Showing Communities How to Live with Floods

DesignWeek Greenville winning team / NCSU master’s of landscape architecture student Rouqing Ke

Inland flooding caused by Hurricane Mathew wreaked havoc in many of eastern North Carolina’s communities. To bring attention to the issue and find new solutions, North Carolina State University (NCSU)’s landscape architecture program created a design competition focused on three towns most affected. Alongside town representatives and students and faculty from the University of North Carolina (UNC) department of city and regional planning and NCSU school of architecture, we worked with professionals from around the region, including leadership from North Carolina emergency management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Our interdisciplinary teams sought to address the impacts.

During the design competition, DesignWeek: Living with Floods, our team visited Greenville, where Hurricane Matthew brought the Tar River 11 feet higher than safe flood levels, the highest the river has been since Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

We spent the day with the Pitt County planning department learning about their methods for assisting impacted residents. We heard about families who purchased lots inside the 100-year floodplain, only to find themselves in turmoil when they learned the cost to elevate their new home is nearly half the price of the house itself. For families in our study area, the cost to elevate their home consumes 10-12 months of their household income, which averaged $23,500 in 2015. We heard stories about renters and owners without insurance who are left swimming in debt. We listened as county officials put the responsibility on their own shoulders.

We left Greenville understanding that dealing with floods has both social and environmental dimensions, and so the means for change are rooted in the physical and human landscape. We learned that what seemed from the outside like a wholly-environmental problem had layers of complexity related to social equity, historic demographics, land-use patterns, and community perceptions.

A few short days after visiting, teams had concrete ideas at hand. The winners for Greenville looked at how the current policy framework surrounding flood prevention and response could be improved to serve the public at a community scale. The team proposed a collaborative, bottom-up approach to help preserve community cohesion through the process of migration away from risk-prone areas. The new program framework called Community Scale Assisted Migration (CSAM) would build community unity (see image above).

The winning team for the Kinston effort put forward a town master plan that bundled different scales of interventions into a cohesive approach. Their solutions would boost flood prevention, help Kinston’s citizens better understand the causes of flooding, and increase economic development through improvements in livability and recreation.

DesignWeek Kingston winning team/ NCSU master’s of architecture student Giti Kazerooni

In Windsor, the Cashie River runs through the center of town and recurrently floods the main streets and shops, causing structural damage and blocking the main road. Town leaders have considered an option to relocate the entire downtown away from the river, but the winning team’s design solution scaled out to the larger region of eastern North Carolina, offering an approach for upstream retention using “leaking dams” downstream that would create a windrow effect. Also, constructed islands would combat storm surge and multi-functional levees would protect the highest-risk areas.

Each of the design teams created interdisciplinary and innovative solutions that inspired local, state, and federal representatives to see their challenges through new lenses and look at different scales.

Although DesignWeek is over for the students, the ideas now serve as the beginning of a larger response to inland flooding in eastern North Carolina. Faculty from NCSU college of design will continue to work with Windsor, Kinston, Greenville, and state and federal representatives to marshal the power of design in large-scale problem solving.

Increasingly, landscape architects are taking flight far above our traditional scale of practice, and approaching sites as pieces of larger, interconnected systems where the needs and desires of our clients must be weighted against potential impacts to surrounding networks of humans and nature. More than ever, landscape architects are employing principles and tools from landscape ecology, urban planning, social sciences, systems engineering, and data visualization. This transformation in the role of the landscape architect, however real, has not yet captured the public eye and, thus, the value of our profession is more misunderstood than ever.

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

Chandigarh: Where Modernism Met India

Chandigarh Revealed / Princeton Architectural Press

Chandigarh, the capital city of the Indian states of Haryana and Punjab, was planned and designed in the 1950s and 60s by French-Swiss master architect Le Corbusier, along with architects Jane Drew, Pierre Jeanneret, and Maxwell Fry, and a host of Indian modernists. Envisioned by India’s founding prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, the planned city represented a break with India’s colonial past and embodied a distinctly-Indian form of modernism, rooted in post-independence values of democracy, socialism, secularism, and non-alignment. The city, and other planned modernist cities of the era, told the world India was on its way.

First planned and designed to accommodate some 500,000 people, today, more than a million people live in Chandigarh, as the city has expanded, and slums have taken over areas where the plan was never fully realized. Some 50 years later, Le Corbusier and Nehru’s city appears both glorious and derelict, visionary and an anachronism in Chandigarh Revealed, a fascinating new book by photographer and designer Shaun Flynn.

Chandigarh has been likened to Brasilia, the modernist capital city of Brazil planned and designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer. But whereas Brasilia hosts workers during the day and expels them at night, Chandigarh was designed to be a more livable city full-time, with a primary Capitol complex, and its Legislative Assembly as the focus; commercial districts; parks and plazas; educational, medical, and research institutions; and housing for tens of thousands of government workers.

Chandigarh legislative assembly / Images © Shaun Fynn, from Candigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier’s City Today by Shaun Fynn published by Princeton Architectural Press (2017)
Chandigarh legislative assembly interior / Images © Shaun Fynn, from Candigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier’s City Today by Shaun Fynn published by Princeton Architectural Press (2017)

Chandigarh’s plan is divided into 47 sectors, each 800 by 1,200 meters. Sectors 1-30 were created from 1951-1976, and sectors 31-57 were created from the 1960-1985. Until his death in 1965, Le Corbusier was still designing elements of the site. Flynn’s well-designed infographics really help explain his vision.

Flynn describes in his introduction how government housing is further broken into fourteen categories, each with variations, and “all built according to a hierarchy based on socioeconomic status.”

“The most desirable and lowest-density area are sectors 2-9, which are adjacent to the Capitol complex, while population density increases as the sectors recede from the mountains, the Capitol complex, and Sukhna Lake.” Even in the planned city, it’s all about location — in this case, the proximity to power.

But all buildings were made to a consistent level of quality and with the same attention to detail. Constructed out of concrete and brick, the most cost-effective and freely available local material, the buildings were designed to nest together into a broader plan. And even the smallest apartments — the minimum being 100 square meters — were designed by an architect with care, writes M.N. Sharma, an associate of Le Corbusier and chief architect of Chandigarh from 1965-1979.

According to numerous reports and surveys, the city today has one of the happiest and wealthiest populations in all of India, and the city itself is one of the cleanest. These achievements may be seen as a testament to the legacy of Nehru, Le Corbusier, and his colleagues.

But the state of ruin of many of the buildings can also be seen as a commentary on the lack of progress towards Nehru’s vision of a fully-modern India, with strong, centralized, and efficient government.

Architect Vikramaditya Prakash, who grew up in Chandigarh, writes in his essay about the complexities found in Chandigarh. By the 1970s, the vision of efficient government as embodied in the Capitol complex had died amid “the daily disintegration of the failing Nehruvian nation-state,” and “as endemic corruption, unemployment, and the bloated lethargy of the public sector slowly drained the lifeblood of the nation.”

Chandigarh / Images © Shaun Fynn, from Candigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier’s City Today by Shaun Fynn published by Princeton Architectural Press (2017)

However, in the midst of this national deterioration, “Chandigarh paradoxically prospered.” He writes: “As the rest of the cities of northern India descended into urban miasma, Chandigarh became a haven for the Punjabi elite because the city, particularly as its tree cover matured, offered an unparalleled quality of life.”

Flynn argues there is another narrative on Chandigarh worth exploring: planning, architecture, and nature. Le Corbusier focused on the “care of the mind and body,” which is reflected in not only the buildings, which are rich with Le Corbusier’s symbols and native religious forms, but also in the landscape.

Le Corbusier’s hand symbol on a building / Images © Shaun Fynn, from Candigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier’s City Today by Shaun Fynn published by Princeton Architectural Press (2017)

In his edict, Le Corbusier writes: “The city of Chandigarh is planned to human scale. It puts us in touch with the infinite cosmos and nature. It provides us with places and buildings for all human activities by which the citizens can live a full and harmonious life. Here the radiance of nature and heart are within our reach.”

Nature and architecture intermingle at Chandigarh / Images © Shaun Fynn, from Candigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier’s City Today by Shaun Fynn published by Princeton Architectural Press (2017)

In a transcript of an interview, Sharma concurs, arguing that “to take care of your mind and body, you need recreation so this is a city with open spaces. Old people can walk, children can run around, and then there are paths that are very peaceful. There are also large-scale gardens that many people thought were for the rich, and I told them, no, the Rose Garden is meant for poor people.”

Modernist planning and architecture comes together with parks and tree-lined streets to create a livable Modernism, a garden city for Indians.

From the book, however, it’s unclear how much of Chandigarh’s interesting landscape came from the original designers and how much accrued as new layers later.

Also, while Flynn shoots the buildings designed by Le Corbusier, Jeanneret, Drew, and Fry in a compelling way — giving us a real sense of what it’s like to be in these buildings, walk around them, or even be on top of them — he only gives us glimpses of civic and green spaces, and offers no photographs of people out enjoying the community’s tree-covered streets, parks, the celebrated Zakir Hussein Rose Garden, or the Rock Garden, which is estimated to have received some 12 million visitors.

Chandigarh rose garden / Wikipedia

Examining Flynn’s photographs, one must often look around the corners of buildings and imagine what these landscapes are like in totality.

View of Le Corbusier’s museum / Images © Shaun Fynn, from Candigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier’s City Today by Shaun Fynn published by Princeton Architectural Press (2017)

Le Corbusier was very focused on how buildings and nature must relate. In this book, one hopes for a clearer view of that central relationship.

A Joint Call to Action to Promote Healthy Communities

ASLA 2015 Professional General Design Honor Award. Mill River Park and Greenway. OLIN / Olivier Kpognon

Where we live, work and play can directly impact our physical and mental health. To more aggressively combat negative health factors such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, and anxiety, leaders of the nation’s built environment and public health organizations today pledged their support to promote greater collaboration to advance healthier, more walkable communities.

The “Joint Call to Action to Promote Healthy Communities,” brings together 450,000 professionals who recognize that the built environment — the way a community is designed and built from its buildings and public spaces to how we travel between communities — is a key determinant of health. Working together will create new momentum towards the common objective of creating and sustaining healthy buildings and spaces.

Providing options for how residents want to move around as well as encouraging physical activity can be achieved through a variety of ways. Solutions may include multi-use pathways for walking and biking, Complete Streets policies, equitable and affordable transportation and transit-oriented communities, implementation of green infrastructure, more efficient land, water and resource use, expanded tree canopies, and access to buildings with health-promoting indoor environments.

Improving community health also has a direct economic benefit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report 86 percent of health care spending in 2010 was for people with one or more chronic medical conditions.

“Public health is at the very heart of the landscape architecture profession,” said Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects. “ASLA salutes this collaborative call to action and has committed to working with our partners to inspire positive change in the design of the built environment that can yield greater health benefits.”

The “Joint Call to Action to Promote Healthy Communities” specifically addresses four key points:

  • Creating and fostering partnerships that advance health;
  • Building an understanding of health data and establishing measurable health objectives for plans and projects;
  • Advancing policies, programs, and systems that promote community health, well-being and equity; and
  • Communicating the importance of health.

Read the full Joint Call to Action.

Organizations supporting today’s call to action include:

  • American Institute of Architects
  • American Planning Association
  • American Public Health Association
  • American Society of Civil Engineers
  • American Society of Landscape Architects
  • National Recreation and Park Association
  • U.S. Green Building Council
  • Urban Land Institute

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

Dominique Perrault reimagines the Île de la Cité in Paris / Dominique Perrault Architecture, ADAGP

Team Behind New York’s High Line Will Develop Plan for Georgetown C&O Canal DCist.com, 3/17/17
“Georgetown Heritage announced that urban design and landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations will take the lead on creating the ‘Georgetown Canal Plan,’ which will reimagine the neighborhood’s national park—its mile-long section of the Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park.

Dominique Perrault Reimagines the Île de la Cité in ParisThe Architect’s Newspaper, 3/22/17
“One of two islands in the Parisian Seine, the Île de la Cité is largely known to tourists as little more than the location of such popular destinations as the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sainte Chapelle—a fate that belies the island’s 2,000-year history as the center of Paris.”

Dallas Set to Un-Pave a Parking Lot, and Put a Park Downtown with $15M Gift The Dallas Morning News, 3/22/17
“Dallas is now set to transform one of its ubiquitous downtown surface parking lots into a public green space.”

Savannah Redesign to Reshape Streets in Historic Southern City Curbed, 3/23/17
“EDSA, an international planning, landscape, and urban design firm, will be redesigning part of the streetscape of Savannah, Georgia, a Southern town known for its grid system and historic streets.”

Architect Predicts Oklahoma City’s Downtown Park Will Be ‘Transformative’ News OK, 3/27/17
“The designer of the MAPS 3 downtown park says it will change Oklahoma City.”

Homeowners Look to Landscaping for Personalization, Value-AddConstruction Dive, 3/29/17
“The volume of lower-cost outdoor renovation work suggests that owners are seeking to add value to their homes in the current seller’s market while making them livable for themselves in the meantime.”

Why New Englanders Are Going Wild for Fire PitsThe Boston Globe, 3/30/17
“Even though our summer season is short, New Englanders have embraced the concept of outdoor rooms, raising the bar with comfy seating, weatherproof rugs, and even artwork on their patios. Another California-born trend has recently made its way east: the fire pit.”

President Trump Seeks to Undo Critical Climate Efforts

Big Bend coal powered power plant, Florida / Wikipedia

Today, President Trump signed an executive order that aims to roll back President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which was expected to reduce emissions from the energy production sector by some 32 percent by 2030, as measured at 2005 levels, largely by encouraging states to take older, dirtier coal-powered plants offline. The order also seeks to undo the moratorium on coal production on federal lands, reverse Obama administration policies that require federal departments to consider the impact of climate change in their programs, and initiate a new review of figures on the “social cost” of carbon, a critical underpinning used to justify regulation of carbon dioxide pollution. And a few weeks ago, Trump signaled a new effort to relax the Obama administration’s stringent vehicle emission standards.

The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and vehicle emissions standards were the two key elements of the commitment the U.S. made to other nations at the UN climate change summit in Paris to lower overall emissions by 26-28 percent by 2025.

As such, some environmental groups fear the Trump administration’s new policies may undermine the global agreement to reduce emissions to safe levels before irrevocable and dangerous warming effects occur. Importantly, the U.S. and China pledged to join the agreement together, in a political show of unity to fight climate change.

But others, like former Vice President Al Gore are confident that no move by the Trump administration can undo the global consensus to act. ” No matter how discouraging this executive order may be, we must, we can, and we will solve the climate crisis. No one man or group can stop the encouraging and escalating momentum we are experiencing in the fight to protect our planet.”

And, so far, the Chinese have indicated they are moving forward with their own ambitious efforts to reduce climate emissions and air pollution from coal, which has likely killed millions of Chinese.

While the Clean Power Plan had been blocked in court due to lawsuits from 27 state governments, utilities, labor unions, and coal miners, it was based on Supreme Court and then EPA findings that the agency has an obligation to regulate carbon dioxide emissions because they endanger public health and the environment. This still holds true.

So while the Trump administration now indicates it will undo the Obama administration’s approach — which called on state governments to come up with their own plans to reduce dirty coal power plant emissions in their borders, rather than putting the onus on the actual power plants, the sources of pollution — it will need to devise a new approach that limits emissions from coal-generated power plants.

According to NPR, it may take years for the Trump administration to unwind Obama’s plan and create a new approach. While some 27 state governments want to see Obama’s plan gone, 18 states and major environmental and public health groups support it.

In a discussion, Richard Revesz, a professor at New York University School of Law, said: “the executive order has virtually no legal effect. The hurdles that agencies will face in the courts as they attempt to carry out its requirements will be formidable.”

A number of economists and energy experts believe rolling back the Clean Power Plan and undoing the federal moratorium on coal production on federal lands will not make coal production increase again.

The Washington Post reports: “About 30 states already have established standards that require utilities and power companies to sharply increase their reliance on renewable energy over the next decade or more. Falling prices for wind and solar and low prices for natural gas have further undercut coal’s share of the electricity market. According to the Sierra Club, 175 coal plants in the United States have shut down since 2010, and 73 others are scheduled for retirement by 2030.”

Furthermore, coal companies are having a hard time raising money in the financial markets, and many are dealing with bankruptcy, so they may have a hard time taking advantage of new federal coal mining leases.

Mary Anne Hitt, the head of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, told The Washington Post: “We’re not building any new coal plants in this country, and the existing ones are having a harder and harder time competing with ever-cheaper renewables. There’s a structural disadvantage for coal in the marketplace. That’s not something Donald Trump can wave away with the stroke of a pen.”

Furthermore, states and environmental groups focused on reducing the maximum amount of carbon emissions can be expected to file lawsuits against any relaxed regulatory approach that seeks to resuscitate the declining coal industry.

However, The New York Times also quotes one expert who believes some of those older coal plants expected to shut down could be running for a decade or more under more supportive regulations.

A few weeks ago, President Trump signed another executive order calling for relaxing Obama administration vehicle emission standards, which were reached in a 2012 agreement with automakers that “required that cars run 54.4 miles per gallon of fuel by 2025,” writes The Guardian. “This standard, up from 27.5 miles per gallon, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6 billion tons over the lifetime of new vehicles and save 2 million gallons of oil per day by 2025.”

President Trump told automotive executives: “I am, to a large extent, an environmentalist. I believe in it. But, it’s out of control,” referring to environmental regulations. Also, Trump explained his view on fuel efficiency standards in Detroit — “he did not want an ‘extra thimbleful of fuel’ to get in the way of growth.” Furthermore, new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who has recently expressed his doubt about the primary role of carbon dioxide in climate change, in opposition to the EPA’s own findings, said: “these [fuel efficiency] standards are costly for automakers and the American people.”

But California, which has an exemption from following federal vehicle standards, has said it will stick with the Obama administration’s more stringent standards, which some 12 other states follow, setting up a legal battle. Also, the Golden state has clear targets on the number of sales that need to be powered by battery, fuel cell or plug-in hybrid power trains — they are set for 15 percent by 2025, up from about 3 percent of sales today, writes Bloomberg News. 9 other states have indicated they will join in an effort to reach those targets in their own states.

ASLA Outlines Infrastructure Priorities

Queens Plaza in Queens NYC, 2012 / Sam Oberter

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) urges policy makers and stakeholders to support an infrastructure plan that not only addresses today’s crumbling infrastructure, but also creates tomorrow’s resilient systems. ASLA recommends that the infrastructure plan includes the following:

Fixing Our Nation’s Water Infrastructure

ASLA 2014 Professional General Design Honor Award Recipient. Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park. Thomas Balsley Associates and Weiss/Manfredi / Wade Zimmerman

Our nation’s deteriorating drinking water and wastewater systems require extensive maintenance and repairs—more than $655 billion in investments, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Less-costly green infrastructure solutions designed by landscape architects naturally absorb stormwater runoff—the major contributor to water pollution and unsafe drinking water.

ASLA urges policy makers to support a comprehensive infrastructure package that:

  • Increases funding for the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds. These funds provide critical resources to states, localities, and water systems to improve water treatment infrastructure and help implement green infrastructure projects.
  • Reinforces EPA’s green infrastructure and low-impact development programs and policies, such as the Green Infrastructure Collaborative, Soak Up the Rain, Campus Rainworks, G3, and others, which provide communities with tangible, cost-effective solutions to address water management needs.

Upgrading to a Multimodal Transportation Network

ASLA 2011 Professional General Design Award of Excellence Recipient. Portland Mall Revitalization. ZGF Architects LLP / ZGF Architects LLP

Our nation’s roads and bridges are crumbling and in need of repair. Using expert planning and design techniques, landscape architects are helping to create less costly, more convenient transportation systems that also include walking, bicycling, and public transportation options.

To meet the demands of today’s transportation users, ASLA urges policy makers to support a comprehensive infrastructure package that:

  • Supports active transportation programs, like the Transportation Alternatives Program, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails programs. Together, these programs are providing much-needed, low-cost transportation options for individuals, families, and communities across the country.
  • Enhances the Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants program, which, with increased funding, will successfully assist more states and local communities with building multimodal projects that address congestion, improve safety, and expand economic opportunity.
  • Invests in transit and transit-oriented development to meet the growing demand for expanded public transportation and intercity passenger rail systems across the country. Transit-oriented development is also critical to jump-starting local economic development.

Recognizing Public Lands, Parks, and Recreation as Critical Infrastructure

America’s national resources / istockphoto

America’s natural infrastructure should be protected, preserved, and enhanced. Our public lands are also economic drivers and support critical jobs, tourism, and other economic development, yet there is a $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog of projects. Landscape architects design parks, trails, urban forests, and other open spaces that enhance communities and augment the value of other types of infrastructure.

ASLA urges policy makers to support an infrastructure plan that:

  • Invests in our nation’s public lands, including providing for construction, maintenance, and restoration projects at the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service.
  • Increases funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which provides critical assistance to urban, suburban, and rural communities for local park projects. Community parks are essential infrastructure that address stormwater, air quality, heat island effect, and public health issues.
  • Bolsters USDA’s Urban and Community Forestry program, which focuses on the stewardship of communities’ natural infrastructure and resources.

Designing for Resilience

ASLA 2016 Ohio Chapter Award of Excellence Recipient. Scioto Greenways.
MKSK / Randall Schieber

Communities are increasingly faced with addressing hurricanes, tornadoes, severe flooding, wildfires, and other natural disasters. Landscape architects have the education, training, and tools to help these places rebuild homes, businesses, and critical infrastructure in a more resilient manner.

ASLA urges policy makers to support an infrastructure plan that:

  • Employs a sound planning and design process that incorporates disaster planning, which could greatly enhance a community’s resilience to extreme weather, sea-level rise, and other natural events.
  • Provides adequate funding to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to continue efforts that help communities adapt to and mitigate coastal hazards.
  • Expands the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design competition for additional regions affected by natural disasters. The Rebuild by Design competition is a multistage planning and design competition that uses the expertise of multidisciplinary design teams to promote resilience in the Hurricane Sandy-affected region.

Also, see a PDF version of the proposal.

ASLA Statement on President Trump’s Budget

Uptown Normal transit-oriented development’s traffic circle, financed in part by a 2010 TIGER grant, Uptown Normal, Illinois / Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) released this statement in response to President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal:

“We are disappointed with President Trump’s budget blueprint, which calls for dramatic cuts to many of the federal programs and resources that strengthen our nation’s infrastructure and economic development.”

President Trump’s recommendation to completely eliminate two critical community development programs, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and the Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants program, is short-sighted. TIGER has been one of the most successful and popular programs with lawmakers, communities and transportation planners like landscape architects – the number of applications far exceeding the amount of available funding.

ASLA is also extremely concerned that President Trump’s proposal would drastically reduce funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by a staggering 31 percent, thereby severely crippling key air and water quality programs and critical climate change research and resources. The budget recommendation purports to increase funding for EPA’s Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds by $4 million.

However, the budget also eliminates $498 million from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Water and Wastewater loan and grant program and instead recommends that rural communities access EPA’s State Revolving Funds, thus leaving State Revolving Funds with a $494 million reduction in funding.

The Society recently released recommendations for updating and strengthening all forms of infrastructure, including enhancing the TIGER grants program, expanding State Revolving Funds, increasing funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and others. Together, these recommendations will help provide communities with the much-needed infrastructure upgrades to become more livable and resilient places to live, work and recreate. Unfortunately, if enacted, this Trump budget proposal would leave many communities vulnerable.

We understand that this proposal is the start of a long legislative process. The Society will continue to work with legislators to ensure that funding is available for sound infrastructure solutions that American communities are demanding.

Let the Water Tell the Story: Leading with Landscape III Convenes in San Antonio

Brackenridge Park, San Antonio / SanAntonio.gov

San Antonio’s historic downtown is the main draw for a tourism industry with a $13 billion impact. The history is about as thick as it gets for a U.S. city, but the downtown’s commodification has taken a toll. For example, just up the steps from the Rainforest Café on the Riverwalk, the Alamo faces off with Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Madame Toussaud’s Waxworks. Follow the San Antonio river downstream for eight miles, though, and you encounter four modest, centuries-old missions in serene, almost rural settings. And if you follow the river three miles upstream, you find Brackenridge Park, a hard-working 343-acre city park packed with locals.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) held its third Leading with Landscape conference in San Antonio, and, unlike the first two iterations of the series in Toronto and Houston, the event focused on a single site — Brackenridge Park. Landscape architects and local leaders, including Mayor Ivy Taylor, focused on the park itself or presented examples relevant to the discussion of its past and future. More than 400 attendees were drawn to the Pearl Stable, a brick barn built in 1894 and converted to a theater.

Lynn Osborne Bobbit, executive director of the Brackenridge Park Conservancy, opened the conference by announcing the approval of a master plan for the park that was commissioned by the city and crafted by Rialto Studio. The first draft of the master plan faced stiff resistance around parking changes, the closing of interior roads, and fears that working-class people of color would lose access. This controversy was not discussed in detail during the conference, but was alluded to by City Council member Robert C. Treviño and others.

Brackenridge park planning process / Parks and Recreation San Antonio and City of San Antonio Transportation and Capital Improvements, Work5hop

Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, president and founder of TCLF, framed the conversation at the conference start. He said Brackenridge Park has not received the national attention it merits because it was not designed by a master. Frederick Law Olmsted did visit the site in 1857 before it became a park and wrote that the clear springs there that give rise to the San Antonio River “may be classed as the first water among the gems of the natural world.” After Olmsted’s visit, in the late nineteenth century, a private company pumped water uphill and out to the burgeoning city. When this system became obsolete, the owner, George Washington Brackenridge, donated the site, which accumulated uses piecemeal over time, like the zoo and Witte Museum. Informal uses, like Easter weekend camping, developed along the riverbanks as well.

The history goes much deeper, at least 11,000 years, as several speakers noted. Visitors have had the opportunity to observe archaeological digs unveiling ancient artifacts in the vicinity of the bike trails, zoo, Japanese Garden, natural history museum, playgrounds, cafes, pavilions, picnic tables, and parking lots.

Leading landscape architects had visited the park prior to the conference and carefully situated Brackenridge in a national context. Chris Reed, FASLA, founder of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, gave an overview of major projects around the country showing the resurgence of landscape design not just in the making of parks but in the shaping of cities. Gina Ford, ASLA, a principal and landscape architect in Sasaki’s Urban Studio, talked about how park edges matter, citing examples in New York and Houston to both define park edges and make them more porous. Brackenridge’s edge come in and out of focus, making its extent hard to understand.

Bob Harris, a partner at Lake|Flato Architects, spoke about plans for Confluence Park, where San Pedro Creek meets the San Antonio River near Mission Concepción. He noted the door-to-door outreach campaign that gained acceptance from an initially-skeptical neighboring community. A former industrial yard will be transformed into a park with a pavilion of massive concrete forms. In a similar vein, Kinder Baumgardner, ASLA, managing partner of SWA’s Houston office, gave an account of how difficult it can be to reconcile the varied demands of neighboring and regional park users.

Confluence Park forms / Lake|Flato Architects

Suzanne B. Scott, general manager of the San Antonio River Authority, talked about the decades-long effort it took to piece together land, permits, funding, community buy-in, and political support to create a continuous trail system stretching from the “Mission Reach” in the south, through downtown, to the conference site in the “Museum Reach,” which, with an awkward dogleg at US 281, ends at Brackenridge Park. The authority has expanded its vision to include creeks and key streets like the Broadway Cultural Corridor. David Adjaye’s design for the Pace Foundation expresses this ambition beautifully along San Pedro Creek.

Christine Ten Eyck, FASLA, shared her firm’s designs for a new entry sequence — a lush canyon of dripping vines — for the San Antonio Botanical Gardens adjacent to Brackenridge.

Doug Reed, FASLA, spoke about connection to community and a yearning for permanence, about emotion and deep time. Using maps and diagrams, he showed how Brackenridge is fragmented now, but has the potential to bring all these elements we yearn for together. He said Brackenridge does not fit neatly into any one park model and it may in fact be more like a national park than any city park.

The comparison to a national park echoed a point Birnbaum made at the start of the conference: Brackenridge Park should be part of a national heritage area that includes the missions and is connected by a narrative around water. The recent designation of the missions as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, he argues, missed an opportunity to raise the profile of the broader landscape and tell a story around the river.

San Antonio mission / PR Newswire

How, though, can Brackenridge Park be elevated as a national landmark without losing the authenticity that comes out of its “plop-and-drop” accumulation of uses? One recurring response from speakers was made very clearly by Vincent Michael, executive director of the San Antonio Conservation Society, who said the modern view of preservation is “process and community” more than restoring design integrity. The term “community,” as Baumgardner showed, is difficult to pin down. As for process, landscape architects often endure brutal criticism as they try to resolve different demands by layering uses.

A May 6 bond vote that would provide $21.5 million for Brackenridge Park will be a critical test of whether the newly-adopted master plan and heightened ambitions engendered by TCLF’s conference have been enough to move the process forward.

This guest post is by Raj Mankad, editor of Cite magazine at the Rice Design Alliance.

Are Therapeutic Gardens Safe?

Legacy Family Birth Center Garden fountain / Brian Bainnson

Among hospital administrators, there seems to be a growing concern that therapeutic gardens can harbor diseases and spread them to those who have compromised immune systems. There was a case of Legionnaire’s disease spread through a water fountain, and soils can also be a source of some illnesses, but the fears are essentially unfounded, argued a trio of landscape architects at the Environments for Aging conference in Las Vegas. Good design and maintenance can eliminate the risks.

Leah Diehl, director of therapeutic horticulture, the Greenhouse at Wilmot Gardens, college of medicine at the University of Florida, said landscape architects should use “evidence-based knowledge to counter fears.” The evidence points to the incredible health benefits of being in nature. As such, the proven health benefits of “seeing, hearing, touching water” found in a fountain — such as reduced stress, lower heart rates and blood pressures, and an increased sense of tranquility — outweigh the near-zero chance of catching something. In terms of soils, yes, there are toxic bacteria that naturally occur in the mix, but there’s also mycobacterium vaccae, which some scientists think can play a role in reducing the effects of depression and anxiety.

For landscape architect Brian Bainnson, ASLA, “proper design can disrupt the process of infection.” For an infection to occur, there needs to be a pathogen, a susceptible host, and a mode of transmission. He argued that the Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaire’s disease, is more often spread through HVAC systems, spas, and jacuzzis than fountains. He said a “lack of maintenance allows the pathogen to grow.” He also said “there is no documented evidence of an infection from a healthcare garden.”

For a healing garden at the Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, he designed a water feature with an integrated design team of physicians, therapists, hospital administrators, and maintenance workers to ensure there was no standing water when the fountain is off, and that patients can’t easily touch the water (see image at top). “Removing standing water is also good for vector control,” meaning it reduces places where mosquitoes can breed.

For another garden in the oncology ward of a hospital, Bainnson recommended administrators install Ultraviolet (UV) or flouridation systems to ensure the water is clean. It’s important in these instances to work with the maintenance staff to make sure those filters are tested and cleaned regularly.

For him, “the benefits of the fountains are too high, and they should outweigh any perceived risks.”

Diehl offered other examples: the Evanston Hospital in Illinois, which has a three-story fountain wall that ends in a pool, use sand filtration and chlorination and tests regularly to ensure the highest levels of water quality. And at the Glenbrook Hospital, also in Illinois, there is an entire water management team charged with infection control that tests the water in their fountains each month.

Glenbrook Hospital fountain / AIA

Jack Carman, FASLA, a landscape architect who focuses on senior care facilities, talked about the potential dangers of flora in therapeutic gardens, arguing that “not all plants are safe.” He said when using a plant in a healthcare setting, it’s important to know if “it’s toxic and highly injurious.”

It can get complicated because some plants may be only mildly toxic, or both medicinal or toxic depending on the interaction. For example, juniper has a medicinal use but its berries are toxic in large amounts. And some other plants are questionable, like daffodils, which are safe, but have toxic bulbs.

But there are some straight-out dangerous plants, like Foxglove, that shouldn’t be in therapeutic gardens. “Also, azaleas and rhododendrons don’t belong in a garden for Alzheimer’s patients.” Plants with extremely sharp edges, like hollies, or thorns, like rose bushes, obviously shouldn’t be found near where anyone is walking.

American-style Senior Living Comes to China

Cypress Gardens / China Senior Care

In China, traditional Confucian values dictate that children take care of their parents in their old age. It’s taboo to put your parents in a home. But from 1979 to 2015, Chinese parents could only have one child, which means there’s a whole generation of Chinese with four grandparents and two parents to take care of. To get around the taboo, China Senior Care, a company based in Shanghai and Hangzhou, launched a Western-style senior residential care facility. The idea seems to be if a facility doesn’t seem typically Chinese, perhaps the stigma associated with placing an elder in a home will be avoided.

At the Environments for Aging conference in Las Vegas, Jane Rohde, principal with Baltimore-based architecture firm JSR Associates and Jerry Smith, FASLA, design principal at SMITH | GreenHealth Consulting, walked us through the brand-new Cypress Gardens, in Fuyang, a suburb of Hangzhou. The project, which took eight years, is a private, 5-star senior care center, with just 64 beds, some for assisted living and some for memory care for patients with neuro-cognitive disorders. Each room rents for about $5,000 per month. There are community spaces, restaurants, a library, a theater for both relaxation and entertainment. In fact, it replicates a traditional American senior care facility model: the car-dependent, self-contained suburban facility.

China, like the West is rapidly aging. According to the Brookings Institution, there will be nearly 250 million people 65 and older in China by 2030. Today, Chinese seniors are essentially cared for during “extended hospital stays,” said Rohde. “It’s OK if it’s called VIP care. But it’s really out of the 1950s,” with rows of beds packed into one room. It will be interesting to see how the culture and current senior care models evolves as the country ages.

Cypress Gardens sits on a steep suburban site in the side of a mountain, which meant major grading challenges for Smith, and his design-build partner, Yumin Li, ASLA, with POD Design, Shanghai. To deal with the slopes, Smith built in layers of stone retaining walls in the form of step terraces.

Retaining walls and terraces / China Senior Care

A winding drive leads visitors up to the upper level entry. Smith said working with multiple Chinese contractors (two for the building and interior and one for the landscape) was a new learning experience — “just getting the drive and entrance to meet each other was a challenge.”

Many of the rooms have their own terraces. And surrounding the base of the 6-story building are a series of “outdoor rooms,” both public and private, where residents can be alone or socialize, or engage in physical activities like Tai Chi.

Cypress Gardens terraces and outdoor spaces / China Senior Care

Smith said the owners “didn’t want the character of the space to be Chinese. They wanted all new, all Western.” A water fountain on the south wall cascades into a pool, in an effort to achieve the “Bellagio Wow!,” the owners said they wanted.

Still, Smith delivered a tasteful landscape that manages to be packed with a mix of Chinese and Western landscape elements, from pagodas, to a bosque of gingko trees, and a labyrinth.

An outdoor room / China Senior Care

The pagodas mark the transition from the larger public spaces to the quiet memory care spaces, and can be “closed off for privacy and security as needed.”

Chinese children paying to have their parents stay at Cypress Gardens will see a “wonderful place with very high-end amenities,” Smith said. The facility opens in next month and it’s already mostly booked.