The Providence Preservation Society: Advocating for the Preservation of Urban Neighborhoods and Landscapes

by Elena M. Pascarella, ASLA, PLA

State House, Providence, RI
State House, Providence, RI. This aerial image of the Rhode Island State House is from 1920 and shows the original landscaped grounds. A transportation hub was proposed for the area on the right side of the grounds between the State House and the road. In the 1990s some of the lawn area immediately to the right of the building was made into a parking lot for state legislators. / image: Rhode Island Photograph Collection, Providence Public Library

Many historic preservation organizations are founded to preserve a specific building or landscape. The Providence Preservation Society (PPS) was established in 1956 by leading citizens of College Hill in response to the threatened demolition of a number of early eighteenth and nineteenth century houses in Providence’s historic East Side/College Hill neighborhood. Had this demolition occurred, the entire character of this historic neighborhood would have changed and Providence would have lost a significant historic urban landscape.

The society’s mission is clearly stated on their website:

Our mission is to improve Providence by advocating for historic preservation and the enhancement of the city’s unique character through thoughtful design and planning.

The Providence Preservation Society was then and continues to be an advocate for the revitalization of neighborhoods. And within the past seven years, under the leadership of their current executive director, Brent Runyon, the PPS has led the charge for the preservation and revitalization of a number of threatened neighborhoods and significant landscapes within the City of Providence.

As the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) liaison for Rhode Island, I follow the advocacy work of PPS very closely, particularly with regard to threatened landscapes. The PPS was a strong partner with the Rhode Island Chapter of ASLA in 2017 when the RIASLA nominated the Rhode Island State House and its surrounding landscape for The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s annual Landslide program. This nomination was spurred by a plan for the placement of a transit hub on the east side of the state house landscape. The continued advocacy efforts of the PPS, along with other partners and the national recognition from TCLF’s Landslide feature, helped to stop the transit hub plan and preserve the context for Providence’s state capitol building, designed by McKim, Mead & White.

Providence’s riverfront is currently under threat from a number of development proposals. I contacted Brent Runyon by phone to inquire further about the PPS’ advocacy program and what he considers to be the key areas of focus for their organization.

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An Interview with Virginia Burt, FCSLA, FASLA

by Siyi He, Associate ASLA, and Lisa Bailey, ASLA

Virginia Burt on site at a residential project by Virginia Burt Designs in Shaker Heights, OH. / image: © 2015 Richard Mandelkorn

Virginia Burt, FCSLA, FASLA, creates landscapes and gardens of meaning for residential clients, healthcare facilities, and academic and governmental organizations. For more than 30 years, Virginia’s design philosophy has reflected these roots, enabling her to create gardens and landscapes that reveal their natural context and sensitively reflect and support those who use them.

Virginia’s international work has been widely recognized. These awards include CSLA National Awards in 2015, 2016, 2017 (two), 2018, and 2019; awards from the Ohio Chapter of ASLA in 2006, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019; a National ASLA Award of Merit in 1999; and a Palladio Award in 2014. Virginia is one of seven women in the world honored to be designated a Fellow of both the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects and the American Society of Landscape Architects.

The following interview with Virginia Burt was conducted and edited by Lisa Bailey, ASLA, and Siyi He, Associate ASLA.

ASLA’s Healthcare & Therapeutic Design Professional Practice Network (PPN) also invites you to continue this conversation with Virginia on Thursday, July 16, 2:00-3:00 p.m. (Eastern). Registration for this webinar is now open.

What inspires you to do this work?

I grew up on an apple farm, and being this close to nature literally wove and wrote it into my DNA. It is such a blessing.

I learned something from having watched plants blossom, literally blossom to fruit, and then being able to eat that fruit. You realize that something out there is greater than we are. So for me there is a richness, and I would say a spirituality, that infuses my world.

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Be a Professional Practice Network Leader

The call for Professional Practice Network leadership volunteers is open now.

Call for Professional Practice Network (PPN) Leadership Volunteers
Deadline: Friday, July 24, 2020

If you are passionate about your landscape architecture practice area, whether it is ecological restoration, planting design, urban design, or any one of ASLA’s 20 PPNs, please consider volunteering to join your PPN’s leadership team.

PPN leaders provide member input on specific practice area needs and ASLA programs and services, including webinar and blog post development and PPN Live event planning for the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture. Appointments are for one year, and all ASLA members are welcome to volunteer. Each leadership team conducts work via email and by conference call. The full PPN Council, composed of all PPNs’ chairs, meets quarterly by conference call. Individual PPN leadership teams typically have a monthly conference call.

To volunteer for service as a PPN leader:

  • Answer “yes” to question two on the committee appointment form, “Are you interested in Professional Practice Network (PPN) Leadership?”
  • You’ll then be prompted to confirm which PPN leadership team you are interested in joining, and which PPN activity interests you most.

Visit asla.org/ppn for the full list of PPNs and review the leadership toolkit for additional information.

Please note: all ASLA members are welcome to volunteer to be a PPN leader, but you must be a member of the PPN whose leadership team you would like to join. If you’re not sure which PPN(s) you are currently a member of, please log in to asla.org. ASLA members’ PPNs are listed on the Activities / Orders tab in your member profile. Members may request to change or add a PPN at any time via this form or by contacting ASLA Member Services.

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Micromobility & Multimodal Transportation Assimilation

by Nate Lowry, ASLA

Bicycles locked to road sign
image: Héctor López on Unsplash

Demand for flexible urban transportation options is on the rise and becoming even more vital these days. Bike, scooter, and other options have reshaped how people access, mobilize, and interact with urban spaces. Many large cities have been slow to adjust to these quickly shifting trends and the need for alternative solutions. Shifts from traditional automobiles and associated infrastructure to more micro-scale transportation uses will continue to test local government’s ability to provide adequate planning approaches.

Micromobility devices offer flexibility and freedom that traditional passenger vehicles cannot and cost less, emit little to no emissions, and are much easier to park/store. Micromobility is defined by Wikipedia as a range of small, lightweight devices operating at speeds typically below 15 mph for trips up to 6 miles. Micromobility devices include bicycles, Ebikes, electric scooters, electric skateboards, shared bicycles, and electric pedal-assisted (pedelec) bicycles.

As you can imagine, transitional passenger vehicle infrastructure does not adequately provide for micromobility device use. The City of Seattle has recently taken a different approach to traditional transportation, permanently closing down 20 miles of streets to most vehicles and making them for public access only. In Portland, Oregon, building codes recently changed to require additional micromobility storage in new structures to meet increasing demand while trying to avoid safety concerns about them littering the sidewalk. The City of Atlanta’s Department of Transportation recently approved more than $200 million in funding for transportation improvements focused on pedestrians, bikes, scooters, and other micromobility devices.

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Western Water Use Regulation: Diverse Approaches

by Glen Dake, FASLA

Imperial Dam on the Colorado River near Yuma, AZ, where Colorado River water is diverted to the Imperial Irrigation District. / image: Glen Dake

Western states face new struggles to match water use with water supply. Landscape architects are finding a wide range of regulations and incentives to drive landscape water use down and support a growing population.

The 2019 Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan committed each of the Colorado Basin states to reduce the amount of water they take from the Colorado River during drought conditions. The junior water rights holder, Arizona, committed to a 7% reduction in annual water use starting in 2020. That state is home to the second-fastest growing city in the U.S., with a 56.6% increase in population since the last census: Buckeye, AZ. This is one of several dynamics that are impacting water policies in the Colorado Basin states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah.

To reduce water use states are turning to the remaining area of conservation potential: water that is consumed in urban landscapes. In past years, urban water use per capita was reduced through promotion of low-flow bathroom fixtures and water-wise clothes washers that have been replacing old models. A sampling of many approaches that Western cities and counties are applying to meet their water conservation goals follows.

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Dispatches from the Planting Design PPN

The Meadow at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, designed by Richard Haag, Thomas Church, Koichi Kawana, Fujitaro Kubota, and Iain Robertson, in 2019. / image: David Hopman, ASLA, PLA

Amidst gradual reopening in parts on the world, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect nearly every aspect of life, from personal interactions to business to learning to recreation. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is sharing insights, observations, and impressions from ASLA members based around the country here on The Field. In recent weeks, we’ve shared updates and resources curated by the Community Design, Historic Preservation, and Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Networks’ leadership teams. Today, we share dispatches from the Planting Design PPN team:

  • Mark Dennis, ASLA – Washington, D.C.
  • Anne Spafford, ASLA, MLA – Raleigh, North Carolina
  • David Hopman, ASLA, PLA – Arlington, Texas

Mark Dennis, ASLA
Senior Landscape Architect, Knot Design
Washington, D.C.

Like all work-at-home, school-at-home, everything-at-home families these days, our own needs for outdoor connections are more persistent and unyielding than ever. We are here in Capitol Hill just a few doors down from Lincoln Park, a key element of the L’Enfant plan and among the oldest parks in Washington. The surging activity at Lincoln Park during the pandemic provides proof of just how crucial even the most fundamental aspects of amenity planning are in our society, while simultaneously highlighting the profound, persistent lack of funding for preservation and maintenance.

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COVID-19 Business Impact Snapshot

image: Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

Which factors are having the greatest impact on ASLA members’ business operations?

As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) forces changes to business practices globally, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) aims to provide an objective assessment of the impact that COVID-19 is having on members’ businesses. An online survey was conducted among ASLA members who have been identified as firm principals or as holding a leadership position within their organization. Survey data was collected between May 7–17, 2020.

The survey was designed to identify factors that are currently having the greatest impact on the business operations of ASLA members and to provide insight into how businesses are responding to the crisis.

View the survey results >

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Black Lives Matter. Black Communities Matter.

Indianapolis storefront
A storefront in Indianapolis features the names of African Americans who have lost their lives to police violence. / AP Photo. Michael Conroy

After hearing feedback from our membership and after much reflection, the American Society of Landscape Architects issues the following statement regarding the killing of George Floyd:

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) joins millions of people around the world in mourning the death of George Floyd, a black man who was murdered by a police officer.

ASLA recognizes that the brutal systems of slavery and Jim Crowism have dehumanized black people and weakened their communities. We also acknowledge that the planning and design of the built environment, including landscape architecture, has often had a disproportionate adverse impact on black communities. Systemic racism in the built environment has taken many forms, including redlining, urban renewal, and disinvestment. Environmental injustices, including lack of equitable access to clean air and water and greater concentrations of pollution, continue to plague these communities. Further, gentrification and displacement make it impossible for black communities to continue to exist. The landscape architecture profession can play a critical role in reversing these trends.

Public spaces have always been a critically important platform for the protest movement and democratic change. They have also become sites of violent confrontation and oppression against the black community. It is important that ASLA and others amplify the black narrative of these spaces.

ASLA stands in solidarity with black communities in the fight against racial injustice and police violence against black people. Moving forward, ASLA will deepen our partnership with the Black Landscape Architects Network (BlackLAN) to create a meaningful, sustainable plan of action to help guide the profession in addressing the wants and needs of black communities—no matter how much work and time it takes. Black Lives Matter.

Rebuilding Small-Scale Community

by Oliver Penny, Student ASLA

A proposed design for a cottage court development in Athens, Georgia, featuring a community garden in the foreground. / image: Oliver Penny

Although the coronavirus pandemic is currently the most pressing public health issue in the United States, there is another health crisis that has possibly been worsened by our recent shelter-in-place actions. This crisis concerns the rising rates of loneliness and isolation in the developed world, which, even prior to the pandemic, presented a growing public health concern. As one illustration of the problem, a 2019 survey by Cigna found that 61% of respondents reported feeling lonely, representing a 7% increase over their 2018 survey.

It is concerning that rates of loneliness could be rising and are now so prevalent since there is substantial evidence showing that social isolation and loneliness are associated with an increased risk of early death. Research has shown loneliness and isolation can be as damaging to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness and isolation are especially problematic for older populations—among those most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. One study found that 27% of Americans over sixty now live alone, compared with 16% of adults in other countries.

This rising health risk has undoubtedly become more pronounced with the “social distancing” measures required to stem the spread of the virus. The term “social distancing” has rightly been criticized as a misnomer, with the phrase “physical distancing” offered as a more accurate description of the prescribed behavior. Nonetheless, the widespread adoption of the term social distancing perhaps shows how our perception of social connection is intimately tied to physical space. Zoom meetings and other digital tools might be vital for maintaining connections with others in the current climate, but they are still a poor substitute for in-person interactions.

One way to combat the rising rates of loneliness while also providing the vital sustenance of face-to-face interaction is by fostering more connections with neighbors. Such connections are one of the few available sources for meaningful in-person interaction during the lockdown. Even as restrictions on public gatherings are lifted, it could be a slow and fitful process before public spaces regain their former conviviality.

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