The Case for Complete Streets 2.0

Delivery vehicles run amok / Alta Planning + Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete Street 2.0 / Alta Planning + Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PARK(ing) Day: Small Spaces, Big Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASLA Announces 2019 Professional & Student Awards

ASLA 2019 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Heritage Flume. Sandwich, MA. Stimson / Ngoc Doan

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) announced the 2019 Professional and Student Award winners.

Chosen from 544 submissions, this year’s 36 Professional Award winners represent the best of landscape architecture in the General Design, Residential Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, and Research categories. In addition, a single Landmark Award is presented each year.

A full list of this year’s Professional Award winners can be found at www.asla.org/2019awards

ASLA 2019 Student General Design Award of Excellence. “Y” Shape Jetty System: A Sustainable Solution for Coastal Ecosystem Protection, Population Retreat, and Global Tourism Development, Yi Song, Student ASLA, University of Texas at Austin.

Chosen from 368 submissions, this year’s 26 Student Award winners represent the bright future of the landscape architecture profession in the General Design, Residential Design, Analysis & Planning, Research, Communications, Student Collaboration and Student Community Service categories.

A full list of this year’s Student Award winners can be found at: www.asla.org/2019studentawards

“ASLA’s Professional and Student Awards programs are the oldest and most prestigious in the profession. This extraordinary and diverse array of winners represent both the best of landscape architecture today and the brightest hope for our future,” said ASLA President Shawn T. Kelly, FASLA.

“This year’s awards reflect the global nature of landscape architecture and demonstrate to professionals and the public alike how our profession addresses some of the world’s most pressing problems, including climate change and resilience, livability, and the creation of healthy and equitable environments.”

All Professional and Student Award recipients, their clients, and advisors will be honored at the awards presentation ceremony during the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture on Monday, November 18, in San Diego, California. There are still complimentary press passes available.

Background on the ASLA Awards Programs

Each year, the ASLA Professional Awards honor the best in landscape architecture from around the globe. Winners of these prestigious awards are chosen by a jury that represents the breadth of the profession, including private, public, institutional, and academic practice, and exemplify diversity in professional experience, geography, gender, and ethnicity. Submissions are judged blind.

Professional Awards are presented in six categories: General Design, Residential Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, Research, and the Landmark Award. In each of the first five categories, the Jury may select one Award of Excellence and any number of Honor Awards. It is not guaranteed that an Award of Excellence will be selected each year, as it is up to the jury’s discretion. Only one Landmark Award is presented each year.

This year’s Professional Jury included: Andrea Cochran, FASLA (Chair); Henri Bava; Kofi Boone, ASLA; Gina Ford, FASLA; Deb Guenther, FASLA; John King, Honorary ASLA; Pam Linn, FASLA; John Vinci; and Keith Wagner, FASLA. Joining the Professional Jury for the selection of the Research Category were representatives on behalf of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) and Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA): Stephanie A. Rolley, FASLA and Galen Newman, ASLA.

Student Awards are presented in seven categories: General Design, Residential Design, Analysis & Planning, Research, Communications, Student Collaboration and Student Community Service. Like the Professional Awards, the jury may select one Award of Excellence and any number of Honor Awards. It is not guaranteed that an Award of Excellence will be selected each year, as it is up to the jury’s discretion.

This year’s Student Jury included: Linda Jewell, FASLA (Chair); Diana Fernandez, ASLA; David Gouverneur; Robert Gray, ASLA; Damian Holmes; Kendra Hyson, ASLA; Maki Kawaguchi; Signe Nielsen, FASLA; and Daniel Tal, ASLA.

Latest Innovations in Bicycle Infrastructure

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Nelson Street Cycleway / Monk Mackenzie and LandLAB

50 percent of trips on bicycles by 2030. That is the goal of BYCS, the organization behind the Bicycle Architecture Biennale (BAB). This year’s event, the second BAB has held, highlights fifteen projects from around the globe that feature bicycle paths, parking, and crossings. NEXT Architects served as the jury, selecting 11 built projects and 4 in the conceptual or planning phases.

Each project offers innovative ways of weaving bicycles into the city through three approaches: routes, connections, and destinations. BYCS says these themes “convey the balance between moving and staying that bicycle architecture employs to create thriving, livable places.”

The exhibition opened in Amsterdam, as part of the WeMakeThe.City, the biggest city-making festival in Europe. The exhibition will travel to Rome, Oslo, and Geneva, over the next two years.

A few standout projects include:

Xiamen Bicycle Skyway: The Xiamen Bicycle Skyway in Xiamen, China, designed by Dissing and Weitling Architecture, is an 8 kilometer (5 mile) elevated bike path that runs under and around the Xiamen bus rapid transit (BRT) system. The path, painted green, hovers nearly 5 meters (17 feet) above traffic, accommodating 2,000 bicyclists at one time without impediment from motor vehicle traffic.

The skyway has 11 entry points throughout, connecting it to 11 bus stops and 2 metro stops, further integrating bikes into the transportation system. In several locations, the skyway diverges from the BRT in order to maintain comfortable grade changes or to navigate existing infrastructure.

Xiamen-Bicycle-Skyway
Xiamen Bicycle Skyway / Dissing + Weitling Architecture

Cycling Through the Trees: Biking 10 meters (32 feet) in the arboreal canopy is now a reality outside the town of Hechtel-Eksel in Belgium, where a 700 meter (2,300 foot) circular path ramps up and then back down through the forest. The length of the circular path ensures the grade stays below 4 percent, keeping the path comfortable for bikers and pedestrians alike. The large ring, designed by BuroLandschap, is an offshoot of an existing cycling network, ensuring cyclists will ride through this unique experience.

Cycling through the trees / BuroLandschap

Limburg, the province Hechtel-Eskel is in, bills itself as a “cycling haven.” Cycling through the trees is the latest project to help build that reputation. In 2016, an award winning project, Cycling through water, was implemented along the same bike network.

Nelson St Cycleway: When a highway off-ramp was closed in Auckland, New Zealand, the city saw an opportunity to convert existing, unused space along an urban highway into a cycleway, extending existing bike trails into the downtown area. The conversion into the Nelson St. Cycleway, designed by Monk Mackenzie and LandLAB, creates a 600 meter (2,000 foot)-long hot pink strip next to the highway.

Slender rectangular lights were incorporated into the fencing. The color of the lights gradually change along the ramp, creating a rhythmic glow that heightens the brilliance of the pink ground. The vibrant colors transform transportation infrastructure into a playful space for people.

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Nelson St. Cycleway / Monk Mackenzie and LandLAB

Utrecht Centraal Station Bicycle Parking: To create deeper connections between public transit and bicycle infrastructure, cities need to create more bicycle parking. Utrecht Centraal Station, the city’s largest rail station, has parking spaces for 12,500 bikes. The removal of a structure connecting the train station and a nearby shopping mall opened up space for Ector Hoogstad Architecten to design a new public square and bicycle storage facility.

The parking facility has a cycling path that branches off to available parking stalls, which are indicated as open or full through an electronic signage system. Bicycle commuters ride through the building directly to their parking stall, making the connection between parking and the public spaces and transit easy.

biggest-cycle-parking
Utrecht Station Bicycle Parking / Ector Hoogstad Architecten

Explore the other 11 projects showcased in the 2019 Bicycle Architecture Biennale.

Round Two Opening for Salesforce Transit Center Park

Salesforce Transit Center / 3D rendering by steelblue for Pelli Clarke Pelli, Transbay Joint Powers Authority
Salesforce Transit Center / 3D rendering by steelblue for Pelli Clarke Pelli, Transbay Joint Powers Authority

Nine months ago engineers found cracks in two structural beams holding up the relatively new Salesforce Transit Center, a $2.2 billion regional bus and perhaps future rail terminal in downtown San Francisco. A $6 million investigation of all the structural components found the center is safe. While metro buses are still being re-routed, the 5.5-acre rooftop park designed by PWP Landscape Architecture will open again July 1.

According to an article by San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic John King in Planning magazine, the new Salesforce Transit Center, which replaces an outdated regional bus terminal, is the culmination of the broader 21-block Transit Center district plan, a redevelopment effort for a previously commercial and light industrial zone south of Market Street and the Financial District. The plan killed two birds with one stone: it both created a new, dense mixed-use neighborhood that can accommodate 6.5 million square feet of new office space and 4,400 new apartments, including affordable ones; and generated the land sales and developer fees needed to pay for the multi-billion-dollar terminal.

The development has resulted in a number of new skyscrapers, including the 1,070-foot-tall Salesforce Tower, the tallest building in San Francisco and one that Salesforce paid some $100 million over 20 years to put its name on; 181 Fremont, which, at 55 stories, is the tallest residential building on the west coast; and One Rincon Hill, two 50-story-plus residential towers. In addition to a 190-unit, 8-story affordable housing complex at Folsom and Beale streets, a new 392-unit tower by architect Jeanne Gang will reserve approximately half of the units for sale at “120 percent of regional income level, which means a couple making $114,000 would be eligible,” King wrote.

The transit center, which links up with the Salesforce Tower, is managed by the Transbay Joint Powers Authority and designed by a multi-disciplinary team including Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, PWP Landscape Architecture, Atelier 10, BuroHappold engineers, and artist Ned Kahn. The center was pre-configured to handle a subterranean high-speed rail station, but progress on that front is stalled indefinitely as California governor Gavin Newsom and then the Trump administration pulled funding. There are plans underway to build a $6 billion tunnel to connect the transit center to the Caltrain regional train system, but there are also concerns about the new station’s projected capacity.

Salesforce Transit Center diagram / Ned Kahn

Transit and cost woes aside, the park on its roof is a marvel of engineering and adds a major new amenity to the area. In an interview, Adam Greenspan, ASLA, a partner at PWP Landscape Architecture, said the design team was determined that the terminal “not be like Port Authority” in New York City, a grim space people want to get through as soon as possible. The park made ample room for rooftop skylights and opaque glass surfaces that can be stood on, which bring natural light streaming down through to lower-level bus platforms, shops, and restaurants.

Skylight at Salesforce Transit Center / Wikipedia
Opaque structural glass floors let light stream in below / PWP Landscape Architecture

Greenspan said the 5.5-acre park is about one block wide and about 3-4 blocks long, a space equal in size to Union Square, Yerba Buena, and South Park, the other nearby green spaces, combined.

Salesforce Transit Center park / Wikipedia

Amid green roofs, there are meandering paths, play areas, cafes and restaurants, hilly lawns, plazas and an amphitheater for free community exercise and art classes, and intimate chill-out nooks.

Meandering paths at Salesforce Transit Center / PWP Landscape Architecture
Lawns at Salesforce Transit Center / PWP Landscape Architecture
Plazas at Salesforce Transit Center / PWP Landscape Architecture
The amphitheater at Salesforce Transit Center / PWP Landscape Architecture

Green infrastructure systems capture stormwater and recycle greywater from the building in rooftop wetland gardens.

Wetland Garden at Salesforce Transit Center / Marion Brenner for PWP Landscape Architecture

An art piece by Kahn includes linear fountains that jet in response to the flow of buses below.

Art work at Salesforce Transit Center / PWP Landscape Architecture

Like the High Line in NYC, the Salesforce Transit Center features unusual mixes of plants to draw you in and keep your interest. Here, they are grouped into botanical exhibitions such as the fog garden, the Australian garden, and the Chilean garden, which features the strange and charming Monkey Puzzle tree, a spiky evergreen and “living fossil” native to Argentina and Chile.

Desert garden at Salesforce Transit Center / Marion Brenner for PWP Landscape Architecture
Monkey puzzle tree in the Chilean Garden / Flickr

PWP also ensured multiple forms of access — there are stairways, elevators, and an accessible gondola that take visitors from the street to the park and back.

Like PWP’s new Jewel Changi terminal in Singapore, the Salesforce Transit Center Park shows the way to the future, successfully making the case for integrating high-quality green space into future large-scale transit projects, particularly those in dense cities.

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

Climate Ready Boston Harbor / SCAPE Landscape Architecture

Winning Designs: Jury, Community Picks for Linear Park along Old Rail Corridor
The Buffalo News, 06/14/19
“A Buffalo firefighter and a New York City landscape architecture firm emerged as top winners Friday in a design competition for a linear park proposed along the former DL&W rail corridor.”

Greenwood Lake Commission Cancels Canada Geese Catch-and-kill, Adopts Alternate Plan
Northjersey.com, 06/14/19
“The revised strategy introduced by local advocates involves a long-term plan to addle eggs and use dogs to deter Canada geese from making the state’s second-largest house-lined lake their home, commission records show. Other control methods now in limited use or under consideration include laser lights, organic sprays and landscape architecture, said Paul Zarrillo, the commission’s New Jersey chairman.”

Sea Ranch, California’s Modernist Utopia, Gets an Update
The New York Times, 06/14/19
“Trees were key to the science-based approach of Lawrence Halprin, the master planner. Ms. Dundee estimates they planted 100,000 pines on the property, with 10,000 expected to survive.”

Judge: Plan to Build Obama Museum in Jackson Park Should Not Be Delayed, Dismisses Legal Challenge
The Cook County Record, 06/11/19
“U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey dismissed a lawsuit filed by the group known as Protect Our Parks, challenging the city of Chicago’s approval of the plan to bring the Obama Presidential Center to the historic park on the city’s South Side.”

Cooper Hewitt Celebrates 20 years of National Design Awards with 2019 Winners
The Architect’s Newspaper, 06/11/19
“SCAPE Landscape Architecture was recognized for its numerous projects (and master plans, and research) that combine landscape architecture with living ecology. SCAPE works across all scales but its use of regenerative landscapes and public outreach is deeply embedded in the firm’s process no matter the size of the project.”

Winning Design for Revamped Detroit Cultural District Envisions Unified Landscape, Architecture and Technology
Crain’s Detroit Business, 6/10/19
“With its vision for Detroit Square, a team including Paris-based Agence Ter with Detroit-based Akoaki LLC, Harley Etienne, assistant professor in the University of Michigan Urban and Regional Planning program, and Ann Arbor-based Rootoftwo LLC was named the winner of the DIA Plaza/Midtown Cultural Connections international design competition Monday morning.”

New ASLA Exhibition: Smart Policies for a Changing Climate

Smart Policies for a Changing Climate exhibition / EPNAC

Across the country, landscape architects are stepping up to face the growing global climate crisis head-on. In 2018, ASLA’s interdisciplinary Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience issued a report that outlined policy recommendations and design best practices for creating resilient, sustainable communities.

The new Smart Policies for a Changing Climate Exhibition showcases 20 diverse case studies that illustrate the success these recommendations can have in harnessing natural systems, reducing carbon emissions, and improving communities’ resilience to climate change.

Some projects lower carbon emissions from transportation by improving access to bicycle lanes and sidewalks and limiting space for vehicles, like the Jackson Street Reconstruction Project in Saint Paul, Minnesota, by Toole Design Group.

Jackson Street Reconstruction, Saint Paul, Minnesota / Bruce Buckley Photography for Toole Design

Others show how we can restore natural systems and bring back biodiversity on previously-developed sites, like the Underwood Family Sonoran Landscape Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects.

ASLA 2010 Professional Honor Award in General Design. Underwood Family Sonoran Landscape Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona. Ten Eyck Landscape Architects. / Bill Timmerman

Some projects show how cities can design to prepare for worst-case flooding scenarios using natural systems, like the Buffalo Bayou Promenade in Houston, Texas by SWA Group.

ASLA 2009 Professional Design Award of Excellence. Buffalo Bayou Promenade, Houston, Texas. SWA Group / Bill Tatham

Others integrate renewable energy facilities into communities, like the Solar Strand project in Buffalo, New York by Hood Design Studio.

Solar Strand project in Buffalo, New York. Hood Design Studio / Douglas Levere, University at Buffalo

The exhibition is free and open to the public at ASLA’s Center for Landscape Architecture (636 I Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20001) every weekday from 10am to 4pm EST (excluding holidays) through May 1, 2020.

ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture / ASLA

There is also an expanded companion to the exhibition at the website: climate.asla.org.

To put on the Smart Politics for a Changing Climate Exhibition, ASLA was awarded an Art Works Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. “These awards, reaching every corner of the United States, are a testament to the artistic richness and diversity in our country,” said Mary Anne Carter, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “Organizations such as the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) are giving people in their community the opportunity to learn, create, and be inspired.”

ASLA is also calling for the submissions of further case studies that show how landscape architects design for a changing climate. If you know of a project that fits the bill, please submit at the exhibition website.

Debate: How to Spend $2 Trillion on Infrastructure

Jackson Street Reconstruction, Saint Paul, Minnesota / Bruce Buckley Photography for Toole Design

In a dark conference room in the heart of Washington, D.C., amidst the clink of glasses and silverware, an interdisciplinary panel of experts discussed the future of infrastructure policy in America.

“At the beginning of the week, I was optimistic,” said Roxanne Blackwell, Esq., Hon. ASLA, federal affairs director at the American Society of Landscape Architecture (ASLA). “For the first time the Democratic leadership went up to the White House to talk about infrastructure investment. Everyone comes out smiling, everyone using terms like ‘bigger,’ ‘bolder.’ Then by Wednesday or Thursday, we were just back to politics as usual.”

The panel, moderated by Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, CEO and executive vice president of ASLA, was convened the day after landscape architects from all across the country descended on Capitol Hill for ASLA Advocacy Day 2019. Nearly 200 ASLA members attended 221 meetings with lawmakers and staff, urging them to steer federal dollars into much-needed infrastructure projects that promote resilience and sustainability.

Panelists from the American Planning Association (APA) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) expressed optimism for change, citing encouraging sign of progress in Congress. But Calvin Gladney, President and CEO of Smart Growth America, brought the conversation to a somber note.

“All of this optimism,” he sighed. “Let me take a more contrarian view.”

Gladney talked about what was wrong about the infrastructure conversation in Washington. “Right now, the conversation is about the number,” he said. “But the real conversation should be about what is the policy that underlies the number.”

“The number” Gladney is referring to is $2 trillion – the amount of infrastructure investment the U.S. needs, according to ASCE in their annual Infrastructure Report Card. ASCE assesses the current state of America’s roads, tunnels, ports, bridges, and other infrastructure, looks at current funding levels, and calculates the amount of investment needed to bring America’s infrastructure to an acceptable standard. Leaders in Congress and the White House have recently used that number as a benchmark for the amount of funding they’d like to see in a large infrastructure investment package that has yet to materialize.

But the number isn’t nearly as important as what lies behind it.

“If we’re going to make progress, we need to change the conversation,” said Thomas W. Smith III, secretary and executive director of ASCE. “Being car-centric is not going to solve the problems we have.”

When it comes to federal investment in sustainable projects, the availability of funding falls woefully short of demand. The Rails to Trails Conservancy found that nearly half of the projects that applied for federal funding through the Transportation Alternatives program in 2017 went unfunded. The program is meant to fund small-scale active transportation projects such as trails, pedestrian walks, and bike paths.

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund, meant to provide states and localities with money to upgrade and maintain water and stormwater management systems, has not been reauthorized in nearly thirty years. Out national park system has a $12 billion backlog of infrastructure projects, left undone due to lack of funds.

And those are just a few of the problems with fund availability for our current infrastructure. Panelists contend that if we want a new infrastructure bill to be successful, we cannot just look at the past — we must plan for the technologies of the future.

What we consider “infrastructure” also must change. “Broadband is infrastructure. Passenger rail is infrastructure,” said Gladney. “If we are gonna to do ‘new,’ let’s make it multi-modal. And let’s also expand what we consider infrastructure, so we’re building for the future.”

From electric cars to electric scooters and autonomous vehicles, technology is changing the face of infrastructure. Accommodating the people who use these technologies is an important part of infrastructure planning — and needs to be part of the conversation now.

“While technology changes at a rapid rate, investments in communities don’t,” said Kurt Christiansen, president of the American Planning Association (APA). “We need to start working new technology into our plans now. If we don’t, we’ll have more problems than we had before.”

Also lost in Washington’s obsession with numbers is the problem of equity. Research by the National Recreation and Parks Association found that people who live in low-income have lower access to parks and open spaces, which leads to a higher rate of negative health effects like obesity. These populations are often overlooked when infrastructure investments are planned.

“We have to make sure we don’t leave anyone behind,” said Smith, from ASCE.

And, of course, panelists pointed out that any future infrastructure investments must be planned with an eye toward resilience and sustainability in the face of climate change. All four panelists agreed that to be effective, federal funds in any new infrastructure initiative cannot simply go to rebuilding the infrastructure of the past.

“We need a paradigm shift,” said Blackwell. “Of course, at ASLA, we’d like to see all of the recommendations from our Smart Policies for a Changing Climate report to be implemented.”

But real change may not come in one sweeping package. Small, incremental steps may be the only way forward.

“I don’t see a lot of change happening big-and-bold,” said Christiansen. “But we’re starting to see glimmers.” If we continue to push for change together, bit by bit, our persistence and optimism can pay off.

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

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Pier 35 on the East River waterfront / SHoP, Ken Smith Workshop

How Wildlife Bridges Over Highways Make Animals—And People—SaferNational Geographic, 4/16/19
“Bridges for bears and tunnels for tortoises have significantly reduced the number of wildlife-car collisions worldwide.”

Make America Graze AgainThe New York Times, 4/22/19
“Nashville’s Zach Richardson uses sustainable practices — and a flock of sheep — to clear overgrown landscapes.”

Design Center Unveils Land Bridge StudyNashville Post, 4/23/19
“There are many local urban place making experts and hobbyists alike who have often contended the single-greatest drawback to Nashville’s failure to maximize its most effective form and function is not limited to the city’s lack of comprehensive mass transit.”

Pier 35 Eco-Park and ‘Urban Beach’ Is Open to the Public6sqft, 4/23/19
“After years of anticipation, Pier 35 on the East River waterfront is officially open (h/t Curbed). The project, designed by SHoP with Ken Smith Workshop, consists of a new eco-park and an “urban beach” anchoring the northern flank of the East River waterfront esplanade and providing much-needed public space on the waterfront.”

Landscape Architect Pushes His Students to Serve Communities, Design For Greater Good The Daily Evergreen, 4/26/19
“Steve Austin, WSU Architecture professor and landscape architect, said he believes we need to hold open discussions on climate change.”

Forging a National Bike Route System

Philadelphia regional bicycle network / Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

There are a growing number of routes for those hardy souls who love the thought of biking from state to state, or even shore to shore. At the League of American Bicyclists’ National Bike Summit in Crystal City, Virginia, a group of nonprofit leaders described how street bicycle infrastructure forms into neighborhood and urban networks, then state and regional ones, and finally, an ever-growing national network.

Neighborhood and urban networks are for joy riders and bike commuters. The state and regional networks are for more hardcore “adventure cyclists” who are up for or multi-day or multi-week trips. Many entities, including local and national non-profits and state and federal governments, create the plans and make the investments needed for these networks to connect and cohere.

According to Sarah Clark Stuart with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, government funds can kick start wider projects. A U.S. department of Transportation TIGER grant of $23 million to the city of Philadelphia to create a regional bicycle network helped spur an additional $300 million in investment from states and foundations. There are now some 334 miles of greater Philadelphia bicycle infrastructure, with 25 miles in progress (see image above). “This demonstrates the real power of leverage.” And the growing 750-mile regional circuit network can now feed better into national networks.

“Imagine an epic journey — biking from Washington, D.C. to Washington State through local trails,” mused Kevin Mills, senior vice president with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. “Approximately half of that network now exists,” and it’s called the Great American Rail Trail. Rails-to-Trails selected gateway trails in the 13 states that make up the 3,000-mile cross-country trail, including some of the most scenic and beautiful like the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park Trail in the Washington, D.C. area; the Cardinal Greenway in Indiana; and the Casper Rail Trail in Wyoming. The group is now working on a more detailed set of recommendations to improve the connectivity along this TransAmerica Trail.

Cardinal Greenway / Rails to Trails Conservancy

Ambitious coastal trails are in the works, too. Dennis Markatos-Soriano, executive director of the East Coast Greenway, said his organization seeks to realize a vision of a 3,000-mile route through 15 states, from Maine to Key West, Florida. Since 1991, about 1,000 miles have been built in partnership with states and mayors. About $2 billion is needed to complete the remaining 2,000 miles. “We’ll need about $160 million a year in investment though 2030.” When complete, the East Coast Greenway will touch some 450 communities, and about 25 million people will live within 5 miles of the route.

The Path to Freedom Tour, headed south on the East Coast Greenway / Wikipedia

The greater goal is for all of these cross-country and coastal routes to coalesce into a U.S. Bicycle Route System, said Ginny Sullivan, director of travel initiatives at the Adventure Cycling Association, which was an early shepherd of the expanding national network and continues to develop it. A task force at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) officially proposes routes for the system, which state departments of transportation then approve. Sullivan said the network leverages infrastructure that has already been built, connecting neighboring states. So far, some 13,000 miles in 25 states and Washington, D.C. have been designated as part of the system; the eventual goal is 50,000 miles.

U.S. Bicycle Route System Twitter