Best Podcasts for Landscape Architects

And the best way to listen to podcasts


Over the past decade, podcasts have emerged as a popular storytelling platform and captivating way to learn more about the world around us.

Podcasts offer a source of inspiration for designers exploring other disciplines and seeking fresh perspective within their own. For landscape architects, podcasts reveal new opportunities and ways of thinking about the way we design space.

The podcasts on this list seeks to capture the range of topics that influence the field — from interviews with leading landscape architects, to stories on cities, urban planning, communities, and sustainability, as well as insight from creative people in other professions.

All of these podcasts are available on iTunes and Stitcher

99% Invisible: Roman Mars and his team at 99% Invisible pull together seemingly disparate pieces of information to weave compelling stories of why things are the way they are. While not landscape-specific, this podcast is a must-listen for anyone interested in places, people, and design.

Recommended episodes: “Making Up Ground” is all about cities built on constructed land and the modern day implications of reclamation. 22 minutes

American Planning Association: The APA produces a series of podcasts that focus on everything from the people behind plans, to disruptive transportation technologies, to planning for public health and for public space. Together, the podcasts offer a good way to keep up with all things planning.

Recommended episode: In “Planning for Parks in Washington D.C.’s NoMa,” APA’s Mike Johnson interviews Robin-Eve Jasper and Stacie West, who are shaping the future of a D.C. neighborhood where, in an era of rapid development, almost no land was set aside for public parks. 23 minutes

Design Matters: If you’re in the design world and don’t know how Debbie Millman is, this podcast is a great introduction. Her podcast, Design Matters, has been around since podcasts about design have been a thing. She has interviewed influential people from a multitude of creative industries. Their stories are inspiring for designers in any field.

Recommended episode: Interview with architect Pierluigi Serraino about what creative people have in common. 28 minutes

Infinite Earth Radio: This weekly podcast explores solutions for a more sustainable world. Hosts Mike Hancox and Vernice Miller-Travis interview people — from government officials to local entrepreneurs — who are working to advance more equitable, resilient communities.

Recommended episode: “Bottom Up Water Solutions” talks about freshwater, keeping our streams clean, and smart growth in the face of climate change. 28 minutes

The Landscape Architect Podcast: This podcast, which is focused on landscape architecture, broadens the discourse within the profession by talking to leaders from all areas of the field. Host Michael Todoran with co-host Margaret Gerhart hold candid discussions with professionals in landscape architecture, as well as writers, researchers, and innovative thinkers influencing the future of the profession.

Recommended episode: “Feng Shui & Landscape Architecture” discusses movement and the environment with landscape architect Shelley Sparks as she analyzes Feng Shui for homes, business, and gardens. 53 minutes

Placemakers: Slate is a major hub for podcasts, and their Placemakers is a story-driven show about urban design and planning. Host Rebecca Sheir and the producers at Slate explore how innovative communities are tackling environmental and social issues.

Recommended episode: “The Greatest Misallocation of Resources in the History of the World” is an episode about an agricultural approach to tackling suburban sprawl. 29 minutes

Roots of Design: This podcast is by landscape architects for landscape architects. Produced by the New York Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), hosts Frank Varro and a variety of co-hosts discuss the breadth of opportunity in the profession through interviews with leaders in the field. It fills a crucial need for a landscape architecture-exclusive podcast and raises awareness of an often misunderstood field.

Recommended episode: Their first, “The Birth of Central Park and Landscape Architecture,” is a great place to start — and really any number of their interviews thereafter. 13 minutes

The Urbanist: For a global perspective, listen to Monocle’s The Urbanist. Host Andrew Tuck covers everything from urban policy to environmentalism to art. This podcast packs a variety of topics in each 30-minute episode, providing a well-rounded but thorough update on urban developments each week.

Recommended episode: “River crossing” on how rivers and bridges can both connect and divide urban areas. 26 minutes

What did I miss? Comment below and share your favorite podcasts.

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

Approaching the Japanese Garden Cultural Village / Jeremy Bittermann

Portland Japanese Garden Cultural Village by Kengo Kuma & AssociatesArchitectural Record, 7/1/17
“Surrounded by majestic Douglas firs, Oregon’s Portland Japanese Garden (PJG) is a piece of Japan transplanted to the Pacific Northwest.”

Chicago Botanic Garden Exhibit Brings a Little Bit of Rio to Glencoe The Chicago Tribune, 7/2/17
“Burle Marx, who died in 1994, was a famous modernist landscape architect and artist, and his style is being celebrated in a summer-long event at the Chicago Botanic Garden.”

The Underline Is Set to Transform Miami’s Metropath into a 10-Mile Linear ParkDesignboom, 7/7/17
“Following in the footsteps of New York’s high line and Seoul’s Skygarden, Miami is set to build a linear park of its own that will transform the land beneath part of the city’s metrorail.”

Why Hong Kong Is Scared of Trees: The Fight for Urban Forestry in City That Sees Them as a Threat, Not an Enhancement The South China Morning Post, 7/7//17
“The Chinese city of Liuzhou has begun construction of a pioneering “forest city”, designed by Italian architect Stefano Boeri, in which 40,000 trees will create a green urban paradise for residents.”

How a Landscape Architect Turned His 300-Square-Foot Balcony Into a Lush Private Oasis Toronto Life, 7/8/17
“Owning a private, landscaped backyard used to be an achievable goal for a great many people in Toronto. Today, many starting homebuyers with horticultural ambitions have to make do with whatever outdoor space is afforded to them by their condo balconies.”

Review: NACTO Urban Street Stormwater Guide

NACTO Urban Street Stormwater Guide / Island Press

The NACTO Urban Street Stormwater Guide should first be commended for the sheer amount of information it compresses into a succinct guide that touches upon nearly every consideration in the planning and design of green streets. I can only imagine the amount of coordination that took place to assemble the different national green street case studies, as well as the nearly impossible task of reigning in different perspectives on streetscape design from various planning and design disciplines.

While past NACTO guidebooks have successfully focused solely on street, bikeway, or transit design, the Urban Street Stormwater Guide delivers one of the most comprehensive guides on how to combine complete street design and green infrastructure stormwater management. Having a volume like this on one’s shelf is extremely helpful to anyone who is engaged in even general streetscape planning and design, as it points out the importance of having green infrastructure integrated into the right-of-way.

Design guidebooks are always a unique snapshot in time. They highlight our current understanding of design application and what, at the moment, can be implemented. This is an important consideration for the Urban Street Stormwater Guide — it reflects our design comprehension of green infrastructure at the current moment. This too will, and must, evolve over time.

Early sections of the guide provide a powerful argument for why “Streets are Ecosystems.” Stormwater runoff is no longer treated as a waste but as a valuable resource that should be managed in the right-of-way using a green infrastructure approach. The design community, I believe, comprehends and embraces this basic premise, but there is still a lack of understanding, which is reflected in this guidebook and reverberates in today’s built green street projects.

While stormwater runoff is now not considered a waste, it is still mistakenly labeled as a source of the problem of urban stormwater management. Runoff is not the source, but a symptom and result of the larger problem that urbanization has dramatically removed natural landscape systems and replaced them with impervious area.

We now focus on treating the symptom of “too much stormwater runoff” by designing small-footprint, deep-profile “landscapes” that force water back into the ground to prevent urban flooding, reduce the burden on grey stormwater infrastructure systems, or comply with state and federal regulations.

While reducing flooding and infrastructure capacity issues are important, these approaches create a water-centric approach very much reflected in this guidebook, which dilutes the focus and urgency to address the real problem of landscape loss. The only way to address this issue is to dramatically spread the footprint of vegetation and perviousness in our built environments. Only when we advocate and create a greater balance of green space and perviousness in our cities can we then accurately label our streets as “ecosystems.”

The Urban Street Stormwater Guide provides a series of “stormwater streets” as hypothetical scenarios of different urban conditions, such as a green transitway, ultra-urban green street, boulevard, neighborhood main street, and a host of other urban contexts. These are valuable glimpses of the possibilities of introducing vegetated swales, stormwater planters, pervious paving, rain gardens, and other green infrastructure and complete street elements into urban conditions.

Green Transitway from NACTO Urban Street Stormwater Guide / Island Press

However, the models shown have a definite tilt towards very urban conditions with the huge rights-of-way commonly found in larger American cities. The hypothetical boulevards, transit streets, and even the neighborhood main streets green street examples in the guidebook look nothing like those that I have worked on in smaller cities. Where are the examples outside of the big city? How about strip mall or big-box arterial streets, small-town main streets with tight sidewalks and packed with on-street parking, and the ultra-wide suburban residential streets that have covered mass landscapes in this country?

I raise this question, because these latter streets are just as impervious and incomplete. They produce massive amounts of stormwater runoff, just like our big city downtown streets, but are completely forgotten in the Urban Street Stormwater Guide vernacular.

From a stormwater management perspective, I define an urban street as any street that has a curb, gutter, and sidewalk that produces excessive stormwater runoff. It appears that the Urban Street Stormwater Guide defines an urban street similarly, but focuses largely in ultra-urban downtown conditions. Perhaps there is an opportunity to follow up this guide with a “less-urban” street stormwater companion guide.

I think that this omission is largely due, again, to the “snapshot in time” effect and focuses more on examples where green streets are currently being implemented: in big cities that are trying to comply with stormwater consent decrees and/or dealing with infrastructure capacity issues. The truth is that we need green streets in all urban contexts, and those should be better represented in this guide.

As I mentioned before, the Urban Street Stormwater Guide packs in an incredible amount of information in a finite number of pages. It feels almost too dense, where some graphics and photos are reduced to a miniscule scale, and text flows as if one is simply reading a series of bullet points (albeit good bullet points). In fact, some of the very important cross-sections of types of stormwater facilities are so cryptic, with minimal or no text call-outs or dimensions, that they remind me of the pictures illustrated when one is trying to follow an IKEA shelve assembly instructions manual. When dealing with urban stormwater, cross-sections illustrating very specific horizontal and vertical layout are critical.

NACTO Urban Street Stormwater Guide / Island Press
NACTO Urban Street Stormwater Guide / Island Press

Lastly, I worry that many of the cross-sections, and even the built project photo examples, suggest too much hardscape in the form of vertical walls to contain landscape and soil. Excessively-engineered green street facilities go against the very principles of green infrastructure to keep things simple, shallow, cost-effective, and beautiful.

NACTO Urban Street Stormwater Guide / Island Press

One of the most successful elements in the Urban Street Stormwater Guide is the numerous design, planning, and policy case study examples shown throughout the United States. Each case study describes the project’s goals, project overview, design details, keys to success, lessons learned, and qualitative and quantitative outcomes. There are excellent pictures of projects shown in action.

Some case projects are clearly more successful than others, but it is extremely valuable for everyone to understand what has been built and how the project is performing, regardless of its real or perceived level of success.

Another very successful piece of the guide is Section 5: Partnerships and Performance, which highlights successful green street programs and policies from around the United States, details the need for inter-agency and private-public partnerships, and outlines operation and maintenance roles and responsibilities. The discussion of operations and maintenance should take a more formative role earlier in the guide, as maintenance often defines what can be built, to what extent, and how it will perform in the long-term.

NACTO Urban Street Stormwater Guide / Island Press

In conclusion, the Urban Street Stormwater Guide is an valuable resource to those planning and designing green street projects. It makes a very strong argument that green streets and complete streets can live symbiotically and details different examples on how to combine these design strategies.

This guide is a wonderful snapshot in time of what has been built, but the guide also shows that we still have much to learn and that green infrastructure strategies are still evolving. I again really commend the amount of information provided in the guide and the level of coordination that was needed to complete it. I look forward to the next edition of the Urban Street Stormwater Guide.

This guest post is by Kevin Robert Perry, ASLA, principal of Urban Rain Design.

Tadao Ando’s Hill of the Buddha

While architect Tadao Ando’s Hill of the Buddha opened more than a year ago, we are just now discovering this wonderful work of landscape architecture in Makomanai Takino Cemetery in Sapporo, Japan.

Ando told Domus magazine: “‘The aim of this project was to build a prayer hall that would enhance the attractiveness of a stone Buddha sculpted 15 years ago. The site is a gently sloping hill on 180 hectares of lush land belonging to a cemetery. The statue is 13.5-meter-tall (44-feet-tall) and weighs 1,500 tons. It is made of fine, highly selected solid stone. Until now, the Buddha statue has stood alone in the field, giving an unrestful impression. The cemetery wanted to give visitors a more serene appreciation of the Buddha.”

So Ando, who is famous for his spiritual buildings made out of concrete, convinced the cemetery to bury the grand Buddha, with just his head peeking above ground, to show respect for this ancient teacher. The Buddha is now surrounded by a hill covered in some 150,000 lavender plants. The only way to get close is to walk through a 40-meter-long (131-feet-long) tunnel.

The Hill of the Buddha / Vitra

As Ando explains, “the design intention was to create a vivid spatial sequence, beginning with the long approach through the tunnel in order to heighten anticipation of the statue, which is invisible from the outside.” The tunnel’s walls are formed out of folded concrete that feels both elemental and monumental.

When visitors reach the Buddha at the end of the tunnel, they see his head is “encircled by a halo of sky.” The cemetery says this view creates a “blessed moment.”

The Hill of the Buddha / Fubiz.net

The surrounding lavender fields offer an ever-changing frame for the Atama Daibutsu: “they turn fresh green in spring, pale purple in summer, and silky white with snow in winter.”

The Hill of the Buddha / Fubiz.net

Ando also created a water fountain, which can be seen in the video above, that serves as a “sacred boundary.” In Buddhism, water enables the quest for “calmness, clarity, and purity in our body, speech, and mind.”

The Hill of the Buddha / Fubiz.net

According to the cemetery, “by detouring around the water garden instead of making a straight approach, one purifies the soul, and one’s mindset switches from the ordinary to the extraordinary.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (July 16 – 31)

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La Chrysalide / Martin Bond

Lake Shore Drive Could Use a Redesign, but Filling in the Lake is a NonstarterThe Chicago Tribune, 7/17/17
“As a landscape architect, I was intrigued by the proposals outlined by the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Chicago Department of Transportation for the redesign of Lake Shore Drive.”

Proposed WWI Memorial in Washington, D.C. Moves Ahead, Despite Questions About Its DesignThe Architect’s Newspaper, 7/17/17
“The Nation’s Capital came a step closer to gaining a World War I Memorial this month when a key federal panel approved a conceptual design for the project—even though panel members and others expressed concerns about the latest plan and its potential impact on the selected site.”

Art in the Garden: Place Right Work in Right Spot The Daily Courier, 7/21/17
“For many landscape designers and homeowners, a garden isn’t complete without the right art.”

6 Architects and Designers Won a Competition to Design Low-Tech, Outdoor Play Areas. Here Are the Results… Archinect, 7/21/17
“In response to the all-too-familiar “nature-deficit disorder” that plagues much of society these days, participants in this year’s competition had to create inventive “Playsages” that would inspire, if not remind, today’s tech-savvy kids and adults to spend more time outdoors.”

Southbound Pedestrians to Have Second Access to Tijuana From San Ysidro The San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/24/17
“Mexico’s new border entrance south of PedWest is set to open next week, offering a second option for those crossing on foot from San Ysidro to Tijuana.”

Concept for WWI Memorial at Pershing Park Evolves

Restored pool concept / Image courtesy of National World War I Commission, designers UU+Studio, Forge Landscape Architecture, and GWWO, via NCPC

Concepts for the proposed World War I memorial at Pershing Park, located just two blocks from the White House, continue to evolve. This month, the team designing the capital city’s first national memorial commemorating WWI took comments from the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), which pushed for keeping more of the nearly two-acre park created by landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg, FASLA, in 1981.

Since first presenting their concept to the planning commission last year, the team — led by architect Joe Weishaar, landscape architect Phoebe McCormick Lickwar, ASLA, and sculptor Sabin Howard — has continued to adapt their proposal in response to feedback. The original concept, The Weight of Sacrifice, which won a competition last year held by the WWI Centennial Commission, sought to replace the sunken pool basin with a lawn to improve access and visibility and install a bas-relief commemorative wall depicting images of the war.

At this month’s meeting, the planning commission reviewed an iteration of the concept that got rid of the lawn, expanded the existing pool, and combined the site’s signature water feature with a 65-foot-long commemorative wall.

Restored pool concept / Image courtesy of National World War I Commission, designers UU+Studio, Forge Landscape Architecture, and GWWO, via NCPC

NCPC requested the proposed wall be reduced in size in order to maintain views across the park. And they pushed the design team to consider what the plaza would look like with the water feature turned off.

Restored pool concept / Image courtesy of National World War I Commission, designers UU+Studio, Forge Landscape Architecture, and GWWO, via NCPC

Considering the many changes to the original proposal, council member Evan Cash questioned whether the entire scope of the project had changed. He noted people liked the new concept because it preserved open space, but with on-going edits “…the project has changed to rehabilitation.”

“What started out as a project to look for a new WWI memorial has actually turned into a preservation project of the existing park, with some additional elements,” he said. “I just think all the problems we’ve been talking about are linked to the fact this has been a design that has been so overworked.”

The planning commission approved the concept, with many qualifications, and the team will now move further refine the proposal and incorporate requested elements. Changes to the existing park will also need to be approved by the Commission on Fine Arts (CFA) and the National Park Service (NPS).

The park was originally designed by Friedberg, who is also known for Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis. Friedberg’s views on the new concept were shared with the commission by Margo Barajas, a representative of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), a group that has advocated for restoring, rather than redesigning Pershing Park, which has been determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. This means there is a case for preserving and restoring the park. 

Pershing Park / Eduard Krakhmalnikov, 2012, via The Cultural Landscape Foundation

After the latest iteration was presented to the CFA in May, Friedberg noted he was disappointed with the new concept, taking particular issue with the commemorative wall, saying it is being “forced into the space and obliterating the scale.”

Friedberg’s original design is a multi-level space with a sunken pool and water feature with a fountain that housed a Zamboni to maintain the pool as an ice rink during the winter. The site’s planting was later revised by Oehme, van Sweden. The site also includes a small, presently-unused kiosk structure that once doubled as an ice-skate rental station; movable furniture; and a statue of the WWI hero.

Pershing Park / Image courtesy of M. Paul Friedberg & Partners, via The Cultural Landscape Foundation

The new concept replaces the kiosk with a flag pole and adds a walkway across the pool to allow visitors more intimate access and a more tactile connection to the commemorative wall.

Debate has waged on over the aesthetic and functional merits of Pershing Park and the addition of a WWI memorial. The site has been poorly maintained and fallen into disrepair over the years. Many also find the park difficult to access. Critics of the new plans, including TCLF, have sought to reduce changes to the site and instead restore the park to its original intent.

The addition of a national WWI memorial was hard-fought by advocates on the WWI Centennial Commission who originally wanted the commemoration on the National Mall. Met with opposition from Congress and the National Park Service, the Centennial Commission eventually settled on Pershing as the selected site. Once approved by Congress in 2014, the Centennial Commission held an international design competition for the memorial. Last January, they announced Weishaar’s design as the winner of five finalists among hundred of entries.

Unlike World War II and the Vietnam War, World War I is the only major US conflict of the 20th century not commemorated with a national monument in Washington. There is a World War I memorial on the Mall, but not a national one (it is specific to local DC soldiers who fought in the war). And some critics say, that’s OK.

As The Washington Post‘s Philip Kennicott argues, DC’s many smaller WWI memorials embedded throughout the city offer another form of remembrance. The monuments are specific and distributed, and, as such, Kennicott writes, “there is no one-stop shopping, no simple, quick way to ‘pay respects’ and move on; but there is a rich history lesson, not just about the war itself, but about how memory and monuments have changed over the past century.”

Regardless, plans for the memorial will continue to move forward, with hopes for a final dedication on November 11, 2018, the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the war.

The Art of the Park with Michael Van Valkenburgh

“I don’t see parks as an escape from the city; I see them as an escape in the city, and therefore an essential part of what a city is,” explained landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, at The New York Times’ Cities for Tomorrow conference in New York City.

In a Q&A, Van Valkenburgh touched on five parks his firm designed throughout the country and Canada, beginning with his redesign of the landscape of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial on the St. Louis riverfront, which is home to Eero Saarinen’s famous Gateway Arch.

Here, Van Valkenburgh explains, his team at MVVA incorporated elements of Modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley’s original intention for the site while “creating a series of bridges – physical and metaphorical” to better stitch the previously-isolated 91-acre historic Arch ground with St. Louis.

Van Valkenburgh then discussed Maggie Daley Park in Chicago; A Gathering Place for Tulsa, a new park in Oklahoma; and Corktown Commons in Toronto.

And, finally, Van Valkenburgh, a Brooklyn resident, finished his talk on the now-famous Brooklyn Bridge Park, a set of piers once used for maritime industries now turned into a beloved 85-acre park, a project realized after 18 years of planning and design.

How Joplin, Missouri, Used Nature to Recover from a Devastating Tornado

I’ve always been struck by the undeniable power of nature. It destroys—as it did on a late Sunday afternoon in May, in Joplin, Missouri, six years ago when an EF5, mile-wide tornado chewed through the city in 38 minutes. It left 161 people dead, 1,150 others injured, countless more traumatized–and the rest of us watching and aching for them all. Aside from the human toll, it also caused billions of dollars in damages, and left thousands of trees decimated, uprooted or maimed.

Joplin was devastated. It needed to recover in every sense—physically, emotionally, spiritually. Many stories have been told in the aftermath of how the city drew together, rose up, and rebuilt.

But one story that’s not been told is about how nature, the thing that brought the destruction, has been the very thing that is bringing much needed emotional recovery to the community. Nature heals too. This is the story we wanted to tell.

When I flew in to Joplin, I gasped as I saw the massive scar in the landscape left by the tornado. It was a mile wide and several miles long. From that perspective high above the city, all that I could see was the destruction. But on the ground, a different picture emerged.

Key community members shared their stories and those of the community. Chris Cotten, head of Parks and Recreation for Joplin, was one of them. I quickly began to see what he saw: hope, hard work, and resilience were everywhere. And then I heard about the butterflies. Many community members told us stories of how the butterflies had saved them. Children told stories of being protected by them–like angels–while the destruction roared around them. I was captivated; but we weren’t the only ones who saw nature as a potential piece of the city’s recovery.

Just after the tornado hit, The New York Times ran a series of haunting images, including ones of Cunningham Park, showing a devastated landscape; mangled trees that had been stripped of their canopies and bark. These caught the eye of Cornell University’s Keith Tidball, who dropped everything to go to Joplin and, in his words, begin planting. A researcher and author, Keith has done some amazing work and spent years studying how nature can be a source of resilience for communities in crisis. He had been working in post-Katrina New Orleans just prior to the tornado.

Keith connected with Chris, and the idea for a healing garden was born. They worked quickly, with the support of the TKF Foundation to assemble a diverse team that included city officials, landscape architects, psychologists, musical therapists and urban planners–and most importantly, the community. Fusing research, design and nature—a healing garden the community named the Butterfly Garden and Overlook opened to the public in May 2014. As former Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean described to us, it’s a place where children and adults go to feel safe and whole, and to reflect. To recover. The nature effect is real. And our understanding of just how powerful its benefits are continues to grow.

Stories like this one, from Joplin, have much to teach us. Even in the hardest hit places, whether the disaster is natural or man-made, nature can heal and restore—and has the power to unify and rebuild communities in lasting ways.

This guest post is by film maker Alden E. Stoner, who is also a board member of the nonprofit TKF Foundation.

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

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Shades of Green’s 630-square-foot Pacific Heights rooftop garden / Ive Haugeland

San Francisco Rooftop Terraces That Rise Above It All The San Francisco Chronicle, 6/16/17
“Just in time for summer, three local landscape designers share the San Francisco rooftop terraces they’ve transformed from barren wastelands to inviting urban escapes.”

Planned WWI Memorial Would Harm Historic Park, TCLF ArguesCurbed, 6/20/17
“It shouldn’t be any surprise that The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) is pushing against the National Park Service’s planned WWI Memorial in Washington, D.C.”

Lack of Coordination on Obama Center, Tiger Woods Golf Course Threatens Jackson Park RedesignThe Chicago Tribune, 6/23/17
“Before he became America’s foremost landscape architect, shaping Chicago’s Jackson and Washington parks as well as New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted was a fervent abolitionist.”

Creating a Garden Oasis in the CityThe New York Times, 6/23/17
“Samira Kawash and Roger Cooper bought their Park Slope brownstone five years ago with the idea of giving big dinner parties and enjoying lazy afternoons in the extra-large backyard.”

Highland Park’s First ‘Green’ Stormwater System CompletedThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6/26/17
“The first, and so far only, green infrastructure solution to flooding in Highland Park’s valleys is completed along Negley Run Boulevard — a 1,100-foot bioswale that will intercept an estimated 600,000 gallons of water running off pavement annually.”

This Is the Landscape Architect Nantucket’s Elite Have on Speed DialArchitectural Digest, 6/27/17
“Neighbors on Nantucket’s eastern end have more than faded red chinos and a desirable zip code in common; many have landscape artist Marty McGowan, too.

Engagement by Design

Staten Island Living Breakwaters Community Meeting / Rebuild by Design

It’s been just over three years since the winners of the Rebuild by Design competition were announced. Since then, there have been almost 400 meetings with communities around each of the seven project sites in the New York metro region. The competition, launched by President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, called for large-scale, cross-sector, hybrid solutions to make communities more resilient to future storms.

Long before construction begins, teams in charge of design and implementation are helping community stakeholders visualize the project, the goal being to stimulate dialogue. At each step, community feedback is integrated into plans and designs.

Staff of Rebuild by Design — a research and design organization that was formed after the competition — attended public meetings held by every design team, where they have catalogued the most effective community engagement practices. Engagement by Design, an event put on by the organization at New York University, showcased them:

Living Breakwaters, which was presented by Nans Voron, SCAPE Landscape Architects, and Victoria Cerullo, Living Breakwaters Citizens Advisory Committee, is an innovative project off the coast of Staten Island that will use constructed offshore oyster reefs to attentuate waves in future storms and reduce shoreline erosion. In addition, the project will increase biodiversity and social resiliency by providing educational and stewardship opportunities and increased access to the shoreline.

Living Breakwaters is unusual for an urban landscape design, in that much of it is underwater and over 500 feet offshore. This proved to be a challenge when it came to communicating the project to the public. “Even though we were producing renderings to try to envision the future, at the end of the day it’s still very hard to communicate the experience a boater, a swimmer, or even an oyster will have next to one of the breakwaters,” said Voron.

The team began to use virtual reality (VR) goggles to help the public visualize the project. Voron believes VR offers the opportunity for a more visceral and immersive understanding of the effects of climate change. When classic flood maps fall short in their ability to communicate urgency, VR has the potential to create a deeper emotional impact.

Hoboken, a city hit especially hard by hurricane Sandy, recently released the draft Environmental Impact Statement for an urban water management strategy with four components: Resist, Delay, Retain and Discharge. Most of the Rebuild by Design competition funding is going to the “resist” features, which keep storm surges out of the city. The resist features morph into various forms depending on surroundings, so the team decided to make a flyover animation to give context and scale to this complex infrastructural intervention.

Alexis Taylor, outreach team leader for the New Jersey department of environmental Protection, narrated as a flyover animation of the current preferred design for the urban water management plan played. The animation followed the path of the resist feature through city, as it changed from a berm with a serpentine path and integrated recreational spaces to a floodgate closure and then a way-finding device.

At certain points, Taylor interjected to tell the audience that features had been added or amended based on community recommendations. The absence of a fixed audio narrative for the animation allows anyone presenting it to describe the project in their own voice — whether they are a city official or a Hoboken community member.

All teams admitted the engagement process is not without conflict. Angela Tovar, The Point Community Development Corporation (CDC) in the Bronx, urged project teams to be patient with the “planning fatigue” of community members reticent to participate, especially in under-served communities such as the Bronx. For decades, these communities have been subjected to broken promises by city officials, discriminatory housing policies, and environmental injustices, so promises of improved quality of life can be met with justified skepticism.

For David Kooris, director of Rebuild by Design & national disaster resilience for Connecticut, community engagement is not a necessary evil, but critical to evaluating the progress of the project: “I would be very nervous to follow just the bare minimum standards, and once every few months go to a public hearing not having any idea what people were going to show up and say.” By meeting with the stakeholders in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on a near-weekly basis, “I know what all the issues are. I know the ones we can address and the ones we can’t, and we can tweak the project in response to them.”

“I think the most important thing is to arm people with information,” explained Taylor. “Whether or not they are going to come out in support or opposition is fine, at least we are giving them the tools to communicate.”

This guest post is by Chella Strong, Assoc. ASLA, landscape designer at SWA/Balsley in New York City.