Toronto will soon transform the space beneath one of its elevated expressways into a multi-use public park and trail system. Project: Under Gardiner, situated beneath a mile of the Gardiner Expressway, will connect seven neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city, including Toronto’s revitalized waterfront. Drawing comparison to Miami’s Underline, Under Gardiner, designed by urban designer Ken Greenberg with Adam Nicklin and Marc Ryan of Public Work, is centered around a bike and pedestrian trail that will stretch from Stratchan Avenue to Spadina Avenue.
Although significantly shorter than the 10 mile-long Underline, the trail is equally connective to surrounding trails and green spaces. Under Gardiner will link to an extension of the West Toronto Railpath, expected to be completed in 2018, as well as a pedestrian foot bridge extending from a new series of parks near Fort York Boulevard, which will begin construction in 2016.
Under Gardiner is more than a trail. The columns holding up the expressway will serve as dividers for a series of up to 55 covered “outdoor rooms” that will host a “kaleidoscope of year-round destination and activities including gardens, an adventure playground, public markets, art fairs and exhibitions, festivals, theatrical and musical performances,” according to a press release.
More specifically, the western portion of the project near Strachan Avenue is slated as a “Creative Action Hub,” with maker spaces and galleries, as well as urban agriculture plots. The central portion between Fort York and June Callwood Park will become a more “Passive Hub” with contemplative spaces, native plantings, and gardens that provide winter interest. To the east, near the Waterfont, community amenities such as public markets, fitness areas, and community gathering spaces, are the priority. According to The Globe and Mail, “the designers imagine that later phases of the project could include buildings, such as an ‘innovation hub’ of art, design and fabrication studios.”
Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway has long been the subject of controversy. It has been on the chopping block for more than twenty years, with the Toronto City Council finally voting against tearing it down in June. At one point it was even envisioned as a $600 million dollar High Line-style park. However, a $25 million donation from philanthropists Judy and Wil Matthews – the entire cost of the project — makes Under Gardiner much more feasible as a “suture for the city’s downtown neighborhoods and the waterfront,” according to The Star.
The city is currently investigating if Under Gardiner can be managed by a non-profit park conservancy that would work in conjunction with the city. Toronto’s park and public spaces have never seen this sort of partnership nor a donation this large, according to The Globe and Mail.
The Toronto City Council will decide in early December “whether they should accept the $25 million” and begin work on the project in 2016, according to Citylab. One of the first steps after approval will be giving the project a new name that is “uniquely Torontonian,” through a “Reclaim the Name” campaign.
Looking for the perfect present? Or taking time off during the holidays to delve into the latest thinking on design, cities, and the environment? Well, The Dirt’s picks for the top ten books of 2015 are worth exploring:
30:30 Landscape Architecture (Phaidon Press, 2015)
Landscape architecture gets the Phaidon treatment in this appealing and innovative coffee table book by Meaghan Kombol. 30 of the world’s leading landscape architects and designers are paired with 30 up-and-coming ones. Well-known landscape architects featured include Kate Orff, ASLA, Mario Schjetnan, FASLA, Martha Schwartz, FASLA, Kongjian Yu, FASLA, and many others. 30:30‘s scope is truly international, with designers from over 20 countries.
The Age of Sustainable Development (Columbia University Press, 2015)
Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, one of the world’s foremost experts on global development, makes complex, inter-connected issues understandable in this book that explores the future of the planet. E.O. Wilson writes: “Inspirational, encyclopedic in coverage, moving smoothly from discipline to discipline as though composed by multiple experts, the book explains why humanity must maintain sustainability as its highest priority — and outlines the best ways to do it.”
Artful Rainwater Design: Creative Ways to Manage Stormwater (Island Press, 2015)
As our climate becomes more unpredictable, finding better ways to manage stormwater is crucial to reducing floods. However, traditional stormwater management strategies can be unforgettable at best and unsightly at worst. In their new book, Pennsylvania State University professors Stuart Echols, ASLA, and Eliza Pennypacker, ASLA, prove that this doesn’t always have to be the case — it’s possible to effectively manage runoff without sacrificing aesthetics. Read the full review in The Dirt.
The Authentic Garden: Naturalistic and Contemporary Landscape Design (Monacelli Press, 2015)
Richard Hartlage, Affiliate ASLA, and Sandy Fischer, ASLA, founders of Land Morphology in Seattle, have put together a book of visual inspirations, showcasing 60 contemporary designs that feature “beauty for beauty’s sake.” Over 250 full-color photographs highlight the work of Andrea Cochran, FASLA, Raymond Jungles, FASLA, Christine Ten Eyck, FASLA, Michael Vergason, FASLA, and many others.
Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space (Verso)
Yale architecture professor and author Keller Easterling has written a fascinating book on infrastructure, and its role in setting the “hidden rules that structure the spaces around us.” Her book looks at the “emergent new powers controlling this space and show how they extend beyond the reach of government.” After reading Extrastatecraft, you aren’t likely to think the same way again about free trade zones, suburbs, or, really, any other standardized spatial form.
Frederick Law Olmsted: Plans and Views of Public Parks (The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted) (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015)
Charles Eliot Beveridge, PhD, Hon. ASLA, Lauren Meier, and Irene Mills bring together Olmsted’s plans and designs for seventy public parks, including Central Park, Prospect Park, the Buffalo Park and Parkway System, Washington Park and Jackson Park in Chicago, Boston’s “Emerald Necklace,” and Mount Royal in Montreal, Quebec. “It is a perfect gift for Olmsted aficionados.”
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World (Knopf, 2015)
Author Andrea Wulf delves into the life of German scientist and adventurer Alexander von Humboldt, the “Einstein of the 19th century,” who discovered climate and vegetation zones, among many other natural phenomena. Humboldt also predicted climate change. “Arresting. . . . readable, thoughtful, and widely researched,” writes The New York Times Book Review.
Phyto: Principles and Resources for Site Remediation and Landscape Design (Routledge, 2015)
Harvard Graduate School of Design landscape architecture professor Niall Kirkwood, FASLA, and landscape architect Kate Kennen, ASLA, have created a smart and practical guide on how to incorporate phytoremediation, which involves using plants to absorb, remove, or mitigate pollutants, into the actual landscape design process. Kirkwood and Kennen show how to apply helpful plants in sites that are already toxic, but also how to “create projective planting designs with preventative phytotechnology abilities.” The thoughtful book layout and design enables learning, too.
Planting in a Post-Wild World (Timber Press, 2015)
Landscape architect Thomas Rainer, ASLA, and Claudia West, International ASLA, have written an accessible and creative guide to resilient planting design. Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, said: “Rainer and West describe how to translate natural plant relationships and ecological patterns into aesthetically pleasing yet functional landscapes. With their advice we can change gardening from an adversarial relationship with nature to a collaborative one. Expertly researched, and rife with witty advice, this is the universal how-to guide to sustainable landscaping we have all been waiting for. A masterful accomplishment!”
Also, worth knowing: buying these books through The Dirt or ASLA’s bookstore benefits ASLA educational programs.
James F. Palmer, PhD, PLA, FASLA, is the owner of Scenic Quality Consultants and senior landscape architect with T. J. Boyle Associates, both in Burlington, Vermont. He is professor emeritus at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Explore his research. The interview was conducted at the ASLA 2015 Annual Meeting in Chicago.
Many of the most egregious activities are better hidden than they were 50 years ago. I am thinking of junk yards and dumps. Plus, many places now prohibit or restrict large signs and billboards. The public is much more likely to assert their right to pleasing visual surroundings, something that was less likely to happen 50 years ago. However, I am always surprised by how little organized support there is for protecting scenic quality.
The national park and environment movements both began to protect scenery, particularly the most spectacular scenery, but the environmental movement has moved their attention elsewhere in the past few decades.
The national park movement began with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872. The Organic Act, which established the National Park Service (NPS), was passed in 1916. The purpose was to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” The NPS created coffee table books to popularize remote parks. This technique was latter used by the Sierra Club and others to protect the scenic environment; think building support for the Wilderness Act and establishing Redwoods National Park in the 1960s.
The American environmental movement began with the founding of the Sierra Club by John Muir in 1892. An iconic achievement of the environmental movement was the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which directs the federal government to “assure for all Americans safe, healthful, productive, and aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings.”
Loss of scenery was used to advance both movements. However, the environmental movement today seems to largely ignore the importance of scenery to the vast majority of the public, unless they can use it for fundraising. While the environmental movement is still healthy, it’s less focused on protecting visual quality and more focused about climate change and biodiversity. We would have greater success addressing these issues if environmentalists recognized and responded to the public’s concerns about the scenic effects of the “solutions” being proposed, rather than dismissing them as unimportant.
You measure scenic quality. How is this done? What makes one place more scenic than another?
Scenery appreciation is a human perception. It can be measured by sampling people and asking them to evaluate scenes or simulations. Sample surveys of the public is a way to directly measure their appreciation. This approach is sufficiently effective that Western democracies commonly used polling to inform all sorts of government policies.
The landscape also has intrinsic qualities, such as topographic relief and land cover. These qualities can be used to predict visual quality. For example, this first image below is a landscape most Americans would agree is not scenic: an open field of asphalt visually enclosed by a shopping center, transmission lines, and trees.
This second image is obviously scenic, but the composition is actually similar to the first image. Here, there is an expanse of open water in the foreground, backed by natural woods and transmission structures.
This next image would be considered even more scenic by many people: open water backed by forested mountains.
In another example: these images have a similar composition, except the first image below has an pasture backed by a forested hill in fall color, while the second has a lake backed by a forested hill in fall color. They are both quite scenic, but water gives the view an extra boost.
You evaluate the negative impacts on scenic quality and how to mitigate those. What impacts on scenic beauty are you most often called in to deal with? What are the best ways to limit their impacts?
Now my work mostly deals with energy projects: wind, solar, and transmission lines. The most common ways to mitigate the visual impact of these projects are to hide them from view or reduce their visible contrast with the surroundings. This mostly involves contrasts in color, but also shape and texture. This is difficult to do with wind, so governments are exploring other ways to mitigate their impact on scenic assets, like fixing a blight somewhere else, or concentrating development in one area in return for protecting another area.
I cringe when I hear opposition groups call for less government, since only pro-active government planning will protect some landscapes as we fight to mitigate the worst impacts on scenery. Government planning is also needed to counteract the effects of climate change, but a great nation should be able to accomplish both goals.
What do you think of the new generation of digital billboards along highways?
They are terrible, but I am particularly worried about safety. They keep changing! Once, a glance gave you the message. Now there is a whole story to be followed. They are an attractive nuisance and should be banned from all roadways.
They offer the same potential for visual blight that billboards did originally. While one sign informing residents about community events may be acceptable, the cacophony of “free speech” simply destroys the sense of place valued by residents. There needs to be reasonable limits.
Nearly a decade ago you published a study on how to best reduce the negative impacts of clear-cutting on the natural beauty of forests. What were your main findings?
The White Mountain National Forest was interested in how size, intensity, and pattern of clear cut harvesting affected scenic value. A national forest is given an annual harvest target. The question is how best to meet that target: one very large clear cut, several modest clear cuts, many very small clear cuts, or selectively removing trees and not clear-cutting. It is important to understand that clear-cuts can be desirable because they create habitat that is important to wildlife that we value, like deer.
The study found that the most scenic views were those without any visibly-harvested areas. Scenic value took a big hit when they harvested 3 percent of the visible forest over a 25 year period. The next 3 percent further reduced scenic value, but not as much as that first 3 percent. Each additional increment of harvest intensity further reduces scenic value, until the point where 15 percent of the forest has been harvested—that was the sustainable-yield threshold.
As expected, large clear cuts reduce scenic quality, but the smallest clear cuts were almost as bad. It seems that 10 to 14 acres were the best sized openings for a given intensity of harvesting.
In another study, you examined residents’ perceptions of scenic quality in a town in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, finding that “more than half of the variation in scenic perceptions can be explained by spatial landscape metrics.” What does this mean?
Relatively simple landscape metrics of intrinsic attributes typically explain about half of our scenic perception. The presence of water almost always enhances scenic value. And natural-appearing areas, sometimes called “green space,” are generally preferred. People seem to prefer the interplay of land cover types—an open pasture bounded by a forested hill or a residential development integrated with a system of open spaces. This interplay is measured as edge density. Much of the variation in scenic value unexplained appears to be related to more social or personal factors.
The Cape Cod studies are interesting because they considered landscape perceptions of local residents over 20 years. One of the key findings was that though there were significant changes in the landscape and the population during this period, their perceptions of what made a scenic or not so scenic landscape remained pretty stable.
You have also said “it’s time to renew investigations of the link between visual landscape perceptions and our sense of well-being.” Where is this research today and where would you like it to go?
The visible landscape is linked to our perceptions of how well we think things are going. Landscape is the stage upon which we act out our lives. How our landscape looks informs us about what is appropriate to do in a particular place and time. For instance a street littered with trash and graffiti on the buildings might be considered as unsafe. When the trash and graffiti are removed and maybe some street plants are introduced, it is perceived as a place that is safer and being cared for.
Landscape also informs us of what is reasonably possible in the future. This is why the community visioning work of many landscape architecture firms and university programs is so important. Examples of organizations involved in this work are the Orton Family Foundation, the Dunn Foundation, and Scenic America.
My professional practice is primarily focused on scenic impact assessment, particularly of renewable energy projects. Here in New England, many people are upset by the introduction of commercial renewable energy projects into the rural landscape. But global climate change is going to have significant effects on this landscape, and many residents see commercial renewable energy projects as a positive change. All we really know right now is that they are often very visible.
It would be very helpful to decision makers if there was more scientific research about the general contribution of scenery or visual surroundings to the experience of all sorts of activities—commuting to work, casually looking out a window, as well as recreation activities like kayaking, hiking, or camping.