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 Building – USGBC, 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.”
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 Park – Curbed, 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 Construction – The 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 Atlanta – The 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 Architects – The 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is excited to announce its 30 professional award recipients for 2016. Selected from 456 entries, the awards honor top public, commercial, residential, institutional, planning, communications and research projects in the U.S. and around the world. The winners will receive their awards at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in New Orleans on Monday, October 24 at the New Orleans Ernest M. Morial Convention Center.
The following is a complete list of 2016 professional award winners:
General Design Category
Award of Excellence (see image above)
Underpass Park, Toronto, Ontario
by PFS Studio for Waterfront Toronto
Framing Terrain and Water: Quzhou Luming Park, Quzhou City, Zhejiang Province, China
by Turenscape for the Quzhou City Government
Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Bishan, Singapore
by Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl for the Public Utilities Board / National Parks Board, Singapore
Converging Ecologies as a Gateway to Acadiana, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana
by CARBO Landscape Architecture for St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission
The Metro-Forest Project, Bangkok, Thailand
by Landscape Architects of Bangkok (LAB) for PTT Public Company Limited
The Power Station, Dallas
by Hocker Design Group for The Pinnell Foundation
Corktown Common: Flood Protection and a Neighbourhood Park, Toronto, Ontario
by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. for Waterfront Toronto in Partnership with Toronto Region Conservancy Authority (TRCA) and Infrastructure Ontario (IO)
Grand Teton National Park Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, Moose, Wyoming
by Swift Company LLC for the National Park Service, Grand Teton National Park Foundation and Grand Teton Association
Eco-Corridor Resurrects Former Brownfield, Ningbo, China
by SWA for Ningbo Planning Bureau – East New Town Development Committee
Analysis and Planning Category
Award of Excellence
The Copenhagen Cloudburst Formula: A Strategic Process for Planning and Designing Blue-Green Interventions, Copenhagen, Denmark
by Ramboll and Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl for the Municipality of Copenhagen
Central Puget Sound Regional Open Space Strategy, Puget Sound Region, Washington
by University of Washington Green Futures Lab for The Bullitt Foundation and The Russell Family Foundation
Rebuild by Design, The Big U, Manhattan, New York
by Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Rebuild by Design
Memorial Park Master Plan 2015, Houston
by Nelson Byrd Woltz for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, The Memorial Park Conservancy, and Uptown Houston
Baton Rouge Lakes: Restoring a Louisiana Landmark from Ecological Collapse to Cultural Sanctuary, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
by SWA Group for the Baton Rouge Area Foundation
Bayou Greenways: Realizing the Vision, Houston
by SWA Group for the Houston Parks Board
Award of Excellence
What’s Out There Guidebooks
by The Cultural Landscape Foundation
Roving Rangers: Bringing the Parks to the People
by BASE Landscape Architecture, for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund
Activating Land Stewardship and Participation in Detroit: A Field Guide to Working with Lots
by Detroit Future City, published by Inland Press
Landscape Architecture Documentation Standards: Principles, Guidelines and Best Practices
by Design Workshop, published by John Wiley & Sons
PHYTO: Principles and Resources for Site Remediation and Landscape Design
by Kate Kennen, ASLA, and Niall Kirkwood, FASLA, published by Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group
DredgeFest Event Series
by The Dredge Research Collaborative
Sea Change: Boston
by Sasaki Associates Inc.
Weather-Smithing: Assessing the Role of Vegetation, Soil and Adaptive Management in Urban Green Infrastructure Performance
by Andropogon Associates Ltd. for the University of Pennsylvania
Residential Design Category
Award of Excellence
DBX Ranch: A Transformation Brings Forth a New Livable Landscape, Pitkin County, Colorado
by Design Workshop Inc.
Kronish House, Beverly Hills, California
by Marmol Radziner
The Restoring of a Montane Landscape, Rocky Mountains, Colorado
by Design Workshop Inc.
Chilmark: Embracing a Glacial Moraine, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
by Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects
The Rivermark, Sacramento, California
by Fletcher Studio for Bridge Housing Corporation
Water Calculation and Poetic Interpretation, Carmel, California
by Arterra Landscape Architects
The Landmark Award
Michigan Avenue Streetscape: 20 Years of Magnificent Mile Blooms, Chicago
by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects for the City of Chicago/Michigan Avenue Streetscape Association
The professional awards jury included:
Kona Gray, ASLA, Chair, EDSA, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Keith Bowers, FASLA, Biohabitats Inc. Baltimore
Jennifer Guthrie, FASLA, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, Seattle
Mami Hara, ASLA, Philadelphia Water Department, Philadelphia
Christopher Hume, Architecture Critic, Toronto Star, Toronto, Ontario
Lee-Anne Milburn, FASLA, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, California
Willett Moss, ASLA, CMG Landscape Architecture, San Francisco
Suman Sorg, FAIA, DLR Group | Sorg, Washington, D.C.
“Gardens, parks, landscapes – these diverse scales and intensities of cultured nature all play important roles in our lives. This small collection is a provocative visual reminder of the enduring design potential of landscape space as public space,” writes Julia Czerniak, ASLA, professor of architecture at Syracuse University, in the introduction to Hargreaves Associates‘ Landscapes & Gardens, a small but rich landscape architecture monograph on the work of Hargreaves Associates.
Hargreaves Associates, which won the 2016 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for landscape architecture, has worked in the U.S. and abroad for decades. Their principals — George Hargreaves, FASLA, Mary Margaret Jones, FASLA, and Gavin McMillan, International ASLA — have put together a compelling case for well-designed public landscapes wherever they may fit, like the recently-constructed Crescent Park in New Orleans or the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, both of which emerged from degraded brownfields.
As Czerniak contends, “Design matters. The design premises the projects employ offer glimpses into many of the larger themes that have consistently produced the firm’s successful work; a firm with an international reputation for its advanced design, technical expertise, public engagement, and the ability to get projects built in the context of complex politics and tough economics.”
The book is a mostly-photographic argument for increasing public investment in landscapes, parks, and gardens in the era of the public-private partnership in which parks are expected to raise lots of money to cover their own operating expenses and maintenance. But Hargreaves himself also writes eloquently about the subject:
“A successful park has loyal followers—people who identify a park with their culture, their region, their city, and their daily lives. This identification may be due to a particular activity in the park, but more often it is due to the gestalt of the overall park experience—said another way, the look and feel of the park. Landscapes can inspire through their visual qualities, tactile qualities, and contrasting or unifying qualities. They can inspire through their sustainability or their habitat creation, and they can inspire by providing human interaction with plants and wildlife. Through time it is the landscape that is remembered and privileged much more than income-producing programming. If we can produce landscapes for public space that embody these inspirational qualities, it will not matter when the programmed activities evolve, disappear (such as the 2012 Olympic games), or increase. History has shown us that, if it is done richly and robustly, a landscape can last for hundreds of years.”
The book is organized by landscape design features, with brief chapters on striations, walls, islands, ribbons, along with underlying, core elements of landscape architecture, such as native plants, rain, and background / foreground.
Landscapes & Gardens clearly demonstrates that Hargreaves Associates can create memorable and immersive experiences in their “quiet, green spaces.” For example, anyone walking through Crissy Field in San Francisco is likely to remember the sense of tranquility that remarkable place engenders.
For Hargreaves, the challenge has always been how to balance “richness and robustness” in his firms’ public spaces, and within them, the quieter gardens. He says public spaces must both be designed to hold up to crowds but also offer moments for introspection, for enjoying the plants:
“Embedded within the public’s desire for green parks is a desire for gardens. Public gardens cannot be fragile in their design or placement. Like the landscapes they inhabit, public gardens must be robust. They will not receive personalized maintenance, nor can they be subject to the overrunning pedestrian flows of large events or major gatherings. In addition to the selection of hardy plants and protection by slight grade separations or low barriers, the design of these gardens should be bold and somewhat simple, while retaining the very qualities that we enjoy so much—constant and changing colors, differing plant structures, and textures that change with the seasons or that carry the garden through winter. Gardens can inspire, provide refreshment, incite joy, or simply provide a provocative landscape context; as John Dixon Hunt wrote in regard to the landscape, ‘The garden is the highest aspiration of our culture.'”
The book, however, doesn’t go into any details on how the firm has consistently overcome political, financial, and ecological obstacles to achieve those well-designed public spaces. A few brief case studies or interviews with clients could have given a glimpse into how Hargreaves has successfully navigated institutional and financial challenges. Still, Landscapes & Gardens is a thoughtful effort from one of the few truly global landscape architecture firms.
There are 165 acres of urban gardens and farms under cultivation in Detroit, Michigan. In a tour, Ken Weikal, ASLA, co-founder of the non-profit GrowTown and the firm Hagenbuch Weikal Landscape Architecture, explained that everyone from Capuchin Monks to non-profit cooperatives, university labs to self-sufficient farmers, corporations to small businesses are involved in using Detroit’s vacant lands to produce food. The goals of these efforts are to increase food production “for Detroiters and by Detroiters,” generate new sources of income, and build community. The grand, long-term vision: “food sovereignty” for this resurgent rust-belt city.
A few farms we toured downtown were examples of corporate social responsibility efforts — spaces for company employees to volunteer. For example, an empty lot next to the MGM Grand casino and hotel in downtown Detroit was transformed into Plum Street Market Garden, where everyone volunteering the day we went was wearing an MGM employee t-shirt (see image above). The 2-acre garden produces 20 types of fruits and vegetables. MGM has invested some $600,000 in the project so far, and partnered with Keep Growing Detroit, a local non-profit, to hold some 60 community classes there a year.
Another example is Lafayette Greens, a nearly half-acre garden set in the empty lot where once stood the historic Lafayette building. The garden was financed and administered by Compuware Corporation, which has its headquarters a block away, but is now run by the Greening of Detroit, a non-profit. Designed by Beth Hagenbuch, ASLA, a partner at Hagenbuch Weikal Landscape Architecture, the market garden won an ASLA 2012 Professional General Design Award. Weikal said the garden helped start the conversation downtown among everyone from policy-makers to school kids and tourists about the opportunities with urban gardening.
Heirloom apple trees line one edge of the garden. “They have ornamental, productive, and screening qualities.”
Within the garden, raised beds, with smart benches at the end, grow a range of herbs and vegetables. “The beds are programmed like a museum exhibition but for flavor and color. They are vegetal exhibitions.”
Sheds made of reclaimed wood house gardening tools and supplies.
Detroit’s bottom-up food movement was the focus of a session at the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU). Ashley Atkinson, who runs Keep Growing Detroit, explained that urban farming and gardening is not a new thing in Detroit. In the 1890s, Republican Mayor Pinzen Stuart Pingree, who was elected to four terms, encouraged the poor and hungry to grow food. “He was the laughing stock of the country, but hunger was reduced dramatically.” Urban farming was seen as “low value, low education work,” but decades later, during World War I and World War II, nearly “every major city practiced urban farming.”
The mission of Keep Growing Detroit is food sovereignty in Detroit. “We want the majority of food vegetables in Detroit to be grown by Detroiters.” Her goal is to transform some 40 square miles of vacant land in the city into productive assets. Keep Growing doesn’t differentiate between “family gardens, school or market gardens.”
In 2003, Keep Growing Detroit started a garden resource program to grow seeds and transplants. They had to build this whole system from the ground-up, because “no one knew where to get these.” They now grow 250,000 organic transplants a year that are given away to the community. “We distribute them equitably” through local educational workshops and training sessions. In every district of the city, local farmers lead these training sessions. There are also tool sheds where hand tools and shovels can be borrowed for free, and compost centers where some 200 tons of compost worth $1.5 million is also distributed at no charge. And “we use shared work days and community events to build community infrastructure. Plus, we eat a lot together.”
Her group then formed Grown in Detroit, a collaborative network of some 80 gardeners and farmers who sell their produce at farmers markets and to local restaurants. According to Atkinson, “some $100,000 is made and 100 percent of that money goes to the growers.” There is also a network of 1,400 community gardeners who help bring healthy food to the neighborhoods. They are part of an effort to establish healthy eating behavior among very young children. “If we can introduce healthy food recipes and cooking at a young age, we can impact them their whole lives.”
In 2013, the Detroit city government finally changed regulations so urban farming is now legal. While Atkinson considers that a win, she has a much broader vision: 25 percent of the 40 square miles of vacant land, which is some 5,000 acres, under cultivation. With that much farming, “we can produce 70 percent of the vegetables and 40 percent of the fruit consumed in Detroit and raise incomes.”
Devita Davidson, who heads communications for FoodLab Detroit, made the moral argument for local food production. “If you look closely at the supermarket, it’s a facade. The industrial food system is the site of injustice; the food system is failing so many people.” While she sees Detroit as the “comeback city,” she still sees major issues: 70 percent of adults are obese as are 40 percent of kids. “Detroit is dying from diet-related diseases.” She wants some of those locally-grown fruits and vegetables to be transformed into value-added products like ketchups, salsas, jams, and sauces. Her group’s innovative effort — Detroit Kitchen Connect, which was been lauded by Oprah Winfrey — enables local entrepreneurs to use restaurant, church, and other facility kitchens during off-hours to develop their products. Such a smart variation on the sharing economy, with food justice and social equity at its heart.
And Pashon Murray, a co-founder of Detroit Dirt, sees access to good-quality compost as central to the entire food sovereignty effort. She said Americans are incredibly wasteful, disposing of $218 billion in uneaten food, which is then dumped into landfills. “Some 52 million tons of food waste is sent to landfills each year, while 10 million tons is just left in the fields.” Much of that food waste can instead be collected and turned into compost, revitalizing soils in the process. Plus, “waste recovery equals revenue and jobs.”
She has partnered with GM and Chrysler, collecting their food waste from factory cafeterias weekly and turning it into compost that is then distributed to local gardeners and farmers. To do this work, she hires ex-cons, “people we associate with dirt, the forgotten and left-behind.”
Her dream is to raise enough funds for an “in-vessel composter digester” that will help her scale up compost production. She hopes to realize this in 2017. “Compost is the root of the soil, and soil is the foundation.”
“The battle for sustainable development will be won or lost in cities.” So reads the preamble to the New Urban Agenda, a draft document recently released by UN-Habitat ahead of its Habitat III Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, to be held this October in Quito, Ecuador. Habitat III, which picks up 20 years after Habitat II in Istanbul, Turkey, aims to help global cities cope with climate change and exploding population growth by offering a global plan for sustainable urbanization over the next two decades. UN Habitat has spent the past year collecting input from around the world for this new plan; their hope is it represents the latest global thinking on sustainability and cities and captures the collective wisdom of academia, non-governmental organizations, citizens groups, and local and national governments.
Here are some highlighted ideas in the latest draft, which will continue to be debated, but will ultimately become, in some form, part of the agreement among 150-plus national governments meeting in Quito:
Preserve nature to build sustainability and resilience
The New Urban Agenda notes that cities, many of which are on coasts or rivers, are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. As such, national governments will be asked to commit to sustainable urban development efforts that protect the environment, preserve natural resources, reduce risks associated with natural disasters, and promote economic and social well-being. This is to be done through “environmentally-sound planning, infrastructure, and basic services.”
A very positive step: the current draft gives special consideration to the protection of ecological corridors, urban deltas, coastal areas, “and other environmentally sensitive areas, highlighting their importance as ecosystems’ providers of significant resources for transport, food security, economic prosperity, ecosystem services, and resilience.”
The agenda also focuses on a common issues for cities: their heavy reliance on distant sources of food, water, and energy, and the implications for sustainability and resilience.
While these statements might not sound groundbreaking, they represent a sea change in the thinking on how cities should perform since the Habitat II conference twenty years ago.
Urban form and infrastructure are key to prosperous and equitable cities
The agenda describes affordable housing options and quality public spaces as two ingredients necessary for a prosperous and equitable city for all.
The agenda contains strong language on affordable housing. Adequate housing for all is seen as key to raising urban living standards. Also, cities, the document reads, should focus “on the needs of the homeless and persons in vulnerable situations, while enabling participation and engagement of communities and stakeholders.” This is a change from an earlier draft that some considered weak with regards to supporting under-served populations.
The principles of efficient land use and appropriate density, along with considerations for safety and security, inter-generational interaction, and respect for diversity, will guide the development of public spaces.
Public space is central to sustainable urbanization
The latest draft calls for national governments to commit to “developing universally safe, inclusive, accessible, green and quality public spaces.” This includes parks and public squares but also streets and sidewalks. Multi-functional spaces — those that serve “social interaction and inclusion, economic exchange and cultural expression among a wide diversity of people” — will be prioritized.
Patricia O’Donnell, FASLA, principal of Heritage Landscapes LLC, who has followed the Habitat discussion for several years, believes the agenda can still be improved. “My key issue,” O’Donnell said, “is having Habitat III outcomes recognize the critical intersections of cultural diversity and biodiversity upon which life on earth depends.”
O’Donnell expressed hope that the agenda items and outcomes of the conference would make a difference. “Action will rely on the commitment of leaders at the national level in any country, to champion and give voice to the objectives and programs.”
For too long national governments have not provided enough financial support to cities as they seek to transition to more sustainable forms of growth. Hopefully, Habitat III, which will be approved by all the leading housing and urban development officials of the world, will lead to more smart planning and increased investment in our cities, which are expected to be home to 2.5 billion people by 2050.
It’s Playtime on the Bayou Trail – The Houston Chronicle, 6/24/16
“In a serene spot on the north bank of Buffalo Bayou Park – next door to the under-renovation Jamail Skatepark at the Sabine Street Bridge – the 1.5-acre play park is designed to bring natural and social ecologies together for young children.”
Urban Parks: From Dumping Grounds to Centers of Energy– The Huffington Post, 6/27/16
“A major initiative by New York City Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver cogently explored at the recent and fascinating Parks Without Borders Summit is to make parks more porous and accessible and, by extension, to foster park equity, the idea that all parks are well maintained.”
A Bike Path for the Entire East Coast– CityLab, 6/28/16
“The East Coast Greenway Alliance has been working since 1991 to connect the whole geography of the Atlantic seaboard with protected bike paths. So far, 850 miles of trail have been designated as Greenway. The project is about 31 percent complete.”
“The opportunities Detroit has today are a logical evolution from its past mistakes and disinvestment. To an extent, change wouldn’t be possible without that,” explained Kent Anderson, ASLA, founder of KH Anderson, in a tour of downtown Detroit during the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU). He added that Detroit native Dan Gilbert, the founder and owner of Quicken Loans, who has bought up nearly 80 buildings downtown over the past decade, is largely responsible for the resurgence today. “Gilbert recognized the time was right for setting a new direction.”
The city was founded by the French in 1701 as a fur trading outpost. In the early 1700s, the British took over control. In 1760, they were defeated by the American revolutionaries, but they largely maintained control over the growing city until the end of the 18th century, when the Americans retook it. In 1805, a fire started by a baker destroyed much of the city’s core. August Woodward, who was “trained in classics at Columbia University,” stepped in to create a new urban plan — a hexagonal plan with a set of radials, modeled on Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s plan for Washington, D.C.
Many called Woodward a “charlatan and a fool; he was not the most popular guy.” But somehow much of his unique plan was implemented.
Woodward’s plan established small parks as nodes. Only a few of these remain today, Anderson said. In fact, so much was lost to misguided urban renewal efforts, which ran from the 1950s to 1970s. “Urban renewal also destroyed a lot of cultural heritage downtown,” wrecking particular havoc on important African American arts and music communities.
Anderson explained the state of the original immigrant communities — Corktown for the Irish, Chinatown, and Greektown. Only Corktown and Greektown now remain. In the 80s and 90s, Greektown offered the “only nightlife in Detroit.” To lure tourists, they created a “trappers alley, with trinket shops,” which failed. They then went in for casinos, which now frame the narrow streets bustling with restaurants and baklava shops.
In rapid-fire mode, Anderson pointed out the fate of many of the towering buildings built many decades ago, during the city’s golden age. The former Wayne County Building, built in the 1880s, is now viewed as a “dinosaur” by the local development community and has sit empty for years.
In the late 1950s, a cornice fell off a building downtown, killing a pedestrian. The city demanded building owners secure the cornices on their buildings, but to lower costs many just removed them, as seen in this charismatic but incomplete flatiron building. “If you see a cornice restored today on an older building, it’s most likely fiber composite.”
Walking down to the waterfront, we saw a prime example of a “fortress building,” the Renaissance Center, which was home to Ford’s headquarters, and now hosts GM. The building, towering and unfriendly, was another urban renewal effort, built in the 1970s. As race relations hit new lows after the riots and white flight, “there was a fear of cities,” Anderson said, hence it’s fortress-like nature.
Henry Ford the 2nd decided to bring Ford’s workers back to the urban core in an effort to “stop the decline of downtown, but the building had no connection to anything. Employees would drive in, park in the building, take a tube to their desk, take another tube to the cafeteria, and, then, at the end of the day, drive home.” Anderson called it a “failed” effort, despite a renovation by architects with SOM from 1995-2000, which introduced a somewhat inviting entrance and interior circulation system, and fake palm trees. “It just looks like an assembly line in here; people seem afraid to move the tables.”
Exiting the rear of the Renaissance Center, we came out at the Detroit Riverwalk, which was created in 2000 to connect the waterfront to Belle Isle, an island park. “It’s highly used, very successful.” We walk through a plaza more-recently created by Hargreaves Associates.
Then make our way to the vast Philip A. Hart plaza, another urban renewal effort, created by SmithGroupJJR with a fountain and sculpture created by the great Modern artist Isamu Noguchi, and another “failed, lonely space,” unless there is some massive event.
Decades of disinvestment in downtown Detroit means that many of the city’s Art Deco gems escaped the wrecking ball, and now stand as beacons of resurgence, as they attract new shops and cafes in their ground floors and companies in their towers. Entering the Guardian building, the tour group gushed over the intricate Native American motifs carved set in the ceilings. But not everyone was awed: a man who works there saw our tour group and said: “I don’t know why anyone come to see this building; it’s so old and outdated.”
Then on to one of the finest examples anywhere of how landscape architecture can drive a downtown’s resurgence: Campus Martius Park. The park, which occupied a central node in Woodward’s plan, was a central meeting space for over a century, but over 1980s and 90s, it was slowly eviscerated, becoming a glorified traffic circle with a statue. In the early 00s, the Detroit 300, a group representing old Detroit money, invested in creating a new park. The result, which opened in 2004 and was designed by Rundell Ernstberger Associates from Indianapolis, is a dynamic 1.2-acre space, often called “Detroit’s living room,” packed with performance stages, moveable chairs, lush greenery, multiple restaurants, and an urban beach. In the winter, there’s also a skating rink that draws tens of thousands.
For Anderson, Campus Martius Park “provided a glimpse of what was possible,” and served “as the stimulus for getting things started, just before Gilbert committed to downtown.”
Walking up Woodward Avenue seeing every storefront occupied by a hip restaurant or shop, it’s clear how far Detroit has come in the past few years due to a coordinated development effort, largely led by the private sector. “What’s important to understand is it wasn’t one building or so-called impact project this time around, unlike past efforts to revitalize the downtown. This time, it is a strategic approach involving many buildings with an intent to connect them with a network of public and semi-public spaces where everything works together to reveal the unique character of downtown Detroit and transform it.”
To further accelerate the process of turning Woodward Avenue into a live, work, play hub that can draw in people from the outskirts of this 140-square-mile city and the suburbs, a new streetcar, financed by the private sector, is expected to start running later this year. Anderson said Gilbert and other local developers, who are turning old vacant office buildings into apartment buildings that will bring upwards of 5,000 units onto the market, are confident “the entire district will soon be filled up.”
Indeed, a taxi driver I spoke to on the way to the airport said he had move out of downtown because his rent doubled in the past year in response to new demand. He believes people need to make at least $55,000 a year to live downtown now. But he wasn’t complaining. “Detroit has been waiting a long time for this to happen. I was just shocked they raised the rent so fast.”
Anderson believes after years of failed revitalization efforts, this is Detroit’s chance. “We’ll see how things go over the next five years, but I believe the city has gotten it right this time. Everyone is on the same page for the first time.”
The panel, which was led by Adam Greenspan, ASLA, a member of the LAF board of directors, essentially worried that the importance of “physical design, which engages culture and nature,” may be lost in the total quest for sustainability and restoring ecosystems. Their response was designed landscapes must be beautiful if we expect communities to love them and take care of them far into the future.
Claude Cormier, ASLA, principal of Claude Cormier + Associates, said aesthetics has always played a central role in landscape architecture. Frederick Law Olmsted was “focused on nature as an aesthetic experience.” For Mikyoung Kim, FASLA, Mikyoung Kim Design, it’s less about aesthetics, a term she dislikes, and more about the “process of creativity, which is methodical and conscious, and about tapping intuition, which occurs on a subconscious level.” But she cautioned that if landscape architects were “too creative, they risk missing the pressing global issues.”
In the context of the overall summit, this seemed like a shocking statement: “We can’t save the world, but we can address some major issues through design in contemporary ways,” argued Chris Reed, FASLA, founder of Stoss. “Design can move people’s hearts to create action.” Ken Smith, FASLA, principal of Ken Smith Workshop, largely concurred, arguing that “aesthetics matter. The qualitative aspects — the spaces, programs, forms — provide meaning to humans. Landscapes can delight, confound, confuse, excite us.” He pointed to the art world, where the “new is often ugly,” arguing that perhaps landscape architects also need to be pushing the boundaries on concepts of beauty. Meanwhile, Maria Goula, associate professor at Cornell University, asked: “do we need new aesthetics or perhaps multiple aesthetics?”
Ecology: Make Ecological Design Mainstream
“People will look at us and this time and say we just didn’t get it,” said Kristina Hill, Affiliate ASLA, professor at University of California, Berkeley, referring to the many dangers facing our ecosystems and planet. Hill, who moderated the ecology panel, relayed how San Francisco’s city government momentarily fell into crisis when a senior official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stated they expected a 6-9 feet sea level rise by 2050. While it was just one official’s personal opinion, San Francisco’s panicked response showed that “stronger sense of urgency is needed” in the push to adapt our ecosystems to the coming environmental changes. “Unprecedented instability is coming. The role of landscape architects is to think out the options and try not to panic.”
Ellen Neises, ASLA, an adjunct professor at University of Pennsylvania, said in this age of crisis, we need to move away from “sustainability propaganda in which ‘optimism sells.'” Instead, “designers need to provoke more.” Jose Alminana, FASLA, a principal at Andropogon Associates and major force behind the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), rued that ecology is “still not mainstream in our profession.” He called for landscape architecture educators to “embed scientific rigor in the educational process,” and landscape architects to do the same in their design process. “Beauty and performance aren’t mutually exclusive. All forms of life matter.”
Brett Milligan, ASLA, University of California, Davis, argued that “if we do things to the landscape, they sometimes respond in some ways we dislike. We need a new, relational way to interact with the landscape.” Julie Bargmann, founding principal, D.I.R.T. Studio, urged caution against becoming too all-knowing about nature, arguing that “ecological models are slippery.” And Antje Stokman, International ASLA, professor at the University of Stuttgart, called for creating methods to encourage “direct community engagement with the environment,” particularly in environments characterized by heavy migration among both human and other species.
Society: Diversify and Co-design with Communities
Deb Guenther, FASLA, partner at Mithun, led a discussion that focused on the twinned goals of increasing diversity in the landscape architecture profession and better reaching under-served communities. Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, principal at DesignJones, pointed to ASLA’s ongoing efforts to increase diversity through its annual diversity summit, which brings together emerging African American and Latino landscape architects, but also called it like she saw it: “if we truly want diversity, we need to focus less on statistics and instead recognize and praise diversity and lift it up.” She pointed to the range of African American landscape architects doing important work, often under the radar. Jeffrey Hou, ASLA, professor at University of Washington, added that “landscape architects need to diversify their ranks or risk becoming a profession of colonialists,” coming in as white experts into communities of color.
“Landscape architecture can diversify in the next decade or two,” because just look at the huge gains that have been made to bring in more women over the past 50 years, argued Anne Whiston Spirn, FASLA, a professor at MIT. She explained her multiple decades of experience helping African American communities in Philadelphia unearth their own landscapes, explaining how “long-term commitments are needed to build trust.” She wondered whether landscape architecture programs, with their semester-long field projects, can truly engage and learn from communities in which they dip for a short time. Jones Allen concurred, arguing that “we have to be careful how we get students into these communities, but it’s important to get them out of their comfort zone of the studio and face real people with real issues. Students are learning.” Allison Hirsch, ASLA, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California, was less positive, arguing that “landscape architects tend to avoid issues of inclusion; there are few community-oriented design practices.”
For Spirn and others, the solution is more equitable design processes rooted in co-design and a participatory process with stakeholders. The goal should be capacity building among communities. “Make the design process transparent, not opaque,” argued Spirn.
Innovation: Move Beyond the Discipline
Adrian McGregor, Internatonal ASLA, a founder of McGregor Coxall in Australia, envisions a “new economy that trades in carbon, which will raise underlying values of ecosystems,” eventually resulting in a new “NASDAQ for the environment.” The growing importance of sequestering carbon in the environment will “put landscape architects at the table.”
Andrea Hansen, founder of Fluxscape, wants landscape architects to “move beyond the discipline, embrace holistic thinking,” and embrace open data. But she added that increasing innovation doesn’t necessarily mean “increasing complexity; we must keep it simple when we communicate to expand our reach.” To realize this reach beyond the discipline, Marcel Wilson, ASLA, founder of Bionic, called for more experimentation and risks, even if they result in failures. “We must incentivize innovation; landscape architects have become too reactive.”
Liat Margolis, ASLA, director of the Green Roof Innovation Testing Laboratory (GRIT Lab), University of Toronto, appears to be doing what Wilson called and Hansen have called for, as she works to create the next generation of green roof technologies. “We need to discover different material composites, bridge performance gaps, and exceed current green design benchmarks through experimental design.”
And Karen M’Closley, ASLA, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, similarly called for a “new set of sustainable design indicators, set-up pre-occupancy and post-occupancy surveys, and capture results in real-time.” Margolis finally asked: “where is the landscape architecture field’s think tank?”