How to Reintegrate the Homeless into Their Communities

UrbanAlchemy
Urban Alchemy practitioner / Urban Alchemy

A survey of homeless individuals by Downtown Streets Team yielded one overwhelming response: they felt completely ignored as human beings. At the ASLA 2019 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego, Brian Elliott, policy analyst for San Diego Councilmember Chris Ward; Brandon Davis with the California-based Downtown Streets Team; and Lena Miller with Urban Alchemy, discussed strategies to reintegrate homeless individuals into their communities, ranging from top-down policy decisions to empowering local unsheltered populations through employment options.

California is ranked number 1 in homelessness, with nearly 130,000 homeless individuals, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and numbers only continue to rise.

Elliott expressed a commitment to reduce the number of unsheltered people in San Diego County, which he cited as at least 4,476 people, nearly 55 percent of the at least 8,100 homeless residents of San Diego County. Councilmember Ward is the chair of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, an “integrated array of stakeholders committed to preventing and alleviating homelessness.”

Dispelling myths about who the homeless was paramount to all three speakers, but Elliott highlighted that in San Diego, the cause is primarily economic. He noted that “a hospital bill they could not pay, a utility bill they could not pay, balanced with housing, especially in a high-cost market with low vacancy rates, leads to homelessness.”

The City of San Diego unanimously passed the Community Action Plan on Homelessness, a body of policy focused on helping the existing homeless population, preventing future homelessness, and ensuring that homelessness is an experience that is brief and non-recurring. Davis made clear that “homelessness is an experience, not an identity.”

The plan looked at three short-term goals to be achieved in three years: end youth homelessness; end veterans homelessness; and decrease unsheltered homelessness by 50 percent. Building community and state level buy-in is central to achieving these goals. As can be seen below, veterans homelessness spreads across generations.

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2018 We All Count Survey / Regional Task Force on the Homeless

The first step of the plan calls for transitioning away from using the police as a first point of contact and instead reaching out to social workers. In order to combat the housing issue, the city council has committed to at least 140 new units of permanent support housing in all 9 council districts to be built over two years. To achieve this, Elliott encouraged landscape architects to continue to design for everyone, not specific populations.

Miller started Urban Alchemy in 2018. The organization birthed out of Hunter’s Point Family, an earlier non-profit Miller founded that focused on public housing.

Miller became interested in public toilets, specifically their importance in ensuring the dignity of the homeless, but also their potential for jobs. The organization has created 24 safe and clean public toilets in Tenderloin and other parts of San Francisco with high homeless populations and given homeless individuals jobs cleaning and maintaining those toilets, BART stations, the Civic Center area, downtown streets, and parks.

Urban Alchemy works with long-term offenders, integrating them back into society in order to prevent them from experiencing homelessness. Miller pointed to their high levels of emotional intelligence, their ability to read people, and their ability to interact with different kinds of people. All of these skills help them to establish and maintain social norms in the public places they work.

Urban Alchemy practitioner / Urban Alchemy

The police are brought in to offer deescalation training, helping to establish a relationship between law enforcement and employees of Urban Alchemy. Miller said this “transforms the paradigm of how the police see us, and how everyone in society sees us.”

Miller noted how the work provides not only an income but also a sense of pride, remarking on an anecdote where one employee called the Governor of California into a bathroom stall he had just cleaned to show him how clean it was.

Urban Alchemy saved 85 lives in 2018, through Narcan deployment, which brings back people from drug overdoses, and providing water to dehydrated people.

Downtown Streets Team employs local homeless populations to clean community spaces in San Jose and San Francisco. Instead of an hourly wage, they offer a non-cash basic-needs stipend, case management, employment services, and a support network within their community. The program offers people who have been out of work for a few years a platform to build their resume and eventually re-enter the workforce.

Volunteers wear bright yellow shirts, denoting them as members of the community and part of the Downtown Streets Team. The simple action of donning a yellow shirt and cleaning the community restores their dignity as people and members of their community.

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Downtown Streets Team yellow volunteer shirt / Downtown Streets Team

The marginalization of homeless individuals often leads them to ignore the social norms of public space. Including them as part of the community helps ensure norms are met.

Each Tuesday, Downtown Streets Team hosts a town hall where people can participate in public life, share in each other’s successes, and be together. For Davis, “we are all here to hold each other accountable to be our better selves.”

To date, Downtown Streets Team has secured over 1,900 jobs and homes for people.

Landscape Architects Must Become Planners

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Songzhuang Arts and Agriculture City / Sasaki

Landscape architects need to become urban planners and work “upstream” in policy and regulatory processes to ensure public space leads urban placemaking efforts. That is the argument Michael Grove, ASLA, chair of landscape architecture, civil engineering, and ecology at Sasaki; Brian Jeneck, ASLA, director of planning at HOK; and Michael Johnson, ASLA, principal at SmithGroup made at the ASLA 2019 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Washington, D.C.

Grove linked the current misalignment between public space and private development to the long history of “decoupling policy making and placemaking.” Urban planners have led in the policy and regulatory-making realm while landscape architects have proven expertise in placemaking.

Landscape architects can instead lead and participate in urban policy-making through “upstream urbanism” while prioritizing public spaces as the dominant placemaking strategy in cities.

To illustrate the importance of this approach, Jeneck discussed the typical block structure of San Francisco, which is 360 feet by 360 feet, as it relates to floor area ration (FAR), or the amount of building area in relation to the size of a lot.

A four-story building occupying 50 percent of the site would have a floor area ratio of 2, which Jeneck notes is on the low end for urban development. Assuming the lot is the entire block, the dimensions of this building would be 180 feet by 360 feet, a footprint with an impractical amount of interior space.

This undesirable set of dimensions for a building can result in design teams creating assemblages of towers, which to achieve the same FAR could take up 70 percent of the site, greatly limiting public space. Developments like this happen because policy makers haven’t accounted for public space corridors and connections from the beginning.

The speakers set out five scales in which urban design takes place: regional plans, city general plans, city area plans, city-specific plans, and project plans.

Landscape architects are intimately familiar with the project scale, but need to shift up in scale towards the regional plan, affecting policy that begins to shape the form of the city.

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Point of the Mountain Master Plan / HOK, Draper Site Design

Scaling up gives landscape architects a larger role in designing the broader framework in which smaller urban, area, and project plans must exist, a crucial role the profession is currently lacking.

According to Johnson, landscape architects’ ability to work with complex systems makes them a natural choice for managing the goals that must be met at each scale.

He gives the example of a set of scalar jumps, 1, 10, and 100. 1 is the site scale, the place landscape architects are currently most comfortable, 10 is the city scale, and 100 is governance and public policy.

All presenters looked at lessons from past planning movements in order to inform what a future landscape architect-led planning framework could look like.

They traced the history of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City and the influence of Frederick Law Olmsted and Daniel Burnham on the City Beautiful Movement. While the Garden City and the City Beautiful Movements were highly influential, they were also ensnared in class politics, giving them a green veneer without truly being equitable.

Cities account for 3 percent of our land area, but 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Getting the next generation of urban planning and design right is imperative.

How to Revitalize Post-war Plazas

Lever House
Lever Plaza / Ken Smith Workshop

Revitalizing post-war plazas requires a deep understanding of the historical significance and degree of integrity of the existing conditions, which to Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, president of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, can then “guide the level of intervention and level of surgery that one is applying to the bone structure.”

Birnbaum, along with Susan Rademacher, Hon. ASLA, parks curator for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, and Ken Smith, FASLA, principal at Ken Smith Workshop, laid out pathways for the revitalization of post-war plazas.

Birnbaum provided a framework for how to measure success that operates on two axes: historical significance and integrity.

Historical significance relates to the importance of the plaza culturally, both locally and within the landscape architecture canon, while integrity focuses on the condition of the original design and implementation.

To demonstrate how the graph works, Birnbaum located three plazas within it: Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis (high significance and high integrity); Boston City Hall Plaza (medium significance and medium integrity); and Love Park in Philadelphia (low significance and low integrity).

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Peavey Plaza by Paul Friedberg / Wikipedia

Birnbaum then defined seven aspects of integrity for plazas:

Location: Place where the plaza is constructed.
Setting: Physical environment around the building.
Design: The form, place, materials, and structure of the plaza.
Materials: What the plaza is constructed with.
Workmanship: Physical evidence of the construction and craftsmanship of the plaza.
Feeling: Quality and often intangible elements that constitute a place.
Association: Historical and cultural ties to the plaza.

Birnbaum used his methodology to categorize Mellon Square in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (high significance and medium-high integrity); Lever House Plaza in New York City (high significance and medium integrity); Time-Life Building in Chicago (medium-high significance and medium integrity); and Nollen Plaza in Des Moines, Iowa (medium-low significance and low integrity), prefacing the case studies Rademacher and Smith detailed.

Rademacher explained how Mellon Square had maintained its integrity for many years after its construction but lost its character after an integrity-reducing reconstruction in the 1980s.

The 2007 update, led by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and implemented by Heritage Landscapes, aimed to restore Mellon Square to its original design, eliminating several of the changes that occurred during the 1987 reconstruction.

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Mellon Square Reconstruction / The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Rademacher laid out a few of the problems that came up with the restoration. Fountain function was dependent on a worker being present. Planting was overgrown or dead. And “most egregious was a redesign of the fountain” that led to a new double crenelated edge, which divorced the timing of the water feature from the original design and its intent.

Many of the materials were preserved in the 1987 reconstruction, but recreating the major elements of the plaza would be central to the 2007 reconstruction. The fountain
was the most difficult piece to return to its historical character, with the original slow contemplative rhythm of the fountain being at odds with contemporary thought about how fountains should perform. Ultimately, the team decided on a flashy program on the hour and the slower contemplative program for the remainder of the time.

Returning the plaza to its original design was important for it to retain its integrity and to maintain its historical significance for the City of Pittsburgh.

Smith elaborated on three projects that his firm has worked on, each project approaching the historical legacy of plazas in different ways.

First, and the most historically significant, was the Lever House in New York City (see image at top). Smith’s team relied on a set of photographs by Ezra Stoller to recreate the plaza in lieu of many architectural drawings for the plaza space.

Stoller photographed the project during construction, upon completion, and for several years after the project was finished. This helped Smith to understand the changes throughout the first few years of the project, particularly in planting and usage. The analysis resulted in a near-identical reconstruction of the space.

The Time-Life Building plaza features a distinct terrazzo patterning that carries through into the building’s lobby, which is the only part of the building complex that is part of the historic registry. The tile patterning was then paramount to the design of the plaza. Smith’s team recreated the terrazzo look in concrete. The major change was relocating the fountain to “reframe the plaza relative to the sidewalk,” creating a connection between the Avenue of The Americas and the plaza.

Time-Life Building plaza / Ken Smith Design Workshop

Cowles Common’s, formerly Nollen Plaza in Des Moines, Iowa received the most change while retaining the tilted orientation of the plaza in relation to the street grid.

Cowles Comon
Cowles Commons / Des Moines Performing Arts Center

Major changes included eliminating a wall separating the north and south sides of Des Moines, the addition of a new fountain feature in the center stripe of the plaza, and the installation of a new sculpture by Jim Campbell.

Each of the plazas hold some level of historical significance as post-war plazas, but as Rademacher and Smith noted, the measure of the success is not dependent on the funds spent on the projects, but on identifying and enhancing the spirit of the places.

The Power of Drawing in a Digital Age

The “Power of the Pen” is a phrase borrowed from an oral history interview with landscape architect Laurie Olin, FASLA, on drawing by The Cultural Landscape Foundation. In a session at the ASLA 2019 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego, it was used by Michael Batts, ASLA, of Stewart, Kona A. Gray, FASLA, of EDSA, and David Malda, ASLA, of GGN, to convey the importance of drawing as a means to bridge cultures, forge connections, and draw out ideas throughout the design process.

Malda focused on three ways that GGN uses drawing in their practice: “drawing out, drawing in, and drawing together.” He was quick to question landscape architects’ proclivity to create drawings at a resolution that exceed the resolution of information, noting “we are putting more information in than we actually have.”

In contrast to the ubiquitous Google Earth photos, which are commonly used to quickly understand a place, Malda highlighted a drawing by Keith McPeters of GGN that pulls out the topography and road infrastructure as a means to understand what is important to the place. “It is as much about what is not drawn as what is drawn.”

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Rackspace Headquarters Concept Sketch / GGN

In a similar vein, Batts discussed integrating technology, namely tablets, into his drawing process as a way to quickly and iteratively test ideas over photographs taken on the device or downloaded from Google Earth.

The capabilities of drawing apps allowed him to subdue information and call forth and alter elements of the existing site with speed and ease. In many ways, the digital surface acts as a digital form of trace paper. He joked that this is the “Power of the Apple Pen.”

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Sketch done by Stewart Inc. / Stewart Inc.

All emphasized the variability of drawing styles and types. There is a place for exploratory or abstract drawings investigating materials, form, and ideas, as much as for representational and observational drawing. The trio emphasized that different types of drawings are necessary to think through different stages and processes during design development.

For Gray, drawing is a form of thinking. He realized early on in his life that “because I could draw, I could help solve problems.” Drawing is now a way of extracting an idea from his mind using the hand, a process that is instrumental to exploring thoughts quickly without being burdened by crafting the perfect drawing.

Drawing / Kona Gray

Malda noted that 40 quick sketches of different ideas can be produced in a fraction of the time it would take to produce a finished rendering.

Iterative drawing can also be taken into client meetings, a technique Olin highlights in the video interview, and all speakers highly encouraged during their talks. Gray and Batts emphasized the power of the pen to forge connections between clients, but also with people of different cultures.

Gray draws with clients in real-time, on-site if possible, allowing them to explore ideas together. This can help bring out local knowledge of the place. Real-time drawing in charette processes allow the community and the designers to inspire each other.

Batts echoed the power of drawing as inspiration through an anecdote about a trip to a small village in Mexico. Each evening they set up a craft table, which brought together villagers who didn’t have access to these materials, while Batts sketched the local landscape.

A local man named Joel was curious about Batts’ sketches, and finally asked, through a translator, if Batts could teach him to draw perspective, which was a new view of his familiar landscape. This moment reveals drawing’s potential: its ability to “transcend disciplines, language barriers, and cultures.”

The Latest and Greatest from D.C.’s Landscape Architects

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7th Street Pier and Park / Michael Vergason Landscape Architects

The Potomac Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects brought together a panel of five landscape architects and designers whose projects won the chapter’s 2019 Professional Awards. The discussion was connected with a new exhibition of all the recent award winners at the District Architecture Center that runs through August 30, 2019.

7th Street Park and Recreation Pier at the Wharf: Michael Vergason, FASLA, founder of Michael Vergason Landscape Architects described how 7th Street Park and Pier is one piece of a larger redevelopment called the District Wharf in Southwest D.C. planned by Perkins Eastman and developed by PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette (see image above).

Vergason described his firm’s process: “we reach out beyond the boundaries of the site to think about how the design can grasp onto the site’s adjacencies to make a coherent place out of the larger setting.” For this park and pier, they were asked to ignore what the other five landscape designers in the broader development were designing. The pier is the only non-working pier at the District Wharf, which allowed them greater flexibility, so they added an undulating wood deck, swings, and a fire pit at the end looking out over the water.

Swampoodle Park: Adrienne McCray, ASLA, a landscape architect at Lee and Associates spoke about the challenge of meeting the needs of the different groups who shaped Swampoodle Park, which is named after a vanished 19th century neighborhood in Northeast D.C. Community outreach is an important aspect of the mission of the NoMa Parks Foundation, which financed the project, and McCray’s firm “didn’t want to bring any pre-concieved ideas of what the park should be,” instead asking the community what they wanted to see in their neighborhood.

On a 5,200-square foot (480 square meter) lot, plus a nearly-3,00 square feet (280 square meters) slice of public land, the community wanted a dog park, a place for kids to play, and a place to gather. McCray joked there was “not a lot of space for any of those activities.” The design team presented multiple options to the community to figure out which aspects the community liked. Through the engagement process, the firm was able to integrate all three programs into the small site.

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Swampoodle Park / Lee and Associates, Inc.

Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge: AECOM was selected as the design-build firm for a new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, which crosses the Anacostia River in Southwest D.C. The current bridge is 20 years older than its lifespan. Reid Fellenbaum, a landscape and urban designer at AECOM, said the complex project not only includes the bridge but also 82 acres of public land.

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Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge / AECOM

AECOM was given a preset budget for the entire project by the DC department of transportation, which could not be surpassed, meaning that any hiccup in the construction of the bridge has to be dealt with somewhere else in the process. Fellenbaum indicated cuts were likely to come from the landscape design because it was the last phase of the design to be constructed. To combat this, the firm kept careful notes of what had already been value-engineered during the design process to push back on further value-engineering of the landscape during construction.

Center for Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Nursing at Bowie State University: Perkins+Will was tasked with designing the landscape around a new building in the heart of Bowie State University’s campus, the oldest historically black college in Maryland. Stephanie Wolfgang, ASLA, detailed how the patterns found in the paving of the site came from a visioning process and discerning what is important to administrators, staff, and students.

Bowie State’s history, culture, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum guided Perkins+Will’s decision to incorporate fractal patterns and the Fibonacci sequence (0,1,1,3,5…) throughout paving patterns, planting zones, and the structural spacing of custom benches.

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Center for Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Nursing at Bowie State University / Perkins+Will, Inc.

Capital City Bikeway, Jackson Street Reconstruction: Toole Design Group, which is based in Silver Spring, Maryland, worked with the city of St. Paul, Minnesota to expand their bike network into the downtown area. The Jackson Street Reconstruction was the first phase of Capital City Bikeway plan.

Ken Ray, ASLA, detailed how St. Paul removed a travel lane and the existing parking on one side of the street, providing space for a “nice linear space” that could connect with nearby bicycle lanes. Initially, the community was concerned about removing street parking. Pop-up meetings were organized to talk to as many residents and potential bicyclists as possible. Ray noted a key factor in the project’s success was convincing local business owners the new bicycle infrastructure would bring hundreds, if not thousands, of new people past their storefronts.

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Jackson Street Revitalization / Toole Design Group

The exhibition of all 15 2019 Professional Award winners will continue until August 30 at the District Center for Architecture. Learn more about all the winners.

Ecological Revitalization Planned for Baltimore’s Waterfront

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Hannover Street Bridge will be turned into park space / West 8

A team led by West 8 was announced as the winner of the Baltimore Middle Branch Waterfront Revitalization competition. The core team, which includes Baltimore-based landscape architecture firm Mahan Rykiel Associates, Inc. and infrastructure engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol, will develop a climate-resilient, ecological plan to connect Baltimore’s southern waterfront neighborhoods through a series of new parks and trails while restoring wetlands in the Middle Branch Patapsco River. The West 8 team was ultimately selected by Mayor Bernard C. Jack Young after he received comments from the public and an esteemed jury of local stakeholders and nationally-recognized landscape architects.

The design re-imagines 11 miles of Baltimore’s Middle Patapsco River waterfront as an ecological cove populated with piers, boardwalks, and parks. The team will create new marshlands by “squeezing” the water channel under the Hannover Street Bridge and subsequently using the dredged material to build ecological habitats. Newly created marshland will help to buffer the cove from storm surges and clean the water.

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Dredge material placement strategy / West 8

A new island in the Patapsco River, named Riverbed Island, and peninsula on the south edge of the river, named Patapsco Park, will be constructed as the support points for a new bridge predominantly for vehicles that will replace the Hannover Street Bridge, which will be turned into a pedestrian-friendly linear park. The new island’s location was selected to maximize existing sedimentation flows in the river and will rely on naturally shallow areas to begin establishing wetlands off of the island.

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Site plan showing new island and bridge across the Patapsco River / West 8

The team proposes using geotube mud socks, a geotextile used to set dredge material, to help initiate the wetlands. Slurried dredge material will be pumped into the geotextiles, which retain the sediment but let water flow outward. In their competition presentation, the team describes the technique as “a simple, inexpensive way to protect and improve water quality through local plant communities while structurally stabilizing banks and shorelines to prevent erosion and slumping.”

Once established, slurried dredge will be used to fill in the rest of the wetland ecosystem back to the shoreline. The initial geotubes mark the boundaries of the wetland, allowing the team to shape the inlets and form of the wetlands.

Geotube mud sock after installation / West 8

While significant dredge and infrastructural work is necessary to develop the wetlands and reroute vehicle traffic, much of the work to redefine the “blue green heart of Baltimore,” as the team refers to it, is being done along the water’s edge.

The waterfront parks will span 11 miles of shorelines around the inlet of the Middle Branch Patapsco River. Pavilions, boathouses, a bandshell, a lookout over the marshland, and a repurposed swing bridge act as “cultural pearls” scattered along the waterfront. These design elements are a mix of revitalized structures and infrastructure and new amenities. For the design team, “the pearls celebrate and symbolize a time that once had and now again will represent optimism, innovation and progress.”

Among the new “cultural pearls” is the Lookout Loop, a circular ramp that brings visitors above the water’s surface, providing views of the Hannover Bridge in the distance. The Lookout Loop branches off from a boardwalk path that cuts through the newly created wetlands.

Lookout-Loop
Lookout Loop extending over Middle Branch Patapsco River

The Newland Band Shell will be an open air concert venue, located near the Hannover Street Bridge. A sloping hill will offer seating to see live music and performances.

Newland Band Shell / West 8

The Hannover Street Bridge, which connects the industrial area of South Baltimore to Cherry Hill neighborhood, will be converted from a 5-lane road into a park space, completing the loop of parks. Bays of trees, flower plantings, and vine trellises fill the top surface of the bridge, while a new boat dock and seating area will be created under the drawbridge. The dock gives people kayaking a place to stop and rest while out on the water.

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Hannover Street Bridge with new trees / West 8

The city has not released a timeline or budget for the project’s development. Explore the design and updates.

Gallaudet University Designs for the Deaf Community, but Everyone Benefits

At Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., DeafSpace, a concept developed by campus architect Hansel Bauman, is now guiding the development of buildings and landscapes in order to better address the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing people, which also results in better spaces for everyone. Gallaudet University — the oldest university for the deaf community in the country and the only university in the world where all programs and services are designed with deaf and hard of hearing people in mind — is creating a new 2020 campus master plan that expands DeafSpace beyond the buildings and into the historic campus designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and the surrounding neighborhood.

DeafSpace is focused on five key elements that impact how deaf and hard of hearing users navigate buildings and landscapes: sensory reach, space and proximity, mobility and proximity, light and color, and acoustics.

The focus is on these elements because they are too often overlooked in the design of the built environment. And as Alexa Vaughn, Associate ASLA, a deaf landscape architect at OLIN, demonstrated through a project she called DeafScape, DeafSpace principles can be readily applied to many types of landscapes.

DeafScape / Alexa Vaughn, Courtney Ferris, copyright GroundUp Journal

Bauman has been the campus architect at Gallaudet University for 15 years. In a conversation on Gallaudet’s campus, he said the masterplan is guided by Gallaudet’s heritage, its desire for sustainability, and its need for accessibility.

Understanding and interpreting the history of the campus is central to the development of the new master plan. Gallaudet was founded as a school for deaf and blind children in 1857 and was granted the ability to confer college degrees in 1864. Fredrick Law Olmsted designed the 99-acre campus in 1866 to include campus buildings, a small farm, and a large forested area. At the time of the university’s founding, it was outside the planned area of Washington, D.C. The area immediately surrounding the campus has subsequently urbanized over the last century and a half.

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Original campus plan designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted / Gallaudet University

The original campus and its buildings, which are now on the National Register of Historic Places, were mixed-use; academic and private life was integrated. A working farm mixed with academic instruction, professors and students lived in the same buildings, and academic and living spaces lined the same hallways. Daily life happened throughout the campus core, resulting in what Bauman calls “vibrancy.” For the deaf, communication is primarily visual, and the centralized core of the campus offered a visually-accessible space interwoven into daily life. “Olmsted created a scuffy, working, living landscape.”

Olmsted was successful in establishing corridors for visual communication, while planting trees that created shade. He didn’t plant any understory that would block sight lines. But it is unclear if he deeply understood the issues facing the deaf and hard of hearing community. Bauman points instead to the original buildings on campus as models: higher ceilings and large windows bring in more natural light, glass transepts over doorways let deaf and hard of hearing people see if rooms are occupied or not, and the mixed use of buildings help create a sense of life.

During subsequent campus expansions in the 1970’s, unfriendly large Brutalist buildings were introduced along the north side of campus. This expansion was necessary in part because of the Rubella outbreak of 1964 and 1965, which resulted in nearly 20,000 babies born with Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS), which can result in deafness. Many of these buildings were designated as dorms, separating academic and private life. The vibrancy found in the heart of the campus was stretched out, preventing a central visual zone for daily life.

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Campus expansion in the 1970’s / Gallaudet University

Restoring the vibrancy of campus is the primary focus of the 2022 campus plan. Maintaining visual connectivity throughout the center of campus will be balanced with planting more shade-giving trees. Many of the sidewalks will be widened to allow groups to sign to each other comfortably while walking through campus. For Bauman, “aesthetics are something to experience, not to look at.”

Using urban designer Jan Gehl’s methodology, Bauman and his students have been mapping the vibrancy of the current campus by observing and recording when, how long, and where people are moving through the campus or stopping to communicate, then turning this data into graphics. Using the historical documents of the campus, the designers are also creating similar maps for past configurations of the campus. These maps allow Bauman to see where students are avoiding spaces because the built environment isn’t conducive to visual communication and where design interventions would be the most beneficial.

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Vibrancy maps of Gallaudet Campus / Gallaudet University

The team at Gallaudet University are already using data from these analyses and applying DeafSpace guidelines to improve navigation throughout the campus. The new Kendall School Division II Memorial landscape design conforms with the principles, said Elizabeth Brading, director of program development at Gallaudet. There have also been piece meal efforts to plant more trees to create more shade and reduce glare in between buildings, update lighting, and expand sidewalks, explained Christopher Hoffman, a campus architect and manager of design services.

The guidelines are also shaping major new development on campus. In 2015, an international competition was held for a new 6th street corridor, an ambitious mixed-use development that will include a new media laboratory for the school and commercial and residential development. Hall McKnight Architects won the competition in 2016.

The university is partnering with the JGB Companies and the DC department of transportation to develop the corridor, which will include the first new public landscapes designed with DeafSpace principles. The goal is to better integrate the edge of the historic campus into the neighboring, gentrifying Union Market area and create a whole district accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community.

In order for the design teams competing to understand the challenges the built environment present to deaf and hard of hearing individuals, architects and designers were asked to close their eyes and rely on touch and smell, so they could better understand the importance of these senses for those who use them to mentally map spaces.

Bauman said the development’s new streets will include 12 to 15-feet wide sidewalks that are consistently lit, ensuring people using sign language and lip reading can see one another. Circular seating will allow groups of varying size to sign to one another while maintaining a visual connection.

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Updated view of campus promenade near 6th Steet / Hall McKnight Architects

Lightweight, flexible seating will incorporated, allowing deaf and hard of hearing people to arrange seating so they can face one another. High tables offer people places to set down coffee, bags, or other items and use both hands to sign.

From Geometric to Fractal: Bauhaus and the Landscape

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The ABC’s of Triangle Square Circle / Princeton Architectural Press

2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus’s founding in the city of Weimar, Germany by architect Walter Gropius. The legacy of the Bauhaus has been felt throughout nearly every design discipline, in part because of the towering stature of its faculty and their many game-changing works of architecture, design, and art, but perhaps more deeply because of the body of theory produced, practiced, refined, and extolled at the school.

The ABC’s of Triangle Square Circle is a new edition of the 1991 collection of essays edited by Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller that uses text, images, and experimental graphic compositions to explain Bauhaus art and design theory. “Triangle Square Circle” is derived from a theory that artist Wassily Kandinsky put forth about the intrinsic properties of the three shapes and their association with a primary color. As Lupton and Miller state in the introduction: “This is a book about theory. A theory is a principle that attempts to explain diverse phenomena, a concise concept capable of shedding light on countless situations.”

Bauhaus theorists saw simple geometric forms as the essence of natural, organic shapes. The bookend essays, Elementary School by J. Abbott Miller gives insight into how Bauhaus theorists reduced landscape and natural forms to simple geometric ones, and Beyond Triangle Square Circle: Fractal Geometry by theoretical physicist Alan Wolf explains how Bauhaus thinkers tried but ultimately failed to acknowledge nature’s complexity in their theories on geometry.

In 1925, Gropius designed a new complex for the Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany, moving the campus from Weimar. The architecture designed in the international style became the emblem of Bauhaus architecture and thought, despite architecture not being taught at the school until 1927. The building is the centerpiece, a sculpture among a sea of rectilinear patches of grass, with ankle-high fencing to prevent people from walking on the green spaces. The landscape of the Bauhaus campus is a formal exercise, a decoration of the plinth the building sits on.

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Bauhaus Campus in Dessau, Germany / Wikipedia

In Elementary School, J. Abbott Miller focuses on the development of the core principles of the Bauhaus through the creation of Friedrich Frobel’s kindergarten (or child garden).

As Miller explains, the name was “metaphorical as well as literal: early in his career as a teacher, Froebel discovered the importance of play in education and made gardening a central part of his pedagogy.” While gardening was lost in the Bauhaus school, playing with shapes and composition was fundamental to Bauhaus teachings.

The focus of Frobel’s teaching were a series of “Gifts and Occupations” comprised of geometric blocks (gifts) and basic craft activities (occupations). The gifts increased in complexity as the child progressed through the educational system, culminating in enough complexity to construct representations of their world with the blocks. The children began to see the world as a construction of basic elements, a theme continued and propagated by Bauhaus teachings.

Distilling the complexities of the world to their intrinsic properties became a central tenet of the Bauhaus. For Kandinsky, these often resulted in complex representations comprised of basic shapes and lines.

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Orange by Wassily Kandinsky in 1923 / Wassily Kandisnky.net

The practice of geometric simplification began in early education and continued through the university for those studying at the Bauhaus.

It is no wonder then that the complexities of natural forms were represented by rectilinear green shapes in the landscape of the Bauhaus campus in Dessau. They didn’t have the geometric language to represent the complexities of natural forms; fractal geometry wasn’t discovered by Benoit Mandelbrot until 1975.

In Beyond Triangle Square Circle: Fractal Geometry, Alan Wolf explains the mathematical principles of fractals as an abstraction of natural geometries that cannot be expressed through an intrinsic or simple geometry, only through an increasingly complex internal relationship between its parts.

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Romanesco broccoli approximates natural fractals / Wikipedia

Bauhaus’ attempts to distill all natural elements to their essences doesn’t work in a chaotic world. Today, complexity is central to our contemporary understanding of how natural and cultural systems work. For example, landscape and ecological processes, rather than formal qualities, guide projects like Fresh Kills Park by landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations.

Freshkills Park master plan / Freshkills Park, James Corner Field Operations

The Bauhaus’ use of geometry to represent the world still holds, but the geometry we use to represent it has evolved alongside our updated conception of nature as an interwoven set of systems interacting in increasingly complex ways.

As Alan Wolf writes: “since the discovery of fractal geometry in 1975, it is no longer possible to represent nature with a starter Lego set limited to such simple forms as triangle, square, and circle. Now we know that we need an advanced set of building blocks, which includes fractal forms of various types.”

Global Reforestation Could Drawdown Carbon but Also Jeopardize Water Supplies

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Eucalyptus Plantation in Arimalam, India / Wikipedia

In the global scramble to reduce carbon emissions, planting more trees is always near the top of the list of solutions. Pegged as a low-cost, natural, and scalable approach, projects like the Great Green Wall in North Africa, Pakistan’s 10 Billion Tree Tsunami, and New York City’s Million Tree Program raise the bar for this climate change mitigation strategy. While a new scientific study found there is untapped potential for carbon sequestration through planetary reforestation, other researchers are concerned about how growing new forests could reduce the focus on preserving existing old growth forests or negatively impact the water supply in developing countries.

The recent study published in Science, led by Thomas W. Crowther at ETH-Zürich, posits that an increase in 0.9 billion hectares (2.2 billion acres) of new forests, an amount that would cover about 14 percent of habitable land, could sequester 205 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere. This means a forest roughly the size of the United States or China could sequester more than five times the annual carbon output of the planet.

Under current climate conditions, the Earth could support a maximum of 4.4 billion hectares (10.9 billion acres) of forests. Approximately 2.8 billion hectares (6.9 billion acres) are currently forested. This leaves 1.6 billion hectares (4 billion acres) were additional forest could be planted. The research team removed land used for crop-based agriculture or cities,”which are necessary for supporting an ever-growing human population,” leaving 0.9 billion hectares (2.2 billion acres) available for forest restoration.

Across the lifetime of these proposed new forests, the trees would sequester 205 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere. For reference, we have released 1,510 gigatons of carbon to date (as of 2015), and some 55 percent of that has been sequestered by oceans and plants.

A sequestration strategy of this magnitude would make a sizable dent in the total carbon released into the atmosphere, but needs to be matched with reductions in fossil fuel use and other major forms of greenhouse gas emissions. The World Resources Institute (WRI) reports that 37.1 gigatons of carbon were released in 2018 alone. At this rate, more carbon will be released than can be captured by the new forests during the 50-100 years it will take for the trees to mature.

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A 15-year old reforestation project, U.S. / Wikipedia

The research team is correct in asserting that global tree restoration is “our most effective climate change solution to date,” but some researchers fear that addressing one warning light may turn on others.

For example, focusing on planting new forests instead of preserving old growth trees can have negative impacts. Large, old trees, which support greater biodiversity and sequester more carbon than younger trees, are “declining in forests of all latitudes,” according to a 2012 study. Old growth forests are able to sequester more carbon than their younger counterparts because they are still rapidly growing and increasing their carbon storage capacity. Preserving older forests while implementing massive reforestation efforts would yield the greatest potential for carbon capture and forest ecosystem health.

Protecting large old trees is an important part of the climate mitigation effort, and something that landscape architects working at a variety of scales can support. Every reforestation effort, even in an urban park, should take into account existing trees and the role they play in ecosystems.

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General Sherman Tree, the largest living tree by volume / Wikipedia

Trees need water to thrive. The renewed call for mass reforestation across the globe has some researchers worried about the effect this will have on local water supplies.

In a recent study published in Nature, Jaivime Evaristo and Jeffery J. McDonnell examine the impact of forest management practices, such as deforestation, conversion into agricultural land, regrowth, and afforestation (growing new forests), on the availability of water in watersheds. The study develops a vegetation-to-bedrock model, which considers the geology of a given region in relation to its capacity to store water.

The researchers found that deforestation and conversion of forests into agricultural land increases the volume of water present in almost all watersheds, while regrowth of forests and afforestation reduced the volume of water. “The vast majority of the water loss in afforested and reforested areas is from evapotranspiration, which is a combination of evaporation from soil and other surfaces and transpiration from plants.”

Afforestation and deforestation have the largest impacts on streamflow in watersheds. Deforestation can cause flash floods, but reforestation can lead to droughts.

The data also shows the percentage change in tree cover is correlated to the socio-economic status of a country. Developing and least developed countries lose the most tree cover while developed and emerging countries lose the least. The researchers think this correlation between tree-cover change and economic status “suggests that countries that have infrastructure in place for capturing and storing water may be least vulnerable to possible water supply shortages associated with planting schemes.”

Furthermore, the research team concludes the magnitude of a forest management technique is correlated with the water-yield response. Reforesting nearly 14 percent of the landmass is a massive change, one that would surely have consequences for local communities and ecosystems.

The researchers recognize their streamflow analysis could be used most prudently “for re-calibrating the cost-benefit matrix of climate change mitigation schemes (for example, planting and removal) in different geo-climate regions around the world.”

5G Is Coming to a Street Near You

Small cell installation on top of a street light in Charlotte, North Carolina / Crown Castle

5G wireless data networks are coming, but there still are important questions about their equitable implementation and energy consumption and their implications for our data privacy. Both the complexities and promises of 5G were discussed by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner Geoffrey Starks and senior vice president of public policy for Samsung John Godfrey in The Transformative Power of 5G, a panel at Transformable: Cities, a Washington Post Live event exploring how technology is altering cities.

A 5G network looks a lot different than previous cell service infrastructure. Rather than 200-foot-tall towers scattered throughout a large area, 5G will need small cell towers placed frequently in order fully carry its data capacity. Some estimates claim a small cell tower will need to be placed every 500 feet to achieve maximum bandwidth.

The increase in data capacity and speed is related to the bandwidth of the frequency used to carry wireless data. Without drilling into the technical details of the different spectra, there are three frequency bands being proposed: low, medium, and high. The low bandwidth can travel the farthest distance and pass through trees and some other obstacles, but has the lowest data rate. Conversely, the high band can only travel shorter distance, but carries the most data. Optimized networks use all three spectra.

5G towers can be easily attached to existing infrastructure, like street lights in cities, but can be intrusive in neighborhoods and implausible in rural areas due to the distance between properties. Commissioner Starks was sensitive to the disparity, concerned that “those with much are getting more while everyone else is left behind.” He went on to cite an FCC report stating 19 million Americans do not have access to broadband, let alone 4G.

Godfrey echoed this concern, but added that low band was going to be rolled-out across the U.S. and it is uncertain if the medium and high frequency will be as widespread in rural areas as it will be in urban areas. Both panelists agreed that all three bandwidths will be necessary to realize a 5G network as advertised.

The FCC, the government agency responsible for regulating radio, television, and telephone companies in the U.S., put forth rules limiting the price local governments could charge telecom companies to $270 per small cell installation. Furthermore, they required local municipalities to approve or deny new build requests within 60 days. Both of these changes prompted 24 cities to file three law suits against the FCC, which are currently working their way through the courts.

While the lawsuits are pending, local governments have to comply with the FCC’s 5G streamlining plan. In Washington D.C., where regulatory boards oversee changes to the built environment, there was push back on the design of the small cells. For cities without regulatory boards, 5G is coming, and it is coming fast.

Both Godfrey and Commissioner Sparks said the experience you will have with your phone will be different in five years time. Godfrey expanded the changes beyond phones to include any number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, including “every cow in a dairy herd,” to laughs from the crowd. But it wasn’t a joke: in the UK, dairy cows have 5G collars, collecting biofeedback data and relaying it to milking robots.

Real-time feedback is possible with 5G, paving the way for autonomous vehicles and increasingly data intensive objects. Commissioner Starks is concerned about what this means for future data privacy: “The amount of data that is coursing through these devices is something we are going to be intentional about — how data is handled, managed, and secured.”

Starks’ privacy concern and Godfrey’s enthusiasm about 5G as a potential for innovation revolve around the IoT, and the enormous amount of data these products use and produce. Both panelists expected to see an explosion of new connected products, such as smart refrigerators and wearable devices, as 5G becomes widespread.

The coming tsunami of data will inundate data centers, creating the demand for more, a point not mentioned by either panelist. Data centers now contribute 0.3 percent of greenhouse emissions, but the entire network of information and communications technology (ICT) accounts for 2 percent of global emissions, the equivalent of the airline industry.

While data centers account for only a small portion of the total emissions, nearly all of their growth has been within the past decade and is expected to exponentially increase. Some models predict data centers could account for 20 percent of the world’s energy consumption by the time a child born today becomes a teen.

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Transformer Station outside Google data center in The Dalles, Oregon / Wikipedia

Many tech giants are aware of this, and have promised to use renewable energy to power their data centers. In a 2017 report on how green internet companies are, Greenpeace found Google uses 66 percent clean energy, Facebook uses 76 percent, while Amazon and Netflix use 43 percent.

Companies are making strides to keep their commitment to clean power in the face of incredible data growth. Hopefully, they can outpace the predicted tripling of their energy consumption in the next decade.