Jane Jacobs: The Case for Diversity

Jane Jacobs / The Jane Jacobs Estate
Jane Jacobs / The Jane Jacobs Estate

“There is no way of overcoming the visual boredom of big plans. It is built right into them because of the fact that big plans are the product of too few minds. If those minds are artful and caring, they can mitigate the visual boredom a bit; but at the best, only a bit. Genuine, rich diversity of the built environment is always the product of many, many different minds, and at its richest is also the product of different periods of time with their different aims and fashions. Diversity is a small scale phenomenon. It requires the collection of little plans” — Jane Jacobs, Can Big Plans Solve the Problem of Urban Renewal, 1981.

In Vital Little Plans, a new collection of the short writings and speeches of Jane Jacobs, one of the most influential thinkers on the built environment, editors Samuel Zipp and Nathan Storring have done readers a great service. They’ve brought together the best of this autodidact’s compelling arguments for why planners and designers must never forget the importance of small-scale diversity, given it results in interesting cities created, first and foremost, for people.

In essays and speeches that range from the 1940s — years before she became famous for The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961 — to 2004, just two years before her death, we learn how her thinking evolved, grew more ambitious, but was always rooted in what she learned from watching people interacting on the streets.

In 1958, a few years before she published Death and Life, she writes a thoughtful piece for Fortune magazine, contrasting her experience walking through the liveliest parts of cities with the deadening urban renewal projects to come, the projects she saw as killing organic, small-scale diversity through a homogenized, imported model. Early on, she identified the faults of those vast Modernist urban design projects: “They will be spacious, park-like, and uncrowded. They will feature long green vistas. They will be stable and symmetrical and monumental. They will have all the attributes of a well-kept, dignified cemetery. And each project will very much look like the next one.”

To fight these projects, she then called for urban citizens to empower themselves by thinking critically about cities and then making their thoughts heard and influence felt. “Planners and architects have a vital contribution to make, but the citizen has a more vital one. It is his city after all.” Citizens must go out and really study their city. “What is needed is an observant eye, curiosity about people, and a willingness to walk.”

For Jacobs, walking, and later biking, were central to experiencing that attractive diversity of city life. As such, any transportation plans that undermined walkability, that downgraded the status of the pedestrian on the street in favor of cars, were anathema to her, as we would later see in her committed advocacy to stop New York City planner Robert Moses’ effort to put an expressway through her beloved Greenwich Village. Her writings in the 60s also made the case for architectural preservation, which she viewed as central to the aesthetic diversity that makes cities a visual adventure. For Jacobs, diversity in the built environment was not only an indicator of a vibrant, social place, but also economic vitality.

After leading the assault against urban renewal for multiple decades, beginning in the 1980s, she began to write more ambitious, theoretical essays that explore the “ecology of cities.” For her, this was less about urban ecosystems, but the intricate dance of systems that drive innovation, that make cities the place to be not only for social and cultural life, but also make them critical economic drivers. “A natural ecosystem is defined as ‘composed of physical-chemical-biological processes active within a space-time unit of any magnitude.’ A city ecosystem is composed of physical-economic-ethnic processes active at a given time within a city and its close dependencies.” She again relates the importance of diversity: “Both types of ecosystems — assuming they are not barren — require much diversity to sustain themselves. In both cases, the diversity develops organically over time, and the varied components are interdependent in complex ways. The more niches for diversity of life and livelihood in either kind of ecosystems, the greater its capacity for life.”

Her speech in 1984 on the need to enhance diversity through specific policies that support multiculturalism, which in turn supports innovation, is just as important today. Remarking on her adopted city — Toronto, Ontario, which she moved to in the early 70s — she says: “The Canadian ideal is expressed metaphorically as the mosaic, the idea being that each piece of the mosaic helps compose the overall picture, but each piece nevertheless has an identity of its own. As a city, Toronto, has worked hard and ingeniously to give substance to this concept.”

In the last years of her life, she became increasingly concerned about the future of urban development, about whether diversity, enabled by the many, many “vital small plans,” would win out or be trampled by the forces of gentrification, homogenization, and governmental centralization. In the Vincent Scully Prize lecture at the National Building Museum in 2000, she identified future threats to that diversity, including the fact that immigrant communities can no longer afford to take root in downtowns, thereby enriching cities from within, but often land far afield in sprawled-out suburbs that limit their positive cultural and economic impacts.

She was also fearful of the World Bank and other international development agencies, along with national and metropolitan governments, that intervene in the intricate economic life of developing world cities by investing in major infrastructure projects that can wipe out diversity on the ground. She seems to equate the “comprehensive planning efforts” of the World Bank with Robert Moses. In a talk at the World Bank in 2002, she tells their leadership that it’s best to do no harm — and not invest at all — rather than inadvertently upset the dynamics of a balanced urban ecology. “The minute you begin to prescribe for cities’ infrastructure or programs comprehensively, you try to make one size fit all.”

To the end, she stayed true to what she knew: successful, vibrant, happy cities arise out of the visions of many, not the powerful few.

The Road to Recovery May Be Green

The Green Road / Jared Green
The Green Road / Jared Green

Can spending time in nature help heal veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury? As suicides from PTSD sufferers only increase, the Institute for Integrative Health (TIIH) seeks out answers to this important question through their new Green Road project, which just opened at the Naval Support Activity Bethesda, home of Walter Reed Military Medical Center, in Maryland.

In the middle of the vast medical and university campus, the Green Road takes patients, nurses, and staff down a zig-zaging path to a healing woodland garden, a beautiful 2-acre valley, which used to be a golf course, but now feels wild. The restored forest and stream are at the heart of the experience.

Restored stream / Jared Green
Restored stream / Jared Green
Restored stream / Jared Green
Restored stream bank / Jared Green

And these restored places are the source of the vista seen from two new, open-air cedar and steel pavilions.

Pavilion / Jared Green
Pavilion / Jared Green
Pavilion / Jared Green
Pavilion / Jared Green

The landscape was designed and built by a team led by CDM Smith, including landscape architect Jack Sullivan, FASLA, and his students at the University of Maryland.

The idea for the project came from retired U.S. Navy neurologist Frederick Foote, M.D., now a scholar at TIIH. His vision was to bring back an ancient idea: using nature to heal. As Foote explained, four different teams of scientists — from the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Tucson; Benson-Henry Institute of the Massachusetts General Hospital; Consortium for Health and Military Performance, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; and National Institute of Health Clinical Center, Pain, and Palliative Care Services — will undertake in-depth studies in the Green Road to “isolate where nature has the most effect.” Some $1.1 million in research will be conducted, all made by possible by the smart and impactful TKF Foundation, which provided some $1.1 million towards the $3.2 million project.

Walking down the path, one of the first things visitors notice are the massive logs strewn through the garden. At first, I thought their intention was ecological: to regenerate the soil and create habitat for small creatures. But, as Foote explained, the dead trees are also symbols of fallen soldiers. Often, soldiers experience PTSD because they have lost a close friend in battle. The logs are opportunities for those suffering with PTSD to remember those they’ve lost in a more gentle, natural way and connect death with the positive cycle of regeneration.

Fallen trees / Jared Green
Fallen trees / Jared Green
Fallen trees / Jared Green
Fallen trees / Jared Green

Throughout, the garden brings in elements that veterans, both with PTSD and without, identified were important to them. As Sullivan explained at the opening ceremony, design charrettes were conducted with 30 veterans to figure out how the natural beauty of the stream and forest could be enhanced to create a healing effect. “They wanted both a solitary place where they could get away and find solace nature, and a special place to meet others to commemorate those who had fallen, a place to get together with family and comrades.”

Stone Council Circle / Jared Green
Stone Council Circle / Jared Green

The landscape restoration was extensive. Invasive plants were removed and 58 new trees were planted, including river birch, pin oaks, and magnolias. Summersweet shrubs, which will bloom in summer, were planted in abundance. Still, the restored stream, done by Angler Environmental, is perhaps the major attraction. One bank was stabilized, trees were cut back, and the other eroding bank will be restored next.

Foote explained that “the Green Road features stone, water, trees, and animals. Through design, they are paired in new ways. We believe these paired natural systems can help heal PTSD.”

Stone fountain / Jared Green
Stone fountain / Jared Green

Foote looks to nature for solutions, perhaps because he has spent decades witnessing the failings of modern medicine to solve PTSD in wounded warriors. “We have been trying to heal people one organ at a time with pills and surgery.” But the problem is that PTSD “doesn’t respond to those treatments, so we need to try holistic approaches.”

That move towards holistic medicine — which the Greeks of ancient times and the Chinese of today still practice — has been a slog. “Our cultural obsession with technology means we underestimate holistic therapy.” Mainstream medical practitioners undervalue it, because, to date, it has been impossible to measure “whole body effects, mathematically.” They can only measure with confidence that this treatment or that pill yields results on this or that organ.

Foote sees the future in creating proof of the benefits of holistic approaches: a set of “whole body metrics” that could be used to test and measure the effect of these treatments for PTSD and other disorders. Foote wants to apply many technologies and approaches to forge these new metrics: genomics, which would look at which genes are turned on during PTSD and what can turn then off; artificial intelligence-based textual analysis of patients’ writings to categorize and diagnose their disorders; integrated biometrics of stress to measure physiological effects of suffering and also treatments; and big data analyses to find more accurate sub-groups for evaluation. Foote hopes the Green Road can help test these nascent “whole body metrics,” at least for the metrics and potential treatments related to exposure to nature. “I hope this becomes the national laboratory for studying how humans interact with nature.”

Trees and people / Jared Green
Humans and nature / Jared Green

His plan is that a group of 50 veterans, some suffering from PTSD and some not, will be studied in the Green Road. Their physiological response to the place will be measured in detail. “We could ask a group to spend an hour in the Green Road on a scavenger hunt, and then the next day, they could do the same on the streets and we could measure the differences in their responses.”

While the Green Road is a major success, the only criticism is that it’s hidden behind buildings and parking lots, and there is no signage to explain how to get there. It’s a good 15 minute walk from the medical facilities. For patients, it’s a destination, not a place to simply wander into. Walter Reed will need to further promote to ensure it’s well-used by the people who need it. Asked whether Walter Reed will actually prescribe patient time there or conduct horiticultural therapy sessions there, Foote seemed a bit pessimistic, pointing to limited budgets. “We need $2 million, $5 million to do everything.” But he does see the Green Road hosting events and therapeutic exercises.

His grand vision for sometime in the near future is beautiful: sufferers of PTSD will wear a device like a Fitbit that would measure whole body responses and would let them know when they are getting stressed and alert them to go spend time in a park. A fascinating mix of ancient wisdom and new technologies.

A Memorial to a Sad Future

Climate Chronograph / Eric Jensen and
Climate Chronograph / Erik Jensen and Rebecca Sunter

The winner of the Memorials for the Future competition, which was sponsored by the National Park Service, Van Alen Institute, and others, offers a depressing vision: a monument to our collective failure to stave off climate change. Climate Chronograph by Erik Jensen, Assoc. ASLA, and Rebecca Sunter, Assoc. ASLA, of Azimuth Land Craft envisions a living landscape in East Potomac Park, Washington, D.C. that slowly dies as water levels rise. The landscape is the canary in the coal mine. Here, the canary educates the public, slowly, over the decades, about what happens to our landscapes when carbon dioxide pollution warms the planet.

The designers are inspired by the Egyptian nilometer, which was “both a temple to the sacred indeterminacy of water and a meter for predicting seasonal flood potentials of the Nile River.” Only priests in ancient Egypt could use this sacred tool, because its forecasts were so critical. “The prosperity of the kingdom hinged upon a few cubits of river height: a mere 18 inches could mean the difference between famine, abundance, or disaster.”

Egyptian Nilometer / David Roberts
Egyptian Nilometer / David Roberts

Jensen and Sunter’s memorial would function as the nilometer of climate change. They see an opportunity to send their message, in landscape form, in East Potomac Park, where deferred maintenance has left the sea walls in near ruins. Millions are needed to rebuild them, but “funding and philosophical questions remain and no design or financing plans have been finalized.”

And instead of rebuilding, the space could just be opened up to climate change, becoming a “public record of rising sea levels, a living observatory for an emergent process. Nature will write our story, our choices, into the landscape as we face this most vulnerable moment.”

Their sad, brilliant idea subverts the iconic Washington, D.C. landscape — the jubilant groves of cherry trees. In their proposal, rows of them become soldiers, sent into a futile battle. “As waters rise, tides encroach on the land and the trees die in place, row by row, becoming bare-branched rampikes delineating shorelines past. With every fourth row of trees marking one foot of elevation, the composition becomes a processional tidal gauge—a record.”

Rows of Cherry Trees, Climate Chronograph /
Rows of Cherry Trees, Climate Chronograph / Erik Jensen and Rebecca Sunter
Climate Chronograph / Erik Jensen and Rebecca Sunter
Climate Chronograph / Erik Jensen and Rebecca Sunter

Beyond the dying cherry trees, the rest of the memorial would help the public understand what it means to return to the tides. The memorial would cede control “to natural succession and decay.” Instead of beleaguered sea walls, the water edge would become a “fecund place for exploration, observation, and learning, sheltered cove for discovery and research of an emergent wetland ecosystem.”

Climate Chronograph / Erik Jensen and Rebecca Sunter
Climate Chronograph / Erik Jensen and Rebecca Sunter

They ask for $2.5 million to build this. Artful, educational, and ecological transition appears to be far cheaper than shoring up defenses.

Also worth exploring are some of the findings the National Park Service and Van Alen Institute pulled out of their Memorials for the Future process. A few great ideas: create memorials with the public as well as for the public; and consider ephemeral, mobile, and temporary forms.

ASLA Launches Guide to Resilient Design

Resilient design / ASLA
Resilient design / ASLA

A new online guide launched today by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) explains how communities can better protect themselves from natural disasters through resilient landscape planning and design.

According to the guide, the goal of resilient landscape planning and design is to retrofit communities to recover more quickly from extreme events, now and in the future. In an era when disasters can cause traditional, built systems to fail, adaptive, multilayered systems can maintain their vital functions and are often the more cost-effective and practical solutions.

The guide is organized around disruptive events that communities now experience: drought, extreme heat, fire, flooding, and landslides. Biodiversity loss is an underlying threat also explored.

The guide includes hundreds of case studies and resources demonstrating multi-benefit systems as well as small-scale solutions. It also explains landscape architects’ role in the planning and design teams helping to make communities more resilient.

Resilient design involves working with nature—instead of in opposition to it. It provides value to communities, including:

Risk reduction: As events become more frequent and intense due to climate change, communities must adapt and redevelop to reduce potential risks and improve ecological and human health. It’s also time to stop putting communities and infrastructure in high-risk places. And communities must reduce sprawl, which further exacerbates the risks.

Scalability and Diversity: Resilient landscape planning and design offers a multi-layered system of protection, with diverse, scalable elements, any one of which can fail safely in the event of a catastrophe.

Multiple Co-Benefits: Resilient landscape design solutions offers multiple benefits at once. For example, designed coastal buffers can also provide wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities; urban forests made up of diverse species clean the air while reducing the urban heat island effect; and green infrastructure designed to control flooding also provides needed community space and creates jobs.

Regeneration: Disruptive natural events that are now occurring more frequently worldwide harm people and property. Resilient design helps communities come back stronger after these events. Long-term resilience is about continuously bouncing back and regenerating. It’s about learning how to cope with the ever-changing “new normal.”

In an era when disasters can cause traditional, built systems to fail, adaptive, multi-layered systems can maintain their vital functions and are often more cost-effective and practical solutions. In an age of rising waters and temperatures and diminishing budgets, the best defenses are adaptive, like nature.

The guide to resilient design has been strengthened through the expert guidance of Alexander Felson, ASLA, assistant professor, School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale School of Architecture; Kristina Hill, Affiliate ASLA, associate professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning and urban design, University of California at Berkeley; Nina-Marie Lister, Hon. ASLA, graduate program director and associate professor, Ryerson University School of Urban and Regional Planning; Nate Wooten, Associate ASLA, landscape designer, OLIN; and Kongjian Yu, FASLA, founder and dean, Peking University College of Architecture and Landscape and Turenscape.

Explore the guide.

New Museum Brings Hope of African Americans to the National Mall

National Museum of African American History and Culture / Jared Green
National Museum of African American History and Culture / Jared Green

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is a breathtaking new presence on the National Mall. Found just northeast of the Washington Monument, the museum, which opens September 24, makes accessible the almost-unimaginable journey of African Americans over the past few centuries: from the horrors of slavery, to the long fight for equality, and, finally, transcendence through spirituality, and extraordinary cultural and artistic achievements.

Over 100 years in the making, the museum cost $540 million, with half of those funds raised from over 100,000 contributors. And some 40,000 Americans contributed works that will be included in the museum’s permanent collection, explained museum director Lonnie G. Bunch III at the media preview.

The museum opens at an opportune time, when race relations are at a new low. As Bunch said, “race and cultural differences now dominate the national discourse. Racism is not a thing of the past. But we believe this museum can be a place that brings people together. This museum can help advance the conversation and be a beacon of what America can be.”

The building itself makes a richly symbolic statement. Lead designer David Adjaye and lead architect Philip Freelon, together with their architectural team Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup, created a dramatic 200-feet-by-200-feet box, topped with a corona inspired by the “three-tiered crowns used in Yoruba art from West Africa,” where many African American slaves came from. The corona is covered in an “ornamental bronze-colored metal lattice” inspired by the ironwork created by American slaves for estates in New Orleans, Charleston, and other Southern cities.

The building is well-served by a thoughtful and somewhat understated landscape by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN). Designed by Kathryn Gustafson, FASLA, and Rodrigo Abela, ASLA, the landscape treats the building as a pavilion in the broader landscape of the National Mall and aims for maximum circulation.

Walking the site with Abela, he explained how visitors can find African American themes of “resilience, spirituality, and hope” symbolically represented in the landscape. On the north side, visitors enter off Constitution Avenue, where they will see a black granite wall that provides the visual base of the site and doubles as a secure barrier. The granite wall is thick here — about 6-feet-wide — and is black to represent the canal water that once flowed through the site. Another possible interpretation of the material: African Americans’ labor is the foundation upon which was built the National Mall. Abela explained how Rugo Stone highly polished the edge of the granite so that it glimmers in the light, creating a horizon that underlines the building.

Black granite wall / Jared Green
Black granite wall / Jared Green

As you walk up the paths on the north side, you will find they are like arms extending out in an embrace. Where the arms meet in a central point, Abela highlighted, is the place where visitors can either decide to veer right and head to the Washington Monument, or veer left and enter the building’s north entrance.

National Museum of African American History and Culture / Smithsonian
National Museum of African American History and Culture / Alan Karchmer Architectural Photographer

Within this embrace, there’s an oculus, which shines a shaft of light into a “contemplative court” set in subterranean galleries that delve into the darkest times of slavery. “It’s a lantern, a welcoming and safe place.” As such, the landscape gently leads you up to the oculus on the surface.

Oculus / Jared Green
Oculus / Jared Green
Oculus interior concept / David Adjaye and Phil Freelon Group
Oculus interior concept / David Adjaye and Phil Freelon Group

And near the embrace, there is a symbolic reading grove, a place where a group of school kids or a few families could gather and talk about the experience about the museum. GGN designed this grove to mimic the “brush arbors,” the community gathering places, many early slave and African American communities would create, even before they had built a church.

Reading Grove / GGN
Reading Grove / GGN
Reading grove / Jared Green
Reading grove / Jared Green

Walking along the western edge of the building, there is a lawn and rows of trees, which are reflected in the building’s wall of windows. Abela said over 100 trees were planted, including elms, oaks, beeches, magnolias, gingkos, sassafras, and cherry trees. “The Smithsonian wanted as much diversity as possible.” In coming decades, those trees will grow to enshroud the building, softening its boldness. And throughout the lawns, some 400,000 crocuses were planted. One of the first plants to bloom, they represent hope for the future.

Trees reflected in the building / Jared Green
Trees reflected in the windows / Jared Green
Trees in northeast corner / Jared Green
Trees in northeast corner / Jared Green

On the eastern edge of the building, there is a staircase leading down to the lower level, which is an emergency exit for the auditorium, a separate entry into a loading dock, and bicycle parking for staff.

The southern entrance of the park, right off the National Mall, is where the Smithsonian expects about 70 percent of visitors will enter. There is a grand porch, another reference to African American culture, with a striking overhang providing shade over a fountain, which wasn’t working for the media preview, but will bring another cooling aspect during D.C.’s sweltering summers.

South side aerial / Anthony Lyons
South side aerial view / Anthony Lyons
Front porch / Jared Green
Looking up at front porch / Jared Green

Multiple paths invite visitors in from Madison Avenue. Once they pass through the gates, there is a sense of passing through a threshold into a new environment.

One of the southern entrances / Jared Green
One of the southern entrances / Jared Green

The southern edge of the park is richer with small plants and shrubs, which form a rain garden that mute the effect of the stark black granite walls.

south side entrance / Jared Green
South side wall and garden / Jared Green
south side rain garden / Jared Green
South side rain garden / Jared Green

A note on sustainability: More than half of the LEED Gold building is buried below ground, which means lower energy use. And below the structure, there are two large cisterns that collect rainwater that hits the building, so that it can be reused for irrigation.

Through the landscape architecture, Abela explained, “the story of African Americans are made part of the national story,” as represented by the expansive National Mall. “It’s a site that’s connected to the greater landscape beyond.”

Presidential Candidates Answer Critical Questions on the Climate and Environment

Presidential Candidates / ScienceDebate.org
Presidential Candidates / ScienceDebate.org

More than 50 non-partisan organizations in the U.S., including the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), representing 10 million design professionals, engineers, and scientists have asked presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (Democrat), Jill Stein (Green), and Donald Trump (Republican) 20 questions related to science and research, climate change and the environment. These questions were asked by ScienceDebate.org, which crowd-sourced the questions from its supporting organizations. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson has not yet responded to the questions.

According to ScienceDebate.org, science-based policies have a profound impact on voters’ lives, but aren’t covered as much by the media as economic and foreign policy or faith and values. “Science is central to policies that protect public health, safety and the environment, from climate change to diet-related diseases,” said Andrew Rosenberg, Director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He added that voters should push candidates to reveal whether they accept the scientific consensus on critical issues like climate change. 

Here are a few highlighted questions on climate change, biodiversity loss, energy, water, agriculture, global challenges, and the ocean’s health. Responses are listed in alphabetical order by the candidates’ last name:

The Earth’s climate is changing and political discussion has become divided over both the science and the best response. What are your views on climate change, and how would your administration act on those views?

Hillary Clinton: When it comes to climate change, the science is crystal clear. Climate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time and its impacts are already being felt at home and around the world. That’s why as President, I will work both domestically and internationally to ensure that we build on recent progress and continue to slash greenhouse gas pollution over the coming years as the science clearly tells us we must.

I will set three goals that we will achieve within ten years of taking office and which will make America the clean energy superpower of the 21st century:

  • Generate half of our electricity from clean sources, with half a billion solar panels installed by the end of my first term.
  • Cut energy waste in American homes, schools, hospitals, and offices by a third and make American manufacturing the cleanest and most efficient in the world.
  • Reduce American oil consumption by a third through cleaner fuels and more efficient cars, boilers, ships, and trucks.

To get there, my administration will implement and build on the range of pollution and efficiency standards and clean energy tax incentives that have made the United States a global leader in the battle against climate change. These standards are also essential for protecting the health of our children, saving American households and businesses billions of dollars in energy costs, and creating thousands of good paying jobs.

These standards set the floor, not the ceiling. As President, I will launch a $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge to partner with those states, cities, and rural communities across the country that are ready to take the lead on clean energy and energy efficiency, giving them the flexibility, tools and resources they need to succeed.

Jill Stein: Virtually every component of our 2016 Platform contains elements likely to have positive effects on innovation. These include our climate action plan, our free public education and cancellation of student debt proposals, and our Medicare for All plank. Vast resources will be freed for investment in public R&D by reduced Pentagon spending. Millions of people currently hobbled by poverty and underperforming schools will be able for the first time in American history to bring their talents to bear on the problems of the 21st century. A just economy, with living wages and paid sick leave, can be far more innovative than one where innovation is determined by a relative handful of corporate executives and Pentagon planners.

Donald Trump: There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of “climate change.” Perhaps the best use of our limited financial resources should be in dealing with making sure that every person in the world has clean water. Perhaps we should focus on eliminating lingering diseases around the world like malaria. Perhaps we should focus on efforts to increase food production to keep pace with an ever-growing world population. Perhaps we should be focused on developing energy sources and power production that alleviates the need for dependence on fossil fuels. We must decide on how best to proceed so that we can make lives better, safer and more prosperous.

Biological diversity provides food, fiber, medicines, clean water and many other products and services on which we depend every day. Scientists are finding that the variety and variability of life is diminishing at an alarming rate as a result of human activity. What steps will you take to protect biological diversity?

Hillary Clinton: Conserving biodiversity is essential to maintaining our quality of life. Healthy soils provide the foundation for agricultural productivity and help absorb carbon; wetlands soak up floodwaters and pollutants and protect our communities; forests filter our water and keep it clean; bees and other pollinators are essential to our food supply; and coral reefs and coastal marshes are nurseries for our fisheries. Although we have made considerable progress protecting our environment and conserving our natural resources, climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, unsustainable management practices, introduction of invasive species and other forces pose serious threats to biodiversity and our way of life.

We need to collaborate across all sectors and at all levels to conserve our natural resources and maintain the viability of our ecosystems. I believe, for example, that we should be doing more to slow and reverse the decline of at-risk wildlife species before they reach the brink of extinction. That is why I will work to double the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program to help states, tribal nations, and local communities act earlier to conserve wildlife before they become threatened or endangered.

The 100th anniversary of our national park system is also an opportunity to re-energize America’s proud land and wildlife conservation traditions. I will establish an American Parks Trust Fund to scale up and modernize how we protect and enhance our natural treasures, and to better protect wildlife habitat across the country.

Internationally, we need greater cooperation to address declining biodiversity. My Administration will work collaboratively with other nations to advance biodiversity science, further our understanding of the causes of biodiversity loss, and take action to diminish them.  We will share information about our conservation successes, including our national parks, fish and wildlife refuge systems, and marine reserves to aid other nations working to protect their natural resources and conserve biodiversity. And we will work collaboratively to end trafficking in wildlife and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing that threatens our oceans.

Jill Stein: Protecting biodiversity is an extremely important and often overlooked priority. Here is how we will act to protect biodiversity:

  • Protect our public lands, water supplies, biological diversity, parks, and pollinators. Ban neonicotinoids and other pesticides that threaten the survival of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
  • Label GMOs, and put a moratorium on new GMOs and pesticides until they are proven safe.
  • Support organic and regenerative agriculture, permaculture, and sustainable forestry.
  • Protect the rights of future generations. Adopt the Precautionary Principle. When an activity poses threats of harm to human health or the environment, in the absence of objective scientific consensus that it is safe, precautionary measures should be taken. The proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.
  • Invest in clean air, water, food and soil for everyone.
  • Enact stronger environmental justice laws and measures to ensure that low-income and communities of color are not disproportionately impacted by harmful pollution and other negative environmental and health effects.
  • Support conversion to sustainable, nontoxic materials and the use of closed-loop, zero waste processes.

Donald Trump: For too long, Presidents and the executive branch of our federal government have continued to expand their reach and impact. Today, we have agencies filled with unelected officials who have been writing rules and regulations that cater to special interests and that undermine the foundational notion of our government that should be responsive to the people.  Our elected representatives have done little to uphold their oaths of office and have abrogated their responsibilities. When these circumstances occur, there is an imbalance that rewards special interests and punishes the people who should benefit the most from the protection of species and habitat in the United States. In a Trump administration, there will be shared governance of our public lands and we will empower state and local governments to protect our wildlife and fisheries. Laws that tilt the scales toward special interests must be modified to balance the needs of society with the preservation of our valuable living resources. My administration will strike that balance by bringing all stakeholders to the table to determine the best approach to seeking and setting that balance.

Strategic management of the US energy portfolio can have powerful economic, environmental, and foreign policy impacts. How do you see the energy landscape evolving over the next 4 to 8 years, and, as President, what will your energy strategy be?

Hillary Clinton: The next decade is not only critical to meeting the climate challenge, but offers a tremendous opportunity to ensure America becomes a 21st century clean energy superpower. I reject the notion that we as a country are forced to choose between our economy, our environment, and our security. The truth is that with a smart energy policy we can advance all three simultaneously. I will set the following bold, national goals – and get to work on Day 1, implementing my plan to achieve them within ten years of taking office:

  • Generate half of our electricity from clean sources, with half a billion solar panels installed by the end of my first term.
  • Cut energy waste in American homes, schools, hospitals, and offices by a third and make American manufacturing the cleanest and most efficient in the world.
  • Reduce American oil consumption by a third through cleaner fuels and more efficient cars, boilers, ships, and trucks.

My plan will deliver on the pledge President Obama made at the Paris climate conference—without relying on climate deniers in Congress to pass new legislation. This includes:

  • Defending, implementing, and extending smart pollution and efficiency standards, including the Clean Power Plan and standards for cars, trucks, and appliances that are already helping clean our air, save families money, and fight climate change.
  • Launching a $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge to partner with states, cities, and rural communities to cut carbon pollution and expand clean energy, including for low-income families.
  • Investing in clean energy infrastructure, innovation, manufacturing and workforce development to make the U.S. economy more competitive and create good-paying jobs and careers.
  • Ensuring the fossil fuel production taking place today is safe and responsible and that areas too sensitive for energy production are taken off the table.
  • Reforming leasing and expand clean energy production on public lands and waters tenfold within a decade.
  • Cutting the billions of wasteful tax subsidies oil and gas companies have enjoyed for too long and invest in clean energy.
  • Cutting methane emissions across the economy and put in place strong standards for reducing leaks from both new and existing sources.
  • Revitalizing coal communities by supporting locally driven priorities and make them an engine of U.S. economic growth in the 21st century, as they have been for generations.

Jill Stein: Our Green New Deal plan prioritizes a rapid transition to 100% clean renewable energy. Our energy strategy will also include:

  • Enact energy democracy based on public, community and worker ownership of our energy system. Treat energy as a human right.
  • Redirect research funds from fossil fuels into renewable energy and conservation. Build a nationwide smart electricity grid that can pool and store power from a diversity of renewable sources, giving the nation clean, democratically-controlled energy.
  • End destructive energy extraction and associated infrastructure: fracking, tar sands, offshore drilling, oil trains, mountaintop removal, natural gas pipelines, and uranium mines. Halt any investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, including natural gas, and phase out all fossil fuel power plants. Phase out nuclear power and end nuclear subsidies. End all subsidies for fossil fuels and impose a greenhouse gas fee / tax to charge polluters for the damage they have created.

Donald Trump: It should be the goal of the American people and their government to achieve energy independence as soon as possible. Energy independence means exploring and developing every possible energy source including wind, solar, nuclear and bio-fuels. A thriving market system will allow consumers to determine the best sources of energy for future consumption. Further, with the United States, Canada and Mexico as the key energy producers in the world, we will live in a safer, more productive and more prosperous world.

The long-term security of fresh water supplies is threatened by a dizzying array of aging infrastructure, aquifer depletion, pollution, and climate variability. Some American communities have lost access to water, affecting their viability and destroying home values. If you are elected, what steps will you take to ensure access to clean water for all Americans?

Hillary Clinton: Chronic underinvestment in our nation’s drinking and wastewater systems has sickened and endangered Americans from Flint, Michigan, to Ohio and West Virginia. Outdated and inadequate wastewater systems discharge more than 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage a year, posing health risks to humans and wildlife life, disrupting ecosystems, and disproportionately impacting communities of color. In addition, many struggling communities around the United States have limited or no access to clean, safe water.

We will invest in infrastructure and work with states, municipalities, and the private sector to bring our water systems into the 21st century and provide all Americans access to clean, safe drinking water.

Climate change is also triggering changes in weather patterns, including the increased prevalence of long, hard droughts that pose a dire risk to the health and prosperity of American communities, particularly in the West. The federal government must become a better partner in supporting state and locally-led efforts to improve water security. To that end, we will create a coordinated, multi-agency Western Water Partnership to help fund water efficiency, consideration, and infrastructure modernization projects across the region, including significant new investments in water reuse and reclamation.

We will also work to bring cutting edge efficiency, treatment and reuse solutions to our nation’s water challenges by establishing a new Water Innovation Lab. The Lab will bring urban water managers, farmers and tribes together with engineers, entrepreneurs, conservationists and other stakeholders to develop practical and usable technologies and strategies that can be deployed by local water utilities, agricultural and industrial water users, and environmental restoration projects across the country.

Jill Stein: We need a national comprehensive water plan. Clean water is a human right. The Green New Deal’s focus on infrastructure will help prevent future poisoned drinking water crises like that in Flint, Michigan. Rejuvenating the federal Superfund program will help clean up the polluted drinking water of millions of Americans.

Donald Trump: This may be the most important issue we face as a nation for the next generation. Therefore, we must make the investment in our fresh water infrastructure to ensure access to affordable fresh water solutions for everyone. We must explore all options to include making desalinization more affordable and working to build the distribution infrastructure to bring this scarce resource to where it is needed for our citizens and those who produce the food of the world. This must be a top priority for my administration.

Agriculture involves a complex balance of land and energy use, worker health and safety, water use and quality, and access to healthy and affordable food, all of which have inputs of objective knowledge from science. How would you manage the US agricultural enterprise to our highest benefit in the most sustainable way? 

Hillary Clinton: America’s rural communities lie at the heart of what makes this country great. The affordability of our food, the independence and sophistication of our energy supply, and the strength of our small communities all depend on a vibrant rural America.

As president, my administration will do more to support family farms by doubling funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program; building strong and sustainable local food systems; and providing a focused safety net by continuing to make progress in targeting federal resources in commodity payment, crop insurance, and disaster assistance programs to support family operations.

And we will spur investment to help power the rural economy, including by expanding access to equity capital for rural businesses by increasing the number of Rural Business Investment Companies, which make equity investments in small rural businesses—driving growth and creating jobs in rural areas, and supporting investments in clean energy.

We must also acknowledge the other issues facing our rural communities. We need to expand health care access to all areas of our country, which includes broadening telemedicine. As president, I will explore ways in which we can expand tele-health reimbursement under Medicare and other programs, including federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics.

Jill Stein: We need a food system that is healthy and sustainable. To this end, we will:

  • Invest in clean air, water, food and soil for everyone.
  • Ban neonicotinoids and other pesticides that threaten the survival of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
  • Label GMOs, and put a moratorium on GMOs and pesticides until they are proven safe.
  • Support organic and regenerative agriculture, permaculture, and sustainable forestry.
  • Protect the rights of future generations. Adopt the Precautionary Principle. When an activity poses threats of harm to human health or the environment, in the absence of objective scientific consensus that it is safe, precautionary measures should be taken. The proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.
  • Redirect the Dept of Agriculture to meet the needs of small farmers to realize these goals.

Donald Trump: The implication of your question is that there should be central control of American agriculture by the federal government. That is totally inappropriate. The agriculture industry should be free to seek its best solutions through the market system. That said, the production of food is a national security issue and should receive the attention of the federal government when it comes to providing security for our farmers and ranchers against losses to nature.

We now live in a global economy with a large and growing human population. These factors create economic, public health, and environmental challenges that do not respect national borders. How would your administration balance national interests with global cooperation when tackling threats made clear by science, such as pandemic diseases and climate change, that cross national borders?

Hillary Clinton: Many of the greatest — and hardest — challenges facing our country extend beyond our borders and can only be ultimately addressed through global solutions. Climate change is a case in point. And that is why as Secretary of State I elevated the role of climate policy in our diplomacy, appointing our country’s first Special Envoy for Climate Change, making climate policy a key part of our broader relationship with China and other key countries, and helping to create and launch the global Climate and Clean Air Coalition to reduce potent non-carbon climate pollution.

As the world’s biggest and most powerful economy — and as the second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and the biggest historical emitter — the United States has a responsibility to lead the global response to the climate challenge. By making strong progress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at home, President Obama was able to persuade and pressure other major emitters, including China and India, to step up. This dual process, where domestic policy changes helped spur international action, led to the historic 195-nation Paris climate agreement, the first in our history where every country agreed to be part of the solution to climate change.

The Paris agreement is critical, but it is not sufficient on its own. To keep global warming below the two degrees Celsius threshold and avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we need to cut emissions by at least 80 percent below 2005 levels by mid-century. To get there, we will need to continually work to improve upon the goals set in Paris, both in the United States and around the world. That’s why we must work to support more clean energy investment in emerging economies, help developing nations build resilience to the climate impacts that can’t be avoided, and continue to drive clean energy innovation here at home. And we will continue to work on a bilateral and multilateral basis with our partners, with key countries like China, and with the UNFCCC to protect our nation, our planet, and our children’s future.

When dealing with the outbreak of diseases, we must be sure to act with caution, and rely on science to inform our decisions around trade, travel, and treatment. We are privileged to live in a country that individuals around the world aspire to visit and even immigrate to. It is within our national interest to think beyond our borders, and through our leadership, do everything we can to foster peace, health, and security around the world. In the United States, we need to break the cycle in which our own public health system is beholden to emergency appropriations for specific epidemics. We can do this by creating a dedicated Rapid Response Fund to help shore up our defenses, accelerate development of vaccines and new treatments, and respond more effectively to crises. We will also create a comprehensive global health strategy that moves beyond the disease-by-disease emergency model and seeks to build a robust, resilient global health system capable of quickly responding to and ending pandemics.

Jill Stein: We need a foreign policy based on diplomacy, international law and respect for human rights. By strengthening international institutions, we lay the groundwork for greater cooperation on critical challenges such as climate change and pandemic diseases.

Donald Trump: Our best input to helping with global issues is to make sure that the United States is on the proper trajectory economically. For the past decade we have seen Gross Domestic Product growth that has not provided adequate resources to fix our infrastructure, recapitalize our military, invest in our education system or secure energy independence. We cannot take our place as world leader if we are not healthy enough to take care of ourselves. This means we must make sure that we achieve our goals in tax reform, trade reform, immigration reform, and energy independence. A prosperous America is a much better partner in tackling global problems that affect this nation achieving its national objectives.

There is growing concern over the decline of fisheries and the overall health of the ocean: scientists estimate that 90% of stocks are fished at or beyond sustainable limits, habitats like coral reefs are threatened by ocean acidification, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What efforts would your administration make to improve the health of our ocean and coastlines and increase the long-term sustainability of ocean fisheries?

Hillary Clinton: Our coastal and ocean resources play a critical role in providing nutritious food, good livelihoods, and critical storm protection for our nation. With about 40 percent of our nation’s population living in coastal counties, 1.8 million Americans making their livelihood from fisheries, and 3 billion people globally dependent on the oceans for a major portion of their protein, we cannot afford to ignore the health of our oceans.

I will continue to recover and rebuild U.S. fish stocks by making sound management decisions based on the best available science. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act laid an important foundation for guiding how we manage our fisheries. My administration will work with fishers so that we continue to have the best managed fisheries in the world, and I will oppose efforts in Congress that seek to weaken Magnuson-Stevens or divorce it from our best science. These steps will protect the livelihoods of today’s fishers and ensure the health of these resources for generations to come.

At the same time, we will act globally to address the fisheries crisis. Ninety percent of our seafood is imported, making the United States one of the top markets for fish from around the world. Yet, experts estimate that up to 32 percent of that seafood, worth up to $2 billion, comes from “pirate” fishing. This illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing also deprives fishing communities of up to $23 billion per year and puts honest, hardworking American fishers at a disadvantage in the marketplace. I will work with our industry, and other countries, to implement strong traceability standards for our seafood from bait to plate.

In addition, we must continue to protect and restore the coastal habitat upon which healthy fisheries depend. My administration will work collaboratively across government, academia, and industry to build solutions that keep our waters clean, our coastal and ocean resources healthy, and our communities thriving.

At the same time, climate change and carbon pollution is also taking a heavy toll on our oceans. From oyster farms in Washington State to coral reefs in Hawaii and rising seas in Virginia, warming, acidifying waters are damaging our resources and the people who depend on them. I will make sure America continues leading the global fight against climate change, support development of the best climate science, and instruct federal agencies to incorporate that knowledge into their policies and practices so that we are preparing for the future, not just responding to the past.

Jill Stein: Our climate action and environmental protection plans will work to conserve fish stocks and coral reefs. Rapid response to climate change is the centerpiece of the Stein administration. From plastic trash to ocean acidification, we will move smartly to address ocean health with or without Congress.

Donald Trump: My administration will work with Congress to establish priorities for our government and how we will allocate our limited fiscal resources. This approach will assure that the people’s voices will be heard on this topic and others.

How Can Louisiana Build Back Smarter?

Louisiana flooding / Los Angeles Times
Louisiana flooding / Los Angeles Times

The flooding that hit Louisiana last week affected hundreds of thousands of people over 1,000 square miles. The intense storm claimed 13 lives, and some 30,000 needed to be rescued. Over 60,000 homes have been destroyed, and 100,000 have registered for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance so far. According to the agency, the Louisiana flooding was a 500-year flood event, meaning there was just a 0.2 percent chance of this happening this year. However, this is the 8th 500-year flood event since May, 2015, which beg the questions: With climate change, are flood risk estimates now completely unreliable? And if super-storms are the new normal, what can communities do to build back smarter and make themselves more resilient to the next unexpected, disruptive event?

Wes Michaels, ASLA, a partner with Spackman, Mossop and Michaels, a Louisiana-based landscape architecture firm, said: “More rain fell in 4 days in Louisiana than the last 4 years in Los Angeles. A lot of places considered low-risk areas for flooding got a substantial amount of water, so it’s not just about people living in low-lying, flood-prone areas. These super-floods are unpredictable; they flood areas many people consider high and dry.”

Flooded homes / Yahoo.com
Flooded homes / Yahoo.com

Super-storms, while unpredictable, are becoming more common with global warming. As David Titley, a meteorology professor and the director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State University, told Fast Company: “Warm air holds more water vapor than cold air, and we’re warming up both the air temperature and we’re warming up the oceans. Welcome to the future.”

The Washington Post editorial board in part blames FEMA’s out-of-date flood maps, “which determine who needs to buy government-sponsored flood insurance,” for the extensive damage. These maps “did not assess large portions of the area hit last week to be at high risk.” In reality, this means many of those hit by the storm will “not be able to call on an insurance policy.” The government only “presses people who live in so-called 100-year flood zones, areas that annually face a 1 percent chance of being flooded, to purchase government-backed flood insurance.”

According to Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, only 12 percent of homes in Baton Rouge and only 14 percent in Lafayette had flood insurance. As Elizabeth “Boo” Thomas, FASLA, President and CEO, Center for Planning Excellence in Baton Rouge, noted in an appeal posted to ASLA’s LAND, “though the floods affected people of all incomes, early indications show that a majority of victims are working-class or low-income individuals and families.” Many of those hit by the flooding couldn’t afford flood insurance, which is expensive, or didn’t expect they needed it. If a homeowner is insured, FEMA will pay out up to $250,000 in funds to rebuild. Thomas estimates the estimated value of the affected homes is around $5.7 billion.

Area hit by flooding / The New York Times
Area hit by flooding / The New York Times

FEMA only updates its maps each decade or so. But climate change and sprawl, which creates more impervious surfaces prone to flooding, are more rapidly changing the map of flood risk, particularly for coastal areas. Insurance premiums need to be tied to up-to-date flood risk, with higher premiums for higher risk zones.

According to Wired, communities now need “predictive flood maps: projections of flood risk based on modeling. Right now, pretty much all flood insurance comes from FEMA, which, again, updates its maps infrequently and also allows residents to comment and push back on the boundaries, effectively letting them determine their own flood risk. Insurance companies, which might have the capital to invest in models that incorporate climate change, have largely stayed out of the business since the 1920s—partly because it’s too risky, partly because government-subsidized rates are too low for private companies to compete with.”

But some firms, like Risk Management Solutions, are now developing their own flood risk modelling tools, because real-time modelling “could lead to better estimates of risk in certain places, which would allow companies to price policies accordingly and residents to really understand how risky their locations are. And as FEMA enacts some much-needed reforms (like phasing out government subsidies, for one), it may become easier for insurance companies to offer up flood policies, too.” Expanding the areas of people who are encouraged to buy into flood insurance could also help. Wired writes “if the insurance pool included people from 500-year floodplains, the risk would spread out more thinly,” reducing rates.

Beyond making the flood risk insurance system more responsive to a rapidly-changing climate, communities at higher risk of floods also need to rethink the status quo. Thomas believes that “smart, community-driven planning will play a lead role in rebuilding communities designed to thrive against a changing environmental context.”

And Michaels called for that planning effort to include a deeper analysis of the implications of car-based patterns of development. “As landscape architects, we need to be more involved in the design of infrastructure. Some of the unpredictability in flooding patterns comes from the storm itself, but some of it comes from how we design our interstates, roads, dams, bridges, canals and their related drainage systems. We need to think about how infrastructure fits into the larger landscape systems. Roads in particular, being long, linear systems, can drastically change how high intensity flood waters move across the landscape. There is an image in the news of a highway median wall backing up water on one side of the interstate near Walker, Louisiana. This wall may or may not have not caused flooding in other adjacent areas, but it certainly altered the flow of the water. These large infrastructural systems are pushing water around in ways that make the flooding less predictable, which makes planning for disasters more difficult. Our infrastructure needs to be designed to be porous to the flow of water (and species) across the landscape, and adaptable to the landscape at a much larger scale.”

Flooding along highway in Louisiana / Atmosphere Aerial
Flooded highway in Louisiana / Atmosphere Aerial
Flood damage in Denham Springs / Patrick Dennis/The Advocate, via Associated Press
Flood damage in Denham Springs / Patrick Dennis/The Advocate, via Associated Press

He added that landscapes in high flood risk areas also need to be made more resilient: “Landscape architects should be leading the call to design our landscapes to be resilient to flood and disaster. The amount of energy, resources, and effort that will go into ‘re-landscaping’ Baton Rouge is staggering. Not to mention the carbon footprint of all the dying vegetation that must be cleaned up. We can no longer afford to see these disasters as outlying events, and go back to business as usual after the flood waters recede. We need to design landscapes that can be cleaned up with minimal effort after flooding and will adapt to changing soil and climactic conditions over the coming decades. We need to plant resilient perennials that can be chopped to the ground and come back to life. We need to plant trees that can resist flooding, and use soil technologies that allow trees to be healthy in the first place so they can survive stress.”

Michaels concluded: “I don’t think we can design systems that will prevent flooding in a 1,000 year storm. But we can think about the larger implications of our systems and how they will function in super storms at the landscape scale. And we can be smarter about how we design our landscapes and cities, so we can recover from these events more quickly and with less use of limited resources.”

To help with flood relief, donate to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.

How the National Park Service Should Evolve

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument / Conservation Alliance
San Gabriel Mountains National Monument / Conservation Alliance

As the National Park Service (NPS) celebrates its centennial, it’s time to look ahead and think about how America’s national parks should evolve over the next 100 years. A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) argues that the NPS will need to become far more inclusive to meet the needs of the mostly urban, majority-minority country we’ll have by 2043. The NPS will also need to identify areas for conservation amid the rapidly-sprawling cities of Western states before it’s too late. Already many poorer Latino and African American communities out west have been under-represented among national parks and have none nearby to enjoy. The key message of the report: put national parks closer to diverse, urban populations, and then further remove barriers preventing these populations from enjoying these places.

A recent poll conducted for CAP found that “77 percent of Americans believe the United States benefits a great deal or a fair amount from national parks. Furthermore, 55 percent of voters believe they personally benefit a great deal or a fair amount from the country’s parks and public lands.” Research from Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, confirms the enormous value of the parks: they are estimated to be worth some $92 billion to the American people.

But the reality is national parks benefit some more than others. The National Park Service is still dealing with the legacy of Jim Crow-era laws that enforced segregation in many parks. “In some cases, these laws made parks entirely off limits to African Americans.” While everyone today, by law, has equal access to national parks, “the majority of visitors remain white, aging, and fairly affluent.” And, as has been noted, 80 percent of NPS employees are white.

CAP’s polling found that 55 percent of all respondents to their survey had visited a national park, monument, or other area in the past three years. But if results are broken out by race, it looks a bit different: 59 percent of whites have visited, while 47 percent of Hispanic respondents, and only 32 percent of African Americans said the same thing. And NPS’s own 2009 survey apparently showed similar disparities: 78 percent of park visitors were white, while only 9 percent were Hispanic, and 7 percent, African American.

The report also finds there are differences in visitation among different income groups. “Only 39 percent of Americans with incomes below $40,000 reported visiting the National Park system in the last three years.” In comparison: 59 percent of those who made between $40,000 and $75,000 visited, as well as 66 percent of those who made more than $75,000.

While the NPS is now designating more places diverse populations want to go to, there is still more to do. Only 112 of the 460 designated units of the NPS, or 24.3 percent, have a focus on diverse groups. This is not thinking ahead to meet the needs of a mostly-minority country.

Recent steps — like creating the Stonewall Inn National Monument in New York City, which preserves the site of the Stonewall riots that started the LGBT rights movement, and the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, which honors an important Latino civil rights activist — are steps in the right direction, but the report argues more of these protected places need to be created. This is because “parks aimed at preserving traditionally underrepresented histories and stories in fact attract higher visitation rates than the national average from groups that they aim to honor.” For example, some 37 percent of visitors to the Nicodemus National Historic Site, a park that preserves a western town established by African Americans, are themselves African American, in comparison with around 9 percent of visitors, on average, for other parks.

The report also makes the case for preserving natural area in the West, where development “disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income communities.” Poorer and minority-heavy communities are typically more developed than average, which means these groups grow up in areas with fewer natural resources — and national parks and monuments.

The report argues these communities need both more small neighborhood parks and more preserved large natural areas. “Congress, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the president should create and enhance public lands in accessible places — so-called frontcountry recreation areas. Frontcountry areas offer close-to-home natural settings and outdoor experiences, which allow people to experience nature without needing to travel to a far-off destination. Emphasis should be placed on accessible frontcountry parks near communities of color, low-income communities, and urban areas.”

A prime example of what NPS needs more of: the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, which President Obama designated in 2014 and is just a 90-minute drive for the 15 million-strong, diverse, urban population of Los Angeles.

The Mesmerizing “Liquid Shard” Brings Pershing Square Back to Life

The moribund Pershing Square Park in downtown Los Angeles briefly came back to life over the past few weeks, thanks to artist Patrick Hearn’s monumental and mesmerizing Liquid Shard, which is made of holographic mylar and monofilament and spans some 15,000 square feet. Riding invisible wind currents, the piece undulates along a span 15 feet high to the top of the park’s tower, at 150 feet high.

According to Hearn, “the inspiration comes from observing nature and the feeling that we are only aware on a very surface level of what is really going on around us. Unexpected things are revealed in time-lapse or hyper-spectrum photography that fascinate me. Like fractals recurring progressively, we feel the currents of air on our skin but do not see the larger movements.”

The video above also shows the incredible capabilities of video-enabled drones. A technology largely unavailable even a few years ago, video-enabled drones now allow artists and designers of all kinds to tell new stories about the places they have created. The value for landscape architects is clear.

As the temporary installation Liquid Shard comes down, Paris-based landscape architecture firm Agence Ter soon start their work redesigning the unloved park. According to The Architect’s Newspaper, “the French landscape firm’s approach is notable for the ‘town square’ approach taken to the site, where a large canopy located at the western edge of the park will house cafés and other amenities that open onto a grassy knoll at the center of the park.”

Los Angeles city council officials hope the new park will open by 2019.

Science Lab Protected by Ingenious Wave Landscape

MAX IV laboratory / Snohetta
MAX IV laboratory / Snohetta

In Lund, a city in southern Sweden, the MAX IV Laboratory houses a synchrotron, a giant particle accelerator. Unfortunately, scientists there found the facility was buffeted by ground vibrations from a nearby highway. They discovered even the smallest vibrations could throw off their precise studies. Instead of finding a new site, the lab decided to use smart landscape design to create a solution. Working with Fojab Architects, landscape architects with Danish multidisciplinary design firm Snohetta created a 19-hectare park that absorbs vibrations while creating public space, a constructed meadow land, that also captures stormwater.

On their web site, Snohetta writes that ground vibrations are “commonly created by wavelengths between 10 to 40 meters in height and follow the surface of the ground.” If a landscape is flat, their models showed, vibrations could reach the laboratory. But experiments with different types of wave topography found that certain forms could actually absorb the vibrations.

Snohetta used the software program Grasshopper to model the effects of vibrations, defined at 10 to 40 meters at an amplitude of 4.5 meters, on their site.  The primary lab building had to be a circle. But they decided to twist and raise it, creating a “dynamic shape based on the Möbius strip,” which is a surface with one side and one boundary. And then they went further, creating a sort of Möbius volume. Landscape wave forms radiate out in a pattern that breaks up incoming vibrations. According to Snohetta, “the more chaotic combinations of waves, the better.”

Model / Snohetta
Model / Snohetta

To build this intricate landscape, Snohetta uploaded the 3D model directly into to the GPS systems guiding the bulldozers who carved the shapes. For the firm, it was like “having a giant 3D printer producing the project on a 1:1 scale.”

MAX IV laboratory  / © Mikal Schlosser
MAX IV laboratory / © Mikal Schlosser

On top of blocking the vibrations, the designers also brought a sustainable design approach — soil was cut on site and then filled in elsewhere to create the waves. They argue this will help ensure the site can return to agricultural use if the synchrotron is no longer used.

The waves also help channel stormwater into ponds designed to accommodate both 1-year and 100-year rain events.

MAX IV laboratory / © Mikal Schlosser
MAX IV laboratory / © Mikal Schlosser

And throughout the park, there are native meadow grasses, planted from seeds gathered at a nearby nature reserve. The lab will bring in sheep to help manage the grasses.

MAX IV laboratory / © mikal schlosser
MAX IV laboratory / © mikal schlosser

Even though the location looks fairly suburban, there is also ample bike parking for lab employees and visitors.

MAX IV laboratory / Snohetta
MAX IV laboratory / Snohetta

See larger images at DesignBoom.