High Performance Public Spaces: A Tool for Building More Resilient and Sustainable Communities

by David Barth, PhD, ASLA, RLA, AICP, CPRP

Kissimmee Lakefront Park
Kissimmee Lakefront Park, a High-Performance Public Space / image: Michael Brown, AECOM

Most design firms and communities are embracing the concepts of sustainability and resiliency. However, as with all ambitious initiatives, implementation is the greatest challenge. Three actions landscape architects can take to put theory into practice are to:

  1. plan and design every park and open space project as a High-Performance Public Space (HPPS),
  2. plan and design parks and open spaces as part of an integrated public realm, and
  3. help create a culture that fosters the adoption of innovation in the planning and design of public spaces.

The concept of a HPPS evolved from my doctoral research at the University of Florida, where I was trying to determine the factors that led to the adoption of innovation in the planning and design of public spaces. More specifically, I wanted to learn why some public agencies and design consultants adopt sustainable design principles in their parks and public space projects, and others don’t. In order to find the answers, I first needed to develop criteria to identify examples of successful projects to study, which I referred to as High Performance Public Spaces.

I defined a HPPS as “any publicly accessible space that generates economic, environmental, and social sustainability benefits for their local community.” A HPPS can be a park, trail, square, green, natural area, plaza, or any other element of the public realm that generates all three types of benefits. Working with a group of over 20 sustainability experts, we developed 25 criteria for a HPPS including economic criteria such as “the space sustains or increases property values;” environmental criteria such as “the space uses energy, water, and material resources efficiently;” and social criteria such as “the space provides places for formal and informal social gathering, art, performances, and community or civic events.” A space had to meet at least 80% of the 25 criteria in order to qualify as a HPPS. The full list of criteria is shown below.

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ASLA Professional Practice Library: Library, Archives, and Research Services

by Ian Bucacink, M.A., M.L.I.S.

John Charles Olmsted
John Charles Olmsted / image: Transactions of the American Society of Landscape Architects, 1909-1921

The Professional Practice Library at ASLA houses more than 2,000 volumes on landscape architecture and related fields, and receives more than 130 journals and newsletters. In addition, it has archival copies of ASLA publications, including Landscape Architecture Magazine, membership directories, and annual meeting publications. Most of the library and research materials were packed away in off-site storage during the construction of the ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture, and ongoing building issues have prevented the return of the library shelving and reading areas. However, we hope to restore full access to researchers in 2019!

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Expanding America’s Diverse History Inside the Sierra Summit Tunnels

by Terry Guen, FASLA, Advisory Council for Historic Preservation, Member & Landscape Architect Expert

Summit Tunnels 5 and 6, near Donner Pass, Tahoe National Forest, CA
Summit Tunnels 5 and 6, near Donner Pass, Tahoe National Forest, CA / image: TK Gong, 1882 Project

Running in near darkness towards the proverbial light, we did not expect this impromptu jog through Summit Tunnel to be life changing. In early November 2018, I joined a two-day historic preservation field trip, organized by the 1882 Project, United States Department of Agriculture, United States Forest Service, the Department of the Interior, and the Bureau of Land Management, to visit Chinese Railroad Worker Sites in California’s Tahoe National Forest. Arriving by luxury bus, it was hard to imagine 152 years prior, over 10,000 Chinese workers lived year-round in encampments, exposed to the elements, and surviving ten-foot-deep snows.

View of Tunnel #6 opening, near Donner Pass, Tahoe National Forest, CA
View of Tunnel #6 opening, near Donner Pass, Tahoe National Forest, CA / image: TK Gong, 1882 Project

Entering the west portal’s graffiti-laden face, we found the third-of-a-mile long tunnels #5 and #6, carved through the hard granite peak. Passing below the vertical tunnel shaft, our footsteps resounded. The tunnel excavation had started from above; granite spoils were hauled out by bucket at a rate of one foot per day until the tunnel floor where we stood was reached. Continuing to blast by hand, workers mined “day and night in three shifts of eight hours each,” from the portals inwards and center shaft outwards (Tunnels of the Pacific Railroad, 1870). After 18 months the Chinese rail workers broke through, accomplishing what many said could not be done. The total of six tunnels constructed within a two-mile stretch breached the Sierra mountains at an elevation of 6,690 feet, laying the 2% railbed, driving eastward to Promontory Summit, Utah, and the connection of the Transcontinental Railroad.

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What is Your Favorite Scenic Byway and Scenic Byway Logo?

by Peter Dunleavy, RLA, and Janet Kennedy

Outer Banks Scenic Byway
image: Outer Banks Scenic Byway

On February 6, the House of Representatives voted to pass H.R. 831 – Reviving America’s Scenic Byway Act of 2019. The act proposed to grant the Secretary of Transportation 90 days to request nominations for roads to be designated under the National Scenic Byway Program (23 USC §162) and to make designation determinations within one year after making the request for nominations.

In honor of the House of Representatives vote to pass H.R. 831, we are asking you to post a comment below telling us about your favorite Scenic Byway and/or favorite Scenic Byway Logo. Be sure to include links to photos and memorable sites along the route if you can.

Background

The federal National Scenic Byway Program was enacted in 1991 under ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act). Several states followed suit by passing laws to create state scenic byway programs. Currently 48 states and the District of Columbia have legislated scenic byway programs. Roads designated as scenic byways must have at least one of six intrinsic qualities: scenic, historical, archaeological, natural, cultural, or recreational. These intrinsic qualities describe features specific and unique to the roadway. A scenic byway corridor is managed to protect the byway’s intrinsic quality and to encourage economic development through tourism and recreation.

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Designing for Public Space Inclusive of Unhoused People

by Katie Kingery-Page, PLA, ASLA, and Skylar Brown, Student ASLA

Persons living unhoused in the former Pershing Square, Los Angeles, 2013
Persons living unhoused in the former Pershing Square, Los Angeles, 2013 / image: Levi Clancy via Wikimedia Commons

Use of public space, such as plazas, streetscapes and parks, by people living unhoused (a.k.a homeless) is persistently viewed as a social problem. Many cities in the United States have attempted to use legal ordinance to place strictures on where unhoused people may congregate or receive services. Several homeless advocacy organizations track such ordinances and they have been detailed in the mainstream press.

According to a recent report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, “Homelessness is caused by a severe shortage of affordable housing. Over 12.8% of the nation’s supply of low income housing has been permanently lost since 2001.” Homeless advocates widely agree that criminalization of being homeless in public does not help the conditions of homeless people or result in better access to services.

An equity worldview requires cities to plan public spaces for all people. Landscape architects have a strong role to play in promoting inclusion of services and amenities for unhoused people in urban parks. This post begins by asserting why fear of the homeless in public parks is unfounded, then takes a look at recent examples of inclusive parks, built and unbuilt.

Misconceptions of Homelessness

Referring to people living unhoused as “the homeless” implies that their condition is permanent and even of their own choosing. While there may be some cases in which this is true, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, many people find themselves suddenly without housing after a job loss, rent increase, or home foreclosure. According to the same report, “Family homelessness has been on the rise since the inception of the foreclosure crisis in 2007.” In an attempt to respect the varied circumstances and dignity of these persons, we use the phrase “persons living unhoused” throughout this blog post. But because “homeless” is a widely used term, we don’t exclude it from our writing.

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Towne Square at Suitland Federal Center

by Dennis Carmichael, FASLA, LEED AP, and Kelly Fleming, ASLA, SITES AP

Rendering of Towne Square at Suitland Federal Center's Central Park
Rendering of Towne Square at Suitland Federal Center’s Central Park / image: Dennis Carmichael

Towne Square at Suitland Federal Center is a 25-acre neighborhood proposed on the site of a former public housing project that was demolished in recent years, as it had become a den of crime. The site adjoins Suitland Federal Center, which houses the U.S. Census Bureau, NOAA, and other federal agencies. The Suitland Metrorail station is south of the federal center and within walking distance of Towne Square. As such, the project is a worthy model of Smart Growth: urban infill within areas of existing infrastructure, multiple modes of transportation, and employment opportunities. The program for the site is residential, retail, and a cultural arts building. The master plan was prepared by an architecture firm, Lessard Design Group. The client is the Prince George’s County Redevelopment Authority and their goal is to transform the site into a community with affordable housing that will serve as a model of sustainability. As part of that strategy, they included SITES® certification as a part of the scope for the landscape architecture to ensure the project meets a high standard for sustainability and that everyone on the project team is accountable.

The landscape architecture scope included the design of the public realm: parks, open spaces, and streetscapes which knit the neighborhood together as a walkable community. Parker Rodriguez was selected as the landscape architect, along with the Low Impact Development Center, for the SITES certification work. SITES certification includes 18 prerequisites and 48 credits for measuring site sustainability. The Redevelopment Authority is requiring that the project achieve Sustainable SITES Initiative Silver Certification, which means that the project must earn between 85 and 99 points out of a possible 200 points.

Prerequisites and credits in the SITES v2 Rating System are organized into 10 sections that follow typical design and construction phases. These sections demonstrate that achieving a sustainable site begins even before the design is initiated and continues through effective and appropriate operations and maintenance. Our goal as landscape architects was to use the SITES tool as the foundation for all of our design decisions so that the entire community is infused with landscape elements that improve air and water quality, reduce heat island effect, create or conserve energy, reduce waste, and reuse materials. We wanted a community where all of these ecological services were visible and understandable to the residents, to engender a sense of pride in place, but also to make this ethic intrinsic.

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