Learning from Copenhagen: A Focus on Everyday Life

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

By John Bela, ASLA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swimming in the Harbor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first carbon-neutral capital

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dense, diverse, and green. Is it possible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A beacon of sustainable urbanism

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

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

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

ASLA Survey: Significant Increase in Demand for Climate Planning and Design Solutions Over Past Year

ASLA 2021 Professional General Design Honor Award. Orange Mall Green Infrastructure. Tempe, Arizona. COLWELL SHELOR LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE / Marion Brenner

Clients are looking to landscape architects to provide nature-based solutions to climate impacts, with street trees, bioswales, and native, drought-tolerant plants in high demand.

ASLA has released its first national survey on demand for landscape architecture planning and design solutions to climate change. 563 landscape architects, designers, and landscape architecture educators in the U.S. responded to the survey in October 2021.

Nationwide, demand for planning and design solutions to climate change has increased over the past year. 77 percent of landscape architects and designers responding to the survey experienced at least a 10 percent increase in client demand for these solutions in comparison with 2020. And, of these, 38 percent of landscape architects and designers experienced more than a 50 percent increase in demand over the past year.

According to the survey results, city and local governments are the foremost drivers of demand for climate change-related planning and design projects. Non-profit organizations, state governments, and community groups, which may or may not be incorporated non-profit organizations, are also key drivers of demand.

Clients are concerned about a range of climate impacts, but are most concerned with:

  • Increased duration and intensity of heat waves
  • Increased intensity of storms
  • Increased spread and intensity of inland flooding
  • Loss of pollinators, such as bees and bats
  • Changing / unreliable weather, or “weird weather.”

The survey finds that landscape architects are also actively educating public, commercial, and residential clients about the importance of investing in more climate-smart practices.

Nationwide, 65 percent of landscape architects and designers surveyed are recommending the integration of climate solutions to “all or most” of their clients. They are creating demand for more sustainable and resilient landscape planning and design practices through “advocacy by design” approaches that persuade city, local government, and other clients to update policies and regulations.

To increase community resilience and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, landscape architects are planning and designing infrastructure at all scales – from the city and county to district, neighborhood, and site.

The top community-wide infrastructure solution clients are requesting is stormwater management to reduce flooding. Solutions that reduce reliance on fossil-fuel-powered vehicles and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, which account for approximately 30 percent of all U.S. emissions, take up the next top four in-demand solutions: walkability improvements, trails, bike infrastructure, and Complete Streets. Improved bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure also increase community resilience to climate impacts by providing additional layers of safe transportation.

The survey found that projects to increase the resilience of communities and reduce greenhouse gas emissions may also be leading to positive economic impacts. 47 percent of landscape architects and designers surveyed estimate their climate projects have a construction value of more than $1 million, with 29 percent saying the value of this work is more than $10 million.

Also, 45 percent of landscape architects and designers surveyed estimated their climate projects created more than 10 local planning, design, construction, management, or maintenance jobs in the past year. Climate solutions are resulting in well-paying creative and green jobs.

“The survey data shows that communities are greatly concerned about a range of climate risks and impacts. They are looking to landscape architects to provide nature-based solutions that both store carbon and increase resilience to extreme heat, flooding, drought, sea level rise, and other climate impacts,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA CEO. “There is also concern about biodiversity loss, particularly the loss of pollinators and the native habitat they rely on, and landscape architects are providing solutions that address the twinned climate and biodiversity crises.”

More key findings:

Designing resilience to climate impacts is at the forefront. 48 percent of landscape architects and designers surveyed stated that “all, a majority, or about half” of clients are now requesting plans and designs to increase resilience to existing or projected climate impacts, such as extreme heat, flooding, sea level rise, storm surges, and wildfires.

Specifically, some 43 percent of clients seek to increase resilience to climate shocks projected for the next 2-5 years, while 39 percent seek to address immediate climate risks or impacts.

38 percent of clients seek to increase resilience over the next 5-10 years, while 32 percent of clients are planning now for the long-term and seeking solutions for expected climate risks and impacts 10-50 years out.

Nature-based planning and design solutions are in demand. Public, non-profit, community, and private clients are looking to landscape architects to plan and design nature-based solutions to impacts such as wildfires, sea level rise, flooding, drought, extreme heat, and biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation.

According to landscape architects, designers, and educators surveyed, these are the top solutions requested by clients for each climate impact area. Note: Not all climate impacts are relevant to the respondents’ regions.

Extreme heat solutions:

  • Street trees (64 percent)
  • Shade structures / canopies (60 percent)
  • Tree groves (35 percent)
  • Parks (35 percent)
  • Green roofs (31 percent)

Flooding solutions:

  • Bioswales (62 percent)
  • Rain Gardens (61 percent)
  • Permeable pavers (59 percent)
  • Trees (54 percent)
  • Wetland restoration (45 percent)

Drought solutions:

  • Native, drought-tolerant plants (67 percent)
  • Low-water, drought-tolerant plants (65 percent)
  • Irrigation systems (48 percent)
  • Greywater reuse (36 percent)
  • Landscape solutions that increase groundwater recharge (35 percent)

Biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation solutions:

  • Increase diversity of native tree and plant species (58 percent)
  • Native plant gardens (57 percent)
  • Increase use of plant species pollinators rely on (52 percent)
  • Ecological landscape design (41 percent)
  • Ecological restoration (35 percent)

Wildfire solutions:

  • Firewise landscape design strategies (27 percent)
  • Defensible spaces (22 percent)
  • Land-use planning and design changes (19 percent)
  • Forest management practices (17 percent)
  • Wildfire risk or impact assessment (14 percent)

Sea level rise solutions:

  • Nature-based solutions (33 percent)
  • Erosion management (30 percent)
  • Beach / dune restoration (25 percent)
  • Other coastal ecosystem restoration (21 percent)
  • Berms (19 percent)

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is also now a key focus. Landscape architecture projects can incorporate Climate Positive Design practices so that they absorb more carbon than they emit over their lifespans. Projects at all scales can act as natural and designed carbon sinks, storing carbon in trees, shrubs, and carbon-sequestering materials, such as wood and pavers. 27 percent of respondents stated that “all, a majority, or about half” of clients are requesting projects that reduce or store greenhouse gas emissions now.

The top five strategies sought by clients to reduce emissions include:

  • Parks and open spaces, which include trees and grasses that sequester carbon.
  • Tree and shrub placement to reduce building energy use.
  • Habitat creation / restoration, which can increase the amount of trees and plants in a landscape, removes invasive species, and improves the overall health of natural systems, and the amount of carbon stored in landscapes.
  • Elimination of high-maintenance lawns, which involves reducing the corresponding use of fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and fossil-fuel-powered lawn movers and leaf blowers.
  • Minimizing soil disturbance, which helps keep intact carbon stored in soils.

Clients are also requesting materials that store carbon, such as woods and carbon-absorbing concrete.

Top five solutions:

  • Recycled materials, such as pavers that incorporate a high percentage of industrial byproducts.
  • Reused materials, such as wood or concrete, which eliminate the need to produce new materials.
  • Trees that absorb higher amounts of carbon than others, which include white oak, southern magnolia, London plane tree, and bald cypress trees.
  • Carbon-sequestering shrubs, groundcover, and grasses, such as native grasses with deeper roots than turfgrass.
  • Solar reflective materials that bounce back more sunlight and therefore reduce heat absorption and air conditioning energy use and expenses in adjacent buildings.

See full results of the survey

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

ASLA 2010 Professional General Design Honor Award. Tianjin Qiaoyuan Park: The Adaptation Palettes. Tianjin City, China. Turenscape, China and Peking University Graduate School of Landscape Architecture / Cao Yang

The Man Turning Cities into Giant Sponges to Embrace Floods — 11/11/21, BBC News
“One of China’s most prominent urban design thinkers and Dean of the prestigious Peking University’s college of architecture and landscape, Yu Kongjian is the man behind the sponge city concept of managing floods that is being rolled out in scores of Chinese cities.”

What Designers of Video Game Cities Understand About Real Cities — 11/12/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“The complex urban settings in computer games can feel as believable as the cities they’re based on. But the rules that govern them are very different.”

Philly Chooses Firm Design Workshop to ‘Reimagine’ Ben Franklin Parkway — 11/10/21, PBS
“‘The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is Philadelphia’s grand boulevard, a historic cultural epicenter that has the opportunity to become a vibrant, bustling public space for all Philadelphians,’ said Mayor Jim Kenney. ‘The team selected to carry out this work is as bold, spectacular, and rooted in local pride as the Parkway itself.'”

An Iconic San Francisco Park Gets a Masterful Makeover — 11/08/21, Fast Company
“Willie ‘Woo Woo’ Wong Playground, designed by CMG Landscape Architecture and Jensen Architects for the city’s Recreation and Parks Department, has been an important public space in tightly packed Chinatown for nearly a century.”

AN Sits Down with the 2021 Landscape Architecture Firm of the Year, Stimson — 11/05/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“The practice, founded by Stephen Stimson in 1992, produces sharp work that straddles the urban and rural realms. This quality is baked into the firm’s operations: Stimson and his wife and co-principal, Lauren, maintain a farm–cum–living laboratory in central Massachusetts, just north of Worcester.”

It’s Time for America to Talk About Bike Parking — 11/05/21, Streetsblog
“A historic commitment to increase bike parking in Paris has U.S. advocates wondering why cycle storage doesn’t get the same level of attention in American cities — and sharing policy strategies that could help.”

Climate Change Is Now the Main Driver of Increasing Wildfire Weather, Study Finds — 11/01/21, The Los Angeles Times
“The study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looks at what’s known as the vapor pressure deficit, which basically describes how thirsty the atmosphere is, Fu said.”

ASLA Statement on COP26: Limited Progress on Climate Change Not Enough

ASLA 2021 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Recreation at the Intersection of Resilience – Advancing Planning and Design in the Face of Wildfire. Mariposa County, California. Design Workshop, Inc.

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), which represents 15,000 landscape architects, is dismayed by the slow, incremental progress made by world leaders at the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP26), in Glasgow, Scotland, towards achieving a 1.5°C limit to global warming.

According to the well-regarded Climate Action Tracker, commitments by countries as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) would currently result in an increase of at least 2.4°C of warming by 2100. The group states that “with all target pledges, including those made in Glasgow, global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 will still be around twice as high as necessary for the 1.5°C limit.” Furthermore, “stalled momentum from leaders and governments on their short-term targets has narrowed the 2030 emissions gap by only 15-17% over the last year.”

“Landscape architects are disappointed by the lack of progress and ambition at COP26,” said Tom Mroz, FASLA, ASLA President. “While there were some positive steps taken, including the recognition of the role of nature and nature-based solutions in addressing climate change, there is zero time to waste in getting on a path to cutting emissions by 50%, at a bare minimum, by 2030. The impacts of wildfires, extreme heat, flooding, and other forms of climate change on our communities and natural environments only continue to worsen.”

ASLA acknowledges some limited progress occurred at COP26. The Glasgow Climate Pact, signed by over 200 countries, includes a commitment to update NDCs and ratchet up greenhouse gas emission reduction targets next year at COP27 in Egypt, rather than waiting until 2025, as previously agreed as part of the Paris Climate Accord.

The importance of ecosystems in addressing climate change was also recognized and incorporated into the pact. World leaders highlighted the key role of healthy terrestrial ecosystems, particularly forests, wetlands, and prairies, in both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping communities adapt to climate change.

Also, a clear connection was made between the worsening climate and biodiversity crises. Countries recognized that preserving and restoring ecosystems is crucial to protecting the world’s remaining biodiversity. Indigenous communities managing much of the world’s remaining intact ecosystems should play a lead role in future conservation efforts.

This text in the pact was a step forward:

[The Conference of the Parties] emphasizes the importance of protecting, conserving, and restoring nature and ecosystems, including forests and other terrestrial and marine ecosystems, to achieve the long-term global goal of the Convention by acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and protecting biodiversity, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards.”

“World leaders need to do much more to address both climate change and biodiversity loss. With greater ambition and support at the national level, landscape architects can do even more to achieve key climate goals through large-scale ecological planning and design,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA CEO.

ASLA also supports additional coalition pledges announced at the Glasgow conference:

Ending Deforestation by 2030: More than 100 world leaders, representing 85% of the world’s forests, agreed to end and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030. Twelve countries have committed $12 billion of public funds and companies have committed an additional $7.2 billion in private investment for conservation and restoration, including $1.7 billion for Indigenous peoples. In the U.S., House Majority Leader Stenny Hoyer introduced legislation that would establish a $9 billion trust fund at the U.S. State Department to finance bilateral forest conservation efforts in developing countries.

“Since the very beginning of our profession with Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape architects have focused on conserving and restoring ecosystems and enhancing biodiversity,” Mroz said. “We can play a critical role in helping all communities protect and restore ecosystem functions, particularly those that lack green spaces.”

Global Methane Pledge: More than 100 world leaders also committed to reduce emissions of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, by 30% by 2030, as part of an initiative led by the U.S. and European Union. According to EU estimates, a 30% cut in methane emissions could reduce projected warming by 0.2°C (0.36°F). The pledge covers countries that are responsible for 50% of all methane emissions. Methane is released from livestock, agriculture, the production of natural gas, and landfills.

“Communities impacted by landfills are typically among the most historically marginalized and underserved. Landscape architects have proven they can plan and design solutions that safely capture methane emissions from landfills. We can help more communities around the world transform toxic garbage dumps into green spaces that capture and store methane,” Carter-Conneen said.

Landscape architects plan and design with nature to help all communities reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate. Landscape architects use Climate Positive Design approaches that transform parks and open spaces into natural carbon sinks. They develop resilient nature-based solutions that reduce the impacts of extreme heat; coastal, ground, and inland flooding; sea level rise; pollution; and wildfires. They also increase biodiversity and protect and restore ecosystems, which underpin life on Earth. Learn more at: https://climate.asla.org

Women Landscape Architects Take the Lead on Climate Action (Part 1)

Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project at the Tate, UK / Studio Olafur Eliasson

When thinking about climate change, many of us focus on the looming environmental impacts — sea level rise, more intense storms and floods, rising temperatures. And landscape architects are increasingly creating solutions to those “ecological, technical problems,” said Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, professor at the University of Virginia, during the kick-off of Courageous by Design, a day-long conference organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) in New York City, comprised entirely of women speakers.

But as landscape architects fix these ecological problems and increase landscape performance, Meyer advised the masked, in-person audience of hundreds not to forget that design also matters. “Landscape architects need to design for the immediate human experience as well as long-term community survival.” Design must support “psychological well-being” today in order to build social resilience for what is to come.

Landscape architects can design with the goal of eliciting “affective responses” to the climate crisis. For example, meaningful “landscape experiences could provoke a young activist to shift their consciousness.” Through landscape design, “we can create a culture of care and spark environmental investigation. By addressing spatial and social justice, we can create transformative socio-economic experiences in public spaces.”

Meyer argued that the latest dire warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) don’t spur on greater climate action in most people. Designers should instead look to Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s Weather series, which evoke “awe, dissonance, and wonder” (see image above). These kinds of immersive, powerful experiences can reduce the disconnect we all feel between reality and climate change. Sir Anthony Giddens’ book The Politics of Climate Change argues that “this disconnect is between what we know and what we do everyday.” Giddens speaks about the “invisibility of climate change” caused by “scalar and relational disconnects.”

Olafur Eliasson’s Icewatch, Paris / Studio Olafur Eliasson

One way to bridge the gap is to treat climate adaptation not just as a technological, ecological process but also as an emotional and social one. “Landscape form matters and can suggest scalar connections that affect mood, emotions, and feelings.” To address the social impacts of climate change, landscape architects can create “new collective experiences based in new spatial and material practices. Feelings also perform and are affective: Awe is a biological reaction and can cause us to care and cultivate compassion.”

Awe can be found in simple, everyday designed places. “Walks in my neighborhood where I experienced awe sustained me during the long pandemic.” Experiencing small moments of awe in designed nature, through experiencing a beautiful garden or bird, can spark “new thoughts about our multi-species co-dependence.” Meyer believes that this kind of “everyday exposure to awe” are also affective experiences.

Frederick Law Olmsted understood these ideas when he said: “A park is a work of art designed to produce certain effects in the minds of men.” Like Olmsted, landscape architects can not only design ecological solutions but also change sensibilities. New landscape design should address climate change, urban form, and social aesthetics together. “This is how we can insert landscape architects into the climate crisis.”

Central Park, NYC / Ed Yourdon, NYC, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

A subsequent series of talks by leading women landscape architects further wove together ideas about how to solve climate challenges and create those personal, immersive experiences that change attitudes and spur on awareness and action.

According to Martha Schwartz, FASLA, founder of Martha Schwartz Partners and a professor of practice at Harvard Graduate School of Design, “there is no place more vulnerable to climate change than New York City.” The city will be impacted by sea level rise, flooding, and rising temperatures, along with increased food insecurity. In the Northeast, which supplies a significant amount of food to NYC, climate change is already impacting agriculture. As things get worse, “we can imagine access to food will become harder as communities stop trading with each other.”

Compounding these risks is the poor state of NYC’s infrastructure, which will lead to “cascading failures.” The subway system is 90 years old, outdated, and dangerous. “It’s dirty, dingy, with leaking roofs, and the city can’t pay for upgrades.” The sewer mains are 80 years old, and overflows from combined sewer outfalls result in 27 billion gallons of sewage and stormwater to enter waterways each year. 50 percent of the city’s streets are now sub-standard.

Schwartz outlined a set of solutions to save NYC, rooted in a few guiding ideas: “the urban landscape needs to be treated as a necessity, not a commodity. The urban landscape is the largest piece of infrastructure.”

Given the importance of the urban landscape, landscape architects need to re-arrange the city to maximize its potential benefits in addressing climate change. “We need to create less dependence on centralized infrastructure. We need bold, more flexible smaller-scale, nature-based systems.” She called for all streets to be lined with actual forests, not just trees, to embed immersive nature experiences into the city.

Another key idea: Instead of further building up NYC as a mega-city, focus on neighborhoods. “Decentralize the infrastructure so it can work at a neighborhood scale.” Schwartz called for “re-spatializing” the city as a set of smaller 15-to-20 minute cities, which is the maximum amount of time pedestrians will walk. New transportation networks will be key to achieving this. NYC doesn’t have a choice but to abandon its “dangerous and unfeasible” subway system in favor of a new above-ground system.

And NYC and other vulnerable cities can be made more resilient by incorporating nature-based solutions that address both flooding and rising urban temperatures. “Copy from nature and create ecological urbanism. NYC can un-build itself through strategic erasures.” The city can install linear farms and forests in the rights-of-way. Using the Miyawaki forest model, New York City could plant dense, biodiverse forests that grow in 2-3 years in polluted areas. “We need real forests instead of street trees.”

Miyawaki forest model, Lahore, Pakistan / Global Village Space

Lisa Switkin, ASLA, senior principal at Field Operations in New York City, more directly engaged with Meyer’s thesis, arguing that too often beauty is pushed to the sidelines as less important in comparison with the scale of environmental and social problems facing communities.

She finds solace and inspiration in the Navaho worldview, Hózhó, which puts beauty at the “center of life and thought.” In Western societies, “beauty is a surface phenomenon,” but the Navaho believe that “beauty is about balance between land and water, place and belonging.” Switkin called for “expanding and redesigning beauty,” creating a new urban nature that conflates the city and wilderness, urbanism with ecology.

Balance and beauty in Navaho worldview: Hózhó, Navajo Beauty, Navajo Weaving, Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, Indiana University

As an example, Switkin pointed to a Field Operations-planned and designed project in Shenzhen, China, the Qianhai Water City, a new “sustainable city” for 4 million people. “Water fingers running through the development will improve water quality. Linear parks that will act as stormwater filters.” 70 percent of the development will be natural, with 13 acres of constructed mangroves. “This project is meant to create immersive natural experiences in a dense city.” The first segment of the project just opened.

Qianhai Water City, Shenzhen, China / Field Operations

Another project Switkin highlighted is Freshkills Park in Staten Island, New York, a 2,200-acre landfill reclamation project Field Operations has been working on for two decades. “The park offers a world of contrasts — both natural and engineered beauty.” The park is designed to capture both landfill gases, which are being transformed into usable methane for Staten Island residents, and leachate. The landscape includes restored creeks and meadows, tree and seed farms, wilderness areas, mountain biking and cross-country skiing — all on a former garbage dump. The park is currently functioning as an environmental research station but will soon open to the public as it becomes more naturalized. “This has been a process of renewal — both in terms of ecology and spirit and imagination.”

Freshkills Park, Staten Island, NY / NYC Parks

“Landscape architects can make a contribution to adapting communities to climate change, but the effort must be collective,” she said. Designers can help foster ecological health and resilience, better connect communities to place, increase health and well-being, and inspire and improve people’s lives.

Like Meyer, Switkin believes that creating immersive experiences and redefining beauty will help ensure landscape architects remain “relevant and resonant” in the midst of the climate crisis. Designing immersive experiences and taking climate action “aren’t in opposition, but central to each other.”

Kate Orff, FASLA, founder of SCAPE, who has recently made the case for the role of landscape architects in addressing climate change in The New Yorker and CNN, relayed her own doubts and questions she has for herself.

Given the scale of the climate crisis, and the fact that “our largest landscapes are dying,” she wonders “whether the unit of a landscape architecture project is sufficient.” An estimated one million plant and animal species are facing extinction. Wetlands are being lost at a rate three times faster than forests. Two-thirds of birds and other wildfire have vanished since 1970. “There is an eco-cide, and we are designing amid that.”

But she thinks that landscape architects are “special and qualified” to do the hard work of restoring biological diversity to our landscapes and finding ways to incentivize communities to protect these places. “We can see the relationships. We can make projects, but not close our eyes. We can listen, make, and unmake.” She said some landscape architects may complain that addressing the climate crisis isn’t design, but we have to “grapple with that, and reflect on what is design and what isn’t.”

She pointed to just a few of SCAPE’s recent projects, including Living Breakwaters in Staten Island, New York, a designed and engineered oyster habitat that will protect communities from storm surges and support local livelihoods and environmental education efforts. In that project, “policy and regulations informed everything we did. Then-Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan spent months re-writing code to make that work.” But even this modest $100 million project took eight years of planning and design before construction began in the past few months.

Living Breakwaters, Staten Island, NY / SCAPE
Construction of Living Breakwaters, Staten Island, NY / SCAPE

Orff argued that “working upstream in the policy environment is critical,” but “addressing people and their behavior will enable us to scale up change even faster.” She called on landscape architects to continue to wade into the toughest environmental and social challenges and lead collaborative efforts to de-pave roads, undam rivers and remove the concrete channels around them, and rip-out car-based infrastructure as much as possible.

In the Q&A, Meyer asked how all three women toggle between being humble and listening to communities and being courageous in designing new solutions to the climate crisis.

Orff said “I keep toggling between ‘I gotta get this done,’ and climate grief. I feel humility in knowing my role isn’t enough, but I have the courage to do it anyway.”

“I learned about how methane could be released with the Arctic permafrost, and I basically stopped doing landscape architecture for a few years,” Schwartz said. “I quit because I felt that landscape architecture wasn’t relevant. But I did a deep dive on climate change and read a lot of books. I have a whole new education about Earth systems. I now have a new scale of thinking. Running my own firm for 37 years, I solve problems. I started Mayday, a new non-profit organization focused on climate engineering. We need to cool down the atmosphere while we drawdown carbon. Landscape architects are super important, but are not recognized. We need to broadcast what we do and that everyone needs to do this. We need to envision; use your creativity.”

“Indigenous belief systems offer powerful concepts,” Switkin said. “Beauty is balance. The question for me is what will push people to achieve greater balance with nature. We need to better collaborate. We can bring our realm of expertise, form alliances, and create a shift. We can’t do everything though.”

Orff reiterated this focus on forming new alliances. For a project on the Mississippi riverfront, SCAPE brought together more than 15 organizations involved in separate efforts at different scales. “We can convene organizations, make a map, and pull it together.”

Switkin mentioned the book New Power: How Anyone Can Persuade, Mobilize, and Succeed in Our New Chaotic, Connected Age, which explains “movement culture.” With social media, “there is an exponential growth factor and influence circles outward. Individual actions can make a difference.”

Meyer concluded that “you have to be an optimist as a designer.”

Landscape Architects Poised to Lead New Era of Infrastructure

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

By Roxanne Blackwell, Hon. ASLA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASLA transportation priorities incorporated into the legislation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detailed list of programs and funding in the legislation:

TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WATER INFRASTRUCTURE

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

ASLA water priorities incorporated into the legislation:

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

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

Detailed list of programs and funding in the legislation:

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

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

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

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

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

NATIONAL PARKS and PUBLIC LANDS

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

ASLA national lands recommendations incorporated into the legislation:

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

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

Detailed list of programs and funding in the legislation:

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

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

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

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

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (October 16-31)

COP26 / UK Government

COP26: ‘Moment of Truth’ as World Meets for Climate Summit – 10/31/21, BBC News
“Delegates from around 200 countries are there to announce how they will cut emissions by 2030 and help the planet. With the world warming because of fossil fuel emissions caused by humans, scientists warn that urgent action is needed to avoid a climate catastrophe.”

Black Landscapes Matter Asks Why Black Landscapes Are Separate from Landscape Design — 10/29/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“If Black lives do matter, then where we live, and how we live there, must matter as well. This deceptively simple suggestion is the provocation that Black Landscapes Matter poses to the fields of landscape architecture and design.”

U.S. Traffic Deaths Continued to Spike in 2021 — 10/29/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“The number of people killed on U.S. roads jumped 18.4% — the largest six-month increase in traffic fatalities on record — as car travel picked up.”

‘Making Meaningful Places’: Claude Cormier Landscape Architecture Award Launched at University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty — 10/29/21, University of Toronto News
“The Claude Cormier Award in Landscape Architecture will annually cover the domestic tuition fees of an MLA student, in their third and final year, who shows promise to pursue creative and pioneering forms or approaches to practice.”

As E-Bikes Speed Up, a Policy Dilemma Looms — 10/29/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“The newest electric bikes can go much faster than pedal-only riders, which could spur a backlash from pedestrians and a crackdown from regulators.”

The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Leaf Blowers — 10/25/21, The New York Times
“Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry.”

In Ida’s Wake, America’s Rural Communities Need Better Protection—Cities Can’t Hog Climate Adaptation — 10/25/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Hurricane Ida served as a harsh reminder that the nation’s rural and smaller coastal communities often bear the brunt of the effects of climate change, suffering extensive flooding and other damage, yet lack the resources to rebuild or to implement measures that could prevent future disasters.”

Hundreds Turn out to Celebrate New Downtown Park in Palm Springs — 10/21/21, Desert Sun
“‘Nellie Coffman’s mantra is she believed in space, stillness, solitude and simplicity and I hope this project really conveys those ideas,’ park designer Mark Rios said. ‘Tonight we are here to celebrate and I think we really want to celebrate that it worked.'”

ASLA Urges Nations to Commit to More Ambitious Climate Action at COP26

ASLA 2021 Professional General Design Honor Award. From a Concrete Bulkhead Riverbank to a Vibrant Shoreline Park—Suining South Riverfront Park. Suining City, Sichuan Province, China. ECOLAND Planning and Design Corp. Sichuan Provincial Architectural Design and Research Institute CO., LTD. / Arch-Exist Photography

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26), which just began in Scotland and will continue over the next two weeks, is the crucial moment where global leaders must commit to achieving a 65 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this decade. ASLA calls upon governments, particularly of nations with the largest historical emissions, to rapidly change course or risk breaching the 1.5C (2.7F) planetary warming limit established as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

A recent report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that countries are already failing to live up to their commitments as outlined in the Paris agreement. With current nationally determined contributions (NDCs), global greenhouse gas emissions are on track to increase by 16 percent by 2030, compared to 2010 levels. And earlier this year, the International Energy Agency warned that greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 are expected to total 33 billion tonnes, an increase of 4.6 percent over 2020, and the second largest annual jump on record.

Over the course of the next two weeks, ASLA and its Climate Action Committee will be closely monitoring progress of the negotiations in Scotland. ASLA will be working in coordination with its climate action partners – The International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA), Climate Positive Design, Architecture 2030, We Are Still In, and The American Institute of Architects (AIA) — to share information in real time.

“We will be looking for more ambitious commitments – increased investments in nature-based approaches to sequestering greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change and more equitable climate actions that undo climate injustices. We are hopeful COP26 will result in progress on our key goals as outlined through our commitments with IFLA and Architecture 2030,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA CEO.

In October, ASLA ratified the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA)’s Climate Action Commitment, joining a global coalition of 70,000 landscape architects in 77 countries in committing to limiting planetary warming to 1.5°C (2.7 °F). The IFLA Commitment brought together the largest coalition of landscape architecture professionals ever assembled to advance climate action.

ASLA also signed on to the Architecture 2030 1.5°C COP26 Communiqué, which calls for all governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65 percent by 2030 and achieve zero emissions by 2040. The call, the most ambitious climate challenge ever issued by the built environment professions, accelerates the current timeline to achieve emission reductions outlined in the Paris Climate Accord by a decade.

“By working closely with our built environment partners, we can amplify the voice of landscape architects in these critically important climate discussions,” said Tom Mroz, FASLA, ASLA President. “We must all do our part to get on a path to achieving a 65 percent reduction in emissions by 2030.”

Landscape architects plan and design with nature to help all communities reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate. Landscape architects use climate positive design approaches that transform parks and open spaces into natural carbon sinks. They develop resilient nature-based solutions that reduce the impacts of extreme heat; coastal, ground, and inland flooding; sea level rise; pollution; and wildfires. They also increase biodiversity and protect and restore ecosystems, which underpin life on Earth. Learn more at: https://climate.asla.org

Washington, D.C.’s 11th Street Bridge Park Nears Final Design

11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN

“The Anacostia River has divided Washington, D.C. for generations,” said Scott Kratz, vice president of Building Bridges Across the River, in a public update of the 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, D.C. over Zoom. When the 11th street bridge built in the 1960s reached the end of its lifespan a decade ago, then Mayor Vince Gray and others saw an opportunity to “save part of the bridge, its precious pilings,” to create a new bridge park that would bring both sides of Washington, D.C. together. Spanning three football fields, the new bridge park designed by OLIN, a Philadelphia-based landscape architecture firm, and OMA, a Netherlands-based architecture firm, will achieve a range of “health, environment, social, and economic goals,” Kratz argued. The hope is the project will become “an anchor for more inclusive development” in D.C. and help communities on both sides of the Anacostia “re-engage with the river and reconnect with each other.”

The journey to create a new bridge park began in 2011. Building Bridges Across the River spent two years listening to the diverse and historically marginalized communities along the river during over 200 meetings. The team heard demand for a new environmental educational center, a kayak and canoe launch, urban agriculture, public art, a performance space, a 21st century playground, and restaurant — all of which have made it into the final design.

A global design competition was then announced, attracting 81 firms from around the world. Some three dozen local stakeholders met with finalist teams over an eight-month-long competition. After extensive community review, the OMA+OLIN team won the project with their innovative X-design for a new bridge park.

11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN

James Guinther, vice president with Baltimore-based engineering firm Whitman Requardt & Associates (WRA), said designs will be finalized by early 2022 and construction on the bridge park will run through 2025. The design and engineering process has been complex given the new 1,000-foot-long park will be larger and heavier than the vehicular bridge it replaces. The park will be heavier because of the addition of soils for the new trees, so new pilings will be set in the river to support the additional weight and ensure resilience to flooding.

According to Jason Long, a partner at OMA, the trails leading to the bridge park from either Capitol Hill and the Navy Yard on the west side and Anacostia from the east side will be fully accessible and no more than a 20 minute walk on either side from the Metro. As the design was further fleshed out, OMA+OLIN decided to move a proposed open-air amphitheater off the bridge park and instead set it on the Anacostia side landing. Curving paths and ramps around the amphitheater will take visitors up into the park. Amazingly, no slope in the landings or the park is more than a 5 percent grade.

11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN
Walking into the Amphitheater on the east side of 11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN

The refined design also more closely fuses the adjacent local traffic bridge immediately to the north, creating multiple connection points between that bridge, which is accessible to vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians, and the new bridge park. A 16-foot-wide two-way bike and pedestrian path will be established to enable even better access to the bridge park as well. From there, visitors can gain entry to new picnic gardens and a hammock grove on the upper levels.

Lawns on top of the 11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN
Hammock Grove at the 11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN

The design of the bridge park has been modified in other ways. The width of the bridge park has been reduced by 15 feet overall, and now the ends have different widths, creating a more dynamic trapezoidal shape. At the Capitol Hill and Navy Yard side on the west, entry to the park will be a mere 30 feet wide, while at Anacostia, on the east side, the landing is now 127 feet wide. This also puts into form the equity goals of the project — there is a clear focus on ensuring easy access by Anacostia residents and providing greater benefits to those long-underserved communities.

Either ends of the upper levels of the X-shaped park will offer lookouts to both Capitol Hill and Anacostia communities. In between the great lawns on these upper levels is a central plaza where the upper levels join the lower levels.

View from the lookout facing west at 11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN
View from central plaza at 11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN

Back on the ground, the Anacostia landing of the park will include a new environmental educational center, a new home for the Anacostia Watershed Society; a kayak and canoe launch; and the amphitheater. An outdoor classroom and playground will be found near the educational center, while a new community restaurant with affordable options, and a large porch for markets and other events will be further up the slope from the east side. At the western entry point, OMA+OLIN will plant rain gardens that lead to the hammock grove.

Kayak and canoe launch at 11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN
The porch at 11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN

Hallie Boyce, FASLA, a partner with OLIN, explained that her firm and OMA have been working closely on all aspects of the project. “OLIN and OMA are very much an integrated team, and we have studied the entire bridge park together both over structure and on terra firma. There has been much overlap and collaboration between us towards a holistic design.”

While OMA has focused more on the architectural design of the new environmental center, restaurant and porch space, and central plaza, OLIN has been focused more on the amphitheater, lawns, play areas, and hammock grove. OLIN seeks to ensure a “richly layered landscape” with abundant color and vibrancy in all seasons, Boyce explained. On both the bridge park and landings, “there will be a lot of fall color and ample shade during the summer.” All of the new tree and plant life will also be supported by “advanced stormwater systems,” including bioretention basins and cisterns, which will capture stormwater for reuse in irrigation.

Rain gardens on the west side of the 11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN

Returning to the landscape design of the new amphitheater space on the east side, Boyce said that the space will be a “large woodland meadow with wetlands at its edges.” Native and adapted species will be planted to achieve biodiversity goals established with the Anacostia Watershed Society. There will also be urban agriculture plots for use by the community.

To highlight the role mussels play in filtering and cleaning the water, OLIN+OMA designed a charming “Mussel Power” playground that features these bivales with custom shell-shaped play elements that kids can hide in and run through. “The play area dovetails with the environmental education program,” Boyce said.

Mussel power playground at 11th Street Bridge Park / OMA+OLIN

All the planning and design work on the bridge park is the result of a broader equitable development plan for the communities surrounding park, particularly in Ward 8 on the east side of the river. Given the rampant gentrification and displacement that has occurred in D.C. over the past two decades, there was real concern among nearby communities that a new bridge park would only accelerate these trends. 11th Street Bridge Park has rightfully been recognized as a model of inclusive and responsible development, setting the bar high for other cities seeking to make major public space investments in underserved communities.

Vaughn Perry, director of equity for Building Bridges Across the River, said the priority is to ensure that long-term residents of Washington, D.C.’s Ward 8 can “thrive in place” — and the bridge park must serve that goal. He noted there is a significant gap in wealth among the communities on the east and west sides of the Anacostia River, with home values on the east side an estimated $450,000 less. Growing and protecting community wealth in Ward 8 is therefore a key focus of his organization and takes the form of programs that encourage home ownership, provide job training, and build cultural equity.

Over the past decade, as part of the equitable development plan, the organization has founded a community land trust that is meant to “ensure permanent affordability for residents” and now includes 220 non-profit-owned units. The group has organized tenant’s rights workshops and home buyers’ clubs, helping nearly another 100 residents purchase homes. On the job training front, the organization has held 20 training sessions for construction jobs on the bridge park and placed 81 people in positions. “These folks are gainfully employed right now,” Perry said. In terms of enhancing local arts and culture, Building Bridges has organized the Anacostia River Festival, which brings 8,000-10,000 people each year and include training programs to build empowerment. Total community investments to date have been around $77 million, which is almost the cost of the bridge park itself.

Brooklyn Bridge Park Wins 2021 Rosa Barba International Landscape Prize

ASLA 2018 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Twenty Year Transformation. Brooklyn, NY. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / Alex Maclean

Brooklyn Bridge Park, which spans 85 acres and 1.3 miles along the East River waterfront in Brooklyn, New York, beat out 10 other projects around the world to win the 2021 Rosa Barba International Landscape Prize at the 11th International Landscape Architecture Biennial in Barcelona, Spain. Designed over twenty years by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), a New York-based landscape architecture firm, the project has “transformed an industrial site of abandoned warehouses, obsolete piers, and decaying bulkheads into a vibrant public space,” the prize jury said.

Brooklyn Bridge Park, which pre-Covid boasted 5 million visitors a year, was the first major park to be created in Brooklyn since Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s Prospect Park in the late 19th century. Five flat, concrete piers were re-imagined as sports fields, gardens, and playgrounds, all connected through interwoven green spaces and paths. A new berm reduced noise from the nearby Brooklyn Queens Expressway, an elevated highway that once produced a deafening “roar,” so much so that it was difficult to talk.

Brooklyn Bridge Park sound berm / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

The first public meeting for the master plan of the park was way back in 1998. In just a few months, the final segment — Emily Warren Roebling Plaza — will open. A video with Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, from 2009, as construction begins, offers a sense of his enduring passion for this transformative, two-decade-long project:

MVVA explains that the original “idea for the park came from Brooklynites, who live in the NYC borough with the least amount of park space.” Communities around the site couldn’t access the waterfront when it was a shipping terminal owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. More than a decade of advocacy by local community groups finally convinced elected leaders to stop the Port Authority’s plans to transform the defunct terminal into a profit-generating mixed-use development and instead created a city and state-financed public park.

Over the course of more than 400 public meetings while planning and designing the project, MVVA heard a few key messages: the park should “feel democratic,” and in order to accomplish that, should offer “many programs within its whole,” including desperately-needed space for recreation. The park should also feel friendly and accessible — “a space for everyday life, a place to relax.”

Brooklyn Bridge Park / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
Brooklyn Bridge Park / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

Brooklynites also wanted more than just views; they wanted to feel immersed in a restored natural environment along the East River – “to step into the water, smell the breeze, and feel surrounded by the landscape.” To bring those benefits to multiple surrounding neighborhoods, MVVA created a plan that “stretched both ends of the park” beyond its originally conceived boundaries.

ASLA 2018 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Twenty Year Transformation. Brooklyn, NY. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / Elizabeth Felicella

The park itself is a model of urban reuse. Instead of tearing down the pier infrastructure, MVVA found ways to reuse both the stronger and weaker parts of it, arranging park uses on the surface based on the piers’ structural capacity. Some piers had piles that would only support limited weight so any programs on the surface had to be “light and relatively thin.” Pier 1 had the strongest supports, so it became possible to build up new land forms.

Within the park itself, yellow pine wood from a demolished factory was reused as site furniture; piles and pier structures became playground and park elements; granite was broken up and became rip rap; and bulk fill from a subway tunnel extraction was used to build up land. A shed found on Pier 2 shed was also reimagined as a shade structure for basketball courts, and a pile field at Pier 1 was kept to protect a new salt marsh.

ASLA 2018 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Twenty Year Transformation. Brooklyn, NY. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / Alex Maclean
ASLA 2018 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Twenty Year Transformation. Brooklyn, NY. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / Scott Shigley
ASLA 2018 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Twenty Year Transformation. Brooklyn, NY. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / Etienne Frossard

MVVA carved out land forms within the site, creating sweeping lawns and gardens down to the waterfront that also act as a resilient flood basin during storm surges. More than 3,000 trees were planted along with a rich understory of native plants, all guided by an ecological approach. As in nature, the trees and plants compete for resources and adapt over time, instead of being isolated specimens like in a typical urban park. Plants were also selected to “support human comfort, wind shelter, and shade.”

ASLA 2018 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Twenty Year Transformation. Brooklyn, NY. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / Julienne Schaer

“If you ask a hundred different people why they come to Brooklyn Bridge Park, you could easily get a hundred different answers. Sports are interspersed with epic views, social spaces, natural beauty, and quiet moments,” Van Valkenburgh explains.

The Rose Barba prize jury also honored another innovative space: Parques del Río Medellín in Medellín, Colombia, designed by Sebastian Monsalve Gomez and Juan David Hoyos Taborda. The park, also decades in the making, creates new access to the Medellín River and partly de-channelizes the river and restores its ecosystem.

Parques del Río Medellín in Medellín, Colombia / 11th International Landscape Architecture Biennial

The Rosa Barba International Landscape Prize included an award of €15,000 ($17,439). The prize jury included Esteban Leon, UN-Habitat; Cristina Castelbranco, a landscape architect and professor at the University of Lisbon; Kongjian Yu, FASLA, a leading Chinese landscape architect and founder of Turenscape; James Hayter, a landscape architect and president of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA); and Julie Bargmann, a landscape architect, professor at the University of Virginia, and winner of the first Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize.