New Campaign Needed to Bring Urban Nature into the Healthcare System

ASLA 2012 Landmark Award. Village of Yorkville Park by Schwartz Smith Meyer Landscape Architects, Inc. and PWP Landscape Architecture / © Peter Mauss / Esto

The health benefits of nature have been well-established. From improved well-being to a reduction in respiratory illnesses, access to green space is crucial to improving public health in urban areas. The problem, according to Dr. Cecil Konijnendijk van den Bosch, is that “nature is still not an integral part of our healthcare system.”

Konijnendijk van den Bosch, along with his wife, Matilda van den Bosch, are professors at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Their research focuses on trees, green spaces, and public health in urban environments. 

“The impact of trees and green spaces on our public health will be the number-one selling point for our profession in the next years,” Konijnendijk van den Bosch told arborists at the International Society of Arboriculture’s (ISA) annual meeting in Washington, D.C. 

Studies published in prestigious journals like the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), BMC Public Health, and Nature affirm the health benefits of nature. Summarizing the research, Konijnendijk van den Bosch said tree canopies and green space can reduce the health gap caused by socioeconomic inequality; and lower rates of ADHD, cardiovascular and respiratory illness, depression, and overall mortality while boosting cognition and happiness. 

“There’s so much potential in these benefits,” but they are not being widely translated into our healthcare systems, despite all of the credible research. 

Konijnendijk van den Bosch noted the World Health Organization’s new guidelines for access to green spaces, and pointed to cities like Toronto, which implemented a shade policy, as examples of progress. Still, there is a gap between ambitions and action.

“Things are happening here and there. Step by step,” he said. “It’s not a major campaign. It’s not a movement of integrating green space and trees into our healthcare systems.”

So far, urban foresters have failed to promote the public health benefits of their work. Konijnendijk van den Bosch gives a number of reasons for this: cognitive bias; barriers between research and practice; unbalanced messaging on issues like outdoor safety for children and the risks posed by nature; and competing interests for already cash-strapped city budgets.

So what can urban foresters, landscape architects and designers, and advocates do to inject nature into the discourse on healthcare?

“We have to change people’s mindset,” he said.

First, Konijnendijk van den Bosch argued, medical professionals and urban foresters need to build alliances. “If you want to get this message across, if you really want to be successful, you need to the doctors. You need them to tell the story,” he said, citing the credibility that comes with having a medical degree. While a number of pioneering doctors are already prescribing time in a park, the medical education system does not yet teach the preventative healthcare benefits of green spaces.

Second, urban foresters need to build strategic partnerships with organizations like the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), American Planning Association (APA), American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and American Institute of Architects (AIA) to create a cross-disciplinary approach.

Lastly, more public outreach can raise awareness of nature’s health benefits. But we need to be creative about fostering deeper emotional connections with nature. Take Amsterdam, for example. The city lost many of its Elm trees to Dutch Elm disease. Now there’s a perfume that bottles that now-nostalgic scent. It’s a marketing tactic that’s “tapping into something. It’s tapping into people’s emotions,” he said.

A Powerful New Therapy: Climbing Trees

Dr. John Gathright climbs a tree with students, as part of the TreeHab program / John Gathright, Tree Climbing Japan


Climbing trees isn’t just for able-bodied children and adults. Dr. John Gathright believes it can be an inclusive form of therapy with the power to foster positive emotions in people of all physical and mental abilities. 

Gathright is the founder of Tree Climbing Japan, an organization that uses tree climbing as rehabilitation for physically-challenged people to overcome pain while improving well-being, mobility, and strength.

“I believe that trees are our friends, teachers, and doctors,” Gathright said at annual conference of the International Society of Arboriculture in Washington, D.C.

The inspiration for his new therapeutic approach for people with disabilities came from a 57-year-old woman named Hikosaka Toshiko. Gathright met her before he was involved in field of tree climbing at a signing event for a book he wrote about achieving your dreams. She is physically challenged and uses a wheelchair. She told him her dream was to climb the world’s tallest tree and asked for his help. Gathright agreed and, in 2000, after three years of preparation, Toshiko was ready to take on a 250-foot tall giant sequoia. It took her over an hour to get a quarter of the way up.

“She had the goal of reaching the top of the tree, and it took her three and a half hours to get half way,” he said, recalling her reaction when, after over five hours, she made it to the top. “She said, ‘I’m here. I’m not a cripple. I’m a challenger. Thank you, tree. Thank you, everybody.’”

Gathright wanted to then empower others with physical and mental disabilities. Through his work with Toshiko, Gathright developed TreeHab, a set of adaptive, therapeutic tree-climbing techniques.

“People said climbing had physiological and social benefits, that when they climbed trees they didn’t feel pain. The people who were depressed and had anxiety changed in our programs,” Gathright said, relaying testimonials from people who climbed.

But there was a lack of research on the subject, so Gathright went back to school to get his PhD at Nagoya University to prove the science behind the program. He conducted a study monitoring subjects’ brain waves and stress hormones as they climbed a live tree compared to when they climbed a concrete tower in the same forest.

“We wanted to know how people’s bodies changed with the trees,” he said. “We discovered climbing a tree and a concrete tower in the same forest produced very different and measurable physical and physiological results.”

He found that tree climbing had a masking effect on internal pain, and that positive emotions were enhanced while negative emotions were decreased in subjects climbing live trees, but not when climbing the concrete tower.

His program has helped children to cope with mental and physical trauma by creating a connection to nature and allowing trees to tell their story when they cannot. Gathright also uses the program to educate climbers about tree health and forests and turn them into advocates for forests.

Beyond Japan, Gathright believes there’s great opportunity for this form of therapy worldwide.

“I think it will be huge,” he said. “Look at the demographics: in America alone, 57 million people have a disability. Anxiety disorders — another forty million adults.”

The History of American Cycling: From Boom to Bust to Boom Again?

Bike Boom: The Unexpected Resurgence of Cycling / (c) 2017 Carlton Reid, published by Island Press, 2017

In the 1970s, cycling had its moment in the United States. Manufacturers were churning out bikes and adults, not just children, were buying them. The nation was set to usher in a new era where two wheels trumped four, and the infrastructure was there to support this rediscovered mode of transport.

Look around in many cities today and you’ll notice cyclists whizzing by, at best in a bike lane, and more treacherously, weaving between cars and people. But despite appearances, the U.S. is not experiencing a bike boom. “Compared to the 70s boom, today’s is illusory,” author Carlton Reid argues in Bike Boom: The Unexpected Resurgence of Cycling.

So what happened to the bike-centric world that seemed so promising in the 1970s? Reid, a journalist and author of the 2014 book, Roads Were Not Built for Cars, revisits the promise of a fleeting, bygone bike-crazed era and then analyzes the history of cycling.

“After addressing an American Bike Month meeting on May 1, 1964, Dr. Paul Dudley White, second from the left, and Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall, right front, join with a group of congressmen riding to the Capitol in Washington. At left is Rep. Caton R. Sickles, with Rep. Dante B. Fascell riding between Dr. White and Udall.”  / Associated Press via Bike Boom

Reid weaves a data-heavy tale of nationwide booms and busts; city-scale success and failures; and character-driven movements and their sometimes lasting effect on the history of cycling.

Reid analyzes policy, infrastructure, and cultural acceptance of cycling in the U.S. and Britain, chronicling each country’s attempt to keep up with the Dutch, to no avail for decades. In telling these tales, Reid does not prescribe an specific remedy to revive cycling, but rather looks at lessons learned from attempts to encourage cycling in the past.

The Netherlands — where nearly 30 percent of all trips nationwide are by bicycle — is undoubtedly the longest-reigning king of bicycle infrastructure and cultural acceptance. Reid gives a number of reasons for this, one important one: they’ve been at it a long time. Compared to the mid-21st century beginnings of transportation agencies in the UK and US, the Dutch’s ministry of transportation and the environment was founded in 1798.

“The Chinese famously take the long view of history, and Dutch nation-builders take the long view of infrastructure,” Reid writes.

In 1973, at the peak of the U.S. boom, 15 million adult bikes were sold. “The bike was rural and recreational, but it was also urban and practical,” Reid said. In the U.S., the 1970s bike boom successfully linked biking with the rising environmentalist movement. Beyond a carbon-free commute, biking offered individual agency in movement and efficiency.

But with an uptick in urban cyclist came safety concerns and varying interests among enthusiasts, including vehicular cyclists. Reid devotes an entire chapter to the history of vehicular cyclists and the debate about where on the road, if at all, bikes belong.

Throughout the book, Reid cites separated Dutch cycle paths as a model for creating an environment where cyclists feel safe and comfortable, but that’s not to say other cities haven’t had their share of success.

Dutch cycle path / The alternative department for transportation

He goes in depth into factors that allow Davis, California, for example, to become an early and natural haven for cyclists, even when there weren’t separate cycle paths.

Cycling was popular in Davis many years before the installation of curb-protected bikeways in 1967.  / City of Davis, via Bike Boom

Also, cycle infrastructure is important, Reid writes, but that alone will not make people hop on the saddle. Take Columbia, Maryland, in the U.S. and the town of Stevenage in Britain. In both places, the cycle infrastructure was there but, given the option of a quick and easy bike ride or a quick and easy trip by car, people in both places chose cars.

Cyclists in Stevenage have their own route network / Bike Boom

What a robust, connected cycle infrastructure does show, Reid argues, is how welcome a city is that mode of transport. In seeking to replicate the Dutch model, Reid points to Meredith Glaser, a cycle-infrastructure consultant, who once told him that cities need to show their appreciation for cyclists by building “’wow’ infrastructure,” like the Cykelslangen, or “cycle-snake” bridge in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Cykelslangen / Dissing + Weitling

The fact is, we’re behind and we have a long way to go. “It will be tough to replicate what the Netherlands took more than a hundred years to perfect.” But of course, Reid says, that’s no reason not to try.

Concept for WWI Memorial at Pershing Park Evolves

Restored pool concept / Image courtesy of National World War I Commission, designers UU+Studio, Forge Landscape Architecture, and GWWO, via NCPC

Concepts for the proposed World War I memorial at Pershing Park, located just two blocks from the White House, continue to evolve. This month, the team designing the capital city’s first national memorial commemorating WWI took comments from the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), which pushed for keeping more of the nearly two-acre park created by landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg, FASLA, in 1981.

Since first presenting their concept to the planning commission last year, the team — led by architect Joe Weishaar, landscape architect Phoebe McCormick Lickwar, ASLA, and sculptor Sabin Howard — has continued to adapt their proposal in response to feedback. The original concept, The Weight of Sacrifice, which won a competition last year held by the WWI Centennial Commission, sought to replace the sunken pool basin with a lawn to improve access and visibility and install a bas-relief commemorative wall depicting images of the war.

At this month’s meeting, the planning commission reviewed an iteration of the concept that got rid of the lawn, expanded the existing pool, and combined the site’s signature water feature with a 65-foot-long commemorative wall.

Restored pool concept / Image courtesy of National World War I Commission, designers UU+Studio, Forge Landscape Architecture, and GWWO, via NCPC

NCPC requested the proposed wall be reduced in size in order to maintain views across the park. And they pushed the design team to consider what the plaza would look like with the water feature turned off.

Restored pool concept / Image courtesy of National World War I Commission, designers UU+Studio, Forge Landscape Architecture, and GWWO, via NCPC

Considering the many changes to the original proposal, council member Evan Cash questioned whether the entire scope of the project had changed. He noted people liked the new concept because it preserved open space, but with on-going edits “…the project has changed to rehabilitation.”

“What started out as a project to look for a new WWI memorial has actually turned into a preservation project of the existing park, with some additional elements,” he said. “I just think all the problems we’ve been talking about are linked to the fact this has been a design that has been so overworked.”

The planning commission approved the concept, with many qualifications, and the team will now move further refine the proposal and incorporate requested elements. Changes to the existing park will also need to be approved by the Commission on Fine Arts (CFA) and the National Park Service (NPS).

The park was originally designed by Friedberg, who is also known for Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis. Friedberg’s views on the new concept were shared with the commission by Margo Barajas, a representative of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), a group that has advocated for restoring, rather than redesigning Pershing Park, which has been determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. This means there is a case for preserving and restoring the park. 

Pershing Park / Eduard Krakhmalnikov, 2012, via The Cultural Landscape Foundation

After the latest iteration was presented to the CFA in May, Friedberg noted he was disappointed with the new concept, taking particular issue with the commemorative wall, saying it is being “forced into the space and obliterating the scale.”

Friedberg’s original design is a multi-level space with a sunken pool and water feature with a fountain that housed a Zamboni to maintain the pool as an ice rink during the winter. The site’s planting was later revised by Oehme, van Sweden. The site also includes a small, presently-unused kiosk structure that once doubled as an ice-skate rental station; movable furniture; and a statue of the WWI hero.

Pershing Park / Image courtesy of M. Paul Friedberg & Partners, via The Cultural Landscape Foundation

The new concept replaces the kiosk with a flag pole and adds a walkway across the pool to allow visitors more intimate access and a more tactile connection to the commemorative wall.

Debate has waged on over the aesthetic and functional merits of Pershing Park and the addition of a WWI memorial. The site has been poorly maintained and fallen into disrepair over the years. Many also find the park difficult to access. Critics of the new plans, including TCLF, have sought to reduce changes to the site and instead restore the park to its original intent.

The addition of a national WWI memorial was hard-fought by advocates on the WWI Centennial Commission who originally wanted the commemoration on the National Mall. Met with opposition from Congress and the National Park Service, the Centennial Commission eventually settled on Pershing as the selected site. Once approved by Congress in 2014, the Centennial Commission held an international design competition for the memorial. Last January, they announced Weishaar’s design as the winner of five finalists among hundred of entries.

Unlike World War II and the Vietnam War, World War I is the only major US conflict of the 20th century not commemorated with a national monument in Washington. There is a World War I memorial on the Mall, but not a national one (it is specific to local DC soldiers who fought in the war). And some critics say, that’s OK.

As The Washington Post‘s Philip Kennicott argues, DC’s many smaller WWI memorials embedded throughout the city offer another form of remembrance. The monuments are specific and distributed, and, as such, Kennicott writes, “there is no one-stop shopping, no simple, quick way to ‘pay respects’ and move on; but there is a rich history lesson, not just about the war itself, but about how memory and monuments have changed over the past century.”

Regardless, plans for the memorial will continue to move forward, with hopes for a final dedication on November 11, 2018, the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the war.

The Art of the Park with Michael Van Valkenburgh

“I don’t see parks as an escape from the city; I see them as an escape in the city, and therefore an essential part of what a city is,” explained landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, at The New York Times’ Cities for Tomorrow conference in New York City.

In a Q&A, Van Valkenburgh touched on five parks his firm designed throughout the country and Canada, beginning with his redesign of the landscape of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial on the St. Louis riverfront, which is home to Eero Saarinen’s famous Gateway Arch.

Here, Van Valkenburgh explains, his team at MVVA incorporated elements of Modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley’s original intention for the site while “creating a series of bridges – physical and metaphorical” to better stitch the previously-isolated 91-acre historic Arch ground with St. Louis.

Van Valkenburgh then discussed Maggie Daley Park in Chicago; A Gathering Place for Tulsa, a new park in Oklahoma; and Corktown Commons in Toronto.

And, finally, Van Valkenburgh, a Brooklyn resident, finished his talk on the now-famous Brooklyn Bridge Park, a set of piers once used for maritime industries now turned into a beloved 85-acre park, a project realized after 18 years of planning and design.

Are Urban Bats the Future?

Urban bats at Congress Bridge in downtown Austin, Texas / Flickr

The plight of the honeybee has been well-documented since the term colony collapse disorder made its way into news headlines about a decade ago. The phenomena fueled public interest in the health of bee populations, ushering in a new generation of bee-keeping enthusiasts. And justifiably so. Pollinators like bees are essential to our nation’s economy and food supply.

Another, albeit less popular, pollinator is also facing a precipitous population decline. Bats are dying at an alarming rate due to an invasive fungal disease that’s wiping out entire species, and the unlikely savior may be one of their own.

Bats pollinate over 500 species of plants around the world, including cocoa and agave — fans of chocolate and tequila, take note. What’s killing them is called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease that grows on bats’ skin and wakes them up during hibernation. Repeated waking during the hibernation period depletes winter fat storage and causes starvation. The fungus needs high humidity and low temperatures to survive, typical cave-like conditions.

Millions of bats in North America have died from the disease since it was first documented in a cave in New York in 2007. Now, WNS has spread to 30 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces and is reaching the west coast. Last year, a bat in Washington state tested positive for the disease.

“Populations will likely never return to where they were,” said Amanda Bevan, lead for the Organization for Bat Conservation’s Urban Bat Initiative.

Bats in urban areas are less affected by the disease because they tend to hibernate in man-made structures that stay warmer than caves. And migratory species, like the Hoary Bat, do not spend the same amount of time in caves as bats that hibernate, and therefore have limited interaction with the fungus.

With more opportunity and reduced competition, Bevan says, it’s possible that some of these urban and migratory bats could push into the realms of cave and forest-dwelling bats.

“They are what’s going to be the saving grace for white-nose syndrome,” Bevan said. The Evening Bat, for example, more often found in southern regions of the U.S., has recently been discovered in caves in Wisconsin and Michigan where it’s possible it could help rebuild the states’ cave-dwelling bat populations. This is a relatively new, but potentially promising, phenomena that could help bolster species in decline.

Bevan thinks, given current trends suggesting changing behavior, urban bats are likely to become the majority population.

But there is a significant lack of research on the urban bat, and more broadly, trends in bat populations over time. Migratory bats especially are challenging to track because they are hard to catch multiple times. In absence of robust data, it’s difficult to understand movements and patterns across species.

To date, research has focused largely on cave-dwelling bats, but now ecologists seek a better understanding of bat activity in urbanized landscapes. In 2012, researchers from Fordham University published an acoustic monitoring study of bat activity in the Bronx. The report, which was the first of its kind documenting urban bats in the northeast, found five different species at various sites. A subsequent study reported increased bat activity over green roofs, compared to conventional roofs in the Bronx, indicating green roof provide habitat benefits for bats.

Urban gardeners who want to support their fellow urban-dwelling mammal can create habitats like bat houses and supply pollinator-attracting plants. Plants like milkweed and evening primrose attract night pollinators, like moths – a diet staples for bats. Gardeners can also use plants that bloom late in the day, are scented at night, and have a lighter in color. One of the biggest threats to urban bat populations are pesticides, which can affect a bat’s ability to navigate using echolocation.

Inside the Garden, and Mind, of Peter Marino

The Garden of Peter Marino / Rizzoli USA

Peter Marino’s garden is about as unexpected as you would expect from the celebrity architect, whose name has become synonymous with high-end fashion lines like Chanel and Luis Vuitton. The Garden of Peter Marino offers a look inside the designer’s sprawling 12-acre Hamptons property, where over the course of two decades he has carefully curated a series of gardens that blend formal landscape elements with unexpected details.

The Garden of Peter Marino, azaleas / Jason Schmidt via Rizzoli USA

Marino organizes his garden by color. But he also agrees with a friend’s assessment that he’s created a network of outdoor rooms, which are home to his 42-piece collection of Italian artists Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne’s surreal, cast-iron sculptures. Spread after spread reveal a pristine, manicured garden dotted with art, often placed to interact with the plants. In lieu of a masterplan, these photographs of the sculptures orient the transitions between colors.

The Garden of Peter Marino/ Jason Schmidt, Artwork: 2017 ARS, NY, ADAGP, Paris

But perhaps equally as interesting as the images is the book’s insight into Marino’s design process, which is both thorough and technical, and random and personal. Sometimes, he goes to great lengths to explain the layers and spacing of planting, where at other times, he states unqualified preferences: “I don’t care for yellow flowers mixed with other colors, so I planted them all together in what I intended to be one big explosion of yellow.” He will detail his plant choices with Latin names and variety, and in the same paragraph use phrases like “mad amounts” to account for the density of hydrangeas.

The Garden of Peter Marino, yellow garden / Jason Schmidt via Rizzoli USA

Marino also gets personal. He describes the whimsical forest section of the estate as “Harry Potter-esque,” imagined for his daughter.

The Garden of Peter Marino woods / Jason Schmidt via Rizzoli USA

The Zelkova trees in this section of the garden date back to the Civil War, he was told by an arborist. One was among 16 trees lost in Hurricane Sandy. “I was devastated,” Marino writes. “But nature has a way of doing its thing, which is why I will never really consider any garden as ‘finished.’”

The Garden of Peter Marino / Manolo Yllera via Rizzoli USA

These moments, coupled with the photos, offer an absorbing visual essay of a decades-long pursuit of an architect designing a home for his art in the unpredictable medium of the garden.

Renewable Energy Is Soaring, but Debate Rages on How Far It Can Take Us

Wind farm in Guazhou, China / Carlos Barria, Reuters via National Geographic

Renewable energy is gaining momentum. Within a quarter of a century, one third of global electricity generation will be supplied by wind and solar, according to a report from Bloomberg Renewable Energy Finance (BNEF) released this month.

BNEF, which produces long-term forecasts on the global energy sector, says wind and solar will make up nearly half of installed capacity and 34 percent of electricity generation globally by 2040, a significant increase from today’s 12 percent and 5 percent respectively. The plunging cost of renewable energy is making it cheaper than coal generation in many countries. The cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels will fall by 66 percent and onshore wind, by 47 percent. The report predicts a $7.4 trillion investment, approximately $400 billion per year, in new renewable energy generation globally by 2040.

Meanwhile, the United States just hit a renewable energy milestone. Last week, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced for the first time wind and solar made up over 10 percent of the nation’s electricity generation in the month of March.

This record-breaking share was aided by low demand, common in the spring and fall months, longer days with more sunlight, also typical of spring months, and higher winds in parts of the country like Texas and Oklahoma. Wind and solar will likely hit double-digits again in April before dipping in the summer.

Some experts argue the U.S. could run solely on renewable energy by mid-century – and that’s caused some controversy among the scientific community.

Last week, a group of over 20 researchers published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) assessing the feasibility of that 100 percent target. The assessment is a response to a 2015 paper, also published by PNAS and led by Mark Jacobson, a professor at Stanford University, which argued that wind, solar, and hydroelectric power could meet U.S. electricity needs affordably and without risk to grid stability between 2050 and 2055.

Jacobson’s report has been both popular and contentious. It has been supported by many environmental organizations and touted by public figures, like former presidential candidate and U.S senator Bernie Sanders.

Now, researchers led by Christopher Clack, founder of Vibrant Clean Energy, are taking issue with Jacobson’s paper, arguing this week in PNAS that its analysis “involved errors, inappropriate methods, and implausible assumptions.” The rebuttal contends that Jacobson’s paper does not make a sufficient argument against previous analysis holding that a diverse set of technologies beyond wind, solar, and hydroelectric power are needed in the transition to a low-carbon future, and that a target of 80 percent is more feasible renewable power generation goal.

Jacobson fired back with a counter response, also published in PNAS, and in an interview with the MIT Technology Review, he called into question his critics’ motives. “They’re either nuclear advocates or carbon sequestration advocates or fossil-fuels advocates,” Jacobson told the online publication. “They don’t like the fact that we’re getting a lot of attention, so they’re trying to diminish our work.”

Those questioning a fully renewable-power U.S. electricity system say some nuclear and carbon capture and storage as well as continued use of some fossil fuel-based sources are also needed, because of the intermittent nature of wind, solar, and hydroelectric power, and, as of yet, there is insufficient storage capacity.

The Trump administration is among critics who say a large-scale conversion to renewable energy could be destabilizing to the U.S. electric grid. Energy Secretary Rick Perry is expected to release a report in the next month reviewing federal regulations to determine whether policies supporting renewable energy, like the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, have made the national electricity grid less reliable. Anticipating the department of energy analysis, two industry organizations released their own report this week, finding that wind and solar have not threatened the reliability of the grid.

It’s no secret President Trump supports the coal industry. Earlier this month he announced plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, making good on a promise he reiterated throughout his White House bid and isolating the U.S. from the 194 other countries supporting global carbon reduction efforts. Previously, he ordered Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt to scrap the Clean Power Plan, which was expected to reduce power sector emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Regardless, the U.S. will come close to achieving those power sector emission reductions even without the federal policy. According to the BNEF report, the U.S. is expected to reduce emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. And renewable energy sources are giving coal and fossil fuels a run for its money. The BNEF report also predicts that by 2040 coal consumption will have dropped 51 percent and be replaced by cheaper renewables and natural gas.

“Portals” Blends Curated with Organic

Portals by Sandra Muss at the Kreeger Museum / Colin Winterbottom

Moving through the pristine vastness of the Great Hall at the Kreeger Museum in Washington, D.C. is like being inside a monument on the National Mall. But the museum’s new installation and permanent foray into the woods offers a different experience.

Just beyond the structured lines of the architect Phillip Johnson’s Modernist residence-turned-museum are “the woods.” Far from wild, this curated, yet un-manicured portion of the sculpture garden is found in the forested back area of Kreeger’s 5.5-acre property in the residential Foxhall neighborhood north of Georgetown.

Kreeger Museum / Pinterest

Here are a series of mirrored columns clustered among the oak, maple, tulip poplar, and beech trees, and scattered along a wood chip path. These are the Portals.

Artist Sandra Muss designed the piece specifically for the Kreeger as it expanded its sculpture garden into the woods. Muss’ piece is a series of seven ten-foot mirrored steel rectangular columns, wound with rusted wire and vines.

Portals by Sandra Muss / Colin Winterbottom

Despite the size, the columns are unassuming and easy to gaze over, reading as green foliage when viewed from the concrete walkway that wraps around the museum.

But once down in the woods, the scale of the column becomes more palpable, and what appears from above to be a carefully-curated placement of columns becomes a more compelling maze of reflections. Moving through the mirrors distorts the carefully-orchestrated sculpture garden experience — reflecting, and at times framing, bending, and pulling images of the museum and other sculptures down into the woods.

Portals by Sandra Muss / Colin Winterbottom

The woods are a welcome juxtaposition to the hushed, untouchable quality of the building above and offer a more organic component to the museum’s sculpture garden.

“In general, the planting is pretty simple, because it’s the art that wants to be the focus,” said Julie Patronick, landscape designer with McHale, who designed the forested sculpture garden expansion and worked with Muss to incorporate vines on the columns from the surrounding area.

Ultimately, she said, as new pieces are added to the forest, the intention will be to let the art decide its surroundings — be it exposed with only ground cover underneath, or more hidden, and seamless like Portals.

Finding Opportunity in Leftover Urban Spaces

Local Code: 3,659 Proposals About Data, Design & the Nature of Cities / (c) 2016 Nicholas de Monchaux, published by Princeton Architectural Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

In Local Code, Nicholas de Monchaux pushes us to assign new value to forgotten pieces of our urban fabric – the dead-end alley, the vacant corner lot; infrastructure’s leftovers. While many cities deem vacant parcels as unusable remnants of development, Local Code makes the case for aggregating them to build urban resilience.

To visualize the opportunities, de Monchaux, an associate professor of architecture and urban design at the University of California, Berkeley, uses data on vacant public land in four cities – San Francisco; Los Angeles; Venice, Italy; and New York City. He then translates the data into a series of diagrams and drawings that show the scale and types of these dormant landscapes.

Flow diagram of proposed interventions, San Francisco case study / Local Code: 3,659 Proposals About Data, Design & the Nature of Cities, (c) 2016 Nicholas de Monchaux, published by Princeton Architectural Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
Additional proposals, San Francisco case study / Local Code: 3,659 Proposals About Data, Design & the Nature of Cities, (c) 2016 Nicholas de Monchaux, published by Princeton Architectural Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

In San Francisco, for example, what the city’s department of public works refers to as “unaccepted streets” – right-of-ways the city does not maintain — make up the equivalent surface area to Golden Gate Park (over 1,000 acres). New York and Los Angeles have “underutilized parcels.” Los Angeles also has space under billboards, while Venice has a “lagoon” of abandoned islands.

De Monchaux highlights what he calls the “institutional invisibility” of these spaces, showing how they coincide with higher levels of household poverty, urban heat islands, crime, and asthma. Then, de Monchaux shows how bioswales, drought-tolerant planting, and porous paving could help reduce these problem areas.

Intervention for vacant parcel, New York City case study / Local Code: 3,659 Proposals About Data, Design & the Nature of Cities, (c) 2016 Nicholas de Monchaux, published by Princeton Architectural Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

The result is a multitude of diagrams and drawings that demonstrate a scope of opportunities, rather than predetermined results. By addressing sites where these issues are most acute, de Monchaux argues that cities can build a spatial network to improve environmental circulation and function of urban ecosystems, which can even help cities spend more wisely on public works.

Proposals also focus on intertwined social issues. In New York City, where as de Monchaux notes, there have been many resiliency-related rebuilding efforts since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but most of which haven’t focused on improving quality of life in low-income neighborhoods. De Monchaux writes: “Combining stormwater and heat-island mediation with the creation of shared public space, the investment proposed here is one equally focused on the everyday resilience of communities as in episodic resilience to disaster.”

Vacant alley at 1717 Lincoln Place, New York City case study / From Local Code: 3,659 Proposals About Data, Design & the Nature of Cities, (c) 2016 Nicholas de Monchaux, published by Princeton Architectural Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Scattered between the case studies are essays about the lives and professional contributions of three key figures – artist Gordon Matta-Clark, urban theorist Jane Jacobs, and architect Howard Fisher. In recalling these stories, Local Code acknowledges the painstaking data collection efforts of visionaries in urban design before the instant gratification of geographic information systems (GIS), which makes possible the book’s 3,659 proposals.

These essays make up a substantial portion of the text and give Local Code a character-driven quality to an otherwise data-heavy book. De Monchaux acknowledges in the introduction that “an abundance of data is not knowledge.” To that end, the historical essays give context on how cities function and adapt in response to environmental and social change.

To fully grasp Monchaux’s planning and design proposals may require experience in design, or at least visual communication, but the historical essays speak to a broader audience interested in cities, as does the optimistic approach to vacant parcels. Ultimately, Local Code encourages us to read between the lines, or buildings, and see new opportunities in forgotten spaces.