Earth Hour 2014

image: Earth Hour Starter Kit
image: Earth Hour Starter Kit

The stars may look a little brighter this weekend. This Saturday, March 29, at 8:30pm, people around the world will be switching off the lights for the World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour, a global movement celebrating our commitment to the planet, promoting awareness of our environmental impact, and also translating that heightened awareness into action. The 2014 participants include landmarks and buildings, cities, colleges and universities, businesses, organizations, and individuals in over 150 countries.

The first Earth Hour took place in 2007 in Sydney, Australia. Since then, Earth Hour has become one of the world’s largest voluntary environmental actions, with more than 7,000 cities and towns worldwide participating. New this year, Earth Hour also includes Earth Hour Blue, a crowdfunding platform for sustainability and conservation projects and environmental campaigns, including:

Help Canada Go Renewable
Help Canada say goodbye to planet-warming fossil fuels. Fund our project to create a detailed map of renewable resources across the country—wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and biomass—and set Canada on the path to 100% renewable energy.

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Parklets 2.0 Recap

The "Get Outdoors!" parklet, sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and Yonder image: Deborah Steinberg
Get Outdoors!, sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and Yonder
image: Deborah Steinberg

This February in Denver, CO, the New Partners for Smart Growth conference hosted a unique set of communal spaces. Parklets 2.0 was the second annual initiative to bring the urban green space movement indoors. Parklets are parking space-sized areas used for recreational or beautification purposes. These small urban parks are created by replacing a parking spot with sod, planters, trees, benches, café tables and chairs—even artwork or bicycle parking. They are designed to provide urban green space and to bring awareness to the quantity of community space that is devoted to parking rather than creating vibrant communal spaces.

Four parklet installations spanned the communal spaces outside conference session rooms. Each space offered a unique twist on community space, but all offered areas for attendees to congregate, relax, interact, and learn about the importance of urban community spaces.

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Disc Golf Discourse

image: Michael Plansky
image: Michael Plansky

Disc golf—also known as Frisbee Golf, Frolf, and Hippy-Golf—is perhaps the largest contemporary leisure activity you’ve never heard of. The game emerged from the convergence of the 1960’s countercultural movement with the mass market appeal of a technological innovation from Wham-O ©: the Frisbee ©. Skateboarding and beach volleyball are just two of many other examples of what sport and society scholars describe as lifestyle sports—which appropriate patches of the public realm in order to participate/perform within a subculture as an individual.

These new forms of recreation raise many questions. Postmodern recreation? Adaptation of old forms? When does grassroots become mainstream, and how can commercialization lead to a decline in appeal? Snowboarding caught the limelight, “lost its edge” and continues to slide, while disc golf course installations on underutilized landscapes continue to spiral forward at an exponential rate, worldwide. It is important to examine the resilience of such lifestyle sports so that we may provide the sort of health-enhancing outdoor activities which our swelling urban populations sorely need.

Disc golf is squarely based on the same concept as the ancient game of ball-golf, which was devised by Scottish soldiers in their leisure time. Linkslands were an ideal forgotten landscape for playful invention, consisting of undulating swaths of tolerant grasses—a transition between tended fields and coastal sand dunes. Add stick, ball, and hole? Voilà! Golf.

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EarthLooms for Nature Play Spaces

Boys and girls of all ages flock to the EarthLoom at Tremont Elementary School in Tremont, Maine, June 2013 image: Cheryl Corson
Boys and girls of all ages flock to the EarthLoom at Tremont Elementary School in Tremont, Maine, June 2013
image: Cheryl Corson

Kids instinctively understand the ancient art of weaving and they love doing it. When you present them with the opportunity to weave outdoors with freely available local plant material, working collaboratively in small groups, you have a winning combination and a landscape element that can easily be integrated into most nature play spaces.

EarthLoom was developed by Maine artists Susan and Richard Merrill as an artistic expression of community building. Embedded within the practical act of weaving are elements of cooperation, collaboration, and peacemaking. Their EarthLoom Foundation helps support projects around the world.

As a landscape architect and CPSI (Certified Playground Safety Inspector) involved in nature play space design in the Mid-Atlantic region, I encourage institutions to include nature play elements in their spaces. As a longtime weaver, however, I was deeply moved following the groundbreaking of a nature play space at the Tremont Elementary School on Mount Desert Island, Maine, last June. Designer Kreg McCune created an EarthLoom, the physical and symbolic centerpiece of this new space. Within only a few hours, kids of all ages had created a work of art on it.

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Social Media & Parks

parks.stamen.com, a partnership between Stamen Design and the Electric Roadrunner Lab image: Jon Christensen
parks.stamen.com, a partnership between Stamen Design and the Electric Roadrunner Lab
image: Jon Christensen

This post highlights one of the presentations to be made at the National Association for Olmsted ParksFrederick Law Olmsted Jr.: Inspirations for the 21st Century – A Vision for the American West symposium at Stanford University on March 27-28, 2014. ASLA is a symposium partner.

Tuning into Social Media Emanating from Parks and Open Spaces

Stories pour out of parks every day. In California, we’re listening at parks.stamen.com. From family vacations in a national park to mornings at the dog run and lazy days on the beach, Californians live their lives outdoors—and share their experiences online on Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, and Foursquare.

Working with Stamen Design in San Francisco, we’ve taken the actual shape of every park in California and used it as a window to watch and listen to social media streaming out of every park and open space in the state. From the tiny, urban pocket park down the street to huge Stanislaus National Forest—the state’s biggest!—this project bears witness to a simple story a million different ways: parks are part of people’s lives in California.

We hope that this project helps connect Californians with their parks—from the liveliest and loudest to the quiet and secluded—and that park rangers, managers, and advocates find these stories and connect with the Californians who use and love their parks.

We’ll be unveiling parks.stamen.com at the National Association for Olmsted ParksFrederick Law Olmsted Jr.: Inspirations for the 21st Century – A Vision for the American West symposium at Stanford University on March 27, 2014. The setting is appropriate. Olmsted conducted a statewide survey and created the first plan for the California State Park system in 1929. Today that system is in crisis. In recent years, the state parks agency has been plagued by financial and management problems. A blue ribbon commission is currently holding hearings around the state to map out a path to sustainability for state parks.

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What’s Next for Sunbelt Cities?

image: Yao Lin and Taner R. Ozdil
image: Yao Lin and Taner R. Ozdil

Why it’s Time to Start Thinking about TODistricts

Great places we all seem to love and cherish are not typically a product of a single architectural style, ownership, project, or time. They are a mixture of design components and human conditions aged over time with culture, identity, and spirit. Although the professional act of placemaking belongs to all landscape architecture, architecture, and urban planning fields (as well as other allied fields), urban design as an academic field and area of professional activity covers the heart of the design activities that involve multiple buildings, open spaces, and ownerships (i.e. public and private). Transit Oriented Developments (TOD) are designed in relation to multi-modal and public transportation. Creating TODs—one of urban designers’ means of placemaking—has gained momentum in recent decades, especially in Sunbelt cities.

TODs are seen as opportunities for cities to create centers, nodes, or hubs of activity with a strong sense of place for the built environment. However, until now, TOD practice has emphasized limited, fragmented development patterns and partial stakeholder views, neglecting the greater urban form for the contemporary city. The purpose of this position piece is to revisit the term and the established scope of development practices around transit in order to better situate such placemaking activities within the broader framework of urban design practices. This article introduces the term Transit Oriented District (TODistrict), defined as the whole area within a half mile walking distance of a transit station, and reviews critical components of such district-level efforts. In light of research conducted on North Texas, the article discusses the relevance of the issue and offers lessons for developments and districts in Sunbelt cities and beyond to better inform the planning, design, and implementation processes and practices for future TODistricts.

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