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

bentway-public-work-toronto-designboom-05
Toronto’s Bentway / Nic Lehoux

How to Design a Better City for Deaf People CityLab, 3/4/19
“Lighting, sound-deflecting surfaces, big spaces—all of these elements can influence a deaf person’s ability to communicate. DeafSpace design considers it all.”

Kiley’s Chestnut Grove Provokes Hot Debate Urban Milwaukee, 3/7/19
“Shields is now in the strange position of overseeing the elimination of the 50-year-old chestnut grove created by Kiley for Milwaukee’s Performing Arts Center in 1969. The grove would go as part of a major renovation of the facility, now known as the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.”

The Bentway Transforms Space Under Toronto’s Expressway Into a Community Venue Designboom, 3/9/19
“The city of Toronto presents the transformation of the Bentway, a 1.75km space under the city’s Gardiner Expressway.”

Preventing Crime, One Park at a Time Planetizen, 3/11/19
“Deborah Marton, executive director of the New York Restoration Project, connects parks and open space to improved public safety.”

The Hirshhorn Museum’s Sculpture Garden Set for a Hiroshi Sugimoto Overhaul The Architect’s Newspaper, 3/11/19
“A year after the Japanese artist and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto completed his renovation of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden lobby in Washington, D.C.”

Trump Signs Major Public Lands Bill, Ensuring LWCF’s Future

Black Rock Sanctuary / KMS Design Group

In a huge win for conservationists, President Trump has signed into law the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. Negotiated over the past few years, the bipartisan legislation permanently re-authorizes the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which finances important and popular federal and state conservation and park projects. The legislation puts into law the Every Kid in a Park program, which gives 4th graders and their families free passes to national parks for a year. The bill also protects an additional 1.3 million acres of wilderness out West through the expansion of eight national parks and the creation of three new ones. And hunters and anglers applauded their new, expanded access to public lands.

The LWCF is funded from fees and royalties from offshore oil and gas. The fund is capped at $900 million a year, but Congress typically funds it to the tune of $300-500 million annually. According to Daniel Hart, ASLA government affairs manager, who has lobbied for the bill on Capitol Hill in recent years, “some 40 percent of LWCF funds go to purchasing land that shores up national parks; another 40 percent goes to state and local governments to conserve land and water and create new parks and recreation facilities; and the remaining 20 percent of spending is discretionary.”

Since its inception in 1965, LWCF has made $3.9 billion in state grants to 40,000 projects, protecting and restoring some 2.37 million acres. ASLA has been a dedicated, long-term advocate for permanent re-authorization of the LWCF because so many landscape architects around the country have greatly benefited from the program, using the funds to restore and enhance natural landscapes and build new parks and recreation facilities.

Carl Keleman, FASLA, founder of KMS Design Group in Pennsylvania, is one of those landscape architects.

He said a $300,000 grant of LWCF funds for the 119-acre Black Rock Sanctuary, a wetland restoration project in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, “allowed the project to go forward.” His efforts transformed contaminated pools associated with a “slack canal system” that once conveyed barges carrying coal to Philadelphia into a meadow wetland preserve that sustainably manages stormwater (see image at top). Piecing together financing from various foundations for interpretive trails and habitat development, Keleman still needed funds to create upland meadow wetlands.

With LWCF support, Keleman created 30 new acres of wetlands and enhanced another 17 acres. The impressive results, which are outlined in a Landscape Performance Series case study, included tripling the bird count in the area and increasing the number of bird species by two-thirds.

Black Rock Sanctuary / KMS Design Group

In Sitka, a rural community found in the rainforest of southeast Alaska on the Pacific Coast, landscape architect Monique Anderson, ASLA, founder of Anderson Land Planning, also received the support her project needed from LWCF.

With the help of a grant of $220,000, the community was able to move forward with the much-needed Sitka Community Playground at Crescent Harbor Park. “The grant from LWCF was really important early on, as it inspired the state and local governments to open their purse; they realized the project was a real thing that was happening.”

Anderson said the $1 million project was driven by a “volunteer group of moms” who saw the need for a new space for their kids. The LWCF frequently funds playground and park development projects in both large and small communities across Alaska.

Sitka Community Playground at Crescent Harbor Park / Anderson Land Planning, Patrick Schneider photography
Sitka Community Playground at Crescent Harbor Park / Anderson Land Planning, Patrick Schneider Photography

For New Orleans-based landscape architect Dana Brown, FASLA, two LWCF grants of $150,000 also made possible Riverside and Tuten Parks in the City of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

According to Brown’s firm, the 17-acre Riverside Park used to be known as Fitzenreiter Park but it had fallen into such a state of disrepair because of vandalism and illegal dumping that it needed a new name. As part of the $850,000 project, Dana Brown & Associates restored the park’s ecosystem and wetlands; created new paths, trails, docks, and fishing boardwalk; and remedied security problems.

And in Tuten Park, also in Lake Charles, Brown’s team undid the havoc created by Hurricane Rita, which damaged or destroyed 80 percent of the park’s trees. Along with a new master plan, “a resource management plan was created to aid in the ecological maintenance and continued recovery of the park.” Paths and trails take visitors through a restored, revitalized park with a playground that cost some $650,000.

Riverside Park / Dana Brown & Associates
Tuten Park / Dana Brown & Associates

Beyond protecting LWCF, the Natural Resources Management Act includes the Every Kid in a Park program, one of ASLA’s priorities, which introduces children to the beauty and benefits of the natural world.

The program, which started as an initiative under the Obama administration, gives 4th graders and their families free access to all national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, and forests for a year, an $80 value. The National Park Service in partnership with the National Park Foundation also provides transportation grants and educational materials to schools.

Every Kid in a Park program / National Park Service

The legislation creates six new national monuments, including the site of the St. Francis Dam Disaster in California; Jurassic, Utah; Medgar Evers Home in Mississippi, home to the civil rights activist; and Mill Springs Battlefied and Camp Nelson in Kentucky.

Medgar Evers Home / Wikipedia

Five national parks — Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park in California and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefied Park, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park, and Fort Frederica National Monument in Georgia — have been expanded. And no mining will be permitted in 370,000 acres surrounding Yellowstone National Park in Montana and North Cascades National Park in Washington.

Joshua Tree National Park / Wikipedia

Some 1.3 million acres of land in California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah are now designated wilderness, meaning no roads or motorized vehicles are allowed. 650 miles of rivers, such as the Rogue River in Oregon, which provides important salmon breeding grounds, will remain wild and scenic, protected from damming or other development. And some 380 bird species will receive habitat protections.

Lastly, the legislation is a boon for hunters and anglers — bow hunters can now bring their bows through national parks when trying to reach areas where they can legally hunt. And unless designated otherwise, all federal land will be open to hunting, fishing, and shooting.

Faced with Climate Impacts, Communities Turn to Green Infrastructure

Shelby Country Resilience planning / Sasaki

Climate change is causing seas to rise, flooding to worsen, and hurricanes and wildfires to become more destructive, all of which puts our infrastructure at greater risk. On top of that, America’s current infrastructure received a D+ grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in their latest scorecard. Increased risk from climate events and the massive backlog of maintenance projects means that our infrastructure has never been more vulnerable.

But for some forward-thinking communities, vulnerability means opportunity. For these communities facing climate impacts, the best way to protect themselves has been to move beyond the grey infrastructure of the past and transition to green infrastructure.

In the Neoclassical Rayburn building on Capitol Hill, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and Environment and Energy Study Institute (EESI) hosted a briefing for over a hundred Hill staffers to explain how communities and landscape architects are using green infrastructure to help communities become more climate-resilient.

Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, CEO of ASLA, said infrastructure should be created or remodeled to work “in tandem with natural systems.”

As outlined in the report Smart Policies for a Changing Climate, which was the result of ASLA’s blue ribbon panel on climate change and resilience, green infrastructure — such as “green roofs, streets, and corridors; tree canopies; parks and open spaces; and wetlands and wild lands” — leverages the benefits of nature to soak up excess stormwater and protect against flooding. These innovative projects also provide many other benefits, such as improved water and air quality, cooler air temperatures, and psychological and cognitive benefits for people.

“The risks of coastal, riverine, an urban flooding are increasing,” said Mark Dawson, FASLA, managing principal at Sasaki, one of the leading landscape and urban design firms in the U.S., which incorporates green infrastructure into all its community resilience projects.

His firm is now working with flood-inundated Shelby County in Tennessee, which won a national disaster resilience grant of some $60 million, to protect itself from persistent, destructive riverine flooding. Sasaki mapped the extent of current and expected future flooding and developed comprehensive plans with the impacted communities. In one especially hard-hit low-income community, there was serious conversation about selling and relocating but planning turned towards how to use parks and reconfigured residential lots with floodable zones to better protect homes. A new green infrastructural park now in development will accommodate an expanding and contracting flood plain (see image at top).

Montgomery county, Maryland, has also gone all-in on using green infrastructure to improve community resilience to climate change. Adam Ortiz, director of environmental protection for the county, said the county government is focused on bringing green infrastructure to previously under-served communities in order to spread the benefits to everyone.

For example, the Dennis Avenue green street, found in an “under-invested” neighborhood, is not only a “beautiful upgrade” but cleans and infiltrates stormwater runoff and protects against flooding. These projects aren’t just good for the environment and property values, they also create economic benefits. According to Ortiz, “green infrastructure projects have contributed $130 million to the local economy,” spurring the creation of county businesses that offer well-paying green jobs.

Dennis Avenue green street / Montgomery County department of environmental protection

It’s worth reiterating that some communities need green infrastructure more than others, because some communities have borne “environmental insults” far longer. Dr. Jalonne White-Newsome with the Kresge Foundation argued that environmental justice considerations should guide who gets much-needed resilient green infrastructure. She said low-income “black and brown” communities are often more vulnerable to climate impacts because they are already dealing with so many contemporary issues and the legacy of past injustices. “First, you take institutional racism, then throw climate change on top of that, and it makes things only worse.”

White-Newsome said anyone working on these projects should seek to use good local science; conduct a comprehensive environmental justice analysis before starting a project; remove barriers to “education, access, and financial decision-making;” and empower local communities as part of the process. Green Infrastructure Leadership Exchange and Earth Economics are helpful organizations for communities seeking to finance their own plans and projects.

In the past few years, there has been progress on Capitol Hill in incentivizing more resilient infrastructure, but not nearly enough. Ellen Vaughn, director of public policy for EESI pointed to the Disaster Recovery Reform Act; the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act; Defense appropriations around climate resilience; and the recently-passed Natural Resources Management Act, which provides permanent financing for the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). And Somerville noted that ASLA has been promoting the Living Shorelines Act and hopes it will be re-introduced this Congress.

But more must be done at the federal level to spread the protective benefits of next-generation resilient infrastructure to more communities. Somerville said: “what is needed is dedicated federal funding for green infrastructure.”

A New, Inclusive Civic Center for San Francisco

San Francisco Civic Center Plan  / CMG Landscape Architecture with Kennerly Architecture + Planning

CMG Landscape Architecture has revealed their new plan for San Francisco’s Civic Center, the culmination of two years of public outreach, which proposes 11 acres of multi-use, homeless-friendly green space in the center of San Francisco — what the city calls its “civic heart.”

The district encompasses San Francisco City Hall, the Asian Art Museum, the San Francisco Public Library, and UN Plaza, among other civic spaces. It also touches S0Ma and the Tenderloin, two of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, and most under-served in terms of public space.

CMG’s plan is the result of two years of community outreach, though it sits within a series of outreach efforts led by others that started in 2010. CMG arrived on the scene in 2017, conducting online and in-person surveys, installing mobile outreach stations, organizing focus groups, and reaching out to the diverse ethnic communities in the area. Vietnamese, Chinese, and Spanish-speaking communities, as well as youth, received particular attention as they are heavy and underserved users of the district. Because this area also includes the city’s highest concentration of single-room occupancy buildings in the city and their related services, CMG also reached out to organizers in those communities.

The plan pulls elements from three possible schemes that were unveiled in 2018. Lauren Hackney, ASLA, a landscape architect with CMG, explained the three plans were intended to “provoke conversation,” and allowed CMG to subsequently incorporate the most popular and consistently-desired aspects of the three proposals into the final plan.

San Francisco Civic Center public realm plan / CMG Landscape Architecture with Kennerly Architecture + Planning

The final design strives to simultaneously meet the needs of a civic space and those of surrounding residents, while also calibrating the space’s historic design with contemporary needs.

Noteworthy for its Beaux-Arts plan implemented at the turn of the 20th century, Civic Center comprises a National Historic District, and it was necessary to respect that history. But “the crazy thing is that Beaux-Arts planning doesn’t align with contemporary ambitions around how you use space,” said Willet Moss, ASLA, a partner at CMG. Thus, CMG stripped the Beaux-Arts plan to its foundational principles of cohesion, axes, integrity, and unity. Doing so allowed the Beaux-Arts ideas to serve as “a starting point” from which the designers could accommodate contemporary needs.

That balancing act is one of the project’s biggest challenges: designing a single framework for  many desired needs and overlapping jurisdictions and for a client composed of eight city agencies. “One of the real sincere challenges is how you get such a diverse spectrum of stakeholders to talk about identity — and about this place that everybody in San Francisco has a relationship with,” Hackney said. From protests to City Hall marriages, from the library to the farmers’ market, the ways people experience the space are numerous and varied.

CMG addressed these disparate needs by emphasizing the central axis and enlivening the sides and edges of Civic Center. The space can function ceremonially while accommodating multiple uses around its fringe.

Civic Center’s public realm will “support large and small public gatherings, celebrations, and demonstrations.”  / CMG Landscape Architecture

Planting, paving, and lighting organize the district’s civic “spine.” CMG has given the plaza facing City Hall a room-like feel—reinforcement of the Beaux-Arts plan—by framing the space with planting. The frame provides structure while leaving space for large gatherings (Gay Pride, for instance, can see hundreds of thousands of people pass through the space).

Identical paving throughout the district provides cohesion, and marks its transformation from car-centric to pedestrian-oriented. This is also the first effort to comprehensively light the entire district, making it safer to navigate from BART to public spaces at night. These qualities all contribute to accessibility. After all, Hackney said: “The linchpin of democratic public space is access to it.”

To meet the needs of surrounding communities, CMG proposes incorporating green and other spaces for recreation. A shallow mirror pond that turns on and off can be playful, while nodding to the ceremonial. Gardens that surround existing playgrounds, lawns that transform into soccer fields, and a sculpture garden with ample seating exemplify smaller scale spaces activating the plaza.

The outreach process also made clear that the new plan needed to address basic needs of its constituents. At present, there are no benches, and a single bathroom. The common reaction in San Francisco is to do without seating, lest it become crowded with homeless people.

CMG’s response? “Let’s have so much seating that there will never not be a seat for anyone,” Moss says. And the same principle applies to bathrooms across the site, too. “Homeless people are an important constituent of the public space,” Hackney says. “You need to meet the needs of the people who are in the space long term.”

Linked to similar concerns, Lawrence Halprin’s fountain within UN Plaza has stirred strong feelings from both its proponents and its detractors. Ultimately, CMG decided to retain the fountain, harnessing it as part of a gateway to the Tenderloin and UC Hastings College of Law.

Their plan attempts to restore people’s engagement with the fountain (right now it is fenced off), maintaining it in a way consistent with Halprin’s intention to “invite people to engage with their environment in a different way.” CMG has also leveraged it as a piece of their stormwater infrastructure so that it becomes a large detention basin when it rains. “I believe we could breathe new life into it,” Moss says.

“Adaptation of the existing fountain provides visibility, planting, accessible and usable space, and productive stormwater function, transforming a barrier into an amenity to the neighborhood and a welcoming gateway” / CMG Landscape Architecture with Kennerly Architecture + Planning

Halprin’s fountain is only one component of the district’s complex green infrastructure strategy. At present, no stormwater treatment exists, and all the surrounding civic buildings pump out foundation water, which then flows into San Francisco’s combined sewer systems and causes downstream flooding. The new plan harvests that water; some is used for irrigation and toilet flushing, some is treated to become potable (72 hours of drinking water will be stored for use during emergencies). An underground infiltration “gallery” comprised of gravel media allows rainwater to infiltrate to the water table.

Beyond water concerns, CMG also incorporated tenants of San Francisco’s Green Connections and urban forest plans. In designing, attention was given to tree canopy and habitat, species diversity, optimal growing conditions, and understory planting.

The implementation timeline of the plan is unclear, and likely will be for some time. The plan will first undergo one to two years of environmental review, and its phasing and budget are still in development. A project of this scale necessitates many funding streams for different areas. Funding efforts are now directed towards an identified first phase, which aligns with the in-progress project Better Market Street and includes 6th to 8th Streets. As for an exact timeline, CMG is reluctant to say—it depends on decisions, reviews, and city processes.

Grove Street between Bill Graham Civic Auditorium and Civic Center Plaza  / CMG Landscape Architecture with Kennerly Architecture + Planning.

This vagueness garners skepticism. After having crafted a design based in extensive outreach, the question is now how to realize it financially and politically. “It’s less about what people want than people’s confidence in the city’s culture; and the city bureaucracy making change and sustaining this place in the long term,” Moss said. But CMG is hopeful: the city understood the fundamental need for long-term management and operation, and included that in discussion from the start.

But even with the worthy intentions of the landscape architects and city players, the plan calls into question the ability of a public space to address mounting social ills in San Francisco. Even if the space is designed for everyone, will the community at large support this mission? Can accessibility to public space truly provoke change in a city rife with inequity? An important first step would be to meet the urgency of these problems with a similar haste to build the proposed plan.

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

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

'Patterns', in Wilmington, DE, designed by Dan Kiley.
Dan Kiley Exhibition / Roger Foley, courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Exhibition on Landscape Architect Dan Kiley Opens for Palm Springs Modernism Week Metropolis, 2/19/19
“The traveling photography exhibit, The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Dan Kiley, showcases 45 photos of 27 projects by the renowned Modernist landscape architect.”

In Blow to Obama Presidential Center Backers, Judge Allows Lawsuit Challenging Chicago’s Jackson Park Location to Proceed The Chicago Tribune, 2/19/19
“In a setback to plans to build the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side lakefront, a federal judge ruled Tuesday that a lawsuit challenging its location can proceed.”

Renderings: South of Atlanta, Pinewood Forest’s Central Hub Aims to Impress Curbed Atlanta, 2/21/19
“Fifteen miles south of Atlanta’s airport, the Pinewood Forest mini-city concept aims to be nothing short of the country’s preeminent ‘live, create, and play community,’ where creative types can spend leisure time among 100 acres of planned green space.”

Schenectady-based Landscape Architect Creates Meaningful Outdoor Spaces The Daily Gazette, 2/28/19
“Schenectady’s Tribute Park is a simple park, created from three vacant parcels on Eastern Avenue. There are sidewalks and benches, there’s a large lawn to play on, and a splash pad where kids cool off on hot summer days.”

Are Dog Parks Exclusionary? CityLab, 2/28/19
“In Chicago and other cities, the demand for pet-friendly public space has boomed. But many communities see off-leash parks as heralds of gentrification.”

Placemaking Opportunity: AARP Community Challenge Grants

City Heights, San Diego, California / AARP

AARP knows that working to create more livable communities is not an optional endeavor – rather, it is central to our mission of supporting people to live their best lives at every age. Increasingly, communities are realizing that the flipside is true, too –ensuring that communities work for people of all ages is essential to their own community’s ability to thrive economically, socially, and culturally. And that realization is coming not a moment too soon: currently one in three people is over the age of 50, and by 2035, there will be more people over the age of 65 in the United States than under the age of 18. Any community that isn’t already asking, “Are we ready?” is going to be in for a surprise.

So, what does “ready” look like? Ultimately, it looks a place that offers diverse choices in housing, a range of viable transportation options, and well-designed parks and public spaces that invite interaction and activity. “Ready” means that communities are crafted to engage older adults in the community – as volunteers, as entrepreneurs, and as local leaders – and to harness their insights to drive better public investments and policy. The good news is these attributes don’t just deliver benefits to a single age group – they meet the needs of all.

AARP works closely with communities through our Livable Communities initiative to help examine their needs from an “age-friendly” lens in ways that can create a fruitful context for change. To date, more than 330 communities – and three states – have joined AARP’s Network of Age Friendly States and Communities. As a result of AARP’s efforts, more than 25 states reported local and/or state policy wins in 2018 that deliver better housing and transportation choices for older adults, and by extension, for all.

Inherent to our Livable Communities approach is the ability to help communities demonstrate the “proof of concept” for change – whether that change means a temporary roundabout, or a short-lived demonstration bike lane, or a model approach to adapting tiny homes to increase their accessibility. Since 2017, we have funded nearly 220 such models through our Community Challenge Grant program – which this year will give awards to communities for small-scale, quick-action demonstration projects.

If past grantees are any indicator, our 2019 awardees will help advance real impact in communities across the US – in cities, towns, and on tribal lands — through small, tactical investments in placemaking, housing, and transportation that spark broader conversation and community change.

Past Community Challenge projects include:

City Heights, San Diego, California – The eastern San Diego neighborhood of City Heights is an enclave for refugees from Somalia and other East African countries. The Challenge grant supported the construction of permanent seating and landscaping along University Avenue – home to shops, markets and mosques and a popular area for local residents (especially ones 50 or older) to gather (see image above).

Kenaitze Indian Tribe, Alaska – The Old Town Kenai campus is home to the Dena’ina Wellness Center as well as the Tyotkas Elders Center. Medicinal plants are an important tradition for the Dean’ina people, who have inhabited this region for more than 1000 years. The AARP Challenge grant funded the construction of six raised-bed garden boxes containing 12 native Alaskan medicinal plants which enabled tribal elders to grow the plants without stooping over. Walking tour maps and informational signs describe the medicinal properties of each plant and how they address specific ailments.

Medicinal planter bed at Dena’ina Wellness Center in Alaska / AARP

Chicago, Illinois – “People Spots” are temporary platforms that turn an existing parking spot into an outdoor space for public enjoyment. AARP grant funding enabled the City of Chicago to offer a People Spot prototype for installation on a rotating basis in areas of high economic hardship, or those designated “retail thrive zones” on Chicago’s south, southwest, and west sides.

People spot in Chicago / AARP

Jackson, Mississippi – Jackson’s first pedestrian-aimed project is a pilot for its Open Streets program to transform its auto-centric downtown streets into vibrant social spaces. The AARP grant funded the transformation of a block of Congress Street to including outdoor furniture, a parklet, bike infrastructure and programmed events such as PARK(ing) Day Friday on September 21, 2018.

Congress Street transformation, Jackson, Mississippi / Drew Dempsey, AARP
Congress Street transformation, Jackson, Mississippi / Drew Dempsey, AARP

Manning, Iowa – Manning’s brick-paved Main Street is a popular gathering spot for neighbors of all ages, including residents of the nearby Plaza Nursing Home. AARP funding helped add ambience and new design elements to the area with the purchase and installation of 12 lighting fixtures created by students from the Iowa State University College of Design.

Custom lighting fixture on Main Street in Manning, Iowa / AARP

Gardner, Kansas – The citizens of Gardner want to maintain the traditions of their small but fast-growing community while creating new public spaces to meet the changing needs of residents and visitors. AARP funding helped create a portable parklet in the heart of the community, offering a place to rest in the shade near many facilities. Guided by more than 500 responses to a public input survey, the accessible parklet was equipped with shade canopies, comfortable seating, plants, lighting and is helping build awareness about larger green spaces planned for the area.

Woodbridge, Virginia – In this two-part project at the Woodbridge Senior Center, AARP funding was used to develop a vegetable garden that supplements the meals provided to residents and creates an opportunity for physical activity. The second part of the project involved improvements in an outdoor area that lacked sufficient seating and landscaping, encouraging more social activity.

The task of preparing communities for a future in which older adults are able to live their best lives calls for broad engagement about how to improve housing, transportation and public spaces. Efforts like AARP’s Community Challenge Grant program provide a clear opportunity for landscape architects, planners, community members, and local leaders to come together to craft and deliver real solutions in communities. Little by little, working hand in hand, together we’ll prepare our communities – and our country – for the age-friendly future that awaits us.

Submit your challenge grant application by April 17, 2019.

This guest post is by Danielle Arigoni, director of livable communities at AARP.

Lawsuit Opposing the Obama Presidential Center Moves Forward

Proposed Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, Chicago / Obama Foundation, DBOX

A federal judge ruled that a lawsuit filed by Protect Our Parks to stop the Obama Foundation from building a new presidential center in Jackson Park, a 543-acre waterfront public park on the South Side of Chicago, can move forward. The ruling creates significant new challenges for the proposed $500 million project, which has been designed by Todd Williams Bill Tsien Architects and landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. The center was expected to open in 2021, but hasn’t broken ground due to outstanding legal issues and federal environment and historic site impact reviews.

U.S. Judge John Robert Blakey didn’t make a ruling on the legal merits of the lawsuit filed by Protect Our Parks and other parties, only stating there are grounds to proceed.

At dispute is whether protected public park land can be used to build a privately-run presidential center; the Obamas have chosen not to create an official, National Archives-managed presidential library.

The Obama Foundation stated it chose the proposed 19-acre site in Jackson Park so it would be near the Museum of Science and Industry and connect to the existing museum hub in the park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and other Olmsted Brothers firms.

Chicago’s city government, led by Obama’s former chief of staff and current Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has been highly supportive of the project, viewing it as a way to boost economic development; create 5,000 construction jobs and 2,500 permanent, local jobs; and attract 760,000 tourists annually to the under-served South Side. In addition to the exhibition spaces, the Obama Center would create new top-notch public playgrounds and athletic facilities, a sledding hill, a community vegetable garden, and incorporate a public library, using just 3 percent of the existing park.

City officials and the Obama Foundation see creating a major cultural destination like the Center far outside the downtown loop as an important step towards a more equitable Chicago.

According to the Associated Press, many legislative actions have been taken by the city and state to move the project forward. State legislators amended the Illinois Aquarium and Museum Act to “include presidential libraries as an exception to the no-development rules if there’s a compelling public interest.” And the Chicago City Council approved building the presidential center in Jackson Park, 47-to-1 (and provided construction permits).

As part of the deal, the Chicago Park District sold the 19.3 acres of Jackson Park requested for the presidential center to the city for $1. The Obama Foundation then paid the city $10 to use the land in Jackson Park for 99 years, but also agreed to raise the $500 million needed for the presidential center and pay for all costs associated with operating the center for 99 years. After the opening of the physical center, the foundation would transfer ownership of the building back to the city.

If city councilors truly represent the will of their districts, this indicates widespread support for the project and its financing scheme among Chicagoans.

But there are a number of detractors as well — Protect Our Parks, a parks advocacy group, was joined by three individuals, and other organizations offered support. The Chicago Tribune reports their lawsuit isn’t directed at the Obama Foundation itself but is instead lobbed at the city government and Chicago Parks District. The suit argues that “the presidential center is not the same as a presidential library and should not be granted access to public land.” The lawsuit states: “defendants have chosen to deal with it in a classic Chicago political way … to deceive and seemingly legitimize an illegal land grab.”

Furthermore, critics contend the state will need to spend $175 million of taxpayer money to re-route roads around the presidential center, which constitutes a partisan use of public funds, an argument the judge rejected. And the center would damage the environment and create an obstacle for migratory birds and butterflies.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of Protect the Parks’ lawsuit. In a statement, Charles A. Birnbaum, FASLA, President & CEO writes: “The Obama Foundation and the University of Chicago created this controversy by insisting on the confiscation of public parkland. The Obama Foundation could make this issue go away by using vacant and/or city-owned land on the South Side for the Obama Presidential Center (which is planned to be a private facility rather than a presidential library administered by the National Archives), or, better still, land owned by the University of Chicago, which submitted the winning bid to host the Center.”

TCLF and other park advocacy groups have long called for the presidential center to be moved out of Jackson Park, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. As the lawsuit moves to trial in federal court, it remains to be seen whether the Obama Foundation will attempt to persuade the judge of the merits of their proposal or pick up and move to another location on the South Side.

The worst fear of the project’s supporters is the lawsuit will cause the Obama Foundation to totally rethink their plans, just as another suit caused George Lucas to move his proposed $400 million Museum of Narrative Arts — which he sought to locate on the Chicago waterfront — to downtown Los Angeles. Lucas didn’t even wait for the judge’s ruling. In the case of the Obama Center though, there has been a far greater commitment to stay in the South Side.

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

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Tianfu New District masterplan, Chengdu, China. / Adrian Smith, Gordon Gill Architecture

Inside Chengdu: Can China’s Megacity Version of the Garden City Work? The Guardian, 2/4/19
“It may be China’s most liveable burgeoning megacity, but Chengdu’s park city plans bear a price tag of forced evictions and relocations”

Hermann Park and Discovery Green Getting Major Makeovers The Houston Chronicle, 2/7/19
“The latest developments of Houston’s ongoing green renaissance will transform two of the city’s busiest parks in ways that make them more attractive than ever to families with children.”

How to Design Playgrounds for the World’s Most Vulnerable Kids CityLab, 2/7/19
“New UNICEF reports explore the ultimate design challenge: How to provide spaces to play and prosper for children living in urban poverty.”

Hong Kong Yet to Make the Most of its Iconic Harbourfront The South China Morning Post, 2/10/19
“If one runs a Google image search for Hong Kong, the top 50 pictures are of Victoria Harbour and the city’s iconic skyline. Visitors’ impressions of Hong Kong are often defined by that postcard-perfect vista of gleaming skyscrapers rising from the shining waters up the island’s lush green hills.”

Courtyard to Be Named for Historic Landscape Architect Beatrix FarrandThe Daily Princetonian, 2/12/19
“The courtyard between Henry, Foulke, and 1901-Laughlin halls will be named the Beatrix Farrand Courtyard after famed landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, who worked at the University from 1912-1943 as its first consulting landscape architect.”

ASLA Statement on the Green New Deal

Green New Deal launch on Capitol Hill / WIkipedia

Significant Overlap Seen Between ASLA’s Report, Smart Policies for a Changing Climate, and Many Provisions of the Green New Deal Resolution

A wide-ranging proposal for a Green New Deal (GND) was introduced on February 7 in the House of Representatives in the form of a resolution sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), with a companion resolution introduced in the Senate by Sen. Edward Markey (Mass.).

Although the current GND resolution is largely aspirational and includes few specific policies, it contains a commitment to core principles of urgent transformational change that are fully compatible with ASLA’s positions, and mirror the recommendations the Society already put forward in our Blue Ribbon Panel report, Smart Policies for a Changing Climate.

Like our report, the GND resolution calls for widespread, immediate action that will ensure clean air and water; climate and community resiliency; access to nature; and a sustainable environment. We also strongly back calls for a national commitment to environmental justice for all Americans, especially for those from underserved, vulnerable, and neglected groups that have historically borne the brunt of the ill-effects of environmental calamities. ASLA supports the underlying principles of the GND resolution that relate specifically to climate change and resilience, and we are pleased that it has served to stimulate public debate about the accelerating climate crisis.

We note that in addition to climate-related policies, the resolution also contains several recommendations about social and economic issues that are beyond the scope of the Society’s mandate and existing policies, matters about which we can take no formal position.

ASLA members can be assured that when the GND is translated into formal legislative proposals to reduce carbon emissions, make transformational changes to infrastructure, and create a robust 21st-century clean-energy economy, ASLA will be at the forefront of the fight to enact them into law. We firmly believe that landscape architects must take a leadership role in planning and designing sustainable, resilient communities and ASLA, without question, will do its part to bring the climate principles of the Green New Deal to fruition.

ASLA is pleased that the Green New Deal resolution has significantly expanded the scope and intensity of the dialogue about climate change and we are extremely gratified that the Society’s report mirrors its major climate and infrastructure goals and we look forward to the legislative proposals that will stem from it.