The ASLA Awards Program is the oldest and most prestigious in the landscape architecture profession. They honor the most innovative landscape architecture projects and the brightest ideas from up-and-coming landscape architecture students.
“The ASLA Professional and Student Awards recognize the most impactful work in the profession,” said Eugenia Martin, FASLA, President of ASLA. “Our professional winners advance planning and design at all scales, while our student winners are our future design leaders. Each year, the ASLA Awards increase globally, with submissions from around the world.”
Award recipients receive featured coverage in Landscape Architecture Magazine and are honored at a special Awards Presentation ceremony in the fall.
ASLA bestows Professional Awards in General Design, Residential Design, Urban Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, Research categories. In each of these categories, juries select a number of Honor Awards and may select one Award of Excellence. One Landmark Award is also presented each year.
The 2022 Professional Awards Jury includes:
Chair: Dennis Otsuji, FASLA – Wimmer Yamada and Caughey
Juan Antonio Bueno, FASLA – Falcon + Bueno
David Garce, (Catawba), ASLA – GSBS Architects (Retired)
Kimberly Garza, ASLA – ATLAS Lab
Zack Mortice – Design Journalist
Taner Ozdil, ASLA – The University of Texas at Arlington (Representing CELA)
Lesley Roth, FASLA – Lamar Johnson Collaborative
Glenn LaRue Smith, FASLA – PUSH Studio
Matty A. Williams – City of Detroit, Planning & Development
Gena Wirth, ASLA – SCAPE Landscape Architecture
Emily Vogler – Rhode Island School of Design (Representing LAF)
ASLA bestows Student Awards in General Design, Residential Design, Urban Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, Research, Student Community Service, and Student Collaboration. In each of these categories, juries select a number of Honor Awards and may select one Award of Excellence.
The 2022 Student Awards Jury includes:
Chair: Mark Hough, FASLA – Duke University
Monique Bassey, ASLA – Lamar Johnson Collaborative
Jessica Canfield, ASLA – Kansas State University
Aida Curtis, ASLA – Curtis + Rogers Design Studio South
Latoya Kamdang, AIA – Moody Nolan
SuLin Kotowicz, FASLA – VIRIDIS Design Group
Christopher Nolan, FASLA – Central Park Conservancy
The recent book New Mobilities: Smart Planning for Emerging Transportation Technologies by Todd Litman, founder of the Victoria Transport Planning Institute, is a toolkit for landscape architects, planners, local governments, and communities seeking to evaluate how to best incorporate the latest transportation technologies. Litman includes twelve categories of what he calls “new mobilities” that span from the beginning of civilization, such as walking, to contemporary modes, such as ride-sharing, to possible future approaches, such as long-range pneumatic tubes like the proposed HyperLoop.
Although the book is entitled New Mobilities, it’s a call for a return to an earlier era of transportation diversity in which a variety of modes shared the road — from streetcars to bicycles and automobiles. Only in the past decades have our streets become increasingly car-centric.
A reversal of this trend by expanding other transportation modes and technologies can create a more equitable, inclusive, and accessible transportation environment. Communities can achieve this through a new transportation planning paradigm based in comprehensive and multimodal planning. Most importantly, this planning must put communities at the forefront.
According to Litman, the new paradigm defines transportation as accessibility, centered in people’s ability to obtain transportation services and participate in activities. Transportation planning and design should reduce the cost of transportation while also improving opportunities for disadvantaged populations, our overall health and public fitness, pollution, and energy conservation.
Reducing traffic congestion, crash rates, and vehicle costs, which were the old planning goals, should not be the only considerations. We need multimodal systems that efficiently manage transportation demand and accessibility for all communities.
Rating New Mobilities
The toolkit at the heart of New Mobilities is Litman’s comprehensive evaluation framework.
For twelve new mobilities — active travel and micro-mobilities, vehicle sharing, ride-hailing and micro-transit, electric vehicles (EVs), public transport innovation, mobility as a service (MasS), telework, tunnel roads and pneumatic tube transport, aviation innovation, mobility prioritization, and logistics management – he evaluates a range of factors including: the user experience, travel speeds, affordability, infrastructure and congestion costs, crash risks, equity opportunities, health impacts, and disease contagion risk.
He rates new mobilities through a multi-criteria framework that incorporates quantitative and qualitative data and is more comprehensive than the traditional cost-benefit analysis often used by transportation agencies and planners, which often only considers monetized impacts.
New Mobilities argues many communities have strategic planning goals to reduce automobile dependence and total vehicle travel, create more compact neighborhoods, and reduce impervious surfaces. Some of the new mobilities — active and micro-mobilities, public transit, EVs, MasS, mobility prioritization, and logistics management — will support these goals.
But ride-hailing, telework, pneumatic tube transport, air taxis, supersonic jets, and tunnel roads will likely increase vehicle travel. They will not meet strategic planning goals without transportation demand management (TDM) incentives and Smart Growth policies.
Active and micro-mobilities, such as walking, bicycling, and small, lower-speed motorized vehicles (e-scooters, bikes, and cargo bikes) scored the highest in Litman’s evaluation. Active and micro-mobilities increase savings, provide social equity, promote health and safety, and decrease disease contagion risk. The only area where these modes scored low was in speed and time.
Public transit also scored high, only scoring low for infrastructure and congestion costs and contagion risk.
Ride-hailing and micro-transit mobility services like Uber, Lyft, and Via that transport individuals and small groups received a medium score due to infrastructure and congestion costs and issues with health and safety, affordability, and social equity.
The newest mobilities, including aviation innovation — air-taxis, drones, and supersonic jets — and pneumatic tube transport — high-speed tube transport network – along with autonomous vehicles received the lowest scores.
Litman argues these new technologies offer limited benefits, are expensive to own or use, and increase total vehicle travel and costs. He reminds us new technology is not always better.
Designing Future Transportation Systems
This is where the excitement comes in, especially for landscape architects and urban designers who are concerned with the design of the built environment and creating places in which people can move about safely, efficiently, and humanely — and be inspired while doing so.
The effectiveness of new mobilities is derived from the ability of communities to leverage them to achieve compact Smart Growth. Litman highlights a quote from author Daniel Sperling’s book Three Revolutions: “Automation without a comprehensive overhaul of how our streets are designed, allocated, and shared will not result in substantive safety, sustainability, or equity gains.”
This supports the notion that what we do as landscape architects is essential to providing efficient and equitable transportation to communities. Efficient travel is intrinsically linked to form, density, and where and how people live.
Resource-efficient, inclusive, and affordable transportation modes can provide a catalyst for more compact development. And form and density can also catalyze inclusive, multimodal transportation.
Litman encourages new policies to support EV use, including incentives for individual and shared EVs and their charging infrastructure. In addition, local jurisdictions could offer income-based EV supplements and encourage the use of EVs in city operations.
Other recommendations include focusing autonomous vehicle development towards shared and commercial vehicle applications, including micro-transit, buses, and trucks.
Local and state governments and transit agencies can create regulations to prevent private services, like Uber and Lyft, from displacing public transit on profitable routes, which can cause transit agencies to lose ridership and revenue, ultimately leading to reduced service.
Communities should adopt Complete Street policies to ensure all roads accommodate diverse users and uses. Community planning can provide more compact, mixed-use development in order to create fifteen-minute neighborhoods with more connected roadways and pedestrian and bicycle shortcuts, so most local destinations are easy to access through active modes.
New Mobilities also suggests funding reforms that allow new transportation technologies and service investments. One reform — least-cost transportation planning — enables investment in more cost-effective projects. This tool would allow transportation agencies to shift funds usually dedicated to roadway and parking facility expansions to improve resource-efficient modes or support TDM programs that encourage users to choose resource-efficient options.
Creating a New Narrative About Transportation
Local, state, and federal governments have made enormous investments in highways and forced property owners to subsidize parking. In these unhealthy and unsafe automobile-dependent communities, active modes (walking, bicycling, and their variants) and public transit receive scarce support.
I interject that we, as designers of the built environment, have done little to counteract car-centric transportation systems and must embrace our power to change the narrative.
Many of the communities we plan and design for want more affordable, inclusive, and efficient transportation systems. They are beginning to apply a new planning paradigm rooted in multimodal planning, TDM, and Smart Growth.
New Mobilities is hopeful regarding the future of transportation. But Litman also warns us that many new mobilities are no panacea. Some will actually increase congestion, exclusion, and costs. Therefore, we must be discerning, and communities must be willing to say no.
The book provides strategies for correcting the ills of the past and creating a future that is more multimodal and therefore healthier, and more equitable, sustainable, inclusive, and efficient.
As Litman states at the end of the book, “Our job is to frighten, reassure, and plan. We need to scare decision-makers and the general public about the potential problems that are likely to result in from unregulated new mobilities. We also need to reassure them that excellent solutions are available. We must help create a positive vision of a better future and identify the specific policies and programs that can achieve it.”
ASLA is currently accepting proposals for the 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Francisco, November 11-14, 2022. Help us shape the 2022 education program by submitting a proposal through our online system by Tuesday, February 22, 2022, at 12:00 NOON PT.
The ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture is the largest gathering of landscape architects and allied professionals in the world.
ASLA seeks education proposals that will help to drive change in the field of landscape architecture and provide solutions to everyday challenges informed by research and practice. Educational tracks include:
Changing the Culture in Practice
Design and the Creative Process
Leadership, Career Development, and Business
Olmsted & Beyond: Practice in Progress
Planning, Urban Design, and Infrastructure
Resilience and Stewardship
Technology: Trends and Workflow
“At the upcoming 2022 conference, we will explore planning and design solutions to some of the world’s most challenging issues: how to increase resilience to climate change, how to rebuild our infrastructure, and how to ensure greater racial and social equity in all communities. Landscape architects are ready to come together to share knowledge and advance best practices,“ said ASLA President Eugenia Martin, FASLA.
“We look forward to building on the success of last year’s conference in Nashville, where we created a safe, inclusive in-person educational experience for the landscape architecture community. We hope to see more of our global friends in San Francisco as well. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, we will be watching closely to ensure we can again create a safe space for everyone,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA CEO.
Please visit the submission site to learn more about the 2022 education tracks, submission criteria, review process, and key dates.
Education Session Submission Guides
Our session submission guides provide detailed information on what you need to include with expert tips on putting together a winning and help determine which session type best fits your proposal.
Education Session Guide: Education sessions are 60-, 75-, and 90-minute sessions that deliver a selection of relevant and timely topics. Session includes a minimum of 50 minutes of instruction followed by 10/15 minutes of Q&A, maximum three speakers.
Deep Dive Session Guide: Deep dive sessions are interactive, in-depth, 2.5-hour programs that explore specific landscape architecture topics, maximum five speakers.
Field Session Guide: Multiple speakers offer education combined with a field experience, highlighting local projects. Field sessions are organized through the local chapter.
Speakers are welcome to use the submission Word templates for 60-,75-, or 90-minute sessions, deep dives, and field sessions to collaborate on proposals before completing the online submission. The templates provide descriptions of the required submission information and can be edited and shared.
Conference Session Guide Examples
Review the session descriptions, learning outcomes, and session guides from past conferences.
Landscape architects can play a powerful role in changing lives — possibly in ways most haven’t fully contemplated. The spaces they design have the potential to measurably improve the health and well-being of those who spend time in them.
At Nature Sacred, we have spent the past 25 years creating green spaces – or what we call Sacred Places – with the sole intent of bringing nature to people so they could benefit from this restorative, healing connection. From the very beginning, we asked ourselves: how can we work with communities to create spaces that more fully capture the benefits nature has to offer? How do we incorporate established design principles while, at the same time, create spaces that resonate with people and their lived experiences? We knew instinctively that the two went hand-in-hand.
Working with landscape architects, academics, and on the ground with communities, we honed an approach to creating green spaces where people live, work, play and heal that is a blend of scientific evidence and ground truth. We’re sharing this approach in a new report that we released just two weeks ago at ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in Nashville.
The report, written by Nature Sacred’s Neha Srinivasan, MLA; and edited by Nature Sacred Design Advisor and University of Maryland Assistant Professor Naomi A. Sachs, ASLA, PhD, is intended to be a resource for landscape architects interested in creating green spaces that are designed to encourage contemplation and connection with nature.
Over the years, the science around the nature-health connection has continued to grow. While anecdotally, most wouldn’t argue with the statement that time spent in nature is health-building, the scientific evidence proves that nature has remarkable therapeutic benefits. Not to mention, our approach to designing nature spaces in cities is so critical to preserving our natural ecosystems and mitigating the negative health and ecological impacts of global warming.
The role of landscape architect is more influential than at any other point in history.
Using this research, landscape architects and designers can make stronger health-based arguments to decision makers and number crunchers to integrate thoughtful design of green spaces into larger planning projects — nature zones for recharging and wellness that will become magnets for the community.
For the research portion of this paper, we focused our attention on four domains: nature’s impact on individual, community, economic and ecological health. A few highlights of the research:
Individual health: Time spent in nature can reduce cortisol levels and symptoms of depression; research also suggests it can slow cognitive declines in people with dementia and improve memory and concentration — including in children with ADHD.
Community health: Easy access to shared green space and tree canopy in particular can influence drops in acts of aggression, violence and crime by 40-50% especially in public spaces, where trees are 40% more effective at reducing crime than trees on private property.
Economic health: Researchers have observed improvements in health perception comparable to a $10,000 increase in annual income with the addition of just 10 trees.
Ecological health: Healthy natural spaces provide carbon sequestration, filtration of air and water pollutants, reduced load on drainage systems, and decreased intensity of the deadly urban heat island effect.
All of these benefits can be reaped in small instances of nature — a pocket park, for instance.
Some of these benefits are what you might call passive; i.e. the sheer existence of the trees or well-planned green spaces will help address challenges related to carbon sequestration and water pollutants whether the community engages with the space or not. However, for many of the individual and community health benefits to kick in, people must engage with nature. Spend time in the green space.
And this is where Nature Sacred has spent a lot of energy over the past two decades — looking at how to best engage the community and how to best design so that the community embraces, and spends time in, their green space.
Suggestions for design
We grouped specific design suggestions into three outcome categories: making people feel welcomed, encouraging them to explore and play, and giving a site a specific purpose or two.
And central to the Nature Sacred approach: incorporating elements that are familiar to a community or reflective of its culture. This can go a long way toward helping nearby residents see themselves represented in a space, thereby increasing the likelihood that they will spend time in space and that it will become a Nature Sacred’s approach to designing landscapes involves four guiding principles, four design elements and one signature fixture. These ensure that our Sacred Places are optimally suited to meet the needs of the people they serve.
Four guiding principles
Every Sacred Place is designed to be:
Open and welcoming to everyone.
Nearby where people live, work, play and heal. Only when green space is conveniently reachable can it become an integral part of people’s everyday lives.
Community-led — This refers to both the creation and long-term stewardship; this is key ensuring the space is deeply rooted within the spirit of those it will serve.
Sacred — Meaning, this is a community-led space that strengthens ties, restores connection to nature and offers solace and rejuvenation.
Four design elements
Every Sacred Place incorporates a portal, path, destination and surround; a response to humans’ overarching need for cohesive structure in landscape. It’s important to note though that there are as many interpretations of these elements as there are Sacred Places.
Portal — An entry point to the site that indicates that one is stepping into an intentionally created space.
Path — A guide, slowly leading visitors deeper into the space and giving them a journey to follow.
Destination — An end point to which the path leads. In Sacred Places, this is often the Nature Sacred bench, which holds a waterproof journal to collect the thoughts and musings of visitors to the space.
Surround — A design feature that creates the sensation of being embraced and sheltered within the space — a feeling of refuge and safety.
In the paper, we share images, examples, of how these elements have been interpreted by communities in their Sacred Places. For instance, at the Sacred Place at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Falls Church, Virginia, peace poles decorated in the many languages of the diverse immigrant community around the church serve as the portal into the space. And at the Sacred Place at Brooklyn’s Naval Cemetery Landscape, a boardwalk, a suspended path, leads visitors through a wildflower meadow, allowing them to experience it without disturbing the former burial grounds and native plants growing beneath their feet.
More examples of the interpretations of these design elements can be found in the paper as well as on our website.
We believe the research and guidance laid out in this paper, coupled with a landscape architect’s own experience, can lead to the creation of more green spaces that truly improve society on multiple fronts. As advocates for nature, the planet and people, landscape architects are in an ideal position to communicate to clients and partners the crucial need to value and prioritize green space in our built environments.
“As far as I can tell, this is mankind’s most honest cognitive project,” writes Nobel-prize winning author Olga Tokarczuk in her 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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Detailed list of programs and funding in the legislation:
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.