Interview with Mitchell Silver on NYC’s Game Changing Park System

Mitchell Silver / NYC Parks and Recreation
Mitchell Silver / NYC Parks and Recreation

Mitchell Silver is commissioner of the New York City Departments of Parks and Recreation. Silver is past president of the American Planning Association (APA) and an award-winning planner with 30 years of experience.

In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the Community Parks Initiative, which aims to improve historically underfunded parks in densely populated and growing neighborhoods with higher than average concentrations of poverty. Some $285 million has been set aside for this effort, which will lead to the full re-imagining of 67 parks. Your department has broken ground in some 35 parks. What do communities want most for their new spaces after all those years of deferred maintenance? What are some common elements in these new places?

First, they want the asphalt gone. Most of these parks were just play spaces with asphalt. They want trees and green space. Even if it’s synthetic turf, they want a softer surface. Second, they want multi-generational spaces. We have an aging population and want make sure we have seating areas, gathering spaces, so it isn’t just a playground. And then, people want fitness equipment, or adult play equipment, which is a big trend right now. People want to come out and be healthy. And spray showers, because, if you have a pool, you can only use it a few months a year. With spray showers, you can still play on the same surface in the winter. In the summertime, they’re self activated, you can just cool off and enjoy without getting fully wet. Those were some of the primary ones, but number one is people want the asphalt gone. They want to go from gray to green.

Another exciting initiative you’re leading: Parks Without Borders. Some $50 million will be spent on improving park access through “opening sight lines, beautifying edges, adjusting furnishings.” Part of this will include lowering all those tall chain-link fences, unappealing gates, and fixing the sidewalks lining the parks. Can you talk about the connection between a park and it surrounding streets? Why focus on the borders? Why are they so important?

Frederick Law Olmsted once said the sidewalk adjacent to the park is the outer park. If you look at Prospect Park and Central Park, the sidewalk is part of the park. When I came on board, I recognized that in our city charter, the parks department not only oversees the parks, but the sidewalks adjoining the parks. The park doesn’t end at the fence line or the wall, it actually ends at the curb and beyond.

The second point is park land represents 14 percent of the city’s footprint. Streets and sidewalks represents another 26 percent. So in other words, 40 percent of New York City is within the public realm. We own it, yet the average citizen does not know where the parks department property ends and the department of transportation property begins. And guess what? They don’t care. They want a seamless public realm.

That gave birth to the Parks Without Borders. Parks aren’t just islands of green space; they’re connected to our entire public realm. Parks Without Borders help us create a more seamless experience at the edges, entrances, and adjacent park spaces. We don’t have to buy new land; we own it. We just have to program it differently, so we provide a better experience.

Parks without Borders / NYC Parks and Recreation
Parks without Borders / NYC Parks and Recreation

Are you concerned about security when you lower all those fences?

We’re always concerned about security. But here’s the good thing about Parks Without Borders: We met with our police department and they fully support the effort. Why? Because when you lower the fences, it increases natural surveillance. There are now more eyes on the park. We’re also removing landscaping and vegetation and other obstacles that block views. People who want to do bad things do not want to be seen. By removing the obstacles, improving the lighting, and increasing the sight lines into the park, we can actually make parks safer. Part of Parks Without Borders is also a public safety campaign.

We need fences for children to play and for certain recreation, but, for the most part, we don’t really need them. Without fences, we can create a more seamless experience.

Parks Without Borders is about making parks more welcoming, open, turning them into the living rooms of the city. It’s about removing all of these tall fences where young people feel, “Why are you imprisoning me in this public space?” We’re no longer in the ’80s and ’90s anymore. Parks are safe.

Another part of Parks Without Borders is bringing free Wi-Fi to city parks. New York City parks and recreation has partnered with AT&T. You’ve piloted benches that enable you to recharge your phone via solar panel while browsing on Wi-Fi. But aren’t parks meant to be an escape from technology in urban life? Doesn’t time spent downloading apps diminish time enjoying Central Park?

We carefully look at the demographics. From the Greatest generation, to the Boomer generation, and the X, Y, Z generations, people experience parks in different ways. Years ago in Bryant Park, there would be couples using the movable chairs, enjoying their public space. Today, people go by themselves with their smartphones. The smartphone is the most necessary device. It connects people to the world. I’m totally fine with that. Some people go to parks purposely to read a book, but they can also be alone with their smartphone.

People may want to look for something within the park, download a map to see where they’re going, meet up with a friend, or pull out their phone and take photographs and selfies and tweet them out. We want to encourage those activities.

Soofa Charging Bench / NYC Parks and Recreation
Soofa Charging Bench / NYC Parks and Recreation

For me, technology and parks go together. I love taking pictures of people taking pictures in parks. Very often, you know you have a popular park when someone pulls out their phone and they start taking selfies.

We’ve put in charging stations at beaches. Who knows? Maybe you may can meet your future husband or wife getting your phone charged on the beach. I don’t see any disconnect: Technology and parks definitely go together.

Beach Charging Station / NYC Parks and Recreation
Beach Charging Station / NYC Parks and Recreation

You said the newly-rebuilt 5.5 mile Rockaway Boardwalk is a part of New York City’s “first line of defense against climate change.” The boardwalk features “multiple layers of protection” with six miles of planted dunes backed by concrete retaining walls. When the next super storm hits, how is that reconstructed shoreline expected to perform? And how do you know?

Super Storm Sandy established a new reality for New York City. We never thought we were that vulnerable. In New York City, we have 520 miles of coastline and 155 miles are within parks. So in each neighborhood, we’re looking at a different approach of how to address risks, but there’s no question our parks are now the first line of defense.

In the Rockaway, we worked with our landscape architects and engineers. We did beach replenishment. We put in dunes. We use concrete as opposed to piles of wood. What we’ve built will do a much better job at saving life and property. What we’ve built is stronger and better.

Rockaway Beach Protective Dunes / NYC Parks and Recreation
Rockaway Beach Protective Dunes / NYC Parks and Recreation

And that’s our goal moving forward. Solutions will vary between different neighborhoods, but the Rockaway shows one example of a very vulnerable neighborhood that now has a concrete boardwalk that’s reinforced with dunes on both sides.

Clearly we’re going to be tested one day. We hope not soon.

Parks, plazas, even playgrounds, can be part of a city’s system for protecting itself against storms and floods. As the Big U, the set of parks that double as berms, take shape in Lower Manhattan, your city is showing the way forward on how to create protective infrastructure that doubles as public parks. How do roles and responsibilities change when you have a $350 million dollar piece of public multi-use infrastructure charged with protecting billions of dollars of real estate in Lower Manhattan? Are you creating a governance model for this system that other cities can use?

Under our previous mayor and current mayor, the Mayor’s Office for Resiliency, Recovery and Resiliency has been the overarching coordinating agency that works with all the relevant agencies, such as parks, environmental protection, and transportation. They take the lead role, even though all the resilient infrastructure is placed in the park. The Big U is not just about green infrastructure but also acts as a protective infrastructure to protect life and property.

ASLA 2016 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Rebuild by Design, The Big U / BIG and Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners
ASLA 2016 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Rebuild by Design, The Big U / BIG and Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners

We need to be a resilient city. Sea levels are increasing over time, and New York City is a coastal city. We recognize we have to plan for change now. All these projects are also taking into account sea level rise in a city that is basically an island, except the Bronx, which is part of the mainland.

The Office of Recovery and Resiliency is a model that other cities should emulate. They have designers, engineers, planning professionals, and policy makers that focus on resiliency efforts throughout the world.  They focus on this day in and day out. Parks will then bring in their experience because we know plant material, horticulture. We know how to plan for different type of environments in our city and how to protect the environment. But an overarching agency that spends all of their time focused on recovery and resiliency is a good coordinating mechanism.

You told The New York Times that part of your Sunday routine is to visit a park you’ve never been, a new one out of the whopping 1,700 parks in five boroughs you oversee. You see who is visiting, take photos, document issues. What have your Sunday adventures taught you about the park system that you couldn’t read in a briefing book?

Taking these surprise visits, I’ve learned that our parks are cleaner than I thought. I get a lot of reports about people complaining how filthy our parks are. That is not the case. There were a couple of instances, but our parks are a lot better maintained than I would believe just by doing these spontaneous visits.

Second, New Yorkers love parks. I spend a lot of time watching where people are sitting, what they’re doing. On a hot sunny day, a spot under a tree is a very popular spot.

People enjoying the shade under a tree at Sunset Park / Mitchell Silver
People enjoying the shade under a tree at Sunset Park / Mitchell Silver

I look at how different generations are using the spaces, what seniors and families are doing.

I knew we lacked capital investment and, so, going into certain parks, I knew we had to focus on finding a way for some of our lesser known parks to get an infusion of capital. That has became obvious to me.

There are certain parks that did have some maintenance issues, but I realized staff did not have the proper equipment. I didn’t go into these parks to whack staff. I want to find out what I need to give them to do their jobs better. Now we have a whole new approach to make sure the service for our equipment is better and staff have the tools they need to maintain this park.

I live in Brooklyn, I grew up in Brooklyn. I had no idea we had such an incredible park system. I was blown away by parks I’d never heard of. I just came from Bowne Park in Flushing, Queens, which is beautiful. I’m going to parks and saying, “I cannot believe I’m in New York City.” I had a chance to take a canoe down the Bronx River and I was transported to another place.

I want to go on my own, unannounced without staff, just to be free to explore and see how people are using spaces. I love photography, so enjoy taking pictures of some of my favorite moments in these parks.

Lastly, given Mayor de Blasio’s focus on creating One City in NYC, what role do you think public spaces like parks, greenways, playgrounds play in reducing inequality? Can they reduce poverty?

Parks are free. They’re democratic spaces. Regardless of your race, income, age, parks are accessible to everyone.

We do have our quality regional parks — Central Park, High Line, Prospect Park — open to everyone. But we want to take that a step further: Every neighborhood deserves to have a quality space. We want everyone to be within a ten minute walk to a park. But it’s not just the proximity, we want that park to be a quality park.

We launched the Community Parks Initiative because we believe parks are places where people connect, get healthy, and relax. Having that in every neighborhood addresses inequality. We want to make sure we’re fair about how we invest in our parks, and all young kids have a chance to enjoy green spaces and get healthy.

I can’t say parks address poverty per se, but they certainly address inequality. Everyone deserves a quality space in New York City, where density and open space go together. You cannot have one without the other. You don’t just want to have affordable housing. You want to have a quality neighborhood with adequate public space.

Best Books of 2016

Capability Brown: Designing the English Landscape / Rizzoli Press
Capability Brown: Designing the English Landscape / Rizzoli Press

There were so many great books this year that honing in on just ten favorites was too challenging. Whether you are looking for a unique book to give as a gift or one for yourself to delve into, we have some options. Here’s The Dirt‘s top 15 books of 2016, our picks for the best on the environment, cities, and landscape:

Capability Brown and His Landscape Gardens (National Trust, 2016); Capability Brown: Designing the English Landscape (Rizzoli, 2016); and Moving Heaven and Earth: Capability Brown’s Gift of Landscape (Unicorn Press, 2016).
All three books were published this year to celebrate the 300th anniversary of English landscape designer Lancelot “Capability” Brown. Together they paint a rich portrait of this master landscape designer and his most influential works.

Garden Revolution: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change (Timber Press, 2016)
Larry Weaner, one of the world’s top meadow designers, and Thomas Christopher have created a reference book on ecological design for gardeners and landscape designers and architects. They write: “By following ecological principles, we can have landscapes that are alive with color, friendly to local wildlife, and evolve over time—with much less work and effort.”

Environmentalism of the Rich (MIT Press, 2016)
Peter Dauvergne, a professor at the University of British Columbia, asks the hard questions: is environmentalism, as it’s practiced in the developed word, failing? Is the mainstream environmental movement, with its focus on incremental gains, failing the planet? Erik Assadourian, Senior Fellow, Worldwatch Institute, writes that the book “is required reading for anyone wanting to help ram the movement off its current dead-end path and build a new deep green movement.”

Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life (Liverlight, 2016)
In his latest book, renowned biologist and author E.O. Wilson makes the case for both preserving and restoring half of the Earth, which he believes is possible if we set aside some of the richest places of biodiversity on land and in the oceans. Read The Dirt review.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries from a Secret World (Greystone Books, 2016)
Peter Wohlleben, who spent twenty years with the German forestry commission, and Tim Flannery, a scientist and author, ask: “Are trees social beings?” They are convinced the forest is actually a social network.

The Long, Long Life of Trees (Yale University Press, 2016)
Fiona Stafford, a professor who focuses on romantic poetry at Oxford University, has published a lyrical volume on the history of seventeen common trees, including ash, apple, pine, oak, cypress, and willow. She delves into history, paying homage to important specimens from the past, and also explains trees’ critical role in the future fight against climate change.

Nature and Cities: The Ecological Imperative for Urban Planning and Design (Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2016)
In their new book, editors Frederick Steiner, FASLA, George Thompson, and Armando Carbonell have made complex ideas about urban ecological design incredibly accessible. They make a convincing argument that “ecological literacy” is an “essential base” for anyone involved in urban planning and design today. There are 17 thought-provoking essays from leading landscape architects and planners from around the world.

Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist (Jewish Museum, 2016)
The Jewish Museum in New York City has put together the definitive book on the influential Brazilian landscape architect and artist. In addition to designing more than 2,000 gardens, Burle Marx created paintings, drawings, tile mosaics, sculpture, textile design, jewelry, theater costumes, and more.

Toward an Urban Ecology: SCAPE / Landscape Architecture (The Monacelli Press, 2016)
Kate Orff, ASLA, and her team at SCAPE have created a beautiful book with engaging full-page color photography that delves into Breakwaters, their Rebuild by Design project in Staten Island, and others. The goal of their projects is to “bring together social and ecological systems to sustainably remake our cities and landscapes.” They describe the book as “part monograph, part manual, part manife­sto.”

Site, Sight, Insight: Essays on Landscape Architecture (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016)
Landscape historian John Dixon Hunt, who has just retired from University of Pennsylvania, collects twelve of his recent essays in one book. He takes the reader on an intellectual ride, explaining the ways we perceive landscapes, and in turn asking us to examine our own baggage when viewing them, so that we may gain greater insights into landscapes’ true meaning and our own emotions.

Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs (Random House, 2016)
In this new collection of the short writings and speeches of Jane Jacobs, one of the most influential thinkers on the built environment, editors Samuel Zipp and Nathan Storring have done readers a great service. They’ve brought together the best of this brilliant autodidact’s arguments for why planners and designers must never forget the importance of small-scale diversity given it results in interesting cities created, first and foremost, for people. Read The Dirt review.

Water Infrastructure: Equitable Deployment of Resilient Systems (Columbia University, 2016)
Developed for the UN-Habitat’s New Urban Agenda, S. Brye Sarte and Morana M. Stipisic, with the Sherwood Institute and Columbia University Urban Design Lab, have created a well-organized guide to resilient green infrastructure for developing-world cities. There are smart solutions for water pollution, climate change, and multiple types of flooding, with real-world examples.

Wild by Design (Island Press, 2016)
A leading advocate of the “wild” landscape movement, landscape architect Margie Ruddick, ASLA, explains how she carefully balances ecological conservation and restoration with a strong sense of design. Ruddick is the 2013 winner of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award. Learn more about Ruddick and the book.

Also, worth knowing: buying these books through The Dirt or ASLA’s online bookstore benefits ASLA educational programs. And if you are based near Washington, D.C. we also recommend checking out the National Building Museum’s fantastic book store.

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

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Freeway Park, Seattle, Washington by Lawrence Halprin / Photograph © Aaron Leitz, courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation

New Hudson River Park Will Be on Man-Made Island  The Wall Street Journal, 11/16/16
“Plans for a new park in Manhattan call for lush plants, towering trees, walking paths and a theater, all set on a rolling section of waterfront property.”

Diana Balmori, Landscape Architect With a Blending Philosophy, Dies at 84The New York Times, 11/17/16
“Diana Balmori, a landscape architect whose ecologically sensitive designs integrated buildings and the natural environment in projects ranging in scope from urban rooftop gardens to South Korea’s new administrative capital, Sejong City, died on Monday in Manhattan.”

From Penguin Watching to Healing Gardens, See the Best Australian Landscape Architecture from 2016 The Architect’s Newspaper, 11/21/16
“The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) has presented this year’s National Landscape Architecture Awards. The winners span an eclectic mix of typologies ranging from penguin viewing platforms to waterfall trails and healing gardens.”

The Landscape Architect Who Helped Invent Modern City Parks Curbed, 11/22/16
“An urban public park that runs above a highway; a master plan for an oceanfront community that’s both sustainable and resilient: these typify today’s progressive contemporary visions for landscape architecture.”

The Best New Public Design Projects in NYC, According to the CityFast Company, 11/23/16
“The Public Design Commission (which was called the Municipal Art Commission until it was renamed in 2008) decided that it needed to actively promote design, creativity, and innovation in civic projects to incentivize better work and recognize the efforts of the ambitious municipal agencies behind the projects.”

The Art of Survival: Turenscape Creates Green Infrastructure Through Resilient Wetland Parks Architizer, 11/30/16
“How can you find an artful way to clean the soil? How can you find an artful way to manage the storm-water? I call this the art of survival. Because we are facing the problem of survival.”

A Progress Report from the Cutting Edge of Resilient Design

Resilient Bridgeport / Rebuild by Design
Resilient Bridgeport / Rebuild by Design

“We don’t know what resilience policy will look like in the new administration. There are lots of unknowns, but we can take solace in what we do know,” said Amy Chester, director of Rebuild by Design, at an event in Washington, D.C. that provided updates on how the six teams devising novel resilient designs in the tri-state area are doing two years into planning and design.

Rebuild by Design, a unique cross-sector initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Initiative, and numerous non-profit organizations, was created by President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which hit the east coast in 2012 and damaged or destroyed 650,000 homes across 13 states. 148 teams submitted proposals to create new layers of defenses that could also be beautiful public amenities. 6 teams went onto receive nearly $1 billion in public financing.

Each team provided a brief update:

Bridgeport, Connecticut (see image above): David Kooris, with the Connecticut state government, explained how his team received $10 million from Rebuild by Design to create a comprehensive plan to make the low-lying, vulnerable South End more resilient to flooding. The funds, which are much less than what they’ve asked for, gave them extra capacity to plan. From that effort, they learned transit-oriented development, combined with surge protection, green infrastructure, and micro-grids should be core of their approach. They have since received another $54 million from HUD’s national resilience competition. Those funds will be split between implementing the project and developing a “state-wide policy” that can guide other coastal Connecticut resilient projects.

Alan Plattus at Yale University, who is involved in the research side of the project, explained how their plan will link two Olmsted-designed parks, Seaside Park, which is already tasked with surge protection duties, and Beardsley Park, at the mouth of the water system. Plattus thinks Olmsted’s original vision was to connect them. Bridgeport will begin implementation in 2019. Learn more.

Hudson River / NJ DEP
Hudson River resilience project / NJ DEP

Hudson River and Meadowlands, New Jersey: Hoboken, the 4th most dense city in America, received $230 million to control flooding. Alexis Taylor, New Jersey state bureau of flood resilience, explained how a network of berms and gates will be created to protect the vast majority of the city during storms. All the infrastructure will be created in public right-of-ways:  alleys, plazas, and parks. An undulating sea wall will be aligned towards the interior of the city, rather than the coast. Vital infrastructure is protected. A network of green infrastructure also helps reduce inland flooding.

Taylor said about “85 percent of the city will be on the dry side, but this benefits 100 percent of the population because Hoboken will no longer be an island cut-off when it floods. All evacuation routes will be dry. This plan strikes the right balance.” Learn more in this presentation. Alternative 3 was finally selected by New Jersey’s government after much community input. Balmori Associates are the landscape architects.

Separately, the Meadowlands project received $150 million, which is far less than the $850 million they requested for the 9 miles of flood protection measures needed. As a result, the team is created a set of modular flood protection systems on streets, a “kit of parts, pre-cast, that can be easily scaled or replicated, and enables prototyping.” Pretty smart. MIT CAU, ZUS, and URBANISTEN are the landscape architects and planners on the team. Learn more.

Meadowlands / MIT CAU, Zus, Urbanisten
Meadowlands / MIT CAU, Zus, Urbanisten
Living Breakwaters / SCAPE Landscape Architecture
Living Breakwaters / SCAPE Landscape Architecture

Staten Island, New York City: Alex Zablocki, New York governor’s office of storm recovery introduced Pippa Brashear, ASLA, SCAPE Landscape Architecture, and their project, Living Breakwaters, which will result in a “necklace of breakwaters” off the Staten Island coast that will attenuate the impact of storm surges, build back beaches, create habitat for millions of oysters and fish, and “reconnect people with the shoreline.” SCAPE modeled the shoreline with their engineering team and tested specially-designed concrete that will enable biogenic build-up. Working with the One Billion Oyster Project, they are collecting literally tons of shells from restaurants to reuse in their breakwater reefs and educating the public about their mission. Brashear said the citizens advisory group was critical to the process, as was going out into neighboring communities to “show progress,” and make public events fun, through the use of virtual reality headsets and games.

Final designs will be ready in 2018. They are now working on schematic designs and environmental assessments before partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on implementation. Learn more.

Living with the Bay / Rebuild by Design
Living with the Bay / Rebuild by Design

Long Island, New York: Nassau County received some $125 million, less than the $1 billion they asked for, said Laura Manufo, New York governor’s office of storm recovery. A layered solution will focus on integrated stormwater management along a greenway corridor that follows the Mill River, and preventing flooding and storm surge impacts from the bay through “strategically deploying protective measures like constructed marshes and dikes, which in turn will improve water quality and the bay ecology.”

Given the team received far less funds than they hoped, they needed to re-scope, explained Michael Bomar with Tetra Tech. “We narrowed the focus to low and middle income neighborhoods. One thousand acres is more manageable.” But, still, the team is dealing with 45 separate municipal and other stakeholders. An extensive team includes landscape architects H+N+S. Learn more.

The Big U berms / BIG
The Big U berm in park / BIG

Manhattan, New York: The Big U, which received the lion’s share of the Rebuild by Design financing, with $355 million, is designed to numerous communities and billions of real estate along the tip of Manhattan. The Big U will create an integrated system of compartments that can be closed in storms. The first phase to be built will protect the Lower East side, ranging from Montgomery Street up to 23rd Street in Stuyvesant Town, explained Carrie Grassi, City of New York. Most of the infrastructure will overlay the 2.4-mile-long East River Park. New berms accessible via bridges and a series of gates will protect critical infrastructure and communities. Protective measures average 8-9-feet-tall but reach up to 16 feet in some places.

Travis Bunt with One Architecture, a member of the team led by BIG, which also includes Starr Whitehouse landscape architects, said the preliminary design work is done, but now details must be refined. Construction is expected to begin in early 2019.

Hunts Point Lifelines / Penn Design / OLIN, via Rebuild by Design
Hunts Point Lifelines / Penn Design / OLIN, via Rebuild by Design

Hunt’s Point, South Bronx: Jessica Colon, City of New York, said Hunt’s Point has suffered from years of disinvestment and bad planning decisions. It’s a mile from Manhattan, but feels like a world away. Hunt’s Point has a major market, which is one of the key food distribution hubs in the tri-state area, an industrial area, and a smaller residential area. The South Bronx team asked for $800 million but only received $20 million, so they decided to invest that in more planning. Through that process, the community decided to focus on coastal and energy resilience. They have received another $125 million to prototype projects. One realization that came out of their research: critical facilities are not the biggest worry; the “problems are more at the building level.”

Colon said the South Bronx is now at the “vanguard of adaptation. They’ve been ignored by the government for so long. They’ve been to hell and back. They can survive.” Design and construction on prototype projects begins in 2018. OLIN and PennDesign are the planners and landscape architects. After hearing from the teams, Jessica Grannis at the Georgetown Climate Center shared findings from her research into how “public officials overcame challenges to make these projects happen.” She offered a summary of key take-aways, which included:

  • Use citizens advisory groups. “If the budgets are constrained, have the community set the priorities.”
  • Create a long-term vision to drive policy and regulatory change. Create regional coordinators, as many issues cross jurisdictional boundaries.
  • Design berms with benefits. Coastal defenses can offer multiple social and environmental benefits.
  • Coordinate the layers of authority involved in nature-based coastal resilience projects. In inter-tidal areas, the federal government, state, and local governments will all have a say. Involve regulators early on in a coordinated way.
  • Leverage public right-of-ways to avoid permitting and ownership issues.

For Grannis, if Rebuild by Design is successful, the projects will not only influence state and federal policy-making for public projects but also for private development.

And she thinks all of this work should have bipartisan support: “Resilience is more important than ever. If you are a Democrat or Republican, you want safe and prosperous communities.”

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

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Atlanta BeltLine, Atlanta / Matthew Pillsbury for The New York Times

Sponge-Worthy Design for the Gowanus Canal The Architectural Record, 11/1/16
“A tiny new park in Brooklyn has a big job: absorbing and filtering a million gallons of stormwater each year that flows into one of the most putrid waterways in the United States.”

Green Thumb: Landscape Architect Enzo Enea on Bringing Mysticism to Miami’s Waterfront Wallpaper, 11/7/16
“From his first job working on the landscaping of Hawaii’s Sheraton Hotel in the 1990s, Enzo Enea has been refining his craft.”

Lawrence Halprin: Designer of “One of the Most Important Urban Spaces Since the Renaissance” The Huffington Post, 11/10/16
“He created bold, innovative environments that blew people away. When the Ira Keller Forecourt Fountain in Portland, OR opened, the New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable said it was “one of the most important urban spaces since the Renaissance.”

Our New Urban OasesThe New York Times Magazine, 11/10/16
“Just a few blocks north of Philadelphia’s Center City, with its immaculate grid designed by the city’s founder, William Penn, the landscape turns hardscrabble.”

Chicago Entices Cyclists with Plan for Floating, Solar-Powered Bike Path The Guardian, 11/12/16
“City cyclists, picture the scene: no more road-hogging drivers, no more day-dreaming pedestrians, no more puddle-splashing vehicles. Just a clean, clear ride straight downtown – and with river views all the way.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (October 16 – 31)

Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan / Mia Lehrer Associates
Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan / Mia Lehrer Associates

Good News, Brooklyn Skaters: Fat Kid Spot Is Coming Back – 10/21/16, The New York Times
“To the uninitiated, Golconda Park looks like a bit of a mess: a collection of crooked Escher-like steps, some misplaced highway berms, a loading dock and a drained, scuffed swimming pool, all amid gravel and scattered construction equipment.”

10 Streets That Define America 10/25/16, Curbed
“What can we learn about our ever-changing country from individual streets? To get to the heart of that question, Curbed took a deep dive into ten cities around the United States—selected for their diverse sizes, ages, populations, and locations—and talked to the people that call each place home.”

What Could Hermann Park Look Like in 20 Years? Hilly – 10/27/16, The Houston Chronicle
“Imagine what Hermann Park could be like if the sea of parking in its center was instead a place where children could scamper up a knoll to a ‘creature forest’ and a ‘swing marsh.’”

Ugly Sites Can Help Beautify Landscape – 10/27/16, Shanghai Daily
“Shanghai has set up a team of experts, backed by government departments, to speed up converting contaminated land or demolished industrial sites into green areas.”

Q&A: Mia Lehrer – 10/28/16, Metropolis Magazine
“For more than two decades, Lehrer has also advocated for the transformation of L.A.’s junk river—paved over with concrete by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1930s to fight flash floods—and had a hand in creating the 2007 Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan, before the city handed off the project to Gehry + Partners last fall.”

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

© 2016 Ana Ka'ahanui (USGBC)
Kites, by Jacob Hashimoto, was created specifically for the east and west atria of GSA headquarters building in Washington, D.C. / USGBC

A Rare Tel Aviv Tree, a Landscape Architect and a Tragedy ForetoldHaaretz, 9/17/16
“I meet landscape architect Ram Eisenberg next to Gan Ha’ir Mall in Tel Aviv. Eisenberg is conducting a study for the municipality’s strategic planning unit. Its aim: To find ways to improve the walking experience for the city’s pedestrians.”

One Surprising Secret Weapon Against Natural Disasters? Landscape Architecture Fast Company, 9/22/16
“In an era when cities are ravaged by drought, flooding, wildfires, and more, infrastructure projects tend to get most of the attention when it comes to resiliency. But good landscape design can be powerful, too.”

Ready for its Close-Up, Hong Kong Tourist Attraction Avenue of Stars to Get HK$100m Facelift The South China Morning Post, 9/22/16
“The popular Avenue of Stars along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront will get a facelift worth over HK$100 million with a drastic increase in greenery and shaded space as well as enhanced mobile technology so that visitors can better feel the presence of their idols and classic movies, it emerged on Thursday.”

Louisiana Flood of 2016 Made Worse by Growth-Focused Policies The Times-Picayune, 9/23/16
“There’s nothing new about flooding in southeast Louisiana. But in the Baton Rouge area, at least, the devastation wreaked by heavy rains is getting worse.”

In Toronto, Looking to the Future in an Abandoned Park The New York Times, 9/23/16
“For the first time in five summers, Toronto’s waterfront amusement park is open, overgrown though it may be.”

Neighbors Group Pitches in on Caring for Washington Square Trees The San Francisco Chronicle, 9/29/16
“Trees maintenance is technically the city’s responsibility, but Friends of Washington Square Park spent $10,000 in 2010 to prune and assess the canopy. Now, the group is working with the city’s Recreation and Park Department to update that assessment with HortScience, a horticulture consultant.”

Is City Ready to Fulfill Broken Pledge for ‘World-Class’ Park at Miami Marine Stadium? The Miami Herald, 9/29/16
“Almost a year after the city of Miami hurriedly spent $18 million to accommodate the Miami International Boat Show at the historic Miami Marine Stadium’s vast parking lot, administrators said they will seek to hire a “world-class” design firm to develop a blueprint for a long-promised public “flex-park” at the site.”

Driving Sustainability Beyond the BuildingUSGBC, 2016 September-October
“Can landscape architecture help save the world? The way Christian Gabriel, the national design director for landscape architecture at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), describes the federal agency’s recent work in the field makes a compelling case for the affirmative.”

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

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Kim Wilkie landscape / The Architectural Digest

Fire Pits Add Flare to the Backyard Gatherings The Los Angeles Times, 9/1/16
“Fire pits — which are portable or permanent troughs or bowls that contain the flames — are expected to be the most popular outdoor design element this year, according to a survey from the American Society of Landscape Architects.”

Clash of Titans? Opponents of Pier 55 Have Secret Backer, Media Mogul Says The New York Times, 9/4/16
“In their quest to build a huge new cultural pier on the West Side of Manhattan, the Hudson River Park Trust and Barry Diller, the media mogul who is paying for it, have faced one seemingly intractable opponent: the City Club of New York, a little-known civic group founded in 1892 that was all but dead a few years ago.”

How an Energy Company Turned a Strip Mine into a Massive ParkCurbed, 9/7/16
“Strip mining is one of the most environmentally unfriendly ways we extract resources from the earth, tearing up enormous swaths of land to access the valuable minerals buried underneath. In some cases, the practice leaves thousands of acres covered in barren waste rock incapable of sustaining plant or animal life.”

‘Ideal Section’ Paved Way for Modern Road ConstructionThe Chicago Tribune, 9/9/16
“After World War I automobiles and trucks were becoming increasingly important modes of transportation in the U.S. for everyone from farmers and manufacturers to tourists. And, of course, the old dirt roads did nothing to speed the way.”

A Glorified Sidewalk, and the Path to Transform AtlantaThe New York Times, 9/11/16
“Could this traffic-clogged Southern city, long derided as the epitome of suburban sprawl, really be discovering its walkable, bike-friendly, density-embracing, streetcar-riding, human-scale soul?”

Meet One of England’s Top Landscape ArchitectsThe Architectural Digest, 9/12/16
“English landscape architect Kim Wilkie prefers to intuit what a site wants to be rather than impose his will upon it. It’s an approach that has brought clients from around the world to the door of his farmhouse in Hampshire.”

Snøhetta Occupies the Edges

When Michelle Delk, ASLA, was young and too full of energy for a lengthy car ride, her parents would pull over at parks in northern Iowa to let her run around. She grew attached to one in particular: It had a huge boulder that was half in the park and half in the road, and she could scramble to the top and look down.

“The boulder literally interrupted the street,” said Delk, partner and discipline director for landscape architecture at the international, multi-disciplinary design firm Snøhetta. “If you’re driving along the street and someone’s coming in the opposite direction, you had to stop and wait, and then you had to drive around the rock. This was the beginning of my falling in love with unusual landscapes and the juxtaposition of elements within places.”

Delk shared half a dozen Snøhetta projects during a lecture at North Carolina State University’s College of Design, and all of these offer a sense of the unusual — some form or sequence of a places that capture the imagination and create a new human experience.

At the Snøhetta-designed Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in Oslo (see video above), the landscape is a series of tilted white planes that envelop the architecture and allow for a continuous journey up from the water’s edge, to the terrace level that connects to downtown, to the peak of the opera’s roof.

“It’s not a building or a landscape; it’s in fact both,” Delk said. “People sometimes say to me about Snøhetta: ‘Oh I understand, you’re trying to make invisible, to blur the distinction between architecture and landscape.’ While this happens, it’s not what we set out to do. In fact, the edge — the place where architecture and landscape come together — is a very special place. It’s the place we want to occupy.”

People have come to see the landscape of the opera house as a major civic space. The opera and ballet now simulcast some events and use the sloped terrace as a viewing amphitheater, where often more people are watching the events outside than inside. And all of this activity happens on a landscape that was previously off limits. Through pre-construction remediation of toxic soils, this project became part of a broader Oslo vision to transform the industrialized waterfront for public use.

The Snøhetta design for the James Beard Public Market in Portland, Oregon, also seeks to reclaim a derelict landscape. Here the landscape is the challenging pinched space between the on and off ramps for the historic Morrison drawbridge. It’s a parking lot and partially closed to foot traffic on three sides, creating a gap between downtown and the Willamette River. Delk said the Portland residents who attended Snøhetta’s public meetings on the design concepts were eager to see the site become a vibrant local food hub and connect the river to downtown.

By folding back the on and off ramps, the Snøhetta design team found it would be possible to build an open and airy market on the unlikely site. “The market will dip under the bridge and become one connected space that you can come into and out of in multiple ways,” Delk said. “It becomes very transparent and connected to the city.”

James Beard Public Market: current condition at top, design renderings middle and bottom, Portland, Oregon / Snøhetta
James Beard Public Market: current condition at top, design renderings middle and bottom, Portland, Oregon / Snøhetta

Down the road in Oregon City, another Snøhetta design will reconnect people to the water. Willamette Falls is the second largest waterfall in North America by volume, yet, for 150 years, it’s been inaccessible because of the industry on its edges, most recently a paper mill. Snøhetta is developing the Willamette Falls Riverwalk, which will leverage the site’s unique multi-layered history, create new possibilities for future programming and development, and feature the unusual drama of the waterfall itself next to an almost crumbling post-industrial landscape.

“Careful restraint, and thinking about editing, framing, and episodic experience, is very relevant here. We don’t want to wipe out what is here, but we wish, through careful editing and removal of components, to create new places for people to inhabit,” Delk said. “We wish to think about the ephemeral qualities so inherently beautiful here, and how we can bring those qualities into a design that connect people to the history, water, and the essence of this place.”

Willamette Falls Riverwalk, design rendering / Snøhetta
Willamette Falls Riverwalk, design rendering / Snøhetta

Delk closed her lecture by playing a video someone had sent a colleague: It showed a man on a motorbike careening up and down the tilted landscape of the Oslo opera house, popping wheelies and gathering an audience until a security guard comes to shoo him off.

“I don’t think this gentleman cares whether this is a building or a landscape,” Delk said. “This might be an extreme example of improvisation, but we love that the places we design can encourage people to do the unexpected.”

This guest post is by Lindsey Naylor, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, North Carolina State University.

ASLA Announces 2016 Professional Awards

ASLA 2016 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Underpass Park /
ASLA 2016 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Underpass Park by PFS Studio / Tom Arban

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is excited to announce its 30 professional award recipients for 2016. Selected from 456 entries, the awards honor top public, commercial, residential, institutional, planning, communications and research projects in the U.S. and around the world. The winners will receive their awards at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in New Orleans on Monday, October 24 at the New Orleans Ernest M. Morial Convention Center.

The September issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine (LAM) features the winning projects and is available for free viewing.

The following is a complete list of 2016 professional award winners:

General Design Category

Award of Excellence (see image above)
Underpass Park, Toronto, Ontario
by PFS Studio for Waterfront Toronto

Honor Awards
Framing Terrain and Water: Quzhou Luming Park, Quzhou City, Zhejiang Province, China
by Turenscape for the Quzhou City Government

Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Bishan, Singapore
by Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl for the Public Utilities Board / National Parks Board, Singapore

Converging Ecologies as a Gateway to Acadiana, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana
by CARBO Landscape Architecture for St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission

The Metro-Forest Project, Bangkok, Thailand
by Landscape Architects of Bangkok (LAB) for PTT Public Company Limited

The Power Station, Dallas
by Hocker Design Group for The Pinnell Foundation

Corktown Common: Flood Protection and a Neighbourhood Park, Toronto, Ontario
by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. for Waterfront Toronto in Partnership with Toronto Region Conservancy Authority (TRCA) and Infrastructure Ontario (IO)

Grand Teton National Park Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, Moose, Wyoming
by Swift Company LLC for the National Park Service, Grand Teton National Park Foundation and Grand Teton Association

Eco-Corridor Resurrects Former Brownfield, Ningbo, China
by SWA for Ningbo Planning Bureau – East New Town Development Committee

Analysis and Planning Category

ASLA 2016 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. The Copenhagen Cloudburst Formula: A Strategic Process for Planning and Designing Blue-Green Interventions. Ramboll and Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl / Ramboll and Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl
ASLA 2016 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. The Copenhagen Cloudburst Formula: A Strategic Process for Planning and Designing Blue-Green Interventions. Ramboll and Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl / Ramboll and Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl


Award of Excellence

The Copenhagen Cloudburst Formula: A Strategic Process for Planning and Designing Blue-Green Interventions, Copenhagen, Denmark
by Ramboll and Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl for the Municipality of Copenhagen

Honor Awards
Central Puget Sound Regional Open Space Strategy, Puget Sound Region, Washington
by University of Washington Green Futures Lab for The Bullitt Foundation and The Russell Family Foundation

Rebuild by Design, The Big U, Manhattan, New York
by Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Rebuild by Design

Memorial Park Master Plan 2015, Houston
by Nelson Byrd Woltz for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, The Memorial Park Conservancy, and Uptown Houston

Baton Rouge Lakes: Restoring a Louisiana Landmark from Ecological Collapse to Cultural Sanctuary, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
by SWA Group for the Baton Rouge Area Foundation

Bayou Greenways: Realizing the Vision, Houston
by SWA Group for the Houston Parks Board

Communications Category

ASLA 2016 Professional Communications Award of Excellence. What's Out There Guides / The Cultural Landscape Foundation
ASLA 2016 Professional Communications Award of Excellence. What’s Out There Guides / The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Award of Excellence
What’s Out There Guidebooks
by The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Honor Awards
Roving Rangers: Bringing the Parks to the People
by BASE Landscape Architecture, for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund

Activating Land Stewardship and Participation in Detroit: A Field Guide to Working with Lots
by Detroit Future City, published by Inland Press

Landscape Architecture Documentation Standards: Principles, Guidelines and Best Practices
by Design Workshop, published by John Wiley & Sons

PHYTO: Principles and Resources for Site Remediation and Landscape Design
by Kate Kennen, ASLA, and Niall Kirkwood, FASLA, published by Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group

DredgeFest Event Series
by The Dredge Research Collaborative

Sea Change: Boston
by Sasaki Associates Inc.

Research Category

Honor Awards
Weather-Smithing: Assessing the Role of Vegetation, Soil and Adaptive Management in Urban Green Infrastructure Performance
by Andropogon Associates Ltd. for the University of Pennsylvania

Residential Design Category

ASLA 2016 Landmark Award. Michigan Avenue /
ASLA 2016 Professional Residential Design Honor Award. DBX Ranch by Design Workshop / D.A. Horchner / Design Workshop, Inc

Award of Excellence
DBX Ranch: A Transformation Brings Forth a New Livable Landscape, Pitkin County, Colorado
by Design Workshop Inc.

Honor Awards
Kronish House, Beverly Hills, California
by Marmol Radziner

The Restoring of a Montane Landscape, Rocky Mountains, Colorado
by Design Workshop Inc.

Chilmark: Embracing a Glacial Moraine, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
by Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects

The Rivermark, Sacramento, California
by Fletcher Studio for Bridge Housing Corporation

Water Calculation and Poetic Interpretation, Carmel, California
by Arterra Landscape Architects

ASLA 2016 Landmark Award. Michigan Avenue Streetscape /
ASLA 2016 Landmark Award. Michigan Avenue Streetscape by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects for the City of Chicago / Steven Gierke

The Landmark Award
Michigan Avenue Streetscape: 20 Years of Magnificent Mile Blooms, Chicago
by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects for the City of Chicago/Michigan Avenue Streetscape Association

The professional awards jury included:

  • Kona Gray, ASLA, Chair, EDSA, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  • Keith Bowers, FASLA, Biohabitats Inc. Baltimore
  • Jennifer Guthrie, FASLA, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, Seattle
  • Mami Hara, ASLA, Philadelphia Water Department, Philadelphia
  • Christopher Hume, Architecture Critic, Toronto Star, Toronto, Ontario
  • Lee-Anne Milburn, FASLA, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, California
  • Willett Moss, ASLA, CMG Landscape Architecture, San Francisco
  • Suman Sorg, FAIA, DLR Group | Sorg, Washington, D.C.
  • Laurinda Spear, ASLA, ArquitectonicaGEO, Miami