Don’t Exclude: Ending Transportation Barriers for People with Disabilities

Transportation is central to employment and economic development. Unfortunately, people with disabilities often face major disadvantages in accessing transportation options, which reduces their ability to find and hold jobs and participate in community life. The issues go way beyond the lack of accessible ramps. Barriers include poor vehicle design; lack of accessible curbs, crosswalks, and sidewalks; the absence of elevators; and non-existent or inaccessible signage and wayfinding.

At a session at the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C., Charlotte McClain Nhlapo, global disability advisor for the World Bank Group and a wheelchair user, said that “1 billion people worldwide have some form of disability, and adults with disabilities make just 73 percent of the trips that abled people make.”

She led a conversation into what is holding back more inclusive transportation in developing countries:

“There is a staggering difference between the developed and developing worlds in terms of access. If you get around many developing countries, you’ll see there are often no sidewalks,” said Jamie Leather, chief of the transport sector at the Asian Development Bank. Just imagine wading into busy streets to get around, then imagine the greater dangers for a wheelchair user, or deaf or blind pedestrian.

For Nite Tanzar, a development consultant, a critical issue is that many developing countries don’t have an accurate numbers of how many disabled people there are and how many are using transportation systems. “There is a real lack of empirical evidence,” which is holding back policy and regulatory change. Policymakers simply don’t understand the scale of the issues.

People can be temporarily or permanently disabled. But both types of disabilities often result from car crashes. Mohammed Yousuf, a program manager with the U.S. Federal Highways Administration, said that globally, car crashes cost up to 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) when you add in lost wages and medical expenses.

According to James Bradford, with the European Road Assessment Programme (EuroRAP), global vehicle crash data mostly comes from police reports, which don’t measure the full economic and social impact of the loss of life, injury, or disability caused by the accident.

He pointed to the Transportation Accident Commission (TAC) in New South Wales, Australia, which insures all vehicles and collects data on crashes and their outcomes. Analyzing some 120,000 insurance claims, TAC found that 68 percent of crash victims were still on long-term disability care two years later; a quarter also had severe brain injuries. “There is a huge social cost to road accidents, not just economic.”

The conversation then turned to the key drivers of more inclusive transportation. As McClain Nhlapo noted, the goal is to “enable everyone to live independently.”

Daniela Bas, director of the UN’s department of economic and social affairs’ division for inclusive social development, who is also a wheelchair user, said the most important step is to “change the mindset of people with disabilities: they must become agents of change and lead new processes.” She added that “disabled people are often poor because they have no access” but that can change with a sense of new empowerment.

Daniela Bas / Twitter

Tanzar stated that in too many countries “there is a stigma associated with disabilities. These people are invisible, actively hidden, and viewed as shameful. We must get at that.”

Policies and regulations that lead to Vision Zero, which calls for an end to road deaths, can only help create a more universally-accessible transportation system, Leather believes.

Market-based incentives can also provide solutions. McClain Nhlapo said that in the Philippines, there are “special access taxis” to meet the needs of people with disabilities. In South Africa, the government has incentivized owners of informal buses and vans with the “nudge method: the owners get a major discount if they replace their old bus with a new, more accessible one.”

A number of panelists called for “disaggregating local data by disability” so that better policy-making and regulatory processes can happen. “We need to show a cost-benefit analysis for accessible transportation and show how the benefits are better,” Bradford argued. McClain Nhlapo called for using that data to make the case for “embedding accessibility requirements into development projects from the beginning.”

Major global events like the Olympics can also be designed to be universally-accessible, as they help “stimulate thinking” in countries about needed changes. “You can show people what fully accessible transportation looks like,” Bas said.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (January 16-31)

Creative Little Garden in New York City’s Lower East Side / Creative Little Garden on Instagram

Three City Parks That Encourage Inclusion in Their Communities — 1/16/20, Urban Institute
“Parks and green spaces can tremendously benefit a community. But if parks aren’t designed and activated with residents’ interests in mind, they can go underutilized, or the opposite—they can increase property values and price long-time residents out of the neighborhood.”

UGA Student Designs Winning ‘Kinda Tiny’ Home — 1/26/20, Athens Banner-Herald
“One of things that made her design stand out, after talking to some of the judges, is the fact that her building really specifically relates to the site. She took into account the topography, and I think it was her landscape architecture background that gave her the insight to how the building and the site would interact together.”

A Novel Plan to Fix One of New York’s Worst Highways: Remove Lanes — 1/30/20, The New York Times
“The idea of shrinking the highway to four lanes from six is a remarkable shift for the city, which, like the nation, has been shaped by a car-centric culture and is now wrestling with the consequences, including gridlocked streets, polluted air and rising pedestrian and cyclist deaths.”

Plans Unveiled for Hamtramck’s Veterans Memorial Park — 1/31/20, The Detroit News
“In the coming years, Hamtramck’s Veterans Memorial Park could be transformed into a major destination brimming with features such as a splash pad, wooded trails, even outdoor ‘living rooms.’ ”

Amsterdam Leads the Way on Wetland Restoration — 1/31/20, CityLab
“To find a way to restore the marshlands and pastures while maintaining its agricultural capacity, the Amsterdam Wetlands project will plow $9 million of funding into experiments. The scheme, a a collaboration between three nature preservation agencies, is intended to incorporate more water into low-lying areas instead of damming and pumping it out.”

The Value of Access

Rural farmers in Ethiopia grow green beans for sale in Europe / Wikipedia

“Accessibility is about how many near or far things you can reach. Mobility is about speed across the network,” argued David Levinson, a professor of transport engineering at the University of Sydney, at the Transforming Transportation conference held at the World Bank Group in Washington, D.C. “Access is opportunity: employment, shops and restaurants, healthcare, and the outside world.”

Levinson has analyzed over 80 cities, mostly in Europe and North America, to determine how many people can access jobs by foot, bicycle, car, or public transit in 30 minutes. He found that “city form varies by continent.” The European Union (EU) has higher walking access to jobs than North America. New Zealand and Australia are somewhere between the U.S. and Europe — they are denser but not as dense as Europe. The U.S. has better auto access to jobs than Europe but not as good as some European cities. For example, Amsterdam has better car access than Los Angeles. He concluded that larger cities have better access to jobs than smaller cities, and the EU has highest access overall.

The challenge for many cities in developing countries is where to focus resources to improve access: land-use development (new nearby neighborhoods or employment centers) or investment in public transit to reduce travel time between destinations. There are also questions of equity and distribution: to simplify, “is it better that two people can access one million jobs or one person can access two million jobs?” Still, the goal in most cities is higher levels of access, which explains why rent in Manhattan is many times more than rent in Winnipeg. “The theory is more access equals greater productivity.”

Conversations at Transforming Transportation, which drew 1,200 attendees over two days, then broadened the definition of access.

For Dagmawit Moges, minister of transportation in Ethiopia, the issue is access to markets. The country has a population of 100 million spread over 1.1 million square miles. 80 percent of Ethiopians live in rural areas. Many of the rural areas aren’t connected by roads to centralized markets. “Our country is very fertile. Farmers grow once a year, but they could be growing four times a year if they had access.”

Through the universal rural road access program, Ethiopia has connected 12,000 out of 15,000 rural districts. Some $2.7 billion in contributions in both cash and labor came from the rural communities themselves. “The collaboration was very high, but we still have disconnected pockets. We still have to import grain from other countries.”

For Etienne Krug, director of the department for management of noncommunicable diseases, disability, violence and injury prevention at the World Health Organization (WHO), true accessibility will only be achieved when road deaths, which now average 1.35 million annually, are zero.

“Half of road deaths are from people using vehicles; the other half are people who accidentally got in the way. The number of road deaths for young children and adolescents is growing, but hardly anyone talks about it.” He called for safety to be a criteria in the planning and design of every transportation project. “And good public transit is the way forward.”

Pamela Smith, executive director of the Society and Disability (SODIS) based in Peru, said getting accessible public transportation systems built in developing countries can be a real challenge given the lack of understanding of the issues facing the disabled. For a new bus rapid transit system (BRT) in Peru, Smith’s group and others participated in a comprehensive public review process. Unfortunately, the resulting system had feeder buses with inadequate safety measures for wheelchair users. Only when a video of woman BRT rider falling out of her wheelchair spread did they update seat belts. “Accessibility impacts people on a daily basis.”

Furthermore, she argued that even if a station is accessible, the area surrounding a station may not be, so investment needs to be made at a system scale.

Bus rapid transit (BRT) line in Lima, Peru / Multiple Cities

Lake Sagaris, a journalist and urban planner based in Chile, made an impassioned case for increasing access to walking and biking through complete streets around the world. In developing countries, “highways are an aberration; people walk or bike way more than they use cars. The basic building block of any transportation system must be the neighborhood; you can’t segregate walking and biking from vehicles.” What’s needed are streets with safe, accessible sidewalks and clear intersections with working traffic lights.

She imagined a woman living in a rural or suburban area who must walk half a kilometer to a transit stop, with children and groceries. That woman “needs an ecology of transit modes: walking, biking, bus; an inter-modal system, not a multi-modal one.” For Sagaris, bike share in developing countries could be the missing link.

With New Mobility, Design Is Even More Important

Escooter rider / Wikipedia

“New forms of mobility, autonomous vehicles (AVs), and e-commerce will impact everything we care about in cities,” said Nico Larco, professor of architecture at the University of Oregon and director of the Urbanism Next center, at an event at the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)’s Center for Landscape Architecture in Washington, D.C.

The event, which was held during the Transportation Research Board (TRB)’s annual meeting, was moderated by ASLA President Wendy Miller, FASLA, who is also a member of TRB’s AFB40 committee on landscape and environmental design.

Technology-enabled transportation systems have scaled up at an incredible rate. There will be even more rapid change coming, along with new forms of transportation not yet envisioned. The coming changes make smart street design that can create equitable access to multiple forms of personal mobility even more important.

A few examples of the shifts underway:

“There were 4.2 billion trips with Uber and Lyft in 2018; ten years ago, these companies didn’t exist,” Larco said.

In many cities, e-scooters essentially started in 2018 and, by the end of the same year, they accounted for some 38 million trips. “It took bike share systems nine years to reach the same number of trips.”

“Waymo is now testing driver less vehicles with select families in Arizona.” The company, which was formerly known as Google’s driverless vehicle company, has already purchased 82,000 vehicles from a Detroit manufacturing center that turns conventional vehicles into autonomous ones. “Waymo will run these AVs as part of their fleet.” (A recent Brookings Institution survey found that 61 percent of Americans are not inclined to ride in self-driving vehicles).

Waymo driverless vehicle / Wikipedia

E-commerce has increased to 14 percent of total retail sales in the U.S. In contrast, the number of walk-ins to brick and mortar stores has fallen 6-9 percent each year, and last year saw the largest number of store chains closing yet.

In 2018, some 15 billion packages were delivered in the U.S., which equals 118 packages per household, or one every three days. As the number of delivery packages continues to increase, what does that mean for malls and downtowns?

There are some 1-2 billion parking spaces in the U.S. The rise of Uber, Lyft, and other rideshare and carsharing services, which only need pick-up and drop off zones, will reduce the need for parking. And “when we have fully autonomous vehicles, the need for parking could be reduced by 80 percent.”

Typical suburban mall parking lot. Puente Hills Mall / Wikipedia

By reducing parking spaces, AVs could then generate demand for denser nodes in suburbia, create opportunities for urban infill in cities, and result in new parks and open space.

Furthermore, both commercial and residential buildings would no longer need to “carry the cost” of parking spaces. “Housing subsidizes parking, which means parking also increases the cost of housing.”

Without the need for parking spaces, the available land supply could also increase, and the price of land, particularly in suburbia and exurbia, could drop. So the net result of fleets of roving AVs could mean more vacant land, reduced property taxes, and lower revenues for communities — that is unless the AVs themselves are taxed.

Larco foresees considerable debate over curbside access fees for future rideshare, carshare, and AV services. Imagine crowded pick-up and drop-off areas in downtowns. How will access be guaranteed or prioritized? State and local governments will play an important role in deciding fees, perhaps by location, distance from popular destinations, or time.

With an increasing number of personalized modes of transportation competing for street space, a central challenge will be how to organize streets. If poorly planned, e-commerce delivery boxes will litter sidewalks, AVs could stop in bicycle / e-scooter lanes, and public transit could get squeezed out. “The new streets are a huge opportunity to show the importance of design.”

Furthermore, given transportation options will be more plentiful and ordering online will be even easier, location may be less important. The question that will increasingly matter is: “Where will you spend your time? Quality design is a magnet, so design will matter even more.”

(Learn more at Urbanism Next’s new hub called The Nexus, which explores the potential issues and impacts of new mobility).

For Sakina Khan, deputy director at the Washington, D.C. office of planning, AVs and other new transportation technologies pose new challenges as the capital city moves towards achieving “livability, equity, and safety,” which are the goals D.C. residents identified through surveys as the most important.

An update of the transportation, land use, and urban design portions of the Washington, D.C. 1,600-page comprehensive master plan is currently underway. As part of the process, D.C. is seeking to create more a more equitable transportation system, with multi-modal transit-oriented developments (TODs), traffic-calming measures to reduce traffic fatalities and accidents and achieve Vision Zero, and “transportation equity pilots” in the lower-income Wards 7 and 8.

Khan said D.C. has moved away from “vehicle carrying capacity” in their analysis of streets towards “person carrying capacity.” This reflects the increasing focus on personalized mobility options like e-scooters.

She discussed how critical access to transportation is to achieving a healthier population in D.C. Policymakers in the district are increasingly looking towards the “non-clinical social determinants of health, which account for 80 percent of health outcomes.” Non-clinical determinants of health could include access to good food, jobs, green spaces, and healthcare within walking distance.

In Ward 7 and 8, the city seeks to increase access to Metro through a subsidized taxi to rails program along with “heavy subsidies” for Capital Bikeshare, taking the subscription rate down from $85 a year to just $5 for low-income residents that qualify. The goal is to improve equitable transportation access and therefore health outcomes in some of the poorest neighborhoods.

Capital bikeshare / Wikipedia

As far as AVs, the city will incentive the use of shared rides instead of “zero or single rides.” Zero rides sounds fantastical, but fleets of AVs could roam the streets, waiting for rides, causing congestion. “AVs needs to be supplemental to transit, bicycle, and pedestrian networks — not a replacement.” The city is working with AV companies to map the entire district. But for Khan, it’s still unclear whether AVs will lead to infill or sprawl, and how they will impact jobs.

Ken Ray, ASLA, deputy director of landscape architecture at Toole Design, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, which has developed innovative multi-modal transportation systems like Jackson Street in Saint Paul, Minnesota, argued that as modes change — for example, from docked bike share to dockless bikes and e-scooters — the fight for access is increasingly happening at sidewalks, the curb, and in bicycle lanes.

Jackson Street Reconstruction, Saint Paul, Minnesota / Toole Design

To figure out a way forward, the city of Boston, which recently released its Go Boston 2030 transportation plan, is piloting micro-mobility hubs in eight neighborhoods. Toole Design is working with city’s new mobility team, other agencies, and neighborhood groups to plan, design and implement the new hubs. According to Ray, these projects are the “first-of-its-kind at filling last-mile gaps in Boston’s transportation network by co-locating transportation mode choices.”

Micro-mobility hub / Toole Design Group
Micro-mobility hub / Toole Design Group

Designing for a few modes of transit is fairly straightforward, but “if you have to layer everything, including package delivery, AVs, pedestrians, bicyclists, vehicles, and app-enabled transportation systems, the street fills up quickly.”

Ray sees these hubs as potential models for balancing modes if they can also broaden access for users in an equitable way. He described work Toole Design has done to create “neighborhood mobility stations, where dockless bikes and e-scooters could be gathered and made available in centralized locations.” With geo-fencing, it’s possible to incentivize app-based transportation providers to drop off e-scooters in specific locations.

But he also cautioned that more work needs to be done to reach urban populations who are low-income or don’t have a credit card or smart phone and therefore can’t access app-driven forms of transportation. To be truly equitable, these systems need to provide other options as well.

In San Francisco, Toole Design is working with SPIN, a dockless bike provider, to redesign an equitable access program required by the city government to “lower barriers to entry.” The approach requires them to sign up one “access user” for every five scooters deployed. One issue is that SPIN had a “burden of proof” issue, forcing potential users to “jump through hoops, which is a huge barrier to sign-ups.” The redesign project aims to increase the number of SPIN access users by redesigning access points to make the process much easier.

SPIN equitable access hub / Toole Design

In the Q&A, Larco said state and local governments need to work with technology companies through collaborative pilots that can help undo the combative relationship companies like Uber have had with cities.

Miller and Ray also made an argument for using design, prototypes, and pilots to find solutions to complex street design challenges.

Ray said “things are changing so fast that policy can’t keep up. It’s important for policymakers to set goals and principles but allow landscape architects flexibility in meeting goals where possible.”

Khan argued that future transportation infrastructure design must be “start with people first.” This will help reduce the “huge disconnect between how we live and the infrastructure we have now.” Key goals include “sustainability, resilience, equity, and economic opportunity.”

Larco believes that “urban planners are looking ahead to the issues that AVs and other technologies will bring. Developers are just starting to, but architects and landscape architects are still far behind.”

In an 100 percent AV future, space freed up by the reduced need for parking could be transformed into green spaces, making cities more livable and healthy. But with this AV future, which would create demand for narrower lanes moving vehicles faster, there could also be “pressure to add more lanes,” said Larco.

“It will be hard to fight against the economic potential of AVs and focus on the ecological potential.” There will be increased demand to “cram as much as possible into spaces,” but it’s important to remember the economic, social, and health benefits of nearby green spaces. “One urban park can raise the value of the entire block.”

Interview with Meg Calkins: The Case for Sustainable Landscape Materials

Meg Calkins, FASLA

Meg Calkins, FASLA, is the department head and professor of landscape architecture at North Carolina State University. She is a contributing editor to Landscape Architecture Magazine, a founding member of the Sustainable SITES Initiative® (SITES®), and author of Materials for Sustainable Sites: A Complete Guide to the Selection, Evaluation and Use of Sustainable Construction Materials and The Sustainable Sites Handbook: A Complete Guide to the Principles, Strategies and Best Practices for Sustainable Landscapes.

Interview conducted at the ASLA 2019 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego.

Over the past few decades, how much progress have we made towards achieving sustainable landscapes? What practices promoted through the Sustainable SITES Initiative® (SITES®) have landscape architects now widely adopted? What low-impact material alternatives do landscape architects now widely use?

In general, we have made strong progress toward sustainable landscapes in some areas. Green infrastructure — including bioretention, bioswales, rain gardens, even green roofs — are now pretty widely used, especially in urban environments. Their performance and cost benefits are well-documented.

Landscape architects are getting a handle on how to employ them in a functional and artful way. Landscape architects are also starting to speak the language of civil engineers and doing great collaborations in the area of stormwater management. This whole area of SITES and sustainable site design has been really successful.

ASLA 2019 Professional General Design Honor Award. Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park, Bangkok, Thailand / LANDPROCESS

Landscape architects are also designing with native plants and plant communities in mind, and many are avoiding invasive plants. If only we could get the nursery industry to not stock invasive plants, we would be OK. But even in urban settings, landscape architects are conceiving of plant communities as habitat as well as having aesthetic value.

Where are the major gaps? Where does progress need to happen the most?

Use of materials with reduced environmental and health impacts are lagging behind. This is because clear and comparable information about the carbon footprint, resource use, manufacturing impacts, and toxicity of materials and products is not widely available.

Information transparency is perhaps the biggest challenge when trying to reduce the environmental and human health impacts of materials and products. LEED, SITES, and the Living Building Challenge offer credits encouraging information transparency, but these credits are still among the least achieved.

Product manufacturers do not provide information on embodied carbon, resource use and waste, energy and water use, and toxicity impacts. Human health impacts may be the most challenging to identify given many manufacturers claim the constituents of their products are proprietary and therefore will not release information on the types of chemicals used or produced and their quantities.

The habitat and cultural impacts of raw material extraction are often an out of sight out of mind issue. For example, we don’t see the impacts of harvesting tropical hardwood lumber from the Amazon, so it doesn’t seem so problematic to use it. We don’t see the ecosystem decline after the removal of the keystone species tree that is cut to make tropical hardwood lumber. We don’t hear about the murders of indigenous people to intimidate them to leave their protected land so tropical hardwoods can be harvested. And we don’t know that there is a 78 percent chance that the tropical hardwood we are using was harvested illegally (Greenpeace 2014).

Through Climate Positive Design, Pamela Conrad, ASLA, has devised a comprehensive approach for designing and constructing landscapes so they sequester more carbon than they emit over their lifespans, transforming them into net carbon sinks. Through her design toolkit, she recommends swapping carbon-intensive materials with lower-carbon options and planting more greenhouse gas-absorbing trees and shrubs. As you just mentioned, one of the issues you have identified is the lack of third party-verified environmental product declarations with publicly accessible data. How can we get full transparency around the environmental impact of landscape products?

First, I want to say that balancing carbon onsite is a critical aim, and Conrad’s design toolkit is wonderful. It’s going to have a transformative impact on site design and material and product specifications.

Embodied carbon of materials is a far more accurate indicator of the impact of producing a building material or product than embodied energy. Embodied energy is not as accurate because all energy sources do not have equal impact on the environment. Some will be almost carbon neutral, like wind power, and others, like coal, will have very high embodied carbon and a substantial environmental footprint.

But while carbon considerations are heavily prioritized in decision making in the building fields, they do not tell the whole story. The human health impacts of materials and products, which can be very substantial, tend to fly under the radar.

PVC, a plastic that is used in countless construction products, has lower embodied carbon than some other plastics, but it can be extremely toxic to humans in manufacture, use and disposal, particularly if it is burned or heated to very high temperatures. Designers need to consider these impacts, but the only way they’re going to know about them is for manufacturers to tell us exactly what is in the products and what by products are produced.

Information transparency by product manufacturers is an area that lags behind other sustainability considerations. I did a content analysis study back in 2012 of the websites of all exhibitors at the 2012 ASLA conference. We looked at what kind of information they’re providing on the impacts of their materials and products, and the steps they’re taking to make them more sustainable. Less than 1 percent provided either life cycle assessment (LCA) or environmental product declarations (EPD).

I’m replicating that study right now, seven years later. I don’t have the results yet, but I suspect it’s going to be closer to 10 percent providing that kind of information. There is progress being made, but we still not enough information for designers to use to compare similar products.

SITES and LEED have likely had a slight transformative impact on the information that product manufacturers provide. But the fields of architecture and interior design are ahead of us. If we did a content analysis of their product websites, we would probably find somewhere between 20 and 30 percent provide environmental product declarations.

The main way to address the lack of information is for landscape architects and designers specifying site construction products to talk to product manufacturers and ask for information about the environmental and human health impacts of their products. Telling manufacturers — “Well, I’m considering using your product but your competitor, Company X, has an environmental product declaration, so I’m going to go with them” — is only way to make it happen.

Of course, one can earn LEED and SITES credits for companies that offer some material transparency. But I don’t know if that’s making change as much as designers constantly asking for that information.

Concrete production accounts for around 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Cement, which is a primary ingredient in traditional concrete, is the second-most used natural resource after water. You have written about the many low-carbon concrete options companies are developing, including carbon-sequestering concrete, concrete that requires lower amounts of energy to produce, and concrete primarily made up of fly ash and other waste products. What will it take to replace the conventional polluting concrete with these new alternatives?

These alternatives are so new that many are not widely available on the market yet. Some are still in development. But of those on the market, only the earliest adopters are specifying them. They’re better used in Europe, because many are European technologies.

In the U.S., landscape architects oftentimes don’t specify concrete mixes. Landscape architects need to convince the people who do — the engineers, the contractors and the Departments of Transportation — to do it.

Contractors are understandably nervous about using new concrete mixes and are not easily convinced to change. Durability is such a key consideration in the performance of concrete, and it is still a question with the new low carbon technologies and mixes. It’s just going to take time and experimental applications. If the applications are monitored and the data on performance published, adoption of these technologies will happen.

Solidia Technologies’ Solidia cement (low Portland Cement) and Solidia concrete (injected with carbon) was successfully tested in multiple applications by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in east coast locations. This is one way that these technologies can trickle down into the site construction market. If the FHWA or U.S. Department of Transportation believes in it and has it as either a standard or alternative specification, then the contractors in that area are much more likely to want to use that product.

D.I.R.T. Studio artfully integrated recycled concrete, bricks, and rusted metal found onsite at the Urban Outfitters headquarters at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, creating a rich, layered environment that demonstrates sustainable values. Do you see this recycled landscape aesthetic becoming more popular? What trends do you see in the use of recycled materials?

The answer is both yes and no. There’s a type of project that can use reclaimed material successfully. Not all clients want that aesthetic and not all project budgets can afford it.

Some projects will never be able to incorporate reclaimed materials because of the budget and bid structure. In a public bid project where the contractor is not onboard until after the bid set is complete, there may be insurmountable obstacles to use of reclaimed materials. It is best if one can design with reclaimed materials in hand, rather than setting out to find them after the bid documents are complete. If you set out to find a nine-by-nine reclaimed cypress post for the pergola that is fully detailed, you’re never going to find it. You need to find the material first and then design with it.

Cost can also be an issue. Once located, reclaimed materials sometimes need to be stored for several months until construction. And the material may need work such as removal of nails, cleaning, resurfacing and even regrading.

I don’t want to discourage this: if it’s a landscape architect can pay this kind of attention to the reclaimed materials, that’s great, but it’s just not feasible for every project.

Concrete was broken into pieces and reused as pavers in a garden. ASLA 2014 Professional General Design Honor Award. Urban Outfitters Headquarters at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania / D.I.R.T. Studio
Steel from the site was reused as low walls for planters. ASLA 2014 Professional General Design Honor Award. Urban Outfitters Headquarters at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania / D.I.R.T. Studio

There has been a growing movement to end the extraction of Ipe and other tropical hardwoods, which is highly destructive to rainforest ecosystems. Landscape architects like yourself and Michael van Valkenburgh, FASLA, have instead promoted the use of native hardwoods like black locust. There are also composite, thermally modified, polymerized, and acetylated wood products. Help us navigate the landscape of tropical hardwood alternatives. How should landscape architects make a decision?

There is absolutely NO reason to use tropical hardwood lumber anymore. There are good alternatives that exist that perform in some cases better than tropical hardwoods and have far lower impacts to ecosystems. Ipe, Cumaru, some of the other tropical hardwoods are keystone or umbrella species in their ecosystems.

Once that one tree is removed, studies show that the forest, plants, and animals for acres around it that depended on that one tree will decline. Within five years that land is usually turned over to grazing land for cattle. Because of this fact, even selective harvesting is not a good practice for rainforest trees.

Ipe trees bloom in yellow and pink in the Brazilian rainforest / iStockPhoto.com

There are also unseen social impacts to using tropical hardwood lumber. Tropical hardwood extraction has devastating social impacts to indigenous communities. Few designers know that since 1985 there have been 1,700 deaths in the Amazon over land disputes that primarily have to do with illegal logging. Also, tropical hardwoods are not a renewable material because it takes 90 to 200 years to grow a comparable tree, but the lumber from that tree is only going to be in use for about 30 years.

There are many alternatives to tropical hardwoods now on the market. Thermally modified wood, acetylated wood, polymerized wood– all three of those use heat and either steam or acetic anhydride or a polymer cross-linking agent, furfuryl alcohol, to modify the sugars of the wood, so that decay organisms no longer recognize them as food. All three of these lumber treatments are non-toxic. They make the wood more dimensionally stable, harder, and much more competitive with the durability of tropical hardwoods. And they are easier to build with than the extremely dense tropical hardwoods.

Another alternative to tropical hardwoods is fused bamboo, which has been on the market in China for close to ten years. It’s a really hard product similar to Ipe, so it needs carbide blades to cut and drill it. It’s a very durable product, and unlike, Ipe, uses a clip system that avoids the pre-drilling and screwing necessary for Ipe boards. It is a rapidly renewable product, with rapid growth of the bamboo every three to five years.

Fused bamboo is essentially stripped, carbonized, and impregnated with phenolic resin, which may or may not have some toxicity issues. It does contain formaldehyde, but the jury’s still out on that. Anyway, it performs and weathers really well. It’s easily oiled and rejuvenated, guaranteed for 10 years in commercial applications and 30 years in residential applications.

And then of course black locust is also a good alternative. It can be challenging to use because black locust trees do not grow straight, so when you cut it into lumber, it tends to want to return to its irregular form. But it is starting to be grown on plantations and should have a straighter habit when farmed. Also, use of shorter lengths can prevent its tendency to warp.

Black locust planks make up a walkway in an atrium garden. ASLA 2006 Professional General Design Honor Award. Small is Beautiful, Millburn, New Jersey. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / Elizabeth Felicella

Innovative new materials in development include concrete that can absorb air pollution and clean the air, bricks that can be grown, and plants that can be engineered to produce light. What emerging material technologies are you most excited about? Which have the greatest potential to improve our built environment?

I’m the most excited a process called electrically modified cement (EMC) activation. It’s essentially a process that modifies the surface of hydraulic waste materials like fly ash and blast furnace slag, or even some natural pozzolans like silica sands and metakaolin.

The process increases the surface area of these particles, creating micro-cracks and dislocations of structure at the nano scale, allowing for greater surface area and greater reactivity with respect to the processes of cement. It’s possible to achieve a concrete with 70 percent fly ash and just 30 percent cement. Once this finds its way into the market, it’s going to really transform concrete. That said, fly ash is only around as long as we’re burning coal. In Europe, for instance, they’re burning a whole lot less coal, so fly ash is not nearly as prevalent as it is in the U.S. anymore.

The other thing I’m excited about is recycled plastic aggregate concrete (RPAC), which is in the testing and case study application phase. There’s a whole lot of waste plastic in this world and if we can find a way to use it instead of non-renewable virgin aggregates, we should. The technology is still in the research phase, but preliminary results of RPAC as fine aggregate show an increased flexural strength, tensile strength, and density. There is so much on the horizon to improve the environmental and human health footprint of concrete.

Most Popular DIRT Posts of 2019

Jewel Changi Airport / PWP Landscape Architecture, Safdie Architects

While we are always looking ahead to what’s new in the built and natural environments, it’s also valuable to look back at what grabbed our attention last year. Here’s a review of the 10 most popular DIRT posts of 2019.

Readers were most interested in how to plan and design universally-accessible landscapes; how communities are increasingly looking to landscape architecture as a solution for the climate crisis; examples of inventive multi-use infrastructure, like the Jewel Changi airport terminal in Singapore and Amager Bakke in Copenhagen; and the on-going debate about the changing roles of landscape architects and urban planners.

ASLA members: send us your original op-eds on topics that inspire you. And tell us about your new projects and research. Please email us at info@asla.org.

Singapore’s New Garden Airport

International airports are in fierce competition for passengers and regularly one-up each other with new wow-factor amenities, shops, and restaurants. But Singapore decided to raise its game by going another direction: a plant-filled haven, a gateway consistent with its moniker — “the city in a garden.” The result is an inventive model other airports should copy, if not in form, then certainly in spirit.

Landscape Architects Must Become Planners

Landscape architects need to become urban planners and work “upstream” in policy and regulatory processes to ensure public space leads urban placemaking efforts. That is the argument Michael Grove, ASLA, chair of landscape architecture, civil engineering, and ecology at Sasaki; Brian Jeneck, ASLA, director of planning at HOK; and Michael Johnson, ASLA, principal at SmithGroup made at the ASLA 2019 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Washington, D.C.

Book Review: The Architecture of Trees

The Architecture of Trees was first published by Cesare Leonardi and Franca Stagi, two versatile Italian furniture, landscape, and architectural designers, in 1982. This “scientific tome” and “original ‘labor of love and obsession’” has been re-issued by Princeton Architectural Press in all its arboreal glory.

Why Bicycling Has Flatlined

About 830,000 Americans biked to work in 2017, down from a high of 904,000 in 2014. Given communities large and small have made major investments in bicycle infrastructure — and bike share now seems ubiquitous — why haven’t the numbers of bike commuters dramatically increased?

Nature-based Solutions Are Our Best Defense Against Climate Impacts

Today in New York City, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres will convene the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit to, in his words, “hear about how we are going to stop the increase in emissions by 2020, and dramatically reduce emissions to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century.” This Summit comes on the heels of the Youth Climate Strike last week, and kicks off Climate Week in which people in New York and across the country will demand action to mitigate the ongoing climate crisis.

We Are Designing the Earth, Whether You Like it Or Not

This purpose of this article is to reflect on the Design with Nature Now exhibition that ran over this past summer at the Stuart Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania. The exhibition marked the 50th anniversary of Ian McHarg’s 1969 tome Design with Nature and was curated by Fritz Steiner, FASLA, Karen M’Closkey, Billy Fleming, ASLA, Bill Whitaker, ASLA, and myself.

In Copenhagen, You Can Ski Down this Power Plant

Eight years ago Danish architect Bjarke Ingels came up with a fantastical idea — build a ski slope on top of a power plant. Well, now, it has actually happened — the $660 million Amager Bakke is preparing to welcome adventurous ski bunnies in Copenhagen. Known to locals as Copenhill, this cutting-edge renewable energy system converts waste into energy while giving sports lovers access to a 2,000-feet-long ski slope, a 295-feet-high climbing wall, and hiking and running paths. The project is the most visible demonstration yet of Copenhagen’s determination to become the world’s first carbon neutral city by 2025.

ASLA Publishes Guide to Universal Design

ASLA’s guide provides a comprehensive view of which communities are underserved by the built environment. It also offers a set of new universal design principles that address the needs of deaf or hard of hearing, blind or low vision, autistic, neurodevelopmentally and/or intellectually disabled, and mobility-disabled adults and children, as well as concerns for older adults. These include: accessible, comfortable, participatory, ecological, legible, multi-sensory, predictable, and walkable/traversable.

Faced with Climate Impacts, Communities Turn to Green Infrastructure

Climate change is causing seas to rise, flooding to worsen, and hurricanes and wildfires to become more destructive, all of which puts our infrastructure at greater risk. On top of that, America’s current infrastructure received a D+ grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in their latest scorecard. Increased risk from climate events and the massive backlog of maintenance projects means that our infrastructure has never been more vulnerable.

Gallaudet University Designs for the Deaf Community, But Everyone Benefits

At Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., DeafSpace, a concept developed by campus architect Hansel Bauman, is now guiding the development of buildings and landscapes in order to better address the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing people, which also results in better spaces for everyone. Gallaudet University — the oldest university for the deaf community in the country and the only university in the world where all programs and services are designed with deaf and hard of hearing people in mind — is creating a new 2020 campus master plan that expands DeafSpace beyond the buildings and into the historic campus designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and the surrounding neighborhood.

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

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Freeway Park, Seattle, Washington / Photo Credit Brianc333a [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Seattle’s Brutalist Freeway Park is Reviewed for National Register and Approved for RenovationThe Architect’s Newspaper,11/5/19
“The gorgeously staggered concrete elements of Jim Ellis Freeway Park, one of the most significant architectural spaces in Seattle, are scattered across a thickly forested hill atop an intersection of Interstate 5 between the neighborhoods of Downtown Seattle and First Hill.”

East Baltimore Redevelopment Project Moves Forward As Construction Begins The Baltimore Sun, 11/7/19
“With construction of the first building in an $889 million revitalization project in East Baltimore already underway, developers and architects have presented city officials the latest design plans for another building.”

Presidio Tunnel Tops Project Kicks Off With Pelosi In Attendance, Completion Due in 2021SFist, 11/7/19
“The official ‘groundmaking’ ceremony was held Thursday to kick off the process of building and landscaping what will create 14 acres of parkland over the top of the 101 freeway tunnels near the Golden Gate Bridge, connecting the Presidio to Crissy Field.”

Parkside Project Created to be ‘Uniquely Birmingham’ AL.com, 11/7/19
“The Powell Avenue Steam Plant powered Birmingham’s growth for more than a century. Now an ambitious plan hopes to resurrect it to connect a revitalized Magic City.”

Fall in Storm King Washington Square News, 11/15/19
“But despite the trek, there is an incredible institution upstate that will be worth your time: the Storm King Art Center.”

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.

smart1
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.