EPA Offers $14 Million in Grants for Great Lakes Restoration

Great Lakes region / Wikipedia. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The Great Lakes, the largest fresh bodies of water in the world, face dire environmental problems. Nitrogen and phosphorous run-off from farms has led to destructive algae blooms that kill off lake life. Stormwater runoff from nearby communities has polluted the lakes with the chemicals that slick streets. And invasive species, like the Asian carp and zebra mussels, have wrecked havoc on native Great Lakes ecosystems. The governors of the states that border the lakes called for greater federal action, particularly in highly-contaminated “areas of concern.” The result has been the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which brings together some 16 federal agencies and has spent $2.4 billion on 4,700 projects designed to restore the lakes to environmental health.

As part of this effort, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is accepting applications for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grants until July 12. EPA anticipates awarding approximately $14 million for about 30 projects addressing excess nutrients and stormwater runoff.

Some $12.5 million is available for projects in these categories:

• Riparian restoration to reduce runoff to the Maumee River
• Green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff
• Manure management to reduce nutrient runoff from farms
• Accelerating adoption of nutrient management through farmer-led outreach and education

EPA Region 5 Administrator/Great Lakes National Program Manager Cathy Stepp said: “Reducing stormwater and nutrient runoff is a critical part of restoring the Great Lakes.”

And the EPA has made some $1.5 million available for four innovative water quality trading projects that promote “cost-effective and market-based approaches” to reduce excess nutrients and stormwater runoff hitting the lakes.

According to the EPA, “non-federal governmental entities, including state agencies; interstate agencies; federally recognized Indian tribes and tribal organizations, local governments, institutions of higher learning (i.e., colleges and universities); and non-profit organizations” can apply. Learn more.

The Next Generation of Landscape Architecture Leaders (Part 2)

LAF Fellows. From left to right: Davi de la Vida; Andrew Sargeant; Sanjukta Sen; Pamela Conrad; Lauren Delbridge; Karl Krause; Maisie Hughes

The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) is helping to grow the next generation of leaders in landscape architecture. At a symposium at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. seven of the 2018-2019 LAF fellows for innovation and leadership, who each received a $25,000 grant, presented the results of their year-long investigations into climate change and sustainable design, community development, visual representations of landscape, and other topics.

Below are summaries of three fellows’ TED-like talks. Read part 1 for the other four.

Sanjukta Sen: Landscape Resilience in New York City

Hurricane Sandy flooded 51 square miles of New York City, killing 43 people, damaging 12,000 homes, and causing $19 billion in property losses. But you wouldn’t think NYC’s policy makers or developers have learned from what can happen when you develop in areas that naturally flood. Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration further opened up the waterfront and floodplains to development, a process that continues unabated under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Just one example: 3,500 new apartments will be built in the floodplain in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn. According to Sanjukta Sen, a senior associate at James Corner Field Operations, the “ludicrous” part is that the “net value of property in the floodplain has gone up.”

NYC’s expanded waterfront development fills Sen with both “pride and dread.” Pride because there are all these “amazing new places on the waterfront, which is now much more accessible.” Dread because she worries the city has not effectively and equitably created resilience to rising sea levels. “There are islands of protection that developers can afford but low-income communities don’t have the same protections.”

After Hurricane Sandy, the city quickly mandated that buildings build in protections, like elevating themselves or moving critical infrastructure out of ground or basement levels. But there is no cohesive landscape resilience strategy along public waterfront spaces. One solution is to take more waterfront land from developers for natural flood protection systems that can reduce the entire community’s risks. Sen proposed mandated setbacks and floodwater storage systems and incentives for developers. “Resilience is a social obligation and requires a long-term investment.”

Pockets of resilience across private parcels / Sanjukta Sen

Lauren Delbridge: Rethinking Wastescapes

In 2015, communities had to find a safe storage place for or re-use 117 million tons of coal ash, a by product of coal energy production that accounts for half of all municipal waste. According to Lauren Delbridge, Assoc. ASLA, a landscape designer with Land Design, coal ash is often pumped into poorly-designed ponds that can spill and seep. Coal ash sludge in these ponds, which can span 50 acres, is loaded with dangerous metals like arsenic, mercury, lead, and chromium that can poison groundwater supplies. Even more terrible, these ponds can break their banks, as in the case of the Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee, which released 1.1 billion of coal fly ash slurry into nearby communities and rivers. This kind of disaster could happen to any of the 735 active coal ash ponds in the U.S., many of which don’t meet safety requirements.

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined coal ash to not be a hazardous waste product, putting the management of this toxic material into the hands of state governments. Some 60 percent of coal ash is recycled into concrete or grout or used to fill up old mines. Some ash fly is being “de-watered” and moved into sealed mounds that have a protective bottom layer and landscaped cap.

Delbridge called for more “imaginative solutions” for these unsightly ash fly-filled mounds, pointing to educational and artful places in Europe that have arisen out of industrial and waste landscapes in Germany, like Zollverein coal mine complex in Essen, which has been “left as is” and now functions as a park; the Tetraeder on Halde Beckstrasse in Bottrop, an inventive art piece on a slag heap mound; and the Metabolon in Lindlar, which includes fun trampolines at the top of the giant mountain of garbage.

Metabolon in Lindlar, Germany / Lauren Delbridge

Pamela Conrad: Climate Positive Design

Landscape architecture projects can be carbon-intensive but they don’t have to be. Specifying low-carbon materials and low-maintenance green spaces and planting more trees and shrubs helps to ensure projects sequester more carbon than they emit through their life spans. For Pamela Conrad, ASLA, a principal at CMG Landscape Architecture in San Francisco, it’s as simple as doing the math: sources (materials used in a landscape) subtracted from sinks (the carbon captured in a landscape) added to the costs (carbon embodied through long-term maintenance) equals a landscape’s carbon footprint. With this algorithm, landscape architects can achieve carbon positive landscapes in just 5 years for parks and 20 years for plazas.

To spread this approach in the marketplace, she has invented an easy-to-use website and app that will help landscape architects and designers find appealing ways to reduce their project’s carbon footprint.

Climate Positive Design / Pamela Conrad

Material amounts and site dimensions are inputted and then the app calculates the number of years it will take for the project to be carbon positive. The tool also offers recommendations, like cement substitutes, ways to reduce paved surfaces and lawn, add more trees and shrubs, and minimize soil disturbance — all to reduce the time needed to reach a state of carbon positivity.

Climate positive design / Pamela Conrad

Conrad said environmental product declarations for landscape materials will soon be incorporated as well, making it easier to find products with transparent carbon profiles. (The landscape product marketplace is far behind the architecture product marketplace in providing this information).

Conrad believes that if all landscape architects around the world adopted a climate positive approach, the reduction in carbon emissions would equal a gigaton, putting landscape architecture among the top 80 solutions listed in Paul Hawken’s Drawdown book.

Check out the website and app at ClimatePositiveDesign.com.

Bernard Trainor’s Ecological Californian Residences

Bernard Trainor: Ground Studio Landscapes / Princeton Architectural Press

Bernard Trainor + Associates, led by landscape architect Bernard Trainor, has transitioned into Ground Studio Landscape Architecture. To mark the change, the firm had released a new monograph, Bernard Trainor: Ground Studio Landscapes, to “reinforce our identity working to design timeless California landscapes.” Regardless of its name, the studio’s work is impressive. And the monograph makes the work look effortless. Of course, we know it wasn’t, and there was a rich design process behind each of the featured projects. We’re just not offered much insight into it.

The flaw in most architectural monographs is the emphasis placed on finished products over process. The best monographs leverage text, drawings, and photographs to build the reader’s understanding of a designer’s approach, in addition to cataloging their work.

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Photos of the design process / Joe Fletcher and Alex Suvajac from Bernard Trainor: Ground Studio Landscapes published by Princeton Architectural Press.

So what does Ground Studio’s monograph tell us of its approach? It tells us that Trainor tries to marry problem solving and beautiful place making. We learn that the search for the genius loci is paramount to him, and that his firm attempts to more fully reveal that spirit. We also learn that he has a unique ability to read the environmental patterns on a site. Trainor’s not sure how this ability came to him, but his studio’s best projects are strongly informed by it.

You will learn a bit more by searching online for lectures by Trainor. In a presentation given to the Santa Clara Valley Native Plant Society, we discover that he appreciates when planting and hardscape design are beautifully combined. That’s the sort of specificity one can appreciate and gives us something to look for in the book’s projects. The reader won’t have to look hard: Ground Studio deploys hardscape and planting with a strong sense for complementary materials and textures.

Gravel is a favorite hardscape material of the studio; its versatility is on display throughout the book. It’s used in the auto courts of several projects and often serves as the bed in which other stone pathways sit, becoming a common material thread running through each site. Low stone or concrete walls serve to frame and divide outdoor spaces. Hardscape materials will often be shared by the outer walls of the residential designs, creating a unified feeling between architecture and landscape architecture.

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Gravel connects the landscape at Arroyo Sequoia / Joe Fletcher and Alex Suvajac from Bernard Trainor: Ground Studio Landscapes published by Princeton Architectural Press.

Trainor’s lecture also gives us some insight into the specifics of the firm’s design process. Photographic analysis is critical to their work. The majority of the book’s projects are in the somewhat isolated mountains and valleys of rural California. Ground Studio creates catalogs of panoramic photos taken during site visits to create maps and diagrams of specific views and site features that will inform the design.

Given the context of Ground Studio’s sites, there is always an interesting mix of existing vegetation to respond to. Trainor highlights his firm’s expertise at suppressing exotic plants and re-establishing native ecosystems where appropriate. When it comes to favorable existing vegetation, Ground Studios’ designs are deferential and inclusive. Confronted with two mature trees at the entrance of the Arroyo Sequoia residence, Ground Studio constructed a wooden deck that runs up to and around the trunks.

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A wood deck wraps around an existing tree / Joe Fletcher and Alex Suvajac from Bernard Trainor: Ground Studio Landscapes published by Princeton Architectural Press.

This gesture gives the design authenticity. The firm connects their designs with the surrounding environment by blurring the edges between the two.

New ASLA Exhibition: Smart Policies for a Changing Climate

Smart Policies for a Changing Climate exhibition / EPNAC

Across the country, landscape architects are stepping up to face the growing global climate crisis head-on. In 2018, ASLA’s interdisciplinary Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience issued a report that outlined policy recommendations and design best practices for creating resilient, sustainable communities.

The new Smart Policies for a Changing Climate Exhibition showcases 20 diverse case studies that illustrate the success these recommendations can have in harnessing natural systems, reducing carbon emissions, and improving communities’ resilience to climate change.

Some projects lower carbon emissions from transportation by improving access to bicycle lanes and sidewalks and limiting space for vehicles, like the Jackson Street Reconstruction Project in Saint Paul, Minnesota, by Toole Design Group.

Jackson Street Reconstruction, Saint Paul, Minnesota / Bruce Buckley Photography for Toole Design

Others show how we can restore natural systems and bring back biodiversity on previously-developed sites, like the Underwood Family Sonoran Landscape Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects.

ASLA 2010 Professional Honor Award in General Design. Underwood Family Sonoran Landscape Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona. Ten Eyck Landscape Architects. / Bill Timmerman

Some projects show how cities can design to prepare for worst-case flooding scenarios using natural systems, like the Buffalo Bayou Promenade in Houston, Texas by SWA Group.

ASLA 2009 Professional Design Award of Excellence. Buffalo Bayou Promenade, Houston, Texas. SWA Group / Bill Tatham

Others integrate renewable energy facilities into communities, like the Solar Strand project in Buffalo, New York by Hood Design Studio.

Solar Strand project in Buffalo, New York. Hood Design Studio / Douglas Levere, University at Buffalo

The exhibition is free and open to the public at ASLA’s Center for Landscape Architecture (636 I Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20001) every weekday from 10am to 4pm EST (excluding holidays) through May 1, 2020.

ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture / ASLA

There is also an expanded companion to the exhibition at the website: climate.asla.org.

To put on the Smart Politics for a Changing Climate Exhibition, ASLA was awarded an Art Works Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. “These awards, reaching every corner of the United States, are a testament to the artistic richness and diversity in our country,” said Mary Anne Carter, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “Organizations such as the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) are giving people in their community the opportunity to learn, create, and be inspired.”

ASLA is also calling for the submissions of further case studies that show how landscape architects design for a changing climate. If you know of a project that fits the bill, please submit at the exhibition website.

Trump Signs Major Public Lands Bill, Ensuring LWCF’s Future

Black Rock Sanctuary / KMS Design Group

In a huge win for conservationists, President Trump has signed into law the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. Negotiated over the past few years, the bipartisan legislation permanently re-authorizes the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which finances important and popular federal and state conservation and park projects. The legislation puts into law the Every Kid in a Park program, which gives 4th graders and their families free passes to national parks for a year. The bill also protects an additional 1.3 million acres of wilderness out West through the expansion of eight national parks and the creation of three new ones. And hunters and anglers applauded their new, expanded access to public lands.

The LWCF is funded from fees and royalties from offshore oil and gas. The fund is capped at $900 million a year, but Congress typically funds it to the tune of $300-500 million annually. According to Daniel Hart, ASLA government affairs manager, who has lobbied for the bill on Capitol Hill in recent years, “some 40 percent of LWCF funds go to purchasing land that shores up national parks; another 40 percent goes to state and local governments to conserve land and water and create new parks and recreation facilities; and the remaining 20 percent of spending is discretionary.”

Since its inception in 1965, LWCF has made $3.9 billion in state grants to 40,000 projects, protecting and restoring some 2.37 million acres. ASLA has been a dedicated, long-term advocate for permanent re-authorization of the LWCF because so many landscape architects around the country have greatly benefited from the program, using the funds to restore and enhance natural landscapes and build new parks and recreation facilities.

Carl Keleman, FASLA, founder of KMS Design Group in Pennsylvania, is one of those landscape architects.

He said a $300,000 grant of LWCF funds for the 119-acre Black Rock Sanctuary, a wetland restoration project in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, “allowed the project to go forward.” His efforts transformed contaminated pools associated with a “slack canal system” that once conveyed barges carrying coal to Philadelphia into a meadow wetland preserve that sustainably manages stormwater (see image at top). Piecing together financing from various foundations for interpretive trails and habitat development, Keleman still needed funds to create upland meadow wetlands.

With LWCF support, Keleman created 30 new acres of wetlands and enhanced another 17 acres. The impressive results, which are outlined in a Landscape Performance Series case study, included tripling the bird count in the area and increasing the number of bird species by two-thirds.

Black Rock Sanctuary / KMS Design Group

In Sitka, a rural community found in the rainforest of southeast Alaska on the Pacific Coast, landscape architect Monique Anderson, ASLA, founder of Anderson Land Planning, also received the support her project needed from LWCF.

With the help of a grant of $220,000, the community was able to move forward with the much-needed Sitka Community Playground at Crescent Harbor Park. “The grant from LWCF was really important early on, as it inspired the state and local governments to open their purse; they realized the project was a real thing that was happening.”

Anderson said the $1 million project was driven by a “volunteer group of moms” who saw the need for a new space for their kids. The LWCF frequently funds playground and park development projects in both large and small communities across Alaska.

Sitka Community Playground at Crescent Harbor Park / Anderson Land Planning, Patrick Schneider photography
Sitka Community Playground at Crescent Harbor Park / Anderson Land Planning, Patrick Schneider Photography

For New Orleans-based landscape architect Dana Brown, FASLA, two LWCF grants of $150,000 also made possible Riverside and Tuten Parks in the City of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

According to Brown’s firm, the 17-acre Riverside Park used to be known as Fitzenreiter Park but it had fallen into such a state of disrepair because of vandalism and illegal dumping that it needed a new name. As part of the $850,000 project, Dana Brown & Associates restored the park’s ecosystem and wetlands; created new paths, trails, docks, and fishing boardwalk; and remedied security problems.

And in Tuten Park, also in Lake Charles, Brown’s team undid the havoc created by Hurricane Rita, which damaged or destroyed 80 percent of the park’s trees. Along with a new master plan, “a resource management plan was created to aid in the ecological maintenance and continued recovery of the park.” Paths and trails take visitors through a restored, revitalized park with a playground that cost some $650,000.

Riverside Park / Dana Brown & Associates
Tuten Park / Dana Brown & Associates

Beyond protecting LWCF, the Natural Resources Management Act includes the Every Kid in a Park program, one of ASLA’s priorities, which introduces children to the beauty and benefits of the natural world.

The program, which started as an initiative under the Obama administration, gives 4th graders and their families free access to all national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, and forests for a year, an $80 value. The National Park Service in partnership with the National Park Foundation also provides transportation grants and educational materials to schools.

Every Kid in a Park program / National Park Service

The legislation creates six new national monuments, including the site of the St. Francis Dam Disaster in California; Jurassic, Utah; Medgar Evers Home in Mississippi, home to the civil rights activist; and Mill Springs Battlefied and Camp Nelson in Kentucky.

Medgar Evers Home / Wikipedia

Five national parks — Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park in California and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefied Park, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park, and Fort Frederica National Monument in Georgia — have been expanded. And no mining will be permitted in 370,000 acres surrounding Yellowstone National Park in Montana and North Cascades National Park in Washington.

Joshua Tree National Park / Wikipedia

Some 1.3 million acres of land in California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah are now designated wilderness, meaning no roads or motorized vehicles are allowed. 650 miles of rivers, such as the Rogue River in Oregon, which provides important salmon breeding grounds, will remain wild and scenic, protected from damming or other development. And some 380 bird species will receive habitat protections.

Lastly, the legislation is a boon for hunters and anglers — bow hunters can now bring their bows through national parks when trying to reach areas where they can legally hunt. And unless designated otherwise, all federal land will be open to hunting, fishing, and shooting.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Turns to Nature

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Engineering with Nature: An Atlas / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

“We rely on natural processes and landscapes to sustain human life and well-being. Our energy, water, infrastructure, and agricultural systems use these processes and landscapes to satisfy our most basic human needs. One motivation, therefore, for protecting the environment is to sustain the ecosystem goods and services upon which we depend. As we emerge from the sixth decade of modern environmentalism, there is a growing international awareness of opportunities to efficiently and effectively integrate natural and engineered systems to create even more value.”

One might understandably think this was written by a landscape architect, or excerpted from somewhere on the ASLA website. In fact, it comes from the forward of Engineering with Nature: An Atlas, a new book by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Engineering with Nature (EWN) team, led by environmental scientist Dr. Todd Bridges. 

Over the last eight years, Bridges has quietly built the EWN initiative out of the Army Corps’ Vicksburg, Mississippi headquarters, working with a team of engineers, environmental scientists, and ecologists to develop pilot projects that prove the viability of engineering large-scale infrastructure in partnership with natural systems. 

Now, after successfully completing dozens of projects across the U.S., Bridges is pushing to take EWN to new heights. The initiative’s 2018-2023 strategic plan envisions an expanded portfolio of engineering strategies and project types, deeper interdisciplinary and community engagement, and heightened public awareness of EWN goals, activities, and success stories.

To that end, Engineering With Nature: An Atlas documents more than 50 engineering projects completed in recent decades that exemplify the EWN approach. The projects are grouped according to typology, including chapters on beaches, wetlands, islands, reefs, and rivers. Reflecting the collaborative approach of the EWN initiative, only half of the case studies profiled were carried out by the Army Corps. The remainder were executed by partner NGOs in the US and government agencies in England, The Netherlands, and New Zealand, countries which have made substantial investments of their own in innovative coastal and water-based engineering.

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The Sand Motor, The Netherlands / Zandmotor Flickr

A key theme of the book is the beneficial re-use of dredged material. While conventionally viewed as a waste product, the EWN initiative seeks to find and develop beneficial uses for the material, such as in wetland restoration, habitat creation, and beach nourishment. And because the Corps is required to maintain the navigability of all federal waterways, the EWN team has a ready supply of dredged material to work with.

One example of this strategy can be seen in Texas’ Galveston Bay, where the Corps partnered with Houston Audubon to create the 6-acre Evia Island, which today is populated with herons, egrets, terns, and brown pelicans. 

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Evia Island / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Other projects take advantage of erosion and sediment flux to catalyze beneficial outcomes. In Louisiana’s Atchafalaya River, the Corps placed dredged material in strategic upriver locations to create a 35-hectare island that is “self-designed” by the river’s flow. And at Sears Point, in the northern San Francisco Bay, the Sonomoa Land Trust and Ducks Unlimited restored 1,000 acres of tidal marsh by puncturing a levee, allowing water from the Tolay Creek to flow into a field of constructed sediment mounds. The mounds slowed the water’s rate of flow, stimulating land growth within the project area.

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Dredging in the Atchafalaya River / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

These approaches have considerable overlap with recent research in the field of landscape architecture, particularly the work of the Dredge Research Collaborative, which advocates for ecological and watershed-scale approaches to the management of sediment and dredged material and has collaborated with the EWN initiative in recent years.

An Atlas also includes projects that retrofit conventional infrastructure to provide ecological benefits, such as creating nesting habitat for terns on top of breakwaters in Lake Erie, or efforts in the Netherlands to redesign coastal reinforcements to serve as habitat for marine plants and animals. Reminiscent of SCAPE’s Living Breakwaters project off the southern coast of Staten Island, these projects demonstrate an increasing interest in designing infrastructure that provides multiple benefits.

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Decoy terns at the Ashtabula Harbor Breakwater Tern Nesting Habitat / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Despite its title, At Atlas does not contain any maps or diagrams to orient the reader–an unfortunate omission that makes it difficult to grasp the scale of the presented projects. Instead, the projects are depicted using solely perspective and aerial photos.

While these photos are informative, the book would have greatly benefited from the development of a graphic language to more clearly and visually communicate the impacts of the presented projects and the issues they seek to address.

Despite these omissions, the breadth and scope of projects presented in Engineering with Nature: An Atlas makes a considerable impression, presenting a range of strategies for designing infrastructure with ecological, social, and cultural benefits at multiple scales.

Perhaps most significantly, An Atlas suggests there is great potential for meaningful interdisciplinary collaboration between the Corps and landscape architects. As landscape architects increasingly seek to broaden the field’s scope to include the planning and design of large-scale systems and ecologies, this collaboration may prove vital. Engineering with Nature: An Atlas begins to paint a picture of what such a collaborative practice may look like.

Learn more about the Engineering with Nature initiative and download Engineering With Nature: An Atlas.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (January 16 – 31)

Site of new park crossing the Ohio River in Southern Indiana / OLIN

The Controversial Renovation of Montreal’s Beloved Public Park CityLab, 1/22/19
“Parc-Jean Drapeau’s redesign attempts to balance priceless serenity and outdoor art with profitable festivals. Many Montrealers are skeptical.”

Pier 4 ‘Sea Steps’ in Seaport District Opening This Summer Curbed Boston, 1/22/19
“The five so-called Sea Steps next to the future Pier 4 luxury condo complex and the Institute of Contemporary Art area in the Seaport District are expected to open this summer, according to developer Tishman Speyer.”

West Aurora Schools Seek Donors to Help Build ‘Inclusive’ Playgrounds The Chicago Tribune, 1/24/19
“Hope D. Wall and Smith elementary schools in Aurora are calling upon the community for donations to help build new playgrounds at the schools.”

OLIN Designing a 400-acre Waterfront Park for Southern Indiana The Architect’s Newspaper, 1/28/19
“OLIN has been tapped to design a 400-acre park along the northern shore of the Ohio River in southern Indiana. Set within a swath of waterfront long-occupied by landfill and industrial facilities, the future park will give local residents a much-needed connection with the river and its history, while boosting the area’s link to Louisville, Kentucky.”

Joshua Tree National Park Could Take 300 Years to Recover From Government Shutdown Damage USA Today, 1/29/19
“The federal government shutdown may be over, but fans of Joshua Tree National Park are still angry and upset about the furlough that kept park rangers off the job.”

Home Buyers Want Outdoor Spaces — and They’re Willing to Pay for Them The Tennessean, 1/29/19
“Outdoor features of all kinds, from pools to fireplaces to complete living rooms with furniture designed to stand up to the elements, are being installed in backyards everywhere, said Joe Raboine, a manager for Belgard. The company provides materials and design services.”

Landscape Architecture Coalition: We Need More Walkable Streets – Associations Now, 1/30/19
“Smart Growth America, which focuses on improving infrastructure around the country, recently released a study highlighting the scope of dangers that pedestrians face due to metropolitan areas not being built for walking. The study was produced in tandem with its subsidiary, the National Complete Streets Coalition.”

Resilient Design for Low-Income Communities

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Resilience for All / Island Press

In her new book Resilience for All: Striving for Equity through Community-Driven Design, author Barbara Brown Wilson seeks to confront the failings of traditional planning and design practices in vulnerable low-income communities. While others have pursued landscape-based solutions to this issue — think community gardens — Brown suggests there is a larger role for landscape architecture and urban design in resilient, equitable community development.

The communities featured in Resilience for All struggle with many of the same afflictions: environmental injustice, neglect, and lack of resources. These are vulnerable communities that face high exposure to economic and environmental shocks and disinvestment. Landscape and urban design improvements are relatively cheap, widely-accessible method of addressing these issues. Green infrastructure and streetscape improvements figure prominently in the book’s many case studies.

Importantly, Brown believes there is a fundamental relationship between social and ecological systems that, when leveraged, benefit both communities and their environments.

Consider the case of Cully, a low-income, ethnically diverse neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, that suffers from flooding streets, a lack of sidewalks, and languishing parks. Gentrification is also making its inroads.

Ordinarily, progress on the infrastructure front might invite gentrification. But a neighborhood coalition of community members and non-profits has made a point of linking infrastructure goals with wealth-building and anti-displacement goals. This means new parks associated with new affordable housing, construction on these projects performed by community members, and training provided by community organizations. This holistic approach has led to notable successes by Cully’s residents.

As Brown writes, green infrastructure improvements provide economic and health benefits. It’s logical to ensure those benefits serve communities directly and in as many ways as possible. Brown calls this approach “green infrastructure as antipoverty strategy.”

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Cully residents at work in the community garden / Barbara Brown Wilson

Resilience for All shows community development progress comes in phases, with one success usually priming the next.

In the neighborhood of Denby in Detroit, the local high school worked with non-profits to introduce urban planning and city improvements into the senior class curriculum. Students, concerned with local crime, initially set their sights on getting a nearby abandoned apartment building torn down. They aggregated resident organizations into the Denby Neighborhood Alliance and adopted a vision to target blight on a larger scale. They and thousands of volunteers combined efforts to board up vacant homes and reduce blight on more than 300 city blocks and used this cleanup effort to install wayfinding artwork and planter boxes to mark new safe routes to Skinner Playfield, their revitalized school playground.

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“Safe Routes to School” planter box at Skinner Playfield. / Barbara Brown Wilson

Landscape improvements did not come to these communities without considerable effort and without help from a network of friendly actors. And the projects often operate on a humble scale.

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Skinner Playfield network map. This diagram shows the variety of organizations Denby high school students worked with to achieve their desired outcomes. / Barbara Brown Wilson

Each case in Resilience for All represents innovation and progress for the communities and is fleshed out by a mix of empirical research and Brown’s own analysis to paint a picture of what worked, what didn’t, and how those lessons might be absorbed and applied elsewhere. Resilience for All is also bookended by two useful sections: a brief history of community-driven design and an encapsulation of the case studies’ lessons.

Resilience for All is a useful handbook for landscape architect’s wondering how their skill sets might apply to community-led planning and design. It demonstrates how landscape can be a powerful resource for vulnerable communities. And it also shows how communities can positively impact landscapes.

Beyond Mow and Blow: New Approaches to Park Maintenance

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Prairie Burn in Manhattan, Kansas / USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

“How can we make maintenance sexier and more fun?”

This was the question moderator Joey Hays, ASLA, posed to the crowd at the ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, in a session entitled “the disturbing pleasures of maintenance: audacious strategies for public parks,” which sought to address the increasingly-fraught issue of public parks maintenance and inspire creative, aesthetic, and ecological approaches to what can often seem a decidedly-mundane topic.

Tim Marshall, FASLA, was quick to respond to Hayes’ question. “Sexy and fun–those are not two things I’ve ever heard in the same sentence regarding maintenance,” he said to knowing laughs.

Maintenance may not be something that excites designers, clients, or the public, but its implementation–or lack thereof–can make all the difference in the success or failure of a project.

Marshall, who formerly served as deputy administrator and senior vice president of the Central Park Conservancy in New York City, said maintenance has become more problematic on a national level. Many parks and recreation departments have expanded their portfolios of amenities and facilities in recent decades, but operations funding has not kept up.

“We have more things to maintain, and at the same time, resources are going down.”

Recent trends in ecological design have not made things easier. Designs that rely heavily on meadows and other designed plant communities require specialized knowledge to maintain, knowledge often not held by maintenance crews accustomed to the “mow and blow” approach.

“Put in a lawn, you know exactly what to do right away,” he said. “A meadow changes year to year. It’s not a project, it’s a process.”

Sheep were at one time used to maintain the meadow in Central Park / Library of Congress

One of the biggest obstacles facing parks departments is what Marshall called the “silver tsunami,” the looming wave of retiring experienced staff who will take with them institutional knowledge, relationships, and experience.

Loss of funding and staff can lead to deferred maintenance, which inflates capital costs and depresses park use.

According to Marshall, public-private partnerships like the Central Park Conservancy have been key to filling the operational gaps left by budget cuts and staffing shortages. However, those partnerships come with their own challenges.

“There has to be an understanding that we’re in this together,” he said, adding “it probably took ten years before the Central Park Conservancy was firing on four of its six cylinders.”

Tim Netsch of the Metro Nashville Parks Planning Division has experienced these dynamics first hand. “There’s so much happening in Nashville that parallels some those national trends. There is something unsustainable about our current park system.”

Nashville has seen explosive growth in recent decades, which has extended the city’s park system. Since the adoption of the city’s first parks and greenways master plan in 2002, the park system has added approximately 6,500 acres.

“Our park system grew more in this 15 year period than it had in the previous 50 years,” Netsch said. “During that same period of capital budget abundance, our operating budget has stagnated,” leading to fewer maintenance employees per acre and reduced operating hours.

“Our park system has grown, but our organization has not.”

To break out of this cycle, Nashville asked Charlottesville-based Nelson Byrd Woltz (NBW) to incorporate maintenance needs into the design of two new large public parks currently being planned for East Nashville.

“We wanted to build these plans around maintenance,” Netsch said. “To make it unavoidable to reckon with maintenance.”

For Thomas Woltz, FASLA, that meant diving deep into the sites’ cultural and ecological histories. On the future site of Ravenwood Park, just east of downtown Nashville, Woltz said: “an extraordinary phenomenon here is you have 8,000 years of Native American settlement in a not terribly disturbed site.”

“What if, in the cultural landscape research, you hit upon a regime of maintenance? What if the maintenance design is right there, deep within the soil?”

In the case of Ravenwood Park, NBW has proposed a mixed regime of controlled burns and grazing by cows, maintenance practices that reflect the history of the site and provide valuable ecological disturbance that will maintain broad expanses of open grassland.

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Master Plan for Ravenwood Park, Nashville / Nelson Byrd Woltz

For Woltz, it is here that the “disturbing pleasures”–or pleasures that result from disturbance–reveal themselves. “Part of the disturbing pleasure is the exhilaration of witnessing a fire,” he said, “and the sublime landscape of these post-fire moments when the earth surges with this chartreuse explosion of grasses.”

This aesthetic of disturbance can reframe the conversation around maintenance and even create opportunities to design powerful spaces and experiences.

To illustrate this point, Woltz pivoted to another major public project that NBW has spent many years on: Houston’s Memorial Park.

In their research, NBW found that many Houstonians were unaware of the park’s history and did not know why it was called Memorial Park. The site was used as an army camp in World War I and was the last stop for many soldiers before being shipped to Europe.

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Aerial photo of Camp Logan, Houston / Nelson Byrd Woltz

NBW’s design calls for a 90 acre Memorial Grove of Loblolly Pines planted in a strict, regimented grid, referring to the character of the military exercises and rows of tents that once defined the site. The heart of NBW’s proposal, however, lies in the grove’s maintenance regime.

“Twenty-five years is the average age of the solider that died in World War I who trained at Camp Logan. Twenty-five years is the age of maturity for loblolly pines in the timber industry,” Woltz explained.

“So, twenty-five years from the planting of the Memorial Groves, imagine one of those regiments–a thousand trees–ceremonially chainsawed down on Memorial Day. The noise, the impact, the violence, the horror of seeing a thousand trees felled at once in a city’s park will be something you will never forget. And you just might feel, in your body, the sense and the power of sacrifice and of loss of life.”

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Rendering of the Memorial Grove at Memorial Park, Houston / Nelson Byrd Woltz

Woltz said that the timber from the felled trees would then be given to Habitat for Humanity to build affordable housing in the Houston area. He envisions Houstonians coming together on Armistice Day to replant the thousand felled trees for another twenty-five year cycle. Every five years, a new group of trees would be felled.

“This is a memorial, in perpetuity, connecting us to the cycles of life, connecting us to the power of life, the beauty of these trees representing these individuals who were felled far, far, too early.”

“As an extreme example, this is a maintenance regime. Maintenance has been used as the very crux of a memorial landscape.”

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

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Brazilian landscape architects and designers, from ArchDaily. Alex Hanazaki Paisagismo / copyright Demian Golovaty

Can We Integrate Natural Ecosystems in Urban Asian Spaces? GreenBiz, 9/4/18
“Emerging Asian economies are fast expanding, and an associated phenomenon has been that of rapid urbanization. However, due to rapid growth, urban spaces are giving way to real estate developments for residential and commercial purposes.”

Landscape Architects Can’t Rely on Architecture-centric Media Dezeen, 9/5/18
“Landscape architects need to fly the flag for their profession if they are to receive the recognition they rightly demand and deserve, says Charles A Birnbaum.”

Gathering Place Architect: the People of Tulsa Will Shape Park’s Future Tulsa World, 9/7/18
“First, we wanted to understand what he had in mind, what he was trying to accomplish,” explains Michael Van Valkenburgh, the well-known landscape architect responsible for designing Tulsa’s new Gathering Place. “Then we wanted to get to know Tulsa, try to get inside the soul of the city.”

17 Contemporary Brazilian Landscape Architects Arch Daily, 9/8/18
“Landscape architecture is responsible for the transformation and resignification of the landscape, either by enriching architecture or by bringing forth the history of the site. As with buildings, when we design with vegetation it allows us to work a series of stimuli, qualities, and functions.”

Changing China: Luxury Living Is Now About Being Green and Respecting the Planet The South China Morning Post, 9/9/18
“In 20 years working on projects in China, landscape architect Scott Slaney has noticed what he describes as ‘the arc of change.’”