department, frames the importance of the study, stating: “The demesne of the elevated— I’ll call it “el-space” here— is neither tranquil nor serene, but it’s not without poetry. The root of its allure is the close juxtaposition of human life and heavy industrial infrastructure.”
In many ways, the elevated railroad is a relic of an age before zoning when people, especially the poor, were forced to live in hazardously close proximity to the factories where they worked. And while the els remains popular today — particularly in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx — Campanella claims that the fact that el-space “is almost universally described as dark and oppressive is an inaccurate cliché.” The quality of light beneath elevated tracks can be “exquisite” and the sense of enclosure created by the columns “yields an effect reminiscent of an avenue of mature trees … a kind of sturdy steampunk Elm Street.” Such sentiments are the first inklings of design inspiration the study provides.
Focusing in on elevated train lines rather than elevated highways, which are more relevant in other U.S. cities, the Design Trust for Public Space first assessed the inventory of existing el-space to identity opportunities and constraints. Surprisingly, these opportunities and constraints have largely remained unchanged since the 1960s when Jane Jacobs called attention to them in her seminal book, The Life and Death of Great American Cities. These physical structures divide low-incomes neighborhoods and produce noise, darkness, and dirt; on the other hand, the els have also brought people, commerce and cultural vibrancy to these areas. The call is the same now as it was then: Reconnect communities divided and affected by elevated infrastructure and turn these el-spaces into a positive resource.
So, in 2014, 146 year after the construction of the first el, is NYC any closer to reclaiming these spaces? The study explores the potential uses of el-spaces from site strategies to their associated policies, relying heavily on research and case studies from across the country to inspire designers, planners, and policymakers to action. The good news is that many of these spaces are already being reclaimed for a variety of public uses. Potential uses highlighted in the study include:
In Flushing, Queens, the Highway Outfall Landscape Detention (HOLD) System, invented by DLANDstudio, uses a low-cost, flexible, plant-based system to collect and filter stormwater from drainpipes on the elevated highways that run through Flushing Meadows Corona Park. This system absorbs and filters pollutants such as oil, heavy metals, and grease out of the water that drain off of the elevated highways, leading to cleaner runoff entering the city’s waterways. The system’s ability to retain water during heavy rain events also helps reduce flooding.
In 2002, the redesign of Queens Plaza was one of the first comprehensive el-space improvement projects in New York City. A group of designers and engineers was selected to transform Queens Plaza into Dutch Kills Green, a new park with well-lit green pathways in the heart of the Long Island City commercial district. In an article for Urban Omnibus, the project’s landscape architect, Margie Ruddick, ASLA, says that “rather than using a harsh, urban language, we tried to find a language through which lushness and beauty could coexist with the hard edge of infrastructure. The linear landscape of medians and streetscape meet in Dutch Kills Green, and this convergence, for me, challenges the notion of an urban park because its surroundings are so inhospitable. This juxtaposition would have seemed inappropriate several years ago. But these days it’s becoming more prevalent.”
In 2011, the New York City Economic Development Council (NYCEDC) and the City Council combined forces to modernize underutilized market space, add new retail space, and construct a kitchen incubator underneath the Park Avenue elevated train station between 115th and 116th Streets in El Barrio. Despite significant public investment in the area, “the new La Marqueta has struggled to attract visitors and retain retailers.” Yet just a block north of La Marqueta at 116th Street, salsa dancers have congregated under the tracks every Saturday evening in the summer months for years. In an attempt to revive the informal spirit the market once had, City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito launched La Marqueta Reto (La Marqueta Reblooms) in 2014, an initiative to bring street vendors, a farmers market, and other community events back into the space.
Before New Lots Triangle Plaza in East New York, Brooklyn, was completed in 2011, subway riders exited from the train onto a narrow sidewalk with minimal protection from oncoming traffic. NYC Department of Transportation worked with the New Lots Avenue Triangle Merchants Association to join an 800-foot traffic triangle with nearby sidewalks and the exit of the three elevated train lines to create a 3,800-square-foot public space that is protected from traffic by decorative planters. According to the NYC DOT, the plaza has made the area safer for pedestrians and created “an immediate impact on business by encouraging pedestrians to linger longer in the area and visit businesses, boosting the local economy.”
In a dense city like New York, residual spaces under elevated transportation infrastructure can no longer be an afterthought — and these spaces in NYC are only a small piece of the more than 7,000 miles available for reclamation in cities across the country. The Design Trust for Public Space report further emphasizes the need for adaptive reuse of these spaces, looking at the infrastructure that gets us from point a to point b and creating a much-needed public space as point c.
Several years ago ASLA created an animation to introduce people to the concept of reusing transportation infrastructure as public spaces, including underpass parks. The video, which is a part of Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes, a project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), can be viewed below:
We work in a small, but timely profession. Our potential to impact the neighborhoods, communities, and cities where we work is huge. Though landscape architecture professionals make up just a small fraction of the design field, ours is the work that is the first to be seen. Ours is the work that brings function and beauty to parks, plazas, campuses, institutions, and transportation corridors. Ours is a profession that blends the power of design with ecological principals and environmental justice. And because we are few and far between, we have to advocate for what we know.
The responsibility is on us to make our voices heard, not for our own betterment, but for the sake of our communities.
Public awareness is growing around a range of big issues, from humanity’s need for nature to improve our health, to watersheds, drought, and climate change. And yet, those in our profession most able to speak intelligently on these issues, to guide our communities towards thoughtful solutions, remain silent too often.
Those who fill the void may be knowledgeable in some respects, but often they simply have a good sound bite. The media won’t know to ask a landscape architect for a solution, suggestion, or comment if they don’t know what landscape architects can do. And most of them don’t.
We need to educate our media, politicians, and the public on the issues we care most about. In addition to keeping each other informed about lessons learned from the field, landscape architects need to write letters to the editor, speak at city council meetings and land-use committee meetings, and join non-profit boards and advisory groups. We need to present ideas to civic groups, garden clubs, and parent groups. And we’re not talking about advocating for the profession: we’re talking about advocating for our quality of life.
We urge you to:
Advocate for regionally and micro climate-appropriate design that minimizes resource use while maximizing benefits;
Speak out to conserve existing habitat and create new parks, wildlife habitats, and greenway corridors;
Call for nature playgrounds and natural systems in our schools, parks, and institutions to increase human access to nature and its physical, mental, and educational benefits;
Ask for more flexible policies to support rainwater capture, graywater reuse, and recycled water use and reduce unnecessary use of potable water;
Fight to ban plastic materials, such as bags, bottles, furnishings, and grass, to stop the incessant addition of toxins into our oceans and food chain;
Advocate for more transit and pedestrian and bicycle options and mixing land uses to cut our need for automobiles;
Specify local, non-toxic, reclaimed, and reclaimable natural materials;
Educate the public about the need to design with plants that provide food for pollinators and people.
Our firm is widely known in Los Angeles, and beyond, for being vocal. We go to public meetings about water conservation, school sites, citizen science, agriculture, forests, and the Los Angeles River. We go to lectures about climate change, drought, food deserts, park poverty, water quality, and environmental justice. We listen, form opinions, speak and write. We get our voices heard.
We might annoy you. And that’s okay. Because we believe we can make a difference in where we live and how we live to make a better future for all of us. And we hope you do, too.
This guest op-ed is by Mia Lehrer + Associates, an internationally-known, award-winning firm made up of landscape architects, urban designers, environmental planners, and a team of multidisciplinary designers based in Los Angeles. Read their recent op-ed in The Los Angeles Times.
In the past several years, small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike have said goodbye to suburban office parks and moved their headquarters back to city centers. Attempting to cater to a new generation of Millennial urbanites, this trend represents a “marked shift in the preferences of American companies,” who are now choosing to invest in more walkable locations, according to Core Values: Why American Companies are Moving Downtown, a new study by Smart Growth America.
The study, which was accompanied by kickoff panel discussion at the Newseum in Washington D.C., examines the motives and preferences of companies that have moved to more walkable downtown locations between 2010-2015. The launch event supplemented the study, hosting business and planning experts from cities across the country who discussed both sides of the issue: Why are companies choosing downtown locations? And how can cities create the kinds of places these companies seek?
In the late 1960s and 70s, companies across the country began leaving downtown cores for suburban office campuses. By 1996, on average, less than 16 percent of jobs were located within three miles of a traditional city center. In recent years, however, this trend is showing signs of reversing. According to the study, “between 2007 and 2011, job growth in city centers grew 0.5 percent annually on average, while the city peripheries lost jobs, shrinking 0.1 percent annually.” By 2013, 23 percent of jobs were located within 3 miles of a city’s downtown. While the majority of American jobs are still located outside of central business districts, businesses are slowly moving back to cities.
Why? Many companies are finding that downtown locations can help them better recruit employees, particularly Millennials, which are defined as people between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2015. According to Vishaan Chakrabarti’s,A Country of Cities, 62 percent of Millennials prefer to live and work in the type of mixed-use neighborhoods found in urban centers where they are in close proximity to a mix of shopping, restaurants, and offices.
In the report, Adam Klein, the chief strategist of American Underground in Durham, North Carolina, said “we wanted to be in an amenity-rich environment where our employees could walk to get a cup of coffee and participate in arts, music, and the excitement of downtown. We’re able to show potential employees a cool office in the middle of downtown and that has definitely helped us recruit people.”
As Mike Deemer, the executive vice president of business development for the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, echoed at the launch event, “It’s not enough to create a great space and take a ‘if you build it, they will come approach.’ We need to activate spaces and draw people in.”
While great office spaces tend to be plentiful in downtown locations, the surrounding neighborhood mix is equally, if not more, important. The study found that providing live/work/play neighborhoods with places to see and things to do is important for attracting Millennials, “who are now the largest generational segment of the American workforce, with 53.5 million people making up 34 percent of all workers — more than either Gen Xers or Baby Boomers.”
According to the study, companies chose vibrant, walkable neighborhoods where people want to both live and work. “Our younger employees don’t want to go to a suburban office park. It’s boring as all get out out there. Here, they walk outside and see cool stuff and it’s fun. I wanted to be where they wanted to be,” said Reg Shiverick, President of Dakota Software in Cleveland, Ohio.
Millennials also behave differently when it comes to transportation and are generally more likely to commute by biking, walking, or public transportation. Thus, walkability and access to public transportation are also cornerstones of this shift to downtown locations. Matin Zargari, principal at Gensler’s Oakland, California office, explained that “being so close to the 19th Street BART and many other city bus lines gives our staff the opportunity to get to work easier from all over the East Bay. Our employees like our new location and, in addition, many of our clients and projects are within walking distance of our office. That’s been a game changer for us.”
According to Jim Reilly, vice president of corporate communications at Panasonic, when Panasonic moved its headquarters from a suburban corporate campus to urban Newark, New Jersey, “the percentage of employees commuting via public shifted transportation from 4 percent of employees to 57 percent of employees.” While the environmental impacts of such a shift generally fall outside the scope of the study, a decreasing reliance on automobiles is sure to mitigate some of the negative environmental effects of suburbanization.
A key takeaway from the study is that any city can learn from companies that have moved back to central business districts. While many cities already have the kinds of neighborhoods these companies are looking for, many do not. But taking the steps to draw companies into cities provides a mutually-reinforcing smart growth strategy: Companies will invest in walkable, safe downtown environments, allowing cities the opportunity to create great, quality neighborhoods that benefit businesses and residents alike.
With the cultural and ecological context of Toronto established in part one, the second half of The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s (TCLF) Leading with Landscape symposium asked landscape architects to offer perspectives on their efforts to create a more resilient city. Conference co-organizer Jane Amidon, ASLA, professor, Northeastern University, pointed to the ingredients that could be used to make Toronto a model for the rest of the continent: the city’s ravine network, the vibrant waterfront, the breadth of public space, the high-profile place-making, and the committed design community that believes investing in landscape architecture can transform Toronto for the better.
A number of landscape architects working in Toronto described landscape architecture projects shaping the city:
Claude Cormier, ASLA, principal, Claude Cormier + Associes Inc., presented the HtO waterfront, which his firm produced in partnership with Janet Rosenberg and Studio (see image above). The designs draw inspiration from Toronto’s industrial past, but also refer to the work of painter Georges Seurat as they incorporate contemporary ideas of form and use. The undeniable pop sensibility of Cormier’s designs creates iconic landscape moments. The development that followed these waterfront parks has been tremendous and is a testament to the power of landscape architecture.
Marc Ryan, principal of Toronto-based Public Work, presented the evolution of development from the Lake Ontario waterfront to the Don River and, now, the active port lands to the west. Ryan’s analysis showed how a collaborative spirit can be created through an extensive public process. The resulting exercise produced new landscapes that allow for the city and port to connect.
Elizabeth Silver, a landscape architect with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), spoke of the firm’s recent work at Corktown Common, a park in the West Dons Land neighborhood, that shows how landscape architecture can boost resilience and attract people at the same time: the Common provides 16 acres of flood absorption at the mouth of the Don while the recreational portion of the site offers adventure playgrounds amid a constructed stormwater-fed wetland. The park is in part a response to the city hosting the upcoming Pan Am Games; but as the area around the park develops, it will become a community anchor in itself.
Bruce Kuwabara, a leading Canadian architect and partner at KPMB Architects, noted how the past decade has led to many high-quality public spaces. He provoked the audience to imagine what “leading with landscapes” actually means and think about Toronto as an evolving city that can serve as a model of this landscape-forward development.
Adriaan Geuze, International ASLA, principal, West 8 Urban Design & Landscape Architecture, provided a deeply personal presentation outlining his process of distilling a Canadian or Torontonian culture into the physical design. Geuze spoke of the urban renaissance currently underway in Toronto and noted that it’s primarily landscape architecture that is improving livability and spurring investment. He emphasized that the profession should not divorce itself from the social needs and responsibilities of city-building.
Geoff Cape, CEO of Evergreen Brick Works, a community environmental center, showed examples of landscape-forward projects and spoke of the often difficult process of letting landscape architects lead projects. Most importantly, Cape focused on the unique opportunities the ravine system offers, connecting with the 1.8 million-acre greenbelt surrounding the greater Toronto area and expressing Toronto’s evolving identity. Cape challenged attendees to construct sophisticated partnerships that can bring ideas to fruition and look at governance and partnerships through a creative lens.
As the last panelist of the day, Thomas Woltz, FASLA, principal of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBW), reinforced the conference’s overarching goals by presenting examples of funding models and public-private partnerships drawn from two projects by NBW and two precedent-setting ones by other landscape architects and organizations. Throughout his presentation, Woltz highlighted the vitality and richness that emerges when engaging in a process that considers landscape and the city within larger contexts – ecological, historical, cultural, and agricultural. And he challenged the profession to “get smarter about speaking about numbers and convincing a city council that they will, in the long-term, see the benefits of these systems.”
In closing, Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, founder and president of TCLF, reinforced the idea that urban park design and construction should aspire to offer a holistic urban design and management solution, create new cultural narratives, and embed positive values within the fabric of cities. Referring to the current debate on the future of the Gardiner Expressway, Birnbaum urged landscape architects to engage, speak out, aspire to make a difference, and act as leaders at this critical moment in the renaissance of the city.
Leading with Landscape brought together a community around the common mission of improving Toronto through landscape. And, more broadly, it brought landscape architecture to the forefront of the conversation in city building. The appearance of Mayor Tory and chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat elevated the importance of a strategic, systems-based design approach to the city.
This guest post is by Tim Popa, Communications Director, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architecture.
The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s (TCLF) Leading with Landscape symposium offered a deep examination of the landscape of Toronto, which was described as a complex ecological system. The presence of Toronto mayor John Tory at the conference showed the importance local policymakers place on the landscape architecture community in shaping the future of this city, the fourth largest in North America. Mayor Tory spoke of balancing growth with social and environmental responsibilities, and the integral role landscape architects play in creating a sustainable city.
The first of TCLF’s Modernism symposiums in Chicago sought to define contemporary landscape architecture by looking at its historical context. The second conference at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City championed landscape architectural practices that challenge rigid Modernist idioms through systems-based approaches, which cities increasingly need to deal with today’s complex environmental and social challenges. And the third installment, Leading with Landscape, called for responsive urban design based in a “landscape first” approach.
The day-long conference focused the conversation on how cities — with Toronto serving as the host city and model — are created and sustained through landscape. The term landscape here refers to interconnected natural systems (geologic, hydrologic, botanical and zoological); the many interventions and manipulations of land by humans — from indigenous people to contemporary landscape architects, planners, and engineers; and the resulting street grid and consequent structures.
Landscape architects explored aspects of Toronto’s history before delving into specific contemporary projects. Here, landscape architects explain the forces that have shaped the landscape of Toronto, the cultural and ecological context:
Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, founder of TCLF and organizer of the conference, presented a chronological overview of the cultural landscape of Toronto, with specific examples from Allan Gardens to the post-Modernism of Yorkville Park. Birnbaum made a passionate argument for growing Toronto from its historic fabric. He spoke of the importance of context and narrative in the creation of authentic, resilient places, which can then generate the cultural and financial investments needed for a vital urban environment.
Landscape architect Janet Rosenberg, FASLA, founding principal, Janet Rosenberg & Studio, and Michael McClellan, principal at ERA Architects, introduced some motifs that recurred throughout the conference: the idea of a multi-verse Toronto with many socio-economic layers that exist side by side, like the suburban high-rises next to the waterfront reality; and the major role of the city’s ravines, which structure the city’s hydrology.
The ecological and cultural contexts that have shaped Toronto were further related by Nina-Marie Lister, Hon. ASLA, associate professor, school of urban + regional planning, Ryerson University. Lister showed the transformation of the city’s landscape by geologic, hydrologic and human forces, and how the expansion and the demand for economic productivity eroded critical ecological services. In 1954, Hurricane Hazel led to devastating flooding in the city, which began a movement towards a hybrid-design approach that engages development alongside a deeper consideration of natural systems.
Brendan Stewart, ASLA, landscape architect and urban designer, ERA Architects, used early city maps to show the lot plans – Toronto’s original organizing grid — and the many subsequent layers and sub-divisions that occurred over two hundred years, which all eschewed the complexities of the existing ecosystem.
Stewart also explained the role of landscape architects in the development of the city — André Parmentier’s geometries at Queen’s Park and the University Avenue landscape being enduring examples. Like Lister, Stewart noted the increased awareness of Toronto’s natural systems following Hurricane Hazel, and the subsequent shift in the goals of the parks and recreation department. Today, the department is not only focused on providing spaces for recreation for residents, but also designing a park system that can provide a hydrologic structure to protect the city.
Concluding the discussion of Toronto’s ecological and cultural context, Jane Wolff, associate professor, University of Toronto, presented a short history of coupled built and natural systems in Toronto, equal parts accident and intention. An example of this interplay is the bluff condition of the city that has “fed” the archipelago just off the shore of the city; the islands that formed are now an integral part of the cultural and ecologic fabric of Toronto. Another example, the Tommy Thompson Park – a spit created by the engineered redirection of the Don River – has become a flourishing ecosystem that now provides a stop for birds along their yearly migration.
Since 1987, the biennial award has recognized “urban places distinguished by quality design and contributions to the social, economic, and communal vitality of our nation’s cities.” The 2013 gold medal was awarded to Inspiration Kitchens in Garfield Park, Chicago.
This year’s winning project, Miller’s Court, is a “renovation of a vacant historic tin can manufacturing building, into an affordable and supportive living and working environment for school teachers and education-focused non-profits.” Located in an economically and culturally diverse neighborhood near Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus, the project, which was conceived and developed by Seawall Development Company with Mark, Thomas Architects, was completed in 2009.
The LEED Gold-certified complex includes “40 rental apartments and 30,000 square feet of office space and shared meeting rooms with contemporary, loft-like interiors.” Other features include a teacher resource center and a cooperatively owned independent café, which has become a popular meeting place for teachers, tenants and even President Obama, who visited in January.
One of the project’s crowning achievements is generating additional investment in the surrounding community. At the urging of several building residents, Seawall purchased and renovated 30 vacant neighboring houses to create Miller’s Square. Baltimore public school teachers and police officers are eligible for $25,000 grants toward homes there. Read more about the project in Metropolis.
Four other projects were recognized with silver medals and $10,000 each:
Located in the center of downtown Greenville, South Carolina, Falls Park on the Reedy is an urban oasis thanks to the transformation of a forgotten 40-foot tall waterfall and overgrown river valley into a 26-acre park. Development of the park, which opened in 2006, included replacing a four-lane vehicular bridge built directly over the falls with a pedestrian suspension bridge designed by Rosales+Partners. The bridge appears to float above the river, offering a dramatic overlook of the falls. Learn more about this project at Metropolis.
Grand Rapids Downtown Market is a new public space in one of West Michigan’s most challenged neighborhoods. The market “promotes local food producers, entrepreneurship, and education about nutrition and healthy lifestyles” by linking urban communities with the 13,000 farms in 11 surrounding counties and attracting a diversity of customers to the southern edge of downtown Grand Rapids. The state-of-the-art facility, designed by Hugh A. Boyd Architects, is the first LEED Gold–certified public market in the country. Learn more about the market at Metropolis.
Quixote Village, in Olympia, Washington, is a two-acre community of tiny houses that provides “permanent, supportive housing for homeless adults, including people suffering from mental illness and physical disabilities and recovering from addiction.” Since its completion in December 2013, Quixote Village has attracted the attention of many interested in tiny houses including nonprofits and private developers, as well as The New York Times.Learn more about the project at Metropolis.
Located three miles south of downtown Cleveland, Uptown District is the “redevelopment of a corridor that links surrounding neighborhoods with art, educational, and healthcare institutions, producing outdoor gathering spaces, retail shops and restaurants, student and market-rate housing, and public transit connections in the process.” The development has transformed two previously underused city blocks between two of the city’s most iconic cultural institutions into a “community gateway.” Learn more about the project at Metropolis.
The 2015 RBA selection committee included: Mayor Mark Stodola, Little Rock, Arkansas; Rebecca L. Flora, Sustainable Practices Leader, Ecology & Environment, Inc.; Larry Kearns, Principal, Wheeler Kearns Architects; India Pierce Lee, Program Director, Cleveland Foundation; Mia Lehrer, FASLA, President, Mia Lehrer + Associates; James Stockard, Lecturer in Housing, Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Learn more: A blog series on Metropolis’web siteis chronicling the 2015 RBA process and case studies of the winning projects.
On a rainy afternoon, surrounded by musicians, dancers, and dignitaries, artist Yoko Ono spoke at an “earth healing” ceremony, celebrating the dedication of the site of what will be her only permanent installation in the Americas, Sky Landing. The installation will be in Chicago’s Jackson Park, on the Wooded Island, which is currently undergoing extensive restoration work, including the reconstruction of natural areas and the creation of a new pavilion.
Sky Landing will be located on a site adjacent to the Osaka Garden in Frederick Law Olmsted’s bucolic park. The site is historically significant, as it is the location of the original Phoenix Pavilion, which was built in 1893 as a part of the World’s Fair Columbian Exposition to promote American understanding of Japanese culture and as a means to unite the East and West. The original pavilion burned to the ground in 1946.
Ono responds to this history. She explained her inspiration for the piece to Americans for the Arts’ Nora Halpern: “I want the sky to land here, to cool it, to make it well again.”
Though the actual form of Sky Landing, which is expected to open in 2016, hasn’t been revealed, the land has been formed in anticipation of the installation. Two crescent shaped mounds of earth curve into each other, creating between them a space for sky, framed by land.
The healing ceremony was organized by Robert W. Karr, Jr., president of Project 120 Chicago, which is leading the restoration effort in Jackson Park. Karr spoke of the Japanese concept of kanreki, or the idea that rebirth happens every 60 years. In 2013, exactly 120 years after the original dedication of the Phoenix Pavilion for the 1893 World’s Fair, 120 Japanese cherry trees were planted. In a continuation of this theme, Sky Landing asks that peace and understanding be reborn.
Toshiyuki Iwado, Consul General of Japan at Chicago, said the site and Ono’s new piece represent a legacy of unity between American and Japanese cultures. Here, people will be able to experience the “richness of nature and the harmony of culture and peace.”
Ono spoke of feeling Chicago’s “incredible, incredible intense opening of the heart.” She has long felt a deep connection to Chicago, saying in an interview with Halpern that “Chicago makes me nostalgic about way, way back when I was a little girl in the 1930’s. I don’t really know why.”
Derek R. B. Douglas, vice president for civic engagement, University of Chicago, spoke of the importance of parks and green space in providing community members both access to nature and opportunities for solitude. Describing Sky Landing as “one more way for local residents to connect to the park,” he reminded us of the importance of the park as a place for people to gather, engage with the natural world, and find respite.
At the ceremony, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also took the opportunity to unveil a public art initiative, Public Art Chicago: 50 for 50, which will create a public art installation in each of the city’s 50 wards, because “public art enriches the experience of public space.”
Meanwhile, no word yet from the Obamas and Chicago city government as to whether they will take a piece of Jackson Park or nearby Washington Park for the $500-million Obama presidential library. In May, word leaked from the Obama library foundation that one of these two Olmsted-designed historic parks will be the future site, to the dismay of historic preservation and park advocates.
This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, a recent graduate of Illinois Institute of Technology’s Master of Landscape Architecture program, former ASLA Communications Intern, and a proud Chicagoan.