According to the producers, the film “underscores the profound inequality that persisted for decades in the number, size, and quality of state park spaces provided for Black visitors across the South. Even though it has largely faded from public awareness, the imprint of segregated design remains visible in many state parks.”
“O’Brien’s balanced research on Black self-help to achieve some measure of recreational access in the face of Jim Crow is one of the book’s crowning successes,” LaRue Smith writes. “There are many other well researched elements relating to the history of the ‘Negro Problem,’ park planning and politics, post-World War II ‘separate but equal’ policies, and court battles primarily brought by the NAACP to dismantle park segregation. Together, these research areas build a much-needed historical record of Jim Crow and the exclusion of African Americans in southern state parks.”
The film features commentary by O’Brien, who is a professor of environmental studies at Florida Atlantic University, and architect Arthur J. Clement, who attended a segregated state parks as a child. “Dramatic images and live footage bring this painful history into contemporary focus,” the film producers write.
In collaboration with the National Building Museum, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is presenting this event free of charge. The Olmsted Network and Library of American Landscape History are co-sponsors. And the program is supported by the Darwina L. Neal Cultural Landscape Fund for adult programs focusing on cultural landscapes.
5:30 pm – Doors open
6:00 pm – Film screening
6:30pm – 7:15pm – Panel discussion with William E. O’Brien, Arthur J. Clement, and Wairimũ Ngaruiya Njambi, moderated by ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen.
7.15 – 7.30 pm – Remarks by Bronwyn Nichols Lodato, president of the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council, on behalf of the Olmsted Network
7.30 – 8.30 pm – Reception
Deb Guenther, FASLA, LEED AP, SITES AP, is a partner and landscape architect at Mithun, based in Seattle, Washington. She was a Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) Leadership and Innovation Fellow from 2021-2022 and awarded the President’s Medal by the American Society of Landscape Architect in 2010.
Equity is increasingly being seen as central to landscape architects’ climate action work. How do you define equity in your planning and design work? And what about terms like climate equity and climate justice?
We spend time discussing equity for each project, even if the project doesn’t explicitly have equity goals. It’s different for each community.
We focus on understanding the historical injustices that have happened over time and how those show up in day-to-day lives today. Disproportionate underinvestments in communities have impacts. We try to understand how those show up in power dynamics of not only race and gender but also income and class. We want to be able to understand the power dynamics before we come in the room.
Climate injustices have disproportionately affected communities of color. Often these communities have been redlined, are lower lying, and experience more flooding, or have less trees and experience more intense summer heat. These communities often don’t have the infrastructure to prevent flooding.
We need to build trust with communities to be able to do effective work and learn with community members. I think the big takeaway for me from the fellowship was that I was just catching up to a lot of the things that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color have known for a long time.
People with the lived experience in the community are the greatest resource for finding the solutions. We can’t do work that is meaningful to communities without first investing time. So all of that comes back to: how can we build a design process that is more relational and less transactional? How do we do the pre-design work that leads to greater trust?
Community design centers are ready to do this long-term, place-based work. Partnering with a community over time is a different exercise with different results than coming in and out of a community. Staying with a community builds understanding.
I have also heard about flood control districts and park districts that are starting to band together regionally because they know they can’t address all the climate adaptation needs individually as agencies. So we need to take a broader or regional view, and at the same time, look at what community leaders know about their specific neighborhoods. It’s a back and forth, regional and local.
We can’t move climate justice work forward and do our best work without building trust first. Climate work is so urgent that we have to go slow to go fast. We have to take the time to build the trust in order to be able to move quickly enough to respond to climate in effective way.
You’re a partner at Mithun, a mission-driven integrated design firm that began in Seattle, Washington, and later expanded to offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In Washington State and elsewhere, Mithun is partnering with tribes on a range of planning and design projects. What have you learned working with tribes and their approaches to long-term sustainability and resilience? And what are some examples of how their ethos has been translated into landscape architecture projects with your firm?
We are so grateful for the relationships we have with First Nations. Twenty years ago we were learning about co-design and co-creation through our engagements with First Nations.
We were going to their events. We were having meals with the elders. We were getting to know sites together by sleeping overnight in the sagebrush steppe in eastern Washington while working with the Wanapum on their Heritage Center. We were invited to share in some very special ceremonies. We were getting to know each other and each other’s culture in a deeper way.
We also learned about holding the capacity for difficult conversations. As facilitators of these conversations, we’ve learned a lot over the years about how to allow those uncomfortable conversations to happen, how we can have those together in a room and still walk out together at the end and be better for it. That’s a big lesson learned over the years.
The importance of investing in youth is another area where we’ve learned so much from First Nations. The canoe journey is a multi-tribal event that happens every other year among many of the tribes in the Pacific Northwest. Youth are reclaiming their connection to traditional lifeways through a canoe journey where they travel to a hosting tribe. They come together for a major gathering at the end. Preparing for these journeys influences many youth.
And it had a direct result creating the House of Awakened Culture that we designed with the Suquamish tribe. They built that project in anticipation of hosting a canoe journey. Now they can also host future canoe journeys and larger gatherings as a tribe.
The Sea2City Design Challenge in Vancouver, Canada led to an exciting re-imagining of False Creek, a central inlet in the city. Mithun worked with representatives and cultural advisors from Host Nations, including the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh, and the community to envision a decolonized approach to coastal climate adaptation planning. What do decolonized landscapes look like? And how did you leverage traditional tribal communications forms, including spoken word and storytelling, to envision this decolonization process?
We went directly to the Host Nation cultural advisors, Tsleil-Waututh Nation knowledge keeper Charlene (Char) Aleck, and Squamish artist Cory Douglas and asked: what does a decolonized landscape look like to you? They wanted to imagine a place where they feel like they belonged. Right now, the way the False Creek area is set up, there aren’t many places where they feel they belong.
One of the places on seawall promenade that resonated with Cory was this cluster of cedar trees peeking out of the asphalt. So we built on the idea of the cedars, harvesting plants and food for cultural uses, and being able to be in a place where land and water is nourishing. Those are the ways of belonging they were speaking to.
A significant moment in this project is when went on a boat ride up and down False Creek with Char and Cory and the team. During that boat ride, we heard from Char about reciprocity and exchange, what is given and what is taken, and how that all influences their cultural outlook on what it means to have a place they belong in.
Afterwards, we threw out all of our design work and started again with this idea of going back to the historic natural shoreline. We have to go back to where things were taken. Not only does that make sense from a sea level rise protections, flooding, contamination standpoint, but it also makes sense from a reciprocity standpoint. Decolonized landscapes are about finding the ways to ensure people feel like they belong.
It is interesting to think that our next experiences as landscape architects may be about deconstruction rather than construction. The return to the historic shoreline is predicated on buildings that are aging out. Instead of replacing buildings that have aged out, we can rezone upland areas that can take more development and not displace people or businesses. We can plan for the gradual movement of people and businesses and housing up slope. This is a way of building in protections against sea level rise and allowing for marine life to flourish. It’s also a way to clean a contaminated waterway over time.
As part of Bay Area Resilient by Design Challenge, Mithun led an interdisciplinary team of ecological, design, planning, economic, and social justice organizations to create ouR-HOME, a comprehensive planning effort in Richmond, California, a low-income community that has experienced a range of environmental injustices and is facing significant sea level rise and flooding impacts. The Resilient by Design effort sought to envision what structural equity looks like, how to protect the community from gentrification and displacement, and create new wealth, while also using nature to increase resilience to future climate impacts. It’s a great example of equity-based climate adaptation work. How did those ideas came together and how they are being pursued in projects that have evolved from the planning effort?
This is a very special project and place with a lot of wonderful people. There’s such a strong environmental justice history in North Richmond. This community has had to build their sense of self-determination because they were ignored, redlined, and subject to disinvestment.
So there are multiple generations of community leaders, like Whitney Dotson, Cynthia Jordan, Dr. Henry Clark, Annie King-Meredith, Princess Robinson who have led and are leading significant change. They are working in so many ways to advance locally-driven solutions.
The Bay Area tends to approach things regionally. A lot of Resilient by Design was happening at the regional level. But that wasn’t going create change in North Richmond because of its history.
As part of the shoreline collaboration plan, we’re now working on what the governance strategy can be with the community. The goal is to evaluate how to connect immediate benefits from the work they’re doing on nature-based solutions. We’re designing a living levee there that will allow marine life to transition and protect the wastewater district facility that serves the entire West Contra Costa County. We’ve also co-designed with a community advisory group a five-mile strategy of collaboration between property owners that would protect a much larger swath of the neighborhood and other infrastructure.
Some of those direct benefits are building up community knowledge through a co-design process, workforce development, and land trusts that guard against gentrification. And there are projects that will provide more access to the shoreline through trails and destinations, like interpretive centers and overlooks.
A lot of the residents that were involved in the co-design process during Resilient by Design have remained involved as champions of various projects. Folks really grabbed on to the pieces they were interested in and shepherded those forward.
In the co-design process as part of Resilient by Design, we had public agency folks in the room with community residents, business leaders, various nonprofit organizations. They all knew each other before Resilient by Design. But they knew each other in the context of presenting information to each other, not really working shoulder to shoulder. During the process we conducted, they were working shoulder to shoulder to solve issues, having more casual dialogue. This is the main thing we heard at the end of the process — that resident advisors wanted this kind of work to continue.
What we noticed is that there is cyclical process with funding, right? There wasn’t a convener that could keep the group going until West Contra Costa County Wastewater District stepped up to do their work on the levee. They were able to bring a similar group together again.
As designers, we need to think about how we keep shoulder-to-shoulder dialogue going with communities, even when there isn’t a project driving it. So many relevant projects come out of those kinds of processes.
Mithun states that it uses affordable housing developments to create “active social hubs,” and it leverages its “integrated design approach” as a vehicle for social equity. Your firm’s landscape architects are often involved in these projects, weaving in green spaces, play areas, rooftop gardens, pedestrian bicycle access, and public art. A few projects — the Liberty Bank Building in Seattle, Washington, and Casa Adelante at 2060 Folsom in San Francisco — seems to highlight the value of landscape architects in these projects. Can you talk about how landscape architects on your team are shaping these projects?
Common space in affordable housing projects is such highly valued space. You can imagine when the goal is to house people, every square foot is going to be carefully scrutinized.
At the beginning of these projects, the landscape architect’s role at Mithun is to do that massaging, that working back and forth between the indoor and the outdoor space, to not only program the shared spaces outside but also the spaces inside.
We look at those adjacencies where people can run into each other naturally, where are they going to get their mail, where are they going to for daily life experiences. Running into each other causes people to know their neighbors and builds a stronger sense of community.
Those are the two areas where we’re shaping these projects the most. The first is being present at the beginning to do that shaping of how the common space is tied to the lifeways of the residents. And the second is figuring out how those adjacencies are built into the framework of the design. All the other stuff is gravy if you get the adjacencies right.
Mithun has invested in being a responsible design firm. It has offset all its emissions since 2004, offers bike parking at its offices, and finances employees’ home energy efficiency retrofits. It donates pro-bono design services, raises funds for local community groups, and its leaders are involved in the boards of civic organizations. How does Mithun plan to further evolve to address the climate crisis?
We are looking at the North Richmond work and thinking about how we can work geographically like that in other areas and build long-term relationships. We’ve been there now for seven years continuously and built a more relational way of working. Ultimately, we feel that is the most equitable way to work, because we have that deeper understanding and a shared sense of reciprocity.
We’re participating in conversations happening in communities that we’re a part of. And then we bring those ideas to our projects. We’re tying ideas together and building momentum. This is just how we live as a community, right?
We never want to underestimate the value of social resilience. The greatest predictor of survival in a crisis is how well you know your neighbors, your community. In a climate justice context, we want to model what we think is valuable for all communities. We want to design places where people can get to know each other, where they can practice adaptation together, and therefore be better prepared to work together when they need to respond to climate impacts.
Over the holidays, delve into new books on history, design, and the environment that inform and inspire. Whether you are looking for the perfect gift for your favorite designer or something to read yourself, explore THE DIRT’s 12 bestbooks of 2022:
Richard K. Rein, a reporter and founder of the weekly newsletter U.S. 1, delves into the life and ideas of William H. Whyte, the urbanist, sociologist, journalist, and famously close observer of people in public spaces. Whyte’s articles and books, including The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces and City: Rediscovering the Center, led to a renewed focus on human-centered design, a greater understanding of the value of public space, and influenced generations of landscape architects around the world.
With Beatrix Farrand: Garden Artist, Landscape Architect, Judith Tankard, a landscape historian, has provided the definitive biography of Farrand, filled with gorgeous photography. And in Garden as Art: Beatrix Farrand at Dumbarton Oaks, Thaïsa Way, FASLA, director of landscape and garden studies at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., has revealed the magic of Farrand’s masterpiece, with an essay from Thomas Woltz, FASLA, and evocative images from photographer Sahar Coston-Hardy.
Dana Davidsen, a landscape designer at Surface Design in San Francisco and former ASLA intern, has curated a beautiful collection of 18 urban, suburban, and rural residential landscapes in U.S. and U.K. that advance ecological design. In an introduction, Timothy A. Schuler, a contributing editor at Landscape Architecture Magazine, explains how deeply sustainable residential projects can help re-set our relationship with the land.
“The planning practices of the past are inadequate for today’s challenges,” explains David Rouse, ASLA, a landscape architect and planner, who co-authored this book with Rocky Piro, executive director of the Colorado Center for Sustainable Urbanism and former planning director of Denver. After reviewing hundreds of comprehensive plans, they offer a new model for 21st century planning rooted in sustainability, resilience, and equity. Read more.
For the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, president of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF); Arleyn A. Levee, Hon. ASLA, a landscape historian; and Dena Tasse-Winter, a historic preservationist, have created a welcome overview of more than 200 public, educational, and private landscapes by Olmsted, his firm, and his successors. Well-curated images, including stunning full-page plans and drawings by Olmsted, show the remarkable work behind his vision of democratic public spaces.
In her review, Grace Mitchell Tada, ASLA, writes: “From activists and community organizers, landscape architects and city planners, policy makers and city officials, Sant’s cast of characters demonstrate the complexity and nuance that go into creating urban change. It’s the details from her interviews that make this book a valuable tool. Seeing how change is made allows readers to understand how, in their own communities, they too might be able to forge fruitful relationships to dismantle racist histories in favor of equity while equipping their city to handle climate change.” Read the full review.
Galen Newman, ASLA, professor and head of the department of landscape architecture and urban planning at Texas A&M University, and Zixu Qiao, a master’s of landscape architecture candidate there, have edited a fascinating look at global landscape architecture-based solutions to sea level rise, with practically-minded case studies from Kate Orff, FASLA, Alex Felson, ASLA, Haley Blakeman, FASLA, Kongjian Yu, FASLA, Amy Whitesides, ASLA, and many others. Smart diagrams in the final chapter transform the book into a toolkit that can help landscape architects sort through the pluses and minuses of natural and hard design elements for different ecological, economic, and social conditions.
Reviewing the new edition of this book by William E. O’Brien, a professor of environmental studies at Florida Atlantic University, Glenn LaRue Smith, FASLA, states “anyone exploring landscape, planning, and public space history will find the book interesting. O’Brien has crafted an intensively researched history of the political, social, racial, and environmental implications of Jim Crow practices and the unfair distribution of parks in the southern United States.” Read the full review.
This fully-updated book will help any landscape architect, planner, or community leader make a stronger case that public green spaces and streets really are part of our healthcare system. The latest research on health and community design has been woven into this new edition, which was edited by Howard Frumkin, senior vice president at the Trust for Public Land; Andrew L. Dannenberg, a professor at the University of Washington; and Nisha Botchwey, dean of the school of public affairs at the University of Minnesota; and also includes a chapter on designing for mental health and well-being by William C. Sullivan, ASLA, a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and an essay from Mitchell Silver, Hon. ASLA, former NYC Parks Commissioner.
Douglas Brinkley, one of the country’s leading historians, explores the history of the modern American environmental movement and activists like Cesar Chavez, Coretta Scott King, and Rachel Carson, who laid the groundwork for the Environmental Protection Agency, Wilderness Act, the Clean Air Acts, the Endangered Species Acts, and Limited Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. In the “long decade” of the 1960s and early 70s, these leaders made significant change happen, and their successes can inspire designer-activists pushing for systemic climate action today.
The 225 residents of Seneca Village were displaced by the New York City government in the mid 1800s to make way for Central Park, which is considered one of the masterpieces of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and architect Calvert Vaux.
Today, the history of the community, which once existed near Tanner Spring on the west edge of the park, is being reinterpreted. Efforts are underway by the Central Park Conservancy to commemorate the community and its evicted African American landowners.
Central Park takes up more than 800 acres in the midst of Manhattan. As Zewde and others have explained through the Conversations with Olmsted series as part of Olmsted 200, Olmsted saw Central Park as a way to realize his ideals about democratic urban parks.
The park was designed to provide broad access to the healing benefits of nature. It was also meant to show what free Northern cities could accomplish through transformative public infrastructure, and how slave-owning Southern communities, with their lack of shared spaces, could evolve.
And while the decision to move Seneca Village predated Olmsted’s involvement, “how do we square this with his legacy? One has to wonder how Olmsted felt about Seneca,” Zewde said.
According to Christopher Nolan, FASLA, chief landscape architect at the Central Park Conservancy, a primarily Black community took root in Seneca Village in the early 1800s because it was not only an escape from the bustle of downtown but also next to a reservoir.
There are no remaining photos of the community, but plans and birds-eye views show a “cohesive property,” with two-story wood homes, an AME Zion Church, and other central buildings.
The community navigated an early Manhattan landscape filled with schist hills. The landscape they experienced largely remains, including Summit Rock, which is one of the dominant features in the park at 140 feet above sea level.
While planning Central Park, Olmsted and Vaux examined the geological layers and “didn’t modify the existing landscape that much,” Nolan argued, only adding roads, a reservoir, and lake. Outside of their park, Manhattan’s landscape had been flattened to make way for the relentless grid of the contemporary city.
Apparently Olmsted wasn’t overly fond of the site chosen by NYC government for the park. The long rectangle hemmed him in and “didn’t fit with his idealized landscape,” Nolan said. His goals were later perhaps better realized through Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which provided more opportunities for a naturalistic landscape.
As Central Park evolved since the late 1800s, more than 20 playgrounds were added, including one at the heart of what was once Seneca Village.
A restoration management plan was created in 1995 that emphasized Olmsted’s original vision. A few years later, the New York Historical Society held the first exhibition on Seneca Village.
Since then, the Conservancy has grappled with how to process new information about Seneca Village and continue its restoration program. The goal is for these efforts to converge in a new commemoration of Seneca Village rooted in deep community engagement and a restored natural landscape.
Reddick also pointed to Strawberry Fields, the memorial to John Lennon, who was murdered outside the Dakota building along Central Park. The simple ground-level mosaic with the word “Imagine,” referring to Lennon’s song, became the center of a broader landscape restoration effort funded in part by Yoko Ono. “The landscape became Strawberry Fields. Before, it was a run-down place. It took a major effort to transform that into something special.”
In 2001, the Conservancy added a sign about Seneca Village but that was really “just the beginning of research.” Recent efforts have included inviting artists, historians, and musicians to “animate stories” of Seneca Village for the public. “They have helped us understand what life there may have been like.”
Reddick said the goal for the future is to represent the displaced community in Central Park not through a plaque or statue but an interpretation of the landscape. “We want to use the land to tell their stories.”
This mission to tell a more holistic story about the park and its history is line with “a broader definition of stewardship,” Nolan added. Olmsted was a social reformer, and this approach is part of the DNA of landscape architecture.
Learning about Seneca Village has also opened Zewde’s eyes to the possibilities of reinterpretation. “Communities and their histories aren’t erased; they are hiding in plain sight. Seneca Village is not history. We can use our narrative lens now. Through engagement, we can educate and amplify.”
“Parks are vehicles. The existence of a park doesn’t mean we have a functioning society and democracy. We have to use the space, navigate it as people.”
Think of the High Line, perhaps the park of greatest celebrity in this genre, which transformed an unused rail line into a highly visited destination in Manhattan. With this success in mind, Newhouse and Pisha turn their attention to inventorying abandoned sites around the world—from closed highways to decommissioned airports, former industrial sites to defunct quarries—that now constitute the flourishing parks.
Making parks in underused, depleted, or contaminated land is not new. To name but two 19th-century examples: Paris’ Parc des Buttes Chaumont was once a quarry, and Boston’s Emerald Necklace a sewage-filled swamp. However, Newhouse maintains that the emergence of the environmental movement, the rise of a newly post-industrial society, and the depletion of public space accelerated this trend. And unlike parks of earlier centuries that sought to create sanctuary distinctly delineated from their city, all of the volume’s selected parks merge with their urban environments.
Parks of the 21st Century is organized by site history, with chapters titles such as “Highway Caps,” “Waterside Industry: Parks,” “Inland Industry,” and “Strongholds.” The book’s structure juxtaposes sites of the same type, presenting different variations of site understanding and approach that may vary by culture or local circumstances. Park descriptions include contexts, histories, design processes, and site elements, described by Newhouse in the first person based upon her visits with Pisha.
In the chapter describing parks on former airport land, two German parks exemplify divergent approaches. In Berlin, Tempelhofer Feld exists largely as it was when the airport closed, in 2008. The public opposed any changes, including a proposal from GROSS.MAX. Today, all site amenities, from toilets to community gardens to signage, are temporary. It is, according to Westhouse, a “huge void.”
In contrast to Tempelhofer, Alter Flugplatz, the empty site of relocated airport in Bonames, Germany, offers an argument for intervention—a strikingly minimal one. Instead of trying to replicate nature, GTL Landschaftsarchitektur sought to create a space that would allow it to self-propagate. Their design entailed breaking up the site’s asphalt and concrete, and this “human manipulation of the surface provided the necessary armature for the ‘wild’ to emerge.” The park exists as a continually changing landscape, and one with inherently little maintenance.
Waterfront parks comprise a significant number of parks in the book–according to the authors, the most parks have been constructed atop former industrial sites along waterfronts than anywhere else. The authors note that the similarities and differences between parks in China and those in the West—in design approach, remediation efforts, construction timelines, implementation—are particularly apparent.
Ambitious park system projects underway in Shanghai and New York City both reimagine former industrial sites as green public amenities. In New York City, Hunter’s Point South, designed by SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi, and Brooklyn Bridge Park, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates implement a soft edge made possible by marshes, bridges, and raised walkways that make space for the inevitable flux of water. But most of the Shanghai parks remain, at the government’s direction, lined by the city’s flood wall. In their design of the Shanghai Shipyard Riverside Park, Design Land Collaborative overcame government-established design limitations including the flood wall, as well as work with too-shallow soil depth that were a result of the remediation efforts in which they had no role. Yet despite the constraints, the authors were impressed with the results—the allure of its human scale, the lush planting.
While the glamour of waterfront sites attracts much attention, Newhouse and Pisha share parks on inland industrial sites that are just as captivating. Parque Bicentenario, designed by Grupo di Diseño Urbano, is one of them, representing the only Mexican park in the volume. Built atop a former oil refinery, the park and botanical garden serve simultaneously as a public green space and educational site, its eight scaled-down biomes displaying the diversity across Mexico.
Not all of the book’s spurned sites result from modern technologies, such as those parks in “Quarries” and the “Strongholds” chapters. Both types of parks are globally widespread, but take on different forms. The vast 570-acre Huadu Lake Park by Palm Design in Guangzhou, China, employs local Cantonese garden aesthetics, offering a simplicity that “delighted” the authors.
On the small scale, 1.3-acre Thomas C. Wales Park in Seattle, Washington by Site Workshop impressed them its outsized effect: the magic bestowed by the vegetation, the “fairy-tale quality” granted by Adam Kuby’s Quarry Rings sculpture.
Each of the sites in Parks of the 21st Century are included only because of the narratives we understand about them. Topotek 1’s founder Martin-Rein-Cano articulates further: he is “convinced that the perception of landscape is highly dependent on the stories that are told about it.” In his firm’s work at Germany’s Lorsch Abbey, a monastic community founded in 764 whose buildings were largely destroyed in war in the 17th century, the task was to respond to those stories by creating a park connected to the abbey site. Newhouse resonated with the design, experiencing it “as the abstraction of a lost history,” and as a “design [that] ingeniously renders the invisible visible.”
Newhouse admits to one of the book’s shortcomings—that while global in reach, it is not comprehensively so. The parks included are all in North America, Europe, and China.
Yet the fact that the book includes only parks Newhouse and Pisha personally visited also imbues the book with a personal touch. The authors’ many and far-flung travels to the sites and their thorough descriptions are altogether quite a feat. Newhouse notes the weather on a given day, conversations with park users, observations about who is coming to a park at a certain time, and insightful commentary from the park designers who sometimes toured her and Pisha through the site.
One of the other limitations of the volume is, of course, that we are only 22 years into the 21st century. We don’t know how new parks of the next three-quarters of the century will evolve, though some of the designers in the “Future” chapter offer prescient thoughts. In this chapter, the authors examine four parks currently in progress, two of which are immense projects that foremost involve rehabilitation: Freshkills Park on Staten Island, New York, and the Los Angeles River project in California.
Of Freshkills, landscape architect James Corner, FASLA, declared it was not a design project. “It is not about a conclusion, but about adaptive management,” he said. According to him, it needs not a definitive plan, but a strategy—not unlike that of a farmer working the land. OLIN’s Jessica Henson, ASLA, echoes the sentiment, describing her work on the Los Angeles River project as a “‘long-term adaptation framework that looks eighty years into the future.’”
These are hopeful expressions of landscape architecture’s direction, ones that suggest an acceptance of flux in the work the discipline produces. Given the state of the world, the penchant to reinvent and reclaim landscapes seems likely to continue in the coming decades. As designers continue to work in these landscapes, Parks of the 21st Century offers a valuable guide for them: a detailed compendium of successes (and sometimes misses), and a hint at how the uncertain future needs to be met.
This year is the bicentennial of Tubman’s birth, and there is renewed interest in her life. Two National Park Service sites in the U.S. were initiated by President Barack Obama in 2017 to help enshrine her story — one in Church Creek, Maryland, where she was born, escaped from, and later returned to in order to save other slaves; and another in Auburn, New York, where she lived as a self-emancipated railroad conductor and helped grow a community of freed Black Americans.
But the team found that an entire story could be told using the landscape Tubman called home, even later after she had freed herself. The park site, which is set within the 28,000-acre Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, was much like what Tubman would have experienced, with canals, wetlands, waterways, and swales.
Tubman was born near the site in 1822 and enslaved there for 27 years before escaping. She later returned 13 times, saving more than 70 people, including her parents and brothers, but never her sister, who had been sold south.
Elcock explained that the visitor center is purposefully organized into three buildings to represent the three options available to Tubman and her family: “be sold South, remain in place, or travel North.”
Views from within the new visitor center look north to reconnect visitors with that journey.
The pull of freedom is also represented in the landscape of the park site. “We oriented the entire site’s viewshed north through an expansive lawn,” said Peng Gu, president of Mahan Rykiel, who provided additional context in a phone interview. “The north meant freedom.”
And Scott Rykiel, FASLA, vice president at Mahan Rykiel, said that a looping pathway through meadows surrounding the site also purposefully direct visitors northward.
“As you are out there, you can see other visitors and can imagine others on journey through the landscape — either as someone who can help your cause or report you as an escapee,” Elcock said.
The meadows are natural, but Mahan Rykiel also incorporated native plants and brought in swamp white oaks, swamp chestnut oaks, sweetgum, birch, and bald cypress trees.
One path in the visitor center even starts near a wetland, which Tubman would have used on her route in order to leave no footprints slave trackers could follow, Rykiel explained.
Traveling north wasn’t a simple “linear” process. Escaped slaves had to take indirect routes through waterways to evade slave catchers, crossing back before heading to freedom. Before the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850, slaves could find freedom by moving to free states in the north; afterwards, they first needed to travel to Canada to become free before settling in northern states.
Deanna Mitchell, superintendent of the the park, said Tubman lived a rich and long life, passing in 1913.
Shepherding slaves, “she understood the stars and could navigate.” The Union Army later discovered this and enlisted her help in Beaufort, South Carolina, where she commanded the army to free more than 700 slaves. “She was the first woman commander in the U.S.” Tubman was also a spy, nurse, and cook for the North.
Her early life in Maryland was marked by brutality. At age five she was loaned out to other households to tend to enslaved babies. “She was whipped every time they cried.” She preferred working outside where she could connect with nature.
For Tubman, the landscape was a way to “escape slavery, learn survival skills, escape domestic brutality, learn a trade, earn her own money, and learn the waterways.” It was the waterways that would help bring her north.
Mitchell quoted Tubman: “God’s time is always near. He set the North Star in the heavens. He gave me the strength in my limbs. He meant I should be free.”
For the National Park Service, which has conducted studies on natural resources of the site, preserving the landscape Tubman would have known is of critical importance. But there are major threats: sea level rise is expected to flood much of the historic site and invasive phragmites have led to tree die-off in areas. Major studies with the Army Corps of Engineers and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are underway to protect a landscape that received 100,000 visitors from 50 countries last year.
The conversation then moved to Auburn, New York, the landscape of the freed Harriet Tubman and her community. Jessica Bowes, Cultural Resource Specialist for Women’s Rights and Harriet Tubman National Historical Parks in New York, said that Tubman ended up in Auburn because it is where powerful abolitionist women lived, including Frances Seward, the wife of President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State. In 1859, Seward sold a 7-acre farm to Tubman, a farm that later grew to 32 acres.
Tubman brought many of the slaves she freed from the South to Auburn, where many later settled. Auburn was also a welcoming place because it had been a long-time Black community. As freed slaves joined the existing Black community, their neighborhoods expanded and moved. A new African American school caused the community to migrate to Washington Street, and a new church created a hub over on Parker Street, near Fort Fill cemetery.
In this neighborhood, Tubman purchased a second brick home, which has become part of the Harriet Tubman National Historic Park. The AME Zion Church, where Tubman’s funeral was held, is also part of the site. The community is still home to many of Tubman’s descendants. Some homes near the church have been continuously owned by Black Americans for generations.
“While Tubman didn’t create the community, she definitely impacted it,” Bowes said. The foundation of the Underground Railroad was “church, family, and community.” And those elements are key to the cultural landscape of Auburn’s Black community.
“The boundaries of the National Park sites are fixed, but the broader cultural landscape is fluid,” Bowes also said. Those boundaries take the form of physical barriers between the sites, as well as the changing community. But these barriers also provide opportunities.
More ambitious stories about the cultural landscape in its entirety are now being told. These efforts are supported by two-hour walking tours, a restoration of the AME Zion Church, and a new bronze statue of Tubman in a small park. “Cultural landscapes are made stronger with the presence of the community.”
“What we are doing is using shade, humidity, wind, and water to lower the temperature in the heart of Paris,” explained Brussels-based landscape architect Bas Smets, who has won an international design competition to redesign the landscape around Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. Founder of Bureau Bas Smets (BBS), Smets is leveraging nature-based solutions, including a significant expansion of green space and a scrim of water, to cool the cathedral and protect it from future climate impacts.
In 2019, the cathedral caught fire, causing the destruction of its 150-foot-tall spire and interiors. The reconstruction of the 760-year-old medieval Catholic cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has started, but the organizers of the competition, which include the Paris city government; Diocese of Paris; and Public Establishment, the conservators of the cathedral, saw the need to further leverage the landscape to preserve the monument for future visitors and worshippers.
Smets is leading a team on the $50.3 million project that includes Paris-based firms GRAU, an architecture and urbanism firm, and Neufville-Gayet Architects, an architecture firm specializing in historic buildings. Together, they are re-imagining the visitor experience of the gothic cathedral while also adapting the site to rising temperatures. Their goals align with Paris’ Climate Action Plan, which aims to reduce heat islands throughout the city.
Smet’s team will ring the cathedral in trees that will provide shade and cool the air, creating a micro-climate on Île de la Cité, the island in the midst of the Seine River where the cathedral is found, and its immediate surrounding area. The form of the existing rectangular square in front of the cathedral will be simplified, creating “a perfect rectangular form” to make it clearer and more usable, edged with a new canopy of trees, Smet’s firm states.
According to The New York Times, the Jean XXIII Square, a park behind the cathedral, will be connected with new green spaces that extend to the edge of Île de la Cité. This new park will link with gardens on the cathedral’s southern edge, creating a 1,300-foot-long green space planted with 131 new trees. The Architect’s Newspaper also notes that Île-de-France Square will also be integrated into the new plans. Throughout the expanded site, trees will increase by nearly 35 percent, in places layered behind existing trees, so as to not obstruct protected views.
Water will also be used to support that new micro-climate. Smets’ team plans for a 5-milimeter (one fifth of an inch) scrim of water in the forecourt of the cathedral in the summer. The water element will help cool the facade of Notre-Dame while bringing a shimmer to visitors’ photographs.
At the same time, Smets is rethinking the entire visitor experience and creating new pedestrian connections to the cathedral. A parking lot under the cathedral will be transformed into a welcome center and connect with an existing archeological museum that will now be accessible via a new passageway off the quay along the Seine. Currently visitors need to access the cathedral via stairs from the quay.
The New York Times reports that at a press conference, Father Drouin with the Diocese said: “I am very pleased that the tragedy of the fire will enable us to recreate physical and symbolic ties between the capital and its urban environment.”
While leading with climate, the landscape architecture address issues holistically. “The urban figures, such as forecourt, square, square, alignment and banks, are all present around the cathedral, but in a fragmented way. The project reveals the quality of each place and rethinks each of these figures from the double angle of the collective and the climate,” Smets told Paris.
And as he noted to Wallpaper magazine, “we wanted to make a nuanced composition. You’ll walk in, sit, stay, go underground, open towards the river, emerge close to the entrance…More than giving a form, we are giving an experience.”
The restoration of the cathedral is expected to be completed by 2024, when Paris hosts the summer Olympic games, while the landscape redesign is scheduled to be finished by 2027.
A Quiet Revolution: Southwest Cities Learn to Thrive Amid Drought — 04/26/2022, Yale Environment 360
“Facing a changing climate, southwestern U.S. cities such as San Diego, Phoenix, and Las Vegas have embraced a host of innovative strategies for conserving and sourcing water, providing these metropolitan areas with ample water supplies to support their growing populations.”
Parched Southern California Takes Unprecedented Step of Restricting Outdoor Watering — 04/26/2022, The Guardian
“Metropolitan water district of southern California’s resolution will limit outdoor watering to just one day per week for district residents supplied by a stressed system of canals, pipelines, reservoirs and hydroelectric power plants called the State Water Project, which supplies water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland.”
The day we’ve been waiting for — Olmsted’s 200th birthday on April 26 — is almost here, and we couldn’t be more excited to reflect on Olmsted’s living legacy and usher in the next 200 years of parks for all people.
As we prepare to #CelebrateOlmsted, the campaign needs help showing the depth and breadth of Olmsted’s fan base. The National Association of Olmsted Parks (NAOP) and the Olmsted 200 campaign are crowdsourcing birthday wishes for Frederick Law Olmsted’s special day.
In the form of short video submissions, we are asking ASLA chapters and chapter members to send birthday messages in honor of this monumental occasion. Record a message alone, film it with a friend, or get the entire chapter or office involved — the possibilities are endless! Videos will be collected and included in a special birthday project. The deadline to submit is April 21.
We also hope that you’ll join us in-person! Next week, Olmsted 200 will be in New York to #CelebrateOlmsted with our founders, partners, and friends. If you happen to be in the city, please join us for park tours and other programming happening in Manhattan and throughout the other boroughs.
The website also includes a lively blog, Shared Spaces, which features many new and exciting updates. Olmsted 200 will continue throughout 2022 and is interested in sourcing blog posts from ASLA members willing to share information about local projects, personal reflections, site histories, and more. To submit blog posts, contact Olmsted 200.
New Research Highlights the Role of Green Spaces in Conflict — 04/14/22, University of British Columbia
“Green spaces can promote well-being, but they may not always be benign. Sometimes, they can be a tool for control. That’s the finding of a new paper that analyzed declassified U.S. military documents to explore how U.S. forces used landscapes to fight insurgency during the war in Afghanistan.”
James Corner Field Operations’ Tunnel-topping San Francisco Park Is Set for July Debut — 04/13/22, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Visitors to Presidio Tunnel Tops will find winding cliffside trails, picnic areas, extensive gardens and meadows filled with native vegetation, a 2-acre natural play area for children dubbed the Outpost, and several elevated overlooks offering sweeping city and bridge views. The new swath of parkland will fuse back together the waterfront and Crissy Field, a former air field that now serves as a popular recreation hotspot, with the Presidio’s bustling historic Main Post.”
Why JW Marriott Is Planting Edible Gardens in Every One of Its Hotels — 04/13/22, Fast Company Design
“The terrarium was designed by Lily Kwong, whose eponymous landscape design studio has previously worked with H&M, St-Germain, and the French fashion designer Joseph Altuzarra (who is also her cousin). The terrarium is part of a broader initiative called the JW Garden, for which the hotel chain plants fruits, vegetables, and herbs to use in its kitchen and spas.”
Green Transportation Projects Face Costly, Time-consuming Environmental Reviews — 04/13/22, The San Francisco Examiner
“Transit agencies across California are ready to move forward with more than three dozen green transportation projects, ranging from bus rapid transit lines to bike lanes. But unless the Legislature takes action, these projects could be mired in years of costly, time-consuming analysis and lawsuits on the basis that they are bad for the environment.”
Special Report: U.S. Solar Expansion Stalled by Rural Land-use Protests — 04/07/22, Reuters
“Solar currently makes up 3% of U.S. electricity supply and could reach 45% by 2050 to meet the Biden administration’s goals to eliminate or offset emissions by 2050, according to the Department of Energy. To get there, the U.S. solar industry needs a land area twice the size of Massachusetts, according to DOE. And not any land will do, either. It needs to be flat, dry, sunny, and near transmission infrastructure that will transport its power to market.”