The Story of Denver’s Learning Landscapes

A bird's eye view of Moore Elementary's Learning Landscape image: Designscapes
A bird’s eye view of Moore Elementary’s Learning Landscape / image: Designscapes

Lois A. Brink is a professor at the University of Colorado and principal leader of the Learning Landscapes project in Denver, a $50 million design and construction initiative that in 2012 completed 96 elementary schoolyards over a 12-year construction schedule. She is a leader in the industry examining the sustainability of schoolyard redevelopment through many programs and research projects. She will be presenting this topic in detail at the ASLA Annual Meeting this November with a field session on Denver’s Schoolyard Learning Landscapes.
–Chad Kennedy, ASLA

School in the Yard: The Story of Denver’s Learning Landscapes

In the last analysis, civilization itself is measured by the way in which children will live and what chance they will have in the world.
–Mary Heaton Vorse, 1935

Denver was at a turning point during the 1990s. The city’s schoolyards primarily consisted of asphalt and pea gravel, with few play structures and limited green space. Most did not meet ADA requirements, provided little protection from the sun, and had limited lighting. They were underutilized, and gravel-related accidents were common.

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Public Practice at the ASLA Annual Meeting

Denver's 16th Street Mall image: Kent Kanouse via Flickr
Denver’s 16th Street Mall
image: Kent Kanouse via Flickr

Many of the 2014 ASLA Annual Meeting sessions spotlight the different roles landscape architects play in public policy and the design of public space through transportation system planning, green infrastructure, health care, sense of place, and historic preservation. These sessions address a broad array of opportunities and provide students with pertinent career development information.

Below is a list of sessions likely of significant interest to those involved in public works of landscape architecture.

Field Sessions – Friday, November 21

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PARK(ing) Day 2014 Recap

BicycleSPACE's parklet in Washington, DC image: Alexandra Hay
BicycleSPACE’s parklet in Washington, DC
image: Alexandra Hay

PARK(ing) Day‘s annual takeover and transformation of parking spaces around the world took place this past Friday, September 19. Creators of parklets this year included:

Taking place the third Friday in September since 2005, PARK(ing) Day began with a single parking space re-imagined as a temporary public place by the San Francisco art and design studio Rebar. For more on PARK(ing) Day’s origins and story, check out Rebar’s PARK(ing) Day Manual and Manifesto.

In Washington, DC, the District Department of Transportation launched a new system this year, with an application process and permit for PARK(ing) Day pop-up spaces—among the requirements, a park concept and site design had to be submitted for approval. Washington, DC hosted 18 parklets, spread throughout the city and organized by design firms, shops and eateries, and various departments of city government, among others. Below, we take a look at 7 PARK(ing) Day spaces in downtown DC. From inviting sitting areas to cornhole, these spaces offer a look at the potential a single parking space holds to spark new ideas on the different functions curbside space can support.

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Healing Gardens as Transformative Spaces

In the labyrinth with Air (one of the four sculptural elements) at Schneider Healing Garden at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center image: Brad Feinknopf
In the Schneider Healing Garden’s labyrinth at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center in Cleveland
image: Brad Feinknopf

Below is an excerpt from the article “‘It’s Somewhere Else Instead’: Healing Gardens as Transformative Spaces,” published in the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects’ LANDSCAPES | PAYSAGES magazine. To read the full article, visit CSLA’s website and see volume 16, number 2, pages 20-23.

Healing gardens are intentionally designed to provide a physical space that supports people who are dealing with disruptions in their lives that make the present confusing and the future uncertain. Whether a person with a challenging health issue, a loved one, or a caregiver, one is waiting in liminal space, suspended at the threshold of new experiences.

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Top 6 Cities for Open Spaces

Pulaski Square in Savannah, Georgia image: Chris M. Morris via Flickr
Pulaski Square in Savannah, Georgia
image: Chris M. Morris via Flickr

When PPN members were asked which cities have the best networks of open spaces, there were a handful of responses that came up again and again. A few outliers appeared once or twice—Ann Arbor, Austin, Denver, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Seattle among them—but six cities clearly dominated the results. These top cities cover different regions of the country, but they all have a healthy dose of green within their urban core, whether due to historic squares, centrally-located oases, a smattering of smaller green spaces throughout the city, or a mixture of new and old spaces that together create an interconnected network that keeps green spaces close, no matter where you are in the city.

Though many cities were mentioned as having the best network of open spaces, below we review those that were mentioned most often, along with some of the best spaces within these cities selected by our members.

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Continuing Education, Online & in Denver

Denver's City Park image: Clint Mickel via Flickr
Denver’s City Park
image: Clint Mickel via Flickr

This post is a heads-up for educational opportunities for members of the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN and for all ASLA members with an interest in this practice area. We would like to remind our members of an upcoming webinar and sessions that will be of interest at the Annual Meeting in Denver.

Upcoming ASLA Online Learning Presentation:

Risk Management at Nature Play and Learning Areas: A Risk Analysis Approach
Wednesday, September 17, 1:00 – 2:00pm (EDT)
Presenter: Allen Cooper, J.D., M.P.P, National Wildlife Federation

Risk management is a paramount issue in the design of nature play and learning areas. This presentation provides background on the dominant standards-based approach to risk management in children’s play areas, considers its application to nature play areas, then presents an alternative approach to risk management based on analysis of actual risk. The presenter is a coauthor of the recently released guide for the design of nature play and learning areas, Nature Play & Learning Places: Creating and Managing Places Where Children Engage with Nature.

Children’s Outdoor Environments at the Annual Meeting:

November, and the Annual Meeting in Denver, is just around the corner. There is a field session, numerous education sessions and several networking opportunities that will be of particular interest to members of the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN.

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Public Interest Design in Washington, DC

image: Alexandra Hay
image: Alexandra Hay

Sustainability, as defined by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, entails “the simultaneous pursuit of economic prosperity, environmental quality, and social equity. Companies aiming for sustainability need to perform not against a single, financial bottom line, but against [this] triple bottom line.” The idea of the triple bottom line is a key tenet of public interest design and its many allied movements, such as human-centered design, public sector design, community-based design, socially-responsible design, design for the common good, etc.—the list goes on.

With a plethora of terms and keywords to choose from, making sense of all the diverse options available within public interest design may seem daunting at first. From university-based programs to community design centers across the United States—the Association for Community Design has a complete map—opportunities to take part in public interest design abound.

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