Can Nature-based Alternatives to Seawalls Keep the Waves at Bay? – 08/12/22, The Guardian
“’We can’t build single-purpose infrastructure any more,’ said Pippa Brashear, ASLA, project manager for the Living Breakwaters. The structure that comprises granite rocks and eco-concrete, along with the biological activity that will latch on to and grow out of these structures are intended to work together.”
Highway Removal a High Hurdle, Even With New Funding – 08/11/22, Governing
“Removing highways is a tricky business, a costly and time-consuming physical feat, but advocates say even a small commitment to addressing the harms of legacy highway infrastructure is a positive sign.”
RAISE Grants to Fund Complete Streets in Nearly Every State – 08/11/22, Streetsblog
“The U.S. Department of Transportation released the list of projects that were approved as part of the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant programs, which funds roughly $2.2 billion across 166 initiatives spanning all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.”
A Landscape for Clean Water on the Chesapeake Bay– 08/09/22, Metropolis
“‘We understood the slope necessary for the historic structures up there, and still wanted to maximize the amount of shoreline that could survive,’ says Carlin Tacey, Waterstreet’s project manager. ‘We’re slowing down the water flow, and trying to use a planted landscape to absorb nutrients that would end up in the bay.'”
After several years of intensive study and community planning, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) along with federal and local partners released its new vision for Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., “the nation’s preeminent ceremonial boulevard,” and three concept plans in March. The goal is to transform an overwhelming and underused avenue into a space that “prioritizes people over cars with inviting and inclusive public spaces.” The NCPC argues that with a new design, the 1.2-mile-long avenue could become a “signature outdoor event venue that could attract and support major national and international events.”
According to The Cultural Landscape Foundation, the avenue was part of L’Enfant’s 1791 plan for the District of Columbia and symbolically connects the White House, the executive branch of government, with the U.S. Capitol, the legislative branch. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson designated the avenue the official Presidential inaugural route. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy, who complained about the pawn shops, X-rated movie houses, and liquor stores lining the avenue, created the President’s Commission on Pennsylvania Avenue, which included landscape architect Dan Kiley, to design a broad ceremonial avenue that would improve the pedestrian experience. In the 1980s, the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation further developed the parks and plazas along the avenue with landscape architecture firm Sasaki, establishing the unifying brown pavers that now define the space.
Today, eight lanes of roadways dominate the avenue, which make crossing the 160-to-400-foot-wide expanse feel like a chore. A central two-way cycle track fit in between vehicle lanes creates an angsty biking experience that requires vigilance about both pedestrians using crosswalks and vehicles on either sides. A 2018 District of Columbia transportation study found that 20 feet of the existing roadway could be allocated for other non-vehicle uses.
Reducing roadways for vehicles creates a slew of opportunities to re-imagine the avenue. NCPC has offered three concepts to “right-size and realign the roadway to increase the amount of usable and flexible public space” and “devote more space for people, bicyclists, and transit and less space for cars.” All three concepts would accommodate the Presidential inaugural parade from the U.S. Capitol to the White House.
Elizabeth Miller, FASLA, director of physical planning at NCPC and project director of the initiative, said “the three concepts are really distinct themes that enable us to achieve the goals of transforming Pennsylvania Avenue into both a street for people and America’s stage, a venue for national and international events. These concepts are at at 10,000-foot level and explore how to achieve balance between a space that can be enjoyable on a day-to-day basis but also support events.”
The “Urban Capital” concept is a “complete street with spacious sidewalks, central travel and dedicated transit lanes, and a two-way cycle track on the south side of the street.” Of the three options, this is closest to what currently exists, but would enhance the public realm with an improved streetscape and offer a better cycling experience.
Much bolder, the “Linear Green” concept proposes a “curbless car-free urban linear park with a dedicated central transit way flanked by dedicated cycle tracks.” Given research shows that people are drawn to green space, this proposal could perhaps be the most successful in bringing more visitors to the avenue and keeping them there longer. This offers a Dutch-style woonerf avenue, a much safer and welcoming experience for both pedestrians and cyclists.
The third “Civic Stage” concept proposes a “central pedestrian promenade flanked by a dedicated cycle track and shared travel lanes for cars and transit.” Here, a 52-feet-wide central strip in the middle of the avenue would offer pedestrians the broadest views up and down the avenue, but would require them to also navigate two sets of transit, vehicle, and bike lanes on either side. While the central promenade could be used for events or farmers markets, blazing hot DC summers could reduce use of a shade-less walking median.
NCPC also offers concepts for three “urban rooms” that would better connect the avenue to surrounding parks, memorials, museums, and businesses, while providing space for more temporary events.
Prior to the pandemic, more than 160 events were held each year on the avenue, but NCPC argues there could be even more with higher-quality public spaces better supported by retail and amenities, like public restrooms. They argue these urban rooms can help boost the downtown economy of Washington, D.C.
Through the proposals, NCPC offers ways to blur the boundaries between avenue, plaza, and park, creating a more seamless pedestrian experience. The concepts offer multiple reconfigurations of new public space in the many triangles where the avenue meets city streets. All add usable public green space and improve walkability and circulation.
One point of contention has already arisen since the concepts were first released: Since the 1980s, a diverse mix of skateboarders have claimed the otherwise empty, shade-less Freedom Plaza across from Pershing Park. Though their use of the plaza is technically illegal, some argue they enliven an underused space. Many skateboarders travel from out of state to experience Pennsylvania Avenue, bringing a vitality to an otherwise unloved plaza. According to The Washington Post, “generations of skateboarders have traveled to the plaza to connect with other skaters, pull off tricks, and record videos to mark their spot in skateboard lore.”
To preserve Freedom Plaza as a skating mecca, the skateboarders have created an online petition that has received some 11,000 signatures to date. Ensuring space for them in the future on one of America’s most important avenues would send a true message of inclusion.
Miller explained that public comments will shape future concepts and designs, which will then be returned to the public for additional review. More developed ideas may arise from a mix of multiple concepts. While realizing the entire vision could take a decade, NCPC hopes to initiate near-term pilots and programs to test out ideas.
She told the in person audience of hundreds in downtown Washington, D.C. that the foundations of the landscape architecture profession feel like they are now “shaking,” but a path to a more diverse, equitable, and sustainable profession is in development. This path will be forged by continuously “cultivating the next game-changing ideas” and “removing obstacles in order to design effectively.” Over the course of a year-long research project, the six fellows, which include both emerging and established professionals, were asked to “transform themselves in order to transform others.”
Landscape architects once led roadway design, argued Ellen Oettinger White, who is a PhD Candidate at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux invented the concept of the parkway in the 1860s, and for decades landscape architects led interdisciplinary teams of engineers to construct roadways that prioritized landscape beauty. But with the rise of the Interstate Highway system in the Eisenhower era, “they lost their power.” Today, hundreds of landscape architects work in state departments of transportation and have “deep expertise” with road design, but they must now work collaboratively in teams led by engineers to exert their influence.
White said the 1930s were the height of landscape-architect led roadway design. In 1932, the Transportation Research Board’s Landscape and Environmental Design Committee was formed. The 1950s saw a loss of “positional power” for landscape architects with the rise of highways and freeways designed for high-speed travel. But with the Highway Beautiful Act of 1965, an effort led by Lady Bird Johnson, there was a greater focus on roadside native plants and wildflowers, increased flexibility in design, and a new, larger role for landscape architects (see image at top).
The more recent clear-cutting of trees along highways in many states provides an opportunity for landscape architecture to reclaim roadway design, White thinks. In Georgia, 13 percent of roadside acreage has been cleared. “Engineers see this as a safe landscape,” because fewer trees means fewer collisions with trees. But there has been a growing backlash in Georgia and other states where landscape beauty has been sacrificed in favor of notions about safety. “There are 5 million acres of public roadsides in the U.S. There are 1.1 billion car trips taken each day. Driving is the only way for millions to interact with the landscape.” White thinks roadsides provide an incredible opportunity to not only offer the benefits of scenic beauty, but also sequester carbon, restore ecosystems, and create safe wildlife corridors.
N. Claire Napawan, ASLA, associate professor at University of California Davis, said her landscape architecture students are “so creative, engaged, and diverse, but they are entering a profession that is not diverse.” As part of her fellowship, her goal was to diversify landscape architecture pedagogy, reassess syllabi, and realize diversity, equity, and inclusion commitments in order to better resonate with diverse students. This involved re-evaluating outdated textbooks that fail to put diverse landscapes at the center.
Through her process, Napawan discovered one important truth: “We love stories. We love stories with heroes and villains, origin stories, and stories of transformation.” Stories have a deep impact on how we frame our understanding of the world. But too often our important stories are incomplete or not inclusive. For example, she said she had been teaching about Frederick Law Olmsted and Central Park, and up until recently didn’t know the story of Seneca Village, the freed Black community of landowners that was displaced to make way for the park. This led her on a “search for stories that are missing in formal education.” But a challenge became apparent: “how do you know what is missing, if it was always missing?”
Looking outside the landscape architecture academic discipline for answers, Napawan explored history, feminism, and critical race theory, academic disciplines “asking different questions.” This led her to her next conclusion: “We live stories. We are the stories we tell ourselves.” That is why it’s so important to encourage personal storytelling among diverse landscape architecture students. She relayed growing up bi-culturally in Bangkok, Thailand, and Scott County, Iowa, with her experiences either centered or marginalized, depending on her context. Students need to be provided with more diverse landscapes as learning tools to find ones that resonate with their own complex histories. “Design is storytelling. Storytelling needs to make room for multiplicities and radically different precedents. We need new stories for diverse design. And we need to leave space for new stories.”
“We need to advance the science of landscape architecture,” said James A. LaGro Jr., a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and editor-in-chief of Landscape Journal, the academic journal of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA). With a masters of landscape architecture and PhD in natural resource policy and planning from Cornell University, LaGro called for improving the scientific evidence of the benefits of landscape architecture. He argued that is key to the growth of the profession and increasing its impact.
With a comprehensive vision for how landscape architecture profession can grow in the future, he issued multiple calls to action to ASLA, LAF, CELA, and Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB). He called for increased pathways to advanced research degrees, including fellowships and scholarships, and multiple career paths outside private practice. To build a greater evidence-based practice, the landscape architecture profession should model itself after medical fields, with a clinician and research-based approach. Key to achieving this will be increased partnerships between university landscape architecture programs, firms, non-profit organizations and foundations, and government agencies. “We must foster partnerships — this is where the real synergies come in. Academics need to learn what research issues are from practitioners.”
More PhDs in the field of landscape architecture can also help improve research methods. “PhDs can ask more sophisticated questions and get more sophisticated answers.” He sees the rise of firm-based research labs as an implicit criticism of academia. Landscape architecture firms want to find solutions to “complex social problems and advance the profession, but they are not getting what they need from academics.” But he also cautioned that the case studies and research often created by firms have limited research value. “We need more systematic reviews, meta-analysis, and randomized control trials to create convincing evidence for policymakers. We need better evidence.”
Get In. We’re Going to Save the Mall. – 06/08/22, The New York Times
“The second wave of mall building in the 1970s often targeted low-lying areas that were difficult to develop for residential or other uses, and rightly so, as they were bottoms, or stream beds prone to flooding. Meriden Hub Mall in Meriden, Conn., was one such site. In 2007 the city began working on a plan, using local, state and federal funds, to replace the mall with a 14-acre park, opening access to Harbor Creek, creating a public space that also functions as a water retention basin and building a bridge and amphitheater.”
How New Orleans Neighborhoods Are Using Nature to Reduce Flooding – 06/08/2022, Grist
“For many New Orleanians, water management isn’t about billion-dollar levees or century-old pumps. It’s about small, nature-based projects like that rain garden or pavement that allows water to soak in, new wetlands, or streets lined with trees.”
Solution or Band-Air? Carbon Capture Projects Are Moving Ahead – 06/07/2022, Yale Environment 360
“Long discussed but rarely used, carbon capture and storage projects — which bury waste CO2 underground — are on the rise globally. Some scientists see the technology as a necessary tool in reducing emissions, but others say it simply perpetuates the burning of fossil fuels.”
PRIDE: Creating Inclusive Landscapes for All to Enjoy — 06/01/2022, Luxe
“For landscape architect David A. Rubin, empathy and accessibility are core qualities of business and personal ethos. The founding principal of DAVID RUBIN Land Collective—a nationally certified LGBT small business enterprise studio with locations in Philadelphia and Indianapolis—urges designers to shed light on the challenges of others by asking a simple question: ‘How can I help you?’ Here, Rubin underscores the value in taking risks and seeking commonalities over contrasts.”
Boston’s Heat Plan — 06/01/2022, Architectural Record
“The Heat Plan follows a nearly decade-long collaboration between Sasaki and the City of Boston and is a new and critical component of the Climate Ready Boston initiative, which seeks to address the short- and long-term effects of climate change, such as sea-level rise and extreme precipitation.”
Fighting Flooding in Houston and New York — 05/31/2022, Architectural Record
“‘These types of projects are often deployed opportunistically, connecting to existing trails, open space—or leveraging adjacent infrastructure projects,’ explains Scott McCready, principal at landscape architecture firm SWA Group’s Houston office. That approach can result in already well-served areas’ seeing greater investment, but leaving needier neighborhoods behind, which McCready says ‘is an ongoing challenge to all involved.'”
How the ‘Queen of Slag’ Is Transforming Industrial Sites — 05/30/2022, The New York Times
“For more than 30 years, Julie Bargmann, a landscape architect and founder of D.I.R.T. Studio (Dump It Right There) in Charlottesville, Va., has focused on contaminated and forgotten urban and postindustrial sites, dedicating her practice to addressing social and environmental justice.”
21 Questions with Landscape Architect Signe Nielsen — 05/30/2022, Curbed
“New York’s ‘21 Questions’ is back with an eye on creative New Yorkers. Signe Nielsen is a landscape architect who has practiced in New York for over 40 years. Her firm, MNLA, designed Hudson River Park; Little Island, in collaboration with Heatherwick Studio; and the Governor Island master plan, in collaboration with West 8. Nielsen is the president of the city’s Public Design Commission.”
Yes, You Can Save Lives by Planting Trees, a New Study Says — 05/27/2022, Grist
“For a study published earlier this month in Frontiers in Public Health, researchers looked at 35 metropolitan areas within the U.S. They compared satellite data showing changes in how much greenery a city had with mortality data for people aged 65 and older from 2000 to 2019. Using these measures, they estimated that even small increases in greenery could have saved over 34,000 lives over the past two decades.”
The Social and Economic Benefits of Green Schoolyards — 05/24/2022, Trust for Public Land
“While gray schoolyards had a moderately lower initial renovation cost ($2.3 million compared to $2.6 million for green schoolyards), they yielded no benefits over time, with schools continuing to sink money into resealing asphalt. After the initial investment, green schoolyards brought in almost $600,000 in net benefits.”
How Countries Weaponize Landscape Design in War — 05/16/2022, Fast Company
“Landscape design presents itself as a tool capable of influencing the health and well-being and, therefore, the hearts and minds of local populations. Ultimately it can achieve military objectives through the planning and planting of green space.”
MUSK SEE: Three Reasons Why Congestion Decreases When Cities ‘Delete’ Road Lanes — 05/13/2022, Streetsblog USA
“A wildly inaccurate comment from Elon Musk about the traffic impacts of deleting lanes for drivers is prompting a conversation about the little-known phenomenon of ‘reduced demand’ — and how advocates can better debunk common congestion myths that powerful, but often ill-informed, people continue to promulgate.”
Security Features For Outdoor Living Trend In Latest Houzz Survey — 05/10/22, Forbes
“It’s no secret that outdoor living has become a huge trend. ‘It has exploded over the past five years with homeowners desiring to have resort-like backyards,’ declares Reno-based landscape architect and franchisor Ron DuHamel, president of FireSky.
Justice Department Unveils New Environmental Justice Moves (2) — 05/05/2022, Bloomberg Law
“The Department of Justice announced a trio of major environmental justice actions on Thursday, including the launch of a new office and the resurrection of a popular enforcement tool scrapped during the Trump administration.”
A Smarter Urban Design Concept for a Town Decimated by Wildfires— 05/03/2022, Fast Company
“SWA Group—a winner of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards—is helping Paradise, California, imagine a safer and more sustainable future with a design that buffers the town with parks, athletic fields, and orchards—areas less likely to burn than forests.”
New Park Brings Residents of Los Angeles’ Chinatown Together— 05/01/2022, Parks and Recreation Business
“Designed by the landscape architecture and planning firm, AHBE/MIG, Ord and Yale Street Park represents the transformation of a once-vacant, one-acre hillside into a new pocket neighborhood park for the community.”
New Research Highlights the Role of Green Spaces in Conflict — 04/14/22, University of British Columbia
“Green spaces can promote well-being, but they may not always be benign. Sometimes, they can be a tool for control. That’s the finding of a new paper that analyzed declassified U.S. military documents to explore how U.S. forces used landscapes to fight insurgency during the war in Afghanistan.”
James Corner Field Operations’ Tunnel-topping San Francisco Park Is Set for July Debut — 04/13/22, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Visitors to Presidio Tunnel Tops will find winding cliffside trails, picnic areas, extensive gardens and meadows filled with native vegetation, a 2-acre natural play area for children dubbed the Outpost, and several elevated overlooks offering sweeping city and bridge views. The new swath of parkland will fuse back together the waterfront and Crissy Field, a former air field that now serves as a popular recreation hotspot, with the Presidio’s bustling historic Main Post.”
Why JW Marriott Is Planting Edible Gardens in Every One of Its Hotels — 04/13/22, Fast Company Design
“The terrarium was designed by Lily Kwong, whose eponymous landscape design studio has previously worked with H&M, St-Germain, and the French fashion designer Joseph Altuzarra (who is also her cousin). The terrarium is part of a broader initiative called the JW Garden, for which the hotel chain plants fruits, vegetables, and herbs to use in its kitchen and spas.”
Green Transportation Projects Face Costly, Time-consuming Environmental Reviews — 04/13/22, The San Francisco Examiner
“Transit agencies across California are ready to move forward with more than three dozen green transportation projects, ranging from bus rapid transit lines to bike lanes. But unless the Legislature takes action, these projects could be mired in years of costly, time-consuming analysis and lawsuits on the basis that they are bad for the environment.”
Special Report: U.S. Solar Expansion Stalled by Rural Land-use Protests — 04/07/22, Reuters
“Solar currently makes up 3% of U.S. electricity supply and could reach 45% by 2050 to meet the Biden administration’s goals to eliminate or offset emissions by 2050, according to the Department of Energy. To get there, the U.S. solar industry needs a land area twice the size of Massachusetts, according to DOE. And not any land will do, either. It needs to be flat, dry, sunny, and near transmission infrastructure that will transport its power to market.”
The Next Level in Sustainability: Nature Restoration — 03/15/22, The New York Times
“Landscape architects from Surfacedesign in San Francisco focused on extensive natural habitat restoration for the project, a former industrial site that at one point was two piers in Elliott Bay filled in with garbage. That meant meters-deep soil replacement to ease the seeding of native plants, grasses and a coastal meadow.”
Atlanta Takes Major Step Forward in Establishing Its First Park with Chattahoochee River Access — 03/15/22, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Per New York- and New Orleans-based landscape architecture and urban design studio SCAPE, which is leading a multidisciplinary design team for the effort, Chattahoochee RiverLands is a vision to ‘reunite the River with the Metro Atlanta Region and link suburban, urban, and rural communities into a continuous public realm that centers the River as a regional resource.'”
From One Parking Spot to 100 Public Parks: The History of San Francisco’s Street Transformation — 03/11/22, Fast Company Design
“In January 2020, San Francisco realized a long-envisioned goal of eliminating cars from 10 blocks of its central commercial corridor, Market Street. Improvements at intersections were installed to make the street safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Within the first two months, bike and scooter usage increased by 25%, and bus travel speeds went up an average of 6%.”
An Architect Who Mixes Water and Nature to Build Resilience — 03/07/22, The New York Times
Kotchakorn Voraakhom, International ASLA: “There are many benefits to being a woman; particularly the connection to nature. I think with motherhood, the cycles of the body, we’re more in touch with nature in our bodies and our hearts.”
Landscape Architecture Is All About Finding Balance with Nature — Outside Magazine
“As a landscape architect, Ryley Thiessen understands that finding balance is key. While his work requires him to design four-season resorts around the world—and make them accessible and enjoyable for all visitors—he never wants to take too much from nature.”
5 Takeaways from the Latest United Nations Climate Change Report— 02/28/22, The Washington Post
“The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a warning letter to a world on the brink. A sweeping survey of the most advanced climate science on the planet, it recounts the effects rising temperatures are already having and projects the catastrophes that loom if humans fail to make swift and significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.”
A Bike Plan Revived: Adding a Path to the Olmsted-designed 33rd Street Greenspace — 02/28/22, Baltimore Fishbowl
“The city’s broader goals are to create a safe, well-used trail that makes the best use of the historic, picturesque median designed by the Olmsted Brothers (named a local landmark, along with the Gwynns Falls Parkway median, in 2015) and improves traffic and pedestrian safety at intersections.”
Best Apps for Urban Planning in 2022 – 02/28/22, Planetizen
“Mobile apps continue to redefine the practices of planning—urban planning, regional planning, transportation planning, community planning, and rural planning included.”
How ‘Solar Canals’ Could Help California Survive a Megadrought — 02/25/22, Fast Company Design
“In that 2021 study, we showed that covering all 4,000 miles of California’s canals with solar panels would save more than 65 billion gallons of water annually by reducing evaporation. That’s enough to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland or meet the residential water needs of more than 2 million people.
How a Philadelphia Road Redesign Went off the Rails — 02/23/22, Bloomberg CityLab
“It isn’t uncommon for complete streets projects to become lightning rods for arguments about gentrification, says Leah Shahum, the founder and executive director of the Vision Zero Network, which pushes communities to adopt a goal of eliminating traffic deaths.”
Biden: Infrastructure Plan Gives $1B for Great Lakes Cleanup — 02/17/22, U.S. News and World Report, Associated Press
“The $1 billion for the Great Lakes from the bipartisan measure enacted in November, combined with annual funding through an ongoing recovery program, will enable agencies by 2030 to finish work on 22 sites designated a quarter-century ago as among the region’s most degraded, officials said Thursday.”