Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (November 16-30, 2022)

Ellinikon Metropolitan Park. Athens, Greece / Sasaki

Abandoned Greek Airport To Be Transformed Into a 600-Acre Coastal Park – 11/28/2022, CNN
“Designed by US architecture firm Sasaki, the design aims to provide much-needed green space to the Greek metropolis.”

Hood Design Studio Creates an Inhabitable Landscape for NVIDIA’s Campus in Santa Clara – 11/28/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“We wanted to move away from an ornamental function to create more usable space connected to the daily practice of work,” explained studio director and principal Alma Du Solier, ASLA.

Snøhetta Brings Fresh Air into a 1980s Landmark – 11/25/2022, Architectural Record
“The Snøhetta team, which included landscape architect Michelle Delk, ASLA, was inspired by Manhattan’s small pocket parks that are integrated with the urban fabric but act as welcome retreats from it.”

Surfacedesign Introduces a Lush Garden with Native Vegetation to an Underused Backyard in San Francisco – 11/18/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“’More and more, there is a move away from tamed, manicured landscapes towards something more connected to a larger ecological condition,’ Surfacedesign partner Roderick Wyllie, FASLA, told AN.”

Voters Pass Historic Climate Initiatives in ‘Silent Surprise’ of US Midterms – 11/18/2022, The Guardian
“While the economy and abortion rights drove momentum behind the midterm election this year, voters in cities and states across the US also turned out to pass a number of climate ballot initiatives.”

Best Books of 2022

American Urbanist: How William H. Whyte’s Unconventional Wisdom Reshaped Public Life / Island Press

Over the holidays, delve into new books on history, design, and the environment that inform and inspire. Whether you are looking for the perfect gift for your favorite designer or something to read yourself, explore THE DIRT’s 12 best books of 2022:

American Urbanist: How William H. Whyte’s Unconventional Wisdom Reshaped Public Life
Island Press, 2022

Richard K. Rein, a reporter and founder of the weekly newsletter U.S. 1, delves into the life and ideas of William H. Whyte, the urbanist, sociologist, journalist, and famously close observer of people in public spaces. Whyte’s articles and books, including The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces and City: Rediscovering the Center, led to a renewed focus on human-centered design, a greater understanding of the value of public space, and influenced generations of landscape architects around the world.

Beatrix Farrand: Garden Artist, Landscape Architect / The Monacelli Press
Garden as Art: Beatrix Farrand at Dumbarton Oaks / Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection

Beatrix Farrand: Garden Artist, Landscape Architect and Garden as Art: Beatrix Farrand at Dumbarton Oaks
The Monacelli Press, 2022 and Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2022

With Beatrix Farrand: Garden Artist, Landscape Architect, Judith Tankard, a landscape historian, has provided the definitive biography of Farrand, filled with gorgeous photography. And in Garden as Art: Beatrix Farrand at Dumbarton Oaks, Thaïsa Way, FASLA, director of landscape and garden studies at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., has revealed the magic of Farrand’s masterpiece, with an essay from Thomas Woltz, FASLA, and evocative images from photographer Sahar Coston-Hardy.

Beyond the Garden: Designing Home Landscapes with Natural Systems / Princeton Architectural Press

Beyond the Garden: Designing Home Landscapes with Natural Systems
Princeton Architectural Press, 2022

Dana Davidsen, a landscape designer at Surface Design in San Francisco and former ASLA intern, has curated a beautiful collection of 18 urban, suburban, and rural residential landscapes in U.S. and U.K. that advance ecological design. In an introduction, Timothy A. Schuler, a contributing editor at Landscape Architecture Magazine, explains how deeply sustainable residential projects can help re-set our relationship with the land.

The Comprehensive Plan: Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Communities for the 21st Century / Routledge

The Comprehensive Plan: Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Communities for the 21st Century
Routledge, 2022

“The planning practices of the past are inadequate for today’s challenges,” explains David Rouse, ASLA, a landscape architect and planner, who co-authored this book with Rocky Piro, executive director of the Colorado Center for Sustainable Urbanism and former planning director of Denver. After reviewing hundreds of comprehensive plans, they offer a new model for 21st century planning rooted in sustainability, resilience, and equity. Read more.

Experiencing Olmsted: The Enduring Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted’s North American Landscapes / Timber Press

Experiencing Olmsted: The Enduring Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted’s North American Landscapes
Timber Press, 2022

For the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, president of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF); Arleyn A. Levee, Hon. ASLA, a landscape historian; and Dena Tasse-Winter, a historic preservationist, have created a welcome overview of more than 200 public, educational, and private landscapes by Olmsted, his firm, and his successors. Well-curated images, including stunning full-page plans and drawings by Olmsted, show the remarkable work behind his vision of democratic public spaces.

From the Ground Up: Local Efforts to Create Resilient Cities / Island Press

From the Ground Up: Local Efforts to Create Resilient Cities
Island Press, 2022

In her review, Grace Mitchell Tada, ASLA, writes: “From activists and community organizers, landscape architects and city planners, policy makers and city officials, Sant’s cast of characters demonstrate the complexity and nuance that go into creating urban change. It’s the details from her interviews that make this book a valuable tool. Seeing how change is made allows readers to understand how, in their own communities, they too might be able to forge fruitful relationships to dismantle racist histories in favor of equity while equipping their city to handle climate change.” Read the full review.

Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America / Liverlight

Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America
Liverlight, 2022

Oxford University historian Pekka Hämäläinen’s latest book is a vital addition to new histories of Native Americans, such as The Dawn of History: A New History of Humanity and The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present. Instead of focusing on Colonial America, he tells the story of Indigenous America, which began in 10,000 BCE and has been defined by the incredible diversity, resilience, and agency of Native peoples over millennia.

Landscape Architecture for Sea Level Rise: Global Innovative Solutions / Routledge

Landscape Architecture for Sea Level Rise: Global Innovative Solutions
Routledge, 2022

Galen Newman, ASLA, professor and head of the department of landscape architecture and urban planning at Texas A&M University, and Zixu Qiao, a master’s of landscape architecture candidate there, have edited a fascinating look at global landscape architecture-based solutions to sea level rise, with practically-minded case studies from Kate Orff, FASLA, Alex Felson, ASLA, Haley Blakeman, FASLA, Kongjian Yu, FASLA, Amy Whitesides, ASLA, and many others. Smart diagrams in the final chapter transform the book into a toolkit that can help landscape architects sort through the pluses and minuses of natural and hard design elements for different ecological, economic, and social conditions.

Landscapes of Exclusion: State Parks and Jim Crow in the American South / Library of American Landscape History

Landscapes of Exclusion: State Parks and Jim Crow in the American South
Library of American Landscape History, 2022

Reviewing the new edition of this book by William E. O’Brien, a professor of environmental studies at Florida Atlantic University, Glenn LaRue Smith, FASLA, states “anyone exploring landscape, planning, and public space history will find the book interesting. O’Brien has crafted an intensively researched history of the political, social, racial, and environmental implications of Jim Crow practices and the unfair distribution of parks in the southern United States.” Read the full review.

Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Well-Being, Equity, and Sustainability (2nd Edition) / Island Press

Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Well-Being, Equity, and Sustainability (2nd Edition)
Island Press, 2022

This fully-updated book will help any landscape architect, planner, or community leader make a stronger case that public green spaces and streets really are part of our healthcare system. The latest research on health and community design has been woven into this new edition, which was edited by Howard Frumkin, senior vice president at the Trust for Public Land; Andrew L. Dannenberg, a professor at the University of Washington; and Nisha Botchwey, dean of the school of public affairs at the University of Minnesota; and also includes a chapter on designing for mental health and well-being by William C. Sullivan, ASLA, a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and an essay from Mitchell Silver, Hon. ASLA, former NYC Parks Commissioner.

Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the Great Environmental Awakening / HarperCollins, via DouglasBrinkley.com

Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the Great Environmental Awakening
HarperCollins, 2022

Douglas Brinkley, one of the country’s leading historians, explores the history of the modern American environmental movement and activists like Cesar Chavez, Coretta Scott King, and Rachel Carson, who laid the groundwork for the Environmental Protection Agency, Wilderness Act, the Clean Air Acts, the Endangered Species Acts, and Limited Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. In the “long decade” of the 1960s and early 70s, these leaders made significant change happen, and their successes can inspire designer-activists pushing for systemic climate action today.

Buying these books through THE DIRT or ASLA’s online bookstore benefits ASLA educational programs.

Community Empowerment Is at the Heart of Climate Resilience

From the Ground Up: Local Efforts to Create Resilient Cities / Island Press

By Grace Mitchell Tada, ASLA

“This book is a call to action.”

It is that invocation from Alison Sant that propels the narratives in her book — From the Ground Up: Local Efforts to Create Resilient Cities. She presents how people in cities across the U.S. are creating equitable communities that can withstand the changes wrought by climate change. Sant features places and projects that depend on community-grounded efforts to realize their outcomes, though she notes strong grassroots activism and community involvement can’t affect change alone. The most successful examples she relates “bring together the energy of community activists, the organization of advocacy groups, the power of city government, and the reach of federal environmental policy.” And, importantly, they do so in ways suited to their city.

Sant is a partner and co-founder of the Studio for Urban Projects, and its interdisciplinary interests are apparent in the various project types, organizations, and individuals included in her book. From activists and community organizers, landscape architects and city planners, policy makers and city officials, Sant’s cast of characters demonstrate the complexity and nuance that go into creating urban change. It’s the details from her interviews that make this book a valuable tool. Seeing how change is made allows readers to understand how, in their own communities, they too might be able to forge fruitful relationships to dismantle racist histories in favor of equity while equipping their city to handle climate change.

The book is organized into four sections, each tackling a different domain of the built environment. “Reclaim the Streets” showcases cities that are re-imagining streets to accommodate more than vehicular traffic. “Tear up the Concrete” highlights places that are embracing their role in their watersheds, whether by removing concrete or installing green infrastructure. In “Plant the City,” Sant presents how cities are encouraging tree planting. And “Adapt the Shoreline” illustrates how rising sea levels are altering cities’ relationships to their waterfront. The common thread throughout the sections: the understanding that any change striving for equity within our urban environments must be rooted in its community.

In New York, that community rootedness was critical when introducing Citi Bike to Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The neighborhood, where the majority of residents are Black and have household incomes below NYC’s median, has few public transit options, yet most residents initially did not use the bike share program.

Then the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, a community-based organization, and other partners collaborated with Citi Bike, creating communications campaigns that spotlighted residents of colors who rode the bikes. Within a year, Citi Bike trips in the neighborhood ballooned, as did membership. “Bike share only became relevant to the community of Bedford-Stuyvesant once it was shaped by the community intended to use it,” Sant writes.

Bike share riders in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood / Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, courtesy of Island Press

The same can be said about green infrastructure. Sant recounts how various cities are shifting to become “sponges for stormwater.” In New Orleans, community leaders are teaching their neighborhoods to add green infrastructure—rain garden and bioswales, street trees and permeable paving. But there’s more to it: “What is most important to me is to make sure that people had tangible assets on their property and for them to understand its functionality…the pumps, the drains, and the canals,” said Angela Chalk, executive director of Healthy Community Services. “By understanding this, we can take charge of ourselves.”

Mami Hara, ASLA, CEO at U.S. Water Alliance, writes in a contributing essay that “without community support and effective supporting policies and practices, green infrastructure can be an agent of displacement.”

The boon of tree planting has long been a part of American history. Benefits of urban tree planting have become further understood over time. From creating beauty, reducing noise pollution, mitigating the urban heat island effect, and increasing groundwater infiltration, urban trees have myriad benefits. Yet, Sant points out, like other urban amenities, trees, too, do not have equitable dispersal. Less affluent neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color do not have as many trees.

Sant chronicles efforts in Washington, D.C., and New York City to increase their urban tree canopies, which span community activists’ efforts, public-private partnerships, and public investment in street trees and public parks. Baltimore, too, is working to grow the city’s canopy, but perhaps more novel, however, is Baltimore’s use of urban wood. “Utilizing dead trees is as important as tending live ones, especially in the context of climate change,” Sant writes. Trees are usually seen as waste and sent to landfills where they release carbon.

To alleviate this issue, the U.S. Forest Service and local partners have established the Baltimore Wood Project. The program offers living-wage jobs to residents—many formerly incarcerated—who work to deconstruct some of the thousands of abandoned buildings in the city while salvaging their materials. It’s met success, both in its extremely low recidivism rate, and in its environmental impact. As a result, Baltimore’s sustainability plan emphasizes workforce development programs like this one.

In East Baltimore, wood from abandoned row houses is being reclaimed / Doug Kapustin, courtesy of Island Press

In the book’s final section, Sant addresses three cities—San Francisco, New York, and New Orleans—built atop former wetlands. As sea levels rise, each must brace themselves for a much wetter future—especially because those buffering wetlands are no longer present to lessen incoming tides and storm surges. The projects Sant compiles here, too, are based in robustly leveraging community support.

In San Francisco, like in many other cities, the communities most at risk of flooding are low-income, and often neighborhoods of color. Sant details the community processes leading to Hunters Point Shoreline Park and India Basin Shoreline Park, which included landscape architects with RHAA Landscape Architects and Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, respectively. Both are in Bayview–Hunter’s Point, a historically Black waterfront neighborhood, and it was critical that their designs reflected its community while making space for rising waters. Jacqueline Flin, a Bayview native who now works for APRI, said involving the community throughout the process ensures that the park “is being grown from within and that the community takes ownership of it.”

In San Francisco, designers of waterfront parks prioritize working with communities. Here, at Candlestick Point Park, the Literacy for Environmental Justice youth group restores wetland habitat / Victor Leung/Literacy for Environmental Justice, courtesy of Island Press

On the opposite coast, the Billion Oyster Project, which strives to grow one billion water-filtering oysters in the New York–New Jersey Harbor Estuary, also necessarily demands the public’s assistance, from monitoring reef structures to putting them together. SCAPE’s post-Superstorm Sandy project, Living Breakwaters, which employs oyster restoration practices, has furthered public understanding about how nature-based strategies can mitigate the effects of sea-level rise.

Living Breakwaters model, Staten Island, NYC / SCAPE Landscape Architecture and Urban Design

“The only way to adapt, while keeping the biodiversity of estuaries and oceans intact, is by adopting radically anticipatory methods based on mimicking natural processes,” writes University of California at Berkeley professor Kristina Hill, Affil. ASLA, in a guest essay. “When that doesn’t work, managing retreat is a better strategy than building rigid defenses that create exacerbated risks of catastrophic failure.”

In Louisiana, efforts are being made to protect land through efforts such as marsh creation, like here at the Pelican Island dune and intertidal marsh restoration project in Plaquemines Parish / Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, courtesy of Island Press

Sant wrote this book during the earlier days of the Covid-19 pandemic, and during the racial reckoning that arose following the murder of George Floyd. She writes of the changes that we witnessed in cities, such as the “new ways of making streets for people.” Despite all the awfulness of 2020, there was a moment when it seemed the world would be irrevocably different: certainly we would more equitably, and more sustainably, inhabit cities moving forward.

The Shared Spaces Program created public space in San Francisco’s Mission district during the Covid-19 pandemic / Alison Sant, courtesy of Island Press

National expert on the built environment and equity Tamika L. Butler speaks to that hope in her contributing essay: “It feels like we might be building something new, from the ground up.” Yet she also expresses the hesitancy that many of us likely feel now as we watch the world slip back into pre-2020 habits: “But what if it is all a façade? What if we build something up just to fortify the foundation of White supremacy that was already there?”

And this is the call to action: May the anger and the grief, the state of emergency of the pandemic, and the work that Sant so carefully describes prompt us to act—toward true change.

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

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (November 1-15, 2022)

ASLA 2022 Professional Urban Design Honor Award. Midtown Park. Houston, TX, USA. Design Workshop, Inc. / Brandon Huttenlocher courtesy of Design Workshop, Inc.

ASLA Unveils Framework for Achieving Zero Emissions by 2040 Through Practice, Equity, and Advocacy – 11/15/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) used its annual large-scale gathering to unveil what’s perhaps the most consequential goal-based agenda to be produced by the professional association in its 123-year history: a comprehensive Climate Action Plan.”

Fair Trade – 11/08/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Landscape architecture design studio Terremoto addresses labor exploitation in its industry.”

It’s Official: Climate Reparations Are on the Agenda at This Year’s UN Climate Conference – 11/07/2022, Grist
“After dodging the issue for more than 30 years, wealthy nations face calls to address the ‘loss and damage’ created by climate change at COP27.”

Are Trees Talking Underground? For Scientists, It’s in Dispute. – 11/07/2022, The New York Times
“From Ted Lasso to TED Talks, the theory of the ‘wood-wide web’ is everywhere, and some scientists argue that it is overblown and unproven.”

Planning Commission Pushes for Bolder One Seattle Plan Re-Envisioning City Streets – 11/07/2022, The Urbanist
“In a set of recommendations submitted to the city, the commission calls for revised land use and transportation policies that reclaim public space from cars and shift focus away from vehicle throughput to more pedestrian-oriented uses.”

How One Indiana Park Restored the Landscape to Its 19th Century Glory – 11/02/2022, Fast Company
“The Swamp Act of 1850 erased millions of acres of swampland from the U.S. In Westfield, Indiana, landscape architects are bringing one waterway back to life.”

Parks of the 21st Century: New Ways to Reinvent Abandoned Land

Parks of the 21st Century: Reinvented Landscapes, Reclaimed Territories / Rizzoli

By Grace Mitchell Tada, ASLA

On our heterogeneous planet, finding an overarching commonality between new parks around the world seems daunting. Yet author and architectural historian Victoria Newhouse, along with Alex Pisha, argue in the new book Parks of the 21st Century: Reinvented Landscapes, Reclaimed Territories that there is one: the drive to create parks on post-industrial, degraded, or otherwise rejected land.

Think of the High Line, perhaps the park of greatest celebrity in this genre, which transformed an unused rail line into a highly visited destination in Manhattan. With this success in mind, Newhouse and Pisha turn their attention to inventorying abandoned sites around the world—from closed highways to decommissioned airports, former industrial sites to defunct quarries—that now constitute the flourishing parks.

Making parks in underused, depleted, or contaminated land is not new. To name but two 19th-century examples: Paris’ Parc des Buttes Chaumont was once a quarry, and Boston’s Emerald Necklace a sewage-filled swamp. However, Newhouse maintains that the emergence of the environmental movement, the rise of a newly post-industrial society, and the depletion of public space accelerated this trend. And unlike parks of earlier centuries that sought to create sanctuary distinctly delineated from their city, all of the volume’s selected parks merge with their urban environments.

Parks of the 21st Century is organized by site history, with chapters titles such as “Highway Caps,” “Waterside Industry: Parks,” “Inland Industry,” and “Strongholds.” The book’s structure juxtaposes sites of the same type, presenting different variations of site understanding and approach that may vary by culture or local circumstances. Park descriptions include contexts, histories, design processes, and site elements, described by Newhouse in the first person based upon her visits with Pisha.

In the chapter describing parks on former airport land, two German parks exemplify divergent approaches. In Berlin, Tempelhofer Feld exists largely as it was when the airport closed, in 2008. The public opposed any changes, including a proposal from GROSS.MAX. Today, all site amenities, from toilets to community gardens to signage, are temporary. It is, according to Westhouse, a “huge void.”

Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin, Germany / Manuel Frauendorffotografic, image courtesy of Grün Berlin GmbH

In contrast to Tempelhofer, Alter Flugplatz, the empty site of relocated airport in Bonames, Germany, offers an argument for intervention—a strikingly minimal one. Instead of trying to replicate nature, GTL Landschaftsarchitektur sought to create a space that would allow it to self-propagate. Their design entailed breaking up the site’s asphalt and concrete, and this “human manipulation of the surface provided the necessary armature for the ‘wild’ to emerge.” The park exists as a continually changing landscape, and one with inherently little maintenance.

Waterfront parks comprise a significant number of parks in the book–according to the authors, the most parks have been constructed atop former industrial sites along waterfronts than anywhere else. The authors note that the similarities and differences between parks in China and those in the West—in design approach, remediation efforts, construction timelines, implementation—are particularly apparent.

Ambitious park system projects underway in Shanghai and New York City both reimagine former industrial sites as green public amenities. In New York City, Hunter’s Point South, designed by SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi, and Brooklyn Bridge Park, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates implement a soft edge made possible by marshes, bridges, and raised walkways that make space for the inevitable flux of water. But most of the Shanghai parks remain, at the government’s direction, lined by the city’s flood wall. In their design of the Shanghai Shipyard Riverside Park, Design Land Collaborative overcame government-established design limitations including the flood wall, as well as work with too-shallow soil depth that were a result of the remediation efforts in which they had no role. Yet despite the constraints, the authors were impressed with the results—the allure of its human scale, the lush planting.

Shanghai Shipyard Riverside Park, Shanghai, China / Design Land Collaborative

While the glamour of waterfront sites attracts much attention, Newhouse and Pisha share parks on inland industrial sites that are just as captivating. Parque Bicentenario, designed by Grupo di Diseño Urbano, is one of them, representing the only Mexican park in the volume. Built atop a former oil refinery, the park and botanical garden serve simultaneously as a public green space and educational site, its eight scaled-down biomes displaying the diversity across Mexico.

Parque Bicentenario, Mexico City, Mexico / Francisco Gomez Sosa; Courtesy of Grupo de Diseño Urbano SC

Not all of the book’s spurned sites result from modern technologies, such as those parks in “Quarries” and the “Strongholds” chapters. Both types of parks are globally widespread, but take on different forms. The vast 570-acre Huadu Lake Park by Palm Design in Guangzhou, China, employs local Cantonese garden aesthetics, offering a simplicity that “delighted” the authors.

Huadu Lake Park, Guangzhou, China / Zhenlun Guan

On the small scale, 1.3-acre Thomas C. Wales Park in Seattle, Washington by Site Workshop impressed them its outsized effect: the magic bestowed by the vegetation, the “fairy-tale quality” granted by Adam Kuby’s Quarry Rings sculpture.

Thomas C. Wales Park, Seattle, WA / Site Workshop

Each of the sites in Parks of the 21st Century are included only because of the narratives we understand about them. Topotek 1’s founder Martin-Rein-Cano articulates further: he is “convinced that the perception of landscape is highly dependent on the stories that are told about it.” In his firm’s work at Germany’s Lorsch Abbey, a monastic community founded in 764 whose buildings were largely destroyed in war in the 17th century, the task was to respond to those stories by creating a park connected to the abbey site. Newhouse resonated with the design, experiencing it “as the abstraction of a lost history,” and as a “design [that] ingeniously renders the invisible visible.”

Lorsch Abbey, Lorsch, Germany / copyright Hanns Joosten

Newhouse admits to one of the book’s shortcomings—that while global in reach, it is not comprehensively so. The parks included are all in North America, Europe, and China.

Yet the fact that the book includes only parks Newhouse and Pisha personally visited also imbues the book with a personal touch. The authors’ many and far-flung travels to the sites and their thorough descriptions are altogether quite a feat. Newhouse notes the weather on a given day, conversations with park users, observations about who is coming to a park at a certain time, and insightful commentary from the park designers who sometimes toured her and Pisha through the site.

One of the other limitations of the volume is, of course, that we are only 22 years into the 21st century. We don’t know how new parks of the next three-quarters of the century will evolve, though some of the designers in the “Future” chapter offer prescient thoughts. In this chapter, the authors examine four parks currently in progress, two of which are immense projects that foremost involve rehabilitation: Freshkills Park on Staten Island, New York, and the Los Angeles River project in California.

Freshkills Park / James Corner Field Operations

Of Freshkills, landscape architect James Corner, FASLA, declared it was not a design project. “It is not about a conclusion, but about adaptive management,” he said. According to him, it needs not a definitive plan, but a strategy—not unlike that of a farmer working the land. OLIN’s Jessica Henson, ASLA, echoes the sentiment, describing her work on the Los Angeles River project as a “‘long-term adaptation framework that looks eighty years into the future.’”

These are hopeful expressions of landscape architecture’s direction, ones that suggest an acceptance of flux in the work the discipline produces. Given the state of the world, the penchant to reinvent and reclaim landscapes seems likely to continue in the coming decades. As designers continue to work in these landscapes, Parks of the 21st Century offers a valuable guide for them: a detailed compendium of successes (and sometimes misses), and a hint at how the uncertain future needs to be met.

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

Nature-based Protection Against Storm Surges

Living Breakwaters, Staten Island, NYC / SCAPE

“Superstorm Sandy in 2012 was a wake-up call for NYC and made the city realize it needed to better prepare for climate change,” said Adrian Smith, FASLA, vice president at ASLA and team leader of Staten Island capital projects with NYC Parks. Due to storm surges from Sandy, “several people in Staten Island perished and millions in property damage was sustained.”

On the 10th anniversary of Sandy, Smith along with Pippa Brashear, ASLA, principal at SCAPE, and Donna Walcavage, FASLA, principal at Stantec, explained how designing with nature can lead to more resilient shoreline communities. During Climate Week NYC, they walked an online crowd of hundreds through two interconnected projects on the southwestern end of the island: Living Breakwaters and its companion on land — the Tottenville Shoreline Protection Project.

Sandy impacted 13 states along the East coast, causing the death of more than 100 people, power outages for 8.5 million, more than $70 billion in damages, and the destruction of 650,000 homes. In response, President Obama initiated a task force, which led to the creation of Rebuild by Design, a novel program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Then HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan — who has trained as an architect and is married to Liza Gilbert, ASLA, a landscape architect — initiated the program to plan and design better climate resilience solutions.

With numerous state and local government, non-profit, and philanthropic partners, the first Rebuild by Design competition funded seven ambitious projects throughout the Tri-state area. One of those projects is Living Breakwaters, off the coast of Tottenville, which received $60 million in federal grants, along with significant state and city support.

“Donovan created the opportunity to do things differently, allowing interdisciplinary design teams to take a broad perspective. It really takes a village. Rebuild by Design has allowed landscape architects to shine,” Brashear said.

New York City has more than 500 miles of shoreline, and its harbor is deeply intertwined with the city’s economy and culture. But with climate change, the city’s shoreline and low-lying communities are increasingly exposed to storm surges and sea level rise.

These coastal communities are in both highly dense urban areas like Manhattan and inner Brooklyn, and in suburban or even rural areas in Staten Island and the far reaches of outer boroughs. In communities with natural shorelines, like many in Staten Island, erosion has caused a loss of one to three feet of coastline each year.

Living Breakwaters, which is now under construction, is designed to reduce coastal flood risks and erosion while improving habitat for wildlife and increasing social resilience to future climate impacts.

“It’s not designed to keep floodwaters out but to create a necklace of breakwaters combined with a layered system of adaptation on shore,” Brashear said.

Living Breakwaters, Staten Island, NYC / SCAPE

SCAPE worked with coastal and structural engineers to develop a series of breakwater models. They found that just creating digital models wasn’t enough and tested physical models in a “giant wave tank” in Canada to refine the placement of elements in the water.

Digital model of wave action for Living Breakwaters, Staten Island, NYC / SCAPE
Physical model of Living Breakwaters, Staten Island, NYC / SCAPE

The breakwaters are comprised of 600 bio-enhancing “armor blocks” made of porous concrete produced by the company ECOncrete. They are set in the water at different elevations. Lower-crested breakwaters will help with erosion while the higher ones will help with wave attenuation.

Living Breakwaters model, Staten Island, NYC / SCAPE

The breakwaters were custom designed to include “niches and crevices” that introduce habitat complexity, creating space for a range of targeted species, including juvenile fish, oysters, and other shellfish. Brashear argued that their clients are also the wildlife of the harbor. Already, Stanley the seal has made the breakwaters a chill-out spot.

Living Breakwaters, Staten Island, NYC / SCAPE
Living Breakwaters, Staten Island, NYC / SCAPE
Living Breakwaters, Staten Island, NYC / SCAPE

The armor blocks will create tidal pools and “reef streets,” which are underwater canyons where oysters will be installed. The careful arrangement of elements enable wildlife to thrive without being overtaken by accumulating sediment.

Living Breakwaters, Staten Island, NYC / SCAPE

Back on shore, SCAPE engaged local residents to create a dialogue around the design. “Our goal was to foster awareness, help the community cope with flood risk, and engage in stewardship.”

“We also tried to steer away from formal meetings.” Instead the firm engaged residents and school children in new and often fun ways.

Living Breakwaters educational activity, Staten Island, NYC / SCAPE

Tottenville was once called “the town oysters built.” The bay was so intensively harvested it was “like a farm.” SCAPE found that “oysters are the charismatic bivalve of NYC. The idea of the oyster reefs resonated with people.”

So educational programs with partners brought oysters and their history in the community to life, which helped reconnect the community to its shoreline. “This project is not just about breakwaters but a layered approach to reduce risk and fostering a local culture of resilience.”

Oyster-related event, Staten Island, NYC / SCAPE

The Tottenville Shoreline Protection Project runs parallel to the Living Breakwaters on shore and extends further along the coast. A result of federal, state, and local government investment, it’s one of the key layers in the nature-based protection plan Brashear described.

During both Hurricane Ida and Superstorm Sandy, the surge of coastal waters flooded deeper inland, causing immense property damage, Walcavage said. The Line of Moderate Wave Action (LIMWA) is a measure the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) uses to indicate the inland coastal zones that can be reached by 1.5 to 3-feet-high waves. In Tottenville, more properties have fallen inside the LIMWA in the past few decades, and the owners faces much higher dangers and insurance rates.

One goal of the Shoreline Protection Project is to move the LIMWA back so more homes are out of the highest risk zone. To accomplish this, Stantec designed a series of “sand-capped dunes with stone cores,” Walcavage said. “These look more like natural shore. The stone core will protect against wave attentuation even if the beach is gone.”

Tottenville Shoreline Protection Plan, Staten Island, NYC / Stantec, NY State Governor’s Office for Storm Recovery

Walcavage said getting the architecture of the dunes right was tricky. The dune infrastructure is responsive to different water and coastal conditions. Some areas are designed for wave attentuation while others guard against erosion and sea level rise. They are wider in areas to ensure the sand’s correct “angle of repose.”

Tottenville Shoreline Protection Plan, Staten Island, NYC / Stantec, NY State Governor’s Office for Storm Recovery

And the team realized that the entire shoreline protection system had to be extended because otherwise the “water would just go around it” and find another way inland.

Beyond the new dunes, earthen berms will also be built in a series of restored wetlands, marshlands, and forested areas, which will double as flood water containment areas and public parkland. A key part of the project is safe but also beautiful pathways that improve access to these amenities.

Tottenville Shoreline Protection Plan, Staten Island, NYC / Stantec, NY State Governor’s Office for Storm Recovery
Tottenville Shoreline Protection Plan, Staten Island, NYC / Stantec, NY State Governor’s Office for Storm Recovery
Tottenville Shoreline Protection Plan, Staten Island, NYC / Stantec
Tottenville Shoreline Protection Plan, Staten Island, NYC / Stantec, NY State Governor’s Office for Storm Recovery

The entire shore infrastructure also required a new road for maintenance vehicles, which further added complexity.

When concerns are raised about the costs of these twinned projects, which together exceed $100 million, it’s important to understand these landscapes are “about both coastal risk reduction and ecological restoration,” Brashear said. And also, “people here in Tottenville are not ready to leave.”

Landscape architects, working together across public and private practice, want to reduce this community’s risk and send a message that storm surges and sea level rise don’t necessarily need to result in the loss of life, property, and public space. Even amid a changing climate and uncertain future, quality of life in shoreline communities can be improved through greater investment.

ASLA Announces 2022 Professional Awards

ASLA 2022 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Palm Springs Downtown Park, Palm Springs, California. RIOS / Millicent Harvey

Twenty-eight Professional Award winners represent the highest level of achievement in the landscape architecture profession

By Lisa Hardaway

ASLA has announced its 2022 Professional Awards. Twenty-eight Professional Award winners represent the highest level of achievement in the landscape architecture profession. All winners and their locations are listed below.

Jury panels representing a broad cross-section of the profession, from the public and private sectors, and academia, select winners each year. The 28 winners were chosen out of 506 entries.

The Professional Awards jury also selects a Landmark Award each year; this year’s Landmark Award celebrates “Crissy Field: An Enduring Transformation” by Hargreaves Jones for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Crissy Field, in San Francisco’s famed Presidio, features restored coastal habitat, recreational amenities and historical interpretation.

ASLA 2022 Landmark Award. Crissy Field: An Enduring Transformation. San Francisco, California. Hargreaves Jones / Hargreaves Jones

“ASLA Professional Awards for decades have recognized the most significant achievements by landscape architects nationwide, and we congratulate this year’s winners for their extraordinary contributions to their communities and the profession,” said ASLA President Eugenia Martin, FASLA. “Many of this year’s winning projects were focused on reconnecting communities to landscapes, illustrating the important role landscape architects play in creating places for communities to live, work, and play.”

ASLA 2022 Professional Residential Design Award of Excellence. Edwin M. Lee Apartments. San Francisco, CA. GLS Landscape | Architecture / Patrik Argast

“These award winners underscore how landscape architects are problem- solving some of the biggest challenges facing communities around the globe,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen. “From equitable community gathering spaces to addressing climate change, these winners represent the cutting edge of our industry.”

ASLA 2022 Professional Urban Design Honor Award. Denny Regrade Campus. Seattle, Washington. Site Workshop / Stuart Issett

Beginning this year, award winners will be archived in the Library of Congress. In addition, Award recipients and their clients, will be honored in person at the awards presentation ceremony during the ASLA 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Francisco, California, November 11-14.

AWARD CATEGORIES

General Design

Award of Excellence
Palm Springs Downtown Park
Palm Springs, California
RIOS

Honor Award
From Brownfield to Green Anchor in the Assembly Square District
Somerville, Massachusetts
OJB

Honor Award
West Pond: Living Shoreline
Brooklyn & Queens, New York
Dirtworks Landscape Architecture P.C.

Honor Award
Riverfront Spokane
Spokane, Washington
Berger Partnership

Honor Award
10,000 SUNS: Highway to Park Project
Providence, Rhode Island
DESIGN UNDER SKY

Honor Award
Domino Park
Brooklyn, New York
James Corner Field Operations

Honor Award
A Community’s Embrace Responding to Tragedy, The January 8th Memorial and the El Presidio Park Vision Plan
Tucson, Arizona
Chee Salette, Tina Chee Landscape Studio

Urban Design

Award of Excellence
HOPE SF: Rebuild Potrero
San Francisco, California
GLS Landscape | Architecture

Honor Award
Midtown Park
Houston, Texas
Design Workshop, Inc

Honor Award
Shirley Chisholm State Park
New York, New York
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

Honor Award
Denny Regrade Campus
Seattle, WA
Site Workshop

Residential Design

Award of Excellence
Edwin M. Lee Apartments
San Francisco, California
GLS Landscape | Architecture

Honor Award
Coast Ridge Residence
Portola Valley, California
Scott Lewis Landscape Architecture

Honor Award
Quarry House
Park City, Utah
Design Workshop, Inc

Honor Award
Crest Apartments, A Restorative Parallel for Supportive Housing
Van Nuys, California
SWA Group

Honor Award
Refugio
Santa Cruz, California
Ground Studio

Analysis & Planning

Honor Award
Connecting People and Landscape: Integrating Cultural Landscapes, Climate Resiliency, and Growth Management in the Low Country
Beaufort County, South Carolina
Design Workshop, Inc

Honor Award
Moakley Park Resilience Plan
Boston, Massachusetts
Stoss Landscape Urbanism

Honor Award
Preparing the Ground: Restorative Justice on Portland’s Interstate 5
Portland, Oregon
ZGF Architects

Honor Award
Reimagine Nature and Inclusion for Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City, Utah
Design Workshop, Inc

Honor
Accelerating Rural Recovery and Resilience: The Pollocksville Community Floodprint
Pollocksville, North Carolina
NC State University Coastal Dynamics Design Lab

Communications

Honor Award
Talk Tree to Me: Facilitating a Complex Conversation Around Trees in Detroit
Detroit, Michigan
Spackman Massop Michaels

Honor Award
Miridae Mobile Nursery: Growing a Native Plant Community
Sacramento Region, California
Miridae

Honor Award
Open Space Master Plan, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)
New York City, New York
Grain Collective Landscape Architecture & Urban Design PLLC

Research

Honor Award
Curbing Sediment: A Proof of Concept
The Ohio State University
Halina Steiner & Ryan Winston

Honor Award
Soilless Soils: Investigation of Recycled Color-Mixed Glass in Engineered Soils
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
OLIN

Honor Award
Alabama Meadows
Auburn, Alabama
Emily Knox, ASLA; and David Hill, ASLA

Looking to Olmsted in the Era of Global Urbanization

Riverside Park and Central Park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Manhattan, NYC / istockphoto.com, Terraxplorer

This year marks the 200th birthday of Frederick Law Olmsted, who is considered the founder of the profession of landscape architecture. Do his ideas still matter in today’s rapidly urbanizing world? Jayne Miller, chair of World Urban Parks, asked global landscape architects and park leaders to weigh in during the latest online conversation organized by Olmsted 200.

For Kongjian Yu, FASLA, founder of Turenscape and professor and dean, College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at Peking University, “Olmsted is still relevant because he knew how to meet essential human needs. He brought nature back to the city, which is so important for the human body. We need nature to get energy. But we also need open public space as a group. He believed green space means equal space.”

Mount Royal Park, Montreal, Quebec, Canada by Frederick Law Olmsted / istockphoto.com, bakerjarvis

“Olmsted knew if you love nature, you will take care of it. Elevating nature is about civilizing yourself. If we elevate nature, we also civilize human beings. We can civilize cities,” Yu said.

Olmsted was one of the first to articulate the value of nature for an urbanizing world, said Yu, who has translated many of Olmsted’s essays into Chinese.

In the 1880s, when Olmsted was at his peak, almost 30 percent of the U.S. population was urban; today, it is 70 percent. In contrast, China was just 10 percent urban up until a few decades ago and then the country went through a rapid period of urbanization, reaching an urbanization rate of nearly 65 percent by 2022.

“Urbanization is now global, and we can all learn from what Olmsted knew 150 years ago. He was 150 years ahead of the rest of the world.”

ASLA 2016 Professional General Design Honor Award. Framing Terrain and Water: Quzhou Luming Park, Quzhou City, Zhejiang Province, China. Turenscape

“Olmsted sticks with us because he knew landscapes are about delivering physical, psychological, and social benefits — they can even be symbols of collective identity,” said Romy Hecht, associate professor at the School of Architecture, Ponticia Universidad Católica de Chile.

“It seems to me Olmsted was about re-imagining cities as a whole place with whole landscapes,” said Alison Barnes, CEO, New Forest National Park Authority, chair of the Green Halo Partnership, and board member of London National Park City.

Barnes’ own work with London National Park City is a “modern Olmsted movement,” Miller argued. It’s about “everyone benefiting and contributing to urban nature, about deep democratization of nature,” Barnes said.

Primrose Hill Park, London / istockphoto.com, Paolo Paradiso

“We think cities should be habitats for ourselves. We should be able to get lost in nature in cities and connect with nature wherever we are.”

“I think Olmsted said utility trumps ornament. Utility is about connecting with our need for nature. There is a lot of synergy with our work and Olmsted’s. It’s important that we refresh these ideas.”

The pandemic caused large numbers of urbanites to leave the city and buy homes, sometimes sight unseen, in more natural rural areas, Miller said. Could this be the first sign in a slow down in global urbanization?

“I believe more urbanization is inevitable. Human communities have always evolved into urban ones. It could be a beautiful process rooted in nature,” Hecht said.

But for this to happen, more cities will need to follow Olmsted’s model. “He was an activist who called for urban improvements, a sense of community, and the diversification of opportunities.”

For Barnes, it is less about following an Olmsted-like figure and more about engaging and empowering communities to take action — to “create demand for nature.” In the UK, a number of development projects that would have negatively impacted natural areas haven’t happened because of “strong and vibrant” community groups.

Access to green space is a fundamental human need; “it’s essential.” “It’s not just landscape architects on their hobby horses, but about ensuring our quality of life.”

Unfortunately, access to urban nature is still highly unequal across the developed and developing worlds, even where there is significant community engagement. For example, in Santiago, Chile, which has six million residents in 200 thousand acres, “37 percent of the population has just 33 square feet of green space per capita, while 0.5 percent has 200 square feet per capita,” Hecht said. There is also unequal maintenance of these spaces and therefore unequal park quality.

Parque Bustamante, Providencia district, Santiago de Chile, Chile / istockphoto.com, tifonimages

This means “we need a green recovery” that brings more parks to more people. “Leaders have an obligation to engage communities to achieve these goals. We need to start with leaders.”

Along with rapid urbanization, countries around the globe must also contend with the climate crisis. Miller asked: What would Olmsted propose to address the impacts of climate change — green infrastructure and nature-based solutions?

“The first wave was Olmsted’s wave — to green the city. The second wave was to design with nature at the regional scale, like Ian McHarg proposed. Now with industrialization and urbanization at a global scale, we need a third wave — to transform the globe,” Yu argued.

“We need new nature-based infrastructure. We can no longer rely on concrete, steel, and chemicals. Sea walls and gates will inevitably fail. We need to plan ecological infrastructure” for the entire planet.

ASLA 2020 Professional General Design Honor Award. Deep Form of Designed Nature: Sanya Mangrove Park, Sanya City, Hainan Province, China. Turenscape

“Olmsted offered a way. His Emerald Necklace in Boston was adaptive with a muddy river system. He gave space for the water, marshlands, and lowlands. This is a model for adapting to climate change.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (September 1-15, 2022)

Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, aerial view from the south / Studio Gang and SCAPE

Studio Gang’s Redesigned Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in Little Rock, US, is Set to Open to the Public – 09/2022, ArchDaily
“The new building is situated within 11 acres of public landscape designed by SCAPE Landscape Architecture and inspired by the native ecologies of Arkansas.”

Michigan Gets $105M Grant from Feds To Turn I-375 in Detroit Into Boulevard – 09/15/2022, The Detroit News
“City leaders have envisioned the elimination of I-375 as a way to reconnect once-predominantly Black neighborhoods divided by the highway when it was built in the 1950s and ’60s, bulldozing the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley residential and commercial districts in the name of urban renewal.”

The Best of Urban Design 2022 – 09/15/2022, Fast Company
“See all the honorees of Fast Company’s 2022 Innovation by Design Awards in the Urban Design category.”

At 75, the Father of Environmental Justice Meets the Moment – 09/12/2022, The New York Times
“The White House has pledged $60 billion to a cause Robert Bullard has championed since the late seventies. He wants guarantees that the money will end up in the right hands.”

The Town Squares We Used to Have — and Could Have Again – 09/12/2022, Governing
“This historic importance of town squares, in towns of all shapes and sizes, is impossible to dispute. The question is how badly we need them now — not just as picturesque garden spots but as gathering places for a functioning community.”

First Look at Frisco’s Newest Park – 09/07/2022, Local Profile
“OJB Landscape Architecture, the firm behind Dallas’ Klyde Warren Park, is handling the park’s design that’s centered around providing inclusive and accessible year-round arts and culture programming to reflect North Texas’ diverse character.”

Herzog & De Meuron and Piet Oudolf Team for Philadelphia’s Forthcoming Calder Gardens – 09/07/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Landscape architect Richard Herbert, ASLA, joins Herzog & de Meuron and Piet Oudolf to design Calder Gardens, slated to open in 2024.”

Uproar Causes U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Rethink Miami Storm Protection Plan

Visualization of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ grey infrastructure proposal. Response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study / Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, courtesy of Miami Downtown Development Authority
Visualization of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ grey infrastructure proposal. Response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study / Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, courtesy of Miami Downtown Development Authority

A persuasive local advocacy and media campaign convinced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a new, expanded study for a $6 billion project to protect Miami from future hurricanes, coastal flooding, and climate impacts. Critics argued that the Army Corps’ initial draft plan for the project, which had proposed a series of sea walls and gates, would have negatively impacted the character of Miami, reduced property values, and cut-off access to important waterfront parks, exacerbating existing inequities in access to public space.

The Miami Mayor’s office and Downtown Development Authority instead demanded a deeper exploration of nature-based solutions, including constructed islands and mangroves, to protect the urban coastline along Biscayne Bay. The Army Corps has agreed to spend $8 million over 60 months, essentially doubling the cost and timeline of the original study, and take a more collaborative approach with city stakeholders.

Key to this shift were renderings created by Miami-based, women-led landscape architecture firm Curtis + Rogers Design Studio for the Miami Downtown Development Authority, which governs the business district. These concepts were included in the Authority’s response to the Army Corps’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study but soon became the focus of public attention and coverage in The Miami Herald and local TV stations, social media discussion, and national coverage in NPR and The New York Times. The authority commissioned visuals that would both show how 20-feet-tall concrete walls along the bayfront would impact the city (see images at top) and demonstrate how a better alternative, rooted in nature, could offer protections while offering many other benefits.

According to Aida Curtis, ASLA, a founding principal at the firm, the Authority gave her firm just two weeks, during the height of the pandemic, to work with coastal and civil engineers to create nature-based design concepts. She explained that the concepts are comprehensive, but more research, modeling, planning, and design work needs to be done to further hone the ideas. Still, the Authority was able to use these concepts for leverage in negotiations with the Army Corps.

“We had envisioned vegetated shorelines with mangroves along with strategically-placed bermed islands in the Bay that would attenuate wave action during storm surges. This is a grey/green solution, not all nature-based, but it would be much better for the community and environment and increase park access,” Curtis said in a zoom interview.

An alternative nature-based proposal. Response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study / Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, courtesy of Miami Downtown Development Authority
An alternative nature-based proposal. Response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study / Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, courtesy of Miami Downtown Development Authority
An alternative nature-based proposal. Response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study / Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, courtesy of Miami Downtown Development Authority

Curtis argues that “this kind of idea is what the Corps should have proposed initially,” and her concepts are line with their stated Engineering with Nature principles, which calls for using nature-based solutions to solve climate impacts.

The Army Corps had engaged Miami-Dade County, which includes the City of Miami, in a series of complex feasibility studies to improve resilience against storms, flooding, and sea level rise. In other study areas, south of the city, the Army Corps did propose nature-based solutions, including mangroves, Curtis said.

But the issue was in the downtown core, they only offered hard grey infrastructure. “We wanted to show the walls as real as they would be, with graffiti and the trash that is common in parts of downtown Miami. People didn’t realize how tall or in-your-face these walls would actually be.”

Visualization of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ grey infrastructure proposal. Response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study / Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, courtesy of Miami Downtown Development Authority

“Their proposal would also have put many residential communities outside the wall. This lack of thought is what caused the uproar. The city needs a much more comprehensive solution.”

Curtis noted that Miami suffers from significant water management problems. So much groundwater has been extracted through wells that saltwater is now seeping into the water supply. Stormwater runoff and fertilizer use throughout the city and country have caused significant water quality issues, leading to massive fish kills. In Miami Beach, a system of pumps have been instituted to draw out flood water. “But they discovered that during a hurricane, there is no power, which means no pumps. Grey infrastructure solutions for water management have failed in Miami.”

There are many arguments for designing nature-based solutions — using landscape architecture strategies to help solve Miami’s problems. Curtis said they offer multiple environmental and equity benefits.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tentative Selected Plan and Alternate Plan. Response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study / Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, courtesy of Miami Downtown Development Authority

On the environmental side, mangroves reduce inland flooding by serving as a barrier against waves. But they also clean and oxygenate the water while providing habitat for sea life and sequestering carbon.

An alternative nature-based proposal. Response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study / Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, courtesy of Miami Downtown Development Authority

Given housing has become increasingly unaffordable, lower-income communities in Miami have been pushed west, inland. “Park and open space is very limited in the city. Low-income and immigrant communities have limited access to the waterfront.”

One of the benefits of natural coastal infrastructure is that it can double as park land. “New islands in the bay could be designed to be accessible public space that people can enjoy.” Her firm’s proposal would create 39 acres of new public recreational areas.

Curtis said next steps will be key. The Army Corps and city will need to “bring in more stakeholders and get more community input.” The city is expected to also undertake their own complimentary planning effort.

Perhaps the one positive effect of the initial Army Corps study is that “more people in Miami are now paying attention to this and more are involved in climate action,” Curtis said. “The intended audience of the response was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but the Authority’s report and our images transcended and went viral.” There is also now greater awareness of the value of nature-based solutions and “the detrimental effect grey solutions can have on cities — the severe damage they can have on quality of life.”