“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” — Wallace Stegner, 1983
The National Park Service (NPS) celebrates its centennial this year and is ready to move into its next 100 years by restoring its crown jewels and also embracing new parks and a diverse range of visitors. At the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Barbara Wyatt, ASLA, NPS and the National Register of Historic Places: Landscape Initiative said, the service must “maintain natural, community, historic, and cultural elements” while upholding standards of excellence far into the future. The NPS now boasts of 412 units, including vast tracts of wilderness, important cultural institutions, monuments, and historic landscapes.
Susan Olmsted, ASLA, with Mithun explained efforts to restore one of the system’s jewels: the Mariposa Groves of giant sequoias in Yosemite. Her efforts are about “building resilience for this cherished place.” In the midst of one of the rarest ecologies in the world, there was a parking lot and a tram to accommodate all visitors. People were about to “love these trees to death.” Over a hundred years of fire suppression (natural fires were re-introduced in 1971) had also been a setback for the species. The health and well-being of the trees was put at the center of the restoration plan.
Places like these, which feed into the national imagination and “elevate the human spirit,” are some of the most important elements of the NPS experience. The Mariposa Grove is now on its way back to a healthy and long future and will re-open next summer.
The National Mall, as tapis vert, is in many ways the opposite of the Mariposa Groves at Yosemite, but is no less important to the national imagination as the soaring heights of the giant Sequoia. We gather there for inaugurations and to hear the rallying cry of leaders calling for civil rights. It is, in a sense, the front lawn for all Americans. But with 30 million visitors a year and over 3,000 officially-permitted uses, it was in need of rehabilitation.
Michael Stachowicz is the only turf management specialist on NPS’ staff, and recognizes the importance of keeping the Mall green and healthy. The rehabilitated lawn was “designed for modern use while keeping its historic character.” Millions of feet over many years had caused serious soil compaction, terrible drainage, and patchy green. His rehabilitation efforts included thoughtful grading, specially-grown sod from seed, drainage systems, stormwater cisterns, and engineered soils. His maintenance policy has moved from “damage repair to damage prevention.” He acknowledged sometimes the best thing you can do is ask people to “keep off the lawn.”
Phil Hendricks, ASLA, Robert Peccia & Associates, offered his experience in the creation of one of the newest units in the system: the Waco Mammoth National Monument, in Waco, Texas, as well as his restoration work at the Flamingo Visitor Center and Campground in Florida’s Everglades National Park. Both parks refer back to well documented NPS styles guidelines. The original “park rustic” design was applied to Waco Mammoth, and the Flamingo Resort was restored to mid-century “Mission 66” style, even down to a new coat of flamingo-pink paint.
The NPS seeks to embrace a broader constituency of visitors across its ever expanding urban and natural landscapes, cultural heritage sites, and monuments. With its increasing embrace of public-private partnerships, it’s also finding the funding to continue into its next century. This land is your land, go out and see it.
Restoring Neighborhood Streams dives deep into the details. However, all of us that are involved in restoring urban habitats — from streams, creeks, to shorelines — will benefit from reviewing how communities started these projects, analyzed opportunities, and applied lessons learned. She tells stories about the projects, but also delves into engineering technologies. Anyone involved in stream restoration can apply the ideas and results presented in the book to their urban green infrastructure projects.
The book begins and also ends with discussion on what “restoration” means. We view restoration through many lenses: engineering analyses, stormwater metrics, and urban aesthetics. She explains there are different degrees of restoration as well: we can enhance streams’ function or ecology, or preserve their history to certain levels.
In striving towards historic recreation, six case studies take the reader through the decision-making process needed to determine appropriate interventions. Case studies demonstrate the success of bio-engineering and imply the failure of traditional planting plans.
More pointedly, Riley argues for using a phased approach to stream restoration work, layering plant material while stabilizing channels at the same time. Riley stresses that successful work depends on a collaborative, multi-disciplinary team of landscape architects, engineers, scientists, communications specialists, and maintenance workers.
While stream restoration projects are now largely led by city public works departments, it’s clear the key to successful projects is participation by the community. The book uses neighborhood streams as a focal point to discuss the many issues that affect communities — wildlife habitat, water quality, public safety, homelessness, education, environmental legislation, and green jobs.
If you are doing urban restoration or green stormwater infrastructure projects, reading this book should trigger many ideas. Reading through Riley’s deconstruction of these six projects should help guide you to success.
This guest post is by Peg Staeheli, FASLA, MIG | SvR
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is excited to announce its 30 professional award recipients for 2016. Selected from 456 entries, the awards honor top public, commercial, residential, institutional, planning, communications and research projects in the U.S. and around the world. The winners will receive their awards at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in New Orleans on Monday, October 24 at the New Orleans Ernest M. Morial Convention Center.
The following is a complete list of 2016 professional award winners:
General Design Category
Award of Excellence (see image above)
Underpass Park, Toronto, Ontario
by PFS Studio for Waterfront Toronto
Framing Terrain and Water: Quzhou Luming Park, Quzhou City, Zhejiang Province, China
by Turenscape for the Quzhou City Government
Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Bishan, Singapore
by Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl for the Public Utilities Board / National Parks Board, Singapore
Converging Ecologies as a Gateway to Acadiana, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana
by CARBO Landscape Architecture for St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission
The Metro-Forest Project, Bangkok, Thailand
by Landscape Architects of Bangkok (LAB) for PTT Public Company Limited
The Power Station, Dallas
by Hocker Design Group for The Pinnell Foundation
Corktown Common: Flood Protection and a Neighbourhood Park, Toronto, Ontario
by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. for Waterfront Toronto in Partnership with Toronto Region Conservancy Authority (TRCA) and Infrastructure Ontario (IO)
Grand Teton National Park Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, Moose, Wyoming
by Swift Company LLC for the National Park Service, Grand Teton National Park Foundation and Grand Teton Association
Eco-Corridor Resurrects Former Brownfield, Ningbo, China
by SWA for Ningbo Planning Bureau – East New Town Development Committee
Analysis and Planning Category
Award of Excellence
The Copenhagen Cloudburst Formula: A Strategic Process for Planning and Designing Blue-Green Interventions, Copenhagen, Denmark
by Ramboll and Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl for the Municipality of Copenhagen
Central Puget Sound Regional Open Space Strategy, Puget Sound Region, Washington
by University of Washington Green Futures Lab for The Bullitt Foundation and The Russell Family Foundation
Rebuild by Design, The Big U, Manhattan, New York
by Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Rebuild by Design
Memorial Park Master Plan 2015, Houston
by Nelson Byrd Woltz for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, The Memorial Park Conservancy, and Uptown Houston
Baton Rouge Lakes: Restoring a Louisiana Landmark from Ecological Collapse to Cultural Sanctuary, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
by SWA Group for the Baton Rouge Area Foundation
Bayou Greenways: Realizing the Vision, Houston
by SWA Group for the Houston Parks Board
Award of Excellence
What’s Out There Guidebooks
by The Cultural Landscape Foundation
Roving Rangers: Bringing the Parks to the People
by BASE Landscape Architecture, for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund
Activating Land Stewardship and Participation in Detroit: A Field Guide to Working with Lots
by Detroit Future City, published by Inland Press
Landscape Architecture Documentation Standards: Principles, Guidelines and Best Practices
by Design Workshop, published by John Wiley & Sons
PHYTO: Principles and Resources for Site Remediation and Landscape Design
by Kate Kennen, ASLA, and Niall Kirkwood, FASLA, published by Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group
DredgeFest Event Series
by The Dredge Research Collaborative
Sea Change: Boston
by Sasaki Associates Inc.
Weather-Smithing: Assessing the Role of Vegetation, Soil and Adaptive Management in Urban Green Infrastructure Performance
by Andropogon Associates Ltd. for the University of Pennsylvania
Residential Design Category
Award of Excellence
DBX Ranch: A Transformation Brings Forth a New Livable Landscape, Pitkin County, Colorado
by Design Workshop Inc.
Kronish House, Beverly Hills, California
by Marmol Radziner
The Restoring of a Montane Landscape, Rocky Mountains, Colorado
by Design Workshop Inc.
Chilmark: Embracing a Glacial Moraine, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
by Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects
The Rivermark, Sacramento, California
by Fletcher Studio for Bridge Housing Corporation
Water Calculation and Poetic Interpretation, Carmel, California
by Arterra Landscape Architects
The Landmark Award
Michigan Avenue Streetscape: 20 Years of Magnificent Mile Blooms, Chicago
by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects for the City of Chicago/Michigan Avenue Streetscape Association
The professional awards jury included:
Kona Gray, ASLA, Chair, EDSA, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Keith Bowers, FASLA, Biohabitats Inc. Baltimore
Jennifer Guthrie, FASLA, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, Seattle
Mami Hara, ASLA, Philadelphia Water Department, Philadelphia
Christopher Hume, Architecture Critic, Toronto Star, Toronto, Ontario
Lee-Anne Milburn, FASLA, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, California
Willett Moss, ASLA, CMG Landscape Architecture, San Francisco
Suman Sorg, FAIA, DLR Group | Sorg, Washington, D.C.
As the National Park Service (NPS) celebrates its centennial, it’s time to look ahead and think about how America’s national parks should evolve over the next 100 years. A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) argues that the NPS will need to become far more inclusive to meet the needs of the mostly urban, majority-minority country we’ll have by 2043. The NPS will also need to identify areas for conservation amid the rapidly-sprawling cities of Western states before it’s too late. Already many poorer Latino and African American communities out west have been under-represented among national parks and have none nearby to enjoy. The key message of the report: put national parks closer to diverse, urban populations, and then further remove barriers preventing these populations from enjoying these places.
A recent poll conducted for CAP found that “77 percent of Americans believe the United States benefits a great deal or a fair amount from national parks. Furthermore, 55 percent of voters believe they personally benefit a great deal or a fair amount from the country’s parks and public lands.” Research from Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, confirms the enormous value of the parks: they are estimated to be worth some $92 billion to the American people.
But the reality is national parks benefit some more than others. The National Park Service is still dealing with the legacy of Jim Crow-era laws that enforced segregation in many parks. “In some cases, these laws made parks entirely off limits to African Americans.” While everyone today, by law, has equal access to national parks, “the majority of visitors remain white, aging, and fairly affluent.” And, as has been noted, 80 percent of NPS employees are white.
CAP’s polling found that 55 percent of all respondents to their survey had visited a national park, monument, or other area in the past three years. But if results are broken out by race, it looks a bit different: 59 percent of whites have visited, while 47 percent of Hispanic respondents, and only 32 percent of African Americans said the same thing. And NPS’s own 2009 survey apparently showed similar disparities: 78 percent of park visitors were white, while only 9 percent were Hispanic, and 7 percent, African American.
The report also finds there are differences in visitation among different income groups. “Only 39 percent of Americans with incomes below $40,000 reported visiting the National Park system in the last three years.” In comparison: 59 percent of those who made between $40,000 and $75,000 visited, as well as 66 percent of those who made more than $75,000.
While the NPS is now designating more places diverse populations want to go to, there is still more to do. Only 112 of the 460 designated units of the NPS, or 24.3 percent, have a focus on diverse groups. This is not thinking ahead to meet the needs of a mostly-minority country.
Recent steps — like creating the Stonewall Inn National Monument in New York City, which preserves the site of the Stonewall riots that started the LGBT rights movement, and the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, which honors an important Latino civil rights activist — are steps in the right direction, but the report argues more of these protected places need to be created. This is because “parks aimed at preserving traditionally underrepresented histories and stories in fact attract higher visitation rates than the national average from groups that they aim to honor.” For example, some 37 percent of visitors to the Nicodemus National Historic Site, a park that preserves a western town established by African Americans, are themselves African American, in comparison with around 9 percent of visitors, on average, for other parks.
The report also makes the case for preserving natural area in the West, where development “disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income communities.” Poorer and minority-heavy communities are typically more developed than average, which means these groups grow up in areas with fewer natural resources — and national parks and monuments.
The report argues these communities need both more small neighborhood parks and more preserved large natural areas. “Congress, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the president should create and enhance public lands in accessible places — so-called frontcountry recreation areas. Frontcountry areas offer close-to-home natural settings and outdoor experiences, which allow people to experience nature without needing to travel to a far-off destination. Emphasis should be placed on accessible frontcountry parks near communities of color, low-income communities, and urban areas.”
A prime example of what NPS needs more of: the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, which President Obama designated in 2014 and is just a 90-minute drive for the 15 million-strong, diverse, urban population of Los Angeles.
Working to Make Public Space for Everyone in Baltimore – The Baltimore Sun, 8/1/16
“For writer D. Watkins, it’s a sense of exclusion from what he called the ‘new’ Baltimore. For student activist Diamond Sampson, it’s a feeling of being unwelcome around the Inner Harbor.”
Will Replacing Thirsty Lawns with Drought-Tolerant Plants Make L.A. Hotter? – The Los Angeles Times, 8/2/16
“Last summer, a revolution occurred in Los Angeles landscaping: Across the city, tens of thousands of homeowners tore up their water-thirsty lawns and replaced them with gravel, turf, decomposed granite and a wide range of drought-tolerant plants at a rate never seen before.”
How Noted Landscape Architect Jim Burnett Counters Dallas’ Concrete Jungle – The Dallas Morning News, 8/2/16
“The 55-year-old is best known worldwide as the landscape architect of Klyde Warren Park. But he’s also created visions of greenery throughout Uptown and the Arts District and was part of the team that produced the outdoor master plan for Parkland Memorial Hospital.”
Why Landscape Architects Are the Urban Designers of Tomorrow – Curbed, 8/4/16
“For landscape architects, the ground has shifted in serious ways over the last few decades. Earlier this summer in Philadelphia, at a mid-June summit organized by the Landscape Architecture Foundation, members of the profession looked back at the changes the last half-century has brought to their profession.”
Ben Bradlee’s Mausoleum Sets Off a Gossip-Laden Squabble – The New York Times, 8/11/16
“It lacked the pageantry of the funeral nearly a year before, but when the body of Benjamin C. Bradlee, the longtime editor of The Washington Post, was re-interred in a Georgetown cemetery here last October, it had an air of permanence.”
David August Williston is a name little known today, even in the world of landscape architecture. But according to Dr. Douglas Williams, Student ASLA, Ph.D graduate from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, he is one of the trail blazers of the field. One of the first African American landscape architects, Williston designed some of the major campuses of historically African American colleges like Booker T. Washington’s Tuskeegee Institute and Howard University in Washington, D.C. In his lifetime, he never experienced full integration, having passed away in 1962 at the age of 94, but managed to accomplish a lasting legacy of built work.
In a talk at Howard University’s School of Architecture, Williams wondered why Williston is so little celebrated. In part, he blames the lack of diversity in core landscape architecture texts, like the Landscape of Man, published in 1970, and Landscape Design, in 2001. “Where are the black people in these texts?”
Referring to Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, which argues that geniuses are less isolated phenomena than important nodes in deep and rich social networks, Williams argued that Williston also collaborated widely. He tried to imagine Williston’s African American contemporaries, many of whom remain unknown. He tried to imagine how Williston was able to create an entirely African American system to achieve his landscape designs in the segregated deep South. And he tried to imagine how Williston, without access to white-owned nurseries, could have sought out native plants in the woods and cultivated them on his own. (Williston was one of the first African Americans to earn a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Cornell University; there, his love of plants grew into a considerable expertise on plant propagation and cultivation.)
Williston taught horticulture to African American college students while also serving as a campus landscape architect for numerous historically black colleges. He spent 20 years at Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, where he also worked with African American architect Robert R. Taylor to lay out the physical campus. According to The Cultural Landscape Foundation, he then settled in Washington, D.C. at the onset of the Great Depression, where he started his own firm. He designed the expansion of Howard University, and numerous other colleges, working well into his early 90s.
Williams’ hope is to completely digitize Williston’s archives and make them accessible online for future researchers, using them as a basis to create 3-D models of now-lost planting schemes, so more people can experience a Williston landscape.
Cleveland’s Great New Public Spaces Helped Make RNC 2016 a Success– The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/22/16
“The Republican National Convention, where Trump gave his acceptance speech Thursday night, was a great, crashing success for its host city – and especially for the revitalized public spaces that framed the event and made it possible.”
The Secret Behind the Floral Mural of Fiddler’s Green’s Living Walls– The Denver Post, 7/22/16
“Live music isn’t the only animate attraction at Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre in Greenwood Village. The concert venue, owned and operated by the Museum of Outdoor Arts (MOA), also boasts North America’s largest living walls. Picture vast, lush gardens with a total of 25,000 plants tipped on their sides, an aerial Eden.”
Changing Skyline: New Dilworth Park is Busy with Everything but Protests– Philly.com, 7/22/16
“You only have to spend a few minutes in Dilworth Park to see what a people magnet it has become since the Center City District completed a dramatic, $55 million makeover two years ago. Besides regular attractions, like the cafe and sparkling fountain, there is something special going on 186 days a year – that’s every other day – ranging from concerts and farmers’ markets to bocce tournaments and Lupus Awareness booths.”
What It Takes to Clean the Ganges – The New Yorker, 7/25/16
“The Ganges River begins in the Himalayas, roughly three hundred miles north of Delhi and five miles south of India’s border with Tibet, where it emerges from an ice cave called Gaumukh (the Cow’s Mouth) and is known as the Bhagirathi.”
Obama Chooses Historic Jackson Park as Library Site– Chicago Tribune, 7/27/16
“Rejecting a rough-edged urban site for what could be a showcase near the lakefront, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have selected Chicago’s historic Jackson Park as the site of his presidential library, sources said Wednesday.”
The Obama Library Is Going in Jackson Park – What That Means – The Huffington Post, 7/28/16
“The last major remaining question about the Obama Presidential Library—which Frederick Law Olmsted-Calvert Vaux-designed park would become the building site for the facility—was answered yesterday when news leaked out that the First Couple had decided on Jackson over Washington Park. This is a good-news/bad-news result.”
Conservation: Geniuses of Place– Nature.com, 7/6/16
“Ethan Carr traces the arc of influence in landscape creation and preservation from ‘Capability’ Brown to Frederick Law Olmsted and the US National Park Service.”
Playful Variation on Ring Forms Performance Space at Ragdale in Lake Forest – Chicago Tribune, 7/8/16
“There’s something about a ring, the kind that gathers people in a circle. From Stonehenge to the layered-stone ‘council rings’ of landscape architect Jens Jensen, circular open-air structures have long liberated us from the straight lines of everyday life and created places for shared experience.”
Montreal Trades Expressway for “Urban Boulevard”– Next City, 7/11/16
“Montreal has begun tearing down its part of a mid-century expressway to make way for a greener, more transit- and pedestrian-friendly boulevard, reports the Montreal Gazette.”
“Landscapes have long been essential to the transfer of knowledge,” said Daniel Bluestone, a professor of history, art, and architecture at Boston University at Dumbarton Oaks’ symposium on landscape and the academy. In ancient Greece, “Hippocrates taught the art of medicine under a tree. And in China, there has been a tradition of educational landscapes, including the book garden.” Fast forward to the founding of some early colleges and universities in the United States, and we see the beginning of a “distinctly American type of educational landscape,” with gardens, arboreta, and designed views. Early American university campuses were designed to “train the eye to outside beauty,” create a long-lasting appreciation for nature, and build important values like self-reliance. Today, some of those American universities are now at the forefront of education about sustainability and resilience. “University landscapes can create a profound connection with the ecology of our world. We need students who understand climate change. A university can make these issues manifest in the landscape.”
The symposium covered vast ground; here are highlights from some of the campus landscapes discussed:
The University of Virginia: This model American campus was laid out by president Thomas Jefferson in the early 1800s. He envisioned a central mall surrounded by buildings, with “spaces for learning intended to promote the stewardship of knowledge, an academical village,” explained Bluestone. The idea was to give people “space to develop a sense of where they were” — in this case, the Virginia landscape, which was central to the original campus and became a sort of living learning lab, in today’s lingo, “where students could reflect on their place in the greater ecological scheme of things.” It was also a productive landscape: students would pass by kitchen gardens and know where their food came from. (The image below is of Jefferson’s kitchen garden at Monticello, but it perhaps gives an idea of what those would have looked like).
Harvard University: Joseph Claghorn, a fellow at Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany, gave a sweeping tour of Harvard Yard through the ages, arguing that the shift away from the grand Elm tree monoculture of Harvard Yard to a more diverse, resilient tree canopy, under the guidance of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, is mirrored in shift away from being a white, elitist college to a more diverse one. (However, one could also argue that only elite institutions like Harvard can afford to be so resilient). Claghorn traces the evolution of Harvard Yard over the years, explaining that there had been three waves of Elm deaths before the move diverse planting scheme was created, which still features the stunning Elm roof but also includes blooming yellow woods and many other species.
Harvard, the oldest institution of higher learning in the U.S., has largely had an organic evolution over the past 375 years. In the beginning, there was no masterplan for the campus. By the 1720s, the college had settled on an “open quadrangle, not cloistered like Oxford.” Claghorn says this distinction is important: In the United Kingdom, the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge had roots in monasteries — they were isolated, exclusive places for learning — but Harvard, in its early years at least, was open and directly linked with the Cambridge Commons, which “reflected the mutual dependence between college and town.” By the early 1800s, however, the college had become a university, with multiple schools, and become “largely segregated from the neighboring working-class community.”
The epitome of this segregation was the addition of a church on Harvard’s campus, which meant students no longer ventured into Cambridge to worship with their neighbors. Gates were added to further separate the campus. Those gates were later used to the defensive advantage of student protestors in the 1960s and 70s. In the past few decades, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates began to diversify the campus landscape, as the Elms were infected by Dutch Elm disease. Today, some subsidiary spaces even have apple trees — a far cry from the totality of the Elms. Diversity and resilience is now increasingly depicted through the campus landscape.
U.S. Military Academy at West Point: John Dean Davis, who is studying for his Ph.D at Harvard, delved into the landscape of the oldest continual military installation in the country. The early campus experience for the male cadets was “drudgery punctuated by moments enjoying nature.” The sprawling campus in upstate New York allowed for “roaming in the Hudson River valley.” In the early 1900s, the Olmsted brothers created a masterplan that featured an “active plane,” a vast central lawn, and the preservation of forested watersheds. Today, the active plane where marching drills were once held now contains sports field and a helipad. And instead of free immersions in the wilderness of the military reservation, cadets are bound in mediated REI-like experiences in controlled natural settings. Enjoyment of wild nature has been tamed in favor of safety and discipline.
Vassar College: In contrast with West Point, Vassar, the first endowed women’s college in the U.S., incorporated landscape exploration into the actual curriculum, said Karen Van Lengen, professor of architecture, University of Virginia. The campus in Poughkeepsie, New York, was separated from the town. Its ambitious landscape plan evolved incrementally over time, but was crafted to have “an effect on the students.” Some of the first women ecologists in the country led classes featuring the campus landscape. Each class at Vassar also contributed to the development of the landscape by planting trees. “Tree day was an important ceremony.” It grew to become a “nocturnal, cult-like event, with dances and poetry.” Commencements even involve constructed, ceremonial views of trees. Today, Vassar remains a “leading institution for environmental studies and uses its campus to teach about ecology and conservation.”
John Beardsley, director of the landscape program at Dumbarton Oaks, remarked how the landscape of Vassar was designed to encourage independent thinking, while West Point’s emphasized the collective, despite moments of freedom in nature.
Duke University: Mark Hough, FASLA, university landscape architect at Duke, and Linda Jewell, FASLA, a just-retired professor from the University of California Berkeley, explained the history of this picturesque campus in Durham, North Carolina, and the unique role it plays as both public garden and educational institution. From the beginning, Duke had “Ivy envy,” explained Hough. That resulted in massive investments by the Duke family, one of the wealthiest in the south, in creating a campus that “looked like it was carved out of pristine nature.” Today, the campus is wrestling with how to integrate more contemporary landscape architecture into the historic campus, and manage a $1 billion building campaign that will result in new projects by West 8, Reed Hilderbrand, and Stephen Stimson Associates.
Last year, the university’s Sarah P. Duke Gardens received over 300,000 visitors, explained Jewell. Considered the highlight of the campus, the gardens feature a designed pond — that is beautiful but also manages stormwater — and “exuberant flora.” In 2007, the gardens got the first full time director, who was put in “take it to the next level.” While the gardens clearly attract lots of visitors, they are also designed for the students. WiFi is now accessible to enable “passive study.” And then there’s the trickier student interactions to manage. Hough explained that “it has become a social ritual to have sex in the gardens before you graduate.” He laughed, “you can’t take the students out of the campus.”
Hough explained how students’ deep concern about sustainability led Duke to LEED-certify all their buildings in the early 00s and resulted in a shift away from manicured gardens to more ecological ones. A severe drought in 2007 also led Duke to reduce its dependence on the municipal water system, with a 12-acre pond that Warren Byrd, FASLA, Nelson Byrd Woltz, unearthed and turned into a campus nature park, adding some 40,000 native plants. The new ecological landscape, which just opened last year, saves the university 100 million gallons in water use a year. Hough said this new landscape is an example of how Duke is “blurring the lines between infrastructure, student life, ecology, and engineering” while still making places that are “as beautiful as possible.”
Jewell said in the past five years, she has witnessed a huge increase in awareness about the role campus landscapes can play in sustainability. A simple question like, “do we have too much grass?” has “opened the door” to much broader conversations.
You were an expert adviser to PBS’s new show, 10 Parks That Changed America, which airs nationwide on April 12. The 10 parks the producers selected include, in chronological order: the squares of Savannah, Georgia; Fairmount Park in Philadelphia; Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Central Park in New York City; Chicago’s Neighborhood Parks; The Riverwalk in San Antonio in Texas; Overton Park in Memphis, Tennessee; Freeway Park in Seattle, Washington; Gas Works Park in Seattle, Washington; and, finally, the High Line in New York City.
Looking at these 10 parks that changed America, what story do they tell? What are the through-lines from the 1700s to today?
It’s a pretty concise story. It’s the evolution of our use of public space; the evolving definitions of what the public realm is. The film starts with the squares of Savannah, Georgia that were designed for an ideal town that was supposed to be based on equanimity and justice. Community life would be centered around public parks. We can move all the way through to Central Park in New York City, essentially the first public park. Then, you get into Gas Works Park and Freeway Park in Seattle, which use urban infrastructure to create new kinds of public realms. We could argue the High Line in New York City is yet another definition of the public realm — the alternative use of former infrastructure for the public.
If you could identify just one park that you think has the most impactful legacy, which would you choose?
I hate that question! There’s never one. But if you are making me, I would start with Savannah and its vision of an ideal town. Savannah is so important because those public squares came out of the founders’ original ideas of equality for everyone. The public realm reflected that, at least until they introduced slavery decades after the founding of the city.
Before Savannah, those kinds of landscapes only belonged to the royalty or the rich. The idea that public squares would be at the center of a democratic, or seemingly democratic space, is really critical.
I like choosing Savannah because everybody else would choose Central Park. And, yes, Central Park is really important, but I argue for Savannah because it establishes a language about democratic space that is critical to this long story. Plus, it will annoy people.
There a number of parks you wanted to see included but just didn’t make the cut. Which other parks did you really make a case for?
I tried really hard for the Lurie Garden for a very specific reason: it introduced the idea of a garden in the city, the garden as part of the public realm, which is different than a botanical garden or a park. Lurie Garden is why the High Line could come into existence the way that it did. Lurie Garden made us see the public realm differently.
The other one I argued for was Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, one of the adoptions of streets as public space or public park, which was another important move.
In your mind, which parks should have been cut?
The High Line didn’t need to be included. It’s the hottest thing in the market right now, but we’ve seen it. Other important parks made the High Line possible. Also, unfortunately, James Corner, ASLA, the landscape architect behind the project, didn’t make the time for the interview, so we only heard from Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, the architects on the project.
I’m not convinced the Riverwalk in San Antonio, which has a wonderful and fascinating history, has had the same effect of some of the other parks featured.
I lobbied for Seattle’s Gas Works Park and also Freeway Park. All but one of the show’s advisers mentioned both those parks, so that was more of a clincher than any of my arguments.
I lobbied for Gas Works Park because it changed the way we saw our toxic urban sites. Before Gas Works, we took toxic soil and dumped it into some poor neighborhood’s landfill. After Gas Works Park, we decided we had to deal with it on site. We had to keep the memory of previous historical decisions in the landscape, such as industry, even if we may not love that history. That opened up the door to the way we deal with cities today. The way we think about cities and infrastructure today is a legacy of Gas Works. It’s critically important, even internationally.
Freeway Park didn’t have as big of an effect, but it was a whole new way of thinking about infrastructure. In the long run, it’s going to have more impact, it has just taken longer to do that.
All the parks featured in the solved major social, public health, and environmental problems. Are today’s parks solving our new, immense challenges — climate change, biodiversity loss, inequality, and falling democratic participation?
For the most part, no. Europeans are pushing those boundaries more than we are for a whole number of reasons. One is, frankly, the immigration crisis.
There are individual projects that are beginning to do that but on the whole, but we are still too stuck in the idea that parks are about grass, trees, and masses of people. This is the Project for Public Spaces approach to parks, which is if there are a lot of people — doesn’t matter who — then it’s successful. What’s needed is a re-evaluation of the public realm to serve immigrant and under-served communities and adapt to climate change.
We haven’t addressed these challenges because landscape architects haven’t been willing. There are a number of landscape architects who are talking about these issues. But our public realm is not invested in by the government, people, and patrons, so there are significant obstacles. Only some landscape architects are willing to truly go out on a limb and really argue for some of the dramatic things that we need to consider. That’s the challenge ahead of us.
Frankly, the challenge also is in pedagogy — it’s a challenge for our universities. How do we prepare students to make that argument without making them irrelevant? You can’t jump too far because then you just sound like you’re barking up a tree. Landscape architects have to be able to deal with the reality and persuade civic governments to invest in public space. Sadly, that’s a tough sell these days.
I was at a conference for the last two days in Italy, which was called Urban Landscape as Challenge. Two former heads of Italian Parliament were at this meeting. Both of them had design backgrounds. They were talking about the importance of the public realm and landscape architecture. I want to challenge you to think of a single politician who comes from a design background and spends their time arguing for the design of public realm in the States. What I’d love to do is train more of our landscape architecture students to consider going into politics. How’s that for a challenge?
There’s so many types of public space innovations featured in the show. They reflected cutting-edge thinking at their time. But through their success, they also created models that could be copied and even become commonplace. So, imagine 50 to 100 years in the future. What park innovation has not been created that will become mainstream in our distant future?
Okay, I do not have my silver ball, but here are a couple of ideas.
First, parks are going to become places of climate adaptation, like Mill Race Park by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, which can deal with floods, or they are going to be explicitly designed to provide shade. As the climate changes, we’re going to have to deal with water retention and different biodiversity criteria, too. We’ve begun to address these issues, but we can’t until we get more public investment. Landscape architects, ecologists, and climate change scientists are doing this, but their efforts are going to become more profound and challenging to the status quo.
Second, I don’t know what it will look like, but the sharing economy will play a larger role in the public realm. All of these semi-capitalist, semi-sharing firms like Uber, Airbnb, and others, will engage public spaces. There could be virtual markets that become places where you come and display your wares, but in more of a bartering system. Streets are going to become public spaces for all kinds of commerce. I saw this sitting in Rome, where the streets have all sorts of pop-up stuff happening.
Third, we’re going to see other definitions of public space and uses that grow from diversity and immigration. In the 19th century, there were lots of small city parks in New York City. One of the struggles for the New York City government was to get immigrants to use the parks the way they thought they should be used. Immigrants would come in and use it the way they wanted to use it. The city government would then come in and clean it up. We’re going to see more spaces for immigrants and diverse communities, as well as displaced and homeless populations — places made through their own vision of public space. It’s going to look different. Every space isn’t going to be for everyone. These places will not be about serving the most number of people. It’s going to be about serving the locals in multiple ways. They might be places for alternative agriculture or other food production, or a place for communal cooking and eating.
We’re going to see different kinds of public spaces that will continue the evolution we see in 10 Parks That Changed America, from Savannah to the High Line. Just as Savannah couldn’t imagine the High Line or Gas Works Park, there are things now we can’t imagine.