Brightwater: A Model of 21st Century Infrastructure

bright12
Brightwater / Jared Green

Imagine a wastewater treatment facility where people get married, amid 40-acres of restored salmon habitat with designed ponds and wetlands. It sounds far-fetched but it’s reality in Snohomish County, Washington, near the border with King County, about an hour northeast from downtown Seattle. In a tour of the Brightwater facility during the American Planning Association (APA) conference by Michael Popiwny, the landscape architect who managed this $1 billion project for the King County government, we learn how wastewater treatment plants can become assets instead of drains on communities and the environment. The key to success was an interdisciplinary management, design, and construction team that was highly responsive to community feedback and deeply sensitive to environmental concerns. Plus, Brightwater was paid for by growth in the region. As new people are attracted to the quality of life the Seattle area offers, they move in and pay a $4,000 – $8,000 sewer hook-up fee. “The fact that new people were paying for the system helped us to sell it to the community.”

Brightwater, a 15-year endeavor that began operations in 2011, is a wastewater treatment facility, environmental education and community center, and ecological system rolled into one. It’s a 114-acre site, nestled in a wealthy residential area, with some 70 acres of trails and parks open to the public. There are 13 miles of underground conveyance pipes that direct wastewater to the plant. When it reaches the plant, the wastewater is cleaned through the largest membrane bioreactor system in North America, which makes the water 70 percent cleaner than conventional approaches. It is then sent out through a 600-foot-deep outfall pipe a mile out into the Puget sound. Excess materials are turned into “loop,” a biosolid that is sold to local farms and orchards at very low cost.

However, this description of the system doesn’t do justice the experience of being at Brightwater. Popiwny explained the critical role excellent design played in “selling this place to the community.” He said, “we realized that this place needed to be beautiful. We need it to be very well designed.” Just siting the project won King and Snohomish counties, along with CHM2Hill and Environmental Design Associates, an ASLA 2005 Professional Analysis and Planning award. Then, engineers with CHM2Hill and landscape architects with Hargreaves Associates and Mithun along with restoration ecologists and conservation biologists came together in an interdisciplinary design team to create a welcoming place that actually restored the ecological function of the landscape, turning into a place that aids salmon in their annual migration.

Popiwny briefly described the design and construction process: “We had separate contracts for the engineering and design teams. We needed the strongest engineering team and the strongest landscape architecture team. The teams completed their work separately and then we combined their efforts in the final design. Internally, we had an engineer lead the engineering team, and I led the design team. It’s important that you set up competitions for top notch talent in each category and then give them equal status.”

As the deep processing facilities were dug out of the landscape, the excess soil was turned into “decorative, geometric landforms,” by Hargreaves Associates. “These landforms alone took thousands of trucks off the highway, saved lots of carbon,” explained Popiwny.

bright8
On the way to the North 40 acres, Brightwater / Jared Green

Amid these landforms in the “north 40 acres” is an elaborate system of forests, meadows, raingardens, wetlands, and ponds that hold and clean rainwater before directing it to the streams salmon use. What was once an auto depot is now a place that provides great environmental benefits.

bright9
Restored forested habitat / Jared Green

The process of restoring the habitat and turning into a publicly-accessible park was complex, involving stream and wetland biologists, who guided ecological decisions, and landscape architects with Hargreaves. The team used 15 different types of rocks to create two different stream corridors that empty into ponds where salmon rest on their uphill climb to the places where they spawn. “The result is something similar to the original stream.”

bright5
Restored stream / Jared Green

To restore the forested wetland, the Brightwater team made it an environmental education and community outreach project. Kids from the area helped plant over 20,000 native willows. “Native willows are easy for children to plant. We had about 4-6 busloads of kids from the surrounding area per week.” This effort really helped create community buy-in and grow a sense of greater investment in the success of the project.

bright7
Forested wetland / Jared Green

As you walk out of the park and into the environmental education center, which was designed and built to a LEED Platinum level, you can see how an open-minded couple would actually want to host a wedding here. Popiwny laughed and said one comment he read about the onsite wedding online was, “it’s today — get with it!” There are pleasing views of the green infrastructure. One of the larger buildings is also a frequent host for local non-profits and community meetings.

bright14
Environmental education center / Jared Green

All of this is a result of efforts to stave off protracted lawsuits that would have delayed the project from the beginning. The parkland, environmental education and community centers, were all part of the $149 million set aside as part of the “mitigation budget.” According to Popiwny, “budgeting this kind of work upfront meant saving money over the long run.” However, the Brightwater project was still sued by local sewer districts who argued that the project “spent too much on mitigation.” The state supreme court eventually sided with Brightwater. Popiwny said “lawsuits are an inevitable part of large projects.”

Now the challenges to projects like Brightwater are “often in the guise of environmental protection.” But Popiwny just sees this as part of the broader system of checks in a democratic system. “There needs to be multiple checks as these projects can affect communities. The region benefited from the opposition to the project as it pushed us towards a higher performance, but it also made it more expensive.” The Brightwater team included other forms of technical fail-safe systems, like multiple, isolated ponds to separate acid or bases if there was an overflow or accident caused by an earthquake, and engineering all pipes and systems to withstand high levels of seismic activity.

As we walk out of the environmental education center, which features flexible classrooms for groups of all ages and enables a range of hands-on learning about the water cycle, we head to the facility itself, which is strangely odorless. “There are three levels of odor control.”

brightwater15
Brightwater wastewater treatment plant / Jared Green

Spread throughout the site is public art, as the project was part of the state’s 1 percent for art program. Climbing up a stairwell to the spot where the millions of gallons of cleaned water is sent out to the sound, there is artist Jane Tsong’s poem, which actively blesses the elements of the plant (air, water, biosolids) as “they depart from the treatment process and continue their life cycle into the natural world.”

bright2
Poems by Jane Tsong / Jared Green
bright1
Poems by Jane Tsong / Jared Green

Popiwny said the facility staff particularly connect with these poems, as it is reminder of how meaningful their work really is.

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

china
Heavenly Water Service Center / DuoCai Photography

Amid Drought, The West Is No Place For a Lawn, As Nevada Has LearnedThe Los Angeles Times, 5/1/15
“When Gov. Jerry Brown ordered that California rip up 50 million square feet of lawns to conserve water amid the West’s deadening drought, the Golden State gasped. Meanwhile, the Silver State yawned. Desert denizens have already been there and done that — since 1999, in fact.”

Sprawling Wetland Structures by HHD_FUN Host Chinese Horticultural Show Dezeen Magazine, 5/5/15
“Beijing-based architecture studio HHD_FUN undertook two landscape architecture projects on the vast 23,000-square-metre site in Qingdao, a region in the eastern Chinese Shandong Province. The site was part of the International Horticultural Exposition, which was held between April and October last year.”

An Architectural Tour of … Parklets?The San Francisco Chronicle, 5/6/15
“Say what you like about Parklets — and there are detractors as well as devotees — they are now an established part of the scenery not only in San Francisco, but beyond.”

New Plan Would Revamp Heart of Downtown – The Baltimore Sun, 5/12/15
”New designs for McKeldin Plaza would fuse the brick space to the Inner Harbor promenade, transforming one of the busiest and most prominent intersections in the city into a 2.8-acre park, with grassy slopes and a curtain-like translucent fountain.”

An Incredible Time-Capsule View of One Downtown’s DevelopmentThe Atlantic, 5/13/15
“Exactly 50 years ago, Fresno was celebrating the inspiring opening of Fulton Mall. Can tearing up a noted artistic zone be a path to civic success? City leaders say yes, while some of their citizens say no.”

Seattle Layers Nature and Infrastructure (Part 2)

olympic0
Seattle Olympic Sculpture Park / Weiss/Manfredi

Seattle has long been an innovator in layering built and natural infrastructure so the two more fully complement each other. Over the past few decades, the city has taken advantage of all that rain so ever-present greenery seems to equal — if not dominate — the roads, bridges, and buildings. While locals may want even more parks, for someone just visiting the city the first time, Seattle exclaimed Pacific Northwest first and then city. Perhaps it’s the dramatic mountains, with their views carefully preserved from so many places in the city, or the water that is never far away. Or how trees and plants seem to be found everywhere they possibly can be. In the second in a series of posts on how Seattle has integrated built and natural infrastructure, we look at the Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park by interdisciplinary design firm Weiss/Manfredi, with Charles Anderson Landscape Architecture, in downtown. Here is an example of how an incredibly difficult site with hardcore infrastructure needs — it must accommodate a railroad line, four-lane street, riverfront bike lane, and sea wall — was made a true destination with the addition of an inviting green public space that is a showcase for both art and the natural splendor of Seattle.

According to Julie Parrett, ASLA, a landscape architect who worked with Charles Anderson Landscape Architecture during the project and gave a tour of it for the American Planning Association (APA) conference, the site where the Seattle Art Museum built their park was owned by Union Oil Company of California up until 1999. When the museum was looking to expand their existing facility, developers were on their way to grabbing the property to turn into more apartments. At the 11th hour, $1 million was raised by Jon Shirley, a benefactor made wealthy by his role in Microsoft, and his wife Mary, to secure the land for a new sculpture park. They also created a $25 million operations and maintenance fund for the park in the beginning, so it would be “private but for public use.”

Still, it took nearly 10 years and much expense for this widely popular destination and neighborhood park to happen. The 8.5 acres of land were purchased for $20 million. Given the site was once a depot for train cars carrying oil, the clean up of the toxic soils cost another $5 million. For such a challenging site, the design and construction totaled $40 million.

The park’s M-shaped-path smartly invites exploration but also hides some of the limitations of the space. Upon first visiting, you are conveyed down to a striking rusted steel art work by Richard Serra, accessible via grassy stair-step terraces or a meandering trail — or drawn down across the first diagonal of the M to the grand vista of the bay and mountains. Those terraces double as an amphitheater for cultural events, with the Serra piece serving as a backdrop.

olympic1
Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park, Richard Serra’s Wake, 2004 / Jared Green
olympic16
Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park, Richard Serra’s Wake, 2004 / Jared Green

As you cross the first diagonal of the M, you begin to notice a slight change in elevation crossing over the four-lane street below. Again, it’s amazing how the views, landscape, and art together conspire to distract your eye from the transportation infrastructure below. Perhaps the experience would be different if the street was packed with cars. The time of day we visited, there were hardly any.

olympic2
Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, 1998-1999/ Jared Green

As you continue across the other diagonal of the M, you come across seating arranged for viewing the spectacular scenery.

olympic6
Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park, Alexander Calder’s The Eagle, 1971 / Jared Green
olympic9
Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park / Jared Green

Then, as you progress down over the rail line towards the waterfront, the experience changes again. Blasted with salty air, you make your way across the bike lanes to the railings facing the Elliott Bay and the 350-foot-long revamped sea wall that doubles as specially-constructed juvenile salmon habitat. Plants there were designed to accommodate for sea water inundation but otherwise Parrett said the site was not “designed for rising tides.”

The Seattle Art Museum is not kidding about maintenance. There was literally no trash to be found anywhere. The waterfront was free of any refuse, except for driftwood that is allowed to naturally accumulate in the built inlet that is then removed annually. At the constructed beach, Parrett explained that the riprap had been set there before, but the underwater slope was orchestrated so that “it would maintain itself.”

olympic10
Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park / Jared Green
olympic11
Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park / Jared Green
olympic12
Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park / Jared Green

For Parrett, the fact that there is a open beach and wildlife habitat in the sculpture park is worth highlighting. “This is a museum that took on an ecological agenda.”

She explained the great obstacles the design and construction team faced in realizing the park:

First, the team learned the 350-feet-long sea wall had to be replaced or repaired. The museum found that fully replacing the wall, which has to hold back tidal changes of 13 feet each day, could easily cost $50-80 million. “Paying this amount would have shut down the project,” so instead, the team looked to stabilize the wall while creating habitat for juvenile salmon. Salmon, which you hear about with regular frequency in Seattle, are endangered, but much effort is made to ensure they too benefit from the infrastructure primarily made for people. As Seattle city government senior planner Patrice Carol, the APA tour organizer, explained, “when we are doing anything in Seattle that impacts the water, we are dealing with the Endangered Species Act.”

The design team used in fill-in ballast to create nooks and crannies — a “habitat bench” — that small salmon can swim into without getting picked off by predators. Salmon come out of the Puget Sound and return to the freshwater lakes and streams were they were born to spawn. Young salmon then go back the way their progenitors came.

As Parrett, explained, “the bench has been hugely successful and has become a demonstration project.” It also just cost $5.5 million for the new sea wall and habitat combination, and because it involved salmon, the team was able to leverage federal funds.

Second, the site is a brownfield. Given its past history as part of Union Oil’s operations, 117,000 tons of contaminated soils had to be removed. And 300,000 cubic yards of new soil was brought in, much of it from 8 blocks away where there was a development. Still, with the underlying toxic asphalt, the designers could only dig down 3 feet in areas. Art, particularly the heavy pieces, had to be carefully placed to ensure they didn’t spark leakages. “There is still ongoing monitoring.”

Third, the development of the park required removing the last of Seattle’s beloved waterfront streetcar infrastructure. As Parrett explained, “this almost derailed the project.” The streetcar line has been replaced by a two-way bicycle track that was heavily used the day we were out.

Lastly, cleaning all stormwater runoff heading down the slope into the bay meant designing wetlands to store water from the site in key spots and slowly release it, which attracts the bugs salmon like to eat. The site was designed to feature almost an entirely native plant palette, “with every tree and plant hand selected,” so no pesticides would be needed. But the primary challenge turns out to be controlling “runoff” from dogs doing their business on the lawns, no matter how cute they may be.

olympic3
Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park / Jared Green

Parrett explained how there are security guards always present to ward off dog owners that don’t obey signs, and the museum periodically rope off parts of the landscape to let it recover. “But we must use fish compost to keep the lawns alive.”

Seattle Layers Nature and Infrastructure (Part 1)

volunteer2
Volunteer Park, Seattle / Jared Green

“Seattle has been about human intervention in the natural landscape, setting heavy engineering in a bucolic setting,” said John Owen, partner with Makers architecture and urban design, during a tour organized by the American Planning Association (APA) for their conference in this northwest city. In the first of a series of posts about how Seattle layers nature and infrastructure, we’ll look at a few examples of this from Seattle’s history — from the early Olmstedian park system to the Hiram. M. Chittenden Locks, and, more recently, the Gas Works Park.

Owen said Seattle’s Olmsted Brothers-designed park system is one of the “most well-preserved in the world.” According to the Seattle parks and recreation department, the city commissioned the landscape architects the Olmsted Brothers, sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, to create a comprehensive plan to link green spaces, playgrounds, and vistas through a 20-mile green boulevard. The Olmsted brothers continued their work on the plan, designing and implementing pieces, through the 1930s.

We arrive at Volunteer Park, one of the jewels in the Olmsted system. There, Owen showed us how nature and infrastructure were first integrated to such great effect. The park’s meandering paths, towering trees, and lush gardens provide not only a frame for the views, but also the charismatic water management infrastructure — a water tower and high-pressure reservoir. As Lyle Bicknell, principal urban designer, Seattle department of planning and development, explained, “It was Olmstedian to make infrastructure beautiful.” The reservoir no longer serves its original purpose, but the water tower still does. Some have even floated the idea of turning the empty reservoir into a skatepark, which would be fantastic.

volunteer-park
Volunteer Park, Seattle / Barefoot Ted’s Adventures
volunteer-park-reservoir
Volunteer Park Reservoir / Wikipedia

A later visit to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (known locally as the Ballard Locks) made clear that Seattle continued to invest in civic infrastructure. Construction began on this complex system for moving ships from Lake Washington and Lake Union to the Puget Sound in 1911, and the first ships passed through in 1916. To get to the locks, a visitor walks through 7 acres of gorgeous gardens designed by U.S. Corps of Engineers landscape architect Carl S. English Jr., who spent more than 40 years planting the gardens with more than 500 species and 1,500 varieties of plants from around the world.

locks-gardens1
Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens / Jared Green
locks-gardens-2
Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens / Jared Green

The combination of gardens and heavy ship infrastructure is somehow seamless, and feels futuristic, despite the fact that it’s nearly 100 years old.

locks-3
Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks / Jared Green
locks-4
Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks / Jared Green

The lock keepers I spoke to exhibited great pride in the infrastructure, which runs 24 x 7, 365 days a year. Boats come in and out all day and night, as valves raise and lower water levels, keeping fresh and sea water separate. A legacy of the City Beautiful movement, the locks are a prime example of how nature and the built environment can complement each other in a timeless way.

locks-5
Hiram M. Chittenden Locks / Jared Green

Lastly, a visit to Gas Works Park capped the journey. The Seattle parks department explains how this site on Lake Union was cleared in the early 1900s to make way for a plant to process gas from coal, which then ran for nearly 50 years, spewing chemicals into the air and lake. When natural gas began to be imported in large amounts in the 1950s, the plant became obsolete, so the site was acquired to become a park by the city in the early 1960s.

Seattle landscape architect Richard Haag, FASLA, turned this into a game-changing park in the early 70s, using a then-cutting-edge approach of phytoremediation to leach out some of the toxic chemicals in the soil and restore the landscape. Further work in the 1980s mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) involved removing and capping soils, and stripping the groundwater under the site of benzene using a process called “air sparging.”

gasworks1
Gas Works Park / Jared Green

Haag made the visitor’s approach to the industrial infrastructure a fascinating exploration, with a winding entry way that parallels a series of concrete gates. The path invites you to circle the old Gas Works, taking it in from all angles.

gasworks2
Gas Works Park / Jared Green
gasworks3
Gas Works Park / Jared Green

As you get closer to the intricate and intriguing central relic, you realize it’s fenced off to prevent people from climbing on it and perhaps further covering it in graffiti. Within the fences, nature has once again taken root.

gasworks4
Gas Works Park / Jared Green
gasworks7
Gas Works Park / Jared Green

You can then walk to the top of Kite Hill, a giant mound of earth that Haag constructed behind the park with rubble and also topped with a sundial. Kite Hill is currently being covered with an additional layer of soil and grass to prevent re-contamination by environmental remediation work being done along the Lake Union waterfront.

gasworks6
Gas Works Park / Jared Green
gasworks5
Gas Works Park / Jared Green

The path leads to picnic tables along the waterfront, and a “play barn,” where the old refinery infrastructure has been turned into a mecca for kids. This area was somewhat down on its heels, as it’s clearly been well-visited and loved for decades but needs some maintenance.

gasworks8
Gas Works Park / Jared Green

Gas Works Park opened in 1975 and soon thereafter it was award ASLA’s professional design of excellence award. As the awards jury noted, Haag’s Gas Works Park is “a remarkably original and attractive example of how to reclaim a seemingly hopeless and obsolete industrial installation. Instead of being destroyed or disguised, it has been transformed into a lighthearted environment. A project of historical significance for the community.”

And in The New York Times, Paul Goldberger wrote, “The park represents a complete reversal from a period when industrial monuments were regarded, even by preservationists, as ugly intrusions on the landscape, to a time when such structures as the gas works are recognized for their potential ability to enhance the urban experience.” Indeed, in 2013, the park was finally added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Seattle has found novel ways to re-balance the relationship between built and natural infrastructure. And with projects like the Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park, it continues to lead the way towards a more sustainable relationship between the two.

#WLAM2015 Reaches 3 Million Worldwide

World Landscape Architecture Month
World Landscape Architecture Month

This past month, the American Society of Landscape Architects joined World Landscape Architecture Month (WLAM), a global effort to raise awareness of the profession. During this time, our members took nearly 4,000 pictures of landscape architect-designed spaces with our “Designed by a Landscape Architect” card and posted them to social media using #WLAM2015.

These posts reached nearly 3 million people and showed how landscape architects can effectively use social media, harnessing its inherently visual nature.

The pictures featured some instantly recognizable, iconic landscapes.

Central Park / Jennifer Nitzky
Central Park / Jennifer Nitzky

But also some favorite local projects, too.

Artivio Guerrero Park / Dalton LaVoie
Artivio Guerrero Park, Sacramento, California / Dalton LaVoie

WLAM was also an opportunity to show all stages of design.

Plans /  American Society of Landscape Architects - Minnesota Chapter
Landscape plan / American Society of Landscape Architects Minnesota Chapter

Americans weren’t the only ones involved: Landscape architects from more than 30 countries participated in the campaign, often using the cards we created in 13 languages.

Turkish / URMIA Land Art
Turkish Version of the Card / URMIA Land Art
Place Design Group's China team celebrates World Landscape Architecture Month / Place Design Group
Place Design Group’s China team celebrates World Landscape Architecture Month / Place Design Group

Both future and veteran landscape architects were involved in the campaign, connecting multiple generations.

Landscape Architecture Students/ American Society of Landscape Architects - Minnesota Chapter
Landscape Architecture Students/ American Society of Landscape Architects Minnesota Chapter
John Gollings with Australian Garden Completion by Taylor Cullity Lethlean + Paul Thompson / Australian Institute of Landscape Architects
John Gollings at Australian Garden Competition / Australian Institute of Landscape Architects

World Landscape Architecture Month helped raise the visibility of landscape architecture on a global level. The “Designed by a Landscape Architect” cards helps the public understand many of the places they use and love everyday are actually designed by someone. The campaign was so successful ASLA is continuing it past April in order to continually promote the work of its members and landscape architecture around the world.

What Do Seniors Need in Parks?

taichi
Seniors Week, Tai Chi Academy, Royal National Park, Audley, Australia / Australian Academy of Tai Chi

The senior population is growing. By 2050, a third of the U.S. will be 65 and older. The World Health Organization, AARP, and other organizations have called for more age-friendly communities, with parks and open space that offer what seniors needs to feel safe, but not enough are heeding their call. One question that came up in a session at the American Planning Association (APA) conference in Seattle is whether future parks need to be designed to be inter-generational, or designed specifically for the elderly. Two academics and a landscape architect argued the research shows seniors do better when they are around all age groups, but they need specific things to feel safe and comfortable in parks and other open spaces. If they don’t have them, they are far less likely to venture into these places.

Lia Marshall, a PhD student at the Luskin School of Public Health, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), said older adults have a preference for “aging in place,” meaning staying in their community. They need independence. This group — like any other broad category — is amazingly diverse, both socially and culturally. Walking is their most common physical activity, so “distance to the park affects use.” But many older people are also at the risk of isolation, which can result in mental health problems. This group is also among the least active, which can also lead to physical health issues.

Parks are too often created for children or able-bodied adults. But they can be designed with a set of aging principles. Through a set of 8 focus groups conducted with elderly about their park use in Los Angeles, Marshall found that they all share “an enjoyment of natural beauty, with an appreciation for tranquility, plants, and fresh air.” Being in a park encouraged social interactions, which led to more physical activity. “Group activities — like Tai Chi in the park — lead to friendships and more exercise.”

But the elderly polled were also fearful, with their greatest fear being falling. “Breaking a hip can mean losing their homes and moving into a retirement facility.” For them, other primary threats were “disrespect by younger generation, robbery, drugs, and crime.” Environmental threats include: “uneven ground surfaces, trash caused by the homeless, a lack of visibility with walking paths, a lack of shade, and excess heat or cold.” Those with canes, walkers, and wheelchairs feel even more vulnerable outdoors. Marshall pointed to a park right next to a senior center in Los Angeles that wasn’t used by the elderly because “gang members are there.” Overall, “seniors are afraid of their communities but also want to be involved.”

So how can communities create parks where seniors feel safe? Madeline Brozen, UCLA Lewis Center, has developed a set of guidelines for senior-friendly open spaces. Recommendations, which aren’t much different from general park design best practices, include:

Improve control: Provide orientation and way finding with large, visible fonts. “The park layout needs to be legible.” Signs should be 54 inches off the ground or lower, so people in wheelchairs can also see them.

Offer greater choice: “Everyone values options, such as passive or active recreation, sun or shade, single or multiple seating. Chairs should be movable.” Brozen emphasized that the group older than 65 is incredibly diverse, from “not old to advanced dementia,” so they have different needs.

Create a Sense of Security: “There should be shade but not too much so it feels enclosed.” Parks should enable “eyes on the street.” Isolated areas need good maintenance. Sidewalks should be wide and smooth. Check spaces between paved and unpaved areas to make sure there aren’t spots where a cane or wheelchair can get caught.

Accessibility: If a park is a good distance from a senior facility, add benches along the way so there are place to stop. Parks should have no more than a 2 percent grade for those in wheelchairs.

therapeutic
ASLA 2006 Professional General Design Honor Award. The Elizabeth & Nona Evans Restorative Garden Cleveland Botanical Garden, Cleveland, Ohio by Dirtworks / K. Duteil

Social support: Design should facilitate interaction. Parks can feature bulletin boards, outdoor reading rooms, sculptures and fountains that help start conversations.

Physical activity: Parks should also feature mile markers for encouragement. “These kinds of things are low impact, high benefit.” Exercise machines should be under shaded areas.

Privacy: Use buffer plants to reduce street noise.

Nature: Bring in water features, which are relaxing and beautiful. Make sure they are wheelchair accessible. And lastly, parks should highlight natural beauty.

For Portland-based landscape architect Brian Bainnson, ASLA, Quatrefoil Inc, and ASLA Oregon Chapter Trustee, there is even more that can be done, beyond A.D.A. requirements — and, really, the guidelines listed above. “ADA is really just the bare minimum. It leaves out so many users.” Bainnson said when designing for seniors, “you are really designing for everyone, but there are other hazards you have to be aware of.” For example, contemporary parks often feature these sleek, backless, armless benches that are essentially useless for the elderly. “Without an armrest, they can’t lower themselves into the bench or get out of it, so they just won’t use it.”

Bainnson recommended the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) guidelines, which call for “scheduled, programed activities that create park use; access ramps; raised beds; a profusion of plant-people interactions; and benign and supportive conditions.”

principle
Raised beds. ASLA 2010 Professional Research Honor Award. Access to Nature for Older Adults: Promoting Health Through Landscape Design. Multi-Regional USA / Susan Rodiek

Plants should appeal in all four seasons. Park and garden designers need to be aware of wind direction and the sun path to create both wind-free and shaded areas. He added that designers must reduce sharp differences between light and dark. “Hip fractures from falling can occur as the elderly navigate the transition from deep shadow to bright light. They think it’s a step and they can trip up. There should be a middle ground, a transition zone.”

Bainnson has designed more than 20 therapeutic landscapes, including the Portland Memory Garden and parts of the Legacy Emanuel Children’s Garden. The Portland Memory Garden, which is designed for users with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia as well as well as their care-givers and families, is an enclosed loop, with a central entrance and exit, which is not only soothing to those suffering from dementia but ensures they don’t wander off.

The single entrance and exit means nurses or family members can also keep an eye out from a central place. Built in 2002 with $750,000 in privately-raised funds, the Memory Garden has “no dead ends or choices. You just follow the curve.” Concrete pathways are tinted to reduce glare. Their outer edges have a different color. Raised curbs on the edge of the sidewalks help ensure users don’t fall into the lawns. Bathrooms are extra large in case nurses or family members need to go in with someone in their care.

memory
Portland Memory Garden / Brian Bainnson
memory2
Portland Memory Garden / Brian Bainnson

For true open spaces, seniors also have special needs. Bainnson is now working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on national wildlife refuges near Portland to make them more accessible to seniors, by putting in trails, accessible paths, and readable signs. He said they may not be able to access the whole system — as the city wants to keep the trails as natural as possible — but these steps will make it easier.

Marshall, Brozen, and Bainnson all made the case: consider seniors when designing public spaces. Why exclude? “What works for seniors will work for everyone.” These spaces will also work for all those people with any other cognitive or physical challenge, like veterans dealing with PTSD, people with prosthetic legs, or anyone in a wheelchair.

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

Temple Baths, ArchDaily / Studio Octopi
Temple Baths by Studio Octopi / Arch Daily

Hermann Park’s Japanese Garden Serves As City Oasis The Houston Chronicle, 4/17/15
“Hermann Park’s Japanese Garden is a place where families flock to watch koi school in murky ponds, where couples rest under the trellis covered in leafy wisteria and where Houstonians steal away for quiet time in a natural setting.”

How the Drought Will Reshape Californian Landscape ArchitectureCurbed, 4/22/15
“California is dealing with a resource crisis that’s asking a West Coast accustomed to expansive growth and endless possibility to go against character and make do with less. The last time going dry has caused this much consternation was during Prohibition. Curbed spoke with four leading landscape architects to find out how their profession needs to adapt to a challenge with the potential to reshape the industry.”

‘The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Dan Kiley’ Review The Wall Street Journal, 4/22/15
“’The Landscape Architecture Legacy of Dan Kiley,’ an exhibition at the Center for Architecture, shows how modern landscapes often make a better case for modernism than the architecture itself.”

Studio Octopi Begins Crowdfunding Campaign for a Lido on London’s River Thames Arch Daily, 4/23/15
“London’s central waterway, the River Thames, has been a site of enormous interest from architects and urbanists in previous years. From a controversial garden bridge to discussions about how to appropriate what has been described as one of the city’s largest untapped public spaces, London-based practice Studio Octopi have now launched a Kickstarter campaign to help to realize their dream of creating ‘a new, natural, beautiful lido’ on its banks.”

Group Rallies to Save Cherished Spot at Children’s HospitalThe Boston Globe, 4/27/15
“Just ahead of a wrecking ball, a contingent of parents and caregivers want the city to bestow protective landmark status on Prouty Garden, a half-acre splash of green at the heart of Boston Children’s Hospital. It may be their last hope for preserving the emerald retreat.”

Three Finalists Chosen in National Design Competition to Improve Areas below the Main Avenue Bridge The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 4/28/15
“The nonprofit downtown development corporation announced on its website that it has winnowed a field of 51 landscape architecture firms to three finalists in a national competition to beautify the portion of the Flats beneath the Main Avenue Bridge.”

What Has Your Time in the Garden Meant to You?

001 Halden Prison - Norway
Halden Prison, Norway / Katherine Cannella

“I was in the cafeteria of the Men’s Maximum Security Facility in Cranston, Rhode Island, to attend the graduation ceremony for education program participants. That morning, 16 men with life sentences received ‘Certificates for Apprentice Gardeners’ recognizing a year’s work in the prison yard garden. Seeing them stand up there with their certificates, peeking at the paper held within the black folders with gold trim, it was clear the garden had meaning for them.” – Katherine Cannella

Katherine Cannella, Assoc. ASLA, who graduated with a master’s of landscape architecture from the University of Virginia in 2014, won a traveling fellowship from UVA to study prison gardens. She wants to use landscape approaches to engage all members of the public, including those at the margins. Prison gardens offer an opportunity to create places to heal for those who must spend time outside of society.

In the summer of last year, Cannella visited ten prisons and one jail with participatory gardens across the United States and Europe, at both men’s and women’s institutions with a range of security levels. Some prison gardens are tucked in corners or between walls or fences. Others occupy prominent places, by the entry or bordering walkways. A few are found in fields.

003 Halden Prinson - Norway
Halden Prison, Norway / Katherine Cannella

To prepare for each visit, she would copy plans and aerials into a sketchbook. These initial drawings provided a framework for quick annotations during the often brief time on site. She modeled her research methods on post-occupancy evaluations that included observational walks and interviews with users. While her movement throughout the facility and interaction with inmates was limited, her conversations led to a deeper understanding of the gardens.

Cannella began her conversations with inmates, officers, administrators, and garden program facilitators by asking, “What has your time in the garden meant to you?”

Speaking with inmates at places as diverse as the Men’s Max in Rhode Island and the Halden Prison in Norway, she discovered prison gardens serve many functions. They provide a sense of freedom; offer a comfortable place; supply fresh food for the prison kitchen; connect the prison and the surrounding community; create an aesthetic experience; provide a link with home; and serve as part of ecological network. Each prison is a “living institution,” with a profound impact on inmates who garden as well as the prison community as a whole.

Cannella documented the anatomy of these living institutions. Using site photos and observational drawings as well as layered axonometric drawings, Cannella showed the layout and spatial relationships of six of the sites.

005-cannella
Detail of the 6,000 sq. ft. garden at Men’s Maximum Security Prison in Rhode Island / Katherine Cannella

In the end, she quoted Ann Whiston Spirn, FASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at MIT, who said, “The simple act of digging garden soil in preparation for spring planting triggers strong emotions: a sense of connection to the earth and the regeneration of life. It is an act of nurturance and an expression of faith in renewal.” The prison garden is a place of freedom and offers inmates purpose.

This guest post is by Jennifer Livingston, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of Virginia.

How to Save Water, the Californian Way (Part 2)

wateruse3
Vista Hermosa Park (met AB 1881 and LID requirements) / Mia Lehrer + Associates

For the past century, much of California has relied on an inherently fragile and unreliable imported water infrastructure. While the current crisis attracts the attention of the media and public, the environmental community and government have been actively pursuing solutions for decades. These efforts have resulted in long-term water conservation. For example, Los Angeles has seen a dramatic increase in population since the 1970’s, but water use has actually declined, with the largest drops in use during periods of drought and recession. Efforts are now focused on decreasing demand for imported water by increasing local supplies. A few weeks ago, we wrote about ways each of us as individuals can conserve water in our landscapes by copying nature and making choices appropriate to our local micro-climates and water availability. In addition to the smaller-scale decisions we make in our own landscapes, progressive state and local policies are helping California to better conserve its limited water resources.

Here are a few across the state:

Water Conservation in Landscaping Act of 2006 (AB 1881)
This Assembly Bill spurred the creation of the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance, which established maximum allowed landscape water budgets and mandated low water-use plants and efficient irrigation strategies. AB 1881 encourages us to capture and retain on site stormwater and use recycled water. The ordinance also requires soil assessments, soil management plans, and landscape maintenance plans to accompany landscape plans submitted through municipal permit processes.

Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (AB 551, in progress)
If passed, Assembly Bill 551 will incentivize the use of currently-vacant private land for urban agriculture. Private landowners could have their property assessed at a lower property tax rate — based on agricultural use rather than its market value — in exchange for ensuring its use for urban agriculture for 10 years. Increasing local agricultural production where recycled water is readily available can reduce water and energy use in food production and increase our cities’ self-sufficiency and resilience in the face of potential natural disasters.

In Southern California:

Recycled Water
The Los Angeles County Bureau of Sanitation and Orange County Water District (OCWD) began recycling water in the 1960s and 1970s, respectively, for groundwater recharge and non-potable uses — or uses other than for drinking, such as irrigation or industry. In 2008, the OCWD district began recharging its groundwater supplies with water treated to levels above drinking water standards for reuse as potable water. A big push to educate the public about the process and its benefits smoothed the transition. The district is now expanding production from 70 to 100 million gallons per day, or enough to supply nearly one-third of Orange County’s 3.1 million people. Los Angeles, which delayed their water recycling efforts for drinking water after negative PR alarmed the public, is now planning to expand their recycled water program, including groundwater recharge, by 2035.

In Los Angeles:

Proposition O (2004)
Los Angeles voters overwhelmingly passed Prop O to use $500 million to fund projects to:
•    Protect rivers, lakes, beaches, and the ocean;
•    Conserve and protect drinking water and other water sources;
•    Reduce flooding and use neighborhood parks to decrease polluted runoff;
•    Capture, clean up, and reuse stormwater.

wateruse2
Peck Canyon Park, San Pedro, funded with Prop 0 funds / Mia Lehrer + Associates
wateruse1
Los Angeles Zoo Parking Lot bio-infiltration, funded by Prop 0 / Mia Lehrer + Associates

Low Impact Development Ordinance (2012)
Los Angeles’ LID Ordinance ensures that new and redevelopment projects recharge groundwater aquifers to increase future water supply; protect water quality downstream; reduce flood risk by keeping rainwater on site; remove nutrients, bacteria, and metals from stormwater runoff; and reduce and slow water that runs off of properties during storms.

But there is still much more we can do. Caroline Mini, who wrote her PhD dissertation at the University of California last year, shows how urban residential water use in Los Angeles is largely determined by income. Wealthier neighborhoods on average use three times more water than poorer neighborhoods. This is despite the fact that most wealthier neighborhoods inhabit tree-covered hillsides with ample available soil moisture, while less fortunate residents occupy dryer, flatter, and less shaded areas. Better-off communities have the opportunity to use their wealth to establish well-designed, resource-efficient, and beautiful landscapes that will become models in water conservation. And cities and counties have the opportunity to create green infrastructure projects that add tree canopy and increase permeability to regain the sponge quality of soil in those low-land neighborhoods that will benefit most.

Agriculture accounts for 80 percent water of the used by people in our state. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pacific Institute published an issue brief last year illustrating the massive water conservation potential that could come from more efficient agricultural practices. Just using the most up-to-date irrigation technologies and applying only the amount of water crops need could reduce agricultural water use by 17-22 percent. In 1975, Masanobu Fukuoka wrote The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming, describing dry rice farming techniques that matched or out-produced his most productive neighbors. This poetic story about working with nature instead of against it to grow successive crops with little effort is more relevant than ever today.

More thoughtful planning for both rural agricultural and urban water use is needed. We can determine which crops and farming methods best serve our regional and exported food needs while further conserving water. We can advance urban water efficiency plans, which could generate savings that can negate the current deficit, while creating greener, more resilient and self-reliant cities.

This guest post is by Mia Lehrer, FASLA, founder of Mia Lehrer + Associates, and Claire Latané, ASLA, senior associate, Mia Lehrer + Associates.

Landscape Architects: Speak at SXSW Eco

sxsw
SXSW Eco light art installation / SXSW Eco

South by Southwest (SXSW) Eco, which has grown from a small off-shoot of the well-known SXSW music festival into a major sustainable design conference, is now looking for the “businesses, designs, and technologies that will drive global change” for its early October conference in Austin, Texas. SXSW Eco looks like the perfect place for landscape architects to present their innovative ideas, as this year the focus will be on architecture and the built environment; art and design; smart cities and transportation; and water and resources.

The conference organizers are looking for “content that inspires, educates, and informs, providing motivation as well as the tools to take action.” They want a real “diversity in perspective, opinion, and representation.” Furthermore, “self-promotion and advertorial presentations are not well-received.” Session proposals could include panels, workshops, debates, or any other creative format.

According to Forbes magazine, “creating that marketplace for exchange of ideas and progressive thinking is what South by Southwest Eco is all about.”

Submit your session proposals by May 1. Using the “PanelPicker” tool, the SXSW community will then vote on which sessions will make it into the conference.

For those just looking to attend some conferences and get some new ideas this spring or summer, here are a few of interest: Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) in Dallas, Texas (April 29 – May 2); Lightfair International in New York, NY (May 3 – 7); The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s Second Wave of Modernism III: Leading with Landscape in Toronto, Canada (May 21-24); International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) World Congress in St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia (June 7-15, 2015); and the Society for Ecological Restoration’s World Conference in Manchester, England (August 23 – 27).

See hundreds of upcoming conferences at ASLA’s continuously-updated free resource: Conferences for Landscape Architects.