New awards category focused on transformative solutions to the climate crisis
ASLA is now accepting submissions for its 2023 Professional and Student Awards Program including a new category– the ASLA / International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) Global Impact Award, which is focused on projects that address the climate crisis.
The ASLA Awards Program is the oldest and most prestigious in the landscape architecture profession. They honor the most innovative landscape architecture projects and the brightest ideas from up-and-coming landscape architecture students.
“Awards entries are highly competitive and showcase the projects that illustrate the highest achievement and creative solutions in the industry,” said Emily O’Mahoney, FASLA, PLA, President of ASLA. “I can’t wait to see what outstanding entries we will get for our new Award that honors the best climate action models!”
New this year, the ASLA / IFLA Global Impact Award is presented to a project in the Analysis and Planning category that demonstrates excellence in landscape architecture by addressing climate impacts through transformative action, scalable solutions, and adherence to ASLA’s and IFLA’s climate action commitments.
ASLA bestows Professional Awards in General Design, Residential Design, Urban Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, Research categories. In each of these categories, juries select a number of Honor Awards and may select one Award of Excellence. One Landmark Award is also presented each year.
The 2023 Professional Awards Jury includes:
Jury 1: General Design, Residential Design, & Urban Design
Chair: Kimberly Garza, ASLA, ATLAS Lab Inc.
Michel Borg, AIA, Page
Shuyi Chang, ASLA, SWA
Chingwen Cheng, PhD, ASLA, Arizona State University
Claude Cormier, FASLA, CCxA
Jamie Maslyn Larson, FASLA, Tohono Chul
Garry Meus, National Capital Commission
Jennifer Nitzky, FASLA, Studio HIP
Jury 2 – Analysis & Planning ASLA / IFLA Global Impact Award, Research & Communications
Chair: Maura Rockcastle, ASLA, Ten x Ten
Camille Applewhite, ASLA, Site Design Group
Stephanie Grigsby, ASLA, Design Workshop, Inc
Mitchell Silver, Hon. ASLA, McAdams
Michael Stanley, FASLA, Dream Design International, Inc.
Michael Todoran, The Landscape Architecture Podcast
Yujia Wang, ASLA, University of Nebraska
Joining the professional awards jury for the selection of the Analysis & Planning – ASLA / IFLA Global Impact Award category will be a representative on behalf of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA).
Monica Pallares, IFLA Americas
Also, joining the professional jury for the selection of the Research Category will be representatives on behalf of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) and the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA).
Dongying LI, Texas A&M, CELA Representative
Jenn Engelke, ASLA, University of Washington, LAF Representative
ASLA bestows Student Awards in General Design, Residential Design, Urban Design, Analysis and Planning, Communications, Research, Student Community Service, and Student Collaboration.
Chair: Michael Grove, FASLA, Sasaki
Haley Blakeman, FASLA, Louisiana State University
Adriana Hernández Aguirre, ASLA, Coleman & Associates
David Jung, FASLA, AECOM
Christina Hite, ASLA, Dix-Hite
Ellen Stewart, ASLA, City of St Paul
Mark Yoes, FAIA, W X Y architecture + urban design
Jury 2 – Analysis & Planning, Research, Communications, & Student Community Service
Chair: Kofi Boone, FASLA, NC State University
Keven Graham, FASLA, Terra Engineering
Dalton LaVoie, ASLA, Stantec
Stephanie Onwenu, ASLA, Detroit Collaborative Design Center
Naomi Sachs, ASLA, University Maryland
Andrew Sargeant, ASLA, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress
Professional Awards: Registration must be received no later than 11:59 pm PST on Friday, March 10, 2023. Submissions are due no later than 11:59 PST on Friday, March 17, 2023.
Student Awards: Registration must be received no later than 11:59 pm PST on Friday, May 5, 2023. Submissions are due no later than 11:59 PST on Friday, May 26, 2023.
The plan focuses on the carbon, health, and equity benefits of denser development connected by safer and more accessible sidewalks, bike lanes and trails, and public transit.
“More compact cities and towns with a mix of commercial, residential, and civic uses close to each other reduce the distances between where people live, work, and recreate, which makes active modes of transportation and transit even more viable and allows people to spend less time sitting in traffic,” the plan states.
Other priorities of landscape architects that are included: equitable transit-oriented development, affordable housing, and leveraging rights of way (ROWs) for climate benefits. The blueprint specifically calls for enabling federal, state, and tribal ROWs to be used for renewable energy generation, energy transmission infrastructure, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, and stormwater management.
In addition to reducing emissions through the design of communities and transportation systems, the blueprint calls for building out electric vehicle (EV) networks and swapping out fossil fuel vehicles for EVs, with the goal of half of all vehicles being zero emission by 2030, which will also yield real economic and health benefits.
Last fall, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved electric vehicle infrastructure deployment plans submitted by all 50 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico. These plans will leverage $5 billion to build EV chargers every 50 miles along 75,000 miles of U.S. highways, creating the backbone of a new national network.
An additional $2.5 billion in grants will be provided to spread EV chargers more equitably through both urban and rural communities.
“We can use these funds to put chargers in front of multi-family housing developments in low-income communities,” Buttigieg said. “And rural drivers need to cover larger distances, which means they can get even better gas savings. Most rural people live in single-family homes, so they can charge their vehicles at home. We want to meet people where they are.” (What he didn’t mention is EV chargers can also be co-located next to public parks, like Canal Park in Washington, D.C.)
At TRB, Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, also highlighted the cost savings EVs can provide all Americans. “To charge an EV — to ‘fill it up’ for a 300-mile range — costs about $12. In comparison, filling up a gas tank averages $49. That saves more than $35 every time. If you are filling up your tank once or twice a month, that’s huge savings.”
In addition to making EV chargers more accessible, the administration is focused on reducing the cost of EVs overall.
“With new incentives, drivers can save $7,500 on a new EV at dealerships. So a $25,000 Chevy Volt becomes a $17,500 vehicle.” There are also $4,000 in incentives for used EVs.
The administration is also investing in electric public transit, with the goal of zero emission buses, light rail, subways, and trains. “This will mean healthier air and cost savings for communities,” Buttigieg said.
New policies are designed to ensure more of the net-zero transformation is home-grown. “We are also focused on the supply-side with new manufacturing and industrial policies that will put more people to work,” Granholm said.
The U.S. has seen more than 75 EV battery companies set up shop in the U.S. With new incentives, they are moving into EV battery manufacturing and processing critical rare earth metals. “We will rely on China and other countries less because of these policies.”
The administration is expecting energy demand to increase with more EVs. One potential strategy is to leverage the batteries of millions of parked, plugged-in EVs to supply energy back to the grid. EV batteries could increase the resilience of the energy grid by providing an additional distributed power supply, forming virtual power plants. “There are virtual power plant pilots, and utilities are super interested.”
Still, to meet increased demand and climate goals, an additional 25 gigawatts of renewable energy must be added to the grid in coming years. This new energy is needed to ensure “those EVs aren’t powered by coal-based electricity.”
New utility-scale solar and wind power plants mean more opportunities for landscape architects and planners to better integrate facilities into communities, reducing scenic impacts, and ensuring they support pollinators and ecological restoration efforts. Transmission lines also need to be sited in consideration of existing scenic, cultural, and ecological assets.
Buttigieg argued that the country is shifting to renewable energy and EVs, and this transformation can’t be stopped. The Biden-Harris administration has been trying to further optimize this shift, focusing on: “Will this transformation happen fast enough to address the climate crisis? Will this transformation be made in America? Will the benefits be distributed equitably?”
Above all, Buttigieg and Granholm see the climate and infrastructure investments as significant economic development opportunities. Improving communities and building new transportation, energy, and EV infrastructure will lead to “good paying jobs.”
And equity remains a core focus. For example, companies that build renewable energy facilities in underserved communities, including legacy fossil fuel communities, can receive up to 60 percent off their taxes. “Through the IRA and infrastructure act, we can structurally correct structural inequities.”
Landscape architects can help local governments and communities fully connect the dots with these funds, so that renewable energy and EV investments can be a driver of denser, healthier, and more multi-modal communities.
For Sierra Bainbridge, ASLA, senior principal and managing director at MASS Design Group, making these kinds of decisions needs to be both rooted in “the head and the heart.” To get to the right position, “you have to ask the right questions, and you have to ask together with your client — what is the mission of this project?”
Bainbridge said MASS seeks out projects in Rwanda and elsewhere that can help shift policies and create structural change. “Our goal is to always hire locally, source regionally, invest in training, and uphold dignity.”
“Landscape is a way of seeing natural and cultural environments. Landscape architecture can be used to unlearn, disrupt assumptions, spark creativity, and catalyze innovations,” said Maura Rockcastle, principal and co-founder of Ten x Ten. “It’s an open-ended process.”
Too many communities have been impacted by the “slow violence of erasure, racism, injustices, fear, and intergenerational traumas.” Designers need take a compassionate approach, which requires more time, but it’s necessary to build trust in damaged communities.
This is a significant issue, because communities that either can’t access public space or don’t feel comfortable doing so experience real health impacts. “Just look at Los Angeles: In Malibu, California, which has a healthy public realm, the average life expectancy is 90 years old; in Watts, it’s 75. That’s a difference of 15 years of life. We need to do long-range planning to ensure the future is inclusive.”
How do you know if your projects are advancing your goals, Ford then asked.
“You have to start small and then leverage well. In communities with a legacy of broken promises, there is success in getting a single project done. Then you can leverage individual projects to do more,” Odbert said.
In a similar vein, Bainbridge argued that success is building long-term local capacity. In Rwanda, MASS Design Group has been planning and designing projects for more than a decade, and success has taken the form of local networks and organizations who can move the work forward.
For Rockcastle, success has been about “creating multiple conversations through a multiplicity of projects. We have started to get at the bigger conversations.”
Driving forward mission-based work can lead to burn-out. “How do you maintain your energy?,” Ford wondered.
“There is a joy in committing to things. There’s also a responsibility that comes with collaboration. I’m learning all the time,” Rockcastle said.
“You have to be comfortable with struggle. Dissension and discord is part of the process. But it can push you towards your goal,” Odbert said.
“We need to resist physical, structural, and cultural violence; it’s not a choice. Resistance is a fuel. We have to keep pushing — just for some people to live. If we don’t resist, we can’t move forward.”
The Oberlander Prize Forum II on Landscape Activism began with a powerful keynote from Jane Edmonds, a co-founder of Jane’s Way and former Massachusetts Secretary of Workforce Development and Chair of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
In her talk, Edmonds relayed how she was inspired by Mel King and the Tent City movement he led to protest gentrification and displacement in Boston’s South End in 1968. In what was a prime example of “landscape activism,” King demonstrated the “power of presence,” a tactic that would later be adopted by the Occupy Wall Street movement.
She called on all landscape architects to “cultivate an activist’s mind and perceive and acknowledge all the truths.”
A 600-acre park in development in Athens, Greece shows the value of prioritizing carbon. The Ellinikon Metropolitan Park is being designed by landscape architects at Sasaki to significantly increase carbon sequestration, avoid emissions, and reuse embodied carbon on a massive scale. Leveraging Sasaki’s Carbon Conscience App, Climate Positive Design’s Pathfinder tool, and Atelier Ten‘s carbon analysis, the project will cut emissions by 45 percent in comparison with a business-as-usual scenario. By designing for the climate first, the project is expected to become carbon neutral in 35 years.
What will be the largest urban coastal park in Europe is taking form on top of the old Athens International Airport, which was decommissioned in 2001.
Over the past twenty years, the city and national government have devised an approach that will keep the majority of the 1,200-acre site public through a combination of the 600-acre park, other spaces, and roadways but also ensure long-term financial sustainability. Through a 99-year lease agreement, Lamda, a Greek developer, will cover the cost of designing, constructing, and operating the park in return for revenues from new residential and commercial developments. “Making this happen required a presidential decree that superseded local regulations and created a unique permitting authority,” explained Michael Grove, FASLA, chair of landscape architecture, civil engineering, and ecology, and principal landscape architect at Sasaki.
The grand new park will be approximately 70 percent of the size of Manhattan’s Central Park and built in three phases. A comprehensive plan and framework by Foster + Partners set the boundaries of the park, which extends to the Saronic Gulf.
Within the existing landscape are layers of history: remnants of prehistoric settlements, agricultural lands, an abandoned airport, and dilapidated Olympics venues, which have inspired novel and sustainable reinterpretations.
“It’s been a joy to be able to plug into this ambitious context — on a site with so much potential to realize what I hope sensitive landscape design can achieve in the 21st century,” said Chris Hardy, ASLA, senior associate at Sasaki and Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) Leadership and Innovation Fellow.
According to Sasaki, Athenian society has been changing, and the new park aims to fill a cultural void. “Historically, Athenians returned to family farms in the countryside on weekends. Core to the Athenian identity was a relationship to the Greek landscape. But as the Greek diaspora grew abroad and more multi-generational families stay in Athens, many contemporary Athenians no longer have access to a rural ancestral home, displacing a traditional cultural relationship with nature and resulting in a growing disconnect between urban residents and the landscape.” In addition, the majority of the open spaces in Athens don’t help reforge that connection — they are “either passive landscapes adjacent to ancient ruins, or hyper-urban plazas and streetscapes.”
Much like Central Park, the goal of Ellinikon Metropolitan Park is to bring nature back to the city in a big way. This will occur by creating natively Greek ecological landscapes that will not only resonate on a cultural level but also be designed to store vast amounts of carbon.
The new park will include over 3.3 million Greek-sourced plants; among these are 31,000 new trees, representing 86 species. The team will also collect seeds from the site’s existing ruderal grasses and geophyte species, weaving novel ecosystems back in. More than 70 percent of the park will be designed as a demonstration of Greek landscape restoration.
And all of these landscapes will be nourished by 100 percent reclaimed water, which will be captured from sewage mined from a treatment plant that will be constructed by Lamda. In addition, “a 3.7-acre lake, repurposed from an Olympic kayak and canoe venue, will serve as an emergency stormwater reservoir, filling in the winter and slowly drawing down in the summer. The lake will be refilled with excess reclaimed water and treated through a large-scale flow-through recirculating wetland,” Hardy said.
Working with Atelier Ten and engineering firm LDK, the team also calculated expected future energy use in the giant park, which will include playgrounds, gardens, farms, and event spaces. That enabled the team to determine what size an on-site solar energy facility has to be to meet 100 percent of energy needs.
Hardy explained in detail how early planning and design decisions enabled them to design for carbon while achieving their other goals:
The single most important step to reduce the project’s carbon impact was to “swap out imported soil for amended soil.” Alone, this step is estimated to save approximately 43,000 metric tons of carbon across all phases of the project.
“The second biggest factor is we reduced the need for new concrete,” saving another estimated 41,000 metric tons of carbon across all phases.
Instead of specifying new concrete-based paving, Sasaki designed in stone or salvage concrete slab over aggregate base, so there is no concrete sub-base. In other places, there are just stabilized aggregate surfaces.
The third biggest carbon reduction comes from the reuse of 100 percent of nearly 310,000 cubic feet of concrete from airport runways and tarmac in the new park. The team will bring in concrete mining equipment, which will be operated on-site.
The highest quality concrete will be saved for fountains, retaining walls, custom furnishings, and various hardscapes. “Much of the concrete has marble and quartzite aggregate,” Hardy said, which means it will look appealing once polished and re-used.
Medium quality concrete will either be used as road base or riprap. And the lowest grade salvage will be crushed up to fill in new landscape forms. “Our use of salvage hardscape is saving nearly 12,000 metric tons across all phases.”
The goal was to “upcycle in a conspicuous way,” which will convey a public message of sustainability, Grove added. Ellinikon shows that landscape architects redesigning abandoned infrastructure can find opportunities to reinvent legacy concrete. But he acknowledged there is a cost to mining and crushing concrete on site, which can only be reduced through economies of scale. In projects where this isn’t feasible, “landscape architects can help grow a marketplace for recycled concrete products that can be specified.”
While these strategies outline how Sasaki has reduced or avoided new emissions, the other side of the equation are the approaches for drawing down more carbon from the air.
One core approach is to simply increase the percentage of the project that is covered in plants and soils and only strategically use hardscape in highly trafficked central areas.
Among natural areas, “the highest carbon sequestering land are the wetlands. Those include rain gardens, daylighted culverts, green infrastructure corridor, and a demonstration salt marsh. However, these areas are less than two hectares and will only reasonably sequester approximately 500 metric tons. The highest total individual sequestering landscape is our 11-hectare Dry Mediterranean Mixed Forest, with an estimated 3,300 metric tons sequestered in the study period,” Hardy explained.
“We can expect a total emission global warming potential (GWP) of 40,800 metric tons across all phases, which would reasonably take about 35 years for our softscape to offset. In 80 years, when the project’s landscapes will mostly reach their total ‘carbon carrying capacity,’ we will likely net sequester an additional 37,000 tons.” This means the project will become carbon positive, storing more carbon than it emitted, and then continue to function as a carbon sink far into the future.
Ellinikon Metropolitan Park shows the importance of calculating estimated carbon emissions from the get-go and letting the carbon priorities — the essential need to reduce emissions and increase sequestration — guide the design.
For Hardy, the support of the client has been critical. “Their exceptional commitment to be on cutting edge of sustainability from the beginning of the process and ‘leap frog’ other developments in Greece” enabled Sasaki to establish a climate-responsible framework for the project.
“The important part of the story is that through this process we were able to advocate for big moves towards a climate positive direction. Now we are better prepared to advocate for low-carbon strategies as we move into construction.”
With ETM Associates and LDK Waste Management, Sasaki’s team developed a low-carbon operations and maintenance manual that includes “recommendations for an all electric fleet of maintenance vehicles and landscape maintenance machinery, a large scale compost tea and composting program, and integrated pest management standards.”
Foster + Partners’ master plan also established important guiding principles. The park will integrate with the surrounding new developments, which will include a “waste management facility, enabling a source for our compost and compost tea.” In addition, a large-scale wastewater treatment plant will generate safe, treated water for irrigation.
Light-rail networks along the coast and through the park, along with a new bicycle network, will help get residents and visitors out of their cars, reducing transportation-related emissions.
ASLA is currently accepting proposals for the 2023 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 27-30, 2023. Help us shape the education program by submitting a proposal through our online system by Wednesday, February 22, 2022, at 12:00 NOON PT.
The ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture is the largest gathering of landscape architects and allied professionals in the world—all coming together to learn, celebrate, build relationships, and strengthen the bonds of our incredibly varied professional community.
We are looking for education proposals that will help to drive change in the field of landscape architecture and provide solutions to everyday challenges that are informed by research and practice.
Changing the Culture in Practice
Design and the Creative Process
Leadership, Career Development, and Business
Planning, Urban Design, and Infrastructure
60-, 75-, or 90-Minute Education Sessions: The standard education session with 50-75 minutes of presentation followed by 10-15 minutes of Q&A, maximum three speakers.
Deep Dive Sessions: Engaging, in-depth programs that explore specific landscape architecture topics, maximum five speakers. Deep dives are 2.5 hour interactive sessions that can include lectures, hands-on learning, facilitated discussions, and other creative audience engagement tools.
Field Sessions: Multiple speakers offer education combined with a field experience. Field sessions are organized through the host chapter. Please contact the host chapter committee leaders at firstname.lastname@example.org before submitting.
If you’re an ASLA member, make sure you have your unique ASLA Member ID or username handy – you should use it to log into the submission system. Non-members, including allies from the fields of urban planning and design, architecture, natural and social sciences, and public art, are also most welcome to submit proposals.
Please visit the submission site to learn more about the 2023 education tracks, submission criteria, review process, and key dates.
Before looking ahead to what’s happening in landscape architecture in 2023, we also look back to learn what was of greatest interest to readers over the past year.
Readers wanted to know how landscape architects can best advance climate action through advocacy, planning, and design. Popular posts sought to answer the questions: What does the Biden-Harris administration’s ambitious climate legislation — the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) — mean for landscape architects and communities? How can landscape architects best design nature-based solutions to climate change?
In a similar vein, the most read contribution from ASLA members explored the significance of the Green New Deal Superstudio, with its focus on “decarbonization, jobs, and justice” and its call for landscape architects to become more engaged in national, state, and local climate policy development (and politics). wkshp/bluemarble, a collective of emerging professionals, argued that “it is crucial for landscape architecture to change if we are to have a meaningful contribution toward a habitable future.”
2022 was also the height of Olmsted 200, an exploration of the life and legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted, who is considered the founder of the profession of landscape architecture. He set the field’s DNA as he leveraged a mix of advocacy, planning, and design approaches to achieve his goals.
Readers were interested in the contemporary reframing of Olmsted led by Sara Zewde, ASLA, Ethan Carr, Rolf Diamant, Kongjian Yu, FASLA, and many other landscape architects and academics. Olmsted’s letter writing, journalism, planning, and design work were all part of his life-long mission to create democratic infrastructure, improve public health, and abolish slavery. But his exclusion of Native Americans in early National Park planning also left lasting destructive impacts.
ASLA members: Want to write an op-ed about a topic important to you? Please reach out and tell us what you are passionate about at email@example.com.
The Act recognizes and funds landscape architecture approaches to address climate change — from active transportation projects like Complete Streets and recreational trails, to nature-based water infrastructure, community tree planting, ecosystem restoration, and more. Additionally, the legislation makes significant strides in addressing environmental and climate justice and ensuring underserved communities receive resources to adapt to a changing climate.
Nestled between the runways of Los Angeles International Airport, the bold SoFi Stadium by landscape architecture firm Studio-MLA and architecture firm HKS sets a new standard for sports arenas, breaking the conventional “suburban fortress” model by opening up the arena to the sky, air, and nature, and blurring the lines between stadium, botanical garden, and public park.
“We asked ourselves — if we could move 1,200 trees through a city center for over 100 days, then imagine what else we could do,” said Bruno Doedens, a Dutch landscape architect and land artist, who created the wonderful Bosk public art installation in the city of Leeuwarden with his collaborator, the late Joop Mulder.
Over the holidays, delve into new books on history, design, and the environment that inform and inspire. Whether you are looking for the perfect gift for your favorite designer or something to read yourself, explore THE DIRT’s 12 best books of 2022.
“It’s a new vision for this area of the Presidio — open public parkland. Before, the perception was the Presidio was a kind of commercial office park. Our goal was to invite the public in with disarming and sometimes obvious elements. On opening day, there were over two thousand children in the playground,” said Richard Kennedy, ASLA, with Field Operations.
“What we are doing is using shade, humidity, wind, and water to lower the temperature in the heart of Paris,” explained Brussels-based landscape architect Bas Smets, who has won an international design competition to redesign the landscape around Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.
Uchiyama: “An object is tangible — visible and touchable. We conceive what it is and generate feelings. But a void, or nothing, makes us think. In some ways, it actually frees us to change the mode, or forces us to change the mode of thinking, by not thinking. If you have all objects, there is friction. Having the void space provides lubricant for our thinking.”
wkshp/bluemarble: “The Superstudio marks an inflection point for landscape architecture. Grounded in policy and the context of climate change and social unrest, the Superstudio is the landscape architecture community’s public acknowledgement that our work is deeply intertwined with politics.”
“Superstorm Sandy in 2012 was a wake-up call for NYC and made the city realize it needed to better prepare for climate change,” said Adrian Smith, FASLA, vice president at ASLA and team leader of Staten Island capital projects with NYC Parks. Due to storm surges from Sandy, “several people in Staten Island perished and millions in property damage was sustained.”
LA County Board Adopts Updated Park Needs Assessment– 12/6/2022, Spectrum News 1
“The LA County Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously adopted a countywide assessment of park needs identifying priority areas for development of recreational facilities, and calling for efforts to transform ‘degraded lands’ such as landfills and oil fields into open spaces, especially in lower-income communities.”
Boston City Hall Plaza Reopens – 12/6/2022, World Landscape Architect
“Sasaki partnered with Shawmut Design and Construction and Skanska to implement the City of Boston’s vision of an inclusive, welcoming front yard for downtown Boston.”
As part of the innovative Dream Build Play program, playground and playfield renovation projects were selected from a data-driven equity map that identified the most underserved communities. The city found that 62 percent of its public play spaces were either in “fair or poor” condition — and all of these were in communities that had experienced a history of redlining and predatory lending. Worst-off play spaces were put first in line for renovation.
“We are tackling playgrounds in communities with high levels of poverty and crime, with growing populations that are adding pressure to schoolyards,” Zimmerman said.
In their tours of the sites, Zimmerman and her team found many of the fair-to-poor sites had no shade and cracked asphalt. “We can’t do our programs, can’t feed kids in these spaces.”
Six years ago, Milwaukee initiated Dream Build Play with a budget of just $1.8 million; today, that’s up to $49 million in completed and in-progress projects.
“We now have four full-time landscape architects, work with 37 landscape architects in six firms, initiated 73 community engagements, completed seven renovation projects, and have eight in the works.”
Looking back on the first years of the redesign effort, Zimmerman also relayed one core lesson: “it’s hard to build credibility but easy to lose it.”
For example, one mailing error for a community engagement flyer meant that community members didn’t receive word until two weeks after the public hearing happened. Zimmerman walked for 10 miles one weekend, going door to door with new flyers to rebuild trust.
She also opened new lines of communication, hiring additional staff to answer phone calls and listen to concerns from community members.
These conversations often go beyond playgrounds. “In a community dealing with trauma from violence, schoolyard renovations become a much different situation.”
Her engagement is also personal: a number of community members Zimmerman has collaborated and engaged with have been murdered in shootings.
Amid the many struggles these communities are facing, “it’s important to keep building something positive,” she said.
Site design group, ltd., a Chicago-based landscape architecture firm, has been designing many of the updated playgrounds for Milwaukee.
ALBA School, one of the first projects from 2017, included a “vivid painted play surface,” explained Brenda Kiesgen, a project manager with the firm.
“While simple and low-cost, it has been successful.” Parents and students participated in the design process, and students use it to play a range of games, Zimmerman said.
For Greenbay Playfield, which was redeveloped in 2019, Zimmerman’s team ramped up community engagement efforts. “We had 125 people in person and showed images of alternatives. We asked the community which they preferred. We found ways to connect and listen.”
As the pandemic started, community involvement in the planning and design process was re-envisioned to ensure equitable engagement. “We were on the phone, used the Internet; we re- crafted our approach.”
At the same time, with the growth in the program’s budget, schoolyard renovations became increasingly more sophisticated, weaving in more equipment, adding texture and materials, and stormwater management systems.
In one instance, community engagement involved back-tracking to maintain that community trust.
Some of the community had wanted a half-court because of concerns about illegal gambling that could come with a full court. But later, other community members argued that a full court was needed for it to be a positive, inclusive space. “So we pivoted and redid the design,” Kiesgen explained.
Worth noting: the renovated public spaces includes Milwaukee’s first court for Tuj Lub, a 5,000-year-old sport played by the Hmong immigrant community. “It is kind of like shuffleboard with hard plastic tops. It had no precedent in Minneapolis. We talked to tons of suppliers and explored samples.”
“People ask us: why so much public work?,” said Bradley McCauley, ASLA, managing principal at site design group, ltd. “We want to do something for communities. But we have to do a lot of public projects to make it work.”
The firm, which was founded by Ernie Wong, FASLA, is focused on sustainable and equitable public spaces. “It’s important that a community loves what we do, because if they don’t, it won’t last.”
This focus on bottom-up design is particularly important with communities that have experienced purposeful disinvestment. Involving these communities can help create a sense of identity and positivity.
McCauley said his firm seeks to “design artful play spaces that weave in exploratory learning,” natural materials, and stormwater management systems.
“Universal access is also a focus. We design for children on the spectrum so they have places of reprieve and get away from the activity. For children who have been traumatized by violence, it’s also important they have a place to go.”
The Q&A brought up a question about how to manage the emotional toll of work in communities grappling with violence and poverty.
“If a community engagement doesn’t work, try something else. What is important is to have relationships in the community,” Zimmerman said.
“Keep the focus on the end goal — the change you are making — or it can rip your heart out. Self care is good,” McCauley added.
The American Society of Landscape Architects Calls on National Governments to Commit to 30 x 2030 and the Global Goal for Nature: Nature Positive by 2030
ASLA urges national governments at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 in Montréal, Canada, to commit to far more ambitious global conservation and biodiversity goals, including protecting at least 30 percent of terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems by 2030 (30 x 2030).
In advance of the CBD COP15, ASLA has also joined 340 organizations worldwide in signing the Global Goal for Nature: Nature Positive by 2030. The Call to Action makes an appeal for “improving the state of nature by 2030; ensuring rights-based approaches to nature-based solutions and to conserving effectively and equitably 30 percent of land, freshwater, and seas by 2030; and directly tackling the drivers of nature loss,” among other goals.
“In our recently released Climate Action Plan, ASLA identified the connections between climate change and biodiversity loss. We made a clear commitment to advance 30 x 2030. We also called on all landscape architecture projects to restore ecosystems and protect biodiversity on a global scale by 2040 – and we call on national governments to be equally as bold,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen.
“In Montréal, now is the time for a global agreement to address the biodiversity crisis and increase protections for nature. Biodiversity underpins all natural systems on Earth. Protecting our remaining biodiversity and bolstering and restoring ecosystems are critical to our long-term survival,” said ASLA President Emily O’Mahoney, FASLA.
According to the United Nations, one-million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, and seventy-five percent of the Earth’s ice-free land surface and two-thirds of the oceans have been significantly altered by humanity.
ASLA and its members understand there is both a biodiversity crisis and a climate crisis, and they are interconnected:
A changing climate is resulting in sea level rise, extreme heat, increased flooding, and drought, which impacts both communities and non-human species.
Biodiversity loss is largely driven by unsustainable agricultural practices, sprawl, and habitat fragmentation, but climate change is accelerating the alteration of habitats and species migration, which increases extinction risks.
Biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation undermine the natural systems humanity relies on to provide a range of critical ecosystem functions, including nature-based approaches to sequestering carbon and adapting to climate impacts.
“Landscape architects are uniquely qualified to plan denser communities and protect natural areas, combating the sprawl that threatens remaining ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots. We can also increase biodiversity through the incorporation of native tree and plant species, planning and designing habitat connections and corridors, and restoring degraded ecosystems – all of which have important climate benefits as well,” said O’Mahoney.
Given the failure of the global community to meet the 2020 Aichi biodiversity targets, ASLA calls on national governments to significantly increase investment and support for conservation, habitat defragmentation and connection, and ecosystem restoration over the next decade.
In global discussions, ASLA also urges national governments to increasingly connect the climate and biodiversity crises, to not address them in a siloed manner. An integrated approach can increase the focus on nature-based solutions, including ecosystem-based mitigation and adaptation approaches, that address the climate and biodiversity crises together.
In future COPs of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), nature-based solutions must be elevated and seen as integral to reducing emissions and increasing resilience.
Through advocacy, planning, and design efforts with urban, suburban, and rural communities, landscape architects can work with nature to help address both biodiversity and climate impacts. Landscape architects also support the rights and leadership of indigenous communities in conservation efforts worldwide.
ASLA notes that the Convention, which entered into force in 1993, has been ratified by 196 countries. The United States remains the only UN member country that has signed but not yet ratified the multilateral treaty. This has put the U.S. government and U.S. based organizations advocating for biodiversity at a disadvantage in global negotiations.
Snøhetta Brings Fresh Air into a 1980s Landmark – 11/25/2022, Architectural Record “The Snøhetta team, which included landscape architect Michelle Delk, ASLA, was inspired by Manhattan’s small pocket parks that are integrated with the urban fabric but act as welcome retreats from it.”