Snøhetta Brings Fresh Air into a 1980s Landmark – 11/25/2022, Architectural Record “The Snøhetta team, which included landscape architect Michelle Delk, ASLA, was inspired by Manhattan’s small pocket parks that are integrated with the urban fabric but act as welcome retreats from it.”
Over the holidays, delve into new books on history, design, and the environment that inform and inspire. Whether you are looking for the perfect gift for your favorite designer or something to read yourself, explore THE DIRT’s 12 bestbooks of 2022:
Richard K. Rein, a reporter and founder of the weekly newsletter U.S. 1, delves into the life and ideas of William H. Whyte, the urbanist, sociologist, journalist, and famously close observer of people in public spaces. Whyte’s articles and books, including The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces and City: Rediscovering the Center, led to a renewed focus on human-centered design, a greater understanding of the value of public space, and influenced generations of landscape architects around the world.
With Beatrix Farrand: Garden Artist, Landscape Architect, Judith Tankard, a landscape historian, has provided the definitive biography of Farrand, filled with gorgeous photography. And in Garden as Art: Beatrix Farrand at Dumbarton Oaks, Thaïsa Way, FASLA, director of landscape and garden studies at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., has revealed the magic of Farrand’s masterpiece, with an essay from Thomas Woltz, FASLA, and evocative images from photographer Sahar Coston-Hardy.
Dana Davidsen, a landscape designer at Surface Design in San Francisco and former ASLA intern, has curated a beautiful collection of 18 urban, suburban, and rural residential landscapes in U.S. and U.K. that advance ecological design. In an introduction, Timothy A. Schuler, a contributing editor at Landscape Architecture Magazine, explains how deeply sustainable residential projects can help re-set our relationship with the land.
“The planning practices of the past are inadequate for today’s challenges,” explains David Rouse, ASLA, a landscape architect and planner, who co-authored this book with Rocky Piro, executive director of the Colorado Center for Sustainable Urbanism and former planning director of Denver. After reviewing hundreds of comprehensive plans, they offer a new model for 21st century planning rooted in sustainability, resilience, and equity. Read more.
For the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, president of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF); Arleyn A. Levee, Hon. ASLA, a landscape historian; and Dena Tasse-Winter, a historic preservationist, have created a welcome overview of more than 200 public, educational, and private landscapes by Olmsted, his firm, and his successors. Well-curated images, including stunning full-page plans and drawings by Olmsted, show the remarkable work behind his vision of democratic public spaces.
In her review, Grace Mitchell Tada, ASLA, writes: “From activists and community organizers, landscape architects and city planners, policy makers and city officials, Sant’s cast of characters demonstrate the complexity and nuance that go into creating urban change. It’s the details from her interviews that make this book a valuable tool. Seeing how change is made allows readers to understand how, in their own communities, they too might be able to forge fruitful relationships to dismantle racist histories in favor of equity while equipping their city to handle climate change.” Read the full review.
Galen Newman, ASLA, professor and head of the department of landscape architecture and urban planning at Texas A&M University, and Zixu Qiao, a master’s of landscape architecture candidate there, have edited a fascinating look at global landscape architecture-based solutions to sea level rise, with practically-minded case studies from Kate Orff, FASLA, Alex Felson, ASLA, Haley Blakeman, FASLA, Kongjian Yu, FASLA, Amy Whitesides, ASLA, and many others. Smart diagrams in the final chapter transform the book into a toolkit that can help landscape architects sort through the pluses and minuses of natural and hard design elements for different ecological, economic, and social conditions.
Reviewing the new edition of this book by William E. O’Brien, a professor of environmental studies at Florida Atlantic University, Glenn LaRue Smith, FASLA, states “anyone exploring landscape, planning, and public space history will find the book interesting. O’Brien has crafted an intensively researched history of the political, social, racial, and environmental implications of Jim Crow practices and the unfair distribution of parks in the southern United States.” Read the full review.
This fully-updated book will help any landscape architect, planner, or community leader make a stronger case that public green spaces and streets really are part of our healthcare system. The latest research on health and community design has been woven into this new edition, which was edited by Howard Frumkin, senior vice president at the Trust for Public Land; Andrew L. Dannenberg, a professor at the University of Washington; and Nisha Botchwey, dean of the school of public affairs at the University of Minnesota; and also includes a chapter on designing for mental health and well-being by William C. Sullivan, ASLA, a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and an essay from Mitchell Silver, Hon. ASLA, former NYC Parks Commissioner.
Douglas Brinkley, one of the country’s leading historians, explores the history of the modern American environmental movement and activists like Cesar Chavez, Coretta Scott King, and Rachel Carson, who laid the groundwork for the Environmental Protection Agency, Wilderness Act, the Clean Air Acts, the Endangered Species Acts, and Limited Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. In the “long decade” of the 1960s and early 70s, these leaders made significant change happen, and their successes can inspire designer-activists pushing for systemic climate action today.
It is that invocation from Alison Sant that propels the narratives in her book — From the Ground Up: Local Efforts to Create Resilient Cities. She presents how people in cities across the U.S. are creating equitable communities that can withstand the changes wrought by climate change. Sant features places and projects that depend on community-grounded efforts to realize their outcomes, though she notes strong grassroots activism and community involvement can’t affect change alone. The most successful examples she relates “bring together the energy of community activists, the organization of advocacy groups, the power of city government, and the reach of federal environmental policy.” And, importantly, they do so in ways suited to their city.
Sant is a partner and co-founder of the Studio for Urban Projects, and its interdisciplinary interests are apparent in the various project types, organizations, and individuals included in her book. From activists and community organizers, landscape architects and city planners, policy makers and city officials, Sant’s cast of characters demonstrate the complexity and nuance that go into creating urban change. It’s the details from her interviews that make this book a valuable tool. Seeing how change is made allows readers to understand how, in their own communities, they too might be able to forge fruitful relationships to dismantle racist histories in favor of equity while equipping their city to handle climate change.
The book is organized into four sections, each tackling a different domain of the built environment. “Reclaim the Streets” showcases cities that are re-imagining streets to accommodate more than vehicular traffic. “Tear up the Concrete” highlights places that are embracing their role in their watersheds, whether by removing concrete or installing green infrastructure. In “Plant the City,” Sant presents how cities are encouraging tree planting. And “Adapt the Shoreline” illustrates how rising sea levels are altering cities’ relationships to their waterfront. The common thread throughout the sections: the understanding that any change striving for equity within our urban environments must be rooted in its community.
In New York, that community rootedness was critical when introducing Citi Bike to Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The neighborhood, where the majority of residents are Black and have household incomes below NYC’s median, has few public transit options, yet most residents initially did not use the bike share program.
Then the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, a community-based organization, and other partners collaborated with Citi Bike, creating communications campaigns that spotlighted residents of colors who rode the bikes. Within a year, Citi Bike trips in the neighborhood ballooned, as did membership. “Bike share only became relevant to the community of Bedford-Stuyvesant once it was shaped by the community intended to use it,” Sant writes.
The same can be said about green infrastructure. Sant recounts how various cities are shifting to become “sponges for stormwater.” In New Orleans, community leaders are teaching their neighborhoods to add green infrastructure—rain garden and bioswales, street trees and permeable paving. But there’s more to it: “What is most important to me is to make sure that people had tangible assets on their property and for them to understand its functionality…the pumps, the drains, and the canals,” said Angela Chalk, executive director of Healthy Community Services. “By understanding this, we can take charge of ourselves.”
Mami Hara, ASLA, CEO at U.S. Water Alliance, writes in a contributing essay that “without community support and effective supporting policies and practices, green infrastructure can be an agent of displacement.”
The boon of tree planting has long been a part of American history. Benefits of urban tree planting have become further understood over time. From creating beauty, reducing noise pollution, mitigating the urban heat island effect, and increasing groundwater infiltration, urban trees have myriad benefits. Yet, Sant points out, like other urban amenities, trees, too, do not have equitable dispersal. Less affluent neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color do not have as many trees.
Sant chronicles efforts in Washington, D.C., and New York City to increase their urban tree canopies, which span community activists’ efforts, public-private partnerships, and public investment in street trees and public parks. Baltimore, too, is working to grow the city’s canopy, but perhaps more novel, however, is Baltimore’s use of urban wood. “Utilizing dead trees is as important as tending live ones, especially in the context of climate change,” Sant writes. Trees are usually seen as waste and sent to landfills where they release carbon.
To alleviate this issue, the U.S. Forest Service and local partners have established the Baltimore Wood Project. The program offers living-wage jobs to residents—many formerly incarcerated—who work to deconstruct some of the thousands of abandoned buildings in the city while salvaging their materials. It’s met success, both in its extremely low recidivism rate, and in its environmental impact. As a result, Baltimore’s sustainability plan emphasizes workforce development programs like this one.
In the book’s final section, Sant addresses three cities—San Francisco, New York, and New Orleans—built atop former wetlands. As sea levels rise, each must brace themselves for a much wetter future—especially because those buffering wetlands are no longer present to lessen incoming tides and storm surges. The projects Sant compiles here, too, are based in robustly leveraging community support.
In San Francisco, like in many other cities, the communities most at risk of flooding are low-income, and often neighborhoods of color. Sant details the community processes leading to Hunters Point Shoreline Park and India Basin Shoreline Park, which included landscape architects with RHAA Landscape Architects and Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, respectively. Both are in Bayview–Hunter’s Point, a historically Black waterfront neighborhood, and it was critical that their designs reflected its community while making space for rising waters. Jacqueline Flin, a Bayview native who now works for APRI, said involving the community throughout the process ensures that the park “is being grown from within and that the community takes ownership of it.”
On the opposite coast, the Billion Oyster Project, which strives to grow one billion water-filtering oysters in the New York–New Jersey Harbor Estuary, also necessarily demands the public’s assistance, from monitoring reef structures to putting them together. SCAPE’s post-Superstorm Sandy project, Living Breakwaters, which employs oyster restoration practices, has furthered public understanding about how nature-based strategies can mitigate the effects of sea-level rise.
“The only way to adapt, while keeping the biodiversity of estuaries and oceans intact, is by adopting radically anticipatory methods based on mimicking natural processes,” writes University of California at Berkeley professor Kristina Hill, Affil. ASLA, in a guest essay. “When that doesn’t work, managing retreat is a better strategy than building rigid defenses that create exacerbated risks of catastrophic failure.”
Sant wrote this book during the earlier days of the Covid-19 pandemic, and during the racial reckoning that arose following the murder of George Floyd. She writes of the changes that we witnessed in cities, such as the “new ways of making streets for people.” Despite all the awfulness of 2020, there was a moment when it seemed the world would be irrevocably different: certainly we would more equitably, and more sustainably, inhabit cities moving forward.
National expert on the built environment and equity Tamika L. Butler speaks to that hope in her contributing essay: “It feels like we might be building something new, from the ground up.” Yet she also expresses the hesitancy that many of us likely feel now as we watch the world slip back into pre-2020 habits: “But what if it is all a façade? What if we build something up just to fortify the foundation of White supremacy that was already there?”
And this is the call to action: May the anger and the grief, the state of emergency of the pandemic, and the work that Sant so carefully describes prompt us to act—toward true change.
The 225 residents of Seneca Village were displaced by the New York City government in the mid 1800s to make way for Central Park, which is considered one of the masterpieces of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and architect Calvert Vaux.
Today, the history of the community, which once existed near Tanner Spring on the west edge of the park, is being reinterpreted. Efforts are underway by the Central Park Conservancy to commemorate the community and its evicted African American landowners.
Central Park takes up more than 800 acres in the midst of Manhattan. As Zewde and others have explained through the Conversations with Olmsted series as part of Olmsted 200, Olmsted saw Central Park as a way to realize his ideals about democratic urban parks.
The park was designed to provide broad access to the healing benefits of nature. It was also meant to show what free Northern cities could accomplish through transformative public infrastructure, and how slave-owning Southern communities, with their lack of shared spaces, could evolve.
And while the decision to move Seneca Village predated Olmsted’s involvement, “how do we square this with his legacy? One has to wonder how Olmsted felt about Seneca,” Zewde said.
According to Christopher Nolan, FASLA, chief landscape architect at the Central Park Conservancy, a primarily Black community took root in Seneca Village in the early 1800s because it was not only an escape from the bustle of downtown but also next to a reservoir.
There are no remaining photos of the community, but plans and birds-eye views show a “cohesive property,” with two-story wood homes, an AME Zion Church, and other central buildings.
The community navigated an early Manhattan landscape filled with schist hills. The landscape they experienced largely remains, including Summit Rock, which is one of the dominant features in the park at 140 feet above sea level.
While planning Central Park, Olmsted and Vaux examined the geological layers and “didn’t modify the existing landscape that much,” Nolan argued, only adding roads, a reservoir, and lake. Outside of their park, Manhattan’s landscape had been flattened to make way for the relentless grid of the contemporary city.
Apparently Olmsted wasn’t overly fond of the site chosen by NYC government for the park. The long rectangle hemmed him in and “didn’t fit with his idealized landscape,” Nolan said. His goals were later perhaps better realized through Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which provided more opportunities for a naturalistic landscape.
As Central Park evolved since the late 1800s, more than 20 playgrounds were added, including one at the heart of what was once Seneca Village.
A restoration management plan was created in 1995 that emphasized Olmsted’s original vision. A few years later, the New York Historical Society held the first exhibition on Seneca Village.
Since then, the Conservancy has grappled with how to process new information about Seneca Village and continue its restoration program. The goal is for these efforts to converge in a new commemoration of Seneca Village rooted in deep community engagement and a restored natural landscape.
Reddick also pointed to Strawberry Fields, the memorial to John Lennon, who was murdered outside the Dakota building along Central Park. The simple ground-level mosaic with the word “Imagine,” referring to Lennon’s song, became the center of a broader landscape restoration effort funded in part by Yoko Ono. “The landscape became Strawberry Fields. Before, it was a run-down place. It took a major effort to transform that into something special.”
In 2001, the Conservancy added a sign about Seneca Village but that was really “just the beginning of research.” Recent efforts have included inviting artists, historians, and musicians to “animate stories” of Seneca Village for the public. “They have helped us understand what life there may have been like.”
Reddick said the goal for the future is to represent the displaced community in Central Park not through a plaque or statue but an interpretation of the landscape. “We want to use the land to tell their stories.”
This mission to tell a more holistic story about the park and its history is line with “a broader definition of stewardship,” Nolan added. Olmsted was a social reformer, and this approach is part of the DNA of landscape architecture.
Learning about Seneca Village has also opened Zewde’s eyes to the possibilities of reinterpretation. “Communities and their histories aren’t erased; they are hiding in plain sight. Seneca Village is not history. We can use our narrative lens now. Through engagement, we can educate and amplify.”
“Parks are vehicles. The existence of a park doesn’t mean we have a functioning society and democracy. We have to use the space, navigate it as people.”
The Climate Action Plan was developed by a high-profile Task Force of five landscape architects chaired by Pamela Conrad, ASLA, founder of Climate Positive Design, and a 17-member Advisory Group. It outlines a bold vision for 2040 and a set of 71 actions to be taken by 2025.
By 2040, all landscape architecture projects will simultaneously:
Achieve zero embodied and operational emissions and increase carbon sequestration
Provide significant economic benefits in the form of measurable ecosystem services, health co-benefits, sequestration, and green jobs
Address climate injustices, empower communities, and increase equitable distribution of climate investments
Restore ecosystems and increase and protect biodiversity
“Landscape architects are already helping communities achieve this vision. As we increasingly experience the impacts of the climate and biodiversity crises, we know we need to act faster. We are the only design professionals who bring all the pieces together to plan and design what communities need to prepare themselves for a changing world,” said ASLA President Eugenia Martin, FASLA.
“ASLA has developed its first Climate Action Plan in the spirit of great optimism. We envision communities becoming healthier and economically stronger because they have committed to drawing down carbon, restoring ecosystems and increasing biodiversity, and reducing reliance on vehicles – all while ensuring everyone in their community has equitable access to these benefits,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen.
The ASLA Climate Action Plan is based in science. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found humanity can only put a maximum of 340 more gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere if we want a good chance of only increasing temperatures by 1.5° C (2.7° Fahrenheit), instead of 2° C (3.6° Fahrenheit). To advance the goal of keeping warming to 1.5° C, ASLA signed on to the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) Climate Action Commitment in 2021. The commitment was presented at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland and is supported by 70,000 landscape architects in 77 countries.
The ASLA Climate Action Plan is rooted in the three goals (practice, equity, and advocacy) and six initiatives of IFLA Climate Action Commitment.
The ASLA plan will direct all ASLA programs and investments through 2025. Goals will be advanced through 21 objectives and 71 actions. Goals and actions will be revisited and updated in 2025 and every five years until 2040 and beyond.
To accomplish the plan, ASLA, as a mission-driven association, has also committed to achieving zero emissions in its operations by 2040. ASLA is calculating baseline Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions for its 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Francisco and headquarters operations in Washington, D.C. and has committed to reducing its overall emissions by 20% by 2024. ASLA will use its own journey to zero as a learning opportunity for its members, EXPO exhibitors, and partner organizations.
A companion to the plan – the Climate Action Field Guide for ASLA Members – provides best practice guidance, toolkits, and resources for ASLA members and their firms and organizations, along with corporate partners, to achieve the 2040 vision.
The Field Guide features six toolkits covering 18 strategies, with guidance on how to:
Design Climate Positive Landscapes
Design Pedestrian, Cyclist, and Public Transit-Centric Communities
Reduce Energy Use and Support Renewables
Help Communities Adapt to Climate Impacts
Explore Pathways to Financial Sustainability with Communities
Protect and Increase Biodiversity
Learn from Indigenous Communities Through Collaboration
Build Climate Coalitions
“Landscape architects are uniquely qualified to understand and manage complex, multi-disciplinary challenges and design sustainable, world-changing solutions. We are committed to following the science, and through this Climate Action Plan we will rapidly scale up Climate- and Biodiversity-positive solutions in the U.S. and, through our partnership with IFLA, the world,” said Pamela Conrad, ASLA, Chair of the Climate Action Plan Task Force.
Conrad will represent ASLA and highlight the vision and goals of the ASLA Climate Action Plan at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
Miller, who is an assistant professor of landscape architecture at Penn State, highlighted data from the 2021 ASLA Graduating Student Survey, which shows current Black landscape architecture students make up just 1 percent of the total student population, while white students account for 69 percent.
For Miller, this shows that “thirty years down the road, when these students are our leaders and will be presenting at events like this, the profession will still be predominantly white.” Diversification of the profession needs to significantly increase today, so landscape architects can better engage with more diverse communities in the future.
BlackLAN organized its first meeting of Black landscape architects in 2018 and incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in 2020. “Our goal is to advance voices and create opportunities for others in the future.” Today, its 240 members worldwide focus on “education, community, and service” through symposia, events, online networking, and a new scholarship.
Their Edward Lyons Pryce Scholarship, which was inaugurated this year, honors the first Black fellow of ASLA. “At the ASLA Conference in San Francisco this year, we’ll have our 13th Black Fellow.” Pryce became a fellow in 1979 “because he stood out and went above and beyond as an activist and leader.”
The practice of landscape architecture also needs to expand to better accommodate neurodivergent communities and designers, argued Danielle Toronyi, research and development manager at OLIN. Neurodiverse or neurodivergent people may include those with autism or other sensory differences, who have a range of strengths and abilities.
With her colleague Alexa Vaughn, ASLA, a deaf landscape architect and accessibility designer now at MIG, Toronyi has focused on advancing a “social model of disability,” which focuses on “what a person can do and how the built environment limits us.”
A social model of disability “doesn’t seek to fix disabled people but instead puts disabled people and their experiences at the center.” Applying this approach, landscape architects need to increasingly “design out barriers and make social life more inclusive.”
Toronyi and Vaughn both shaped ASLA’s guide to universal design and have moved forward universal design in landscape architecture. OLIN Labs, a community of practice at her firm, includes a series of labs that coordinate project-based work, partner-led initiatives, fellowships, and areas of emerging research, including designing for neurodivergence.
Making public spaces more inclusive for LGBTQIA+ people is another area of focus for OLIN, with their “Pridescapes” community of practice, explained Max Dickson, a landscape designer there. “We are focusing on untold queer histories and new queer futures.”
Dickson said the identities of queer people have been historically linked to places, but this has often gone unrecognized. Many queer landscapes were in marginal areas. “These were marginal places for marginalized people.” With gentrification and new development, these places lost their queerness.
For decades, the pier landscapes of Hudson River Park on the west side of lower Manhattan were safe spaces for the community, but with new development were erased. And Belmont Rocks along the lake shore in Chicago, which was a gay mecca in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, lost its sense of place since a reconstruction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
At the same time, many queer landscape architects also went unrecognized, given they had to live closeted lives. Phil Winslow and Bruce Kelly, who were central to the restoration of Olmsted’s Central Park, both succumbed to AIDS. “They couldn’t be out in the workplace.”
“Queer spaces were once closed, dark spaces — discos, bathhouses, and clubs.” But the protest movements from the late 60s through to the 90s made these spaces public. In 1969, gay people at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City rose up, protesting decades of harassment by the police, sparking the modern gay rights movement. In 2016, these historic protest spaces became the first significant LGBTQIA+ place protected in perpetuity as a National Monument.
Today, Black transgender people are among the most vulnerable among the broad LGBTQIA+ community. In 2021, 50 Black trans people were killed in the U.S., and 33 percent of these crimes happened in public spaces. “We need to ensure all people can experience safe, accessible places. We need to protect queer existence in public space.”
Growing up in the Tremont neighborhood of the Bronx, New York City, De Simone experienced the impacts of redlining and urban renewal driven by racism. The legacy of these “spatialized inequities” continues. “Systemic, structural inequities stay very rooted in.” And redlining is alive and well. “I still can’t get a loan today.”
In New York City and other cities, the New Deal programs created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt further institutionalized redlining, creating a “geographic footprint of hierarchy and home values based on race. It codified the value of humans in the built environment.”
To combat these legacies and create a more democratic built environment, Victor F. “Trey” Trahan III, FAIA, and De Simone founded Designing for Democracy, an independent non-profit research and design group, last year. “We believe people in communities have agency as well. Harnessing that agency leads to equity.”
By empowering communities’ sense of agency and in turn equity, landscapes and communities can be “radically reshaped so that communities can share the full potential of democracy. There is a collective humanity in this cause,” De Simone argued.
Think of the High Line, perhaps the park of greatest celebrity in this genre, which transformed an unused rail line into a highly visited destination in Manhattan. With this success in mind, Newhouse and Pisha turn their attention to inventorying abandoned sites around the world—from closed highways to decommissioned airports, former industrial sites to defunct quarries—that now constitute the flourishing parks.
Making parks in underused, depleted, or contaminated land is not new. To name but two 19th-century examples: Paris’ Parc des Buttes Chaumont was once a quarry, and Boston’s Emerald Necklace a sewage-filled swamp. However, Newhouse maintains that the emergence of the environmental movement, the rise of a newly post-industrial society, and the depletion of public space accelerated this trend. And unlike parks of earlier centuries that sought to create sanctuary distinctly delineated from their city, all of the volume’s selected parks merge with their urban environments.
Parks of the 21st Century is organized by site history, with chapters titles such as “Highway Caps,” “Waterside Industry: Parks,” “Inland Industry,” and “Strongholds.” The book’s structure juxtaposes sites of the same type, presenting different variations of site understanding and approach that may vary by culture or local circumstances. Park descriptions include contexts, histories, design processes, and site elements, described by Newhouse in the first person based upon her visits with Pisha.
In the chapter describing parks on former airport land, two German parks exemplify divergent approaches. In Berlin, Tempelhofer Feld exists largely as it was when the airport closed, in 2008. The public opposed any changes, including a proposal from GROSS.MAX. Today, all site amenities, from toilets to community gardens to signage, are temporary. It is, according to Westhouse, a “huge void.”
In contrast to Tempelhofer, Alter Flugplatz, the empty site of relocated airport in Bonames, Germany, offers an argument for intervention—a strikingly minimal one. Instead of trying to replicate nature, GTL Landschaftsarchitektur sought to create a space that would allow it to self-propagate. Their design entailed breaking up the site’s asphalt and concrete, and this “human manipulation of the surface provided the necessary armature for the ‘wild’ to emerge.” The park exists as a continually changing landscape, and one with inherently little maintenance.
Waterfront parks comprise a significant number of parks in the book–according to the authors, the most parks have been constructed atop former industrial sites along waterfronts than anywhere else. The authors note that the similarities and differences between parks in China and those in the West—in design approach, remediation efforts, construction timelines, implementation—are particularly apparent.
Ambitious park system projects underway in Shanghai and New York City both reimagine former industrial sites as green public amenities. In New York City, Hunter’s Point South, designed by SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi, and Brooklyn Bridge Park, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates implement a soft edge made possible by marshes, bridges, and raised walkways that make space for the inevitable flux of water. But most of the Shanghai parks remain, at the government’s direction, lined by the city’s flood wall. In their design of the Shanghai Shipyard Riverside Park, Design Land Collaborative overcame government-established design limitations including the flood wall, as well as work with too-shallow soil depth that were a result of the remediation efforts in which they had no role. Yet despite the constraints, the authors were impressed with the results—the allure of its human scale, the lush planting.
While the glamour of waterfront sites attracts much attention, Newhouse and Pisha share parks on inland industrial sites that are just as captivating. Parque Bicentenario, designed by Grupo di Diseño Urbano, is one of them, representing the only Mexican park in the volume. Built atop a former oil refinery, the park and botanical garden serve simultaneously as a public green space and educational site, its eight scaled-down biomes displaying the diversity across Mexico.
Not all of the book’s spurned sites result from modern technologies, such as those parks in “Quarries” and the “Strongholds” chapters. Both types of parks are globally widespread, but take on different forms. The vast 570-acre Huadu Lake Park by Palm Design in Guangzhou, China, employs local Cantonese garden aesthetics, offering a simplicity that “delighted” the authors.
On the small scale, 1.3-acre Thomas C. Wales Park in Seattle, Washington by Site Workshop impressed them its outsized effect: the magic bestowed by the vegetation, the “fairy-tale quality” granted by Adam Kuby’s Quarry Rings sculpture.
Each of the sites in Parks of the 21st Century are included only because of the narratives we understand about them. Topotek 1’s founder Martin-Rein-Cano articulates further: he is “convinced that the perception of landscape is highly dependent on the stories that are told about it.” In his firm’s work at Germany’s Lorsch Abbey, a monastic community founded in 764 whose buildings were largely destroyed in war in the 17th century, the task was to respond to those stories by creating a park connected to the abbey site. Newhouse resonated with the design, experiencing it “as the abstraction of a lost history,” and as a “design [that] ingeniously renders the invisible visible.”
Newhouse admits to one of the book’s shortcomings—that while global in reach, it is not comprehensively so. The parks included are all in North America, Europe, and China.
Yet the fact that the book includes only parks Newhouse and Pisha personally visited also imbues the book with a personal touch. The authors’ many and far-flung travels to the sites and their thorough descriptions are altogether quite a feat. Newhouse notes the weather on a given day, conversations with park users, observations about who is coming to a park at a certain time, and insightful commentary from the park designers who sometimes toured her and Pisha through the site.
One of the other limitations of the volume is, of course, that we are only 22 years into the 21st century. We don’t know how new parks of the next three-quarters of the century will evolve, though some of the designers in the “Future” chapter offer prescient thoughts. In this chapter, the authors examine four parks currently in progress, two of which are immense projects that foremost involve rehabilitation: Freshkills Park on Staten Island, New York, and the Los Angeles River project in California.
Of Freshkills, landscape architect James Corner, FASLA, declared it was not a design project. “It is not about a conclusion, but about adaptive management,” he said. According to him, it needs not a definitive plan, but a strategy—not unlike that of a farmer working the land. OLIN’s Jessica Henson, ASLA, echoes the sentiment, describing her work on the Los Angeles River project as a “‘long-term adaptation framework that looks eighty years into the future.’”
These are hopeful expressions of landscape architecture’s direction, ones that suggest an acceptance of flux in the work the discipline produces. Given the state of the world, the penchant to reinvent and reclaim landscapes seems likely to continue in the coming decades. As designers continue to work in these landscapes, Parks of the 21st Century offers a valuable guide for them: a detailed compendium of successes (and sometimes misses), and a hint at how the uncertain future needs to be met.
This year is the bicentennial of Tubman’s birth, and there is renewed interest in her life. Two National Park Service sites in the U.S. were initiated by President Barack Obama in 2017 to help enshrine her story — one in Church Creek, Maryland, where she was born, escaped from, and later returned to in order to save other slaves; and another in Auburn, New York, where she lived as a self-emancipated railroad conductor and helped grow a community of freed Black Americans.
But the team found that an entire story could be told using the landscape Tubman called home, even later after she had freed herself. The park site, which is set within the 28,000-acre Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, was much like what Tubman would have experienced, with canals, wetlands, waterways, and swales.
Tubman was born near the site in 1822 and enslaved there for 27 years before escaping. She later returned 13 times, saving more than 70 people, including her parents and brothers, but never her sister, who had been sold south.
Elcock explained that the visitor center is purposefully organized into three buildings to represent the three options available to Tubman and her family: “be sold South, remain in place, or travel North.”
Views from within the new visitor center look north to reconnect visitors with that journey.
The pull of freedom is also represented in the landscape of the park site. “We oriented the entire site’s viewshed north through an expansive lawn,” said Peng Gu, president of Mahan Rykiel, who provided additional context in a phone interview. “The north meant freedom.”
And Scott Rykiel, FASLA, vice president at Mahan Rykiel, said that a looping pathway through meadows surrounding the site also purposefully direct visitors northward.
“As you are out there, you can see other visitors and can imagine others on journey through the landscape — either as someone who can help your cause or report you as an escapee,” Elcock said.
The meadows are natural, but Mahan Rykiel also incorporated native plants and brought in swamp white oaks, swamp chestnut oaks, sweetgum, birch, and bald cypress trees.
One path in the visitor center even starts near a wetland, which Tubman would have used on her route in order to leave no footprints slave trackers could follow, Rykiel explained.
Traveling north wasn’t a simple “linear” process. Escaped slaves had to take indirect routes through waterways to evade slave catchers, crossing back before heading to freedom. Before the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850, slaves could find freedom by moving to free states in the north; afterwards, they first needed to travel to Canada to become free before settling in northern states.
Deanna Mitchell, superintendent of the the park, said Tubman lived a rich and long life, passing in 1913.
Shepherding slaves, “she understood the stars and could navigate.” The Union Army later discovered this and enlisted her help in Beaufort, South Carolina, where she commanded the army to free more than 700 slaves. “She was the first woman commander in the U.S.” Tubman was also a spy, nurse, and cook for the North.
Her early life in Maryland was marked by brutality. At age five she was loaned out to other households to tend to enslaved babies. “She was whipped every time they cried.” She preferred working outside where she could connect with nature.
For Tubman, the landscape was a way to “escape slavery, learn survival skills, escape domestic brutality, learn a trade, earn her own money, and learn the waterways.” It was the waterways that would help bring her north.
Mitchell quoted Tubman: “God’s time is always near. He set the North Star in the heavens. He gave me the strength in my limbs. He meant I should be free.”
For the National Park Service, which has conducted studies on natural resources of the site, preserving the landscape Tubman would have known is of critical importance. But there are major threats: sea level rise is expected to flood much of the historic site and invasive phragmites have led to tree die-off in areas. Major studies with the Army Corps of Engineers and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are underway to protect a landscape that received 100,000 visitors from 50 countries last year.
The conversation then moved to Auburn, New York, the landscape of the freed Harriet Tubman and her community. Jessica Bowes, Cultural Resource Specialist for Women’s Rights and Harriet Tubman National Historical Parks in New York, said that Tubman ended up in Auburn because it is where powerful abolitionist women lived, including Frances Seward, the wife of President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State. In 1859, Seward sold a 7-acre farm to Tubman, a farm that later grew to 32 acres.
Tubman brought many of the slaves she freed from the South to Auburn, where many later settled. Auburn was also a welcoming place because it had been a long-time Black community. As freed slaves joined the existing Black community, their neighborhoods expanded and moved. A new African American school caused the community to migrate to Washington Street, and a new church created a hub over on Parker Street, near Fort Fill cemetery.
In this neighborhood, Tubman purchased a second brick home, which has become part of the Harriet Tubman National Historic Park. The AME Zion Church, where Tubman’s funeral was held, is also part of the site. The community is still home to many of Tubman’s descendants. Some homes near the church have been continuously owned by Black Americans for generations.
“While Tubman didn’t create the community, she definitely impacted it,” Bowes said. The foundation of the Underground Railroad was “church, family, and community.” And those elements are key to the cultural landscape of Auburn’s Black community.
“The boundaries of the National Park sites are fixed, but the broader cultural landscape is fluid,” Bowes also said. Those boundaries take the form of physical barriers between the sites, as well as the changing community. But these barriers also provide opportunities.
More ambitious stories about the cultural landscape in its entirety are now being told. These efforts are supported by two-hour walking tours, a restoration of the AME Zion Church, and a new bronze statue of Tubman in a small park. “Cultural landscapes are made stronger with the presence of the community.”