Sunday Conversation with Shane Coen, Landscape Architect– The Star Tribune, 9/19/15
“Minneapolis-based Coen + Partners, a small firm in the Warehouse District, received the nation’s highest honor in design, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Award. Its founder, Shane Coen, now finds himself on a larger national stage and with a louder voice in the design world.”
Green Peace: The Healing Power of Parks for Young and Old – AARP.com, 9/22/15
“Parks are public spaces, but they can be very personal ones, too. They can be homes to our daily rituals — from morning jogs to dog walks — as well as our milestone celebrations. They also can be our quiet places of solace after a long day or after a deep loss, as I experienced.”
Frank Gehry Draws Ire for Joining Los Angeles River Restoration Project– The New York Times, 9/23/15
“Yet none of Mr. Gehry’s farewell enterprises seem more daunting — and fraught — than his involvement in rebuilding the Los Angeles River, a bleak and dispiriting 51-mile channel that winds its way through fields, suburbs, dark city corners and industrial wastelands from the San Fernando Valley to the Pacific Ocean.”
A Garden Where You’d Least Expect It – The Wall Street Journal, 9/27/15
“A far more ambitious project alighted last week, when Diana Balmori, a celebrated landscape architect and urban designer, oversaw the launch of a floating landscape at the foot of the Whole Foods parking lot that overlooks the canal.”
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is excited to announce its 34 professional award recipients. Selected from 459 entries, the 2015 ASLA Professional Awards honor top public, commercial, residential, institutional, planning, communications and research projects in the U.S. and around the world. The winners will receive their awards at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Chicago on Monday, November 9 at McCormick Place – Lakeside Center, Arie Crown Theater.
Here is a complete list of 2015 professional award winners:
General Design Category
Award of Excellence
At the Hudson’s Edge: Beacon’s Long Dock as a Resilient Riverfront Park, Beacon, N.Y.
by Reed Hilderbrand LLC for the Scenic Hudson Land Trust (see image above)
Perez Art Museum Miami: Resiliency by Design, Miami
by ArquitectonicaGEO for the Perez Art Museum Miami
Mill River Park and Greenway, Stamford, Conn.
by OLIN for the Mill River Collaborative
Art and Infrastructure: Community, Culture, and a Collection in the Berkshires, Williamstown, Mass.
by Reed Hilderbrand LLC for the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
Weishan Wetland Park, Weishan, Shandong Province, China
by AECOM, Shanghai for the Wei Shan Investment Co. Ltd.
Phil Hardberger Park, San Antonio, Texas
by Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects for the San Antonio Department of Parks and Recreation
IBM Honolulu Plaza, Honolulu
by Surfacedesign Inc. for Victoria Ward Ltd., Subsidiary of Howard Hughes Corporation
The Lawn on D, Boston
by Sasaki Associates Inc. for the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA)
Public Media Commons, St. Louis
by DLANDstudio Architecture + Landscape Architecture PLLC for the St. Louis Regional Public Media Inc. let by KETC Nine Network, Public Television
Analysis & Planning Category
Award of Excellence
Penn’s Landing Redevelopment and Feasibility Study, Philadelphia
by Hargreaves Associates for the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation
Cornwall Park 100 Year Master Plan – Projecting a Resilient Future, Auckland, New Zealand
by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, Charlottesville, Va., and New York, N.Y., for Cornwall Park Trust Board
A Landscape Legacy – Master Planning a Cultural Landscape for Future Generations at Overlook Farm, Dalton, Pa.
by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, Charlottesville, Va., and New York, N.Y., for Mort and Sue Fuller
Fayetteville 2030: Food City Scenario, Fayetteville, Ark.
by University of Arkansas Community Design Center for the City of Fayetteville
Dallas Connected Cities, Dallas
by Mia Lehrer + Associates (MLA) for the City of Dallas
James Island, Columbia, Canada
by Design Workshop, Aspen
Award of Excellence
Landscape Performance Series: Demonstrating the Environmental, Social, and Economic Value of Sustainable Landscapes
by the Landscape Architecture Foundation
Composite Landscapes: Photomontage and Landscape Architecture
by Charles Waldheim, Affiliate ASLA, published by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Landscape Architecture Frontiers, Beijing
by Peking University, College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, published by Higher Education Press
Ecological Restoration Journal: A New Platform for Dialogue Between Landscape Architects and Ecologists
by Rutgers University, published by the University of Wisconsin Press
Modern Landscapes: Transition & Transformation Book Series
by the Cultural Landscape Foundation, published by Princeton Architectural Press
Collective Visions: Exploring the Design Potential of Landscape History
by Kathleen John-Alder, ASLA / Rutgers University
Below the Surface: Evaluating Urban Soil Performance Over Time
by Reed Hilderbrand LLC / Halvorson Design Partnership
Restoration in Urban Parks: Long-term Tests of Forest Management to Advance Landscape Structure and Function
by Rutgers University
Spontaneous Urban Plants
by Future Green Studio
Case Study Investigation (CSI): Measuring Environmental, Social, and Economic Impacts of Exemplary Landscapes
by the Landscape Architecture Foundation
Residential Design Category
Award of Excellence
Cedar Creek, Trinidad, Texas
by Hocker Design Group
300 Ivy, San Francisco
by Fletcher Studio for Pocket Development
MassArt Residence Hall, Boston
by Ground Inc. for the Massachusetts College of Art and Design / Massachusetts State College Building Authority
Sweetwater Spectrum Residential Community for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Sonoma, Calif.
by Roche + Roche Landscape Architecture for Sweetwater Spectrum
Metamorphous – A Corten Seawall Sculpture & Foreshore Enhancement, Vancouver, BC, Canada
by Paul Sangha Landscape Architecture
Mill Creek Ranch, Vanderpool, Texas
by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects
Flying Point Residence, Southhampton, N.Y.
by Edmund Hollander Landscape Architects
Brooklyn Oasis, Brooklyn, N.Y.
by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc.
The Landmark Award
The Art Institute of Chicago South Garden by Dan Kiley, Nominated by the Cultural Landscape Foundation
The professional awards jury included:
• Keith LeBlanc, FASLA, Keith LeBlanc Landscape Architecture Inc., Boston, Jury Chair
• Thomas Balsley, FASLA, Thomas Balsley Associates, New York City
• René Bihan, ASLA, SWA Group, San Francisco
• Alan Brake, The Architect’s Newspaper LLC, New York City
• Kathleen Dickhut, ASLA, Department of Housing and Economic Development, Chicago
• Signe Nielsen, FASLA, Mathews Nielsen, New York City
• Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, FASLA, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, Vancouver, BC, Canada
• Mark Robbins, American Academy in Rome, Rome, Italy
• Richard Weller, ASLA, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is excited to announce its 23 student award recipients. Selected from 327 entries representing 84 schools, the 2015 ASLA Student Awards honor the top work of landscape architecture students in the U.S. and around the world. The winners will receive their awards at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Chicago on Monday, November 9 at McCormick Place – Lakeside Center, Arie Crown Theater.
Here is a complete list of the 2015 student award winners:
General Design Category
Award of Excellence
Imagine the Barracks of Pion: Developing the Edge of the Park of Versailles
by Zheming Cai, Associate ASLA, a graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (see image above)
Walk into the Sea
by Zhi Wang, Associate ASLA, a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design
Deconstructing Hydrologies: Reviving the Memory of Water in Dumbarton Oaks Park
by Elizabeth Anderson, Associate ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Washington
Borderless Landscapes of Control
by Rui Felix, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Toronto
For the Rest
by Maria Landoni De Rose, Associate ASLA, an undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley
Residential Design Category
Within the Frame: The Countryside as a City
by a graduate student team from the Harvard Graduate School of Design
Valley Families: Between Fog and Flood
by a graduate student team from the University of Pennsylvania
Analysis and Planning Category
Award of Excellence
Rethinking Taj Heritage Corridor: A River as Historic Connection
by Peichen Hao, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design
Confronting the Present: Towards a Civic Realm on Beirut’s Urban Fringe
by Logan Littlefield, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Toronto
by a graduate student team from the Harvard Graduate School of Design
After Steel – Toward an Industrial Evolution
by Robert McIntosh, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Toronto
Fallow Ground | Future City
by a graduate student team from the University of Virginia
Productive Conservation: Utilizing Landscape Ecology and Precision Agriculture Towards Land-Water Conservation
by a graduate student team from the Harvard Graduate School of Design
Award of Excellence
Landscapes of Longevity
by a graduate student team from the University of Virginia
PLOT: A Student-edited Journal of Landscape Architecture
by a graduate student team from the City College of New York
Counterordinance: a Manifesto on Maintenance
by Cali Pfaff, Associate ASLA, a graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design
Grounding Root System Architecture
by Gwendolyn McGinn, Associate ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Virginia
Student Collaboration Category
Reverse Engineering: Reconfiguring the Creek-Campus Interface
by a graduate student team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Fire Circle and Stargazing Platform at Goose Island State Park
by a graduate student team from the University of Texas at Austin
Community Service Category
Award of Excellence
Landscapes of Justice: Redefining the Prison Environment
by an undergraduate student team from Iowa State University
Ghana International Design Studio: Playtime in Africa
by a graduate student team from North Carolina State University
Starkville Public Library ‘Read’ Garden
by Travis Crabtree, Student ASLA, an undergraduate student from Mississippi State University
Kintsugi Garden: The Meaning of Mending
by an undergraduate student team from the University of Washington
The student awards jury included:
• Kona Gray, ASLA, EDSA, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Jury Chair
• Richard Bumstead, ASLA, University of Chicago, Chicago
• Maurice Cox, Affiliate ASLA, Detroit Department of Planning and Development
• Katya Crawford, ASLA, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico
• Lisa Gimmy, ASLA, Lisa Gimmy Landscape Architecture, Los Angeles
• David Hill, ASLA, D.I.R.T. Studio, Auburn, Alabama
• Fernando Magallanes, ASLA, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
• Katherine Orff, ASLA, Scape / Landscape Architecture PLLC, New York City
• Laura Solano, ASLA, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts
On September 18, landscape architects and other designers celebrated PARK(ing) Day. Founded in 2005 by landscape architecture firm Rebar, PARK(ing) Day is an annual event in which metered parking spaces are transformed into miniature parks, or parklets, for the day. The event demonstrates the value of designed public spaces, even ones just 130 square feet. PARK(ing) Day also shows just how much of our shared space has been taken over by cars — about 30 percent of the total surface of our built environment — and how many of those spaces could instead be used to strengthen local communities.
ASLA asked landscape architects to share how they transformed a parking space with #ASLAPD on social media. Here are a few highlights:
The theme of Mahan Rykiel Associates’ parklet in Baltimore was “Back to Basics.” The firm simply created a parklet for the public to use as they pleased, exemplifying how flexible urban public space can be. The firm used the parklet for yoga in the morning, a place to eat for lunch around noon, and a game of cornhole in the afternoon.
The landscape architecture and horticulture department at Temple University in Philadelphia and volunteers, including local architects, landscape architects, horticulturalists, artists, and citizens, created a two-day parklet in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. This space offered live music, story time for kids, and other activities. This parklet, and the hundreds of others across the country, brought communities together, showing the countless uses made possible through welcoming public space.
Other parklets sought to raise awareness of environmental issues. SWA’s parklet in Houston educated the public on importance of urban pollinators, like honeybees, bats, and butterflies. Part of 13 parklets that took up an entire block, SWA’s space featured pollinator-themed benches, educational signs, and pollinator-friendly plants.
In Los Angeles, Rios Clementi Hale Studio illustrated the benefits of capturing stormwater, which is vitally important in the midst of California’s historic drought. Their team calculated a single parking spot could capture 1,344 gallons of water annually. To put that figure into perspective for the public, the firm created a cloud of balloons above the space that showed the amount of water required for a daily task — 105 gallons for five load of laundry, 30 gallons for one bath, etc.
Landscape architecture students from the University of New Mexico created a space that visualized the effects of climate change — melting polar ice, and rising sea levels. Students suspended blocks of ice in their parklet that melted throughout the day.
To see more PARK(ing) Day parklets, check out our #ASLAPD Tagboard.
In June, Pope Francis released Care for Our Common Home, an encyclical designed to build the moral case for fighting climate change, protecting the environment, and moving towards a path of sustainable development. In his first two days in the U.S., Pope Francis gave a speech at the White House, and then, this morning in front of a joint session of Congress.
In a speech at the White House, Pope Francis reiterated the central arguments of his encyclical — that climate change and environmental degradation are crises that must be addressed today if we are going to create a more equitable world. To President Obama, he said:
“I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our ‘common home’, we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about ‘a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change’ (Laudato Si’, 13). Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities, and our societies. To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it.”
To Congress, Pope Francis reiterated some of these points:
“A central theme of the encyclical I wrote is the need for a dialogue about our common home. We need a conversation that includes everyone, since the environmental challenge — and its human roots — affect us all. Courageous and responsible efforts are needed to redirect our steps. We can address the most serious effects of environmental degradation by human activity. We can make a difference, I’m sure.”
But he also increased pressure on lawmakers to act on climate change, saying: “I have no doubt this Congress has an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous action.” He added that “the tireless pursuit of the common good is the chief aim of politics. Political society endures when it meets common needs.”
He believes American technology will also play a critical role in restoring the planet to health. “We have the freedom to direct technology. We can develop intelligent ways to limit our power. Technology can put be into service to achieve human progress. America’s universities and research institutions can make vital contributions in the years ahead.”
To perhaps counter the American critics who have called him a Marxist, Francis gave a blessing of sorts to business, if it’s working towards the common good as well. “The path of great power is to create wealth. The right use of natural resources, appropriate use of technology, harnessing spirit of enterprise. This leads to an economy that is modern, inclusive, and sustainable. Business is a noble vocation directed at producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity. It creates jobs, which is an essential part of its service to the common good.”
In his speech, Pope Francis also called for greater assistance with the migrant crisis in Europe, banning the death penalty worldwide, combating religious extremism in all forms, and ending armed conflict.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were created through an open, global process over the past two years, will be adopted by United Nations member states later this week. The 17 goals, with their 169 targets, will guide nations towards a more sustainable pattern of development that favors diverse life on Earth. Global transformation on multiple levels is the end goal.
“We envisage a world in which every country enjoys sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all. A world in which consumption and production patterns and use of all natural resources – from air to land, from rivers, lakes and aquifers to oceans and seas – are sustainable. One in which democracy, good governance and the rule of law as well as an enabling environment at national and international levels, are essential for sustainable development, including sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development, environmental protection and the eradication of poverty and hunger. One in which development and the application of technology are climate-sensitive, respect biodiversity and are resilient. One in which humanity lives in harmony with nature and in which wildlife and other living species are protected.”
It’s impressive that the world’s 200-plus nations, through a UN process fostering peace and mutual respect, can articulate a global agenda for working together. As the document explains, “never before have world leaders pledged common action and endeavor across such a broad and universal policy agenda.”
Learning more about the SDGs is worth the time of landscape architects. We can help the world make progress in solving the inter-connected problems we collectively face.
Let’s back up a minute and recall that sustainability was defined in 1987 as achieving a long-term balance between three equal pillars — economy, society, and the environment. The publication of Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report, coined the term “sustainable development” and popularized these pillars. To be sustainable today, a consideration of these three pillars is central. (In my own landscape preservation work, I favor a model that also integrates culture, which permeates all the facets of sustainability and plays a role in whether we can achieve inclusivity, equity, and justice). Then, in 2000, world leaders agreed to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which laid out 8 goals for the world to pursue from 2000 to 2015. And then, at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2012, all countries agreed to create a new set of sustainable development goals to pick up where the MDGs left off.
A landscape architect looking at how to work towards the new SDGs might focus on goal 13, which deals with climate action, goal 14, which focuses on life below water, and goal 15, which looks at life on land, but looking deeper at all the goals and their specific targets helps us to understand how we can contribute as individuals and collectively to the many other important goals and targets as well.
Landscape architects can contribute to reaching goal 2 — which seeks to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” — by working with agricultural communities to increase the productivity of small farms and create better access to markets, as detailed in target 2.3. Landscape architects can also help communities create sustainable and resilient agricultural practices, maintain ecosystems, and strengthen the capacity to respond to climate change, as detailed in target 2.4.
In goal 3, which calls on governments to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages,” we find target 3.6, which aims to “halve the number of global deaths and injuries for road traffic accidents.” Landscape architects are already working on designing better intersections, green complete streets, and multi-modal corridors that contribution to achieving this important target.
ASLA and each of us its members can contribute to goal 4 — which calls on nations to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” — by teaching everyone about sustainable development and how to become global citizens who act from that awareness and commitment in their daily lives.
Goal 6, which calls on nations to “ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all,” is perhaps the most direction contribution to the goals made by landscape architects. We can help reach global goals on water quality, including protecting water resources, counteracting pollution, and restoring water-related ecosystems, which are included in targets 6.3, 6.5, and 6.6.
What about goal 7, which calls on nations to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all?” Target 7.2 asks that countries, “by 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global mix.” I have had the opportunity to site two solar arrays. Other landscape architects can then certainly become engaged in growing the share of renewable energy.
Or perhaps consider the important target 8.4 that seeks to “improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavor to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, in accordance with the 10-year framework of programs on sustainable consumption and production, with developed countries taking the lead.” This decoupling process will result in better quality landscapes that provide ecosystem services.
Addressing goal 11 — “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” — is well within the realm of landscape architecture. And many of us are already helping to achieve target 11.7, which seeks to provide universal access that is safe and inclusive, to public green spaces. Landscape architects can play a role in achieving target 11.2, which seeks to create more sustainable urban transportation systems, and target 11.7.a, which aims to “support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning.” Cities, which are expected to contain 75 percent of the world’s people by 2030, are fertile ground for the skills of landscape architects working collaboratively with other planning and design professionals.
The last goal — goal 17, which calls for nations to “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development”– is a fitting capstone to this ambitious effort. Cooperation is needed to build momentum and create measurable change toward a thriving Earth, with all its diverse life forms and resources.
The overarching goal is to halt and then reverse the degradation of the Earth. I urge you to learn about these goals and apply your skills as a landscape architect toward achieving these goals from now through 2030. Registering SDG initiatives is one way to join this pivotal movement toward a sustainable planet.
This guest post is by Patricia M. O’Donnell, FASLA, AICP, principal of Heritage Landscapes LLC, preservation landscape architects and planners. She is committed to sustainable living and using heritage as a platform for a vibrant today and tomorrow in her work and volunteer activities.
Later this week, the world’s leaders will meet at the United Nations to launch the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of ambitious goals and targets designed to get the world on a more sustainable future course. The SDGs pick up where the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire this year, left off. Much like Pope Francis’ encyclical, the SDGs call for a new approach that enables economic growth for everyone, not just the wealthy, greater environmental protection, and a more sustainable use of increasingly limited natural resources. The SDGs will create a path for the next 15 years, up until 2030. They are important in getting governments, non-profit organizations, and the socially-conscious private sector behind a common set of objectives.
The SDGs came out of an intensive two-year process involving negotiators from both developed and developing countries. Among the many goals, the SDGs call for ending poverty and hunger in all forms; improving health and well-being; achieving gender equality; sustainably managing fresh water resources; restoring terrestrial and ocean ecosystems; combating climate change; and making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. The SDGs are said to more clearly reflect the input of developing countries than their predecessor, the MDGs.
Improved rights and educational opportunities for girls and women around the world, but particularly in least developed countries, is a major theme in the SDGs. As Jeffrey Sachs, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, explained at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago, educating girls and women is key to a sustainable future. Sachs believes that future sustainability is only possible if population growth rates are reduced. The current world population is 7 billion. The total carrying capacity of the Earth is estimated to be around 10 billion. Over the past 50 years, Sub-Saharan Africa has grown from a hundred million to 1.1 billion today. If high fertility rates continue unabated, Africa will double its population by 2050 and eventually reach 4 billion, sending the world past its uppermost carrying capacity. Sachs argued that a sustainable future will be impossible if Sub-Saharan African women continue to have 5 children, which is the average today. Even a middle school education helps dramatically lower fertility rates, so educating African women and girls really is central to the fate of the planet.
The SDGs also seek to link economic growth that can yield benefits for all with greater resource efficiency and environment protection. As many world leaders are beginning to understand, long-term growth is impossible if there are no natural resources to underpin that growth. At the same event at the National Book Festival, world-famous biologist and author E.O. Wilson called for setting aside 50 percent of the surface of the Earth for conservation purposes, banking resources for wildlife and also future generations. Currently, only about 15 percent of the planet is protected from development. He said reaching 50 percent is possible if the vast middle of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans were protected from industrial fishing. Then, fish stocks, which are down to just 2 percent of their historic levels, will have a chance to recover for the long-term. In addition, Wilson called for everyone to become a vegetarian, arguing that the world’s one billion cows, which require so much land and water and have been a major driving force behind deforestation, are incompatible with the approaches needed to create a sustainable future on a planet with 10 billion people.
Earth’s resources are finite but economic growth needs to somehow continue to provide opportunities for the billions more soon to join us. While this seems like an incredible challenge, Wilson has faith in human ingenuity and technology. In agreement with SDG target 2.5, Wilson calls for diversifying crops away from the dozen or so that the world’s farmers primarily rely on today. He said there are potentially thousands of other crop plants that could provide greater nutrition and improved yield. And it’s important to keep these other crops as real options given climate change can wipe out yields for many of the crops we rely on today.
Urban leaders rejoiced that cities are the focus of a goal and whole slew of targets. World leaders now recognize that the world’s population is predominantly urban, with more than half of the world in cities, and the urban population is expected to hit 75 percent by 2050. These trends are a good thing. Those living in cities have lower per capita energy and water use and give off fewer carbon emissions than those living in suburbs or rural areas. However, issues abound in cities: Not every urbanite has access to safe drinking water, clean air, affordable housing, low-cost public transportation, or green spaces. One SDG target, 11.7, amazingly aims to provide “universal access to safe, inclusive, and accessible green and public spaces.” Creating a more sustainable plan for the world’s cities will be the focus of Habitat III, a major conference hosted by UN-Habitat in Quito, Ecuador, next year.
There are fears that the SDGs, with their sprawling 17 goals and 169 targets, are too idealistic and will not be as easy to achieve as the MDGs, which strategically targeted eight goals, and still came up short. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called the MDGs the “most successful anti-poverty campaign in history.” And according to The Financial Times, there was significant progress on achieving the MDGs since 2000, when they came into effect. “On paper, at least as far as the data can be relied upon, there has indeed been significant progress. Extreme poverty in developing countries has fallen from 47 per cent in 1990 to 14 per cent this year, while annual global deaths of children under five have halved to 6 million.” But China and India, development experts argue, were responsible for the bulk of the poverty reduction. Without China’s gains, the effect of the MDGs would be negligible, given Sub-Saharan African countries, which are the among the least developed places, missed their goals. For example, in the sub-continent, it will still take another decade for the child mortality rates to fall by the target of two-thirds.
And there are critics of the overall effort. William Easterly, professor of economics at New York University and long-time detractor of Western aid agencies, told The Financial Times: “The MDGs communicated a very wrong idea about how development happens: technocratic, patronizing, and magically free of politics. It’s not about western saviors, but homegrown efforts linked to a gradual extension of political freedom.” Furthermore, he added: “The SDGs are a mushy collection of platitudes that will fail on every dimension. They make me feel quite nostalgic for the MDGs.”
There are also concerns about whether governments can accurately measure and then track progress on all these squishy goals and targets. A UN working group is now devising the means of measuring all these items, but, according to the International Council for Science and International Social Science Council, “less than a third of the SDG goals were ‘well developed’, with some objectives not quantified and many containing contradictory trade-offs and unintended consequences.” Solid data is expensive and time-consuming to collect, particularly in less developed countries. For example, The Economist reports that only 74 countries out of the 193 currently have the capacity to track the SDGs’ nutrition targets. But perhaps the SDGs will spur more countries to boost investment in their statistical services to measure gaps between where they are and where they need to be, which can only be a good thing. New satellite, drone, and GPS technologies should be put to greater use.
Still, never has such an ambitious global agenda been put in place. Sachs told The Financial Times: “Whether it can work out is an open question. There is a sense that this is a sensible framework. I’m not saying a new dawn has broken, but at least governments are saying we need to try.”
Not only does sprawl increase the distance between people’s homes and jobs, a new study by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate found that it also costs the American economy more than $1 trillion annually. These costs include increased spending on infrastructure, public services, and vehicles. The most sprawled-out American cities spend an average of $750 on infrastructure per person each year, while the least sprawled cities spend closer to $500. Compared with smart growth communities, which are denser, walkable developments, sprawl typically increases per capita land consumption 60-80 percent and motor vehicle travel by 20-60 percent.
The study found that sprawl also affects about two-thirds of city expenses, “by requiring longer road and utility lines, and increasing travel distances needed for policing, emergency response, and garbage collection.” Some of the largest costs are associated with city government vehicle travel.
According to the study, much of Americans’ preference for sprawl is rooted in underlying social and economic factors — “such as the perceived safety, affordability, public school quality, prestige and financial security of suburban neighborhoods” — rather than the physical features of sprawl. The 2013 U.S. National Association of Realtors’ community preference survey found that most Americans prefer single-family homes and place a high value on privacy. However, interestingly, they also desire the convenience of walkable, mixed-use communities with shorter commutes and convenient access to public services found in cities. As the U.S. continues to grow and urbanize, cities will have to expand to accommodate new people but also reconcile these conflicting desires.
Looking to the future, the study defines three categories of cities that will each need to address sprawl differently:
Unconstrained cities, such as most American and African cities are surrounded by “an abundant supply of lower-value lands” and have room for significant expansion. According to the study, these cities should maintain strong downtowns surrounded by higher-density neighborhoods with diverse, affordable housing options. Excessive vehicle use should be discouraged by creating streets that include adequate sidewalks and crosswalks, bike infrastructure, and bus systems.
Semi-constrained cities, mostly found in Europe and Asia, have a limited ability to expand. These cities should expand through a combination of infill development and modest expansion along major transportation corridors. New housing should consist of townhouses and mid-rise multi-family housing, which can reduce the costs of sprawl. Similar transportation policies to those suggested for unconstrained cities, which can help further discourage car use, should also be implemented in semi-constrained cities.
Constrained cities are those that cannot significantly expand, such as city-states like Singapore and Hong Kong. In these cities, most new housing will be multi-family, and fewer households will own cars. These cities require strong policies that improve livability in dense neighborhoods, including: “well-designed streets that accommodate diverse activities; adequate public green space; building designs that maximize fresh air, privacy, and private outdoor space; transport policies that favor space-efficient modes; and restrictions on motor vehicle ownership and use, particularly internal combustion vehicles.” Seoul has already demonstrated that with good planning, high density neighborhoods can offer a good quality of life.
Developing cities in Asia and Africa are poised to establish more sustainable transport and land use development patterns, avoiding the mistakes made by the U.S. Although sprawl-related costs may appear to lower in developing countries — due to lower incomes and land prices — their share of household and government budgets, and their relative impacts on economic development, are greater. Emerging cities must implement policy reforms that result in better walking and cycling conditions. Improving public transit services in developing country cities is particularly important.
The study maintains that in order “to increase economic productivity, improve public health, and protect the environment,” dense, urban neighborhoods need to be considered just as safe, convenient, and attractive as their suburban counterparts. In all types of cities, ensuring that neighborhoods are livable and cohesive is crucial. Designing attractive, multi-functional streets and public parks and providing high-quality public services are all major components of reaching this goal.
Mein Garten, a landscape architecture and horticultural design firm based in Hanoi, Vietnam, decided to create a new headquarters to showcase its work. With local architects at Studio 102, they created a green haven that merges architecture and nature, creating a free-flow between indoor and outdoor environments. Mein Garten wanted to create an office as open to nature as possible, not only to boost employee health but also their creativity. The offices rely on natural ventilation and lighting most of the time.
According to ArchDaily, Mein Garten found a vacant house in the Cau Giay district. Instead of turning it into the usual “closed, air-conditioned standard office,” they thought it had the potential to become a new kind of work space. Using simple wood structures, paint, and plants also kept the “cost of the renovation very low.”
The architects took out some walls, creating open spaces that bring fresh air and light into the work spaces. These open spaces were then filled with plants. Mein Garten writes: “There is no boundary between the inside and the outside. Plants are everywhere: in the garden, in the semi-open space, on the ground floor, first floor, on the roof, the walls.” The effect is reminiscent of Indian modern architect B.V. Doshi’s “vernacular architecture,” as seen at his Indian Institute of Management Bangalore campus.
As visitors enter the building, they are invited to step over a concrete pathway that appears to float in the water. A series of rafters covers the walkway, providing shade. At the facing wall, there is a basic green wall structure that provides a home for potted plants.
Moving into the lobby, there’s an inviting courtyard with seating and views of the showroom.
Within the offices, employees look out on another interior patio. There’s a spot to sit with a colleague and take in the lush plant life. As Mein Garten explains, “this office bring people closer to nature, closer to each other, and makes them work more effectively.”
In the back, at the employee entrance, plants are allowed to climb up the rafters, so employees on the upper floors looking out their windows also get a green view.
Mein Garten’s approach is smart and sustainable in a tropical climate like Vietnam’s. While it’s often hot and humid, there are cooler, wet seasons, too. And these seasonal changes are reflected in the office. “Day by day, season by season, the plants continue to grow and change, giving the office a new look. This office, therefore, is not just a built object. It is living, like an organism.”
Cities are increasingly loaded up with technology. Sensors now enable managers of urban water and sewage infrastructure to spot leaks as they happen. Meter maids no longer have to tromp around all day looking for violators — with new video and analytical tools, transportation departments can locate parking offenders in real-time. Cites prone to flooding now have robust-technology-enabled early warning systems. Ubiquitous security cameras can lead to rapid arrests. And smart phone apps enable citizens to report potholes and other problems in the urban environment as they find them. Many technologies aim to improve the responsiveness or resilience of city services. And while many of these new systems are sold as an easy, all-encompassing solution, like any software, they are high maintenance. Smart city technologies certainly can’t fix all of a city’s problems, particularly deep-seated structural issues like inequality and displacement.
But one technology that could actually live up to some of the hype is Placemeter, which aims to provide an “accurate, flexible, and continuous measurement of how people and vehicles move about your city.” Stumbling upon the technology at the Smart Cities Week in Washington, D.C., I was mesmerized by the little red dots moving through an urban plaza. I discovered that each red dot is a person walking through the plaza in real-time. Seen above is a view of people moving through Union Square in New York City, a place Placemeter says it’s collecting data on and offering for free via their website.
Josh Gershon with Placemeter explained how his firm’s technology can use either existing video feeds or their own sensors, which will be available in October of this year, to turn video into data that can be analyzed with a dashboard. Their software looks for certain shapes in the video feed — cars, trucks, pedestrian, bicyclist — and records their numbers along with path and speed. Placemeter anonymizes all the data so people only appear as dots.
As Gershon explained, Placemeter views the retail sector as a primary market for their tools. While stores almost always collect numbers on how many people entered and bought something, few understand “all the customers they missed and why.” Retailers could use Placemeter to see if various advertisements, window fronts, sounds, or even scents work in attracting people into retail environments.
In the same way, architects could use the technology to see how people navigate building entrances. And landscape architects could use Placemeter to conduct pre- and post-occupancy surveys of their designed landscapes and find opportunities for improvements based on pedestrian flow. Transportation officials could spot congestion and blockages and create remedies, or find out how bicyclists are actually getting around (many aren’t using the bike lanes). Developers and city government clients could find out if their expensive investments in planning and design worked out as they hoped. Given software like Placemeter can be scaled up to the city-scale, planners could even get a sense of broader use patterns.
Still, it’s still important to actually sit, watch, and analyze people using a public space. William Whyte in The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces and, more recently, Jan Gehl in Cities for People make the case for taking the time to really understand all the nuances of how different kinds of people use a park, plaza, or street. While Placemeter provides useful aggregate data in real-time, it can’t tell who’s older and needs to find a bench, who’s young and wants to play in the water, or who is really busy and looking for the shortest route from A to B. Perhaps both a qualitative and quantitative approach together can provide some new insights that yield better urban design.