ECHO Project Tackles Embodied Carbon in the Built Environment

Trees and plants sequester carbon and provide multiple co-benefits. ASLA 2023 Professional General Design Honor Award. The University of Texas at El Paso Transformation. El Paso, Texas. Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Inc / Adam Barbe

A group of built environment industry groups and movement leaders has shared a new collaborative project to rapidly reduce embodied carbon in the built environment. The goal of the project is to ensure all embodied carbon reporting at the whole building and whole project scale in the U.S. — including landscapes and infrastructure — follow the same clear definitions and scopes of included impacts.

This coalition was convened jointly by five leading non-profit organizations:

It is comprised of representatives from:

This coalition is now referred to as the Embodied Carbon Harmonization and Optimization (ECHO) Project.

The coalition has reached a key milestone in its alignment work on embodied carbon reporting. It has agreed to a first draft of basic minimum requirements of a common framework for embodied carbon reporting, entitled the North American Minimum Project Embodied Carbon Reporting Framework V1.0. The document is now being shared with partners. We expect to publish resources in early 2024.

“Approximately 75 percent of landscape architecture project emissions are from embodied carbon — these are emissions generated from the extraction, transportation, and installation of materials. Climate Positive Design and ASLA are proud to support the ECHO Project. Reducing embodied carbon emissions and aligning how they are tracked with the built environment industry are key to improving our overall impact together,” said Pamela Conrad, ASLA, founder of Climate Positive Design and Chair, ASLA Climate Action Plan Task Force.

The ECHO project is also completing a data reporting schema to ensure that all organizations — standards-setting organizations, professional commitment organizations, and others — use the same data schema for databases and digital tools. This can ensure organizations gather and share whole building and whole project embodied carbon data in the same way.

Reporting of embodied carbon emissions from built environment construction has increased rapidly across North America. But variations in Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment boundary definitions have resulted in inconsistent reporting that does not easily allow for comparison, benchmarking, or setting reduction targets.

Standardized reporting is critical to advancing the industry’s understanding of embodied carbon emissions and its ability to measure meaningful reductions, as well as providing a mechanism to reliably compare emissions reporting between projects.

ECHO Project

The initial scope of reporting requirements is narrow in focus, as it represents the minimum areas where consensus is already reached across ECHO. This framework will evolve and expand over time.

The organizations involved are encouraged by this step towards clarity, alignment, and collaborative action to advance the rapid transformation of the built environment towards a decarbonized future.

The ECHO Project intends to continue meeting to further define scopes and accounting practices for embodied carbon in the built environment. We will discuss future projects, including the potential for joint participation in a central data repository of whole project embodied carbon data points for building and infrastructure projects to assist in policy making and standards setting efforts.

At Greenbuild, Learn How to Improve Your Carbon Drawdown

The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design. Atlanta, Georgia. Andropogon / Willett Photography

How can architects, developers, and planners better partner with landscape architects to achieve shared goals on greenhouse gas emission reductions and carbon drawdown? How can residential, commercial, and public landscapes be designed to advance long-term climate resilience?

To answer these questions, ASLA has organized a dynamic session — Improve Your Carbon Drawdown: Leverage Landscape Architecture Strategies to Increase Sequestration and Resilience — at the upcoming 2023 Greenbuild Conference in Washington, D.C. The live session will be on September 29 at 8.30 AM EST.

The session features landscape architecture climate leaders:

Landscape architects who led the creation of the ASLA Climate Action Plan and its implementation through the ASLA Climate Action Committee will outline how landscape architecture strategies, including nature-based solutions, provide significant carbon benefits and a range of economic, equity, biodiversity, public health co-benefits. They will explain the latest landscape architecture approaches that can be used to conceptualize, plan, and design projects, including Sasaki’s updated Carbon Conscience tool.

“We can only achieve carbon drawdown through the creation of diverse living systems. To protect, sustain, and regenerate complex ecological networks in harsh environments, we need to use an integrative design process. This is crucial to ensure that every design decision — regardless of which discipline made the decision — supports that goal,” Almiñana said.

“When we integrate landscape into whole-project life cycle assessments, we can take advantage of potential carbon sinks in the landscape through ecosystem preservation and restoration. We can also realize the often overlooked externalities of site infrastructure and hardscape spaces. Partnering with landscape architects early in the process can inform teams how to best leverage sites, mitigate the potential impacts of site design, and achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction goals,” Hardy said.

Ellinikon Metropolitan Park, Athens, Greece / Sasaki

Danielle Pieranunzi, SITES Director at GBCI, will explain how certifications and guidelines, such as the SITES v2 Rating System — specifically the Pilot Credit 3: Assess and Improve Carbon Performance — and other open-source tools can lower the carbon footprint of projects.

SITES-Certified Project. ASLA 2012 Professional General Design Honor Award. Orange Mall Green Infrastructure. Tempe, Arizona. COLWELL SHELOR LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE / Marion Brenner

“The carbon footprint of the built environment is often understood in terms of construction, building energy use, and transportation. However, landscapes and outdoor spaces have the unique capacity to sequester carbon to help mitigate climate change. It is essential to include those with expertise in ecology and landscape architecture early — prior to design and throughout the development process — in order to achieve shared goals on greenhouse gas emission reductions and carbon drawdown. Using SITES and LEED certification ensures that such goals can be prioritized and not value engineered out,” Pieranunzi said.

Our community — the architecture, engineering, and construction industry — must transform standard practice by taking responsibility for the climate impacts of our projects — from the regional, city, to neighborhood and site scales.

The climate emergency requires both organizational and individual action to reduce emissions in all planning and design stages and prioritizing nature-based solutions in a meaningful way.

Register for Greenbuild to attend the session.

Landscape Architects Advance Sustainable Conference Strategies to Achieve Climate Action Goals

Minneapolis, Minnesota skyline /, lavin photography

ASLA forms partnership with Green Minneapolis to offset greenhouse gas emissions from its 2023 Conference in Minneapolis and support tree planting in underserved communities

ASLA has released its first Sustainable Event Impact Assessment, a comprehensive gap analysis of its 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture, which brought more than 6,000 attendees to the LEED Platinum Moscone Center in San Francisco, November 11-14, 2022.

The assessment provides a baseline accounting of energy used and greenhouse gas emissions and waste generated, which ASLA will use to measure and improve its environmental and social impacts on an annual basis. The assessment also outlines the many positive actions ASLA has taken to make access to the conference more equitable, donate EXPO products, reuse waste materials, and support the communities that host the conference.

Based on these findings, ASLA has committed to event sustainability strategies that will improve the outcomes of its 2023 Conference, which will be held October 27-30 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“With our Strategic Plan, released in 2021, we committed to reducing the emissions from our conference and headquarters operations by 20 percent by 2024. And through our ambitious ASLA Climate Action Plan, released in November 2022, we made the additional commitment to achieve zero emissions in our conference and operations by 2040. We are now moving forward to achieve our goals,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Coneen.

“Landscape architects are climate leaders, and we are committed to identifying and reducing our negative impacts on the climate and increasing the benefits for our host communities. We think it’s important to be transparent about both the positive and negative impacts of our annual convening and where we are in our learning journey. We are sharing lessons learned from our journey with our members and partners, so we can move faster together,” said ASLA President Emily O’Mahoney, FASLA.

2022 Conference Baseline

The assessment, which was developed in partnership with Honeycomb Strategies, a sustainability consulting company, includes key findings.

Over four days and per attendee, the conference:

Due to procurement decisions made by ASLA and sustainability measures adopted by the organization:

  • The ASLA 2022 Conference was hosted at the Moscone Center conference facility, which is 100% powered by renewable hydropower and rooftop solar.
  • 49,500 tons of EXPO materials were donated to Habitat for Humanity.
  • More than 900 students attended the conference for free in return for volunteering.
  • $7,000 in carbon offset contributions were collected from ASLA members

Explore key findings

To reduce adverse climate and environmental impacts and leave a positive legacy in Minneapolis, ASLA is committing to implementing these strategies at its 2023 Conference:

  • Creating climate change and biodiversity educational tracks at its Conference
  • Implementing a range of measures related to food, energy, water, and waste to reduce impacts
  • Offsetting 1,500 tons of its carbon dioxide emissions
  • Launching a new sustainability commitment for EXPO exhibitors
  • Providing free registrations for invited Twin Cities-based climate equity and justice leaders to attend the conference
  • Providing free registrations for invited Twin Cities-based climate youth leaders (high school students) to attend the conference
  • Developing a strategy to reduce transportation emissions for attendees and exhibitors traveling to and from the conference and while traveling in the host city.

Greenhouse Gas Emission Offsets

While it pursues its near-term goal of reducing emissions 20 percent by 2024, ASLA has committed to purchasing 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide emission offsets in 2023. For the past two years, ASLA has collected offset contributions from its members. In 2022, ASLA contributed those funds to Trees for Oakland and Clear.Eco.

For the ASLA 2023 Conference on Landscape Architecture, ASLA announced a new partnership with Green Minneapolis, an innovator in urban tree carbon offsets, to scale up those efforts. The lead sponsor of ASLA 2023 Conference carbon offsets is Bartlett Tree Experts.

Minneapolis, Minnesota /, Haizhan Zheng

Green Minneapolis collaborated with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to complete the first urban tree carbon offset project in Minnesota. The project is part of the Twin Cities Climate Resiliency Initiative, a public private partnership that will significantly expand the urban tree canopy across Minneapolis and the seven county Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Through City Forest Credits, a national nonprofit carbon registry, the urban tree carbon offset project has achieved third-party verification for its carbon credits. The project includes 23,755 city trees planted by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board from 2019 to 2021. Over its 25-year duration, the project is estimated to store 48,865 metric tons of carbon and will provide quantified co-benefits related to rainfall interception, air quality, and energy savings.

According to Green Minneapolis offset funds collected by ASLA and its members will “support a 20-year vision to increase the metro area’s tree canopy through planting and maintaining five million trees on public and private lands, with a focus on addressing environmental inequities in the most disadvantaged communities.”

Attendees and exhibitors: Please offset your attendance at the ASLA 2023 Conference during the registration process or via this contribution form.

Next steps

In the fall of 2023, ASLA will release a sustainability impact assessment of its ASLA Center on Landscape Architecture, the association’s LEED Platinum and WELL Gold-certified headquarters in Washington, D.C; student-led LABash Conference; and Landscape Architecture Magazine.

ASLA will use its own headquarters assessment to educate its members and partners on how to reduce their own office operational impacts and meet the goals of the ASLA Climate Action Plan.

ASLA is also working with partners to develop a more complete picture of the transportation emissions from shipping freight for EXPO booth materials from points of origin. This upcoming initiative will provide new opportunities for ASLA and its corporate members to achieve a lower-impact EXPO together.

By the end of 2023, ASLA plans to have a fuller understanding of its climate, environmental, and social impacts across the conference, EXPO, and headquarters operations. As it pursues impact reductions, ASLA aims to offset 100 percent of its emissions in coming years.

Climate Week NYC: The Hudson River Is Rising. Communities Are Adapting–with Nature

Waterfront Knoll and Living Shoreline, Hudson, NY / Assemblage Landscape Architecture

As part of Climate Week NYC, one of the world’s largest climate events, ASLA has organized a virtual event: The Hudson River Is Rising. Communities Are Adapting–with Nature.

This free discussion on September 21 at 2 PM EST features Wendy Andringa, ASLA, Founder and Principal, Assemblage Landscape Architecture; Joshua Cerra, ASLA, Department Chair, Associate Professor, Landscape Architecture, Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Taewook Cha, ASLA, Founder and Principal, Supermass Studio. Adrian Smith, FASLA, Team Leader, Staten Island Capital Projects, NYC Parks, is moderating the discussion.

The Hudson River is connected to the ocean. Over the coming decades, river water levels are projected to substantially increase because of sea level rise. Many Hudson River communities face growing flood and inundation risks due to sea level rise and other climate impacts.

Like many small cities, Kingston and Hudson in the Hudson River Valley of New York have limited budgets and resources to address these challenges. But they are seeking to adapt to a rising river through smart waterfront planning and resilient infrastructure.

Through a community-driven approach, landscape architects at Supermass Studio and Assemblage Landscape Architecture designed nature-based climate-adaptive solutions to river rise.

Communities were aided by earlier work with the Climate-Adaptive Design Studio, a unique partnership with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

The program links Cornell University landscape architecture students with at-risk communities to envision more resilient waterfront communities. These communities in turn became eligible partners for DEC grants to work with landscape architects at Supermass Studio and Assemblage and develop real-life adaptation projects in their cities.

Climate-Adaptive Design Studio, Ossining, NY / Zikun Zhang, Cornell MLA’22

Supermass Studio partnered with the City of Kingston to develop a climate adaptive framework plan for Kingston Point beach and wetlands. The plan will mitigate the threat of sea level rise and provide accessible recreational lands while protecting valuable natural resources.

Intertidal wetland at reinforced Kingston Point Beach / Supermass Studio

With the City of Hudson, Assemblage adapted an existing waterfront park to flooding and sea level rise. At the same time, they enhanced ecological habitat and recreational amenities that support the city’s waterfront vitality.

This approach demonstrates the benefits of academic-public and public-private relationships in designing urban climate adaptation strategies with multiple benefits.

Register today

For landscape architects, this free event offers 1 hour of PDH (LACES / HSW).

ASLA Announces 2023 Professional Awards

ASLA 2023 Professional General Design Honor Award. The Meadow at the Old Chicago Post Office, Chicago, IL. Hoerr Schaudt / Dave Burk

Thirty-four Professional Award winners represent the highest level of achievement in the landscape architecture profession

By Lisa Hardaway

ASLA announced its 2023 Professional Awards. Thirty-four Professional Award winners showcase innovation and represent the highest level of achievement in the landscape architecture profession. All winners and their locations are listed below.

Jury panels representing a broad cross-section of the profession, from the public and private sectors, and academia, select winners each year and are listed below. The 34 winners were chosen out of 435 entries.

New this year, the ASLA / International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) Global Impact Award is presented to a project in the Analysis and Planning category. The award is given to a work of landscape architecture that demonstrates excellence in addressing climate impacts through transformative action and scalable solutions, and adherence to ASLA’s and IFLA’s climate action commitments. The inaugural award goes to the Caño Martín Peña Comprehensive Infrastructure Master Plan by OLIN for Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña. Led by a coalition of residents in the Caño Martín Peña District, the plan will increase access to safe drinking water, flood protection, economic opportunities, and safe housing and open space.

The Professional Awards jury also selects a Landmark Award each year; this year’s Landmark Award celebrates Vista Hermosa Natural Park by Studio-MLA. Previously an oil field located in an urban area without much green space, the park provides residents of a dense, primarily working-class Latine neighborhood with “a window to the Mountains,” opportunities for recreation, access to nature, and quiet reprieve.

“The ASLA Professional Awards are the highest achievement in our profession,” said ASLA President Emily O’Mahoney, FASLA. “This year’s winners are preeminent leaders and have set a high bar for standards of excellence. We congratulate the winners and their clients and thank them for their contributions to the health and well-being of their communities.”

“These award-winning projects showcase how landscape architecture transforms the daily experiences of local communities,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen. “Cutting-edge design solutions help address increasing climate impacts, capture more carbon, and contribute to the health and well-being of neighborhoods. Congratulations to the winners—thank you for your leadership.”

Award recipients and their clients will be honored in person at the awards presentation ceremony during the ASLA 2023 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Minneapolis, Minn., October 27-30.

Award Categories

General Design

Honor Award
Qianhai’s Guiwan Park
New York, New York
Field Operations

Honor Award
Grand Junction Park and Plaza
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
David Rubin Land Collective

Honor Award
Hood Bike Park: Pollution Purging Plants
Charleston, Massachusetts
Offshoots, Inc.

Honor Award
Remaking a 1970’s Downtown Park into a New Public Realm
Houston, Texas
OJB Landscape Architecture

Honor Award
Peavey Plaza: Preserving History, Expanding Access
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Honor Award
The Meadow at the Old Chicago Post Office
Chicago, Illinois
Hoerr Schaudt

Honor Award
University of Arizona Environment + Natural Resource II
Phoenix, Arizona
Coldwell Shelor Landscape Architecture

Honor Award
Cloud Song: SCC Business School + Indigenous Cultural Center
Phoenix, Arizona
Colwell Shelor Landscape Architecture

Honor Award
The University of Texas at El Paso Transformation
Austin, Texas
Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Inc.

Urban Design

ASLA 2023 Professional Urban Design Award of Excellence. Heart of the City: Art and Equity in Process and Place, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Coen+Partners / Sahar Coston-Hardy

Award of Excellence
Heart of the City: Art and Equity in Process and Place
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Honor Award
St Pete Pier, Revitalization of Waterfront and Historic Pier Site
New York, New York
Ken Smith Workshop

Honor Award
Town Branch Commons: An Urban Transformation in Lexington, Kentucky
New York, New York
SCAPE and Gresham Smith

Honor Award
PopCourts! – A Small Plaza That Turned into a Movement
Chicago, Illinois
The Lamar Johnson Collaborative

Residential Design

ASLA 2023 Residential Design Award of Excellence. The Rain Gardens at 900 Block, Lexington, KY. Gresham Smith

Award of Excellence
The Rain Gardens at 900 Block
Nashville, Tennessee
Gresham Smith

Honor Award
Andesite Ridge
Aspen, Colorado
Design Workshop, Inc.

Honor Award
Dry Garden Poetry
San Francisco, California
Arterra Landscape Architects

Honor Award
Collected Works, Restored Land: Northeast Ohio Residence
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Reed Hilderbrand LLC Landscape Architecture

Honor Award
Black Fox Ranch: Extending the Legacy of the West to a New Generation
Aspen, Colorado
Design Workshop, Inc.

Honor Award
Sister Lillian Murphy Community
San Francisco, California
GLS Landscape | Architecture

Analysis & Planning

ASLA 2023 Professional Analysis and Planning Award of Excellence. Re-investing in a Legacy Landscape: The Franklin Park Action Plan, Boston, MA. Reed Hilderbrand LLC Landscape Architecture / Reed Hilderbrand with Agency Landscape and Planning and MASS Design

Award of Excellence
Re-investing in a Legacy Landscape: The Franklin Park Action Plan
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Reed Hilderbrand with Agency Landscape and Planning and MASS Design

Honor Award
The New Orleans Reforestation Plan: Equity in the Urban Forest
New Orleans, Louisiana
Spackman Mossop Michaels

Honor Award
Reimagine Middle Branch Plan
New York, New York
Field Operations

Honor Award
Iona Beach / xwəyeyət Regional Park and WWTP
Richmond, British Columbia, Canada
space2place design inc.

Honor Award
Joe Louis Greenway Framework Plan
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Honor Award
The Chattahoochee RiverLands
Metro Atlanta Region, Georgia

Honor Award
Nature, Culture + Justice: The Greenwood Park Master Plan
Watertown, Massachusetts

Honor Award
Nicks Creek Longleaf Reserve Conservation & Management Plan
Raleigh, North Carolina
North Carolina State University Coastal Dynamics Design Lab


Honor Award
Sakura Orihon
Newport, Rhode Island
Ron Henderson / LIRIO Landscape Architecture

Honor Award
The Historic Bruce Street School: A Community-Centered Design Approach
Atlanta, Georgia
Martin Rickles Studio

Honor Award
Landslide: Race and Space
Washington, D.C.
The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Honor Award
Los Angeles River Master Plan Update
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Honor Award
The Cobble Bell: Research through Geology-Inspired Coastal Management
Charlottesville, Virgina
Proof Projects, LLC

The 2023 Professional Awards Jury includes:

Jury 1 – General Design, Residential Design, & Urban Design

Chair: Kimberly Garza, ASLA, ATLAS Lab Inc.

Michel Borg, AIA, Page Think
Shuyi Chang, ASLA, SWA
Chingwen Cheng, PhD, ASLA, Arizona State University
Claude Cormier, FASLA, Claude Cormier & Associates
Jamie Maslyn Larson, FASLA, Tohono Chul
Garry Meus, National Capital Commission
Jennifer Nitzky, FASLA, Studio HIP

Jury 2 – Analysis & Planning ASLA / IFLA Global Impact Award, Research & Communications

Chair: Maura Rockcastle, ASLA, Ten x Ten

Camille Applewhite, ASLA, Site Design Group
Stephanie Grigsby, ASLA, Design Workshop, Inc
Mitchell Silver, Hon. ASLA, McAdams
Michael Stanley, FASLA, Dream Design International, Inc.
Michael Todoran, The Landscape Architecture Podcast
Yujia Wang, ASLA, University of Nebraska

Joining the professional awards jury for the selection of the Analysis & Planning – ASLA / IFLA Global Impact Award category will be a representative on behalf of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA).

Monica Pallares, IFLA Americas

Also, joining the professional jury for the selection of the Research Category will be representatives on behalf of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) and the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA).

Jenn Engelke, ASLA, University of Washington, LAF Representative
Sohyun Park, ASLA, University of Connecticut, CELA Representative

San Juan Master Plan Wins Inaugural Global Impact Award from ASLA and IFLA

ASLA/IFLA 2023 Global Impact Award. Caño Martín Peña Comprehensive Infrastructure Master Plan. OLIN

Led by a coalition of residents in the Caño Martín Peña District, the plan will increase access to safe drinking water, flood protection, economic opportunities, and safe housing and open space

By Lisa Hardaway

ASLA and the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) announced that the Caño Martín Peña Comprehensive Infrastructure Master Plan in San Juan, Puerto Rico, by the landscape architecture firm OLIN and their client Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña has won the ASLA/IFLA 2023 Global Impact Award.

The ASLA/IFLA Global Impact Award is presented to a project in the Analysis and Planning category of the annual ASLA Awards. The award is given to a work of landscape architecture that demonstrates excellence in addressing climate impacts through transformative action, scalable solutions, and adherence to ASLA’s and IFLA’s climate action commitments.

“This project is so deserving of the inaugural ASLA/IFLA Global Impact Award because it showcases the full range of expertise in landscape architecture,” said ASLA President Emily O’Mahoney, FASLA. “Community engagement and data-driven decision-making inform a design that will address chronic flooding in a way that creates healthy green spaces, improving both mental and physical wellbeing of the neighborhood.”

“As the impacts of climate change increase, so does the importance of the work of landscape architects,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, CEO of ASLA. “The residents of Caño Martín Peña have a long history of taking action to address needs in their community. For this plan, they knew they needed a visionary problem-solving partner and they found that in OLIN.”

ASLA/IFLA 2023 Global Impact Award. Caño Martín Peña Comprehensive Infrastructure Master Plan. OLIN

“This project stands as an inspiring statement to the pivotal role of landscape architecture as the profession of the 21st century – a profession adeptly poised to navigate the challenges that will define new ways of living and designing for future generations,” said Dr. Bruno Marques, President of the International Federation of Landscape Architects.

“Anchored in a profound comprehension of the natural environment, the built environment, and the interface between them, this project not only protects the only tropical estuary in the United States but also provides a comprehensive infrastructure master plan that caters for the community’s health and wellbeing. Within this myriad of complexities, design solutions that address climate resilience, biodiversity, flooding, housing and nature-based solutions are meticulously explored. Projects like this one call upon landscape architects to raise their voices and share their insights so we keep raising the profile of the profession.”

“OLIN is delighted to see the Caño Martín Peña Comprehensive Infrastructure Master Plan recognized! If we are to respond to climate change justly, it has to be led by the voice of the community,” said Richard Roark, ASLA, Partner at OLIN. “The plan reimagines traditional infrastructure systems as a force for rebuilding social capital and environmental equity. Everything we planned for comes from understanding a community’s relationship to their neighbors, to the estuary they live beside and the shared resources between them.”

Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña’s reaction to the award news:

“This award is a recognition of the ongoing participatory planning process that for many years has been led and implemented by the G-8 Inc. in collaboration with the Proyecto ENLACE Corporation and the Caño Martín Peña Community Land Trust as a social and environmental justice project, addressing the community’s needs and aspirations as well as climate change challenges in a sustainable, inclusive and innovative manner,” said Mario Núñez Mercado, Executive Director of ENLACE.

Grupo de las Ocho Comunidades Aledañas al Caño Martín Peña or G-8 Inc.’s reaction to the award news:

“The creation and implementation of the plan culminates the hard work of a team who fought to transform this great community for current and future residents. Showing the country that when there’s passion, anything is possible. This award shows us we have done things right and we hope to be a beacon for other communities in pursuit of accomplishing their goals,” said Lucy Cruz Rivera, President of G-8 Inc.

The Global Impact Award was announced as part of the ASLA 2023 Professional Awards. This year, thirty-four winners in multiple categories showcase innovation and represent the highest level of achievement in the landscape architecture profession.

Award recipients and their clients will be honored in person at the awards presentation ceremony during the ASLA 2023 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Minneapolis, MN., October 27-30.

The 2023 Professional Awards Jury includes:

Jury 1- General Design, Residential Design, & Urban Design

Chair: Kimberly Garza, ASLA, ATLAS Lab Inc.

Michel Borg, AIA, Page Think
Shuyi Chang, ASLA, SWA
Chingwen Cheng, PhD, ASLA, Arizona State University
Jamie Maslyn Larson, FASLA, Tohono Chul
Garry Meus, National Capital Commission
Jennifer Nitzky, FASLA, Studio HIP

Jury 2 – Analysis & Planning ASLA / IFLA Global Impact Award, Research & Communications

Chair: Maura Rockcastle, ASLA, Ten x Ten

Camille Applewhite, ASLA, Site Design Group
Stephanie Grigsby, ASLA, Design Workshop, Inc
Mitchell Silver, Hon. ASLA, McAdams
Michael Stanley, FASLA, Dream Design International, Inc.
Michael Todoran, The Landscape Architecture Podcast
Yujia Wang, ASLA, University of Nebraska

Joining the professional awards jury for the selection of the Analysis & Planning – ASLA / IFLA Global Impact Award category will be a representative on behalf of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA).

Monica Pallares, IFLA Americas

Also, joining the professional jury for the selection of the Research Category will be representatives on behalf of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) and the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA).

Jenn Engelke, ASLA, University of Washington, LAF Representative
Sohyun Park, ASLA, University of Connecticut, CELA Representative

Kongjian Yu Wins 2023 Cooper Hewitt National Design Award


Kongjian Yu, FASLA, won the 2023 Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for landscape architecture. Yu is a global leader in ecological landscape planning and design. He is one of the world’s foremost advocates of nature-based solutions, including the Sponge City approach, which has been implemented across China.

Yu is founder of the Peking University College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and founder and principal designer of Turenscape. His firm, which has a staff of more than 400, plans and designs landscapes that “combat flooding while repairing ecological damage.”

“The award means that no matter our differences among peoples and nations, there is one common ground we have to hold together: taking care of planet Earth. We have to get together to heal this ill planet,” Yu said.

He also sees the award as a win for developing countries like China. “It is a huge encouragement for those who are working hard to establish themselves from the grassroots; for those who made their career in underdeveloped regions, in the most difficult parts of the world.”

In an interview, Yu offered his thoughts on future opportunities and challenges for landscape architects. He outlined his design philosophy and how it can serve as a roadmap for leadership on nature-based solutions and climate and biodiversity action.

Yu foresees an explosion in demand for landscape architects in China and other developing countries. “I am expecting revolutionary development of the profession of landscape architecture in the developing world where landscape architects are badly needed.”

ASLA 2014 Professional General Design Honor Award. Slow Down: Liupanshui Minghu Wetland Park. Liupanshui, Guizhou Province, China. TURENSCAPE

“I believe landscape architects are coming into a golden era. We are positioning ourselves at the forefront in the battle for climate adaptation and planetary healing, particularly in China, India, Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa, where climate change is mingled with issues of urbanization, industrialization, and food security.”

“But there are also many obstacles that landscape architects need to overcome,” he added.

“The top obstacle is our lack of capacity. We need to breakthrough the boundaries of professional and disciplinary stratification. This will involve restructuring institutions, changing school programs, and redefining landscape architecture at a much larger scope, toward the art of survival.”

Yu founded his China-based firm Turenscape in 1998 with an ambitious goal — “nature, man, and spirits as one.”

“Tu-Ren is two characters in Chinese. Tu means dirt, earth, or the land, while Ren means people, man, or human being. Once these two characters come together, Tu-ren, it means ‘Earth Man,’ a relationship between land and people. The firm’s philosophy is to recreate the harmony between land and people and create sustainable environments for the future. We act in the name of the Heaven (Nature) and as messengers of the spirits of our native forebears,” he explained.

ASLA 2010 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Shanghai Houtan Park: Landscape as a Living System. Shanghai, China. TURENSCAPE

Yu brings that philosophy to his work planning and designing nature-based solutions that integrate wetlands, mangroves, and forests.

“Any sustainable landscape is nature-based. Landscape is a synonym for nature when one discusses landscape architecture in the context of its sister professions such as architecture and urban planning. Landscape architecture is about using knowledge and skills related to adaptation, transformation, and the management of nature to harness ecosystem services — such as provision, regulation, life support, beauty, and spiritual benefit — for humanity’s long-term and short-term needs. This is the essential core of nature-based solutions.”

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

And he also shared some news about how his combined practice and academic work are advancing these goals. “The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Peking University to establish a joint research program at our campus focusing on nature-based solution best practices. This is largely the landscape planning, design, and management work of Turenscape.”

Yu believes landscape architects’ ability to bring together multiple disciplines and leverage science and engineering will help solve the climate crisis.

“Landscape architects play a key role in addressing climate change, both in terms of mitigation and adaptation, particularly the latter. Landscape architecture is the cornerstone of the intellectual mansion of arts, sciences, and engineering that jointly stand together to address climate change. That is why I am so glad to see landscape architecture recently listed as a STEM discipline in the U.S.”

He envisions landscape architects leading the way, pulling together a range of professions to form enduring solutions.

Ian McHarg defined a landscape architect as a conductor, who orchestrates disciplines and professionals and integrates all abiotic and biotic processes into a harmoniously performing ecosystem through the skill of designing in the physical medium of landscape.”

ASLA 2010 Professional General Design Honor Award. The Red Ribbon – Tanghe River Park, Qinhuangdao City, Hebei Province, China. TURENSCAPE and Peking University Graduate School of Landscape Architecture

In 2020, Yu won the Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Award from the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA). Read his acceptance speech.

ASLA Survey: Landscape Architects Call for Greater Collaboration with Product Manufacturers to Reduce Climate and Biodiversity Impacts

ASLA 2021 Professional General Design Honor Award. Ferrous Foundry Park, Lawrence, Massachusetts. STIMSON / Ngoc Doan

Landscape architects see need for new product data and tools to better measure and reduce impacts from their projects

ASLA has released its first national survey on the role of landscape architecture products in achieving decarbonization and biodiversity goals. A cross-section of landscape architects, designers, and landscape architecture educators in the U.S. responded to the survey in June 2023.

According to the survey results, landscape architects seek:

  • Increased collaboration with product manufacturers, universities, and allied organizations to research, analyze, and reduce climate and biodiversity impacts of products.
  • New product data to better measure carbon in projects, including:
    • Embodied carbon factors for materials
    • Projected carbon sequestration of tree species
    • Greenhouse gas emissions of products’ entire lifecycle
  • New local options for 14 product categories to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transporting products.
  • A new open-source landscape architecture product data library and carbon factor dataset.
  • And to address potential biodiversity impacts, they seek new research and knowledge sharing.

“Our ambitious Climate Action Plan, released last year, called for all landscape architecture projects to achieve zero embodied and operational emissions and increase carbon sequestration by 2040. It also called for all projects to restore ecosystems and increase and protect biodiversity. The products used in projects are absolutely central to landscape architects achieving these goals,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen.

“The survey clearly shows that landscape architects and product manufacturers must deepen their collaboration to reduce the climate and biodiversity impacts of materials in built landscapes. We can only achieve our goals by working together, being more transparent about materials, and increasing our collective performance,” said ASLA National Climate Action Committee Chair April Phillips, FASLA.

ASLA 2021 Professional Residential Honor Award. Quarry Garden. Minneapolis, Minnesota. TEN x TEN / Gaffer Photography

Reducing Climate Impacts

According to Climate Positive Design, some 75 percent of landscape architecture projects’ greenhouse gas emissions result from embodied carbon. These are the emissions released from the manufacturing, transport, installation, and construction of products used in landscape projects. The other 25 percent is associated with operational emissions, which are released by powering and maintaining landscapes.

In landscape architecture projects, there is a need to:

  • Reduce the use of products with high embodied carbon
  • Increase green space that sequesters carbon
  • Use more locally sourced products, which means lower transportation emissions.

Third-party verification of the greenhouse gas emissions from products is another key action because it enables landscape architects to accurately measure the carbon footprint of their projects.

The survey finds that some landscape architects are decarbonizing their projects through the products they specify, but the approach is not yet widespread.

Key survey findings

24% of landscape architects surveyed state that clients are setting greenhouse gas emission budgets for one or more of their projects. 2% stated an emissions budget is in place for all their projects.

56% of landscape architects surveyed ask for third party-verified environmental product data, including Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), at some stage in the design process.

There is significant demand for specifying local products to reduce transportation emissions. A majority of landscape architects would specify local products from a range of categories if they were available, including:

  • Trees
  • Aggregates and aggregate stabilization
  • Plants
  • Concrete and concrete products
  • Soils and soil amendments
  • Natural stone
  • Brick, tile, and fired masonry products
  • Erosion and sediment control products
  • Bituminous paving
  • Fencing or metal fabrications
  • Wood or wood products
  • Drainage or piping
  • Furnishings
  • Irrigation

To reduce embodied carbon from products and also increase the use of products that sequester carbon, landscape architects see the need for additional industry-wide product data.

The product data most in demand:

  • Embodied carbon factors of materials, which measures the embodied greenhouse gas emissions per mass of a given material
  • Projected carbon sequestration by species of trees
  • Greenhouse gas emissions of products’ entire lifecycle
  • Greenhouse gas emissions for transporting products to project sites
  • Greenhouse gas emissions savings from the use of innovative materials

To move forward, landscape architects called for:

  • Additional education
  • Creation of a shared, curated product data library
  • Best practices for landscape architects, product manufacturers, and the construction communities.
  • Creation of a shared, curated carbon factor dataset for materials

Reducing Biodiversity Impacts

Products used in landscape architecture projects can have adverse impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems.

Products that include mined, extracted, or harvested materials or certain chemicals can potentially negatively affect species and ecosystems. The construction and installation of products can also impact ecosystems in and surrounding project sites.

There is currently no standard way to measure the biodiversity impacts of products used in landscape architecture projects, with the exception of wood products, which can be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and tracked through chain of custody approaches. Other tools evaluate the chemical content of products.

To reduce potential adverse biodiversity impacts from products, landscape architects called for:

  • Additional education
  • Knowledge sharing between product manufacturers and landscape architects at the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture
  • Funding an industry-wide biodiversity protection product protocol
  • Trend analysis on current approaches to reducing biodiversity impacts from construction

Product Manufacturers’ Perspective

In June 2023, ASLA also polled product manufacturers that represent more than 30 product areas and industries. 48 product manufacturers responded. Given there are an estimated 6,000 manufacturers marketing products to landscape architects, this poll doesn’t constitute a representative sample.

34% of product manufacturers polled stated they have plans in place to further decarbonize their products or manufacturing process and are making investments to achieve these plans.

30% stated they have measured greenhouse gas emissions from their product manufacturing process. 26% have measured the emissions from sourcing materials.

The ASLA Climate Action Committee and ASLA Corporate Member Committee, which includes product manufacturers, are developing a series of free webinars to support landscape architects and product manufacturers in decarbonizing projects and processes and improving biodiversity outcomes.

See the full results of the member survey and a poll of product manufacturers

Landscape Architects’ Perspectives on Waters of the U.S.

As a key member of a planning team led by Alta Planning and Design, Biohabitats delineated and assessed over 22 acres of forested freshwater wetlands in preparation of a 10-year master plan and 5-year action plan for Walnut Creek Wetland Park. Walnut Creek Master Plan, Piedmont, North Carolina / © Biohabitats

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Sackett vs EPA that ended federal protections of some kinds of wetlands and tributaries under the U.S. Clean Water Act.

Like many organizations, ASLA released a statement condemning the decision. ASLA found the ruling “short-sighted” because it “ignores science and the well-documented hydrological understanding of the interconnection of water sources.”

This statement was rooted in ASLA’s long-held, science-based policy positions on the waters of the United States and wetlands, and a legacy of comments sent to administrations, including the Biden-Harris administration during its last rule making process in 2022. ASLA’s positions were crafted from feedback from members who found recent definitions of waters of the U.S. and policies unclear and not grounded in hydrological or climate science.

According to a national poll issued by The New York Times, 72 percent of Americans also disagreed with the recent Supreme Court decision and believe the “Clean Water Act should be read broadly and include things like wetlands.”

And as landscape architects and ecologists know, “what is a wetland isn’t as black and white as the Supreme Court defined,” said Steven Spears, FASLA, project principal with Momark Development and GroundWork.

“The Supreme Court decision was wrong for a number of reasons,” said Keith Bowers, FASLA, president and founder of Biohabitats and a professional wetland scientist. “The decision was not based on science.”

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the recent Supreme Court ruling defines waters of the U.S. as “relatively permanent bodies of water connected to traditional navigable waters.”

It defined some wetlands as waters of the U.S. if they have a “continuous surface connection to other jurisdictional waters, so that there is no clear demarcation between the bodies.” But the decision excludes other wetlands that are “neighboring waters but are separated by natural or artificial barriers.”

“The ruling interpreted wetland adjacency differently. The Supreme Court said a wetland needs to have a surface nexus with a stream, river, or navigable water to be federally protected. But we know wetlands are connected to other water bodies through both groundwater and surface flows, which may be continuous or not,” Bowers said.

“There is a lot to unpack with the Supreme Court ruling and more clarity will come in time,” Spears said. But the Supreme Court decision “just sees wetlands on a black and white basis. It also fails to account for wetland quality.”

The Sacketts sued the EPA in 2008 because it classified wetlands on their property in Idaho as waters of the U.S. The wetlands were near a ditch that fed into a creek, which then fed into Priest Lake, a navigable, intrastate lake.

In its recent decision, the Supreme Court essentially found that “the wetlands were not waters of the U.S. because they were separated from the lake by a road – even though they were connected to the lake under that road by a culvert,” Spears said.

Spears thinks it’s possible the wetlands in question were low-quality and that filling them in had little impact on the broader water quality of the lake. But it’s hard to tell because the ecosystem services of the particular wetlands weren’t measured.

“The Supreme Court decision is frustrating because it just states a wetland is either a wetland or not, regardless of the performance of the wetland and what ecosystem services it provides.”

At Austin Green in Austin, Texas, Spears and his firm, GroundWork, led a redevelopment of a former sandy gravel mine that was created before the Clean Water Act went into effect in 1972.

The brownfield site included both high-quality wetlands and other low-quality wetlands that happened to form out of the dredging process. The 2,100-acre redevelopment preserves and enhances more than 850 acres of high-performing wetlands and other ecological assets as part of a public park along the Colorado River.

Austin Green development / Lionheart Places, courtesy of GroundWork

The team – which included landscape architects at Lionheart Places and ecologists at ACI Consulting – used the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Ft. Worth District’s Texas Rapid Assessment Model (TRAM) to score the ecological service quality of the wetlands on the site and win approval of the project.

“We used the tool to conduct a land suitability analysis and planning process.This process informed the landscape architecture-led planning and design team as to which environmental systems were most desirable for protection and enhancement.”

“The model was used to identify high-quality wetlands that scored a 70 out of 100. We focused on how to raise their quality level to an 80 or 90. The redevelopment plan and park and open space network were curated around these ecological assets. There were also low-quality wetlands that scored a 1 out of 100, and some of those were filled in. What’s important to figure out is how a wetland performs, what is their worth. And if you need to fill in a wetland, mitigate or offset that elsewhere.”

While he doesn’t support the Supreme Court ruling, “now that it is the law of the land, how do we move forward?”

Spears wants to see a tool like the Army Corps’ TRAM as a national approach, with adjustments for important regional wetland and geomorphological differences. He noted that some Army Corps districts have wetland scoring tools and some don’t.

“Landscape architects can lean in and help establish the criteria for a new wetland scoring system. That will help us get away from ‘this is a wetland and that is not.’ We need to influence and help create a new wetland modeling process.”

Bowers thinks the ruling will open up lots of land and wetlands that were historically regulated to new development that will not be subject to federal approvals.

He thinks this is bad news for watersheds overall. “If you impact a river at its mouth, it won’t impact the system. But if you impact the wetlands – the headwaters – the water system can collapse. Wetlands are where you establish the ecological processes and then they migrate down the ecosystem.”

“I think all wetlands should be protected, as some wetlands that are low-quality today may not have been historically. As landscape architects, we should not impact any wetland if it’s in our power. With the climate and biodiversity crises, we need wetlands to sequester carbon and provide habitat. We need to do everything to minimize or mitigate impacts.”

To protect more than 500,000 acres of prairie and create one of the largest conserved grasslands in the world, the Nature Conservancy retained Biohabitats to develop a science-based approach to address long-term management issues associated with emergent and ephemeral wetlands, springs, streams, grazing, fire, juniper expansion, and climate change. JE Canyon Ranch and Lower Purgatoire Ecohydrology Study, Raton Basin/High Plains, Colorado / © Biohabitats

For him, tools like TRAM can be useful in prioritizing which wetlands to save and restore. But he thinks the evaluation of any particular wetland’s quality should be rooted in a broader understanding of the watershed in which the wetland exists. He said the Supreme Court decision will increase the importance of watershed planning and the role of landscape architects in comprehensive planning for water resources.

The ruling also muddies the waters, so to speak, about how ephemeral waters will be considered in the future, potentially opening up future litigation.

According to CRS, “the majority opinion does not explicitly address ephemeral waters, which flow only in response to precipitation, or intermittent waters, which flow continuously during certain times of year, such as when snow pack melts. At a minimum, the majority’s interpretation would appear to exclude ephemeral waters.”

But a majority of Supreme Court justices also recognized that “‘temporary interruptions in surface connection’ – such as from low tides or dry spells” – happen in wetlands. “It is not clear how temporary such an interruption must be in order to preserve a wetland’s jurisdictional status.”

Hearing this, Spears seemed exasperated. In Texas, this lack of clarity on seasonal waters may impact how ephemeral streams and agricultural stock tanks are considered. “The Supreme Court seemed to create more problems than they solved.”

As regulations are rewritten, he sees opportunities for landscape architects to offer their deep expertise in designing with water and creating innovative approaches. He wants landscape architects to shape the next generation of water policy. “The reaction to Sackett vs EPA that is coming can help solve our water problems over the long-term.”

For Bowers, it’s important for landscape architects to be strong advocates for the preservation and restoration of wetlands through their projects and in their communities. “Try to insert policy standards and push for updates to zoning regulations.” And landscape architects can reach out to their Congressional representatives. “Legislators need to further clarify the definition of waters of the U.S.”

Biohabitats, in collaboration with WK Dickson, prepared a plan to conserve and restore the remaining freshwater wetlands, forests, and creeks to attenuate flooding, improve water quality, restore critical habitat, sequester carbon, and recharge groundwater. Johns Island Restoration Plan to Improve Flood Resilience, Southern Coastal Plain, South Carolina / © Biohabitats

What else to know about waters of the U.S.

Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has protected the country’s aquatic environments from pollution. It was created by Congress to keep water bodies safe for wildlife and fishing and swimming. It has also protected communities’ drinking water supplies.

After the Act established federal jurisdiction over navigable waters, there have been a number of rulings by the Supreme Court. This is because the Clean Water Act never clearly defined what waters of the U.S. meant and instead authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA to create that definition through regulations.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), lawmakers were “inclusive” in their original conception of the waters of the U.S.

Legislators understood that it comprised “all the relevant parts of an aquatic ecosystem, including streams, wetlands, and small ponds—things that aren’t necessarily connected to the tributary system on the surface, but that still bear all kinds of ecological relationships to that system and to one another.”

And up until the 2000s, NRDC says, that inclusive definition of the waters of the U.S. was largely upheld through court cases.

The Supreme Court ruling in May came after multiple lawsuits filed in opposition to the Biden-Harris administration waters of the U.S. definition, which went into effect March 20, 2023. Those lawsuits halted implementation of the use of the definition in 27 states.

After the Sackett vs EPA decision, new guidance on the waters of the U.S. is being developed by the EPA and will be released in September.

The EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will also need to revise or amend a slew of regulations to be compliant with the Supreme Court decision.

To be specific, the ruling impacts many EPA regulations and programs that rely on a definition of waters of the U.S., including:

  • Water quality standards and total maximum daily loads
  • Oil spill prevention and preparedness programs
  • State and tribal certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act
  • Pollutant discharge permits
  • Dredged and fill material permits

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates in close collaboration with the EPA, will also need to update or revise its approach to military and civil engineering projects and permits that involve non-tidal and tidal wetlands.

Changes to these federal regulations and programs will also lead to cascading revisions of state regulations.

The Clean Water Act requires that state regulations adhere to its minimum requirements. It also allows states to go beyond the Clean Water Act and issue more stringent regulations. Some states have surpassed the federal level of water protection, while others have passed laws stating that only the bare federal minimum will be followed.

Urban Parks Should Be a Greater Part of the Healthcare System

ASLA 2022 Professional General Design Honor Award. Riverfront Spokane. Spokane, Washington. Berger Partnership / Miles Bergsma

Each year, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) issues its ParkScore, which ranks the park systems of the 100 most populous cities in the U.S. This year, the organization also explored the positive health outcomes of top-scoring cities, looking at more than 800 innovative programs and practices that integrate park and healthcare systems.

Their findings are collected in a new report, The Power of Parks to Promote Health, which offers smart strategies for making parks a more formal part of community health programs. Their inclusive, equitable approaches can help ensure more communities experience the physical and mental health benefits of public green spaces.

TPL finds that in the 25 cities with the top ParkScore rankings, “people are on average 9 percent less likely to suffer from poor mental health, and 21 percent less likely to be physically inactive than those in lower- ranked cities. These patterns hold even after controlling for race/ethnicity, income, age, and population density.”

And in 26 cities, efforts are underway to deepen connections between parks and healthcare systems. In these cities, “a healthcare institution is funding, staffing, or referring patients to health programs in parks as part of efforts to improve patient and community health.”

TPL wants to see even more cities make these connections. “Park administrators and health professionals should think of parks as part of a holistic public health strategy,” said Dr. Howard Frumkin, senior vice president at Trust for Public Land (TPL), co-editor of Making Healthy Places, and one of the co-authors of the report.

Free bike rides in the park. ASLA 2022 Professional Urban Design Honor Award. Shirley Chisholm State Park. Brooklyn, New York. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / Etienne Frossard

Numerous studies by landscape architecture researchers and other scientists have demonstrated the health benefits of spending time in green spaces, even if it’s just 20 minutes. Dr. MaryCarol Hunter, ASLA, and William Sullivan, ASLA, and others have done much to quantify those benefits.

Studies have found that exposure to nature in cities can improve “hormone levels, heart rate, mood, the ability to concentrate, and other physiological and psychological measures,” TPL writes.

Specific benefits include: “lower blood pressure, improved birth outcomes, reduced cardiovascular risk, less anxiety and depression, better mental concentration, healthier child development, enhanced sleep quality, and more.”

Other research has demonstrated the long-term benefits of spending time in nature on “body weight, cardiovascular disease risk, and life expectancy.”

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

“If we had a medicine that delivered as many benefits as parks, we would all be taking it,” Frumkin said. “And they do those things without adverse side effects and at minimal cost.”

But park inequities, and therefore health inequities, are also real. TPL states that “neighborhoods where most residents identified as Black, Hispanic and Latinx, American Indian/Alaska Native, or Asian American and Pacific Islander had access to an average of 43 percent less park acreage than predominantly white neighborhoods. Similar park-space inequities existed in low-income neighborhoods across cities.”

“Over 100 million people across the country, including 28 million kids, don’t have a park within a 10-minute walk of their home. In California, 42 percent of low-income parents report that their children have never participated in outdoor activities.”

The report brings together a range of scientific findings that clearly show why all communities need nearby access to high-quality parks. With inclusive parks spread more equitably throughout cities, health programs can better reach historically underserved communities.

These findings can help landscape architects, planners, policymakers, developers, and community advocates make the case for more parks and the new public health programs that can amplify their benefits:

  • “Close-to-home parks are associated with lower obesity rates and improved health in both young people and adults.”
  • “Staffed programming, such as fitness classes, dramatically increased physical activity. Each additional supervised activity increased park use by 48 percent and moderate to vigorous physical activity time by 37 percent.”
  • A 2014 study in the journal Preventive Medicine, which relied on five years of data on individuals’ body mass index (BMI) and characteristics of nearby parks in New York City, found that “greater neighborhood park access and greater park cleanliness were associated with lower BMI among adults.”
  • A study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, which examined children ages 6 to 12 in Valencia, Spain, found that “park and playground access was ‘significantly associated’ with increased physical activity, especially on weekdays, and contributed to lower BMIs overall.”
  • A 2022 study in the journal Health & Place explored the rates of depression and anxiety among older people during the pandemic. “It found that those with access to neighborhood parks were much less likely to report symptoms of depression or to screen positive for anxiety than those without.”
  • “A 2023 study conducted in Philadelphia and published in the journal PLOS ONE found that those who lived closest to green space reported better physical health and less stress than those who lived farther. Actually visiting green spaces during the pandemic was linked to better mental and physical health and less loneliness.”

In their report, TPL also outlined the climate benefits of parks and how they can reduce the dangerous health impacts of extreme heat. Assembling the “highest-resolution heat data” available in the U.S., they found a “stark difference in temperature between neighborhoods that have parks nearby and those that do not.”

Analyzing “thermal satellite imagery for 14,000 cities and towns,” TPL researchers found that areas within a “10-minute walk of a park can be as much as 6 degrees cooler than neighborhoods outside that range.”

The report offers examples from leading park and health coalitions in cities, outlining how public agencies, non-profit community organizations, and healthcare providers came together to leverage public park space to improve health outcomes.

“In New York City, for example, a program called Shape Up NYC offers free classes in everything from yoga to Zumba to Pilates in easy-to-access locations: libraries, public-housing complexes, recreation centers, and, of course, parks. In Columbus, Ohio, doctors at a local hospital prescribe 11-week fitness programs, provided for free by the city’s parks department, to patients struggling with obesity and high blood pressure,” TPL writes.

A set of 14 recommendations then outline how park and healthcare systems can better integrate. Many of their recommendations can inform the planning and design work of landscape architects.

One recommendation worth highlighting — “ensure that everybody lives within a 10-minute walk (about a half mile) of a park.” TPL states that proximity is important but so are “quality, activation, and safety.” And “creative place-making initiatives that incorporate local character through cultural elements, such as public art and bilingual signage,” are also key.

ASLA 2022 Professional Urban Design Honor Award. Midtown Park. Houston, Texas. Design Workshop, Inc. “Wild Wonderland” mosaic by Dixie Friend Gay / Brandon Huttenlocher – Design Workshop, Inc.

More recommendations:

  • “Prioritize park investment in historically underserved communities
  • Develop transit connections and guided tours, like youth programs
  • Bring parks to the people through pop-ups and mobile offerings
  • Offer all-ability or ‘try before you buy’ fitness and wellness programs [in parks] explicitly designed for beginners.
  • Encourage park visitors to try something new with low-commitment offerings such as drop-in sports (e.g., adult recess) or free or low-cost gear rentals.
  • Make it easy for community groups to use parks and recreation facilities as their primary gathering venues.
  • Refer, prescribe, or host patients with health programming in parks and recreation facilities.
  • Sponsor the costs of wellness programs, sports leagues, and other health classes as part of any free fitness membership benefit.
  • Invest in capital improvements in parks as community health investments.
  • Work with parks and recreation agencies to map and identify park deficits as part of Community Health Needs Assessments.
  • Continue to partner with parks and recreation agencies to reach key patient populations with health services and education.
  • Partner with parks and recreation agencies to evaluate the impact of park initiatives on key patient and community health outcomes.”

Read the full report