Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (February 16-28)

Studio Zewde’s Graffiti Pier project in Philadelphia / Studio Zewde

Studio Zewde Designs for Cultural and Climate Resilience
02/24/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“With several major projects on the docket—including a five-acre park in Pittsburgh’s historically Black Homewood neighborhood—Zewde persists in combating the shibboleths of her field. Landscape has adopted the rubric of resilience as an overarching frame, but its manifestation in individual projects can often feel like an add-on or PR spin.”

Cities Are Sinking Under the Weight of Urban Development
02/23/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“A new study seeks to quantify how much the sheer weight of the built environment contributes to the sinking of cities, a geological phenomenon known as land subsidence.”

Here Are the Winning Landscape Art Installations for the 2021 International Garden Festival
02/19/21, Archinect
“The annual International Garden Festival is returning to the historic Reford Gardens in Grand-Métis, Quebec this summer, and five new projects have just been chosen to be featured alongside the existing gardens.”

WEISS/MANFREDI and Reed Hilderbrand Reveal an Expansive Reimagining at Longwood Gardens
02/18/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“WEISS/MANFREDI and Reed Hilderbrand’s ‘sweeping yet deeply sensitive’ transformation will ‘expand the public spaces of the renowned central grounds and connect them from east to west, offering a newly unified but continually varied journey from lush formal gardens to views over the open meadows of Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley.'”

Boston’s Dogs Just Wanna Run Free
02/16/21, The Boston Globe
“So, if the national ‘pandemic puppy’ trend holds up in Boston, soon-to-be mature dogs will be matriculating in public spaces and will insist that their voices are heard. And the dog-owning bloc in Boston naturally keeps sniffing for opportunity and will not take rejection lightly. How does a dog park in every Boston neighborhood sound? That’s the city’s goal, Boston officials confirmed.”

Light Art for Dark Times

Blue Night by Kiki Smith / Fung Collaboratives

In the era of the coronavirus, public spaces enable us to socialize and connect, across the masks. And public art is a powerful way to bring more people together safely, spark new connections, and add even more value to our public spaces. Illuminate, a new free public art exhibition, has brought world-class light and interactive art to Coral Gables, Florida, a community of nearly 50,000 southwest of downtown Miami. One of the country’s first planned communities, the Mediterranean Revival-style development features a two-mile-long downtown strip that now hosts eight new interior and exterior art installations. Working with the Coral Gables Community Foundation, the city, and other partners, a team of curators led by Fung Collaboratives sought to “produce a proper museum-quality group exhibition rather than a ‘light festival.’”

Blue Night by contemporary artist Kiki Smith features 42 suspended art works inspired by late 17th century drawings of constellations of the zodiac by Johannes Hevelius and others. Smith said: “In ancient times it was believed that the sky was somewhere between heaven and Earth. It’s great to be able to present light, hope, and joy for so many to experience.”

Blue Night by Kiki Smith / Fung Collaboratives

A companion augmented reality (AR) app enables visitors to interact with the aerial astrological signs. Visitors who aim their phone cameras at the artworks will see ghosted images of the animals, along with the stars and asterism that make up each constellation. There’s also a fantastic free coloring book for kids (and adults).

Blue Night by Kiki Smith / Fung Collaboratives

On the facade of the Coral Gables Museum, the video art projection You Are Here is the result of a course artist and professor Jonathan Perez taught at Florida International University (FIU) Art & Art History Department that took “an inclusive and historical look” at the city.  Perez states that the installation is “heartfelt, relevant, and another time capsule for the city to treasure.” Students that participated in the course were also credited on the final artwork.

You Are Here / Fung Collaboratives
You Are Here / Fung Collaboratives
You Are Here / Fung Collaboratives

Echoes of Souls and Echoes of My Skin by David Gumbs are a dynamic diptych video installation. Visitors passing below trigger “random computer-generated animations and patterns inspired by David Gumbs’ Caribbean cultural, fauna, and flora heritage,” the curators write. His work is also a “token to lost souls due to the COVID pandemic and social injustice.”

Echoes of Souls and Echoes of My Skin by David Gumbs / Fung Collaboratives
Echoes of Souls and Echoes of My Skin by David Gumbs / Fung Collaboratives

At Coral Gables City Hall, Cuban-born and Miami-raised artist Carlos Estévez worked with animators Mai Shirai and Johnny Sim and projection mapping artist Clifford Walker to create the mesmerizing Urban Universes. Estévez transformed his paintings and sculptures into animations that move across the surface of the historic building.

Urban Universes by Carlos Estévez / Fung Collaboratives
Urban Universes by Carlos Estévez / Fung Collaboratives

And on street corners throughout downtown Coral Gables is Yes/No by Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares. The artists state that metal barricades were once viewed as providing safety for events, but because of waves of protests have become ubiquitous in downtowns. They can now symbolize repression and control. By lighting them up, they hope to focus our attention on their complex role in the built environment.

Yes/No by Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares / Fung Collaboratives
Yes/No by Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares / Fung Collaboratives
Yes/No by Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares / Fung Collaboratives

The exhibition will run Wednesday through Sunday, sunset to either 9pm or 10pm, until March 13. For those near Miami, explore the map of installations.

Illuminate, founded by Venny Torre and Patrick O’Connell, is a project of the Coral Gables Community Foundation and includes partners such as The City of Coral Gables, The Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, the Business Improvement District (BID), and the Coral Gables Museum, along with numerous public and private sponsors.

Help Save the Weyerhaeuser Campus

Weyerhaeuser International Headquarters, Federal Way, Washington / Joe Mabel, courtesy TCLF

The 425-acre Weyerhaeuser International Headquarters in Federal Way, Washington has been called one of the world’s great corporate campuses. A foremost example of how to seamlessly integrate architecture and landscape architecture, the campus is now under threat from development plans that propose adding massive warehouses and turning the site into an industrial zone.

There is an ongoing campaign to stop development inconsistent with a mid-70s master plan created by landscape architect Peter Walker, FASLA. The campaign was initiated by a slew of organizations, including Save Weyerhaeuser Campus, the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, Rainier Audubon, Historical Society of Federal Way, SoCoCulture, Docomomo U.S., and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and its Washington Chapter have also joined the effort.

According to The New York Times, Save Weyerhaeuser Campus, a non-profit organization, filed suit to block approval of a new 226,000-square-foot warehouse on the site, “citing concerns about environmental harm, traffic, and damage to the historic site.” Unfortunately, plans for the warehouse were approved by the city. And now new plans are moving forward for another warehouse and three new buildings totaling 1.5 million square feet, which would require clear-cutting 132 acres, or nearly a third, of the 425-acre campus. The new warehouses could draw up to 800 trucks per day into a site that functions like a public park for the Federal Way community.

Earlier this year, TCLF amplified efforts to stop the inappropriate development with an international letter-writing campaign, calling the campus “worthy of National Historic Landmark status.” The campaign has resulted in a series of letters from significant landscape architects to Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, because of the city’s role in issuing land use and construction permits. Letters are also being directed to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Seattle district commander Colonel Alexander Bullock. “The Corps is conducting a review because wetlands are affected,” TCLF notes.

In his letter, Laurie Olin, FASLA, founding principal of OLIN and National Medal of Art recipient, argues that Weyerhaeuser is “a treasure of modern architecture, site planning, community benefit, and environmental leadership” — and any new development should respect and follow the original 70s-era master plan, which does make room for new development.

Weyerhaeuser International Headquarters, Federal Way, Washington / Chris Dimond, PWP Landscape Architecture, courtesy TCLF

The campus was designed by Walker, a founding principal of Sasaki, Walker and Associates (SWA) and PWP Landscape Architecture, and Edward Charles Bassett, partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), and completed in 1972.

TCLF argues that the campus was “ahead of its time in merging Modernism with environmental sensitivity. Unlike other corporate campuses of the era, Weyerhaeuser was open to the public and designed to include an extensive network of pathways. Walker termed the site a park that was gifted to the city by Weyerhaeuser.”

Weyerhaeuser International Headquarters, Federal Way, Washington / SWA Group, courtesy TCLF

The campus is now owned by Los Angeles-based developer Industrial Realty Group (IRG). TCLF states that “officials at IRG are ignoring a mid-1970s master plan that details appropriate areas for development and have rejected design assistance from Walker, SOM partner Craig Hartman, and SWA managing principal René Bihan.”

Duane Dietz, ASLA, president of the Washington Chapter – ASLA (WASLA), submitted a letter that proposes specific next steps, including using conservation easements to preserve parts of the landscape and safeguarding forested buffers to reduce any visual and ecological impact of new buildings.

WASLA asks the City of Federal Way and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “direct the property owners to maintain the campus’s design integrity by using the 1981 campus master plan as a guide for new development; examine reducing the amount of new warehouses to minimize impacts; negotiate with the City and County on conservation easements in key areas (wetlands and public use trails to ensure continuous public access) of the campus to reduce their tax impacts; and provide effective forested buffers (at least 300 feet or the recommendation of the 1981 master plan) to shield any new construction.”

National ASLA also wrote a letter, strongly urging the city to stop plans to clear-cut 132 acres of the campus and preserve the immense public recreational and health benefits of this unique landscape.

Sign on to a petition at Change.org and write a letter as part of TCLF’s campaign.

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

Water Street master plan, Tampa, Florida / Strategic Property Partners, via Fast Company

Why One City in Car-obsessed Florida Is Prioritizing Pedestrians — 02/12/21, Fast Company
“The plan also involved breaking apart the superblocks that had formed in the area since the 1950s. Elkus Manfredi, along with the landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand, reconfigured the grid to be more easily accessible on foot, with smaller blocks and generous space for pedestrians.”

He Designed the Minnesota Zoo and Upgraded the Minneapolis Parkway System. So Why Don’t We Know This Landscape Architect’s Name? — 02/12/21, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“With the recent passing of Roger Bond Martin, Minnesota lost its greatest teacher of landscape architecture and one of the most influential American landscape architects of the past 50 years.”

A Fight to Save a Corporate Campus Intertwined with Nature — 02/12/21, The New York Times
“The campus, designed by the architect Edward Charles Bassett and the landscape architect Peter Walker, featured a low-slung building in a meadow between wooded hillsides. Ivy-covered terraces on the front of the building cascaded down to a lake, and walking paths wound through trees.”

Public Displays of Affection for Urban Life — 02/10/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“U.S. cities ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic are embracing a broader definition of love this year through Valentine’s Day art installations.”

Manhattan’s First Public Beach Is Moving Ahead as Hudson River Park Trust Issues RFPs –02/08/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Now, it looks like work on the $70 million, James Corner Field Operations-designed Gansevoort Peninsula park will kick off this spring.”

California Assembly Transportation Committee Chair Laura Friedman on Climate Leadership in Transportation — 02/04/21, The Planning Report
“Despite California’s nation-leading investments in clean energy infrastructure and zero-emissions vehicle deployment, transportation remains a stubborn sector to decarbonize and the state’s leading source of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants.”

The Game Landscape of Super Nintendo World

Mario, the iconic mustachioed plumber and protagonist of the game Super Mario Bros, has become the centerpiece of a new interactive theme park: Super Nintendo World, which is scheduled to open as soon as it is safe to at Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan. A life-sized video game landscape that cost upwards of $575 million and took more than five years to plan, design, and build, Super Nintendo World creates an immersive universe that uses video projections and augmented reality to blur the lines between game life and the real world.

In his discussion of what landscape architects can learn from Hollywood, Chip Sullivan, FASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, explained how powerful films engage in the act of “world building, creating an entire logic.” One world building colossus — the Harry Potter collection — was recently transformed into the theme park The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, also at Universal Studios. According to Sullivan, the Wizarding World “puts drama everywhere, creates illusion and hide-and-seek moments, and features a mosaic of facades that have larger foregrounds.”

In the same vein, Super Nintendo World offers a complex, layered universe that seeks to amplify the experience of being totally immersed in defeating Bowser (King Koopa in Japan) in the Mario games. There are obstacles to overcome, points to win, friends to play with, and even a “secret” underground level to unlock. The game narrative — which is about discovering, honing problem-solving skills, and always moving up to the next level — takes landscape form.

Map of Super Nintendo World / Universal Studios Japan

Just as in the game, when Mario moves through a green warp pipe to ascend to the next level, visitors will enter the theme park through a real green tube, where they arrive in the lobby of Princess Peach’s Castle and can look up at Bowser’s Fortress and Mount Beanpole and see a mushroom landscape.

Super Nintendo World / Universal Studios Japan

Within Bowser’s fortress, visitors play a real-life version of Mario Kart, a popular driving game. Riders will be given augmented-reality googles that synch with elaborate video projections mapped to areas of the course.

Mario Kart: King Koopa / Super Nintendo World, Universal Studios Japan

Players can purchase a “Power Up Band” that enables them to collect points as they hit or kick objects and obtain “virtual character stamps” as they race through the course. The wristbands are also connected to an app, accessible via QR code, and all members of a party can join together, allowing them to play as a team. Points will determine scores, turning the entire Super Nintendo World into a real-time game.

Power Up Bands / Universal Studios Japan

Players will need the band to collect virtual keys spread throughout the park in order to access other game levels, including Shadow Showdow, which includes a fight with King Koopa’s son, Junior. According to the Orlando Informer, “in order to beat the dastardly villain, ‘players’ will need to join together and ‘jump, punch, and use your entire body and all your instincts.'”

Super Nintendo World / Universal Studios Japan

An underground level is also only accessible if a player earns enough points. According to the Informer, “it mimics one of the subterranean courses found in the Super Mario Bros. games.” There is a “section that changes its scale as you make your way through it, eventually making you feel as if you’ve been hit by a baddie and shrunk down to Mini-Mario size.”

For those passionate about Nintendo, watch a 15-minute video tour of the new theme park with Shigeru Miyamoto, legendary video game designer and creator of Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong. Also, take a virtual tour.

The project was designed in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team of theme park planners, designers, and engineers at Universal Creative. Additional Super Nintendo Worlds are planned for other Universal Studios in the U.S.

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

Terraced pocket park in Chinatown, Los Angeles / AHBE | MIG

Terraced Pocket Park Takes Shape in Chinatown — 01/28/21, Urbanize
“Landscape architecture firm AHBE | MIG designed the project and uses staircases and multiple terrace levels to account for its hillside location. The stepped levels, which provide three entrance points along Ord Street and Hill Place, will include landscaping, seating areas, viewing platforms, and exercise equipment.”

Frank Gehry Teases Plans to Build Raised Parks over the Los Angeles River — 01/28/21, Dezeen
“Concrete stilts would support deep, soil-filled concrete troughs of earth planted with plants and trees, perched four metres above the lip of the concrete-walled channel.”

The Battle Lines Are Forming in Biden’s Climate Push — 01/26/21, The New York Times
“The president is moving rapidly to address global warming, with unlikely allies backing him and huge hurdles, some from his own party, directly ahead.”

Everything We Liked (and Didn’t Like) at Buttigieg’s Transportation Secretary Confirmation Hearing — 01/25/21, Transportation for America
“‘It’s very important to recognize the importance of roadways where pedestrians, bicycles, vehicles, any other mode can coexist peacefully. And that Complete Streets vision will continue to enjoy support from me if confirmed,’ Buttgieg said.”

Turin Turned an Abandoned Tramway into a Linear Park — 01/22/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“‘Precollinear Park’ was supposed to be a temporary reuse of a dead streetcar line. Instead, it became the Italian city’s newest green space.”

Biden-Harris Administration Rejoins Paris Climate Accord

Inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris / Kevin Dietsch, CNP/Polaris, Europa Press via AP News

Only a few hours after being sworn in, President Joseph R. Biden signed an executive order that recommits the United States to the Paris Climate Accord. The U.S., the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, now rejoins more than 195 nations in seeking to limit global warming to 1.5 ° Celsius (2.7 ° Fahrenheit) by ratcheting up emissions reductions every five years. The goal is to achieve global net-zero emissions by 2050.

In 2015, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, the U.S. committed to reducing American emissions by 26-28 percent by 2030 by raising vehicle emissions standards and phasing out coal-powered electrical generation and then accelerating emission reductions by 2050. In 2017, President Donald Trump announced his administration would be taking the U.S. out of the agreement. The actual abandonment of the agreement didn’t occur until November 2020.

President Trump’s policy caused a groundswell among state and local governments to commit to the U.S.’s 2015 pledge. The Center for American Progress found that 26 red and blue states and territories—representing a majority of the U.S. population—remained committed to the Obama administration’s goals. Furthermore, the Clean Energy States Alliance states that 17 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia enacted plans for achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 or earlier. Thousands of cities, businesses, religious organizations, universities, and non-profit organizations, including ASLA, joined the “We Are Still In” coalition.

Due to the pandemic, greenhouse gas emissions dropped 9.2 percent in 2020, but with expansive forest fires out West, the net reduction was calculated to be just 6.4 percent. Still, this reduction actually puts the U.S. within reach of achieving the Obama administration’s goals for 2030.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris campaigned on an ambitious platform of climate action and environmental justice. To achieve their plan, they call for $1.7 trillion in federal government investment, along with leveraging another $5 trillion in state and local government and private sector funds over the next decade.

Specifically, their plan calls for 100 percent renewable power in the electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions no later than 2050. The administration plans on asking Congress to enact legislation that establishes an enforcement mechanism for milestone targets, makes “historic investments” in clean energy and climate research and innovation, and “incentivizes the rapid deployment of clean energy innovations,” particularly in underserved and historically marginalized communities.

Other major parts of their platform include taking on a global leadership role to speed up climate action, ensuring all investments in new infrastructure also help American communities adapt to climate change, targeting polluters who “disproportionately harm underserved communities,” and supporting the growth of green jobs.

According to The Guardian, the Biden-Harris administration is expected to organize an international climate summit in spring 2021 in the effort to spur on more ambitious commitments at the UNFCCC COP26 meeting in November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. The U.S.’s own emission reduction goals will also be reconsidered and then packaged as a nationally determined contribution, which is required for signatories to the Paris Climate Accord.

To realize these plans, President Biden has elevated climate change-related positions in his administration and assembled a team of well-seasoned climate policy experts.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry was appointed as Special Envoy for Climate Change and given a seat on the National Security Council and the cabinet. On the domestic side, Gina McCarthy, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has been appointed as national “climate czar,” with responsibility for coordinating domestic climate policy. (McCarthy was the keynote speaker at ASLA’s 2019 Conference on Landscape Architecture). The Washington Post reports that Ali Zaidi, New York’s deputy secretary for energy and environment, will be McCarthy’s deputy.

The EPA and the Departments of the Interior, Energy, Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development all play critical roles in achieving the Biden-Harris administration’s climate goals.

To head up the EPA, Biden nominated Michael S. Regan, Secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, who started the department’s first environmental justice advisory board. For Secretary of the Interior, Biden nominated New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland, the first Native American woman selected for a cabinet role. Both Rep. Haaland and President Biden are strong advocates for conserving 30 percent of U.S. land and waters in an effort to protect American biodiversity and natural resources and better use landscapes as a carbon sink.

And for Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Biden nominated Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who pledges to integrate climate change and equity considerations into federal transportation infrastructure investments. The Department of Transportation is crucial to expanding access to low-carbon transportation infrastructure, such as green Complete Streets and public transit; creating more stringent fuel emission standards; and expanding access to electric vehicles. Learn more about all of Biden’s key nominees.

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

Frank Gehry Previews an Updated Vision for the L.A. River as New Master Plan Is Unveiled — 01/15/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“The river cuts through 17 neighborhoods and the design team, comprised of Gehry Partners along with landscape architects OLIN and engineering firm Geosyntec, were tasked with both creating site-specific installations, crossings, trails, flood mitigation measures, and landscaped platforms, as well as kits-of-parts and common design elements to create a unifying vernacular.”

Smithsonian Scales Back $2 Billion Expansion Plan — 01/12/21, The New York Times
“The Smithsonian is currently completing the first project under the master plan, a renovation of the Hirshhorn Museum’s exterior and, soon, the sculpture garden.”

$60 Million High Line Expansion to Connect Park to Moynihan Train Hall — 01/11/21, The New York Times
“Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Sunday that the High Line will be extended to connect to the newly opened Moynihan Train Hall, a project that he said help spur development in the surrounding neighborhoods and boost an economy facing a deep crisis because of the pandemic.”

Paris Agrees to Turn Champs-Élysées into ‘Extraordinary Garden’ — 01/10/21, The Guardian
“The mayor of Paris has said a €250m (£225m) makeover of the Champs-Élysées will go ahead, though the ambitious transformation will not happen before the French capital hosts the 2024 Summer Olympics.”

‘Slow Streets’ Disrupted City Planning. What Comes Next? — 01/06/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“In many cities, the swift rollout of car-restricted streets at the start of the pandemic faced fierce community resistance. Now planners are changing their playbook.”

50 Countries Agree to Protect 30 Percent of Their Land and Waters

ASLA 2019 Landmark Award. Crosswinds Marsh Wetland Interpretive Preserve, Sumpter Township, Michigan. SmithGroup / Aaron Kiley

The global movement to protect at least 30 percent of the planet’s lands and 30 percent of its oceans by 2030 achieved a major breakthrough this week. At the One Planet Summit, the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People, which is led by Costa Rica, France, and the United Kingdom, announced 50 countries on six continents have agreed to protect 30 percent of their land and oceans by 2030. This commitment is a major step towards setting a new global target among all nations at the Convention on Biological Diversity COP15, which will be held in Kunming, China this year.

The global 30 x 30 campaign is one of the most high-profile efforts to reduce extinctions and save the Earth’s irreplaceable remaining terrestrial and marine ecosystems. According to The Guardian, the campaign’s goal is to make the upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity the “Paris Climate Accord for Nature.” However, pessimists note that government leaders have not met previous conservation commitments, and much greater financing for land and ocean conservation efforts is also needed to ensure new commitments can be realized.

The High Ambition Coalition includes major economies like Canada and Japan. A number of biodiversity powerhouses in Africa joined, such as Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Republic of Congo, Uganda, and others. In Europe — beyond France and United Kingdom — Denmark, Slovenia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Finland, and the European Commission, along with other countries, got on board. In Latin America and the Caribbean — beyond Costa Rica — Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Grenada joined. The U.S., as represented by the Trump administration, Russia, China, and Brazil didn’t sign on.

There is a history of setting ambitious global conservation targets. More than a decade ago, 190 countries, as part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, agreed to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which called for “at least 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas” to be conserved by 2020. When those targets were created in 2010, just 13 percent of the world’s terrestrial areas were under any protection, and there were hardly any protections for ocean ecosystems. Fast forward to today and just 15 percent of terrestrial ecosystems and 7 percent of oceans are now legally protected. The world missed these relatively low targets, in large part because of the lack of financing.

In 2019, a major report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) — the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services — found that 75 percent of terrestrial environment have been “severely altered” to date by human actions, along with 66 percent of marine environments. Furthermore, there has been a 47 percent reduction in “global indicators of ecosystem extent and condition against their estimated natural baselines.” In other words, the health of remaining ecosystems is also dramatically falling.

The report’s central finding was a shock: “around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.” Of existing species, “more than 40 percent of amphibian species, almost 33 percent of reef-forming corals, and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened.”

Globally, landscape architects and planners have a crucial role to play in reducing plant, animal, and insect extinctions; restoring ecosystem health; and expanding legally-protected natural areas. The United Nations calls for the adoption of “multi-functional landscape planning, cross-sector integrated management,” and the expansion of ecologically-sound agricultural practices. They state that cities and suburbs also present opportunities for the preservation of natural areas and biodiversity. These are all domains in which landscape architects can help plan and design smart solutions that also increase people’s connection to nature.

Landscape architects and planners can also partner with and empower indigenous communities, which currently manage nearly 25 percent of the world’s remaining natural areas.

In the U.S., President-Elect Joseph Biden has committed to protecting 30 percent of American land and waters by 2030. His nominee for U.S. Interior Secretary — New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland — has sponsored legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to support the 30 percent by 2030 commitment. With such powerful advocates, there is now a greater chance of achieving the goal.

In the past few years, ASLA has helped write and pass major conservation legislation, including the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act and the Great American Outdoors Act. ASLA’s dedicated advocacy and lobbying efforts resulted in the permanent authorization and full funding of the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is the primary program for conserving new land.

As the Sierra Club outlines, more work needs to be done to achieve the 30 percent target in the U.S. The group notes that 1 million acres of nature is lost to development each year. Due in large part to the loss of habitat to development, the number of birds in the U.S. and Canada have declined by 3 billion, or nearly 30 percent, in the last half century. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, half of all freshwater and saltwater wetlands have also been lost. Protecting 30 percent of U.S. lands and water would not only preserve remaining ecosystems and biodiversity but also help offset an estimated 21 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Explore the American Nature Campaign, a project of the Resources Legacy Fund, and the Campaign for Nature, a project of the National Geographic Society and the Wyss Foundation.

Most Popular DIRT Posts of 2020

Harbor Spring, Michigan / Robert Gibbs

While we look ahead to what’s new in the built and natural environments, it’s also valuable to look back at what attracted readers’ attention the most last year. Here’s a review of the 10 most popular DIRT posts of 2020.

Readers wanted to know more about the causes of the pandemic and its impacts on human and environmental health and local economies. Contributions from ASLA members explored the health risks of destroying biodiversity and expanding into natural areas and offered creative planning and design solutions to reduce the chances of another virus-driven catastrophe. Amid the global Black Lives Matter protest movement, readers also sought to learn more from Black landscape architects on their experiences with racism — and the need to preserve and celebrate Black landscapes.

ASLA members: please send us your original op-eds or articles on topics that inspire you. And tell us about your new projects and research. Please email us at info@asla.org.

After Lockdown, New Opportunities for Downtown Shopping Districts

Robert Gibbs, FASLA: “Since the earliest human settlements, the retail experience has evolved to meet the needs of the public. This evolution has taken us from rural markets to towns, cities, suburban shopping malls, big box mega-stores, and, more recently, the Internet. But what will retail shopping look like once COVID-19 lockdowns are over and people return to the wild for their shopping experiences?”

Interview with Walter Hood: Black Landscapes Matter

Walter Hood, ASLA: “Sometimes places are palimpsests, meaning part of the brick and mortar, and some of them are based in memories, the passing of time. For people of color who are marginalized, stories get lost. Each project is fraught with chance. I am not trying to solve a problem, per se. I’m trying to put something out in the world that has been covered up, erased, which might allow people to see the world and themselves in a different way.”

Interactive Maps Track Western Wildfires

Amid the continuing devastation, an interactive map from ESRI, which creates geographic information system software, enables users to track active fires by name or location in near real time and sort by timeline and magnitude. The map indicates each fire’s estimated start date and its current level of containment. Another layer provides a smoke forecast for any given location.

The Pandemic Offers an Opportunity to Re-Wild Our Communities

Kinder Baumgardner, ASLA: “My view is that feral green agglomerations will pop up across cities and suburbs. Residents will benefit from their habitat patches, stormwater storage, carbon sequestration, and makeshift community gathering areas.”

Biodiversity and Pandemic Diseases (or How We Came to Know Our World in 2020)

Kristina Hill, Affil. ASLA: “In the 21st century, globalized economic growth has reached the end of its rope. Economies can’t continue to expand without creating new pandemic risks, as more people press up against the habitat of more wildlife or raise domestic animals in unhealthy conditions. We’re now part of one big, highly connected planetary ecosystem that’s going to bite us back hard if we step on it the wrong way.”

Amid the Pandemic, Take Time to Reconnect with Nature

If you are in a place impacted by COVID-19, spending 20 minutes experiencing nature in a park, street, or even your backyard can significantly reduce your stress levels. Just be sure to follow federal, state, and local guidelines and maintain social distancing of 6 feet. But even if you cannot or are unable to go outside, taking a break by opening a window and looking at a tree or plant can also help de-stress.

Suburban Sprawl Increases the Risk of Future Pandemics

Michael Grove, FASLA: “Degraded habitats of any kind can create conditions for viruses to cross over, whether in Accra or Austin. The disruption of habitat to support our suburban lifestyle is bringing us closer to species with which we have rarely had contact. By infringing on these ecosystems, we reduce the natural barriers between humans and host species, creating ideal conditions for diseases to spread. These microbes are not naturally human pathogens. They become human pathogens because we offer them that opportunity.”

Asia’s Largest Urban Rooftop Farm Is a Model of Integrated Design

At first, the images of Thammasat University Rooftop Farm seem like renderings, but they are in fact real. Designed by Landprocess, which is led by landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom, International ASLA, the 1.7-acre rooftop farm in Bangkok, Thailand, is not only mesmerizing but also a model of sustainable multi-use infrastructure.

I Could Have Been Ahmaud Arbery

Andrew Sargeant, ASLA: “We must change the narrative about investing in Black landscape architects and other minority designers as ‘helping them.’ Investment in diverse people and communities is investing in the future of the profession. I don’t want ‘help.'”

How Will the Pandemic Impact the Built Environment?

Throughout the Congress for New Urbanism’s Virtual Gathering, landscape architects, planners, architects, and developers struggled to figure out how the pandemic is impacting communities and the built environment — and tried to foresee what changes are coming in the near future.