ASLA Earns Health and Wellness “WELL Certified Gold” Label for its D.C. Center for Landscape Architecture

ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture,  with front canopy, Washington, D.C. / Halkin Mason Photography, courtesy of ASLA

By David Jeffrey Ringer

It’s the first Gold certification in Washington, D.C., and largest project in the capital to receive a human wellbeing-focused WELL Certification

ASLA has been awarded WELL Certification at the Gold level for its Center for Landscape Architecture in Washington, becoming the first WELL Certified Gold-rated project in Washington and the largest WELL Certified project to date in the nation’s capital. The prestigious WELL Certification is awarded by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) through IWBI’s WELL Building Standard (WELL), which is the premier building standard to focus on enhancing people’s health and well-being through the buildings where we live, work and play.

“ASLA pursued WELL Certification because of our commitment to our members, our staff and our community, and we’re very proud of what we’ve achieved,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen. “ASLA is founded on the premise that good design leads to healthier, more sustainable and equitable environments, and we are grateful for the opportunity to partner and lead in advancing initiatives like the WELL Building Standard.”

Created through seven years of rigorous research and development working with leading physicians, scientists, and industry professionals, the WELL Building Standard is a performance-based certification system that marries best practices in design and construction with evidence-based scientific research. The ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture earned the distinction based on seven categories of building performance: Air, Water, Light, Nourishment, Fitness, Comfort and Mind.

ASLA worked with architecture firm Gensler and landscape architecture firm Oehme van Sweden to build a new Center that embodies the values of the profession and the organization.

ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture ground floor exhibition space / Halkin Mason Photography, courtesy of ASLA

The project integrates new construction into the existing space and footprint; captures and reuses stormwater runoff; maximizes daylight within the space; increases occupant comfort and wellness; provides flexible, collaborative work spaces; and models environmental values, with a focus on improving indoor air quality, lighting, nourishment, and promoting active lifestyles.

ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture / Halkin Mason Photography, courtesy of ASLA

To ensure opportunities for interaction with living things and natural surroundings, a biophilia plan describes how the Center incorporates nature through environmental elements, lighting, and space layout.

ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture / Halkin Mason Photography, courtesy of ASLA
ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture / Halkin Mason Photography, courtesy of ASLA

Project features that helped ASLA achieve its WELL Certified Gold rating include:

  • A range of air-quality steps, including filtration, increased ventilation, and volatile organic compound reduction;
  • Optimal water quality through the use of filtration techniques and periodic water quality testing;
  • Enhanced natural lighting for all occupants through the creation of an atrium, circadian lighting design and low-glare workstation design;
  • Fitness opportunities that promote active lifestyles; and
  • Materials and furnishings selections that optimize comfort and cognitive and mental health and that evoke nature in their design.

WELL is grounded in a body of evidence-based research that explores the connection between the buildings where we spend approximately 90 percent of our time, and the health and well-being impacts on the people inside these buildings. To be awarded WELL Certification by IWBI, the ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture underwent rigorous testing and a final evaluation carried out by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), which is the third-party certification body for WELL, to ensure it met all WELL Certified Gold performance requirements.

ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture / Halkin Mason Photography, courtesy of ASLA

The ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture has long been committed to innovative design features that promote health and wellness and environmental sustainability. The Center features a green roof, one of the first of its kind built in 2005; a green canopy; a side garden designed by Oehme van Sweden, which includes a 700-gallon rainwater cistern used for irrigation.

ASLA Green Roof / EPNAC
ASLA Green Roof / EPNAC
ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture side garden, with cistern / Halkin Mason Photography, courtesy of ASLA

Numerous lines of research demonstrate the mental and physical benefits of green space for people, which is one of the reasons landscape architects seek to integrate high-quality green space into office environments.

The Green New Deal Superstudio Comes to the Sweetwater River Corridor

Sweetwater River channel, National City, San Diego county / USFWS Pacific Southwest Region, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The Green New Deal Superstudio inspired thousands of planning and landscape architecture students around the world to envision better futures for underserved communities. With the goals of the Green New Deal Congressional proposal in mind, Kathleen Garcia, FASLA, a lecturer at the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) led her undergraduate planning students through multiple studios to re-imagine the Sweetwater River corridor, just south of the city of San Diego, near the border with Mexico.

At the American Planning Association‘s National Planning Conference, students from Garcia’s class outlined their visions for a three-mile-long segment of the river that courses through National City, a primarily Hispanic and low-income industrial community.

“National City is a front line community” in dealing with the combined impacts of climate change, pollution, and inequities, Garcia said. The community and river corridor gave her studio opportunities to explore the three goals of the Green New Deal — decarbonization, jobs, and justice.

According to Garcia, the community is “crisscrossed with freeways and rail lines, polluted by heavy industry along its riverfronts, and separated from most remnants of nature.”

The rich lands around the Sweetwater River were once home to the Kumeyaay indigenous people, but is now a “flood-control channel.” The floodplain and grazing lands have been “converted into strip malls, scattered housing, auto dealerships, industry, active rail lines, and at the river’s mouth, a major marine terminal,” where nearly half a million imported cars arrive annually.

Climate change promises to increase the threat of wildfires and exacerbate existing urban heat islands, flooding, and air pollution in the community. “Local jobs are few. Residents commute at least 20 miles in congestion to jobs elsewhere. Native heritage has all been but erased. The city is highly dependent on car sales for its tax base. However, what will transportation look like in a cleaner, greener future?”

The students in her class range from third- to fourth-year students and major in diverse subjects such as planning, psychology, data sciences, and engineering. They are “looking for ways to make a difference,” and the Green New Deal inspired them to envision a much different National City and Sweetwater River.

Much of National City Maritime Terminal is built on fill, which is “not friends with sea level rise,” said Juli Beth Hinds, an instructor of planning at UC San Diego, who participated in the tour. The mouth of the Sweetwater River, which is along one edge of the Maritime Terminal, can only be seen from the tiny Pepper Park, one of the few public green spaces along the waterfront.

Pepper Park, National City, San Diego county / Port of San Diego’s Public Parks, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Here, Ethan Olson, a third-year student who is majoring in planning and urban studies and hopes to pursue a master’s degree in landscape architecture, brought out his boards to show his ideas. He proposed a new open space corridor through the industrial area surrounding the port, but on the inland edge to provide space to retreat from sea level rise.

REPRISAL: A Proposal for the Future of the National City Marine Terminal / Ethan Olson

The new corridor would serve as a green spine for mixed-use development, including housing and retail, and local job creation that isn’t dependent on transporting cars out of the port. Olson also envisioned weaving in bike infrastructure and properly connecting the Bayshore Bikeway, along with boosting local healthy food production.

Olson noted that the Port of San Diego and nearby Naval facilities are already planning for sea level rise, with some projections indicating a potential of 9 feet by 2100. Much of this critical coastal infrastructure is under threat.

REPRISAL: A Proposal for the Future of the National City Marine Terminal / Ethan Olson

“The big scope of the Green New Deal Superstudio appealed to me. Climate change isn’t an environmental issue alone, but also an economic, social, planning, and political one. The Green New Deal doesn’t ignore that. I like it as a concept,” Olson said.

Nine students presented their ideas over the next three hours at locations throughout National City. The bus stopped at a strip mall and big-box store district; a desolate riparian green space at the outer edge of a parking lot; the location of a major swap meet; next to a solar power installation alongside the freeway; and in a deserted dealership along the Mile of Cars, a string of automobile showrooms.

Renewable power plant next to freeway in National City, San Diego county / Jared Green

At the Gateway Marketplace strip mall, Rashma Saini, a third-year student majoring in developmental psychology, walked us through her planning ideas, crafted with the perspective of a typical National City high school student in mind.

Envisioning a new direct connection to the high school across the Sweetwater River, riverfront promenade, and shopping and entertainment district, Saini wants a high-quality space for the many Mexican students who study in San Diego, a place for them to hang out with friends before returning by bus to Tijuana. “It’s important that students feel welcome. We need to focus on their mental health and well-being.”

National City Sweetwater River Corridor Plan / Rashma Saini

A later stop in a parking lot near a Burlington Coat Factory offered a close-up view of the channelized river. Here, Mitchell Kadowaki, who recently graduated from UC San Diego with a bachelor’s degree in environmental systems, showcased his plans for improving the urban tree canopy of National City. The now concrete-lined river is ripe for restoration as a riparian corridor, providing habitat benefits.

Sweetwater River Corridor Plan: Bolstering the Urban Canopy in National City / Mitchell Kadowaki

Through his research, he found that only six percent of National City is park land, much lower than the San Diego county average. But he noted that significantly expanding the tree canopy with the wrong tree species, improperly sited, could also further contribute to the drought by taxing already low water reserves.

Hinds noted that “tree selection is a live issue” in San Diego county. Until recently, palm trees, which offer few ecological benefits, have been specified as part of city plans. Eucalyptus trees, which are also not native and can be a wildfire hazard, can’t be removed from UC San Diego’s campus “unless they are diseased.” One way to increase tree and shrub diversity in the county could be to restore habitat for birds, including the endangered California gnatcatcher.

Stricken with drought in 2015, the San Diego Housing Authority shut off irrigation to street trees, killing them in the process. This impacted underserved residents that already have fewer street trees, amplifying the effects of heat islands and air pollution. San Diego is now exploring greywater re-use for irrigation, and there are a growing number of contractors who can do these kinds of projects, Hinds said.

Through the Green New Deal Superstudio projects, Garcia sought to show there is a “lot of overlap” between planning, landscape architecture, and urban design disciplines.

What she learned working as a landscape architect at WRT and planning director for the City of Del Mar is that “you get better solutions when you get people outside their boxes and comfort zones.” Landscape architecture and planning, in particular, use the “exact same problem solving but just at different scales.”

Her undergraduate students learned the stages of planning, explored different disciplinary lenses, and some are even inspired to become landscape architects.

Explore more of the GND Superstudio proposals created as part of Garcia’s class.

Olmsted 200 Celebrates FLO’s 200th Birthday

Prospect Park, New York City / AndreyGatash, istockphoto.com

Frederick Law Olmsted, social reformer and founder of American landscape architecture, was born on April 26, 1822, so this year marks the 200th anniversary of his birth. To explore and celebrate his life, work, and legacy, the National Association of Olmsted Parks (NAOP), ASLA, and other founding partners launched Olmsted 200.

As part of the celebration, the U.S. House of Representatives recently acknowledged Olmsted’s important contributions to American society. On March 29, Representatives French Hill (AR) and Debbie Dingell (MI) introduced a bipartisan proclamation honoring Olmsted’s legacy, which included a reference to ASLA being co-founded by his son.

April marks the peak of the Olmsted 200 celebration. Throughout the week of April 25, Olmsted 200 will be sharing content live from New York City, where NAOP, ASLA, and other founding partners will be celebrating. Olmsted’s New York City parks will be hosting Olmsted 200 partners and friends during multiple events.

Although the Olmsted Birthday Gala has sold out, there are several other events — many free — happening in NYC, for those who are local to the area or visiting for this monumental occasion.

The Olmsted 200 website also features an ever-changing national calendar full of in-person and virtual programs and events.

Upcoming events include:

Central and Prospect Park in New York City share many similarities, while also reflecting Olmsted’s evolution as a park designer. On April 12 at 12.30pm, the Central Park Conservancy and Turnstile Tour guides will simultaneously livestream from each park as they highlight, compare, and contrast Central Park’s arches, meadows, and natural features to parallel features found in Prospect Park. Learn about Olmsted’s lasting influence on landscape design and public space and see examples of how these designs have been adapted to better fit with modern-day recreational uses and ecological practices overtime. This is a virtual program over zoom; suggested donation $10.

“The Genius of the Place”: Frederick Law Olmsted, Landscape Architecture, and Arkansas on April 14 at 6.30 pm CT. Kimball Erdman, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Arkansas, will speak about Olmsted and the history of landscape architecture. Tom Hill of Hot Springs National Park will discuss Olmsted’s brief encounter with Arkansas. And Chris East of StudioMain will address landscape architecture possibilities next to the Main Library in Little Rock.

Olmsted 200 is teaming up with Central Park Conservancy for a very special Instagram Live on April 25 at 10:30 am ET.

The Evolution of Olmsted’s Sudbrook Park from The Baltimore Architecture Foundation and friends will be held virtually on April 29.

Franklin Park: Past, Present, Future on April 30 from 2-4 pm ET. The Boston Society of Landscape Architects is organizing a free walking tour with John Kett, ASLA, principal, and Lydia Gikas Cook, ASLA, senior Associate, with Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture. The firm is leading an interdisciplinary team with Agency Landscape + Planning and MASS Design Group to re-imagine Olmsted’s Franklin Park, part of the original Emerald Necklace.

The National Association for Olmsted Parks’ Chicago Bicentennial Gala will be in-person on June 17 and include several tours.

Explore all upcoming events.

For previously recorded presentations, including the most recent Conversations with Olmsted program, visit YouTube.

Also, hosting an Olmsted 200 event of your own? Submit it to the calendar, and please consider using the press kit and press release templates to share with local media.

Olmsted 200’s website also includes a blog, Shared Spaces, which features diverse voices exploring Olmsted’s living legacy. Olmsted 200 will continue throughout the year and is interested in posts from those willing to share information about local projects, personal reflections, site histories, and more. To submit blog posts, contact Olmsted 200.

Interview with Sadafumi Uchiyama: Designing Peace and Harmony

Sadafumi Uchiyama / Courtesy of Portland Japanese Garden

Sadafumi (Sada) Uchiyama, ASLA, is the Chief Curator and Director of the International Japanese Garden Training Center at the Portland Japanese Garden. Uchiyama is a third-generation Japanese gardener from southern Japan, where his family has been involved in gardening for over a century. In addition to his background as a gardener born and trained in Japan, Uchiyama is also a registered landscape architect in Oregon and California, with Bachelor’s and Master’s of Landscape Architecture degrees from the University of Illinois.

Interview conducted at the ASLA 2021 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Nashville.

The mission of the Portland Japanese Garden is “inspiring peace and harmony.” The Garden identifies itself as a place of inclusion, anti-racism, and cultural understanding. How has the garden advanced these goals throughout its history? How have these goals taken form in the landscape?

It’s not what we do, but who we are and how we exist. We take a passive approach, but that doesn’t mean we don’t contribute to these goals.

There’s no prescription for how to enjoy the garden. Typically, a tour involves listening to what the guide is talking about, but we intentionally do not do that and only offer basic guidance. Our tours are very quiet. We just answer questions. We leave everything up to the visitors, because they have their own reasons for coming to the garden. It could be for tourism or because someone lost a loved one or had a new baby.

We don’t prescribe but be there all the time in the same way. We listen and then if a visitor chooses, we strike up a conversation. We have conversations that may be difficult, but we listen and talk.

We see our Japanese garden as a depository of all kinds of emotions. There’s not much signage and interpretation. Each visitor comes with a bag full of things or nothing. And then when the conversations start, we are ready to engage.

Everyone is a human being. Language, cultural background, and ethnicity doesn’t matter. We are accepting. We welcome the human being. We provide the essential experience of being a human being in harmony with nature. We try to bring human beings closer to that harmony.

When Nobuo Matsunaga, former ambassador of Japan to the U.S. visited Portland Japanese Garden, he proclaimed it to be “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan.” Some 300 Japanese gardens were designed in the U.S. in the aftermath of World War II to help heal the relationship between the countries and create understanding. What makes the Portland Japanese Garden so beloved in Japan and the U.S.?

Well, it took 60 years at this point. You can imagine how bumpy the relationship was with the city just barely 10 years after the war. But we believed in the power of the garden. We owe a lot to local people, the community. We still define ourselves as caretakers of the garden for the community, which has been our tradition. Portland and the people of the city made the garden possible.

Instead of trying to overcome the differences, we embrace similarities. There are so many similarities between the Pacific Northwest and Japan. The climate is one thing. The hills, beautiful streams and rivers; that’s what Portlanders and Oregonians embrace. There was a natural acceptance of what is Japanese because it wasn’t totally foreign. We are a Japanese garden in the Pacific Northwest forest.

Designed in 1963 by Professor Takuma Tono of Tokyo Agricultural University, the garden combines eight different Japanese garden styles. What are these styles and what do they signify? How do they come together as a whole?

Professor Tono was clear from the get-go why he designed the garden. It’s really nothing but education in a broader sense: community education. He didn’t intend to create a masterpiece, but wanted to offer an introductory range of gardens.

That approach led to his original five gardens. Normally, when we design Japanese gardens, there is usually one theme or type, but he intentionally showed the spectrum of gardens, all different but what we call Japanese gardens. He designed a strolling pond garden, sand and stone garden, flat garden, tea garden, and natural garden, then we added a few, including through the recent Cultural Crossing expansion.

Strolling pond garden at Portland Japanese Garden / Courtesy of Portland Japanese Garden
Tea garden at Portland Japanese Garden / Courtesy of Portland Japanese Garden
Natural garden at Portland Japanese Garden / Courtesy of Portland Japanese Garden

We are very conscious about not copying or recreating the classic garden style, but advancing it. What can Japanese gardens become? Our responsibility is to also move the tradition forward, because tradition is only one little step within a long evolution.

A new, smaller courtyard garden is more like an agricultural field. Then we added a cascade garden to the forefront of the Japanese Garden, which is actually outside of the garden itself, because we like to provide for those who are not paying admission.

Often sand and stone gardens are referred to as Zen gardens in the U.S. but that isn’t accurate. They are dry landscapes, referred to as karesansui gardens, guided by the principle of the “beauty of blank space.” These gardens are designed for contemplation, rather than meditation. How do you explain the growing interest in “blank space” landscapes and buddhism over the past few decades?

It’s about the feeling of relief. An object is tangible — visible and touchable. We conceive what it is and generate feelings. But a void, or nothing, makes us think. In some ways, it actually frees us to change the mode, or forces us to change the mode of thinking, by not thinking. If you have all objects, there is friction. Having the void space provides lubricant for our thinking.

Void space is very important in all Japanese art: calligraphy, for example. An object only exists because of the void.

Sand and stone garden / Courtesy of Portland Japanese Garden

It’s important, especially in today’s world, to step out. Our ability to learn is tied to our ability to step out of “us,” “me,” and “my.”

You are there in the garden because of others. It’s a similar notion: only because of the void can the object exist and be identified. It’s relevant to how we live in our society and cross-cultural. The void is a very wise tool. If we can carry that tool, we can be able to see.

The void in sand and stone garden / Courtesy of Portland Japanese Garden

The flat garden (hira-niwa) further elaborates on this dry landscape style, adding trees and plants that provide color for all seasons. The garden is meant to be experienced from a single viewpoint, looking out beyond Shogi screens in the pavilion. You describe the void as a way to focus on an object in the sand and stone garden, but here that idea has evolved. Why is the expression of seasonal change important in this landscape?

The experience of the garden has both physical and temporal aspects. The flat garden with white sand, lined with pine, cherry, and maple trees, presents the notion of the passage of the time. By providing essentially a still picture through the flat garden, you become much more keen it. You are not physically moving, so you can catch time. But time also has its own way to move independent from our movement.

Flat garden / Courtesy of Portland Japanese Garden
Flat garden / Courtesy of Portland Japanese Garden

Often, there are no flowers in Japanese gardens. Compared with English gardens, there are certainly less. But when flowers exist in Japanese gardens, they are manifesting the passage of time.

Japanese gardens, in a skillful way, give you a sense of the clear passage of a season. That means you can anticipate what’s coming next. That anticipation is the beautiful part. We need to place ourselves in that cycle, so there’s a reason to live and something to look for.

A few years ago, you led the Cultural Crossing expansion of the garden with Portland-based landscape architecture firm Walker Macy and Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, creating a 3.4-acre set of spaces that includes a new pathway to the garden, entry sequence, visitor buildings. The addition seamlessly blends architecture and landscape architecture, Japanese aesthetics with ecological design. What does this project mean to you and how did you guide the project?

Given I have been garden curator for 14 years, it’s really the culmination of my service. The intent of the expansion was to release pressure on the existing garden. In 2015, we started to see close to 400,000 visitors a year. That’s a lot for five and a half acres.

We knew the time to expand would come, so we were well-prepared. Our goal was not expansion in the sense of make the space bigger, but to instead create a new experience outside the garden. The goal is to maintain the tranquility of the original garden, because that’s why people come. No matter if the visitor is in high school student or elderly, they are coming for tranquility, so we have to absolutely defend and maintain that.

It’s nice to have shelters, and, in the wintertime, have a sip of tea and visit exhibition and workshop spaces. In Japan, gates delineate sacred space and secure activities. The entire new space and the facilities serve as a gate to the existing garden.

ASLA 2021 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Cultural Crossing Transforms Portland Japanese Garden into a Place of Cultural Dialogue. Portland, Oregon. Walker Macy. Portland Japanese Garden / Jeremy Bitterman

It’s a quintessential Japanese experience. Like in a small village, there’s the agricultural field surrounding the village, then semi-natural wooded areas, then wild nature. Typically, the village shrine is built right on the edge of the wild nature, so there is always the journey. We have emulated that.

When Kengo Kuma first visited the garden and looked at the site, the only one thing he said was, “Uchiyama-san, I don’t think we need to do much.” He was totally in tune with the land. We termed the concept for our expansion as editing the land, as opposed to creating something. We worked with what’s given. After all, we are surrounded by the triple environmental zone, so it’s the most difficult place in Portland to do anything. We embrace and treasure and only touch what is needed. That was the only discussion I had with him in a really substantial way. Once we agree on that editing part, the rest was really easy, because we know where we’re going. And the land actually told us.

ASLA 2021 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Cultural Crossing Transforms Portland Japanese Garden into a Place of Cultural Dialogue. Portland, Oregon. Walker Macy. Portland Japanese Garden / James Florio

The new entry sequence also gives people to time to switch their mindset from the hustle and bustle to being ready to see.

We live in such a divided country and world. How does Portland Japanese Garden offer principles that can guide other cultural landscape exchanges in post-conflict contexts? And can approaches taken in the Portland Japanese Garden serve as a model for other forms of cultural exchange beyond landscape?

Our goal is not necessarily to have a Japanese garden. That’s really the means. A Japanese garden is really just a beautiful means. The garden enables us to invite everyone. Everyone can enjoy. But we are a place, an occasion in time, to enable them to think and have conversation that otherwise may be harder to have elsewhere.

I’ve never seen anyone fighting in the garden. Somehow the garden brings emotional stability. The garden helps people go back to who they are — human beings, just speaking different languages and with different hair and skin colors. Those things don’t matter. We have all been around the same height for 150,000 years. Two eyes; two ears. That creature feels the same fundamental things.

We’re passive as opposed to active in terms of addressing those issues. But there is very few places in the world that just welcome any time, rain or shine. We are there to receive your emotion. And that’s what we’re talking about exactly: that is the model. We are rebuilding the model by way of Japanese garden. Creating a space where everyone can express emotions and can have a conversation. That’s all.

The garden is non-denominational. If you think of a building, once it’s complete, it has functions and names. A garden is a garden, that’s it. A garden can be a wedding venue or a place to cry. The beauty of gardens, and not just necessarily Japanese gardens, is the space is built with our psyche as human beings.

We, nature, and the garden are the facilitators. The important thing is to facilitate.

New Research and Roadmap for Creating Healing Green Spaces

The Power of Sacred Places — 25 Years of Science and Evidence-based Design of Healing Green Spaces: A Landscape Architect’s Guide / Nature Sacred

Landscape architects can play a powerful role in changing lives — possibly in ways most haven’t fully contemplated. The spaces they design have the potential to measurably improve the health and well-being of those who spend time in them.

At Nature Sacred, we have spent the past 25 years creating green spaces – or what we call Sacred Places – with the sole intent of bringing nature to people so they could benefit from this restorative, healing connection. From the very beginning, we asked ourselves: how can we work with communities to create spaces that more fully capture the benefits nature has to offer? How do we incorporate established design principles while, at the same time, create spaces that resonate with people and their lived experiences? We knew instinctively that the two went hand-in-hand.

Working with landscape architects, academics, and on the ground with communities, we honed an approach to creating green spaces where people live, work, play and heal that is a blend of scientific evidence and ground truth. We’re sharing this approach in a new report that we released just two weeks ago at ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in Nashville.

The Power of Sacred Places — 25 Years of Science and Evidence-based Design of Healing Green Spaces: A Landscape Architect’s Guide” is part research and part practical guide, and shares key insights gained through having co-created more than 100 Sacred Places across the country in communities, many under-resourced; in prisons, at universities, and in hospitals. A handful of these sites were also implemented as part of an expansive, decade-long design, build, and research project.

The report, written by Nature Sacred’s Neha Srinivasan, MLA; and edited by Nature Sacred Design Advisor and University of Maryland Assistant Professor Naomi A. Sachs, ASLA, PhD, is intended to be a resource for landscape architects interested in creating green spaces that are designed to encourage contemplation and connection with nature.

Over the years, the science around the nature-health connection has continued to grow. While anecdotally, most wouldn’t argue with the statement that time spent in nature is health-building, the scientific evidence proves that nature has remarkable therapeutic benefits. Not to mention, our approach to designing nature spaces in cities is so critical to preserving our natural ecosystems and mitigating the negative health and ecological impacts of global warming.

The role of landscape architect is more influential than at any other point in history.

Using this research, landscape architects and designers can make stronger health-based arguments to decision makers and number crunchers to integrate thoughtful design of green spaces into larger planning projects — nature zones for recharging and wellness that will become magnets for the community.

For the research portion of this paper, we focused our attention on four domains: nature’s impact on individual, community, economic and ecological health. A few highlights of the research:

Individual health: Time spent in nature can reduce cortisol levels and symptoms of depression; research also suggests it can slow cognitive declines in people with dementia and improve memory and concentration — including in children with ADHD.

Community health: Easy access to shared green space and tree canopy in particular can influence drops in acts of aggression, violence and crime by 40-50% especially in public spaces, where trees are 40% more effective at reducing crime than trees on private property.

Economic health: Researchers have observed improvements in health perception comparable to a $10,000 increase in annual income with the addition of just 10 trees.

Ecological health: Healthy natural spaces provide carbon sequestration, filtration of air and water pollutants, reduced load on drainage systems, and decreased intensity of the deadly urban heat island effect.

All of these benefits can be reaped in small instances of nature — a pocket park, for instance.

Some of these benefits are what you might call passive; i.e. the sheer existence of the trees or well-planned green spaces will help address challenges related to carbon sequestration and water pollutants whether the community engages with the space or not. However, for many of the individual and community health benefits to kick in, people must engage with nature. Spend time in the green space.

And this is where Nature Sacred has spent a lot of energy over the past two decades — looking at how to best engage the community and how to best design so that the community embraces, and spends time in, their green space.

Suggestions for design

We grouped specific design suggestions into three outcome categories: making people feel welcomed, encouraging them to explore and play, and giving a site a specific purpose or two.

And central to the Nature Sacred approach: incorporating elements that are familiar to a community or reflective of its culture. This can go a long way toward helping nearby residents see themselves represented in a space, thereby increasing the likelihood that they will spend time in space and that it will become a Nature Sacred’s approach to designing landscapes involves four guiding principles, four design elements and one signature fixture. These ensure that our Sacred Places are optimally suited to meet the needs of the people they serve.

Four guiding principles

Every Sacred Place is designed to be:

Open and welcoming to everyone.

Nearby where people live, work, play and heal. Only when green space is conveniently reachable can it become an integral part of people’s everyday lives.

Community-led — This refers to both the creation and long-term stewardship; this is key ensuring the space is deeply rooted within the spirit of those it will serve.

Sacred — Meaning, this is a community-led space that strengthens ties, restores connection to nature and offers solace and rejuvenation.

Four design elements

Every Sacred Place incorporates a portal, path, destination and surround; a response to humans’ overarching need for cohesive structure in landscape. It’s important to note though that there are as many interpretations of these elements as there are Sacred Places.

Portal — An entry point to the site that indicates that one is stepping into an intentionally created space.

A Sacred Place at St. Anthony’s of Padua Catholic Church, Falls Church, Virginia / Dave Harp

Path — A guide, slowly leading visitors deeper into the space and giving them a journey to follow.

Naval Cemetery Landscape, Brooklyn, NY. Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects / Maureen Porto

Destination — An end point to which the path leads. In Sacred Places, this is often the Nature Sacred bench, which holds a waterproof journal to collect the thoughts and musings of visitors to the space.

A Sacred Place at The League for People with Disabilities, Baltimore, Maryland. Anne E. Gleeson with Agency Environmental Restoration, Inc.

Surround — A design feature that creates the sensation of being embraced and sheltered within the space — a feeling of refuge and safety.


Healing Garden and Labyrinth at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore, Maryland. J. Christopher Batten / Neha Srinivasan

In the paper, we share images, examples, of how these elements have been interpreted by communities in their Sacred Places. For instance, at the Sacred Place at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Falls Church, Virginia, peace poles decorated in the many languages of the diverse immigrant community around the church serve as the portal into the space. And at the Sacred Place at Brooklyn’s Naval Cemetery Landscape, a boardwalk, a suspended path, leads visitors through a wildflower meadow, allowing them to experience it without disturbing the former burial grounds and native plants growing beneath their feet.

More examples of the interpretations of these design elements can be found in the paper as well as on our website.

We believe the research and guidance laid out in this paper, coupled with a landscape architect’s own experience, can lead to the creation of more green spaces that truly improve society on multiple fronts. As advocates for nature, the planet and people, landscape architects are in an ideal position to communicate to clients and partners the crucial need to value and prioritize green space in our built environments.

Download the paper.

If you are interested in collaborating with us, or serving as a design advisor, we invite you to connect with us.

Alden E. Stoner is CEO of Nature Sacred. She served on Nature Sacred’s board for nearly 15 years before transitioning to CEO.

Women Landscape Architects Take the Lead on Climate Action (Part II)

Hunts Point Riverside Park, South Bronx, NY / Rudy Brunner Award

During Courageous by Design, a day-long conference organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) in New York City, women leaders outlined what can be done as landscape architects, designers, and horticulturalists to address the twinned climate and biodiversity crises. From the federal and state to local and site levels, landscape architects can advocate through design to change policies, shift mindsets, and introduce more sustainable and resilient practices. Each landscape project, no matter how small, offers an opportunity for positive change and to set new standards for climate-responsible design.

For Heather Morgan, director of climate risk adaptation at AECOM, partnering with the federal government can be challenging because there are “layers of hundreds of years of rules and regulations.” Furthermore, “federal systems can’t move with the pace, agility, and innovation needed to face our climate crisis.” But she urged landscape architects to take the time to figure out the rules of engagement in the federal system.

She called on landscape architects to improve federal decision-makers’ understanding of nature-based solutions. “Many federal workers want to try these approaches and have a passion for them, so don’t assume they don’t.” Take time to empower public servants through workshops and educational opportunities. Educate Congressional representatives and their staff and invite them on site tours. At the state and local levels, advance the understanding of non-federal sponsors of projects. Infrastructural projects led by the Army Corps of Engineers require 35 percent of funding to come from state and local sources. Those local project sponsors and financing sources can be a more direct way to incorporate nature-based solutions.

Landscape architects can use “funded and real” state-funded projects to “push for more climate positive actions,” said Signe Nielsen, FASLA, a founding principal at MNLA in New York City. She asked landscape architects to “look for opportunities in site constraints to advance climate resilience and circumvent ‘this can’t be done’ attitudes.”

For example, her firm’s work on Hunts Point Riverside Park in the South Bronx, New York (see image at top), the first new park in that underserved community in 60 years, involved navigating complex state and local regulations and required a herculean effort to convince regulators to abandon sewer and water lines to the park so that the totality of an 100-foot easement could be used for the public landscape.

She also told the story of how it took her seven years to convince regulators to incorporate solar-powered, instead of hardwired, street lamps in a new park on the Lower East Side in an area at high risk of flooding. After years of providing testimonials, working with the manufacturer to study prototypes, and sharing findings with regulators, “at last, we prevailed,” and solar-powered street lamps will “be the standard in near-future flood risk areas.” Her lessons learned: “be tenacious, find solutions, and keep persevering — even small projects can make a big impact.”

Annette Wilkus, FASLA, founding partner of SiteWorks, pivoted the conversation to how to move forward ecological restoration, improve biodiversity, and realize climate-responsible landscapes through permitting, design construction, and maintenance. She said “permitting doesn’t stop when construction begins. Unexpected things happen in construction, which require more permits.” She sees her role as transforming “what landscape architects seek to evoke through their designs” into a reality that can be preserved and maintained over time.

This work involves thinking through the economic sustainability and long-term maintenance plans of new climate-smart projects. As part of the re-imagining of the Houston Botanic Garden, a project planned and designed by landscape architecture firm West 8, Wilkus worked with the garden’s board of trustees to create a staff and budget plan, wading into the organizational chart to determine where new resources need to be added to ensure the new sustainable gardens are well-supported.

Houston Botanic Garden / West 8

And for a new project by MNLA at the 25-acre Roberto Clemente State Park in Bronx, New York, Wilkus created an easy-to-understand and highly visual maintenance manual with the team charged with maintaining the site. “The maintenance staff were ecstatic about it.” She urged the audience to “really think about maintenance” requirements at the beginning to ensure that climate solutions “survive over time.”

Inter-tidal pool at Roberto Clemente State Park, Bronx, NY / MNLA

The conversation then shifted to how landscape architects can become better stewards of biodiversity in the age of “eco-cide,” which is caused by climate change, habitat loss, and development and a process in which ecosystems are collapsing, more species face extinction, and the number of animals, plants, and insects in our landscapes continues to decline.

At Brooklyn Bridge Park (BBP) in Brooklyn, New York, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), the landscape architecture firm that has led the development of the park over the past twenty years, purposefully designed diverse wildlife habitats into a park visited by millions of people each year, said Rebecca McMackin, the park’s director of horticulture. BBP includes wetlands and grasslands, providing critical habitat for a range of birds that fly over. Even these relatively small stop-over points are vitally important given the U.S. has lost 30 percent of its bird population in the last 50 years and over 50 percent of grassland birds.

Salt marsh grasses at Brooklyn Bridge Park. ASLA 2018 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn, NY. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / Scott Shigley

Together with the BBP team, they crafted an ecological approach rooted in “adaptive evolution” that enabled the park to thrive as a biodiverse hub in the midst of the city. While most urban landscapes are designed with plants in a fixed place, MVVA created a series of landscapes that function like ecosystems, with plants duking it out over light, water, and resources, creating a subtly shifting park in which plants “compete, die, and reproduce.” This requires a new approach to stewardship.

McMackin evoked a sense of wonder at the profound impact of trees. When a tree shed its leaves in the fall, those leaves provide a layer that protects the tree’s roots during the winter but also creates a very “biologically active space” for beetles, bumblebees, and other insects. She showed photos of foxes and owls diving into this layer for food during lean, cold months. Those leaves also decompose and turn into soil that in turn nourishes the tree and aids carbon uptake. She explained all of this to say that “it’s important to leave the leaves, which enables all of this to happen. Gardeners at BBP have been trained to get out of the way of the natural cycle.” In the meadows, gardeners are careful when they cut back the grasses in the spring to leave seeds on the ground for birds that have nested. When trimming back Aster trees, they also do this carefully to not disturb the caterpillars that live on the roots at the base of the trees.

All of this precision stewardship of the wildlife has great benefits for park visitors, too. Katydids have transformed the park with their music, creating a biophilic response that aids in relaxation. Because BBP doesn’t spray herbicides in the park, aphids have survived, which in turns attracts charming ladybugs. Walking Stick insects have been recently spotted in the park; “they haven’t been seen in NYC for ages.” BBP is also now home to a very rare bee — the blueberry digger bee. Brooklyn Bridge Park shows that organically-managed parks, with organically-grown native plants and trees, can “become an ecological refuge in cities.” Over the long-term, “respectful, adaptive management” is key to success (and so is buying native plants not treated with any chemicals).

Ecological landscape at Brooklyn Bridge Park / Nancy Webster Twitter

Deeply concerned about the impact of climate change on the next generation, and their already tenuous connection with nature, Barbara Wilks, FASLA, founding principal of W Architecture & Landscape Architecture, cited a recent survey of 1,000 park goers in New York City that found 50 percent haven’t experienced nature outside of the five boroughs. With this understanding, it’s crucial that every available space be used to advance climate positive design and also to provide pockets of biodiversity, which can forge those connections to nature so critical to future stewardship. “Landscape architects can bring systemic thinking to the small scale,” and these smaller projects can be connected into “large-scale infrastructure.”

Urban forestry presents a major opportunity to address the climate crisis and increase biodiversity. A broad-based campaign among non-profit groups in the city calls for achieving a 30 percent tree canopy by 2035; currently, only 21 percent of the city is estimated to be covered by trees, far lower than other major American cities. Her streetscape projects in the city over the past twenty years have layered in diverse tree species in urban woodlands that go beyond the typical street tree format. Wilks has also proposed “marine streets” where dead-end streets that come to the water could be transformed into living, dynamic edges. “Give nature agency” wherever possible, “keep it wild,” and embrace “the dynamics of messy landscapes.”

Marine Streets / W Architecture & Landscape Architecture

“Every landscape needs to be an act of activism on biodiversity,” argued East Hampton, New York-based landscape designer Edwina Von Gal, Affil. ASLA, founder of the Perfect Earth Project. Her organization is focused on creating non-toxic landscapes free of pesticides and filled with native plants.

Garden by Edwina Von Gal in the Hamptons, NY / Women Across Frontiers, Rosemarie Cromwell

“We’ve lost 2.9 billion birds over the past 50 years. Birds have been impacted by a loss of habitat, pesticides, and loss of insect populations.” To address this crisis, she has also launched a campaign — two-thirds for the birds and asked for a commitment from the audience of hundreds of designers to design better habitat for birds, with at least two-thirds native plants in every project. “That means two native plants for every other plant” and zero pesticides.

Two-thirds for the birds / Perfect Earth Project

She also called for “less mow and blow, less pollution, cleaner water, more on-site composting and biomassing.” Appalled by pristine landscapes free of fallen leaves and insects, she said “design has become so reduced, simplistic, and controlled. That tidy look is the direction we can’t go; that sanitized look can no longer be aspirational. Nature is so beautifully designed and messy. We need to support all the little wild lives that support us.”

As British environmental writer George Monbiot argues, “human survival is now a niche interest.” Von Gal took this further, arguing that landscape architects and designers “can create places for biodiversity — nature-based places — and massively enlarge the niche.”

Read Part I in the series.

Learning from Copenhagen: A Focus on Everyday Life

København: Urban Architecture and Public Spaces / © Edition DETAIL, Munich

By John Bela, ASLA

København (Copenhagen), the capital of Denmark, is at the forefront of many landscape architects and planners’ minds for both its groundbreaking moves towards sustainability and cutting-edge public spaces, bicycle culture, architecture, and food scenes.

Having spent a significant amount of time in the city over the last decade, I’ve had the opportunity to begin to get to know the city and its people. One of the striking things about the city, perceptible in even my time there, is its continued trajectory of improvement. A chorus of people working diligently for decades to optimize the city for the everyday lives of its inhabitants have been laying the groundwork for what is possible today. I’ve been in Copenhagen in every season — in the depths of winter when the term Hygge takes on a deeper meaning and the scant hours of sunlight and the chilly winds inspire the strong desire to gather together by the soft light of a fire or candlelight to pass the dark hours. And during the summer months when the long hours of sunlight inspire a collective feeling of exultation and the city’s public spaces: the streets, parks, plazas, waterfront, and the harbor itself are teeming with life and energy. This was not so 20 or 30 years ago. The character of the city has radically changed and the new book København: Urban Architecture and Public Spaces, edited by Sandra Hofmeister, beautifully captures the new spirit of the city.

The book features many places in the Danish capital that have made a significant impact in public space and public life over the past several decades and groups them into four chapters: public spaces, sports and leisure, culture and education, and housing. Well-illustrated project descriptions are complemented by a series of interviews and essays with some of the most prominent and thoughtful designers part of the city’s design scene today.

One of the many featured projects in the public spaces section of the book offers a useful inspiration for what could be possible in U.S. cities if we recognize the value of urban spaces now occupied by parking and remake them in ways that draw public life, commerce, and play.

The Flying Carpet: Israel’s Plads (Israel Square) is a great example of the transformation of public spaces taking place in Copenhagen over several decades. A former vegetable market site near one of the busiest transit stations had degenerated into a parking lot and eyesore. The municipality led the transformation of the site by erecting two covered market halls (the wonderful Torvehallerne) and a public plaza that hosts a weekend farmers market.

Across the street, the city issued a design brief outlining that the former parking lot should be converted into a new public space. The winning competition by Cobe, a Copenhagen-based multidisciplinary planning and design firm composed of landscape architects, planners, and architects, envisaged a “flying carpet” across the entire square. The cars would be “swept under the rug” with underground parking. In the completed design, organically shaped areas punched out of a neatly paved surface provide a variety of public recreational functions. As one the city’s largest new public spaces, Israel Plads is an “informal uncoded space that enables the public to enjoy urban life.”

Israel’s Plads by Cobe, Sweco Architects / courtesy of Edition DETAIL, Munich

What you don’t get from the beautiful images and plans featured in the project description — and what is so useful for those of us in the planning and design professions — is covered in an essay that follows. The lead designer for the plaza, Dan Stubbergard from Cobe, illuminates some the underlying processes and struggles that were fought and won and resulted in a new plaza that functions as a diverse and active public space.

Stubbergard notes that “infrastructure had a very important role in defining our cities from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. Public spaces and zones in between buildings became carspaces, and this affected everyday life. But today we know that we have to combine infrastructure with the public quality of urban space. Be it a bicycle parking lot, a metro station, or a streetscape, you need to insist that all infrastructure is also a social and public space.”

Cobe has been leading some of the most impactful urban design efforts in Copenhagen. Their approach to Israel’s Plads reflects the deeply collaborative and creative approach of the practice that co-designs with communities. Dan continues: “Israels Plads is the biggest public space in Copenhagen, but it’s also a schoolyard shared by two schools – we argued it should be an open space nevertheless…We created a discrete boundary and that’s how we persuaded the school to have a safe zone in the middle of the city and an open environment at the same time. The challenge for [landscape] architects is to offer new ways of living together and to foster a lively everyday life.”

Swimming in the Harbor

You can’t comprehend Copenhagen today without understanding its changing relationship to the water. The book’s sports and leisure section describes one of the city’s newest ways to interact with the water: the Kalvebog Bolge (Kalvebod Waves). “An undulating sculptural promenade…the complex stretches out over the water like a park landscape, leading back to land with walkways that rise to different levels. Benches, play areas, and lookout points invite visitors to linger. What may seem coincidental follows a precise plan. Rough winds in the exposed location were considered in the positioning, as well as the course of the sun and the shadows created by surrounding buildings.”

As is typical of the projects described in the book, the space combines various programs in interesting ways. The “wave” stacks many functions: a kayak and canoe club, a swimming basin, a floating mini-hotel for canoeists, and a platform for cultural events all come together in this prominent harborside location. Furthermore, “the site’s cradle to cradle approach ensures that all materials can be separated by type at the end of their service life so they can be recycled or reused.”

Kalvebod Bolge by Urban Agency, JDS architects / courtesy of Edition DETAIL, Munich

The Kalvebod Wave harbor bath and others like it in different parts of the city are emblematic of the radical transformation that has occurred regarding the city’s relationship to the water. As in many former industrial waterfronts, the harbor water, as recently as the 1980’s, was polluted and dangerous, and one would not conceive of diving into it headlong as you see so many young and old people doing today.

In an essay, Hofmeister unpacks the process of transforming both the physical quality of the water and the harborfront as well as its mental image in the mind of Copenhageners. “With the shift from an industrial city to an eco-conscious city not only has the quality of life improved, but also the water quality…thanks to targeted measures in wastewater management and modernization of the sewage system. Today living on the waterfront is integral to the city’s image.”

These critical water quality improvements laid the foundation for a fundamental restructuring of the city’s relationship and orientation to the waterfront and a re-conception of the harbor from the “back of the city” to a blue-green central park. So many of the projects featured in the book show how to take advantage of this new orientation. The areas along the harbor offer high quality waterfront living and opportunities to swim or gather to watch the sunset. This is where the city opens up to offer wide views. The city’s master plans stipulate that all harborfront areas must not only be accessible to the public but also enlivened by the public.

Kroyers Plads by Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects, Cobe / courtesy of Edition DETAIL, Munich

This orientation of the city around the harbor as its central park is enabled by a steadily growing set of landscape, open space, pedestrian, and bike circulation connections around and across the harbor that provide continuous access around the water’s edge and have opened up new areas for the city’s famous pedestrian and bicycle culture. There are important lessons here for landscape architects and planners working in the U.S.

The first is that protecting, enhancing, and restoring the ecological health of extant water bodies and open spaces is crucial for laying the groundwork for future public access and enjoyment. The second is that a powerful vision in the form of a masterplan framework must be established that can live beyond short-term political cycles to guide the actions of many actors over time. The third is that landscape architects must conceive of each intervention, even if it is a small piece of a larger puzzle, as contributing to the realization of the larger vision that will, eventually, result in a radical transformation of place.

The first carbon-neutral capital

Copenhagen, as in many cities with ambitious leaders across the globe, is leading the way towards a more equitable and sustainable future for its inhabitants. By 2025, Copenhagen is to be the first-ever carbon-neutral capital city. Switching from cars to bicycles plays a decisive role.

As described in an essay on cycling culture and quality of life, the city’s bicycle culture is well known to urbanists throughout the world, and it’s a powerful experience to be immersed in it. But what is less well known are the other factors that contribute to making Copenhagen a city where you can actually live without a car, such as the provision of dense, human-scale, compact, and transit-connected urban infill for areas of new development and providing citizens with mobility choice in the form of a world-class transit system. As the city gradually implemented and expanded its famous bicycle infrastructure, there has been commensurate major investment in expanding mass transit, including the brand new Cityringen line completed in 2019.

The wonderful essay by Jacob Shoof unpacks the critical role of innovative public-private partnerships, a role played by redevelopment agencies in the U.S. These partnerships have been charged with re-imagining some of the city’s most valuable port lands and new development areas, financing the construction of major public transport projects such as the Cityringen, as well as leading the re-imagining of the city’s largest new development area, Nordhavn, under its masterplan by Cobe.

Back to the Water, Jakob Shoof, with image of Nordhavn / courtesy of Edition DETAIL, Munich

One essay goes into the details of one private-public partnership focused on the port: “The City of Copenhagen and the Danish state the laid foundations for this in 2007 with the founding of the project development company By & Havn (City and Harbour)…the new company has two main tasks: to manage and regulate the use of Copenhagen’s port waters and shore facilities and to promote the conversion of disused port areas…the company operates like a private company largely free from political influence, and can therefore pursue long-term strategies…the business model of By & Havn is to use sales proceeds [of port lands] to build public infrastructure in the newly developed areas. The new Cityringen (City Circle line) of the Copenhagen Metro has been running under the city since 2019 and was also planned by By & Havn. In order to pre-refinance the development of the infrastructure without having to rush property sales the company has taken out long-term loans, using land in its possession as security.”

Innovative financial models and thoughtful long-term planning for public infrastructure investment from bicycle lanes to the new underground metro line are critical to making a thriving and successful public realm as well as incentivizing active mobility and transit use, and therefore enabling the city to meet their ambitious long-term sustainability goals

Dense, diverse, and green. Is it possible?

As with so many urban areas around the globe, Copenhagen is experiencing an urban renaissance as more people choose to reside in dense, amenity rich, and socially diverse urban neighborhoods. But how has the city managed to maintain affordability and access for people at the beginning of their careers or those who are just forming families? So many areas in the U.S. experiencing this same urban renaissance are characterized by significant social conflict due to rapid gentrification and displacement of long-term residents.

A final theme that emerges in the book is the role of an engaged citizenry in generating grassroots-level action to provide a strong political mandate for the municipality and the design community to work for things like mobility choice and affordable housing. For instance, part of the less well-known story of the city’s bicycle culture, which reemerged in the 1970’s after going into decline in the age of the automobile, are the massive protests and collective action in response to the 1970’s oil crisis that inspired city leaders to take seriously the role of the bicycle in urban mobility.

And this level of community engagement has also shaped the city’s approach to housing. Since the late 1960’s, the city’s different forms of communal living have drawn international attention. The final chapter of the book focused on housing describes several of the innovative and beautifully well-designed housing complexes on the re-energized harborfront as well as some excellent examples of co-housing, a trend which is growing in popularity globally and was featured prominently in this year’s Venice Biennale exhibition theme: “How will we live together?”

One of the defining characteristics of Copenhagen’s inner city housing stock is the traditional form of the perimeter block that surrounds a shared green space. These forms can accommodate a variety of functions — from a safe play area for children, food producing gardens, bicycle parking, and larger community gatherings. These collectively owned and managed semi-private green spaces are rare in the U.S., but they contribute significantly to the quality of life in Copenhagen and are a major factor in attracting and retaining young families within the urban core.

The Lange End Co-housing project by Dorte Mandrup is a wonderful, contemporary interpretation of this traditional perimeter block with a large, internal shared green space. Mandrup describes how this happened: “The central aim of the project was to establish a community accommodating a range of age and occupational groups, cultural backgrounds, and ways of living. To determine the different spatial requirements – common areas for meeting and communication, but also more private areas – an extensive participatory process was carried out, with various workshops held between the planners and future residents.”

Lang Eng Cohousing by Dorte Mandrup / courtesy of Edition DETAIL, Munich
Lang Eng Cohousing by Dorte Mandrup / courtesy of Edition DETAIL, Munich

Hofmeister’s interview with Mandrup reveals the deeper motivations behind the work. “We already have numerous co-housing situations for very specialized groups – elderly people, students, or young families. My dream is that we can mix the different groups much more and build co-housing spaces that reflect the whole society – singles and families, old and young people.” And in a commentary on the next challenges the city faces, Mandrup says: “I would also wish that the city of Copenhagen would move forward with densification without simply doing things on a larger scale. We have to find better solutions to densify our cities than simply higher buildings. Densification on a small [human?] scale – that’s a real challenge for the future!”

Landscape architects have a critical role to play in the design of new housing areas in our urban neighborhoods. We can ensure there is a clear hierarchy of spaces from public to semi-public to private open spaces. Establishing this hierarchy and definition of whom these spaces are designed to serve is often overlooked but is crucial for achieving quality and livability in dense urban environments.

A beacon of sustainable urbanism

The many innovative ideas and projects described in this book and the exploration of some of the values and motivations that drive the work are what make this book a valuable resource for landscape architects and planners in the U.S. or anywhere in the world.

We can now point to these works and say, look what is possible if we work together for the common good of our communities! The City of Copenhagen brings together innovations in public participation, long term planning, finance, and a socially engaged design community to create the sustainable city of the future for residents today. It’s no wonder city leaders and design professionals around the globe are taking notice!

John Bela, ASLA, is an urban strategist and designer based in San Francisco. Bela co-founded Rebar, the creators of Park(ing) Day. A founding partner and design director at Gehl San Francisco, he left Gehl in 2021 to form his own design advisory and consulting practice: Bela Urbanism + Design. He is a licensed landscape architect in California.

ASLA Ratifies International Federation of Landscape Architects’ Climate Action Commitment

ASLA 2021 Professional Urban Design Honor Award. Xuhui Runway Park, Shanghai, China. Sasaki / Insaw Photography

Landscape Architects Unite in Advance of Key United Nations Climate Change Conference

ASLA announced it will join a global coalition of 70,000 landscape architects in 77 countries in committing to limiting planetary warming to 1.5°C (2.7 °F). This is the largest coalition of landscape architecture professionals ever assembled to advance climate action.

IFLA’s Climate Action Commitment will be issued to sovereign nations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26), which will be held in Scotland, October 31 – November 12.

ASLA has committed to the six goals outlined in the IFLA Climate Action Commitment:

1) Advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs)
ASLA and its member landscape architects and designers will accelerate efforts to protect and repair ecosystems.

2) Attaining Global Net Zero Emissions by 2040
ASLA and its members will dramatically reduce operational and embodied carbon emissions produced by projects, increasingly harness the unique capacity of landscapes to draw down carbon dioxide, and continue to advocate for low-carbon multi-modal transport systems.

3) Enhancing Capacity and Resilience of Livable Cities and Communities
Implementing green infrastructure approaches, ASLA and its members will increase efforts to mitigate the urban heat island effect and reduce climate impacts associated with fire, drought, and flooding.

4) Advocating for Climate Justice and Social Well-Being
ASLA and its members will maintain our priority on equity and equality and ensure the right to nearby green spaces and clean water and air.

5) Learning from Cultural Knowledge Systems
ASLA and its members commit to respecting and working with indigenous communities and honoring cultural land management practices to mitigate climate change impacts and continue work towards reconciliation.

6) Galvanizing Climate Leadership
Landscape architects are uniquely positioned to lead the built environment community’s response to the climate crisis. ASLA will continue to collaborate with clients, suppliers, and allied professions to champion climate positive landscapes, which involves planning and designing landscapes that sequester more greenhouse gas emissions than they emit.

“ASLA is proud to be joining forces with IFLA and the global community of landscape architects in advancing our climate action goals,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, CEO, ASLA. “We speak as one voice, globally, when it comes to advancing climate action.”

“As landscape architects we can make a tremendous difference to climate change and to climate action through our work, so thinking globally but acting locally is critical,” said IFLA President James Hayter.

“In a year marked by historic flooding in Europe and China and deadly wildfires and heat waves in the United States, it’s clear we’re running out of time to start healing a century’s worth of harm done to our Earth and its atmosphere,” said Tom Mroz, FASLA, ASLA President.

“I am gratified that Climate Positive Design has been incorporated into the global Commitment,” said Pamela Conrad, ASLA, Founder of Climate Positive Design, Principal at CMG Landscape Architecture in San Francisco, and IFLA Climate Change Working Group Vice Chair. “All landscape architects must rapidly scale up their work transforming designed landscapes into natural carbon sinks.”

The IFLA Climate Action Commitment is the second major coalition ASLA has joined this year. ASLA also signed on to Architecture 2030’s 1.5°C COP26 Communiqué, calling for built environment industries to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

Landscape architects plan and design with nature to help all communities reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate. Landscape architects use climate positive design approaches that transform parks and open spaces into natural carbon sinks. They develop resilient nature-based solutions that reduce the impacts of extreme heat; coastal, ground, and inland flooding; sea level rise; pollution; and wildfires. They also increase biodiversity and protect and restore ecosystems, which underpin life on Earth.

“Landscape architects are already helping communities adapt to climate impacts. We are having a particularly big impact on reducing dangerous urban temperatures, saving many lives in the process,” said Vaughn Rinner, FASLA, former ASLA President and ASLA representative to the IFLA Climate Change Working Group.

The Incredible Opportunity of Community Schoolyards

NY Public School 366 (before image) / Trust for Public Land
NY Public School 366 (after image) / Trust for Public Land

A new report from The Trust for Public Land (TPL) makes a compelling case for transforming underperforming, paved public schoolyards into green oases for the entire community. While the benefits for schools and their educational communities are clear, TPL sees an opportunity to open up these facilities to surrounding neighborhoods after school hours, on weekends, and when school is out. If all 90,000 public schools in the country had a “community schoolyard,” more communities could tackle the persistent park equity issue — in which too few communities, particularly undeserved ones, enjoy access to nearby high-quality public green spaces. TPL argues that opening up all schoolyards, essentially turning them into part-time all-access community hubs, would “put a park within a 10-minute walk of nearly 20 million people — solving the problem of outdoor access for one-fifth of the nation’s 100 million people who don’t currently have a park close to home.”

TPL found that “only a tiny fraction” of current public schoolyards met their criteria for a community schoolyard. While some communities have been greening their schoolyards — adding trees, gardens, and stormwater management systems — and others have opened their schoolyards to the public after hours, very few have done both. TPL calls for massively scaling up efforts to revamp schoolyards and make them more accessible through more federal funding and support through their organization and others.

Community schoolyards are the result of planning and design efforts, most often led by landscape architects and designers, to transform “overheated, vacant, and uninspired” places into green healthy ones. These spaces include trees, which provide ample shade and cool the air; gardens that increase biodiversity and provide environmental educational opportunities; stormwater management systems that help reduce flooding; and tracks, fields, and play equipment that offer space for exercise and building social skills and community engagement.

NY public school 152 before image / Trust for Public Land
NY public school 152 before image / Trust for Public Land

These shade-producing spaces, designed to cool and clean the air, offer benefits to any surrounding community, but help some even more. Research from TPL found that nationwide, “36 percent of the nation’s 50.8 million public school students attended school in a heat island, which is defined as 1.25 degrees warmer or more, on average, than the surrounding town or city. Among that group, 4.1 million students to a school in a severe heat island of 7 degrees ore more, while 1.1 million attend school in an extreme heat island of 10 degrees or more. In some communities, the heat anomaly exceeded 20 degrees.”

Income is correlated with exposure to heat risks. Average household incomes in the communities with more dangerous heat islands were estimated to be $31,000 less than the income in the coolest parts of communities. Some of the discrepancies can be explained by the enduring and dangerous legacy of racist urban planning. A study published in 2020 in the journal Climate found that communities that experienced redlining and disinvestment are 2.6°C (4.6°F) hotter than neighboring communities that didn’t. This is because that legacy resulted in a lack of street trees and public green spaces. Indeed, in the 100 largest cities, neighborhoods where people predominantly identify as people of color have access to an average of 44 percent less park acreage that predominately white areas.

One case study demonstrates the great gains that can be made by investing in public schools in historically marginalized and underserved communities. In Newark, New Jersey, a new half-acre green schoolyard at the K-8 Sussex Avenue School, co-designed by third and fourth graders and Heidi Cohen, ASLA, a landscape architect with TPL, resulted in a new turf field and running track, trees and flowering shrubs, a drinking fountain (for the first time), and an outdoor classroom space.

K-8 Sussex Avenue School / Trust for Public Land
K-8 Sussex Avenue School / Trust for Public Land
K-8 Sussex Avenue School / Trust for Public Land

The investment in students’ health and well-being resulted in noteworthy benefits: “Average daily attendance climate from 90 percent to 96 percent almost immediately after the renovation. Disciplinary actions declined, while test scores went up among the school’s 500 students, 95 percent of whom qualify for a free or reduced lunch.”

Given climate change is increasing the dangers of already hot, and unfairly hot, urban heat islands, future investment in high-quality public schoolyards is now a climate justice issue. TPL cites a study in NYC that found a correlation between rising temperatures and test scores. Another study by the Harvard Kennedy School, the College Board, and others offered “evidence that cumulative heat hurts cognitive development.” While a community schoolyard can’t solve all problems, they can improve health and educational outcomes for students. The health benefits of access of green space are increasingly well-understood, and a growing body of research shows that views of green spaces can improve cognition, mood, and learning. “By virtue of their shade, Community Schoolyard projects could help students improve their test scores,” TPL argues. Shaded areas can be up to 50 degrees cooler than a similar area in full sun.

The report also covers the many climate resilience benefits of community schoolyards. Like other sustainable landscapes, they can effectively manage stormwater using green infrastructure. TPL’s community schoolyards in NYC are estimated to capture 19 million gallons of stormwater a year; and in Philadelphia, these schoolyards capture 17 million gallons annually. “Installing green infrastructure at public schools reduces flood risk throughout the neighborhood.” Planting and maintaining school rain gardens also provides environmental education opportunities for students of all ages.

LaCima charter school, Brooklyn, NYC before photo / Trust for Public Land
LaCima charter school, Brooklyn, NYC after photo / Trust for Public Land

ASLA Announces 2021 Professional Awards

ASLA 2021 Landmark Award. Portland Open Space Sequence, Portland, Oregon. PLACE.

ASLA announces the 2021 Professional Award winners. The 40 winning projects exemplify the highest level of achievement in the profession, and the professionals themselves will be honored at ASLA’s Conference on Landscape Architecture, Nov. 20 in Nashville, TN.

Winners each year are chosen by a jury panel representing a broad cross-section of the profession, from the public and private sectors, as well as academia. The 40 winners were chosen from 486 submissions from around the world. Award categories include: General Design, Urban Design, Residential Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, and Research. In addition, one Landmark Award is also selected each year.

“This year’s winners demonstrate how landscape architects are increasingly leading the planning and design of healthy and resilient communities for all,” said Torey Carter- Conneen, CEO of ASLA. “Landscape architects are advancing communities’ diversity, equity, and inclusion goals in significant ways.”

Professional Award recipients, their clients, and advisors will be honored in-person at the awards presentation ceremony during the ASLA 2021 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Nashville, TN on Saturday, November 20th, at 6pm ET.

Explore the full list of this year’s Professional Award winners