Will the ‘Real Urban Designer’ Please Stand Up! Part II

Figure.1 Main Street District, Houston, TX image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2007

Figure.1 Main Street District, Houston, TX
image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2007

PART II: Seeking Future Identity
In Part I, we focused on the history, the precedent, and the nomenclature that seems to have shaped the ground for UD as an academic field and area of practice. Part II will concentrate on the evolving definition along with the current and anticipated future practices of urban design.

Evolving Definition
For as many concerns that developed in the second half of the 20th century, there are at least as many debates about the definition of Urban Design (UD) as well as the issues covered within the framework of UD. A concise definition is hard to come across from the literature, nor is it realistic to set the scope of the UD field. However, Madanipour’s summary of these “ambiguities” of UD “…the scale of urban fabric which UD addresses; visual or spatial emphases; spatial or social emphases; the relationship in between process and product in city design; the relationship between different professionals and their activities; public or private sector affiliations and design as an objective-rational or subjective-irrational processes” (Madanipour, 1997) sets the perimeters of the issues that define the scope of UD as we become familiar as landscape architecture professionals.

In its most basic form, UD is interrelated but also a distinct academic field and area of practice. It is concerned with the architectural form, the relationship between the buildings and the spaces created within, as well as the social, economic, environmental, and practical issues inherent to these spaces. The field encompasses landscape architecture, architecture, and city planning, (Lynch in Banerjee and Soutworth, ed., 1990; Lang, 2005). UD is viewed as a specialization within the field of architecture (Lang, 1994), as something to be practiced by an architect or landscape architect (Lang 2005; Lynch in Banerjee and Soutworth, ed., 1990), or as integral part of urban planning (Moughtin, 2003; Gosling and Gosling, 2003; Sternberg, 2000).

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Will the ‘Real Urban Designer’ Please Stand Up! Part I

Figure.1 Chicago, IL image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2014

Figure.1 Chicago, IL
image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2014

Introduction:
As we are approaching ASLA’s 2016 Annual Meeting and EXPO in New Orleans and coming to the end of another term with ASLA’s Urban Design (UD) Professional Practice Network (PPN) annual activities, once again, I come to realize that what we call urban design is not the same for all landscape architecture professionals (nor to architects, planners, and/or engineers). Calling one’s self an urban designer without clarity may also not do justice to the field and practice of urban design. For the 1,686 active members of the PPN and nearly 2,500 active UD PPN Linkedin Group members (as of September 2016), it seems like we may have almost as many definitions as the number of professionals who are following our UD PPN voluntary activities.

It is difficult for the urban design field and practice to make progress, if it fails to be conceptually clear about its nature, purpose, methods (Lang, 2005). Therefore, I decided to use this post as an opportunity to reflect upon “what is urban design;” the precedent, definition, features, area of practices, and professional domain with the intention that we can find a common thread among landscape architecture professionals (and other professionals) within the comprehensive domain of “urban design.”

Part I: Tracing the Roots
Part I focuses on the history, the precedent, and the nomenclature that seems to have shaped the ground for UD as an academic field and area of practice. Part II concentrates on the evolving definition along with the current and anticipated future practices of urban design.

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Join us for PPN Live in New Orleans

Several ways to tap into the Professional Practice Networks

Several ways to tap into the Professional Practice Networks

There will be many opportunities to learn, network, and celebrate during the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in New Orleans this October, just over a month away. In addition to the 140+ education sessions, field sessions, workshops, and special events, be sure to add the new PPN Live to your annual meeting plans, and remember to register before the Advanced Rate deadline this Friday, September 16 to save $150. If you are already registered, book your hotel and purchase special event tickets before September 16 to take advantage of the best rates.

Through PPN Live, you can network with colleagues from all 20 Professional Practice Networks (PPNs) throughout the annual meeting weekend. This is all part of the new PPN Live:

  • Participate in a PPN Live session – PPN meetings take place on the EXPO floor throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday, and include a variety of formats: invited speakers, fast-paced PechaKucha-style presentations, speed-mentoring, networking sessions, and more.
  • Attend a PPN exhibitor product tour (1.0 PDH LA CES/NON-HSW)
  • Network with your PPN peers at the EXPO Reception featuring the PPNs on Sunday from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. It’s now free to all registered annual meeting attendees, and non-PPN members are welcome to attend.

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When Did Scenic Quality Stop Mattering?

Figure 1: Broadway Boulevard and Wilmot Road in a busy commercial area of central Tucson, AZ. View to Rincon Mountains. image: Ellen Alster

Figure 1: Broadway Boulevard and Wilmot Road in a busy commercial area of Tucson, AZ. View to Rincon Mountains.
image: Ellen Alster

The Sonoran Desert area in and surrounding Tucson, Arizona has stunningly unique scenery: vivid bright blue skies, mountains that continually change hue depending on the light, and forests of saguaros that punctuate the horizon. Four mountain ranges surround the city: the Santa Catalinas to the north, the Tucson Mountains to the west, the Santa Ritas to the South, and the Rincon Mountains to the east. Even on Tucson’s most mundane streets, the mountains embrace the city, framing it on all sides. The spectacular native landscape should elicit the highest aspirations for the built environment. Yet it seems as if both leadership and citizenry have become numb to the beauty enveloping them, feeling powerless to take action against the changes occurring.

Southern Arizona’s signature skyline of saguaro cacti silhouettes is rapidly being usurped by the dark rusted steel poles newly dominating the horizon. They loom over urban, suburban, and rural landscapes as the electrical grid is replaced and upgraded (see figure 2).

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Playing with Topography

One way we can avoid the effect of a cookie-cutter playground and invite children into the landscape is to integrate the play space with the contours of the site, whether by taking advantage of existing grade changes or by introducing topography to an otherwise flat space. However, the technical challenges and safety concerns associated with hillside play have, in recent years, been a barrier to the design and installation of embankment slides and other play features that integrate with topography. Bridget Muck and Tracey Adams of Miracle Play Systems share knowledge and expertise gained by working on several successful hillside play installations.
-Brenna Castro, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Officer

There are all sorts of new and exciting playground equipment on the market these days, but one familiar piece from decades ago has made a major comeback—the embankment slide.

Joe DiMaggio Park, San Francisco image: Miracle Play Systems

Joe DiMaggio Park, San Francisco
image: Miracle Play Systems

The embankment slide is not a new concept. However, with safety codes and regulations such as ASTM, CPSC, ADA, and CBC, they are a little trickier than they were for the designers of the past. In this article, we will define embankment slides versus elevated hillslides, provide design methods and approaches, offer material recommendations, and share a few success stories along the way. We will also show other play features that can be incorporated into a site with topography.

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SITES® at the ASLA Annual Meeting

Shoemaker Green, 2014 ASLA Honor Award, General Design Category image: Barrett Doherty and Andropogon

Shoemaker Green, 2014 ASLA Honor Award, General Design Category
image: Barrett Doherty and Andropogon

A comprehensive SITES® workshop will take place on Friday, October 21, from 1:30 to 5:00 p.m. at this year’s ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in New Orleans. Last year, this session was rated 4.6 of a possible 5, which put it on the list of top 20 rated sessions. This year promises to match or better that performance!

Entitled “WS-003 SITES: Navigating the Submittal Process and Trouble-shooting Challenges with the Experts,” the workshop’s presenters include José Almiñana, FASLA, LEED AP, and Jason Curtis of Andropogon Associates; David Yocca, FASLA, Conservation Design Forum; Micah Silvey, Green Business Certification Inc.; and James Moyer of Grand Valley State University.

Expect a definitive overview of the SITES rating system and certification process. We’ll explore the SITES prerequisite checklist used early in the planning phase, then walk through the submittal process with real examples by SITES experts. We’ll also examine some of the actual challenges faced with the certified pilot projects and how to navigate solving them, including how to engage clients in the process.

Register by the advance deadline on September 16 and save $50, a 20 percent discount. Then join us in New Orleans to learn all you need to know about getting your project certified!

See you there!

EPA Green Infrastructure Design Challenge

Philadelphia University image: Jules Bruck

Philadelphia University
image: Jules Bruck

Now that summer has officially ended for most academics (although you wouldn’t be able to tell from the thermometer outside my office here in Delaware), many folks are busy running design studios for various courses. I was all set to run a studio using a community redevelopment project I have been working on when a colleague who works for a state department emailed an interesting design challenge that piqued my interest – and I hope it comes as news to some of you. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced its fifth annual Campus RainWorks Challenge offering a green infrastructure challenge for colleges and universities.

According to the EPA Challenge website, “Student teams design an innovative green infrastructure project for their campus that effectively manages stormwater runoff while benefiting the campus community and the environment.” There are two design categories – Master Plan and Demonstration Project, and this year teams will be asked to incorporate climate resiliency and consider community engagement in stormwater management designs.

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