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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.