Best Books of 2022

American Urbanist: How William H. Whyte’s Unconventional Wisdom Reshaped Public Life / Island Press

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 best books of 2022:

American Urbanist: How William H. Whyte’s Unconventional Wisdom Reshaped Public Life
Island Press, 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.

Beatrix Farrand: Garden Artist, Landscape Architect / The Monacelli Press
Garden as Art: Beatrix Farrand at Dumbarton Oaks / Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection

Beatrix Farrand: Garden Artist, Landscape Architect and Garden as Art: Beatrix Farrand at Dumbarton Oaks
The Monacelli Press, 2022 and Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2022

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.

Beyond the Garden: Designing Home Landscapes with Natural Systems / Princeton Architectural Press

Beyond the Garden: Designing Home Landscapes with Natural Systems
Princeton Architectural Press, 2022

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 Comprehensive Plan: Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Communities for the 21st Century / Routledge

The Comprehensive Plan: Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Communities for the 21st Century
Routledge, 2022

“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.

Experiencing Olmsted: The Enduring Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted’s North American Landscapes / Timber Press

Experiencing Olmsted: The Enduring Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted’s North American Landscapes
Timber Press, 2022

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.

From the Ground Up: Local Efforts to Create Resilient Cities / Island Press

From the Ground Up: Local Efforts to Create Resilient Cities
Island Press, 2022

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.

Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America / Liverlight

Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America
Liverlight, 2022

Oxford University historian Pekka Hämäläinen’s latest book is a vital addition to new histories of Native Americans, such as The Dawn of History: A New History of Humanity and The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present. Instead of focusing on Colonial America, he tells the story of Indigenous America, which began in 10,000 BCE and has been defined by the incredible diversity, resilience, and agency of Native peoples over millennia.

Landscape Architecture for Sea Level Rise: Global Innovative Solutions / Routledge

Landscape Architecture for Sea Level Rise: Global Innovative Solutions
Routledge, 2022

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.

Landscapes of Exclusion: State Parks and Jim Crow in the American South / Library of American Landscape History

Landscapes of Exclusion: State Parks and Jim Crow in the American South
Library of American Landscape History, 2022

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.

Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Well-Being, Equity, and Sustainability (2nd Edition) / Island Press

Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Well-Being, Equity, and Sustainability (2nd Edition)
Island Press, 2022

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.

Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the Great Environmental Awakening / HarperCollins, via DouglasBrinkley.com

Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the Great Environmental Awakening
HarperCollins, 2022

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.

Buying these books through THE DIRT or ASLA’s online bookstore benefits ASLA educational programs.

Revealing Seneca Village, the Black Community Displaced by Central Park

Map of Seneca Village / NYC Municipal Archives, via NY1

Seneca Village was an important community. It was 40 acres, two-thirds African American, and had a church and school,” explained Sara Zewde, ASLA, founder of Studio Zewde and assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, during a session at the ASLA 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Francisco.

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.

Central Park, New York City / Orbon Alija, istockphoto.com

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.

Summit Rock, Central Park, New York City / Central Park Conservancy

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.

For John T. Reddick, director of community engagement projects at the Conservancy, there are a range of nearby precedents for this commemoration work, including a memorial to Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man, in Riverside Park; a memorial to Duke Ellington on Riverside Drive; and the Frederick Douglass Circle in Harlem, at the northwestern edge of Central Park.

Ralph Ellison Memorial, New York City / Riverside Park Conservancy
Duke Ellington Memorial, New York City / NYC Department of Design and Construction, via Twitter
Frederick Douglass Circle, New York City / NYC Parks

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.”

Strawberry Fields, Central Park, New York City / Ingfbruno, CC BY-SA 3.0

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.”

Parks of the 21st Century: New Ways to Reinvent Abandoned Land

Parks of the 21st Century: Reinvented Landscapes, Reclaimed Territories / Rizzoli

By Grace Mitchell Tada, ASLA

On our heterogeneous planet, finding an overarching commonality between new parks around the world seems daunting. Yet author and architectural historian Victoria Newhouse, along with Alex Pisha, argue in the new book Parks of the 21st Century: Reinvented Landscapes, Reclaimed Territories that there is one: the drive to create parks on post-industrial, degraded, or otherwise rejected land.

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.”

Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin, Germany / Manuel Frauendorffotografic, image courtesy of Grün Berlin GmbH

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.

Shanghai Shipyard Riverside Park, Shanghai, China / Design Land Collaborative

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.

Parque Bicentenario, Mexico City, Mexico / Francisco Gomez Sosa; Courtesy of Grupo de Diseño Urbano SC

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.

Huadu Lake Park, Guangzhou, China / Zhenlun Guan

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.

Thomas C. Wales Park, Seattle, WA / Site Workshop

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.”

Lorsch Abbey, Lorsch, Germany / copyright Hanns Joosten

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.

Freshkills Park / James Corner Field Operations

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.

Grace Mitchell Tada, ASLA, is with Hood Design Studio and PGAdesign and co-editor of the book Black Landscapes Matter.

The Landscapes of Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman / Benjamin F. Powelson, Public domain

Harriet Tubman stood up for what she believed in. She taught us to stand straight in a crooked world,” said Kaye Wise-Whitehead, a professor of communications at Loyola University, in a wide-ranging discussion at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The event, which was made possible by the Darwina L. Neal Cultural Landscape Fund, explored the life, legacy, and cultural landscapes of Harriet Tubman, one of the chief conductors of the Underground Railroad, which for decades conveyed Black slaves in the South to freedom in the North.

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.

In Church Creek, Maryland, GWWO Architects and Mahan Rykiel Associates, a landscape architecture firm, designed a new visitor center and museum at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park. When the project started, the team toured the landscape, which includes expansive fields with woods. “We were told there wasn’t much to interpret,” Chris Elcock, with GWWO said. “There isn’t much there.”

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park / Mahan Rykiel Associates

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.”

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park / Mahan Rykiel Associates, GWWO Architects

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.”

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park / Mahan Rykiel Associates, GWWO Architects

And Scott Rykiel, FASLA, vice president at Mahan Rykiel, said that a looping pathway through meadows surrounding the site also purposefully direct visitors northward.

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park / Mahan Rykiel Associates

“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.

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park / Mahan Rykiel Associates

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.

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park / Mahan Rykiel Associates

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.

Harriet Tubman Residence / Lvklock, CC BY-SA 4.0
AME Zion Church / Lvklock, CC BY-SA 4.0

“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.”

To Climate Proof Notre-Dame, Paris Looks to a Landscape Architect

Notre-Dame landscape plan / © Studio Alma for BBS

“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.

Notre-Dame landscape plan / © Studio Alma for BBS

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.

Notre-Dame landscape plan / © Bureau Bas Smets
Notre-Dame landscape plan / © Bureau Bas Smets

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.

Notre-Dame landscape plan / © Jeudi Wang for BBS
Notre-Dame landscape plan / © Studio Alma for BBS

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.

Notre-Dame landscape plan / © Studio Alma for BBS

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.

For those in the Washington, D.C. area, also check out the National Building Museum’s augmented reality tour of Notre-Dame.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (April 16-30, 2022)

Olmsted Park, Boston and Brookline, MA, 2013 / Marion Pressley

Uncovering the Hidden Gems of Frederick Law Olmsted, the Father of American Parks — 04/26/2022, Fast Company
“Olmsted is best known for designing Central Park, but he also designed hundreds of other spaces around the country. A new guide highlights some of his lesser-known works.”

Meet the Future of Landscape: Three Firms in Pursuit of a Better, Greener World — 04/26/2022, Cultured
“Three young landscape design studios—Future Green Studio, Studio Zewde and Terremoto—demand attention as they lead the way in changing practice principles for the betterment of our world.”

San Francisco Bans Cars from the Heart of Its Biggest Park? — 04/26/2022, Bloomberg CityLab
“Lawmakers are debating whether to keep vehicles off a major road in Golden Gate Park. But opponents of the car ban worry about disability access and other issues.”

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.”

Celebrate Olmsted with Birthday Wishes and Events

Cherry blossoms at Branch Brook Park, Newark, New Jersey / Olmsted200

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.

Can’t get to New York? No worries! Meet us on social media (@Olmsted200) for exciting live content— like our Instagram Live with Central Park Conservancy on April 25 at 10:30 am ET. Or find a birthday party happening near you.

Birthday parties will be held across the country and include:

Find other celebration events on the Olmsted 200 national calendar.

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.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (April 1-15, 2022)

Colorado Mountain Park System, Denver, CO, 2014. / Barrett Doherty, courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation

The TCLF Will Honor Frederick Law Olmsted, the Father of Landscape Architecture, with a New Digital Guide Ahead of His 200th Birthday — 04/14/22, Archinect
“The 20th in the TCLF’s series of ‘What’s Out There’ guides, this edition gives equal weight to the 30 National Historic Sites and hundreds of other lesser-known designs associated with Olmsted, including Vermont’s Shelburne Farms and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which he long held to be his masterpiece.”

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.”

Yosemite Shaped Olmsted’s Vision of Public Parks

Yosemite National Park, California / MarcPo, istockphoto.com

There are many explanations as to how the idea of National Parks originated. One theory is it spontaneously arose around a campfire in Yosemite National Park. Another is that conservationist John Muir or President Teddy Roosevelt came up with it. But in a new book, Olmsted and Yosemite: Civil War, Abolition, and the National Park Idea, Ethan Carr, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, and Rolf Diamant, a professor at the University of Vermont, argue that the work and writings of Frederick Law Olmsted, the founder of American landscape architecture, inspired the creation of parks to benefit the public.

In an online discussion organized as part of Olmsted 200 and moderated by Sara Zewde, a professor of landscape architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, they argued that instead of considering National Parks distinct from urban parks, they should both be understood as part of the same broad movement towards public spaces. And Olmsted was a key figure in advancing this movement.

In 1864, when Olmsted was invited by the state of California to chair a commission on the Yosemite land grant, he was already an “important public intellectual,” Carr said. He was well-known for his opposition to slavery and the cotton plantation economy of the South. In California, they knew of his work with Calvert Vaux on Central Park in New York City and his prior work with the U.S. Sanitary Commission.

Olmsted came to Yosemite with the idea that parks were a way to “renew the Republic” after the destruction and division wrought by the Civil War. And while Central Park in New York City and Yosemite National Park are wildly different parks, they shared a common purpose for Olmsted — to expose the general public to landscape beauty. He believed this form of natural beauty wasn’t just aesthetic, but “necessary for public health,” Carr said.

Yosemite National Park, California / Tanarch, istockphoto.com.
Central Park, New York City / MargaretW, istockphoto.com

Prior to public parks, landscape beauty was accessible to the very few who had grand estates. But while the first public parks benefited more of the U.S. population, they also had negative impacts. To make way for Central Park, the New York City government displaced Seneca Village, a Black community. At Yosemite, indigenous communities who had cared for the landscape for thousands of years were also eventually pushed out. These actions were justified as part of a “doctrine of public interest.” These landscapes were viewed as part of “public health infrastructure,” like water and sewage projects.

For the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln, public parks had a purpose — to help “reforge a national identity out of war.” Carr argued that in the climate of the time, calling for great public parks was a “radical political act.” Cities at the time were urban, diverse, and industrial. They were widely criticized by the South.

Cities “had to work as a concept,” or the entire vision of Northern cities as superior to the South would be untenable. Central Park, which was initiated in 1857, was a proof point that Northern cities weren’t foul, polluted places, but could instead create landscape beauty. One newspaper called it the “big artwork of the Republic.”

Central Park, New York City / Orbon Alija, istockphoto.com

While the late 19th century conception of landscape beauty can now seem “dated and elitist,” Carr argued the ideas behind the term still ring true. What Olmsted and others were talking about was the biophilic connection humans have to nature and the human health benefits that arise from being in nature. Today, we discuss children suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder, but in the late 1800s, the issue was presented as a lack of common access to landscape beauty.

Central Park, New York City / WillEye, istockphoto.com

The 1865 report commissioned by the state of California about how to shape Yosemite National Park didn’t form the basis of National Parks, but it included Olmsted’s core argument for public parks in general — the “justification to act” by governments at all levels.

Rolf Diamant provided additional context about the era in which Yosemite was preserved.

In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, an effort was underway to create a new national identity that could bridge the divisions between North and South. In 1862 and 1863, a system of national banks and the U.S. Department of Agriculture were formed. The Homesteading Act also passed in 1862, accelerating the settlement of western territories, giving each family 160 acres of land.

And a decade later, this same desire to legislate a new shared America led to the Yosemite National Park Act, the land grant preserving the Yosemite Valley “in trust for the whole nation.” The legislation enshrined the idea that U.S. citizens are “entitled to enjoy spectacular landscapes,” Diamant explained.

To gloss over the divisions between North and South, a new narrative was formed based in the “untrammeled nature” of Yosemite and other seemingly pristine Western landscapes. Of course, this narrative, which was also forged by John Muir and President Teddy Roosevelt, required “forcing out Native Americans” and ignoring their claims to ancestral lands.

Diamant argued that Olmsted’s role in creating the argument for preserving Yosemite and other Western landscapes was later brushed over in prevailing narratives because he was too closely associated with anti-slavery causes and the very urban Central Park of New York City. He was simply too divisive a figure for the new narrative.

Amid a new rising narrative in the South — the revisionist “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy, the rest of the country was focused on reconciliation — “it became a national obsession.” As a result it’s possible that “history and the legacy of Olmsted became decoupled.”

In the Q&A, Zewde wondered whether Central Park was as central to public park history as many landscape architects believe.

“Central Park represented an investment in the creation of a new park at a scale previously unseen before. While the park displaced Seneca Village, it was the beginning of something,” Carr said. Immediately after its creation, cities across the country took up their own significant park building projects.

The Mall at Central Park, New York City / zxvisual, istockphoto.com

Together, Central Park and Yosemite are “public parks that captured American imagination.” They also led to the forming of new institutions — the National Park Service and hundreds of state and city park systems. While the origin of these places are not without “faults or flaws,” they succeeded in helping to reframe American identity.

The flip side of this pervasive new narrative rooted in a falsely pristine West was the dispossession of Native Americans from their land. In his analysis of Yosemite, Olmsted made almost no mention of the Native Americans who had called Yosemite home for generations. “They were outside his view of the world; it’s his blind spot.” That blind spot would also help to create a legacy of displacement through public land and park acquisition.

Olmsted Point at Yosemite National Park / Supercarwaar, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikipedia

Also, ironically, the meadows of Yosemite Olmsted and others so enjoyed and which reminded them of England, were actually the result of “deliberate burning by the Native Americans who lived there,” Carr said. What Olmsted and others thought was untouched was actually a “cultural landscape managed for thousands of years.”

The Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation on their homeland at Yosemite National Park / National Park Service
The Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation on their homeland at Yosemite National Park / National Park Service

There had been complaints that the Native American lit fire to the landscape and didn’t know how to manage it. But when Americans took over the ownership of Yosemite, they found trees kept intruding on the meadows and had to be cut down to preserve the views. This is something that would have been accomplished with periodic burning. And ecologists now understand the wisdom of Native American landscape management practices.

The concept of pure National Parks became a “white middle class vision” and part of the mythology of the country. The vision led to “problematic marketing” of the West and its formation, Carr argued. “This is a narrative that we can’t continue. We can’t cling to early 20th century stories.”

A new, inclusive story about National Parks, both rural and urban, must be told, including Native Americans and Buffalo Soldiers, “U.S. colored troops” who played a key role preserving early National Park landscapes and helped build support for the rights of African Americans.

Buffalo soldiers at Yosemite National Park, 1899 / National Park Service

The story of National Parks is really a story about federalism. Olmsted came down on the side of increased public investment in infrastructure, which he believed included parks. Debate over the past few decades about raising fees to access National Parks and private fundraising to maintain them are an evolution of earlier debates about what should be for the public benefit and how those benefits should be financed. For Carr, another form of the debate is the continuing battle over voting rights for all.

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.