California Creates New Hope with Bold Climate Leadership

Governor Jerry Brown at Climate Action Summit / The Nation

We are at the half way point between the United Nations Paris climate accord in 2015 and the next round of commitments that will be made by the international community in 2020, the year in which greenhouse gas emissions must peak if we are going to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. To increase the pressure to reach even more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals, California Governor Jerry Brown hosted the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco last week.

One take away from the summit is that reducing emissions by 25 or 50 percent simply no longer cuts it. The state of California, which is the fifth largest economy in the world, announced ambitious plans to convert to 100 percent renewable energy and become carbon neutral by 2045. The announcement showed great leadership and sent an undeniable message to other state governors and national leaders around the world: if a complex economy and society like California can do it, why can’t you? A slew of global cities have also made the same commitment.

According to the summit organizers, “over 70 big cities, home to some 425 million citizens, are now committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, including Accra, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Mexico City. These actions alone will lead to a 2.5 percent cut of annual global greenhouse gas emissions and the avoidance of 12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050.”

Through the two-day conference, cities were highlighted as critical to achieving targets, given they account for more than half of the world’s population and 70 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

While New York City, Washington, D.C. Stockholm, London, Sydney, and others have committed to achieving neutrality, many more cities are now starting their own low-carbon journey, potentially leading to even greater gains over coming decades.

Summit organizers write: “a further 9,100 cities representing 800 million citizens are now committed to city-wide climate action plans. This could lead to reductions of more than 60 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent between now and 2050.” There are an estimated 50,000 cities worldwide, which shows that far more widespread action is needed though.

In addition to the states and cities that have ratcheted up their ambitions, hundreds of global companies announced their commitment to achieve 100 percent renewable energy use by 2050. “This includes nearly 150 major global companies such as Tata Motors and Sony. Collective annual revenues of these companies total well over US $2.75 trillion, and their annual electricity demand is higher than that of Poland.”

The ZEV Challenge, an alliance organized by the Climate Group, also made major announcements around de-carbonizing transportation systems by moving to zero-carbon electric vehicles, buses, trams, etc. Transportation accounts for up to a third of global emissions.

Twelve governments, including Catalonia, Scotland, and Washington State, representing some 80 million people, announced they will have 100 percent zero emission public fleets by 2030. Furthermore, “26 cities with 140 million people are committed to buy only zero emission buses starting in 2025, but also creating zero emission areas in their cities starting in 2030.” And 23 multi-national companies such as IKEA have agreed to take their fleets zero emission. To achieve widespread EVs, these groups will also create 3.5 million zero emission vehicle charging stations by 2025.

Major efforts were launched to improve the sustainability of the built environment. The World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) launched the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, with 38 signatories, including 12 businesses, 22 cities, and four states and regions. In addition to the commitments by state and regional governments, “businesses representing US$ 22.95 billion in revenue throughout the building and construction supply chain, have set ambitious targets to eliminate operational carbon emissions from their building portfolios of over 10.7 million square meters by 2030.”

There were also some actions to promote more sustainable land-use and greater protection of forests and oceans. As part of the 30×30 Challenge, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) announced $500 million in new funds for sustainable land use and forest conservation. A group of nine philanthropic organizations made a comparable commitment of $459 million for the protection and expansion of forests and lands through 2022, with the goal of bolstering indigenous peoples’ and traditional communities’ ability to govern their lands. Other big commitments: Ecuador, Norway, and Germany launched a Pro-Amazonia initiative, with $50 million dedicated to conserving 1.36 million hectares of rainforest. But while these steps were welcome, they are far from enough. Deforestation has reached new highs around the world, and the situation is now dire, with nearly 30 million hectares of forest lost in 2016 alone.

To improve access to green financing, the Investor Agenda was launched. Some 400 investors with US $32 trillion under management, an amount thirty percent larger than the US economy, are now focused on “accelerating and scaling-up financial flows into climate action and building a more sustainable, low-carbon, global economy.” As an example, NYC’s pension fund will invest $4 billion in green projects, and some of the largest pension funds in Denmark and Canada will dramatically ramp up their investment in renewable energy and climate-smart technologies. To spur more sustainable capital and infrastructure project financing, new cities and financial institutions joined the Green Bond Pledge, which aims to create US $1 trillion in green bonds by 2020.

Still, an incredible amount of work remains for the US to simply meet the Obama administration commitment at the Paris climate accord — 26 percent reduction in emissions by 2025. Current estimates have us on track to achieve about half the goal. Hopefully, the leadership and progress we saw at the summit will inspire a broader coalition to get there.

Urban Planners Mobilize for Climate Action

“Horizontal berm” from ouR-Home proposal / Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge

All cities need robust plans for mitigating and adapting to climate change. But according to Robert Kelew with UN-Habitat, the vast majority of the world’s urban communities still don’t.

At an event organized by the American Planning Association (APA) at SPUR in San Francisco, a group of urban planners, led by the APA’s Jeff Soule, discussed what’s needed to mobilize the world’s urban planners to take more effective action on the climate.

Kelew said a primary obstacle to more widespread urban climate planning is simply the lack of planners in developing countries. For example, “there are 38 accredited planners per 100,000 people in the United Kingdom, but just 0.23 per 100,000 in India,” and even fewer in Sub-Saharan Africa. Also, there are only 553 schools that teach urban planning worldwide.

To help speed up assistance to the developing world, a group of national planning associations and educators formed Planners for Climate Action, which launched at a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting last November. Planners for Climate Action aims to create a “global repository of syllabi and map the state of climate change planning in cities,” issuing regular updates.

For Andrew Potts, a land-use attorney who represented the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), planners also need to do a better job of bringing historic preservation allies into the fight. There are clear overlaps between historic preservation and planning, but all the associated “heritage professionals” — scientists, planners, architects, landscape architects — haven’t been adequately included. In the US alone, “we can mobilize tens of thousands of heritage professionals to join the fight for climate action.”

Potts believes cultural heritage, including what UNESCO deems “intangible heritage,” has the potential to be a great motivating force for climate action. If what is special about a city or community is directly threatened by climate change, there will be a call to create a plan or project to protect that. Heritage professionals, who are used to working over long-time horizons, can also help communities make the connections between heritage preservation and climate change. “Every place with heritage has a climate story.”

Michael Boswell, head of the city and regional planning department at California Poly San Luis Obispo and a representative from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ASCP), has been studying what cities with successful climate action plans are doing and has authored a UN-Habitat-sponsored report to help planning departments ramp up efforts in their cities.

The most important success factor in these cities is having a “climate champion — a mayor, community activist with authority, or municipal planning staff,” so this person or group of people needs to be either identified and supported or grown locally. Climate-smart cities also lead by example by reducing emissions from their own government operations first; communicate the multiple benefits of climate action, such as the benefits of biking for health or electric vehicles and renewable energy in reducing air pollution; engage the public through direct communications efforts; build partnerships; assemble “green teams” in mayors’ offices; and institutionalize action.

Sandy Mendler, a principal at Mithun, who participated in the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge through the ouR Home team, believes that planners must be focused on forging truly equitable city-wide development plans that don’t push out vulnerable populations. She argued that even in San Francisco, which has been a leader in climate action, the Bay area’s comprehensive plan through 2040 fails to meet affordable housing needs or further prevent gentrification of vulnerable areas. “The goal is zero displacement of existing communities. Without the plan, there would be a 20 percent increase in displacement through 2040; with the plan, there would still be 9 percent. That’s our best plan, and it’s not solving the problem.”

She said climate plans must also take into better account the unintended consequences of good intentions. For example, in California, the carbon cap and trade system has resulted in increasing air pollution in low-income urban areas, because “power plants in high-value neighborhoods were cleaned up first, which meant that dirtier power generation was running longer in low-income communities.” California Global Warming Solutions Act from 2006 was just re-authorized last year, but this time with a companion bill (AB 197), environmental justice legislation that will dedicate a quarter of the funds from cap and trade to the the communities hit hardest by its effects.

Mendler also said cities must put “priority resilience areas,” which can protect communities through the use of green infrastructure, ahead of “priority development areas,” like the ones identified in the Plan Bay Area 2040.

The problem is many of the areas the bay area city governments have deemed ripe for future redevelopment are in flood zones, filled with brownfields, and inhabited by already-vulnerable populations. All of those brownfields are “time bombs” because if sea level rise causes them to permanently flood, they will spread toxins into the water supply. Brownfields must instead be redeveloped as green infrastructure — “permeable sponges” or “horizontal berms” that can reduce storm impacts, boost community and ecological resilience, and support biodiversity.

At the end, ASLA CEO Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, was invited to provide comments. She argued that focusing on the multiple social and environments benefits of climate action and maintaining a “laser focus on equity” are key. But she cautioned that the “balkanized” approach to climate change taken within many city governments is a major obstacle holding back more ambitious action.

ASLA Joins We Are Still In Movement

California Academy of Sciences 2009 Awards resized
ASLA 2009 Professional Honor Award General Design. California Academy of Sciences. SWA Group / Tom Fox

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has joined We Are Still In, a national coalition of 3,500 states, cities, companies, and organizations that remain committed to achieving US greenhouse gas reduction targets outlined by the Obama administration as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Nancy C. Somerville, Hon. ASLA, SITES AP, ASLA’s executive vice president and CEO, will attend the We Are Still In Forum in San Francisco on September 12, as part of the Global Climate Action Summit, the first-ever climate summit designed exclusively for leaders from the private sector and local government to highlight meaningful solutions to climate change and raise the bar for action.

ASLA leadership has identified climate change as a strategic focus in recognition of the threat it poses to people and the planet. Landscape architects play a major role in addressing climate and resilience issues, both through their work and through national and local advocacy. They plan and design “smart growth” communities; create low-carbon, safe, and active transportation systems; use green infrastructure to improve water quality and reduce flooding; and increase community health and resilience by designing and planning sites, communities, and regional strategies in concert with natural systems.

“By joining together, we strengthen our ability to take action,” says Somerville. “ASLA’s participation in We Are Still In enables us to reinforce the urgent need to build healthy, thriving communities through evidence-based design and planning and to help protect them from the impacts of climate change.”

ASLA is one of 34 signatories in We Are Still In’s cultural organization category. Others in this category include the American Public Gardens Association; California Academy of Sciences, host of the event; The Field Museum in Chicago; and the Phipps Conservatory, which has the first pilot project to have received the maximum four stars from Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES®) for its Center for Sustainable Landscapes.

ASLA’s Climate Change Resources

The Smart Policies for a Changing Climate guide. The recommendations of the ASLA Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience, which convened September 21-22, 2017.

The Resilient Design Guide. explains how communities can better protect themselves from natural disasters through resilient landscape planning and design.

Landscape Architecture and Climate Mitigation guide

Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes – presents case studies and animations.

SITES® – describes the latest information about SITES®, a set of comprehensive, voluntary guidelines together with a rating system that assesses the sustainable design, construction, and maintenance of landscapes.

ASLA Launches Guide to Climate Change Mitigation

ASLA 2017 Professional General Design Honor Award. SteelStacks Arts + Cultural Campus, Bethelhem, Pennsylvania / Christenson Photography

Global climate change is the defining environmental issue of our time. From devastating wildfires to historic storms and rising seas, the effects are already being felt and will continue to get worse. According to NASA, sea levels could rise anywhere from 8 inches to 6.5 feet by 2100. Additional impacts include increased spread of diseases; extensive species extinction; mass human, animal, and plant migrations; and resource wars over dwindling food and water supplies. Furthermore, these impacts will disproportionately affect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.

Sustained, meaningful commitments and actions to substantially reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from all sectors of our economy can help avoid the worst of these negative impacts. The benefits of these actions will be measured in lives saved and communities spared.

In 2015, the international community gathered in Paris, France, and agreed to a landmark cooperative framework for limiting global temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In order to meet this goal, GHG emissions will need to peak by 2020 and fall to zero by 2050. This is an immense goal, but also achievable.

Landscape architects are helping to shift us to a carbon neutral future. Landscape architects plan and design dense, walkable communities that reduce emissions from transportation and sprawl. They make the built environment more energy and carbon efficient with strategies like green roofs, water-efficient design, and use of sustainable materials and construction practices. They defend and expand carbon-sequestering landscapes such as forests, wetlands, and grasslands, helping to drawdown atmospheric carbon dioxide. All of these efforts also enable communities to better adapt to climate change and improve their resilience.

The threats posed by climate change are immense, and there is no single strategy that will solve the climate crisis on its own. Instead, mitigation requires an “all hands on deck” approach as we seek to reduce GHG emissions wherever possible. Achieving a carbon neutral future will only come about through the cumulative effect of countless individual actions. Every one of those individual actions counts.

Explore the new ASLA guide to climate change mitigation, which complements Smart Policies for a Changing Climate, the report and recommendations of the ASLA Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience.

Smart Policies for a Changing Climate / ASLA

Sections of the mitigation guide include: regional solutions, urban solutions, materials and construction, green infrastructure, and natural systems.

New Video: ASLA Chinatown Green Street

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

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

ASLA Chinatown Green Street / Design Workshop

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

ASLA Chinatown Green Street / Design Workshop

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

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (August 15 – 31)

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A colonnade of palms inside Rio de Janeiro’s botanical garden / Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket

A Guide to Rio de Janeiro’s Coastal Cool The New York Times, 8/17/18
“From historical gardens to feats of Modernist architecture, what to see and where to stay in the beloved Brazilian city.”

This New Park Is Designed for a Future of Flooded Cities Fast Company, 8/20/18
“Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn Centennial Park can hold a million gallons of rainwater to help control the city’s increasing floods.”

10 Urban Sanctuaries Well Worth a Visit The Santa Maria Times, 8/25/18
“A foray into the heart of a city can be made all the more memorable and enjoyable with a visit to a public park.”

Why Your Favorite Bench Might Be There to Thwart a Terrorist Attack The Washington Post, 8/27/18
“When landscape architects recently began redesigning a wide, red-brick sidewalk in Washington’s Chinatown, they initially ­focused on improving the storm-water runoff and making it easier for pedestrians to navigate safely.”

Atwater Beach Groundbreaking Signals Next Big Thing for Detroit Riverfront The Detroit Free Press, 8/27/18
“The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy broke ground Monday afternoon on Atwater Beach, the latest addition to the city’s waterfront attractions.”

Monarch Landing Designer Relishes Opportunity to See Community’s Growth The Chicago Tribune, 8/28/18
“Most people visiting or residing at Monarch Landing in Naperville see the beautiful senior living community for what it is now, thriving gardens, thriving residents and all.”

ASLA Announces 2018 Professional Awards

ASLA 2018 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn, New York. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / Image

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) proudly announces the 25 winners of the ASLA 2018 Professional Awards. Selected from 368 entries, the awards recognize the best of landscape architecture in the general design, analysis and planning, communications, research and residential design categories from the United States and around the world.

The winners will receive their awards at the ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting and EXPO in Philadelphia on Monday, October 22, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The September issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine (LAM) features the winning projects and is available for free.

Winning projects are designated as either an honor award or an award of excellence, which is the highest possible distinction.

General Design Category

Award of Excellence
Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Twenty Year Transformation, Brooklyn, New York
by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (Brooklyn, New York) for Brooklyn Bridge Park

Honor Awards
Chicago Riverwalk | State Street to Franklin Street, Chicago
by Sasaki (Watertown, Massachusetts) and Ross Barney Architects (Chicago) for the Chicago Department of Transportation

Iqaluit Municipal Cemetery, Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada
by LEES+Associates (Vancouver, B.C., Canada) for the City of Iqaluit

Legacy and Community: Juxtaposing Heritage and Invention for Duke University’s West Campus, Durham, North Carolina
by Reed Hilderbrand LLC Landscape Architecture (Cambridge, Massachusetts) for Duke University

Longwood Gardens Main Fountain Garden, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
by West 8 Urban Design & Landscape Architecture (Rotterdam, Netherlands) for Longwood Gardens Inc.

Re-Envisioning Pulaski Park, Northampton, Massachusetts
by STIMSON (Cambridge, Massachusetts) for the City of Northampton

Tippet Rise Art Center, Fishtail, Montana
by Oehme, van Sweden | OvS (Washington, D.C.) for Tippet Rise Art Center

Tongva Park and Ken Genser Square, Santa Monica, California
by James Corner Field Operations LLC (New York) for the City of Santa Monica

Walker Art Center Wurtele Upper Garden, Minneapolis
by Inside | Outside + HGA (Minneapolis) for the Walker Art Center

Analysis and Planning Category

ASLA 2018 Professional Analysis and Planning Award of Excellence.
A Colorado Legacy: I-25 Conservation Corridor Master Plan, Douglas County, Colorado. Design Workshop (Aspen, Colorado) for The Conservation Fund / Image

Award of Excellence
A Colorado Legacy: I-25 Conservation Corridor Master Plan, Douglas County, Colorado
by Design Workshop (Aspen, Colorado) for The Conservation Fund

Honor Awards
Extending Our History, Embracing Our Future, Madison, Wisconsin
by SmithGroup (Ann Arbor, Michigan) for University of Wisconsin-Madison

From Pixels to Stewardship: Advancing Conservation Through Digital Innovation, Austin, Texas
by Andropogon Associates Ltd. (Philadelphia) for the Shield-Ayres-Bowen Family

Iowa Blood Run Cultural Landscape Master Plan, Madison, Wisconsin
by Quinn Evans Architects (Madison, Wisconsin) for Iowa Department of Natural Resources (Todd Coffelt, Michelle Wilson, John Pearson, Frank Rickerl, Pat Schlarbaum, and Kevin Pape), State Historical Society of Iowa (Jen Bancescu, Doug Jones, Susan Kloewer, and Steve King), Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist

Willamette Falls Riverwalk, Oregon City, Oregon
by Snøhetta (New York) for Project Partners: Oregon Metro, City of Oregon City; Clackamas County; State of Oregon; PGE Falls Legacy LLC

Communications Category

ASLA 2018 Professional Communications Award of Excellence. 100 Years of Landscape Architecture at The Ohio State University. Landscape Architecture Section, Knowlton School, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio / Image

Award of Excellence
100 Years of Landscape Architecture at The Ohio State University
by Landscape Architecture Section, Knowlton School, The Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio)

Honor Awards
Homeplace: Conversation Guides for Six Communities, Rebuilding After Hurricane Matthew
by NC State University Coastal Dynamics Design Lab (Raleigh, North Carolina) for the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative (HMDRRI)

Marnas: A Journey through Space, Time, and Ideas
by Anne Whiston Spirn, FASLA

VanPlay: Plan to Play
by Design Workshop Inc. (Denver) for the Vancouver Park Board

Research Category

Honor Awards
Atlas for the End of the World – Atlas for the Beginning of the Anthropocene
by Richard Weller, ASLA, University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia)

Design with Dredge: Resilient Landscape Infrastructure in the Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore, Maryland
by Mahan Rykiel Associates (Baltimore, Maryland) for the Maryland Port Administration

Urban Aquatic Health: Integrating New Technologies and Resiliency into Floating Wetlands, Baltimore
by Ayers, Saint, and Gross (Baltimore) for the National Aquarium

Residential Design Category

ASLA 2018 Professional Residential Award of Excellence. Balcones Residence, Austin, Texas. Word + Carr Design Group (formerly known as Mark Word Design) / Image

Award of Excellence
Balcones Residence, Austin, Texas
by Word + Carr Design Group (formerly known as Mark Word Design) (Austin, Texas)

Honor Awards
Sustaining A Cultural Icon: Reconciling Preservation and Stewardship in a Changing World, Newport, Rhode Island
by Reed Hilderbrand LLC Landscape Architecture (Cambridge, Massachusetts) for Dorrance Hill Hamilton

Yard, Portland, Oregon
by 2.ink Studio (Portland, Oregon) for the Key Development Group

The Landmark Award recognizes a distinguished landscape architecture project completed between 15 and 50 years ago that retains its original design integrity and contributes significantly to the public realm of the community in which it is located.

The Landmark Award

ASLA 2018 Landmark Award. From Weapons to Wildlife: The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Management Plan. Douglas County, Colorado. Design Workshop Inc. (Denver, Colorado) / Image

From Weapons to Wildlife: The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Management Plan (Douglas County, Colorado)
by Design Workshop Inc. (Denver, Colorado)

The professional awards jury included:

  • Mark A. Focht, FASLA, Chair, New York City Parks and Recreation, New York City
  • Gerdo Aquino, FASLA, SWA Group, Los Angeles
  • Anita Berrizbeitia, ASLA, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Christian Gabriel, ASLA, U.S. General Services Administration, Washington, D.C.
  • Terry Guen-Murray, FASLA, Terry Guen Design Associates, Chicago
  • Dale Jaeger, FASLA, WLA Studio, Athens, Georgia
  • Sam Lubell, Journalist, New York City
  • Patrick Phillips, Urban Land Institute, Washington, D.C.
  • Barbara Wilks, FASLA, W Architecture + Landscape Architecture LLC, New York City

For the selection of the Research Category, the jury was joined by M. Elen Deming, FASLA, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, for the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) and Ashley Steffens, ASLA, College of Environment and Design, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia for the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA).

Unity Park Anchors Equitable Development in Greenville

Unity Park / MKSK Studios

New reconciliation parks in the South — like the Gathering Place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Red Mountain Park in Birmingham, Alabama — are explicitly designed to bring together previously-segregated communities. But the new Unity Park in Greenville, South Carolina, goes a step further: it will not only bridge communities but also actually merge two once-segregated parks. Meadowbrook Park, which was once white-only, and Mayberry Park, a smaller green space designated for African Americans, will come together in the new 60-acre Unity Park while still maintaining their distinct histories and identities. This inclusive, $40-million green space is expected to open in 2020.

According to Darren Meyer, ASLA, principal at Ohio-based MKSK Studios, an urban design and landscape architecture firm, the park comes out of a broader planning process for the Reedy River Development Area, an area just west of downtown Greenville. The goal for the city is to create more equitable downtown neighborhoods, with the new park at the center.

In an interview, Meyer said the park is only one component of a new “community character plan” for a 350-acre district that includes form-based code, mixed-use developments, affordable housing, and transportation. A ring of new affordable housing will be built around the park, in an attempt to prevent Unity Park from inadvertently becoming a gentrifying force that displaces the existing community.

According to Meyer, the city has increased investment into its affordable housing trust fund, which is also receiving private and philanthropic funds. The first round of affordable housing is now being built while work begins on the underlying park infrastructure.

Unity Park will include a 120-feet-tall observation tower, which will act as a beacon at night; a great lawn; nature and “destination” playgrounds; a gathering space and visitors center; and pedestrian bridge to improve connectivity.

Unity Park observation tower / MKSK Studios
Unity Park great lawn / MKSK Studios
Destination playground / MKSK Studios
Unity Park gathering space / MKSK Studios
Unity Park pedestrian bridge / MKSK Studios

The city brought an inclusive, community-based planning effort that won approval from African American communities along the park. Greenville News reports that “Mary Duckett, head of the traditionally low-income and African-American Southernside neighborhood association….has been satisfied that its voice was heard and that the park will be one that is welcoming for all.”

Meyer said the planning process was viewed as successful because project leaders “put a tremendous amount of effort into cultivating good relationships. They knew that is really the foundation of trust and a key part to inclusive decision-making.”

Unity Park / MKSK Studios

As part of neighborhood planning and outreach, the city brought in a fire truck that kids could play on; a mobile recreation vehicle, with sports play equipment; and hosted a cook-out for 300 community residents. “These were great events designed to build community.”

MKSK also coordinated planning and design community meetings, with the goal of collecting stories, including those about the African American minor league baseball team that plays in Mayberry Park, and incorporating them into an authentic design. That led to a temporary installation — a mosaic of names of baseball players set into steps leading to the baseball field.

Meyer said the park is not just about re-connecting once-segregated parks, but also about re-connecting the community to a lost river ecosystem. Some 2,000-feet of the Reedy River that runs through the park will be taken out of its concrete channel and become a showpiece of ecological restoration. MKSK will significantly widen the riparian corridor and treat the floodplain in the park as an ecological system.

Unity Park view of the wetlands and river / MKSK Studios

MKSK made the case to city leaders that “the health of the river is tied to the health of the community. There is a quantifiable public health benefit to bringing back the river and wetlands. Beyond the ecological uplift, there is also a great educational opportunity.”

Read more about the park in Greenville News.

The Big Impact of Small Cell Infrastructure

Small cell photo simulation / City of Gaithersburg, Crown Castle

Autonomous vehicles, augmented reality, smart cities, the internet of things – these and other emerging technologies will require wireless connectivity, and lots of it. In response, wireless service providers are working to bolster their wireless networks by deploying low-power miniature antennas called small cells, which supplement larger cell towers and can deliver lightning-fast 5G service.

Small cells might seem innocuous enough. They are, after all, much smaller than a standard cell tower. However, because their range is limited, small cells must be deployed in dense networks to provide continuous service. By some estimates, providers will need to install small cells every 250 to 300 feet to provide adequate coverage. And since each provider has their own network, full scale deployment of small cell infrastructure could result in the installation on thousands of new antennas on city streets and rights-of-way.

The challenge posed by small cell infrastructure was laid bare at a recent U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) meeting, where National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) staff planner Michael Bello gave a talk on small cell deployment in Washington, D.C.

Bello indicated that small cell infrastructure could, in many cases, be mounted on existing infrastructure such as telephone poles, street lights, or bus stops. Still, the sheer number of antennas required all but guarantees the deployment of small cells will have a visual impact on the public realm.

“I want to underscore that the implementation of this technology could result in thousands of small cell antennas and related equipment across the city, and it may result in several per block,” said Bello.

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A small cell installation in Austin, Texas / Crown Castle

Small cells could result in “impacts to our viewsheds, historic character, access and circulation, and potential for more streetscape clutter.”

The Washington, D.C. department of transportation (DDOT) – the agency with permitting jurisdiction for right-of-way infrastructure – has already entered into master license agreements with multiple cell service providers for small cell deployment on DC streets.

Bello said that the NCPC is working with DDOT, along with a number of other agencies, to develop design guidelines for this new infrastructure.

“The guidelines will address various aspects of placement and design, including general design specification, spacing between small cell poles, distance from tree boxes and root systems, accessibility, the number of poles per block, and the poles design and finish.”

Public comments indicated that, for some residents, these guidelines may not be enough. Georgetown ANC Commissioner Joe Gibbons and Citizens Association of Georgetown board member Elsa Santoyo both voiced concern about the impact of small cells could have on the historic character of Georgetown and urged that small cell installations be subjected to a formal design review process, something not required by DDOT’s existing agreement with service providers.

DDOT manager Kathryn Roos said her agency’s agreement with service providers did not preclude such oversight. “The master license agreement is explicit in saying that the small cell companies must get whatever approval that is needed.”

“DDOT’s role in this is really as a facilitator. We saw that this was a particularly sensitive program, and so we reached out to our partners at NCPC, CFA, and SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) to help facilitate a conversation.”

CFA Commissioner Toni Griffin pushed back against that characterization of DDOT’s role: “To the extent this can be viewed as privately-operated public infrastructure, I think we’re going to need a public owner and advocate — and not just a facilitator.”

In other jurisdictions, legal battles have broken out between state and local governments over who has the right to decide how cell service providers can deploy small cell technology – and how much they have to pay for the right to do so on publicly controlled rights-of-way.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, twenty states have passed laws intended to facilitate small cell deployment. Many of these laws achieve this goal by limiting local regulation of the deployment process. These efforts are often backed by the CTIA, a trade organization that represents the wireless communications industry.

The federal government has also begun to take note of the issue. Earlier this summer, Senator John Thune (R-SD) introduced the STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act (S. 3157), which would require local agencies to process small cell applications within 60 to 90 days and limit the amount that municipalities can charge service providers for the use of the public right of way. And in March, the the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to adopted rules intended to reduce regulatory hurdle to small cell deployment.

Local leaders, for their part, have argued that local regulations are not a major obstacle to deployment. In a letter to the FCC ahead of the commission’s March meeting, three dozen mayors and local leaders insisted that “our communities strongly desire more options for high quality internet access, and we are happy to work collaboratively with any Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that are willing to provide such opportunities. However, our residents and businesses appropriately balk at the placement of a 100-foot monopole on their lawn with no recourse, or to having their local government’s hands tied when it comes to the public recovering just compensation for the use of the public’s right of way.”

Small cell photo simulation / Montgomery County, Crown Castle

At the CFA meeting, Commissioner Griffin envisioned a more creative approach to the issue. “Maybe we should ask the service providers to sponsor a design competition to help us bring more voices to the table and solve the problem. Design guidelines will get us some of the way, but not all the way.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (August 1 – 15)

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Ella Fitzgerald Park, Detroit / Spackman Mossop Michaels

A High Line for Houston? Texas Medical Center News, 8/1/18
“Landscape architect James Corner will bring his vision to TMC3’s Helix Park.”

San Francisco’s Imposing Transit Center Ready to Roll at Last The San Francisco Chronicle, 8/6/18
“For the past decade, the transit center that will replace San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal has been the subject of grand plans and political controversies, struggles to stay on schedule and squabbles over costs.”

How a New Park Fits Detroit’s Plan to Bring Its Neighborhoods Back CityLab, 8/7/18
“The reuse of over a dozen vacant lots in the Fitzgerald neighborhood illustrates the city’s holistic approach to redevelopment outside of downtown.”

Saying Goodbye to the Godfather of Gas Works Park Crosscut, 8/7/18
“Richard Haag, a leader in the fight against unchecked urban development, has died.”

Transforming Tulsa, Starting with a Park The New York Times, 8/10/18
“The Olmsted-style transformation of 66 acres in the central city is now Gathering Place, a much-anticipated $465 million park that opens Sept. 8 as one of the largest and most ambitious public parks ever created with private funds — and the latest example of deep-pocketed citizens rebuilding cities through projects they perceive to be in the public good.”