Walter Hood: Landscapes Can Tell New Stories

Saint Monica’s Tears / Hood Design Studio

Semiotics involves the study of signs and symbols. In a virtual lecture organized by the National Building Museum, landscape designer and artist Walter Hood, ASLA, kept returning to the idea of re-evaluating existing signs and symbols in American landscapes and creating meaningful new ones that speak to diverse audiences.

Designed landscapes use symbols to tell stories about places and communities. But for Hood, it’s clear that landscapes too often use symbols to create “fictions,” narratives told by someone else. This presents communities that have not expressed themselves before with opportunities to tell new stories that resonate with an increasingly diverse public.

Hood began his lecture by sharing a few recent projects, including Saint Monica’s Tears in Santa Monica, California (see above). When the Spaniards arrived, there were sacred springs named Kuruvungna by the local Tongva tribe. When Father Juan Crespi saw the springs, he thought of Saint Monica’s eyes. Saint Monica (Santa Monica in Spanish) is known as the “weeping saint,” as she shed tears over her son Augustine’s “hedonistic lifestyle.”

Speaking to a Tongva elder, Hood learned about the lost landscape that existed before the Spanish colonialists arrived. He wanted to design a reminder of this landscape in the midst of today’s busy commercial and tourist mecca. “I wanted to create a duality — a conversation between the present and past — and explore materials that can help us remember the past,” he said. At a metro station, he designed large sand stones in Indian trapezoidal forms to make up a wall, with hand-made glass tears that form streaks running down the wall’s face.

A public art piece Hood designed more than a decade ago in Oakland, California, 7th Street Dancing Lights + Gateway, includes light poles that honor the community’s jazz and blues history. The artwork culminates in a gateway above a four-lane street with etched portraits of leading Black American figures — Barack Obama, Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Like Saint Monica’s Tears, the projects brings to light a little known aspect of history — the Black history that defines 7th street in West Oakland. One West Oakland resident told him that each morning, seeing “the signs gave him confidence to go into the city every day. Seeing them ablaze gave him peace.”

7th Street Dancing Lights + Gateway / Hood Design Studio

Hood’s recent book Black Landscapes Matter, co-edited with Grace Mitchell Tada, Assoc. ASLA, came out of efforts, like the two projects just mentioned, to “change the semiotic,” and therefore change mindsets.

Hood had watched footage of the scene where Michael Brown was killed by police and wondered why these killings were always happening in the same places — liquor stores, the middle of empty streets. He initiated a series of lectures at the University of California at Berkeley, which then provided the foundation for the book. In the book and lecture, he returned to the ideas of signs and symbols in the landscape — and how they reflect different narratives for different communities.

One place for Hood to explore these ideas was the Tidal Basin Ideas Lab, an initiative to re-imagine the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., which is increasingly threatened by rising sea levels brought on by climate change.

Here, Hood and his team imagined a “speculative future” and decided to “do something different.” “I didn’t want to fix Washington, D.C.; D.C. is a fiction anyway.” Instead, Hood Design Studio proposed an elevated ringed pathway above a Tidal Basin returned to its natural wetlands. He imagined Black tourists and locals visiting D.C. to discover the untold Black history of the landscape.

Tidal Basin Ideas Lab submission / Hood Design Studio

In Nauck, Arlington, Virginia, Hood and his team are re-imagining a space dedicated to John Robinson, Jr., a beloved figure who passed away in 2010, as a true town square. Prior to emancipation, a community of freed slaves created Freedman’s Village, a space now taken up by Arlington National Cemetery. As the cemetery was created, the community was forced to move to this area of Virginia.

Hood said the community’s real name isn’t Nauck, but Green Valley, as this is the name used by the Freedman’s Village diaspora who moved there. As such, Hood wanted to make sure the new Nauck Town Square is very green and feels like a place of refuge.

Nauck Town Square / Hood Design Studio

Hood also designed a gilded sentinel that spells out “FREED” and then turned it so it stands vertically. “It’s a celebration of early freed people. Nauck now has a different name and symbols — 40-feet-tall, gilded, and lit.” The sentinel itself is comprised of a pattern made up of slave badges.

Nauck Town Square / Hood Design Studio

In the historic downtown LaVilla, Florida, Hood designed the Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park, which honors the brothers James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson who composed the song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” in LaVilla and lived in a home on the park site in the early 1900s.

Hood said the community was once known as a Black commercial street, lined by flophouses and shotgun homes. “It was the Great Black Way, and there are ghosts of that neighborhood still there.” Hood is designing a new park that has gardens and an amphitheater. A shotgun house will be stenciled with lyrics from the Johnson brothers and form the foundation of a new stage. There’s also a “poet’s walk,” with inspirational quotes.

Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park / Hood Design Studio
Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park / Hood Design Studio
Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park / Hood Design Studio

For the International African American Museum (IAAM) in Charleston, South Carolina, Hood Design Studio is imagining a new landscape that can speak to the vast African diaspora in the U.S. who were brought to the country against their will. “Some 40 percent of the slave diaspora landed in Charleston.” The museum is near now buried landing places where “people were bought, sold, and perished.” It’s also near the aquarium, harbor, and the Black church where nearly a dozen people were killed by a white supremacist.

The old landing place where slaves disembarked in the U.S. for the first time has been “erased, built upon, forgotten.” Hood thinks its critical to exhume the history of the IAAM site, which is almost a burial ground, given so many perished there.

In her books, Toni Morrison has relayed the sentiment — there is no place for me to go and sit and hear my ancestors, Hood said. This idea inspired him to design a “landscape of memorial” at the museum site. He added that too often for Black Americans, “there is no tree, park, square — no place to think of who came before” — and the IAAM can provide this for the African diaspora.

The IAAM, designed in partnership with architecture firms Pei, Cobb Freed & Partners and Moody Nolan, will be raised up 13 feet off the ground in order to protect against flooding and sea level rise. The elevated structure created the opportunity for a plaza below the building where Hood is designing a landscape of crushed shells that refer to the sea floor.

International African American Museum / Pei Cobb Freed

Within this plane, Hood has etched forms of slaves who were chained head to toe together in galley ships that crossed the Atlantic. The corpses are marked with shells, in reference to the unknown many who perished on the journey and rest at the bottom of the ocean.

International African American Museum / Hood Design Studio

Surrounding the building are a series of gardens that include sweetgrass, which has been used by the Gullah community of the low country of the Carolinas to make artful baskets for centuries; rice fields, which highlight the role of Carolina Gold rice farming in the history of the region; and African ethno-botanical gardens, which will include a rotating display of plants with medicinal and other healing benefits.

African ethno-botanical gardens at the International African American Museum / Hood Design Studio

Two walls will provide frames for sculptures of “rice negroes” who worked in the fields of the Carolinas. “They are reflective figures, who appear trapped,” Hood said.

International African American Museum / Hood Design Studio

During a Q&A session, moderator Maisie Hughes, ASLA, a co-founder of The Urban Studio, argued that emancipation isn’t often viewed as worthy of memorializing. She wondered why some events are memorialized and not others.

Hood said that W.J.T. Mitchell, a professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago, argues that “landscapes are fictions.” Institutions and communities design landscapes to create certain narratives, and this has occurred throughout history.

In ancient Egypt, one side of the Nile River represented death while the other bank represented life. In the Taos pueblo community, children lived on side of a river until they were old enough to cross over to the other side. Landscape use symbols to tell stories and create identities.

“The problem is that we are too often subjected to someone else’s narratives. Colonialism created its own fictions that were told to us. It’s fine if you want to have that story, but don’t subject me to that.” Too many communities have “never had an opportunity to own space, create their own narratives, and articulate differences.” Hood has set out to change that.

Positive Impact in Rapid Time: AARP Community Challenge Grants

AARP is once again offering its Community Challenge Grants, which range from a few hundred dollars up to tens of thousands, to non-profit organizations and local governments. AARP seeks to fund permanent or temporary small-scale projects that can be designed and implemented in just a few months. This year, the focus is on projects that support community equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts.

Landscape architects and designers, please take note: AARP is prioritizing projects that “improve open spaces, parks, and access to other amenities; and deliver a range of transportation and mobility options that increase connectivity, walkability, bikeability, wayfinding, access to transportation options, and roadway improvements.” They are also interested in projects that support community recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Since 2017, AARP’s program has awarded 560 grants totaling $6.1 million, which have resulted in rapid-fire actions that improve community livability for all ages — not just older adults. 60 percent of grants have gone to 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4), and 501(c)(6) nonprofits, and the rest to local governments. 42 percent of grants have gone to urban communities, 38 percent to rural areas, and 20 percent to suburban areas.

According to AARP, 45 percent of grants have had a catalytic impact, helping grantees gain additional funds and support from public and private organizations. And 81 percent of grants helped grantees “overcome policy barriers and advance change.”

Applications are due April 14, 2021, and all projects must be completed by November 10, 2021.

ASLA Releases Racial Equity Action Plan

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, Washington, D.C. / Oehme, van Sweden | OvS. Image: copyright George E. Brown

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) released its Racial Equity Action Plan – a Five-Point Plan to continue the process of eradicating the systems and structures within the landscape architecture profession and larger design community that have resulted in limited opportunities and recognition of the deserving Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) professionals who’ve led and produced important, ground-breaking, and honorable work.

“ASLA and its members reject bigotry and racism in all its forms, and anti-Black racism in particular, as wrong and fundamentally inconsistent with our mission and values,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, CEO of ASLA. “ASLA is putting that conviction into action. ASLA is in the business of changing the world through the art and science of design. Our Five-Point Racial Equity Plan of Action is the next progression of our journey together.”

The plan sets actionable goals and benchmarks for the organization and for the landscape architecture profession. These include:

Diversifying the pipeline

Acknowledging racism in the profession and honoring the forgotten

Reshaping the conversation and transforming frameworks

Leading through education, conversation, and advocacy

Maintaining meaningful, measurable progress

10 New Projects in Online Exhibition Demonstrate Value of Landscape Architecture as a Climate Solution

NatureScape homeowner in Orange County, California / Jodie Cook Design, Inc.

ASLA’s Smart Policies for a Changing Climate Online Exhibition demonstrates how landscape architects are designing smart solutions to climate impacts, such as flooding, extreme heat, drought, and sea level rise. 10 new projects added to the exhibition exemplify best practice approaches to landscape architecture in the era of climate change.

The projects include a mix of landscape-based and often nature-based solutions across the U.S., which range in scale from residential and school landscapes to master plans for entire cities and counties. There is also a focus on projects that address climate injustices and meet the needs of historically-marginalized and underserved communities.

The John W. Cook Academy Space to Grow Schoolyard / site design group, ltd. (site)

“The projects clearly show how landscape architects can help all kinds of communities reduce their risk to increasingly severe climate impacts. Landscape architects design with nature, which leads to more resilient solutions that also improve community health, safety, and well-being over the long-term,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA CEO

With the new projects, which were selected with ASLA’s Climate Action Committee, there are now a total of 30 projects featured in the online exhibition. Each project was selected to illustrate policy recommendations outlined in the 2017 report produced by ASLA’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change & Resilience.

Explore all the new projects:

Cuyahoga Greenways Framework Plan
Cuyahoga County, Ohio | SmithGroup

Being solely dependent on cars increases communities’ risks to climate impacts. Through the 815-mile Cuyahoga Greenways Framework Plan created by landscape architects and planners at SmithGroup, some 59 communities will have healthier and more resilient transportation connections to downtown Cleveland, Lake Erie, and each other.

Green Schoolyards
Vancouver, Washington | nature+play designs

Too few schools offer educational green spaces that can spark children’s appreciation for nature, which is critical to helping them become future Earth stewards. Jane Tesner Kleiner, ASLA, with nature+play designs partnered with school leaders, students, and volunteers to design native plant gardens, meadows, and tree groves that create environmental education opportunities; support pollinators, such as butterflies, bees, and birds; and also manage stormwater.

Houston Arboretum and Nature Center
Houston, Texas | Design Workshop and Reed Hilderbrand

By 2012, more than 50 percent of the tree canopy of the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center had been lost due to drought and hurricanes made more severe by climate change. By removing trees and restoring the original prairie, savannah, and woodland ecosystems found at the Arboretum, landscape architects with Design Workshop and Reed Hilderbrand designed a landscape naturally resilient to future climate shocks.

The John W. Cook Academy Space to Grow Schoolyard
Chicago, Illinois | site design group, ltd (site)

Historically marginalized and underserved communities, like those found in the South Side of Chicago, are disproportionally affected by climate impacts such as flooding. Through the Space to Grow program, a flooded asphalt schoolyard at the John W. Cook Academy, an elementary school on the South Side, was redesigned by landscape architects at site design group, ltd (site) to become a green learning and play space that captures stormwater.

The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design
Atlanta, Georgia | Andropogon

Through their research capabilities and campus infrastructure, universities and schools can also help solve the climate crisis. For the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, landscape architects with Andropogon integrated an innovative water management system that captures and reuses 100 percent of stormwater runoff from the building and also cleanses and reuses building greywater in the ecological landscape.

NatureScape
Orange County, California | Jodie Cook Design, Inc.

Climate change has severely reduced the availability of fresh water in arid Western states. Turf lawns require vast amounts of water to maintain and also provide no habitat for native plant and animal species. Through NatureScape, an innovative program in Orange County, California, Jodie Cook, ASLA, helped homeowners transform their turf front yards into water-saving native plant gardens that can sustain a range of native bird, bee, and butterfly species.

Rain Check 2.0
Buffalo, New York | Buffalo Sewer Authority

Climate change is making communities’ struggles with aging combined sewer systems, which carry both sewage from buildings and stormwater from streets, even worse. With more frequent extreme weather events, these systems now more often overflow, causing untreated sewage to enter water bodies. Rain Check 2.0, an innovative program in Buffalo, New York, led by landscape architect Kevin Meindl, ASLA, offers grants to private landowners to capture stormwater through trees, rain gardens, green roofs and streets.

Randall’s Island Connector
The Bronx, New York | Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects (MNLA)

Historically marginalized and underserved communities, like those in the South Bronx in New York City, experience higher than average heat risks because they typically have fewer parks and recreational spaces. The lack of safe and convenient pedestrian and bicycle access to nearby green spaces exacerbates the problem. Working with two community groups and the New York City government, landscape architects with MNLA designed the Randall’s Island Connector, a ¼-mile-long multi-modal path underneath an Amtrak freight line.

Sapwi Trails Community Park
Thousand Oaks, California | Conejo Recreation & Park District and RRM Design Group (consulting landscape architects)

In drought-stricken Western states, climate change has added stress to increasingly fragile ecosystems. Instead of moving forward with an earlier plan that could have damaged the Lang Creek ecosystem, planners and landscape architects at the Conejo Recreation & Park District and RRM Design Group designed the Sapwi Trails Community Park to be a model for how to preserve ecological systems while improving access and dramatically reducing water use.

Thornton Creek Water Quality Channel
Seattle, Washington | MIG

Climate change and environmentally-insensitive development in the Pacific Northwest are exacerbating negative impacts on salmon. Grassroots environmental organizations sought to daylight the piped Thornton Creek. A new water quality channel was designed by landscape architects at MIG to clean stormwater runoff from 680 surrounding acres before the water flows into the South Fork of the salmon-bearing Thornton Creek.

Background:

New projects were submitted by ASLA members through an open call ASLA released in 2019. In partnership with the ASLA Climate Action Committee, projects were selected to represent a range of U.S. regions, scales (from residential to county-wide master plans), and firm types.

In 2017, ASLA convened a Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change & Resilience, which resulted in a report: Smart Policies for a Changing Climate and a series of lectures and educational sessions at built environment conferences. In 2019, an exhibition outlining 20 cases that exemplify the policy goals outlined in the report opened at the ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture in Washington, D.C., and a companion website was launched.

The exhibition was funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (February 16-28)

Studio Zewde’s Graffiti Pier project in Philadelphia / Studio Zewde

Studio Zewde Designs for Cultural and Climate Resilience
02/24/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“With several major projects on the docket—including a five-acre park in Pittsburgh’s historically Black Homewood neighborhood—Zewde persists in combating the shibboleths of her field. Landscape has adopted the rubric of resilience as an overarching frame, but its manifestation in individual projects can often feel like an add-on or PR spin.”

Cities Are Sinking Under the Weight of Urban Development
02/23/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“A new study seeks to quantify how much the sheer weight of the built environment contributes to the sinking of cities, a geological phenomenon known as land subsidence.”

Here Are the Winning Landscape Art Installations for the 2021 International Garden Festival
02/19/21, Archinect
“The annual International Garden Festival is returning to the historic Reford Gardens in Grand-Métis, Quebec this summer, and five new projects have just been chosen to be featured alongside the existing gardens.”

WEISS/MANFREDI and Reed Hilderbrand Reveal an Expansive Reimagining at Longwood Gardens
02/18/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“WEISS/MANFREDI and Reed Hilderbrand’s ‘sweeping yet deeply sensitive’ transformation will ‘expand the public spaces of the renowned central grounds and connect them from east to west, offering a newly unified but continually varied journey from lush formal gardens to views over the open meadows of Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley.'”

Boston’s Dogs Just Wanna Run Free
02/16/21, The Boston Globe
“So, if the national ‘pandemic puppy’ trend holds up in Boston, soon-to-be mature dogs will be matriculating in public spaces and will insist that their voices are heard. And the dog-owning bloc in Boston naturally keeps sniffing for opportunity and will not take rejection lightly. How does a dog park in every Boston neighborhood sound? That’s the city’s goal, Boston officials confirmed.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (January 16-31)

Terraced pocket park in Chinatown, Los Angeles / AHBE | MIG

Terraced Pocket Park Takes Shape in Chinatown — 01/28/21, Urbanize
“Landscape architecture firm AHBE | MIG designed the project and uses staircases and multiple terrace levels to account for its hillside location. The stepped levels, which provide three entrance points along Ord Street and Hill Place, will include landscaping, seating areas, viewing platforms, and exercise equipment.”

Frank Gehry Teases Plans to Build Raised Parks over the Los Angeles River — 01/28/21, Dezeen
“Concrete stilts would support deep, soil-filled concrete troughs of earth planted with plants and trees, perched four metres above the lip of the concrete-walled channel.”

The Battle Lines Are Forming in Biden’s Climate Push — 01/26/21, The New York Times
“The president is moving rapidly to address global warming, with unlikely allies backing him and huge hurdles, some from his own party, directly ahead.”

Everything We Liked (and Didn’t Like) at Buttigieg’s Transportation Secretary Confirmation Hearing — 01/25/21, Transportation for America
“‘It’s very important to recognize the importance of roadways where pedestrians, bicycles, vehicles, any other mode can coexist peacefully. And that Complete Streets vision will continue to enjoy support from me if confirmed,’ Buttgieg said.”

Turin Turned an Abandoned Tramway into a Linear Park — 01/22/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“‘Precollinear Park’ was supposed to be a temporary reuse of a dead streetcar line. Instead, it became the Italian city’s newest green space.”

Social Urbanism: From the Medellín Model to a New Global Movement

Social Urbanism: Reframing Spatial Design – Discourses from Latin America / Applied Research + Design, ORO

By Gabriel Díaz Montemayor, ASLA

Social Urbanism: Reframing Spatial Design – Discourses from Latin America, a new book by Maria Bellalta, ASLA, dean of the School of Landscape Architecture at the Boston Architectural College, is a welcome addition to the growing number of publications on the social justice-oriented form of urbanism, architecture, and public space emanating from Medellín and Colombia. The achievements of social urbanism have rightfully become synonymous with Medellín in the world of landscape architecture, urban planning and design, and architecture.

So what is social urbanism? Is it a top-down and bottom-up planning, design, and implementation process for improving the quality of life of low-income and disenfranchised communities? Appropriately, there is no single definition in the book. There are various takes, which range from comparisons to Jaime Lerner’s strategy of urban acupuncture, integrated community approaches (engagement and participation), and projects and practices in Mexico and Brazil.

While this lack of definition may leave some readers dissatisfied, the book provides a chronology of Medellín’s many social urbanist endeavors and institutional actors, which are represented by a collection of acronyms: PRIMED, POT, EDU, PUI, EPM, UVA, AEI, etc. All these point to the value of complex solutions that include multiple stakeholders and interests.

But the results are not without shortcomings. In Gloria Aponte’s critical contribution, she highlights the lack of ecological considerations in the practice of social urbanism in Medellín. This omission is further described in Juan Camilo Jaramillo’s article on the damaged environment of the city – the accumulated negative impacts on air, water, land, and biodiversity.

Social Urbanism is a predominantly graphic book. It contains appealing and comprehensive social, economic, urban, and environmental data-based maps of Latin America, Colombia, and Medellín. As such, it is a book aligned with the work of architect and professor Felipe Correa, including his books on Sao Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico; and Quito, Ecuador.

La Aurora Trece de Noviembre and Barrio Independencia informal settlement at Medellin’s urban periphery / Integrated Urban Projects, a co-production with Daniela Coray and Maria Bellalta

Social Urbanism also contains the DNA for several potential books that I hope emerge soon. Chapter One on Latin America’s geography is succinct, but as a chapter may be too ambitious. The maps describing the resource extraction of the continent are also a good companion for Correa’s Beyond the City: Resource Extraction Urbanism in South America. In Chapter Two, the book shifts its focus to the urban history of Medellín. Social urbanism, the heart of the book, makes up Chapter Three.

Chapter Four is a collection of studio projects developed through the many visits and design studios Bellalta has organized in Medellín with students from the Boston Architectural College and their student and faculty collaborators from the prestigious Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB), a private, Catholic, and powerful institutional actor in Medellín’s transformation. This chapter reveals the breadth and depth of opportunities for exploration by planning and design students. The projects speak to the unfulfilled promise of progress in Latin America and the potential of social urbanism across the region. Chapter Five, “Invited Voices,” includes short articles by some of the key contemporary actors reshaping Medellin, including Jorge Perez Jaramillo and Alejandro Echeverri Restrepo, former director of the Urban Development Company.

Social Urbanism opens with a prologue by Echeverri, who highlights the quality of the graphic presentations of data. Indeed, some of the graphics are spectacular, and their presentation is supported by the generous book format. But some graphics are not immediately digestible. Take your time to process them, especially the statistical information. (The book is bilingual, with English and Spanish in parallel, only in the index, acknowledgements, prologue, and introduction sections — a limitation I hope is resolved soon through an important and potentially impactful full translation in Spanish).

Bellalta views “landscape as a cultural space, influenced by geography.” Her introduction focuses on the exploitation of the natural resources and the people of Latin America by Europe and the United States. Latin America created wealth that Latin Americans did not enjoy, because they were enslaved and offered arduous low-paid labor. Local and foreign corruption and greed, which was fueled by resource extraction, explain Latin America’s permanent under development. In the region of Medellín, cocaine, gold, flowers, and coffee were the focus of extraction. The book is written as a criticism of this social and environmental injustice, illustrating how Europe and the United States were indifferent to the consequences of their actions. This is one of the book’s strengths.

A few years ago in Medellín, I interviewed architect and urbanist Jorge Perez Jaramillo, former dean of the School of Architecture at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, former planning director of Medellin, and author of another recent and significant book on Medellín, which is summarized in an article in the “Invited Voices” section of the book.

Perez Jaramillo described his city as a community that hit rock bottom in the early 1990s. After decades of violence and crime produced by powerful drug cartels, and the cumulative effects of decades of civil war and guerrilla activity, there was nowhere else to go except up or drown in the bottom. This springing up was fertile ground for a socially-oriented urban transformation.

If you are interested in Medellín because you know of the many beautiful public buildings, parks, and infrastructure built in the city in the last two decades, and you want to know more about these structures, then this is not your book. All the important examples — Biblioteca España, the escalators in Comuna 13, etc. — are included, but only as part of generous photographic essays woven through the chapters. The fact that the book avoids a design focus is refreshing. Social Urbanism instead targets the social and political processes that enabled these projects to exist.

Comuna 10 escalator in Medellin’s peripheral communities / Maria Bellalta

The book seeks to answer: What kind of administrative, professional, academic, social, and cultural processes spawned the great design quality so widely recognized by many publications and awards? How can other cities transform inert and obstructive infrastructure, such as municipal water tanks, which in Medellín have become social-public infrastructure in the form of the Unidades de Vida Articulada (UVAs)?

Unidades de Vida Articulada (UVAs) / Maria Bellalta

This is not a how-to book, because the story of Medellín demonstrates that the great design quality could have only happened the way it did there. It may be due to the unique social, cultural, economic, and environmental conditions; the “Paisa” history, identity, and territory; the city’s resilient community; and numerous outstanding urban planning and design leaders, politicians, and academics.

Social urbanism has improved the quality of life for many who had been systematically ignored. But inequality has also increased in Medellín, and multiple projects and plans remain truncated, postponed, or unimplemented.

The important, old-yet-also-new ideas of social urbanism remind us to be always in action. Public health, safety, and welfare, which landscape architects and others are responsible for, must be sustained. As Bellalta proposes, social urbanism must transition from model to global movement.

Sketch study, Medellin / Maria Bellalta
Sketch study, Medellin / Maria Bellalta
Sketch study, Medellin / Maria Bellalta

Gabriel Díaz Montemayor, ASLA, is Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Arkansas.

ASLA Releases Policy Recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration

ASLA 2020 Professional Urban Design Award of Excellence. Dilworth Plaza. OLIN / James Ewing, OTTO

ASLA released a comprehensive set of policy recommendations for the Biden-Harris administration titled “Landscape Architects Design Vibrant, Resilient, and Just Communities for All – Recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration.”

“Our climate is in crisis. Social and racial injustice issues continue to go unaddressed. The pandemic is forcing us to rethink public space,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). “Landscape architects aren’t just designing resilient, sustainable solutions for all these problems – they’re designing the public policies necessary to support that vital work.”

The report makes specific, actionable policy recommendations in four major areas:

  • Applying STEM-related design principles to protect communities.
  • Addressing climate change through sustainable, resilient design.
  • Supporting green community infrastructure solutions.
  • Promoting racial, social, and environmental justice in design.

ASLA’s recommendations are supported by other organizations in the industry, including the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF).

“The pandemic has revealed now more than ever the value of public open spaces: we are human beings and need to be outside and with other human beings,” said Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, CEO of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF). “These policy recommendations provide overdue support to enable landscape architects to design healthy, accessible and equitable outdoor places for people to connect with nature and each other, and rebuild the public realm infrastructure.”

“Landscape architects play a vital and irreplaceable role in the design of the built environment. It’s time their recommendations for how that design is governed are heard and implemented,” Carter-Conneen added. “ASLA urges the Biden-Harris administration and the new Congress to review these recommendations and begin the process of implementing them.”

ASLA and our partners look forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration and the new Congress on implementing these policy recommendations that will lead to vibrant, resilient and just communities across the nation.

Read the full report

About the Report

The American Society of Landscape Architects compiled a comprehensive series of specific, actionable policy recommendations designed to give landscape architects a seat at the table and support for their vital work. The report is broken down into four sections.

ASLA 2016 Professional Communications Honor Award. Sea Change: Boston, Sasaki Associates / Sasaki Associates

The first, Landscape Architects Apply STEM to Protect the Public, outlines the measures necessary to assist landscape architects in meeting the economic demands and challenges facing our nation.

Recommendations in this section include:

  • Support continued state licensure of highly complex technical professions, including landscape architecture, to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.
  • Provide targeted and sustained COVID-19 relief for small businesses, including landscape architecture firms.
  • Appoint landscape architects to key positions throughout the Biden-Harris administration, including within the Departments of Transportation, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, and Agriculture, and in the Environmental Protection Agency, General Services Administration, the U.S. Access Board, and others.
  • Include landscape architecture on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Designated Degree Program List.

The second section, Landscape Architects Lead in Climate Solutions, focuses on policy solutions that support landscape architects’ work to design resilient, sustainable spaces that help communities mitigate and adapt to the effects of the ongoing climate crisis.

Recommendations in this section include:

  • Create a comprehensive, science-based climate action plan to significantly reduce carbon emissions.
  • Establish adaptation and mitigation strategies using natural systems to make communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
  • Protect underserved communities from climate and environmental injustices.
  • Adopt the Sustainable Sites Initiative® (SITES®) for all federal projects.
  • Reverse rules, regulations, and policies from the Trump administration that weaken environmental protections and ignore climate change, specifically involving the National Environmental Policy (NEPA) and the Waters of the U.S.( WOTUS).

The third section, Landscape Architects Transform Community Infrastructure, outlines policies to encourage the designing and building of community infrastructure projects in a way that fosters sustainable development, generates jobs, encourages healthy lifestyles, and creates resilient, equitable, and economically vibrant communities.

Recommendations in this section center around the following goals:

  • Upgrade to a multimodal transportation network.
  • Fix our nation’s water management systems.
  • Recognize public lands, parks, and open space as “critical infrastructure.”
  • Design resilient communities.

The fourth and final section, Landscape Architects Seek Racial, Social, and Environmental Justice, provides specific recommendations that seek to address the inequities that harm underserved communities, including communities of color, low-income populations, and Tribal and Indigenous communities across the country.

Recommendations in this section include:

  • Work with Congress to codify Executive Order 12898, so that it is permanent law for federal agencies to identify and address the disproportionately high and adverse health and environmental effects of agency actions on low-income and minority communities.
  • Join stakeholders across the country in advancing the tenets of the Environmental Justice for All Act (H.R. 5986), which help to ensure that all communities are protected from pollution and that all voices are heard in the federal environmental decision-making.
  • Consider policies that promote design techniques as a tool to address racial, environmental, and social justice for all.

Read the full list of recommendations

Most Popular DIRT Posts of 2020

Harbor Spring, Michigan / Robert Gibbs

While we look ahead to what’s new in the built and natural environments, it’s also valuable to look back at what attracted readers’ attention the most last year. Here’s a review of the 10 most popular DIRT posts of 2020.

Readers wanted to know more about the causes of the pandemic and its impacts on human and environmental health and local economies. Contributions from ASLA members explored the health risks of destroying biodiversity and expanding into natural areas and offered creative planning and design solutions to reduce the chances of another virus-driven catastrophe. Amid the global Black Lives Matter protest movement, readers also sought to learn more from Black landscape architects on their experiences with racism — and the need to preserve and celebrate Black landscapes.

ASLA members: please send us your original op-eds or articles on topics that inspire you. And tell us about your new projects and research. Please email us at info@asla.org.

After Lockdown, New Opportunities for Downtown Shopping Districts

Robert Gibbs, FASLA: “Since the earliest human settlements, the retail experience has evolved to meet the needs of the public. This evolution has taken us from rural markets to towns, cities, suburban shopping malls, big box mega-stores, and, more recently, the Internet. But what will retail shopping look like once COVID-19 lockdowns are over and people return to the wild for their shopping experiences?”

Interview with Walter Hood: Black Landscapes Matter

Walter Hood, ASLA: “Sometimes places are palimpsests, meaning part of the brick and mortar, and some of them are based in memories, the passing of time. For people of color who are marginalized, stories get lost. Each project is fraught with chance. I am not trying to solve a problem, per se. I’m trying to put something out in the world that has been covered up, erased, which might allow people to see the world and themselves in a different way.”

Interactive Maps Track Western Wildfires

Amid the continuing devastation, an interactive map from ESRI, which creates geographic information system software, enables users to track active fires by name or location in near real time and sort by timeline and magnitude. The map indicates each fire’s estimated start date and its current level of containment. Another layer provides a smoke forecast for any given location.

The Pandemic Offers an Opportunity to Re-Wild Our Communities

Kinder Baumgardner, ASLA: “My view is that feral green agglomerations will pop up across cities and suburbs. Residents will benefit from their habitat patches, stormwater storage, carbon sequestration, and makeshift community gathering areas.”

Biodiversity and Pandemic Diseases (or How We Came to Know Our World in 2020)

Kristina Hill, Affil. ASLA: “In the 21st century, globalized economic growth has reached the end of its rope. Economies can’t continue to expand without creating new pandemic risks, as more people press up against the habitat of more wildlife or raise domestic animals in unhealthy conditions. We’re now part of one big, highly connected planetary ecosystem that’s going to bite us back hard if we step on it the wrong way.”

Amid the Pandemic, Take Time to Reconnect with Nature

If you are in a place impacted by COVID-19, spending 20 minutes experiencing nature in a park, street, or even your backyard can significantly reduce your stress levels. Just be sure to follow federal, state, and local guidelines and maintain social distancing of 6 feet. But even if you cannot or are unable to go outside, taking a break by opening a window and looking at a tree or plant can also help de-stress.

Suburban Sprawl Increases the Risk of Future Pandemics

Michael Grove, FASLA: “Degraded habitats of any kind can create conditions for viruses to cross over, whether in Accra or Austin. The disruption of habitat to support our suburban lifestyle is bringing us closer to species with which we have rarely had contact. By infringing on these ecosystems, we reduce the natural barriers between humans and host species, creating ideal conditions for diseases to spread. These microbes are not naturally human pathogens. They become human pathogens because we offer them that opportunity.”

Asia’s Largest Urban Rooftop Farm Is a Model of Integrated Design

At first, the images of Thammasat University Rooftop Farm seem like renderings, but they are in fact real. Designed by Landprocess, which is led by landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom, International ASLA, the 1.7-acre rooftop farm in Bangkok, Thailand, is not only mesmerizing but also a model of sustainable multi-use infrastructure.

I Could Have Been Ahmaud Arbery

Andrew Sargeant, ASLA: “We must change the narrative about investing in Black landscape architects and other minority designers as ‘helping them.’ Investment in diverse people and communities is investing in the future of the profession. I don’t want ‘help.'”

How Will the Pandemic Impact the Built Environment?

Throughout the Congress for New Urbanism’s Virtual Gathering, landscape architects, planners, architects, and developers struggled to figure out how the pandemic is impacting communities and the built environment — and tried to foresee what changes are coming in the near future.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (December 16-31)

25 Cottage Street, Brookline, Massachusetts / Brookline Preservation Commission, via The Architect’s Newspaper

H. H. Richardson and John Charles Olmsted Homes Get Temporary Reprieve from the Wrecking Ball — 12/31/20, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Brookline’s Green Hill historic district reflected an ‘extraordinary confluence’ of design talent […] Frederick Law Olmsted, John Charles Olmsted, and H. H. Richardson ‘worked within yards of one another, shaping Nineteenth and early Twentieth-Century architecture and landscape design in ways that continue to reverberate today.'”

Landscape Architecture and Industrial Design Feature in UNSW Sydney’s Varied Student Show — 12/23/20, Dezeen
“Landscape design that explores urban nature and an ergonomic chair designed for musicians are among the varied student projects exhibited in part two of the UNSW Sydney’s school show.”

Op-Ed: How to Fix a National Register of Historic Places That Reflects Mostly White History — 12/22/20, The Los Angeles Times
“Less than 8% of sites on the National Register are associated with women, Latinos, African Americans or other minorities. The César E. Chávez National Monument, established just eight years ago, was the first unit in the National Park System commemorating any aspect of modern Latino history.”

Nominee Buttigieg Vows To Dismantle ‘Racist’ Freeways — 12/22/20, Streetsblog
“President-elect Biden’s path breaking pick for Transportation Secretary says he’ll reverse decades of discriminatory planning by expanding public transit and, most important, dismantling urban freeways that were built to destroy Black communities and led to decades of health and wealth inequity.”

City of Boston Is Working with Architectural Firm to Rethink Copley Square — 12/16/20, The Boston Globe
“’We have a much-loved square which hasn’t seen any updates since the late ’80s and wasn’t designed for the kind of traffic it now gets in the 21st century,’ said Kate Tooke, a landscape architect at Sasaki, a Watertown-based global design firm that has been hired by the Walsh administration to design upgrades for the square.”