How Fire-Prone Communities Can Reduce Their Risk

Fire risk reduction strategy / SWA

16% of Americans now live in “designated fire hazard areas,” states SWA, a landscape architecture firm. And nearly 80 million U.S. properties face a “significant chance of exposure” to wildfires. Risks to both people and property are expected to dramatically increase by 2050.

To address this threat, SWA created an illustrated guide — Playbook for the Pyrocene, which offers 20 community planning and design strategies that can be applied by landscape architects, planners, homeowners, and developers.

The guide is authored by Jonah Susskind, senior research associate at SWA’s XL Research and Innovation Lab, and a team of researchers at the firm: Alison Ecker, Sydnie Zhang, Harrison Raine, Shannon Clancy, Dallas Ford, Peter Rustad, Rajpankaja Talukdar, and Ted Vuchinich.

“As wildfires become more frequent and destructive, we must rethink how communities are planned and designed. Fire is as complex as it is elemental, and there will never be a singular, tidy solution,” writes Alison Ecker, SWA, in the guide.

Instead SWA offers communities a way to layer solutions and apply practical, science-based guidelines and strategies to reduce risk at the community scale.

Fire risk reduction strategy / SWA

The guide synthesizes research findings from fire science, forestry, land use planning, and emergency management. And it builds on many years of wildfire work by SWA. “First, a set of landscape strategies developed with the community of Paradise, California after the 2018 Camp Fire. Then, a 945-acre planning study in Sonoma County, California. And, ultimately, a collaboration with the California Governor’s Office to develop statewide guidelines for wildfire planning,” Jackson Rollings, director of communications at SWA, explained.

“After the tragedy in Lahaina in Maui, there’s been a lot of reporting on rebuilding and recovery, but not nearly enough on actionable solutions and community-scale planning. This resource is intended to fill that knowledge gap and make these strategies plain and legible,” he added.

SWA argues that “supercharged fires” are growing worldwide. They are caused by “misguided” fire suppression policies; climate change; and unabated development in the wildland-urban interface (WUI).

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, WUI is a term for fire-prone lands where “human development meets or intermingles with undeveloped wildland or vegetative fuels.” With increased sprawl, the WUI is growing by 2 million acres each year.

Susskind delves into each cause of increased wildfire risk:

“Fire suppression policies resulted in far fewer acres burned, but over time, they inadvertently created an immense stockpile of unburnt fuels. As a result, today’s fires have become much larger and tend to burn much hotter than they would have naturally.”

“Eminent fire historian Stephen Pyne has dubbed our current epoch the Pyrocene because of the degree to which human manipulation of natural fire regimes have permanently altered Earth systems.”

Climate change is also fueling more destructive annual megafires. “Prolonged periods of record-breaking heat and drought have impacted fire-prone ecosystems by desiccating forests and grasslands and significantly increasing the length of annual fire seasons.”

And living in the WUI puts many people in the most immediate danger. “In recent decades, due to the housing-affordability crisis, NIMBYism, and local zoning restrictions, more affordable development has been pushed further away from city centers to comply with state mandates, and the WUI has become the fastest growing land use category in the US. Today, nearly 100 million people (about a third of the U.S. population) live in the WUI.”

Fire risk reduction strategy / SWA

In California, “more than 80 percent of California’s fire-related structure loss has occurred in these high-risk zones.” And if WUI development continues at a similar pace over the next thirty years, 20 million Californians could call these fire-prone landscapes home.

(California currently accounts for approximately half of properties at risk from wildfire. Other states with major fire hazards are Texas, Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Washington, Oklahoma, Oregon, Montana, Utah, and many others.)

“We did not intend for the resource to influence high-level land-use planning decisions, which are usually much further upstream,” Susskind told us.

“The questions we are trying to answer here are not so much where to build, but rather how to build better within the context of wildfire broadly.”

Fire risk reduction strategy / SWA

A key part of that is learning how to design with ecosystems that are naturally dependent on fire.

“This means [designing] in ways that support fire as a critical part of ecosystem health and stability. Each of the strategies can be applied in order to reduce risks for frontline communities while simultaneously ensuring that fire can effectively support fire-dependent ecologies,” Susskind said.

Fire risk reduction strategy / SWA

SWA also sees the guide as just the start of a broader, collaborative effort to reduce risks.

“Landscape architects, urban designers, planners, and developers all have work to do to fill critical knowledge gaps. Best practices will need to be expanded and codified through professional licensure and institutional accreditation. Practitioners will need to have a firm grasp of the basic principles of fire behavior, vegetation management, and defensible space.”

“We will need to build and maintain partnerships with firefighting agencies, fire-safe councils, prescribed burn associations, and other key organizations. We will also need to advocate for more robust and ecologically informed wildfire policies that boost accountability for those making development decisions in high-risk areas.”

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
Coen+Partners

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
Coen+Partners

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
SmithGroup

Honor Award
The Chattahoochee RiverLands
Metro Atlanta Region, Georgia
SCAPE

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

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

Communications

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
OLIN

Research

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

Kongjian Yu Wins 2023 Cooper Hewitt National Design Award

Kongjian Yu, FASLA / TURENSCAPE

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.

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.

Vice President Harris Makes the Case for Nature-based Solutions

Vice President Kamala Harris at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science in Key Biscayne, FL / AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

This Earth Day, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris highlighted the many benefits of nature-based solutions and recognized the important role of landscape architects in this work. At the University of Miami, she also announced $562 million in funding for coastal resilience projects, supporting 149 projects in 30 states, through the Climate-Ready Coasts Initiative of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Vice President Harris’ remarks build on the Biden-Harris administration’s support for planning and designing with ecological systems in an equitable way.

The administration led the passage of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which provided billions towards nature-based solutions and includes many of ASLA’s policy recommendations.

And last fall at COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, the administration released the “first national strategy on nature-based solutions,” a roadmap that offers “strategic recommendations” to “unlock the full potential” of these approaches to “address climate change, nature loss, and inequity.” In other words, the administration believes if planned and designed well, nature-based solutions can provide integrated carbon drawdown, resilience, biodiversity, and equity benefits.

Nature-based Solutions Roadmap / The White House

In Miami, Harris argued that “natural infrastructure reduces the impact of storm surges and hurricanes. And by the way, natural infrastructure is often more effective than concrete barriers and retaining walls.”

Earlier this year, Harris spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Miami, where landscape architect Kate Orff, FASLA, founder of SCAPE Landscape Architecture, also presented. Perhaps it was there that Harris and her team learned about Living Breakwaters in Staten Island, New York City, which leverages oyster reefs to reduce the impact of storm surges.

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

Back in Miami for Earth Day, Harris said “we will restore oyster reefs. And that work will diminish the impact of tropical storms and hurricanes and clean our oceans by filtering out polluted runoff from our cities.”

Harris made clear that the benefits of nature-based solutions aren’t theoretical. “All of this makes sense. And it works! It is very doable; it is within our grasp. And that is why I am so optimistic about all of this.”

The Vice President also recognized the economic benefits of designing with nature to address climate change. “These investments will not only protect our environment but also strengthen our economy. For example, here in Florida, our work will create jobs for construction workers, environmental engineers, and landscape architects.”

Landscape architect Aida Curtis, ASLA, co-founder of Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, attended Harris’ speech in Miami. She was personally invited by the White House because of her long-time leadership on nature-based solutions in Miami.

Curtis was central to a persuasive local advocacy and media campaign that convinced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a new, expanded study for a $6 billion project to protect Miami from future hurricanes, coastal flooding, and climate impacts. Her renderings, rooted in scientific analysis, showed a smart alternative to the Corps’ initial proposal, which was to line downtown Miami with concrete walls.

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

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

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

“Vice President Harris’ recognition that nature-based solutions can be more effective than concrete barriers and walls was enlightening. Her optimism and commitment to coastal communities gives me hope for Miami. It gives me a huge boost to continue our efforts to advocate for and design nature-based solutions,” Curtis told us.

And on a personal level, “it was amazing to hear the Vice President recognize the work that we — landscape architects — do on climate adaptation and resilience. The fact that nature-based solutions was at the heart of her message gives me great encouragement that we are on the right path.”

Harris announced that $562 million in IRA funds will go to a few key NOAA-managed programs. This is because “demand for funding focused on preparing for and adapting to climate change is high,” NOAA states. Funding requests made by communities to date have exceeded what is available.

Of the $526 million, $477 million will be dedicated to “high-impact projects” that provide multiple benefits at once:

  • “creating climate solutions by strengthening coastal communities’ ability to respond to extreme weather events, pollution and marine debris
  • restoring coastal habitats to help wildlife and humans thrive
  • storing carbon
  • building the capacity of underserved communities to address climate hazards and supporting community-driven restoration
  • and creating jobs in local communities.”

$46 million will be distributed through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation National Coastal Resilience Fund to “help communities prepare for increasing coastal flooding, sea-level rise and more intense storms, while improving thousands of acres of coastal habitats.”

And $39.1 million in non-competitive funding will go to 34 state and territorial coastal management programs and 30 national estuarine research reserves.

According to NOAA, these programs provide “essential planning, policy development and implementation, research, education, and collaborative engagement with communities.” The goal is to “protect coastal and estuarine ecosystems important for the resilience of coastal economies and the health of coastal environments.”

Learn more about upcoming project opportunities for landscape architects across the country.

Earth Day Interview with Deb Guenther: Equity Is Central to Climate Action

Deb Guenther, FASLA / Mithun

Deb Guenther, FASLA, LEED AP, SITES AP, is a partner and landscape architect at Mithun, based in Seattle, Washington. She was a Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) Leadership and Innovation Fellow from 2021-2022 and awarded the President’s Medal by the American Society of Landscape Architect in 2010.

Equity is increasingly being seen as central to landscape architects’ climate action work. How do you define equity in your planning and design work? And what about terms like climate equity and climate justice?

We spend time discussing equity for each project, even if the project doesn’t explicitly have equity goals. It’s different for each community.

We focus on understanding the historical injustices that have happened over time and how those show up in day-to-day lives today. Disproportionate underinvestments in communities have impacts. We try to understand how those show up in power dynamics of not only race and gender but also income and class. We want to be able to understand the power dynamics before we come in the room.

Climate injustices have disproportionately affected communities of color. Often these communities have been redlined, are lower lying, and experience more flooding, or have less trees and experience more intense summer heat. These communities often don’t have the infrastructure to prevent flooding.

Your Landscape Architecture Foundation Leadership and Innovation Fellowship focused on how to build trust with communities, specifically how to establish a greater sense of kinship between landscape architects and community leaders. What were your key findings? And why is trust so central to making climate action work effective?

We need to build trust with communities to be able to do effective work and learn with community members. I think the big takeaway for me from the fellowship was that I was just catching up to a lot of the things that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color have known for a long time.

People with the lived experience in the community are the greatest resource for finding the solutions. We can’t do work that is meaningful to communities without first investing time. So all of that comes back to: how can we build a design process that is more relational and less transactional? How do we do the pre-design work that leads to greater trust?

Community design centers are ready to do this long-term, place-based work. Partnering with a community over time is a different exercise with different results than coming in and out of a community. Staying with a community builds understanding.

I have also heard about flood control districts and park districts that are starting to band together regionally because they know they can’t address all the climate adaptation needs individually as agencies. So we need to take a broader or regional view, and at the same time, look at what community leaders know about their specific neighborhoods. It’s a back and forth, regional and local.

We can’t move climate justice work forward and do our best work without building trust first. Climate work is so urgent that we have to go slow to go fast. We have to take the time to build the trust in order to be able to move quickly enough to respond to climate in effective way.

You’re a partner at Mithun, a mission-driven integrated design firm that began in Seattle, Washington, and later expanded to offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In Washington State and elsewhere, Mithun is partnering with tribes on a range of planning and design projects. What have you learned working with tribes and their approaches to long-term sustainability and resilience? And what are some examples of how their ethos has been translated into landscape architecture projects with your firm?

We are so grateful for the relationships we have with First Nations. Twenty years ago we were learning about co-design and co-creation through our engagements with First Nations.

We were going to their events. We were having meals with the elders. We were getting to know sites together by sleeping overnight in the sagebrush steppe in eastern Washington while working with the Wanapum on their Heritage Center. We were invited to share in some very special ceremonies. We were getting to know each other and each other’s culture in a deeper way.

Wanapum Heritage Center, Mattawa, WA / © Benjamin Benschneider
Wanapum Heritage Center, Mattawa, WA / Mithun

We also learned about holding the capacity for difficult conversations. As facilitators of these conversations, we’ve learned a lot over the years about how to allow those uncomfortable conversations to happen, how we can have those together in a room and still walk out together at the end and be better for it. That’s a big lesson learned over the years.

The importance of investing in youth is another area where we’ve learned so much from First Nations. The canoe journey is a multi-tribal event that happens every other year among many of the tribes in the Pacific Northwest. Youth are reclaiming their connection to traditional lifeways through a canoe journey where they travel to a hosting tribe. They come together for a major gathering at the end. Preparing for these journeys influences many youth.

And it had a direct result creating the House of Awakened Culture that we designed with the Suquamish tribe. They built that project in anticipation of hosting a canoe journey. Now they can also host future canoe journeys and larger gatherings as a tribe.

House of Awakened Culture, Suquamish, WA / Mithun
House of Awakened Culture, Suquamish, WA / Mithun

The Sea2City Design Challenge in Vancouver, Canada led to an exciting re-imagining of False Creek, a central inlet in the city. Mithun worked with representatives and cultural advisors from Host Nations, including the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh, and the community to envision a decolonized approach to coastal climate adaptation planning. What do decolonized landscapes look like? And how did you leverage traditional tribal communications forms, including spoken word and storytelling, to envision this decolonization process?

We went directly to the Host Nation cultural advisors, Tsleil-Waututh Nation knowledge keeper Charlene (Char) Aleck, and Squamish artist Cory Douglas and asked: what does a decolonized landscape look like to you? They wanted to imagine a place where they feel like they belonged. Right now, the way the False Creek area is set up, there aren’t many places where they feel they belong.

One of the places on seawall promenade that resonated with Cory was this cluster of cedar trees peeking out of the asphalt. So we built on the idea of the cedars, harvesting plants and food for cultural uses, and being able to be in a place where land and water is nourishing. Those are the ways of belonging they were speaking to.

A significant moment in this project is when went on a boat ride up and down False Creek with Char and Cory and the team. During that boat ride, we heard from Char about reciprocity and exchange, what is given and what is taken, and how that all influences their cultural outlook on what it means to have a place they belong in.

Afterwards, we threw out all of our design work and started again with this idea of going back to the historic natural shoreline. We have to go back to where things were taken. Not only does that make sense from a sea level rise protections, flooding, contamination standpoint, but it also makes sense from a reciprocity standpoint. Decolonized landscapes are about finding the ways to ensure people feel like they belong.

False Creek in 2023. Sea2City Design Challenge, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada / Mithun
False Creek in 2100. Sea2City Design Challenge, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada / Mithun

It is interesting to think that our next experiences as landscape architects may be about deconstruction rather than construction. The return to the historic shoreline is predicated on buildings that are aging out. Instead of replacing buildings that have aged out, we can rezone upland areas that can take more development and not displace people or businesses. We can plan for the gradual movement of people and businesses and housing up slope. This is a way of building in protections against sea level rise and allowing for marine life to flourish. It’s also a way to clean a contaminated waterway over time.

Sea2City Design Challenge, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada / Plomp for Mithun
Sea2City Design Challenge, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada / Plomp for Mithun

As part of Bay Area Resilient by Design Challenge, Mithun led an interdisciplinary team of ecological, design, planning, economic, and social justice organizations to create ouR-HOME, a comprehensive planning effort in Richmond, California, a low-income community that has experienced a range of environmental injustices and is facing significant sea level rise and flooding impacts. The Resilient by Design effort sought to envision what structural equity looks like, how to protect the community from gentrification and displacement, and create new wealth, while also using nature to increase resilience to future climate impacts. It’s a great example of equity-based climate adaptation work. How did those ideas came together and how they are being pursued in projects that have evolved from the planning effort?

This is a very special project and place with a lot of wonderful people. There’s such a strong environmental justice history in North Richmond. This community has had to build their sense of self-determination because they were ignored, redlined, and subject to disinvestment.

So there are multiple generations of community leaders, like Whitney Dotson, Cynthia Jordan, Dr. Henry Clark, Annie King-Meredith, Princess Robinson who have led and are leading significant change. They are working in so many ways to advance locally-driven solutions.

The Bay Area tends to approach things regionally. A lot of Resilient by Design was happening at the regional level. But that wasn’t going create change in North Richmond because of its history.

As part of the shoreline collaboration plan, we’re now working on what the governance strategy can be with the community. The goal is to evaluate how to connect immediate benefits from the work they’re doing on nature-based solutions. We’re designing a living levee there that will allow marine life to transition and protect the wastewater district facility that serves the entire West Contra Costa County. We’ve also co-designed with a community advisory group a five-mile strategy of collaboration between property owners that would protect a much larger swath of the neighborhood and other infrastructure.

Some of those direct benefits are building up community knowledge through a co-design process, workforce development, and land trusts that guard against gentrification. And there are projects that will provide more access to the shoreline through trails and destinations, like interpretive centers and overlooks.

A lot of the residents that were involved in the co-design process during Resilient by Design have remained involved as champions of various projects. Folks really grabbed on to the pieces they were interested in and shepherded those forward.

Bay Area Resilient by Design Challenge. ouR-HOME, North Richmond, CA / Mithun

In the co-design process as part of Resilient by Design, we had public agency folks in the room with community residents, business leaders, various nonprofit organizations. They all knew each other before Resilient by Design. But they knew each other in the context of presenting information to each other, not really working shoulder to shoulder. During the process we conducted, they were working shoulder to shoulder to solve issues, having more casual dialogue. This is the main thing we heard at the end of the process — that resident advisors wanted this kind of work to continue.

What we noticed is that there is cyclical process with funding, right? There wasn’t a convener that could keep the group going until West Contra Costa County Wastewater District stepped up to do their work on the levee. They were able to bring a similar group together again.

As designers, we need to think about how we keep shoulder-to-shoulder dialogue going with communities, even when there isn’t a project driving it. So many relevant projects come out of those kinds of processes.

Mithun states that it uses affordable housing developments to create “active social hubs,” and it leverages its “integrated design approach” as a vehicle for social equity. Your firm’s landscape architects are often involved in these projects, weaving in green spaces, play areas, rooftop gardens, pedestrian bicycle access, and public art. A few projects — the Liberty Bank Building in Seattle, Washington, and Casa Adelante at 2060 Folsom in San Francisco — seems to highlight the value of landscape architects in these projects. Can you talk about how landscape architects on your team are shaping these projects?

Common space in affordable housing projects is such highly valued space. You can imagine when the goal is to house people, every square foot is going to be carefully scrutinized.

At the beginning of these projects, the landscape architect’s role at Mithun is to do that massaging, that working back and forth between the indoor and the outdoor space, to not only program the shared spaces outside but also the spaces inside.

Casa Adelante, Seattle, WA / © Bruce Damonte

We look at those adjacencies where people can run into each other naturally, where are they going to get their mail, where are they going to for daily life experiences. Running into each other causes people to know their neighbors and builds a stronger sense of community.

Liberty Bank Building, San Francisco, CA / © Kevin Scott

Those are the two areas where we’re shaping these projects the most. The first is being present at the beginning to do that shaping of how the common space is tied to the lifeways of the residents. And the second is figuring out how those adjacencies are built into the framework of the design. All the other stuff is gravy if you get the adjacencies right.

Mithun has invested in being a responsible design firm. It has offset all its emissions since 2004, offers bike parking at its offices, and finances employees’ home energy efficiency retrofits. It donates pro-bono design services, raises funds for local community groups, and its leaders are involved in the boards of civic organizations. How does Mithun plan to further evolve to address the climate crisis?

We are looking at the North Richmond work and thinking about how we can work geographically like that in other areas and build long-term relationships. We’ve been there now for seven years continuously and built a more relational way of working. Ultimately, we feel that is the most equitable way to work, because we have that deeper understanding and a shared sense of reciprocity.

We’re participating in conversations happening in communities that we’re a part of. And then we bring those ideas to our projects. We’re tying ideas together and building momentum. This is just how we live as a community, right?

We never want to underestimate the value of social resilience. The greatest predictor of survival in a crisis is how well you know your neighbors, your community. In a climate justice context, we want to model what we think is valuable for all communities. We want to design places where people can get to know each other, where they can practice adaptation together, and therefore be better prepared to work together when they need to respond to climate impacts.

Franklin Park Action Plan: Restoring Olmsted’s Forgotten Haven

Franklin Park, Boston, Massachusetts / Sahar Coston-Hardy, courtesy of Reed Hilderbrand, Agency Landscape + Planning, MASS Design Group

In 2021, the City of Boston sold one of its parking garages for $102 million, with the goal of dedicating those funds to improving Boston’s public spaces and investing in affordable housing. Some of those millions went to an effort to revitalize Boston Common, one of the oldest public parks in the country. And more of those millions went to a plan for improving Franklin Park, a neglected park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted as part of Boston’s famed Emerald Necklace.

A three-year planning process led by landscape architecture firms Reed Hilderbrand, Agency Landscape + Planning, and MASS Design Group has resulted in a comprehensive action plan that is rooted in local community priorities and meant to ensure the long-term sustainability of the 527-acre cultural landscape.

Franklin Park, Boston, Massachusetts / Sahar Coston-Hardy, courtesy of Reed Hilderbrand, Agency Landscape + Planning, MASS Design Group

“We heard from the community that they want the city to take better care of the park — to pick up trash, improve the bathrooms, reduce the pressure of invasive plants, and restore the landscape to optimal health in a thoughtful and steady way,” said Kristin Frederickson, ASLA, a principal at Reed Hilderbrand.

What the landscape architecture team created is a bold plan that balances immediate maintenance and restoration needs with steps to achieve a long-term vision of improved access, resilience, and equitable benefits. The 450-page plan will take multiple decades and more than $150 million to complete. “And the plan suggests that the city and community can’t pick and chose between addressing climate change, equity, historic preservation — these are synergistic elements, key principles meant to operate together.”

The revitalization of Franklin Park has been a long time coming. For decades, one of the city’s largest parks received little government investment and was instead left to the Franklin Park Coalition to steward and maintain. “They deserve a lot of credit — they have been holding this park together. There were times when visitors were actually driving through the park lawns,” Frederickson said.

The city’s history of racial inequities factors into this. Franklin Park is bordered by some of Boston’s most historically marginalized communities — Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roslindale — along with Jamaica Plain, a wealthier community.

Franklin Park Action Plan, Boston, Massachusetts / Reed Hilderbrand, Agency Landscape + Planning, MASS Design Group

Boston’s 2030 plan highlighted the need to invest in Franklin Park. “There was a realization that we need to stabilize the park in order to save it,” said John Kett, ASLA, principal in charge at Reed Hilderbrand.

The first step was to build trust with communities that have been promised support in the past, but didn’t see that translate into action. The first community engagement meeting, pre-pandemic, brought out more than 300 community members. “There was a lot of excitement but also skepticism,” Kett said.

Franklin Park community engagement / Reed Hilderbrand, Agency Landscape + Planning, MASS Design Group

These meetings brought up issues of representation. “Three-fourths of the surrounding neighborhoods are historically underserved. Residents from Jamaica Plain were very active and showing up, but we weren’t hearing much from the underserved communities at first.”

The Franklin Park Coalition, which had established community support and connections over decades, was key to increasing the involvement of these communities, particularly during the pandemic when the team relied on Zooms and online surveys. The coalition helped the team get hundreds of survey responses.

To build trust, Reed Hilderbrand, Agency Landscape + Planning, and MASS Design Group also participated in playhouse in the park, a long-running summer series. For years, community members have brought their lawn chairs and coolers to watch free performances.

“We set up a pop-up photography booth with Sahar Coston-Hardy, who was able to print portraits in the park, and put them up on clotheslines. People looked good, so by the end there was a line. It was a trust-building exercise with the community — and for them. They shared their stories about the park with us, too.”

Carolyn R. and family, Franklin Park Action Plan Event / Sahar Coston-Hardy, courtesy of Reed Hilderbrand, Agency Landscape + Planning, MASS Design Group
DeTachia Swain, Franklin Park Action Plan event / Sahar Coston-Hardy, courtesy of Reed Hilderbrand, Agency Landscape + Planning, MASS Design Group

Brie Hensold, Hon. ASLA, co-founder of Agency Landscape + Planning, explained that additional community engagement strategies included walking tours in the park and in-depth conversations with key constituencies — the groups that cared most about improving the golf course or tennis courts, restoring the woodlands, or enhancing the playhouse and its amphitheater. And to overcome the digital divide among community members, “we also went canvassing door to door to gather input.”

The result of this equitable community engagement is a plan that calls for spreading investments throughout the park, so that all the communities bordering the park see both immediate and long-term benefits.

In her announcement of the new plan to revitalize Franklin Park, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu highlighted two priorities.

“She focused on the need to restore the ecosystems in the park and also the need to appoint a dedicated park superintendent,” Kett said.

A slew of Boston and state agencies are involved in the park and its boundary areas. Establishing a leader who can move the plan forward was a key goal for the planning and design team.

The plan explored how the park could support affordable housing protections, and build capacity, create more local jobs, and develop the workforce, particularly through city government contracts to nearby vendors. These efforts will require multi-agency partnerships across the city government, which a superintendent can help facilitate.

“Given that trust with surrounding communities has been broken for decades, rebuilding that trust will be a slow process. We focused on only promising what we could deliver,” Kett said.

“The community wants to see continuous maintenance improvements and capital investments over time,” Hensold said. “Trust is a longer-term project.”

Through their journey with the community, the team learned that Olmsted’s design is still deeply appreciated. Even with a clear lack of maintenance and investment, the park still has a “rough beauty,” Frederickson said.

Franklin Park, Boston, Massachusetts / Sahar Coston-Hardy, courtesy of Reed Hilderbrand, Agency Landscape + Planning, MASS Design Group

“People love this park; they just want it to be a better version of itself. At the core, people want the park to be taken care of.”

Franklin Park, Boston, Massachusetts / Sahar Coston-Hardy, courtesy of Reed Hilderbrand, Agency Landscape + Planning, MASS Design Group

Olmsted’s design still resonates despite the insertion of a hospital, zoo, golf course, widened circuit road, and a four-lane road that diagonally cuts through the park.

“There is the sense that Olmsted reached a logical conclusion in Franklin Park, which is one of his later parks. He did less here; it’s more about putting the land forward,” Frederickson said.

Inspired by the rock outcroppings of the area, he reinforced the edges with stone walls and slopes, creating an “interior haven.” Today, that means that some of the park boundaries are “not super porous.” The plan focuses on “improving porosity where we can” through new accessible entrances better aligned with well-lit crosswalks and supported by new street improvements, parking, and bicycle infrastructure.

Franklin Park Action Plan / Reed Hilderbrand, Agency Landscape + Planning, MASS Design Group

The core design of the park remains though. Olmsted followed the flow of “whale-shaped drumlin fields, lacing circulation through them.” The design team recommended reducing or eliminating vehicle access in parts of that circulation system to ensure the park feels safer for pedestrians and cyclists. “But the plan is not anti-car. We actually increase parking in areas,” Frederickson said.

Franklin Park Action Plan / Reed Hilderbrand, Agency Landscape + Planning, MASS Design Group

And restoring the varied ecosystems in the park, including its marshes, meadows, and woodlands, remains a top priority for the community and the landscape architects. “It’s an incredible, moving place to be. Its rough beauty is its power. It just needs support.”

New Orleans’ Equity-driven Reforestation Plan

Surface temperatures in New Orleans (2019-2021) / Spackman Mossop Michaels

New Orleans experiences the worst urban heat island effect in the country, with temperatures nearly 9 F° higher than nearby natural areas. The city also lost more than 200,000 trees from Hurricane Katrina, dropping its overall tree canopy to just 18.5 percent.

The non-profit organization Sustaining Our Urban Landscape (SOUL) partnered with landscape architects at Spackman Mossop Michaels (SMM) to create a highly accessible, equity-focused reforestation plan for the city that provides a roadmap for achieving a tree canopy of 24 percent by 2040.

But more importantly, the plan also seeks to equalize the canopy, so at least 10 percent of all 72 neighborhoods are covered in trees. Currently, more than half of neighborhoods are under the 10 percent goal.

Tree canopy coverage by neighborhood / Spackman Mossop Michaels

Wes Michaels, ASLA, a founding partner at SMM, explained that some communities in the city are almost entirely concrete and asphalt and have canopies as low as 1 percent, while others, like the famous Garden District, have nearly 30 percent.

This causes an inequitable distribution of heat risks. “With Hurricane Ida, the foremost cause of death wasn’t flooding but heat. The storm knocked out electricity, so people were in their homes without air conditioning,” explained Emily Bullock, ASLA, a principal with SMM.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, trees and plants really do have a significant cooling benefit. “Trees and vegetation lower surface and air temperatures by providing shade and through evapotranspiration. Shaded surfaces, for example, may be 20–45°F (11–25°C) cooler than the peak temperatures of unshaded materials. Evapotranspiration, alone or in combination with shading, can help reduce peak summer temperatures by 2–9°F (1–5°C).”

The New Orleans Reforestation Plan offers a new, more equitable model for reducing dangerous extreme heat — the number one climate killer — and flooding, while also lowering energy use.

“Conventional urban reforestation plans are focused on achieving an overall canopy percentage, and there is often an equity component. But this plan centers equity so that it frames all goals,” Bullock said.

Planting Cypress trees as part of New Orleans Redevelopment Authority’s alternative strategies for vacant lots program / Spackman Mossop Michaels

“The plans we reviewed from other cities were all similar, kind of boilerplate. We needed a plan that recognizes the unique neighborhoods of New Orleans,” said Susannah Burley, executive director of SOUL. “We wanted to find a local firm that understood the context of our city.”

Restoration of a vacant lot as part of New Orleans Redevelopment Authority’s alternative strategies for vacant lots program / Spackman Mossop Michaels

Burley, who has a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Louisiana State University (LSU), spearheaded the complex reforestation planning effort over the past two years.

With Traci Birch, a LSU professor and planner, SOUL organized four round table discussions with local stakeholders from the public, private, and non-profit sectors, and seven community meetings.

“Spackman Mossop Michaels was a stakeholder in those early conversations. We knew they were already invested in the plan and understood the steps taken,” Burley said.

The firm was then hired to analyze the complex GIS data gathered by SOUL, facilitate more meetings across the city, and develop the plan.

“Landscape architects know the challenges and how to intersect with utilities. We helped facilitate concrete conversations with stakeholders. We examined city regulations and came up with recommendations so that these systems can work a little better. The goal is to make planting trees a smoother, easier process,” Bullock said.

The firm’s community engagement experience also helped SOUL frame the conversations.

“Not everyone in the community is 100 percent behind planting more trees. Landscape architects know that trees = good, but we can also meet communities where they are. We heard concerns like: ‘what if a tree falls on my house or leaves clog up my gutters? What if their roots break up my driveway?'”, Michaels said.

Research shows that trees increase property values. But SMM didn’t hear concerns that more trees could lead to gentrification or displacement. “The questions were more about: ‘who will maintain the trees in rights of way? Where will the maintenance funds come from?,'” said Bullock.

In the historic Garden District, tree roots can transform sidewalks into jagged small hills, making them inaccessible. And in other older parts of the city, sidewalks are very narrow, leaving little room for trees. How will the city fit in more?

“We didn’t get into these kinds of issues, which were beyond the scope. We want to make sure we don’t repeat the current issues, including with overhead and underground utilities. The goal is to create a unified tree policy with stakeholders, including the utilities providing power, water, sewage. The idea is to create a new policy together,” Michaels explained.

The plan outlines detailed steps SOUL, other organizations, and the city can take to build capacity and ramp up tree planting to achieve the 2040 goal. But before scaling up, the plan calls for a full-year of community engagement. “This will help educate communities about the benefits of trees and lay the groundwork for the planting programs to come,” Michaels said.

Prior to tree planting, 2014 / Spackman Mossop Michaels
After tree planting, 2022 / Spackman Mossop Michaels

In five diverse, underserved neighborhoods, pilot tree planting efforts will be rolled out over coming years. In some of these neighborhoods, planting more trees will be fairly straightforward given there are open green spaces available. In other more difficult neighborhoods, which already have lower tree canopies, additional funds and support will be needed to break up and remove concrete rights of way.

According to Burley, the biggest barrier to implementing the plan is lack of funding. “In New Orleans, the Department of Parks and Parkways is extremely underfunded. The plan is an advocacy tool — it shows what can be done with additional funds and how to make it happen.”

Prior to tree planting, 2014 / Spackman Mossop Michaels
After tree planting, 2022 / Spackman Mossop Michaels

And this is why the team focused on making the plan so easy-to-understand. “Most reforestation plans I saw were missing the human component. Our plan is meant to be highly accessible, so it can be picked-up by any city government official or neighborhood association.”

This plan also offers an approach other landscape architects can apply. “Reforestation plans are in landscape architects’ wheelhouse. These plans are at the intersection of ecology, culture, and public health. It’s not just about overall tree canopy numbers. But how to plant the most trees in places where they are needed, and in the shortest amount of time, with limited resources,” Michaels said.

Landscape Architects Urge Greater Action on Biodiversity Crisis

ASLA 2022 West Pond: Living Shoreline. Brooklyn and Queens, New York, United States Dirtworks Landscape Architecture P.C / Jean Schwarzwalder/DEP

The American Society of Landscape Architects Calls on National Governments to Commit to 30 x 2030 and the Global Goal for Nature: Nature Positive by 2030

ASLA urges national governments at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 in Montréal, Canada, to commit to far more ambitious global conservation and biodiversity goals, including protecting at least 30 percent of terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems by 2030 (30 x 2030).

In advance of the CBD COP15, ASLA has also joined 340 organizations worldwide in signing the Global Goal for Nature: Nature Positive by 2030. The Call to Action makes an appeal for “improving the state of nature by 2030; ensuring rights-based approaches to nature-based solutions and to conserving effectively and equitably 30 percent of land, freshwater, and seas by 2030; and directly tackling the drivers of nature loss,” among other goals.

“In our recently released Climate Action Plan, ASLA identified the connections between climate change and biodiversity loss. We made a clear commitment to advance 30 x 2030. We also called on all landscape architecture projects to restore ecosystems and protect biodiversity on a global scale by 2040 – and we call on national governments to be equally as bold,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen.

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

“In Montréal, now is the time for a global agreement to address the biodiversity crisis and increase protections for nature. Biodiversity underpins all natural systems on Earth. Protecting our remaining biodiversity and bolstering and restoring ecosystems are critical to our long-term survival,” said ASLA President Emily O’Mahoney, FASLA.

According to the United Nations, one-million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, and seventy-five percent of the Earth’s ice-free land surface and two-thirds of the oceans have been significantly altered by humanity.

ASLA and its members understand there is both a biodiversity crisis and a climate crisis, and they are interconnected:

  • A changing climate is resulting in sea level rise, extreme heat, increased flooding, and drought, which impacts both communities and non-human species.
  • Biodiversity loss is largely driven by unsustainable agricultural practices, sprawl, and habitat fragmentation, but climate change is accelerating the alteration of habitats and species migration, which increases extinction risks.
  • Biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation undermine the natural systems humanity relies on to provide a range of critical ecosystem functions, including nature-based approaches to sequestering carbon and adapting to climate impacts.

“Landscape architects are uniquely qualified to plan denser communities and protect natural areas, combating the sprawl that threatens remaining ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots. We can also increase biodiversity through the incorporation of native tree and plant species, planning and designing habitat connections and corridors, and restoring degraded ecosystems – all of which have important climate benefits as well,” said O’Mahoney.

ASLA 2020 Professional General Design Honor Award. The Native Plant Garden at The New York Botanical Garden. Bronx, New York. OEHME, VAN SWEDEN | OvS / Ivo Vermeulen

Given the failure of the global community to meet the 2020 Aichi biodiversity targets, ASLA calls on national governments to significantly increase investment and support for conservation, habitat defragmentation and connection, and ecosystem restoration over the next decade.

In global discussions, ASLA also urges national governments to increasingly connect the climate and biodiversity crises, to not address them in a siloed manner. An integrated approach can increase the focus on nature-based solutions, including ecosystem-based mitigation and adaptation approaches, that address the climate and biodiversity crises together.

ASLA 2016 Professional Residential Honor Award. The Restoring of a Montane Landscape. Rocky Mountains, Colorado. Design Workshop, Inc.

In future COPs of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), nature-based solutions must be elevated and seen as integral to reducing emissions and increasing resilience.

Through advocacy, planning, and design efforts with urban, suburban, and rural communities, landscape architects can work with nature to help address both biodiversity and climate impacts. Landscape architects also support the rights and leadership of indigenous communities in conservation efforts worldwide.

ASLA notes that the Convention, which entered into force in 1993, has been ratified by 196 countries. The United States remains the only UN member country that has signed but not yet ratified the multilateral treaty. This has put the U.S. government and U.S. based organizations advocating for biodiversity at a disadvantage in global negotiations.

Landscape Architects Aim for Zero Emissions by 2040

ASLA 2019 Professional General Design Honor Award. Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park Phase II: A New Urban Ecology. Long Island City, NY. SWA/BALSLEY and WEISS/MANFREDI with ARUP / copyright Vecerka/ESTO, courtesy SWA/BALSLEY and WEISS/MANFREDI

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Announces New Industry-wide Benchmarks to Address Climate Change and Biodiversity Crises

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) announced today that it has set new goals for the profession. Together the ASLA Climate Action Plan and the Climate Action Field Guide for ASLA Members chart a pathway for landscape architects to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions in their projects and operations and increase carbon sequestration by 2040.

The Climate Action Plan was developed by a high-profile Task Force of five landscape architects chaired by Pamela Conrad, ASLA, founder of Climate Positive Design, and a 17-member Advisory Group. It outlines a bold vision for 2040 and a set of 71 actions to be taken by 2025.

By 2040, all landscape architecture projects will simultaneously:

  • Achieve zero embodied and operational emissions and increase carbon sequestration
  • Provide significant economic benefits in the form of measurable ecosystem services, health co-benefits, sequestration, and green jobs
  • Address climate injustices, empower communities, and increase equitable distribution of climate investments
  • Restore ecosystems and increase and protect biodiversity

“Landscape architects are already helping communities achieve this vision. As we increasingly experience the impacts of the climate and biodiversity crises, we know we need to act faster. We are the only design professionals who bring all the pieces together to plan and design what communities need to prepare themselves for a changing world,” said ASLA President Eugenia Martin, FASLA.

“ASLA has developed its first Climate Action Plan in the spirit of great optimism. We envision communities becoming healthier and economically stronger because they have committed to drawing down carbon, restoring ecosystems and increasing biodiversity, and reducing reliance on vehicles – all while ensuring everyone in their community has equitable access to these benefits,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen.

The ASLA Climate Action Plan is based in science. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found humanity can only put a maximum of 340 more gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere if we want a good chance of only increasing temperatures by 1.5° C (2.7° Fahrenheit), instead of 2° C (3.6° Fahrenheit). To advance the goal of keeping warming to 1.5° C, ASLA signed on to the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) Climate Action Commitment in 2021. The commitment was presented at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland and is supported by 70,000 landscape architects in 77 countries.

The ASLA Climate Action Plan is rooted in the three goals (practice, equity, and advocacy) and six initiatives of IFLA Climate Action Commitment.

The ASLA plan will direct all ASLA programs and investments through 2025. Goals will be advanced through 21 objectives and 71 actions. Goals and actions will be revisited and updated in 2025 and every five years until 2040 and beyond.

To accomplish the plan, ASLA, as a mission-driven association, has also committed to achieving zero emissions in its operations by 2040. ASLA is calculating baseline Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions for its 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Francisco and headquarters operations in Washington, D.C. and has committed to reducing its overall emissions by 20% by 2024. ASLA will use its own journey to zero as a learning opportunity for its members, EXPO exhibitors, and partner organizations.

A companion to the plan – the Climate Action Field Guide for ASLA Members – provides best practice guidance, toolkits, and resources for ASLA members and their firms and organizations, along with corporate partners, to achieve the 2040 vision.

ASLA 2016 Professional Residential Design Honor Award. The Restoring of a Montane Landscape. Rocky Mountains, Colorado. Design Workshop, Inc. / D.A. Horchner, Design Workshop, Inc.

The Field Guide features six toolkits covering 18 strategies, with guidance on how to:

  • Design Climate Positive Landscapes
  • Design Pedestrian, Cyclist, and Public Transit-Centric Communities
  • Reduce Energy Use and Support Renewables
  • Help Communities Adapt to Climate Impacts
  • Explore Pathways to Financial Sustainability with Communities
  • Protect and Increase Biodiversity
  • Learn from Indigenous Communities Through Collaboration
  • Build Climate Coalitions

“Landscape architects are uniquely qualified to understand and manage complex, multi-disciplinary challenges and design sustainable, world-changing solutions. We are committed to following the science, and through this Climate Action Plan we will rapidly scale up Climate- and Biodiversity-positive solutions in the U.S. and, through our partnership with IFLA, the world,” said Pamela Conrad, ASLA, Chair of the Climate Action Plan Task Force.

Conrad will represent ASLA and highlight the vision and goals of the ASLA Climate Action Plan at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.