by Lee R. Skabelund, ASLA
The 2018 Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture Conference (CELA) was held in Blacksburg, Virginia March 21-24, 2018 at Virginia Tech University. Given my involvement in four educational sessions (including two green roof panel discussions) I was not able to attend as many presentations as I wanted to. However, what I listened to was informative. One 3/22 session I attended was highly relevant to ecological design and included a presentation by Reid Coffman, Ph.D, Associate Professor and Director of the Novel Ecology Design Lab (NEDLab) at Kent State University. He addressed the role of living architecture in providing a suite of ecosystem services—getting us to think about “ecosystem signatures” and the bundling of and interactions among ecosystem services. He emphasized the trade-offs that must be considered regarding biodiversity, productivity, energy dynamics, hydrologic cycling, and many different human dimensions (including visual order, health and wellness, equity issues, economics, and policy).
In the same session, Paul Coseo, Ph.D., PLA, Assistant Professor at Arizona State University, discussed designing experiments to improve green infrastructure performance from both ecological and socio-cultural perspectives. Paul emphasized the need to get beyond anecdotal evidence of performance by taking scientifically sound measurements. He noted the need to recognize and overcome barriers to effective, ongoing green infrastructure maintenance and management. This comment paralleled ideas discussed by Katie Kingery-Page, ASLA, PLA, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and Regional & Community Planning at Kansas State University, and myself as we highlighted lessons learned from two green infrastructure projects that we have helped implement and manage on the Kansas State University campus. Our three presentations led to a vibrant conversation about the role of university faculty and students in societally-relevant impacts of implemented green infrastructure experiments and demonstration projects—where inputs are transformed into tangible goods and services that support human and broader ecological needs, functions, and dynamics.
The International Student Rain-Garden, ASLA 2009 Student Community Service Award Winner, and The Meadow (the rain-garden implemented in 2007, and the meadow in 2013 in Manhattan, Kansas) each provide a glimpse of limited ecological restoration design efforts implemented in the urban context. Performance measurements by faculty and students in 2016-2017 showed vegetation diversity, less frequent but more nuanced and informed maintenance practices, active use by pollinators, effective stormwater infiltration and management, and active engagement of a wide range of visitors. The presentation slides above show each site as presented in “Examining Green Infrastructure Performance: Learning from two university campus sites.”
The presentation “Current Research in the Field of Living Architecture” by Virginia Russell, FASLA, PLA, Professor of Landscape Architecture at University of Cincinnati, was particularly informative and has relevance for those considering how novel ecosystems can serve as restorative agents in urban and other settings where buildings can degrade or enhance natural systems.
For more on CELA 2018 publications see: http://cela.lar.vt.edu/conference-publications/
Despite 6-12 inches of snow on March 21st and March 24th (which lowered attendance and modified field trip plans) the conference was excellent for all who attended. The hosts did a wonderful job of organizing the conference.
On Friday afternoon, given that snow drifts disallowed access to the Blue Ridge Parkway, Gary W. Johnson, ASLA and longtime landscape architect for the National Park Service, did an incredible job discussing the design intentions and outcomes of the historic ridgetop parkway—which was implemented over a period of 52 years between 1935 and 1987. Gary also provided an in-depth review of the community-and-natural systems-focused visual assessment work and supporting land management strategies employed by the NPS along the parkway’s meandering 465-mile alignment.
For more about the Blue Ridge Parkway see – https://www.nps.gov/blri/learn/historyculture/index.htm
The field trip I subsequently attended Friday afternoon—to Mountain Lake, and for some of us, a hike to Bald Knob on the Appalachian Trail—was both informative and a perfect respite. Lead conference coordinator, Terry Clements, FASLA, PLA, Professor, Chair of the Landscape Architecture Program at Virginia Tech University, provided a very informative discussion of Mountain Lake Resort’s history and regional setting as we traveled by bus up winding roads dotted with pastures and forest slopes. Water in Mountain Lake has mostly disappeared and the owners of the lodge have sought ways to entice visitors despite a very different setting than was available to visitors prior to 1999 when lake levels began to dramatically recede.
For more about Mountain Lake see The Washington Post’s “Returning to Mountain Lake, minus the lake” and The Roanoke Times’ “Researchers find new drainage hole at Mountain Lake.”
Having led an interdisciplinary team on the Tom’s Creek Corridor Restoration Project in Blacksburg, Virginia between 2001-2005, it was enlightening and sobering to revisit several of our 14-17-year-old project sites and see how autumn olive, multiflora rose, blackberry, and other invasive species were dominating areas intended for restoration of native ecosystems. The lack of community and stakeholder commitment and/or capacity to manage invasive species following the planting of native trees and shrubs along the Tom’s Creek corridor has created an ecological system that protects the stream corridor, but fails to retain the diversity of grasses, forbs, shrubs, and trees that could be present with active, strategic, ongoing management by faculty, students, and residents of Blacksburg.
By Lee Skabelund, ASLA, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and Regional & Community Planning at Kansas State University