Andy Warhol: “Land Really Is the Best Art”

Warhol: Flowers in the Factory / Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

In a new exhibition featuring the nature-inspired art work of pop master Andy Warhol, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota Bay, Florida, brings back the “flower power” of the 60s, but with a fresh take. Warhol: Flowers in the Factory gives visitors a new look at Warhol’s enduring fascination with nature through a display of paintings, archival photography, and a unique collection of plants.

According to the Botanical Gardens, Warhol made some 10,000 images of flowers over the course of his career.

Warhol with Flower, 1964. Iris print / The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Gift of Jay Reeg, 2011.3.1. © Dennis Hopper, Courtesy of The Hopper Art Trust.

Four of the artist’s most well-known silkscreens, simply named Flowers, are now on display and inspired a horticultural riff on his work.

Flowers, c. 1967 / © 2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Gardens write: “Over the years the blooms recreated in the Flowers series have been misidentified as anemones, nasturtium, and pansies. They actually represent hibiscus.” Those hibiscus are found in the bright, fun flower installations seen in the photo at top.

Beyond the hibiscus, epiphytes like bromeliads and orchids, which are the primary focus on the Selby Botanical Gardens’ collection and conservation efforts, have been organized into repetitive patterns inspired by Warhol’s work.

Bromeliad in a square pattern / Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Orchids / Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The displays by the horticulturalists are meant to “emphasize the seriality and modular design of Warhol’s work. Like many landscape architects, Warhol was inspired by the repetition of shapes and bright pops of color.”

The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is the only botanical garden in the world dedicated to the study of epiphytes, those beautiful, delicate, and strange plants that live in tree canopies and survive on air, rain, and debris.

The exhibition is open until June 30, 2018.

Also, learn more about Selby’s new master plan developed by landscape architecture firm OLIN last year, which will expand the green space in the 15-acre gardens by 50 percent and create a new demonstration site for green roof technologies for the 200,000-plus visitors who come every year.

Design Competition: An Urban Design Vision for University College Dublin

University College London / Barrow Coakley Photography

The University College Dublin (UCD), known as Ireland’s “global university” with some 30,000 students from 120 countries, has launched an international design competition for an “urban design vision” that will result in a more-welcoming 23-hectare entrance “precinct” or district. UCD seeks an integrated design team of planners, landscape architects, and architects for the campus where writer James Joyce once studied. A second component of the competition is to create a concept design for a new Center for Creative Design.

According to the competition organizers, the entrance precinct is expected to better link the university to the city but also make the university landscape a landmark and raise the profile of the university both in Ireland and overseas.

The new space must create a strong sense of place — with “creativity, innovation, and sustainability” at the core of the new identity. The new precinct must be attractive, inspirational, accessible, and encourage socializing and pedestrian flow, while creating space for up to 355,000 square meters of development in a footprint of 66,700 square meters. Furthermore, the new precinct must be net-zero in terms of energy use.

UCD contributes some €1.3bn ($1.6 bn) to the Irish economy each year. The university seeks to become a top 100 university in the world by 2020.

Each of the five finalist teams will receive a €40,000 ($49,000) honorarium. But bring your A-game: architect David Adjaye and others are on the prestigious jury. Submissions are due March 26.

Is There a Still a Place for Aesthetics in Landscape Design?

Approach to Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park, Australia / TCL

Kicking off a two-day planting symposium at the University of California at Berkeley, professor emeritus Marc Treib posed the question: Is there still a place for the “art of landscape design” in an age “dominated by the science of landscape ecology?” Planting design is often brushed aside as superfluous or unserious. British historian and critic Tim Richardson reminded the audience of the litany of unfavorable adjectives associated with artful planting: the bourgeois, the small-scale, the amateur, the hobbyist, the ephemeral, the female.

Nonetheless, Treib answered his own question with resounding affirmation. In organizing the symposium, Treib’s goal was to focus on planting and landscape design that surpasses function and landscape ecology alone and brings in beauty. Addressing the concerns of ecology in landscape architecture has become nearly (and arguably) required. Accordingly, all of the speakers’ designs, or the projects discussed, are sustainable “to a greater or lesser degree.”

But building from the constraints created by location and environmental conditions, how can aesthetics and art inform design? And what level of beauty can be attained? Given we are in an environmental crisis, Trieb audaciously questioned the “narrow ambition” of designs that solely address ecological function, and the idea “that good morals automatically yield good landscapes.”

Speakers from around the world also explained how planting aesthetics are tied to histories. For example, Laurie Olin, FASLA, professor of practice at the University of Pennsylvania, remarked: “In design, one is never truly free of earlier sense of form, particularly those found in nature. Everything you do refers to everything else, whether you mean it to or not.”

Speakers employed the vocabulary of plant selection and form to connect to cultural, natural, and formal histories, deepening the discussion on aesthetics. Below are highlights from the weekend:

Planting to Illuminate Cultural and Natural Histories

Kate Cullity, a founding director of Taylor Cullity Lethlean (TCL) in Adelaide, Australia, seeks to respect and illuminate cultural histories through her designs. These histories are brought to light through the selection and placement of plants. At the Uluru Aboriginal Cultural Center at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the design encourages the visitor to respect the Uluru’s culture and their right to the land (see image above).

Before the start of the project, Cullity relocated to the desert for one month, slowing down to learn the landscape and recording stories from the Aborginal people. In a rare rain event, she learned “how water moves in a dendritic way over the desert.”

Her time at the site influenced the ultimate design of the project: the cultural center was sited to give guests a meditative walk through the landscape before arriving. No change in grade was made across the entire site, as doing so would have altered the way water flowed, and consequently the growth of the existing plants. “Sometimes,” Cullity noted, “designing is not the answer. This was the answer here.”

In similar theme, others also referred to the importance of water, and lack thereof, as defining their planting habits. Mario Schjetnan, FASLA, an architect and landscape architect in Mexico City, discussed botanical geography, and the variations determined by “latitude and altitude.” He discussed designing in a subtropical climate and the importance of retaining stormwater.

Working primarily in the deserts of Arizona and Texas, Christy Ten Eyck, FASLA, is guided by the aesthetics of “Plant what will survive!” and “Own your own geography.” These tenents translate into: use native and drought-tolerant plants; pay attention to runoff and permeability; evoke the natural landscape features, such as arroyos; and look to where native tribes have found meaning in the landscape.

Landscape architects Thorbjörn Andersson of Stockholm, Sweden; Cristina Castel-Branco of Lisbon, Portugal; and Erik Dhont of Brussels, Belgium expressed the influence of their respective cultural histories in their planting practices. Andersson noted the poverty of the Swedish landscape as influential in his own career. His design of the Hyllie Plaza in Malmö, Sweden used one single species, the beech tree (Fagus sylvatica) to create a stylized beech forest. The tree’s architectural form, smooth silk trunk, the near-sterile understory: “It already looks designed in nature,” Andersson noted, adding, “plants become part of what signifies our culture.”

Beech trees in Hyllie Plaza, Malmö , Sweden / Thorbjörn Andersson

Dhont credits Belgium’s strong cultural heritage with defining his own body of work. “When you know heritage, it’s impressive to go in the footsteps of history.” He re-employs that heritage in his own work to new ends, such as using the topiary to guide and provoke encounters in a garden.

Topiaries at a chateau in Geneva, Switzerland / Erik Dhont

Castel-Branco, too, has merged the historic and the new in her own work. In a historic garden of exotic plants, she provokingly planted more exotic Sequoias after witnessing their success. She reminded the audience that the garden is an “eternal laboratory of adaptation,” which will grow in importance as the climate changes.

Planting as the Arbiter of Form

Other speakers focused on the formal abilities plants can offer a place. For Peter Walker, FASLA, his approach to planting has been a fifty-year journey to achieve what he experienced at the Parc de Sceaux, outside of Paris, France: the power of a landscape to instill a Gothic-cathedral sense of awe in the visitor. Walker has attempted to make architecture from plants, concentrating on the instant trees meet the ground on a flat surface. “I will not talk about a region or ecology—we’ve had enough of that,” Walker said.

Parc de Sceaux, France / Pinterest

Nonetheless, he admitted the relevance of place in his designs. In Japan, regarding subtle changes in the landscape is habitual, and his proposal to populate a landscape solely with a field of trees was easily accepted; in New York City, a similar design required thorough explanation to city stakeholders.

Echoing Walker, Andrea Cochran, FASLA, a landscape architect based in San Francisco, commented, “plants can shift how people think about environment. It’s about re-calibrating what is beauty.” Her landscapes, most notable for their edited, sculptural forms, nonetheless are determined by the California climate that lacks rain for six months of the year.

Richard Hindle, an assistant professor of landscape architecture at UC Berkeley, asked the audience to consider how plants and structures unite by examining vertical gardens, which bring together architectural and the garden-making approaches and allow for new paradigms, such as extending the anatomical and physiological possibilities of plants.

On a broader scale, Alexandre Chemetoff, a landscape architect and urbanist based in Gentilly, France, offered a similar point: “a tree is not an isolated subject,” and neither is landscape architecture. In his work that spans architecture, urban planning, and landscape architecture, he works with the three disciplines in tandem, the design of one informing the others. “This is quite different than the idea of having things separate, one from the other,” he explained, demonstrating the example of a thicket of trees that serve as a natural cooling system to a cocooned building.

This guest post is by Grace Mitchell, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of California at Berkeley.

How Can Cities Best Plan for Future Growth?

Model of Manhattan’s grid / Pinterest

The world’s cities are growing at a rapid pace. By 2030, nearly 70 percent of people will live in urban areas. Cities not only face immense challenges related to climate change, migration, mobility, infrastructure, equity, and security, but are also dealing with the problems associated with scaling up to meet rapid growth.

So how can cities better plan for future challenges and growth? Dr. Blair Ruble, distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, tried to answer that question by illustrating ways cities are grappling with the new reality, in a discussion at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco, which was moderated by Gordon Feller, founder of Meeting of the Minds, a non-profit network focused on cities.

First, Ruble said, growth must be accommodated through the right framework. “We have a very good example in our own country. In 1811, a bunch of commissioners sat down and planned a grid for an empty island of Manhattan. They created a framework, and that’s the mode we need to get into when we talk about the future of cities.”

But the amount of future planning needed is incredible. “When you think about a billion people and limited resources in the context of a planet struggling with climate change and migration, you realize this is an enormous challenge,” he said.

A silver lining might be where the growth is happening. In the U.S., where the population will be 400 million by 2050, most growth will occur in secondary cities. “Mega-cities have actually kind of plateaued,” Ruble said. “Most of the growth in cities right now is taking place in so-called medium cities of 5 to 10 million people.” Mid-sized cities’ manageable population size leaves an opportunity for more thoughtful development and policies that can enable sustainable urban growth.

As an example, Ruble pointed to future settlement planning in the Central Asian country of Kazakstan, as well as efforts to retrofit existing infrastructure in Africa and South America. Cities there have enabled government services to be available in self-built neighborhoods.

In addition to integrating a growing number of people, cities are grappling with a massive flow of data. Ruble said unless cities focus on the human component of data collection, they can be caught up in collecting data for data’s sake.

“The actual numbers are not the end themselves,” Ruble said. “Cities don’t just exist to generate data for analysts to play with. Connected to each information point is a human being.”

Issues of inequality should be front and center in any discussion of urban challenges. 

Take Toronto, and Canada more broadly. There is generally a more multicultural definition of citizenship than in the U.S. Still, racial inequality persists. Ruble pointed to a 2017 survey on the state of the Black population in Toronto showing 72 percent of respondents between ages 20 and 40 who identified as Black had been stopped by police; and data shows Blacks are “much more likely to be shot by police” than any other group.

“To address that problem, you can use all the technology you want, but if you don’t begin to get real about the limitations of your own vision of multiculturalism, the technology isn’t going to help.”

Flexible urban systems will be key to recognizing challenges and issues as they arise and adjusting course. “Urban success is not a noun, it’s a verb,” Ruble said.

President Trump Finally Unveils Much-hyped Infrastructure Plan

President Trump complains about the infrastructure approval process / The Nation

As part of their 2019 budget proposal, the Trump administration has released a $200 billion infrastructure plan designed to “stimulate $1.5 trillion in investment over 10 years,” reduce the approval process for projects to two years or less, increase investment in rural infrastructure, and “empower State and local authorities.”

The 55-page plan calls for:

  • An incentives program that would use $100 billion in federal grants to spur state and localities to ramp up investment in infrastructure such as “surface transportation and airports, passenger rail, ports, and waterways, flood control, water supply, water resources, drinking water facilities, wastewater facilities, stormwater facilities, and browfield and superfund sites.” The administration wants funds to be distributed only when states and localities hit progress milestones.
  • A $50 billion rural grant program for capital investments in transportation, broadband, water and waste treatment, water resources, and power and electric facilities. 80 percent of the funds would be distributed to states based on a formula that weights miles of rural roads and percentage of rural populations.
  • $20 billion for “transformative projects” that would have a “significant positive impact on the Nation, a region, state, or metropolitan area.” These funds would be for “ambitious, exploratory, and ground-breaking projects that have significantly more risk than standard infrastructure projects.” A third of the funds would be used for projects still in the early demonstration phase.
  • Another $20 billion would be set aside for credit programs designed to enable state and local governments to finance large-scale infrastructure projects under terms “more advantageous than in the financial markets.” Included in this section is an expansion of the EPA’s authority to finance federal flood mitigation, hurricane and storm damage reduction, navigation, environmental restoration, and restoration of aquatic ecosystems, along with more credit to incentivize state and local action in these areas. The Trump administration also calls for increasing “flexibility and broaden eligibility” to facilitate private investment in infrastructure.
  • Lastly, the Trump administration calls for selling more federal assets, including the Ronald Reagan National and Dulles International airports, and creating a new $10 billion revolving fund used to buy more modern federal property.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao recently said the administration is considering raising the gasoline tax to pay for its plan. The tax is currently 18.4 cents and has not been raised since 1993. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster noted that his state of Pennsylvania greatly benefits from the gas tax. He explained to Fox News that “every dollar a taxpayer in his largely-rural district pays in petrol taxes, they receive $1.70 in return.” Many groups are critical of the idea, arguing that raising the gas tax would hurt the middle class and those earning low-incomes — every “1 percent increase would take $1 billion out of consumers’ pockets.”

Democrats are highly critical of the Trump administration’s plan, as their own calls for $1 trillion in investment. On Trump’s plan, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), told The Hill: “This is the kind of plan you’d expect from a president who surrounds himself with bankers and financiers and wealthy people who don’t mind paying a $20 toll every time they go to work. It’s a plan designed to reward rich developers, large banks, and the president’s political allies, not to rebuild the country.”

Furthermore, the Democrats argue the $200 billion is the result of infrastructure cuts elsewhere in the proposed 2019 budget. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said: “It’s not new money. It is the re-purposing of existing programs. They’ve moved the money from existing programs to their new programs and say they got $200 billion over 10 years. No, they don’t. It’s the same $200 billion that would be spent on ongoing programs.”

Organizations focused on creating a sustainable built environment are also critical. In a statement, Smart Growth America wrote:

“While the president calls for new resources for rural communities to support brownfields and broadband, he simultaneously proposes draconian funding cuts to critical federal programs that these local communities depend on, including HOME Investment Partnerships, Community Development Block Grants and the TIGER competitive transportation grant program.” Furthermore, “these proposals fail to recognize that the 21st century movement of people and goods requires a multimodal and interconnected approach that leverages both public and private sector investment and innovation.”

And the American Planning Association (APA) wrote:

“The budget slashes or eliminates a series of existing infrastructure programs leaving many to see the administration’s opening bid as merely shifting resources and providing no new support. The proposal also envisions a dramatic shift to relying more heavily on state and local funding. APA has called for new infrastructure investment as a top legislative priority, but has repeatedly noted that any new program should not come at the expense of existing tools and resources.”

Environmental and conservation groups are also very concerned about any effort to gut environmental regulations. Alison Cassidy, a vice president at the Center for American Progress wrote: “the Trump plan would require significant changes to at least nine environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Clean Air Act, and Clean Water Act.”

Furthermore, if the Trump administration is really concerned about the cost of slow environmental reviews, Cassidy argues the answer may be to fully fund the bureaucracies charged with making approvals. The Trump administration should instead “implement laws already on the books and ensure that the agencies involved with environmental review were fully funded. Over the past six years, Congress has enacted three major laws overhauling the environmental review process—but these laws haven’t been fully implemented yet.” An ASLA panel from last year reached similar conclusions.

However, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which have given American infrastructure a D+ rating and call for $4 trillion in infrastructure investment, is more positive. ASCE President Kristina Swallow said: “The Trump Administration’s plan is a solid first step in having a real conversation about solutions for the nation’s aging infrastructure and a path to address our infrastructure investment deficit.”

Trump’s budget proposal also calls for cutting the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 34 percent, the department of housing and urban Development (HUD) by 18 percent, and the department of transportation by 19 percent. But given Congress ignored the Trump administration’s last spending blueprint, we can assume they will again.

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

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A child plays in Santiago, Chile / Ricardo Moraes, Reuters

How to Design Cities for Children CityLab, 2/2/18
“A billion kids are now growing up in urban areas. But not all cities are planned with their needs in mind.“

Animals Are Using Colorado’s Wildlife Crossings, Reducing Collisions, CDOT SaysThe Denver Post, 2/2/18
“Wildlife bridges and underpasses led to a dramatic decline in animal-related car crashes, according to Mark Lawler, a biologist for Colorado Department of Transportation.

Boston Rethinks the Design of a 60-Acre Park, With an Eye Towards Preventing Flooding WGBH, 2/6/18
“For seven-year-old Ellen Anna Sosa, the best thing about living in South Boston’s Mary Ellen McCormack public housing development is that it’s right across the street from Joe Moakley Park.”

The Case Against Sidewalks Curbed, 2/7/18
“For the past year, the nonprofit Investing in Place has been holding these summits all over Los Angeles as part of an effort to train an army of sidewalk advocates, teaching neighborhood and community groups how to petition the city to fix broken pavement, improve bus stops, and plant more trees.

DFA Proposes “Floating” Affordable Housing for Dilapidated Manhattan PierDezeen, 2/9/18
“New York architecture studio DFA has imagined a series of latticed apartment towers for Manhattan’s Pier 40, which would be able to remain above water in the event of rising sea levels.”

Curbs Have the Power to Transform CitiesModern Cities, 2/9/18
“Everyone wants to work on expanding small business districts, improving health and education outcomes and leveraging data and technology to transform cities (because that’s all the rage these days).

Google Gets It Right with New Community-friendly Campus

Google Charleston East / BIG, Thomas Heatherwick Studio, Hargreaves Jones Landscape Architecture

In contrast with Apple’s hermetically-sealed “space ship” headquarters, which critics have complained perpetuates an outdated, car-centric approach to the corporate campus, recently-released plans for Google’s new offices in Mountain View show a campus that is open and accessible, walkable and bikeable, and are as much an asset for the company as they are for the surrounding community.

Designed by architects at Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and Thomas Heatherwick Studio, along with landscape architects at Hargreaves Jones Landscape Architecture, Google Charleston East purposefully brings the neighborhood into the campus. In their brief submitted to the Mountain View City Council, the design team illustrated their smart approach, which feels like the next generation of suburban corporate community.

The brief shows a luscious new park in the middle of the campus, which connects corporate buildings on the east and west ends of the space. A “green loop” — which goes through the park, then through the center of the building, and then follows a “riparian habitat” — links Google employees and the community to the campus, shops and retail, and welcoming outdoor spaces. Adjacent to the park is a protected burrowing owl habitat.

Google Charleston East’s Charleston Park / BIG, Thomas Heatherwick Studio, Hargreaves Jones Landscape Architecture

According to the design team, the connecting pathways within the campus were designed to make access roads feel safe and easy to cross.

Google Charleston East’s accessible streets / BIG, Thomas Heatherwick Studio, Hargreaves Jones Landscape Architecture

Landscape is used to draw in the neighbors. And in keeping with Google’s mission to support local ecosystems, they write: “our plans for the indoor and outdoor spaces include native habitats and vegetation designed to support local biodiversity and create educational opportunities for the community.”

Google Charleston East’s biodiverse plantings / BIG, Thomas Heatherwick Studio, Hargreaves Jones Landscape Architecture
Google Charleston East’s community spaces / BIG, Thomas Heatherwick Studio, Hargreaves Jones Landscape Architecture
Google Charleston East’s community spaces / BIG, Thomas Heatherwick Studio, Hargreaves Jones Landscape Architecture

The building itself is designed to connect Google to the neighborhood. The ground level offers events spaces, cafes and restaurants, while the upper level will use clerestory windows to bring in light. The bird-friendly building will feature a tent-like roof that will be embedded with photovoltaic panels.

Google Charleston East building with burrowing owl habitat in the background / BIG, Thomas Heatherwick Studio, and Hargreaves Jones Landscape Architecture

Hargreaves Jones propose removing the few Redwood trees from the site — which aren’t “locally native” to the area and “possess many traits that make them undesirable when planted in urban areas outside their historic range” — and replacing them with locally-native trees and plants that will help re-establish “mixed riparian forest and oak woodland” ecosystems that once existed in the area. Part of this effort will include a “re-Oaking initiative” designed to bring back the lost ecology of the Santa Clara Valley. Furthermore, the landscape architects argue their approach will help the nearby burrowing owls, as there will be fewer perches for predatory falcons. Green infrastructure, including permeable pavements, will ensure all run-off is captured via the landscape.

And just a few miles down the road from Charleston East, Google is proposing a 1-million-square-foot campus in Sunnyvale. Also designed by BIG, but this time in partnership with landscape architects at OLIN, the building will feature 5-story buildings with rooftops made accessible via zig-zagging ramps.

Proposed Sunnyvale Google complex / BIG, Olin

One of Bjarke Ingels’ first designs — the 8HOUSE in Copenhagen — featured fun green ramps on its roof. This takes that up a notch.

Participatory Design Must Evolve

Design as Democracy / Island Press

Participatory design is “hands-on democracy in action,” argue the editors of the impressive new book Design as Democracy: Techniques for Collective Creativity. Participatory design (also known as cooperative or co-design) is a process in which a designer actively involves all stakeholders in a design process. Unfortunately, many of the best-known techniques to enable this approach, which have been used for the past few decades, have become stale. This has led to complacency among designers, and less-than-ideal outcomes for communities that need their help. To revitalize the approach and achieve better results, the authors call for making participatory design “truly democratic.” Furthermore, it must become “contextual, open, experiential, substantive, and holistic.”

One can tell the many editors, who are all landscape architects and professors, wrestled with themselves and perhaps each other to come up with a new synthesis of this design approach. The hard work of David de la Pena; Diane Jones Allen, ASLA; Randolph T. Hester, Jr, FASLA; Jeffrey Hou, ASLA; Laura J. Lawson, ASLA; and Marcia J. McNally paid off: the book is a well-organized compendium of proven techniques designers can apply in their projects. Their collective voice is determined and impassioned, which really helps make their case.

The editors note up front that none of these techniques will work if designers don’t have the right mindset when they begin to engage a set of stakeholders. And the right mindset can only come from close examination of oneself — one’s own history, preferences, position in society, and hidden biases. One section is worth quoting at length:

“Once we are clear on who we are are, we can see our position in society relative to the cultural and economic context of the community in which we plan to work. This in turn equips us with empathy rather than sympathy. This distinction is important because designers can find themselves in communities with acute needs that have been repeatedly ignored. Although providing technical assistance to a community in need is a critical role of participatory design, responding with sorrow or pity hampers one’s effectiveness. Sympathy, even when its grounded in understanding, can subtly convey to residents that only the designer’s expertise counts. Another pitfall lies in creating a patronizing process that diminishes the community’s self-worth.” For the editors, only fully self-aware designers can succeed at this work. Furthermore, designers who come in as arrogant experts risk doing real damage.

The book flows through the design process — starting with tools to help a designer achieve self-awareness, and then moving through how to interact with and learn from communities, reach an accommodation between “expert” and local knowledge, “catalyze new visions and certainty about the best course of action,” co-generate designs and co-construct, evaluate and improve, and, finally, how to “exercise power to make community improvements” actually happen. Each section has a few well-chosen techniques selected by invited contributors, which are detailed, illustrated with a case story, and then further qualified with a reflection on how to best apply.

One technique that helps a designer assemble the right team at the beginning is called “What’s in it for us?” Julie Stevens, ASLA, a landscape architecture professor at Iowa State University, explained how she applied this tool to develop and manage a team for a landscape project at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW). Stevens said the assessment helped her think more comprehensively about who should be on the project.

Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW) garden / Kim Gaspari Photography

“I nearly dismissed an application from a potential intern, because his essay did not express any compassion for the prison population. In terms of what he offered to the project, I recorded that he had experience with construction tools and equipment. In terms of what the project could do for him, I recorded that this young, white man might benefit from a summer working with women from much less privileged and much more racially diverse backgrounds, which could open up new worlds as he engaged people both informally and through design. His inclusion on the team was validated when I saw him give an incarcerated woman a high-five after completing a difficult retaining wall.”

In the section “Going to the People’s Coming,” which covers how to start engaging with and learning from a community, Chelina Odbert and Joe Mulligan, with Kounkuey Design Initiative, discuss an ingenious technique they call Community Camera: Piga Picha, a “photo activity that helps residents introduce their community to an outside project team, and in the process, to see familiar places through a new lens.” Using the approach in Kibera, large slum of Nairobi, Kenya, they gave 30 diverse community participants a disposable camera. When the residents then got the photos back, “it was clear they were seeing very familiar sites from a new perspective — as spaces worthy of design consideration.”

Members of the Piga Picha group / Kounkuey Design Initiative

The next chapter is on “Experting,” which focuses on how to “transfer the title of expert to members of the community” in order to further empower them and build their capacity to achieve goals. In one technique described by Kofi Boone, ASLA, a landscape architecture professor at North Carolina State University, cell phones are passed out to community members so they can be used to create video diaries. This way “community members can document their place-based stories independently, on their own time, in their own voices.” For a new park in the neighborhood of Chavis Park, a historically African American community, videos, which ranged from 30 seconds to 7 minutes, were geo-tagged to an interactive map.

Cell phone diaries / North Carolina State University College of Design’s Downtown Studio

Smart, proven techniques cover how to encourage communities to prioritize efforts through fair and transparent voting processes using dots and tokens and create a shared vision through citizen-generated collages. Then, Design as Democracy delves into innovative ways to get to meat of these projects — and really co-generate designs and co-construct.

On a simple level, co-generating first involves breaking down the design process into easy-to-understand elements and options that community members can then manipulate and use to create design options. But as they create the design together, the community enters a process that “requires negotiation and sometimes creative compromise.” Through this process, the outside designer can then “actively nurture” multiple designers in the community, giving them agency and authority. Community design teams can also use green rubber stamps to quickly illustrate priorities, feast on a “design buffet” and “collect food (design ingredients)” that can result in a novel design, or place representative models on a mat as part of “animated visioning.”

Co-constructing, or building together, then lets everyone experience the “joy and energy of building,” which in turn “imbues a sense of accomplishment, pride, and ownership like nothing else can.” To avoid burnout from long visioning and co-design processes, the contributors in this section instead call for quick prototyping and making things spontaneously. The goal is to make sure the process doesn’t become a drag. “Making alleviates frustration, anger, and apathy from process without products.”

More powerfully, co-constructing with a community can be restorative in itself. In a project at the Rab Psychiatric Public Hospital, the Design/Build Service Learning Studio at the University of Washington redesigned 50 percent of the landscape as healing gardens and then co-constructed them with patients and staff. Daniel Winterbottom, FASLA, explains that despite the challenges, “the patients commented they found the act of building therapeutic. Many said they gained a sense of purpose, renewed self-confidence and self-esteem, and an appreciation for the garden work as a respite from the mandated intensive and exhausting therapies.”

Members of the design team socialize with a patient / Daniel Winterbottom

The editors conclude that “design is a political act.” And “participatory design is one of the most effective means in a democracy to create cities and landscapes that distribute resources and shape places to be sustainable, representative of diverse publics, well informed by local wisdom, and just.” But they seem to disagree on the extent to which participatory design should be used to actively fight injustice.

While landscape architects and planners should of course work with communities to map environmental injustices, should they engage in conflict to achieve their ends? For Randolph Hester, FASLA, professor emeritus of landscape architecture at University of California at Berkeley, “no truly transformative design occurs without confronting status quo powers.”

But going back to the beginning for a moment: What this book leaves out is basic guidance on to how to find and partner with existing community leaders who are seeking positive change, who have been fighting injustice. How can a planner or designer know they’ve found the right client in a community? What are the tools for evaluating whether to engage or not? And what does a designer owe a client if the client’s goals end up being different from the community’s?

Plus, grey areas around financing seem to be avoided. For example, many participatory design projects in developing countries are financed by government aid agencies, companies, and non-profits with their own agendas. How can an ethical, self-aware designer establish and finance projects in a transparent way that builds trust with a community?

New Maps Show How Urban Sprawl Threatens the World’s Remaining Biodiversity

Hotspot map of Baku, Azerbaijan / The Atlas for the End of the World

At the United Nations World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, next month, the McHarg Center for Ecology and Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania will display an alarming set of new maps. They show, in bright red, that the growth of cities worldwide is on a direct collision course with the world’s remaining biodiversity.

The study, of which these maps are a part, is titled Hotspot Cities and focuses on urban growth in the world’s 36 so-called biodiversity hotspots – large regions where unique flora and fauna is threatened with extinction. By combining data sets of 2030 urban growth forecasts from the Seto Lab at Yale University with the habitats of endangered species from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, the study has mapped over 400 Hotspot Cities to reveal that over 90 percent of them appear likely to sprawl directly into remnant habitat harboring the world’s most endangered biodiversity.

Hotspot map of Tel Aviv, Israel / The Atlas for the End of the World

The study also zooms in on 33 of the biggest and fastest growing of these hotspot cities to assess the degree of imminent conflict between growth and biodiversity. The cities are Sao Paulo, Los Angeles, Houston, Cape Town, Port-au-Prince, Baku, Brasilia, Santiago, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, Sydney, Lagos, Rawalpindi, Mecca, Guangzhou, Esfahan, Osaka, Antananarivo, Ciudad de México, Durban, Tel Aviv, Guadalajara, Tashkent, Chengdu, Auckland, Davao, Honolulu, Perth, Jakarta, Bogotá, Guayaquil, Makassar (Ujung Padang), Colombo.

The 2016 UN-Habitat World Cities Report states that “urban and environmental planning provides opportunities and formal legal mechanisms for biodiversity conservation through design guidelines, building codes, zoning schemes, spatial plans and strategic choices, all coupled with effective enforcement.” Through detailed analysis, the study gauges the degree to which these sorts of mechanisms are being leveraged in the sample set of the 33 hotspot cities.

The conclusion is the overwhelming majority of these cities have not adopted long-term planning visions or mechanisms that include biodiversity values or, if they do, then they do not make such planning documents available or refer to the existence of such documents online. A notable subset set of cities such as Sydney, Perth, Cape Town, Sao Paulo, and Los Angeles do, however, and have transparent, readily available, variously-integrated planning documents inclusive of biodiversity protection across levels of governance.

Hotspot map of Los Angeles, California / The Atlas for the End of the World

A survey of the cities’ promotional materials, popular press, and institutional publications also indicates a low degree of cultural association with being hotspot cities, let alone hotspot stewards. Typically, one finds a city’s projected identity pertains to the characteristics of its urban core rather than its peripheral landscapes. Yet, the peri-urban landscape and its regional connections beyond, can not only support biodiversity but also provide cities with the essential ecosystem services they require. As Harvard ecologist Richard T.T Forman writes “you can have a small impact in a city center, but if you want to have a big impact, go out to this dynamic urban edge where solutions really matter for both people and nature.”

A major obstacle to the development of spatial biodiversity planning is also the apparent lack of baseline biodiversity data for each city. Furthermore, this data, where it does exist, tends to focus on wildlife in the city rather than on ecosystem integrity at the periphery. If cities are to properly understand their relationships with biodiversity, there is a significant need to develop and share measurement and monitoring practices that relate to the peri-urban zone and how this zone functions as a filter and conduit for biodiversity.

It is also important to note here that attention to biodiversity is not just a matter of protecting certain charismatic species, rather, biodiversity is a proxy for a healthy ecosystem, without which there can be no healthy city.

The overarching question to ask then is whether the growth trajectories of these hotspot cities can be redirected to avoid the further destruction of biodiversity, and if so how? Having taken the first step of identifying likely conflict areas as this study does, it is important now to recognize and understand the true complexity of the problem. The conflict between sprawl and biodiversity cannot be approached reductively or simplistically, as if sprawl (formal and informal) is only an outcome of economic and demographic growth and conservation only a matter of fencing off areas in its path.

The peri-urban territory of cities is a complex mosaic of different and often contradictory land uses in high states of flux. Indeed, the alteration of peri-urban land is not caused solely by urbanization but is also a consequence of extracting many of the resources required to support cities and their residents. The often invisible and myriad forces shaping these landscapes are not yet well understood by the urban design and planning professions, just as the novel ecology of these lands is not yet well understood by the scientific community.

Hotspot map of Antananarivo, Madagascar / The Atlas for the End of the World

The profession best able to negotiate complex landscapes such as the peri-urban is landscape architecture. Landscape architects work in equal measure with ecological and cultural data to build up holistic understanding of cities in their regional contexts. From that basis, with teams of ecologists and planners, scenarios for alternative forms of urban growth can be visualized and their costs and benefits weighed.

As both the custodians and immediate beneficiaries of the unique biodiversity at their doorsteps, the hotspot cities have a global responsibility and leading role to play in integrating biodiversity with development. It is our belief a better understanding of peri-urban territory, and the forces shaping it, is a prerequisite to the mitigation of further loss of biodiversity. This is not only relevant to cities in the world’s biodiversity hotspots, but cities everywhere.

To that end, we propose hotspot cities come together to form a global knowledge-creation and knowledge-sharing alliance to develop demonstration projects that show how urban growth and biodiversity can co-exist. The hotspot cities should lead the way in making the intent of the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, which will be discussed in Kuala Lumpur next month, a reality.

This guest post is by Richard Weller, ASLA, the Martin and Margy Meyerson chair of urbanism, professor and chair of landscape architecture, and co-director of the McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Atlas for the End of the World-Atlas for the Beginning of the Anthropocene, a comprehensive audit of protected areas in the world’s biological hotspots. Research team includes: Chieh Huang, Sara Padgett Kjaersgaard, Zuzanna Drozdz, Nanxi Dong, Rong Cong, and Josh Ketchum.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (January 16 – 31)

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“For all the attention Paris gets for its transportation woes—awful smog, endless strikes, traffic jams—the city’s remarkable shift away from the car arguably deserves more.”

Obama Center Plans Won’t Destroy Olmsted’s Park — They Should Be Improved, Not Rejected Chicago Tribune, 1/22/18
“As debate heats up over the wisdom of putting the Obama Presidential Center in historic Jackson Park, opponents are painting the project as a self-indulgent statement by former President Barack Obama — a land grab whose slant-walled 235-foot museum tower would blight a park co-designed by the great 19th century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.”

These Future Doctors Are Learning How to Influence Urban DesignNext City, 1/22/18
“A new university program in Philadelphia aims to train medical students to think like city planners.”

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“This drone footage shows the promenade along Chicago’s riverfront, a year after its transformation by firms Sasaki and Ross Barney Architects into a public space with fishing platforms and kayaking spots.”

After NYC Truck Attack, How Can We Go Beyond Reactionary Design Responses? Architect’s Newspaper, 1/29/18
“The recent terrorist attack has sparked calls to fortify the bike path against further incidents, and the state department of transportation, which oversees the bike path, is studying the issue.”