At the Transportation Research Board (TRB)’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg outlined a vision for designing a more equitable and sustainable transportation system. Leveraging the historic levels of funding available through the recently passed Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, Secretary Buttigieg said funds must be distributed in order to simultaneously create jobs, address the climate crisis and racial inequities, and reduce road traffic deaths.
The Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act provides an enormous opportunity to improve both large cities and small communities. “The law contains some of the most significant investments in our transportation infrastructure in generations. These investments are going to have a very real impact on daily lives. They are going to put people to work, reconnect communities, and save lives.”
But the “promise” of the infrastructure bill also “depends on whether we succeed in making the most of these investments.”
For example, transportation policy needs to be intentionally framed to increase jobs and economic development. “Income inequality had been rising long before the pandemic. Good transportation policy directly and indirectly creates jobs that help families build generational wealth for the future. The key is creating opportunities that reach people in places where they are most needed. Last year, I visited the tunnels underneath Atlanta’s international airport, which helped create a thriving Black middle class during its construction, simply by ensuring communities of color had a seat at the table when it came time to award the contracts to build that airfield in the first place.”
A focus on ensuring equitable access to both transportation and the economic opportunities that come with the new federal investment was woven throughout his speech. “Every transportation decision is inherently a decision about equity. That’s why we’re building equity into our grant criteria.”
He added that “transportation and racial equality are two stories that go together. We want to proactively work with communities seeking to do the right thing, over and above the legal minimum.” Another part of this approach is increasing partnerships with diverse small and medium-sized businesses, so there are “partners ready to run with opportunities.”
New transportation policy must also address past climate and environmental injustices: “We have a commitment, as an administration, to ensure 40 percent of the benefits of climate and clean energy investments go to underserved and overburdened communities.”
Shifting to climate, TRB noted that transportation now accounts for nearly 30 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Secretary Buttigieg said given transportation is the single largest sector contributing to the climate crisis, “we have an obligation to strive to be the biggest part of the solution.”
When asked what are the best ways to decarbonize transportation, he highlighted the kinds of planning and design solutions landscape architects provide: “We really need to think about every dimension of a trip, and what can be done to make it greener. Can we use design to reduce the necessity of some of thetrips people take? When people take trips, can we create alternatives so they can take those trips in other modes?”
Secretary Buttigieg also explained how electric vehicles, and the charging infrastructure to support them, along with co-siting large-scale renewable power plants with new transportation systems will be key to a more sustainable future.
As part of the combined strategy to advance goals on jobs, equity, and climate, safety also remains the “fundamental mission of this department,” Buttigieg said. “We lose 3,000 people every month to traffic crashes. We must confront the fact that these tragic deaths are not inevitable, but preventable. We need to take new steps, like a safe systems approach nationwide.” Soon the department will be releasing its first national roadway safety strategy.
“If we do this right, we’ll look back on the 2020s as a period when transportation equity reached new levels. That makes not only historically excluded groups better off, but the whole country better off, because we’ll have a stronger, more stable, richer, fairer economy for all.”
Sadafumi (Sada) Uchiyama, ASLA, is the Chief Curator and Director of the International Japanese Garden Training Center at the Portland Japanese Garden. Uchiyama is a third-generation Japanese gardener from southern Japan, where his family has been involved in gardening for over a century. In addition to his background as a gardener born and trained in Japan, Uchiyama is also a registered landscape architect in Oregon and California, with Bachelor’s and Master’s of Landscape Architecture degrees from the University of Illinois.
Interview conducted at the ASLA 2021 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Nashville.
The mission of the Portland Japanese Garden is “inspiring peace and harmony.” The Garden identifies itself as a place of inclusion, anti-racism, and cultural understanding. How has the garden advanced these goals throughout its history? How have these goals taken form in the landscape?
It’s not what we do, but who we are and how we exist. We take a passive approach, but that doesn’t mean we don’t contribute to these goals.
There’s no prescription for how to enjoy the garden. Typically, a tour involves listening to what the guide is talking about, but we intentionally do not do that and only offer basic guidance. Our tours are very quiet. We just answer questions. We leave everything up to the visitors, because they have their own reasons for coming to the garden. It could be for tourism or because someone lost a loved one or had a new baby.
We don’t prescribe but be there all the time in the same way. We listen and then if a visitor chooses, we strike up a conversation. We have conversations that may be difficult, but we listen and talk.
We see our Japanese garden as a depository of all kinds of emotions. There’s not much signage and interpretation. Each visitor comes with a bag full of things or nothing. And then when the conversations start, we are ready to engage.
Everyone is a human being. Language, cultural background, and ethnicity doesn’t matter. We are accepting. We welcome the human being. We provide the essential experience of being a human being in harmony with nature. We try to bring human beings closer to that harmony.
When Nobuo Matsunaga, former ambassador of Japan to the U.S. visited Portland Japanese Garden, he proclaimed it to be “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan.” Some 300 Japanese gardens were designed in the U.S. in the aftermath of World War II to help heal the relationship between the countries and create understanding. What makes the Portland Japanese Garden so beloved in Japan and the U.S.?
Well, it took 60 years at this point. You can imagine how bumpy the relationship was with the city just barely 10 years after the war. But we believed in the power of the garden. We owe a lot to local people, the community. We still define ourselves as caretakers of the garden for the community, which has been our tradition. Portland and the people of the city made the garden possible.
Instead of trying to overcome the differences, we embrace similarities. There are so many similarities between the Pacific Northwest and Japan. The climate is one thing. The hills, beautiful streams and rivers; that’s what Portlanders and Oregonians embrace. There was a natural acceptance of what is Japanese because it wasn’t totally foreign. We are a Japanese garden in the Pacific Northwest forest.
Designed in 1963 by Professor Takuma Tono of Tokyo Agricultural University, the garden combines eight different Japanese garden styles. What are these styles and what do they signify? How do they come together as a whole?
Professor Tono was clear from the get-go why he designed the garden. It’s really nothing but education in a broader sense: community education. He didn’t intend to create a masterpiece, but wanted to offer an introductory range of gardens.
That approach led to his original five gardens. Normally, when we design Japanese gardens, there is usually one theme or type, but he intentionally showed the spectrum of gardens, all different but what we call Japanese gardens. He designed a strolling pond garden, sand and stone garden, flat garden, tea garden, and natural garden, then we added a few, including through the recent Cultural Crossing expansion.
We are very conscious about not copying or recreating the classic garden style, but advancing it. What can Japanese gardens become? Our responsibility is to also move the tradition forward, because tradition is only one little step within a long evolution.
A new, smaller courtyard garden is more like an agricultural field. Then we added a cascade garden to the forefront of the Japanese Garden, which is actually outside of the garden itself, because we like to provide for those who are not paying admission.
Often sand and stone gardens are referred to as Zen gardens in the U.S. but that isn’t accurate. They are dry landscapes, referred to as karesansui gardens, guided by the principle of the “beauty of blank space.” These gardens are designed for contemplation, rather than meditation. How do you explain the growing interest in “blank space” landscapes and buddhism over the past few decades?
It’s about the feeling of relief. An object is tangible — visible and touchable. We conceive what it is and generate feelings. But a void, or nothing, makes us think. In some ways, it actually frees us to change the mode, or forces us to change the mode of thinking, by not thinking. If you have all objects, there is friction. Having the void space provides lubricant for our thinking.
Void space is very important in all Japanese art: calligraphy, for example. An object only exists because of the void.
It’s important, especially in today’s world, to step out. Our ability to learn is tied to our ability to step out of “us,” “me,” and “my.”
You are there in the garden because of others. It’s a similar notion: only because of the void can the object exist and be identified. It’s relevant to how we live in our society and cross-cultural. The void is a very wise tool. If we can carry that tool, we can be able to see.
The flat garden (hira-niwa) further elaborates on this dry landscape style, adding trees and plants that provide color for all seasons. The garden is meant to be experienced from a single viewpoint, looking out beyond Shogi screens in the pavilion. You describe the void as a way to focus on an object in the sand and stone garden, but here that idea has evolved. Why is the expression of seasonal change important in this landscape?
The experience of the garden has both physical and temporal aspects. The flat garden with white sand, lined with pine, cherry, and maple trees, presents the notion of the passage of the time. By providing essentially a still picture through the flat garden, you become much more keen it. You are not physically moving, so you can catch time. But time also has its own way to move independent from our movement.
Often, there are no flowers in Japanese gardens. Compared with English gardens, there are certainly less. But when flowers exist in Japanese gardens, they are manifesting the passage of time.
Japanese gardens, in a skillful way, give you a sense of the clear passage of a season. That means you can anticipate what’s coming next. That anticipation is the beautiful part. We need to place ourselves in that cycle, so there’s the reason to live and something to look for.
A few years ago, you led the Cultural Crossing expansion of the garden with Portland-based landscape architecture firm Walker Macy and Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, creating a 3.4-acre set of spaces that includes a new pathway to the garden, entry sequence, visitor buildings. The addition seamlessly blends architecture and landscape architecture, Japanese aesthetics with ecological design. What does this project mean to you and how did you guide the project?
Given I have been garden curator for 14 years, it’s really the culmination of my service. The intent of the expansion was to release pressure on the existing garden. In 2015, we started to see close to 400,000 visitors a year. That’s a lot for five and a half acres.
We knew the time to expand would come, so we were well-prepared. Our goal was not expansion in the sense of make the space bigger, but to instead create a new experience outside the garden. The goal is to maintain the tranquility of the original garden, because that’s why people come. No matter if the visitor is in high school student or elderly, they are coming for tranquility, so we have to absolutely defend and maintain that.
It’s nice to have shelters, and, in the wintertime, have a sip of tea and visit exhibition and workshop spaces. In Japan, gates delineate sacred space and secure activities. The entire new space and the facilities serve as a gate to the existing garden.
It’s a quintessential Japanese experience. Like in a small village, there’s the agricultural field surrounding the village, then semi-natural wooded areas, then wild nature. Typically, the village shrine is built right on the edge of the wild nature, so there is always the journey. We have emulated that.
When Kengo Kuma first visited the garden and looked at the site, the only one thing he said was, “Uchiyama-san, I don’t think we need to do much.” He was totally in tune with the land. We termed the concept for our expansion as editing the land, as opposed to creating something. We worked with what’s given. After all, we are surrounded by the triple environmental zone, so it’s the most difficult place in Portland to do anything. We embrace and treasure and only touch what is needed. That was the only discussion I had with him in a really substantial way. Once we agree on that editing part, the rest was really easy, because we know where we’re going. And the land actually told us.
The new entry sequence also gives people to time to switch their mindset from the hustle and bustle to being ready to see.
We live in such a divided country and world. How does Portland Japanese Garden offer principles that can guide other cultural landscape exchanges in post-conflict contexts? And can approaches taken in the Portland Japanese Garden serve as a model for other forms of cultural exchange beyond landscape?
Our goal is not necessarily to have a Japanese garden. That’s really the means. A Japanese garden is really just a beautiful means. The garden enables us to invite everyone. Everyone can enjoy. But we are a place, an occasion in time, to enable them to think and have conversation that otherwise may be harder to have elsewhere.
I’ve never seen anyone fighting in the garden. Somehow the garden brings emotional stability. The garden helps people go back to who they are — human beings, just speaking different languages and with different hair and skin colors. Those things don’t matter. We have all been around the same height for 150,000 years. Two eyes; two ears. That creature feels the same fundamental things.
We’re passive as opposed to active in terms of addressing those issues. But there is very few places in the world that just welcome any time, rain or shine. We are there to receive your emotion. And that’s what we’re talking about exactly: that is the model. We are rebuilding the model by way of Japanese garden. Creating a space where everyone can express emotions and can have a conversation. That’s all.
The garden is non-denominational. If you think of a building, once it’s complete, it has functions and names. A garden is a garden, that’s it. A garden can be a wedding venue or a place to cry. The beauty of gardens, and not just necessarily Japanese gardens, is the space is built with our psyche as human beings.
We, nature, and the garden are the facilitators. The important thing is to facilitate.
ASLA is currently accepting proposals for the 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Francisco, November 11-14, 2022. Help us shape the 2022 education program by submitting a proposal through our online system by Tuesday, February 22, 2022, at 12:00 NOON PT.
The ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture is the largest gathering of landscape architects and allied professionals in the world.
ASLA seeks education proposals that will help to drive change in the field of landscape architecture and provide solutions to everyday challenges informed by research and practice. Educational tracks include:
Changing the Culture in Practice
Design and the Creative Process
Leadership, Career Development, and Business
Olmsted & Beyond: Practice in Progress
Planning, Urban Design, and Infrastructure
Resilience and Stewardship
Technology: Trends and Workflow
“At the upcoming 2022 conference, we will explore planning and design solutions to some of the world’s most challenging issues: how to increase resilience to climate change, how to rebuild our infrastructure, and how to ensure greater racial and social equity in all communities. Landscape architects are ready to come together to share knowledge and advance best practices,“ said ASLA President Eugenia Martin, FASLA.
“We look forward to building on the success of last year’s conference in Nashville, where we created a safe, inclusive in-person educational experience for the landscape architecture community. We hope to see more of our global friends in San Francisco as well. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, we will be watching closely to ensure we can again create a safe space for everyone,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA CEO.
Please visit the submission site to learn more about the 2022 education tracks, submission criteria, review process, and key dates.
Education Session Submission Guides
Our session submission guides provide detailed information on what you need to include with expert tips on putting together a winning and help determine which session type best fits your proposal.
Education Session Guide: Education sessions are 60-, 75-, and 90-minute sessions that deliver a selection of relevant and timely topics. Session includes a minimum of 50 minutes of instruction followed by 10/15 minutes of Q&A, maximum three speakers.
Deep Dive Session Guide: Deep dive sessions are interactive, in-depth, 2.5-hour programs that explore specific landscape architecture topics, maximum five speakers.
Field Session Guide: Multiple speakers offer education combined with a field experience, highlighting local projects. Field sessions are organized through the local chapter.
Speakers are welcome to use the submission Word templates for 60-,75-, or 90-minute sessions, deep dives, and field sessions to collaborate on proposals before completing the online submission. The templates provide descriptions of the required submission information and can be edited and shared.
Conference Session Guide Examples
Review the session descriptions, learning outcomes, and session guides from past conferences.
To look ahead to the future of the built and natural environments, we should also look back to learn what was of greatest interest to readers in 2021.
Readers wanted to know how to best help communities adapt to increasingly severe climate impacts, such as extreme heat, flooding, and sea level rise. As the immediate effects of climate change become more real, debate over how to actually plan, design, and implement landscape solutions in the near term came to the forefront, with an increased focus on how to best incorporate nature-based solutions. Amid our changing relationship with the built environment, caused by climate change and COVID-19, there was also great interest in how to leverage urban design to improve mental health and well-being and bolster communities for the long-term. And readers sought new ideas and models on how to advance racial and social equity, through analyses of Frederick Law Olmsted’s writings and projects and a dive into the planned 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, D.C., which seeks to bridge the city’s long-time racial divisions.
The most read contributions from ASLA members delved into new and old models to help communities rethink their approaches to economic, social, and environmental change — from the rural-to-urban transect, to smarter arrangements of street trees, to new nature-based solutions to help coastal populations adapt to sea level rise and groundwater flooding.
ASLA members: please reach out to us with your big, timely ideas — your original op-eds or articles on topics you are passionate about. Tell us about your new projects and research. Please email us at email@example.com.
People living in dense cities are among the least happy. Their rates of depression are 40 percent higher than other populations; and their rates of anxiety are 20 percent higher. Why? Because the built environment is directly linked with happiness and well-being, and too often urban environments fail to put people at ease.
During another turbulent year, books remain a respite, enabling us to recharge and regroup in our efforts to tackle some of the most pressing problems. Over the holidays, now is a great time to delve into new books that offer fresh perspectives and help us reimagine what is possible. Whether you are looking for the perfect gift for your favorite designer or something to read yourself, explore THE DIRT’s 11 best books of 2021.
In the final decades of the 19th century, the new art of landscape architecture was born, in large part due to the efforts of Frederick Law Olmsted. This new profession offered “very specific responses” to the social, political, and environmental challenges of the time, argued Charles Waldheim, Hon. ASLA, the John E. Irving professor of landscape architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, in a panel discussion organized as part of the year-long Olmsted 200 program. “Landscape architecture was radical during his time — a whole new field focused on social progress and reform.”
Grace Mitchell Tada, Assoc. ASLA: “The Rural-to-Urban Transect can serve as a noble tool in the reformation of our urban fabric. In one of his essays, written in 2005, [Andres] Duany warns that a failure to square environmental ethos and social equity concerns with free market choice as perpetuated by the status-quo sprawl may only be solved by ‘a long economic emergency…that none of us should wish upon the nation.'”
According to Devanshi Purohit, associate principal of urban design at CBT Architects, who led a session at the American Planning Association (APA)’s virtual national conference, extreme heat is the number-one climate killer in the U.S., accounting for more deaths than sea level rise, flooding, drought, and other impacts. But, strangely, extreme heat doesn’t get the focus it deserves. Reducing urban heat islands should be a central focus of the planning and design professions.
“The Anacostia River has divided Washington, D.C. for generations,” said Scott Kratz, vice president of Building Bridges Across the River, in a public update of the 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, D.C. over Zoom. When the 11th street bridge built in the 1960s reached the end of its lifespan a decade ago, then Mayor Vince Gray and others saw an opportunity to “save part of the bridge, its precious pilings,” to create a new bridge park that would bring both sides of Washington, D.C. together.
Kristina Hill, Affil. ASLA: “Adaptation to climate change is essential. But do landscape architects and planners understand the most important impacts of higher seas, assuming the goal is to design for adaptation without accidentally blowing it? And how will communities prioritize and achieve the social goals of adaptation in a systematically unequal society? Who will pay, who will benefit, and how can communities take the first steps?”
In a Zoom interview, Kongjian Yu, FASLA — founder of Turenscape, one of China’s largest landscape architecture firms, and creator of the sponge city concept — said, “first of all, Zhengzhou is not a true sponge city. There has still been way too much development and grey infrastructure.” And many Chinese cities have been using the term “sponge city as a political slogan” and a way to attract central government funding, given the deep support for the approach from Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Robert Gibbs, FASLA: “Street trees alone cannot solve the problems and challenges that commercial urban areas face. Frequently, too much emphasis has been placed on planting street trees and installing decorative streetscape enhancements in an effort to improve retail sales in historic downtowns.”
Stoss Landscape Urbanism, led by Chris Reed, FASLA, has produced a fascinating 40-minute video about their new design for Moakley Park in South Boston, which vividly conveys how to create next-generation waterfront parks in the era of sea level rise, social and environmental injustices, and COVID-19.
A Million-Pound Artwork, Once Threatened, Finds a New Home — 12/28/21, The New York Times
“‘It’s a piece that’s part of the history of landscape architecture,’ said Jack Rasmussen, the director of the American University Museum, who will now be charged with safeguarding ‘Marabar.’ ‘A woman sculptor in the 1970s and 1980s who was doing this? It’s ground breaking.'”
Why Cycle Lanes Aren’t Responsible for Urban Congestion — 12/28/21, Streetsblog
“It’s important to note that creating cycles lanes reduces the space available for cars but does not necessarily get people out of cars. Copenhagen is a city famous for cycling, with 28 percent of journeys made by bike. Yet car traffic is only slightly less than in London.”
10 Ways Cities Came Back in 2021 — 12/27/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“Even as Covid-19 continues to disrupt urban life around the world, some cities this year still made transformative — and in some cases unprecedented — changes toward improving residents’ health, safety and overall livability.”
The West’s Race to Secure Water — 12/21/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“How four cities are trying to survive future droughts, from expanding reservoirs and tapping neighboring watersheds to pushing conservation efforts.”
How Equity Isn’t Built into the Infrastructure Bill — and Ways to Fix It — 12/17/21, Brookings Institution
“Ultimately, $1.2 trillion is nothing to sneeze at, and new public investment is welcome after years of disinvestment and neglect. But if we want to ensure prosperity for all in the future, the [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act] is only a down payment on the debt that is owed to communities who have been denied resources.”