Visualizing Nature: A Contemporary Approach to Nature Writing

Visualizing Nature: Essays on Truth, Spirit, and Philosophy / Princeton Architectural Press

By Grace Mitchell Tada, Associate ASLA

“As far as I can tell, this is mankind’s most honest cognitive project,” writes Olga Tokarczuk in her Nobel-prize winning book Flights. Her subject is Wikipedia. She continues, “It is frank about the fact that all the information we have about the world comes straight out of our own heads.”

Sometimes she doubts the project: “After all, what it has can only be what we can put into words — what we have words for. And in that sense, it wouldn’t be able to hold everything at all.”

Tokarczuk’s sentiment echoed while reading Visualizing Nature: Essays on Truth, Spirit, and Philosophy, a svelte tome edited by Stuart Kestenbaum. The 21 authors included in the book also understand the limits of what can be put into words, particularly given the subject at hand. Bringing expertise as entomologist, landscape architect, farmer, and more, they variously contemplate themes within Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature to yield essays that consider topics such as climate change, racism, and the imprint of childhood landscapes on a psyche. Across the essays, there remains one constant: the authors’ moving human attempts to articulate the natural world knowingly can only go so far. But perhaps that is the point.

At the book’s beginning, Emerson is quoted: “Nature is a language and every new fact one learns is a new word…I wish to learn this language, not that I may know a new grammar, but that I may read the great book that is written in that tongue.” In Kestenbaum’s view, the writers included in Visualizing Nature “continue to learn and speak this same language.” It is likely an infinite striving, and one that can never be fully articulated in our own dialects.

The essays touch on what each author experiences by nature, or in nature, a word defined in the last essay by Rachel Carson, as “the part of the world that man did not make.” Topics concern the intersection of the personal and the natural world: nature as balm, nature as escape, nature as ancestral connection. They probe nature as joy and mystery, as provocateur of sorrow, as prompt for action.

It’s a subject matter that could easily veer saccharine, though most essays do not. Rather than letting romanticized nature obscure daily realities, as nature writing can easily do, many authors use nature to address them. Journalist Juan Michael Porter II writes of the freedom he finds in nature, a freedom absent from New York City, which is hampered by “strictures of decorum and race.” Even if nature’s “invitation to breathe freely…is constantly challenged by those who refuse to see me beyond the fear that they project onto Black men,” he remains grateful. Nature, after all, doesn’t take sides. “Nature cannot protect me,” Porter writes, “but nor will it deny me my divine right to its bounty.”

Others write about the transformative powers of nature. Thomas Woltz, FASLA, owner of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, likens the evolution of friendships to the fluid, aqueous geographic contexts that he finds himself in, both in work and life.

ASLA 2021 Professional General Design Honor Award. Duke University Water Reclamation Pond. Durham, North Carolina. Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects / Mark Hough, FASLA
ASLA 2021 Professional General Design Honor Award. Duke University Water Reclamation Pond. Durham, North Carolina. Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects / Mark Hough, FASLA
ASLA 2021 Professional General Design Honor Award. Duke University Water Reclamation Pond. Durham, North Carolina. Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects / Mark Hough, FASLA

Maulian Dana, the Tribal Ambassador for the Penobscot Nation in Maine, writes about her first time sitting in a sweat lodge, an experience of rebirth for tribal members like herself. “The sweat lodge taught me how to be a mother because it brought me face-to-face with parts of myself that needed to learn and suffer in order to be worthy and closer to my mother, the earth.”

Many authors discuss observation of nature. Whatever shortcomings our language may have in face of the natural world, it’s also a form of observation that gives us agency: “The specificity of such [nature] language empowers more detailed seeing of particulars in the dense wild,” notes writer Kim Stafford. She mourns the loss of words like nectar and kingfisher from the dictionary to make room for attachment and bullet point. She points to the language of Hawaii, which employs not merely rain and drizzle and downpour, but words for “fine light rain, bitter rain of grief, rainbow-hued rain, light-moving rain, and lunar rainbow.” For Stafford, language becomes a way to “make peace” with the earth, and to restore “our buoyancy daily.”

The essays themselves might facilitate that. They are short, a few pages each, and the book makes for a tranquil read despite its myriad serious topics. Words may have limits, but that should serve most saliently to move the reader from the page to the outdoors, reminding us of nature’s power over us and the responsibility we have to it. As Carson entreats, “Go out into a world where mankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before.”

Grace Mitchell Tada, Associate ASLA, is with Hood Design Studio and PGAdesign and co-editor of the book Black Landscapes Matter.

Learning from Copenhagen: A Focus on Everyday Life

København: Urban Architecture and Public Spaces / © Edition DETAIL, Munich

By John Bela, ASLA

København (Copenhagen), the capital of Denmark, is at the forefront of many landscape architects and planners’ minds for both its groundbreaking moves towards sustainability and cutting-edge public spaces, bicycle culture, architecture, and food scenes.

Having spent a significant amount of time in the city over the last decade, I’ve had the opportunity to begin to get to know the city and its people. One of the striking things about the city, perceptible in even my time there, is its continued trajectory of improvement. A chorus of people working diligently for decades to optimize the city for the everyday lives of its inhabitants have been laying the groundwork for what is possible today. I’ve been in Copenhagen in every season — in the depths of winter when the term Hygge takes on a deeper meaning and the scant hours of sunlight and the chilly winds inspire the strong desire to gather together by the soft light of a fire or candlelight to pass the dark hours. And during the summer months when the long hours of sunlight inspire a collective feeling of exultation and the city’s public spaces: the streets, parks, plazas, waterfront, and the harbor itself are teeming with life and energy. This was not so 20 or 30 years ago. The character of the city has radically changed and the new book København: Urban Architecture and Public Spaces, edited by Sandra Hofmeister, beautifully captures the new spirit of the city.

The book features many places in the Danish capital that have made a significant impact in public space and public life over the past several decades and groups them into four chapters: public spaces, sports and leisure, culture and education, and housing. Well-illustrated project descriptions are complemented by a series of interviews and essays with some of the most prominent and thoughtful designers part of the city’s design scene today.

One of the many featured projects in the public spaces section of the book offers a useful inspiration for what could be possible in U.S. cities if we recognize the value of urban spaces now occupied by parking and remake them in ways that draw public life, commerce, and play.

The Flying Carpet: Israel’s Plads (Israel Square) is a great example of the transformation of public spaces taking place in Copenhagen over several decades. A former vegetable market site near one of the busiest transit stations had degenerated into a parking lot and eyesore. The municipality led the transformation of the site by erecting two covered market halls (the wonderful Torvehallerne) and a public plaza that hosts a weekend farmers market.

Across the street, the city issued a design brief outlining that the former parking lot should be converted into a new public space. The winning competition by Cobe, a Copenhagen-based multidisciplinary planning and design firm composed of landscape architects, planners, and architects, envisaged a “flying carpet” across the entire square. The cars would be “swept under the rug” with underground parking. In the completed design, organically shaped areas punched out of a neatly paved surface provide a variety of public recreational functions. As one the city’s largest new public spaces, Israel Plads is an “informal uncoded space that enables the public to enjoy urban life.”

Israel’s Plads by Cobe, Sweco Architects / courtesy of Edition DETAIL, Munich

What you don’t get from the beautiful images and plans featured in the project description — and what is so useful for those of us in the planning and design professions — is covered in an essay that follows. The lead designer for the plaza, Dan Stubbergard from Cobe, illuminates some the underlying processes and struggles that were fought and won and resulted in a new plaza that functions as a diverse and active public space.

Stubbergard notes that “infrastructure had a very important role in defining our cities from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. Public spaces and zones in between buildings became carspaces, and this affected everyday life. But today we know that we have to combine infrastructure with the public quality of urban space. Be it a bicycle parking lot, a metro station, or a streetscape, you need to insist that all infrastructure is also a social and public space.”

Cobe has been leading some of the most impactful urban design efforts in Copenhagen. Their approach to Israel’s Plads reflects the deeply collaborative and creative approach of the practice that co-designs with communities. Dan continues: “Israels Plads is the biggest public space in Copenhagen, but it’s also a schoolyard shared by two schools – we argued it should be an open space nevertheless…We created a discrete boundary and that’s how we persuaded the school to have a safe zone in the middle of the city and an open environment at the same time. The challenge for [landscape] architects is to offer new ways of living together and to foster a lively everyday life.”

Swimming in the Harbor

You can’t comprehend Copenhagen today without understanding its changing relationship to the water. The book’s sports and leisure section describes one of the city’s newest ways to interact with the water: the Kalvebog Bolge (Kalvebod Waves). “An undulating sculptural promenade…the complex stretches out over the water like a park landscape, leading back to land with walkways that rise to different levels. Benches, play areas, and lookout points invite visitors to linger. What may seem coincidental follows a precise plan. Rough winds in the exposed location were considered in the positioning, as well as the course of the sun and the shadows created by surrounding buildings.”

As is typical of the projects described in the book, the space combines various programs in interesting ways. The “wave” stacks many functions: a kayak and canoe club, a swimming basin, a floating mini-hotel for canoeists, and a platform for cultural events all come together in this prominent harborside location. Furthermore, “the site’s cradle to cradle approach ensures that all materials can be separated by type at the end of their service life so they can be recycled or reused.”

Kalvebod Bolge by Urban Agency, JDS architects / courtesy of Edition DETAIL, Munich

The Kalvebod Wave harbor bath and others like it in different parts of the city are emblematic of the radical transformation that has occurred regarding the city’s relationship to the water. As in many former industrial waterfronts, the harbor water, as recently as the 1980’s, was polluted and dangerous, and one would not conceive of diving into it headlong as you see so many young and old people doing today.

In an essay, Hofmeister unpacks the process of transforming both the physical quality of the water and the harborfront as well as its mental image in the mind of Copenhageners. “With the shift from an industrial city to an eco-conscious city not only has the quality of life improved, but also the water quality…thanks to targeted measures in wastewater management and modernization of the sewage system. Today living on the waterfront is integral to the city’s image.”

These critical water quality improvements laid the foundation for a fundamental restructuring of the city’s relationship and orientation to the waterfront and a re-conception of the harbor from the “back of the city” to a blue-green central park. So many of the projects featured in the book show how to take advantage of this new orientation. The areas along the harbor offer high quality waterfront living and opportunities to swim or gather to watch the sunset. This is where the city opens up to offer wide views. The city’s master plans stipulate that all harborfront areas must not only be accessible to the public but also enlivened by the public.

Kroyers Plads by Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects, Cobe / courtesy of Edition DETAIL, Munich

This orientation of the city around the harbor as its central park is enabled by a steadily growing set of landscape, open space, pedestrian, and bike circulation connections around and across the harbor that provide continuous access around the water’s edge and have opened up new areas for the city’s famous pedestrian and bicycle culture. There are important lessons here for landscape architects and planners working in the U.S.

The first is that protecting, enhancing, and restoring the ecological health of extant water bodies and open spaces is crucial for laying the groundwork for future public access and enjoyment. The second is that a powerful vision in the form of a masterplan framework must be established that can live beyond short-term political cycles to guide the actions of many actors over time. The third is that landscape architects must conceive of each intervention, even if it is a small piece of a larger puzzle, as contributing to the realization of the larger vision that will, eventually, result in a radical transformation of place.

The first carbon-neutral capital

Copenhagen, as in many cities with ambitious leaders across the globe, is leading the way towards a more equitable and sustainable future for its inhabitants. By 2025, Copenhagen is to be the first-ever carbon-neutral capital city. Switching from cars to bicycles plays a decisive role.

As described in an essay on cycling culture and quality of life, the city’s bicycle culture is well known to urbanists throughout the world, and it’s a powerful experience to be immersed in it. But what is less well known are the other factors that contribute to making Copenhagen a city where you can actually live without a car, such as the provision of dense, human-scale, compact, and transit-connected urban infill for areas of new development and providing citizens with mobility choice in the form of a world-class transit system. As the city gradually implemented and expanded its famous bicycle infrastructure, there has been commensurate major investment in expanding mass transit, including the brand new Cityringen line completed in 2019.

The wonderful essay by Jacob Shoof unpacks the critical role of innovative public-private partnerships, a role played by redevelopment agencies in the U.S. These partnerships have been charged with re-imagining some of the city’s most valuable port lands and new development areas, financing the construction of major public transport projects such as the Cityringen, as well as leading the re-imagining of the city’s largest new development area, Nordhavn, under its masterplan by Cobe.

Back to the Water, Jakob Shoof, with image of Nordhavn / courtesy of Edition DETAIL, Munich

One essay goes into the details of one private-public partnership focused on the port: “The City of Copenhagen and the Danish state the laid foundations for this in 2007 with the founding of the project development company By & Havn (City and Harbour)…the new company has two main tasks: to manage and regulate the use of Copenhagen’s port waters and shore facilities and to promote the conversion of disused port areas…the company operates like a private company largely free from political influence, and can therefore pursue long-term strategies…the business model of By & Havn is to use sales proceeds [of port lands] to build public infrastructure in the newly developed areas. The new Cityringen (City Circle line) of the Copenhagen Metro has been running under the city since 2019 and was also planned by By & Havn. In order to pre-refinance the development of the infrastructure without having to rush property sales the company has taken out long-term loans, using land in its possession as security.”

Innovative financial models and thoughtful long-term planning for public infrastructure investment from bicycle lanes to the new underground metro line are critical to making a thriving and successful public realm as well as incentivizing active mobility and transit use, and therefore enabling the city to meet their ambitious long-term sustainability goals

Dense, diverse, and green. Is it possible?

As with so many urban areas around the globe, Copenhagen is experiencing an urban renaissance as more people choose to reside in dense, amenity rich, and socially diverse urban neighborhoods. But how has the city managed to maintain affordability and access for people at the beginning of their careers or those who are just forming families? So many areas in the U.S. experiencing this same urban renaissance are characterized by significant social conflict due to rapid gentrification and displacement of long-term residents.

A final theme that emerges in the book is the role of an engaged citizenry in generating grassroots-level action to provide a strong political mandate for the municipality and the design community to work for things like mobility choice and affordable housing. For instance, part of the less well-known story of the city’s bicycle culture, which reemerged in the 1970’s after going into decline in the age of the automobile, are the massive protests and collective action in response to the 1970’s oil crisis that inspired city leaders to take seriously the role of the bicycle in urban mobility.

And this level of community engagement has also shaped the city’s approach to housing. Since the late 1960’s, the city’s different forms of communal living have drawn international attention. The final chapter of the book focused on housing describes several of the innovative and beautifully well-designed housing complexes on the re-energized harborfront as well as some excellent examples of co-housing, a trend which is growing in popularity globally and was featured prominently in this year’s Venice Biennale exhibition theme: “How will we live together?”

One of the defining characteristics of Copenhagen’s inner city housing stock is the traditional form of the perimeter block that surrounds a shared green space. These forms can accommodate a variety of functions — from a safe play area for children, food producing gardens, bicycle parking, and larger community gatherings. These collectively owned and managed semi-private green spaces are rare in the U.S., but they contribute significantly to the quality of life in Copenhagen and are a major factor in attracting and retaining young families within the urban core.

The Lange End Co-housing project by Dorte Mandrup is a wonderful, contemporary interpretation of this traditional perimeter block with a large, internal shared green space. Mandrup describes how this happened: “The central aim of the project was to establish a community accommodating a range of age and occupational groups, cultural backgrounds, and ways of living. To determine the different spatial requirements – common areas for meeting and communication, but also more private areas – an extensive participatory process was carried out, with various workshops held between the planners and future residents.”

Lang Eng Cohousing by Dorte Mandrup / courtesy of Edition DETAIL, Munich
Lang Eng Cohousing by Dorte Mandrup / courtesy of Edition DETAIL, Munich

Hofmeister’s interview with Mandrup reveals the deeper motivations behind the work. “We already have numerous co-housing situations for very specialized groups – elderly people, students, or young families. My dream is that we can mix the different groups much more and build co-housing spaces that reflect the whole society – singles and families, old and young people.” And in a commentary on the next challenges the city faces, Mandrup says: “I would also wish that the city of Copenhagen would move forward with densification without simply doing things on a larger scale. We have to find better solutions to densify our cities than simply higher buildings. Densification on a small [human?] scale – that’s a real challenge for the future!”

Landscape architects have a critical role to play in the design of new housing areas in our urban neighborhoods. We can ensure there is a clear hierarchy of spaces from public to semi-public to private open spaces. Establishing this hierarchy and definition of whom these spaces are designed to serve is often overlooked but is crucial for achieving quality and livability in dense urban environments.

A beacon of sustainable urbanism

The many innovative ideas and projects described in this book and the exploration of some of the values and motivations that drive the work are what make this book a valuable resource for landscape architects and planners in the U.S. or anywhere in the world.

We can now point to these works and say, look what is possible if we work together for the common good of our communities! The City of Copenhagen brings together innovations in public participation, long term planning, finance, and a socially engaged design community to create the sustainable city of the future for residents today. It’s no wonder city leaders and design professionals around the globe are taking notice!

John Bela, ASLA, is an urban strategist and designer based in San Francisco. Bela co-founded Rebar, the creators of Park(ing) Day. A founding partner and design director at Gehl San Francisco, he left Gehl in 2021 to form his own design advisory and consulting practice: Bela Urbanism + Design. He is a licensed landscape architect in California.

Breathe: Imagining a New Relationship with the Atmosphere

Breathe: Investigations into Our Atmospherically Entangled Future, edited by Klaus K. Loenhart, Birkhäuser

By Grace Mitchell Tada, Assoc. ASLA

According to Klaus K. Loenhart, editor of Breathe: Investigations into Our Atmospherically Entangled Future, most of us have forgotten about air.

In the middle of a global pandemic, fault of a respiratory virus circulating through the air; amid the recent global surge of record-setting wildfires that have sullied air near to them and far; given the blankets of smog that smother places like Delhi, Riyadh, and Beijing, that claim of forgetting air seems unlikely.

Yet, assert many authors in Breathe, we’ve forgotten our one-ness with the air—how all of us are, effectively, “being-in-the-air.” It’s a forgetting inherent in Western metaphysics, from the Enlightenment to Heidegger to the Anthropocene, an outgrowth of the lineage that holds humans as separate from nature. But it is impossible to isolate ourselves from air, Loenhart argues. Simply breathing “means immersing ourselves in a reality that flows through humans just as much as the air and atmosphere of the planet.”

Loenhart invites us to remember both our place literally in air and the agency of it. In twelve essays, contributing authors reflect upon our relationship with the atmosphere: how it can be reformed to match this moment of climatic change, how to coalesce social and cultural understandings of atmosphere with the scientific, how to live more collaboratively within the planet. The overarching gesture of the volume invokes humankind to reframe how we live on earth by creating new interrelationships with “our planetary whole.” And that is where design comes in.

Throughout the volume’s three sections, authors use the words “air,” “atmosphere,” and sometimes “climate” in one sense interchangeably, but also with intention. For instance, literature scholar Eva Horn employs air because of its “rich ontological, social, cultural, and anthropological and aesthetic implications” that the word atmosphere doesn’t include. The variance of vocabulary supports the book’s claim of the ubiquity of air throughout our lives, from the scientific to the spiritual to the aesthetic.

Essays in the book’s first section underline humankind’s intertwining with our atmosphere, and the significance of that relationship. “Through our breath,” writes culture and media scholar Heather Davis, “we become the universe, we begin to understand our connections to the universe.” Yet as much as it unites, Davis reminds us too that the atmosphere reflects “the differential condition under which our lives are prolonged or foreshortened, depending on whether our bodies are valued or not.” Environmental racism or the murders of Eric Garner and George Floyd are a few tragic testaments of that reality.

Horn also emphasizes our relationship with air as based in cultural and social fact. Limiting our understanding of air to scientific knowledge—like atmospheric or climate science—restricts our human experience. She advocates embracing “historically outdated, indigenous, tacit, or imaginative and fictional forms” of knowledge. Doing so can facilitate our understanding of existing in air, “going beyond the divide between organism and environment towards a consciousness of our exchanges with it—the ways we breathe it, feel it on our skins, sweat and shiver, notice the smells and changes of the seasons.”

In the second group of essays, authors write about atmospheric and climatic forces in society. Urban researcher Jean-Paul Thibaud recognizes air as manifesting in four different ways: weather; “sub-nature,” like unpleasant urban byproducts including smoke, smog, or industrial debris; “commodity,” manifesting in aestheticized urban spaces like artificial climate; and ambience.

Some of these manifestations are, according to philosopher Gernot Böhme, examples of design: constructed spatial atmospheres. To illustrate his point, he cites C. C. L. Hirschfeld’s nineteenth-century tome, Theory of Garden Art, which explains how to produce landscapes that “attune” visitors to respond in a certain way or that can appropriately match their mood. Böhme writes that employing landscape architecture in this fashion demonstrates Hirschfeld’s astute understanding of the “phenomenological experiences of nature,” and how they impart a “specific spatial atmosphere.”

This power to make atmospheres, says Böhme, is critical: “it touches human sensibilities, it affects the temper, it manipulates the mood, it evokes emotions.” It’s so important, in fact, that he argues humans have not only a “basic aesthetic need to live in an environment where I feel well but also a basic need…to atmospherically co-determine my surroundings through my presence and be substantially entangled with them.”

In the volume’s final section, Loenhart brings together authors, many of whom are designers, envisioning a world expressing a new relationship with air. It is the design disciplines, writes Leonhart, that must articulate “a drawing together of all existence in the atmosphere.”

One way to do this starts with plants, “the life-giving entanglement of the lithosphere and the atmosphere,” in Loenhart’s words. Landscape architect Rosetta Sarah Elkin advocates increased attention to plant life, asserting that looking to plants and their relationships with other life forms, can exemplify “the potential of working together.” This awareness could, in turn, amend our relationship with plants to be more inclusive, less utilitarian, more communal—not “exempting” our human selves from nature. Elkin, too, advocates uniting science and common knowledge and practices—enabling reciprocal, collective ways to interpret and describe plant life.

This section is likely to be of most interest to readers eager to envision what exactly. the “new imaginary” Loenhart talks of could look like. Within this collection of cerebral essays, a reader may wish for more models of this atmosphere-based world, but the breathe! pavilion offers a vivid example of how we could design for it. The project appeared at the EXPO 2015 in Milan, and Loenhart himself took part in creating it. The 560-square-meter planted forest amplified the inherent cooling effect of trees and plants and highlighted the “biometeorological entanglements” between light, humidity, sound, wind, temperature, and odor. The resultant atmospheric landscape transported visitors into a calm space, cognitively removed from the hectic EXPO. Fittingly atmospheric, evocative photographs of the pavilion illustrate the book.

Visualization of the breathe! pavilion / Image courtesy of Breathe Austria
Floor plans of the breathe! pavilion / Image courtesy of Breathe Austria
Section drawings of the breathe! pavilion / Breathe Austria

Loenhart explains the pavilion invited visitors to see themselves as connected to the “planetary interior,” a vantage from which “the bodily-sensory experience of synergy in the atmospheric naturally activates deeper meanings of our being-in-the-world.”

And it’s from here, Loenhart imagines, that we can rethink how we are living in the world, conceiving of new, collaborate relationships with the planetary whole. Given our current reality, we will only be increasingly in need of new habits, negotiations, and systems that allow us to continue living within our world. For anyone striving to design for our changing planet, especially those dissatisfied with the status quo and in search new inspirations and considerations, this book could be a welcome prompt.

Grace Mitchell Tada, Associate ASLA, is with Hood Design Studio and PGAdesign and co-editor of the book Black Landscapes Matter.

Landscape Architects Poised to Lead New Era of Infrastructure

ASLA 2011 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Portland Mall Revitalization. ZGF Architects LLP / ZGF Architects LLP

By Roxanne Blackwell, Hon. ASLA

The House of Representatives just passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which makes significant investments in the nation’s transportation, water, renewable energy, and broadband infrastructure. The legislation incorporates 13 of the transportation, water, and natural resource policy recommendations sent by ASLA’s Government Affairs team to the leaders of Congressional transportation and infrastructure committees and the Biden-Harris administration.

The legislation includes a five-year re-authorization of transportation programs and dramatically increases funding for safe, active, and low-carbon transportation programs, such as the Transportation Alternatives program, the Safe Routes to School program, and the Complete Streets initiative.

The package creates new programs that will allow landscape architects to lead projects nationwide. These include the Healthy Streets Initiative, as well as programs to remove invasive plants, create habitat for pollinators on highway rights-of-way, and plan and design new wildlife crossings.

There are also some first steps to address the legacy of environmental and social inequities in cities created by highways that have divided communities for decades. The Reconnecting Communities program provides $1 billion to remove highways and reconnect communities through multi-modal transportation options, boulevard-like green spaces, and new connections to economic opportunity. These are projects landscape architects are poised to lead.

The legislation increases funding for the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Fund programs, which landscape architects will be able to access to help communities address their water quality and quantity issues.

The legislation will also create five new Stormwater Centers of Excellence. These will enable landscape architecture educators to explore new types of nature-based green infrastructure methods to improve existing designs and strategies for financing and rate-setting, public outreach, and professional training.

ASLA 2019 Professional General Design Honor Award. Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park Phase II: A New Urban Ecology. SWA/BALSLEY and WEISS/MANFREDI with ARUP / Lloyd/SWA, courtesy of SWA/BALSLEY and WEISS/MAN-FREDI

ASLA transportation priorities incorporated into the legislation:

1) Increased funding for the Transportation Alternatives program, and new regulations allowing states to allocate funding to counties, local governments, and Metropolitan Planning Organizations, as well as other regional transportation organizations, increasing local control over funding and projects.

2) Expanded eligibility under the Highway Safety Improvement Program to include projects covered by the Safe Routes to School Program, such as sidewalks, crosswalks, signage, and bus stop shelters.

3) Increased federal highway funding for states to create a Complete Streets program and projects.

4) Funding to create seamless active transportation networks and spines within and between communities.

5) A pilot program aimed at helping underserved communities tear down urban highways and rebuild the surrounding neighborhoods.

6) Elevate Context Sensitive Solutions as a tool in the decision-making and design process for transportation projects, particularly for projects in underserved communities.

7) Dedicated funding from the National Highway Performance Program for the protection of wildlife corridors that intersect with vehicle rights-of-way and establish critical reporting and training opportunities on the issue.

8) Emphasize design techniques that address pedestrian and bicyclist safety in our nation’s rights-of-way and support Vision Zero goals.

9) Invest in transit and transit-oriented development to meet growing demand for expanded public transportation.

ASLA 2020 Professional Urban Design Honor Award. The 606. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / Scott Shigley

Detailed list of programs and funding in the legislation:

TRANSPORTATION

Active Transportation Infrastructure: $1 billion over five years to build active transportation networks that connect people with public transportation, businesses, workplaces, schools, residences, recreation areas, and other community activity centers.

Healthy Streets Program: $500 million over five years ($100 million a year) for a new trust fund-financed grant program that can be used for cool and porous pavements and expanding tree cover in order to mitigate urban heat islands, improve air quality, and reduce impervious surfaces, stormwater runoff, and flood risks. Priority is given to projects in low-income or disadvantaged communities. Maximum grant amount is $15 million.

Invasive Plant Elimination: $250 million over five years to eliminate or control existing invasive plants along transportation corridors.

Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program: $350 million over five years from the Highway Trust Fund. At least 60 percent of funding must go to projects in rural areas. Projects must seek to reduce the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve habitat connectivity for terrestrial and aquatic species.

Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program: $1 billion over five years for a pilot program to reconnect communities that were divided or were separated from economic opportunities by previous infrastructure projects. Planning and capital construction grants will be available.

Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA): $1.25 billion in Federal credit assistance in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees, and standby lines of credit to finance surface transportation projects of national and regional significance.

Complete Streets Initiative: Each state and Metropolitan Planning Organization will now set aside funding to increase safe and accessible options for multiple travel modes for people of all ages and abilities. Funds could be used for: creating Complete Streets standards, policies, and prioritization plans; new transportation plans to create a network of active transportation systems; or projects that integrate active transportation and public transportation, improve access to public transportation, connect communities through multi-use active transportation infrastructure, increase public transportation ridership, and improve the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians. Also covered are regional and mega-regional planning and transportation plans that support transit-oriented development.

Safe Routes to School: Codifies the program, expands federal funding sources, and includes high schools.

Safe Streets & Roads for All Grant Program: $5 billion in emergency funding over five years ($1 billion per year) for a new program to support local initiatives to reduce traffic crashes and fatalities on roadways. Grants will be provided to Metropolitan Planning Organizations and local and Tribal governments to develop and carry out comprehensive safety plans to prevent death and injury on roads and streets, especially cyclists and pedestrians — sometimes known as “Vision Zero” initiatives.

Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality Improvement Program: Eliminates current formula for calculating annual state apportionments for the program and replaces it with set dollar amounts — increasing from $2.5 billion for fiscal year 2022 to $2.7 billion for fiscal year 2026. Projects now eligible include shared micro-mobility projects, such as bikeshare and shared scooters.

Multimodal Transportation Investments: $13.5 billion in emergency appropriations over five years for multimodal infrastructure, including $5.0 billion for RAISE (previously known as BUILD or TIGER) grants, $7.5 billion for local and regional projects of significance.

Support for Pollinators: $10 million over five years to benefit pollinators on roadsides and highway rights-of-way.

ASLA 2020 Professional Urban Design Award of Excellence. Dilworth Plaza, Philadelphia. OLIN / James Ewing, OTTO

WATER INFRASTRUCTURE

With regards to water infrastructure, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act incorporates numerous recommendations ASLA has also sent to the Biden-Harris administration.

ASLA water priorities incorporated into the legislation:

1) Increase funding for the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds, which provide critical resources to states, localities, and water systems to improve water treatment infrastructure and includes funding, research, and other tools to implement green infrastructure projects.

2) Adequately fund the Chesapeake Bay program and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Specific projects include improving water quality, combating invasive species, and restoring habitat and addressing shoreline erosion.

Detailed list of programs and funding in the legislation:

The Act provides $55 billion over 5 years, specifically reauthorizing the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) at $11.7 billion each. Many landscape architects access funds from these programs to design and implement water management projects.

Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Grants: $1.4 billion over five years for critical stormwater infrastructure projects, including those with combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflows.

Clean Water Infrastructure Resilience and Sustainability Grant Program: $125 million for a program administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that provides grants to help communities strengthen the resilience of their publicly owned treatment works against the threats of natural hazards.

Stormwater Infrastructure Technology Program: $25 million for five new Stormwater Centers of Excellence. The EPA will administer an application process for colleges and universities, research organizations, and nonprofit groups to become centers of excellence. These centers will explore new types of nature-based green infrastructure, methods to improve existing designs, and strategies for financing and rate-setting, public outreach, and professional training.

ASLA 2016 Professional Communications Honor Awards. Roving Rangers: Bringing the Parks to the People. Bay Area, CA and Santa Monica, CA. BASE Landscape Architecture / Ben Fash

NATIONAL PARKS and PUBLIC LANDS

While most national park and public lands programs and funding were successfully included in the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act in 2019 and the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020 as a result of ASLA’s advocacy efforts, there are additional recommendations that were also included in this bill.

ASLA national lands recommendations incorporated into the legislation:

1) Invest in our nation’s public lands, including providing for construction, maintenance, and restoration projects at the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service.

2) Support increased funding for Federal Emergency Management Agency hazard mitigation revolving loan fund.

Detailed list of programs and funding in the legislation:

Federal Lands Transportation Program: $311 million over five years to improve roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure in parks.

Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program: $55 million a year and up to an addition $300 million a year to address large repair projects in our parks and other public and tribal lands. This program also prioritizes sustainable and natural designs to improve the resilience of park roads and bridges to intensifying climate threats.

Also included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: $46 billion to mitigate damage from floods, wildfires, and droughts.

Roxanne Blackwell, Hon. ASLA, Esq., is director of federal government affairs at the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

Pandemic-era Street Spaces: Parklets, Patios, and the Future of the Public Realm

Rebar’s “walket” a prototype parklet system deployed in San Francisco’s Mission district in 2009. / Rebar

By John Bela, ASLA

On a clear fall day in 2005, a group of friends and collaborators from the art collective Rebar commandeered an 8-foot-wide by 20-foot-long metered parking space in downtown San Francisco. This two-hour guerilla art installation evolved into Park(ing) Day, a global public art and design activism event that has been celebrated every year since. In 2009, Rebar and other design studios were approached by the City of San Francisco to prototype a more permanent version of Park(ing) Day. In response, we created one of the world’s first parklets in San Francisco (we called our version walklet), and through the diligent efforts of Andres Power in the Mayor’s Office and City Planning, San Francisco’s pioneering parklet program was born.

By early 2020, San Francisco had created 70 parklets in every corner of the city, and the city’s parklet program, now part of Groundplay SF, had become a model for cities around the world.

And then came the pandemic.

After the initial period of lockdown restriction, data emerged that anything we could be doing outdoors, we should be doing outdoors. Communities around the country then began to look to outdoor spaces and the public right-of-way to accommodate outdoor dining, pick-up and drop-off, exercise, socialization, and play. Outdoor dining programs like the City of San Francisco’s Shared Spaces and the City of Oakland’s Slow Streets were launched across the country.

The proliferation of outdoor dining spaces was mind-boggling. In San Francisco alone, there are more than 2,000 outdoor dining platforms (don’t call them parklets — parklets are by definition public spaces). All over the country, almost overnight, parking spaces and streets have been transformed into places for people. While many of these spaces have succeeded in their original intended purpose of supporting local businesses and accommodating public health guidelines regarding social distancing, it may now be that they have outlived their useful lives. While many cities are making the move to make the outdoor dining spaces permanent, due the rapid nature of their creation, only a handful of these spaces live up to the original ideals of the parklet program to contribute something meaningful to the public realm.

A few of the over 2,000 shared spaces outdoor dining platforms (don’t call them parklets) on Valencia Street in San Francisco. / John Bela

Communities around the country are grappling with the future of these temporary outdoor spaces. To tackle this question, I have been in conversation with peers in Oakland, Seattle, Vancouver and other cities. My original thinking was that by default — because these spaces occupy precious curbside public right-of-way — the best outcome is that they all become parklets — that is public space, accessible during the city’s standard public space operating hours.

Parklets, by definition, are publicly accessible and open to all. They work best when their design cues create an invitation for many types of uses — from eating takeout from the adjacent restaurant or cafe, to bike parking, or simply taking a pause on a busy commercial street for a chat with friends. In fact, during the pandemic, when many of our more traditional venues of social infrastructure like schools and libraries have been closed, these smaller spaces have become that much more critical for supporting the everyday casual encounters that are the basis of social cohesion and community building.

But what I’ve learned in the course of my conversations with peers from across the country has resulted in an evolution of my previous thinking, and here’s why.

Lessons from the “Emerald City”

Inspired by San Francisco’s parklet program, businesses in Seattle became interested in building parklets and approached the city in 2011. Today, Seattle has both a parklet program and a streatery program. Seattle’s parklets are much like those in San Francisco where a local sponsor designs, builds, and maintains the space, and the city government issues the permit and ensures adherence to design standards. The streatery model is unique in that they provide commercial cafe seating during business hours as well as public access after business hours.

A Seattle Streatery, a hybrid public/private space. / SDOT

That’s right, it’s a hybrid public space. But how well does this work in practice? Do people use the streateries as public parklets after business hours? Has the city run into any issues regarding liability, or challenges with illicit behavior happening in the streateries when there is no one around to keep their “eyes on the street”?

According to my peers in Seattle, following an extensive community survey, they have concluded the following: Streateries perform well from an economic development perspective and have fulfilled a need in the city for outdoor dining, adding vibrancy to Seattle’s streets. They do provide a public benefit in terms of creating vibrant streets bustling with activity. (The city enforces strict design guidelines for streateries such as a 42-inch height maximum for surrounding enclosures that must be 50 percent transparent.) On the downside, streateries have not been perceived by the public as public space. The public amenities and invitation for use after business hours have been limited at best.

Seattle has some important lessons to share. First, private outdoor dining patios, like streateries, can contribute to economic development, social infrastructure, and create the public benefit of vibrant, safer streets when they adhere to basic good design principles. Second, the hybrid private / public space model sounds good in theory, but in practice it’s hard for an average member of the public to navigate unless there are strong design cues in either direction. In other words, don’t expect your thriving commercial district’s outdoor dining spaces to fulfill a public space need such as public gathering spaces or non-commercial community seating.

Van-city Speaks

But what can we learn from the Queen of the Northwest? As a social democracy, everything is better managed and more beautiful in Vancouver, Canada, so it’s no surprise that this city is leading the way for all of us regarding the future of outdoor public and private spaces. Vancouver’s parklets are very different from San Francisco’s or Seattle’s in that they are designed, funded and built by the city. This has been good for adherence to design standards and ensuring high quality and beautiful parklets. The downside is that due to limited city funding and staff capacity, there were only a handful of parklets created each year.

A Vancouver parklet, a dedicated community serving public space. / City of Vancouver

In response to a growing demand from restaurants and cafes, Vancouver also created a curbside patio program for commercial outdoor dining. Prior to the pandemic, six patios had been approved by the city. When the pandemic hit, the city created a temporary expedited patio permit process. Since June 1, 2020, the city has approved over 400 temporary patios on private and city property.

A typical Vancouver patio designed for commercial outdoor dining. / Google Streetview

Following the initial success of the parklet program, but acknowledging the inherent obstacles of city-led parklets, the city stopped accepting new conventional parklet applications and instead focused their energy on a pop-up plaza program in partnership with local business districts, which has resulted in the creation of 20 nicely-designed plazas with broad public support. Vancouver found that for about the same amount of time and money as a parklet, they could create much more generous and useful pop-up plaza spaces. The second initiative is a community focused parklet program, created in partnership with social service organizations in underserved neighborhoods like the Downtown Eastside. These parklets are designed and built by the city and programmed and managed with a dedicated community partner to offer such programs as health clinics and safe injection sites.

A well-designed and maintained social service parklet in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. / City of Vancouver, BC.

What this means is that as a citizen of Vancouver navigating the city’s streets you have lots of choices. You can choose to pay for seating and experience the buzz and vibrancy of the commercial outdoor dining happening in one of the city’s 400 patios, or you can walk a bit further down the street and hang out at the free public seating in a city-sponsored pop-up plaza or a parklet.

One of the 20 city-led pop-up plazas that provide public seating, shade, bike parking, and public programs. / City of Vancouver.

From my point of view, this is the right balance of public and private use of the curb lane in the public right-of-way. We all want thriving, economically-vibrant commercial districts AND we want meaningful investment in high-quality and well-maintained public spaces in our neighborhoods. The role of the Vancouver municipality has been to be the referee — to ensure that in any given neighborhood or commercial district there are both public and private seating options.

The Upshot

So while my original view was that outdoor dining should be redesigned and converted to public parklets, I now see the powerful and important role that well-designed patios can play in adding to the social and economic vibrancy of our streets. What I don’t support is trying to force these tiny curb lane spaces to be all things for all people. Attempting to saddle commercial patios with public seating or public-use requirements both dilutes their ability to serve their primary commercial purpose and sends confusing signals to the public.

Nor do I support continuing to allow the free-for-all use of the curb lane that has occurred during the pandemic and which has resulted in the proliferation of low-quality, poorly designed, and potentially dangerous commercial outdoor dining platforms. Many of these spaces feel opaque and claustrophobic, blocking visual access to ground floor retail and obstructing city sidewalks.

Businesses who want to use curb lane space for commercial outdoor dining must recognize the immediate benefit of the use of the public right-of-way for their businesses and compensate cities for the use of the space. By pricing the curb appropriately, cities can generate revenue to support and invest in public realm improvements and city staff time to manage their outdoor space programs. Also, patios must adhere to basic good design principles like 42-inch height maximum for surrounding enclosures; 50 percent transparent walls; and a direct, accessible connection to the adjacent sidewalk in order to generate the public benefit of vibrant, lively streets.

This outdoor dining platform is porous, accessible, light filled, and designed with simple and durable materials by designer Léa Saito for the Bon Nene Japanese restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission district / John Bela

With the revenue generated from commercial outdoor dining patio permit fees, cities can then invest in the parklets and pop-up plazas that can continue to fulfill a crucial role for everyday, informal social encounters that form the basis of social bonding and community cohesion. Parklets and pop-up plazas work well when there is a dedicated sponsor or steward — like a community organization, or an adjacent sponsor which has an established take-out business model like an ice cream shop or cafe — who is in charge of daily maintenance and programming of the space. Public space is a verb, not a static object. Public spaces must be cultivated and maintained to flourish and grow so that they are best able to contribute meaningfully to a city’s social infrastructure and a diverse, inclusive, resilient public realm.

Landscape architects and urban designers have a crucial role to play in shaping the future of the use of outdoor spaces. As upholders of design quality, we can ensure that the next generation of commercial outdoor dining patios are well-designed and contribute to a high-quality and vibrant public realm.

As stewards of public space and the public realm, we can ensure that in any given neighborhood or commercial district, there are beautifully-designed public spaces, with generous public seating and lively programming, to create invitations to all city residents to socialize and spend time together.

This beautiful outdoor dining platform was designed and created by Cotogna in San Francisco’s Jackson square. / John Bela
John Bela, ASLA, sitting in the outdoor dining platform designed and created by Cotogna in San Francisco’s Jackson square. / Superworks

John Bela, ASLA, is an urban strategist and designer based in San Francisco. Bela co-founded Rebar, the creators of Park(ing) Day. A founding partner and design director at Gehl San Francisco, he left Gehl in 2021 to form his own design advisory and consulting practice: Bela Urbanism + Design. He is a licensed landscape architect in California.

Getting Real About Sea Level Rise: Landscape Architecture, Policy, and Finance

A Blueprint for Coastal Adaptation: Uniting Design, Economics, and Policy / Island Press

By Kristina Hill, Affil. ASLA

Over the next hundred years, average global sea levels are expected to rise faster than they have in the last 8,000 years. By 2050, storm surges and high tides could flood homes, subways, and roads that are currently one or two feet higher in elevation than the homes, subways, and roads that have already flooded over the last twenty years in New Orleans, New York, Zhengzhou, and Boston. Hundreds of millions of people living in coastal cities and rural areas will be affected, even if communities stop burning fossil fuels completely today.

Adaptation to climate change is essential. But do landscape architects and planners understand the most important impacts of higher seas, assuming the goal is to design for adaptation without accidentally blowing it? And how will communities prioritize and achieve the social goals of adaptation in a systematically unequal society? Who will pay, who will benefit, and how can communities take the first steps? As this figure based on innovative planning in the UK reveals, there’s a long lead time before coastal communities can live in safety, so those first steps need to happen now.

ONE Architecture and Urbanism

Carolyn Kousky, Billy Fleming, ASLA, and Alan M. Berger, the editors of the new book A Blueprint for Coastal Adaptation: Uniting Design, Economics and Policy, set out to answer these questions. In their introductory essay, they make the claim that landscape architects and planners already have most of the tools needed to help communities adapt. The challenge, in their view, is the lack of action. They close the last paragraph of their introduction with the (overly?) triumphant claim that if we start now, “the future is ours.” Ouch. Remind me who “we” are? And is it a good thing for anyone to claim possession of the future, which will have its own claims? I realize this introductory chapter is a pitch, not a research paper, and the chapters themselves are far more self-reflective. But I want to start by putting this review in context, simply because the book is so important.

As a scholar and designer in the field of landscape architecture, I ask myself every day whether design professionals have the synthetic understanding needed to advise urban decision makers to act. For example, while the authors in this anthology consider flooding driven by saltwater, rainwater, and rivers overflowing their channels, not a single essay grapples with the risk that shallow coastal groundwater will rise through the soil and/or move laterally into river channels in response to rising seawater. Recent research indicates that groundwater-driven flooding may cause more water-related failures of urban infrastructure and buildings than seawater and that it will add to river and rainwater flooding. If landscape architects and planners haven’t considered the compounded physical and ecological risks created by rising coastal groundwater, it’s premature for us to give professional advice on adaptation.

To be “professional,” our advice has to go beyond selling a proposal. That advice has to reflect the shared knowledge of a field, or it won’t meet the standard of professionalism; at that point, we might as well be selling used cars. If we recommend spending billions of dollars to use levees to keep the sea out, our shared knowledge tells us that we will also need to pump the rainwater and groundwater out from behind the levees and design the protected district to be resilient to catastrophic failures of coastal structures. Levees and movable gates won’t keep coastal land from flooding by themselves, especially where the rock or sand under a city is very permeable.

The upshot is that the mantra of “sponge cities” or “sponge wetlands” won’t work in high groundwater conditions, because the “sponge” will already be full of groundwater. The really bad news is that changes in the elevation or flow direction of coastal groundwater could end up sending us to a dystopian ‘80’s theme party. New flows of groundwater can mobilize soil pollution that was capped in the 1980’s or 1990’s and carry it under buildings where people will be exposed to old pollution in new ways. Most cities don’t even have maps of their shallow water table. Rising groundwater will corrode and shift building foundations, fill old sewer pipes and basements, corrode electrical conduits, and make extreme shaking more likely in an earthquake. Groundwater management must be part of any viable climate adaptation strategy.

The ambition of the editors to consider the trifecta of hurdles in funding, policy, and design is what makes this book eminently worth reading. Although no one confronts coastal groundwater impacts, the authors in this book provide a robust set of useful ideas, many of which have been tested in practice.

On the design side, Matthijs Bouw, associate professor of practice at the Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania, presents useful examples from his professional design experience in New York and Boston clearly and intelligently.

ONE Architecture and Urbanism

It was (and is) hard for a European firm to encounter and adjust to the state of American infrastructure. Adaptation is made more difficult by the fact that American cities coast on bridge and pipe investments made 100+ years ago and have cultivated a strategy of neglect since then. Bouw’s description of a more abstract ideas competition in San Francisco is less effective than his other examples, but together his experiences allow him to sincerely observe that adaptation with equity is in doubt in the U.S., where we continue to live under the long shadow of systemic racism and growing economic inequality.

Karen M’Closkey and Keith VanDerSys, co-founders of PEG office of landscape architecture, use their experience in the same California ideas competition as the basis for an argument that adaptation will also be a housing problem, as lower-income renters will need new options. They do an excellent job of bringing in the bigger national picture, suggesting policy avenues and making it clear that the gravity and scale of the housing problem is impossible to solve with design tools alone. All of these design chapters are well-referenced and thoughtfully written.

Susannah Drake, FASLA, founder of DLANDStudio, and Rafi Segal, associate professor of architecture and urbanism at MIT, describe their proposals for coastal New Jersey and Long Island and Jamaica Bay, New York, more in the style of a manifesto or a competition submission. They have an interesting core of ideas and intriguing claims, but without a critical frame, deeper references, or details, the chapter reads more as a point of departure than a fully-reasoned landscape architecture strategy. For example, their image of dense housing inserted at the edge of a marsh reveals the fundamental conflict between human housing needs and the needs of coastal ecosystems.

Rafi Segal & DLANDstudio

There is no question that putting housing in that location would degrade the quality of the habitat for the egret shown in the image. As we get real about climate, we also need to face the fact that real tradeoffs result from developing coastal ecosystems. This proposal shows an opportunity for landscape architecture to lead adaptation through an ambitious use of land form as an armature for adaptation, instead of concrete and steel walls.

The same site, Jamaica Bay, is also the subject of a proposal in another chapter led by Catherine Seavitt Nordenson, ASLA, professor and director of graduate landscape architecture program at the Spitzer School of Architecture, The City College of New York, which is also provocative but isn’t presented with enough detail to understand how the ecosystems of the Bay would not suffer from introducing new tide gates or how higher groundwater would be managed at the edge of the Bay. As in the Segal and Drake proposal, some separation (physical, temporal or behavioral) would be needed between marshes and lagoons that are managed for housing or recreation and marshes and lagoons that are intended to support diverse ecosystems. It’s a complex landscape, so perhaps this is considered but not described.

On the planning and finance side, several chapters deserve particularly careful reading. Joyce Coffee, founder of Climate Resilient Consulting, and Sarah Dobie, a PhD student at the Taubman College at the University of Michigan, describe strategies at the municipal scale, contrasting the retreat by attrition that is occurring in a small town in Louisiana with Miami Beach’s efforts to raise its streets to adapt in place. Their frank and clear presentation stresses the glaring differences between a community whose tax base and land area are shrinking and a city where a growing population and continued investment is expanding its capacity to adapt in place. It’s not as clear that they have translated the cases into recommendations, which raises the question of whether we know how to prioritize the goals of adaptation. What outcomes are acceptable and to whom?

Thomas Ruppert, a coastal planning specialist at Sea Grant Florida, examines the genuinely frightening prospect that abandoned coastal properties will cause pollution hazards and concludes that current legal tools are insufficient to prevent this dystopian outcome. Carlos Martin, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, makes a spirited case for public funding for adaptation as public works, and Allison Lassiter, an assistant professor at the Weitzman School of Design at Penn, describes the risks of sea level rise for urban drinking water in Philadelphia, which draws its water from the tidal Delaware River, along with New York. Fadi Masoud, assistant professor and director of the Centre for Landscape Research at the University of Toronto, and David Vega-Barachowitz, director of urban Design at WXY architecture + urban design, take a speculative approach to zoning, describing environmental overlay zones as a strategy for implementing incremental change and making it clear that designers should understand the history and legal context of zoning before altering it.

The real stand-out chapter in this section is by Shannon Cunniff, scientific advisor at Stone Living Lab, and her co-authors. They present environmental impact bonds as a new financing tool that has already been used in Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Atlanta, and considered in many others. To the extent that cities continue to rely on private capital to pay for adaptation, or simply to accelerate innovative pilot projects, impact bonds are a very useful strategy. Taking this one chapter seriously could make the difference between kick starting adaptation or failing by delay.

Reprinted with permission of Quantified Ventures

Overall, the book has a strong emphasis on conditions and strategies in the Mid-Atlantic and Gulf coasts. This is a limitation for translating some of the design ideas to the west coast, because different regions have different problems (earthquakes vs. hurricanes, karst geology vs. granite, etc.). The book also doesn’t include innovations from design or financing that have been adopted in California or the Pacific Northwest, outside of the rather abstract recent ideas competition in the San Francisco Bay area. But it’s strong on arguments for the East coast and Gulf.

The editors have taken a light-handed approach. Each chapter is encountered on its own without a broader synthesis or set of recommendations at the scale of a section or the book, leaving the reader challenged to identify gaps and draw conclusions by themselves. For example, in spite of the editors’ hopes, it’s not clear that any of the authors have a strategy for increasing social equity in U.S. cities while adapting to flooding. In that sense, some of the limits in this anthology reflect the genuine boundaries of what has been tried and even proposed. To achieve greater equity, several of the authors seem to conclude that we will need more radical strategies.

Everyone should read this book to see how the field of landscape architecture might help cities adapt to a changing climate, particularly with new federally-funded infrastructure investments. Each chapter of this book reaches beyond the conventional limits of our professional knowledge, by degrees or by leaps. But the most important bar this anthology has set for other books about adaptation is to place questions about funding and policy side-by-side with design proposals. For setting that bar higher, we should all thank the editors. Every future book on this topic should accept that challenge and rise to it. Without progressive new policies that can direct the sources and uses of funds for adaptation, even the best designs for adaptation will only reinforce the unequal status quo.

Kristina Hill, Affil. ASLA, is the director of the Institute of Urban and Regional Development and associate professor of landscape architecture & environmental planning and urban design at the University of California at Berkeley College of Environmental Design. She is writing a book about adaptation to sea level rise.

A Guide to Drones for Landscape Architects

Drone Technology in Architecture, Engineering, and Construction / Wiley

By Chris S. Sherwin, ASLA

The rise of consumer-friendly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have enabled landscape architecture firms to take advantage of new technologies and digital processing that have previously been out of reach. The growing availability of drones for designers makes the new book Drone Technology in Architecture, Engineering, and Construction by two landscape architects — Daniel Tal, FASLA, and Jon Altschuld, ASLA — a timely addition to any firm’s library.

The book enables a landscape architecture firm with little drone experience to understand step by how to work a drone and the opportunities and obstacles with owning and operating one. Tal and Altschuld have transformed a complex and obscure subject into accessible content. The book is meant to be read in a sequential manner: each chapter builds upon the other and offers resources for further study.

Tal and Altschuld begin the book by explaining the rapid transformation of UAVs from a military tool to hobby radio-controlled aircraft. Consumer-level drones enable design professionals and clients to better understand the environment from the bird’s eye view. Drones offer unlimited potential for imagery and photogrammetry within a 3D modeling environment and are an important tool for communicating how a proposed design can impact sites.

The risks and shortfalls of drone technology are outlined through an exploration of the difference between good looking data and good data. With new low-cost drones, site scanning often involves just pressing a couple of buttons on an app and setting the site parameters. A user can produce a very detailed and good looking data set without understanding how these technologies function. This can be a hindrance to producing good data.

A new drone user needs to understand that producing a precise and correct data set involves a deeper understanding of drone technology, surveying, and photogrammetry processing. An accurate model requires knowledge of how to set ground control points, provide specific camera angles in relation to the site being surveyed, and set a steady and continuous ground sampling distance from the site as the drone surveys the property. Fortunately, all of these areas are thoroughly covered by the authors.

Stunning drone images from past projects make for great marketing materials on future projects. / Daniel Tal

The book further explores how to effectively use drone data visualization as a project life-cycle tool. Chapters explain the costs necessary for staff training, examinations, and certifications; purchasing an appropriate drone; the software needed for flight, video and photo recording, photogrammetry; and insurance prior to your first flight.

Drone and 3D model overlay image of the 39th Avenue Greenway concept in Denver, Colorado. / DHM Design

Documentation, permissions, and licensing are also explored in-depth. The authors review the legal rules pertaining to consumer and commercial drone operations. Most importantly, they cover the Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule, which is known as 14 CFR Part 107, or in industry parlance the Part 107 exam. This exam is a crucial step in becoming a full-fledge drone operator in the design professions. Another vital step before becoming a commercial operator is understanding the permissions required through the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system, which allows for a relatively quick and seamless on-line process to gain permission before flying on site.

Proper documentation needs to be carried at all times. These documents include insurance certificates, your remote pilot license (Part 107), UAS registration, and a log of your flight operations. This documentation is key should something go wrong during your flight, and it is always a good rule of the thumb to be prepared for the worst case scenario.

Through the book, readers will gain an understanding of best flying practices, which many will gain with experience over time, and the importance of an appropriate safe flying mindset, such as developing a procedure for flight operations prior to, during, and at the conclusion of the flight. Situational awareness is key as well as proper flight procedures during manual and automated flying.

Tal and Altschuld explore basic drone photography, which many drone operators will use in the beginning of their flying career since it is relatively straightforward. Plus, the photographic results can be easily adjusted in commonly available Adobe Acrobat or Bluebeam software. Photo match overlays of the proposed project can easily be inserted into the existing site using Photoshop. 3D model photo overlays can also include integrating 3D modeling software models of the proposed design into the existing drone photography. This is a great tool for project visualization and client presentation meetings in which drone visualization images help communicate complex ideas easily and efficiently.

Bird’s Eye drone image of Hudson Gardens in Littleton, Colorado. The base image is used for 3D visualization. / DHM Design
The resulting image, post processed with Photoshop, integrating a Sketchup and Lumion Render creates an expressive, context-rich image. / DHM Design

Chapters on photogrammetry and 3D modeling are the most crucial, because these tasks will ultimately provide the most comprehensive data needed for advancing complex design projects. The catch is that photogrammetry, although simple in concept, is a relatively complex process that requires time and patience. The first-time drone user needs to make sure that the data acquired is consistent and free of bugs; otherwise, the end result – the 3D mesh point cloud — will be rife with topographical errors, and the resulting model will be inaccurate and not suitable for using as a 3D Mesh in Sketchup, Autodesk Revit, or ReCap.

Precision and patience are necessary to produce a highly refined and detailed 3D point cloud. The author explain the steps required for an accurate on-site scan, such as establishing ground control points, proper flight, image collection, and weather planning. These methods require further study and a trial period of trouble shooting. The drone user will most likely produce several versions of a photogrammetric model before arriving at a finished product.

Drone photogrammetry data along I-70 in Colorado. Left to right: initial point cloud, final point cloud, and 3D mesh. / Chinook Landscape Architecture and HDR. Inc.

Drone Technology in Architecture, Engineering, and Construction is well-written and concise enough that the reader will not get bogged down with the details but still be engaged throughout the process. It is perfect for landscape architecture firms seeking to purchase a drone but are unsure of next steps.

Chris S. Sherwin, ASLA, RLA, is managing director and drone mapping expert at CSS D/S LLP in Oakland, California and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Mirei Shigemori: Abstraction, Not Elimination

Mirei Shigemori — Rebel in the Garden by Christian Tschumi / Birkhauser, cover image: Christian Lichtenberg

By Masako Ikegami, ASLA

Few landscape architects embody an aesthetic style as striking and intertwined with a country’s identity as Mirei Shigemori. His landscapes in Japan are one of the greatest representations of the karesansui style, a dry garden that uses neither ponds nor streams but is latent with references to nature. This master designer’s palette includes ripples of stone, deliberately-placed boulders, and highly-sculpted plantings. Each element represents the natural world, not a deletion of it. Indeed, the beauty of Shigemori’s garden is in its exercise of abstraction, not elimination.

In a new book, Mirei Shigemori — Rebel in the Garden, landscape architect Christian Tschumi deconstructs the multiple influences represented in the outward simplicity of Shigemori’s iconic gardens.

Shigemori is presented as an omnivorous seeker of knowledge. By focusing on the complex passions of this landscape master — his upbringing, lifelong pursuits, scholarship and publications, family, and spirituality — the book succeeds in creating a nuanced perspective.

In the first part, Tschumi explains that Shigemori was a practitioner of chado – the art of tea; ardent student of ikebana, the art of flower arranging; one of the first designers to survey all of the gardens in Japan; author of 81 published books; and a designer of 239 gardens. Given the breadth of his interests, it is reasonable to wonder if Shigemori would have called himself a landscape architect. He was a true polymath.

Born in 1896 in Okayama prefecture, Shigemori is enterprising and artistic from his youth; building himself his own chashitsu Tea Room in his teen years and embarking on an education in nihonga (traditional Japanese painting) at the Tokyo Fine Arts School.

Imagine a time in Japan before the Shinkansen bullet trains between Tokyo and Kyoto were first made available in 1964, years before Narita International Airport opened to serve as a gateway for global travel. In the few photos of the man himself, Shigemori is highly engaged, wearing a hakama (traditional Japanese men’s attire) and serving tea, or a three piece suit while accompanying Isamu Noguchi at a stone quarry in mid 1950’s.

Shigemori, at left, is conducting a tour of landscapes around Kyoto for Isamu Noguchi, who was visiting at the time. / Mr Suzue

The author mentions in a rather factual manner that western influences shaped Mirei Shigemori’s life. For example, the name Mirei is not his birth name but one that he adopted in 1925 at age 29. The name refers to Jean-Francois Millet, a 19th Century French artist of pastoral landscapes and daily life. What is implied in this observation of Shigemori’s nom de guerre?

The book then explores a number of Shigemori’s landscapes in detail, including the Maegaki Residence. Built in 1955, this residential garden demonstrates the emergence of Shigemori’s signature style of the undulating line, cut out of stone as if to frame the rectilinear nature of property lines and the engawa veranda typical of traditional homes. Tschumi states this garden was designed early in his career, but at this point Shigemori is just shy of sixty years old. Shown below is the generous residence of a sake brewer, with three distinct garden areas in the front and back of the house.

The wave motif is shown in the South Garden in plan. The sinuous line becomes a recurring theme in Shigemori’s later works. / Shigemori family

The South Garden located in the back of the house is entirely visible and unified with the interior space. The placement of risseki (standing stones) is intended for the viewer imagine boats out in the sea, a mythical journey to the islands of the immortals.

The wave motif is shown in the foreground, with the iconic rock sculptures – risseki, in the middle ground. / Christian Lichtenberg

Tschumi offers a thorough analysis of the garden with Shigemori’s own words, which were a rebuke of what he deemed the amateur nature of gardens in Japan at the time. “People tend to think that anybody can make a garden, without any education or original ideas. A lack of insight on the part of the owner, and knowledge on behalf of the garden maker, provides for many tasteless gardens.” Shigemori is seeking a way to connect to timeless, essential beauty through his artistic endeavors. Lucky is the artist who himself is immortalized in the many gardens still in the care of clients who relish his work.

Perhaps the Japanese term haikara, though colloquial, is an apt description of Shigemori’s personality. Haikara describes a certain type of Japanese gentleman with a Western flair, derived from the English “high collar” fashion popular during the Meiji Era (1868 – 1912). To use a personal example: my grandfather would have shokupan (sliced milk bread) for breakfast and was considered haikara because he didn’t have the traditional choice of asagohan (rice for breakfast).

Much has been written about how Japanese culture at all levels demonstrates a competition between two opposing forces: modernity and tradition. In simple terms, modernity is often seen as rooted in westernization, and at times an incursion into or dilution of Japanese tradition. But the limitations of such discussions are obvious, and Tschumi is careful not to steep in this theme, allowing the reader to imagine a more complex man in Shigemori.

The majority of the publication focuses on present-day photographs of Shigemori’s landscapes and detailed plans collected by the author with the cooperation with Shigemori’s estate. The projects are astonishingly simple yet staggeringly beautiful. And the reader is again left to question how Shigemori could embark on so many creative endeavors in one lifetime. One quibble: the photography does not depict people and is deliberately devoid of any visitors or caretakers. In reality, droves of visitors admire Shigemori’s landscapes, so they require rigorous maintenance.

In my experience, visiting Tofuku-ji Hojo in Kyoto is like the moment you finally arrive at Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Tofuku-ji Hojo in Kyoto is one of the most popular gardens in Japan. / Shigemori family

As visitors to Japan seek out Shigemori’s landscapes, which they may view as aesthetic experiences quintessential to Japanese culture, one actually finds the world at his landscapes. It is a safe bet that a log of visitors to Shigemori’s public gardens would demonstrate more international traffic than any regional airport. This reverse haikara — foreigners flocking to Kyoto to take in Japanese culture and aesthetics — is perhaps driven by the same impulse of the Japanese dandies: in studying the other, they find more of themselves.

Masako Ikegami, ASLA, is a marketing associate with SWA Group in Los Angeles.

The History of the Rails-to-Trails Movement

From Rails to Trails: The Making of America’s Active Transportation Network / University of Nebraska Press

By Charles A. Flink

Peter Harnik’s From Rails-to-Trails: The Making of America’s Active Transportation Network explores the interwoven history of American railways and the rails-to-trails movement. As Harnik declares at the outset, “you can’t have a rail-trail if you don’t have an old railroad line.” An oversimplification? Yes. But as Harnik further outlines, rails-to-trail projects are far more complex than pulling up abandoned railroad tracks and converting the rail bed into a walking and bicycling corridor.

Why and how Americans decided to convert abandoned rails to active transportation trail corridors cannot be easily explained. Nearly half of From Rails-to-Trails is devoted to the fascinating history of America’s railroads — why and how they were established; why there were so many different rail corridors; and why thousands of miles of track were later abandoned. The gold rush nature of railroad development generated a glut of duplicative rail lines and associated train service, which after World War II was pared back to match changing needs, culture, and transportation preferences.

Harnik offers the backstory of why Americans demanded outdoor linear-oriented recreation and alternative transportation and then transformed seemingly worthless strips of land into a network of local, regional, and national hiking and biking corridors. He describes the politics behind the rails-to-trail movement, specifically the contributions of public servants, unsung heroes, and forgotten contributors who enabled the movement to succeed. According to Harnik, “the conversion of abandoned rail lines to trails wasn’t a Great Society–type program that came out of a mandate from Washington, D.C. It was an up-from-the-grassroots movement that bubbled out of modest places like Sparta, Wisconsin; Maywood, Illinois; and Rochester, Minnesota.”

From Rails-to-Trails is packed with an incredible array of charts and supporting data that explain all the twists and turns that led Americans to transform 18,000 miles of abandoned railroad into trails. His book is well researched and documented, and the writing style is clean and crisp, and appropriately punctuated with wit and humor.

Harnik, along with David Burwell co-founded the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, an organization that was born out of necessity and came of age during increased railroad abandonment and renewed national interest in non-motorized transportation.

Peter Harnik (left) and David Burwell (right) / Robert Trippett

Harnik shares a personal story of bicycling in Manhattan in the 1960’s and longing for landscapes that would be car free and dedicated to non-motorized travel. He describes his early fascination with trains and admits that it took him fifty years to connect the dots and fully appreciate how much he loved both modes of transportation. Harnik’s passion for trains and bicycling is evident as one winds through his marvelous account of how railroads were transformed into trails.

From Rails-to-Trails then answers some of the most important questions about the conversion of abandoned railroad corridors:

Why were there so many railroad corridors in the first place? Harnik recounts that “an extended railroad fever took hold from 1830 to 1890 (nearly 60 years of railroad construction), interrupted only by periodic panics and depressions. And in this environment, companies with the best endpoints, the loudest promoters, and the best connected political lobbyists (and bribe distributors) fared best.” He states that a railroad corridor, unlike a highway corridor, is difficult to share and therefore each track represented a unique economic opportunity. Some popular markets, such as St. Louis and Chicago, were served by numerous independent operators, all of which laid their own railroad.

Pennsylvania Railroad Meyersdale train / courtesy of Bill Metzger collection

What caused Americans to abandon rails? Simply put, America’s romance and love of train travel changed dramatically after World War II. Formerly frequent users of rail service were “waylaid by shiny new government funded highways and airports. Shippers were increasingly choosing trucks, short distance passengers were using cars, and long-distance travelers were rapidly shifting to airplanes.” Railroads began failing at an alarming rate; an economic reckoning was at hand.

How did rail-banking come about and why has it been such an effective strategy for conserving abandoned rail corridors? Harnik profiles a group of young lawyers, lobbyists, and real estate specialists whose combined talents resulted in the creation of a special “bank” designed to receive unique “deposits” of abandoned railroads. “If they were in a bank, they wouldn’t be officially abandoned but could be saved for the future.”

How did the rails-to-trails movement get started and why was the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy a key leader in this movement? Converting rails-to-trails began slowly with a few signature projects developed in random locations across the nation, such as the Elroy-Sparta Trail in Wisconsin, the Burke-Gillman Trail in Seattle, and the Cedar Valley Nature Trail in Iowa.

The movement was born through the dogged determination of a few brave souls who used ingenuity, grit, and determination to rescue abandoned railroads before they were lost forever. The perfect storm of abandoned railroads occurred on November 30, 1981, creating the need for a national non-profit organization to emerge and begin to address the catastrophic collapse of the railroad industry.

Burwell and Harnik were in the right place at the right time, with aligned interests and a passion to challenge the status quo. Harnik reflects “when I first heard about rails-to-trails, I was electrified to discover a type of corridor that had never been sullied by the tread of a tire. Giving no thought to any legal niceties or pitfalls, I immediately set out to publicize that, yes, there was something new under the sun.”

Georgetown Branch B&O railroad track (overhead) became the Capital Crescent Trail / Peter Harnik

The final chapters of the book offer a glimpse into the long-term value of rails-to-trails as the framework for an interconnected, coast-to-coast, non-motorized transportation network capable of satisfying America’s insatiable desire for travel and recreation. Harnik describes how the rails-to-trails movement has matured and evolved to become one of the most important land conservation and real estate enterprises in American history.

With more than 18,000 miles of rail-trails in existence, rails-to-trails surpasses the combined mileage of the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and all other national scenic trails. The rails-to-trails movement has forever changed the way in which Americans use trails. Many of the nation’s most popular and heavily used trails are rail-to-trail conversions.

Harnik doesn’t highlight the contributions of any one profession in From Rails-to-Trails. But it is worth noting the contributions landscape architects have made in furthering the movement. Landscape architects led efforts to formulate design guidelines and construction standards for converted rail-to-trails and have consistently led multi-disciplinary teams in the design and development of the most notable rail-to-trail projects in the nation.

Great American Rail Trail / courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Harnik rightfully deserves credit for being one of the pioneers who led a movement that positively affected the lives of millions of Americans. His book will be a reference for trail designers and builders for generations to come.

Chuck A. Flink, FASLA, is an award-winning author and landscape architect. He is the author of The Greenway Imperative: Connecting Communities and Landscapes for a Sustainable Future, University Press of Florida, 2020.

Barbara Wilks’ Dynamic Geographies

Dynamic Geographies / Barbara Wilks, ORO Editions

By Grace Mitchell Tada

Static. According to Barbara Wilks, FASLA, landscapes are too often designed with that operating assumption.

Even though humans have been around for the past 200,000 years, we still have a proclivity to design landscapes to remain the same for 20 to 50 years.

Wilks argues this is a problem that needs to change. Given the projected growth of cities and the challenges of a rapidly shifting climate, she asserts that dynamic landscapes are required for resilient, healthy urban communities.

She strives to create these landscapes at her firm, W Architecture & Landscape Architecture. Her ideas about landscapes emerge from decades of professional experience. In a new book, Dynamic Geographies, Wilks demonstrates how she centers natural processes through her designs. As most of her projects unfold in cities, this necessarily includes altering how humans perceive the landscapes around them.

Wilks defines dynamic geographies as complex systems that use non-anthropogenic forces for adaptation. For landscape architects to integrate these systems into projects, they must consider other species, the interconnectivity of various forms of life, and time as a landscape element. Landscape architects must design to larger and multiple time scales. They must gauge “what could be as opposed to what we want changed now.”

A key aspect to designing at various time scales involves transforming how we manage landscapes—and that includes the management of W’s projects. At present, they require humans to maintain. A truly sustainable landscape, Wilks asserts, can exist without humans, allowing “different flows and rates of change for different species.” As a result, W designs landscapes that welcome these processes: it’s these forms of maintenance that in the long run can yield diverse and sustaining landscapes.

The book divides W’s projects into three categories: “(In)visible Geographies,” “Layered Geographies,” and “Unleashing Geographies.” Each section builds on the other, and projects across these sections seek to illuminate landscapes’ dynamism and situate geographies within extended time scales. While Wilks doesn’t claim success in all her projects—“this book is a critical look back at our success and failures at W”—one can glean effective strategies to instill dynamism throughout projects.

In the first section, projects attempt to reveal aspects of sites often hidden, “making them manifest, so that urban dwellers have the opportunity to situate themselves in larger systems that transcend their immediate realities,” writes Alison Hirsch in the book’s introduction. Wilks is not nostalgic for us to return to previous time or to lost landscapes. “We can’t return to the past,” she writes, but “we can construct new relationships that bind us into the fabric of a place’s ongoing evolution.”

Through these new relationships, Wilks hopes communities can understand they are embedded in and not separate from nature. W’s projects facilitate this understanding in various ways. In Baltimore, a waterfront soap factory simultaneously reflects its location in the greater Chesapeake Bay region and in an industrial harbor. In Brooklyn, the off-kilter angles of the piers at the Edge project echo the turbulence of the East River into which they extend.

At West Harlem Piers Park in Manhattan, newly designed piers adopt the patterns of the Hudson River instead of the city grid. The site’s forms resemble sand dunes and the benches recall driftwood. The project, though, didn’t emerge solely of the designer’s ideas. In fact, the community spurned W’s initial conception of the project involving a “missing pier”—a field of piles in the Hudson—as too evocative of a ruin. In its place, New York City’s first reef ball structure was developed, which today serves as habitat to a diversity of aquatic life.

West Harlem Piers, New York, NY / W Architecture & Landscape Architecture, ORO

The book’s second section, “Layered Geographies,” doubles down on integrating the social and ecological systems comprising urban spaces. The projects here demonstrate the relationships between communities and the place in which they’re embedded. Several projects were designed for communities in places destroyed by urban renewal or disregarded by infrastructure projects, including in St. Louis and Detroit.

Chouteau Greenway, St. Louis, MO / W Architecture & Landscape Architecture, ORO

One such project is Julian B. Lane Park and Rivercenter in Tampa, Florida. The park was previously an African American neighborhood, which was demolished with the construction of a highway. A park was established in its place, from which the displaced community understandably felt estranged. W was brought in to work with them to develop a park that reflected what they wanted. Not only does the new park embody the community’s desires, but it weaves into the surrounding urban social fabric and allows the river ecology to flourish. Like many of W’s projects, this landscape necessitated considerations of many time scales — from the daily to the generational to the geological.

Julian B. Lane Park and Rivercenter, Tampa, FL / W Architecture & Landscape Architecture, ORO
Julian B. Lane Park and Rivercenter, Tampa, FL / W Architecture & Landscape Architecture, ORO
St. Patrick’s Island, Calgary, Alberta / W Architecture & Landscape Architecture, ORO

The final section, “Unleashing Geographies,” further elevates nonhuman systems and their agency in shaping landscapes, especially over extended time scales. Wilks is interested in how their landscapes will evolve and how they can support all varieties of biophysical systems through this evolution. They are about humans letting go.

This objective is exemplified by W’s design at St. Patrick’s Island in Calgary, Alberta. W accentuated the shifting nature of the island, removing static water-protective barriers around the edge and welcoming water flows through the island. The design fosters the emergence of streams and wetlands, which will move over time while designating certain “fixed” areas for human activity. According to Wilks, perhaps expressing her ideal of a designed landscape, “it is a living landscape with smaller human-managed areas set within it.”

St. Patrick’s Island, Calgary, Alberta / W Architecture & Landscape Architecture, ORO

Through their deference to natural systems, projects like St. Patrick’s Island achieve lasting change. These projects, Wilks insists, must enable new growth and development of adaptable systems—not just preservation of existing ones. As she points out, even small projects in this vein show how they can succeed on other sites, encouraging more such efforts to proliferate. Here, especially, the book may prove useful to other landscape architects and designers, who can glean inspiration from W’s projects.

As our climate shifts in increasingly surprising ways, the landscape architect’s challenge is to predict how and at what rate our world will change and to create designs that will adapt accordingly. Perhaps, like Wilks argues, allowing for nature’s agency is the key to effective adaptation.

Grace Mitchell Tada, Associate ASLA, is with Hood Design Studio and PGAdesign and co-editor of the book Black Landscapes Matter.