Experience Underpass Park in Virtual Reality

ASLA 2016 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Underpass Park /
ASLA 2016 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Underpass Park /

Experience Virtual Reality! Immerse yourself in Toronto’s Underpass Park, which won the ASLA 2016 Professional Award of Excellence. Take an exciting journey through this unique park found under a highway underpass, guided by landscape architect Greg Smallenberg, FASLA, principal at PFS Studio.

Viewing Options

Option 1: Watch a 360 Video on YouTube

If you are on your phone reading this page, simply click on this URL and watch it in your YouTube mobile or tablet app: https://youtu.be/IUr2g5rabaU

(Please note that this video will not work on your mobile browser.)

Be sure to turn around while watching so you can see all angles of the park!

YouTube 360 on mobile / YouTube
YouTube 360 on mobile / YouTube

Or if you are on a desktop computer, go to https://youtu.be/IUr2g5rabaU using your Chrome browser. Use the sphere icon to navigate through the park!

Option 2: Watch a 3D 360 Video on Samsung Gear VR

If you own a Samsung Gear VR headset and compatible Samsung phone, go to Samsung Gear via the Oculus App and search for “Underpass Park” or “ASLA” to find our video.

Samsung Gear VR / Samsung
Samsung Gear VR / Samsung

Why Underpass Park?

ASLA selected Underpass Park because it won the ASLA 2016 Professional Award of Excellence. Less than 1 percent of all award submissions receive this honor.

Our esteemed jury, made up of leaders in the field, described Underpass Park this way: “A terrific project. It’s wonderful to see a solution where you embrace the marginalized groups and design a space that doesn’t displace them, but creates an environment for them. All the right tools were used in a creative and dynamic way to create an energetic space that kids love.”

The award also highlights Underpass Park because it’s a prominent example of reusing abandoned, derelict space. These spaces litter cities and represent so much untapped potential. Toronto shows the way forward for the rest of the world’s cities. This award says that even underpasses can become great parks. It’s my hope that other cities will follow suit. New York City, Miami, and other cities are now looking at their underpasses now, too.

Why Virtual Reality?

We are increasingly in an image and video-driven world. With video, you can pack in even more information about a work of landscape architecture, much more than you can in simply a photo or text. With video, you can get a sense of the sight, sound, and “feel” of a place. You can see people interacting with the design, bringing it to life. Virtual reality takes video to the next level: as you move your phone or VR headset, you control your experience in the landscape. It more closely mimics the experience of exploring a place in person. In part, it recreates that sense of discovery one gets in real life.

Why did ASLA make this VR film?

We are always looking for more effective ways to promote the value of landscape architecture to society. Virtual reality has proven to be a powerful tool for explaining how the places people love – like Underpass Park – are designed experiences. Virtual reality allows us to educate the public about landscape design in a more compelling way.

We have multiple goals with the video: We hope to use the video to promote the potential of virtual reality among the landscape architecture community, which totals approximately 25,000 design professionals in the U.S. and Canada. We also hope to use the video to explain the incredible value of landscape architecture to the public, and the ability of landscape architects to turn an unloved place like an underpass into a beloved community park.

We also hope community groups or local advocates can make use of it for their own goals. For example, when we were filming the video, we met a family visiting from Buffalo, New York. The mother of the child who was skateboarding there said it was a “no brainer to put a skatepark under an underpass.” She immediately got that the space was accessible when it’s raining or snowing because it’s covered. Ideally, this video will become a tool for her to promote the idea of an Underpass Park in Buffalo. We hope it can become an advocacy tool.

Why should landscape architects use VR?

Virtual Reality is a powerful tool for landscape architects, architects, planners, and developers – really anyone involved in designing our built and natural environments. In the example of Underpass Park: many will never have the opportunity to visit the park in person, but with our video, they can get a good sense of what’s it like to be there.

For landscape architecture firms, this is an excellent way to really show clients that a place they’ve designed works – that people enjoy hanging out there, that kids love playing there, that people are drawn to events there.

Underpass Park in Virtual Reality / ASLA
Underpass Park in Virtual Reality / ASLA

ASLA VR Film Credits

Producer: American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)
Production Company: DimensionGate, Toronto
Director: Ian Tuason
Director of Photography: Jon Riera
Narrator: Greg Smallenberg, FASLA, principal, PFS Studio
Camera Assistant: Mark Valino
Post Production: Connor Illsley
Skateboarders: Cris Fonseca and Dan Everson

Sorting Through Contemporary Landscape Architecture

thinking-the-contemporary-landscape
Thinking the Contemporary Landscape / Princeton Architectural Press

Thinking the Contemporary Landscape, a new collection of essays edited by EHTZ professors Chistophe Girot and Dora Imhof takes on the considerable task of creating a unified understanding of landscape. The essays’ takeaways don’t quite paint as cohesive a picture as the editors suggest. But if the rational and the poetic in landscape are to be reconciled, as the editors insist they must be, this scattershot approach seems as good as any.

Several of the essays deal with the critical issue of place, and how design might enhance rather than obscure it. Girot, in his essay, points to the trend of homogenized ecological design as a missed opportunity to enter a dialogue with the local context. An increased reliance on 2D mapping techniques is to blame for this, Girot argues. An alternative? 3D, of course. Girot is an effective pitchman for the point cloud and the specificity it allows designers to access. Still, it seems too convenient to blame out-of-the-box designs on one set of tools or methods. Girot himself describes these ecological designs as a trend. And as trends are by nature fleeting, perhaps the fear of homogenization has outgrown its actual threat.

In her essay, Allesandre Ponte at the University of Montreal suggests the mapping craze Girot refers to might be a sign of insecurity on the part of designers who find themselves groping around a dark and ever-expanding room of ecology, territory, and culture. The multitude of ways designers can approach sites could come as a relief to some but also induce further “paralysis by analysis” in others.

A meditation by Kathryn Gustafson, ASLA, on model-making weaves together interesting personal anecdotes to make a valid criticism of 3D technologies. Rhino and Grasshopper are a necessity but don’t confer good landscape sense. One trusts Gustafson writes from experience when she shares that a designer cannot explore a landscape with just a keyboard and mouse. “Where are you?” Gustafson prods. “What are you truly experiencing? This is the only thing, for me, that really matters.”

It’s possible to get the impression from some contemporary landscape architects that the greatest transgression a designer can make is neglecting aesthetics in the pursuit of ecological function. Reading of people drowning in the streets of Beijing due to urban flooding, one can forgive Kongjian Yu, FASLA, this offense in his deployment of urban sponges. “Healing the ecological system at the national scale needs simple, replicable, and inexpensive solutions, not self-indulgent ornamental design or artistic form,” writes Yu. Of course, Turenscape’s Qunli Stormwater Park is staggering in its messy functionality. Yu shares its origins as well as the genesis of Turenscape in one of the book’s more personable essays. It’s organized as a guide, with steps such as “Do not Try to Influence the Experts,” and “Make a Proposal to the Prime Minister.”

The book’s most successful essays tell stories. Yu’s falls into this category, as does Susann Ahn and Regine Keller’s delightful essay on nature and imitation. Conceiving of nature as a construct can be extremely liberating. But what happens when that conception runs up against cultural expectation? Designers buckle and imitative natures get built. “The question remains whether, and when, the imitation will render the original meaningless.”

The Story of Two Landscape Architects: Friendship and Collaboration

William Johnson, FASLA, Jim Richards, FASLA, and Peter Walker, FASLA at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting / NC ASLA Twitter
William Johnson, FASLA, Jim Richards, FASLA, and Peter Walker, FASLA at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting / NC ASLA Twitter

How does it happen that two men from different backgrounds become not only fast friends but life-long collaborators? In the case of William Johnson, FASLA, a now-retired professor at University of Michigan, and Peter Walker, FASLA, founder of PWP Landscape Architecture, it started on the first day of their master’s of landscape architecture studies at Harvard Graduate School of Design, when they noticed each other driving the same car.

In a delightful and warm session at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans moderated by James Richards, FASLA, Townscape, Johnson and Walker recalled their youth, friendship, and growth into two of the profession’s best-known practitioners and mentors.

Walker grew up in San Francisco and was influenced early by the Bay Area School and Thomas Church. He also worked for Lawrence Halprin his senior year at the University of California Berkeley. He was on the verge of leaving landscape architecture for publishing when he was convinced by Stanley White that “landscape architecture was as much of a cultural enterprise as books.” He followed White to the University of Illinois to study. There, Walker’s path crossed with Hideo Sasaki who said, “come to Harvard,” so he did.

Meanwhile, Johnson grew up in the Midwest in Michigan and was deeply influenced by the two years he spent living on a farm in high school. As a city kid on a farm, he learned “an advanced degree in land thinking,” paying close attention to the wind, water, and weather. He went to Michigan State University (MSU) and joined the military. During a visit to MSU, Sasaki took note of his work and said, “you should go to graduate school.” After two years of service, he showed up at Sasaki’s university office.

Richards asked their first impressions each other:

Walker recalled, “Bill was drawing all the time, he used it as a method of communication, and as a thinking tool.”

Johnson said, “Pete name dropped and was impressive, and taught me, ‘you gotta have an idea. An idea is essential to get somewhere.’”

The mentorship of Sasaki was instrumental in bringing them together. He convinced them landscape architecture was “growing beyond the back yard,” as Walker said. And so they set out to create an office that could handle the new complexity of the profession. They learned scale should never be a problem: “if you can solve the problem of a garden, you can solve an Eastern Seaboard master plan,” said Johnson.

After their time collaborating at Harvard and with Sasaki, they went in different directions. Johnson went back to the Midwest to found his firm, JJR, and teach at the University of Michigan. He would eventually become the dean of the school of natural resources, a job he took only after discussing it with Walker.

Walker would return to California to open a field office for his work with Sasaki. Over the years, he had various successful partnerships, but always left the door open for this old friend and colleague, Johnson. Eventually, the time was right, and they were able to join in partnership in 1992 with their firm Peter Walker William Johnson Partners.

Skyforest Plaza at Saitama-Shintoshin Station /
Skyforest Plaza at Saitama-Shintoshin Station / Peter Walker William Johnson Partners
derived from- 06802#p82.tif From Tif
Skyforest Plaza at Saitama-Shintoshin Station / Peter Walker William Johnson Partners

Johnson and Walker acknowledge and embrace the differences in their styles and approach to the discipline of landscape architecture. It those differences, as well as their deep respect for each other, that makes them work so well together. Over their long careers, they continued to refine their collaboration.

As Johnson put it, his “large-scale planning thinking combined” with Walker’s “inclination to build it,” made them great partners.

Walker agreed and continued, “It is the differences among us – even between the various aspects of the profession – that make us interesting.”

Landscape architects must work towards a holistic gathering. The expansive work of landscape architecture must be done with a deep sense of purpose. As Johnson put it, “we work in the arena between people and the earth.”

Looking ahead, the mentorship of young landscape architects – both as teachers and through summer mentorship programs – would also become a large part of how both Johnson and Walker would make a contribution.

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

Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan / Mia Lehrer Associates
Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan / Mia Lehrer Associates

Good News, Brooklyn Skaters: Fat Kid Spot Is Coming Back – 10/21/16, The New York Times
“To the uninitiated, Golconda Park looks like a bit of a mess: a collection of crooked Escher-like steps, some misplaced highway berms, a loading dock and a drained, scuffed swimming pool, all amid gravel and scattered construction equipment.”

10 Streets That Define America 10/25/16, Curbed
“What can we learn about our ever-changing country from individual streets? To get to the heart of that question, Curbed took a deep dive into ten cities around the United States—selected for their diverse sizes, ages, populations, and locations—and talked to the people that call each place home.”

What Could Hermann Park Look Like in 20 Years? Hilly – 10/27/16, The Houston Chronicle
“Imagine what Hermann Park could be like if the sea of parking in its center was instead a place where children could scamper up a knoll to a ‘creature forest’ and a ‘swing marsh.’”

Ugly Sites Can Help Beautify Landscape – 10/27/16, Shanghai Daily
“Shanghai has set up a team of experts, backed by government departments, to speed up converting contaminated land or demolished industrial sites into green areas.”

Q&A: Mia Lehrer – 10/28/16, Metropolis Magazine
“For more than two decades, Lehrer has also advocated for the transformation of L.A.’s junk river—paved over with concrete by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1930s to fight flash floods—and had a hand in creating the 2007 Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan, before the city handed off the project to Gehry + Partners last fall.”

An Ambitious Vision for the Next 50 Years: The New Landscape Declaration

LandscapeDeclarationLogo

After three months of intense deliberation, the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) has released their New Landscape Declaration, a poetic, powerful statement that many will feel captures the aspirations of landscape architects to steer the world onto a more sustainable course. At the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, president of the LAF, said the declaration will help landscape architects have a “multiplying effect” beyond their numbers. The declaration, which is written for a global audience, will soon be translated into 30 languages.

“On June 10-11, 2016, over 700 landscape architects with a shared concern for the future were assembled by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Inspired by LAF’s 1966 Declaration of Concern, we crafted a new vision for landscape architecture for the 21st century.

This is our call to action.

Across borders and beyond walls, from city centers to the last wilderness, humanity’s common ground is the landscape itself. Food, water, oxygen – everything that sustains us comes from and returns to the landscape. What we do to our landscapes we ultimately do to ourselves. The profession charged with designing this common ground is landscape architecture.

After centuries of mistakenly believing we could exploit nature without consequence, we have now entered an age of extreme climate change marked by rising seas, resource depletion, desertification and unprecedented rates of species extinction. Set against the global phenomenon of accelerating consumption, urbanization and inequity, these influences disproportionately affect the poor and will impact everyone, everywhere.

Simultaneously, there is profound hope for the future. As we begin to understand the true complexity and holistic nature of the earth system and as we begin to appreciate humanity’s role as integral to its stability and productivity, we can build a new identity for society as a constructive part of nature.

The urgent challenge before us is to redesign our communities in the context of their bioregional landscapes enabling them to adapt to climate change and mitigate its root causes. As designers versed in both environmental and cultural systems, landscape architects are uniquely positioned to bring related professions together into new alliances to address complex social and ecological problems. Landscape architects bring different and often competing interests together so as to give artistic physical form and integrated function to the ideals of equity, sustainability, resiliency and democracy.

As landscape architects we vow to create places that serve the higher purpose of social and ecological justice for all peoples and all species. We vow to create places that nourish our deepest needs for communion with the natural world and with one another. We vow to serve the health and well-being of all communities.

To fulfill these promises, we will work to strengthen and diversify our global capacity as a profession. We will work to cultivate a bold culture of inclusive leadership, advocacy and activism in our ranks. We will work to raise awareness of landscape architecture’s vital contribution. We will work to support research and champion new practices that result in design innovation and policy transformation.

We pledge our services. We seek commitment and action from those who share our concern.”

In the session, Deutsch; Kristina Hill, Affiliate ASLA, University of California at Berkeley; Fritz Steiner, FASLA, dean of the school of design at the University of Pennsylvania; and Laura Solano, FASLA, principal at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, all members of the taskforce who contribute to the declaration, offered insights into the process, content, and calls to action. They also noted that the final declaration was written by University of Pennsylvania landscape architecture department chair Richard Weller, ASLA.

“Every word was scrutinized and debated in a very respectful but frustrating process,” said Hill, who was particularly proud the final text came out so strongly on the role of climate change. “Climate change is the driver of so many issues. We needed to be honest about that to address our problems.”

She thinks the document is far less U.S.-centric than the original 1966 declaration. This is because the U.S. is no longer “the most advanced part of the world — that’s Europe. We are now somewhere in the middle.” Furthermore, Japan and China have made huge leaps in infrastructure, while the U.S. is trying to figure out how to move forward with “low-cost, low-maintenance solutions.” 

The declaration calls for shifting focus to the most vulnerable. While the U.S. is in no position to “save” developing countries, “we can partner with them,” and share knowledge.

Steiner focused on the declaration’s call to action to “strengthen and diversify our global capacity.” He said there are now about 70 landscape architecture programs in the U.S. and about 300 in China (up from just 1 program in 2000). To further scale up demand for landscape architecture undergraduate and graduate education, “we need to focus on K-12, particularly 1-8.” And to diversify, landscape architects need to target and reach minority students at a younger age. In this effort, “architects and urban planners are natural allies.”

Solano called for landscape architects to do their own part to raise awareness, “educating clients about how green their projects can be” and encouraging them to make more environmentally and socially responsible decisions. “We can lead by raising up what some clients are doing.”

And Deutsch wants all landscape architects to get out there and advocate, going beyond the “sexy” trips to Capitol Hill and engaging in “grit advocacy” by giving public lectures, visiting school groups, and getting involved in their own communities. “Get inside the machine and find out how the system works and then bring your voice to the table.”

National Park Service Looks Ahead to the Next 100 Years

National Park Service Logo / WikiCommons
National Park Service Logo / WikiCommons

“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” — Wallace Stegner, 1983

The National Park Service (NPS) celebrates its centennial this year and is ready to move into its next 100 years by restoring its crown jewels and also embracing new parks and a diverse range of visitors. At the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Barbara Wyatt, ASLA, NPS and the National Register of Historic Places: Landscape Initiative said, the service must “maintain natural, community, historic, and cultural elements” while upholding standards of excellence far into the future. The NPS now boasts of 412 units, including vast tracts of wilderness, important cultural institutions, monuments, and historic landscapes.

Susan Olmsted, ASLA, with Mithun explained efforts to restore one of the system’s jewels: the Mariposa Groves of giant sequoias in Yosemite. Her efforts are about “building resilience for this cherished place.” In the midst of one of the rarest ecologies in the world, there was a parking lot and a tram to accommodate all visitors. People were about to “love these trees to death.” Over a hundred years of fire suppression (natural fires were re-introduced in 1971) had also been a setback for the species. The health and well-being of the trees was put at the center of the restoration plan.

Mariposa Grove / Yosemite Conservancy Ted Soqui
Mariposa Grove / Yosemite Conservancy

Places like these, which feed into the national imagination and “elevate the human spirit,” are some of the most important elements of the NPS experience. The Mariposa Grove is now on its way back to a healthy and long future and will re-open next summer.

The National Mall, as tapis vert, is in many ways the opposite of the Mariposa Groves at Yosemite, but is no less important to the national imagination as the soaring heights of the giant Sequoia. We gather there for inaugurations and to hear the rallying cry of leaders calling for civil rights. It is, in a sense, the front lawn for all Americans. But with 30 million visitors a year and over 3,000 officially-permitted uses, it was in need of rehabilitation.

Michael Stachowicz is the only turf management specialist on NPS’ staff, and recognizes the importance of keeping the Mall green and healthy. The rehabilitated lawn was “designed for modern use while keeping its historic character.” Millions of feet over many years had caused serious soil compaction, terrible drainage, and patchy green. His rehabilitation efforts included thoughtful grading, specially-grown sod from seed, drainage systems, stormwater cisterns, and engineered soils. His maintenance policy has moved from “damage repair to damage prevention.” He acknowledged sometimes the best thing you can do is ask people to “keep off the lawn.”

The National Mall / Landscape Architecture Magazine
The National Mall / Landscape Architecture Magazine

Phil Hendricks, ASLA, Robert Peccia & Associates, offered his experience in the creation of one of the newest units in the system: the Waco Mammoth National Monument, in Waco, Texas, as well as his restoration work at the Flamingo Visitor Center and Campground in Florida’s Everglades National Park. Both parks refer back to well documented NPS styles guidelines. The original “park rustic” design was applied to Waco Mammoth, and the Flamingo Resort was restored to mid-century “Mission 66” style, even down to a new coat of flamingo-pink paint.

Interior of Mammoth Dig Shelter / Waco Parks and Recreation Department
Interior of Mammoth Dig Shelter / Waco Parks and Recreation Department

The NPS seeks to embrace a broader constituency of visitors across its ever expanding urban and natural landscapes, cultural heritage sites, and monuments. With its increasing embrace of public-private partnerships, it’s also finding the funding to continue into its next century. This land is your land, go out and see it.

Safe Passages for Wildlife (and People)

Fairhill bridge / Paul Drummond
Fairhill bridge / Paul Drummond

The 5,500-acre Fairhill Natural Resource Management Area in Maryland, part of the old Foxcatcher Farm and the original estate of the Dupont family, is a source of fascination for landscape architect Paul Drummond, ASLA, Design Collective, in part because of its network of pathways that enable wildlife to travel. In a session at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, he, along with Thomas Woltz, FASLA, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, and Robert Rock, ASLA, Living Habitats, explored ways to improve connectivity for wildlife (and humans).

At Fairhill, wildlife and humans alike have been funneled into only a few pathways that cut through 16 miles of fence, which neighbors have called “La Fence,” given the French heritage of the Dupont family. Bridges that cross rural roads and culverts that run underneath them are now the only way through the resource area. On either side of these passages, Drummond set up cameras to record the movement of wildlife and humans. His in-depth research found that “these crossing are vital” for wildlife connectivity, with deer and foxes using them regularly.

Fairhill culvert / Paul Drummond
Fairhill culvert / Paul Drummond
Fox crossing / Paul Drummond
Fox crossing / Paul Drummond

He is concerned about the future of the crossings, too, given some are up to 60 years old. A bridge hit by one too many trucks was removed. “We need to quantify the benefits so the state preserves these.”

Woltz argued that a good crossing is “multi-user.” He relayed his work at the 3,000-acre Orongo farm on the east coast of New Zealand. Over the past 13 years, his firm has created a protected wildlife corridor along the coastline. The original temperate rainforest found there was restored, with 600,000 trees planted. “Thousands of birds migrating now stop there.” And the forest now provides habitat for the ancient Tuatara reptile, which has been re-introduced. The landscape is now “a wildlife bridge of a damaged ecology; it enables animals to safely move over something dangerous,” which for them is the remaining sheep farm landscape.

ASLA 2010 Professional Analyis and Planning Honor Award. Orongo Station Conservation Master Plan / Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects
ASLA 2010 Professional Analyis and Planning Honor Award. Orongo Station Conservation Master Plan / Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects

Memorial Park in Houston is another of his firm’s projects that will increase connectivity for both wildlife and humans. A vast land bridge, a “diverse ecological corridor,” will provide a bridge over a “lethal highway” that bisects the massive park, and is “like the game Frogger to cross.” For Woltz, the new image of the earth coming up over the highway is an important one: “it’s the park triumphant.”

Memorial Park / Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects
Memorial Park / Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects

And, lastly, Robert Rock, ASLA — who won ARC’s design competition for wildlife crossings with Hypar-Nature, a design he created when we worked for Michael Van Valkenburg Associates (MMVA)– explained how animal and vehicle collisions are a $8 billion-a-year problem.

Hypar-Nature / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
Hypar-Nature / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

“We need to change the paradigm, and policy and advocacy are a big part of making the shift.” Explore ARC’s excellent set of resources to find out how to do more.

Heal the Landscape and Ourselves

Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoon / MLive
Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan / MLive

“Healing must begin with a discussion about woundedness,” said Todd Degner, Affil. ASLA, in a moving and powerful presentation at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans. By sharing both images of himself as a child and the story of his own trauma, Degner recalled the place that was his refuge. The canopy of a spirea hedge became a fortress, a place that called to him and helped him heal himself, and “smelled like hope.” Degner, along with Naomi Sachs, ASLA, founder of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network; Jerry Smith, FASLA, Smith/GreenHealth Consulting; and Virginia Burt, FASLA, Virginia Burt Designs, provided research, guidelines, and emotional anecdotes to inspire landscape architects and designers to heal ourselves and our landscapes.

As designers, “stories of the wounded fall in our lap without resolution,” said Degner. While we cannot know the outcome of these stories, they entreat designers to be mindful – to be merciful and healing. Through a simple landscape devise, landscape architects and designers can transfer deeper truths and offer paths to healing.

Many among us have sought out landscapes for solace for our own traumas or personal struggles, including Sachs, as she shared with the audience. She also shared research to help designers who may be met with resistance to their “best intentions,” as elements are cut through value engineering or tight budgets.

For example, a 5-minute-a-day walk in a natural environment can lead to decreased levels of depression and stress. For children with ADHD, 20-minutes in a park can result in fewer symptoms with results similar to a dose of Ritalin.

Even if a person is unwilling or unable to be active in a natural setting, studies prove just living near nature and trees can have such effects as better test scores for girls and decreased instances of domestic violence. Access to nature simply makes people exhibit “more pro-social behavior.”

Healing Garden / Edgerton Hospital and Health Services
Healing Garden / Edgerton Hospital and Health Services

But, as Smith reminds us, it isn’t just the individual that needs healing, but also our landscapes. Working through a process of “evidence based design,” landscape architects can convince clients “there is a reason we want to do these things, it’s not just a matter of taste.”

There has been a paradigm shift in how we talk about our landscapes. It is no longer enough to conserve, but we have to regenerate the land through performative landscapes in order to start healing. There are a number of initiatives to help us get there. The Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®) has taken “deep dive into sustainability,” and added to the list of the usual considerations of a place like water, soil, and plants, goals like the health and well-being of humanity.

Humans play a role in healing the landscape, and, in turn, it can heal us. If we are to accept this mutual responsibility, we must approach our designs holistically, and, as Burt said, with “intention.” Designs must acknowledge the emotional response that so often comes from plants. Smell can be a deep trigger for memory. For Burt, this pursuit of intention is spiritual and leads her design process: “where intention goes, energy flows.”

For the University Hospital Schneider Healing Garden adjacent to the Seidman Cancer Center (SCC) in downtown Cleveland, she created a healing garden at its front door. Starting with input from staff and inspiration from poetry, she arrived at a garden where the transformative process of healing can begin. The garden offers patients and staff places of quiet and contemplation, and sensory experiences that elevate and transport.

Schneider Healing Garden / Brad Feinknopf
Schneider Healing Garden / Brad Feinknopf

As Degner mentioned, healing is a process, and there is no quick fix. A therapeutic garden, no matter how perfectly designed, will not immediately solve all our woes.

“Healing begins with hospitality,” from our family, friends, and the professionals who help us heal. Designers can offer hospitality, too – a place that “covers, protects, and is in a setting abounding with life.” Degner offered this benediction: “say ‘yes’ to the call to help wounded people and wounded landscapes.” It is the calling of landscape architecture.

Ending “Code Talk” about Gentrification

Brooklyn anti-gentrification activists / Kirra magazine
Brooklyn anti-gentrification network activists / Kirra magazine

“When we talk about gentrification, there is a lot of ‘code talk’ that is often very subtle,” said Timothy Cassidy, ASLA, a landscape architect with Bernardon, at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans. That code talk is a way to hide the racial nature of a process in which a group of mostly-white newcomers move into a neighborhood predominantly made up of people of color, renovate buildings, increase property values, change the character of the place, and then, eventually, displace the existing community.

Cassidy said gentrification is often described as an incremental process, with code words like “renovation, renewal, and revival.” The problem with these seemingly-positive words is they convey the “idea of improvement,” but it’s not clear who these improvements benefit. In many cases, developers, which are “external forces,” jump in and reap the benefits with new high-rise luxury developments, particularly with adaptive reuse projects. Existing communities that may have made incremental improvements over the decades and inadvertently laid the foundation for gentrification lose out and then eventually lose their neighborhood, too.

The problem is most pronounced in the communities nearest the central business districts. This is because of some larger shifts. “The suburbs are now dead. Nobody wants to move into a single family home anymore.” Instead, companies have moved back into downtown cores. And their surrounding neighborhoods, with a range of entertainment options, are now the place to “live, work, and play.” With inner-city neighborhoods now in higher demand, increased competition means neighborhoods once cheap and undesirable are now more valuable. For Cassidy, the ultimate question is: “Can you tell people where to live?”

Unfortunately, existing studies of gentrification may not tell the full extent of the story. James Brasuell, managing editor at Planetizen, went through study after study, pointing out their limitations. For example, an often-cited 2015 report on the state of the housing marked in New York City from the Furman Center at New York University said gentrification was occurring in 15 out of NYC’s 55 neighborhoods. But the researchers made these conclusions looking at only one measure: rents. Furthermore, the report was largely financed by banks who may have an interest in downplaying any of the negative effects of gentrification.

Another study by Governing magazine, also widely cited, showed that gentrification is up 20 percent in 50 cities since 2000, in comparison to only 9 percent over the 1990s. However, he said the study only relied on “inflation adjusted home values and the percentage of adults with bachelor’s degrees.” And a footnote in the study showed that for a city to be eligible for gentrification it had to be in the bottom 40 percent of household income numbers. “Right off the bat, the study tilts the table.”

Brasuell researched and found all the possible measures used to studies to analyze gentrification. These include average rent, median home values, median incomes, percentage who are renters, population density, housing types, proximity of transit, parks, and schools — which he thought all failed to measure the complex experience of being gentrified. One scholarly study even used fried chicken restaurants and coffee shops as indicators, which he found absurd.

He identified some of the policies that are pro-development, that spur on gentrification. These include: upzoning, which is about expanding the envelope of development options in a neighborhood; regulations that reduce parking; increased redevelopment powers; loan policy reforms; and bonuses developers receive for increasing density.

There are also a set of policies cities can use to mitigate the worst impacts of gentrification, that are anti-development. These include: downzoning, which involves reducing the types of development that can occur; building moratoriums; improved tenants rights; rent control programs; inclusionary zoning that promotes an intermix of affordable housing in development projects; condo conversion protections; tax abatements; community land trusts; limited equity coop housing; and others.

He cautioned that given the complexity of these topics, planning and design media should not simply use terms like investment, revitalization, and redevelopment in their stories. “These empty euphemisms really create more of a problem.”

And that flowed into Cassidy’s broader critique of the prevailing analyses on gentrification. “We need to look at the impact on neighborhood composition and character rooted in community identity. When change occurs, it triggers an emotional response that’s beyond empirical measure. It’s an existential change in which neighborhood familiarity is gone. Your community literally disappears before your eyes, which is emotionally draining.”

Kelly Majewski, Affiliate ASLA, an urban designer at Superjacent in Los Angeles, delved into the ethical responsibility of landscape architects and designers in gentrifying cities. She wondered if the “spirit of a place can guide ethical building.” She said community “authenticity, distinctiveness, and narrative” are worth preserving, even if “change has become a constant.”

If a landscape architect sees gentrification happening in a community, then “it’s too late; policy and planning have already made an impact.” But she also argued that efforts to slow gentrification with projects that try to undertake the “just green enough” approach won’t work. These kinds of park and other public space projects call for making improvements that may please locals, but are not so grand as to attract outsiders. Majewski said “these projects don’t make a ton of sense; they are both inclusionary and exclusionary at the same time.” And, furthermore, how does a landscape architect decide where to stop: will that one extra tree make it too nice?

Designers can ensure they don’t inadvertently contribute to gentrification by working with communities in developing their own visions. “If communities can plan out their vision before a rezoning process, they can get ahead.” She pointed to a planning initiative started by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as a model: the Planning for Livability, Affordability, Community, Economic Opportunity and Sustainability (PLACES) program, which creates a larger role for communities in planning processes. For example, the Bridging Gowanus process and the East Harlem neighborhood plan were empowering and helped ensure that “growth advances community goals.”

In the Q&A, Charles Cross, ASLA, an African American landscape architect with the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, stood up and said the “landscape architecture profession must diversify” if it wants to play a greater role in fighting gentrification. In a recent survey of graduating landscape architecture students, African Americans are still at only 3 percent of the student body. Much more work needs to be done to ensure landscape architects look like the communities they are helping.

The Factory as Forest

Georgia forest / Wikipedia
Georgia forest / Wikipedia

“Our goal is to achieve zero negative environmental impacts by 2020,” said Erin Meezan, vice president at Interface, an innovative producer of carpets and textiles, at Greenbuild in Los Angeles. But as the firm nears its goal, it’s now pursuing an even more ambitious vision — the “factory as forest,” in which their manufacturing facilities become positive contributors to the environment, providing as much ecosystem service benefits as their surrounding landscape.

This astonishing vision comes from Interface’s deceased founder Ray Anderson and Janine Benyus, whose firm, Biomimicry 3.8, is advising them. Benyus’ guiding idea: “When the forest and the city are functionally indistinguishable, then we know we’ve embedded sustainability.” To achieve this, she calls for using biomimetic design strategies that “consciously emulate nature’s designs.” This is because nature, with 3.8 billion years of evolution, has “already solved most challenges.”

Interface plans to move past their current model, which includes “reducing negative impacts to zero; using recycled, closed-loop materials; producing low-carbon products; and creating a sustainable supply chain” — goals akmost any firm would view as almost unreachable accomplishments.

Under their new model post-2020, they intend to go beyond simply doing no-harm and become a positive contributor to the environment and society through their manufacturing.

For example, they have reached out to fishing communities in Philippines to set up centers were used, torn nylon fishing nets can be collected. Interface will then recycle and incorporate these into their products. “Communities negatively impacted by ghost nets will be paid to collect nets for us,” creating rippling benefits beyond the product.

Nicole Miller, managing director at Biomimicry 3.8, further explained how her firm will help Interface redesign their facilities to be restorative entities that mimic nearby ecosystems. She said there are three primary ways to integrate this novel approach: first, by “changing the company’s mindset and setting an ambitious north star”; second, using the surrounding ecosystems as a reference to set performance goals; and, third, by developing design concepts rooted in specific site details. “The ecological habitats next door become the guidance benchmarks.”

To redesign Interface’s factory in LaGrange, Georgia, they must understand the surrounding reference ecosystem they will measure performance against — the Southern Outer Piedmont ecosystem. Miller said Biomimicry 3.8 will carefully examine all aspects of how this ecosystem functions in order to set measurable goals. They will look at the amounts of carbon sequestered, water stored and purified, sediment retained, pollination supported, pollution detoxified, biodiversity supported, and soil fertility enhanced by the system.

“Ecological services are the entry point.” But Miller’s team will then further dig into the metrics to inform the design. For example, should a manufacturing facility really mimic the carbon functions of a forest, which releases carbon in some months and sequesters more in other months?

In the future, Interface want to bring this ecosystem-driven approach to design into the product themselves too: they seek to create products that sequester carbon, that require them to pull carbon out of the atmosphere to produce the material.

Also in this session: James Connelly, director of the living product challenge at the International Living Future Institute announced some of the first few products that have been certified as having restorative social and environmental effects, such as office furniture by HumanScale, which has no toxic chemicals and was created through 100 percent renewable energy, as well as new skateboards and sunglasses by Bureo, which are made of plastics harvested from the ocean. His group is now working with Patagonia to create a “restorative supply chain.”