Can Nature-based Alternatives to Seawalls Keep the Waves at Bay? – 08/12/22, The Guardian
“’We can’t build single-purpose infrastructure any more,’ said Pippa Brashear, ASLA, project manager for the Living Breakwaters. The structure that comprises granite rocks and eco-concrete, along with the biological activity that will latch on to and grow out of these structures are intended to work together.”
Highway Removal a High Hurdle, Even With New Funding – 08/11/22, Governing
“Removing highways is a tricky business, a costly and time-consuming physical feat, but advocates say even a small commitment to addressing the harms of legacy highway infrastructure is a positive sign.”
RAISE Grants to Fund Complete Streets in Nearly Every State – 08/11/22, Streetsblog
“The U.S. Department of Transportation released the list of projects that were approved as part of the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant programs, which funds roughly $2.2 billion across 166 initiatives spanning all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.”
A Landscape for Clean Water on the Chesapeake Bay– 08/09/22, Metropolis
“‘We understood the slope necessary for the historic structures up there, and still wanted to maximize the amount of shoreline that could survive,’ says Carlin Tacey, Waterstreet’s project manager. ‘We’re slowing down the water flow, and trying to use a planted landscape to absorb nutrients that would end up in the bay.'”
By Roxanne Blackwell, Hon. ASLA, and Caleb Raspler
Congress has passed and President Joseph Biden is expected to sign into law the U.S.’s most comprehensive response to the climate crisis to date — The Inflation Reduction Act. The legislation makes an historic investment of $369 billion to improve energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help communities adapt to climate impacts.
Importantly, the Act recognizes and funds landscape architecture approaches to address climate change — from active transportation projects like Complete Streets and recreational trails, to nature-based water infrastructure, community tree planting, ecosystem restoration, and more. Additionally, the legislation makes significant strides in addressing environmental and climate justice and ensuring underserved communities receive resources to adapt to a changing climate.
Landscape architects are uniquely qualified to lead these projects. With their community engagement skills, they are particularly suited to partner with underserved communities. The Act provides tremendous opportunities for landscape architects to work with all communities to plan and design a more resilient and low-carbon future.
Significant funding for programs and projects traditionally led by landscape architects include:
ACTIVE TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE
Neighborhood Access and Equity Grant Program: $3 billion to improve walkability, safety, and affordable transportation access through projects that are context-sensitive.
The program provides funding to:
Build or improve complete streets, multi-use trails, regional greenways, active transportation networks and spines or provide affordable access to essential destinations, public spaces, transportation links and hubs.
Remove high-speed and other transportation projects and facilities that are barriers to connectivity within communities.
Remove transportation projects and facilities that are a source of air pollution, noise pollution, stormwater, or other burdens in underserved communities. These projects may include noise barriers to reduce impacts resulting from a facility, along with technologies, infrastructure, and activities to reduce surface transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution. Solutions can include natural infrastructure, permeable, or porous pavement, or protective features to reduce or manage stormwater run-off; heat island mitigation projects in rights of way; safety improvements for vulnerable road users; and planning and capacity building activities in disadvantaged or underserved communities.
Low Carbon Transportation Materials Grants: $2 billion to incentivize the use of construction materials that have substantially lower levels of embodied greenhouse gas emissions in landscape architecture projects, including reimbursements.
NATIONAL PARKS AND PUBLIC LANDS
$250 million for conservation, protection, and resilience projects on National Park Service (NPS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands.
$250 million for conservation, ecosystem, and habitat restoration projects on NPS and BLM lands.
$200 million for NPS deferred maintenance projects.
$500 million to hire NPS personnel.
$250 million to the Fish and Wildlife Service for wildlife recovery and to rebuild and restore units of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
NATIONAL AND COMMUNITY FORESTRY
$200 million for vegetation management projects in the National Forest System.
$1.5 billion for competitive grants through the Urban and Community Forestry Assistance program for tree planting and related activities.
$550 million for planning, designing, or constructing water projects with the primary purpose of providing domestic water supplies to underserved communities or households that do not have reliable access to domestic water supplies in a state or territory.
$4 billion for grants, contracts, or financial assistance to states impacted by drought, with priority given to the Colorado River Basin and other basins experiencing comparable levels of long-term drought.
$15 million to provide technical assistance for climate change planning, mitigation, adaptation, and resilience to Insular Areas – U.S. territories.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): $2.6 billion for grants, technical assistance, and cooperative agreements that enable coastal communities to prepare for extreme storms and other changing climate conditions. This includes projects to support natural resources that sustain coastal and marine resource dependent communities and assessments of marine fishery and marine mammal stocks.
$50 million for competitive grants to fund climate research related to weather, ocean, coastal, and atmospheric processes and conditions and impacts to marine species and coastal habitat.
ENVIRONMENTAL AND CLIMATE JUSTICE
$3 billion in competitive grants to address clean air and climate pollution in underserved communities.
$33 million to collect data and track disproportionate burdens of pollution and climate change on environmental justice communities.
$250 million for the General Services Administration to convert facilities to high performing buildings.
$2.1 billion to purchase low carbon materials.
$975 million for emerging and sustainable technologies and related sustainability programs.
$20 million for hiring new personnel to conduct more efficient, accurate, and timely reviews for planning, permitting and approval processes.
Department of Agriculture: $19.4 billion to invest in climate-smart agriculture practices and land interests that promote soil carbon improvements and carbon sequestration.
Department of Energy: $115 million for the hiring and training of personnel, the development of programmatic environmental documents, the procurement of technical or scientific services for environmental reviews, the development of environmental data or information systems, stakeholder and community engagement, and the purchase of new equipment for environmental analysis to facilitate timely and efficient environmental reviews and authorizations.
Department of Housing and Urban Development: $837.5 million to improve energy or water efficiency or the climate resilience of affordable housing.
Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF): The fund will help efficiently finance projects, including landscape architecture projects, to reduce emissions through active transportation, ecosystem restoration, energy and water efficiency, and climate-smart agriculture. The fund will receive $27 billion total, with $8 billion earmarked for low-income or otherwise underserved communities. Funds will flow through regional, state, local, and tribal green banks. And the GGRF will provide the institutional foundation for a National Climate Bank Act.
Roxanne Blackwell, Hon. ASLA, Esq., is director of federal government affairs, and Caleb Raspler, Esq., is manager of federal government affairs at the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).
The Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre open-air sculpture park in Cornwall, New York, has engaged a team of landscape architects and architects as part of a $45 million revitalization effort. In the works are a new entry sequence, an art-fabrication space, and a renewed, more sustainable landscape.
In the past few years, Storm King said it has drawn more visitors, likely due its vast, Covid-safe landscape. While better accommodating growth, the center seeks to preserve the serenity of its Hudson River Valley home and create more opportunities for artists.
A new entry sequence will move parking lots out of the campus and into a consolidated area at a forested edge. The idea is visitors will no longer need to navigate around vehicles once they arrive at the center, and former parking lots can now be used as platforms for more outdoor sculptures.
Entry pavilions, which will be built to handle school buses and public transportation, will orient visitors and offer gathering spaces. The structures will be designed to blend into the landscape, which will be “carefully shaped and populated with native plants that intuitively guide visitors through an outdoor lobby and into the grounds,” Storm King writes.
For conservation, fabrication, and maintenance, a new building will serve as a multi-use “workshop, studio, mechanical shop, storage space, and office” designed for greater creative collaboration. Art will be fabricated on-site, creating more opportunities for emerging artists. The new buildings will also be fully electric and run on renewable energy generated on-site.
The land under the former parking lots will be returned to its natural state, as meadows in the north and south ends of the campus are extended.
“By consolidating the car parks from the meadows to the woodland fringe, we minimize the impact of vehicles on the landscape and vistas. The restored ground will provide opportunities for the reintroduction of plant communities,” said landscape architect Neil Porter, founding partner of Gustafson Porter + Bowman, in a statement.
Storm King’s diverse landscape of hay fields, meadows, wetlands, and forests, originally designed by landscape architect William A. Rutherford, is “dominated by native species,” including 100 acres of meadows grasses. The landscape architecture team plans on adding 650 trees to increase biodiversity and provide more shade.
“We thought deeply about how to make the woods, wetlands, and overall biodiversity of the grounds a more inherent and exciting part of the experience, especially how it can support people’s encounters with the art,” said Beka Sturges, ASLA, principal at Reed Hilderbrand. “This includes planning for greater diversity of plant species — varying heights, textures, shapes, and groupings, which reward intimate viewings as well as long views.”
The surrounding community of Cornwall and Orange County, New York also expect to see benefits, as does New York state, which contributed $2.6 million to the project. Joshua Wojehowski, Cornwall Town Supervisor, said: “the project supports the town and region by providing more opportunities for residents, schoolchildren, and artists, and it protects wildlife and plant diversity as a land corridor between public parks.”
WxLA is an advocacy initiative for gender justice in the field of landscape architecture founded in 2019 by a group of landscape architects and planners — Gina Ford, FASLA; Steven Spears, FASLA; Jamie Maslyn Larson, FASLA; Cinda Gilliland, ASLA; and Rebecca Leonard, FAICP.
Over the past three years, the organization has raised more than $55,000, sending 27 emerging professionals to ASLA Conferences on Landscape Architecture. This year, WxLA is back, offering scholarships to a new group of emerging leaders so they can attend the ASLA 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Francisco, November 11-14.
WxLA states that the purpose of the scholarship is to aid in the “professional development and success of young and emerging leaders” by covering costs associated with in-person conference attendance. Applications are due August 31.
Should designers care about artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML)? There is no question the technology is adding texture to the current zeitgeist. Never could I have imagined seeing a blockbuster hit where Ryan Reynolds emerges as a conscious non-player character in a video game and a flop where Melissa McCarthy negotiates humanity’s future with a James Corden-powered superintelligence within a year of each other. But does learning AI and ML’s ins and outs really matter for the creative professions and our nebulous, invaluable way of operating?
Helen Armstrong, a professor of graphic design at NC State, thinks so. In fact, for her it is imperative. “[AI] is everywhere and has already transformed our profession,” the preface to her new book reads. “To be honest, it’s going to steamroll right over us unless we jump aboard and start pulling the levers and steering the train in a human, ethical, and intentional direction.” The book is Big Data. Big Design. Why Designers Should Care about Artificial Intelligence and its gospel is a primer for designers of all cuts — landscape, graphic, industrial, or otherwise — to get oriented to a brave new world of human-machine relations.
When I say gospel, I do not mean it ironically. Armstrong’s prose is tinged with the passion of an evangelist trying to open our eyes to the great and terrible possibilities of AI-driven design practice. A book of this nature is sorely needed. As Brent Chamberlain and I argued last year in a Landscape Architecture Magazine article, the built environment professions are in the midst of an unprecedented technological transformation that is so overwhelmingly expansive yet so subtle it can be easy to ignore — even if for the mere sake of mental and emotional preservation.
We landscape architects need some particular stirring in this regard. The complexity and timescale of our working medium combined with a mostly healthy skepticism towards new technology for new technology’s sake can sometimes make it seem like the profession is perpetually playing catch-up. Big Data. Big Design. offers the catch-up without condescension, taking the generalist view that every design discipline needs to understand machine learning better regardless of pre-existing technical prowess.
The book’s structure is straightforward, with four main sections sandwiched by a preface and conclusion. The scale of discussion in these sections oscillates between broad definitions of what exactly AI and ML are (Armstrong uses the terms AI and ML interchangeably) and more specific examples of how they are used in design practice.
The parishioner’s tone of the first three chapters then turns more technical in the fourth as the author delves more into the weeds of ML, specifically the differences between its three main approaches: supervised learning, unsupervised learning, and reinforcement learning. If I were to use a crude analogy to sum up the book’s conceptual sequence, I would say it follows Simon Sinek’s golden circle model: it starts with why designers should care about ML, elaborates how designers might use it, and culminates in what such a process might mean for society.
Nearly anyone who lives in the modern world produces data, often on the order of terabytes per day. We text our friends, stream videos, use fitness apps, ask Siri about the weather while we look out the window, walk by CCTV cameras, the list goes on. Most of these data are unstructured, i.e. not organized in any clear order. Machine learning provides a way for computers to glean meaning from this lack of structure.
As Armstrong puts it, “even now as you read, computers sift and categorize your data trails—both unstructured and structured — plunging deeper into who you are and what makes you tick.” How does it do this? The short answer is algorithms, statistical analysis, and prediction. Not sure what any of those words mean? Fear not! The book is riddled with basic definitions in the margins, inset snappy diagrams, and clear infographics that will bring even the most tech-averse designer up to snuff. For some, these visual aids may seem trite, but to me they were integral.
As a researcher dedicated to demystifying emerging technology for landscape architects, I believe it is vital we get designers of all demographics and digital abilities to a shared understanding of what AI is so we can all better facilitate its continued permeation into practice. Big Data. Big Design. does this is in spades.
The book’s real strength lies in the compilation of concrete examples from ML-assisted design practice. Armstrong assembles a fantastically broad collection of work exploring this new era of human-machine design that gives support to her claim that “our interactions with machines are shifting from ‘transactional’ to ‘relational’,” and that with that transition comes a fundamentally new way of seeing design.
The reader is introduced to a vibrant, emerging ecology of human-machine design partnerships, envisaging at once all the good that can be accomplished for humanity when those partnerships are well thought out and all the ill that can come when they are not. There are in-depth interviews with human-computer interaction experts like John Zimmerman and descriptions of visionary creative work like that of Tellart and Toyota’s emotionally intelligent concept cars.
And Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler offer a mini-essay on AI ethics.
Besides more minor complaints about lumping ML and AI together as one term, which is not my favorite to see as a technophile but tolerable, or a tendency to occasionally slide into less-than-nuanced conjecture about the implications of technology for society, the most glaring fault a landscape architect will likely see while reading is the omission of ML-driven design being produced in our discipline.
While certainly sparser than that of graphic arts, industrial design, or even architecture, human-machine design work does exist in landscape architecture. Landscape architects are using ML to iterate streetscape designs, explore novel approaches to coastal terraforming, and generate high-level urban design concepts, to name a few things. An author professing to speak to all of us ought to do some due diligence on that, and if she did, at least mention it — especially when she resides in a school that includes landscape architects and is theoretically aware of our impact as a design discipline.
Despite this criticism, it is hard to overemphasize the importance and utility of a book like Big Data. Big Design., which takes an overwhelmingly complex and technical subject and translates it into accessible language for designers of any discipline so that we can better understand how it affects us. The increasing spread of AI into every industry means that those who program AI systems in many ways design the societal outcomes those systems produce, even when said systems become completely autonomous. I agree with Armstrong when she writes “we human designers must be there to frame the right problems — the problems that will move us toward future points that truly benefit humanity.”
Phillip Fernberg, ASLA, is a writer, designer, and PhD Candidate in Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at Utah State University, whose work focuses on technology, culture, and design of the built environment.
Led by climate leaders in the field of landscape architecture, ASLA is developing a profession-wide Climate Action Plan
ASLA has announced it is developing its first Climate Action Plan for the U.S. landscape architecture community. The ambitious plan seeks to transform the practice of landscape architecture by 2040 through actions taken by ASLA and its members focused on climate mitigation and adaptation, ecological restoration, biodiversity, equity, and economic development. The plan will be released at the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture, November 11-14, 2022, in San Francisco, CA.
The ASLA Climate Action Plan is led by a five-member Task Force and 16-member Advisory Group of climate leaders from the landscape architecture profession.
The diverse, intergenerational Task Force includes climate leaders at different stages of their professional life.
“Landscape architects are leaders in designing solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises that also provide multiple environmental, economic, social, and health co-benefits. ASLA purposefully included both established and emerging climate leaders in this critical Task Force, which will shape the profession far into the future,” said Eugenia Martin, FASLA, ASLA President.
Task Force members include:
Chair: Pamela Conrad, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP, Principal, CMG Landscape Architecture, and Founder, Climate Positive Design, San Francisco, California
Conrad built Climate Positive Design into a global movement with the goal of ensuring all designed landscapes store more carbon than they emit while providing environmental, social, cultural, and economic co-benefits.
Diane Jones Allen, FASLA, D. Eng., PLA, Director, Program in Landscape Architecture, University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), and Principal Landscape Architect, DesignJones, LLC, Arlington, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana
José M. Almiñana, FASLA, SITES AP, LEED AP, Principal, Andropogon Associates, Ltd., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Sarah Fitzgerald, ASLA, Designer, SWA Group, Dallas, Texas
Vaughn Rinner, FASLA, PLA, Former ASLA President, Seattle, Washington
The goals, objectives, and action items of the plan are also shaped by a Climate Action Plan Advisory Group of 16 diverse climate leaders, who are based in 12 U.S. states and two countries and in private and public practice and academia. The Group consists of nine members who identify as women, seven as men, two as Black, four as Asian and Asian American, one as Latina, and one as Native American.
“ASLA believes equity needs to be at the center of climate action, because we know climate change will disproportionately impact underserved and historically marginalized communities. It is important that the group guiding the Climate Action Plan and the future of the profession mirrors the diversity of the landscape architecture community and its breadth of educational and practice areas,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA CEO.
Advisory Group members include:
Monique Bassey, ASLA, Marie Bickham Chair, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Scott Bishop, ASLA, RLA, Principal, BLD | Bishop Land Design, Quincy, Massachusetts
Keith Bowers, FASLA, RLA, PWS, Founding Principal, Biohabitats, Charleston, South Carolina
Pippa Brashear, ASLA, RLA, Resilience Principal, SCAPE Landscape Architecture & Urban Design, New York, New York
Meg Calkins, FASLA, FCELA, Professor of Landscape Architecture, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
Chingwen Cheng, ASLA, PhD, PLA, LEED AP, Program Head and Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Urban Design, and Environmental Design, The Design School, Arizona State University, and President-Elect, Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA), Tempe, Arizona
Jose de Jesus Leal, ASLA, PLA, IA, Native Nation Building Studio Director, MIG, Inc., Sacramento, California
Kate Orff, FASLA, Professor, Columbia University GSAPP & Columbia Climate School, and Founder, SCAPE Landscape Architecture & Urban Design, New York, New York
Jean Senechal Biggs, ASLA, Transportation Planning Manager, City of Beaverton, Portland, Oregon
Adrian Smith, FASLA, Staten Island Team Leader, New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, New York, New York
Matt Williams, ASLA, Planner, City of Detroit Planning & Development Department (PDD), Detroit, Michigan
Dou Zhang, FASLA, SITES AP, LEED AP BD+C, Director of Shanghai Office, Sasaki, Shanghai, China
In 2021, ASLA joined with Architecture 2030 to call for the landscape architecture, planning, architecture, development, and construction professions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their projects and operations by 50-65 percent by 2030 and achieve zero emissions by 2040.
“The persecution of women perceived to be witches took place throughout Europe and America for several hundred years. Women who were classed as witches because of their non-Christian practices were tortured and killed from as early as the mid-1400s in Europe, and roughly 80,000 witches were put to death between 1500 and 1660.”
Buildner, which bill itself as the world’s largest organizer of architecture competitions and has awarded more than $1 million in prizes, has launched a new global ideas competition for a memorial to people unjustly persecuted as witches throughout history. Entrants are welcome to select any location and design any structure, with any material, but with sustainable practices in mind.
Entrants are also not limited to a particular event or injustice. Landscape architects and other designers can mine the past or examine the present. Concepts can educate about past persecution or provide a “method of whistle blowing and raising awareness of ongoing injustices.”
According to the organizers, witch trials have been staged for hundreds of years and in some communities continue to this day.
The most famous is perhaps the Salem Witch Trials, which took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692-93. More than 200 were accused of witchcraft and nineteen were executed, including fourteen women and five men. All were hanged except one who was pressed to death with heavy stones. Buildner notes that this is a “relatively small number compared to the Basque Witch Trials of the 17th century in Spain, in which around some 7,000 cases of witchcraft were heard.”
While the popular image is of witches burned at the stake, most in England and the American colonies were hanged. “30,000–60,000 women, men, and children” were executed this way during the height of witch mania in the western world.
The Memorial for Witches competition is the first in a series of competitions that seeks to “remind the public” of the ways in which society deals with “irrational fears.” They note that “those who were feared and misunderstood were suppressed and victimized, a trend of social injustice that still takes place to this day.”
Indeed, National Geographic states that 21 percent of Americans currently believe in witchcraft and attacks on socially marginalized groups have risen. And the United Nations and other human rights groups have found the number of witch trials and hunts around the world has increased, particularly in India and some Sub-Saharan African countries. In recent years, witch hunts in Sub-Saharan African countries, India, Indonesia, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia have resulted in many innocent women, men, and children kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, or killed.
While the jury hasn’t been announced yet, past juries of Buildner competitions have included Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab, and leading landscape architects and architects from firms such as MVRDV, Zaha Hadid Architects, Snøhetta, and UN Studio.
First prize winners will receive €3,000 ($3,044); the second prize, €1,500 ($1,522); and third prize, €1,000 ($1,014); while one student winner will also receive €1,000.
William E. O’Brien’s book, Landscapes of Exclusion: State Parks and Jim Crow in the American South, was first published as a hardcover edition in 2015. It is ironic that one year later in 2016, the U.S. Presidential election would usher in cultural and racial shifts that further divided Americans into ideological factions. This year, O’Brien’s book has been reissued as a paperback. It presents a mirror with which we can look back and see the profound changes in America, which is greatly needed in our divisive social media age of disinformation and historical erasure.
In a new forward, Ethan Carr, FASLA, professor of landscape architecture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, reinforces O’Brien’s efforts to highlight “the impact of racial ideologies on park design throughout the twentieth century — and to this day.” O’Brien, who is trained as a geographer and is professor of environmental studies at Florida Atlantic University, acknowledges this impact by documenting the current efforts in many southern states to acknowledge the recreational segregation of the past. Early in his book, O’Brien’s refers to the efforts of the Texas Parks and Wildlife agency to add signage at Tyler State Park that recognizes “the Texas start state park system’s racial exclusion policy under Jim Crow.” Yet, he remains steadfast in his view that more must be done to acknowledge the segregation of the past in southern parks. He pronounces the example of the Tennessee park named for Nathan Bedford Forrest, the “first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan,” as an indicator of the work remaining to be done in redressing the remnants of Jim Crow.
This is a well-researched book that documents public space segregation within state parks and southern society, in particular during the 100-year period from the post-Civil War era through 1968. These Jim Crow laws (or Black Codes) were named after a minstrel character in “blackface,” which depicted newly freed slaves as less than human. The laws subjugated Black Americans and dictated their movements and access to recreation, education, and other benefits accessible to white Americans. The Jim Crow laws limited African American progress for decades, which specifically included access to recreation in southern states.
O’Brien’s research spans the establishment of the first state park – Yosemite Park in California in 1864 — to a collection of southern state parks. His map indicating white and African American park sites from 1937-1962 is a striking visual record of the Jim Crow segregated culture that created an imbalance in park distribution and quality. He does not shy away from highlighting systemic racism based on the doctrine of ”separate-but-equal” and the disparities created between white and African American park facilities.
The book, which is divided into six chapters, begins with a chronicling of the state park systems in American and ends with views on the current cultural transformation of integrated state parks. The threads that connect all chapters are well-documented historical perspective on Jim Crow laws, the evasive legislative tactics used by southern states to prolong segregated facilities, and the bureaucratic operations and racially negligent tactics of parks agencies. Other threads include the defiance of segregation by African Americans through legal efforts of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and insightful testimonials of ordinary citizens on both sides of the segregation divide.
He consistently reinforces how inadequate and unequal facilities for African Americans were, while highlighting specific parks in each southern state. Lake Murray State Park in Oklahoma is an example of unequal park facility that also included disparities in architectural quality. While the “Negro Recreation Area” designated as Camp No. 3 had cabins made of board and batten exteriors, the white-only Camp No. 1 had cabins made of wood timbers and stone fireplaces.
Oklahoma park service administrators understood white protests regarding proximity to “Negro” park areas and often succumbed to white resentments about physical contact with African Americans.
The park service supervisor, Milo Christenson, relayed white concerns, stating that “white groups will never use these facilities if they have ever been used by negro groups.” This was the understanding within the park service administration that was repeated in other southern states, helping to prolong the segregation of state parks even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed under the administration of President Lyndon Johnson, ended segregation.
O’Brien also documents that African Americans were not allowed to use “Negro area” facilities after sundown, and African American recreation areas were mostly restricted to areas that had little or no access to water, historical, and other scenic features. Day-use only restrictions were only one of many methods used by parks officials to create physical separation of the races.
A 1929 survey of California state parks by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. “expressed a desire to make state parks equitably accessible while maintaining standards of scenic quality.” However, this idealistic philosophy of state park development standards was out of reach for African Americans in southern states until the late 1960’s. With the development of separate parks, African Americans didn’t benefit from this Olmstedian idealization of scenic beauty.
African American self-help and advocacy was crucial in obtaining their own quality recreational facilities. In 1920, the Parks and Recreation Association (PRA) “added a Bureau of Colored Work, directed by Ernest Attwell – a graduate of the Tuskegee Institute – to help ensure more adequate park provision for African Americans,” O’Brien writes. The PRA was established in 1906 to support the development of state parks in the U.S. Attwell’s position and his efforts to grow quality recreational opportunities for African Americans was one of the first pivotal appointments within a state parks organization.
African Americans also created their own “private recreation retreats, including exclusive rural resorts in places such as Buckroe, Virginia, Idlewild, Michigan, and Gulfview, Mississippi.” Other African American intellectuals and leaders such as “Dr. John B. Watson, president of Pine Bluff’s Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College (AM&N), a historically Black College” were instrumental in securing the first Arkansas park designed for African Americans.
In “June 1937, [Watson] deeded to the state a hundred-acre parcel of his own land, located eight miles west of Pine Bluff, and a consortium of six government agencies, federal and state, agreed to spend $20,000 for park development.” Development of the park was only partially completed before Watson’s death in 1942. Given the lack of Arkansas state enthusiasm for fulfilling their commitments “his widow, Hattie M. Watson, sued for the return of the land to the Watson estate.” In 1944, her case was successful, and the land was returned to the Watson family.
One of the most fascinating examples of a Black-owned park during the segregation era was Gulfside State Park, owned and operated by Robert E. Jones, a Methodist bishop from Greensboro, North Carolina. O’Brien writes that “in 1923, he had purchased the property, which included a mansion once owned by President Andrew Jackson along with 300 acres…adjacent to 320 state-owned acres that Jones also acquired.” African Americans traveled from long distances to visit the park. “The New York Amsterdam News in 1926 hailed the resort as ‘the only project of its kind that has ever been launched in America.” Park activities included summer schools, music venues, home economics, religious studies, and camping trips. Unfortunately, the Great Depression destroyed the financial viability of the park, its Gulfside Association, and its future.
Assessing the effect of Jim Crow laws on African Americans, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University professor and director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University, states that “black men and women attempted to fight back in various ways, including nurturing their own segregated social and cultural institutions, especially churches, schools, colleges, self-help organizations. And black intellectuals, creative artists, and political activists increasingly grappled in their responses to the so-called Negro Problem.”
O’Brien’s balanced research on Black self-help to achieve some measure of recreational access in the face of Jim Crow is one of the crowning successes of his book. There are many other well researched elements in the book relating to the history of the “Negro Problem,” park planning and politics, post-World War II separate but equal policies, and court battles primarily brought by the NAACP to dismantle park segregation. Together, these research areas build a much-needed historical record of Jim Crow and the exclusion of African Americans in southern state parks.
While Landscapes of Exclusion is comprehensive, O’Brien’s academic prose and roaming timeline structure often makes reading the book a slow process. This is not inherently bad, and readers should do the work necessary to read and learn from O’Brien’s historical survey. Anyone exploring landscape, planning, and public space history will find the book interesting. O’Brien has crafted an intensively researched history of the political, social, racial, and environmental implications of Jim Crow practices and the unfair distribution of parks in the southern United States. His work can withstand present day attempts to deny history and turn facts into divisive political weapons.
Glenn LaRue Smith, FASLA, is cofounder and principal of PUSH studio in Washington, D.C., and founder and former president of the Black Landscape Architects Network (BlackLAN). His landscape architecture projects include garden designs, urban waterfronts, community redevelopment, playgrounds and memorial monument design. He has directed graduate landscape architecture programs at two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) — Florida A&M University and Morgan State University.
A Radical Vision for Reinventing the Suburbs – 07/25/2022, Fast Company
“Outside Toronto, in a field surrounded by farmland, the seeds of a seemingly implausible high-density, transit-oriented community are taking root.”
Ford House Completes Restoration of Historic Lagoon and Pool – 07/24/2022, Detroit Free Press
“’Before the restoration, the landscape behind the pool had become overgrown. It lost its hierarchy, the diversity of material, and the layering that were meant to replicate a northern Michigan landscape,’ said Stephen White, principal and director of landscape architecture and urban design for Albert Kahn Associates.”
In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the Doyle Drive Bridge in the north end of San Francisco, which had moved vehicles through the Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge since the 1930s. As a result, California’s department of transportation (Caltrans) embarked on a planning effort to re-engineer the roadways and interchanges through the Presidio. During those discussions in the 1990s, landscape architect Michael Painter, designer of the parkway system within the 1,500-acre Presidio, offered a plan for replacing the viaduct, which had severed the upper areas of the Presidio from Crissy Field, with tunnels. His idea was that with tunnels, the city could then use the space on top for a new park. More than thirty years later, James Corner Field Operations has realized this vision with Presidio Tunnel Tops, a 14-acre park designed for kids and their families.
According to Richard Kennedy, ASLA, principal-in-charge and head of the San Francisco office of Field Operations, Caltrans had offered to form the soil from the tunnel excavation and other landscape work into a flat top and a triangular edge. But the Presidio Trust, the National Park Service, the Golden Gate Park National Parks Conservancy, and Field Operations had other ideas. They would rather sculpt the land. “We decided to create a topographical design,” Kennedy said, eventually using more than 90,000 cubic yards of soil. And in order to do this, they first had to look deep underground.
Given San Francisco is an active seismic area, the Presidio Parkway tunnels, which were completed in 2012, had to be engineered for stability. This meant the rest of the adjacent Tunnel Tops landscape, a project that started in 2014, also needed to be engineered in a similar way. “That way, in the event of another earthquake, everything would move as a contiguous system with no differential settlement,” Kennedy said.
MKA, a Seattle-based engineering firm, set the tunnel park on 40-foot-deep stone columns arranged in a 10 by 10-foot grid. Each column, comprised of gravel, is 3 feet in diameter. This complex subterranean work isn’t apparent on the surface of the park, but for Kennedy it shows that the park is also infrastructure, and that infrastructure investment is needed for landscape architects to realize their vision.
“It’s a new vision for this area of the Presidio — open public parkland. Before, the perception was the Presidio was a kind of commercial office park. Our goal was to invite the public in with disarming and sometimes obvious elements. On opening day, there were over two thousand children in the playground,” Kennedy said.
Field Operations organized Tunnel Tops into three landscape zones. The first zone is a “platform,” a flat landscape on top of the tunnels at the same level of the Presidio’s main parade, which essentially acts as an extension of the historic military base.
“We purposefully designed it as a platform to leverage the incredible panorama. This elevation of 40 feet enables visitors to turn 360 degrees and see everything — from Marin to the Golden Gate Bridge, to Alcatraz Island, the Presidio, and the Palace of Fine Arts. This is an experience visitors couldn’t have had when the viaduct blocked views.”
The second landscape zone is what Field Operations calls the Cliff Walk, a set of trails and gathering places that intentionally focus visitors on landmarks at vantage points. “We used the slope to a great extent. As visitors wind through the trail, their body position moves, so they see different elements of the horizon. It’s surprising, awesome, and highlights the drama of being on the edge,” Kennedy said.
Along this edge are charismatic benches made of cypress trees that had been culled from the Presidio. Kennedy said Field Operations had hoped for sculpting a large piece of driftwood but no such trunk large enough appeared on the park coastline (another was found and used in the playground). Instead the benches are sculptured out of 9.5-inch wide planks and “assembled Jenga-style” into a curvature that resembles a tree. He said as cypress wood dries, it becomes metallic grey and when it catches the light sparkles like a silver fish. The perfect wood for a vista over the Bay.
The Outpost, an interactive play landscape, is the third zone. It’s where most visitors may enter Tunnel Tops, off of Mason Street, which bisects the upper area of the Presidio and Crissy Field. Other draws here include the new Crissy Field Center and adjacent Field Station, two environmental learning centers designed by architecture firm EHDD, with exhibition designers at Studio Terpeluk, which will teach kids about anthropology and ecology. This area is “designed to appeal to a broader sweep of families,” Kennedy said.
Given the upper portion of Tunnel Tops needed to be flat and highlight the panorama, Field Operations could use the lower portions nestled in the slope to add more intricacy without obstructing views.
Custom play elements are designed to bring children into the vistas. For example, there is a gap in the Outpost’s climbing wall on axis with Golden Gate Bridge. “Moments like this can create positive memories and life-long connections to the outdoors,” Kennedy argued.
The Outpost is also designed so that as the plants grow in overtime, the playground will feel more like the marshlands of Crissy Fields. The same plant species are found in the play area. “Labyrinthine trails will form, adding a layer of mystery.”
Play elements extend east from the Crissy Field Center creating an inclusive environment for toddlers to preteen children. The elements escalate in complexity as children move outwards from the buildings.
Near the Field Center, there are simple play areas comprised of sand and water for the youngest children. Older children can then enjoy a tunnel through a large driftwood trunk, which lets them to burrow through or climb above, along with slides set in boulders.
The bird’s nest sculpture, which is modeled after an oriole’s teardrop nest, enables children to climb on the outside and perch at the top, or climb from inside the nest and “poke their head out like small birds.”
The most difficult element is the forest den, which is a pile of logs. The interior of the structure has a small room filled with ropes and nets. “The exterior of the pile is purposefully challenging to climb and was designed to provide a sense of graduated risk. I have watched as some children became very nervous as they climb further towards the top. While the children can play safely, they can experience challenges, which also challenges themselves. I have seen children form teams. It asks them to be more brave,” Kennedy said.
On opening weekend Kennedy also saw teenagers climbing to the top of the logs to experience the view. For them, Field Operations has also designed seating areas that will eventually be enshrouded in marshes.
The new park includes over 200,000 plants of 200 varieties, many of which support birds and pollinators. Approximately 50 percent are native and drought-tolerant plants, chosen for what the climate will be in a few decades. The native plants were grown from seed in a nearby Presidio nursery to ensure they are “genetically specific to this landscape,” Kennedy said. The Presidio Trust “invested in plant communities that will last and can coexist with existing natural resources in the national park.”
The upper level landscape, which is connected with the manufactured military landscape of the Presidio, offers Mediterranean plants from countries like Chile and South Africa that will better blend with the existing non-native cypress and eucalyptus trees and gardens. In the Outpost, Field Operations focused on incorporating 100 percent native plants.
Presidio Tunnel Tops was made possible by a number of organizations. The Presidio Trust, a non-profit organization, has a mandate to preserve the historic military base and has restored 150 acres of landscape to date. The Presidio in turn is part of the 80,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service, the country’s largest urban national park. The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy is the non-profit arm of the park and raised $98 million of the $118 million project, while the Presidio Trust provided the other $20 million.
The Tunnel Tops is just one part of a broader revitalization of the Presidio. CMG Landscape Architecture, a San Francisco-based firm, is creating a plan to update Crissy Field, the beloved landmark designed by HargreavesJones that opened in 2001.