Good Design Is Sustainable

Perk Park, Cleveland by Thomas Balsley Associates / Land Studio
Perk Park, Cleveland by Thomas Balsley Associates / Land Studio

Good landscape design is intrinsically sustainable. While a certain level of ecological sustainability may be achieved by adhering to a checklist of environmental best practices, long-term sustainability is achieved by engaging broader cultural, economic, and socio-economic goals. It’s now widely recognized that city dwellers tend to live a less wasteful and more energy-efficient lifestyle than those who live in the suburbs or rural areas. So if well-designed urban public spaces are able to counteract the discomforts of high density, then more people will live happily, and sustainably, in cities. This was the crux of the argument made by landscape architects Martha Schwartz, FASLA, Ken Smith, FASLA, and Thomas Balsley, FASLA, in a recent panel discussion organized by the New York chapter of ASLA.

During the course of their long careers, these renowned designers have experienced two major shifts in the field of landscape architecture. One is the greater inclusion of ecological principles in design. The other is a shift in our cultural attitudes towards cities — from viewing them as unfavorable to celebrating them.

Each presented projects that engage sustainability on multiple levels and time scales.

Perk Park, a one-acre park in downtown Cleveland, was a vestige of 1970s-era landscape architecture, when parks were designed as places to protect oneself from the stress of the surrounding city. “What happened, in fact, is that the space became inaccessible, it didn’t have sight lines. There were places to hide. Eventually, people wouldn’t even go in there, so it really held back the growth and vitality of the neighborhood,” said Thomas Balsley. His firm, SWA/Balsley, re-designed the park so it celebrated and engaged with the surrounding environment, blurring the edges between the park and the city (see image above).

One popular element of Perk Park is its “urban porch,” a linear pergola covering seating that lines the sidewalk. “You can sit at the porch and be in touch with the streetscape but also the park and be in dialogue with both.” The park became so vibrant that local corporations and retail began to occupy the surrounding buildings, just to be near the park.

By preserving existing trees and including new permeable green space in the densest and most impervious area of a major city, basic elements of urban ecological sustainability were achieved. Moreover, by providing what Balsley calls “a stage for daily urban life to happen,” the park achieves a long-term and nuanced form of sustainability.

“Really great design makes a difference, and it makes more of a difference than OK design,” said Schwartz. “What we see affects us psychologically and emotionally. How a space looks can determine whether or not it will be used, and therefore maintained.” The public will become active stewards of a well-designed space, but if a space is not considered valuable, “all the technologies and the well-meaning environmental practices we bring to it will disappear over time.”

For Schwartz, a successful public space is both resilient and heavily used. She achieves these goals by weaving a narrative specific to each site, as well as creating landscapes that challenge and intrigue the public. Grand Canal Square by Martha Schwartz Partners in Dublin, Ireland, uses towering, off-kilter red poles, criss-crossing paths, and a paved red “carpet.” Built before much of the surrounding development, the square’s acclaim has ushered in economic resilience. The Dublin offices of Google and Twitter are now the square’s neighbors, and the property values surrounding the square stayed steady during a time of economic downturn.

Grand Canal Square Dublin by Martha Schwartz Partners / Martha Schwartz Partners
Grand Canal Square Dublin by Martha Schwartz Partners / Martha Schwartz Partners

As part of the East River Waterfront Esplanade in Manhattan, which Ken Smith Workshop has been working on for a decade, Smith and his studio designed and built a prototype mussel habitat. Working with ecologists and marine engineers, Smith selected a concrete-textured substrate and designed a gradient of rocks to encourage the growth of mussel colonies.

In terms of providing a measurable ecological boost in the context of the East River, this 65-foot-long prototype of a constructed mussel habitat is likely only a drop in the bucket. However, being able to see the tides move up and down a slope as it fosters aquatic life is a unique sight in New York City, where hard vertical edges dominate the waterfront. Reminders that these natural processes occur amid the industry and infrastructure of the city can bring a sense of wonder to visitors, and perhaps encourage stewardship.

East River Waterfront mussel habitat pilot project / Ken Smith Workshop
East River Waterfront mussel habitat pilot project / Ken Smith Workshop

The common belief is that good design means sacrificing sustainability or vice versa. But these landscape architects challenged this assumption. Schwartz said: “To have something work sustainably in terms of its ecological processes, it doesn’t have to look a certain way. Sustainability doesn’t have an aesthetic. If you use your creativity, there’s no reason why there is any separation between design and sustainability.”

This guest post is by Chella Strong, Assoc. ASLA, a recent master’s of landscape architecture graduate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design. 

The First Phase of the QueensWay Takes Shape

QueensWay elevated track / The New York Times.
QueensWay elevated track / The New York Times.

“The QueensWay reminds me of those dreams all New Yorkers have of finding a room in your apartment you never knew was there. It’s as if we’ve found 47 acres of parkland that had been sitting in the middle of Queens, unnoticed all these years,” said Gregory Wessner, executive director of Open House New York, host of a discussion on the QueensWay, a linear park being built on an abandoned rail line in Queens. In a city where space is at a premium, the prospect of a new 47-acre park creates a lot of buzz. After many years of discussion and planning, designs for the QueensWay are finally moving forward.

The 3.5-mile rail line that will become the QueensWay was the northern stretch of the Long Island Rail Road’s Rockaway Beach line, which was closed in 1962 and left abandoned. It runs through six neighborhoods that are some of the most culturally-diverse areas on the planet, as well as the 538-acre Forest Park.

In 2011, a group of people who live near the rail line came together as Friends of the QueensWay to advocate for the park’s creation. They partnered with the Trust for Public Land (TPL) and together made a strong case for the QueensWay — at least 322,000 people live within a mile radius of it.

“Just to put this into perspective, if this area were an actual city, it would be larger than St. Louis, Pittsburgh, or Orlando,” said Travis Terry, with the Friends of the QueensWay steering committee.

The QueensWay will provide a safe north-south bike route. Parts of the rail line are dark, strewn with litter, with evidence of drug use. Turning it into a park will improve lighting and security. Twelve public schools and two little league facilities are within a 5-minute walk. Those nearby schools lack open space. One of the schools doesn’t even have a playground, so to give the kids the exercise required by the department of education, teachers must walk them around the block. The QueensWay will give this school and others space to take students for recess or outdoor classroom experiences.

The QueensWay started with a grant from the state of New York, and, with this, the Friends of the QueensWay and TPL conducted a feasibility study, developed a plan, and held community workshops. With endorsements from elected officials, they received another state grant to cover the design of the first half mile, which is called the Metro Hub and will serve as a prototype that can help attract funding for the remaining 3 miles of the park. The team is about halfway through schematic designs for the first phase, which are being created by landscape architects at DLANDstudio and urban designers and planners with WXY Studio. The project is expected to cost some $120 million in total.

QueensWay phase 1 design / DLANDstudio
QueensWay phase 1 design / DLANDstudio

Susannah Drake, FASLA, DLANDstudio, showed an image of the current rail line, lush and green. “Parts of the rail line are incredibly beautiful. It almost looks like the Adirondacks. We want to draw upon that poetry and beauty and bring that to the project.” This beauty, along with a rigorous process for gathering community input, will guide the design.

QueensWay trail / The New York Times
QueensWay trail / The New York Times

The richly varied conditions, and their juxtaposition with the surrounding urban fabric, fascinate Drake. Since rail lines need to stay relatively flat, the southern portion runs through an embankment. In the middle stretch, where the terminal moraine of a past glacier rises up, the rail passes over a ravine. And at the north end, it becomes a raised structure.

“Fundamentally, what we are dealing with are landscape layers: we have ground, understory, and canopy layers. What we’re trying to do is make very careful adjustments to these layers so they function better and are more beautiful.”

Many of the existing trees will be kept, but the tangled underbrush will be removed. “Here we have a landscape that has grown, un-bothered, for 60 years. You just can’t buy that time, you couldn’t put in 60 year old trees,” said Drake.

The landscape design refers to the past practice of the Dutch farmers of Queens: it delineates spaces with walls built with stones from the moraine. In areas that run through dense residential neighborhoods, the design will encourage trail users to move through quickly, so they remain quiet and secure.

QueensWay Phase 1 design / DLANDstudio
QueensWay Phase 1 design / DLANDstudio

The incredibly popular High Line in Manhattan looms large in discussions about the QueensWay. In truth, the projects are quite different. The Queensway is not expected to be the tourist magnet the High Line is. At least 95 percent of visitors to the High Line are tourists from other parts of New York City or outside the city, whereas early projections predict that 75 percent of visitors to the QueensWay will be from adjacent neighborhoods. The Queensway will allow bikes and dogs while the High Line does not. And the QueensWay will be 2.5-times longer than the High Line.

With the High Line came a wave of high-rise development, causing property values and rents to explode in the surrounding area. The rapid change that came in Chelsea has some Queens residents nervous. Will the QueensWay lead to new development that displaces existing residents? The speakers said no.

The surrounding neighborhoods enjoy a relatively high rate of home ownership and residential zoning laws allow for only one or two family homes. While they hope the flow of people along the linear park will invigorate existing businesses, they don’t expect it to significantly change the demographics of the neighborhoods.

“New York has for a long time been a leader in the transformation of leftover and non-traditional spaces” said Andy Stone, with TPL. This project promises to be another in this lineage, but perhaps without the gentrifying effects.

This guest post is by Chella Strong, Assoc. ASLA, a recent master’s of landscape architecture graduate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design. 

ASLA Announces 2017 Professional and Student Awards Call for Entries

ASLA 2016 Professional General Design Honor Award. Grand Teton National Park Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, Swift Company / Nic Lehoux
ASLA 2016 Professional General Design Honor Award. Grand Teton National Park Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, Swift Company / Nic Lehoux

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) announces its calls for entries for the 2017 Professional and Student Awards, the world’s most prestigious juried landscape architecture competition. Each year, the ASLA Professional Awards honor the best in landscape architecture from around the globe, while the ASLA Student Awards give us a glimpse into the future of the profession.

Award-winning submissions will be featured in Landscape Architecture Magazine and in many other design and construction industry and general-interest media. Award recipients, their clients and student advisors also will be honored at the awards presentation ceremony during the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Los Angeles, October 20-23, 2017. Award-winning submissions will also be featured in a video presentation at the ceremony and on the awards website following the event.

The prestige of the ASLA awards programs relies on the high-caliber juries that are convened each year to review submissions. Members of this year’s professional awards jury are:

  • Elizabeth Miller, FASLA, chair, National Capital Planning Commission, Washington, D.C.
  • Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, DesignJones LLC, New Orleans
  • Maureen Alonso, U.S. General Services Administration, Washington, D.C.
  • James Brasuell, Planetizen, Los Angeles
  • James Lord, ASLA, Surfacedesign Inc., San Francisco
  • Janet Rosenberg, FASLA, Janet Rosenberg Studio, Toronto, Ontario
  • Glen Schmidt, FASLA, Schmidt Design Group Inc., San Diego
  • Todd Wichman, FASLA, Stantec, St. Paul, Minn.
  • Barbara Wyatt, ASLA, National Park Service, Washington, D.C.

Joining the jury for the selection of the Research Category will be M. Elen Deming, ASLA, University of Illinois, Champaign, Ill., on behalf of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) and Charlene LeBleu, FASLA, Auburn University, Auburn, Ala., on behalf of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA).

Members of the student awards jury are:

  • Barbara Swift, FASLA, chair, Swift Company llc, Seattle
  • Michael Albert, ASLA, Design Workshop, Aspen, Colo.
  • Meg Calkins, FASLA, Ball State University, Muncie, Ind.
  • Mark Focht, FASLA, New York City Parks & Recreation, New York
  • Robert Page, FASLA, Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, Boston
  • James Richards, FASLA, Townscape Inc., Fort Worth, Texas
  • Roberto Rovira, ASLA, Florida International University, Studio Roberto Rovira, Miami
  • Meghan Stromberg, American Planning Association, Chicago
  • Mercedes Ward, ASLA, New York City Parks and Recreation, Flushing, N.Y.

Both the ASLA Professional and Student awards feature five categories: General Design; Residential Design; Analysis and Planning; Communications; and Research. The Professional Awards also include The Landmark Award, while the Student Awards include the Student Community Service Award and Student Collaboration categories.

Entry submissions and payment must be received by April 17, 2017 for ASLA Professional Awards and May 15, 2017 for ASLA Student Awards.

Parks Without Borders: Creating a Seamless Public Realm

Rocky Run Park / Flickr
Rocky Run Park, Arlington, Virginia / Flickr

“Parks are not islands that exist in isolation, they are connected to streets, sidewalks, and public spaces,” said NYC parks commissioner Mitchell Silver. “It’s our goal to create a seamless public realm for New York City.” The Parks Without Borders discussion series kicked off last week to a standing-room only crowd in Central Park’s Arsenal gallery. The enthusiasm generated by the Parks Without Borders summit held last spring inspired Silver to build the momentum with a series of shorter discussions. For this one, park leaders from three different cities, each with a uniquely successful park system, were invited to address the question: How can innovative park planning create a more seamless public realm?

Every day, 25,000 people go to work at the Pentagon, and the majority of these people live in Arlington, Virginia. How has a county that is both transit-oriented and a D.C. bedroom community come to have the 4th best park system in America? Jane Rudolph, director of the parks and recreation department for Arlington, uses a collaboration approach to find new spaces for parks and create a more seamless public realm. This approach allows the department to not only create new parks, but also encourage their cultural and spatial integration into an increasingly dense and diverse town. Joining forces with developers, the school district and local universities have enabled the Arlington parks system to expand and flourish, fitting new parks into areas not originally planned for such. These partnerships have lead to successful recreational spaces, such as Rocky Run Park (see image above).

Unlike Arlington, a county planned with a dearth of open space, Minneapolis is a city blessed with the structure that fosters an exceptional parks system, for two reasons: there is an abundance of natural resources, and Horace Cleveland, a forward-thinking landscape architect, developed an early master plan of the city during an industrial boom. Because of Cleveland, 70 percent of the land abutting the city’s 22 lakes remains public open space. Consequently, the people of Minneapolis are serious about their parks. The parks system’s trails are used so heavily by commuters that Jayne Miller, superintendent of Minneapolis parks and recreation board, says “We get calls if the trails aren’t cleared [of snow] by 6am.”

The challenge becomes how to keep playing this vital role in the lives of its citizens, addressing the needs of an increasingly diverse, younger, and more international population. One of the strategies is to provide safe space for low income and at-risk youth, introducing them to the parks through gardening, employment programs, and environmental education. In terms of creating and improving spaces, Minneapolis recently finished a new 4.2-acre park, Downtown East Commons, which used to be a parking lot, and they now have the country’s first public natural filtration swimming pool in Webber Park.

Webber Park / Star Tribune
Webber Park / Star Tribune

Like many American cities, Philadelphia experienced a significant drop in population between 1960 and 2000 when industry left, resulting in drastic cuts in the tax revenue. Public spaces were hit hard. As the population climbed again in the 2000s, the city scrambled to improve the facilities, starting with Center City. As a result, a number of beautiful and iconic public spaces, such as Spruce Street Harbor Park, Dilworth Park, and the Schuylkill River trail, were recently created.

“The real question remains: can we replicate the success we had in Center City” in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods of Philadelphia?, asked new commissioner of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Kathryn Ott Lovell. To ensure they are able to create a more seamless public realm and re-integrate forgotten parks into the fabric of the city, the department is using two strategies. The short term strategy is enliven all open space, regardless of its condition, with pop-up events, such as traveling the beer garden Parks on Tap. The longer term strategy is to invest a half a billion dollars in civic infrastructure, with a focus on the parks hit hardest by disinvestment.

Parks on Tap at Powers Park / Parks on Tap
Parks on Tap at Powers Park / Parks on Tap

As the discussion drew to a close, Lynn Kelly, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, said, “If this doesn’t leave you with the impression that parks are as necessary to cities as sewers, roads, and schools, I don’t know what else will. Parks are a city’s soul.”

This guest post is by Chella Strong, Assoc. ASLA, a recent master’s of landscape architecture graduate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design. 

Book Review: NACTO Global Street Design Guide

NACTO Global Street Design Guide / Island Press
NACTO Global Street Design Guide / Island Press

The Global Street Design Guide is the latest in a series of publications from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) that re-imagines our urban streets as more multi-dimensional, aesthetic, efficient, safe and enjoyable spaces. The Global Street Design Guide uncovers what works in cities around the world, the cities that are trying to use streets for place making and city building. This invaluable guide brings together extremely useful information and metrics that can assist city administrations, urban designers, planners, landscape architects, and the public in forging new directions in street design. That said, this guide really needs to target city administrations and their engineering departments if it is to truly become an effective, transformative tool.

There still is a formidable battle going on out there between those who see streets as the domain of the automobile and those who don’t. For many cities, this polarized view has become extreme, perhaps, ironically, more so in progressive cities that have tried hard to integrate alternate forms of transportation and uses into the existing network. This guide can help make the case for multi-modal or, as otherwise known, complete streets.

Global Street Design Guide / NACTO
Global Street Design Guide / NACTO
Simple, clear plan diagrams communicating instantly the accommodation of people moving that could be achieved when a shift from a car oriented to multi-modal street is pursued / NACTO
Simple, clear plan diagrams communicating instantly the accommodation of people moving that could be achieved when a shift from a car oriented to multi-modal street is pursued / NACTO

Because many cities have differing standards, customs, and uses for their streets, this book cannot serve as a template for a specific design (nor do I think it’s intended to be). However, this guide contains all the background data, standards, and dimensions needed to help any designer build a layered, competent, and thorough street design in any part of the world. At the very least, it will help in reducing the guess work and sometimes incorrect assumptions that many designers make when it comes to how streets really work.

My own experiences in China highlight that streets there are very different than from those in Western countries. For example, it is not uncommon, along both major and secondary streets, to see commercial frontages, with widened pedestrian areas planned as public places, be partially or wholly taken over by parking. This parking then disrupts pedestrian flows and the ability to use streets as public spaces. Designers must deal with this reality and patiently try to transform practices.

In China, city planners typically set broad goals for better street design, but decisions to proceed one way or the other are made at a political level, then filter back down to the administrative level, before becoming a part of the design parameters of most streetscape projects. Nonetheless, things are changing. I can see the information in this book as being extremely helpful with developing strategic opening salvos during the preliminary stages of large scale streetscape projects in cities where I currently practice.

Additionally, the practical dimensional information in the guide should be well received by city planners in Asia, where in most cities Western urban design ideas are held in high regard. Because the information contained in this book has been guided by some of the world’s leading thinkers on city building, transportation, and open space design, it becomes an even more potent and convincing arrow in the urban design quiver.

There is a chapter on phasing and interim strategies that I found particularly compelling, since from experience, this is indeed a good way to build consensus with nervous or skeptical stakeholders.

I appreciate the book’s graphic style. The many illustrative drawings include diagrams, plans, sections and well-modeled, 3-D birds’ eye views. They are unadorned, factual, simple, and clear.

3D models, bird's eye view / NACTO
3D models, bird’s eye view / NACTO

Clear, concise sectional geometry options and how they respond the various user needs. This type of tool could be helpful when deciding which geometries could serve a particular project best.

Clear, concise sectional geometry options and how they respond the various user needs. This type of tool could be helpful when deciding which geometries could serve a particular project best / NACTO
Diagrams / NACTO

But I also found a few faults with the book. Including many global urban case studies is helpful and informative. However, from my own experience, there are many more good examples out there. Appreciating that a book like this simply cannot feature them all, perhaps a more comprehensive listing of lesser known, but exemplary global examples could be included in the next edition. Readers could then search more on their own.

The overall quality of the photographs is somewhat lacking. They could have perhaps been better placed, higher quality, and more impactful. In some cases they just didn’t seem like the right shot to communicate the idea. A few of the two page spreads register rather poorly along the spine margin resulting in some of the information irritatingly obscured.

All in all, the NACTO Global Street Design Guide should finds its way onto the shelves of all design and planning firms responsible for improving urban streets, regardless of where they practice. As important, it should also be in the hands of politicians, administrators, and engineers who collectively are very much in control of the direction our cities are heading.

Greg Smallenberg, FASLA, is a principal at PFS Studio, a global planning, urban design, and landscape architecture firm based in Vancouver, Canada. In addition to his North American and European work, he often undertakes large-scale planning, design and streetscape projects in Asia with Conglian Landscape Architecture and Planning Shanghai Ltd., a strategically allied joint enterprise with offices in Shanghai, Ningbo and Guangzhou, China.

Watch Now: Inside the Landscape Architect’s Studio

Each year at the ASLA Annual Meeting, some of the world’s top landscape architects and designers explain themselves in front of audiences of hundreds. These designers give in-depth presentations, explaining the logic behind their designs and their latest projects. Now, ASLA has made these presentations available online for free. From the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in Chicago, you can watch more than 6 hours of videos:

Inside the LA Studio with DesignJones (see video above)

Join speakers Diane Jones Allen and Austin Allen as they discuss their years of professional and academic practice. They will share their experiences pursuing environmental justice projects, ground up approaches to planning and design, intricately linking Research and practice on all projects regardless of scale, and unique approaches to community outreach regarding critical social and infrastructure urbanism problems.

Watch Austin Allen, ASLA, associate professor, Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, LSU, New Orleans; Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, principal landscape architect, DesignJones.  Moderated by Jennifer Reut, senior editor, Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Inside the LA Studio with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

The leaders at MVVA see new projects as more than just business. Each design is an opportunity to challenge our assumptions, learn through experimentation, and grow both individually and collectively. In this session we will use case studies to explore the value of teaching and learning through practice as means to achieve design excellence.

Watch Chris Donohue, ASLA; Scott Streeb, ASLA, landscape designer; Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, President and CEO; and Andy Wisniewski, ASLA, senior designer, all with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. Moderated by Shannon Nichol, FASLA, founding partner, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol.

Inside the LA Studio with Oehme, van Sweden & Associates

An award-winning practice, OvS has garnered international recognition for pioneering a systemic approach to sustainable design. The firm’s body of work illustrates what is possible when art, science, and environmental sensitivity equally drive the design process. Now, under its second generation of leadership, the partners will discuss the firm’s continued innovation.

Watch Sheila A. Brady, FASLA, vice President, principal; Lisa E. Delplace, ASLA, CEO + principal; and Eric Groft, FASLA, principal, Oehme, van Sweden & Associates. Moderated by Charles A. Birnbaum, FASLA, president/CEO, The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Inside the LA Studio with Rana Creek Design

Rana Creek is a renowned ecological design firm specializing in landscape architecture, environmental planning, native plant propagation, landscape construction, and habitat restoration. This diverse team believes passionately in the mission to design and build landscapes that connect people, places, culture, and ecology.

Watch Blake Jopling, ASLA, project manager + designer; Marta Kephart, vice president and COO; Sina Yousefi, design associate; and Matthew P. Yurus, ASLA, principal landscape architect; and Paul Kephart, ASLA, ecologist, all with Rana Creek Living Architecture. Moderated by José Alminana, FASLA, principal, Andropogon Associates.

Use Video to Tell the Story of Landscape Architecture

Landscape architecture is well behind the curve of using video to distinguish itself in the digital age, a trend I don’t see changing anytime soon. However, the opportunity is there for the taking. And if you don’t watch out, other design professions will seize the moment before landscape architects do. We’ve already had Architecture School, a Sundance TV miniseries, but that was six years ago and not much has been offered up since. But mark my words, it’s coming, and this is precisely where my own passions have intersected in recent years.

As a landscape architecture graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, I opted to make a documentary film for my capstone thesis instead of creating a landscape design. I was interested in hearing what people on the street had to say about an urban design project going on right under their feet. I completed the 25-minute long documentary This Is Market Street about San Francisco’s Better Market Street Project, a multi-million dollar streetscape project that will eventually replace 2.2 miles of San Francisco’s most prominent thoroughfare.

An issue that stuck with me was the danger posed by car traffic to pedestrians in a walkable city like San Francisco. The pedestrian advocacy group Walk San Francisco, which helped me promote the documentary, has been at the forefront of advocating for a safer, more walkable San Francisco since 1998. Last year, they commissioned me to create a public service announcement about Safe Streets for Seniors, and I jumped at the chance to use film to talk about cities once again.

My team and I created a 3-minute long short film, There’s Always a Way, using stop-motion animation to tell the story of a young boy whose grandmother is killed at a busy crosswalk (see video at top). We built models reminiscent of design school projects, studied traffic design solutions, constructed tiny crosswalks, and even fabricated some angry drivers for good measure. The process was analog, with us cramped in a tiny studio for weeks of animating and inching model cars along painted roads, frame by frame. The response has been exciting and supportive. To my satisfaction, the video has encouraged a discussion about our lives and environments.

Stories are the tool missing from the landscape architecture, a field which intertwines with people’s daily lives. Stories can get lost in the policies, the plant lists, and the concept drawings. We should pause to hear stories more often, and, if so inspired, make some of our own.

This guest post is by Darryl Jones, ASLA, who recently worked at PWP Landscape Architecture in Berkeley, California, and is now a filmmaker based in Oakland, CA. More of his film work is available at darryljonesfilms.com.

How to Restore Neighborhood Streams

Restoring Neighborhood Streams / Island Press
Restoring Neighborhood Streams / Island Press

Over the last 30 years, urban stream restoration has evolved from neighborhood and non-profit-led volunteer projects to full-scale public works projects. Dr. Ann Riley, executive director of the Waterways Restoration Institute, explained this evolution of stream restoration in her 1998 book, Restoring Streams in Cities: A Guide for Policymakers, Planners, and Citizens. Eighteen years later, she documents the path of six important projects in the San Francisco Bay area in her new book, Restoring Neighborhood Steams: Planning, Design and Construction.

Restoring Neighborhood Streams dives deep into the details. However, all of us that are involved in restoring urban habitats — from streams, creeks, to shorelines — will benefit from reviewing how communities started these projects, analyzed opportunities, and applied lessons learned. She tells stories about the projects, but also delves into engineering technologies. Anyone involved in stream restoration can apply the ideas and results presented in the book to their urban green infrastructure projects.

The book begins and also ends with discussion on what “restoration” means. We view restoration through many lenses: engineering analyses, stormwater metrics, and urban aesthetics. She explains there are different degrees of restoration as well: we can enhance streams’ function or ecology, or preserve their history to certain levels.

In striving towards historic recreation, six case studies take the reader through the decision-making process needed to determine appropriate interventions. Case studies demonstrate the success of bio-engineering and imply the failure of traditional planting plans.

More pointedly, Riley argues for using a phased approach to stream restoration work, layering plant material while stabilizing channels at the same time. Riley stresses that successful work depends on a collaborative, multi-disciplinary team of landscape architects, engineers, scientists, communications specialists, and maintenance workers.

While stream restoration projects are now largely led by city public works departments, it’s  clear the key to successful projects is participation by the community. The book uses neighborhood streams as a focal point to discuss the many issues that affect communities — wildlife habitat, water quality, public safety, homelessness, education, environmental legislation, and green jobs.

If you are doing urban restoration or green stormwater infrastructure projects, reading this book should trigger many ideas. Reading through Riley’s deconstruction of these six projects should help guide you to success.

This guest post is by Peg Staeheli, FASLA, MIG | SvR

GBCI Launches SITES AP

Green Business Certification Inc.
Green Business Certification Inc.

Green Business Certification Inc.™ (GBCI) announces a new credential for landscape architects and sustainability professionals launching Oct. 1, 2016. The Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®) Accredited Professional (AP) establishes a common framework to define the profession of sustainable landscape design and development and provides landscape professionals with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, expertise and commitment to the profession.

The SITES rating system is a comprehensive program for developing sustainable landscapes that aligns land development and management with innovative sustainable design. SITES defines what a sustainable site is and, ultimately, elevates the value of landscapes in the built environment.

“As LEED® has undeniably transformed the built environment, SITES has the power to transform land development and use to help reduce water demand and improve air quality and human health while also connecting people to nature,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president, GBCI and chief operating officer, USGBC®.

“The introduction of the new SITES credential signifies the growing understanding that a sustainable built environment is not just what is inside the four walls of our homes or offices, but also includes a holistic approach to site selection and landscape development. The SITES AP will designate the leaders in sustainable landscape design and will be an important tool for professionals looking to grow their careers and impact the direction of land development and management.”

SITES provides a metrics-based approach to important concepts like ecosystem services and green infrastructure so that developers and owners can make informed decisions about their land use. Used by landscape architects, engineers, architects, developers, policy makers and others, SITES aims to transform the landscape development and management practices by enabling the creation of regenerative systems and fostering resiliency, ensuring future resource supply and helping mitigate climate change through careful land planning and development practices.

The rating system can be applied to development projects located on sites with or without buildings and draws on the experience gained from a two-year pilot program involving more than 100 projects. Today, 47 projects have achieved SITES certification under the pilot, including landscape projects at corporate headquarters, national and city parks, academic campuses and private homes.

SITES was developed through a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden.

The first sponsored testing opportunity for the SITES AP exam will be held on Oct. 3, 2016, during the annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo at a testing center in Culver City, California. The exam is open to both Greenbuild attendees and those who are not attending the conference. Register for the SITES AP exam.

An additional testing opportunity will be held on Oct. 25, 2016, during the 2016 ASLA Annual Meeting and Expo in New Orleans. Register for the SITES AP exam at ASLA and see other SITES-related education at the ASLA Annual Meeting.

ASLA Survey: Landscape Architecture Student Body Shifts

ASLA 2016 Student Collaboration Honor Award. Bridging Disciplines/Cultivating Health: Using a collaborative international community design/build model to facilitate mental health treatment. University of Washington students / Daniel Winterbottom, FASLA
ASLA 2016 Student Collaboration Honor Award. Bridging Disciplines/Cultivating Health: Using a collaborative international community design/build model to facilitate mental health treatment. University of Washington students / Daniel Winterbottom, FASLA

ASLA recently released its annual graduating student survey, which was completed by graduating students from 46 accredited undergraduate and graduate landscape architecture programs, up from 38 in 2015. A total of 329 students responded. The purpose of this survey is to gather information on post-graduation plans.

While the average age for undergraduates and graduates remained consistent with previous years, 24 and 29 respectively, and the male to female ratio also remained consistent, there was a considerable change in the race of respondents: just 66 percent indicated they are Caucasian, down from 68 percent in 2015 and 70 percent in 2014. The percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students remained unchanged at 20 percent. The number of Hispanic students decreased to 6 percent from 8 percent in 2015. For the first time since 2005, the number of African American students reached 3 percent, or the highest percentage in the survey’s 17-year history. Native American students remained consistent with previous years at just 1 percent.

Students enter graduate landscape architecture programs with diverse educational backgrounds. Those mentioned by two or more respondents include: architecture; art history; communications; environmental design and biology; environmental planning; environmental science; fine arts; geography; graphic design; horticulture; economics; landscape architecture; psychology; and urban planning.

For the second year, the survey asked respondents about how they were funding their education and any education-related debt. 69 percent of undergraduates indicated their parents or grandparents paid or contributed to their education. Graduate students indicated scholarships, federal loan programs, and family funding as the top funding sources. The average amount of debt carried by undergraduates increased slightly from $19,800 to $20,400 and rose from $36,600 to $40,600 for graduate students. The percentage of students with more than $20,000 or more in debt increased to 49 percent from 47 percent in 2015.

For students researching assistance with loan forgiveness, there are several federal loan assistance and forgiveness programs already in place, including the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which forgives debt if a landscape architect works for a government or not-for-profit, like a community design center.

90 percent of respondents indicated they plan to seek employment in the profession, which is consistent with the previous two years, while the number of respondents planning on pursuing additional education remained consistent with last year at 5 percent. Of those looking for a job, 69 percent plan to seek employment in a private sector landscape architecture firm and 9 percent in the public sector. 84 percent intend to seek state licensure.

Respondents were asked to rank a variety of attributes, based on their importance to them in selecting job. The top two rated factors by respondents were geographic location and type of organization, which is consistent with previous years, and the third most important factor, indicated by respondents, is reputation of the organization.

Up from last year, 60 percent of respondents had been on one or more interviews during their final semester. Respondents expected starting salary decreased slightly to $46,400 from $46,600 in 2015. The number of respondents that had one or more job offers decreased to 47 percent from 50 percent in 2015. The average starting salary increase for the second year in a row is $43,600.

The number of respondents who have already started a job dropped slightly to 43 percent from 50 percent in 2015. Three-quarters of respondents who have accepted a job offer indicated the position is with their preferred type of employer, up from two-thirds in 2015.

On benefits: the percentage of respondents reporting that they will receive major medical insurance was up to 93 percent from 82 percent in 2015. The percentage of respondents who will receive 401K retirement benefits decreased to 67 percent from 72 percent in 2015. The percentage of respondents who have employers who pay their professional dues increased for the second year in a row to 29 percent. Other benefits provided by employers were continuing education stipend, Landscape Architecture Registration Board Exam (LARE) reimbursement, and bonuses.

And how did the survey respondents get hooked on landscape architecture? They were most likely to have first learned about the field from talking to a landscape architect or from reading about the field online or in a book, newspaper, or magazine. The number of respondents reporting that a landscape architect visited their school to talk about the profession was only 1 percent. However, 20 percent of all graduating students made at least one visit to an elementary, middle, or high school.

Graduating student surveys dating back to 2002 are posted at ASLA’s Career Discovery web site. Also learn more about ASLA’s diversity efforts.

This guest post is by Susan Apollonio, ASLA Director of Education Programs.