Sponge-Worthy Design for the Gowanus Canal– The Architectural Record, 11/1/16
“A tiny new park in Brooklyn has a big job: absorbing and filtering a million gallons of stormwater each year that flows into one of the most putrid waterways in the United States.”
Our New Urban Oases – The New York Times Magazine, 11/10/16
“Just a few blocks north of Philadelphia’s Center City, with its immaculate grid designed by the city’s founder, William Penn, the landscape turns hardscrabble.”
We’ve all heard about complete streets — streets that provide access to everyone, with ample space for pedestrians, bicyclists, cars, and buses. But, at GreenBuild in Los Angeles, a group of landscape architects argued they are really just the bare minimum. Streets can become public spaces, taking on park-like qualities. In our increasingly dense urban world, streets can be redesigned to provide environmental benefits and create a sense of community.
Jennifer Packer, ASLA, associate principal at Melendrez, a Los Angeles-based landscape architecture firm, sees great opportunities in Los Angeles county’s 20,000 kilometers of roadways, the vast majority of which are neither complete or green. She pointed to one example showing the way forward: the $20-million MyFigueroa (MyFig) project, which re-envisions a major corridor through downtown Los Angeles. There, a 4-mile stretch is being redeveloped to include separate bus platforms and shelters, bike lanes and racks, more accessible crosswalks and clearer signage, and lots of greenery. It’s a key first step in Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Great Streets Initiative.
Monrovia, a foothill community in Los Angeles, just got a new transit village for the new station along the new metro line that heads east from downtown out to Santa Monica. There, AHBE Landscape Architects created a “complete street neighborhood,” multiplying the benefits, said Evan Mather, ASLA, principal at AHBE. A multi-modal transit center now connects bikes, cars, and pedestrians to the rail. Plants native to the foothill eco-tone were re-established and set within stormwater management systems. Around the station, there’s a new mile-long loop trail dotted with bioswales and planters. The new streets help further define a new downtown Monrovia.
For Nate Cormier, ASLA, director of landscape architecture at AECOM downtown L.A. Studio, Bell Street Park in Seattle is a prime example of what it means to go beyond complete streets: the street as a park. MIG|SvR and Hewitt designed a 4-block-long “woonerf,” which is Dutch for a street that has no curbs and purposefully creates an ambiguous zone where cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists mix. Due to this constant intermingling, everyone is more vigilant, so the street actually becomes safer. “Everyone is negotiating the street; jay walking is the norm.” Textured concrete helps send the message this isn’t a speedway for cars passing through. Trees shade small parklets with cafe tables that “act like a front porch.”
In high-density, expensive environments like Seattle, where cities can’t afford to buy up properties to create parks, Bell Street Park may offer a model. The community made the street-park happen by tapping the parks department’s “levy opportunities,” but, through a memorandum of understanding, the city’s department of transportation maintains some aspects of it.
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is excited to announce its 30 professional award recipients for 2016. Selected from 456 entries, the awards honor top public, commercial, residential, institutional, planning, communications and research projects in the U.S. and around the world. The winners will receive their awards at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in New Orleans on Monday, October 24 at the New Orleans Ernest M. Morial Convention Center.
The following is a complete list of 2016 professional award winners:
General Design Category
Award of Excellence (see image above)
Underpass Park, Toronto, Ontario
by PFS Studio for Waterfront Toronto
Framing Terrain and Water: Quzhou Luming Park, Quzhou City, Zhejiang Province, China
by Turenscape for the Quzhou City Government
Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Bishan, Singapore
by Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl for the Public Utilities Board / National Parks Board, Singapore
Converging Ecologies as a Gateway to Acadiana, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana
by CARBO Landscape Architecture for St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission
The Metro-Forest Project, Bangkok, Thailand
by Landscape Architects of Bangkok (LAB) for PTT Public Company Limited
The Power Station, Dallas
by Hocker Design Group for The Pinnell Foundation
Corktown Common: Flood Protection and a Neighbourhood Park, Toronto, Ontario
by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. for Waterfront Toronto in Partnership with Toronto Region Conservancy Authority (TRCA) and Infrastructure Ontario (IO)
Grand Teton National Park Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, Moose, Wyoming
by Swift Company LLC for the National Park Service, Grand Teton National Park Foundation and Grand Teton Association
Eco-Corridor Resurrects Former Brownfield, Ningbo, China
by SWA for Ningbo Planning Bureau – East New Town Development Committee
Analysis and Planning Category
Award of Excellence
The Copenhagen Cloudburst Formula: A Strategic Process for Planning and Designing Blue-Green Interventions, Copenhagen, Denmark
by Ramboll and Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl for the Municipality of Copenhagen
Central Puget Sound Regional Open Space Strategy, Puget Sound Region, Washington
by University of Washington Green Futures Lab for The Bullitt Foundation and The Russell Family Foundation
Rebuild by Design, The Big U, Manhattan, New York
by Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Rebuild by Design
Memorial Park Master Plan 2015, Houston
by Nelson Byrd Woltz for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, The Memorial Park Conservancy, and Uptown Houston
Baton Rouge Lakes: Restoring a Louisiana Landmark from Ecological Collapse to Cultural Sanctuary, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
by SWA Group for the Baton Rouge Area Foundation
Bayou Greenways: Realizing the Vision, Houston
by SWA Group for the Houston Parks Board
Award of Excellence
What’s Out There Guidebooks
by The Cultural Landscape Foundation
Roving Rangers: Bringing the Parks to the People
by BASE Landscape Architecture, for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund
Activating Land Stewardship and Participation in Detroit: A Field Guide to Working with Lots
by Detroit Future City, published by Inland Press
Landscape Architecture Documentation Standards: Principles, Guidelines and Best Practices
by Design Workshop, published by John Wiley & Sons
PHYTO: Principles and Resources for Site Remediation and Landscape Design
by Kate Kennen, ASLA, and Niall Kirkwood, FASLA, published by Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group
DredgeFest Event Series
by The Dredge Research Collaborative
Sea Change: Boston
by Sasaki Associates Inc.
Weather-Smithing: Assessing the Role of Vegetation, Soil and Adaptive Management in Urban Green Infrastructure Performance
by Andropogon Associates Ltd. for the University of Pennsylvania
Residential Design Category
Award of Excellence
DBX Ranch: A Transformation Brings Forth a New Livable Landscape, Pitkin County, Colorado
by Design Workshop Inc.
Kronish House, Beverly Hills, California
by Marmol Radziner
The Restoring of a Montane Landscape, Rocky Mountains, Colorado
by Design Workshop Inc.
Chilmark: Embracing a Glacial Moraine, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
by Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects
The Rivermark, Sacramento, California
by Fletcher Studio for Bridge Housing Corporation
Water Calculation and Poetic Interpretation, Carmel, California
by Arterra Landscape Architects
The Landmark Award
Michigan Avenue Streetscape: 20 Years of Magnificent Mile Blooms, Chicago
by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects for the City of Chicago/Michigan Avenue Streetscape Association
The professional awards jury included:
Kona Gray, ASLA, Chair, EDSA, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Keith Bowers, FASLA, Biohabitats Inc. Baltimore
Jennifer Guthrie, FASLA, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, Seattle
Mami Hara, ASLA, Philadelphia Water Department, Philadelphia
Christopher Hume, Architecture Critic, Toronto Star, Toronto, Ontario
Lee-Anne Milburn, FASLA, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, California
Willett Moss, ASLA, CMG Landscape Architecture, San Francisco
Suman Sorg, FAIA, DLR Group | Sorg, Washington, D.C.
“Cities have been demanding reduced car dependence,” said Peter Newman, professor of sustainability at Curtin University and elder statesman of sustainable transportation, at a talk in Washington, D.C. As a result, 2015 saw a 3 percent decline in greenhouse gas emissions globally. And yet Newman’s indicators show global wealth rising.
“All the economists and transport planning modelers still think that if you get wealthier, you will drive more.” According to Newman’s data, this is not necessarily true. “We are driving less and still getting wealthier.” The book traces the decline of auto-dependence in global cities.
There are four drivers of this momentous change, according to Newman: increased urban density, the transition to the knowledge economy, generational change, and the relative convenience of public transportation.
“Since 1999, cities are becoming denser,” Newman said. “The young and the wealthy want to see people face to face. And density of jobs increases productivity.”
According to Newman, car use dropped 23 percent from 2001 to 2009 among 16 to 34 year olds. People in their 40s and 50s are driving less, people in their 20s and 30s less still. But those in their 60s or older are still reluctant to relinquish their steering wheels, according to Newman’s data.
With regards to the convenience of public transportation, Newman stated, “time dominates transport.” Last decade, as people were limiting car use, public transit use increased by 100 percent, biking 122 percent, and walking a respectable 37 percent.
Newman’s data elicited several audible gasps during the presentation, one of which was heard when he demonstrated how 240 people could commute in either 1 train, 3 buses, or 177 cars. “Traffic is slowing down because of how many cars there are, and rail is getting fast,” Newman said. “The demand now is for walking and transit fabric.” To further emphasize the decoupling of wealth and car use, Newman showed how the six most walkable cities in the US enjoy a 38 percent higher GDP, on average.
Europe, which never bought into the cult of the car, and Asia, which has only experienced massive economic growth relatively recently, are leading the way on sustainable transportation, Newman said. His book cites 82 Chinese cities and 51 Indian cities that are currently building metro systems.
As for how to fund urban rail, Newman suggested identifying areas ripe for redevelopment, involving the private sector in unlocking that value, then examining what transit numbers might be achieved. He shared how his city of Perth in Australia has done just that.
“The walkable city is a delight,” Newman said while answering attendees’ questions, but he admitted that successful density is still an elusive goal for many cities.“The cities that are doing it right are doing it with biophilic urbanism.”
Newman offered Singapore, the island city-state of 5.4 million people, as an example. Roughly 10 percent of the city is devoted to public parks. Additionally, all new buildings must integrate natural habitat into their designs, replacing the potential habitat lost by their footprint. “You may not want to go out walking in a hot, dense city,” Newman suggested. “But if that city is a forest, well…”
Open street initiatives temporarily close networks of streets to motor vehicles, allowing people to walk, bike, skate, dance, and hang out. These initiatives enable things that “usually feel illegal or unsafe,” said Mike Lydon, a founder of Street Plans Collaborative and co-author of Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change, at the Congress for New Urbanism in Detroit. But they also open up communities to new opportunities to improve their pedestrian and bicycle networks. And according to Lydon, “people love open streets.”
It has long been assumed that Bogotá, Colombia, started the movement with their Ciclovía in the mid-1970s, but Lydon argued that Seattle’s Bicycle Sundays, which started in 1965, may have been the first open street initiative. Still, Ciclovía was the first large-scale open street network, given some 70 miles of street are shut down every Sunday. Now many Central and South American cities offer the same — at 15, 20, or 70 miles. For these cities, open streets is about equity. “Everyone: rich, poor, old, young, disabled can participate in an unplanned activity together.”
There are now over 130 initiatives all over the U.S. While they may differ on the length of route or frequency, they all reap positive benefits. According to his research, on open street days, cafes, restaurants, and other retail stores see increased business, traffic falls and transit use increases. In many of these communities, open streets have resulted in long-term investment in more sustainable streets. They can be transformational experiences that “open up a gateway to introduce pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure improvements.”
In Miami, where Lydon lives, there has been a 180-degree change in just two years — from a city with one of the worst biking experiences, to a city in the top 30 for bicyclists. He pointed to the city’s open street initiative as the catalyst for the transformation. “It opened up breathing room, politically,” showing people, businesses, and politicians what change would be like without committing first. After that experiment, the city later passed an ambitious city-wide 2030 bicycling master plan.
And in Burlington, Vermont, where his firm now consults with the city’s transportation department, city officials recently used open streets to test out their complete street vision, so people could experience the proposed network of bike lanes protected by greenery. “The lesson from Burlington is you can connect open streets with the planning process and work through all possibilities through real-time demonstrations.” The test was positively received by the 10,000 who tried it out, and the 55-mile complete street and bike plan is now underway.
Here are some of the elements that make an open street initiative successful: “Route planning is key. You don’t want to send people up hills.” Open street planners should brand the event and route and identify a local sponsor that makes sense, like a gym. It’s important that the route crosses “different neighborhoods, rich and poor.” It should be fairly easy to get to the open streets — they should be in a downtown area, where there are large populations and lots of neighborhoods connect in. Local businesses need to be brought in early. “Meet with local merchants and encourage street-level marketing.” Volunteers help keep costs down and they help shepherd people new to the concept.
He also pointed out some issues to watch out for: “If the road is too short, it will get packed quickly, so the route needs to be at least 2-5 miles to accrue benefits.” For example, he said Oklahoma City’s open street route is too compact, so it ended up being like a “street fair or festival.” One of the biggest costs at first will be paying overtime for police. In Miami, they spent $35,000 for the police to control traffic on one open street day, so it’s important to “simplify the route so you don’t need a big detail.” Lastly, more benefits accrue the more often the open streets happens. In Paris, they have it down to a science, so they can do away with hiring police and simply pull out the signs that block streets every Sunday.
Although the focus of the summit was on forging a new declaration and vision for the profession that can guide the efforts of landscape architects over the next five decades, there was also a call to “critically reflect on what landscape architecture has achieved over the last 50 years.”
Amid all the declarations and discussion, a few major themes came out of the reflections on what has shaped landscape architecture since 1966:
The American environmental crisis went global From the original declaration: “A sense of crisis has brought us together.”
In his introductory remarks, LAF President Kona Gray, ASLA, was quick to note that in the 1966 declaration, “it was all about the American landscape.” The original declaration cites concerns that “Lake Erie is becoming septic, New York City is short of water, the Delaware River is infused with salt, the Potomac River with sewage and silt.” Kongjian Yu, FASLA, founder of Turenscape, noted that this 1966 description of the American environment was in sharp contrast to what Ian McHarg, influential landscape architect and one of the co-writers of the original declaration, simultaneously referred to as “oriental harmony” of the hydraulic civilizations of Asia. Yet 50 years later, Yu, along with Alpa Nawre, ASLA, assistant professor of landscape architecture at Kansas State University, were struck by similarities between 1950’s America and modern China and India today, where development has also led to environmental problems at an unprecedented scale.
In addition to the local crises of pollution, environmental degradation, and habitat loss that has run rampant in the developing world in the past few decades, new overarching global crises have emerged in the form of human-induced climate change and rapid population growth.
Landscape architects got political From the original declaration: “We pledge our services. We seek help from those who share our concern.”
While the 1966 declaration does not directly address politics, according to keynote speaker Beth Meyer, FASLA, professor at the University of Virginia, Ian McHarg, author of the seminal book Design with Nature, and the other co-writers of the declaration were responding to not only the environmental crisis, but also the political opportunity introduced through the reforms of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society.
McHarg was influential in the development of first lady Lady Bird Johnson’s thinking on the value of beauty and nature in cities as well as the launch of the White House Conference on Natural Beauty in May, 1965. He later referred to first lady and environmental advocate Lady Bird Johnson “as his fan.”
Meyer argued then that his central role in creating the 1966 declaration may have been as much about environmental stewardship as a call for increased political influence by landscape architects. Just four years later McHarg would join thousands in Philadelphia for the first ever Earth Day event.
This political context set the stage for protest and advocacy by many other leading landscape architects over the past five decades. Just one example of this at the LAF summit is Martha Schwartz, FASLA, founder of Martha Schwartz Partners. In her declaration, Schwartz said that to respond to climate change, landscape architects must rekindle their political agency by being “online warriors” and rebuild the political wing of the profession that can “put forth a forceful agenda.” The sentiment was echoed by Kelly Shannon, chair of landscape architecture at the University of Southern California, International ASLA, who suggested that landscape architects must continue to “orient social movements and lead policy.”
People and parks returned to the city From the original declaration: “Most urban Americans are being separated from visual and physical contact with nature in any form.”
At a time of rampant urban blight, the 1966 declaration made little reference to designing in cities. Fast forward 50 years and Blaine Merker, ASLA, director at Gehl Architects; James Corner, ASLA, founder of Field Operations; Henry Bava, partner at Agence Ter; Charles Waldheim, Hon. ASLA, chair of landscape architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design; and Kate Orff, ASLA, founder of SCAPE, among others, focused their declarations around celebrating and expanding landscape’s urban reemergence.
Whether it took the form or urban ecological planning, tactical urbanism, green infrastructure, or new parks and plazas, landscape architects have played a critical role in creating humane green public spaces for a new and increasingly urban generation. This effort has helped concentrate development, improve urban sustainability, and preserve the nature surrounding cities. As Corner championed: “if you love nature, live in a city.”
For others, landscape architecture’s return to the city allowed the discipline to grow beyond its 1966 definition as “applied natural sciences.” Christopher Marcincoski, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania and partner at PORT Urbanism, argued that landscape architecture has effectively “softened the effect of urbanization,” at least in much of the developed world, but now must better anticipate the political, economic, social, and cultural forces behind urbanization in the areas left behind and the developing world.
For Tim Duggan, ASLA, these places are rich with opportunities. His declaration showed how his work not only over-layed environmental benefits, but also included the “overlaying of opportunities to find a catalytic but attainable scale” for financing and implementing regenerative infrastructure in under-served communities in Kansas City and New Orleans.
Landscape architects called for justice From the original declaration: “Man is not free of nature’s demands.”
Perhaps one of the most resounding critiques of the 1966 declaration was its now dated emphasis on the conflict between man and nature. LAF president Kona Grey began by contrasting the six white male signees of the 1966 declaration with the 715 diverse attendees of the 2016 LAF summit. Throughout the summit, many speakers made the connection between the increased diversity of our profession and the increasingly diverse communities served by it.
There was Randy Hester, FASLA, a professor at University of California at Berkeley, who has long called for an ecological democracy. David Gouverneur, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who showed his methods for working with informal settlements in the global south. And the work of Kate Orff, ASLA, founder of SCAPE, demonstrated that collaborative design can build both social and physical resilience simultaneously. These and numerous other efforts demonstrated a growing push toward environmental justice, combining landscape architects call to serve both the people and the places that sustain them.
In addition to addressing diversity in her talk entitled “Landscape Humanism,” Gina Ford, a principal at Sasaki, ASLA, also joined others in realizing that humans are no longer “nature’s antagonist,” but rather are inseparable from nature.
Laurie Olin, FASLA, founder of OLIN, quoted the great 20th century thinker Buckminster Fuller, reminding attendees that “the opposite of natural is impossible.” Yet our inclusion in nature during what is being called the sixth great extinction, led Nina-Marie Lister, Hon. ASLA, professor at Ryerson University, to ask, “who in the Anthropocene will care for the wild things?”
Learning from the shortcomings of the 1966 declaration, the 2016 declaration must respond to a greater diversity of people, living creatures, and agendas in order for landscape architects to continue to “make our vital contribution.”
Landscape architecture expanded in scale and scope From the original declaration: “…the landscape architect is uniquely rooted in the natural sciences.”
Delivering his declaration via a recorded video from Italy, Carl Steinitz, Hon. ASLA, professor emeritus of landscape architecture and planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, asserted that landscape architecture has grown to a “huge diversity of practices.” Steinitz charted how landscape architecture began as a multi-scalar practice, but has since ebbed and flowed between small, medium, and regional scales as predicted by the demands of each subsequent decade.
While Steinitz, Kelly Shannon, and Dirk Sijmons, co-founder, H+N+S Landscape Architects, suggested a need to now revisit the regional scale so favored by McHarg and his colleagues, others assessed landscapes’ successes in prototyping smaller projects capable of global replication. The notion of landscape architecture as an expanded field was seen as both a pro and a con as some worried about being spread too thin, and others embraced the notion of landscape architect as infiltrator and instigator of public agencies and allied professions.
Ecological research was translated into design
From the original declaration: “The demand for better resource planning and design is expanding.”
While the global threat of climate change presents new, less visible challenges, many at the LAF Summit recognized that the 1966 Declaration’s call to action “to improve the American environment” had in many ways been answered. Having written, advocated for, and pioneered ecological landscape design projects, the impact of landscape architects has been transformational, many argued. As Mario Schjetnan, managing director of Grupo de Diseño Urbano, FASLA, noted, “U.S. cities have upgraded air quality, reduced soil and water pollution, and improved open space.”
In his declaration, Kongjian Yu, founder or Turenscape, FASLA, spoke of “50 years of experiments with fire, water, floods, and the landscape as living machine.” Noting new sustainability standards and guidelines such as LEED and the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), “the change is amazing,” Yu exclaimed. He joined others in calling for the need to now “replicate and open new scales” through global practice.
Historic landscapes became more valuable From the original declaration: “…the landscape architect practices an historic art.”
Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, reminded LAF Summit attendees that 1966 was also the year that the Historic Preservation Act passed, and since 1998, Birnbaum, who is the president, CEO, and founder of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, has made enormous gains in documenting and preserving designed landscapes. For Birnbaum, placing cultural value on our existing landscape heritage is key to bolstering the contemporary contribution of landscape architects.
Complementing this perspective was Patricia O’Donnell, FASLA, founder of Heritage Landscapes, who for over 30 years has advocated for “culture-based sustainable development.” Referring to her projects with organizations such as UNESCO and their Historic Urban Landscape Initiative, O’Donnell’s work is exemplary of how the sustaining powers of culture and heritage create “a larger community (for landscape) to participate with.”
Landscape architects emerged as lead collaborators From the original declaration: “There is no ‘single solution’ but groups of solutions carefully related one to another. There is no one-shot cure, nor single-purpose panacea, but the need for collaborative solutions.”
The 1966 declaration was ahead of its time in its vision of landscape architecture as a collaborative discipline. Many modern declarations reinforced that landscape architects have not only have benefited from these broad collaborations, but also have been increasingly leading teams on the great urban and infrastructural projects of our time.
While James Corner noted the role of his firm in leading large multidisciplinary projects, Kate Orff used her declaration to suggest landscape architecture firms are now the “collaborative glue… convening, organizing, and enabling others” through projects that serve as a “scaffolding for participation.” As LAF Executive Director Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, observed, increasingly you “can’t achieve sustainability without considering landscape.”
Landscape architects learned how to simplify and communicate complexity From the original declaration: “Once they understand landscape capabilities—the ‘where’ and ‘why’ of environment, the determinants of change—they can then interpret the landscape correctly.”
Following the original declaration by only three years, Ian McHarg’s Design With Nature paved the way for the subsequent decades of research, scholarship, and communication by landscape architects to the broader public about the complexities of our ever changing built and natural environment.
From Anne Whiston Spirn’s The Granite Garden to Thomas Rainer and Claudia West’s Planting in a Post-Wild World, landscape architect’s played a critical role in deciphering environmental complexity. In his declaration, Dirk Sijmons, former chair of landscape architecture at TU Delft, showcased recent visualizations from the 2016 International Architectural Biennale, animating scenarios for offshore wind energy development in the Arctic.
For Sijmons, “research and design at a large landscape scale” is less about project implementation, and more about building the cultural influence and political will needed to take on the challenges of the Anthropocene – the age of man.
Landscape architects diversified, to some extent
In her opening, Barbara Deutsch noted that the field of landscape architecture still has a major diversity problem, but it’s far more diverse than it was in 1966, when the profession was mostly white and male. Now, membership in ASLA is 36 percent female and now only 68 percent of landscape architecture graduates are Caucasian. And landscape architecture is a global practice, with tens of thousands of diverse practitioners across the world. Still, there is much more work to be done in the future to attract African Americans and Latinos to the field in the U.S.
This guest post is by Nate Wooten, Student ASLA,2016 master’s of landscape architecture graduate, University of Pennsylvania School of Design.
However, in the past few decades — as automobile transportation peaked, personal vehicle miles traveled per day soared, and congestion increased, resulting in wasted time and productivity — officials in some of our larger cities moved towards more productive forms of transportation, using transit street designs not seen in AASHTO or MUTCD. An emerging movement coincided with three city planning trajectories: 1) “smart growth” — compact, mixed use development, centered on high-capacity transit stations in a pattern that favors walking and bicycling; 2) the renaissance of America’s downtowns as desirable places to live, work, recreate, shop, and enjoy culture; and 3), enhanced or new transit to city centers.
Because downtowns use existing developments and rights-of-way, this spawned new ways of thinking about not only moving people in urban streets but also how street space is a part of civic open space. Street space offers a great opportunity: In my home town of Portland, Oregon, streets occupy over 45 percent of the land area downtown.
The stage was then set for a new transportation movement. NACTO was formed in 1996 as a coalition of city departments of transportation for 22 of the nation’s largest cities and now includes 17 affiliate cities. NACTO gained legitimacy in the industry and stimulated a more multi-modal outlook in AASHTO and MUTCD’s guides. In turn, NACTO refers back to AASHTO and MUTCD manuals for more detailed technical criteria.
Transit Street Design Guide is a reference manual so it’s not necessary to read from cover to cover in one sitting, but it’s ordered in a way to easily find the topic you want to explore and go directly to that section. This has been the format of all the books in NACTO series and their free, complementary websites. The book offers advice on choices, how to interpret specific recommended criteria (critical, recommended, and optional, for example), and clear references back to other technical manuals.
In the introduction, NACTO lays down six key principles for innovative thinking. For example, one principle is “growth without congestion,” which calls for “serving more people in less space” and “making transit trips faster on streets with high travel demand.” The other five principles set the stage for creating richer street places, providing better service and mobility for the whole city, ensuring safety, and generating economic benefits from reliable travel choices. NACTO also explains why transit reliability matters, and the components of design and service that create reliability.
Chapters explore transit streets, stations and stops, station and stop elements, transit lanes and transit ways, and intersections. These are all organized with the principles that underlie all street designs and should be kept in mind as a landscape architects and engineers make decisions. These are then followed by a description of the different contexts for design. Clear paragraph headings — such as application, benefits, considerations, critical, recommended, and optional — make it easy to choose a design for further analysis.
These segments typically include one to two-page spreads for each design type featuring outstanding illustrated graphics. Simple line drawings are in birds-eye perspective with color tone and numbered legend symbols. User-friendly illustrations are complemented by photos of the design types built in cities across the country.
A bonus chapter on transit system strategies peeks into the world of transit system planning and includes sections on systems, ranging from multi-hub (a series of inter-modal transfer stations where passengers change to another line); grid network (great for cities with consistent grid street patterns and distributed destinations); radial network (great for cities with strong downtowns), with benefits and considerations noted. Again, great graphics are used to help a lay-person grasp these concepts.
The last segment — performance measures — is particularly important. For decades, the traffic capacity of streets and intersections was the primary performance measure for street design, and the results of these measurements trumped all other concerns. The book advocates a holistic approach called “Measure the Whole Street” — as in, average person capacity per lane space, safety, public space and social life, health, sustainability, and economic productivity as additional performance measures.
One quibble with the guide: in the double-page birds-eye perspectives of transit street types, the caption lists street width in parentheses. This is typically, but not always, the curb-to-curb dimension. Because overall street width from building face to building face is so critical in total street design, I would have listed both curb-to-curb and building face-to-building face widths so the reader would know at a glance what the sidewalk widths are. You can uncover those missing dimensions in other detailed segments, but it’s important to list total street space.
If you are new to the NACTO series but genuinely interested in 21st century street transportation and street design, get all three books. They are worth the investment. If you’re already a NACTO fan, add this book to your library.
Going forward, street design must increase circulation for all transit modes, improve economic vitality and safety, and result in great placemaking — places that promote community identity, health, and well-being.
Brian McCarter, FASLA, AICP, is principal urban designer at ZGF Architects based in Portland, Oregon. He has 30 years of experience creating urban street designs in Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Calgary, Boise, and, notably, the Portland Mall Revitalization, an ASLA 2011 Professional General Design Award of Excellence winner.
Reading Viaduct Park Would Make Getting Around Philly Easier– Philadelphia Magazine, 4/5/16
“Last September, after visiting the new Whitney Museum in New York, I climbed up to the High Line for what I thought would be a breezy stroll with gorgeous views of the Meatpacking District. How wrong I was.”
New Wave of Landscape Interpretation– The Irish Times, 4/7/16
“Much overlooked and under-financed since the foundation of the State, landscape architecture may finally have taken its due place on the podium of Irish-built design.”
New Statue Celebrates Park Designer Frederick Law Olmsted – The San Francisco Chronicle, 4/11/16
“If you’ve visited parks in New York, Boston or many other places around the U.S., you’ve probably experienced the landscapes of Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted designed hundreds of parks, gardens and other public spaces, including Manhattan’s Central Park, Boston’s ‘Emerald Necklace,’ the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington and California’s Stanford University campus.”
“The infrastructural situation in the U.S. is bad,” said Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kantor at SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas. Traffic causes “5.5 billion of hours or about $70 billion of lost productivity, costs 2.9 billion gallons of fuel, and increases our healthcare costs by $45 billion each year.” About a quarter of American bridges are crumbling and structurally obsolete; and we hear horror stories nearly every month of another major collapse.
“But technology is the big hope.” Kantor argued that embedded sensors can be used to make roads and cars smarter so they can relay traffic reports in real time, identify structural issues and report them, and reduce traffic collisions and fatalities, which also cost the U.S. hundreds of billions each year.
And autonomous vehicles, ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft, on-demand mobility apps like Ridescout, as well as parking apps, could reduce the inefficiency of traffic. With so little investment in actual structures and asphalt, technology is seen as one cost-effective way to lengthen the life of our crumbling transportation system.
What is holding back this safer, more efficient future? For Kantor, the problem is “very silo-ed governments, from the federal to local level.” What’s instead needed is a “whole ecosystem approach, connecting across systems.”
And that’s what the U.S. department of transportation (DOT) is now attempting with its Smart City Challenge, which will give up to $50 million to one city to become the “country’s first city to fully integrate innovative technologies – self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and smart sensors – into their transportation network.”
At SXSW, DOT announced the finalists: Portland, Oregon; Kansas City, Kansas; Columbus, Ohio; San Francisco, California; Denver, Colorado; Austin, Texas; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. DOT will work with these cities to refine their plans before announcing a winner.
Mark Dowd, senior advisor at DOT, said the “car has caused disconnection in communities; but technology can reconnect communities. We can’t build our way out of our current problems. We are leaning hard on the technology piece.”
Dowd said big cities have the resources to start their own high-tech, integrated transportation programs, but “urbanization only increases pressure on mid-sized cities that can’t build their way out of the problem or attract the tech talent they need,” so they can only benefit from the involvement of the DOT.
DOT was surprised by the incredible demand for these funds. Some 78 cities sent in applications. “There is a hunger for a new way of doing things.” But $50 million only meets a slim share of that demand.
The question for Kantor is “who is going to pay for new infrastructure?, ” smart or otherwise. The only way forward may be an increase in the gas tax, which is seen as a third-rail in American politics. But perhaps a tax gas increase could happen if it’s tied to local fixes that benefit commuters and result in a measurable reduction in fatalities. “Over 36,000 people every year die on the roads, and their deaths are preventable.”
The Salt Season– Metropolis, 2/23/16
“This mixture increases winter road safety, melting ice and providing needed friction on slippery surfaces, but its application also produces a number of negative side effects, including a very toxic impact on plant life adjacent to roadways.”