Beth Meyer: Natural Beauty Has a Ripple Effect

Beth Meyer / National Building Museum

Beth Meyer, FASLA, the Merrill D. Peterson professor of landscape architecture at the University of Virginia, is this year’s recipient of the Vincent Scully Prize, which is bestowed by the National Building Museum (NBM) in Washington, D.C.

Just the second landscape architect to receive the prize, after Laurie Olin, FASLA, in 2017, Meyer is widely viewed as one of the most influential landscape architecture professors teaching today. Scully Prize jury chair Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk said: “she has left an indelible mark on theories of aesthetics, sustainability, culture, and social impact.”

In a wide-ranging, dynamic conversation at the NBM with her friend Thaïsa Way, the resident program director for garden and landscape studies at Dumbarton Oaks, Meyer demonstrated her ability to enlighten and create a sense of wonder. She helped the audience better understand the deep impact beauty has on us, particularly natural beauty in the public realm.

A few highlights from the conversation:

On how she formed her ideas: “I grew up in Virginia Beach as a Navy brat. I spent endless hours on beaches and boardwalks, walking the promenades and public spaces. There was every body shape and size imaginable.”

“I came to landscape architecture sideways. Visiting Norfolk, Virginia, in the mid-60s, I saw urban renewal projects demolish buildings and communities, and what was created as a replacement was not great stuff. I became interested in design really through demolition. I wanted to make cities better. I later discovered cities involve dynamic processes that result from political and social factors.”

“I found a niche between historian and designer. In landscape history, there had been an over-emphasis on ecology. I wanted to focus on cultural and social aspects and human agency.”

“I left my suburban life to study, work, and live in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Boston. Suburbia is so segregated, but I discovered that urban parks are outdoor living rooms where you encounter people who are not like you. By recognizing the humanity of a stranger different from you in public spaces, you develop empathy and tolerance, which is the basis of community and democracy.”

“Sitting outside alone is also an act of self care. There is an intimacy to being alone in public, which allows you to quiet the usual busyness and see each other. That intimacy creates conviviality and moments of connection, which is an act of self care.”

On how to understand the social, cultural, and political aspects of landscapes: “In Southern cities and towns, there is a racialized topography. Wealthy and white live up on the ridges; poor and black live in the bottoms, the bowls, which leads to temperature, health, economic, and social disparities. Analyzing power and race topographically provides a lens for understanding public space. Landscape is a text for reading issues of power and privilege.”

“I think a lot about who has the right to the city? Who has the right to linger in public spaces? How do you define lingering versus loitering? What if a park is the only place someone has to go to during the day?”

“I’m not into the theory of landscape urbanism. It doesn’t engage with the social and political. Landscapes are a framework.”

On the importance of natural beauty: “There is a real pleasure and joy in the experience of — and interaction with — plants that are changing. Places with plants can cause people to become distracted, to pause and wonder. Princeton University professor Elaine Scarry calls this ‘wonder in the face of beauty.’ It arrests time and causes us to care. When something beautiful happens, when the mist rises, there is a ripple effect on others.”

On why we need to design with nature: “Public spaces are more than human when we recognize the agency of soil, microbes, plants, and critters. There is this constellation of life in it together. We co-construct public space with other species. Interacting with the biophysical world also alters our mood and sensibility — and our ethos and ethics.”

On climate change: “To combat the threat, landscape architects can care for materials and small things; people’s need for public space and the ability to self care; and beauty. Design matters because it alters the ethos of people who use the spaces.”

“It’s not only humans that are feeling the threat of climate change. I saw a Dogwood tree outside of Dumbarton Oaks the other day that was blooming with browning leaves.”

On how positive change can happen: “I understand now that the aggregated experience of natural beauty among many people can change our collective mood and create a cultural shift.”

Now more than ever then, natural beauty is needed in our public spaces.

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

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The Oakland A’s Citi Field /  Dicklyon, Creativecommons

As Waters Rise, So Do Concerns For Sports Teams Along Coast The Washington Post, 10/16/19
“A number of American pro sports venues could be vulnerable to rising waters brought on by climate change.”

The Gentrification Effect of Urban Parks Planetizen, 10/21/19
“New research finds that different types of parks correlate with different gentrification effects, adding to the complexity of urban change.”

The Parks That Made the Man Who Made Central ParkThe New York Times, 10/30/19
“Frederick Law Olmsted’s tours of English parks shaped his vision of landscape design. You can see his inspiration in three dimensions by touring five of them.”

Pier 55’s Thomas Heatherwick-Designed Park Is Taking Shape Curbed NY, 10/30/19
“The futuristic Pier 55 park designed by Thomas Heatherwick and financed by billionaire mogul Barry Diller is taking shape on the Hudson River.”

Columbia Pitches $18 Million Plan to Overhaul Finlay Park The Free Times, 10/31/19
“Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and other city officials announced on Thursday an $18 million plan to revamp battered, aging Finlay Park.”

The Reach at the Kennedy Center Blends Architecture and Landscape

The Reach at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts / Richard Barnes

For landscape architect Edmund Hollander, FASLA, the monumental form of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., which opened in 1971, evokes images of former First Lady “Mamie Eisenhower wearing pearls and a mink stole.” The towering white marble facades architect Edward Durell Stone created represent “architecture for the wealthy elite.”

That imposing building is now complemented by perhaps its opposite: a lyrical new extension, The Reach, which architect Steven Holl’s firm designed with Hollander after winning the competition for the project six years ago. Defined by its curving white titanium concrete walls and open lawns and gardens that also host performances and events, “it’s not for the elite; it’s for everyone.”

The Reach at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts / Edmund Hollander

In a tour organized by the American Institute of Architect’s DC chapter, Chris McVoy, a senior partner at Steven Holl’s office, and Hollander, explained how the building and landscape were designed as one. “The experience is inside and outside simultaneously.” The buildings shape the landscape and vice versa; their forms riff off each other. “There is music, dance, theater in the building and the landscape,” Hollander added.

The Reach at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts / Richard Barnes

The Reach has seven entrances and five stairways, creating multiple ways to access the 10 interior stages, performance spaces, and practice areas, which are buried under sloping green roofs. McVoy and Hollander said the goals was to create a sense of “porosity” or openness to the surrounding landscape.

And indeed almost all the performance spaces within The Reach have massive windows that not only pour in light but provide views of the gardens and Potomac River beyond. McVoy said it has taken the opera and ballet performers some time to adjust to all the light, as they are used to practicing in black boxes. But they have taken to the windows that face into hallways and allow visitors to peer in. “Performers love to be seen.”

Steven Holl is from Seattle and is inspired by the Puget Sound, so all of his projects incorporate water in some form, Hollander said. As visitors descend the terraces into the landscape, either through steps or paths, or meander down the lawn through the buildings, they discover a fountain meant to be a “mirror to the sky” that also connects visitors to the experience of the river just below.

The Reach at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts / Edmund Hollander
The Reach at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts / Edmund Hollander

Hollander believes his role was to “help Steven Holl’s vision grow.” That vision was to use the landscape to create a “living memorial to Kennedy,” who was assassinated in 1963. Through seasonal change, the landscape itself gives a performance imbued with meaning.

For example, a grove of 35 prehistoric Gingkos trees — 35 because Kennedy was the 35th president — at the far end of the landscape turn a bright yellow in autumn and drop all their leaves at once around the time that Kennedy was assassinated.

Aside from that poetic arboreal piece, there are redbuds that burst out in spring; waist-high, immersive meadows of perennials, such as verbena, echinacea, rudbeckia and heptacodium that attract bees and butterflies in the summer; and red maples, gingkos, and sweetgums that overlay warm layers of color in the fall. The meadows are perhaps the most effective draw, pulling you into the landscape and out of the city. In the winter, the trees and grasses “keep their form.” Sprinkled throughout the gardens are works of public art.

The Reach at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts / Edmund Hollander
The Reach at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts / Edmund Hollander

To keep The Reach as accessible as possible, there are no obvious security elements. McVoy said the space is open to the public from 10AM to midnight year-round, and ample use of cameras means the security is largely invisible. “The goal is to make an open and inviting space that reflects Kennedy and his ideals.” Any issues identified by camera result in a drop-by from one of the Kennedy Center’s red jacketed ushers or the nearby patrols of the National Park Service and DC Metro police.

For Hollander, perhaps the toughest design and technical challenge was creating a lawn that essentially continued up one side of the main pavilion. As the “warped plane” becomes more vertical it turns into a sedum green wall that had to be carefully structured and planted. Creating an irrigation system that keeps both the upper and lower parts of the swoop well-hydrated year-round was challenging.

The Reach at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts / Richard Barnes
The Reach at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts / Edmund Hollander

Hollander writes that “the irrigation system has an advanced web-based system with the ability to confirm water flow, water pressure, water temperature, ability to self-empty prior to frost, and refill right after temperatures warm up, so that the irrigation can effectively run 24/7, 365 days a year.” The swoop has been there about a year now and is “acclimating well.”

The team behind The Reach also addressed major connectivity issues as well. A much-needed pedestrian and bicycle connection between the upper levels of the Kennedy Center and the Potomac River below has finally been forged. Bicyclists can now wind through the new landscape and use the bridge to connect to Georgetown.

But there are few issues: the new bridge is perhaps too narrow, and there was an absence of bicycle parking anywhere in The Reach. I doubt the design team wants bicyclists locking their bikes to the beautifully-crafted handrails in the gardens, which is now happening.

To note: BNIM Architects partnered with Steven Holl Associates to design and build The Reach. And architecture firm KieranTimberlake is now working on a new master plan for the Edward Durrell Stone building that also seeks to make the now-dated center more open and democratic. This shift is already reflected in the new Kennedy Center logo, which adopts the curved forms of The Reach.

Security Is a Design Problem

Dr. A.H. McCoy Federal Office in Jackson, Mississippi, Schwartz/Silver / Tex Jernigan, copyright Zahner

Equitable access to public spaces is central to our civic life and democracy. We can’t let the threat of terrorist attacks or mass shooters turn our public spaces into inaccessible fortresses. To protect our people and economy, cities instead need thoughtful, designed security solutions that balance the need for openness with the management of risk.

At Open to the Public: Rethinking Security & Access in Public Space, an event organized by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) at the Navy Memorial museum in Washington, D.C., Roxanne Blackwell, co-interim CEO of ASLA, said “it’s important that we live safely yet still feel free.”

In a presentation, Susan Silberberg, an urban designer and lecturer at MIT, said there is ample research on what makes good public spaces — they are designed for the human scale, beautiful, create connectivity and access. “So how does the need for security impact that?”

With her graduate urban planning students at MIT, Silberberg decided to find out. Undertaking a study of security measures in the Boston Financial District in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, she found “there was loss of use of some public space.” Slowly, “temporary, permanent, designed, and ad-hoc” security barriers accrued over time to “erode movement through public spaces.”

Silberberg said there were mass shootings in 253 American cities in the first 8 months of 2019 alone. Most of these occurred in “third places,” which are defined as neither home or work. These are the public and private places where people congregate.

One result of these attacks is a growing security arms race among cities. There is the perception that “if New York City is more secure than Boston,” for example, companies may be more likely to move operations there. “There is a sense of peer pressure.”

Lawyers want to reduce any liability, so more and more security measures go in. Security is also “big business.” Public and private entities are “blitzed with security products,” and the message from them is “if you don’t do this for your clients, you are at fault.”

For Silberberg, the issue is there are many actors working on securing the public realm but not in a coordinated way. The result is a hodgepodge of private and public measures that reduce access.

Instead, she called for “all security measures to improve the design and experience of public spaces.” As an model, she pointed to the Dr. A.H. McCoy Federal Office in Jackson, Mississippi, which is both safe and aesthetically appealing (see image above).

Other recommendations included: pedestrianize the public realm to reduce car access, so that terrorists can’t drive vehicles or vehicular bombs into crowds. Use street ambassadors, like you find with some local business improvement districts, who can keep an eye on things, rather than unwelcoming security or police officers. Design spaces that invite engagement through public art and technology, which encourage people to notice their surroundings and other people more.

Richard Cline, principal deputy director, Federal Protective Service, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is in charge of guarding one million federal employees across the federal government. Cline said in the past year there have been some 130 attacks on federal buildings, resulting in more than 100 injuries. Some 50 serious plots have been averted.

In the Pacific northwest, political demonstrations turn violent. “Some 30-plus climate change related protests have resulted in demonstrators throwing rocks at windows of federal buildings.” In the Northeast, the primary threat comes from foreign terrorist organizations. And across the country, there is a threat from lone shooters who are angry with the government for some reason, perhaps for a denial of benefits.

For each federal government facility, which are managed by the General Services Administration (GSA), his team will conduct a threat assessment and determine the appropriate security needed. Level 5 security is reserved for facilities like the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon, while level 1 could be applied to a local Social Security Administration or postal office.

Cline said particularly in Washington, D.C., “we can’t help people by just setting up more jersey barriers; we need better solutions. People are coming to D.C. to see democracy.”

Jersey barrier / Wikipedia

Landscape architect Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, principal at Reed Hilderbrand, and a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, presented some of those smart design solutions that both ensure access and create safety.

Working with architects at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and artist Maya Lin, Reed Hilderbrand has been designing a new 14-acre site for the GSA, which will be used by the U.S. Department of Transportation: the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The security assessment called for a 75-foot set-back for the building, which had the effect of creating a suburban campus-like environment. Reed Hilderbrand is using that ample space to create a welcoming park. In addition to a range of “clever tactics” and hardened access points, security comes through undulating mounds that depict the Doppler Effect, crafted by artist Maya Lin. The mounds were in part designed to block anyone trying to attack the building with a vehicle.

John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center / Skidmore Owings Merrill, Reed Hilderbrand, Maya Lin
John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center / Skidmore Owings Merrill, Reed Hilderbrand, Maya Lin

Hilderbrand said the landscape is purposefully “multi-functional.” And the stringent security requirements, which he couldn’t discuss in much detail, were accomplished through a two-year multidisciplinary design process.

Another project of Reed Hilderbrand’s that artfully integrates security is a new master plan for The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, an important site that is a center of civic life in a city of 1.5 million, receives some 7 million tourists annually, is a place that is “central to Texans’ creation myth” and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Alamo is currently “compromised and unwelcoming.” Half of the original mission complex has been “eroded” by surrounding development; the historic core itself has been “mistreated over the years.” A 20-year process involving many stakeholders with competing interests has finally culminated in a plan that has been approved by the San Antonio City Council and Texas General Land office.

The new plan for The Alamo will expand the boundaries of the historic precinct, ban vehicle traffic in front of the mission and garden, instead turning Alamo Plaza Street into a pedestrian-only plaza. Pedestrian traffic will be channeled via the surrounding streets and Riverwalk. A gate at the north edge of where Alamo Plaza Street now is will be closed during the day but open at night.

The Alamo masterplan / Reed Hilderbrand

Behind the garden, Reed Hildebrand calls for 4-feet-tall walls that will be hidden amid greenery to lessen their visual impact. Crossing the streets and buildings surrounding The Alamo, the boundary of the original Mission will be preserved through a slight depression that lowers the entire historic landscape. Access will be provided through sloping walkways and steps. For Hilderbrand, the visitor experience came first and security is designed to enhance that experience.

The Alamo masterplan / Reed Hilderbrand
The Alamo masterplan / Reed Hilderbrand

In a Q&A moderated by Jess Zimbabwe, principal at Plot Strategies, conversation veered towards the now-ubiquitous use of cameras, as well as the growing use of artificial intelligence-based facial recognition technology, and what these technologies mean for privacy in the public realm. As protesters in Hong Kong use face masks, hats, projectors, and other tactics to evade identification by street and building cameras, the question is how to balance security with personal privacy.

According to Kline, the department of homeland security isn’t using facial recognition technologies in federal buildings. But that doesn’t mean that isn’t coming sometime soon. The United Kingdom and Israel are currently leaders in “sophisticated invisible security,” and other countries are studying how they do it.

In some cases, the technology-based security measures are integrated into other systems. For example, London’s congestion pricing system, which uses cameras to track vehicles that enter into London’s inner core and then charge vehicle owners for access, is really “about monitoring vehicles” and tracking people, said Zimbabwe.

Silberberg then made a final point worth highlighting: “we must stop reacting to the last threat.” Many cities design and implement security solutions for what crisis has just happened, perhaps overreacting and reducing freedom of movement in the process. As communities navigate a world of changing threats, public and private partners must work together to create “flexible and adaptable public spaces” that can meet shifting security requirements.

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

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ASLA 2019 Honor Award in General Design, The High Line, Section 2, James Corner Field Operations / Iwan Baan

Hidden Esplanade Garden of Landscape Architect Rene Fransen Is Lush in Shades of GreenThe Times-Picayune, 10/2/19
“Most French Quarter gardens are hidden from public view, secreted behind masonry walls, glimpsed only through an open gate. Removed from the scrutiny of passersby, they provide their owners with a respite from the busy goings-on of the Vieux Carre.”

Landscape Prize Honors Cornelia Hahn OberlanderThe New York Times, 10/3/19
“Cornelia Hahn Oberlander is widely regarded as the grande dame of landscape architecture. Now she is the inspiration for a new biennial $100,000 international landscape prize established by the Cultural Landscape Foundation. The prize is named in honor of the 98-year-old Ms. Oberlander.”

Amid the Smoke of a Burning Amazon Rises the Specter of the Artist Roberto Burle MarxThe Washington Post, 10/3/19
“He was a landscape architect, a painter, a ceramist, a textile artist and more. But it was his other and lesser-known incarnations, as a plant explorer and conservationist, that came sharply into focus as the exhibition played out in the botanical garden’s grounds, conservatories and galleries in the Bronx. The reason: The Amazon is on fire.”

8 Notable NYC Projects Designed by Latino ArchitectsCurbed NY, 10/4/19
“A principal at James Corner Field Operations, Puerto Rican landscape architect Isabel Castilla worked as the lead designer and project manager for the High Line at the Rail Yards, which opened in 2014.”

Student, Landscape Architects Create 1967 Fire MemorialCornell Chronicle, 10/8/19
“A new memorial in the center of campus, created this summer and designed by a landscape architect student, serves as a contemplative reminder of eight students and a professor who died in a tragic fire in 1967 at the off-campus Cornell Heights Residential Club.”

AN Rounds Up the Best Landscape Architecture Lectures Nationwide The Architect’s Newspaper, 10/10/19
“America’s top architecture and design schools are filling out their lecture series line-ups with leading thought leaders in landscape architecture and design. Coast-to-coast, AN has selected six of these can’t-miss lectures that delve into issues such as climate change, urban beautification, the ecology of memory, and more.”

As Cities Grow, Remember the Communities That Were Destroyed

Sycamore Hill Gateway Plaza / Perkins+Will

In the past few decades, there has been urban renaissance. As the populations of cities grow and change, in part through gentrification, we must honor the communities whose “opportunities were denied” due to redlining, urban renewal, and other discriminatory practices based on race. Urban planners, architects, and landscape architects can help communities unearth and then preserve this history through “remembrance design,” a process that can tell the story of “historically disenfranchised and negatively impacted communities,” said Kenneth Luker, with Perkins + Will, at a session at the Urban Land Institute (ULI)’s fall meeting in Washington, D.C. This is the way to “reconcile with the past and use history to create an inclusive future.”

Zena Howard, principal and managing director, and Michael Stevenson, urban designer at multidisciplinary design firm Perkins + Will; Cynthia Lau, a planner with the Vancouver city government; and Kofi Boone, ASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at North Carolina State University, explained how to plan and design that shared future.

Howard said “curiosity about the past can drive a process of remembrance. We can research and dig into communities to recover memories of removed or destroyed areas.” Through connecting with African American communities that have experienced a history of urban displacement, designers can help “build community awareness, foster memorable experiences, embrace cultural identity, celebrate memory, and honor unique assets.”

She called for undertaking a true discovery process with communities that have been impacted by urban renewal, redlining, or other forms of racism. “Discovery is not just community engagement — it is the process.”

Kofi Boone argued that the architecture and planning community hadn’t been asked to take responsibility for the disproportionate social impact on African American and Latinx communities of redlining, which involved a federal, state, and local system of purposefully denying mortgages to African Americans and walling off entire neighborhoods from investment, and urban renewal, which involved clearing existing communities to make way for Modernist urban designs and highway infrastructure. That is until African American civil rights activist Whitney Young gave a keynote address to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) conference in 1968. In his address, Young called on the built environment community to stop contributing to social displacement.

Whitney Young at American Institute of Architects / Now-what Architexx.org

As Richard Rothstein explained in his book Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, redlining impacted some 160 urban and suburban communities across the U.S. for many decades. Given home ownership is the primary source of wealth accumulation for most Americans, the result today is African Americans have far lower amounts of wealth than Caucasian Americans. Little accumulated wealth through home ownership meant little for future generations to inherit. “Today, the average white family has $122,000 in wealth; Latinx family $1,600; and African American family, just $1,300,” Boone said.

Home Owner’s Loan Corporation redlined map of Philadelphia, 1936 / Wikipedia

Urban renewal compounded the impacts of redlining. Communities that had suffered from years of disinvestment were highly vulnerable to redevelopment. Modernists saw places with rich histories as clean slates that could be re-made. According to Boone, some 200 communities were “renewed,” which in social terms meant displaced. The result was “root shock,” a term coined by Mindy Thompson Fullilove in her book, Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, And What We Can Do About It. For many African American communities, there wasn’t just one displacement either: “serial displacements created long-term disruption.” And generation after generation experienced these “major shocks to the system.”

In Greenville, North Carolina, Perkins + Will worked with remnants of the once-vibrant African American Sycamore Hill community, which was displaced by urban renewal in the 1960s. As the community hollowed out, the Sycamore Hill Baptist Church burned to the ground from suspected arson. “There was nothing left,” Michael Stevenson, a partner at Perkins + Will, said.

Urban renewal demolished Sycamore Hill / Perkins + Will
Sycamore Hill Baptist Church / Perkins + Will

In the footprint of where the church once stood, Howard and her team partnered with the community to plan and design the Sycamore Hill Gateway Plaza, which will feature a prominent tower to honor the history of the destroyed spiritual center. Pew-like benches are set amid a one-acre park separated by plinths with inspirational messages and depictions of local history. The project is part of a broader master plan for a new park called Greenville Town Commons on state and city land. “It’s a place of learning, remembrance, and reflection.” Its development has been a “meaningful process for the community.”

Sycamore Hill Gateway Plaza / Perkins + Will

African American architect Phil Freelon, who was a partner at Perkins + Will and passed away earlier this year, partnered with the community to plan and design the 1-acre Freedom Park in Raleigh, North Carolina in a symbolic space between the State general assembly and capitol buildings. “Honoring the history repressed in history books, the plaza park will celebrate the significant contributions of African Americans from the Raleigh area, including jazz great Thelonious Monk, author Maya Angelou, John Coltrane, and others,” Stevenson said. The park features a grove of Oak trees but also their roots, which “make life possible.” The park’s paths, which radiate out from the Oaks, symbolize those roots — “the hidden history.” The park is designed to be a “beacon of freedom and a representation of a better future for everyone.”

Freedom Park, Raleigh / Perkins + Will

Canada has its own fraught racial history as well. In Vancouver, the historically-Black Northeast False Creek neighborhood, which includes the Hogan’s Alley area, suffered from the Canadian version of redlining and then further destruction with the construction of a highway. “In the process, the community was displaced and erased from history,” said Cynthia Lau, a planner with the Vancouver city government. “It’s like they were never really part of the city.” Today, the black community makes up just 1 percent of Vancouver.

After a conventional planning process failed to account for the voice of Black Vancouverites, the city tried again with a new set of consultants, including Howard’s team at Perkins+Will, which undertook a “co-design process that helped people tell their stories.” The end result, Lau said, is a “meaningful community development plan” rooted in the goals of “reconciliation and cultural redress.” Viaducts will be replaced with street-level transportation networks. Some 32 acres of new parks are planned, along with affordable housing for 3,200 residents. The new development is expected to create 6,000-8,000 new local jobs as well.

Hogan’s Alley design proposal / Perkins + Will

At the close of the session, Boone reiterated that architects, planners, and landscape architects “can’t do remembrance design processes alone. Success comes from partnerships with policymakers, community leaders, and activists. You have to bring in people who haven’t been heard before.” For authentic engagement, “the most historically disenfranchised communities should have the loudest voice.”

Designers can help communities “reclaim their narrative and identify what is important to them.” They also have a responsibility to ensure those long-unheard voices don’t “get lost in translation.”

For Boone, remembrance design isn’t just superficial social justice-washing. “These projects can catalyze political, social, and economic organization.” Howard reiterated that the process itself is what’s important. The stories unearthed through the co-design process are really the basis for “accessible, inclusive spaces.”

Remembrance design isn’t just for co-designing with African American communities either. Boone said he knows of designers working with Latinx communities to help them “dream and visualize change,” even through many of these visions haven’t taken real form, largely because these communities now feel so unsafe due to President Trump’s rhetoric and the threat of ICE raids. “These communities are now in the process of gathering stories and empowering themselves.”

And Chinese American communities have also organized to create positive change. In Seattle, plans were underway to remake and expand the underused and unloved Hing Hay Park. In 2012, the Friends of Hing Hay Park formed, demanding a more contemporary and culturally-resonant public space. Chinese landscape architecture firm Turenscape, led by Kongjian Yu, FALSA, partnered with MIG|Svr to create a new design that reflects China’s many diverse cultures and created space for night markets.

Hing Hay Park / Miranda Estes Photography, Landscape Architecture Magazine

The Case for Complete Streets 2.0

Delivery vehicles run amok / Alta Planning + Design

Complete streets are designed to create safe access for all people — pedestrians and bicyclists, motorists and public transit riders. But at the Urban Land Institute’s fall meeting in Washington, D.C., Brad Davis, a principal at Alta Planning + Design, argued we really need “Complete Streets 2.0” that deliberately enable both physical and online connections and make room for “micro-mobility” systems, such as e-scooters, and the rise of autonomous vehicles and delivery robots. Otherwise, we could have autonomous mayhem, as amusingly depicted above.

“Micro-mobility involves small, human-powered vehicles, such as dockless bikes and e-bikes, skateboards and e-skateboards, and scooters and and e-scooters,” Davis said. In cities like Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., micro-mobile transportation, particularly e-scooters and dockless bikes, are now ubiquitous. In 2018, there were 84 million trips made with micro-mobile options, with e-scooters accounting for almost half of all trips.

Bird electric scooters in Santa Monica, California / Madeline Eskind Twitter

Davis said the explosive growth of popular e-scooters raises questions about public safety. According to a recent study by Consumer Reports, e-scooters have been tied at least 1,500 injuries in 2018; another analysis found they caused 11 deaths over the same time frame. E-scooter users can injure both themselves and pedestrians who happen to be in the way on sidewalks. As a result, cities are attempting to limit their use to designated zones or to day times only. Other regulations aim to limit their use on sidewalks or reduce their speed. Like many major city governments, Davis wondered “should e-scooters be allowed on sidewalks?”

If cities relegate e-scooters to bike lanes, it will certainly increase traffic in those narrower corridors. As such, Davis called for bike lanes to be expanded into protected “personal mobility ways.” Both micro-mobility users and bicyclists would then be protected from vehicles; and pedestrians would be protected from all of higher speed forms of transportation.

Davis also raised the idea of creating “micro-mobility hubs,” perhaps around subway or bus stations, where these app-based on-demand transportation services could be clustered.

Complete Street 2.0 / Alta Planning + Design

However, there is also a need to “spread or distribute access” to these services to ensure equitable access to low-cost transportation options. Oakland, California and Philadelphia have made strides in expanding access to new technology-enabled micro-mobile transportation systems.

Rutt Bridges, founder of Understanding Disruption, reiterated the need for Complete Streets 2.0 to include dedicated, protected two-way bike lanes with flex post or planted buffers, stating that 860 bicyclists were killed in 2016 because of collisions with vehicles.

Two-way protected bike lane on 15th Street in Washington, D.C. / Green Lane Project

The percentage of trips by bicycle haven’t increased beyond 10 percent in many of the top bicycling cities because of the still-widespread perception that bicycling near vehicles is unsafe. “The number-one concern is getting hit by a car.”

Some 30 percent of bicyclist deaths were at intersections. Bridges believes many of these could have been prevented with the latest Dutch intersection design, which allows for clear sight lines for both motorists and bicyclists as they are turning. This model could also protect other micro-mobility users.

For Bridges, another reason we could need Complete Streets 2.0: autonomous delivery robots.

Instead of plodding down sidewalks, as they have been in London and Washington, D.C., delivery robots could be assigned to their own tight two-way lane, perhaps adjacent to bicycle lanes. “This would reduce accidents with pedestrians and bicyclists.” Given they use LiDAR, 3D mapping, and artificial intelligence in ways to similar to autonomous vehicles, they would require very little space on either side to make their way. “They can lane keep within an inch,” Bridges believes.

A surprising number of robot delivery vehicles are being tested in urban and suburban settings. On one end of the spectrum are the many small Wall-E-like robots that can make small package deliveries. Test robots by Starship Technologies have been awkwardly starting and stopping and looking a bit confused at crosswalks in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. for the past two years.

Starship Technologies delivery robot in Washington, D.C. / Wikimedia Commons

In the middle are a bit larger autonomous delivery vehicles like Cleveron’s, which could deliver packages to a storage unit in a homeowner’s driveway, protecting goodies from Amazon from thieves.

And at the other end of spectrum are van-like autonomous deliver vehicles, such as Stop&Shop’s Robomart, which is like a mobile grocery aisle.

And there is also the “mothership” approach: Mercedes-Benz has partnered with Starship Technologies to create a system in which small delivery robots would be driven to a neighborhood in a van, otherwise known as a “mothership,” then fan out to make deliveries. After the robots returned to the van, the mothership would then move on to the next neighborhood.

For many, micro-mobility represents more autonomy and freedom than slower, dedicated, shared subway or bus but they could also help speed the collapse of mass transit. Ubiquitous delivery robots could cause people to stay at home more instead of venturing out to grocery stores and local markets, putting more pressure on retail. These technologies may meet short-term, individual needs but further separate us from shared community infrastructure like buses and local markets where human connections are made.

In another session on how to create “‘authentech’ relationships in the smart city,” Chandler Hogue with Gemdale, said there is a new movement underway to develop “human-focused technology, instead of technology that leads us.” These technologies are aimed at tackling the epidemic of loneliness and depression correlated with increased social media use.

Chris Bledsoe, a founder of Ollie, which has built app-enabled “all inclusive co-living” facilities geared mostly towards Millennials, said there is a widespread feeling that “technology has connected our phones but not us.” He said: “we are now more digitally connected than ever, but do we feel better off?” Residents of Ollie’s 422-bed co-living building in Long Island City pay not only for rent but also an app that helps identify roommates they would likely gel with best, along with access to inclusive activities organized around topics such as “wellness, sustainability, and discovery.” For example, Ollie organizes kayaking trips for residents, which could be tied to a beach clean-up, or a snowshoeing expedition, followed by a whiskey tasting event. “We are filtering human to human connections in order to foster community.”

And urban planner Kevin Clausen-Quiroz explained how the Anaheim city government started Fran, a new free, app-driven ride share service that offers rides around its downtown. In comparison with the isolation of riding alone in Uber or Lyft, the service is meant to enable serendipitous meetings and help build community connections. During certain events, Fran operators host “Fran pool karaoke.” Clausen-Quiroz was quite persuasive on the case for more free neighborhood rideshares like Fran. “These micro-transit systems serve a need: it’s community-oriented transit.” It’s also technology that purposefully pushes people together instead of further into their own self-curated little bubbles.

To Stop Adding to the Problem, Use Climate Positive Design

Climate Positive Design

Let’s be frank: landscape architecture projects can add to the climate crisis. If projects aren’t purposefully designed and built with their carbon footprint in mind, they may be contributing more greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere than they can sequester over their lifespan. Projects can incorporate too much concrete and other carbon-intensive materials, too few trees and shrubs, or require industrially-produced fertilizers or gas-powered mowers or pruners for long-term maintenance, running up long-term emissions.

Instead, landscape architects can design and build projects that are not only meant to be carbon neutral, but go further and become “climate positive,” meaning that over their lifespan they sequester more greenhouse gas emissions than they embody or produce.

To help landscape architects reach this goal, Pamela Conrad, ASLA, a principal at CMG Landscape Architecture in San Francisco, has created an inventive new platform: Climate Positive Design.

She has also thrown down the gauntlet with a new challenge: if all landscape architects and designers use the approach, they could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere by 1 gigaton by 2050. That would put landscape architecture well within the top 80 solutions found in the Project Drawdown report.

Climate Positive Design

According to Conrad, Climate Positive Design “is not only an opportunity to re-imagine how we design our world from every aspect, but a responsibility.”

Using the site’s Pathfinder tool, landscape architects and designers can establish and then ratchet up specific sequestration and emission reduction targets for their own projects. “A target of five years is suggested to offset carbon footprints for greener projects like parks, gardens, campuses, and mixed-use developments. For more urban projects that require a greater amount of hardscape to accommodate programming, twenty years is the targeted offset duration.”

Through her research, which includes illustrative and useful case studies produced with CMG, Conrad found that “targets could be met without changing the program or reducing the quality – the projects merely became greener.”

Case study / Climate Positive Design

The website offers a design toolkit that not only shows landscape architects how to incorporate more trees and shrubs and preserve carbon in soils, but also how to replace carbon-intensive materials used in pathways, walls, fences, and furnishings with low-carbon alternatives. Conrad makes it easy to find sustainable options.

A few details about the process: Landscape architects or designers who log a project in the app are asked to input the sources of carbon, which could include “approximately eighty different types of materials used in landscape projects such as paving, walls, fences etc. and their associated ‘embodied carbon’ from extraction, manufacturing, transportation, installation, use/maintenance and replacement. The data is derived from the Athena Impact Estimator.”

Then designers are asked to add in data about the carbon sinks they are incorporating, which could include: “trees, plants, wetlands and certain types of meadows/lawns capture CO2 from the atmosphere and sink carbon into the soil.” Conrad notes that “all data used for calculating sequestration and decomposition for trees and shrubs is obtained from the U.S. Forest Service.”

Lastly, landscape architects and designers can add in the “carbon costs,” which “represent emissions associated with mowing/pruning performed using machinery and fertilizer use for trees and shrubs. These emissions occur regularly over the lifespan of the project and are often referred to as ‘operational carbon.'”

Once this information is submitted, landscape architects will receive a Climate Positive score that indicates how long it will take to offset the carbon embedded in the project or expended through maintenance operations. The website will then send design recommendations for reducing emissions and increasing sequestration much faster. And each project has a dedicated page that can be re-visited and re-evaluated or shared.

Climate Positive Design

Data collected through the app will be reviewed by advisory partners including
the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (CSLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA), and the Landscape Architecture Canada Foundation (LACF).

Conrad formulated the system during her Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) fellowship. It’s also the result of years of research and collaboration with Atelier Ten.

Go to Climate Positive Design.

Also, check out ASLA’s guide to climate change mitigation and landscape architecture and series of sustainable residential design guides.

PARK(ing) Day: Small Spaces, Big Impact

On September 20, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and its members celebrated PARK(ing) Day, a growing global event that demonstrates just how much room parking spaces take up in our streets and how those spaces could instead be transformed into usable spaces for pedestrians. PARK(ing) Day encourages landscape architects, community members, and students to transform metered parking spaces into temporary parklets.

This year, ASLA collaborated with our neighbors, landscape architecture firm Lee & Associates, to design a parklet in front of ASLA’s headquarters in Chinatown. The parklet encouraged passersby to sit, take part in interactive activities aimed at informing the public about the effects of climate change, and then to go across the sidewalk to visit ASLA’s exhibition: Smart Policies for a Changing Climate.

smart1
ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture / ASLA
Smart Policies for a Changing Climate exhibition / EPNAC

ASLA members from across the county also hosted parklets that show how small spaces can have big impact. For example, Landscape Architecture Bureau in Washington, D.C. used their parking space to “highlight the important role that pollinating insects play in natural and designed landscapes.”

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Thank you to all that came out to the Pollinator Gallery on Friday for #ASLAParkingDay, including our partners from @doee_dc and The National Arboretum!⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣ LAB’s 2019 installation highlights the important role that pollinating insects play in natural and designed landscapes here in the District and around the world. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣The Pollinator Gallery transformed two parking spaces on New Jersey Ave. into a productive landscape that provides food for native pollinators and educates visitors about key issues facing our native insect pollinator populations.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣ A field of pinwheels floating above the garden acts as a life-size data graphic illustrating insect biomass decline over the last couple decades.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣ To learn more about the installation check out the Pollinator Guide on our website, link in bio!⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣ #labindc⁣⁣ #landscapearchitecture ⁣⁣ #thisislandscapearchitecture⁣⁣ #landscapedesign⁣⁣ #landarch⁣⁣ #urbanlandscapedesign⁣⁣ #sustainabledesign⁣⁣ #potomacasla ⁣⁣ #designresearch⁣⁣ #designthedistrict⁣⁣ #LABPOLLINATORGALLERY ⁣⁣ #PARKINGDAYDC⁣⁣ #ASLAPARKINGDAY ⁣⁣ #POASLAPD19

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Trueform Landscape Architecture Studio in Phoenix, Arizona, used magazine clippings to create a participatory art installation that brought the community together.

The Utah Chapter of ASLA used their space to get active on a rainy Friday afternoon.

Finally, the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas designed a spot to relax after a long week of classes.

To see more of the parklets ASLA members designed on PARK(ing) Day, visit asla.org/parkingday.

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


Long-Neglected North End of Central Park Will Get a $150 Million Revamp
Architect’s Newspaper, 9/18/19
“The northern end of Central Park is slated to get a major upgrade by 2024. Today the Central Park Conservancy and the New York City Parks Department unveiled its plans for a $150 million restoration of the long-damaged landscape surrounding the Harlem Meer.”

How MacArthur Fellowship Winner Walter Hood Turns Landscapes into Sculpture, The Los Angeles Times, 9/25/19
“Hood, 61, defies easy categorization. He takes an architectural and fine arts approach to creating ‘ecologically and culturally sustainable’ public spaces, he said, often transforming neglected urban areas for marginalized communities.”

Walter Hood, MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant Winner, Will Transform Oakland Museum of CaliforniaCurbed San Francisco, 9/27/19
“The lauded landscape architect will turn the museum into a more publicly-friendly space.”

Everything About the Pacific Northwest Is on Display At the New Burke Museum. Even the Scientists.Crosscut, 9/28/19
“The surroundings of the museum will feature some 80,000 native plants of 60 different species representing different parts of Washington state, ones genetically tied to the region.”

This New 1.6 Acre Metro Vancouver Park is on Top of A Parking Lot Vancouver is Awesome, 9/28/19
“Ketcheson Park, which officially opened Saturday, is situated on top of the two-story parking lot at the new Concord Gardens development at the corner of Ketcheson Road and Hazelbridge Way, and was created by Concord.”

Levi’s Stadium Greenroof & Rooftop Farm Greenroofs.com, 9/30/19
“Since the summer of 2016, the home of the 49ers has been cultivating a variety of crops on their Faithful Farm stadium roof.”