Let the Water Tell the Story: Leading with Landscape III Convenes in San Antonio

Brackenridge Park, San Antonio / SanAntonio.gov

San Antonio’s historic downtown is the main draw for a tourism industry with a $13 billion impact. The history is about as thick as it gets for a U.S. city, but the downtown’s commodification has taken a toll. For example, just up the steps from the Rainforest Café on the Riverwalk, the Alamo faces off with Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Madame Toussaud’s Waxworks. Follow the San Antonio river downstream for eight miles, though, and you encounter four modest, centuries-old missions in serene, almost rural settings. And if you follow the river three miles upstream, you find Brackenridge Park, a hard-working 343-acre city park packed with locals.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) held its third Leading with Landscape conference in San Antonio, and, unlike the first two iterations of the series in Toronto and Houston, the event focused on a single site — Brackenridge Park. Landscape architects and local leaders, including Mayor Ivy Taylor, focused on the park itself or presented examples relevant to the discussion of its past and future. More than 400 attendees were drawn to the Pearl Stable, a brick barn built in 1894 and converted to a theater.

Lynn Osborne Bobbit, executive director of the Brackenridge Park Conservancy, opened the conference by announcing the approval of a master plan for the park that was commissioned by the city and crafted by Rialto Studio. The first draft of the master plan faced stiff resistance around parking changes, the closing of interior roads, and fears that working-class people of color would lose access. This controversy was not discussed in detail during the conference, but was alluded to by City Council member Robert C. Treviño and others.

Brackenridge park planning process / Parks and Recreation San Antonio and City of San Antonio Transportation and Capital Improvements, Work5hop

Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, president and founder of TCLF, framed the conversation at the conference start. He said Brackenridge Park has not received the national attention it merits because it was not designed by a master. Frederick Law Olmsted did visit the site in 1857 before it became a park and wrote that the clear springs there that give rise to the San Antonio River “may be classed as the first water among the gems of the natural world.” After Olmsted’s visit, in the late nineteenth century, a private company pumped water uphill and out to the burgeoning city. When this system became obsolete, the owner, George Washington Brackenridge, donated the site, which accumulated uses piecemeal over time, like the zoo and Witte Museum. Informal uses, like Easter weekend camping, developed along the riverbanks as well.

The history goes much deeper, at least 11,000 years, as several speakers noted. Visitors have had the opportunity to observe archaeological digs unveiling ancient artifacts in the vicinity of the bike trails, zoo, Japanese Garden, natural history museum, playgrounds, cafes, pavilions, picnic tables, and parking lots.

Leading landscape architects had visited the park prior to the conference and carefully situated Brackenridge in a national context. Chris Reed, FASLA, founder of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, gave an overview of major projects around the country showing the resurgence of landscape design not just in the making of parks but in the shaping of cities. Gina Ford, ASLA, a principal and landscape architect in Sasaki’s Urban Studio, talked about how park edges matter, citing examples in New York and Houston to both define park edges and make them more porous. Brackenridge’s edge come in and out of focus, making its extent hard to understand.

Bob Harris, a partner at Lake|Flato Architects, spoke about plans for Confluence Park, where San Pedro Creek meets the San Antonio River near Mission Concepción. He noted the door-to-door outreach campaign that gained acceptance from an initially-skeptical neighboring community. A former industrial yard will be transformed into a park with a pavilion of massive concrete forms. In a similar vein, Kinder Baumgardner, ASLA, managing partner of SWA’s Houston office, gave an account of how difficult it can be to reconcile the varied demands of neighboring and regional park users.

Confluence Park forms / Lake|Flato Architects

Suzanne B. Scott, general manager of the San Antonio River Authority, talked about the decades-long effort it took to piece together land, permits, funding, community buy-in, and political support to create a continuous trail system stretching from the “Mission Reach” in the south, through downtown, to the conference site in the “Museum Reach,” which, with an awkward dogleg at US 281, ends at Brackenridge Park. The authority has expanded its vision to include creeks and key streets like the Broadway Cultural Corridor. David Adjaye’s design for the Pace Foundation expresses this ambition beautifully along San Pedro Creek.

Christine Ten Eyck, FASLA, shared her firm’s designs for a new entry sequence — a lush canyon of dripping vines — for the San Antonio Botanical Gardens adjacent to Brackenridge.

Doug Reed, FASLA, spoke about connection to community and a yearning for permanence, about emotion and deep time. Using maps and diagrams, he showed how Brackenridge is fragmented now, but has the potential to bring all these elements we yearn for together. He said Brackenridge does not fit neatly into any one park model and it may in fact be more like a national park than any city park.

The comparison to a national park echoed a point Birnbaum made at the start of the conference: Brackenridge Park should be part of a national heritage area that includes the missions and is connected by a narrative around water. The recent designation of the missions as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, he argues, missed an opportunity to raise the profile of the broader landscape and tell a story around the river.

San Antonio mission / PR Newswire

How, though, can Brackenridge Park be elevated as a national landmark without losing the authenticity that comes out of its “plop-and-drop” accumulation of uses? One recurring response from speakers was made very clearly by Vincent Michael, executive director of the San Antonio Conservation Society, who said the modern view of preservation is “process and community” more than restoring design integrity. The term “community,” as Baumgardner showed, is difficult to pin down. As for process, landscape architects often endure brutal criticism as they try to resolve different demands by layering uses.

A May 6 bond vote that would provide $21.5 million for Brackenridge Park will be a critical test of whether the newly-adopted master plan and heightened ambitions engendered by TCLF’s conference have been enough to move the process forward.

This guest post is by Raj Mankad, editor of Cite magazine at the Rice Design Alliance.

Book Review: Seeing The Better City

Seeing the Better City / Island Press

In her book The Eye Is a Door, landscape architecture professor Anne Whiston Spirn, FASLA, contemplates the ubiquity of the digital camera. “Never have so many people owned cameras,” and never have images been disbursed so widely.  “Our world is being recorded,” Spirn writes. “But to what end?”

Author Charles Wolfe proposes an end in his new book Seeing the Better City. And that end, suggests this environmental and land-use lawyer, is the improvement of urban environments. The first job of the book, a how-to guide on maintaining a photographic diary, is to answer the obvious question: what role do photographs play in improving cities?

Every day, Wolfe writes, people living in cities encounter changing skylines and neighborhoods. They often have strong opinions on those changes. Oral arguments are made and editorials are written advising on what changes should be made, and often these arguments lack even the most basic visual aid of a photograph. Perhaps the term “multi-family housing” conjures a specific image in your head. But if assessing whether a multi-family unit belongs in your neighborhood, you’d have an advantage if you could view precedents.

Still, there’s a gulf between taking photos and improving cities. How does one apply what can be gleaned from photographs to the world of decision makers and developers? Wolfe offers several case studies of projects that make use of community photography to inform civic debates.

WALKscope in Denver has users submit photos of sidewalk quality, obstructions, amenities, and maps those observations. California King Tides invites users to submit photos of the sea taken at high tide to spread awareness about sea-level rise. Beyond these novel uses of photos, the simple incorporation of photos into presentations that inform civic decisions would greatly improve the decision-making process, Wolfe argues.

As a guide for becoming a better observer, Seeing the Better City is highly successful. Wolfe provides a structured template for an urban diary, but invites readers to construct their own.

As for actually shooting photos, Wolfe eschews prescribing techniques in favor of offering basic guidelines. He draws upon well-regarded photographers such as Ansel Adams and other visual thinkers. Diarists should know to make a photo, not just take one. Light is critical, as is where one stands. People are more critical still. Visit locations multiple times; light changes, but so do uses, the presence of people and animals, and small details such as litter. Juxtaposing the old and new can be interesting, if a bit derivative. Juxtaposing form, material, and use can yield rich photos.

seeing-the-better-city-2
Google Street View can be very useful for discussing elements of the urban environment, Charles Wolfe suggests. / Google Street View

Wolfe wants us to ask ourselves: what is being evaluated through our lens? Wolfe provides 10 parameters for seeing the city. The relation of building to street, standards for roads and signage, and the role of nature are just a few.

Wolfe also suggests activities for inaugurating a diary, such as visiting your five favorite neighborhoods and recording the sights and sounds you encounter, filming your next bike ride, or writing a couple paragraphs about your morning commute.

Many people effectively keep an urban diary without realizing it. The next step is to organize one’s thoughts and photos, reflect on them, and build off them.

Scattered through Seeing the Better City are Wolfe’s anecdotes on his own diary keeping. His observations often demonstrate a deep knowledge of urban policy and land-use issues. Your observations may not, at least initially. But at the very least, urban diaries expand the diarist’s understanding of their city, and that’s enough to start the process of improvement.

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

Biscayne Green /  Modern Cities

Fuji Kindergarten | An Exploration of Space and Learning for Children Landscape Architect’s Network, 3/2/17
“Design is about hosting human life and activity. There are, however, projects that go beyond that, to actually shape human life and activity. Fuji Kindergarten is one of those projects. Given its educational purpose, it would be right to say that it shapes character and personality, as well.”

New Plans Revealed for Detroit’s East Riverfront Architect’s Newspaper, 3/2/17
“The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy (DRFC), the City of Detorit Planning & Development Department, and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) announced the latest plans to expand Detroit’s riverfront land for public use.”

Five Competing Designs Revealed for Victims of Communism MemorialThe Ottawa Sun, 3/2/17
“The Department of Canadian Heritage Thursday revealed five competing designs for a relocated and drastically downsized Memorial to the Victims of Communism at the Garden of the Provinces and Territories on Wellington Street.”

Landscape Architecture Icons to Know Now: Cornelia Oberlander and Harriet Pattiso Curbed, 3/8/17
“Cornelia Oberlander and Harriet Pattison knew of each other long before they met: In a field with few female practitioners at the time, they were often told of “another” woman working in landscape architecture.”

In Chicago and Philadelphia, The Difference a Park Makes – The New York Times, 3/12/17
“From Philadelphia to Seattle, other American cities are also banking on parks and public spaces to drive social and economic progress.”

Miami’s Giant Pop Up Recreates Downtown Street Modern Cities, 3/13/17
“Temporary installation is the first attempt to showcase possible improvements that could transform Biscayne Boulevard in Downtown Miami into street rivaling the Embarcadero in San Francisco.”

Amur Leopards, Siberian Tigers Get New Sanctuary In China, Bigger Than YellowstoneInternational Business Times, 3/13/17
“”China has reportedly approved plans to create a national park in the northeast areas of Jilin and Heilongjiang that will span 5,600 square miles— about 60 percent bigger than Yellowstone National Park.”

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

Chicago’s Martin Luther King Drive transformed by driverless cars / The Driverless City Project and Illinois Institute of Technology, via The Chicago Tribune

Driverless Cars Could Change Urban LandscapeThe Chicago Tribune, 2/17/17
“If self-driving cars lead to a significant drop in the number of vehicles on the road, parking garages could be turned into apartments or stores. Curbside parking could be converted into rainwater-collecting bio swales that help prevent sewers from backing up. Roads would narrow. Sidewalks would widen.”

Wastelands Reborn CityLab, 2/17/17
“As my colleague Laura Bliss explores in her story about New York’s Freshkills Park, some of the best parts of certain metropolitan areas are literally built on dumps. There’s a whole genre of these parks, from César Chávez Park in Berkeley to the Tiffit Nature Reserve in Buffalo.”

Ten Finalist Teams Named for U.K. National Holocaust Memorial Competition The Architect’s Newspaper, 2/23/17
“The UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation has announced its shortlist of ten teams to design the new National Holocaust Memorial and Learning Center in Victoria Tower Gardens, adjacent the Palace of Westminster and in the heart of London.”

Planners Across America: McDermid Manages New Oklahoma Land Rush Planetizen, 2/27/17
“Planning Department Director Aubrey McDermid discusses planning’s role in the Oklahoma City’s ongoing reinvestment and revitalization.”

Pershing Park and the World War I Memorial: Moving Beyond an Accumulation of Pieces The Huffington Post, 2/27/17
“One of the most important parks on the most significant stretch of America’s Main Street – Pennsylvania Avenue between the U.S. Capitol and the White House, known as the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site – remains under threat.”

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

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The design for Cleveland Public Square / James Corner Field Operations

Saving the TamarindThe Bangkok Post, 2/7/16
“For over a century, 783 tamarind trees have encircled the sacred ground of Sanam Luang. They were there, like stoic sentinels, during ceremonial pomp and political upheavals, come rain or shine.”

Channeling Steve Jobs, Apple Seeks Design Perfection at New ‘Spaceship’ Campus – Reuters, 2/7/17
“Apple Inc’s sprawling new headquarters in Cupertino, California, will be a fitting tribute: a futuristic campus built with astonishing attention to detail. From the arrangement of electrical wiring to the finish of a hidden pipe, no aspect of the 2.8 million-square-foot main building has been too small to attract scrutiny.”

Well-Designed Public Squares Can Enhance Tolerance During Volatile Political Times, Says James Corner – CLAD News, 2/8/17
“Speaking exclusively to CLAD, Corner explained how well-conceived public city squares can be “conducive to more tolerance” at a time when “democracy is being challenged.”

Rejuvenating SF Civic Center Plaza: A Challenge Beyond Design San Francisco Chronicle, 2/11/17
“Planners and politicians have long wrestled with how to “fix” Civic Center Plaza and the blocks around it — a grand governmental hub, but also an often troublesome void.”

Eleven Practices to Complete $2 Billion Waterfront Development in Washington D.C. – Arch Daily, 2/11/17
“Eleven of the United States’ most prestigious architects have been selected by developers Hoffman-Madison Waterfront (HMW), to commence Phase 2 of The Wharf, a $2 billion neighborhood situated on the southwest waterfront of Washington D.C.”

Waterfront Upgrade Phase 2: Time for Public to Pipe up The San Diego Union Tribune, 2/13/17
“Three years after jacarandas, a hip cafe and a widened bayside promenade transformed a section of the downtown waterfront, the San Diego Unified Port District is jumpstarting talk of Phase 2.”

Good Design Is Sustainable

Perk Park, Cleveland by Thomas Balsley Associates / Land Studio
Perk Park, Cleveland by Thomas Balsley Associates / Land Studio

Good landscape design is intrinsically sustainable. While a certain level of ecological sustainability may be achieved by adhering to a checklist of environmental best practices, long-term sustainability is achieved by engaging broader cultural, economic, and socio-economic goals. It’s now widely recognized that city dwellers tend to live a less wasteful and more energy-efficient lifestyle than those who live in the suburbs or rural areas. So if well-designed urban public spaces are able to counteract the discomforts of high density, then more people will live happily, and sustainably, in cities. This was the crux of the argument made by landscape architects Martha Schwartz, FASLA, Ken Smith, FASLA, and Thomas Balsley, FASLA, in a recent panel discussion organized by the New York chapter of ASLA.

During the course of their long careers, these renowned designers have experienced two major shifts in the field of landscape architecture. One is the greater inclusion of ecological principles in design. The other is a shift in our cultural attitudes towards cities — from viewing them as unfavorable to celebrating them.

Each presented projects that engage sustainability on multiple levels and time scales.

Perk Park, a one-acre park in downtown Cleveland, was a vestige of 1970s-era landscape architecture, when parks were designed as places to protect oneself from the stress of the surrounding city. “What happened, in fact, is that the space became inaccessible, it didn’t have sight lines. There were places to hide. Eventually, people wouldn’t even go in there, so it really held back the growth and vitality of the neighborhood,” said Thomas Balsley. His firm, SWA/Balsley, re-designed the park so it celebrated and engaged with the surrounding environment, blurring the edges between the park and the city (see image above).

One popular element of Perk Park is its “urban porch,” a linear pergola covering seating that lines the sidewalk. “You can sit at the porch and be in touch with the streetscape but also the park and be in dialogue with both.” The park became so vibrant that local corporations and retail began to occupy the surrounding buildings, just to be near the park.

By preserving existing trees and including new permeable green space in the densest and most impervious area of a major city, basic elements of urban ecological sustainability were achieved. Moreover, by providing what Balsley calls “a stage for daily urban life to happen,” the park achieves a long-term and nuanced form of sustainability.

“Really great design makes a difference, and it makes more of a difference than OK design,” said Schwartz. “What we see affects us psychologically and emotionally. How a space looks can determine whether or not it will be used, and therefore maintained.” The public will become active stewards of a well-designed space, but if a space is not considered valuable, “all the technologies and the well-meaning environmental practices we bring to it will disappear over time.”

For Schwartz, a successful public space is both resilient and heavily used. She achieves these goals by weaving a narrative specific to each site, as well as creating landscapes that challenge and intrigue the public. Grand Canal Square by Martha Schwartz Partners in Dublin, Ireland, uses towering, off-kilter red poles, criss-crossing paths, and a paved red “carpet.” Built before much of the surrounding development, the square’s acclaim has ushered in economic resilience. The Dublin offices of Google and Twitter are now the square’s neighbors, and the property values surrounding the square stayed steady during a time of economic downturn.

Grand Canal Square Dublin by Martha Schwartz Partners / Martha Schwartz Partners
Grand Canal Square Dublin by Martha Schwartz Partners / Martha Schwartz Partners

As part of the East River Waterfront Esplanade in Manhattan, which Ken Smith Workshop has been working on for a decade, Smith and his studio designed and built a prototype mussel habitat. Working with ecologists and marine engineers, Smith selected a concrete-textured substrate and designed a gradient of rocks to encourage the growth of mussel colonies.

In terms of providing a measurable ecological boost in the context of the East River, this 65-foot-long prototype of a constructed mussel habitat is likely only a drop in the bucket. However, being able to see the tides move up and down a slope as it fosters aquatic life is a unique sight in New York City, where hard vertical edges dominate the waterfront. Reminders that these natural processes occur amid the industry and infrastructure of the city can bring a sense of wonder to visitors, and perhaps encourage stewardship.

East River Waterfront mussel habitat pilot project / Ken Smith Workshop
East River Waterfront mussel habitat pilot project / Ken Smith Workshop

The common belief is that good design means sacrificing sustainability or vice versa. But these landscape architects challenged this assumption. Schwartz said: “To have something work sustainably in terms of its ecological processes, it doesn’t have to look a certain way. Sustainability doesn’t have an aesthetic. If you use your creativity, there’s no reason why there is any separation between design and sustainability.”

This guest post is by Chella Strong, Assoc. ASLA, a recent master’s of landscape architecture graduate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design. 

Harnessing the Power of Nature to Improve Our Cities

Handbook of Biophilic City Planning & Design / Island Press
Handbook of Biophilic City Planning & Design / Island Press

People feel happier, healthier, and more social when they engage with nature. Their cognitive abilities go up and stress levels go down. So why is nature so often thought to be found only “out there” in the wilderness, or perhaps suburbia? For Timothy Beatley, a professor at the University of Virginia, nature should be found everywhere, but especially in cities. Cities must remain dense and walkable, but they can be unique, memorable places only when they merge with nature. If well planned and designed, a city’s forests, waterfronts, parks, gardens, and streets can make out-sized contributions to the health and well-being of everyone who lives there. In his latest excellent book, the Handbook of Biophilic City Planning & Design, Beatley brings together all the established science, the important case studies, the innovative code and design practices from around the world in one place. Even if you think you already know a lot about how best to incorporate nature into cities, there will be some interesting new facets in this book for you to explore.

Some 54 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities, some 4 billion people. That number is expected to reach 70 percent by 2050. As more of the world goes urban, we have a fundamental task ahead: to make the world’s cities ecologically-rich and emotionally satisfying. As Beatley puts it, we must use the “power of nature” to improve the experience of city life. As has been laid out elsewhere, increased amounts of urban nature and improved access to it can boost happiness, creativity, and cognitive abilities, reduce stress and crime, make communities wealthier and more social and resilient. Study after study demonstrate these benefits.

But Beatley unearths fascinating examples like the Mappiness Project in the UK. More than 60,000 Brits out and about in their daily lives were pinged by an iPhone app that asked them at random times to indicate how happy they were. Responses were then geo-coded to locations, with their relevant natural features. The study found “people are happiest when they are in nature. This is one of the main conclusions of the project.”

He also details the many ways cities can create room for nature. While creating connections to waterfronts and planting more trees are no-brainers, he calls for “an integrated, multi-scalar approach,” in which biophilic experiences are embedded at “interconnected scales and levels.” Biophilic encounters reinforce each other, and as they accumulate, the benefits increase. On a daily basis, people experience “doses” of urban nature in different ways — on their porch, walking down the street, on a park bench — and together these make up their overall “urban nature diet.” He recommends spending time a park or greenspace at least once a week, but the science is still out on what that ideal amount of time is. Beatley argues for direct contact in outdoor settings, like sitting under a tree, over indirect exposure to nature, like found in indoor environments or natural history museums.

Beatley has long held up a few cities as model biophilic cities, but he goes into more detail about what they offer. He explores Singapore’s sky-bridges that course through forests and vertical gardens set in skyscrapers, and Wellington’s comprehensive efforts to bring back bird song by restoring habitat and its pioneering launch of the world’s first marine bioblitz.

Telok Blangah Hill Park, Singapore / Travelog
Telok Blangah Hill Park, Singapore / Travelog

But he also includes lesser-known success stories, like Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where 3,000 vacant parcels are being re-imagined as gardens and urban farms, and San Francisco’s Please Touch community garden, designed so the blind and visually impaired so can also have a multi-sensory nature experience.

Please touch community garden / Ekevara Kitpowsong, for S.F. Examiner
Please touch community garden / Ekevara Kitpowsong, for S.F. Examiner

We then get to the nitty-gritty of how to make biophilic cities happen — through smart policies, thoughtful urban planning regulations, and breakthrough designs. There are 80 pages of interesting examples, with many works of landscape architecture, including Paley Park in New York City, designed by landscape architect Robert L. Zion, which he rightfully identifies as a unique multi-sensory experience that demonstrates the “power of water.” With its 20-foot-tall fountain, this tiny park, at just one-tenth of an acre, demonstrates the incredible potential of small, left-over urban spaces.

Paley Park / Pinterest
Paley Park / Pinterest

So many other projects are worth reading about — like the Aqua in Chicago, which is a bird-friendly skyscraper; the Philadelphia Orchard Project, which plants fruit trees in poor communities; Milkweeds for Monarchs in St. Louis, which incentivized citizens to plant hundreds of gardens for threatened Monarch butterflies; the Healthy Harbor Initiative in Baltimore, which is taking steps to achieve a swimmable, fishable harbor by 2020; the Vertical Forest, a residential tower in Milan, Italy, which extends trees upwards through 27 stories; and the 54-acre Qiaoyuan Park in Tianjin, China, which repairs a damaged ecosystem while storing stormwater and creating wildlife habitat.

Beatley concludes with a few thoughts that resonated with me about how the whole biophilic cities movement needs to evolve. As we green cities, we must aim to achieve a “just biophilia” in which everyone benefits. Given study after study demonstrate that access to nature can improve and even lengthen lives, it’s deeply unfair that not every community gets to have the healing benefits of nature. Plus, we must also must figure out how to reach an increasingly technology-fixated public, who are often interacting with nature through their phone’s camera. He promotes Sue Thomas’ book Technobiophilia, which argues we can better foster connections to nature through cyber-parks — real parks that leverage the Internet. 

The First Phase of the QueensWay Takes Shape

QueensWay elevated track / The New York Times.
QueensWay elevated track / The New York Times.

“The QueensWay reminds me of those dreams all New Yorkers have of finding a room in your apartment you never knew was there. It’s as if we’ve found 47 acres of parkland that had been sitting in the middle of Queens, unnoticed all these years,” said Gregory Wessner, executive director of Open House New York, host of a discussion on the QueensWay, a linear park being built on an abandoned rail line in Queens. In a city where space is at a premium, the prospect of a new 47-acre park creates a lot of buzz. After many years of discussion and planning, designs for the QueensWay are finally moving forward.

The 3.5-mile rail line that will become the QueensWay was the northern stretch of the Long Island Rail Road’s Rockaway Beach line, which was closed in 1962 and left abandoned. It runs through six neighborhoods that are some of the most culturally-diverse areas on the planet, as well as the 538-acre Forest Park.

In 2011, a group of people who live near the rail line came together as Friends of the QueensWay to advocate for the park’s creation. They partnered with the Trust for Public Land (TPL) and together made a strong case for the QueensWay — at least 322,000 people live within a mile radius of it.

“Just to put this into perspective, if this area were an actual city, it would be larger than St. Louis, Pittsburgh, or Orlando,” said Travis Terry, with the Friends of the QueensWay steering committee.

The QueensWay will provide a safe north-south bike route. Parts of the rail line are dark, strewn with litter, with evidence of drug use. Turning it into a park will improve lighting and security. Twelve public schools and two little league facilities are within a 5-minute walk. Those nearby schools lack open space. One of the schools doesn’t even have a playground, so to give the kids the exercise required by the department of education, teachers must walk them around the block. The QueensWay will give this school and others space to take students for recess or outdoor classroom experiences.

The QueensWay started with a grant from the state of New York, and, with this, the Friends of the QueensWay and TPL conducted a feasibility study, developed a plan, and held community workshops. With endorsements from elected officials, they received another state grant to cover the design of the first half mile, which is called the Metro Hub and will serve as a prototype that can help attract funding for the remaining 3 miles of the park. The team is about halfway through schematic designs for the first phase, which are being created by landscape architects at DLANDstudio and urban designers and planners with WXY Studio. The project is expected to cost some $120 million in total.

QueensWay phase 1 design / DLANDstudio
QueensWay phase 1 design / DLANDstudio

Susannah Drake, FASLA, DLANDstudio, showed an image of the current rail line, lush and green. “Parts of the rail line are incredibly beautiful. It almost looks like the Adirondacks. We want to draw upon that poetry and beauty and bring that to the project.” This beauty, along with a rigorous process for gathering community input, will guide the design.

QueensWay trail / The New York Times
QueensWay trail / The New York Times

The richly varied conditions, and their juxtaposition with the surrounding urban fabric, fascinate Drake. Since rail lines need to stay relatively flat, the southern portion runs through an embankment. In the middle stretch, where the terminal moraine of a past glacier rises up, the rail passes over a ravine. And at the north end, it becomes a raised structure.

“Fundamentally, what we are dealing with are landscape layers: we have ground, understory, and canopy layers. What we’re trying to do is make very careful adjustments to these layers so they function better and are more beautiful.”

Many of the existing trees will be kept, but the tangled underbrush will be removed. “Here we have a landscape that has grown, un-bothered, for 60 years. You just can’t buy that time, you couldn’t put in 60 year old trees,” said Drake.

The landscape design refers to the past practice of the Dutch farmers of Queens: it delineates spaces with walls built with stones from the moraine. In areas that run through dense residential neighborhoods, the design will encourage trail users to move through quickly, so they remain quiet and secure.

QueensWay Phase 1 design / DLANDstudio
QueensWay Phase 1 design / DLANDstudio

The incredibly popular High Line in Manhattan looms large in discussions about the QueensWay. In truth, the projects are quite different. The Queensway is not expected to be the tourist magnet the High Line is. At least 95 percent of visitors to the High Line are tourists from other parts of New York City or outside the city, whereas early projections predict that 75 percent of visitors to the QueensWay will be from adjacent neighborhoods. The Queensway will allow bikes and dogs while the High Line does not. And the QueensWay will be 2.5-times longer than the High Line.

With the High Line came a wave of high-rise development, causing property values and rents to explode in the surrounding area. The rapid change that came in Chelsea has some Queens residents nervous. Will the QueensWay lead to new development that displaces existing residents? The speakers said no.

The surrounding neighborhoods enjoy a relatively high rate of home ownership and residential zoning laws allow for only one or two family homes. While they hope the flow of people along the linear park will invigorate existing businesses, they don’t expect it to significantly change the demographics of the neighborhoods.

“New York has for a long time been a leader in the transformation of leftover and non-traditional spaces” said Andy Stone, with TPL. This project promises to be another in this lineage, but perhaps without the gentrifying effects.

This guest post is by Chella Strong, Assoc. ASLA, a recent master’s of landscape architecture graduate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design. 

ASLA Announces 2017 Professional and Student Awards Call for Entries

ASLA 2016 Professional General Design Honor Award. Grand Teton National Park Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, Swift Company / Nic Lehoux
ASLA 2016 Professional General Design Honor Award. Grand Teton National Park Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, Swift Company / Nic Lehoux

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) announces its calls for entries for the 2017 Professional and Student Awards, the world’s most prestigious juried landscape architecture competition. Each year, the ASLA Professional Awards honor the best in landscape architecture from around the globe, while the ASLA Student Awards give us a glimpse into the future of the profession.

Award-winning submissions will be featured in Landscape Architecture Magazine and in many other design and construction industry and general-interest media. Award recipients, their clients and student advisors also will be honored at the awards presentation ceremony during the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Los Angeles, October 20-23, 2017. Award-winning submissions will also be featured in a video presentation at the ceremony and on the awards website following the event.

The prestige of the ASLA awards programs relies on the high-caliber juries that are convened each year to review submissions. Members of this year’s professional awards jury are:

  • Elizabeth Miller, FASLA, chair, National Capital Planning Commission, Washington, D.C.
  • Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, DesignJones LLC, New Orleans
  • Maureen Alonso, U.S. General Services Administration, Washington, D.C.
  • James Brasuell, Planetizen, Los Angeles
  • James Lord, ASLA, Surfacedesign Inc., San Francisco
  • Janet Rosenberg, FASLA, Janet Rosenberg Studio, Toronto, Ontario
  • Glen Schmidt, FASLA, Schmidt Design Group Inc., San Diego
  • Todd Wichman, FASLA, Stantec, St. Paul, Minn.
  • Barbara Wyatt, ASLA, National Park Service, Washington, D.C.

Joining the jury for the selection of the Research Category will be M. Elen Deming, ASLA, University of Illinois, Champaign, Ill., on behalf of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) and Charlene LeBleu, FASLA, Auburn University, Auburn, Ala., on behalf of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA).

Members of the student awards jury are:

  • Barbara Swift, FASLA, chair, Swift Company llc, Seattle
  • Michael Albert, ASLA, Design Workshop, Aspen, Colo.
  • Meg Calkins, FASLA, Ball State University, Muncie, Ind.
  • Mark Focht, FASLA, New York City Parks & Recreation, New York
  • Robert Page, FASLA, Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, Boston
  • James Richards, FASLA, Townscape Inc., Fort Worth, Texas
  • Roberto Rovira, ASLA, Florida International University, Studio Roberto Rovira, Miami
  • Meghan Stromberg, American Planning Association, Chicago
  • Mercedes Ward, ASLA, New York City Parks and Recreation, Flushing, N.Y.

Both the ASLA Professional and Student awards feature five categories: General Design; Residential Design; Analysis and Planning; Communications; and Research. The Professional Awards also include The Landmark Award, while the Student Awards include the Student Community Service Award and Student Collaboration categories.

Entry submissions and payment must be received by April 17, 2017 for ASLA Professional Awards and May 15, 2017 for ASLA Student Awards.

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

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From mall to park in Meriden, Connecticut / Clem Kasinskas

One Connecticut Town Swaps a Derelict Mall for a 14.4-acre, Community-Centered Green Space The Architect’s Newspaper, 1/17/17
“However, in Meriden, Connecticut, a town located halfway between New Haven and Hartford, city leaders took an alternate route: transforming a former mall into a resilient 14.4-acre park.”

Building Type: Long Road to the Arts District’s First Park The Los Angeles Times, 1/19/17
“This is the story of one of those moments. It’s also the story of how Los Angeles, after decades of largely ignoring its civic realm, is struggling to relearn the art of designing public space.”

James Corner Field Operations and nARCHITECTS Team Up to Revamp 10-acre Park in the Heart of ClevelandThe Architect’s Newspaper, 1/25/17
“Cleveland’s downtown is more welcoming thanks to a civic space replacing a formerly traffic-choked intersection.”

10 Brilliant Designs Revealed for New Holocaust Memorial in LondonArchitizer, 1/27/17
“No memorial or museum for the Holocaust will ever be able to bear the weight of or bring justice to the subject it represents, but nonetheless, thousands of built structures around the world have risen over time in a noble attempt to bring honor to the lives lost in some of history’s greatest atrocities.”

Landscape Designers Named for Obama Presidential CenterThe Chicago Tribune, 1/30/17
“The Obama Foundation on Monday named a team of landscape architects for the Obama Presidential Center, to be led by the designer of Chicago’s 606 trail and Maggie Daley Park.”

The Highway Hit List CityLab, 1/31/17
“The U.S. has no shortage of urban interstates ripe for removal, and some tear-downs are already underway. But planners should tread carefully when “reconnecting” neighborhoods.”