Landscape Architects Take the Lead on New Cultural District in Detroit

DIA Plaza and Midtown Connections design competition presentation at Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections

In Detroit, twelve arts, cultural, and educational institutions are clustered together geographically, but have failed to form a unified district, a true destination. The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) and the Midtown Detroit Inc, hope that a new central public space around the DIA and a broader urban design to boost connectivity and accessibility can change that. In an attempt to create a coherent, inclusive, accessible, and sustainable district that can attract both residents and tourists, DIA and Midtown launched an international design competition last year, which has since yielded three finalists that presented to some 200 local residents at the DIA last week.

More than 40 submissions from 10 countries were narrowed down to eight finalists. And now it’s down to three interdisciplinary teams led by landscape architecture firms: Agence Ter from Paris, France; Mikyoung Kim Design from Boston, Massachusetts; and TEN x TEN, which is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

According to the DIA and Midtown Detroit, Inc, who worked with the twelve educational and cultural institutions, the finalists’ proposals are the result of a year of input from committees and residents, which participated through 40 public engagement sessions.

Public engagement session / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections
Public engagement session / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections

Finalists presented to the competition jury at the DIA, which includes Salvador Salort-Pons, president of the DIA; Maurice Cox, Detroit’s planning director; and landscape architect Julie Bargmann, ASLA, founder of D.I.R.T. Studio.

All the teams seek to shrink down the width of boulevards; remove parking; add event spaces, cafes, and public art installations; and vastly expand public green space. The new designs could be the National Mall of Detroit or a lush, interactive university campus. The design teams seek to bring people in from around the Detroit and the suburbs and keep them there, engaged, enlightened, and entertained year-round.

The Agence Ter team offered meandering paths through forested and planted areas, with experimental event spaces for local artists and public art installations that speak to Detroit’s unique history.

Agence Ter proposal / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections competition
Agence Ter proposal / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections competition

The Mikyoung Kim Design team envisioned a verdant space, with a central lawn that can host events, as well as an outdoor movie screen, cafe, playground, and maze garden that converts into an ice rink in winter.

Mikyoung Kim Design proposal / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections competition
Agence Ter proposal / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections competition

And the TEN x TEN team proposed a more angular, contemporary design, with green space but also “fog gardens,” an “exploratorium,” and interactive light graffiti wall.

Ten x Ten proposal / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections competition
Ten x Ten proposal / DIA Plaza Midtown Cultural Connections competition

An exhibition of the proposals is on view at the DIA until April 1. The winning proposal will be announced by the end of April.

This incredible investment in raising Detroit’s profile as a cultural mecca can only help this city get back on its feet after years of disinvestment and near bankruptcy. Only a few years ago, the city seriously considered selling off the amazing art at the DIA to pay down debt. The message of this project is inclusive cultural and ecological revitalization is the new way to do urban revitalization.

Design Competition: Public Art That Produces Energy

Light Up, 1st Place Winner, LAGI 2018 Melbourne competition / LAGI

The inventive folks behind the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) seek to make renewable energy beautiful. They want to integrate clean power sources into public art and the broader public realm, sending a powerful civic signal — that we can achieve a more sustainable commons and world.

For their competition this year, LAGI seeks a work of energy-producing art for a site within Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, a planned community designed by Foster and Partners in the United Arab Emirates. Masdar City is expected to be completed by 2025 and become home to some 50,000 people and 1,500 clean-tech and sustainable businesses.

According to LAGI, Masdar is the Arabic word for “source” — and in this case, refers to the sun, the source of power for the ambitious development. The city plans to get most of its energy from nearby solar facilities, which are being built with specialized solar panels that can survive sand storms. Masdar will also recycle some 80 percent of its water.

The competition is organized in partnership with the 24th World Energy Congress, which will host presentations of the 25 shortlisted finalists. Winners will receive $40,000 and the runner-up, $10,000. See the winners from last year’s competition in Melbourne, Australia.

Interdisciplinary teams can submit designs by May 12, 2019.

Another competition worth checking out: Gauja National Park, the largest national park in Latvia at some 917 square kilometers, seeks a new footbridge, a symbolic gateway to mark the park’s 45th anniversary. First place winners will receive $3,000. No professional qualifications are required. Submissions are due June 11, 2019.

The Pioneers of Postwar Landscape Architecture

Shaping the Postwar Landscape / University of Virginia Press

Shaping the Postwar Landscape, edited by Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, founder and CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), and Scott Craver is the fifth in a series of books that serve as an encyclopedia of landscape architects and allied professionals who made significant contributions to American landscape design. The book is an excellent resource for anyone interested in American landscape design’s roots.

While the editors set out to provide a reference guide, they’ve achieved a relatively compelling read. Professional disciplines are comprised of people, ideas, and projects. Through the fastidious profiling of American landscape pioneers, Birnbaum and Craver have encapsulated a specific period of landscape architecture in an easily consumable text.

Per the title, the book focuses on landscape architects who were most active post-WWII through the bicentennial. This was the era of Modernist design and the move to incorporate environmental intelligence into design and planning. This era saw the first freeway-capping parks, rooftop gardens, and waterfront revitalization projects. And saw landscapes architects take on a broader range of projects in new territories and at new scales, from urban pocket parcels to suburban developments to greater ecological regions.

Freeway Park, completed by Lawrence Halprin & Associates / The Cultural Landscape Foundation

It was also a time in which the profession of landscape architecture experienced impressive growth. ASLA members numbered 540 in 1949, a figure that leaped to over 4,000 by 1974, according to Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA. With that growth came added diversity and strength of ideas. More women, minorities, and people without professional backgrounds in landscape architecture took on roles in shaping the discipline during this period. The individuals chronicled in the book are those whose professional and academic work guided and informed landscape architecture during an especially exciting time.

Postwar Landscapes’ profiles are well-written and include useful personal and professional information as well as analysis. For instance, we are told not only what projects landscape architect Satoru Nishita worked on, but of the renown of his father’s bonsai and that his portfolio demonstrated a keen eye for design details. In this way the writing avoids dryness in spite of the book’s encyclopedic format. The format does have the benefit of allowing one to telescope in and out of the book. But as one reads through, names of people, projects, institutions and movements recur to the point that one begins to recognize the larger constellation they form.

Babi Yar Yar Park, designed by Satoru Nishita with Lawrence Halprin / The Cultural Landscape Foundation

While Postwar Landscape’s format might suggest it’s suitable only for researchers, its reach should be much greater. Many landscape architects are well-versed on projects but fuzzy on the associated names and chronology. This book is an excellent tool for filling those gaps.

If you know of Lafayette Park in Detroit but not Alfred Caldwell, or admire Cornelia Oberlander’s work but want to understand her broader impact on the profession, Postwar Landscapes can be a rewarding read.

As founder and CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, few individuals have done more to increase awareness of American landscape design than Birnbaum. His crusade has produced the sort of work that edifies and anchors a discipline, work that should not be taken for granted.

Forest Bathing Goes Global

Shinrin Yoku: The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing / Timber Press

For thousands of years, humans have purposefully immersed themselves in forests in order to revitalize their spiritual, mental, and physical health. But in 1982, Tomohide Akiyama, director of Japan’s forestry agency, put a name to this, coining the term shinrin yoku, which can be translated as forest bathing. Since then, interest in the practice has skyrocketed among both the public and scientific researchers. And last year, forest bathing may have hit a tipping point, with four books published around the world on this natural therapeutic approach. Forest bathing seems poised to go global, as interest expands beyond Japan into South Korea, the rest of Asia, and throughout the West.

In Shinrin Yoku, The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing, Yoshifumi Miyazaki — who is a professor at the Chiba University center for environment, health, and field sciences; coiner of the term “forest therapy;” and one of the first to conduct scientific research on the health benefits of forest immersion — we have the original Japanese take on the practice.

In Japan, forest bathing and the more-regimented, often multi-day practice of forest therapy are mainstream. Companies regularly send their employees to forests to restore themselves. And Japanese go on therapeutic vacations to some of the most well-known sites of natural beauty. Today, there are some 60 official forest therapy trails, designated for the practice of shinrin yoku by the Forest Therapy Society. And there are a growing number of doctors who are certified to practice forest medicine.

Over the course of human evolution, we have spent 99.99 percent of our development in natural environments. It’s only very recently that we have, as a species, moved into dense urban areas. According to Miyazaki, this has resulted in major health issues. “We are over-stimulated and stressed by today’s man-made world, and that makes our bodies more susceptible to disease.” For him, “it’s not surprising that attention is turning to shinrin yoku as an example of a natural and low-cost way to alleviate this problem.”

In 1990, Miyazaki conducted some of the first experiments to examine the physiological effects of forest bathing on the Japanese island of Yakashima. The study had limited value because then only saliva samples measuring cortisol levels were used. Since 2000, though, the science “moved on,” yielding new ways to measure brain activity and autonomous nervous activity, “both good indicators of the level of stress in the human body.” Over the past 10-15 years, data on the benefits of forest bathing has accumulated.

Miyazaki does an excellent job of clearly communicating the dangers of stress and how forest therapy helps reduce its impacts.

Our over-stimulated urban lifestyles leads to chronic stress, which is exacerbated by “technostress,” the unique stress caused by our fixation on smart phones, twitter feeds, and Netflix accounts.

According to Miyazaki, stress causes illness such as the common cold; back, neck, and shoulder pain; slower healing; weight gain and loss, sleep dysfunction; depression; dysautonomia (autonomic nervous disorder); irritable bowel syndrome; ulcers and stomach problems; heart diseases; and increased cancer risks.

Forest therapy increases physiological relaxation, boosting our immune system and undoing the damaging effects of stress.

The benefits of forest therapy measured by Mizayaki and others include:

  • “Improvement of weakened immunity, with an increase in the count of killer (NK) cells, which are known to fight tumors and infections.
  • Increased relaxation of the body due to increased activity in the parasympathetic nervous system activity.
  • Reduction in blood pressure after only 15 minutes of forest therapy.
  • Reduced feelings of stress and a general sense of well-being.
  • Reduction in blood pressure after 1 day of forest therapy, which lasts up to 5 days after therapy.”

On a deeper level, Miyazaki believes we experience these benefits when we de-synchronize with technology and the stressful pace of urban living and re-synchronize with the natural rhythms we have evolved with. Over seven million years of human evolution, “we have lived amid nature and our bodies have adapted to that nature.”

In Japan, there is a deep connection with nature. From the country-wide festivals under the beautiful, ephemeral cherry blossoms to the prayers left at the base of honored tree specimens, Japanese live with nature, as opposed to admiring it as the other. People and the natural world co-exist in a country still covered in nearly 70 percent forest. It makes sense then that the Japanese government invested greatly in research on forest therapy, some $4.3 million since 2004.

One study was conducted in 63 forests across Japan, using some 756 subjects, who were split into 6 groups in different regions. Within each group, half went to urban areas and half were sent to forested areas. Subjects were asked to walk slowly through an urban or forested environment for 15 minutes in the morning, and then just sit and look at the view for 15 minutes in the afternoon. Their autonomic nervous activity, pulse rate, blood pressure, cortisol levels were measured, and they were asked questions about how they felt. The study proved that “during forest therapy, the body experiences physiological relaxation.” And subjects in the forested areas reported an increased feeling of comfort, calm, and refreshment; an improvement in their emotional state; and reduction in anxiety.

Other studies in Japan showed that a forest therapy session reduced blood pressure among men with high blood pressure and office workers; calmed pre-frontal brain activity; and among mature women, reduced stress levels. Furthermore, if a forest isn’t accessible, spending time in a large urban park, looking at ornamental house plants, flower arrangements, or bonsai trees, or smelling wood also relaxes the body.

The book is also worthwhile as a guide to shinrin yoku on your own. Miyazaki explains how to walk mindfully in the forest, feeling the forest floor, taking in the sounds and smells, or closely studying a tree. For a therapeutic boost, he recommends meditating, stretching, or sketching in a forest.

Other notable forest bathing books published in the past year:

New Study Shows That for Pedestrians America’s Streets Are “Deadly by Design”

Dangerous by Design 2019 / Smart Growth America and Complete Streets Coalition

An astonishing 6,000 pedestrians were struck and killed by vehicles in 2017, adding to a deadly decade in which 49,340 people were killed on the nation’s streets between 2008 and 2017. Compounding this national tragedy, victims are disproportionately from vulnerable groups, including people of color, those living in low-income communities, Native peoples, and the elderly.

Those are the findings of a new national study entitled Dangerous by Design 2019, issued by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is a founding member of the coalition and a long-time advocate for complete streets policies and practices that elevate pedestrian safety as a top priority.

Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, the executive vice president and CEO of ASLA, welcomed the study, saying, “Too often, danger is built right into our nation’s streets, especially in communities with large elderly populations and people of color. Strong policies are needed that will allow landscape architects to continue to put good street design to work to reduce unnecessary risks and make sure our transportation systems equitably serve all Americans. As cities begin the process of rebuilding and reimagining our decaying urban infrastructure, pedestrian safety must be among our highest priorities.”

Dangerous by Design 2019 / Smart Growth America and Complete Streets Coalition

Somerville added that “The landscape architecture profession plans and designs streetscapes across the country and welcomes this opportunity to direct the attention of the public and policymakers to this deadly daily crisis. Landscape architects are devoted to improving the health, safety, and welfare of every community, and urge the creation of federal, state, and local policies that will correct the tragic inequities that are built into our nation’s aging road systems.”

Dangerous by Design 2019 / Smart Growth America and Complete Streets Coalition

Using the most recent federal data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, the study generates a Pedestrian Danger Index that ranks each state and the 100 most populous metropolitan areas on how deadly they are for people on foot. It also reveals the degree to which vulnerable groups face disproportionate danger and higher risk of death and injury.

Smart Growth America is hosting a public briefing online about the report findings on Thursday, January 24, at 2:30 p.m. EST.

The World Below: A Tour of Earth from the International Space Station

The International Space Station circles our planet 15.5 times per day at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour. Through a compilation of high-resolution time lapse video taken by NASA astronauts on the station, Philadelphia-based videographer Bruce W. Berry Jr. has created a mesmerizing tour of the Earth.

Rivers spread like veins through the landscape. Weather patterns churn with visceral power over snow-covered mountains. As night falls on the surface, tightly-packed cities light up like beacons. Above, aurorae dance across the stratosphere.

At the end of the video, the thin yellow line demarking the outer edge of the Earth’s atmosphere — which is actually “light emissions caused by chemical reactions of oxygen, sodium, ozone, and nitrogen” — slides into view.

With the help of an epic soundtrack — a piece called Journey to the Line by Hans Zimmer — Berry has created a dramatic journey over the surface of our planet, which appears like a single living organism. An Earthrise for the video age.

If you are interested in knowing what landscapes were filmed, Berry provides a list of places captured from the space station.

How Can Cities Get a Handle on Electric Scooters?

Bird electric scooters in Santa Monica, California / Madeline Eskind Twitter

Electric scooters have become a familiar sight throughout the country. Dotting street corners in tidy rows in the mornings, placed haphazardly outside office buildings after the lunch hour, and zipping down streets and sidewalks at all hours of the day, electric scooters are fast becoming a ubiquitous feature of the urban landscape. The rapid expansion of electric scooters has drawn both support and criticism. By understanding the pros and cons of electric scooters and various regulatory considerations, landscape architects and urban planners can help cities make the most of this significant private investment in the public realm.

The potential benefits of incorporating electric scooters into a city’s transit infrastructure are substantial. Leading electric scooter companies, such as Bird and Lime, tout their products as an alternative non-vehicular means of transportation, a zero-emission people-moving mechanism that can reduce short distance single-occupant car trips. Commuters who use public transportation for the bulk of their commute and who cannot or do not wish to use a bike for the final distance to the office can avoid a taxi or ride share trip by hopping on a nearby electric scooter. As many scooter riders will tell you, electric scooters also have the benefit of being fun to ride. Tourists are a major subset of electric scooter riders, as they enjoy the ability to see a new city at a leisurely pace without breaking a sweat.

Renting an electric scooter for a ride isn’t quite as simple as hopping on and zipping off. Riders must first download each company’s app using a smartphone. The app shows locations of nearby scooters that are currently unoccupied and ready to be checked out. Typically, scooters are placed in neat rows in groups first thing in the morning, after being charged overnight. Later in the day, scooters may be distributed in more irregular groups as they are ridden and parked in various places by the riders. First-time users of an app also need to enter a credit card for payment (entered one time then used for all subsequent purchases, similar to the way the Uber and Lyft apps work), and a photo of a driver’s license to verify age.

Access to Bird app / Wikipedia
Bird app display / Bird.co

Critics have noted these requirements limit use across the socioeconomic spectrum; Washington D.C. is hoping to develop a method for cash payment. Rides are priced by the minute, timed from check-in to check-out using the app. Some apps also require riders take a photo of the scooter where it is stopped at the end of the ride, in order to record potentially-illegal parking practices used by some riders. Riders can expect to pay a typical fee of $1 to unlock the scooter, plus $0.15 per minute.

Lime scooter in San Diego / Wikipedia

Electric scooters may have launched in California, but 2018 saw the trend spread across the country and throughout the world. With such exponential growth, many cities have multiple competing brands of scooters within the same area. Austin, Texas, has had such high rates of usage that scooter providers have needed to schedule mid-day servicing of their fleets to charge scooters’ batteries. The usefulness of scooters in urban settings and the potential to replace short car trips has increased enormous investment to electric scooter companies. Ford recently purchased Spin for nearly $100 million, while Uber has partnered with Lime.

The first of many regulatory challenges comes with the way a scooter company might choose to launch a fleet in a new city. Several companies initially gained the industry the reputation of “begging for forgiveness rather than first asking for permission” after launching electric scooter fleets without consulting city officials. This prompted San Francisco to temporarily ban all electric scooters, eventually offering two permits to electric scooter companies Skip and Scoot. Other cities issue permits to a certain number of total electric scooters, split among different providers.

If an electric scooter company approaches a city first to request permission to operate locally, how might a city respond? Some jurisdictions might be glad for the private investment in public transit and permit operation without caveats. Others, hesitant of the demands electric scooters place upon the public right of way, may take a different approach — as did New York City, when, considering the density of sidewalks and bicycle lanes without scooters, issued a firm “thanks, but no thanks” to scooter companies.

State regulations may also play a role in whether electric scooters must operate on city streets, sidewalks, or not at all:

To address safety concerns, electric scooter companies require all scooter riders wear helmets and meet a minimum age requirement. These requirements are frequently violated by users, as are regulations requiring scooters be ridden on the sidewalk, roadway, or in a bike lane. Conflicts between pedestrians, bicyclists, vehicles, and scooters are difficult to avoid without formally set and well-understood rules for where and how a scooter should operate. One particularly active period of reported scooter accidents in Austin, Texas, led the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to partner with Austin city government to study the most common source of incidents. This study is currently underway, but Austin is already planning to put a safe riding ordinance into effect in the spring of 2019.

Bird electric scooter riding rules, which are often ignored / Wikipedia

Electric scooter companies are beginning to put money and effort toward improving the safety of scooter riders. Bird scooters recently announced plans to form a Global Safety Advisory Board, led by the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with the goal of improving electric scooter safety. Bird has also proposed a funding strategy whereby $1 daily per vehicle in a city’s fleet would be dedicated to a fund for improving bicycle lanes and infrastructure in that city. Bird scooters currently offers cities data on usage within that city, which can be a valuable data metric in understanding the flow of people through the city, scoping a site pre-development, or for post-occupancy analysis.

Electric scooters can replace much more vehicular use, particularly single-occupant, short-distance car trips, in congested urban environments. At the same time, city management and planning authorities must carefully weigh the risks to public safety before approving electric scooter programs.

With clear rules and robust public awareness campaigns to ensure all users understand the rules for legal operation, scooters may come to safely co-exist with existing users of the public right of way. Electric scooters are here to stay, and cities have the opportunity and challenge of establishing a safe framework in which citizens and visitors can enjoy the full benefits of this technology.

This guest post is by Alison Kennedy, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP ND, a landscape architect with O’Dell Engineering in Modesto, California. She is the co-chair of the ASLA Women in Landscape Architecture professional practice network (PPN) and chair of the ASLA Archives & Collections Committee.

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

newstwo_lakeparkfriends
Lake Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin / Lake Park Friends

Atlanta’s Plans for Parks over Highways Get National Attention Bisnow, 1/2/19
“Atlanta’s efforts to create new swaths of green space over its major interstate has taken the national spotlight.”

Spotlighting Historic Landscapes Could Benefit Milwaukee The Shepherd Express, 1/8/19
“Milwaukeeans have inherited a treasure trove of historic parks and other public landscapes rivaling in significance those in Chicago, Minneapolis and other major cities.”

CRÈME Proposes Floating Timber Bridge to Connect Brooklyn and Queens The Architect’s Newspaper, 1/10/19
“Currently the only link between the rapidly developing neighborhoods of Long Island City, Queens, and Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is the Pulaski Bridge, a six-lane drawbridge with a narrow pathway where pedestrians and bikers jostle for space.”

National Parks Get Some Volunteer Love During Government Shutdown CityLab, 1/10/19
“With National Park Service employees furloughed and trash mounting, cleaning up ‘helped me feel like I was doing as much as I could,’ said one volunteer.”

Expressway Hideaways a Chance for Urban Renewal The Bangkok Post, 1/13/19
“Areas under expressways in Bangkok often go overlooked. Despite some of this space being located in business areas, the property remains untouched.”

A Model Plan for Protecting Vital Coastal Habitats

cover
Conserving California’s Coastal Habitats / The Nature Conservancy

Sea level rise is coming, and its impacts will be far reaching. For the state of California, the threat of sea level rise may prove existential. More than two-thirds of its population lives in the states’ 21 coastal counties, which are responsible for 85 percent of the state’s GDP.

However, sea level rise will not just impact human activity. Rising tides will also drastically alter, and in some cases destroy, important coastal habitats. Conserving California’s Coastal Habitats, a new report from The Nature Conservancy, provides a startling analysis of the future of California’s coast and charts a path forward for coastal conservation efforts.

The California coast represents the most biodiverse region in the country’s most biodiverse state, lending nationwide significance to coastal conservation efforts there. “The state of California has been a leader in environmental policy for over a century,” say the report’s authors, praising the state’s “legacy of coastal conservation.”

coast
California’s coastline / Sue Pollock, The Nature Conservancy

However, current policy and decision-making frameworks have been “developed to reflect static existing conditions and are not well suited for the dynamic needs of adapting to sea level rise,” the authors warn.

At risk are “nesting areas along global migrations for diversity of species, as well as nesting and pupping habitat, nursery habitat, and important feeding grounds critical to populations of many species, some which are found nowhere else in the world.”

Sea level rise threatens areas of human settlement and activity, too. The conversion of land to tidal and subtidal coastline will reduce the size of natural buffers, providing less protection to human settlements in coastal flooding events. Saltwater intrusion will impact agriculture. According to the Conservancy, sea level rise and the flooding this will cause could damage or destroy nearly $100 billion worth of property along the California coast by 2100.

bridge
Coastal infrastructure is at risk from sea level rise / Thomas Dunklin

The report’s authors used GIS to identify and map the coastal habitats, ecosystems, and infrastructure most at risk from sea level rise. They based their projections on two and five feet of sea level rise, which they say are in keeping with projections issued by the California Coastal Commission. The authors then developed metrics to measure the potential impact of sea level rise on a given area and the area’s vulnerability and ability to adapt.

Their findings are worrying. “As much as 25 percent of the existing public conservation lands within the analytic zone will be lost to subtidal waters,” they warn. Habitats for eight imperiled species will be completely inundated. Large portions of other significant coastal habitats are “highly vulnerable,” including 58 percent of rocky intertidal habitats, 60 percent of upper beaches, and 58 percent of regularly-flooded estuarine marshes. “At least half of the documented haul-outs for Pacific harbor seals and Northern elephant seals, and nesting habitats for focal shorebirds like black oystercatchers, are also highly vulnerable.”

Maps show that habitats in the San Francisco Bay Area are particularly at risk. There, vulnerable landscapes and habitats–such as 87 percent of the state’s regularly-flooded estuarine marsh–will be trapped between rising seas on one side and human development on the other. “The built environment–including roads and other infrastructure–creates barriers that prevent coastal habitats from moving inland,” while “dikes, levees, and other water control features negatively impact the health and function” of these threatened landscapes.

maps
California Coastal Conservation Assessment / The Nature Conservancy

The Conservancy finds that sea level rise could adversely affect public access to California’s coast. “Sea level rise will diminish coastal access opportunities throughout the state by reducing beach widths, submerging rocky intertidal areas, and flooding coastal beach infrastructure.”

beach
Sea level rise threatens access to California’s beaches and coastal public lands / Sylvia Busby

In the face of these potentially-devastating impacts, the report presents a suite of strategies for conservation in the era of climate change. Habitat managers need to “conserve and manage for resilience.” This includes maintaining the conservation status of existing conserved lands and identifying and protecting resilient coastal landscapes that are not vulnerable to sea level rise.

The Nature Conservancy recommends managing for resilience through the use of sediment augmentation and sand placement. “The majority of highly vulnerable conservation lands in need of managing in place for resilience are found in the San Francisco Bay Delta,” an observation that speaks to the importance of landscape-led initiatives such as the recent Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge.

The Conservancy also calls for conserving nearly 200 square kilometers of potential future habitat areas and adapting the built environment “with more natural coastal processes in mind” – in effect, giving the coastline room to change.

hikers
California’s coastline / Taylor Samuelson, California State Coastal Conservancy

“As sea levels rise, California’s coast will erode and evolve, and habitats will need to shift. Our current conservation efforts and land use management decisions must focus on further supporting these natural processes and enabling the transition and movement of coastal habitats as sea levels rise. Conservation in the face of sea level rise requires an adaptive process that embraces the reality of a dynamic coastline.”

The reports’ recommendations and strategies are “spatially explicit,” with specific proposals for areas, depending on their vulnerability and adaptive capacity. There are detailed high-resolution maps that illustrate the location, distribution, and severity of risks as well as opportunities.

“The results of this spatially explicit assessment provide a foundation of information to support immediate action to conserve habitats and biodiversity in the face of sea level rise,” the Conservancy argues. “With so much of California’s coastal habitats, imperiled species, and managed lands at risk from sea level rise, immediate collective action is necessary to conserve these natural resources into the future.”

Download the full report and maps.

Most Popular DIRT Posts of 2018

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

As we look forward to covering new stories on the built and natural environments this year, here’s a look back at the 10 most popular DIRT posts of 2018. Readers were most interested in the debate over whether beauty still matters in an age dominated by science; how the practice of landscape architecture is evolving to deal with climate change and increasingly diverse communities; how urban sprawl is impacting biodiversity; and the interesting relationship between landscape architecture and retail. As in past years, new research on the health benefits of nature remains a favorite topic.

Always worth mentioning: We are looking for original op-eds, particularly from member landscape architects, designers, and planners, on topics that inspire you. And tell us about your new projects and research. Please email us at info@asla.org.

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

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.

2) Best Books of 2018

If you are looking for a unique book to give as a gift or just one for yourself to delve into over the winter break, explore THE DIRT’s top 10 books of 2018, our picks for the best on the environment, cities, and landscape.

3) To Become More Resilient, Boston Takes a “Landscape First” Approach

Instead of simply responding to catastrophe, Boston is getting out front on climate change. As part of its Climate Ready Boston plan, the city of 670,000 aims to act fast and protect two coastal neighborhoods most vulnerable to rising sea levels and storms: East Boston and Charlestown. New plans for these neighborhoods explain how a simple fix like creating a temporary flood wall at the coastal end of the East Boston Greenway, at a cost of just $100,000, would protect 4,300 residents, 70 businesses and critical infrastructure, and result in $17 million in benefits.

4) Landscape Architects May Be Liable for Climate Impacts

When a neighborhood floods, who is at fault? A class action lawsuit in Houston asks that question. The residents of a master-planned community that flooded during Hurricane Harvey are suing the engineering firm that designed the neighborhood’s stormwater management system. While that suit targets engineers, it nonetheless represents the heightened risk landscape architects face from climate impacts on their projects.

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

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.

6) MIT Researchers Seek Optimal Form of Urban Stormwater Wetland

Cities are sitting on a largely underused public resource: urban stormwater wetlands. If properly designed, these landscapes can reduce flooding, support urban wildlife, and serve as public space. A new report Design Guidelines for Urban Stormwater Wetlands authored by an interdisciplinary group of researchers and students at the MIT Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism led by Celina Balderas Guzmán, Heidi Nepf, and Alan Berger — advocates for the positive role wetlands can play in cities and outlines research that provides insights for landscape architects, engineers, and planners.

7) This Is Your Brain on Nature

Neurosurgeon Edie Zusman, a real-life Doogie Howser who started medical school at 19 and has completed some 6,000 brain and spinal surgeries, said what landscape architects do saves far more lives than what she does. The early prevention of disease reduces the need for surgeries. Prevention is made possible by eating healthy foods and walking and getting exercise in green environments that lower stress and improve well-being.

8) Interview with Robert Gibbs: Trees Cause You to Spend More

Trees are really essential for a competitive shopping district. There was a study by Kathleen Wolfe that indicated trees increase price elasticity by 9-12 percent. In other words, people feel comfortable paying up to twelve percent more for the same product if they purchase in a well-landscaped place with nice streets. Also, when properly located, street trees keep people in the downtown district longer. They feel more relaxed and are more likely to spend more money.

9) Participatory Design Must Evolve

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.”

10) New Study: Technology Undermines the Restorative Benefits of Nature

We experience “soft fascination” with nature when we sit on a park bench and let our mind wander, taking in the trees and flowers, noticing birds and squirrels, feeling the breeze. This gentle decompression in nature is actually critical to helping us restore our ability to pay attention. We need breaks where our minds can just go slack and subconsciously take in the complexity of the natural world. Researchers are still trying to figure out the ideal “dose” of this green medicine, but benefits have been seen with just 10 minutes.