New Orleans’ Equity-driven Reforestation Plan

Surface temperatures in New Orleans (2019-2021) / Spackman Mossop Michaels

New Orleans experiences the worst urban heat island effect in the country, with temperatures nearly 9 F° higher than nearby natural areas. The city also lost more than 200,000 trees from Hurricane Katrina, dropping its overall tree canopy to just 18.5 percent.

The non-profit organization Sustaining Our Urban Landscape (SOUL) partnered with landscape architects at Spackman Mossop Michaels (SMM) to create a highly accessible, equity-focused reforestation plan for the city that provides a roadmap for achieving a tree canopy of 24 percent by 2040.

But more importantly, the plan also seeks to equalize the canopy, so at least 10 percent of all 72 neighborhoods are covered in trees. Currently, more than half of neighborhoods are under the 10 percent goal.

Tree canopy coverage by neighborhood / Spackman Mossop Michaels

Wes Michaels, ASLA, a founding partner at SMM, explained that some communities in the city are almost entirely concrete and asphalt and have canopies as low as 1 percent, while others, like the famous Garden District, have nearly 30 percent.

This causes an inequitable distribution of heat risks. “With Hurricane Ida, the foremost cause of death wasn’t flooding but heat. The storm knocked out electricity, so people were in their homes without air conditioning,” explained Emily Bullock, ASLA, a principal with SMM.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, trees and plants really do have a significant cooling benefit. “Trees and vegetation lower surface and air temperatures by providing shade and through evapotranspiration. Shaded surfaces, for example, may be 20–45°F (11–25°C) cooler than the peak temperatures of unshaded materials. Evapotranspiration, alone or in combination with shading, can help reduce peak summer temperatures by 2–9°F (1–5°C).”

The New Orleans Reforestation Plan offers a new, more equitable model for reducing dangerous extreme heat — the number one climate killer — and flooding, while also lowering energy use.

“Conventional urban reforestation plans are focused on achieving an overall canopy percentage, and there is often an equity component. But this plan centers equity so that it frames all goals,” Bullock said.

Planting Cypress trees as part of New Orleans Redevelopment Authority’s alternative strategies for vacant lots program / Spackman Mossop Michaels

“The plans we reviewed from other cities were all similar, kind of boilerplate. We needed a plan that recognizes the unique neighborhoods of New Orleans,” said Susannah Burley, executive director of SOUL. “We wanted to find a local firm that understood the context of our city.”

Restoration of a vacant lot as part of New Orleans Redevelopment Authority’s alternative strategies for vacant lots program / Spackman Mossop Michaels

Burley, who has a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Louisiana State University (LSU), spearheaded the complex reforestation planning effort over the past two years.

With Traci Birch, a LSU professor and planner, SOUL organized four round table discussions with local stakeholders from the public, private, and non-profit sectors, and seven community meetings.

“Spackman Mossop Michaels was a stakeholder in those early conversations. We knew they were already invested in the plan and understood the steps taken,” Burley said.

The firm was then hired to analyze the complex GIS data gathered by SOUL, facilitate more meetings across the city, and develop the plan.

“Landscape architects know the challenges and how to intersect with utilities. We helped facilitate concrete conversations with stakeholders. We examined city regulations and came up with recommendations so that these systems can work a little better. The goal is to make planting trees a smoother, easier process,” Bullock said.

The firm’s community engagement experience also helped SOUL frame the conversations.

“Not everyone in the community is 100 percent behind planting more trees. Landscape architects know that trees = good, but we can also meet communities where they are. We heard concerns like: ‘what if a tree falls on my house or leaves clog up my gutters? What if their roots break up my driveway?'”, Michaels said.

Research shows that trees increase property values. But SMM didn’t hear concerns that more trees could lead to gentrification or displacement. “The questions were more about: ‘who will maintain the trees in rights of way? Where will the maintenance funds come from?,'” said Bullock.

In the historic Garden District, tree roots can transform sidewalks into jagged small hills, making them inaccessible. And in other older parts of the city, sidewalks are very narrow, leaving little room for trees. How will the city fit in more?

“We didn’t get into these kinds of issues, which were beyond the scope. We want to make sure we don’t repeat the current issues, including with overhead and underground utilities. The goal is to create a unified tree policy with stakeholders, including the utilities providing power, water, sewage. The idea is to create a new policy together,” Michaels explained.

The plan outlines detailed steps SOUL, other organizations, and the city can take to build capacity and ramp up tree planting to achieve the 2040 goal. But before scaling up, the plan calls for a full-year of community engagement. “This will help educate communities about the benefits of trees and lay the groundwork for the planting programs to come,” Michaels said.

Prior to tree planting, 2014 / Spackman Mossop Michaels
After tree planting, 2022 / Spackman Mossop Michaels

In five diverse, underserved neighborhoods, pilot tree planting efforts will be rolled out over coming years. In some of these neighborhoods, planting more trees will be fairly straightforward given there are open green spaces available. In other more difficult neighborhoods, which already have lower tree canopies, additional funds and support will be needed to break up and remove concrete rights of way.

According to Burley, the biggest barrier to implementing the plan is lack of funding. “In New Orleans, the Department of Parks and Parkways is extremely underfunded. The plan is an advocacy tool — it shows what can be done with additional funds and how to make it happen.”

Prior to tree planting, 2014 / Spackman Mossop Michaels
After tree planting, 2022 / Spackman Mossop Michaels

And this is why the team focused on making the plan so easy-to-understand. “Most reforestation plans I saw were missing the human component. Our plan is meant to be highly accessible, so it can be picked-up by any city government official or neighborhood association.”

This plan also offers an approach other landscape architects can apply. “Reforestation plans are in landscape architects’ wheelhouse. These plans are at the intersection of ecology, culture, and public health. It’s not just about overall tree canopy numbers. But how to plant the most trees in places where they are needed, and in the shortest amount of time, with limited resources,” Michaels said.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (December 1-15, 2022)

Franklin Park, Boston, Massachusetts / Sahar Coston-Hardy, Affiliate ASLA, courtesy of Reed Hilderbrand

Mayor Wu Announces Release of Franklin Park Action Plan – 12/13/2022, City of Boston
Developed by a design team led by landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand along with Agency Landscape + Planning and MASS Design Group, “the Action Plan is a comprehensive vision for the future of the 527-acre park, widely considered landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s crowning achievement and the conclusion of a trilogy of great parks that includes Manhattan’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.”

Palm Beach Town Council To Review Plans for Phipps Ocean Park Redesign – 12/10/2022, Palm Beach Daily News
“[The Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach] underwrote the $160,000 cost for a phased master plan for the project, and is working closely with Miami-based landscape architect Raymond Jungles, Inc. on design development.”

New York City’s Popular Online Tree Map Gets a Big Update – 12/9/2022, Bloomberg News
“The online tool now shows granular, tree-level data that highlights the public health benefits and economic contributions of urban trees.”

LA County Board Adopts Updated Park Needs Assessment – 12/6/2022, Spectrum News 1
“The LA County Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously adopted a countywide assessment of park needs identifying priority areas for development of recreational facilities, and calling for efforts to transform ‘degraded lands’ such as landfills and oil fields into open spaces, especially in lower-income communities.”

Boston City Hall Plaza Reopens – 12/6/2022, World Landscape Architect
Sasaki partnered with Shawmut Design and Construction and Skanska to implement the City of Boston’s vision of an inclusive, welcoming front yard for downtown Boston.”

Nations Must Link Climate and Nature Crises, or Risk Failing to Address Both – 12/5/2022, American Progress
“As the U.N. conference on biodiversity begins, participating nations must do what those at the recent climate change conference failed to accomplish: acknowledge the link between the climate and nature crises, setting up governments to take bold action on both.”

Landscape Architects Urge Greater Action on Biodiversity Crisis

ASLA 2022 West Pond: Living Shoreline. Brooklyn and Queens, New York, United States Dirtworks Landscape Architecture P.C / Jean Schwarzwalder/DEP

The American Society of Landscape Architects Calls on National Governments to Commit to 30 x 2030 and the Global Goal for Nature: Nature Positive by 2030

ASLA urges national governments at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 in Montréal, Canada, to commit to far more ambitious global conservation and biodiversity goals, including protecting at least 30 percent of terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems by 2030 (30 x 2030).

In advance of the CBD COP15, ASLA has also joined 340 organizations worldwide in signing the Global Goal for Nature: Nature Positive by 2030. The Call to Action makes an appeal for “improving the state of nature by 2030; ensuring rights-based approaches to nature-based solutions and to conserving effectively and equitably 30 percent of land, freshwater, and seas by 2030; and directly tackling the drivers of nature loss,” among other goals.

“In our recently released Climate Action Plan, ASLA identified the connections between climate change and biodiversity loss. We made a clear commitment to advance 30 x 2030. We also called on all landscape architecture projects to restore ecosystems and protect biodiversity on a global scale by 2040 – and we call on national governments to be equally as bold,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen.

ASLA 2020 Professional General Design Honor Award. Deep Form of Designed Nature: Sanya Mangrove Park. Sanya City, Hainan Province, China. TURENSCAPE

“In Montréal, now is the time for a global agreement to address the biodiversity crisis and increase protections for nature. Biodiversity underpins all natural systems on Earth. Protecting our remaining biodiversity and bolstering and restoring ecosystems are critical to our long-term survival,” said ASLA President Emily O’Mahoney, FASLA.

According to the United Nations, one-million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, and seventy-five percent of the Earth’s ice-free land surface and two-thirds of the oceans have been significantly altered by humanity.

ASLA and its members understand there is both a biodiversity crisis and a climate crisis, and they are interconnected:

  • A changing climate is resulting in sea level rise, extreme heat, increased flooding, and drought, which impacts both communities and non-human species.
  • Biodiversity loss is largely driven by unsustainable agricultural practices, sprawl, and habitat fragmentation, but climate change is accelerating the alteration of habitats and species migration, which increases extinction risks.
  • Biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation undermine the natural systems humanity relies on to provide a range of critical ecosystem functions, including nature-based approaches to sequestering carbon and adapting to climate impacts.

“Landscape architects are uniquely qualified to plan denser communities and protect natural areas, combating the sprawl that threatens remaining ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots. We can also increase biodiversity through the incorporation of native tree and plant species, planning and designing habitat connections and corridors, and restoring degraded ecosystems – all of which have important climate benefits as well,” said O’Mahoney.

ASLA 2020 Professional General Design Honor Award. The Native Plant Garden at The New York Botanical Garden. Bronx, New York. OEHME, VAN SWEDEN | OvS / Ivo Vermeulen

Given the failure of the global community to meet the 2020 Aichi biodiversity targets, ASLA calls on national governments to significantly increase investment and support for conservation, habitat defragmentation and connection, and ecosystem restoration over the next decade.

In global discussions, ASLA also urges national governments to increasingly connect the climate and biodiversity crises, to not address them in a siloed manner. An integrated approach can increase the focus on nature-based solutions, including ecosystem-based mitigation and adaptation approaches, that address the climate and biodiversity crises together.

ASLA 2016 Professional Residential Honor Award. The Restoring of a Montane Landscape. Rocky Mountains, Colorado. Design Workshop, Inc.

In future COPs of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), nature-based solutions must be elevated and seen as integral to reducing emissions and increasing resilience.

Through advocacy, planning, and design efforts with urban, suburban, and rural communities, landscape architects can work with nature to help address both biodiversity and climate impacts. Landscape architects also support the rights and leadership of indigenous communities in conservation efforts worldwide.

ASLA notes that the Convention, which entered into force in 1993, has been ratified by 196 countries. The United States remains the only UN member country that has signed but not yet ratified the multilateral treaty. This has put the U.S. government and U.S. based organizations advocating for biodiversity at a disadvantage in global negotiations.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (November 16-30, 2022)

Ellinikon Metropolitan Park. Athens, Greece / Sasaki

Abandoned Greek Airport To Be Transformed Into a 600-Acre Coastal Park – 11/28/2022, CNN
“Designed by US architecture firm Sasaki, the design aims to provide much-needed green space to the Greek metropolis.”

Hood Design Studio Creates an Inhabitable Landscape for NVIDIA’s Campus in Santa Clara – 11/28/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“We wanted to move away from an ornamental function to create more usable space connected to the daily practice of work,” explained studio director and principal Alma Du Solier, ASLA.

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.”

Surfacedesign Introduces a Lush Garden with Native Vegetation to an Underused Backyard in San Francisco – 11/18/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“’More and more, there is a move away from tamed, manicured landscapes towards something more connected to a larger ecological condition,’ Surfacedesign partner Roderick Wyllie, FASLA, told AN.”

Voters Pass Historic Climate Initiatives in ‘Silent Surprise’ of US Midterms – 11/18/2022, The Guardian
“While the economy and abortion rights drove momentum behind the midterm election this year, voters in cities and states across the US also turned out to pass a number of climate ballot initiatives.”

Best Books of 2022

American Urbanist: How William H. Whyte’s Unconventional Wisdom Reshaped Public Life / Island Press

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 best books of 2022:

American Urbanist: How William H. Whyte’s Unconventional Wisdom Reshaped Public Life
Island Press, 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.

Beatrix Farrand: Garden Artist, Landscape Architect / The Monacelli Press
Garden as Art: Beatrix Farrand at Dumbarton Oaks / Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection

Beatrix Farrand: Garden Artist, Landscape Architect and Garden as Art: Beatrix Farrand at Dumbarton Oaks
The Monacelli Press, 2022 and Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2022

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.

Beyond the Garden: Designing Home Landscapes with Natural Systems / Princeton Architectural Press

Beyond the Garden: Designing Home Landscapes with Natural Systems
Princeton Architectural Press, 2022

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 Comprehensive Plan: Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Communities for the 21st Century / Routledge

The Comprehensive Plan: Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Communities for the 21st Century
Routledge, 2022

“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.

Experiencing Olmsted: The Enduring Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted’s North American Landscapes / Timber Press

Experiencing Olmsted: The Enduring Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted’s North American Landscapes
Timber Press, 2022

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.

From the Ground Up: Local Efforts to Create Resilient Cities / Island Press

From the Ground Up: Local Efforts to Create Resilient Cities
Island Press, 2022

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.

Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America / Liverlight

Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America
Liverlight, 2022

Oxford University historian Pekka Hämäläinen’s latest book is a vital addition to new histories of Native Americans, such as The Dawn of History: A New History of Humanity and The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present. Instead of focusing on Colonial America, he tells the story of Indigenous America, which began in 10,000 BCE and has been defined by the incredible diversity, resilience, and agency of Native peoples over millennia.

Landscape Architecture for Sea Level Rise: Global Innovative Solutions / Routledge

Landscape Architecture for Sea Level Rise: Global Innovative Solutions
Routledge, 2022

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.

Landscapes of Exclusion: State Parks and Jim Crow in the American South / Library of American Landscape History

Landscapes of Exclusion: State Parks and Jim Crow in the American South
Library of American Landscape History, 2022

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.

Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Well-Being, Equity, and Sustainability (2nd Edition) / Island Press

Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Well-Being, Equity, and Sustainability (2nd Edition)
Island Press, 2022

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.

Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the Great Environmental Awakening / HarperCollins, via DouglasBrinkley.com

Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the Great Environmental Awakening
HarperCollins, 2022

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.

Buying these books through THE DIRT or ASLA’s online bookstore benefits ASLA educational programs.

Community Empowerment Is at the Heart of Climate Resilience

From the Ground Up: Local Efforts to Create Resilient Cities / Island Press

By Grace Mitchell Tada, ASLA

“This book is a call to action.”

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.

Bike share riders in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood / Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, courtesy of Island Press

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 East Baltimore, wood from abandoned row houses is being reclaimed / Doug Kapustin, courtesy of Island Press

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.”

In San Francisco, designers of waterfront parks prioritize working with communities. Here, at Candlestick Point Park, the Literacy for Environmental Justice youth group restores wetland habitat / Victor Leung/Literacy for Environmental Justice, courtesy of Island Press

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.

Living Breakwaters model, Staten Island, NYC / SCAPE Landscape Architecture and Urban Design

“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.”

In Louisiana, efforts are being made to protect land through efforts such as marsh creation, like here at the Pelican Island dune and intertidal marsh restoration project in Plaquemines Parish / Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, courtesy of Island Press

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.

The Shared Spaces Program created public space in San Francisco’s Mission district during the Covid-19 pandemic / Alison Sant, courtesy of Island Press

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.

Grace Mitchell Tada, ASLA, is with Hood Design Studio and PGAdesign and co-editor of the book Black Landscapes Matter.

At COP27, Equity Becomes Focus of Climate Action

ASLA 2022 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Moakley Park Resilience Plan. Boston, Massachusetts. Stoss Landscape Urbanism

At the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, more than 200 governments reached a last minute deal to create a “loss and damages” fund that is expected to funnel billions from wealthy countries to the developing countries most impacted by climate change. The new fund, which will be developed over the coming year, will also focus on climate adaptation.

A 134-country coalition led by Pakistan argued that countries with the highest historic emissions, which include the U.S. and Europe, have an obligation to support developing countries experiencing increasingly severe climate flooding, drought, and heat impacts. This past summer in Pakistan, flooding exacerbated by climate change impacted more than a third of the country, affecting 33 million people and causing the loss of 1,700 lives and more than $40 billion in damages.

At COP27, two landscape architects representing ASLA and the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) — Kotchakorn Voraakhom, International ASLA, founder of Landprocess, and Pamela Conrad, ASLA, founder of Climate Positive Design — also called for more equitable investment in nature-based adaptation solutions and a greater commitment to the 2040 vision and goals of the ASLA Climate Action Plan.

Kotchakorn Voraakhom, International ASLA, and Pamela Conrad, ASLA at COP27

“While attending the conference, I heard how developing countries are not only struggling with the effects of climate change but also with making ends meet. The U.S. has historically contributed the most global emissions, yet countries that have only emitted a mere fraction of this are being impacted the most,” said Conrad, who is chair of the ASLA Climate Action Plan Task Force.

Pamela Conrad, ASLA, at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt / Kotchakorn Voraakhom, ASLA

“As a landscape architect from the global south, I don’t want nature-based solutions to become the buzzwords we all use, but then we really just continue with our business-as-usual solutions. We landscape architects are established professionals and know how nature-based solutions work. We can tackle climate change with nature-centric design,” said Voraakhom.

Thammasat University Urban Rooftop Farm, Pathum Thani Province, Thailand / Landprocess

The deal brokered at the UNFCCC calls for 24 countries to form a committee to determine how the fund will be formed, which countries will contribute, and how the funds will be distributed.

But there are still concerns that wealthy countries may fail to meet these future commitments, whatever amount is agreed to. Ten years ago, the United States, Europe, and other wealthy countries agreed to mobilize $100 billion in public and private climate finance, mostly for mitigation efforts, each year. According to The New York Times, that number still falls short by tens of billions every year.

The Biden administration sought $2.5 billion in climate support for developing countries, but only $1 billion was recently approved by a Democratic Congress. The European Union has committed another $300 million, which would also support access to insurance for countries like Pakistan, but that is much less than what is needed to achieve equitable climate action.

“We still aren’t achieving equity and justice. Loss and damage have been an important focus at this COP, but commitments for adaptation funds aren’t there yet,” said Voraakhom.

Other significant causes of concern at COP27: Countries failed to reach consensus on phasing out fossil fuels. In Glasgow, Scotland at COP26, more than 20 countries agreed to phase out coal use by 2030. However, notably, China and India, which are still heavily rely on coal power, didn’t join the pledge.

And this means the 1.5°C temperature increase limit is increasingly at risk: A recent report from the United Nations found the latest commitments from the 193 countries that signed on to the Paris Climate Accord in 2015 put the world on track to warm by 2.1 to 2.9°C by the end of the century.

Landscape architects are calling for more equitable finance and support for developing countries, which can improve access to renewable energy and resilience through ecosystem-based adaptation.

The Upper Los Angeles River and Tributaries Revitalization Plan, Los Angeles, California / Studio-MLA

“To create a more fair and just world, we must support those that have done the least to cause these problems. I still remain hopeful that once all countries are supported equitably, we can collectively reduce emissions to stave off the devastating effects of a 1.5° C (2.7° F) increase,” Conrad said.

Explore the recently released ASLA Climate Action plan, which puts equity at the center of all climate planning and design efforts.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (November 1-15, 2022)

ASLA 2022 Professional Urban Design Honor Award. Midtown Park. Houston, TX, USA. Design Workshop, Inc. / Brandon Huttenlocher courtesy of Design Workshop, Inc.

ASLA Unveils Framework for Achieving Zero Emissions by 2040 Through Practice, Equity, and Advocacy – 11/15/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) used its annual large-scale gathering to unveil what’s perhaps the most consequential goal-based agenda to be produced by the professional association in its 123-year history: a comprehensive Climate Action Plan.”

Fair Trade – 11/08/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Landscape architecture design studio Terremoto addresses labor exploitation in its industry.”

It’s Official: Climate Reparations Are on the Agenda at This Year’s UN Climate Conference – 11/07/2022, Grist
“After dodging the issue for more than 30 years, wealthy nations face calls to address the ‘loss and damage’ created by climate change at COP27.”

Are Trees Talking Underground? For Scientists, It’s in Dispute. – 11/07/2022, The New York Times
“From Ted Lasso to TED Talks, the theory of the ‘wood-wide web’ is everywhere, and some scientists argue that it is overblown and unproven.”

Planning Commission Pushes for Bolder One Seattle Plan Re-Envisioning City Streets – 11/07/2022, The Urbanist
“In a set of recommendations submitted to the city, the commission calls for revised land use and transportation policies that reclaim public space from cars and shift focus away from vehicle throughput to more pedestrian-oriented uses.”

How One Indiana Park Restored the Landscape to Its 19th Century Glory – 11/02/2022, Fast Company
“The Swamp Act of 1850 erased millions of acres of swampland from the U.S. In Westfield, Indiana, landscape architects are bringing one waterway back to life.”

Landscape Architects Aim for Zero Emissions by 2040

ASLA 2019 Professional General Design Honor Award. Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park Phase II: A New Urban Ecology. Long Island City, NY. SWA/BALSLEY and WEISS/MANFREDI with ARUP / copyright Vecerka/ESTO, courtesy SWA/BALSLEY and WEISS/MANFREDI

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Announces New Industry-wide Benchmarks to Address Climate Change and Biodiversity Crises

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) announced today that it has set new goals for the profession. Together the ASLA Climate Action Plan and the Climate Action Field Guide for ASLA Members chart a pathway for landscape architects to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions in their projects and operations and increase carbon sequestration by 2040.

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.

ASLA 2016 Professional Residential Design Honor Award. The Restoring of a Montane Landscape. Rocky Mountains, Colorado. Design Workshop, Inc. / D.A. Horchner, Design Workshop, Inc.

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.

Parks of the 21st Century: New Ways to Reinvent Abandoned Land

Parks of the 21st Century: Reinvented Landscapes, Reclaimed Territories / Rizzoli

By Grace Mitchell Tada, ASLA

On our heterogeneous planet, finding an overarching commonality between new parks around the world seems daunting. Yet author and architectural historian Victoria Newhouse, along with Alex Pisha, argue in the new book Parks of the 21st Century: Reinvented Landscapes, Reclaimed Territories that there is one: the drive to create parks on post-industrial, degraded, or otherwise rejected land.

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.”

Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin, Germany / Manuel Frauendorffotografic, image courtesy of Grün Berlin GmbH

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.

Shanghai Shipyard Riverside Park, Shanghai, China / Design Land Collaborative

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.

Parque Bicentenario, Mexico City, Mexico / Francisco Gomez Sosa; Courtesy of Grupo de Diseño Urbano SC

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.

Huadu Lake Park, Guangzhou, China / Zhenlun Guan

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.

Thomas C. Wales Park, Seattle, WA / Site Workshop

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.”

Lorsch Abbey, Lorsch, Germany / copyright Hanns Joosten

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.

Freshkills Park / James Corner Field Operations

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.

Grace Mitchell Tada, ASLA, is with Hood Design Studio and PGAdesign and co-editor of the book Black Landscapes Matter.