Designing for Food Production

An overview of Lafayette Greens in downtown Detroit image: Beth Hagenbuch

An overview of Lafayette Greens in downtown Detroit
image: Beth Hagenbuch

Farmers and landscape architects approach the landscape in fundamentally different ways, though they often share similar goals for the health of the environment and the communities where they work. Since discovering my green thumb as a college student, I’ve worked in both arenas, first as an intern on organic farms in California, later as a landscape designer and contractor specializing in edible gardens and, most recently, as an environmental planner focused on zoning regulations and other big picture concerns for urban agriculture. In the middle I had a seven-acre farm of my own, raising goats, chickens and pigs in a suburban neighborhood in Athens, Georgia.

Through these experiences I’ve found that while organic farmers and environmentally-minded designers both operate from a triple bottom line perspective, they operate under very different assumptions, yielding radically different outcomes in the landscape. The tremendous interest of today’s urban populations in food production has brought the perspectives of farmers and designers to common ground—literally—and if the urban agriculture movement is to be seen as successful twenty years from now, it is important that a greater degree of mutual understanding be reached.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rethinking Runoff: Shrubs & Stormwater

Harrison Street Bioswale in Syracuse, NY image: Ethan Dropkin

Harrison Street bioswale in Syracuse, NY
image: Ethan Dropkin

Stormwater retention is a hot-button issue among landscape architects. It’s something that all designers need to consider and can pose challenges on specific sites as well as in larger ecological systems. As landscape architects, we strive to implement creative practices to mitigate stormwater issues.

The planted retention/infiltration practice is one familiar to us all; however, this practice comes with its own unique set of care and maintenance issues. Enter the new guide from Cornell University’s Urban Horticulture Institute (UHI): “Woody Shrubs for Stormwater Retention Practices: Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Regions.” This guide by authors Ethan M. Dropkin and Nina Bassuk of Cornell University includes helpful information about issues associated with stormwater, various mitigation practices, and an extensive plant list.

In the past, designers have tended to select wet site-tolerant plants for these installations; however, while bioswale soils may be wet for brief periods, they are more often very dry between rainfall events. The authors tested several plants for their wet and dry tolerance and developed a bulletin describing many woody plants that are well-adapted to these conditions of alternately wet and dry soils.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Latest in Urban Agriculture

Riverpark Farm, located in a New York City neighborhood that previously had no grocery stores with fresh food, uses portable planters made from milk crates on a stalled building project site so it can move to its final location when the building is developed.  image: April Philips

Riverpark Farm, located in a New York City neighborhood that previously had very limited access to fresh food, uses portable planters made from milk crates on a stalled building project site so it can move to its final location when the building is developed.
image: courtesy of Riverpark Farm – photo by Ari Nuzzo

Interview with April Philips, FASLA

Spring seems like a good time to visit the subject of landscape architects and urban agriculture, and April Philips, FASLA, has put her time and passion to work in this rapidly emerging field that supports the creation of more sustainable cities and communities. In addition to her practice, April has written a book on the subject titled: Designing Urban Agriculture: A Complete Guide to the Planning, Design, Construction, Maintenance, and Management of Edible Landscapes, published by John Wiley & Sons. After reading her interview in The Huffington Post last July—“The Urban Jungle: April Philips Has a Concrete Plan for Tasty City Landscapes”— I thought that SDD members would appreciate some follow up.
–Lisa Cowan, ASLA, SDD PPN Co-Chair

From the research for your book, Designing Urban Agriculture, and your on-going work in designing and facilitating urban agriculture projects, have you learned anything that surprised or challenged you as a landscape architect?

Simply put, food can become a platform from which we address other important elements of community, ecology, and livability, including the physical, social, economic, cultural, and environmental health of the city. Food is the gateway to the stakeholder conversations between city, community, and project developer or funder. It is also surprising how many edible projects and ideas are out there to learn from so there is still tremendous interest in delving deeper into this complex subject.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Cost of Green Infrastructure

image: Martha Sheils

image: Martha Sheils

As co-chair of the Sustainable Design and Development PPN, I work with other officers and ASLA staff to develop topics of interest and input from landscape architects and other allied professionals for this blog. Project economics are an important, but immensely challenging, topic in making the case for sustainable design. At the suggestion of Dena Kennett, ASLA, who worked on ASLA’s behalf to develop a green infrastructure workshop for the 2013 New Partners for Smart Growth Conference and worked directly with my colleague, Martha Sheils, a resource economics professional, to address this issue, we are trying something new here—adapting a PowerPoint presentation to this format to provide SDD members with access to information that resonated with conference attendees. 

When our company, Studioverde, was in its formative stages, I had many fruitful discussions with Martha—a friend and colleague from when we worked together in another multidisciplinary firm—about the importance of ecosystem services and the economic case for sustainable design, implementation, and maintenance. Martha has an uncanny ability to identify, distill, and communicate heady research outside of the landscape architecture profession that applies to our work. These early discussions and Martha’s research led us to the Sustainable Sites Initiative back in 2007, and she is currently working on education and outreach to help municipalities and professional organizations understand the benefits of integrated stormwater management models.
–Lisa Cowan, PLA, ASLA

The following article is Part 1 of a two-part series and was adapted from a panel discussion titled The Cost of Green Infrastructure as Convergence of Political Leadership, Architecture and Engineering: Cheaper than We Thought held during the 12th Annual New Partners for Smart Growth: Building Safe, Healthy, Equitable and Prosperous Communities Conference  in February, 2013.

Read the rest of this entry »

Solar Decathlon 2013

The University of Southern California's fluxHome image: © Benny Chan / Fotoworks

The University of Southern California’s fluxHome
image: © Benny Chan / Fotoworks

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is a biennial challenge for collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses. The winner of the competition is decided based on the affordability, consumer appeal, design excellence, energy production, and efficiency of the built design. With the purpose of educating both students and the public about clean and renewable energy, the Decathlon competitors are judged in ten categories, ranging from Architecture and Engineering to Market Appeal and Communications. Given the breadth of the competition, the Solar Decathlon’s participants include students and faculty from a variety of academic disciplines, including architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, computer science, product design, economics, communications, and more.

Read the rest of this entry »

Community Development and Tourism

San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, is a thriving community dependent on a variety of economic ventures, including tourism. image: Catalina Ávila LaFrance

San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, is a thriving community that depends on a variety of economic ventures, including tourism.
image: Catalina Ávila LaFrance

Tourism has a significant impact on much of the world. From the host to the visitor, we are all in one way or another shaped by tourism. While tourism’s positive effects include job creation, poverty alleviation, education, environmental preservation, and cultural exchange, tourism’s negative consequences–crime, loss of cultural identity, environmental degradation, species endangerment, and global warming–have proliferated in the last 30 years.

To counteract tourism’s negative side, we need to discuss what sustainable community development means within communities affected by tourism. Such a discussion must also include the steps that can be taken to ensure that those communities flourish with tourism as one part of a whole, rather than rely solely on tourism. After all, the changes that tourism brings about can be part of any community’s growth into a sustainable community.

Read the rest of this entry »

Life in the Margins

image: Samuel Geer

image: Samuel Geer

The Real Vegetation of our Urban Landscapes

Driving down I-94 recently, I noticed a bright orange patch of butterfly milkweed, wild bergamot, and purple coneflower growing along the highway embankment.  The plants were in bloom and stood out amongst the surrounding vegetation.  At other times of year, the planting wouldn’t make an impact, but in July it jumps out at you even at 75 miles an hour.  The plantings were so vibrant that we were inspired to exit the off ramp, climb down the retaining wall and get some close up pictures.  Once on the ground we saw that there were spots throughout the planting where people had dug up plants for their gardens.  This planting is the result of new methods for roadside vegetation planting, establishment, and maintenance specified in Native Seed Mix Design for Roadsides, a report prepared for MNDOT by Kestrel Design Group in 2010.  This report reflects the rise of green infrastructure and native vegetation restoration as emergent paradigms for understanding urban ecology and landscape management, particularly at the macro-scale of transportation networks.

Read the rest of this entry »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 601 other followers