ASLA Statement on the Green New Deal

Green New Deal launch on Capitol Hill / WIkipedia

Significant Overlap Seen Between ASLA’s Report, Smart Policies for a Changing Climate, and Many Provisions of the Green New Deal Resolution

A wide-ranging proposal for a Green New Deal (GND) was introduced on February 7 in the House of Representatives in the form of a resolution sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), with a companion resolution introduced in the Senate by Sen. Edward Markey (Mass.).

Although the current GND resolution is largely aspirational and includes few specific policies, it contains a commitment to core principles of urgent transformational change that are fully compatible with ASLA’s positions, and mirror the recommendations the Society already put forward in our Blue Ribbon Panel report, Smart Policies for a Changing Climate.

Like our report, the GND resolution calls for widespread, immediate action that will ensure clean air and water; climate and community resiliency; access to nature; and a sustainable environment. We also strongly back calls for a national commitment to environmental justice for all Americans, especially for those from underserved, vulnerable, and neglected groups that have historically borne the brunt of the ill-effects of environmental calamities. ASLA supports the underlying principles of the GND resolution that relate specifically to climate change and resilience, and we are pleased that it has served to stimulate public debate about the accelerating climate crisis.

We note that in addition to climate-related policies, the resolution also contains several recommendations about social and economic issues that are beyond the scope of the Society’s mandate and existing policies, matters about which we can take no formal position.

ASLA members can be assured that when the GND is translated into formal legislative proposals to reduce carbon emissions, make transformational changes to infrastructure, and create a robust 21st-century clean-energy economy, ASLA will be at the forefront of the fight to enact them into law. We firmly believe that landscape architects must take a leadership role in planning and designing sustainable, resilient communities and ASLA, without question, will do its part to bring the climate principles of the Green New Deal to fruition.

ASLA is pleased that the Green New Deal resolution has significantly expanded the scope and intensity of the dialogue about climate change and we are extremely gratified that the Society’s report mirrors its major climate and infrastructure goals and we look forward to the legislative proposals that will stem from it.

New Study Shows That for Pedestrians America’s Streets Are “Deadly by Design”

Dangerous by Design 2019 / Smart Growth America and Complete Streets Coalition

An astonishing 6,000 pedestrians were struck and killed by vehicles in 2017, adding to a deadly decade in which 49,340 people were killed on the nation’s streets between 2008 and 2017. Compounding this national tragedy, victims are disproportionately from vulnerable groups, including people of color, those living in low-income communities, Native peoples, and the elderly.

Those are the findings of a new national study entitled Dangerous by Design 2019, issued by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is a founding member of the coalition and a long-time advocate for complete streets policies and practices that elevate pedestrian safety as a top priority.

Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, the executive vice president and CEO of ASLA, welcomed the study, saying, “Too often, danger is built right into our nation’s streets, especially in communities with large elderly populations and people of color. Strong policies are needed that will allow landscape architects to continue to put good street design to work to reduce unnecessary risks and make sure our transportation systems equitably serve all Americans. As cities begin the process of rebuilding and reimagining our decaying urban infrastructure, pedestrian safety must be among our highest priorities.”

Dangerous by Design 2019 / Smart Growth America and Complete Streets Coalition

Somerville added that “The landscape architecture profession plans and designs streetscapes across the country and welcomes this opportunity to direct the attention of the public and policymakers to this deadly daily crisis. Landscape architects are devoted to improving the health, safety, and welfare of every community, and urge the creation of federal, state, and local policies that will correct the tragic inequities that are built into our nation’s aging road systems.”

Dangerous by Design 2019 / Smart Growth America and Complete Streets Coalition

Using the most recent federal data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, the study generates a Pedestrian Danger Index that ranks each state and the 100 most populous metropolitan areas on how deadly they are for people on foot. It also reveals the degree to which vulnerable groups face disproportionate danger and higher risk of death and injury.

Smart Growth America is hosting a public briefing online about the report findings on Thursday, January 24, at 2:30 p.m. EST.

How Can Cities Get a Handle on Electric Scooters?

Bird electric scooters in Santa Monica, California / Madeline Eskind Twitter

Electric scooters have become a familiar sight throughout the country. Dotting street corners in tidy rows in the mornings, placed haphazardly outside office buildings after the lunch hour, and zipping down streets and sidewalks at all hours of the day, electric scooters are fast becoming a ubiquitous feature of the urban landscape. The rapid expansion of electric scooters has drawn both support and criticism. By understanding the pros and cons of electric scooters and various regulatory considerations, landscape architects and urban planners can help cities make the most of this significant private investment in the public realm.

The potential benefits of incorporating electric scooters into a city’s transit infrastructure are substantial. Leading electric scooter companies, such as Bird and Lime, tout their products as an alternative non-vehicular means of transportation, a zero-emission people-moving mechanism that can reduce short distance single-occupant car trips. Commuters who use public transportation for the bulk of their commute and who cannot or do not wish to use a bike for the final distance to the office can avoid a taxi or ride share trip by hopping on a nearby electric scooter. As many scooter riders will tell you, electric scooters also have the benefit of being fun to ride. Tourists are a major subset of electric scooter riders, as they enjoy the ability to see a new city at a leisurely pace without breaking a sweat.

Renting an electric scooter for a ride isn’t quite as simple as hopping on and zipping off. Riders must first download each company’s app using a smartphone. The app shows locations of nearby scooters that are currently unoccupied and ready to be checked out. Typically, scooters are placed in neat rows in groups first thing in the morning, after being charged overnight. Later in the day, scooters may be distributed in more irregular groups as they are ridden and parked in various places by the riders. First-time users of an app also need to enter a credit card for payment (entered one time then used for all subsequent purchases, similar to the way the Uber and Lyft apps work), and a photo of a driver’s license to verify age.

Access to Bird app / Wikipedia
Bird app display / Bird.co

Critics have noted these requirements limit use across the socioeconomic spectrum; Washington D.C. is hoping to develop a method for cash payment. Rides are priced by the minute, timed from check-in to check-out using the app. Some apps also require riders take a photo of the scooter where it is stopped at the end of the ride, in order to record potentially-illegal parking practices used by some riders. Riders can expect to pay a typical fee of $1 to unlock the scooter, plus $0.15 per minute.

Lime scooter in San Diego / Wikipedia

Electric scooters may have launched in California, but 2018 saw the trend spread across the country and throughout the world. With such exponential growth, many cities have multiple competing brands of scooters within the same area. Austin, Texas, has had such high rates of usage that scooter providers have needed to schedule mid-day servicing of their fleets to charge scooters’ batteries. The usefulness of scooters in urban settings and the potential to replace short car trips has increased enormous investment to electric scooter companies. Ford recently purchased Spin for nearly $100 million, while Uber has partnered with Lime.

The first of many regulatory challenges comes with the way a scooter company might choose to launch a fleet in a new city. Several companies initially gained the industry the reputation of “begging for forgiveness rather than first asking for permission” after launching electric scooter fleets without consulting city officials. This prompted San Francisco to temporarily ban all electric scooters, eventually offering two permits to electric scooter companies Skip and Scoot. Other cities issue permits to a certain number of total electric scooters, split among different providers.

If an electric scooter company approaches a city first to request permission to operate locally, how might a city respond? Some jurisdictions might be glad for the private investment in public transit and permit operation without caveats. Others, hesitant of the demands electric scooters place upon the public right of way, may take a different approach — as did New York City, when, considering the density of sidewalks and bicycle lanes without scooters, issued a firm “thanks, but no thanks” to scooter companies.

State regulations may also play a role in whether electric scooters must operate on city streets, sidewalks, or not at all:

To address safety concerns, electric scooter companies require all scooter riders wear helmets and meet a minimum age requirement. These requirements are frequently violated by users, as are regulations requiring scooters be ridden on the sidewalk, roadway, or in a bike lane. Conflicts between pedestrians, bicyclists, vehicles, and scooters are difficult to avoid without formally set and well-understood rules for where and how a scooter should operate. One particularly active period of reported scooter accidents in Austin, Texas, led the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to partner with Austin city government to study the most common source of incidents. This study is currently underway, but Austin is already planning to put a safe riding ordinance into effect in the spring of 2019.

Bird electric scooter riding rules, which are often ignored / Wikipedia

Electric scooter companies are beginning to put money and effort toward improving the safety of scooter riders. Bird scooters recently announced plans to form a Global Safety Advisory Board, led by the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with the goal of improving electric scooter safety. Bird has also proposed a funding strategy whereby $1 daily per vehicle in a city’s fleet would be dedicated to a fund for improving bicycle lanes and infrastructure in that city. Bird scooters currently offers cities data on usage within that city, which can be a valuable data metric in understanding the flow of people through the city, scoping a site pre-development, or for post-occupancy analysis.

Electric scooters can replace much more vehicular use, particularly single-occupant, short-distance car trips, in congested urban environments. At the same time, city management and planning authorities must carefully weigh the risks to public safety before approving electric scooter programs.

With clear rules and robust public awareness campaigns to ensure all users understand the rules for legal operation, scooters may come to safely co-exist with existing users of the public right of way. Electric scooters are here to stay, and cities have the opportunity and challenge of establishing a safe framework in which citizens and visitors can enjoy the full benefits of this technology.

This guest post is by Alison Kennedy, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP ND, a landscape architect with O’Dell Engineering in Modesto, California. She is the co-chair of the ASLA Women in Landscape Architecture professional practice network (PPN) and chair of the ASLA Archives & Collections Committee.

ASLA Condemns Administration Proposal to Weaken Protections of Wetlands and Waterways

Little Blue Heron in a wetland / Getty Images

A statement by ASLA Executive Vice President and CEO Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, regarding the proposed rule issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to alter the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act in such a way that severely threatens the quality of drinking water and community health and well-being nationwide:

The Trump administration’s proposed rule redefining the term “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) within the Clean Water Act is a direct assault on the health and well-being of American communities nationwide. The proposed definition severely limits which waterways and wetlands are protected from pollutants, and could have catastrophic effects on the quality of the nation’s water, human health, the economies of communities, and the viability of wildlife populations.

ASLA supports having one clear and consistent definition of WOTUS that balances the need to have safe, healthy bodies of water with commerce and sound development practices. The proposed rule change significantly alters that balance, endangering communities and ecosystems while allowing polluters to adversely affect communities and ecosystems well beyond the boundaries of their property.

The fact is, clean water is good business and polluted water is not. A WOTUS Rule should ensure healthy drinking water, reduce adverse health consequences, bolster communities reliant on tourism and recreation, and facilitate place-making for coastal communities. This irresponsible rule change will undermine those goals.

It is particularly regrettable that this rule would go into effect at a time when climate change is already wreaking havoc with fragile environments, particularly those in flood-prone areas. Increasingly frequent and intense storms will, by definition, affect the dry riverbeds and isolated wetlands that this new rule would exempt from protection. This rule would make a bad situation even worse.

Landscape architects work at the nexus of the built and natural environments and are at the forefront of planning and designing water and storm-water management projects that help to protect and preserve our nation’s water supply and enrich the lives of communities. The administration’s replacement rule would be a drastic step backward from the commitment to clean water for all Americans that is at the heart of the original Clean Water Act and the WOTUS rule, and ASLA will work to oppose this proposal.

ASLA 2019 Diversity Summit Call for Letters of Interest

ASLA 2018 Diversity Summit / EPNAC

In 2019, ASLA will host its Diversity Summit May 17-19 at the ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture in Washington D.C.

The Summit welcomes landscape architects from diverse backgrounds to engage in critical, thoughtful, and challenging dialogues to inform how the Society and its members can create an inclusive and equitable community of landscape architecture professionals.

ASLA will invite selected participants to think in deeper and more complex ways about diversity and inclusion in the profession. Attendees will explore strategies for ASLA to advance its diversity and inclusion efforts while tackling some of the most pressing issues facing diverse communities throughout the Summit.

Eligibility and Deadline

If you are a landscape architecture professional of color in the United States with at least two years of professional experience and are interested in applying, please complete the 2019 ASLA Diversity Summer Call for Letters of Interest by midnight on Friday, January 25, 2019. We will notify selected participants in early February. ASLA will pay primary transportation, two nights lodging for all participants, and provide breakfast and lunch on the summit days.

Please submit the following:

The 2019 ASLA Diversity Summer Call for Letters of Interest requires the following documentation:

  • Resume (two pages maximum – PDF format to be uploaded)
  • One (1) Letter of Recommendation (PDF format to be uploaded). The letter should specifically address your merit as a landscape architecture professional and interest to address diversity in the field.
  • Letter of Interest (750-word maximum – PDF format to be uploaded).

Prior to writing your letter of interest, review the 2018 Diversity Summit Report and the 2018 Diversity Summit Summary, and include answers to the following questions:

  • How will your experience and values be beneficial to ASLA’s Diversity Summit?
  • What is your vision for ASLA’s career discovery and diversity program in the coming years?
  • What do you hope to get out of participation?

Submit your application.

For questions, please email discover@asla.org.

About the ASLA Diversity Summit

In 2013, ASLA convened its first Diversity Summit with the goal of developing a deeper understanding of why landscape architecture is failing to attract a more diverse profile. Each summit has brought together a group of experienced and emerging landscape architects who identify as African American or Latinx to develop strategies that address diversity issues in the field.

In 2017, the Diversity SuperSummit convened the largest group of attendees to date. Participants evaluated goals from previous summits, developed focus areas for four key diversity initiatives to guide ASLA’s work plan in the coming year, and discussed the future of the Diversity Summit. Focus items and initiatives will continue to be established and evaluated as ASLA plans future Summits. The following includes links to resources, news and articles, and Summit reports published since the first Diversity Summit convened in 2013.

In 2018, ASLA invited five professionals from the Diversity SuperSummit and nine new participants from the Call for Letters of Interest to add valuable input to discussions and resource development. Attendees reviewed benchmarks prioritized from the 2017 Diversity SuperSummit, offered suggestions for developing resources that can assist implementing diversity and inclusion practices into business strategies and reaching out to the youth and communities.

This post is by Lisa Jennings, ASLA Career Discovery & Diversity Manager.

Veteran’s Day Focus: Healing PTSD with Nature

Invisible wounds. It’s a haunting phrase and one that’s become all too familiar to a vast number of the military men and women serving in conflict zones in recent years. These wounds, a fact of modern war, have proven particularly vexing to the medical teams whose job it is to treat our troops. As many as 40 percent of soldiers returning from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan experience these wounds, which all too often lead to suicide, according to Fred Foote, a former Naval physician, scholar of the Institute for Integrative Health, fierce advocate for wounded veterans, and leader of the Green Road project.

Let that number sink in. Forty percent; a staggering statistic that is devastating — to the military, to each of the lives the number represents.

I had my first intimate impression of the suffering being borne by so many soldiers while working with a film called That Which I Love Destroys Me; it too dealt with the hidden wounds of war. I became friends with the men and women who were interviewed for the piece; they helped shape my perspective — my thinking and understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury. In connection with the film’s release, we held a series of screening events to specifically reach those who had served. At almost every gathering, at least one would approach the director, or one of the people interviewed in the film, and say that they were contemplating suicide. The reality of this was devastating — coming face-to-face with those who had given so much for our safety and freedom. I became keenly aware of the need for more ways to help them.

The Green Road

It was during a time when mainstream news of veteran suicides was coming with increased frequency that the TKF Foundation received the grant application from the Institute for Integrative Health for what would become the Green Road — a green space designed and built by a team led by CDM Smith, including landscape architect Jack Sullivan, FASLA.

The proposal involved taking a forested piece of land at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, home of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and, while keeping the integrity of the space, making it into a place where the recovering men and women could experience nature as a part of their healing process. Once completed, researchers would study and document the impact of nature on recovery, using a set of newly defined mathematically-based metrics that map and measure the effects of nature on the body. The insights they gain will be used to inform future courses of therapy—not only at Walter Reed but potentially around the globe.

We were immediately drawn to the project. And I was instantly reminded of the men and women I met during my work with That Which I Love Destroys Me.

We know that nature heals, but we also know, like Dr. Foote, that much work remains if we are to convince many naysayers, who still see nature as lacking the potency of a pill; of being a legitimate form of treatment to stand alongside and augment traditional therapies.

Our hope is that this space will act as a blueprint and that more will begin to appear in communities throughout the US; everywhere veterans are suffering. Nature holds an undeniable power to foster healing, even when the psychological wounds are deeper than most of us could ever imagine.

Faced with the rise in traumatic brain injury and PTSD, the military, urged by voices like Fred’s, was convinced a little over 10 years ago, to begin searching for new modes of treatment; notably, modes that stretch beyond the confines of conventional medicine. Enter nature.

In the decade since the military reached out to Dr. Foote, an early proponent of holistic medicine, and of nature exposure, he has worked with prominent civilian and military experts to help craft a structured means to study and measure the impact of whole-body therapies on mental and physical health. Supported by the non-profit Institute for Integrative Health, it was this work that eventually led to the creation of the Green Road, and to the involvement of the TKF Foundation via our National Nature Sacred Awards program.

Today, behind the tightly manicured lawns and sprawling buildings of the nation’s flagship military medical complex at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, this wild yet defined, wooded space offers a refuge. A place to pause in an environment that heals.

Alden E. Stoner is a filmaker and board member of the nonprofit TKF Foundation.

Nancy Somerville: Landscape Architects Play Crucial Role in Fight Against Climate Change

Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, ASLA CEO and Executive VP at the ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia / EPNAC

This speech was given by Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, ASLA CEO and Executive Vice President, at the ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, Sunday, October 21.

Every year at this meeting I’m reminded of the incredible variety of ways landscape architects serve their communities. The diverse talents and skills of this profession came home to me recently when I was visiting CMG Landscape Architecture in San Francisco. They are addressing issues of social equity as part of the revitalization of public parks. They are designing a resilient solution to a three-mile stretch of coastline infrastructure vulnerable to earthquakes and sea level rise. And one of their staff is pioneering a method for calculating the carbon footprint of landscape architecture projects.

Seawall Resiliency Project, Port of San Francisco / CMG Landscape Architecture

The landscape architects at CMG, all of you, and your colleagues across the country have much to offer a world that, more than ever, needs responsible stewards of the built and natural environments. For those of us on staff at ASLA, it is a privilege to be an advocate for what you do.

Before I get started, you may have noticed that ASLA has a fresh, new graphic identity. We think it not only works well in all contemporary media, it better reflects the energy and forward-thinking nature of the Society and its members, while remaining connected to our heritage and our values. Importantly, it will also help unify and strengthen the identity of the Society at the national and chapter levels.

Of course our identity doesn’t just come from our graphics. It comes from what we do and who we are.

I’m happy to announce that the Board has added inclusion and diversity to our statement of corporate values and culture.

This comes as we have convened our sixth successful diversity summit.

The summits, and our work throughout the year, reflect our unwavering commitment to increasing diversity in the Society and within the profession, and to build future leaders who truly reflect the communities we serve.

In addition to diversity, our other top priorities are advocacy and public awareness.

On the federal level, we maintained our strong advocacy efforts to protect important federal programs and policies, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Although the LWCF expired on September 30, it is still funded through December 7, 2018, and a bill to permanently reauthorize this critical program was approved in both the House of Representatives and Senate committees.

Thanks to your advocacy, multiple amendments that would have derailed this legislation were defeated by wide margins, allowing the bill to move forward. Unfortunately, the fight is not over. Both the full House of Representatives and the Senate now must pass a final bill before December 7. Please continue to contact your legislators to support LWCF.

Also under active consideration in Congress—and getting closer to final passage—are bills to address the maintenance backlog in the national parks and continue the Every Kid in a Park program. Our Government Affairs team worked with coalition partners and allied organizations to move these critical bills through Congress. Your continued support and participation in our iAdvocate Network has been critical—and will continue to be critical—every step of the way.

On the state side, this year we again saw record numbers of challenges to licensure. Some specifically targeted landscape architects along with other professions and occupations. Some were more indirect threats—including broad licensure reform legislation and executive orders for licensure review.

Our chapters are hard at work countering the attacks—and working pro-actively to educate their legislators about the work of the profession and its impact on public health, safety, and welfare. This year we expanded our annual state Advocacy Summit. In a partnership with the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards, our member advocates were joined by their counterparts from the state licensing boards. The joint summit has already resulted in stronger communications and partnerships in many states—all of which will enhance our licensure defense efforts in the coming years.

On the priority of public awareness, we have continued our successful programs, like World Landscape Architecture Month, and our PARKing Day activities, and have also taken on new initiatives. Our signature “This is Landscape Architecture” campaign continues to be extremely popular—and very successful at increasing our visibility and enhancing public understanding of the profession. This campaign will continue again next April during World Landscape Architecture Month—with an added focus on involving more of the global landscape architecture community.

This is Landscape Architecture campaign / ASLA, image from ASLA 2017 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Klyde Warren Park. Office of Jim Burnett. Gary Zonkovic Photography

Just started this year is a multiyear communications initiative in collaboration with our partners in what we call the Presidents Council—ASLA, the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards, the Landscape Architecture Foundation, the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board, and the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture. We have engaged the FrameWorks Institute to help develop a comprehensive communications strategy for communicating about the profession—and its value. What makes FrameWorks so interesting, and why we selected them for this project, is that they focus on how underlying cultural values shape attitudes—and use that as a frame for identifying communication messages and strategies that resonate with those deep-seated values.

In the first phase of the work, FrameWorks is mapping the gaps between the public understanding of landscape architecture and how those within the profession think and talk about it. Early next year, FrameWorks will report back on the gaps and deliver preliminary recommendations on how to bridge them. In the next phase, they will develop and test specific messages and strategies for effectively communicating the value of the profession.

Getting the public to really understand—and appreciate—the profession of landscape architecture has been a longtime goal. And while we have seen a significant increase in media coverage over the last 10 years, we have a long way to go. Developing a better understanding of the profession will support not only our public awareness goals, but also our government affairs advocacy, and our efforts to build a more diverse pipeline of future professionals.

Landscape architects, of course, operate at the nexus of the built and natural environments, which means that by definition this profession has a crucial role to play in addressing the issues of climate change, sustainability, and resilience.

This summer we released Smart Policies for a Changing Climate, the report and recommendations of the ASLA Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience. The report identifies the most important design and planning approaches for creating healthy, climate-smart, and resilient communities. And it makes specific public policy recommendations to support those approaches. The recommendations are informing our professional development programming and our advocacy and communications priorities. We are promoting the recommendations directly with public policy makers, as well as through our coalition networks and partnerships.

Smart Policies for a Changing Climate / ASLA

Last month I was honored to represent ASLA as a delegate at the Global Climate Action Summit. The conversations there were both deeply alarming and very encouraging. But I came away with one very clear takeaway for ASLA and the profession. While there are many voices and many experts leading the charge on reducing carbon emissions, there are fewer voices and even fewer experts who understand what needs to be done to help communities adapt to the changing climate.

This profession has unique knowledge and a profound responsibility to help address the issues of climate adaptation and community resilience. That’s why we’ve enhanced and reorganized our online resources devoted to sustainability, resilience, and climate change, making this vast knowledge base even more accessible to our members and the public.

How important is all of this? Two weeks ago the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a startling new report outlining the catastrophic consequences if the global community fails to take significant action in the next 10 years. The U. N. report reinforces the need for all those responsible for shaping human environments to redouble their efforts to mitigate climate effects and to ensure the resilience of communities already seeing the effects of the changing climate.

This commitment to action is why ASLA has also signed on to the We Are Still In initiative. This coalition of over 3,500 organizations from all sectors of society is a way of publicly standing by the Paris Climate Agreement and its goals of reducing emissions and fostering resilience.

Finally, I want to talk about a very special project ASLA is undertaking in Washington, D.C.

With urban infrastructure in crisis, ASLA believes it’s time for new thinking on how the civic realm can better serve public needs and meet environmental goals. What better place to put those ideas into action than the street on which ASLA’s headquarters sits in the Chinatown neighborhood of Washington, D.C.? The Chinatown Green Street project will renew the entire block using a blend of green, complete, and smart street strategies—a “test kitchen” of innovative concepts. It will serve as a national case study for design professionals, municipal officials, policymakers, advocates, and the public.

ASLA Chinatown Green Street / Design Workshop

Unlike many organizations, ASLA is willing to make its principles more than just ideas on paper. We make them tangible and visible. With landscape architects at the forefront, ASLA first demonstrated its commitment to a sustainable future with a pioneering Green Roof on its headquarters building. Then, we transformed the building itself into the Center for Landscape Architecture following the highest standards of sustainable design and occupant wellness. Now, we are taking our principles directly to the street and the city.

Please visit the Chinatown Green Street page to learn more about the project and how you can support it.

Save Lawrence Halprin’s UN Plaza Fountain from Demolition

UN Plaza in San Francisco / Christina Dikas, The Cultural Landscape Foundation
UN Plaza in San Francisco / The Cultural Landscape Foundation

San Francisco Civic Center’s new public realm plan, which intends to create a gathering place for all San Franciscans that is clean, safe, and inviting, threatens landscape architect Lawrence Halprin’s fountain of granite slabs at United Nations Plaza with demolition. Of three alternative schemes under consideration for UN Plaza, only one retains the fountain.

The alternatives include interchangeable design elements. One emphasizes performance and gathering; one history and civic life, with a restored Halprin fountain; and the third, diversity and culture. With some public input, designers at CMG Landscape Architecture are presently consolidating the draft frameworks. The context is a Better Market Street plan that promises a vibrant streetscape with new furnishings, plantings, public art, and plazas that support diverse activities.

My case for retaining the fountain is based on its merit as public art. Halprin’s work is grounded in the European tradition of using art, architecture, and city planning as vehicles for social change towards a more just society.

Market Street is the city’s premier commercial corridor and transit spine. UN Plaza is at its mid-point and serves as the gateway to the Beaux Arts Civic Center. In the 1960’s, Lawrence Halprin & Associates, working with John Carl Warnecke & Associates and Mario Ciampi and Associates, was engaged to save this Path of Gold Street Lamps from disinvestment and decline by creating a series of linked pedestrian spaces from the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero to the Civic Center at Mid-Market.

Path of Gold Illume / Linda Day

In the pre-WW II era, Market Street was one of the world’s great streets, with a financial district at the waterfront transitioning to a shopping district, and then in its mid-section, the city’s fabulous theaters and entertainment venues. By the 1950’s and 1960’s, Mid-Market was blighted. Theaters that escaped demolition were showing porno films and featuring live nudes.

To the north, the Tenderloin had become a tawdry district of poorly managed single-room occupancy hotels, street prostitution, and open drug dealing.

UN Plaza was created by closing off two streets that intersected Market Street at odd angles, Leavenworth, north of Market and Fulton, northwest of Market. Designed to be an allée, City Hall terminated the vista.

UN Plaza in San Francisco / Prayitno Photography

Using Sierra Nevada granite blocks from the same quarry as the French Renaissance-inspired City Hall for the fountain, Halprin brought the beauty of California’s landscape of mountains and sea to persons without the means for travel to Yosemite.

UN Plaza in San Francisco / The Cultural Landscape Foundation

The asymmetrically-stacked granite blocks represent the seven continents of the world. Computer programming was intended to moderate the water level in the 100-foot-wide sunken base so that it would rise and fall like the ocean tides as well as moderate flow from the nine jets in response to the winds. The programming did not work as intended; the water is maintained at a set level.

Halprin was a Modernist and part of the Cubist and Constructivist art movements. When the plaza design was under consideration in 1974, Arts Commissioners fought bitterly over the fountain, with some members insisting that a more classical option would better suit the Civic Center’s assemblage of classical buildings. They recommended a 1904 monument celebrating the admission of California to the union. The image below shows the 1904 Phelan Fountain that was preferred. After a series of public meetings, six of the eight Arts Commission members voted in favor of Halprin’s design.

Phelan Fountain, 1904 / Wikimedia Commons

From its completion in 1975, the fountain was a focus of complaints about it being used for toileting, bathing, and laundry by the many homeless persons in the vicinity. The plaza was a gathering place for illegal drug users and dealers. In 2003, a U.N. Plaza Working Group, representing citizens and businesses, recommended its removal.

According to a San Francisco Examiner article from 2004, the plan to replace it with a taxi stand was rejected by the Board of Supervisors; they and Mayor Gavin Newsom supported retaining the fountain. Today, continual police presence constrains the least desirable public behavior. A bus-size mobile command center on Market Street at U.N. Plaza and police officers on bikes patrol the area.

Public ambivalence toward Modernist design is another argument against the fountain. For example, a SF Weekly article refers to it as a “shameful pile of cement-covered-rebar.” There may come a time when Modernist public art will be as revered as the paintings and sculptures around which entire art museums exist. The UN Plaza fountain evokes Franz Marc’s Stony Path (Mountains/Landscape), a 1911/1912 oil painting in the collection of San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA) that abstracts nature using bold forms and sharp angles in a Cubist manner.

Franz Marc, Steiniger Weg [Stony Path], formerly Gebirge/Landschaft [Mountains/Landscape], 1911/1912, oil on canvas; 51 1/2 x 39 3/4 in. (130.81 x 100.97 cm), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of the Women’s Board and Friends of the Museum / Wikimedia Commons

The fountain is meant to be immersive and in motion. Halprin’s wife, dancer Anna Halprin, and his Harvard University teacher, Constructivist artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, influenced Halprin and his focus on how people move within a landscape. Moholy-Nagy saw space as being in motion, not static. The fountain was to evoke the tides, the granite slabs were intersecting geometric bodies as in Moholy-Nagy’s AI X at the SF MOMA, and as shown here in his watercolor and graphite on paper, Planes Cutting Planes.

Planes Cutting Planes by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy / Yale University Art Gallery
UN Plaza visitor immersed in the fountain / Linda Day

Contemporary photos show that the plaza is a comfortable space, despite the lack of formal seating for persons who live in the nearby Tenderloin’s single-room occupancy hotels or on its sidewalks. The nearby Tenderloin is bereft of public outdoor spaces. And the people enjoying the plaza are not those most likely to see the SF MOMA’s collection of art. Here they can sit surrounded by beautiful buildings in a space made special by the fountain. Here they can enjoy a lunch provided by San Francisco Food Not Bombs.

UN Plaza users / Linda Day
UN Plaza users / Linda Day

Dr. Linda L. Day is an emeritus professor of city and regional planning, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She is a planner, author of This House Is Just Right: A Design Guide to Choosing a Home and Neighborhood, and contributor at Planetizen.

Connecting Climate Change to Places We Love

Seeds adapted to an arid climate growing at Ndée Bikíyaa (The People’s Farm) near Canyon Day, Arizona / Native Seeds

“What is at the intersection of climate action and cultural heritage?,” asked Andrew Potts, organizer of Climate Heritage Mobilization, a day-long conference, which was part of the Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. “What does cultural preservation woke to climate change look like?”

To find out, the conference organizers used a “Talanoa dialogue.” In Fiji and other Pacific locales, the word “Talanoa” describes discussion and storytelling that is inclusive, transparent, and improves the collective good. Here, the Talanoa dialogue for climate action involved exchanging ideas and examples from communities around the world so they may be leveraged elsewhere.

The dialogue underscored cultural heritage as an issue of human rights. “There are so many other threats—why should we care about cultural heritage?” asked Karima Bennoune, the UN Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights. Citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she pointed to every individual’s right to participate in cultural life. Heritage, she explained, is important because it is an expression of human dignity.

Comprising both the tangible and intangible, cultural heritage brushes every facet of life. It includes sites, structures, and landscapes that have historical, religious, aesthetic values. Spiritual beliefs, vernacular languages, storytelling traditions, and indigenous knowledge also constitute cultural heritage.

When climate change affects any of these—for instance, the 100-plus World Heritage sites that risk damage or forced migration in the face of rising oceans—human rights are affected.

A human-rights based approach acknowledges and values indigenous communities and their sustainable land stewardship. By emphasizing participation and consultation of affected people, their long-held knowledge of a place can critically inform life in a changing world.

Andrea Carmen of the Yaqui Nation, and executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council, commented that seed-trading traditions have perpetuated drought-resistant varieties of crops.

The tule marshes of the San Francisco Bay demonstrate the shared benefits of climate resilience and cultural heritage. These sacred sites of the Native Americans can also absorb ten times more carbon than a pine forest. “A nation stays alive when its cultures stay alive,” said Bennoune.

Historic preservation, which is about peoples’ connection to place, can enable climate change mitigation.

Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, remarked that linking climate and historic preservation help the grave realities resonate with a wider audience. Cultural heritage “connects climate change to places we love and care about.”

He has seen the most effective action on the local scale, such as the Weather It Together initiative that identifies and protects flood-prone areas in historic Annapolis, Maryland, and the 3-D modeling of the World Heritage site Hoi An, Vietnam, that marks flood risks to important buildings.

The “Weather it Together” initiative seeks to protect the historic seaport in Annapolis, Maryland / City of Annapolis

Buildings are not only a key part of communities’ cultural heritage, but their preservation is also important for the climate. Using, rather than demolishing, existing buildings can significantly impact a city’s carbon footprint. According to Carl Elefante, president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the greatest difference cities can make is to “simply occupy space” by using existing buildings, keeping their embodied carbon intact.

Daniel Zarrilli, director of climate policy and programs for New York City, demonstrated that New York City is moving toward mandatory building retrofits, crucial as 80 to 90 percent of the city’s buildings will still exist in 2050.

David Harkin, a climate change scientist at Historic Environment Scotland, explained the positive outcomes that can result from upgrades. At Edinburgh Castle, renovation yielded annual reductions in energy use by 33 percent and emissions by 31 percent—changes that, in a few short years, have already saved them double what they invested to make the improvements.

Energy savings from recent upgrades are especially apparent at Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland / Wikipedia

Jean Carroon, principal at Goody Clancy Architects, stressed the imperative to change consumption patterns. The built environment requires materials that devastate lives around the world: silica arrives from China by the labor of those suffering from silicosis; and copper from Africa, “where working in the copper mines is a death sentence.” Living as citizens of the world foremost entails comprehending that our actions reverberate worldwide.

Climate Heritage Mobilization demonstrated the powerful means through which cultural heritage can galvanize climate action. Whether by enacting policies that validate knowledge of indigenous people or by requiring retrofits, it becomes clear that, in the words of Carroon, “a safe, healthy world values what exists.”

This guest post is by Grace Mitchell, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of California at Berkeley.

New Video: ASLA Chinatown Green Street

With urban infrastructure in urgent need of revitalization, it’s time for new thinking about how the civic realm can better serve public needs and meet environmental goals.

The ASLA Chinatown Green Street, in downtown Washington, D.C., is a unique demonstration project that on one city block combines advanced “green,” “complete,” and “smart” street concepts. It addresses comprehensively the pressing problems of stormwater runoff and pollution, energy inefficiency, and pedestrian safety. At the same time, it enhances the vitality of the public realm and reflects cultural sensitivity, while demonstrating the ability of cutting-edge green infrastructure to support the goals of property and business owners.

ASLA Chinatown Green Street / Design Workshop

When the Chinatown Green Street demonstration project is complete, cities everywhere will be able to study its strategies and outcomes and draw lessons that can improve our understanding of how a reimagined infrastructure can profoundly enhance the quality of 21st-century American life.

ASLA Chinatown Green Street / Design Workshop

Discover what problems the ASLA Chinatown Green Street will solve, explore the project history, and make a donation.