It’s Time to Take Phytoremediation Seriously

Phyto / Routledge
Phyto / Routledge

Any new studio reference book needs be beautifully illustrated. In this respect, Harvard University landscape architecture professor Niall Kirkwood, FASLA, and landscape architect Kate Kennen, ASLA, don’t disappoint with Phyto: Principles and Resources for Site Remediation and Landscape Design. But while we all like to look at beautifully-crafted, well-curated imagery, that’s not the point. This book is illuminating, a careful and coherent, critical and constructive analysis of the Phytoremediation movement, which calls for using plants to remove toxic chemicals, metals, and other contaminants from the environment.

The book begins by acknowledging an accomplished group of contributors, who bring credibility to a subject critically important but too often dismissed in the “real world.” Early on, the book provides a thoughtful sequence that explains the rationale for the book’s structure and answers the question: why are we dedicating another book to this subject?

Well, the answer is clear: because no other book has provided the thoughtful and accessible bridge long needed between theory and practice. While providing justification for the book could come off as a bit self-conscious, instead it reads as an honest depiction of an emerging field. (I also feel that if more authors were forced to go through this process of self examination, we would have both far-fewer volumes, but many-more excellent books like Phyto from which to choose).

The first two chapters cover the history and fundamentals of phytoremediation. After clearly articulating the knowledge gaps that exist in the field, the book contextualizes the movement’s early failures. Phyto then provides an expansive re-branding of the discipline, empowering potential users of these plant-based technologies to think more strategically about opportunities at hand.

Contaminant organizational chart from Phyto / Offshoots Productive Landscapes
Contaminant organizational chart from Phyto / Offshoots Productive Landscapes
Examples of phyto benefits of trees / Offshoots Productive Landscapes
Examples of phyto benefits of trees / Offshoots Productive Landscapes

The text provides a clear and comprehensive vocabulary for landscape architects and designers to use in practice. From there, the book shows how to apply these technologies in real-world situations. The book delves into common contaminants of concern and how they can be targeted with precision; a summary of planting assemblages that can be deployed in concert representing best in field technologies; and typical examples of spatial designs that produce common contaminant profiles and likely site characteristics. Variation of type and scale creates flexibility, showing landscape architects and designers how to find just the right application of phytoremediation technologies.

Railyard scenario from Phyto / Offshoots Productive Landscapes
Railyard scenario from Phyto / Offshoots Productive Landscapes
Railyard scenario from Phyto / Offshoots Productive Landscapes
Railyard scenario from Phyto / Offshoots Productive Landscapes

As knowledge-based considerations continue to find their way into public landscape design and management, inventive designers and enlightened clients interested in looking at all the alternatives would do themselves a favor by adding this book to their library and its knowledge to their practice.

This guest post is by Christian Gabriel, ASLA, National Design Director of Landscape Architecture, General Services Administration (GSA).

Stormproofing the Atlantic Coast

Atlantic City, New Jersey / Structure of Coastal Resilience
Atlantic City, New Jersey / Structure of Coastal Resilience

The galleries of the Center for Architecture in New York City provide a small view of the large scope of the Structures of Coastal Resilience, a new research and design project from Princeton University. The project is sweeping: new designs for resilience on the Atlantic coastline from New England to Virginia. The exhibition displays just two proposals for Atlantic City, New Jersey, and New York’s Jamaica Bay, but the in-depth, companion web site shows all four proposals, including those for Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, and Norfolk, Virginia. The straightforward exhibition design — mostly architectural boards pinned to the wall — details solutions for buffering against storms in the next hundred years.

A team from Princeton University’s School of Architecture led by architecture professor Paul Lewis, also a principal at Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis (LTL) Architects, proposes to storm-proof a suburban neighborhood of Atlantic City by creating “amphibious suburbs,” elevating road and houses and softening edges between private yards and wetlands (see image above).

The strategies proposed by a team from the City College of New York, led by landscape architecture professor Catherine Seavitt, ASLA, similarly raise roads and form berms to protect bay front settlements in Jamaica Bay, New York, while focusing on urban ecology to restore marshes and improve water flow through the Bay.

Jamaica Bay proposal / Structures of Coastal Resilience
Jamaica Bay proposal / Structures of Coastal Resilience

The Jamaica Bay team broke down its analysis into a series of booklets on display, from a catalog of resident fauna to a history of infrastructural interventions. Unfortunately, the most captivating element of their work is not on view. A series of topographical models of Jamaica Bay cast in soap are a missed opportunity to take advantage of the physical exhibition space to understand the area in question and the modeling processes behind the design proposals. See a few brief videos:

The project’s website provides a better introduction to the design proposals. A team led by landscape architecture professors Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, and Rosetta Elkin at Harvard University Graduate School of Design examines how best to add redundancy to the storm protection capabilities of coastal forests and shrub lands in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay.

Narrangasett Bay proposal / Structures for Coastal Resilience
Narragansett Bay proposal / Structures for Coastal Resilience

And a team lead by landscape architecture professor Anuradha Mathur, ASLA, and architect and planner Dilip da Cunha at the University of Pennsylvania proposes “fingers of high ground” for refuge and new settlements in the tidewaters of Norfolk, Virginia.

Norfolk, Virginia proposal / Structures of Coastal Resilience
Norfolk, Virginia proposal / Structures of Coastal Resilience

These complex and rigorously-scientific proposals have been far less publicized than the work of the other major design research projects prompted by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The winners of the Rebuild by Design competition are now in the planning phases for pilot projects supported by the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The projects of Structures of Coastal Resilience focus on less densely populated landscapes, with the goal of developing recommendations for ongoing projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As a result, they appear far less engaged with the human and political dimensions of adaptation to climate change. However, there is more than ecological modeling and housing prototypes to the wholesale transformation of a residential neighborhood. Amphibious suburbs are a response to the political impossibility of total retreat from the sea, but elevating homes and redefining boundaries of public and private space begs discussion, too.

Exhibitions are a great vehicle for bringing such questions to the public sphere, but, for that, they need to speak in a language more compelling than that of the architectural studio.

Structures of Coastal Resilience is on view at the Center for Architecture in New York City through April 2, 2016.

This guest post is by Mariana Mogilevich, a historian of architecture and urbanism, whose research focuses on the design and politics of the public realm.

Who Taught You How to See?

Paradise Valley Residence / Coen + Partners
Paradise Valley Residence / Coen + Partners

This is the question landscape architect Shane Coen, ASLA, founder of Coen + Partners, asked as he began his lecture at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. For him, the answer is his father, the painter Don Coen. He emphasized the importance of teaching sight, saying “it’s our job to get people to see. It’s our job to inspire spaces that inspire people.”

Coen’s lecture showcased a selection of projects Coen + Partners have completed since its unlikely beginning 25 years ago. Shortly after graduation, Coen was asked suddenly to co-start a landscape practice by the son of the creator of Herman Miller’s famous Aeron chair. The practice began with “no money and no experience, but the unbelievable opportunity” of a five-year, rent-free space. With time and a stable foundation, he applied his “ability to see” to the mid-Western countryside surrounding their Minneapolis-based office.

Coen made clear his work does not replicate nature but rather works in contrast to it. Emphasizing the importance of working with collaborative architects, Coen’s work is in many ways itself architectural, capitalizing on “the simplicity of form and color sitting in a landscape.”

His firm’s guiding principles are manifested in Jackson Meadow, his first project, which was designed in collaboration with architect David Salmela. The award-winning 1999 planned residential community features 64 uniquely-designed but all-while pitched-roof homes, carefully placed in a rolling woodland, with porches precisely oriented toward the community’s 5-mile nature trail.

Jackson Meadow / Coen + Partners
Jackson Meadow / Coen + Partners

Awarded a 2015 National Design Award from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Coen + Partners’ projects cover a range of types and scales, each aesthetically adjusted to their particular context. Despite its expansion, however, the firm’s work remains 40 percent residential, with Coen noting the importance of these projects as educational and exploratory projects for the firm. Yet it is his series of award-winning public and institutional projects have led him to his latest and perhaps most challenging work in Saudi Arabia.

Coen received a sealed letter inviting the firm to interview to design the master plan and open spaces for the lands surrounding the skyscrapers of Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District. Coen soon found himself in the driver seat behind a 1,220-acre project, with a need to “create a vision and build a team” — a role he sees as critical for landscape architects going forward.

Drawing on the star dunes and wadi streams of the Saudi Arabian desert, renderings of the project reveal large star-shaped sun shades and water-centric linear park space.

 King Abdullah Financial District / Coen + Partners

King Abdullah Financial District / Coen + Partners
King Abdullah Financial District / Coen + Partners
King Abdullah Financial District / Coen + Partners

Considered the first inclusive public space in Riyadh, the project was recently approved by Saudi Arabia’s High Commission. With Coen + Partners ”design vision and aesthetic leadership” on the project, it will be interesting to see the firm’s minimalist design approach at this new scale.

This guest post is by Nate Wooten, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, University of Pennsylvania School of Design.

Alan Ward’s Luminous Landscapes

Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts / copyright Alan Ward
Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts / copyright Alan Ward

“Someone once asked the nature photographer Ansel Adams, ‘why are there no people in your photographs?’,” said Susan Piedmont-Palladino, curator at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., at the opening of Luminous Landscapes, a new exhibition featuring the landscape photography of Alan Ward, FASLA, a principal at Sasaki Associates. “Adams replied that there are always two people in his photographs — the photographer and the viewer.” Piedmont-Palladino added that in Ward’s photography of landscape architecture, there is always a third unseen person: the landscape architect. The exhibition covers landscape works from before 1900, “before the profession of landscape architecture,” then the period from 1900 to World War II, and, lastly, post-war modern and contemporary landscapes.

Ward said photography is his second career, but his decades-long immersion in this art form is symbiotic with his day-job, which is planning and design. His first photograph, taken back in 1978 with 30 pounds of equipment, including an unwieldy tripod, was of Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts (see image above). The cemetery, which features prominently in the first part of the exhibition, opened in 1831, so it even predates Frederick Law Olmsted’s Central Park. It was one of the first picturesque Romantic landscapes in America, and Ward’s photograph similarly evokes that style’s wild feel.

The exhibition features Ward’s black and white photography, which he seems to prefer to color. As he explained, “color photography can just have too much information. Black and white helps simplify and also abstract the forms in the landscape designs.” Ward mostly takes his black and white photos in the early morning or late afternoon in order to capture the “very soft light and not over-expose.” He looks for ways to “put all the information together into a coherent image” and create a story of a landscape defined by both stark contrasts and subtle shifts of tone. Capturing all these complex layers, Ward says, is made possible through black and white, which is best at isolating the effect of light on the landscape.

Perugino view, early morning / copyright Alan Ward
Perugino view, early morning / copyright Alan Ward

Color photography, Ward added, is “often treated at face value, like reality.” But all photography, color or black and white, is highly manipulated to achieve correct tones and sought-after representations. All of photography plays with the idea of what is real. “Photography is not quite a lie, but not quite the truth. There is a lot of abstraction.”

Leaving the heavy camera behind in favor of a Canon Mach 2, Ward today contemplates the challenges of digital photography. The old camera forced photographers to be very deliberate in setting up shots, but now with a digital camera, “most take dozens of photographs and figure one will come out well,” he laughed. “Digital photography may diminish your looking and framing.” It’s important, Ward said, to continue to apply “rigorous seeing and visualization” when using a digital camera.

As we wander over to the last room filled with the modern and contemporary landscapes, we reach the photographs that made Ward so well-known among landscape architects — his shots of Dan Kiley’s Miller Garden in Columbus, Indiana. Because the garden wasn’t open to the public then, most designers only got to experience the site through Ward’s photographs. Seeing Ward’s consideration of the garden for the first time, I began to understand why so many contemporary landscape architects find the landscape so appealing. Kiley took traditional French garden forms, like allees of trees and rectilinear arrangement of hedges, and made them modern. But it’s Ward’s photographs of them, with his Modernist framing, that further “amplifies the design.”

Miller Garden / copyright Alan Ward
Miller Garden / copyright Alan Ward

Ward riffed on why photography can amplify the design in some landscapes and not others. He argued that Olmsted’s picturesque Central Park is so hard to shoot because the curved paths and vast meadows recede away from you, proving too elusive for the photographer to capture. The totality of the experience is somehow beyond representation. But modern landscape’s bold shapes and orthogonal forms seem to be only heightened by the framing of the photographer. “The bold use of geometry lends itself to powerful images.” Ward said that taking those photographs helped him understand what Kiley set out to achieve, and that understanding greatly influenced his own designs.

Piedmont-Palladino added later that one can see a great difference between architecture that predates photography and architecture from the era of photography, perhaps speaking to the influential role of photography in shaping our expectations of the built environment. Ward, who started out as an architecture student and first took photographs of buildings, said still to this day, the ideal architectural photograph shows sharp light cutting across a building facade — quite different from his “soft light” used to capture landscapes. Those shards of light are now often found in actual building designs; just look at Daniel Libeskind’s work.

One question the exhibition brought up: What is the role of fine black and white photography today? It can now be considered an ancient art form when compared with today’s iPhone and Instagram-generated ephemera. Piedmont-Palladino discussed the ubiquity of Apple’s new advertisements lauding the photographs taken with its latest iPhone, which make anonymous and interchangeable the person who actually made the image. She questioned whether the technology — the phone camera — mattered as much as the photographer, “the person with the great eye,” who makes the photograph possible. In the era of instant, throw-away photography, what happens to the appreciation of what Ward achieves?

Blue Steps (Birch Walk) / copyright Alan Ward
Blue Steps (Birch Walk) / copyright Alan Ward

And if black and white or even color photography doesn’t quite tell the truth, does another representational art form get us closer to the experience of a landscape? What about video, used more and more to convey both idealized and real landscapes? In the future, will we go to exhibitions of landscape video art, which can better capture landscape change and sound and may have new resonance in our multimedia world? Or will we continue to delve further into abstraction, with online collections of landscape Instagram or Vine works, just as there are now collections featuring animated GIFs from the 1990s?

The most reasonable conclusion may be that all media are “not quite the truth.” And, as Piedmont-Palladino said, “perhaps the truth isn’t what we are after.”

The exhibition runs through September 5. If not in the area, check out Ward’s book, American Designed Landscapes: A Photographic Interpretation.

Landscape Architects: Share Your Most Innovative Ideas

Driverless highway of the future / Natalia Beard, SWA Group
Driverless highway of the future / Natalia Beard, SWA Group

There are lots of great conferences that offer speaking opportunities for landscape architects. One in particular is SXSW Eco, which has become a leading forum for sustainable design across all disciplines. Last year, SXSW Eco provided a platform for a number of landscape architects, who spoke about everything from the future impact of autonomous vehicles on the built environment to how social media can be used to increase public participation in planning and design. Speaking at these kinds of inter-disciplinary events is important because it helps landscape architects reach a broad audience of influencers. SXSW Eco said last year nearly half of the conference’s attendees were their companies’ lead decision maker.

This year, SXSW Eco will be held in Austin, Texas, on October 10-12. Landscape architects can showcase their breakthrough ideas for the following subjects: cities, communications, conservation + adaptation, corporate responsibility, energy, food systems, policy, and water.

The conference organizers are looking for “content that inspires, educates, and informs, providing motivation as well as the tools to take action.” They want a real “diversity in perspective, opinion, and representation.” Furthermore, “self-promotion and advertorial presentations are not well-received.” Session proposals could include panels, workshops, debates, or any other creative format.

The conference will also feature a keynote speech by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the head of the Waterkeeper Alliance, who will talk about the movement to create swimmable, drinkable, fishable water for all; and talks by Annette Kim, University of Southern California’s Spatial Analysis Lab, who will uncover the “hidden connections between urban residents and their actions through data visualization;” and Raj Patel, University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs, who will explore the interconnected global food system.

Submit your session proposals by April 29. Using the “PanelPicker” tool, the SXSW community will then vote on which sessions will make it into the conference. Also, submit ideas for Place By Design, SXSW Eco’s “pitch competition,” which celebrates design with social and environmental impact, by May 27.

For those just looking to attend some conferences and hear some new ideas this spring or summer, here are a few: Leading with Landscape II: The Houston Transformation, Houston, Texas (March 11-13); American Planning Association (APA), Phoenix, Arizona (April 12-15); Dumbarton Oaks: Landscape and the Academy, Washington, D.C. (May 6-7); Grey to Green: Addressing Climate Change with Green Infrastructure, Toronto, Canada (June 1-4); Congress for New Urbanism (CNU), Detroit, Michigan (June 8 – 11); and Resilient Cites: 7th Global Forum on Urban Resilience and Adaptation, Bonn, Germany (July 6-8).

See hundreds of upcoming conferences at ASLA’s continuously-updated free resource: Conferences for Landscape Architects and also check out LA CES for yet more options that yield PDHs.

2016 Environmental Performance Rankings Show Progress and Failure

Deforestation in Brazil / Wired
Deforestation in Brazil / Wired

Yale University and Columbia University, together with the World Economic Forum, have released the 2016 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which tracks how well countries protect human health and ecosystems. According to their analysis, “nearly every country” has improved their “environmental performance” on 20 different indicators over the past decade, while land and marine ecosystems only continue to decline. Countries in Western Europe and North America, which already have fairly high scores, now focus on incremental improvements, but are still gaining, while even China and India have shown significant improvements from 2006. Still, the problems facing both people and ecosystems are massive. More than 3.5 billion people — half of the world’s population — live in countries with “unsafe” air quality, and around 8 percent of the global population still lacks access to clean water. On the ecosystems side: a third of all fisheries are “over-exploited” or have simply collapsed, while, in 2014 alone, an area the size of Peru, about 2.5 million square kilometers, was stripped of trees. Only 15.4 percent of terrestrial habitats and 8.4 percent of marine habitats are protected, far less than the amount Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson has called for: 50 percent of the Earth’s surface.

The world’s progress on environmental performance is wildly uneven. For example, the EPI global scorecard shows improvements in access to drinking water. The number of people who lack access to clean water has been cut in half from 960 million in 2000 to 550 million today, even as the population has increased. However, the report also shows corresponding human health failures, namely increasing air pollution. As they argued in 2012, uneven progress is due to different stages of economic development. “As nations become wealthier, particularly in Asia, their governments invest in sanitation infrastructure and fewer people are exposed to unsafe water, leading to fewer deaths from waterborne illnesses. But as countries develop, increased industrial production, shipping, and automotive transportation foul the air, exposing human populations to dangerous airborne compounds.”

In India, which is rapidly developing, 75 percent of the population is exposed to dangerous air every day. And in China, which has quickly become the second biggest economy on Earth, one in five deaths is attributed to air pollution — about 4,000 people every day. While air pollution is a critical issue in China and India, it also impacts people far beyond those two developing countries — some 3.5 billion people, or half the world’s population — live in places where fine particulate matter exceeds World Health Organization (WHO) safe standards.

Wealthy Nordic countries continue to lead the rankings, with Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark at the very top, followed by European countries Slovenia, Spain, Portugal, Estonia, Malta, and France. Over the past decade, these countries show a 5-10 percent improvement in environmental performance, with model Finland improving just 3 percent over the decade, perhaps because it has already achieved such high levels of achievement. Finland, the report notes, recently passed a legally-binding resolution to receive 38 percent of their final energy from renewable sources by 2020; currently, the country already gets two-thirds of its electricity from renewable or nuclear power.

This year, the USA is in 26th place, a great improvement over 49th place in 2012 and 61st place in 2010, and a 10 percent improvement overall in performance over the past decade. President Obama’s administration has made major gains in improving air quality. Over the past decade, the administration has issued new regulations on heavy duty truck fuel efficiency and released new mercury air toxins standards, particulate matter rules, and fuel sulfur rules. President Obama has also stepped up conservation efforts, broadening the world’s largest protected marine preserve, the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument, into a zone that now covers 490,000 square miles. The U.S. has done poorly on protecting its forests though, according to the index. Canada is ranked at 25, just one spot above the US.

China, the world’s second biggest economy, is ranked 109, up from 116th place in 2012. Its performance has improved nearly 13 percent over the past decade — its air quality and sanitation and waste water treatment efforts have led to gains over the past decade. And, India, the world’s most populous country, is in 141st place, slipping from 125th place in 2012, but improving 20 percent over the past decade, largely because of its improvements in sanitation and waste water treatment.

The report identifies most-improved countries — which include Comoros (48 percent), Sao Tome and Principe (38 percent), Egypt (37 percent), Djibouti (36 percent), Timor-Leste (33 percent), Lesotho (32 percent), Tanzania (31 percent) — but all are below 100 in the rankings, so they start from relatively low points. Among middle-income countries, Ukraine, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Jordan, Greece, and Croatia have also showed big gains.

One of the few criticisms of this heroic analytical effort is the report could better highlight some of the most destructive underlying trends — namely the unabated destruction of the world’s forests, ecosystems essential to all life on earth. A stunning set of statistics: the world has lost 18 million hectares of forest each year since 2000. “The rate of global forest loss has increased in the past 15 years, up 19 percent in the period 2012 to 2014, and 42 percent compared with 2001 to 2004.” Forests, as they explain, are threatened everywhere, but most in danger in Brazil, Indonesia, the Mekong Basin in Southeast Asia, and Congo Basin in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2014 alone, tropical forests lost 9.9 million acres of trees, an area the size of South Korea. Brazil has made strong pledges to eliminate illegal deforestation by 2030 but deforestation rates rose 16 percent last year. In other parts of the world, there aren’t even pledges to slow the destruction, as palm oil plantations and livestock farms replace forest.

Towards the end of the 100-plus-page report that accompanies the index, the team from Yale and Columbia return to their core argument, which is humanity is dramatically undervaluing the planet’s ecosystem services, and, as a result, slowly destroying its ability to sustain itself. As the authors note, “a recent study estimates that the loss of ecosystem services due to land use changes worldwide was worth between $4.3 and $20.2 trillion a year. These services contribute twice as much to human well-being than the entire gross domestic product” of the world. The authors note that a number of policymakers “already consider global biodiversity loss to be a serious threat to economic growth.” These forward-thinking policymakers understand that without forests and essential ecosystems, there is no global economy.

The EPI argues the only way forward is to decouple economic growth from the destruction of ecosystems. Natural accounting, which measures and includes the value of ecosystem services, must become the norm among governments and the private sector. Without the incorporation of the real economic value of the environment, it will be impossible for policymakers to make decisions about sustainable natural resource use. Natural accounting can be used to make the case for conservation and also restoration — what’s needed if we are to have a sustainable future.

Let’s Make Our Parks More Inclusive

North Cascades National Park / Evergreenscapes
North Cascades National Park / Evergreenscapes

Go to a national park and you may see brown bears, blue herons, or Redwood trees. But you’re less likely to see any people of color. According to a survey conducted by the National Park Service in 2011, approximately 80 percent of park visitors are white as are park staff, even as projections show whites will be in the minority in the U.S. in 30 years. As the National Park Service counts down to its centennial, I struggle with the lack of diversity in national parks, particularly our urban sanctuaries.

As the son of Chinese immigrants growing up in a predominantly African-American Chicago neighborhood in the late 1960s, my interests were never focused on the outdoors. Even with a strict Chinese upbringing — think Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother — I drifted into illegal behaviors, establishing street “cred” that made folks avoid me.

I was barely still in high school when a teacher recommended volunteering with the Student Conservation Association (SCA). I was just 15 and still had a lot of thug in me. But what I learned while building trails at North Cascades National Park that summer was there were white kids who didn’t care about my color or my past, as long as I pulled my weight. I also learned that talking smack wasn’t keeping me warm.

Kicked out of Chicago public school and placed in a Quaker boarding school, I started to study in earnest. Today, I’m a landscape architect running an award-winning firm. My discipline offers a rare chance to meld my urban experiences with a love of the outdoors.

But the fact is that 90 percent of urban kids will never see a national park. There’s no opportunity, no incentive, and certainly no money to choose a national park over LeBron James. So I design parks and nature play spaces in marginal neighborhoods to expose kids to something else besides a gun. I also sit on the board of directors of SCA, the same organization that first introduced me to the great outdoors and has since pioneered urban conservation programs for disenfranchised youth.

Ping Tom Memorial Park, Chicago / site design ltd
Ping Tom Memorial Park, Chicago / site design group ltd

When given the opportunity to make something special in their neighborhoods, these kids work long hours, carry heavy loads, and learn about building trails, restoring habitats, and repairing playgrounds. They take responsibility, develop confidence, and gain new skills. The US Conference of Mayors has named SCA’s urban conservation initiative one of America’s top green jobs programs for youth.

Student Conservation Association program participants / Student Conservation Association
Student Conservation Association program participants / Student Conservation Association
Student Conservation Association program participants / Student Conservation Association
Student Conservation Association program participants / Student Conservation Association

And at the college level, SCA and the National Park Service engage students from all communities in the joint SCA-NPS Academy, an apprenticeship program that provides participants with hands-on training in a wide range of fields in national parks across the country. The program is designed to build entry-level job candidates and a more inclusive workforce for the National Park Service as it enters its second century.

By expanding opportunities to improve their own communities, we can guide more under-served youth into new fields and potential professional pathways and better ensure the stewardship of our increasingly fragile environment. I didn’t pass up the prospect and now I spend my time encouraging urban youth to feel the same sense of responsibility.

Ernest C. Wong, FASLA, is the principal and president of Chicago-based site design group, ltd, which has won numerous national and international design awards. Wong is also on the board of directors of the Student Conservation Association. 

DesignIntelligence 2016 Landscape Architecture Program Rankings

DesignIntelligence
DesignIntelligence

DesignIntelligence recently announced its 2016 landscape architecture graduate and undergraduate program rankings. For the second year in a row, Louisiana State University (LSU) was deemed the best undergraduate landscape architecture program. And for the 12th continuous year, Harvard University retained its dominance as the best graduate program, in the annual survey conducted by DesignIntelligence on behalf of the Design Futures Council.

Detailed rankings are available in the 16th edition of America’s Best Architecture & Design Schools, which assesses program rankings and education trends in architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, and industrial design.

Respondents from nearly 1,420 “professional practice” organizations answered questions about how well prepared graduates are from different undergraduate and graduate programs. The number of respondents is essentially the same as last year.

Satisfaction with landscape architecture graduates among employers increased slightly from last year. Some 73 percent said they “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the state of landscape architecture education in the U.S., up from 71 percent in 2015, but down from 74 percent in 2014 and 80 percent in 2013.

Employers still think landscape architecture students lack basic knowledge for many aspects of their job. A minority thought that landscape architecture students had “more than adequate” or “adequate” knowledge of building, facility, or equipment life cycles or procurement processes, while a majority thought they had “more than adequate” or “adequate” knowledge of the environmental impact of materials and processes, biology, and biodiversity. Employers overwhelmingly said that students’ attitudes and personality were the number-one factor as they entered the workplace, followed by their portfolio and work experience.

This year, the top five emerging concerns by practitioners are:

Maintaining Design Quality (55 percent)
Sustainability / Climate Change (51 percent)
Integrated Design (41 percent)
Speed of Technological Change (38 percent)
Retaining Quality Staff (32 percent)

The set of concerns is virtually unchanged from last year, except retaining quality staff is now a top concern.

DesignIntelligence asks us to only list the top five schools for each program. To see the top ten rankings for each category, go to DesignIntelligence’s web site, and, to see the top 15, purchase the report.

Bachelor of Landscape Architecture Degree Rankings:

1) Louisiana State University
2) Pennsylvania State University
3) Cornell University
4) University of Georgia
4) Texas A&M University

Master of Landscape Architecture Degree Rankings:

1) Harvard University
2) University of Pennsylvania
3) Louisiana State University
4) Cornell University
5) University of Virginia

An additional deans and chairs survey asked leaders of 40 landscape architecture academic programs about the issues they find significant. According to 82 percent of the professors surveyed, their biggest concern is climate change and sustainability, while another 51 percent said urbanization and 45 percent said maintaining design quality.

Among the biggest changes to curricula in the last 5 years: some 55 percent thought it was “more emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration and integrated practice,” while 51 percent saw an increased focus on sustainable design.

For the fifth year, DesignIntelligence surveyed landscape architecture students to gauge their satisfaction with the programs covered. This year, more than 432 students were surveyed, up 16 percent from last year. On average, just 58 percent thought their program was “excellent.” The greatest number of students thought their program was excellent at the University of Pennsylvania, followed by those at the Kansas State University and Virginia Tech. Just 59 percent of graduates plan on working in private practice when they graduate; 13 percent remain undecided. Graduating landscape architects can expect to make around $52,000 in their first jobs.

To see the full responses from professors and students, purchase the report.

Check out our archive of 2015-2009 rankings.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (February 1 – 15)

plimsollbuilding
The Plimsoll Building / The Telegraph

Plans for Botanic Garden Move Forward, Despite Neighbors’ Protests The Houston Chronicle, 2/3/16
“Until now, the proposed Houston Botanic Garden has delivered more pain than gain to some neighbors in the southeast quadrant of the city. The future garden site is still functioning as Glenbrook Golf Course, and some residents would rather keep it just as it is.”

The Real Challenge for Los Angeles’ New Football Stadium Is Everything Around It – The Los Angeles Times, 2/8/16
“The feints, dodges, Potemkin stadium renderings and extended leverage plays are over. The National Football League — behemoth, cruelly skilled manipulator of cities and printer of money — is officially headed back to Los Angeles.”

London’s Green Revolution – The Telegraph, 2/9/16
“Landscape architects in London rarely get to think big. It’s all “pocket parks” and “parklets,” typical of a capital city where every inch of green space is worth its weight in gold, almost literally, and where garden designers strive to make buyers in small spaces feel they’re getting a taste of the great outdoors.”

There’s a Lesson in Spain’s Surreal, Unfinished CitiesThe Huffington Post, 2/11/16
“In a memorable scene in ‘The Big Short,’ the Oscar-nominated 2015 movie about the financial crisis, a real estate agent shows the main characters around a desolate Florida subdivision. She insists that the market is just in a lull as they drive past rows and rows of vacant homes.”

Feature: In and Outdoors The Architects’s Newspaper, 2/11/16
“As more people choose to live in dense urban environments, the latest hot-ticket residential amenity has nothing to do with marble countertops or on-call concierges: It’s outdoor space, the scarcest of all commodities in an environment where, regardless of grandeur, distance from nature can take a toll on quality of life.”

What Happened to the Great Urban Design Projects?The New York Times, 2/12/16
“American infrastructure is deferred home maintenance on a massive scale. We just keep putting it off until something major — and often catastrophic — happens, and then it ends up costing twice as much as it would have had we taken care of it proactively.”

When It Comes to Gardens, Your Architect Should Collaborate with Your Landscape DesignerThe Australian Financial Review, 2/15/16
“A garden is often seen as an afterthought, something to look at after the foundations of a house are laid. But this approach can create a disjointed result with the architecture and landscape appearing independent from each other.”

Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest Protected from Logging

Great Bear Rainforest / The Huffington Post Canada via MyLoupe/UIG/ Getty Images
Great Bear Rainforest / The Huffington Post Canada

In a landmark deal that took 20 years to reach, Canada will protect over 7.7 million acres of one of the world’s last intact temperate rainforests in coastal British Columbia. The deal protects 85 percent of the rainforest, an area about half the size of Ireland, while leaving 15 percent open to loggers who must comply with the highest sustainable forestry standards. The rainforest is home to the Spirit Bear, a rare cream-colored black bear, wolves, salmon, orcas, and miles of old-growth forest. The deal was made with 26 First Nations, which are Canadian native tribal groups, environmentalists, forest product companies, and the British Columbia government, which all called it a model of sustainable forest management. The agreement is seen as a win for the First Nation groups, who will now get a greater share of the proceeds from timber than in the past.

The deal sets new rules for timber harvesting: some 2.5 million cubic meters of forest in designated logging zones can be harvested each year. Of that amount, only 750,000 cubic meters can be cut from old growth trees. This amount may sound like a lot, but it will be 40 percent less than in the past.

In The Globe and Mail, Rick Jeffery, president and CEO of Coast Forest Products Association, called the agreement a success because it creates more certainty for the wood and paper industries. “We know what the rules are, we know what areas are going to be set aside for protection, and what areas we are going to be operating in. Knowing we have that, people can start to invest in their mills, training, and capacity. That’s the first level of certainty. The second part is that First Nations have more tenure and we are in a better position to build on those partnerships.”

Mongabay outlines the long history of conflict leading up to the agreement. In the mid-1990s, “amid growing industrial logging operations in rainforests around the world, First Nations communities in B.C. were becoming increasingly concerned about the fate of the forests in their traditional territories, to which they often had no legal title. Those First Nations groups were joined by environmentalists in a fierce battle against the forestry industry and the B.C. government until 2000, when all parties came together to call a ceasefire and allow an independent scientific analysis of the rainforest. That process culminated in the 2006 Great Bear Rainforest Agreements, a vision for ecosystem-based management of the rare temperate rainforest ecosystems found in British Columbia.”

With the just-announced agreement, the rights of First Nation communities are further bolstered, two years after a Canadian Supreme Court decision recognized their rights to stop logging in their forests. British Columbia signed 26 separate agreements with the tribes living in the forest, guaranteeing them a greater share of the proceeds from the timber harvest. These groups will now get to keep the funds from 17 percent of the annual allowable cut, up from 7 percent today.

Marilyn Slett, chief councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council and president of the Coastal First Nations, told The Globe and Mail that both environmental and economic sustainability are core values of First Nation leaders and elders. “We know we must respect and care for the land and the water so they can support our communities.”

And Dallas Smith, president of the Nanwakolas Council, which speaks for eight Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations, applauded the deal, but said, alone, it won’t guarantee the long-term economic sustainability of the tribes. He told the The Vancouver Sun his people are looking beyond the agreement, looking at new ways to sustainably generate income, like “clean energy projects,” eco-tourism, and selling carbon credits for protected trees. Millions of tons of carbon are stored in those old-growth forests.

The new deal will also end the commercial hunt of Grizzly Bears within the First Nation territories of the Great Bear Rainforest, which account for about half of the total forest, but not in areas owned by the government. Ecologists have highlighted how critical Grizzly Bears and Spirit Bears are to the ecological functioning of the rainforest. BBC News explains how bears catch salmon from the rivers as the fish return home to spawn. The bears then take the salmon into the forests to eat, leaving the carcasses. When the carcasses decompose into the soil, they release much-needed nitrogen crucial to plant growth. Some 80 percent of the forest’s nitrogen comes from decomposing salmon.

Spirit Bear on Griddell Island, Great Bear Rainforest / Nature Conservancy
Spirit Bear on Gribbell Island, Great Bear Rainforest / Nature Conservancy

There are still some critics who think the conservation agreement could have gone much further. Ian McAllister, with environmental group Pacific Wild, told The Vancouver Sun that the annual destruction of 2.5 million cubic meters of forest every year can’t be considered a win for the environment. “We simply have to find a faster transition towards the full protection of our remaining ancient forest.” A group of scientists also wanted the 20,000-hectare Gribbell Island, which is essential Spirit Bear habitat, completely protected, but it was left out of the deal.

The conservation of the Great Bear Rainforest is largely a win for the environment, but many more countries need to also engage all stakeholders in creating ecosystem-based management plans for their remaining forests. According to Yale University’s 2016 Environmental Performance Index, the world has lost 18 million hectares (44.5 million acres) of forest annually since 2000. That’s five Great Bear Rainforests every year. So many countries continue to destroy their forests unabated — with Brazil, Indonesia, and South Africa at the top of the list. As these forests are destroyed, unknown numbers of rare, niche species, perhaps less charismatic than the Spirit Bear but still incredibly valuable, face extinction.