California Creates New Hope with Bold Climate Leadership

Governor Jerry Brown at Climate Action Summit / The Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connecting Climate Change to Places We Love

Seeds adapted to an arid climate growing at Ndée Bikíyaa (The People’s Farm) near Canyon Day, Arizona / Native Seeds

“What is at the intersection of climate action and cultural heritage?,” asked Andrew Potts, organizer of Climate Heritage Mobilization, a day-long conference, which was part of the Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. “What does cultural preservation woke to climate change look like?”

To find out, the conference organizers used a “Talanoa dialogue.” In Fiji and other Pacific locales, the word “Talanoa” describes discussion and storytelling that is inclusive, transparent, and improves the collective good. Here, the Talanoa dialogue for climate action involved exchanging ideas and examples from communities around the world so they may be leveraged elsewhere.

The dialogue underscored cultural heritage as an issue of human rights. “There are so many other threats—why should we care about cultural heritage?” asked Karima Bennoune, the UN Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights. Citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she pointed to every individual’s right to participate in cultural life. Heritage, she explained, is important because it is an expression of human dignity.

Comprising both the tangible and intangible, cultural heritage brushes every facet of life. It includes sites, structures, and landscapes that have historical, religious, aesthetic values. Spiritual beliefs, vernacular languages, storytelling traditions, and indigenous knowledge also constitute cultural heritage.

When climate change affects any of these—for instance, the 100-plus World Heritage sites that risk damage or forced migration in the face of rising oceans—human rights are affected.

A human-rights based approach acknowledges and values indigenous communities and their sustainable land stewardship. By emphasizing participation and consultation of affected people, their long-held knowledge of a place can critically inform life in a changing world.

Andrea Carmen of the Yaqui Nation, and executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council, commented that seed-trading traditions have perpetuated drought-resistant varieties of crops.

The tule marshes of the San Francisco Bay demonstrate the shared benefits of climate resilience and cultural heritage. These sacred sites of the Native Americans can also absorb ten times more carbon than a pine forest. “A nation stays alive when its cultures stay alive,” said Bennoune.

Historic preservation, which is about peoples’ connection to place, can enable climate change mitigation.

Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, remarked that linking climate and historic preservation help the grave realities resonate with a wider audience. Cultural heritage “connects climate change to places we love and care about.”

He has seen the most effective action on the local scale, such as the Weather It Together initiative that identifies and protects flood-prone areas in historic Annapolis, Maryland, and the 3-D modeling of the World Heritage site Hoi An, Vietnam, that marks flood risks to important buildings.

The “Weather it Together” initiative seeks to protect the historic seaport in Annapolis, Maryland / City of Annapolis

Buildings are not only a key part of communities’ cultural heritage, but their preservation is also important for the climate. Using, rather than demolishing, existing buildings can significantly impact a city’s carbon footprint. According to Carl Elefante, president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the greatest difference cities can make is to “simply occupy space” by using existing buildings, keeping their embodied carbon intact.

Daniel Zarrilli, director of climate policy and programs for New York City, demonstrated that New York City is moving toward mandatory building retrofits, crucial as 80 to 90 percent of the city’s buildings will still exist in 2050.

David Harkin, a climate change scientist at Historic Environment Scotland, explained the positive outcomes that can result from upgrades. At Edinburgh Castle, renovation yielded annual reductions in energy use by 33 percent and emissions by 31 percent—changes that, in a few short years, have already saved them double what they invested to make the improvements.

Energy savings from recent upgrades are especially apparent at Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland / Wikipedia

Jean Carroon, principal at Goody Clancy Architects, stressed the imperative to change consumption patterns. The built environment requires materials that devastate lives around the world: silica arrives from China by the labor of those suffering from silicosis; and copper from Africa, “where working in the copper mines is a death sentence.” Living as citizens of the world foremost entails comprehending that our actions reverberate worldwide.

Climate Heritage Mobilization demonstrated the powerful means through which cultural heritage can galvanize climate action. Whether by enacting policies that validate knowledge of indigenous people or by requiring retrofits, it becomes clear that, in the words of Carroon, “a safe, healthy world values what exists.”

This guest post is by Grace Mitchell, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of California at Berkeley.

ASLA Joins We Are Still In Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASLA’s Climate Change Resources

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

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

Landscape Architecture and Climate Mitigation guide

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

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

Learning the Subtle Language of Nature

The Weather Detective / Dutton

The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature’s Secret Signs is the new book from forester Peter Wohlleben, who wrote the international bestseller and modern natural history classic The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate–Discoveries from a Secret World. Meandering from the forest to the garden, Wohlleben asks us to pay closer attention to our environment — to “recognize and understand the signs of nature.” With climate change, a deeper understanding of nature has only become more critical — it’s only then that “we will appreciate what we stand to lose.”

For Wohlleben, closely concentrating on what’s going around you outside is a source of pleasure but also discovery. In the first sections of the book, he plays detective — deducing temperature, time, and atmospheric conditions from how plants, animals, and insects behave.

A few tidbits:

Plants can tell you if it’s going to rain: If we closely watch water lilies, we can discover they are a “reliable indicator of a coming change in weather. The flowers close when they sense rain, often hours before it comes.”

Birds and plants can tell you what time it is: If all birds were singing all the time, they wouldn’t be able to hear each other. Somehow they have reached agreement to sing at different times, so as to better communicate with potential mates or rivals. According to Wohlleben, each bird species tends to “observe its relative time slot, day by day, with astonishing accuracy.”

Flowers also open their blooms at particular times of the day with “impressive reliability.” Carl Linnaeus, a great Swedish natural scientist and father of modern taxonomy, planted a “very special flower bed in Uppsala Botanical Garden,” arranging the plants into the shape of a clock face, with twelve sections. “In each section, the flowers opened at the appointed hour, enabling passersby to tell the time.”

If you see bumblebees out, it’s at least 54 degrees Fahrenheit. This precise temperature seems to be the “magic threshhold” for a number of species, including grasshoppers and crickets. Wohlleben notes that to make a decent sound, the air temperature must at least be 54 degrees. And this may explain why that temperature is so significant for some insects — it’s when insects that communicate through rapid vibrations of their legs and wings can start to hear each other.

But as the book progresses, it somewhat awkwardly transitions into discussion about the seasons, climate change, and then, surprisingly, hands-on guidance for gardeners, with some broader insights about nature thrown in. While the structure is disjointed, the book is still enjoyable because it’s interesting to perceive nature as Wohlleben does.

In dealing with climate change, Wohlleben has some advice for gardeners: “Some experts recommend choosing plants that are better equipped for a warmer climate in the face of rising temperatures. I think this is very unhelpful advice. Rising average temperatures mean that dry hot summers and damp winters without snow will become more frequent. But even in the future, winter will still bring hard frosts, only much less frequently than nowadays.”

For him, the best strategy is the most natural: “The closer your garden management style resembles natural conditions, the less impact there will be. Nature is well prepared for climate change.”

He then argues the longer the lifespan of a native tree species, the more tolerant to climatic change they will be. For example, a beech tree, which can live up to 400 years, has seen many different climatic conditions over its lifespan and can tolerate those changes. It’s not about adaptation, but tolerance of a “broad spectrum of temperature and precipitation levels.” Still, trees and other plants have a better chance of survival if they are living in their “climatic comfort zone.”

The end of the book is a dive into practical gardening tips, with detailed guidance on how to measure the temperature of your garden, assess soil types and quality, incorporate native plants, and deal with invasive ones. A final chapter on how the territories of wildlife overlap suburban gardens is fascinating. Who knew that squirrels occupy a territory of 10 acres, foxes 50 acres, and black storks, 25,000 acres?

ASLA Launches Guide to Climate Change Mitigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smart Policies for a Changing Climate / ASLA

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

ASLA Announces 2018 Professional Awards

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

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

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

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

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

General Design Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Analysis and Planning Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communications Category

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

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

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

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

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

Research Category

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

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

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

Residential Design Category

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

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

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

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

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

The Landmark Award

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

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

The professional awards jury included:

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

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

New Mariposa Grove Protects Fragile Giant Sequoia Ecosystem

lower_grove_entrance
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias / Mithun

In the not too distant past, you could park a car in the midst of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) at California’s Yosemite National Park. That is no longer possible thanks to a recently-completed $40 million restoration by the National Park Service (NPS) in partnership with the Yosemite Conservancy and Seattle-based multidisciplinary design firm Mithun.

Now, visitors park at a newly constructed, 300-vehicle-capacity terminal two miles away and take a shuttle bus to a main entry plaza at the lower grove.

“Before, it used to be a pass-through area. People didn’t even really notice it,” says Mithun senior associate Christian Runge, ASLA, about the restored lower grove. “They saw a couple of big trees, but it wasn’t a place. Now, it’s the centerpiece of the whole project.”

mariposa_woman
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias / Susan Olmsted

This transformation didn’t happen for its own sake. Years of heavy visitor traffic and poor planning took their toll on the storied trees, raising alarm about their future health.

The giant sequoia, which grows to approximately 300-feet high and can live for thousands of years, is an endangered species. This tree occupies a narrow ecological niche only 260-miles-wide on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains and requires specific environmental conditions to thrive. The Mariposa Grove is one of the few places on earth where the sequoia is able to reseed on its own.

“The Sequoias exist on the western slopes of the Sierras at a certain elevation, which is essentially at the rain-snow transitional zone,” says Runge. “If you go much lower, it’s all rain; if you go much higher, it’s all snow. That feeds the hydrology of these mountain wetland stream systems, which the sequoias tend to cluster closely around.”

“So, restoring hydrology and improving the natural hydrologic flow in the grove was really an important piece of the restoration puzzle.”

To achieve this, the design team removed the existing network of asphalt roads and paths, which were interfering with the grove’s natural drainage patterns.

One road that connected the lower and upper groves crossed streams and wetlands approximately 30 times, says Runge. “Those culverts were anywhere between 50-60 years old, and a lot of them weren’t even functioning anymore.”

In the place of asphalt and culverts, Mithun designed a series of elevated boardwalks and trails that allow for a variety of visitor experiences and do not interfere with the delicate hydrology needed to sustain the sequoias.

mariposa_paths
New paths and boardwalks have replaced asphalt roads in the lower grove / Susan Olmsted

“If we keep those streams running and hope for the best with snowmelt, then we can imagine those populations will continue to be stable and hopefully grow into mature trees,” Runge says.

However, that outcome is not guaranteed. Giant sequoias are threatened by the effects of climate change, which could reduce the amount of groundwater available to the trees and make it more difficult for seedlings to survive.

Runge acknowledges that in the face of such forces, there is only so much that the project can accomplish.

“The best thing we can really do is improve and maintain the processes that keep the sequoias as healthy as possible in order to provide as much resilience as possible,” says Runge. “Improving those processes was really the focus of the restoration.”

Ensuring the survival of the Mariposa grove also required changes to the visitor experience. In addition to restoring groundwater hydrology, the elevated boardwalks also keep visitors at a distance from the trees in the grove’s most heavily trafficked areas.

“People want to get up close to them. It’s just a human, intuitive thing that you want to be able to do,” Runge says. But, “if everyone did that, there would be too much damage to the tree.”

Instead, Mithun created a series of loops that become progressively less contained as they lead further from the main entry plaza. “Each loop takes you further out and is closer to a wilderness experience. If you want to go up into the upper grove, that’s something that can only really be hiked into.”

In addition to the new trails, enhancements to the visitor experience include a new visitor center and comfort stations designed by Mithun architects Brendan Connolly and Susan Olmsted, ASLA.

shuttle_terminal
Rendering of the new shuttle bus terminal / Mithun

While the design language and material choices were in some way constrained by the need to work within the rustic National Park aesthetic of stone and timber, Runge says the design team found room for creativity in the details.

“We didn’t argue about modern versus historic, but we did push for quality detailing and structural systems, thinking through stonework, and trying to understand what the Works Progress Administration (WPA)-era standards were in reality versus just giving the impression of something being historic. Making something that is durable, long-lasting, and in some sense beautiful was the key goal for us both in terms of the architectural elements and site elements, like the boardwalk.”

For Runge, striking this balance between ecology and the visitor experience defined Mithun’s approach to the project. “Ultimately, I feel like we got there,” he says. “It feels like a transformed place.”

To Survive Climate Change, Coastal Cities Need Strong Communities

Extreme Cities / Sierra Club

Ashley Dawson, author of Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change believes cities, which now hold 70 percent of the world’s population, are “ground zero” for climate change. This is because they contribute the largest amount of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere and are also the most vulnerable to rising sea levels. Mega cities, which are mostly found in coastal areas, are not “adequately prepared for the floods that will increasingly menace their shores.” Instead, the pursuit of development-as-usual — with the seemingly-unending growth of luxury condos and insulated “live work play” communities — means many coastal cities have effectively stuck their heads in the sand. Efforts to bolster cities’ protections through resilient planning and design have largely been superficial and won’t protect the most vulnerable.

Despite the warning signs of impacts to come, like Hurricane Sandy in the Tri-state region, cities remain focused on growth, growth, growth. Dawson cites the economist David Harvey, who argues that a “‘healthy’ capitalist economy must expand at annual rate of 3 percent. If it ceases to do so, it goes into crisis, as it did in 2008.”

In our capitalist system, continuous growth has resulted in great gains, so the world is now “awash with ‘surplus liquity'” or excess capital. And all of that money needs a place to go: “Capital has turned to the city, where fixed plots of land promise to increase in value as more of the world’s population migrates to urban centers. Real-estate speculation provides a way for economies to grow as production declines. In other words, the city is a growth machine, and speculative real estate development functions as a sink for surplus capital. Sixty percent of global wealth today is invested in real estate.”

The resulting real estate boom, and rise in housing costs, can be seen everywhere from New York City to Rio de Janeiro, from Los Angeles to Shanghai. And for Dawson, it’s no accident that coastal cities are also the starting point for mass movements fighting inequality, like Occupy Wall Street, which began in NYC’s Zuccotti Park with its call to heed the “99 percent,” and the mass protests that began in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park.

Over-development in coastal cities has caused other problems beyond increasing social tensions and inequities. Market forces are driving development to “produce greater risk, vulnerability, and environmental disasters.” Cities are not only wrecking their immediate environments, but also causing deforestation, with their demand for commodities, and climate change, with their incredible heating and cooling needs, urban industries, and inefficient transportation systems. “As Mike Davis outs it, ‘city life is rapidly destroying the ecological niche — Holocene climate stability — which made its evolution into complexity possible.”

The “luxury city” — the most-elite slice of urban life — is even more destructive. In New York City, high-end condos are the most polluting. “In a report entitled Elite Emissions, the Climate Works for All coalition notes that ‘a mere two percent of the city’s one million buildings use 45 percent of all the city’s energy.”

While he sprinkles in cases from Jakarta, New Orleans, Rotterdam, and other cities, Dawson mostly focuses on New York City, where he examines how the city’s leadership and communities have responded to increased vulnerability to climate change. He is largely critical of governmental efforts, but sees hope in how local community groups have formed to devise solutions, like the Sandy Regional Assembly, an alliance of forty groups that came together in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to create a more equitable city-wide resilience strategy.

He is particularly critical of PlaNYC, a comprehensive planning effort by the administration of mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2007 to address climate change. It’s described as “an effort to promote an urban sustainability fix, a solution to capitalism’s periodic crises of accumulation that combines rampant real estate speculation with a variety of enticing yet relatively superficial greening initiatives.”

While the Bloomberg administration pushed for emissions reductions through PlaNYC — largely through energy-efficient buildings and switching from coal to natural gas — it also promoted waterfront development at a massive scale in Lower Manhattan, far west side, and in Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg, DUMBO, Red Hook, Gowanus, and Coney Island. All this waterfront development had the unfortunate side effect of making coastal communities even more vulnerable.

Dawson argues that in reality, a serious climate plan “would involve moving people and buildings out of flood zones,” an approach the Bloomberg administration opposed as it ran counter to their “ambitious — and lucrative — plans for developing the city’s nearly 600 miles of waterfront.” Others called for the city to buy up waterfront property in order to prevent development — reserving these spaces as green buffers, which also failed to occur.

In later chapters, Dawson describes how environmental “blowback” is already having a major impact on coastal cities. As the estuaries upon which coastal megacities are built are being destroyed, it’s becoming even clearer the vital ecological role those underlying systems play.

Natural systems that once served as critical buffers to storm surges — like Jamaica Bay in Queens, New York — are degrading. And he argues “the transformation of devalued landscapes like Jamaica Bay’s marshes has also exposed nearby residents to even greater risk.” While restoration efforts are underway, there is no guarantee of success given the conditions of the area are shifting so fast with climate change.

In a chapter entitled “the Jargon of Resilience,” Dawson warns against the “utopian hopes of modern architects and urban planners,” particularly those associated with the Rebuild by Design program initiated by the Rockefeller Foundation, because they create a “false sense of security, leading people to build up risk in fundamentally unsustainable sites.”

He argues projects that came out of Rebuild by Design effort, like the Big U in Lower Manhattan, which will use parks made of berms and flood gates to protect the financial district and other neighborhoods, “actually increase risk rather than diminishing it.” Furthermore, the BIG U will just displace water to other places: “Where will the water that the BIG U turns aside go? It is likely to end up in adjacent communities with large poor populations such as Red Hook, where Hurricane Sandy hit public housing particularly hard.”

Dawson appreciates the ecological logic of the much-celebrated Living Breakwaters project by SCAPE Landscape Architecture but argues that it “confronts a number of intractable environmental problems that are likely to make it unsustainable in the long term.”

Dawson’s essential critique is that too much of the climate adaptation and resilience efforts of city governments in New York City and elsewhere have been top-down, without much real community input. He believes truly equitable resilience planning can only come if strong local communities make their voices heard. Socially-resilient communities can demand “radical adaptation” — “new forms of collective, democratic planning.” Empowered, informed communities can figure out the resilient plans and designs they need to protect themselves. And only these communities can survive the next storm and rebuild.

Waking up to the new realities requires getting a clear view of the risks — and even increasing exposure to them. For Dawson, landscape architects like Kate Orff, ASLA, founder of SCAPE, and educators like University of Pennslvania landscape architecture professor Anuradha Matur, and Harvard University planner Dilip da Cunha potentially have the answers, with their call for “soft” defenses that would buffer communities from storms but also be visible and integrated into the ecosystems of the coastal city.

The mega-city of the near future can build “more permeable borders, allowing for natural flux and for the flourishing of inter-tidal habitats such as wetlands and marshes.” This vision will require a re-balancing between city and nature, a retreat from high-risk areas, along with an end to luxury development on waterfronts.

ASLA Recommendations: Smart Policies for a Changing Climate

Smart Policies for a Changing Climate / ASLA

Climate change is intensifying the negative impacts of standard development practices and is putting people and communities across the United Sates at risk. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) convened an interdisciplinary Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience in September 2017, and this week ASLA released a blueprint for helping secure a sustainable and resilient future that summarizes the panel’s work and recommendations.

Smart Policies for a Changing Climate: The Report and Recommendations of the ASLA Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience found that the U.S. needs a new paradigm for communities that works in tandem with natural systems. It recommends that public policies should:

  • Be incentive based
  • Promote holistic planning and provide multiple benefits
  • Take into account environmental justice, racial and social equity
  • Reflect meaningful community engagement
  • Regularly evaluated and reviewed for unintended consequences
  • Address broader regional issues as well as local and site-specific concerns.

Smart Policies for a Changing Climate also found that:

  • Designing and planning in concert with natural systems promotes resilience, capitalizes on the benefits of natural systems and provides greater long-term return on investment.
  • Key strategies include use of green infrastructure, native plants, urban and suburban tree planting plans, and healthy soil management practices.
  • Compact, walkable, and transit-oriented “smart growth” communities reduce energy use and are climate smart.
  • Special attention must be paid to vulnerable communities in coastal and inland flood plains and underserved and low-income communities.
  • Transportation should be considered critically as not only a connection point between home to work/services, but also as a source of greenhouse gas emissions, and a contributor or detractor to a community’s appearance and function in light of a weather event.
  • Agricultural systems must be addressed because they are being stressed by unsustainable farming practices and farmland is being lost to expanding development and sprawl.

“Our nation, states, counties, and cities are looking for solutions to mitigate the risks from the changing climate and extreme weather events,” said Nancy C. Somerville, Hon. ASLA, ASLA executive vice president and CEO. “With this report, landscape architects and their design and planning colleagues forward public policy recommendations that can make communities safer while taking climate change and existing natural systems into account.”

ASLA released the report at an evening reception and candid discussion yesterday with Somerville, and ASLA Blue Ribbon Panel members Adam Ortiz, director for the Department of the Environment for Prince George’s County, Maryland, and Diane Jones Allen, program director for Landscape Architecture, the College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington and principal landscape architect with DesignJones LLC.

We have provided a platform for landscape architects, public officials, and other design and planning professionals to share their views on how to help communities adapt to climate change through smart design policies. Go to https://climate.asla.org.

The Blue Ribbon Panelists included a diverse range of practitioners, experts and stakeholders with different levels of experience working in different aspects of geographic and technical design. They are:

  • Vaughn Rinner, FASLA, SITES AP, ASLA Immediate Past President, Chair;
  • Armando Carbonell, FAICP, Senior Fellow and Chair, Department of Planning and Urban Form, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy;
  • Mark Dawson, FASLA, Managing Principal, Sasaki Associates Inc.;
  • Tim Duggan, ASLA, Founder, Phronesis;
  • Ying-yu Hung, ASLA, Managing Principal, Principal, SWA, Los Angeles Studio;
  • Dr. Dwane Jones, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Sustainable Development + Resilience at the University of the District of Columbia;
  • Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, Program Director for Landscape Architecture, the College of Architecture Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington and principal landscape architect with DesignJones LLC;
  • Adam Ortiz, Director for the Department of the Environment for Prince George’s County, Maryland;
  • Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, SITES AP, Executive Vice President and CEO, ASLA; and;
  • Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome, Ph.D., Senior Program Officer, Environment, The Kresge Foundation.

Some quotes from panelists on the importance of adopting effective public policies and landscape architecture design solutions:

“The plans we’re going to have in the future to deal with living with water have to be more realistic. We have to live with the acknowledgement that there will be hurricanes and areas that naturally want to flood. How do we build differently as opposed to thinking we can keep water out?”

Diane Jones Allen, ASLA
Program Director for Landscape Architecture, the College of Architecture, Planning, and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington

“We have a number of antiquated policies within governmental structures. Reevaluating them every five years or so would help us to reflect what is currently happening and to better project how we should design communities to be able to proactively respond to such changes and challenges.”

Dr. Dwane Jones, Ph.D.
Director of the Center for Sustainable Development + Resilience at the University of the District of Columbia

“All public projects really have to be interdisciplinary. They have to incorporate the local culture, the local economy, forward-thinking design concepts, as well as good engineering. All that together, in a very thoughtful way that respects the complexity of our society, is a way to make a sustainable project that people enjoy and love.”

Adam Ortiz
Director for the Department of the Environment for Prince George’s County, Maryland

“One of the things we need to be doing is do a lot more experimentation. Sometimes you just need to be able to try things and see if that solution can take you forward. If it’s not a good solution, let’s try something else. That kind of creativity and ideas is really what innovation is all about.”

Vaughn B. Rinner, FASLA, SITES AP
Immediate Past President, American Society of Landscape Architects

“Our standard development practices are not sustainable, but when we understand and work with natural systems, we can build safer and healthier communities.”

Nancy C. Somerville, Hon. ASLA. SITES AP
Executive Vice President and CEO, American Society of Landscape Architects

“My hope is that we embed true kinds of community engagement, justice, and equity into our focus on climate change and resilience. We need to really do that in a way where it’s not so scientific. The social engineering matters as well. It’s what you’re doing in your profession that impacts people and makes those impacts equitable.”

Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome, Ph.D.
Senior Program Officer, Environment
The Kresge Foundation

One Year Later, Climate Leaders Are Forging Ahead — Without the Trump Administration

trump
President Trump’s climate speech at the White House in 2017 / Mashable

One year ago, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, raising uncertainty about the future of the landmark agreement. Last week, the World Resources Institute (WRI) convened a panel of climate policy leaders to ask the question: Has the world moved on since President Trump’s announcement?

In a panel moderated by WRI senior fellow Andrew Light, Paula Caballero, global director of climate for WRI, gave the room reasons for both optimism and caution. “Trump can announce what he will, but the reality in the US and around the world is that efforts to tackle climate continue.”

States and businesses are doing what they can to fill the void left by federal inaction, which is reflected in bipartisan initiatives, such as the U.S. Climate Alliance and America’s Pledge. “States, cities, and businesses representing more than half of the United States population have adopted GHG targets,” said Caballero, adding that “if they were a country, these US states and cities alone would be the third largest economy in the world.” Still, Caballero cautioned that “if we’re really honest, we need a lot more ambition.”

For Todd Stern, former U.S. special envoy for climate change, the global response to President Trump’s announcement has been a “mixed bag.” On one hand, other countries have remained in the agreement, something that “wasn’t a foregone conclusion.” On the other hand, “it’s really damaging for the United States to be on the way out.”

Stern said the absence of the US could lead some countries to pull back on their commitments and undermine the development of “global norms and expectations” around carbon dioxide emissions.

Selwin Hart, Ambassador of Barbados to the US, said “the coalition that delivered the Paris agreement remains strong,” but “it is absolutely imperative to have the US at the table,” adding that “were it not for the leadership of the United States, we would not have had the Paris agreement.” Still, “countries are not going to wait” for the US to take action.

WRI’s David Waskow echoed this point, citing international determination in response to the US withdrawal, including the India-led International Solar Alliance and the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative, which are examples of “a change, globally, in the types of leadership that we have,” with “many more actors in the mix and driving forward action.”

This new kind of leadership can also be found at the state, business, and non-governmental organization (NGO) levels. Valerie Smith, global head of corporate sustainability at Citigroup, pointed to her firm’s financing of climate solutions as an example of both good global citizenship and good business.

Maryland secretary of the environment Ben Grumbles noted he was sent to the recent COP23 in Bonn, Germany by Republican governor Larry Hogan, suggesting the climate need not be a partisan issue.

Virginia deputy secretary of commerce and trade Angela Navarro stated that, prior to the Paris Agreement, “a lot of the climate action in the United States was happening at the state level,” but “the importance of the work states are doing has only been amplified since the announcement from President Trump a year ago.” An example of this state-level work can be found in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a coalition of Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States founded in 2009 to price CO2 emissions from the energy sector.

Virginia_PowerPlant
Power Plant in Halifax County, Virginia / Flickr user David Hoffman

Secretary Grumbles (also chair of the RGGI Board of Directors) touted RGGI’s track record, saying that it had slashed emissions while raising $2.9 billion for member states to invest in climate solutions.

Virginia is working to join RGGI, which would make it the first southeastern state to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. New Jersey, formerly a member state, is also eager to re-join the coalition. “With these eleven states,” said Grumbles, “we’ll have somewhere between the fourth and the fifth-largest economy in the world.”

The lingering question, however, is whether these state and market efforts will be enough for the US to meet its Paris goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025 in the absence of leadership from the U.S. federal government.

While new leadership may be emerging to fill that void, the environment is already sending dangerous warning signals. This last winter, the maximum extent of arctic sea ice hit a near-record low.

Sea-Ice
Aerial photo of melting arctic sea ice / NASA

Meanwhile, arctic permafrost is beginning to melt, releasing frozen carbon and methane gas stored in the soil into the atmosphere and raising fears of initiating a dangerous warming feedback loop that has been called “a ticking time bomb.”

Scientists have found that rainfall from Hurricane Harvey was made worse because of climate change, foreshadowing what could be a more frequent phenomenon in the future. And in Puerto Rico, researchers now estimate that more than 4,600 Americans died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, making that storm more than twice as deadly as Hurricane Katrina.

With this in mind, the call to action sounded by Caballero at the beginning of the panel rang the loudest at its end: “Whether we do act today — or whether we don’t act today — is going to determine what the world will look like for centuries to come.”