Kongjian Yu: To Save China’s Environment, Educate the Leaders

Letters to the Leaders of China / Terreform

Many have called Kongjian Yu, FASLA, president of Turenscape, the Frederick Law Olmsted of China. And with his new book Letters to the Leaders of China: Kongjian Yu and the Future of the Chinese City, one understands why. This collection of letters to Chinese president Xi Jinping and provincial governors, essays, interviews, and other advocacy pieces reveal how much Yu has invested in promoting his ecological, water-centric “sponge city” approach. His book demonstrates that every landscape architect can become a leader and a powerful force for improving environmental and human health in their community.

Yu connects the professed communal and environmental aspirations of the Communist Party leadership with his own goals — healthy places for people and well-functioning ecosystems. But he also believes there has been some deviation from the original goals of the Communist revolution, with the pursuit of Western-style, car-based development; isolated, residential skyscrapers; and widespread environmental degradation.

He submits typical contemporary urban design in China to a kind of criticism study session, asking mayors and governors to re-examine their own motivations and re-align themselves with the true needs of the Chinese people and the environment.

He takes aim at the Chinese version of the western City Beautiful movement that has been carried out “aimlessly and autocratically,” damaging both the civil realm through the development of highways that split communities, giant soulless plazas, and parks filled with non-native plants; and the natural environment, through the country-wide pollution of air and water. His core argument: to mindlessly ape Western development models — and profit from these destructive approaches — is fundamentally un-Chinese and certainly not Communist.

In one compelling essay directed to mayors, he writes: “contemporary movements to build the ‘City Beautiful’ and the ‘eco-city’ are short-sighted. It is wrong to raze old homes downtown to erect a paved concrete square; wrong to demolish natural features to build ‘parks’ stuffed with exotic plants; wrong to cut down forests that meander along riverbanks, only to line those rivers with concrete; wrong to take productive rice fields that are over a thousand years old and cover them up with lawns of imported grass — all to inflate and publicize a mayor’s false achievements.”

He seeks to grow a new stock of governors and mayors who can change the status-quo urban planning paradigm in China. He wants them to adopt a “negative planning” approach in which important ecologies are purposefully protected from development. Instead of running population growth estimates and then creating a development plan based in standardized land requirements per person, Yu wants urban planners to preserve and enhance undeveloped land — hence the “negative” or zero planning or development approach — that provide vital ecosystem services. With negative planning, China can then build “landscape security patterns,” which form out of “strategic locations and linkages” that are “extremely important to the maintenance and control of ecological processes.”

ASLA 2013 Professional General Design Honor Award. A Mother River Recovered: Qian’an Sanlihe Greenway. Turenscape / Kongjian Yu
ASLA 2013 Professional General Design Honor Award. A Mother River Recovered: Qian’an Sanlihe Greenway. Turenscape / Kongjian Yu

In a country that has become a toxic brownfield, landscape security could provide the stable foundation for the renewed sustainability and resilience of the country.

He calls for using a number of ambitious strategies for achieving landscape security, and bringing nature back to the cities in a real, not fake “eco-city” manner. Historic and cultural preservation, as well as agriculture, are woven through the ideas, too:

  • “Maintain and strengthen the overall continuity of the landscape pattern.
  • Establish and protect the city’s diversity of habitat.
  • Maintain and restore the natural configuration of rivers and shorelines.
  • Restore and protect wetland systems.
  • Integrate rural windbreaks into urban greenways.
  • Build greenways for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Establish green cultural heritage corridors.
  • Improve urban green spaces by making them more permeable and accessible to the public.
  • Dissolve parks into the city’s matrix.
  • Dissolve the city, protect and integrate productive farmland as an organic element of the city.
  • Establish native plant nurseries.”
ASLA 2014 Professional General Design Honor Award. Slow Down: Liupanshui Minghu Wetland Park. Turenscape / Kongjian Yu
ASLA 2014 Professional General Design Honor Award. Slow Down: Liupanshui Minghu Wetland Park. Turenscape / Kongjian Yu

Amid the essays and lectures, Letters to the Leaders of China intermingles actual letters written by Yu to provincial governors, mayors, and Chinese president Xi Jinping himself. They give an insight into the opportunities and limits of Yu’s role as a leading intellectual and critic and the preeminent landscape architect in China. Unfortunately, though, Yu doesn’t provide any of their responses back to him, so these sections feel like a one-sided conversation. One doesn’t know the results of his lobbying.

Still, one letter to Wen Jiabao, premier of the state council, calling for a “vernacular heritage landscape network” — essentially, a national system of cultural landscapes that could also provide ecosystem services — is a particularly creative, efficient policy proposal that even includes specific governmental and regulatory changes to make his proposal happen. The letter shows an understanding of how the government is structured and what needs to change.

Through the letters, essays, and lectures, one gets a sense of how much Yu cares — and how driven he is to undo the unsustainable development patterns that repeat the same destructive errors made in the West over the past 50 years. He is trying to respectfully guide the leadership of China towards a more ecological, humane approach, and he works every angle he can find.

At the end of the book, there is a transcription of an interview with Chinese contemporary artist Ai Wei Wei. Ai presses Yu on his ideas, forcing him to justify his arguments. Yu states that China’s rustic, vernacular, “low culture” is what’s key to achieving sustainability — not the imported Western ideas of development, architecture, and landscape or bourgeois Chinese traditions. To achieve social and environmental reform, China must raise up what is considered low today — the wetland that functions, the productive aesthetics of the humble farm, the clean river.

ASLA 2016 Professional General Design Honor Award. Framing Terrain and Water: Quzhou Luming Park. Turenscape / Kongjian Yu
ASLA 2016 Professional General Design Honor Award. Framing Terrain and Water: Quzhou Luming Park. Turenscape / Kongjian Yu

And so he seeks to educate China’s many mayors on the beauty of what is plain, which is why his works of landscape architecture are “consciously educational.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (November 16 – 30)

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Ford Foundation restoration, New York City / Simon Luethi, Ford Foundation

Building Your ValuesCurbed New York, 11/20/18
“The Ford Foundation’s restoration of its landmark building makes a bold statement about what architecture owes the public today.”

It’s High Time to Memorialize the South’s History of LynchingThe Architect’s Newspaper, 11/2018
“According to a new report by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) entitled, Landslide 2018: Grounds for Democracy, numerous lynching sites in Shelby County, Tennessee, are virtually unmarked for their historical significance.”

Planning a Neighborhood SquareWestern Planner, 11/21/18
“Designing a neighborhood square to fulfill these social functions is not so simple. One of the biggest challenges is to get the proportions of the square right.”

How the Olmsted Brothers Shaped Our Natural Landscape Into a System of Interconnected, and Enduring, Public SpacesThe Seattle Times, 11/21/18
“John Charles Olmsted, the primary visionary of the Seattle Park System, developed a master plan that connected existing and planned green spaces across the city.”

Growing Green Spaces in the Sky CNN, 11/26/18
“At 85, landscape architect Richard Tan is still creating some of Singapore’s most iconic green walls and rooftop gardens.”

The State of City ParksU.S. News and World Report, 11/28/18
“City parks departments grapple with competing priorities as they recover from the Great Recession.”

Interview with Linda Jewell: How to See More Deeply

Linda Jewell, FASLA

Linda Jewell, FASLA, is the recipient of the 2018 ASLA Medal, the 2008 Jot D. Carpenter Teaching Medal, and the 2007 Bradford Williams Medal. Jewell is professor emerita of landscape architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, where she was chair from 2006-2010 and partner in the firm Freeman & Jewell. She was construction editor at Landscape Architecture Magazine in the 80s, and co-author of Women in Landscape Architecture: Essays on History and Practice (McFarland, 2011). She is working on a new book on outdoor event spaces.

Interview was conducted at the ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting & EXPO in Philadelphia.

How can landscape architecture educators strike a balance between teaching students about the big picture issues — climate change, urbanization, biodiversity loss — and the practical aspects of designing and building a project in the real world?

The curriculum has to strike the balance. Education should be project-based, because that is the education we’re best at and what really works for designers. Some of those projects start small and work up in scale, and then others start large and work down in scale.

I remember a project when I was teaching at North Carolina State 35 years ago. Arthur Sullivan, who had taught at the University of Pennsylvania and was a scientist, ran a wonderful studio where he asked students to analyze a suburban house, an urban house, and a rural house. He asked them to analyze every bit of water and trash — to discover these homes’ impact on the world. What would have to happen for them to achieve zero resource use? So, it was a small focus, but it looked out.

Whenever students are doing something small — like working out their water system — they’ve got to know where every drop of water ends up. They have to have a realistic view rather than just, “Oh, this is what they did in Portland, and so we’re going to do it here.”

The issue is learning to look at the specific situation and then back out and look at the impact of the small on the large. At the same time, you can look at the impact of large-planning decisions on how small projects are built.

How does landscape architecture education incorporate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) principles, which are viewed as so critical in today’s job market? How is education focused on STEM strengthened by design thinking?

It’s fascinating how in the last decade science and technology curricula have been looking to design schools for design thinking. There’s hardly a well-known engineering, computer technology, or environmental science department that isn’t in some way teaching design thinking now.

What they’re after is out of the box thinking. They are trying to help their students not only follow linear systems, which is the tradition in engineering, but to break out and bite the blue apple. I know one faculty member used to say: “Take that risk, try something that has not yet been prescribed.”

Landscape architects are deeply connected to the environmental sciences. We have been working with environmental scientists through the entire course of the profession. It has become more precise because regulatory requirements have become more complicated. There is still a lot of our population that is aware that when you build a project, it will have impact on the local bay or river, the ocean, and air quality. Because of that awareness, we have clients, particularly government agencies, that want to understand the impact of making a particular decision.

For the most part, all of the good, strong, creative design firms in the country rely on specialists — sometimes landscape architects who have also studied some aspect of ecology or someone who started in ecology and maybe studied landscape architecture or environmental planning. Nobody does anything by themselves any more; there are very complex teams.

As educators, part of what we have to do is to help people find their place. We help them understand the breadth of possibilities and the complexities. Everybody — even if they are the most technical, nerdy kind of person doing very specific things — wants to reach outside the box to solve a problem.

We must recognize each site is unique and you have to solve a situation for a particular site. I’m tired of seeing Portland green infrastructure details appearing in projects all over the country. Every time I go to see a student project somewhere everybody’s thrown in the images of Portland. There probably is a better solution someplace else. The ability to craft things to the unique situation is really important.

How does landscape architecture education need to evolve to meet the needs of increasingly diverse student body and a diverse society?

Undergraduate and graduate landscape architects need to recognize that other people, particularly those in other cultures, see the world differently than they do. People have different value systems. Just because you think it’s wonderful to have a coffee shop on the edge of your project doesn’t mean everyone does.

Now, I think most educators think, “Well, then you do community projects.” But there are other ways as well. Classmates can learn from one another.

I taught the large architecture and landscape architecture urban studies courses with 140 students at University of California at Berkeley. These young freshman are trying to figure out what they want to do in the design world. And talk about diversity — it is Berkeley, where white males are in a minority, and there’s everybody — Southeast Asians, lots of Latino students, African-American students.

They learn from one another if you set up a situation where they’re working in teams. I used to do an exercise where one student makes a collage. If they were going to design a park, they would make a collage of the images of their ideal park. Then we would draw names and someone else would design for this other person’s park. Well, if you grew up in the valley of California of Latino background, your images were quite different from the preppy from New England. I did this years ago at NC State. There, I had a guy from West Texas and a woman from Massachusetts. All of her spaces were enclosed in green, and all of his were vast and open. They had trouble making the transition to the other’s spatial value system.

Community projects are one way to do it, but they’re very complicated, and it takes a sophisticated teacher to do them. They’re best done after students have some experience and build up some skills because there’s often the danger of both disappointing students and the community. They can be excellent experiences, but an experience in which students realize not everybody sees the landscape exactly the way they do.

Brad McKee, editor of Landscape Architecture Magazine, has called you “sublimely practical.” Do you believe the devil is in the details? How do you teach students to care about the details when they are making something?

Materials are design opportunities. They are the opportunities where we can be the most creative.

Many of our design leaders just do an extraordinary job now. But they didn’t 40 years ago. When I was a student at the University of Pennsylvania 40 years ago, it was asphalt with wood trim and brick-banded concrete and that was pretty much what we learned. Poured-in-place concrete. We’ve broadened out quite a bit.

The best way to teach and for students to learn to be creative is through observation. I taught a field trip course at Berkeley. All we would do is go to projects where my colleagues in practice in the Bay Area were very generous to show them projects under constructions, talk about the choice of materials, source of the materials, the problems in installing them, how they worked.

The students would also do a post-material construction evaluation — go to projects and make their own observations, take notes, keep a detail notebook. They would go out with some kind of measuring device. I have them use notebooks with grid paper. They would have to draw-to-scale sketch– not hard line, just draw over a grided scale, a detail of a bike rack or curb edge. They would keep that notebook throughout the semester.

What I was trying to do is give them a new pair of eyes. It’s been very rewarding when I have a student who years later says, “Oh, I still do that. I still go out and look, measure, and try to understand.” We can’t possibly teach in school what you need to know about materials and detailing. What we can do is get people excited about them, make them curious, and give them a new pair of eyes.

Student Sketchbooks / Linda Jewell

The other thing I do in the field trip course is go to offsite manufacturing, so students become familiar with how things are fabricated. The digital age has given us so many different ways to produce materials, with all of the laser cutting and digitally-run equipment that are creates in shops and then installed in the field. These trips also armed students with building techniques they then used in my design-build class.

Bike Racks for Wurster. College of Environmental Design, University of California at Berkeley / Linda Jewell
ASLA 2011 Student Collaboration Honor Award. Wurstershire Sauce, University of California at Berkeley / Yes Duffy

What’s the worst construction errors you’ve ever seen? And the worst mistake in the application of materials?

I’d be hard pressed to pick one project. I did a lot of work for speculative developers in the D.C. area who were not prone to spend a lot of money. They had some very basic ways of building: poured-in-place concrete, three-inch pipe rail. You’ve seen some of the work over at Crystal City, Arlington, Virginia. They built in pre-cast concrete.

What we tried to do in the Crystal City Water Park is use the materials as best we could so the developers were comfortable using and maintaining the park.

Crystal City Water Park / Linda Jewell
Crystal City Water Park / Anton Grassl

Some of the biggest mistakes are made when your budget and your ideas about what can be built are misaligned. One of the construction field trips we used to go on visited Ron Herman’s very high-end residential projects. They were wonderful to see, because Ron would work with granite that had been cut so precisely to a quarter of an inch. Students could understand the tolerances that he was able to work with, because he had the money. Then we’d go to a public bid project in Berkeley where they were doing poured-in-place concrete. There, you shouldn’t have the expectation that you were going to have the kind of precision that Ron could have.

You learn and observe, but you’re not going to do that while you’re in school. All you can do is set people up to ask: what kind of craftsmanship can I get in this particular situation? Who are the local craftsman? How can I bring them in?

Maybe landscape architects and architects are not very adventuresome about finding the local craftsmen and getting some real bargains out of them in terms of crafted benches, detailing in the landscape. But others are. Many of our most creative landscape architects — even with modest budgets — do this.

You gotta craft to your situation. That’s where I see the worst mistakes: an expectation that every line, every joint is going to line up. If it’s going to the low bidder in a public project, it’s probably not going to line up.

Should all landscape architecture educators practice and all practitioners teach?

No, but some of them should on both ends. Every landscape architecture faculty should include people that have practiced or are actively practicing. That doesn’t mean bringing in the local practitioner to teach a materials class. We need a number of people on the full-time tenure-track faculty who have a role in running the department and developing the curriculum with experience in practice.

Departments also need people who strictly do research on speculative, creative projects like Alan Berger at MIT, or James Corner, ASLA, at the University of Pennsylvania, when he started out. If you have that range of people, then they begin to start conversations with each other.

It takes work on the part of faculty to integrate practitioners who are not being paid. Many of them are very generous, but they really have a time squeeze. I mentioned the construction field trip course. I couldn’t do that without participation of practitioners. But I had to cultivate that relationship. Full-time faculty have to cultivate relationships with local practitioners.

What was it like to be the first woman to run the landscape architecture department at Harvard Graduate School of Design? Did you feel supported or like you had to overcome sexism?

When I studied architecture, I was the only woman in my class. I did not have a woman colleague until I went to the University of Pennsylvania to study landscape architecture. Not only did I have a women student colleagues, but Carol Franklin, FASLA, was one of my instructors. That was a whole new world.

I have my #MeToo stories, believe me, because I was the only woman. I was pretty accustomed to dealing with those kinds of situations.

My colleagues on the landscape architecture department were wonderful. I was the only woman. Well, Anne Whiston Spirn, FASLA, was there when I first went, but then she left, and there was just me, and then I hired Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, who became chair of the landscape architecture department at the University of Virginia and later dean of their architecture school. I have liked having women around.

It was a little more difficult with some of the architecture faculty and administration who put me in a girl box. The girl box is helper-mate. Good administrator; take care of the problem. I’m not saying that my landscape architecture colleagues were like that. Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA; Carl Steinitz; Laurie Olin, FASLA; and Peter Walker, FASLA were all terrific to me. They appreciated that I took care of the administrative crap and tried to do it well, but I never felt that they put me in a box.

The first year I started teaching at Harvard, Carl warned me that I would have nearly 90-year-old Norman Newton teaching in the first semester studio with me, even though he’d been retired for 30 years. Norman was known for dismissing women. He was often criticized that his history book didn’t even cover Beatrix Farrand in any comprehensive way. That just kind made me more determined to reach out and develop a bond with him, which I did through an exhibition of his work on construction details. It was also good for me, because it sent me in a whole new direction of how to teach construction. That was the inspiration for me teaching students to go out, observe, and measure existing details.

There are more high-profile women landscape architects and educators than ever before. How has it changed for women practitioners and educators over the past few decades?

It has been terrific because we support each other. With the commissions I sit on, I have been in the position to advocate for women’s firms to be hired. It was no compromise on my part, because we’re talking about Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN) and firms like that. But I’ve found you still have to advocate. The more of us out there, the more we can advocate for each other. There’s now a significant old girls’ network.

There are still obstacles. I know women-owned firms where the heads of the firms, even some of our most talented people, struggle to get the interview for a project. The obstacles are more subtle and much less than they used to be.

I want to give thanks to people like Thaisa Way, FASLA, who has writing about the many women from the 1910s-1903 who were doing significant work and were never talked about. At Landscape Architecture Magazine, from Grady Clay up to the current editor Brad McKee, there has been a real effort to make sure women aren’t shunted to the side. Grady Clay was very good when he put Martha Schwartz’s Bagel Garden on the cover of the magazine. When he hired me as construction editor when I was in my 20s — rather than some of the other people who applied — he was a rebel.

Interview with Hitesh Mehta: The Spiritual Side of Sustainability

Hitesh Mehta, FASLA / HM Design

Hitesh Mehta, FASLA, is president of HM Design, which has completed planning, architecture, and landscape architecture projects in more than 60 countries. He is an international expert in sustainable tourism, including wildlife conservancy planning and eco-lodge development. Mehta is also the author of Authentic Ecolodges (Harper Design).

Interview conducted at the ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.

In more than 60 countries, you have worked on some of the finest sustainable tourism planning and eco-lodge projects in the world, including the Crosswaters Ecolodge in China, which won two ASLA professional awards. National Geographic has called you a pioneer of sustainable tourism. What are the top three lessons you have learned from your many projects working with local and indigenous communities?

Lesson number one: Never judge people from the way they look. Indigenous people have lived on their land for thousands of years. Through storytelling and personal experiences that have been passed over generations, they have built knowledge and wisdom crucial to every project.

Lesson number two: Empower local people from day one, especially women and children. At home, women make a lot of the decisions, and youth are the future. Bringing them into a project on day one helps ensure a sustainable project. You want to give them ownership. It’s a ground-up approach rather than top-down.

Lesson number three: No matter how much of an international expert you are, no matter how much research you have done, and how much knowledge you have acquired, always go into every project without an ego. Go with good listening skills first. Once you’ve heard local peoples aspirations, needs, etc.; gathered on-site information; walked the site with the locals; and have conducted a metaphysical site analysis, slowly share what you can bring to the table, making sure you let them know what they bring to the table is equally important.

Indigenous communities are in the front lines in the fight against climate change. How do you empower them in their fight to protect endangered ecosystems and their own livelihoods? Are there any projects that serve as models?

Indigenous communities, especially in the less developing world, are greatly affected by climate change. A lot of these communities live in the tropics. Especially in Africa, drought and the lack of drinking water are big issues. This in turn, causes food security problems. In Kenya, where I am still a citizen, the Maasai look at their cattle as their economic lifeline. That’s what keeps them going. If there is drought, there is no grass. There’s nothing to feed the cattle, and it can become a serious issue, because this is their security.

A project that serves as an exemplary model is one in which I led a team of local Kenyan consultants and where we worked together with the clients — the Koiyaki Maasai community — to help create an ecotourism and conservation destination called Naboisho Wildlife Conservancy. Previous to our intervention, the community had subdivided their 50,000-acre land into 50-acre parcels owned by 500 families. But every family had their cattle and goats, which caused the land to be overgrazed. Lack of grass and presence of cattle kept all the wild animals away.

The Maasai decided to consolidate all their land and brought in private lodge operators — eco-tourism companies — as a way to generate income for them. The Maasai all moved to neighboring lands they also owned. The private partners contracted us as protected area ecotourism planners, and, together with the Maasai, tourism and conservation stakeholders, we created an integrated sustainable tourism, biodiversity, and grazing master plan for the conservancy.

Planning with the Koiyaki Maasai community / HM Design

With five small twelve-room tents and lodges, money started flowing directly into every Maasai’s home at the end of each month via their mobile cell-phones. They no longer had to rely solely on cattle for their livelihood. Wild animals started coming back, because cattle mainly grazed in neighboring areas. And the tourists are paying big bucks to have quality guided safari experiences. Creating a wildlife conservancy was a win/win for everyone: the tourists, the private partners, flora and fauna and of course the Maasai and their cattle. During droughts, cattle are only allowed into the conservancy in certain controlled areas. The conservancy fees provide the Maasai community with a sustainable livelihood and ensure the conservation of the wildlife in this vital corridor of the Maasai Mara ecosystem.

As populations grow around the world, but also in sub-Saharan Africa, human and wildlife conflicts are becoming more prevalent. How can we protect endangered species while also ensuring people’s livelihoods? Are there models that show the way?

There are many models, particularly in Africa, and it has become mainstream to go in this direction. A project that I worked on many years ago that is still a good case study is the Virunga Massif Trans-Boundary protected area. Virunga Massif straddles and borders of three East and Central African countries: Uganda, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Each country has a national park along their respective borders. This region protects the only remaining populations in the world of mountain gorillas. The parks are bordered by dense populations of local peoples, and there are human-wildlife conflicts with gorillas going out into the fields. We prepared an integrated sustainable tourism and biodiversity master plan for the whole region. When we began the master plan in 2005, there were only 600 mountain gorillas, and the latest count is 1,004!

Virunga Massif integrated master plan / HM Design

Apart from conserving important habitat, the master plan also proposed several eco-lodges at the edge of the parks. All of them have now been built and are financially successful. The demand to see the mountain gorillas is so high that eco-tourists are paying $1,500 for one hour to be with these great apes. There’s a one-year waiting list!

What’s great is that some money is channeled straight to local communities, which now see the importance of maintaining the gorillas’ habitat. The communities no longer take firewood from the forest because they earn a living from gorilla tourism and the eco-lodges bring in a lot of money from guests, with part of the profits used to benefit these communities.

A heart-warming part of the master plan just got realized five months ago on the Uganda side of the Virunga Massif in Mgahinga National Park. The Batwa, indigenous peoples, who used to live in the forest but had been chased out when the National Park was created in 1991, have now been re-located to a new village at the edge of the park and act as guides, taking visitors into the forest in the National Park, and showing them about their lives and connections with the forest. An eco-lodge where I had provided site planning consultancy, funded the Batwa village and Visitor Center, so the Batwa community could share their culture and live closer to the forest instead of the nearby urban town of Kisoro.

You have said we cannot have true sustainability without incorporating the spiritual. This belief is central to your metaphysical or sixth-sense approach to planning and designing projects, which you have also trained other planners and designers to apply. What is the core idea you want people to understand?

For the longest time, pragmatic environmentalists have been talking about the triple bottom line of sustainability — environmental, economic, and social. But in my work, I have found that without respecting the fourth element — spiritual — one cannot have sustainability. What do I mean by spiritual? Spirituality is the energy embodied in any place. The metaphysics of a place. The intangible aspects that cannot be measured by modern science. We need to respect this embodied energy to create a sense of place. The sacred space.

Feng Shui is a well-used example of the spiritual aspects of sustainability — the yin and the yang, the chi, and how to use that energy to create an amazing experience in which you have a spiritual connection with the site. Similarly, for over 8,000 years, the Indians have been applying principles of design, layout, measurements, ground preparation, space arrangement, and spatial geometry called Vastu Shastra, which is even older than Feng Shui. Vastu Shastra is the ancient Indian science of harmony and prosperous living by eliminating negative energies and enhancing positive energies.

Native Americans also have a strong spiritual connection with their lands. When they take you on a walk of their country, they will point at a hill and say “this is our sacred hill” and when you look around, there are probably several others that look the same. So why is that hill sacred and not the others? It’s because there is a sacred energy embodied in that particular hill. My job as a landscape architect is to work with indigenous communities, so they can identify all those areas sacred to them. And then protect them.

If the clients do not believe in these traditional ways of looking at the land, I propose the use of each one of our six senses to immerse into the site to understand the energy. Connect deeply to the land through the ears, mouth, eyes, nose, fingers, but most importantly through the sixth sense: when you become a part of the site and feel its energy. That is the crucial element of trying to create a project that’s sustainable, but also which creates a beautiful sense of place.

Metaphysical analysis of a place through touch / HM Design
Metaphysical analysis of a place through sound / HM Design

As part of your work of Landscape Architects Without Borders, you have provided pro-bono planning and design services to aboriginal tribes in Australia and other communities. How do you enable them to incorporate their landscape spirituality into a contemporary place designed for themselves but also tourists?

We worked with the Quandamooka peoples of Queensland in Australia. They were the first aboriginal tribe that managed to get their land back from the white government in an area so close to a major city; Brisbane in this case. The land they got back was part of an island and has the second most popular camping sites in Australia.

However, the aboriginal peoples do not have camping site management experience, so we came in to help them build an ecotourism experience that would help them share their culture with guests and help make more money than before. We designed and built two glamping eco-shacks as examples of what they can achieve with enhanced camping experiences.

In the gardens, we proposed for the planting of bush tucker plants. The aboriginal peoples, who live in the outback have these special plants they eat called bush tucker. With their knowledge and wisdom, we created a beautiful indigenous garden that included both bush tucker and medicinal plants.

Planning landscape with the Quandamooka peoples of Queensland in Australia / HM Design

You are a proponent of ego-less design, which is characterized by a deep respect for the environment and all of its inhabitants, existing cultures, and vernacular styles. Can you explain how you came across this design philosophy? What about your upbringing, your religious heritage, shaped that?

My childhood has heavily influenced the work I do in landscape architecture. My upbringing is in the philosophy of Jainism, which is one of the four main philosophies that came out of India. It’s by far the least known, because Jains don’t believe in preaching.

One of the main tenets of this philosophy is a Sanskrit concept called Ahimsa, which means non-violence to fellow beings, and non-violence to all other beings as well. In my family, we’ve been vegetarians for at least 3,000 years. The respect is so deep for other beings that Jain monks in India sweep the floor before they walk so they do not step on and kill any ants.

In true Jainism, they believe plants have feelings. In fact, modern science is confirming this, but my ancestors have believed this since 1,000 BC. True Jains don’t eat anything that grows below the ground — no potatoes or carrots — because every time you pick that plant, it’s dead. So you only pick a vegetable or fruit from a tree that continues living after you picked what you want. That is deep respect, even to plants. It’s all about low-impact living. This is the conservation ethic I practice in my work.

My projects are low-impact designs that respect everything. I practice a non-homocentric approach to planning, where everything is equal. You can call it vegan or ahimsa design and planning. I design non-violent spaces. For example, I identify all native species and make sure none of them are cut. And in all our projects, we only specify native plants.

And, personally, I have been practicing a vegan lifestyle for 13 years.

Lastly, you have called yourself a “holistic, contextual designer.” How do you think this is different from being a planner or landscape architect?

For me, there’s a big difference between holistic and contextual design. Holistic is when in my projects I look at animals and plants as my clients, too. So, when human clients come to me, I tell them: I see you as half of my clients, but the other half are the animals and plants. And when I perform a beautiful marriage of the two, we will have a holistic yet sustainable project.

Local communities are an important part of the holistic process. I involve them from the beginning. Local consultants also bring in amazing knowledge and wisdom. So, I consider the local consultants and communities, fauna, flora, and, of course, the clients’ financial needs, because a project has to be profitable for it to function. That is the holistic side.

I also look at myself as a contextual designer. I like to create projects in context with their cultural and physical environments. For me, placing in a glass, aluminum, and concrete building in the middle of a remote area with rich cultural architectural heritage is not contextual. My office carries out research both off-site and on-site in order to discover the local vernacular styles before starting on any project. We use a landscape design approach called the “continuity of the vernacular.”

Kwanari Eco-lodge, Dominica / HM Design
Kwanari Eco-lodge, Dominica / HM Design

Beyond Mow and Blow: New Approaches to Park Maintenance

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Prairie Burn in Manhattan, Kansas / USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

“How can we make maintenance sexier and more fun?”

This was the question moderator Joey Hays, ASLA, posed to the crowd at the ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, in a session entitled “the disturbing pleasures of maintenance: audacious strategies for public parks,” which sought to address the increasingly-fraught issue of public parks maintenance and inspire creative, aesthetic, and ecological approaches to what can often seem a decidedly-mundane topic.

Tim Marshall, FASLA, was quick to respond to Hayes’ question. “Sexy and fun–those are not two things I’ve ever heard in the same sentence regarding maintenance,” he said to knowing laughs.

Maintenance may not be something that excites designers, clients, or the public, but its implementation–or lack thereof–can make all the difference in the success or failure of a project.

Marshall, who formerly served as deputy administrator and senior vice president of the Central Park Conservancy in New York City, said maintenance has become more problematic on a national level. Many parks and recreation departments have expanded their portfolios of amenities and facilities in recent decades, but operations funding has not kept up.

“We have more things to maintain, and at the same time, resources are going down.”

Recent trends in ecological design have not made things easier. Designs that rely heavily on meadows and other designed plant communities require specialized knowledge to maintain, knowledge often not held by maintenance crews accustomed to the “mow and blow” approach.

“Put in a lawn, you know exactly what to do right away,” he said. “A meadow changes year to year. It’s not a project, it’s a process.”

Sheep were at one time used to maintain the meadow in Central Park / Library of Congress

One of the biggest obstacles facing parks departments is what Marshall called the “silver tsunami,” the looming wave of retiring experienced staff who will take with them institutional knowledge, relationships, and experience.

Loss of funding and staff can lead to deferred maintenance, which inflates capital costs and depresses park use.

According to Marshall, public-private partnerships like the Central Park Conservancy have been key to filling the operational gaps left by budget cuts and staffing shortages. However, those partnerships come with their own challenges.

“There has to be an understanding that we’re in this together,” he said, adding “it probably took ten years before the Central Park Conservancy was firing on four of its six cylinders.”

Tim Netsch of the Metro Nashville Parks Planning Division has experienced these dynamics first hand. “There’s so much happening in Nashville that parallels some those national trends. There is something unsustainable about our current park system.”

Nashville has seen explosive growth in recent decades, which has extended the city’s park system. Since the adoption of the city’s first parks and greenways master plan in 2002, the park system has added approximately 6,500 acres.

“Our park system grew more in this 15 year period than it had in the previous 50 years,” Netsch said. “During that same period of capital budget abundance, our operating budget has stagnated,” leading to fewer maintenance employees per acre and reduced operating hours.

“Our park system has grown, but our organization has not.”

To break out of this cycle, Nashville asked Charlottesville-based Nelson Byrd Woltz (NBW) to incorporate maintenance needs into the design of two new large public parks currently being planned for East Nashville.

“We wanted to build these plans around maintenance,” Netsch said. “To make it unavoidable to reckon with maintenance.”

For Thomas Woltz, FASLA, that meant diving deep into the sites’ cultural and ecological histories. On the future site of Ravenwood Park, just east of downtown Nashville, Woltz said: “an extraordinary phenomenon here is you have 8,000 years of Native American settlement in a not terribly disturbed site.”

“What if, in the cultural landscape research, you hit upon a regime of maintenance? What if the maintenance design is right there, deep within the soil?”

In the case of Ravenwood Park, NBW has proposed a mixed regime of controlled burns and grazing by cows, maintenance practices that reflect the history of the site and provide valuable ecological disturbance that will maintain broad expanses of open grassland.

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Master Plan for Ravenwood Park, Nashville / Nelson Byrd Woltz

For Woltz, it is here that the “disturbing pleasures”–or pleasures that result from disturbance–reveal themselves. “Part of the disturbing pleasure is the exhilaration of witnessing a fire,” he said, “and the sublime landscape of these post-fire moments when the earth surges with this chartreuse explosion of grasses.”

This aesthetic of disturbance can reframe the conversation around maintenance and even create opportunities to design powerful spaces and experiences.

To illustrate this point, Woltz pivoted to another major public project that NBW has spent many years on: Houston’s Memorial Park.

In their research, NBW found that many Houstonians were unaware of the park’s history and did not know why it was called Memorial Park. The site was used as an army camp in World War I and was the last stop for many soldiers before being shipped to Europe.

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Aerial photo of Camp Logan, Houston / Nelson Byrd Woltz

NBW’s design calls for a 90 acre Memorial Grove of Loblolly Pines planted in a strict, regimented grid, referring to the character of the military exercises and rows of tents that once defined the site. The heart of NBW’s proposal, however, lies in the grove’s maintenance regime.

“Twenty-five years is the average age of the solider that died in World War I who trained at Camp Logan. Twenty-five years is the age of maturity for loblolly pines in the timber industry,” Woltz explained.

“So, twenty-five years from the planting of the Memorial Groves, imagine one of those regiments–a thousand trees–ceremonially chainsawed down on Memorial Day. The noise, the impact, the violence, the horror of seeing a thousand trees felled at once in a city’s park will be something you will never forget. And you just might feel, in your body, the sense and the power of sacrifice and of loss of life.”

memorial_grove.jpg
Rendering of the Memorial Grove at Memorial Park, Houston / Nelson Byrd Woltz

Woltz said that the timber from the felled trees would then be given to Habitat for Humanity to build affordable housing in the Houston area. He envisions Houstonians coming together on Armistice Day to replant the thousand felled trees for another twenty-five year cycle. Every five years, a new group of trees would be felled.

“This is a memorial, in perpetuity, connecting us to the cycles of life, connecting us to the power of life, the beauty of these trees representing these individuals who were felled far, far, too early.”

“As an extreme example, this is a maintenance regime. Maintenance has been used as the very crux of a memorial landscape.”

Save Lawrence Halprin’s UN Plaza Fountain from Demolition

UN Plaza in San Francisco / Christina Dikas, The Cultural Landscape Foundation
UN Plaza in San Francisco / The Cultural Landscape Foundation

San Francisco Civic Center’s new public realm plan, which intends to create a gathering place for all San Franciscans that is clean, safe, and inviting, threatens landscape architect Lawrence Halprin’s fountain of granite slabs at United Nations Plaza with demolition. Of three alternative schemes under consideration for UN Plaza, only one retains the fountain.

The alternatives include interchangeable design elements. One emphasizes performance and gathering; one history and civic life, with a restored Halprin fountain; and the third, diversity and culture. With some public input, designers at CMG Landscape Architecture are presently consolidating the draft frameworks. The context is a Better Market Street plan that promises a vibrant streetscape with new furnishings, plantings, public art, and plazas that support diverse activities.

My case for retaining the fountain is based on its merit as public art. Halprin’s work is grounded in the European tradition of using art, architecture, and city planning as vehicles for social change towards a more just society.

Market Street is the city’s premier commercial corridor and transit spine. UN Plaza is at its mid-point and serves as the gateway to the Beaux Arts Civic Center. In the 1960’s, Lawrence Halprin & Associates, working with John Carl Warnecke & Associates and Mario Ciampi and Associates, was engaged to save this Path of Gold Street Lamps from disinvestment and decline by creating a series of linked pedestrian spaces from the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero to the Civic Center at Mid-Market.

Path of Gold Illume / Linda Day

In the pre-WW II era, Market Street was one of the world’s great streets, with a financial district at the waterfront transitioning to a shopping district, and then in its mid-section, the city’s fabulous theaters and entertainment venues. By the 1950’s and 1960’s, Mid-Market was blighted. Theaters that escaped demolition were showing porno films and featuring live nudes.

To the north, the Tenderloin had become a tawdry district of poorly managed single-room occupancy hotels, street prostitution, and open drug dealing.

UN Plaza was created by closing off two streets that intersected Market Street at odd angles, Leavenworth, north of Market and Fulton, northwest of Market. Designed to be an allée, City Hall terminated the vista.

UN Plaza in San Francisco / Prayitno Photography

Using Sierra Nevada granite blocks from the same quarry as the French Renaissance-inspired City Hall for the fountain, Halprin brought the beauty of California’s landscape of mountains and sea to persons without the means for travel to Yosemite.

UN Plaza in San Francisco / The Cultural Landscape Foundation

The asymmetrically-stacked granite blocks represent the seven continents of the world. Computer programming was intended to moderate the water level in the 100-foot-wide sunken base so that it would rise and fall like the ocean tides as well as moderate flow from the nine jets in response to the winds. The programming did not work as intended; the water is maintained at a set level.

Halprin was a Modernist and part of the Cubist and Constructivist art movements. When the plaza design was under consideration in 1974, Arts Commissioners fought bitterly over the fountain, with some members insisting that a more classical option would better suit the Civic Center’s assemblage of classical buildings. They recommended a 1904 monument celebrating the admission of California to the union. The image below shows the 1904 Phelan Fountain that was preferred. After a series of public meetings, six of the eight Arts Commission members voted in favor of Halprin’s design.

Phelan Fountain, 1904 / Wikimedia Commons

From its completion in 1975, the fountain was a focus of complaints about it being used for toileting, bathing, and laundry by the many homeless persons in the vicinity. The plaza was a gathering place for illegal drug users and dealers. In 2003, a U.N. Plaza Working Group, representing citizens and businesses, recommended its removal.

According to a San Francisco Examiner article from 2004, the plan to replace it with a taxi stand was rejected by the Board of Supervisors; they and Mayor Gavin Newsom supported retaining the fountain. Today, continual police presence constrains the least desirable public behavior. A bus-size mobile command center on Market Street at U.N. Plaza and police officers on bikes patrol the area.

Public ambivalence toward Modernist design is another argument against the fountain. For example, a SF Weekly article refers to it as a “shameful pile of cement-covered-rebar.” There may come a time when Modernist public art will be as revered as the paintings and sculptures around which entire art museums exist. The UN Plaza fountain evokes Franz Marc’s Stony Path (Mountains/Landscape), a 1911/1912 oil painting in the collection of San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA) that abstracts nature using bold forms and sharp angles in a Cubist manner.

Franz Marc, Steiniger Weg [Stony Path], formerly Gebirge/Landschaft [Mountains/Landscape], 1911/1912, oil on canvas; 51 1/2 x 39 3/4 in. (130.81 x 100.97 cm), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of the Women’s Board and Friends of the Museum / Wikimedia Commons

The fountain is meant to be immersive and in motion. Halprin’s wife, dancer Anna Halprin, and his Harvard University teacher, Constructivist artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, influenced Halprin and his focus on how people move within a landscape. Moholy-Nagy saw space as being in motion, not static. The fountain was to evoke the tides, the granite slabs were intersecting geometric bodies as in Moholy-Nagy’s AI X at the SF MOMA, and as shown here in his watercolor and graphite on paper, Planes Cutting Planes.

Planes Cutting Planes by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy / Yale University Art Gallery
UN Plaza visitor immersed in the fountain / Linda Day

Contemporary photos show that the plaza is a comfortable space, despite the lack of formal seating for persons who live in the nearby Tenderloin’s single-room occupancy hotels or on its sidewalks. The nearby Tenderloin is bereft of public outdoor spaces. And the people enjoying the plaza are not those most likely to see the SF MOMA’s collection of art. Here they can sit surrounded by beautiful buildings in a space made special by the fountain. Here they can enjoy a lunch provided by San Francisco Food Not Bombs.

UN Plaza users / Linda Day
UN Plaza users / Linda Day

Dr. Linda L. Day is an emeritus professor of city and regional planning, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She is a planner, author of This House Is Just Right: A Design Guide to Choosing a Home and Neighborhood, and contributor at Planetizen.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (October 1 – 15)

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The Glenstone Museum / Goran Kosanovic, The Washington Post

Glenstone’s Landscaping Is as Mindful as its Artwork The Washington Post, 10/2/18
“When you visit the expanded Glenstone Museum, you may find the contemporary artwork to be moving, provocative, weird or simply inscrutable, but one aspect of the experience will be constant: its mindfulness.”

Midtown Pocket Park with an Urban Waterfall is Designated a National Historic Place 6sqft, 10/8/18
“Greenacre Park, a famed vest pocket park in Midtown, was added last week to the National Registry of Historic Places.”

A Walk in Moscow’s Grand New Park, Created by an American CBS News, 10/7/18
“The hottest selfie destination in Russia’s capital sits at the end of an elegant V-shaped walkway in Moscow’s Zaryadye Park. The park itself is brand new – the result of an international collaboration led by New York-based architect Charles Renfro.”

Tel Aviv’s High-profile Renovation of Dizengoff Square Nears Completion, but Pedestrians Still Left in Lurch Haaretz, 10/10/18
“In one of their first lessons in architecture school, students learn the difference between a town square and a traffic circle. A real town square is a piazza or plaza – a space for pedestrians to gather, along the lines of what visitors see in Europe.”

As a Landscape Architect, How Do You Interpret the Word “Biodiversity”? How Does This Meaning Find Expression in Your Design? The Nature of Cities, 10/10/18
“Every month we feature a Global Roundtable in which a group of people respond to a specific question in The Nature of Cities.”

Connecting Climate Change to Places We Love

Seeds adapted to an arid climate growing at Ndée Bikíyaa (The People’s Farm) near Canyon Day, Arizona / Native Seeds

“What is at the intersection of climate action and cultural heritage?,” asked Andrew Potts, organizer of Climate Heritage Mobilization, a day-long conference, which was part of the Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. “What does cultural preservation woke to climate change look like?”

To find out, the conference organizers used a “Talanoa dialogue.” In Fiji and other Pacific locales, the word “Talanoa” describes discussion and storytelling that is inclusive, transparent, and improves the collective good. Here, the Talanoa dialogue for climate action involved exchanging ideas and examples from communities around the world so they may be leveraged elsewhere.

The dialogue underscored cultural heritage as an issue of human rights. “There are so many other threats—why should we care about cultural heritage?” asked Karima Bennoune, the UN Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights. Citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she pointed to every individual’s right to participate in cultural life. Heritage, she explained, is important because it is an expression of human dignity.

Comprising both the tangible and intangible, cultural heritage brushes every facet of life. It includes sites, structures, and landscapes that have historical, religious, aesthetic values. Spiritual beliefs, vernacular languages, storytelling traditions, and indigenous knowledge also constitute cultural heritage.

When climate change affects any of these—for instance, the 100-plus World Heritage sites that risk damage or forced migration in the face of rising oceans—human rights are affected.

A human-rights based approach acknowledges and values indigenous communities and their sustainable land stewardship. By emphasizing participation and consultation of affected people, their long-held knowledge of a place can critically inform life in a changing world.

Andrea Carmen of the Yaqui Nation, and executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council, commented that seed-trading traditions have perpetuated drought-resistant varieties of crops.

The tule marshes of the San Francisco Bay demonstrate the shared benefits of climate resilience and cultural heritage. These sacred sites of the Native Americans can also absorb ten times more carbon than a pine forest. “A nation stays alive when its cultures stay alive,” said Bennoune.

Historic preservation, which is about peoples’ connection to place, can enable climate change mitigation.

Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, remarked that linking climate and historic preservation help the grave realities resonate with a wider audience. Cultural heritage “connects climate change to places we love and care about.”

He has seen the most effective action on the local scale, such as the Weather It Together initiative that identifies and protects flood-prone areas in historic Annapolis, Maryland, and the 3-D modeling of the World Heritage site Hoi An, Vietnam, that marks flood risks to important buildings.

The “Weather it Together” initiative seeks to protect the historic seaport in Annapolis, Maryland / City of Annapolis

Buildings are not only a key part of communities’ cultural heritage, but their preservation is also important for the climate. Using, rather than demolishing, existing buildings can significantly impact a city’s carbon footprint. According to Carl Elefante, president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the greatest difference cities can make is to “simply occupy space” by using existing buildings, keeping their embodied carbon intact.

Daniel Zarrilli, director of climate policy and programs for New York City, demonstrated that New York City is moving toward mandatory building retrofits, crucial as 80 to 90 percent of the city’s buildings will still exist in 2050.

David Harkin, a climate change scientist at Historic Environment Scotland, explained the positive outcomes that can result from upgrades. At Edinburgh Castle, renovation yielded annual reductions in energy use by 33 percent and emissions by 31 percent—changes that, in a few short years, have already saved them double what they invested to make the improvements.

Energy savings from recent upgrades are especially apparent at Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland / Wikipedia

Jean Carroon, principal at Goody Clancy Architects, stressed the imperative to change consumption patterns. The built environment requires materials that devastate lives around the world: silica arrives from China by the labor of those suffering from silicosis; and copper from Africa, “where working in the copper mines is a death sentence.” Living as citizens of the world foremost entails comprehending that our actions reverberate worldwide.

Climate Heritage Mobilization demonstrated the powerful means through which cultural heritage can galvanize climate action. Whether by enacting policies that validate knowledge of indigenous people or by requiring retrofits, it becomes clear that, in the words of Carroon, “a safe, healthy world values what exists.”

This guest post is by Grace Mitchell, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of California at Berkeley.

Urban Planners Mobilize for Climate Action

“Horizontal berm” from ouR-Home proposal / Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge

All cities need robust plans for mitigating and adapting to climate change. But according to Robert Kelew with UN-Habitat, the vast majority of the world’s urban communities still don’t.

At an event organized by the American Planning Association (APA) at SPUR in San Francisco, a group of urban planners, led by the APA’s Jeff Soule, discussed what’s needed to mobilize the world’s urban planners to take more effective action on the climate.

Kelew said a primary obstacle to more widespread urban climate planning is simply the lack of planners in developing countries. For example, “there are 38 accredited planners per 100,000 people in the United Kingdom, but just 0.23 per 100,000 in India,” and even fewer in Sub-Saharan Africa. Also, there are only 553 schools that teach urban planning worldwide.

To help speed up assistance to the developing world, a group of national planning associations and educators formed Planners for Climate Action, which launched at a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting last November. Planners for Climate Action aims to create a “global repository of syllabi and map the state of climate change planning in cities,” issuing regular updates.

For Andrew Potts, a land-use attorney who represented the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), planners also need to do a better job of bringing historic preservation allies into the fight. There are clear overlaps between historic preservation and planning, but all the associated “heritage professionals” — scientists, planners, architects, landscape architects — haven’t been adequately included. In the US alone, “we can mobilize tens of thousands of heritage professionals to join the fight for climate action.”

Potts believes cultural heritage, including what UNESCO deems “intangible heritage,” has the potential to be a great motivating force for climate action. If what is special about a city or community is directly threatened by climate change, there will be a call to create a plan or project to protect that. Heritage professionals, who are used to working over long-time horizons, can also help communities make the connections between heritage preservation and climate change. “Every place with heritage has a climate story.”

Michael Boswell, head of the city and regional planning department at California Poly San Luis Obispo and a representative from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ASCP), has been studying what cities with successful climate action plans are doing and has authored a UN-Habitat-sponsored report to help planning departments ramp up efforts in their cities.

The most important success factor in these cities is having a “climate champion — a mayor, community activist with authority, or municipal planning staff,” so this person or group of people needs to be either identified and supported or grown locally. Climate-smart cities also lead by example by reducing emissions from their own government operations first; communicate the multiple benefits of climate action, such as the benefits of biking for health or electric vehicles and renewable energy in reducing air pollution; engage the public through direct communications efforts; build partnerships; assemble “green teams” in mayors’ offices; and institutionalize action.

Sandy Mendler, a principal at Mithun, who participated in the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge through the ouR Home team, believes that planners must be focused on forging truly equitable city-wide development plans that don’t push out vulnerable populations. She argued that even in San Francisco, which has been a leader in climate action, the Bay area’s comprehensive plan through 2040 fails to meet affordable housing needs or further prevent gentrification of vulnerable areas. “The goal is zero displacement of existing communities. Without the plan, there would be a 20 percent increase in displacement through 2040; with the plan, there would still be 9 percent. That’s our best plan, and it’s not solving the problem.”

She said climate plans must also take into better account the unintended consequences of good intentions. For example, in California, the carbon cap and trade system has resulted in increased air pollution in low-income urban areas, because “power plants in high-value neighborhoods were cleaned up first, which meant that dirtier power generation was running longer in low-income communities.” California Global Warming Solutions Act from 2006 was just re-authorized last year, but this time with a companion bill (AB 197), environmental justice legislation that will dedicate a quarter of the funds from cap and trade to the the communities hit hardest by its effects.

Mendler also said cities must put “priority resilience areas,” which can protect communities through the use of green infrastructure, ahead of “priority development areas,” like the ones identified in the Plan Bay Area 2040.

The problem is many of the areas the bay area city governments have deemed ripe for future redevelopment are in flood zones, filled with brownfields, and inhabited by already-vulnerable populations. All of those brownfields are “time bombs” because if sea level rise causes them to permanently flood, they will spread toxins into the water supply. Brownfields must instead be redeveloped as green infrastructure — “permeable sponges” or “horizontal berms” that can reduce storm impacts, boost community and ecological resilience, and support biodiversity.

At the end, ASLA CEO Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, was invited to provide comments. She argued that focusing on the multiple social and environments benefits of climate action and maintaining a “laser focus on equity” are key. But she cautioned that the “balkanized” approach to climate change taken within many city governments is a major obstacle holding back more ambitious action.

ASLA Announces 2018 Professional Awards

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

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

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

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

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

General Design Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Analysis and Planning Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communications Category

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

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

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

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

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

Research Category

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

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

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

Residential Design Category

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

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

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

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

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

The Landmark Award

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

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

The professional awards jury included:

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

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