PARK(ing) Day Shows the Value of Public Space

Transforming a parking spot to a public park for a day #ILASLA PARKing Day #aslapd17

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On Friday, September 15, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) participated in PARK(ing) Day, an annual, open-source event that asks landscape architects and other designers to re-imagine parking spaces as small, miniature parks, or parklets. PARK(ing) Day aims to educate people about the value of public space and what it can bring to a community.

ASLA professional and student members from across the country transformed simple parking spaces into places with nearly-endless possibilities. For example, the Illinois Chapter of ASLA created a hamster wheel to get people moving in the limited space (see image above).

The Auburn ASLA Student Chapter designed a space to hold a small concert for passersby.

#parkingday2017 #aslapd17 #ASLA #FBD #EDSO @auburnasla @fbd_auburn @auburn_edso @joshuaaubreyjackson

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The New York Chapter of ASLA hosted a dialogue with New York City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver about public space.

Hord Coplan Macht, a landscape architecture firm based in Baltimore, showed off some local pride.

#hordcoplanmacht #landscapearch #aslapd17 come visit our Front Yard!

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And others just wanted to relax with some friends on a Friday afternoon like these Kansas State University students.

How do you value your public space? #aslapd17

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We asked our members to share their parklets on social media with #ASLAPD17. More than 300 users posted nearly 850 times with the hashtag, reaching more than half-a-million people worldwide. To see all posts, visit our Tagboard.

Life after Harvey and Irma: How Will We Rebuild Our Cities?

ASLA 2014 Professional General Design Honor Award. Hunter’s Point South, Queens, New York. Thomas Balsley Associates and Weiss/Manfredi / © Albert Večerka

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma might have passed by, but their consequences haven’t. Vast areas of Texas and Florida were devastated, and we’re only starting to assess the damage they left in their paths. Not only are natural disasters becoming more frequent, but they are hitting us with greater force. If you turned on the news in the past two weeks to view the coverage, you’ve seen firsthand that our nation’s cities have not been built with an eye to for resilience in the face of extreme climate events; the scale of the damages and displaced are evidence of that.

Now that tragedy has hit Texas and Florida, we can either dwell on the past and play the blame-game, or we can look to the future and decide to rebuild the affected cities in a way that will minimize the damage when another natural disaster hits – because it will.

Infrastructure and foresight are central to rebuilding efforts. As communities rebuild from disasters such as Harvey and Irma, they have an opportunity to invest in and adapt their landscapes to meet the changing climate conditions. This includes transportation and land planning that integrates green infrastructure to provide critical services for communities, protect against flooding and excessive heat, and help to improve air and water quality.

Taking action now and rebuilding our nation’s cities the right way can reduce damage resulting from future natural disasters.

We know how to do this. An excellent example of resilient design is Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park. Built in Queens, New York, it addresses urban resilience and sustainability. The City of New York commissioned the designers, Thomas Balsley Associates and Weiss/Manfredi, to create a park with an infrastructure ready to withstand rising water levels during storm surges and 100-year flood conditions.

The park quickly proved why planning meant everything. Even before it was publicly open, Hurricane Sandy hit New York and the park in 2012. While the Big Apple suffered the consequences of Sandy, Hunter’s Point South drained as planned and completion of the project continued with little setback. Landscape architecture projects such as Hunter’s Point South demonstrate how innovative design can create sustainable and resilient urban environments.

The consequences of climate change are inevitable. We urge federal, state, and local policy makers to invest in thoughtful and climate-resilient solutions to systemic infrastructure issues. That’s why ASLA is convening a multidisciplinary blue ribbon panel of experts to create actionable recommendations. The 11 experts will meet on Thursday, September 21, through Friday, September 22, 2017, and publicly present their findings and policy recommendations in the form of a report in January 2018.

Our hope is that the findings and recommendations of this report will inspire our decision makers to take action as we rebuild our cities and prepare for intensifying natural disasters.

This post is by Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, Executive Vice President and CEO, American Society of Landscape Architects

Landscape Architecture in the News (September 1 – 15)

Capture
At the home of Carole Olshan, trumpet vines form an arch over a bench in a kitchen garden / Daniel Gonzalez for The New York Times

How Does the Hamptons Garden Grow? With a Lot of Paid Help The New York Times, 9/5/17
“The rigors of vegetable gardening, for most people, are humble and gritty: planting, weeding, dirtying knees, working up a sweat and maybe straining a back muscle or two.”

Field Operations, OLIN, West 8 Among Finalists to Redesign Philly Airport Landscape Curbed Philadelphia, 9/6/17
“The Philadelphia International Airport and the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society (PHS) have announced the five finalists in their competition to redesign 130 acres of land around the airport—and it’s a doozy of a list that includes at least two Philly-based landscape architecture firms.”

How a South African Artist Blends Art and UrbanizationCityLab, 9/12/17
“In much of her work, Svea Josephy, an associate professor at the University of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Art, examines how urbanization can be explored through art.”

The Suburb of the Future, Almost Here The New York Times, 9/15/17
“The suburbanization of America marches on. That movement includes millennials, who, as it turns out, are not a monolithic generation of suburb-hating city dwellers.”

Here Are Some of Our Favorite PARK(ing) Day Interventions The Architect’s Newspaper, 9/15/17
“This year, the American Society of Landscape Architects asked landscape architects all over the country to invest their quarters on temporary, miniature green spaces. Here are some of our favorites from the #ASLAPD17 hashtag on social media.”

America’s Memorials Can Be Designed to Evolve

Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia / Wikipedia

Confederate monuments and other long-tolerated symbols of racism are beginning to be expelled from America’s civic landscapes. As we engage in these acts of reconciliation and removal, it is worth a significant pause to consider why we seem to habitually design memorial landscapes for indelible permanence in the first place?

A memorial – whether a monument or otherwise — is simply a tangible container for memory through time. We benefit from having designated places to recall memory and emotion – whether grief, pain, fear, anger, love, respect, reverence, gratitude, awe, pride, or joy.

Part of the complexity of being human means that it is possible to feel multiple emotions simultaneously, and also that our feelings and memories are dynamic and can change over time. New knowledge and experience, and a genuine willingness to face difficult truths can significantly alter and expand our perception.

As such, might there be virtue in designing certain memorial landscapes to allow for a degree of fluidity and change?

Moving forward, American monuments and memorial landscapes in the 21st century may better be able to embody shared cultural values; reflect an inclusive and emotionally-intelligent view of history; mirror and support dynamic emotional processes; aid healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation; honor diversity, accept death, and truly affirm life if they are designed to consider the virtues and qualities of transience, adaptability, and vitality.

Transience

Despite the air of permanence many of these historic icons convey, it is laudable that several local governments and institutions have acted boldly to remove Confederate statues. A monument that marks an important time in history, but that simultaneously is widely perceived to be symbolic of racism, may best be retired or kept in a museum, rather than in the heart of a public square or civic space.

A 2017 study by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that 1,500 Confederate symbols can be found in public spaces across the country – they are monuments as well as named roads, municipalities, parks, institutions, and public works. The “undoing” of this landscape legacy is more easily wrought for a small statue than it is for an immense earthwork like Stone Mountain in Georgia, but no memorial is immune to the laws of impermanence.

As the voices of the oppressed are increasingly heard, and intolerance of hatred leads to action, our public and private landscapes should be able to adapt as we literally rewrite history with greater honesty, compassion, inclusion, integrity, maturity, apology, and courage.

It is time that we finally own the stories of extreme colonial and racist violence that undeniably define the conquest and development of the United States as a country. Realizing the long overdue expiration date of a monument whose presence detracts from equality should cause us to consider that not everything we erect in stone, bronze, and steel should last forever.

In 2015, three statues representing the Spanish missionary Junipero Serra were vandalized in my home community of Monterey County, California. Like Robert E. Lee, Serra practiced and promoted slavery. He and his missionaries displaced thousands of Esselen, Ohlone, Costanoan and other native people from what had been their homeland for millennia. Colonial violence and oppression included rape, slavery, abuse, isolation, exposure to disease, and deliberate suppression of language and culture.

The beheading of a statue at the Lower Presidio in Monterey occurred in the same year Serra was canonized as a Saint by the Catholic Church. While some lamented the defamation of the city’s co-founder, and the damage to this 1891 relic of post-contact California history, it is clear that these statues, similar to those of Lee, symbolize racism. Even more insultingly, they morally validate an individual who contributed to the near extinction of the Esselen people and many other tribes that were severely oppressed under missionization.

Headless Junipero Serra statue / US Franciscans

Even if one or more of our local Serra statues were removed or relocated, the Spanish names prevalent here and throughout California convey a daunting dominance, rendering the first names given to our local geography largely forgotten, and the living community of the Ohlone-Costanoan-Esselen Nation, who have yet to gain federal recognition, nearly invisible.

Landscape is not always a mirror of the diversity of cultures that inhabit it. As we look closely at what our own cities and neighborhoods fail to reflect, it is worth considering what kind of reconciliation can be achieved simply through acts of deconstruction and renaming.

Adaptability

While grief may leave a permanent scar, and render permanent change within an individual or a community, grief is also a dynamic and ongoing process. How can a memorial wholly acknowledge the severity of trauma and loss, while inspiring hope for the recovery of the broken-hearted? How can we remarry simple civic ritual to our most important public spaces?

In the case of the National September 11 Memorial, for example, beautifully and sensitively designed by architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker, FASLA, what would it mean to the people of New York City (and to the country and even the world as a whole) if one of the two “voids” that symbolize loss in the footprints of the towers were to someday be partially filled? What might it mean to extend the swamp white oak grove to a lower level – to fill the voids with life, once the cascading water has washed away the rawness of grief? What if there were an opportunity for individuals to ritually contribute to this physical transformation – one shovel-full of soil at a time? What kind of deeper healing and forgiveness might be able to occur if there were a collective gesture made to physically mirror a transformation beyond the initial, radical enormity of grief?

National September 11 Memorial / PWP Landscape Architecture

What do we want this memorial to reflect about our culture 100, 500 or 1,000 years into the future, whether it is still intact, or an archaeological relic. Relentless and permanent grief? Resilience? Forgiveness?

Vitality

Should memorials be hard or soft? Inanimate or living? The concept of a memorial garden or grove honors life with vitality itself. Cemeteries that encourage tree planting instead of headstones are becoming increasingly common, as are natural burials in which the body is allowed to decompose underground, feeding the biotic community in the soil, versus being chemically embalmed and preserved in an impenetrable coffin.

The 9-11 Memorial hosts a Survivor Tree Seedling program, in which seedlings from a Callery pear tree that survived the attack are gifted to communities that have endured tragedy. This achieves the highest good that a memorial possibility can – breeding compassion in the present moment, and in the form of a living and life-giving tree.

September 11 survivor tree / Smithsonian

A memorial need not be bound to one particular place – and therefore may be more widely accessible.

As my mother was a lover of birds, I have chosen to remember her through them. Hawks, owls, wrens, robins, cranes, indigo buntings, cormorants, warblers, finches, sparrows, crows. Each bird reminds me of something different about her, each inspires a unique affection, and each encounter uplifts.

Californian condor / Jessica Neafsey

In choosing to remember her this way, the mountain valley that descends from my east-facing deck, over which countless birds soar, has become an arena for reflection and remembrance of her. The sky itself has become a bridge to the unconditional love I still feel with her. A memorial need not be made of or bound to the Earth.

In the words of Celtic poet and author John O’Donohue, “not all woundedness succeeds in finding its way through to beauty of form. Where woundedness can be refined into beauty, a wonderful transfiguration takes place.”

I hope the unrest we are living through leads to nothing less than a renaissance of American memory, which will see our landscapes adapt to reflect unprecedented American wisdom, compassion, inclusion, and grace – until it’s time to revisit our storytelling, once again.

This guest post is by Jessica Neafsey, ASLA, founder of Jay Blue Design in Carmel, California.

Black in Design 2017: Designing Resistance, Building Coalitions

Black in Design conference / Harvard GSD

Two years ago, the Harvard University Graduate School of Design African American Student Union (GSD AASU) organized the first Black in Design (BiD) conference. This October, they are following-up with a new conference. The organizers invite attendees across design disciplines — including landscape architecture practitioners, educators, and students, as they want to build “stronger coalitions among the design community.”

According to Dasjon Jordan, one of the organizers, “BiD recognizes the contributions of the African diaspora to the design fields and promotes discourse around the agency of design profession to address and dismantle the institutional barriers faced by our communities. We seek to explore our agency as designers to envision more radical and equitable futures.”

Black in Design / Harvard GSD

A keynote lecture will be given by DeRay Mckesson, a leading voice from the Black Lives Matter Movement and co-founder of Campaign Zero and Ourstates.org.

There will be two days of lectures organized into sections: “exploring and visualizing identities; communicating values; mobilizing and organizing; and design futuring,” along with time to learn about Harvard’s Just City Lab.

Landscape architects Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, who is also program director of landscape architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington, and Walter Hood, ASLA, who also teaches at University of California, Berkeley, will give talks.

Register for the conference, which runs October 6-8 at Harvard GSD in Cambridge — it’s $50 for general admittance and just $30 for students.

ASLA Convenes Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilient Design

From top: ASLA 2016 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. The Big U, New York, NY. BIG and Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners. ASLA 2015 Professional General Design Honor Award. Perez Art Museum Miami: Resiliency by Design, Miami, Florida. ArquitectonicaGEO / copyright Robin Hill. Living Breakwaters, Staten Island, NY. SCAPE Landscape Architecture. ASLA 2016 Professional Communications Honor Award. Sea Change: Boston, Boston, MA. Sasaki Associates.

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is convening a blue ribbon panel to make comprehensive public-policy recommendations for mitigating and adapting to climate change through resilient design.

Composed of 11 experts from across various disciplines, the panel will make recommendations that will ultimately save lives and affordably protect cities from future natural disasters. ASLA urges responsible policy makers to look to innovative urban design as they make infrastructure investments to make communities more resilient and better equipped to recover from disruptive climate events.

“ASLA has identified climate change as a key issue for its members, and for society at large,” said Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA. “The recent devastating and real impacts of natural disasters such as hurricanes Harvey and Irma highlight the need for policy makers, both state and local, to invest in thoughtful and climate-resilient solutions to systemic infrastructure issues.”

ASLA has long advocated for sustainable landscape architecture at the intersection of design and smart policy, working with legislators and stakeholders on effective solutions that minimize the effects of climate change. Transportation and land planning that incorporates green infrastructure can provide critical services for communities, protecting them against flooding and excessive heat, and helping to improve air and water quality.

“We’ve reached a turning point in our history with regards to climate change, and the effects are undeniable at this stage,” said Dr. Jalonne White-Newsome, senior program officer with The Kresge Foundation’s environment program and a member of the blue ribbon panel. “We must take the appropriate measures and create low-carbon, sustainable and resilient communities. This includes adapting our landscapes to changing climate conditions so we are best positioned to handle the anticipated consequences while ensuring that equity and the concerns of our most vulnerable communities are at the forefront of our planning.”

The experts of the ASLA Blue Ribbon Panel will gather for a two-day meeting starting on Thursday, September 21, through Friday, September 22, 2017. The panel will publicly present its findings and policy recommendations in the form of a report in January 2018.

The members of the panel include:

  • Vaughn Rinner, FASLA, ASLA President, Chair
  • Armando Carbonell, FAICP, FAcSS, Hon MRTPI, Senior Fellow and Chair, Department of Planning and Urban Form, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
  • Mark Dawson, FASLA, Managing Principal, Sasaki Associates Inc.
  • Tim Duggan, ASLA, RLA, Founder, Phronesis
  • Ying-yu Hung, ASLA, Managing Principal, Principal, SWA, Los Angeles Studio
  • Dr. Dwane Jones, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Sustainable Development + Resilience at the University of the District of Columbia
  • Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, Program Director for Landscape Architecture, the College of Architecture Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington
  • Adam Ortiz, Director for the Department of the Environment for Prince George’s County, Maryland
  • Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, Hon. AIA, SITES AP, Executive Vice President and CEO, ASLA
  • Laurinda Spear, FAIA, RLA, ASLA, LEED AP, IIDA, Principal-In-Charge, ArquitectonicaGeo
  • Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome, Senior Program Officer, Environment, The Kresge Foundation

Learn more.

Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge Announces 10 Design Teams

San Francisco Bay Area / ESA

The Rockefeller Foundation together with other organizations have brought their Rebuild by Design design competition to the San Francisco Bay Area. Like the original competition set up in the tri-state area after Hurricane Sandy, the Bay Area Challenge identified a set of teams that will go out into communities and devise conceptual designs for reducing exposure to the harmful impacts of climate change. The goal is to “lay out a blueprint for resilience in our region and communities around the world.”

Out of 51 teams that submitted proposals, 10 multi-disciplinary teams of landscape architects, climate scientists, architects, engineers, and artists have been selected to engage communities over the next nine months. Half are led by a landscape architecture firm, and almost all include landscape architecture firms. Also, each team includes at least one firm from the Bay Area, while some teams are made up of all local firms and experts.

The 10 teams:

Next, the teams will head out into the community for three months on collaborative research tours. Local experts and community groups will identify “locations vulnerable to sea level rise, severe storms, flooding, and earthquakes.” In November, each team will present 3-5 project design opportunities. And then in December, one project will be selected for each team.

The design work will then begin early next year. Teams will be expected to form close partnerships with state and local governments and community groups in order to achieve implementation.

San Francisco Bay wetland / Save the Bay blog

Also, Resilient by Design is partnering with Y-PLAN, an educational platform developed by University of California, Berkeley that enables “young people to tackle real-world problems in their communities through project-based civic learning experiences.” Alongside the Bay Area Challenge, Y-PLAN will lead students through a similar planning and design effort, empowering them to “dream big and envision a more resilient Bay Area grounded in equity, and providing sources of inspiration for future college and career readiness for young aspiring resilience planners.”

Watch a kickoff video and see a calendar of upcoming public events.

Janet Echelman Weaves Complexity into the Urban Fabric

Impatient Optimist / Ema Peter

Janet Echelman’s gigantic yet delicate woven art works are evolving. While her earlier work offered warm, enveloping concentric rings of colors enlivened by carefully-orchestrated folds, her newer works, which pair with contemporary works of landscape architecture, introduce bold molecular forms and evoke more complicated ideas and histories.

Over a central plaza designed by landscape architecture firm Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN) at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation campus in downtown Seattle, Echelman created Impatient Optimist, which is suspended between two buildings, for the ambitious do-gooders who work there. Sparer woven forms featuring cellular geometries focus attention on the piece’s circular middle.

Impatient Optimist / Ema Peter

A new work on the Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood is another departure from her norm. Connecting two buildings for Hotel 1, Dream Catcher is inspired by traditional Native American forms but updates them with data-based representations of brainwave activity, offering a portal into the depths of our dream worlds.

Dream Catcher / Studio Echelman
Dream Catcher / Studio Echelman

It’s otherworldly, even a bit spooky, with its neural-network organization, but no doubt mesmerizing in person.

Dream Catcher / Studio Echelman

The 10-story sculpture sits above a plaza designed by landscape architects with Mia Lehrer + Associates. Unfortunately, timing-wise, the design of the plaza and the sculpture didn’t synch up, so they exist independently of each other.

Dream Catcher / Studio Echelman

Echelman writes on her website: “The artwork’s inspiration stems from dreams and the idea of dreaming hotel guests asleep in the two buildings. Dreams are not only private experiences, they are also social and cultural ones. Dream Catcher is an apt title not only for how it speaks to the guests of the hotel, but to the larger region and its identity as a global epicenter for entertainment and media – the place where dreams are invented and pursued.”

Also worth noting: a work that just celebrated its one-year anniversary is Where We Met, which forms the centerpiece of LeBauer City Park in Greensboro, North Carolina. Landscape architects with OJB Landscape Architecture purposefully left a space in the middle of the green park for a monumental art work. The piece weaves in the textile industry and transportation history of Greensboro through strikingly bold bands of color, also a bit of a departure from her past work.

Where We Met / Lynn Donovan
Where We Met / Joshua Spitz

On her website, Echelman writes: “I discovered that Greensboro was nicknamed the ‘Textile Capital of the World’ and ‘Gateway City’ because six railroad lines intersected there, so I started tracing the railway lines and marking the historic textile mills that dotted the routes. These routes brought together people from diverse cultures and races, so I wove together lines of brilliant color that meet at the center, and titled it ‘Where We Met’.”

What We Still Don’t Know about the Health Benefits of Nature

ASLA 2017 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, OJB Landscape Architecture / Gary Zonkovic Photography

We know that connecting with nature is good for us, but there are still many questions that need to be answered through more credible scientific research: What is the ideal “dose” of nature? What health conditions do these doses actually help with? Does duration and frequency of dose matter? How long do the benefits last? Does who you are and where you live impact how beneficial exposure to nature will be? And how does technology help or interfere with our connection to nature?

To get a better handle on the remaining unknowns, leading public health expert Dr. Howard Frumkin assembled a multi-disciplinary team at the University of Washington comprised of experts in epidemiology, environmental health, clinical medicine, psychology, ecology, landscape architecture, urban studies, and other disciplines, along with experts from the Nature Conservancy, Seattle Children’s Research Institute, U.S. Forest Service, Willamette Partnership, Stanford University’s Center for Conservation Biology, and the Natural Capital Project. Together, they crafted a creative, ambitious research agenda, which was just published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

According to Frumkin and the other co-authors, “nature contact offers considerable promise in addressing a range of health challenges, including many — such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression, and anxiety — that are public health priorities. Nature contact offers promise both as prevention and as treatment” at all stages of life.

Furthermore, exposure to nature is likely cheaper than “conventional medical interventions,” safe, practical, and doesn’t require a highly-trained professional to dispense treatments. Green spaces designed to provide health benefits of nature also offer many co-benefits: they provide wildlife habitat, store stormwater, or offer shade, for example.

While the benefits of nature are increasingly understood, the team found seven domains where further research is needed. Below are high-level summaries; for greater detail, read the research agenda.

Mechanistic Biomedical Studies: We need to better understand how nature exactly works its magic on us. While some scientists believe the mechanisms, or pathways of impact, on our minds and bodies have an evolutionary origin, meaning they are deep-rooted and associated with our innate biophilia, others posit there may be more precise pathways that are psychological, relate to our immune system, or are linked with increased social contact or improved air quality. We don’t know exactly the way nature exposure works its benefits on us.

Just in terms of psychological pathways, there are a diversity of theories: some argue that nature helps by relieving stress, while others focus on the way nature can relieve mental fatigue. Those are different things. And there could be multiple mechanisms happening at once, too. Frumkin and team argue that with more research “specific neural pathways” for these benefits will likely be discovered.

There is also some research suggesting exposure to nature boosts immune function; physical activity outdoors in a green space is better than in a gym; being in nature promotes the creation of social connections, which in turn provide health benefits; and trees and other green spaces, particularly in cities, reduce air pollution, creating health benefits.

But the research agenda notes that much more evidence-based research is needed to isolate the exact mechanisms through which nature exposure works its theorized benefits.

Exposure Science: Epidemiologists try to measure the “magnitude, frequency, and duration of exposure to an agent, along with the number and characteristics of the population exposed.” When “researching the environmental impacts on people,” research focuses on “pathogens, medications, toxic chemicals, and social circumstances, or salutary exposures such as nature.”

However, they argue that “standard approaches to exposure measurement” have limitations. “First they fail to capture variations in how people in how people experience nature, nuances that may be highly relevant. Suppose that one person sits in a car atop a seaside bluff and admires the view of the beach (while checking email on a smartphone), a second person walks barefoot along the shore, enjoying not only the view, but the feel of the sea breeze and the lapping waves, and a third person plunges in a for a swim. The designation ‘beach contact’ or a measure of ‘time on a beach’ would fall short of capturing the variation in their experience.”

As such, measuring the effects of various doses of nature becomes more complicated — someone paying close attention to all the details while on a forest path and really immersing themselves in the experience and another person simply walking through while looking at their smartphone will “likely ‘absorb’ differing levels of nature.”

Epidemiology of Health Benefits: Epidemiologists, who research the health and disease profiles of populations, conduct “true experiments, ‘natural experiments,’ and observational studies.” The bulk of research on nature contact and health have been observational studies, which Frumkin and his team argue are practical, can be conducted rapidly, and reduce costs of research, given they typically use data collected for other purposes. However, there are also built-in limits to the pre-existing data, and it’s hard to control bias in these studies.

True experiments, which are clinical trials, are the “gold standard” in science. Natural experiments, which “are study opportunities that arise through circumstances outside the investigator’s control” — like Roger Ulrich’s famous study of hospital patients, their views of trees, and recovery times — enable researchers to test hypotheses in realistic settings. More of these studies are needed.

The group also recommends nature and health researchers do a better job of tapping into existing large-scale research studies and data sets; finding new sources of big data, such as using Google Street View, webcams, and location-based data-collection apps like Mappiness; and investing in more advanced statistical analysis and advancing epidemiological research in general.

Diversity and Equity — The Role of Nature Contact: More research is needed to better understand “a) patterns of disproportionate exposure; b) cultural and contextual factors that affect nature preferences; c) differing patterns of benefit across different populations; and d) the possibility that improved access to nature may have unintended negative consequences on vulnerable populations.”

As has been explored by other researchers, low-income communities are more likely than not to also have limited access to nature and green space, which only exacerbates the negative health impacts of poverty, bad diets, lack of exercise, and crime.

African Americans, Frumkin and his team write, may also have different associations with trees, fields, and forests than other groups, due to the legacy of “forced labor, lynchings, and other violence.” 

And livelihoods play a role in creating different understandings of what’s restorative: “a rural farmer has quite different preferences regarding nature from those of an urban computer programmer.”

On the positive side: there is some research that argues that access to nature and green space may disproportionately help those in low-income communities who suffer from unequal access to many services, but, again, more study is needed.

Technological Nature: Modern technologies — the Web, smartphones, games, virtual reality (VR), the list goes on — are altering our relationship with nature. Kids, who spend more and more time glued to their screens, are particularly impacted. But there are also other kinds of technologies  — those that “mediate, simulate, promote, and/or augment the human experience of nature,” which must also be better understood. Computer desktop wallpaper of nature scenes, VR movies in which users go on safari in Africa, and location-based games like Pokemon Go may offer some of the benefits of nature exposure — and may be better than nothing — but more laboratory-based experiments are needed.

Economic and Policy Studies, including Co-benefits: The benefits of nature are increasingly being quantified. As such, policies are being promoted to increase the value of these benefits for communities and ecosystems. Frumkin and the co-authors propose looking to ecological and health economics for new models of evaluation and quantification of the benefits of nature as well as the avoided health care costs.

When the value of a new park is estimated, it’s important that policymakers don’t just look at improvements in real estate value or gains in stormwater credits, but also the real, quantifiable community health benefits. Furthermore, cost-benefit analyses rooted in benefits valuations can help guide limited public funds towards the most effective forms of green space investment.

We couldn’t agree more. It’s critical to answer: What policies and regulations can positively boost the health benefits of nature and which don’t do much at all? Many cities aim to provide a park within a five minute walking distance of every resident. Is this a worthy policy? Toronto just created a shade policy to help reduce the negative health impacts of heat in the summer. What metrics should be used to measure the success of such policies?

Implementation Science — Studies of What Works: “Research findings don’t necessarily translate into action.” This group wants to see more what “intervention studies are needed to determine what works in practice.”

As an example, they point to the U.S. Forest Service’s iTree software, which helps anyone with a computer understand the ecosystem service benefits of the trees they are planting. The researchers ask: “might further development of such tools incorporate additional mental and physical health benefits?”

While this research agenda is impressive and comprehensive, there are a few other unknowns important to include:

First, doctors are now prescribing time in the park. Do these treatments, which often combine increased activity, social interaction, and nature exposure work? Is the combination of exposure, social engagement, and exercise what is key?

Second, what is the impact of climate change on the nature and health connection? As nature becomes a more changeable, and often destructive force, in many places, do we need to differentiate between safe and unsafe nature spaces? Can an ocean that floods a community every year be considered restorative when it isn’t causing damage?

Lastly, there are landscape architecture educators and researchers, like William Sullivan, ASLA, and MaryCarol Hunter, ASLA, who seek to determine which forms and arrangements of landscape elements have the most benefits. Their forward-looking studies are critical: The next step is to translate proven health benefits from nature exposure into design principles planners, landscape architects and designers, and engineers can apply in their work. What designed landscape forms and elements act as pathways to the biggest benefits?

New Guide: Energy Efficiency at Home

By using passive solar heating and an extended roof of photovoltaic panels, these houses produce more energy than they consume. The Solar Settlement in Schlierberg, Freiburg, Germany / Wikipedia

Inefficient home energy use is not only costly, but also contributes to the growth of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the primary cause of climate change. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the residential sector accounted for 21 percent of total primary energy consumption and about 20 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S. in 2013. And according to Architecture 2030, building construction and operations-related energy use accounts for almost 50 percent of total GHG emissions.

Through integrated site design, a comprehensive approach to sustainable building and site design, sustainable residential landscape architecture practices can not only improve the environment, but also result in net-zero or even climate positive homes. If part of a broader integrated site design, sustainable residential landscape architecture can help eliminate the need for fossil fuel-based energy, while creating a healthy residential environment.

ASLA has created a new guide to increasing energy efficiency through sustainable residential landscape architecture, which contains research, projects, and resources. Developed for homeowners and landscape architects and designers alike, the guide is designed to help spread more sustainable and resilient practices.

Homeowners can go net-zero or climate positive by tapping the potential of landscapes. As an example, residential green roof and wall systems, which are often key features of integrated site design projects, can reduce energy use and home heating and cooling costs.

According to The Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®), homeowners can use trees and dense shrubs to shade their home and any external HVAC systems or block wind and thereby further reduce energy use.

Homeowners can further leverage clean energy technologies, like solar-powered LED outdoor lighting.

The environmental and economic benefits of energy efficient technologies increase as homes are tied together into multi-family housing complexes with shared infrastructure. Research shows dense development lowers water and energy use, conserves natural habitats, and reduces transportation-related GHG emissions by encouraging walking, cycling, and taking public transportation. Communities like Freiburg, Germany and Malmo, Sweden are examples of residential communities that have taken innovative approaches to design and planning by implementing sustainable energy, water, and waste management systems.

Landscape architects can help homeowners by undertaking a comprehensive energy audit and then identify landscape-based solutions for generating renewable power or reducing energy waste.

State and local governments also work with design professionals to incorporate sustainable residential landscape architecture codes throughout urban, suburban, and rural areas. For example, South Miami just recently mandated that new buildings, and some renovations, must include solar panels.

Source: Drivers of U.S. Household Energy Consumption, 1980-2009, U.S. Energy Information Administration

Explore the guide:

Green Roofs
Green Walls
Tree Placement for Energy Efficiency
Solar