Creative Commons

Field sketch image: Jules Bruck

Field sketch
image: Jules Bruck

Fostering Collaboration & Innovation

Have you ever read a book so compelling and inspirational it becomes your go-to holiday gift? This past year I shared with many colleagues and loved ones a book I found both captivating and insightful, with the hope that they would not only enjoy the eloquent prose and educational essays, but it would also cause them to reconsider the way they perceive the world outside.

For me, The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, by David George Haskell, has actually achieved a status well beyond that of a holiday gift by becoming the basis for my spring Field Sketching course at the University of Delaware. The course focuses on the power of observation to develop design-thinking habits of mind, and on freehand sketching techniques used to portray objects and landscape subjects. In addition to fine arts-based studio techniques, students have an opportunity to demonstrate their sketching and observational skills each week as they hike to the woods to sit quietly and reflect on the forest details. Insights from The Forest Unseen and instructor prompts will lead the student explorations of their own personal one square meter of space in the nearby White Clay Creek nature preserve.

In Haskell’s book, the area of observation is referred to as a mandala. In their personal mandala, students will sit quietly for 2 hours/week observing and documenting the space. In doing so, they will help me answer the questions: How might extended observation of one place change a student’s awareness, perception, or appreciation of the place? How might doing so change their perception of living and non-living things that periodically occupy the space? How might this translate to more environmentally thoughtful behavior and designs?

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Annual Meeting Highlights

As the keynote, Lois Brink explains strategies to locate funding for schoolyard gardens image: Lisa Horne

As the keynote, Lois Brink explains strategies to locate funding for schoolyard gardens
image: Lisa Horne

It was a noteworthy year for the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN at the ASLA Annual Meeting in Denver, with record-breaking meeting attendance and stirring presentations. Highlights and links to session notes are below.

Annual PPN Meeting

With well over 35 participants, the annual meeting broke PPN records for attendance. The meeting started with a call for more volunteers to join the leadership team and kicked off with three PechaKucha-style presentations by Joy Kuebler, John McConkey, and Alison Kelly. Topics ranged from pop-up parks to pilot studies on play spaces addressing developmental disorders to schoolyard gardens. Lois Brink, a founder of Learning Landscapes in Denver, gave the keynote with an original perspective on funding for schoolyards.

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Top Technically Innovative Projects

Central Park image: Anh Dinh via Flickr

Central Park
image: Anh Dinh via Flickr

When PPN members were asked to name technically innovative projects, we received many unique ideas and suggestions, with projects from across the country and around the world. The following were the only ones mentioned more than once:

  1. Central Park, New York City
  2. The High Line, New York City
  3. Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and the Gateway Arch, St. Louis
  4. Millennium Park, Chicago
  5. National 9/11 Memorial, New York City
  6. Teardrop Park, New York City

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Trends That Give Us Hope

image: Sharon Danks

image: Sharon Danks

Environmental planner Sharon Gamson Danks is CEO of Green Schoolyards America and principal of Bay Tree Design in Berkeley, California. She is the author of Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation, which was featured as a book review in the Children’s Outdoor Environments (COE) PPN section of The Field in January 2013. Her work transforms school grounds into vibrant public spaces that reflect and enhance local ecology, nurture children as they learn and play, and engage the community. The COE PPN is thrilled to have her work published here on The Field.
–Chad Kennedy, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Chair

The Power and Potential of Green Schoolyards

Public school districts are one of the largest landowners in almost every city and town across the United States and around the world. In the United States alone, over 132,000  schools in more than 13,000 school districts serve more than 50 million pre-kindergarten to 12th grade students each year [1, 2]. Choices made by school districts about how they manage their landscapes profoundly impact their city and generations of local residents whose perspectives are shaped through daily, outdoor experiences at school.

A movement to green school grounds and connect students to nature is gaining momentum in the United States and around the globe, weaving the ideas of urban sustainability and ecological design together with academic achievement, public health, children’s wellbeing, sense of place, and community engagement. Green schoolyards bring nature back to cities and suburbs by transforming barren asphalt and ordinary grass into vibrant environments for learning and play, set within the context of the rich, local ecosystems that nurture wildlife and the natural processes that underlie and sustain our urban infrastructure. Green schoolyards foster children’s social, physical, and intellectual growth and health by providing settings for curiosity, collaboration, imagination, exploration, adventure, and wonder.

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Here are the 2014 HALS Challenge Winners

CCC Camp Wickiup. Photocopy of historic photographs (original photograph on file at National Archives, Rocky Mountain Region, Denver, CO). Unknown USBR Photographer, December 9, 1938 - Wickiup Dam, Deschutes River, La Pine, Deschutes County, OR image: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HAER OR-112-10

CCC Camp Wickiup; December 9, 1938; Wickiup Dam, Deschutes River, La Pine, Deschutes County, OR
image: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HAER OR-112-10

The results of the 5th annual HALS Challenge, Documenting Landscapes of the New Deal, were announced at the HALS Meeting that took place during the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Denver on Saturday, November 22, 2014. Congratulations to the winners!

1st Place:
Allegheny National Forest, CCC Camp ANF-1, Duhring, PA, HALS PA-25
by Ann E. Komara, ASLA, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, with assistance from Susan Martino, Jennifer L. Thomas, et al – MLA Students, College of Architecture and Planning, University of Colorado Denver

2nd Place:
Mount Tamalpais State Park, The Mountain Theater, Mill Valley, CA, HALS CA-107
by Douglas Nelson, ASLA, Principal, RHAA Landscape Architects

3rd Place:
Mount Greylock State Reservation, Lanesborough, MA, HALS MA-2
by Pamela Hartford, Jean Cavanaugh, Allison Crosbie, ASLA, & Marion Pressley, FASLA, Pressley Associates Landscape Architecture/Site Planning/Urban Design

Honorable Mentions:
The Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, and Ohio HALS reports listed below.

Sponsored by the National Park Service, cash prizes were awarded to the top 3 submissions. This challenge resulted in the donation of 47 impressive HALS short format historical reports, 6 drawing sheets, and 4 sets of large format photographs to the HALS collection.

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Pollinators & the City

image: Samantha Gallagher via Bee Safe Alexandria

image: Samantha Gallagher via Bee Safe Alexandria

Saving Native Bees to Save Diversity

Bees are one of nature’s biggest celebrities. They have been on the cover of Time magazine, written about in The New York Times, and featured in multiple documentaries with various celebrities. And there is good reason for it. Bees are responsible for the pollination of the majority of foods, including almonds, blueberries, avocados, and watermelons, as well as the pollination of many flowering landscape plants. Bees are a keystone species, and we need to rehabilitate their populations or face a serious change in the composition of our landscape and meals…which is not something I take lightly. Take away blueberries and avocados and I would have an anxiety attack. But my work is about much more than just saving the bees. It’s about biological design as everyday practice. It’s about changing policy and education to support the creation of living landscapes and not monocultures. It’s about diversity on all scales of life because diversity attracts diversity. And it all starts with bees.

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Oasis of Resilience

The Al-Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan; the picture illustrates the living condition in the camp. January 2014. image: Malda Takieddine

The Al-Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan; the picture illustrates the living condition in the camp. January 2014.
image: Malda Takieddine

Healing and Empowering Syrian Children in the Za’atari Refugee Camp

In the midst of refugee camps and suffering from difficult journeys necessitated by war, Syrian children suffer from traumas, uncertainty and unhealthy environments for their growth. Early adversarial exposures can change the development of the brain and can lead to subsequent psychological problems that make it harder for children to effectively immerse themselves in the education process as they grow. A close look at most refugee camps around the world reveals constraints in physical environments that impose and limit the natural development of children.

This post is a summary of a thesis project titled “Oasis of Resilience.” This thesis examined the Al-Za’atari refugee camp in northern Jordan, which is home to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees, and proposed a design to better the environment for children in general.

Within this camp, children constitute over half of the population, yet there are few designated places to escape the camp’s stressful life and to provide safety. Safety and respite from harsh conditions are essential to childhood development. However, in order to support children to overcome their trauma and empower them to move forward, design thinking should be integrated to enrich the few opportunities they have.

The goal as landscape architects was to redesign Za’atari’s children’s places around experiences that enable them to develop necessary skills, which strengthen their resilience and support their natural growth needs. “Oasis of Resilience” is a project that aims to enhance design content and implications with an increased understanding of child development, psychology and pedagogy science. The project highlights  relationships between children’s health and design and identifies needed facilitator parties in creating children’s places in refugee camps.

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