Landscape architecture is well behind the curve of using video to distinguish itself in the digital age, a trend I don’t see changing anytime soon. However, the opportunity is there for the taking. And if you don’t watch out, other design professions will seize the moment before landscape architects do. We’ve already had Architecture School, a Sundance TV miniseries, but that was six years ago and not much has been offered up since. But mark my words, it’s coming, and this is precisely where my own passions have intersected in recent years.
As a landscape architecture graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, I opted to make a documentary film for my capstone thesis instead of creating a landscape design. I was interested in hearing what people on the street had to say about an urban design project going on right under their feet. I completed the 25-minute long documentary This Is Market Street about San Francisco’s Better Market Street Project, a multi-million dollar streetscape project that will eventually replace 2.2 miles of San Francisco’s most prominent thoroughfare.
An issue that stuck with me was the danger posed by car traffic to pedestrians in a walkable city like San Francisco. The pedestrian advocacy group Walk San Francisco, which helped me promote the documentary, has been at the forefront of advocating for a safer, more walkable San Francisco since 1998. Last year, they commissioned me to create a public service announcement about Safe Streets for Seniors, and I jumped at the chance to use film to talk about cities once again.
My team and I created a 3-minute long short film, There’s Always a Way, using stop-motion animation to tell the story of a young boy whose grandmother is killed at a busy crosswalk (see video at top). We built models reminiscent of design school projects, studied traffic design solutions, constructed tiny crosswalks, and even fabricated some angry drivers for good measure. The process was analog, with us cramped in a tiny studio for weeks of animating and inching model cars along painted roads, frame by frame. The response has been exciting and supportive. To my satisfaction, the video has encouraged a discussion about our lives and environments.
Stories are the tool missing from the landscape architecture, a field which intertwines with people’s daily lives. Stories can get lost in the policies, the plant lists, and the concept drawings. We should pause to hear stories more often, and, if so inspired, make some of our own.
This guest post is by Darryl Jones, ASLA, who recently worked at PWP Landscape Architecture in Berkeley, California, and is now a filmmaker based in Oakland, CA. More of his film work is available at darryljonesfilms.com.
Restoring Neighborhood Streams dives deep into the details. However, all of us that are involved in restoring urban habitats — from streams, creeks, to shorelines — will benefit from reviewing how communities started these projects, analyzed opportunities, and applied lessons learned. She tells stories about the projects, but also delves into engineering technologies. Anyone involved in stream restoration can apply the ideas and results presented in the book to their urban green infrastructure projects.
The book begins and also ends with discussion on what “restoration” means. We view restoration through many lenses: engineering analyses, stormwater metrics, and urban aesthetics. She explains there are different degrees of restoration as well: we can enhance streams’ function or ecology, or preserve their history to certain levels.
In striving towards historic recreation, six case studies take the reader through the decision-making process needed to determine appropriate interventions. Case studies demonstrate the success of bio-engineering and imply the failure of traditional planting plans.
More pointedly, Riley argues for using a phased approach to stream restoration work, layering plant material while stabilizing channels at the same time. Riley stresses that successful work depends on a collaborative, multi-disciplinary team of landscape architects, engineers, scientists, communications specialists, and maintenance workers.
While stream restoration projects are now largely led by city public works departments, it’s clear the key to successful projects is participation by the community. The book uses neighborhood streams as a focal point to discuss the many issues that affect communities — wildlife habitat, water quality, public safety, homelessness, education, environmental legislation, and green jobs.
If you are doing urban restoration or green stormwater infrastructure projects, reading this book should trigger many ideas. Reading through Riley’s deconstruction of these six projects should help guide you to success.
This guest post is by Peg Staeheli, FASLA, MIG | SvR
Green Business Certification Inc.™ (GBCI) announces a new credential for landscape architects and sustainability professionals launching Oct. 1, 2016. The Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®) Accredited Professional (AP) establishes a common framework to define the profession of sustainable landscape design and development and provides landscape professionals with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, expertise and commitment to the profession.
The SITES rating system is a comprehensive program for developing sustainable landscapes that aligns land development and management with innovative sustainable design. SITES defines what a sustainable site is and, ultimately, elevates the value of landscapes in the built environment.
“As LEED® has undeniably transformed the built environment, SITES has the power to transform land development and use to help reduce water demand and improve air quality and human health while also connecting people to nature,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president, GBCI and chief operating officer, USGBC®.
“The introduction of the new SITES credential signifies the growing understanding that a sustainable built environment is not just what is inside the four walls of our homes or offices, but also includes a holistic approach to site selection and landscape development. The SITES AP will designate the leaders in sustainable landscape design and will be an important tool for professionals looking to grow their careers and impact the direction of land development and management.”
SITES provides a metrics-based approach to important concepts like ecosystem services and green infrastructure so that developers and owners can make informed decisions about their land use. Used by landscape architects, engineers, architects, developers, policy makers and others, SITES aims to transform the landscape development and management practices by enabling the creation of regenerative systems and fostering resiliency, ensuring future resource supply and helping mitigate climate change through careful land planning and development practices.
The rating system can be applied to development projects located on sites with or without buildings and draws on the experience gained from a two-year pilot program involving more than 100 projects. Today, 47 projects have achieved SITES certification under the pilot, including landscape projects at corporate headquarters, national and city parks, academic campuses and private homes.
SITES was developed through a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden.
The first sponsored testing opportunity for the SITES AP exam will be held on Oct. 3, 2016, during the annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo at a testing center in Culver City, California. The exam is open to both Greenbuild attendees and those who are not attending the conference. Register for the SITES AP exam.
ASLA recently released its annual graduating student survey, which was completed by graduating students from 46 accredited undergraduate and graduate landscape architecture programs, up from 38 in 2015. A total of 329 students responded. The purpose of this survey is to gather information on post-graduation plans.
While the average age for undergraduates and graduates remained consistent with previous years, 24 and 29 respectively, and the male to female ratio also remained consistent, there was a considerable change in the race of respondents: just 66 percent indicated they are Caucasian, down from 68 percent in 2015 and 70 percent in 2014. The percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students remained unchanged at 20 percent. The number of Hispanic students decreased to 6 percent from 8 percent in 2015. For the first time since 2005, the number of African American students reached 3 percent, or the highest percentage in the survey’s 17-year history. Native American students remained consistent with previous years at just 1 percent.
Students enter graduate landscape architecture programs with diverse educational backgrounds. Those mentioned by two or more respondents include: architecture; art history; communications; environmental design and biology; environmental planning; environmental science; fine arts; geography; graphic design; horticulture; economics; landscape architecture; psychology; and urban planning.
For the second year, the survey asked respondents about how they were funding their education and any education-related debt. 69 percent of undergraduates indicated their parents or grandparents paid or contributed to their education. Graduate students indicated scholarships, federal loan programs, and family funding as the top funding sources. The average amount of debt carried by undergraduates increased slightly from $19,800 to $20,400 and rose from $36,600 to $40,600 for graduate students. The percentage of students with more than $20,000 or more in debt increased to 49 percent from 47 percent in 2015.
90 percent of respondents indicated they plan to seek employment in the profession, which is consistent with the previous two years, while the number of respondents planning on pursuing additional education remained consistent with last year at 5 percent. Of those looking for a job, 69 percent plan to seek employment in a private sector landscape architecture firm and 9 percent in the public sector. 84 percent intend to seek state licensure.
Respondents were asked to rank a variety of attributes, based on their importance to them in selecting job. The top two rated factors by respondents were geographic location and type of organization, which is consistent with previous years, and the third most important factor, indicated by respondents, is reputation of the organization.
Up from last year, 60 percent of respondents had been on one or more interviews during their final semester. Respondents expected starting salary decreased slightly to $46,400 from $46,600 in 2015. The number of respondents that had one or more job offers decreased to 47 percent from 50 percent in 2015. The average starting salary increase for the second year in a row is $43,600.
The number of respondents who have already started a job dropped slightly to 43 percent from 50 percent in 2015. Three-quarters of respondents who have accepted a job offer indicated the position is with their preferred type of employer, up from two-thirds in 2015.
On benefits: the percentage of respondents reporting that they will receive major medical insurance was up to 93 percent from 82 percent in 2015. The percentage of respondents who will receive 401K retirement benefits decreased to 67 percent from 72 percent in 2015. The percentage of respondents who have employers who pay their professional dues increased for the second year in a row to 29 percent. Other benefits provided by employers were continuing education stipend, Landscape Architecture Registration Board Exam (LARE) reimbursement, and bonuses.
And how did the survey respondents get hooked on landscape architecture? They were most likely to have first learned about the field from talking to a landscape architect or from reading about the field online or in a book, newspaper, or magazine. The number of respondents reporting that a landscape architect visited their school to talk about the profession was only 1 percent. However, 20 percent of all graduating students made at least one visit to an elementary, middle, or high school.
When Michelle Delk, ASLA, was young and too full of energy for a lengthy car ride, her parents would pull over at parks in northern Iowa to let her run around. She grew attached to one in particular: It had a huge boulder that was half in the park and half in the road, and she could scramble to the top and look down.
“The boulder literally interrupted the street,” said Delk, partner and discipline director for landscape architecture at the international, multi-disciplinary design firm Snøhetta. “If you’re driving along the street and someone’s coming in the opposite direction, you had to stop and wait, and then you had to drive around the rock. This was the beginning of my falling in love with unusual landscapes and the juxtaposition of elements within places.”
Delk shared half a dozen Snøhetta projects during a lecture at North Carolina State University’s College of Design, and all of these offer a sense of the unusual — some form or sequence of a places that capture the imagination and create a new human experience.
At the Snøhetta-designed Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in Oslo (see video above), the landscape is a series of tilted white planes that envelop the architecture and allow for a continuous journey up from the water’s edge, to the terrace level that connects to downtown, to the peak of the opera’s roof.
“It’s not a building or a landscape; it’s in fact both,” Delk said. “People sometimes say to me about Snøhetta: ‘Oh I understand, you’re trying to make invisible, to blur the distinction between architecture and landscape.’ While this happens, it’s not what we set out to do. In fact, the edge — the place where architecture and landscape come together — is a very special place. It’s the place we want to occupy.”
People have come to see the landscape of the opera house as a major civic space. The opera and ballet now simulcast some events and use the sloped terrace as a viewing amphitheater, where often more people are watching the events outside than inside. And all of this activity happens on a landscape that was previously off limits. Through pre-construction remediation of toxic soils, this project became part of a broader Oslo vision to transform the industrialized waterfront for public use.
The Snøhetta design for the James Beard Public Market in Portland, Oregon, also seeks to reclaim a derelict landscape. Here the landscape is the challenging pinched space between the on and off ramps for the historic Morrison drawbridge. It’s a parking lot and partially closed to foot traffic on three sides, creating a gap between downtown and the Willamette River. Delk said the Portland residents who attended Snøhetta’s public meetings on the design concepts were eager to see the site become a vibrant local food hub and connect the river to downtown.
By folding back the on and off ramps, the Snøhetta design team found it would be possible to build an open and airy market on the unlikely site. “The market will dip under the bridge and become one connected space that you can come into and out of in multiple ways,” Delk said. “It becomes very transparent and connected to the city.”
Down the road in Oregon City, another Snøhetta design will reconnect people to the water. Willamette Falls is the second largest waterfall in North America by volume, yet, for 150 years, it’s been inaccessible because of the industry on its edges, most recently a paper mill. Snøhetta is developing the Willamette Falls Riverwalk, which will leverage the site’s unique multi-layered history, create new possibilities for future programming and development, and feature the unusual drama of the waterfall itself next to an almost crumbling post-industrial landscape.
“Careful restraint, and thinking about editing, framing, and episodic experience, is very relevant here. We don’t want to wipe out what is here, but we wish, through careful editing and removal of components, to create new places for people to inhabit,” Delk said. “We wish to think about the ephemeral qualities so inherently beautiful here, and how we can bring those qualities into a design that connect people to the history, water, and the essence of this place.”
Delk closed her lecture by playing a video someone had sent a colleague: It showed a man on a motorbike careening up and down the tilted landscape of the Oslo opera house, popping wheelies and gathering an audience until a security guard comes to shoo him off.
“I don’t think this gentleman cares whether this is a building or a landscape,” Delk said. “This might be an extreme example of improvisation, but we love that the places we design can encourage people to do the unexpected.”
This guest post is by Lindsey Naylor, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, North Carolina State University.
These goals are admirable and worthy of the profession’s best efforts. But what many of the speakers at the summit neglected to discuss – as did the authors of the original declaration 50 years ago, upon which LAF was established – is that landscape architects must increase their access to power if their hope of a society more reflective of their core values is to be realized. The act of envisioning alternative futures – something landscape architects excel at – is a political act. It’s time we build upon our design acumen by participating directly in the legislative landscape.
So when the LAF asks what we need to prioritize over the next 50 years, my answer is the continued development of design intelligence through research and practice is a necessary but insufficient means of achieving the profession’s lofty ambitions. We also need a strategy for placing more landscape architects into the elected, appointed, and bureaucratic offices where the big decisions about how to plan, design, and manage the land are made. This is how we construct a positive feedback loop between private and academic practice, which can bring invention and creativity, and government, which offers a tremendous scale of impact.
Building this electoral infrastructure won’t be easy, but it should become a core component of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)’s and the LAF’s post-summit work. These organizations can create a mechanism for identifying and supporting potential candidates for public office from within the profession.
Though the profession is not in the same financial position as, say, trial lawyers, the good news is many of the most impactful elected positions are not prohibitively expensive to pursue. There are 7,382 state legislative offices, most of which are part-time and would allow landscape architects to remain in their private practice or academic positions. The same is true of the nearly 1,500 city council positions that are spread across the nation’s largest 250 cities. Surely our profession can muster a handful of worthy and willing candidates for at least a few of the nearly 9,000 positions available to our members.
In addition to putting some of our established and emerging voices forward as candidates for elected office, the ASLA and LAF should partner with academic departments of landscape architecture to build a pipeline for placing our new graduates in the state and federal agencies responsible for regulating and financing the bulk of our professional work: the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Bureau of Land Management, among others.
Fortunately, much of this work has already been done for us. The Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program, a two-year leadership development program aimed at recruiting and grooming the next generation of public servants, is readily available to anyone who has recently earned a graduate degree. The ASLA and LAF are already planning to host a series of webinars aimed at guiding landscape architecture graduate students through the PMF application process. They should now look for ways to provide incentives for students who are interested in pursuing this path, including travel scholarships to and from the PMF interview sites.
ASLA should also create professional and student award categories that recognize excellence in policy-related work. And our academic departments should better prepare our students for this option by broadening the scope of design education to include coursework in policy analysis and, where appropriate, dual-degree offerings in landscape architecture and public policy.
Our colleagues in architecture and urban planning blazed this path decades ago, and their dominance in professional staff ranks of the HUD, DOT, and EPA reflect the success of their strategy. HUD’s award criteria for its Choice Neighborhoods grant program is nearly identical to that of the LEED Neighborhood Development (ND) rating system developed by architects and planners in the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU). Their influence on this vital program is not the result of boisterous or pleading rhetoric. It is because the Choice Neighborhoods program, and many others like it, was designed by the CNU’s own architects and planners — people like Shelley Poticha, Polly Trottenberg, and Shaun Donovan. Ceding this professional space to CNU planners and architects is akin to sitting at home on Election Day and complaining about the results.
As a junior staffer in the White House Domestic Policy Council during President Obama’s first term, I worked alongside many of these professionals. I remain convinced that for landscape architects to achieve a level of success commensurate with the scale of their stated ambitions, they must wade directly into the muck and mire of electoral politics. CNU became the conduits for channeling the creativity and intelligence of planning and architectural practice into the rule-making and regulatory power of the federal government. It’s time that ASLA and LAF do the same.
This guest post is by Billy Fleming, Student ASLA, doctor of city and regional planning candidate, University of Pennsylvania.
The second day of the Landscape Architecture Foundation‘s New Landscape Declaration: Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future offered critical responses to the 23 declarations delivered on the first day of the event and looked ahead to the next 50 years. Afternoon sessions were divided into five panels, each representing a different aspect of landscape architecture: academic practice, private practice, public practice, capacity building organizations, and emerging voices. Each panelist gave a short talk before engaging in a group discussion, addressing audience-sourced questions, and offering perspectives on what needs to be achieved over the next 50 years:
Academic practice: Maintain the value of the “long view”
“Academics combine teaching, scholarship, and service” while “taking the long view: looking back, then to now, and forward,” argued University of Illinois professor Elen Deming, ASLA, moderator of the first panel. The panel largely resisted responding to the more-urgent cries for action from the first days’ declarations, with Jacky Bowring, professor at Lincoln University, cautioning, “there is power and danger in the language we use.”
The academicians saw the future of landscape as both cultural art and applied science. While Anu Mathur, ASLA, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, championed “design as a field of inquiry” in which “design tools and techniques are our academic science,” Susan Herrington, ASLA, professor at the University of British Columbia, reminded the largely-professional audience that design schools “do not train scientists,” citing long hours in the studio. Yet a question from the audience concerning the rising costs of education revealed that a lack of scientific rigor in landscape architectural research limits access to external funding that could help lower escalating costs.
Julia Czerniak, ASLA, professor at Syracuse University, spoke to the power of design writing and criticism in spreading ideas. Other panelists noted the academy’s global reach comes from the increasingly international students it recruits and where schools build partnerships.
Anita Berrizbeitia, ASLA, professor and chair of landscape architecture at Harvard University, delivered four points the panel saw as critical to the future of academic practice: 1) commit to frameworks of learning, 2) avoid binaries and ideologies, 3) encourage student thinking and action, 4) increase diversity and range of students.
Private practice: Lead through collaboration and deep expertise
The private practice panel was moderated by Laura Solano, ASLA, principal at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), who emphasized that practitioners deal with the challenges of not only serving clients and achieving design excellence, but most also “run profitable businesses, all without harming the earth.” In their contribution toward a new declaration, the practice panel called for firms to become increasingly adaptable and gain deeper expertise.
Joe Brown, FASLA, consulting advisor at AECOM, insisted that “practices must respond to students’ ambitious ideals.” He later added that larger firms can act as teaching institutions as well, helping students achieve their new ideas. Thomas Balsey, FASLA, founder of Thomas Balsley Associates, agreed that in private practice, “a commitment to growth and evolution” can come from being open to what students bring. Through internships and the induction of recent graduates, Balsley offered ”student-led seminars” as a bridge between the ideas of the academy and the constraints of contemporary practice. Kathryn Gustafson, FASLA, founding principal at Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, claimed “education in firms will be the biggest draw in future private practice.”
The panel addressed the importance of having both deep expertise and leadership skills as landscape architects manage complex, collaborative projects. Mark Johnson, FASLA, co-founder of Civitas, noted that being a leader isn’t just about being a “good generalist, but also an expert.” Balsley, who saw collaboration as the key for smaller firms to get big commissions, elaborated: “you need preparation and dedication to being an expert to be capable of collaborating.” Or as Gustafson put it, “to let landscape lead, you have to be the smartest person in the room;” but also be pro-active: “know your experts and demand what you need from them.”
Adding a more critical voice to the private practice panel was Keith Bowers, FASLA, founder and principal at BioHabitats. Noting he is often on the other side of these collaborations, providing ecological design services, Bowers re-asserted the importance of private landscape practices to lead by “turning around political and financial institutions.” He emphasized the importance of sticking to your environmental values and having “conviction, spirit, and humility in everything you do.”
Public practice: Change policy to achieve impact
Mia Lehrer, FASLA, president of Mia Lehrer + Associates, led the public practice panel, which advocated for their important role in “defending and expanding” landscape’s role, all the while “creating places of experience that stick with people throughout their lifetime.” Acknowledging the stigma of bureaucracy, Nette Compton, ASLA, senior director of ParkCentral and City Park Development at the Trust for Public Land, said to “young professionals: you can get a lot done at a young age;” her own rise in the New York City parks department being but one example.
Joking that landscape architects are a “shade-loving species,” Mark Focht, FASLA, former ASLA president and senior official in Philadelphia’s parks department, joined others on the panel in suggesting landscape architects must “push themselves out there” into positions of power and “demand design excellence for under-served communities.” This point was affirmed by Deborah Marton, executive director of New York Restoration Project, who noted that “private dollars rarely go into low-income places.”
Going one step further was Christian Gabriel, ASLA, national design director of landscape architecture for U.S. General Services Administration, who encouraged landscape architects to be “infiltrators and insurgents,” using policy as a mechanism to deliver action. Citing his involvement in the Obama administration’s efforts to restore pollinators to health, Gabriel thinks re-conceptualizing policy through ecosystem services “is where our greatest future and capacity lies.”
Picking up on the Beth Meyer’s keynote speech and Martha Schwartz’s declaration from the first day of the LAF Summit, Edward Garza, CEO Zane Garway and former mayor of San Antonio, challenged landscape architects to “embrace the political world” and even to run for mayor.
Capacity organizations: Design a path to increased diversity
As demonstrated by the summit itself, capacity organizations like LAF play a crucial role in forging the future of landscape architecture. Having heard all the declarations and much of the audience and Q & A, the panel, which included representatives from the LAF, American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architecture (IFLA), Public Architecture, and the Urban Land Institute (ULI), acknowledged how important diversity is to the future of the profession. Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA, announced a multi-organizational effort entitled Mirroring the Nation, which is meant to attract and support more minorities to the profession, so that “our profession might better mirror the population it serves.”
The panel also called for landscape architects to have more impact on a global level. Leading the cause was Raquel Penalosa, ASLA, who is using her position as President of IFLA Americas, to “work globally in the service of localities. We must be humble and listen” closely to what communities want. And IFLA president Kathryn Moore said the world’s tens of thousands of landscape architects can have more impact by forming an “interdisciplinary vision” based in “common values,” particularly given the field is one of the fastest growing worldwide.
LAF President Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, and Somerville debated a bit on whether a “new narrative” was needed to achieve greater public awareness, with Deutsch calling for an entirely new set of messages, and Somerville arguing that “we are making progress with our current messages among some groups — like the older, wealthier, and better educated — but need to better reach diverse audiences. We need to get the messages out where they need to be.”
Emerging voices: Promote the next generation
With the help of Lucinda Sanders, FASLA, CEO of OLIN, the emerging voices panel assembled a group of recent LAF Olmsted scholars. An appropriate ending to a summit on “the future of landscape architecture,” these future leaders each wrote their own declarations, which they then presented to the 700-plus crowd.
Leading off was a 2015 University Olmsted scholar Joanna Karaman, Student ASLA. Now working as a landscape designer at OLIN, Karaman challenged landscape architects to “be honest about how we represent what we build.” Her work in time-based media (Karaman is also working on a film about and for the LAF Summit) seeks to bring power to the profession through the use of videos that can make more accessible the volatility and transformational potential of landscapes.
Following Karaman was Nina Chase, ASLA, senior project manager at Riverlife in Pittsburgh, who advocated for “capitalizing on the resurgence of fun” through short-term pop-up projects that can serve as prototypes and catalyze public participation. Embracing the mantra of “test before you invest,” Chase suggested that developing projects incrementally is both good for creating fun, but also for building resilience to climate change.
Scott Irvine, a 2015 University Olmsted scholar from the University of Manitoba, delivered a message from the Canadian plains, cautioning that landscape architects should beware of “becoming overly urban,” and that too often now, “regionalism stops at the edge of the city itself.” Another caution was issued by Timothy Mollette-Parks, ASLA, associate principal at Mithun, who argued that “landscape can’t be formulaic, and we must not lose our dedication as designers.”
Wrapping up the panel was the 2016 National Olmsted scholar, Azzurra Cox, Student ASLA, a recent graduate from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, who called for landscape architects to engage in what she calls “critical ethnography: design as a humanist, political, and narrative act.”
This guest post is by Nate Wooten, Student ASLA,2016 master’s of landscape architecture graduate, University of Pennsylvania School of Design.
The jury is in. Over the next fifty years, the world’s cities will face unprecedented stresses from a changing climate, growing populations, and issues of security, resource scarcity, and civil unrest. In the design professions, we like to think our work can help resolve these issues. In the U.S., over the past century, we have debated the role of public space to ease the challenges faced within our urban environment. This conversation will not end anytime soon, nor should it. However, if we continue to place our trust and faith in urban public spaces we must re-examine two fundamental questions: how will we define success within these spaces, and who will we allow to shape them?
Demo:Polis, an exhibition at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, brings these exact questions under the spotlight. Through a diverse set of examples, we see traditionally-successful projects commissioned by powerful institutions – grand urban plazas and lush, popular parks – juxtaposed with smaller and less familiar spaces made publicly valuable by a handful of ordinary people. The contrasts force us to question the assumptions that shape our understanding of public space: Is a space less valuable if it supports democracy and community but isn’t popular? Who is allowed to shape the character of a space – its boundaries, capabilities, and purpose – and who ultimately decides its worth?
Whatever the viewer takes from the exhibition, at least one theme became clear among the examples presented: the urban public will not wait for its invitation to shape the space it inhabits. Where there is a need to organize, cooperate, be seen or heard, people will find or create spaces to fulfill these goals.
Such “by the public, for the public” projects are the real strength behind Demo:Polis and remind us the spaces we design do not stop changing after they have been constructed. Rather, our grand and expensive projects exist within a countless network of daily human interactions and interventions – some adversarial, some unifying, many completely benign – that continuously shape the meaning and character of a public area. Despite their small or nonexistent budgets, informality, and frequent messiness, these individual actions and reactions refuse to be subordinated.
By leading us to these observations, Demo:Polis suggests something that we have known for many years but often struggle to remember. The cities of 2050 will not be shaped solely by powerful governments, deep-pocketed investors, or high-profile design firms. They will not strive for beauty or popularity alone. Rather, they will be formed by powerful forces: communities unwilling to – or unable to – withhold their influence on public space or remain passive in meeting their own needs.
As we consider the role of urban space in creating tenable cities, and our role as designers in shaping urban space, we must also choose whether to acknowledge this public influence or ignore it.
This guest post is by Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, CEO of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) and Joseph Bivona, senior project manager, MVVA.
Although the focus of the summit was on forging a new declaration and vision for the profession that can guide the efforts of landscape architects over the next five decades, there was also a call to “critically reflect on what landscape architecture has achieved over the last 50 years.”
Amid all the declarations and discussion, a few major themes came out of the reflections on what has shaped landscape architecture since 1966:
The American environmental crisis went global From the original declaration: “A sense of crisis has brought us together.”
In his introductory remarks, LAF President Kona Gray, ASLA, was quick to note that in the 1966 declaration, “it was all about the American landscape.” The original declaration cites concerns that “Lake Erie is becoming septic, New York City is short of water, the Delaware River is infused with salt, the Potomac River with sewage and silt.” Kongjian Yu, FASLA, founder of Turenscape, noted that this 1966 description of the American environment was in sharp contrast to what Ian McHarg, influential landscape architect and one of the co-writers of the original declaration, simultaneously referred to as “oriental harmony” of the hydraulic civilizations of Asia. Yet 50 years later, Yu, along with Alpa Nawre, ASLA, assistant professor of landscape architecture at Kansas State University, were struck by similarities between 1950’s America and modern China and India today, where development has also led to environmental problems at an unprecedented scale.
In addition to the local crises of pollution, environmental degradation, and habitat loss that has run rampant in the developing world in the past few decades, new overarching global crises have emerged in the form of human-induced climate change and rapid population growth.
Landscape architects got political From the original declaration: “We pledge our services. We seek help from those who share our concern.”
While the 1966 declaration does not directly address politics, according to keynote speaker Beth Meyer, FASLA, professor at the University of Virginia, Ian McHarg, author of the seminal book Design with Nature, and the other co-writers of the declaration were responding to not only the environmental crisis, but also the political opportunity introduced through the reforms of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society.
McHarg was influential in the development of first lady Lady Bird Johnson’s thinking on the value of beauty and nature in cities as well as the launch of the White House Conference on Natural Beauty in May, 1965. He later referred to first lady and environmental advocate Lady Bird Johnson “as his fan.”
Meyer argued then that his central role in creating the 1966 declaration may have been as much about environmental stewardship as a call for increased political influence by landscape architects. Just four years later McHarg would join thousands in Philadelphia for the first ever Earth Day event.
This political context set the stage for protest and advocacy by many other leading landscape architects over the past five decades. Just one example of this at the LAF summit is Martha Schwartz, FASLA, founder of Martha Schwartz Partners. In her declaration, Schwartz said that to respond to climate change, landscape architects must rekindle their political agency by being “online warriors” and rebuild the political wing of the profession that can “put forth a forceful agenda.” The sentiment was echoed by Kelly Shannon, chair of landscape architecture at the University of Southern California, International ASLA, who suggested that landscape architects must continue to “orient social movements and lead policy.”
People and parks returned to the city From the original declaration: “Most urban Americans are being separated from visual and physical contact with nature in any form.”
At a time of rampant urban blight, the 1966 declaration made little reference to designing in cities. Fast forward 50 years and Blaine Merker, ASLA, director at Gehl Architects; James Corner, ASLA, founder of Field Operations; Henry Bava, partner at Agence Ter; Charles Waldheim, Hon. ASLA, chair of landscape architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design; and Kate Orff, ASLA, founder of SCAPE, among others, focused their declarations around celebrating and expanding landscape’s urban reemergence.
Whether it took the form or urban ecological planning, tactical urbanism, green infrastructure, or new parks and plazas, landscape architects have played a critical role in creating humane green public spaces for a new and increasingly urban generation. This effort has helped concentrate development, improve urban sustainability, and preserve the nature surrounding cities. As Corner championed: “if you love nature, live in a city.”
For others, landscape architecture’s return to the city allowed the discipline to grow beyond its 1966 definition as “applied natural sciences.” Christopher Marcincoski, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania and partner at PORT Urbanism, argued that landscape architecture has effectively “softened the effect of urbanization,” at least in much of the developed world, but now must better anticipate the political, economic, social, and cultural forces behind urbanization in the areas left behind and the developing world.
For Tim Duggan, ASLA, these places are rich with opportunities. His declaration showed how his work not only over-layed environmental benefits, but also included the “overlaying of opportunities to find a catalytic but attainable scale” for financing and implementing regenerative infrastructure in under-served communities in Kansas City and New Orleans.
Landscape architects called for justice From the original declaration: “Man is not free of nature’s demands.”
Perhaps one of the most resounding critiques of the 1966 declaration was its now dated emphasis on the conflict between man and nature. LAF president Kona Grey began by contrasting the six white male signees of the 1966 declaration with the 715 diverse attendees of the 2016 LAF summit. Throughout the summit, many speakers made the connection between the increased diversity of our profession and the increasingly diverse communities served by it.
There was Randy Hester, FASLA, a professor at University of California at Berkeley, who has long called for an ecological democracy. David Gouverneur, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who showed his methods for working with informal settlements in the global south. And the work of Kate Orff, ASLA, founder of SCAPE, demonstrated that collaborative design can build both social and physical resilience simultaneously. These and numerous other efforts demonstrated a growing push toward environmental justice, combining landscape architects call to serve both the people and the places that sustain them.
In addition to addressing diversity in her talk entitled “Landscape Humanism,” Gina Ford, a principal at Sasaki, ASLA, also joined others in realizing that humans are no longer “nature’s antagonist,” but rather are inseparable from nature.
Laurie Olin, FASLA, founder of OLIN, quoted the great 20th century thinker Buckminster Fuller, reminding attendees that “the opposite of natural is impossible.” Yet our inclusion in nature during what is being called the sixth great extinction, led Nina-Marie Lister, Hon. ASLA, professor at Ryerson University, to ask, “who in the Anthropocene will care for the wild things?”
Learning from the shortcomings of the 1966 declaration, the 2016 declaration must respond to a greater diversity of people, living creatures, and agendas in order for landscape architects to continue to “make our vital contribution.”
Landscape architecture expanded in scale and scope From the original declaration: “…the landscape architect is uniquely rooted in the natural sciences.”
Delivering his declaration via a recorded video from Italy, Carl Steinitz, Hon. ASLA, professor emeritus of landscape architecture and planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, asserted that landscape architecture has grown to a “huge diversity of practices.” Steinitz charted how landscape architecture began as a multi-scalar practice, but has since ebbed and flowed between small, medium, and regional scales as predicted by the demands of each subsequent decade.
While Steinitz, Kelly Shannon, and Dirk Sijmons, co-founder, H+N+S Landscape Architects, suggested a need to now revisit the regional scale so favored by McHarg and his colleagues, others assessed landscapes’ successes in prototyping smaller projects capable of global replication. The notion of landscape architecture as an expanded field was seen as both a pro and a con as some worried about being spread too thin, and others embraced the notion of landscape architect as infiltrator and instigator of public agencies and allied professions.
Ecological research was translated into design
From the original declaration: “The demand for better resource planning and design is expanding.”
While the global threat of climate change presents new, less visible challenges, many at the LAF Summit recognized that the 1966 Declaration’s call to action “to improve the American environment” had in many ways been answered. Having written, advocated for, and pioneered ecological landscape design projects, the impact of landscape architects has been transformational, many argued. As Mario Schjetnan, managing director of Grupo de Diseño Urbano, FASLA, noted, “U.S. cities have upgraded air quality, reduced soil and water pollution, and improved open space.”
In his declaration, Kongjian Yu, founder or Turenscape, FASLA, spoke of “50 years of experiments with fire, water, floods, and the landscape as living machine.” Noting new sustainability standards and guidelines such as LEED and the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), “the change is amazing,” Yu exclaimed. He joined others in calling for the need to now “replicate and open new scales” through global practice.
Historic landscapes became more valuable From the original declaration: “…the landscape architect practices an historic art.”
Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, reminded LAF Summit attendees that 1966 was also the year that the Historic Preservation Act passed, and since 1998, Birnbaum, who is the president, CEO, and founder of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, has made enormous gains in documenting and preserving designed landscapes. For Birnbaum, placing cultural value on our existing landscape heritage is key to bolstering the contemporary contribution of landscape architects.
Complementing this perspective was Patricia O’Donnell, FASLA, founder of Heritage Landscapes, who for over 30 years has advocated for “culture-based sustainable development.” Referring to her projects with organizations such as UNESCO and their Historic Urban Landscape Initiative, O’Donnell’s work is exemplary of how the sustaining powers of culture and heritage create “a larger community (for landscape) to participate with.”
Landscape architects emerged as lead collaborators From the original declaration: “There is no ‘single solution’ but groups of solutions carefully related one to another. There is no one-shot cure, nor single-purpose panacea, but the need for collaborative solutions.”
The 1966 declaration was ahead of its time in its vision of landscape architecture as a collaborative discipline. Many modern declarations reinforced that landscape architects have not only have benefited from these broad collaborations, but also have been increasingly leading teams on the great urban and infrastructural projects of our time.
While James Corner noted the role of his firm in leading large multidisciplinary projects, Kate Orff used her declaration to suggest landscape architecture firms are now the “collaborative glue… convening, organizing, and enabling others” through projects that serve as a “scaffolding for participation.” As LAF Executive Director Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, observed, increasingly you “can’t achieve sustainability without considering landscape.”
Landscape architects learned how to simplify and communicate complexity From the original declaration: “Once they understand landscape capabilities—the ‘where’ and ‘why’ of environment, the determinants of change—they can then interpret the landscape correctly.”
Following the original declaration by only three years, Ian McHarg’s Design With Nature paved the way for the subsequent decades of research, scholarship, and communication by landscape architects to the broader public about the complexities of our ever changing built and natural environment.
From Anne Whiston Spirn’s The Granite Garden to Thomas Rainer and Claudia West’s Planting in a Post-Wild World, landscape architect’s played a critical role in deciphering environmental complexity. In his declaration, Dirk Sijmons, former chair of landscape architecture at TU Delft, showcased recent visualizations from the 2016 International Architectural Biennale, animating scenarios for offshore wind energy development in the Arctic.
For Sijmons, “research and design at a large landscape scale” is less about project implementation, and more about building the cultural influence and political will needed to take on the challenges of the Anthropocene – the age of man.
Landscape architects diversified, to some extent
In her opening, Barbara Deutsch noted that the field of landscape architecture still has a major diversity problem, but it’s far more diverse than it was in 1966, when the profession was mostly white and male. Now, membership in ASLA is 36 percent female and now only 68 percent of landscape architecture graduates are Caucasian. And landscape architecture is a global practice, with tens of thousands of diverse practitioners across the world. Still, there is much more work to be done in the future to attract African Americans and Latinos to the field in the U.S.
This guest post is by Nate Wooten, Student ASLA,2016 master’s of landscape architecture graduate, University of Pennsylvania School of Design.
However, in the past few decades — as automobile transportation peaked, personal vehicle miles traveled per day soared, and congestion increased, resulting in wasted time and productivity — officials in some of our larger cities moved towards more productive forms of transportation, using transit street designs not seen in AASHTO or MUTCD. An emerging movement coincided with three city planning trajectories: 1) “smart growth” — compact, mixed use development, centered on high-capacity transit stations in a pattern that favors walking and bicycling; 2) the renaissance of America’s downtowns as desirable places to live, work, recreate, shop, and enjoy culture; and 3), enhanced or new transit to city centers.
Because downtowns use existing developments and rights-of-way, this spawned new ways of thinking about not only moving people in urban streets but also how street space is a part of civic open space. Street space offers a great opportunity: In my home town of Portland, Oregon, streets occupy over 45 percent of the land area downtown.
The stage was then set for a new transportation movement. NACTO was formed in 1996 as a coalition of city departments of transportation for 22 of the nation’s largest cities and now includes 17 affiliate cities. NACTO gained legitimacy in the industry and stimulated a more multi-modal outlook in AASHTO and MUTCD’s guides. In turn, NACTO refers back to AASHTO and MUTCD manuals for more detailed technical criteria.
Transit Street Design Guide is a reference manual so it’s not necessary to read from cover to cover in one sitting, but it’s ordered in a way to easily find the topic you want to explore and go directly to that section. This has been the format of all the books in NACTO series and their free, complementary websites. The book offers advice on choices, how to interpret specific recommended criteria (critical, recommended, and optional, for example), and clear references back to other technical manuals.
In the introduction, NACTO lays down six key principles for innovative thinking. For example, one principle is “growth without congestion,” which calls for “serving more people in less space” and “making transit trips faster on streets with high travel demand.” The other five principles set the stage for creating richer street places, providing better service and mobility for the whole city, ensuring safety, and generating economic benefits from reliable travel choices. NACTO also explains why transit reliability matters, and the components of design and service that create reliability.
Chapters explore transit streets, stations and stops, station and stop elements, transit lanes and transit ways, and intersections. These are all organized with the principles that underlie all street designs and should be kept in mind as a landscape architects and engineers make decisions. These are then followed by a description of the different contexts for design. Clear paragraph headings — such as application, benefits, considerations, critical, recommended, and optional — make it easy to choose a design for further analysis.
These segments typically include one to two-page spreads for each design type featuring outstanding illustrated graphics. Simple line drawings are in birds-eye perspective with color tone and numbered legend symbols. User-friendly illustrations are complemented by photos of the design types built in cities across the country.
A bonus chapter on transit system strategies peeks into the world of transit system planning and includes sections on systems, ranging from multi-hub (a series of inter-modal transfer stations where passengers change to another line); grid network (great for cities with consistent grid street patterns and distributed destinations); radial network (great for cities with strong downtowns), with benefits and considerations noted. Again, great graphics are used to help a lay-person grasp these concepts.
The last segment — performance measures — is particularly important. For decades, the traffic capacity of streets and intersections was the primary performance measure for street design, and the results of these measurements trumped all other concerns. The book advocates a holistic approach called “Measure the Whole Street” — as in, average person capacity per lane space, safety, public space and social life, health, sustainability, and economic productivity as additional performance measures.
One quibble with the guide: in the double-page birds-eye perspectives of transit street types, the caption lists street width in parentheses. This is typically, but not always, the curb-to-curb dimension. Because overall street width from building face to building face is so critical in total street design, I would have listed both curb-to-curb and building face-to-building face widths so the reader would know at a glance what the sidewalk widths are. You can uncover those missing dimensions in other detailed segments, but it’s important to list total street space.
If you are new to the NACTO series but genuinely interested in 21st century street transportation and street design, get all three books. They are worth the investment. If you’re already a NACTO fan, add this book to your library.
Going forward, street design must increase circulation for all transit modes, improve economic vitality and safety, and result in great placemaking — places that promote community identity, health, and well-being.
Brian McCarter, FASLA, AICP, is principal urban designer at ZGF Architects based in Portland, Oregon. He has 30 years of experience creating urban street designs in Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Calgary, Boise, and, notably, the Portland Mall Revitalization, an ASLA 2011 Professional General Design Award of Excellence winner.