A Democratic Approach to Therapeutic Gardens

fisher3
Fisher House / My Life So Far blog

“Democratic design is inclusive, affordable, functional, usable, practical, non-stigmatizing, accessible, attainable, and aesthetically pleasing,” said Naomi Sachs, ASLA, landscape architect and founder of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network, at the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference in New Orleans. Furthermore, democratic design is “responsive to both ecological and community needs. It grows up from the community.” A democratic design process is then fully collaborative, including all stakeholders, but with a focus on those least acknowledged.

Sachs’ colleagues presented a few interesting examples that illustrate the idea of democratic design for therapeutic gardens:

Daniel Winterbottom, FASLA, a landscape architect and professor at the University of Washington; Amy Wagenfeld, a occupational therapist; along with students from the landscape architecture department at the University of Washington, designed a new healing garden for Fisher House, a facility at the Veteran’s Affairs hospital in Puget Sound for loved ones of those undergoing intensive surgery.

Unfortunately, the garden is found in a parking lot, within a sea of cars. On top of that, the original garden had “poor way-finding, so you felt a loss of control as you entered the place,” said Wagenfeld. It was a place where you have “very little say over your environment.” Most visitors are also coming from rural areas to the city so “they already feel a sense of displacement.”

Winterbottom said he and his students conducted intensive research, using focus groups, games, simulations. Guests of Fisher House were shown different photos and asked their preferences. They were asked to rank designs. Others simply sketched their ideas.

The new garden, which was then designed and built based on the guests’ feedback in just 10 weeks, features vegetable and fruit plants, “creating a domestic feeling.” Given many people are there for months, “we wanted to bring an icon of home — the kitchen garden.” Emphasizing the democratic aspects of the design, the team created multiple types of planting beds. There are those for people who want to sit and those for who want to stand. There’s even a wheelchair-accessible one. Visitors can plant whatever they want, too.

There’s a new children’s play area. “The kid’s area is kid-sized.” There’s a walking trail that loops around the garden, too. “The goal is to deal with the whole family,” said Winterbottom.

The designers created a fully wheelchair-accessible rain garden that treats water falling on the site. Within this area, there is a sculpture that is about “mending broken hearts and bodies, bringing them together.”

fisher1
Fisher House / Lyon Landscape Architects

The new garden is set up so that people can interact or just be by themselves. “There are a range of spaces, so you can find your own appropriate one.” Wagenfeld said it’s widely used. “There’s a sense of escape in the garden.”

According to Winterbottom, some of the challenges creating the garden were eliciting participation among guests, who were all going through some emotionally taxing times. The design team was also really young. “With young designers, it’s all about them, not about other people.” Lastly, perhaps the biggest challenge was some long-time staff members, “who often berated patients” and thought they knew what the visitors wanted, when in fact they did not.

In another example, we learn about Nikkei Manor, an assisted living facility for Japanese Americans of the internment camp generation in Seattle. Many residents of the manor feel a sense of “displacement, loneliness, abandonment, and loss of identity” when they move into assisted care, said Wagenfeld.

The original idea was to create a Japanese garden, said Winterbottom, but “to even touch a Japanese garden, you need about 10-20 years of experience. To design one, you need to find a master.” So he and 17 landscape architecture students created a Pacific Northwest-style Japanese garden for just $75,000 in just one semester.

Every space in the garden is easily visible, as many residents have dementia. There are railings everywhere — both for security and exercise.

nikkei
Nikkei Manor garden / Daniel Winterbottom

Wagenfeld said the space has “active flexibility, with a stage for performances.” The garden uses “universal design principles to create a sense of familiarity.” It’s also a popular spot for neighborhood gatherings. (see more images).

Really, it sounds like democratic design is just good design.

In New Orleans, a Delicate Balancing Act

newschool
Site of new NOCCA urban farm / Jared Green

“A city-wide approach to dealing with water has failed in New Orleans. We must now go neighborhood by neighborhood,” said Wes Michaels, ASLA, a partner at Spackman Mossop and Michaels (SMM), a landscape architecture firm. To address the challenges of water, “we must be tactical, strategic, nuanced, and very culturally sensitive, as New Orleans has one of the highest percentages of native-born residents. We have to focus on the ecological but also the cultural. We must create a balancing act between the two. Any ecologically-designed landscape must also work for the community.” In a wide-ranging afternoon tour of the city nearly 10 years after Hurricane Katrina, Michaels showed how his firm and others are helping the city achieve that delicate balancing act.

Our first stop is the new urban farm for the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), an innovative high school that musicians Wynton Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr. attended. In four unused lots dotted with iron pilings (see image above), SMM is creating Press Street Gardens, which will enable NOCCA students to learn about urban agriculture and produce green vegetables for the local “farm to table movement.”

press-street
Press Street Gardens rendering / Spackman Mossop and Michaels

Michaels told me this kind of project is one of the few large-scale landscape developments moving forward in New Orleans these days (most others are trapped in a variety of morasses). “We must work at the small-scale and in-between places in this city. But we can still do really meaningful projects with low budgets.” He argued that, in a way, New Orleans has benefited from its lack of money. “The city didn’t have money to rebuild itself over and over again as other cities have.” So what you get is all that old character that draws million of tourists every year.

As we left Bywater and drove over to the Lower 9th Ward, the scene of so much turmoil ten years ago as the community was completely inundated by the failure of New Orleans’ water infrastructure, Michaels said “large-scale planning for the Lower 9th Ward broke down for historical, political reasons. Post-Katrina, there was the ‘Green Dot’ plan, a planning project that envisioned turning the lowest parts of the city into parks and green infrastructure to deal with excess stormwater. Well, the people who actually lived under this big green dot freaked out. There are some sensitive cultural issues. So the broad landscape approach was lost. But we must still deal with the stormwater problems.”

The new strategy from the New Orleans Development Authority (NORA) is to turn many of the thousands of abandoned parcels in the city into a useful green infrastructure system that also works culturally. The problem, Michaels said, is an empty lot filled with vegetation may provide a useful role in dealing with stormwater and providing wildlife habitat, but “there are negative connotations with places that aren’t taken care of. It’s like the Broken Window Syndrome.” The answer may be to create places that are “ecologically robust but have cues to care. We need to find a landscape language that gets people to value these places, instead of seeing them as ‘other’ in their cultural understanding of their neighborhood.”

To that end, a new effort by NORA will attempt to organize empty lots into a green infrastructure network that can test cultural perceptions.

vacant
Location of test lots / Spackman Mossop and Michaels

The Louisiana State University (LSU) Urban Landscape Lab is working with NORA to experiment with 23 lots, which will range from managed forest to meadows to some hybrid in between those, a “wildflower lawn.” The goal will be to see how intensively these need to be maintained and “how these lots function in these neighborhoods.”

nora4
Test empty lot / Jared Green

There will be low fences around the empty lots to see if they create the perceptual cue that these places are being maintained. An MLA student will be doing a two-year study, interviewing everyone around the test lots. “We’ll see how the community responds.” Michaels is cautiously optimistic that the community will be OK with managed nature “if we do it on purpose. But who knows? If they are left unmowed, people complain and then the city comes in and mows. I’m hoping that if we can show these places are cared for, maybe others will want them.”

Michaels explained that NORA also created the Growing Home program, which incentivized people who own properties next to empty lots to purchase that lot for just $4-5,000. To help sell this to the community, SMM created overlays for the web site to show how people could “build landscape credits” needed to keep ownership. NORA would refund them on the cost of materials used. Some 800 lots were turned into useful places — vegetable gardens, children’s play areas, workshops, or just places to relax.

nora
Growing Home example in Lower 9th Ward / Jared Green

We then move onto a part of Lower 9th Ward made famous by Brad Pitt and his Make It Right Foundation, which has financed the development of green residences for those affected by Katrina. A slew of big-name architects have come in to create some very architecture-y buildings. Mixed in all these buildings is a new park that NORA, LSU’s Urban Landscape Lab, SMM, Make It Right, and Common Ground got together. There are test beds for stormwater management, including a wetland demonstration garden.

park3
Make It Right Foundation community park wetland demonstration / Jared Green
park7
Make It Right Foundation community park wetland demonstration project / Jared Green

Amid all the pieces that deal with stormwater are some nice spots to sit and chill.

park6
Make It Right Foundation community park / Jared Green

Our tour then took us to where the balance between culture and ecology truly broke down. We stop at the new viewing platform created by LSU professor Austin Allen and his landscape architecture students, the University of Colorado at Denver, and community members. Once you get up to the top of the deck, you are momentarily stunned by the view of Bayou Bienvenue — a broad expanse of a “ghost swamp,” a dead Cypress forest, killed by salt water.

levee2
Bayou Bienvenue / Jared Green

As you read the educational materials on the deck, you learn that one million acres of wetlands and forests have been lost around the Mississippi River. Wetlands are a natural buffer. “The energy in storms is dissipated by wetlands. They create friction. If a wetland is lost, it becomes open water, which only adds to a storm’s power,” Michaels explained.

As Louisiana has spent $13-14 billion rebuilding New Orlean’s pumping stations — protecting them from being destroyed themselves as they were during Katrina — the city continues its careful balancing act between the cultural and ecological. Underneath it all, creating even more challenges, the city is sinking, perhaps at an accelerated rate.

Adaptation for All

lot3
Empty lot next to mowed lot, New Orleans / Jared Green

At the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference in New Orleans, the focus was on change — and how change will impact cities’ search for social equality. Much of urban infrastructure will need to be bolstered to survive a range of shifts: population booms or busts, economic growth or stagnation, and climate change and increasingly frequent natural disasters. But as cities adapt to these changing social, economic and climatic circumstances, are the most vulnerable being heard? When cities bounce back from all kinds of disasters, are all communities in the city, both rich and poor, equally as resilient?

Jeff Hebert, executive director of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), said, at its peak in 1960, New Orleans had a population of 630,000. After Hurricane Katrina, the “costliest natural disaster in U.S. history,” the population fell to 220,000. Now, it’s up to 369,000, still way off its peak. “We’ve been losing population for decades. Pre-existing patterns just tend to reinforce themselves in the aftermath of a disaster.” Since 1960, the population has grown in the suburbs while the core has lost density. By 2004, the number of vacant parcels was around 20-30,000. Detroit or Cleveland have a similar amount.

New Orleans is found along the banks of the Mississippi River. Land at the edges of the river is actually highest, as it has slowly accumulated there over thousands of years. Beyond these high points along the river, the city’s geography dips, forming a bowl. The French Quarter and other historic settlements are all found on high ground, meaning they are really just a few feet above sea level. Many low-Income communities like the lower 9th ward are under sea level. These neighborhoods were made possible by a pump system invented by the city. “We started building in swamps, exacerbating other environmental issues. Maybe our ancestors had it right building just on high ground.”

After Katrina struck, some 34 affected coastal parishes and New Orleans began to receive assistance through the federal Road Home Homeowner Assistance Program. As “there was no comprehensive plan, the feds took a piecemeal, local approach.” On a one-by-one basis, people could either come back to their old houses and received funds to rebuild, or got funds to rebuild somewhere else. Some 130,000 people got $8.9 billion in grants through this program. The result: “They left us with a patchwork of land.”

NORA was handed all the leftover, empty lots. They have gotten the inventory down from 5,000 to around half that. “Most of the remaining inventory is on lower ground. Some of those neighborhoods came back and others didn’t.”

So NORA initiated an innovative adaptation program for many low-income areas, with “green infrastructure, lot stabilization, alternative maintenance, and two technical assistance programs: growing green and growing home.” Hebert said these programs are about “connecting with the community about local stormwater and beautifying neighborhoods through great landscape design.”

Getting many locals in the poorer parts of the city to buy into empty lots as stormwater management systems has been tricky. “We have to change what is seen as a black eye into something beautiful that increases the quality of life and property values.” A big part of the campaign is educating many who have been there for generations about hydrology and geology. At least New Orleans is focusing on how everyone must adapt.

Roberta Feldman, an architectural activist and founder of the UIC City Design Center, then discussed how “urban redevelopment screws people,” particularly in cities like Chicago. Cities must be more sensitive to existing populations as they make way for new ones. She said Chicago’s latest housing plan will create “high-density, high-price public housing that is not socially just or cost effective.” Instead of redeveloping existing public housing complexes, the city often just tears them down and asks the poor living there to move into apartments somewhere else in the city or join in a public mixed use development. The problem is their existing community has been dismantled, “and these residents don’t want to move.” These efforts are also not cost-effective, Feldman argued, because creating new housing invariably costs much more per square foot than simply revamping older buildings. If the city had used the money more wisely, more public housing could have been developed. “The housing authority could have renovated 25,000 units for the same price as 9,000 new units.”

Cecilia Martinez, recently head of the UN-Habitat in New York, said “we must blame architects for much of the mess” we face trying to adapt cities to change. “They assume a lot. By World War II, they had initiated the Modern City movement and assumed the car would re-organize the city. Because of the car, we had super-blocks, so no one walks anymore. They said ‘let’s do low density. Let’s put towers in the middle of gardens.'” Graphed on top of this car-based system is a developer-led system, which marginalizes the poor. As a result, “Latin America is either super-highways and super-blocks or slums.” Martinez said this urban model is clearly broken because some 800 million people live in slums without access to public spaces. “While New York City, one of the world’s wealthiest cities, is comprised of some 60 percent public space — when you add in streets, parks, and plazas — the slums in Kenya have maybe 1 percent public space.” To enable everyone to adapt, “we need to focus on walking and biking, public spaces, and mixed social structures.”

“In all of the world’s deltas, large changes are taking place,” said Han Meyer, a professor at Delft University in the Netherlands who offered a broader framework for adaptation. The problem is these deltas and other coastal areas are the site of much of the world’s urbanization. There are multiple dynamics happening at once. “There are the dynamics of the natural environment. One thousand years of land-water relations change. The way deltas carry sediment changes over time. These changes have been caused by climate change since the Ice Age, and the process has been ongoing for a long time. Then, there’s the societal use of the delta. Dynamic land-uses plus nature means a very complex system that will continue to change. We need to be able to adapt both types of environments. They are at different frequencies, rhythms. The problem is nature has a different time scale for change than societies.” So his answer for how to adapt to change: “There can be no final plans. We can only build different scenarios. “

Nature Is But Another Name for Health

arizona
ASLA 2012 General Design Honor Award. Arizona State University Polytechnic Campus — New Academic Complex by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects / Bill Timmeman

“We are trying to figure out precisely what types of nature provide the most health benefits,” said William Sullivan, ASLA, a landscape architecture professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, at the Environmental Design Research Assocation (EDRA) conference in New Orleans. The eventual goal is to be able to prescribe doses of nature, or specific activities in nature, to help with a range of illnesses. But we have a long way to go before we can get to this point. “We are just at the beginning of the research. We are moving in the direction of more specificity.” Sometime in the future, designers of all kinds will have guidelines that explain the best ways to reap the positive effects of nature. “But today — although we have good evidence that exposure to green landscapes is good for you — we can’t say if you design something this way, people will live four years longer.”

Sullivan brought together a unique group of researchers to explore the latest science and show the rest of us where all of this is going. A few graduate students at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign presented their data-based findings about the effects of nature on our own cognition and stress levels:

Dr. Bin Jiang said research shows “acute, chronic stress will lead to disease and death.” Stress has been directly linked with a number of the leading causes of death, including heart disease, diabetes, and suicide. In his study, Jiang examined how much stress recovery can be achieved through views of green streets. A group of people from the Midwest were alternatively stressed — by being asked to do complex math rapidly in front of a group or give a speech — and then shown images of nature. They were exposed to ten videos, with ten different levels of tree canopies, ranging from 2 percent up to 62 percent tree cover. These guinea pigs were surveyed to see how stressed they felt and then their physiological responses were also examined. Researchers took saliva samples to test for cortisol levels and tested their skin conductance, finger temperatures, blood volume pulse, and heart responses.

According to the surveys, increasingly green scenes improved stress recovery by 250 percent. But the actual physiological stress recovery rate — as measured by all the devices — was improved by just 55 percent. This shows that “we are prone to believing the narrative about nature.” Jiang concluded that “there is a positive, linear relationship between tree cover and self-reported stress recovery, and a curvilinear association between objective stress recovery and tree cover.” This means physiologically, there’s a peak tree canopy level and then it declines. According to Jiang, the optimal tree cover rate is 30-40 percent. But Sullivan interjected, “every tree matters. More of these kinds of studies need to be conducted on all types of nature: parks, bioswales, rain gardens, etc.”

Dongying Li presented an excellent study on high school landscapes and academic performance. There is an understanding that views of green spaces out of windows may benefit students. “Access to nature has been correlated with lower stress and higher attentional function.” But Li wanted to see if she could find a causal relationship between views of nature out a window and performance. Three sets of students were randomly assigned to be tested in a room with no windows, a room with a barren view of rooftops, and then a room with a green, leafy view. The results: green views significantly improved attention, while barren or no views had no impact. Li added that “the effect of the window view is greatest during the subjects’ rest period, not during their stress period. The window view also affects stress recovery. Students with views of green spaces recovered from the stress of classroom assignments considerably faster than their peers who had been assigned to classrooms without windows or those with views to built spaces.” She said the effect is not just from the green color but from the actual content of the landscape.

Sullivan said this makes the case for bringing trees closer to classrooms. “Somehow there’s a meme out there that if there are windows with some to look at, students will be distracted. This study shows that’s the farthest from the truth. We have spent hundreds of millions to boost academic performance in high schools and the results of programs like DARE are now clear: it has had zero impact. Simple interventions like putting in windows and designing campus landscapes to include many opportunities to have green views could significantly improve performance.” There’s a reason, it seems, those Ivy League schools are so leafy.

Finally, Chun-Yen Chang, Professor of Landscape Architecture at National Taiwan University, presented more amazing research, this time looking at the brain’s response to images of nature. In Taiwan, thirteen subjects suffered through being in an fMRI machine for hours at a time, exposed to urban scenes and then images of mountains, forest, and water. With images of the urban landscape, “all parts of the brain were active,” while fewer sections were active during the nature scenes. Here, we can introduce a novel word, at least for me: voxel, which is a measure of how busy a brain is. Chang said when we see a traffic jam spreading for miles with cars honking, our voxels are around 180,000. Meanwhile, a forest scene accounts for less than 100 voxels. And a beach scene even less: 28 voxels. Our brains respond to urban and natural scenes incredibly differently. If we have 180,000 voxels going, how many more can be used? What happens when we are at 180,000 voxels too long?

At one point, a participant asked, “If you know you have something to do later that’s stressful, can we immunize ourselves by going earlier into nature? Can we then recover from stress faster?” Chang said “attentional fatigue and stress are two different things. If we have something cognitively demanding to do, it’s good to spend time in green spaces. But there’s no evidence we can immunize ourselves from stress with nature.” Sullivan concurred, saying “there’s evidence that going to green spaces improves cognition for later. And if we have that evidence, we can then incorporate this into our discussion of the benefits of green infrastructure.” Instead of just focusing on the stormwater management benefits of green infrastructure, “what if we could prove green infrastructure can also boost innovation and creativity?”

And one more future area of inquiry: “Do the most ecologically-healthy landscapes result in the healthiest people?” Sullivan said this will be an important research area, as “we have to be smart about how we configure these natural places. An ecologically-healthy place could have snakes and spiders, which will end up scaring people away. We have a responsibility to create a healthy ecosystem but we can’t create stress and anxiety about being in nature.”

Explore all these research studies.

Rebuild by Design Winners Announced

hud
U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan announced six projects will receive $920 million through HUD’s Rebuild by Design competition. HUD will give the funds to New York, New Jersey, and New York City to further develop these projects, which are designed to make the Hurricane Sandy-affected region more resilient.

The competition was created out of President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy rebuilding taskforce as a way to dramatically improve the “physical, ecological, and economic resilience of coastal areas.” According to HUD, the design competition “created coalitions with local and regional stakeholders to develop locally-responsive proposals.”

The funds will finance additional planning, the design of innovative flood protection systems made of berms and wetlands, as well as a built reef.

The winning projects are led by multidisciplinary teams comprised of landscape architects, architects, engineers, ecologists, artists, and others. The projects are diverse, spread throughout the region. Funding looks evenly split between New York and New Jersey:

  • The BIG U (East River Park), Manhattan — The BIG Team ($335 million)
  • Living with the Bay (Slow Streams), Nassau County, Long Island — The Interboro Team ($125 million)
  • New Meadowlands, Little Ferry, Moonachie, Carlstadt, Teterboro — MIT CAU+ZUS+URBANISTEN ($150 million)
  • Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge, Hoboken, Weehawken, Jersey City — OMA ($230 million)
  • Lifelines, Hunts Point, South Bronx — PennDesign/OLIN ($20 million)
  • Living Breakwaters, Tottenville, Staten Island — SCAPE/Landscape Architecture ($60 million)

HUD writes: “The winning proposals come from teams representing some of the best planning, design, and engineering talent in the world. These inventive proposals are a blueprint for how communities can maximize resilience as they rebuild and recover from major disasters. These ideas will serve as a model for how we can mitigate the effects of climate change and natural disasters in communities throughout the Sandy region, the United States, and the world.”

Secretary Donovan, said Rebuild by Design could have a powerful ripple effect: “It’s my hope that Rebuild by Design will inspire other public-private partnerships to spur innovation and resilience.”

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, New York, said, “Are there going to be other storms like Sandy? Yes. Will we be better prepared for them because of Rebuild by Design? Absolutely.”

And Dr. Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, who helped finance the design competition and has been a major force behind the new push for resilience, said the competition harnesses “creative minds of every stripe to break the models and construct innovative and creative ways to build for our future.” Indeed, HUD is spending $60 million for the first large-scale experiments with creating reefs that can act as tide-surge mitigators.

More details on the winning proposals:

The BIG U (East River Park), Manhattan — The BIG Team

The BIG team, which includes landscape architecture firm Starr Whitehouse, aims to protect ten continuous miles of low-lying Manhattan, “an incredibly dense, vibrant, and vulnerable urban area.” Funds will be used to used to create a “bridging berm” at the East River Park along the Lower East Side. “The bridging berm provides robust vertical protection for the Lower East Side from future storm surge and rising sea levels. The berm also offers pleasant, accessible routes into the park, with many unprogrammed spots for resting, socializing, and enjoying views of the park and river. Both the berms and bridges will be wide and planted with a diverse selection of salt tolerant trees, shrubs, and perennials to create a resilient urban habitat.”

Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge, Hoboken, Weehawken, Jersey City — OMA

http://vimeo.com/90759469

The OMA team, which includes landscape architecture firm Balmori Associates, will protect all of the Hoboken waterfront and parts of Weehawken and Jersey City. The project “deploys programmed hard infrastructure and soft landscape for coastal defense (resist); policy recommendations, guidelines, and urban infrastructure to slow rainwater runoff (delay); a circuit of interconnected green infrastructure to store and direct excess rainwater (store); and water pumps and alternative routes to support drainage (discharge). The objectives are to manage water for both severe storms and long-term growth; enable reasonable flood insurance premiums through the potential redrawing of the FEMA flood zone following completion; and deliver co-benefits that enhance the cities and the region.”

Living with the Bay (Slow Streams), Nassau County, Long Island — The Interboro Team

The Interboro team, which includes H+N+S Landscape Architects, will develop a comprehensive resiliency plan for Nassau County’s South Shore. “The areas around Southern Nassau’s north-south tributaries are threatened both by surge water flooding and storm water inundation. The proposal will address these threats through a set of interconnected interventions, transforming the Mill River into a green-blue corridor that stores and filters water, provides public space, and creates room for new urban development. These river corridor improvements will also address other challenges such water quality, ecological recovery, and aquifer recharge.”

New Meadowlands, Little Ferry, Moonachie, Carlstadt, Teterboro — MIT CAU+ZUS+URBANISTEN

The first phase of the New Meadowlands proposal will focus on Little Ferry, Moonachie, Carlstadt, and Teterboro. “By integrating transportation, ecology, and development, the project transforms the Meadowlands basin to address a wide spectrum of risks, while providing civic amenities, and creating opportunities for new redevelopment. The project includes the creation of additional wetlands and a multi-purpose berm that will provide flood protection to the many residents of the community damaged by Sandy flooding.”

Living Breakwaters, Tottenville, Staten Island — SCAPE/Landscape Architecture

The SCAPE team aims to “reduce risk, revive ecologies, and connect educators and local students to the shoreline, inspiring a new generation of harbor stewards and a more resilient region over time.” One fascinating component of the project: an “in-water solution will reduce wave action and erosion, lowering risk from heavy storms by designing ‘reef street’ micropockets of habitat complexity to host finfish, shellfish, and lobsters.”

Lifelines, Hunts Point, South Bronx — PennDesign/OLIN

PennDesign/OLIN is taking a multi-faceted approach to protecting Hunts Point, the hub of the region’s food supply chain and one of the poorest communities in the country. “The PennDesign/OLIN proposal sets out four strategies: integrated and adaptable flood protection systems to safeguard the whole neighborhood and create public amenities along the Hunts Point waterfront; leadership efforts to build capacity for social resilience; a marine emergency supply chain to enhance the waterways as critical infrastructure; and cleanways to improve air quality.”

Safer Street Design Can Spare Tens of Thousands

dangerous
More than 47,000 people were killed while walking in the U.S. between 2003 and 2012, a rate that has been rising in the last few years. The majority of those deaths could have likely been prevented with safer street design, according to Dangerous by Design 2014, a new report released today by the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America, in conjunction with AARP and American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

The report also ranks America’s major metropolitan areas according to a pedestrian danger index that assesses how safe pedestrians are while walking. The four most dangerous — Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Miami — are all in Florida. The others in the top-10 most dangerous list are: Memphis, Phoenix, Houston, Birmingham (new to this year’s top 10), Atlanta, and Charlotte.

“We are allowing an epidemic of pedestrian fatalities — brought on by streets designed for speed and not safety — to take nearly 5,000 lives a year. This number increased six percent between 2011 and 2012,” said Roger Millar, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. “Not only is that number simply too high, but these deaths are easily prevented through policy, design, and practice. State and local transportation leaders need to prioritize the implementation of complete streets policies that keep everyone safe.”

The report presents data on pedestrian fatalities and injuries in every U.S. metro area, as well as state by state assessments and an online, interactive map showing the locations where pedestrian fatalities have occurred.

More than 676,000 pedestrians were injured over the decade, equivalent to a pedestrian being struck by a car or truck every eight minutes. That rate increases significantly for more vulnerable populations such as older adults, children, and people of color.

While just 12.6 percent of the total population, those over the age of 65 years old account for nearly 21 percent of pedestrian fatalities nationwide. “Older persons account for one in every five pedestrian fatalities and have the greatest fatality rate of any population group,” said AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond. “America’s state, federal, and community leaders should focus on making our streets safer, which will benefit everyone, including the growing number of older Americans.”

Children 15 years and younger represent a significantly at-risk population, and fatal pedestrian injury remains a leading cause of death. Between 2003 and 2010 (the most recent year for which data is available about children), 4,394 children were killed while walking.

Among people of color, blacks and African Americans suffer a pedestrian fatality 60 percent higher than non-Hispanic whites, and Hispanics of any race have a rate nearly 43 percent higher.

The majority of pedestrian deaths occur on roadways that encourage speeding, and speeding is a factor in nearly one-third of all traffic fatalities. The report finds that these deaths can be prevented through changes to the design of our streets: providing sidewalks, installing high-visibility crosswalks and refuge islands, and calming traffic speeds.

This has proved true for roads such as NE 125th St. in Seattle, WA. In 2011, the city added a marked crosswalk, reduced the number of travel lanes, and installed bike lanes, along with other measures, to provide for the safety of pedestrians in a high-crash corridor where 87 percent of drivers were speeding. The modifications have reduced the rate of collisions by 10 percent and speeding by 11 percent and led to more people walking and biking along the roadway.

“More and more Americans are choosing communities that are walkable and accessible for pedestrians, children and older Americans, but that shouldn’t be a luxury,” said Nancy Somerville, Executive Vice President & CEO of ASLA. “Simple and affordable additions or retrofits to traffic signals, pedestrian islands, and sidewalks can make a huge difference in safety and protection.”

The report recommends states take action to improve safety for pedestrians in communities nationwide:

  • Increase the available funding and maximize the use of existing federal programs for walking and bicycling projects.
  • Adopt a complete streets policy and comprehensive implementation plan.
  • Emphasize walking and bicycling in the strategic highway safety plan (SHSP).
  • Reform measures of congestion, such as level of service, to account for the needs of all travelers.
  • Update design policies and standards.
  • Standardize and gather more comprehensive data on pedestrian crashes.
  • Give local cities and towns more control over their own speed limits.
  • Encourage collaboration across transportation, public health, and law enforcement agencies.

Read the report.

The Landscape Imagination

landscape
The Landscape Imagination / Princeton Architectural Press

As the author of canonical texts — and now built projects like the High Line in New York City — James Corner, ASLA, founder of Field Operations, has achieved a unique stature in contemporary landscape architecture. The Landscape Imagination: Collected Essays of James Corner, 1990-2010, a new collection of his written work, thus serves as a sort of mid-career retrospective. The book brings together the bulk of Corner’s writings over the last two decades — from the early theoretical arguments of a young academic struggling to move the discipline beyond Ian McHarg’s ecological determinism, to an eminent practitioner discussing his major public parks.

highline2
ASLA 2013 Professional General Design Honor Award. High Line, Section 2 by James Corner Field Operations / Iwan Baan

Corner’s initial contributions to landscape theory lean heavily on Heidegger and hermeneutics, giving intellectual weight to Corner’s mission to rescue landscape architecture from a period of stagnation and seeming irrelevance to contemporary culture. “In a globalized context of rapid and expedient production,” Corner writes, “landscape must appear an antiquated medium and, its design, a fringe activity sustained through the eccentric passions of a handful of romantics and nature-lovers.” That landscape architecture would never appear so today is the result of a shift Corner contributed to in a fundamental way.

Corner’s writings on representation and landscape urbanism chart new and exciting territory for the field. Some of Corner’s essays are classics and mainstays of landscape architecture syllabi. In this volume they appear all together and accompanied by full-color images.

corner3
Pivot Irrigators / James Corner

Rather than the concrete arguments found in books like Corner’s Recovering Landscape (1999) or Charles Waldheim’s Landscape Urbanism Reader (2002), to which Corner contributed, The Landscape Imagination follows Corner’s evolving concerns. These extend from drawing and mapping both in and as design — to the role of landscape in and as urbanism.

Always in tension are the landscapes of the mind and the site. But Corner seeks to defy and transcend these distinctions as he expands landscape’s conceptual scope. Corner focuses on ecology while also emphasizing landscape as a cultural project dealing in meaning, creativity, and imagination — hence the title of the collection. He shows us the through-line from theory to practice.

The more recent texts focus on built or proposed projects by Corner’s firm Field Operations. “Critical experimentation in action,” Corner calls them. They are the works of a mature practitioner and landscape visionary, whose intellectual rigor and influential practice have set the terms for landscape in contemporary life.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Mariana Mogilevich, PhD, assistant professor, metropolitan studies program, New York University.

A Sense of the Past

prairie
Wild Bergamot in a Prairie / Prairie State Outdoors

At a conference on sound and scent in the garden at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. landscape historians delved into spaces of the past in an attempt to unearth historic sensory experiences. A question that ran through all the lectures was: can we ever get a true sense of what it felt like to be in a place that no longer exists?

Barbara Burlison Mooney, University of Iowa, gave us a deeper sense of what the great Illinois prairies sounded and smelled like. She said tall grass prairies are not a designed landscape — “they are really the antithesis of Versaille” — but they were still managed. Native Americans set fire to the grasslands so as to sprout the small green shoots that would bring bison. Today, just small parcels of the original American grasslands remain. What’s left has inspired landscape architects such as Jens Jensen and James van Sweden, who have attempted to replicate the beauty of these grass landscapes everywhere.

Mooney said the first time settlers in the early 1800s saw the prairie they were totally overwhelmed by its “breathtaking magnitude.” Settlers traveling west would be in dense forest up until Ohio, when they started to experience meadows. Then, as they hit Indiana, the trees would disappear and the grasslands would open up for countless miles. Mooney said scholarship has “looked at the sight of the prairie, and artistic interpretations of it, but the auditory and olfactory experience is a more complex experience to relate.”

Mooney read from first-hand accounts of settlers who recorded their experiences crossing the prairie, including some of the first American naturalists. She played recordings of a range of birds, including wild fowl, songbirds, and turkeys; insects; dangerous animals like wolves, snakes, cougars; and less dangerous ones, like bullfrogs.

She described how scent, “our most memorable sense,” defined the prairie, too. “Prairie rose, bergamot, and sassafras all have sweet scents.” For the settlers, foul odors also foretold disaster. As an example, some of these settlers feared the smell of “bad water” and were overwhelmed by rotting vegetation.

“Early Illinois settlers understood the sensory experience of the prairie.” Unfortunately, their recounting is “unstable, limited, biased in describing ephemeral experiential cues.” The result may be we can get just a hint of what the prairie was like from these early accounts and modern sound recordings.

Mark Laird at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design (GSD) described Strawberry Hill, a Gothic revival villa created by Horace Walpole, a politician, writer, and artist, in the late 1700s. Using letters Walpole wrote over five decades, Laird discovered some aspects of the historic sounds and smells, which helped guide recent restoration efforts.

strawberry
Strawberry Hill by Paul Sandby / Wikipedia, Public Domain
strawberry3
Strawberry Hill today / Wikipedia, Chriswick Chap, CC BY-SA 3.0

Restoring the sound and smell of a place is challenging, as nature changes. Laird said the sound of field crickets were mentioned in Walpole’s letters, but today, “they no longer exist in the UK,” except for three small managed populations. Similarly, the Landrail (or Corn Crake), which was once widespread, is now confined to small parcels of Scotland. There are just about 1,200 males left.

What Halpole yearned for most, Laird said from the letters, was the smell of the “lilac tide” and the sound of nightingales in late spring. Through intensive research, Laird discovered where the lilacs, roses, and lavender was planted, but, again, a changing world has robbed us of having a similar experience, as there are just 6,700 male nightingales left in the UK. Furthermore, “it’s a secretive bird that hides in bushes.”

So more historic sensory experiences don’t go extinct, Laird and John Beardsley, head of the landscape studies program at Dumbarton Oaks, discussed efforts to create a “world heritage of sound.”

For Anatole Tchikine, a post-doctoral student at Dumbarton Oaks, sensory experiences found in Italian gardens are all political. In the early 20th century, American writers such as Vernon Lee and Edith Wharton visited Italy many times. Wharton even wrote a book, Italian Villas and Their Gardens, which argued that Italian gardens can be defined simply by their use of “stone work, evergreens, and water.” Anything like flowers were extraneous to the sensory experience of the forms in the Italian garden.

The fascists picked up on this very limited definition of an Italian garden and used it for nationalistic purposes. Before, there was no singular Italian garden, but many local vernacular gardens. The fascists chose the Tuscan garden, making it the “national language, the trans-regional and trans-temporal garden. It became part of the national agenda, helping to create a shared national identity.”

Italian-style was then reclaimed from France, the UK, and elsewhere where it had been misappropriated. In 1931, during the Florence garden festival honoring Italian traditions, the Italian garden was presented as “rational, ordered, geometrical, with the emphasis of mind over body, conquest and domination over the expression of natural genius.” Tchikine said under the fascists, “Italian gardens became about intellect over experience, with an exception for sight, which was needed to experience form. Flowers were just an expression of form; they were not to be smelled.”

The sensory experience of water then became political, too. “Water has a volatile nature — it can be hot, cold, hard or soft. Water can be temporarily restrained but it can’t be subjugated.” Water was then threatening. Different themed fountains showed either militaristic installations or the trickster-nature of water, as “playful, bizarre, and unpredictable.”

The end result is Italian gardens became an “impoverished experience, filled with contradictory cliches. They became simple repositories of art works.”

Design and Construction Groups Launch Alliance for a Resilient Tomorrow

resilience
ASLA 2012 Professional General Award of Excellence. A Green Sponge for a Water-Resilient City: Qunli Stormwater Park by Turenscape / Kongjian Yu

At the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., leaders of twenty associations focused on the design, construction, operations, and management of the built environment announced the Alliance for a Resilient Tomorrow, a new partnership dedicating to promoting resilience across the board. The CEOs of the industry associations, which have more than 700,000 members generating almost $1 trillion in GDP, also used the occasion of “Building Safety Month” to issue a joint pledge on resilience.

The event featured panel discussions of several of the CEOs who have joined in this pledge:

“We, like so many in this room, realize that next steps must be taken to address disaster mitigation, resilience, and sustainability,” said Chase Rynd, Hon. ASLA., Executive Director, National Building Museum, which has just staged a major exhibition on designing for disaster.

Robert Ivy, CEO of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), said that the list of signatories was “broad and comprehensive” and included not only the design, planning, and engineering profession, but also client representatives. He noted that AIA’s members have been involved with issues of resilience for a long time and operate according to a “core set of ethics to design structures that are sound.” However, the world has changed due to climate change, which “takes us to another place.” He added that “this is the beginning, the first step” to addressing resilience in a changing world.

“Sustainability is part of the DNA of landscape architects, and resilience is a key part of sustainability,” said Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). “One of the major roles we’re now playing is making sure we share best practices and the results of what’s happening among our members.” She noted that, “while projects have always been designed for resilience, now there’s an additional emphasis placed on performance standards and tracking them. This will help ensure we not only influence design decisions but also development projects.”

Randy Fiser, Executive Vice President, American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), suggested watching communities to “see how they begin to evolve.” He added that “often times, we see communities destroyed by events. Subsequent conversations often focus on rebuilding the way it was.” Fiser sees the need to inform communities to take that leap forward.

“A history of events have already occurred in this country—hurricanes, tornadoes, and mudslides—and we now have a game plan, our statement signed today,” said Henry Green, President/CEO, National Institute of Building Science. He called for moving future discussions internally and engaging the media, which he said will make a huge difference.

“Infrastructure in the United States is in really bad shape and will have to be rebuilt in the coming years,” said Gayle Berens, senior vice president, Urban Land Institute (ULI). She also argued the rate of recovery in Sandy-affected areas is highly variable. Here, size matters: New York City is in great shape, but communities in New Jersey, with “part-time mayors,” really need help.

Tom Phoenix, President-Elect, ASHRAE, pointed out that the “economics of what we’re doing can’t be escaped. To be honest, nothing’s going to happen unless someone can pay for this. How do we educate building owners, especially in the private sector, that there’s a benefit to doing this?”

This guest post is by Karen Grajales, ASLA Public Relations Manager

Our Senses Snap Us Back to the Here and Now

lavender
Lavender field in Provence / Wikipedia

We can read about how sensory experiences in landscapes work on our minds by exploring the latest neuroscience, but there’s no replacement for just going out an experiencing a place. “Our senses snap us back to the here and now,” said D. Fairchild Ruggles, a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, at a conference on sound and scent in the garden at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. One question, though, is: how can we use our senses in a place that no longer exists? This was the topic of discussion over a few days, as landscape historians explored the limits of words and pictures when describing landscapes of the past.

Ruggles said “vision has a privileged place in architectural history.” This is because too often architectural history is dedicated to “the pursuit of permanence.” In landscape architecture history, the most common visual is the site plan or aerial view. “But this visual representation doesn’t capture the sound or scent of the place.”

For centuries, Arab poets discussed the sensory experience of the garden. Unfortunately, today, “smells are elusive. Other than saying something is fragrant, what can we say? We compare it to something else. Something smells like… We have no sophisticated vocabulary.”

John Dixon Hunt, a landscape historian at the University of Pennsylvania, picked up the discussion, saying essentially that words and images fail us when we are trying to evoke the sound and smell of a place. “We can’t explain one person’s experiences to another. They are so subjective.” He said two people may walk through a landscape and have a “shared experience but will have different articulations, using different words, just as two painters viewing the same scene will paint it differently. Everyone has their own take. We are on our own in life.”

Given words fail, the experience of being in a historic place is lost. “We have to be depressed looking at the past because we can’t get to it. Modern landscape architects can only try to impart back or transpose things backwards.”

Still, Hunt called for a greater effort to communicate the experience of being in a place, at least in landscape and garden writing today. He complained that writers and critics focus too much on the form of a space than the experience of being there. “We must evade simple reliance on architectural forms. Movement determines mood. The mood is lost when we just look at forms.”

This challenge is not lost on the poor writers who must explain what a place sounds and smells like. “How do you capture the sound of water?” He said even Shakespeare, who described a garden as “deft of sound and scent,” really told his readers, “one must go there to enjoy.”

Hunt described a number of historic and contemporary works of landscape architecture that highlight scent. For example, the lavender fields of France “assault the senses.” The scent garden at the University of Toronto, with its aromatic pavilions, has significant impact because of its “limited focus.” There, the “blind can smell and touch.”

As to whether the impact of a sound or scent can be measured, Hunt wondered whether some things in life are “immeasurable,” simply beyond our reach. He argued that may be a good thing: “it’s terribly important to have something in one’s life that you can’t grasp.”