Veteran’s Day Focus: Healing PTSD with Nature

Invisible wounds. It’s a haunting phrase and one that’s become all too familiar to a vast number of the military men and women serving in conflict zones in recent years. These wounds, a fact of modern war, have proven particularly vexing to the medical teams whose job it is to treat our troops. As many as 40 percent of soldiers returning from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan experience these wounds, which all too often lead to suicide, according to Fred Foote, a former Naval physician, scholar of the Institute for Integrative Health, fierce advocate for wounded veterans, and leader of the Green Road project.

Let that number sink in. Forty percent; a staggering statistic that is devastating — to the military, to each of the lives the number represents.

I had my first intimate impression of the suffering being borne by so many soldiers while working with a film called That Which I Love Destroys Me; it too dealt with the hidden wounds of war. I became friends with the men and women who were interviewed for the piece; they helped shape my perspective — my thinking and understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury. In connection with the film’s release, we held a series of screening events to specifically reach those who had served. At almost every gathering, at least one would approach the director, or one of the people interviewed in the film, and say that they were contemplating suicide. The reality of this was devastating — coming face-to-face with those who had given so much for our safety and freedom. I became keenly aware of the need for more ways to help them.

The Green Road

It was during a time when mainstream news of veteran suicides was coming with increased frequency that the TKF Foundation received the grant application from the Institute for Integrative Health for what would become the Green Road — a green space designed and built by a team led by CDM Smith, including landscape architect Jack Sullivan, FASLA.

The proposal involved taking a forested piece of land at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, home of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and, while keeping the integrity of the space, making it into a place where the recovering men and women could experience nature as a part of their healing process. Once completed, researchers would study and document the impact of nature on recovery, using a set of newly defined mathematically-based metrics that map and measure the effects of nature on the body. The insights they gain will be used to inform future courses of therapy—not only at Walter Reed but potentially around the globe.

We were immediately drawn to the project. And I was instantly reminded of the men and women I met during my work with That Which I Love Destroys Me.

We know that nature heals, but we also know, like Dr. Foote, that much work remains if we are to convince many naysayers, who still see nature as lacking the potency of a pill; of being a legitimate form of treatment to stand alongside and augment traditional therapies.

Our hope is that this space will act as a blueprint and that more will begin to appear in communities throughout the US; everywhere veterans are suffering. Nature holds an undeniable power to foster healing, even when the psychological wounds are deeper than most of us could ever imagine.

Faced with the rise in traumatic brain injury and PTSD, the military, urged by voices like Fred’s, was convinced a little over 10 years ago, to begin searching for new modes of treatment; notably, modes that stretch beyond the confines of conventional medicine. Enter nature.

In the decade since the military reached out to Dr. Foote, an early proponent of holistic medicine, and of nature exposure, he has worked with prominent civilian and military experts to help craft a structured means to study and measure the impact of whole-body therapies on mental and physical health. Supported by the non-profit Institute for Integrative Health, it was this work that eventually led to the creation of the Green Road, and to the involvement of the TKF Foundation via our National Nature Sacred Awards program.

Today, behind the tightly manicured lawns and sprawling buildings of the nation’s flagship military medical complex at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, this wild yet defined, wooded space offers a refuge. A place to pause in an environment that heals.

Alden E. Stoner is a filmaker and board member of the nonprofit TKF Foundation.

Experience Brooklyn Bridge Park in Virtual Reality

ASLA 2018 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn, NYC / Alexa Hoyer

Experience Virtual Reality! Immerse yourself in Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City, which won the ASLA 2018 Professional Award of Excellence in General Design. Explore this unique park built in part over abandoned piers, guided by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, president and CEO of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.

Viewing Options

Option 1: Watch a 360 Video on YouTube

If you are on your phone reading this page, simply click on this URL and watch it in your YouTube mobile app: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQ2geeXMThI (please note that this video will not work in your mobile browser)

Be sure to turn around while watching so you can see all angles of the park!

Or if you are on a desktop computer, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQ2geeXMThI using your Chrome browser.

Go to settings and set the resolution to 2610s.

Use the sphere icon to navigate through the park! Note: the 360 video will not work in Firefox or Internet Explorer.

YouTube 360 on mobile / YouTube
YouTube 360 on mobile / YouTube

Option 2: Watch a 3D 360 Video on Samsung Gear VR

If you own a Samsung Gear VR headset and compatible Samsung phone, go to Samsung Gear via the Oculus App and search for “Brooklyn Bridge Park” or “ASLA” to find our video.

Samsung Gear VR / Samsung
Samsung Gear VR / Samsung

Why Brooklyn Bridge Park?

ASLA selected Brooklyn Bridge Park because it won the ASLA 2018 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Less than one percent of all award submissions receive this honor.

Our esteemed jury, made up of leaders in the field, described Brooklyn Bridge Park this way: “The plan allows for and encourages different experiences in the different spaces, from being wide open and being fully engaged with the people around you to intimate, forested places. It’s remarkable.”

The award also highlights Brooklyn Bridge Park because it’s a prominent example of how to transform abandoned post-industrial waterfronts into spaces for people and wildlife. These spaces litter cities and represent so much untapped potential.

Brooklyn Bridge Park VR / ASLA
Brooklyn Bridge Park VR / ASLA

Why Virtual Reality?

The communications world is increasingly image- and video-driven. With video, you can pack in even more information about a work of landscape architecture, much more than you can in simply a photo or text. With video, you can get a sense of the sight, sound, and “feel” of a place. You can see people interacting with the design, bringing it to life.

Virtual reality takes video to the next level. As you move your phone or VR headset, you control your experience in the landscape. It more closely mimics the experience of exploring a place in person. In part, it recreates that sense of discovery one gets in real life.

Why did ASLA make this VR film?

Virtual reality has proven to be a powerful tool for explaining how the places people love – like Brooklyn Bridge Park – are designed experiences. Virtual reality can educate the public about landscape design in a compelling way.

The video has multiple goals: promote the potential of virtual reality among the landscape architecture community, which totals approximately 25,000 design professionals in the U.S. and Canada; explain the incredible value of landscape architecture to the public; and demonstrate the ability of landscape architects to turn an unloved place like a cut-off, post-industrial waterfront into a beloved community park.

Why should landscape architects use VR?

Virtual Reality is a powerful tool for landscape architects, architects, planners, and developers – really anyone involved in designing our built and natural environments. In the example of Brooklyn Bridge Park: many will never have the opportunity to visit the park in person, but with our video, they can get a good sense of what’s it like to be there.

For landscape architecture firms, this is an excellent way to really show clients that a place they’ve designed works – that people enjoy hanging out there, that kids love playing there, that people are drawn to events there.

ASLA VR Film Credits

Producer: American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)
Production Company: DimensionGate, Toronto
Director: Ian Tuason
Director of Photography: Ian Tuason
Production Assistants: Ward Kamel and Idil Eryurekli
Narrator: Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, President and CEO, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc.
Post Production: Callum Wilkin Gillies

Thank you to Jamie Warren and Onika Selby at Brooklyn Bridge Park for making this all come together. At Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc, we appreciate the kind assistance of Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, Hilary Archer, Jane Lee, and Lucy Mutz.

Landscape Architecture in the News (September 16 – 30)

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SWA Group’s park at the base of JPMorgan Chase Tower in 2015 / Cody Duty, The Houston Chronicle

Award-winning Landscape Architect Creates Gardens That Elicit Emotions Star2, 9/18/18
“He does not sweat the small stuff in life but when it comes to his gardens, no detail is too small. Sweeping the top awards at the recent Singapore Garden Festival (SGF) 2018 is Malaysian veteran landscape architect Lim In Chong, better known as Inch Lim.”

‘For Me, This Is Paradise’: Life in the Spanish City That Banned Cars The Guardian, 9/18/18
“People don’t shout in Pontevedra – or they shout less. With all but the most essential traffic banished, there are no revving engines or honking horns, no metallic snarl of motorbikes or the roar of people trying make themselves heard above the din – none of the usual soundtrack of a Spanish city.”

Dallas May Now Get Two New Trinity River Parks D Magazine, 9/19/18
“Last Saturday, two groups held workshops planning their versions of the future Trinity River Park. Were they competitive or complementary?”

Buffalo’s Frederick Law Olmsted Legacy: the Park System That Started It All NewYorkUpstate.com, 9/20/18
“Frederick Law Olmsted is probably the best-known landscape architect in American history. And rightly so. In 1868, after designing New York’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park with his partner Calvert Vaux, Olmsted was invited to Buffalo, with the hope that he would design something similar here.”

Can You See the Future of Houston at Park(ing) Day? The Houston Chronicle, 9/21/18
“You may not totally get it,” says Lisa Girard, who helped organize Houston’s PARK(ing) Day this year with the regional chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and the Rice Design Alliance (RDA). (Disclosure: I used to work for RDA and helped organize the event in the past.) “But you’re out there, which means you’re engaging, which means it’s doing its job. It’s creating a dialogue.”

National Parks Are Warming Twice as Fast as the U.S. Overall High Country News, 9/24/18
“Climate change is having an outsized impact on national parks in the U.S., according to research conducted by scientists at the National Park Service, the University of California Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin Madison.”

A Romantic Kind of Resilient Design

Hunters Point South Waterfront Park Phase 2 / David Lloyd, SWA, courtesy SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi

The first part of Hunter’s Point South Watefront Park, which opened in August 2013, announced a new era of park-making in New York City. The first significant waterfront park in years, Hunter’s Point South in Long Island City, Queens, was not only an example of stunning landscape design but also a manufactured place that can withstand storms and sea level rise — and be fully resilient to a changing climate.

Now, five years later, the 5.5-acre phase two of Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park has opened, extending south, so the entire park now encompasses 11 acres in total. The new segment provide a green buffer for the 30-acre development that will eventually be home to 5,000 units of housing in multiple towers, 60 percent of which will be affordable.

In contrast to the first phase of the park, which includes a playground, sports field, and restaurant, phase two feels like more of a true escape from the city — a green oasis right on the East River.

Hunters Point South Waterfront Park Phase 2 / David Lloyd, SWA, courtesy SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi

According to SWA/Balsley, the landscape architects, and Weiss/Manfredi, the architects — who co-designed the park and partnered with engineers at Arup on the project — this section of the park is also a model of resilient design. But its approach is a bit different from the first phase. Instead of the muscular waterfront promenade designed to survive any onslaught, phase two takes a “soft” approach, using tidal marshes to protect the coast of Queens.

There is a meandering waterfront passage, with romantic lighting at night, that brings visitors right up to the very edge of the East River. Walking there one sunset, it was surreal to both commune with nature while taking in the breathtaking views of Manhattan across the river.

The path loops through the tidal marsh, where visitors can see all the plants growing in.

Hunters Point Park South, Phase 2 / Albert Vecerka, ESTO, courtesy SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi

Thomas Balsley, FASLA, principal at SWA/Balsley, told us: “The tidal marsh required an engineered rip-rap embankment, the top of which we transformed into a lush trail on which to stroll. The journey takes in shifting marsh habitat and skyline perspectives.”

Hunters Point South Waterfront Park, Phase 2 / David Lloyd, SWA, courtesy SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi

Both low and high marsh plants were used to stabilize the sediment and control shoreline bank erosion. A variety of plants also enhance the quality of the water and provided habitat for a range of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.

Paths in the interior of the park and along the waterfront take you to a dramatic overlook, an elevated promenade that brings you up and immerses you in the skyline of New York City. Cantilevering 50 feet out over the landscape and some 20 feet up in the air, the overlook creates the sense you are in the bow of a great ship.

Hunters Point South Waterfront Park Phase 2 / David Lloyd, SWA, courtesy SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi

In contrast to the first phase, there are also many more nooks and crannies, areas the designers call “break-out lounges,” off the various pathways. These intimate spaces, often hidden in tall native bluestem grasses, enhance the sense of retreating into nature. Criss-crossing pathways through the grasses seem designed to invite further investigation and discovery.

Exploring the site, visitors will come across Luminescence, an art installation by New York-based artist Nobuho Nagasawa, which represents the phases of the moon through etched concrete discs that glow at night.

Hunters Point South Waterfront Park, Phase 2 / Bill Tatham, SWA, courtesy SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi

The second phase of Hunter’s Point South waterfront park and related infrastructure for the housing development cost some $100 million, which was financed by the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). The entire park was designed in partnership with NYC Parks and Recreation, which also manages and maintains it.

ASLA Joins We Are Still In Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASLA’s Climate Change Resources

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

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

Landscape Architecture and Climate Mitigation guide

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

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

New Video: ASLA Chinatown Green Street

With urban infrastructure in urgent need of revitalization, it’s time for new thinking about how the civic realm can better serve public needs and meet environmental goals.

The ASLA Chinatown Green Street, in downtown Washington, D.C., is a unique demonstration project that on one city block combines advanced “green,” “complete,” and “smart” street concepts. It addresses comprehensively the pressing problems of stormwater runoff and pollution, energy inefficiency, and pedestrian safety. At the same time, it enhances the vitality of the public realm and reflects cultural sensitivity, while demonstrating the ability of cutting-edge green infrastructure to support the goals of property and business owners.

ASLA Chinatown Green Street / Design Workshop

When the Chinatown Green Street demonstration project is complete, cities everywhere will be able to study its strategies and outcomes and draw lessons that can improve our understanding of how a reimagined infrastructure can profoundly enhance the quality of 21st-century American life.

ASLA Chinatown Green Street / Design Workshop

Discover what problems the ASLA Chinatown Green Street will solve, explore the project history, and make a donation.

ASLA Announces 2018 Professional Awards

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

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

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

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

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

General Design Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Analysis and Planning Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communications Category

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

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

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

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

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

Research Category

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

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

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

Residential Design Category

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

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

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

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

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

The Landmark Award

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

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

The professional awards jury included:

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

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

Unity Park Anchors Equitable Development in Greenville

Unity Park / MKSK Studios

New reconciliation parks in the South — like the Gathering Place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Red Mountain Park in Birmingham, Alabama — are explicitly designed to bring together previously-segregated communities. But the new Unity Park in Greenville, South Carolina, goes a step further: it will not only bridge communities but also actually merge two once-segregated parks. Meadowbrook Park, which was once white-only, and Mayberry Park, a smaller green space designated for African Americans, will come together in the new 60-acre Unity Park while still maintaining their distinct histories and identities. This inclusive, $40-million green space is expected to open in 2020.

According to Darren Meyer, ASLA, principal at Ohio-based MKSK Studios, an urban design and landscape architecture firm, the park comes out of a broader planning process for the Reedy River Development Area, an area just west of downtown Greenville. The goal for the city is to create more equitable downtown neighborhoods, with the new park at the center.

In an interview, Meyer said the park is only one component of a new “community character plan” for a 350-acre district that includes form-based code, mixed-use developments, affordable housing, and transportation. A ring of new affordable housing will be built around the park, in an attempt to prevent Unity Park from inadvertently becoming a gentrifying force that displaces the existing community.

According to Meyer, the city has increased investment into its affordable housing trust fund, which is also receiving private and philanthropic funds. The first round of affordable housing is now being built while work begins on the underlying park infrastructure.

Unity Park will include a 120-feet-tall observation tower, which will act as a beacon at night; a great lawn; nature and “destination” playgrounds; a gathering space and visitors center; and pedestrian bridge to improve connectivity.

Unity Park observation tower / MKSK Studios
Unity Park great lawn / MKSK Studios
Destination playground / MKSK Studios
Unity Park gathering space / MKSK Studios
Unity Park pedestrian bridge / MKSK Studios

The city brought an inclusive, community-based planning effort that won approval from African American communities along the park. Greenville News reports that “Mary Duckett, head of the traditionally low-income and African-American Southernside neighborhood association….has been satisfied that its voice was heard and that the park will be one that is welcoming for all.”

Meyer said the planning process was viewed as successful because project leaders “put a tremendous amount of effort into cultivating good relationships. They knew that is really the foundation of trust and a key part to inclusive decision-making.”

Unity Park / MKSK Studios

As part of neighborhood planning and outreach, the city brought in a fire truck that kids could play on; a mobile recreation vehicle, with sports play equipment; and hosted a cook-out for 300 community residents. “These were great events designed to build community.”

MKSK also coordinated planning and design community meetings, with the goal of collecting stories, including those about the African American minor league baseball team that plays in Mayberry Park, and incorporating them into an authentic design. That led to a temporary installation — a mosaic of names of baseball players set into steps leading to the baseball field.

Meyer said the park is not just about re-connecting once-segregated parks, but also about re-connecting the community to a lost river ecosystem. Some 2,000-feet of the Reedy River that runs through the park will be taken out of its concrete channel and become a showpiece of ecological restoration. MKSK will significantly widen the riparian corridor and treat the floodplain in the park as an ecological system.

Unity Park view of the wetlands and river / MKSK Studios

MKSK made the case to city leaders that “the health of the river is tied to the health of the community. There is a quantifiable public health benefit to bringing back the river and wetlands. Beyond the ecological uplift, there is also a great educational opportunity.”

Read more about the park in Greenville News.

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

hunters-point-south-waterfront-park-new-york-SWA-balsley-weiss-manfredi-designboom-03
Aerial view of Hunters Point South’s ‘Peninsula’ / Bill Tatham / SWA/balsley

Abandoned Industrial Landscape Transformed into New Waterfront Park in NYC Designboom, 7/17/18
“New York has welcomed a waterfront park at hunter’s point south, a mixed-use development in long island city.”

A Mile High and 20,000 Acres Deep: How Denver’s Parks Make Growth Livable Next City, 7/19/18
“Meanwhile, advocates for open space, from elected officials, non-profit leaders, both public and private sector champions, have been busily developing strategies for Denver’s great, enduring and largely unsung hero — the parks system.”

Transforming Stormwater from a Nuisance to a Necessity Pacific Standard, 7/20/18
“A conversation with Morgan Shimabuku about municipal stormwater leaders, overcoming barriers, and how better use of stormwater can increase climate change resilience.”

Perkins+Will Architect: Atlanta Should Tap Potential of Chattahoochee, Freedom ParkCurbed Atlanta, 7/27/18
“In an op-ed, landscape pro with the firm behind the Beltline asserts: We can transform Atlanta’s identity from one of standstill traffic to a network of green.”

24,000 Documents Detailing Life of Landscape Architect Frederick Law Olmsted Now Available Online Smithsonian, 7/31/18
“When 19th-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted was 14 years old, his natural affinity for the rural New England outdoors took a dangerous turn when a brush with poison sumac left him half-blinded.”

Interview with Robert Gibbs: Trees Cause You to Spend More

Robert Gibbs, ASLA / Gibbs Planning Group

Robert Gibbs, ASLA, is president of the Gibbs Planning Group, which has advised and planned commercial areas in some 500 town centers and historic cities in the U.S. and abroad. Gibbs is a charter member of the Congress for New Urbanism, a lecturer at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, author of Principles of Urban Retail Planning and Development, and co-author of eight books.

In 2017, retail e-commerce grew 16 percent to $453 billion, and it now accounts for 9 percent of all sales. Furthermore, 2/3 of millennials prefer online shopping to brick and mortar stores. What does this mean for the future of America’s retail streets, districts, and malls – for all those physical stores?

There’s going to be hundreds of stores closing. In 2018 already more stores have closed than in 2017. What this means for the industry: a lot of retailers are moving stores into downtowns.

Research shows millennials and other shoppers want the experience of being in an urban environment rather than just buying a pair of pants online. So mall closures are good for cities. You’re going to see retailers moving back into cities, and many Internet-based companies opening brick and mortar stores.

Warby Parker, an online eyeglass company, is opening physical stores, and Amazon’s opening two hundred bookstores in cities. Internet-based companies have found when they open a brick-and-mortar store, their online sales go up 10-15 percent.

One prediction is a quarter of existing malls will close in the next 5 years (some 300 out of the 1,100). Anchor stores – the big department stores – are closing hundreds of branches, while some 35 major retailers filed for bankruptcy in 2017 alone. As many malls die off, what characteristics do the malls that are surviving, and even thriving, share?

About a fourth-to-a-half of malls will close in the next five to ten years.

The malls that are going to be sustainable — after what I call post-mall period — will be ones well-positioned, with really strong demographics — either high-end demographics or strong middle-class demographics. They’ll have good locations with access to regional transportation.

Only malls that keep their department stores will survive. A mall cannot function without department stores. So when they lose all but one or all of their department stores, they have to close.

The other factor for successful malls is to be mixed use and incorporating residential, office, and civic space into their properties. Just being a retail destination alone is not sustainable right now.

Transitioning to mixed use is not that hard to do because malls were built with more than twice the parking that is necessary by today’s standards. So, about half of the parking lots can be converted into other land uses.

The Grove in Los Angeles and 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica offer highly-stylized versions of urban forms – in the case of the Grove, an old European urban downtown, and 3rd Street Promenade, the American main street. Are successful contemporary shopping districts about re-using familiar urban forms in new ways?

Oh, very much so. The traditional grid or traditional straight main street is the best format for the new town centers being developed. There has been a lot of experimentation with curvilinear forms with parallel streets, and those haven’t worked too well. It has to be a simple main street.

We find the best shopping districts are only about a quarter of a mile long, about 1,200 feet. If you have a longer corridor, then we break it into sections. Where they come together, we anchor it with some form of civic or retail space. So, just the old fashioned street works the best, or with the very-slight deflection.

Some background on promenades like the one on 3rd Street in Santa Monica: In the 1960s and 70s, many downtowns declined and lost significant market share to large suburban shopping malls. In a well-intended response, over 250 downtowns imitated shopping centers and closed their main streets to vehicles in order to create outdoor pedestrian malls. Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Fresno, California, were pioneers in this experiment.

Unfortunately, all but ten of the pedestrian malls were a failure (the ones that survived are mostly in college towns). Most of the downtowns declined even further and remained almost entirely-vacant for decades. Even Santa Monica’s Third Street promenade and Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road were initially overwhelming failures. Without department stores, the pedestrian malls lacked the necessary critical mass of shopping to justify the inconvenience of parking in remote decks. Small retailers cannot afford much advertising and rely on drive-by impulse traffic for sales.

Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica / Wikipedia

We have been advising several downtowns, including Fresno, to re-open their streets to cars with generous parallel parking. The key is to implement modern traffic-calming measures, an attractive public realm, and realistic codes to enable walkability and cross-shopping.

What are the core components of a successful retail district layout? How do you get density, inter-connectivity, and scale right? On the one hand, there is the model of Soho in NYC, with its grid layout, but you also have the standard outlet mall, defined by an arterial form.

A fairly straight or simple, deflected street works the best. It’s essential a retail district have multiple uses. All four land uses are best: commercial, office, civic, and residential. It’s also essential to have a good public realms in these centers and appropriate sidewalks for the type of transect that it is, whether it be a town or a city or hamlet. There has to be a good public space, such as a square or a plaza.

Old Town Alexandria, King Street / Robert Gibbs

Retailers have higher sales and are willing to pay higher rents when they’re located on a square. We have found retailers who will give up exposure on the end caps of a street in exchange for being on the square, because that is where more people are and where they will achieve higher sales.

Troy, Michigan town center / Gibbs Planning Group

It’s really important for landscape architects to embrace the public realm, to be strong advocates for parks and plazas, a nice streetscape.

Retail has been described as a tool for revitalizing small town main streets and the downtowns of major cities. What else needs to come with retail to make the revitalization effort work?

Retail alone can’t revitalize a downtown. One of the most important elements is transportation. Streets have to be calmed from highways into real, walkable streets. Many downtowns are suffering just for lack of on-street parking or because the streets are too wide and traffic is too fast.

In addition, it is important to have a strong civic component: the library, city hall, courthouses should be in the downtown, not in the suburbs. For example, we find a good library can bring an average of 1,200 people per day — that’s as many as a good department store.

High density residential and office space are important as well. The Urban Land Institute (ULI) recently did a study that found every office worker directly supports twenty-five square feet of retail and restaurant space. If we can get office workers downtown, you can share parking with the office, because of off-peak times with retail.

So downtowns have to return to being real mixed-use, urban, walkable centers.

What is the role of landscape architecture in successful retail environments?

The leaders of many shopping center developers we work with are landscape architects. Many of our clients are former landscape architects or practicing landscape architects.

More than the engineers, architects or the MBA types, we find landscape architects have a holistic approach, and we enjoy working with them. They understand the physical realm and design, but also politics, the environment, and a little bit of engineering and economics.

More broadly, the landscape architect working on a retail environment has to advocate for good place-making: a nice public realm — public squares of plazas; traffic calming; and the right height-to-width ratios on the streets so streets aren’t too wide.

Do trees and other green features increase sales?

Trees are really essential for a competitive shopping district. There was a study by Kathleen Wolfe that indicated trees increase price elasticity by 9-12 percent. In other words, people feel comfortable paying up to twelve percent more for the same product if they purchase in a well-landscaped place with nice streets. Also, when properly located, street trees keep people in the downtown district longer. They feel more relaxed and are more likely to spend more money.

Shoppers in Naples, Florida / Robert Gibbs
Shoppers in Naples, Florida / Robert Gibbs

We’re working in Palm Desert, California, and found the shady side of the street has significantly higher sales and rents than the sunny side of the street. We’re redesigning the street to be asymmetrical, so that the sunny side will have a wider sidewalk so that we can put in a triple bosque of trees for shade. In this case, the shade is directly responsible for higher sales in retail. Research indicates that, too.

The one pet peeve I have is that many landscape architects — including myself (as I’ve done this) — tend to put street trees on an arbitrary grid, 22 feet or 28 feet on center, whatever. Very often the trees end up blocking a merchant’s storefront, sign, or window display.

We believe developers and communities should put in a lot of street trees but use common sense when locating them. Street trees should be on the property lines of commercial buildings rather than in middle and in front of buildings.

Street trees are very important for retail sales, and that’s been proven. Also, for residential values, there are studies that indicate home values are much higher on shady streets than streets without trees.

Urban stores of retailers like Bonobo, Apple, and others are essentially show-rooms, where you try out goods and then purchase online and receive products by mail. What other technology-enabled retail innovations do you see coming to the built environment?

Technology has been good and bad. One negative is many online manufacturers are selling directly to the customers, and they are not sending merchandise to small retailers. They’re cutting the retailer out of the better merchandise, which is hurting their sales.

A positive is many stores are getting rid of cash registers so you can walk in and out.

Another positive: Store are becoming warehouse and distribution centers. Department stores are now places where you can do a same-day pick-up of an order you made online. Physical stores are becoming return centers for Amazon and other online sites. For example, Kohl’s is partnering with Amazon to be a return center. This helps bring people to that shopping district who ordinarily wouldn’t go there. They’re going to make a return and then while they are making their return, they will go to restaurants or other shops.