by Lee Parks, International ASLA, and LIAO Jingjing
Exploring of the Changing Roles of Landscape Design in Nature-Based Solutions: A Reflection on Professional Practice over the Last Two Decades
Part 2: Incorporating Naturalistic Landscape into the Public Realm
Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are actions designed to work with and enhance natural habitats to take advantage of the ability of healthy natural and managed ecosystems to sequester carbon and support biodiversity recovery. The first part of this series—on greening grey infrastructure—was published last week; here in part 2, on incorporating naturalistic landscape into the public realm, we continue to explore how NbS can be pushed into the realms of social awareness and everyday recognition by policy makers and the public at large and in turn, support wider and longer term international environmental successes.
3 Incorporating Naturalistic Landscape into the Public Realm
3.1 NbS for City Green Infrastructure
Qufu, a county-level city in Jining, Shandong Province, is the birthplace of Confucius and Mencius, the great Chinese sages of the Spring and Autumn period. Around 2010, impressions of Jining were of a coal-based economy and a city in need of a transformation. When considering a transformation towards an ecological future, an article published in 2001 by renowned Confucian scholar Tu Weiming, a professor at Harvard University and Peking University, called “The Ecological Turn in The New Confucian Humanism: Implications for China and the World” inspired a landscape concept called the ‘Ecological Turn.’
This concept by Lee Parks promoted an ecological image for a new streetscape, canal, and lake for the southward expansion of Taibai Lake District. It also provided an opportunity to put Nature-based Solutions into practice in Jining. Taibai Lake District landscape design development covers some 350 hectares where AECOM led the planning and design of a new lake and park, canal parkland, streetscape, and administration center. The project represents a shift away from formal urban streetscape planting in favor of naturalistic swathes of ornamental grasses and perennial communities. A proposed land use plan placed a large new commercial complex over a planned canal—this was challenged by the landscape architect, who subsequently shifted the development parcel 200 meters northwards, re-aligned roads, adjusted the land use plan, and restored the integrity of the planned green and blue infrastructure. Nature-based Solutions were employed to create vegetated canal embankments, provide purification of water, and ensure habitat creation through to the new lake.
To the south of a new government building, a major road was sunk down to protect the integrity of new civic parkland, putting people, place, and nature first. A planned bridge that would have cut the lake in half was recommended to be canceled to safeguard the integrity of the lake and park. Extensive new forest, wetlands, lotus ponds, and meadows were planted to enhance wildlife habitat.
3.2 NbS for Flood Resilience
Following the successful implementation of a wide range of natural habitats in Jining, a tidal riverside regeneration to the Yong River Park in Ningbo offered a chance to retain riparian wetlands, restore floodplains to wet meadows, and implement stormwater management strategies within a new community park. As the park levels were predominantly below a flood protection levee, the site was graded to balance cut and fill and consequently retain, harvest, and filter stormwater run-off. Reevaluating rainwater as a visible design element in the park contributes to public education about the water cycle. The project repurposed existing docks and created barrier-free connections over wetlands to enjoy river and sunset views, an experience called the Platform Walkway.
NbS were advocated to restore the floodplain functions and to encourage reed wetlands as a protective buffer, with richly planted wet meadows including spring bulbs, perennials, and grasses, to inland areas with less frequent flooding. The preservation of reed wetlands to the frontline of tidal mudflats safeguards habitat for mud skippers (Periophthalmus cantonensis) and crabs as well as providing a buffer to tidal storm surges in the typhoon-prone eastern coastal city. Wildflower meadows achieved higher diversity of plant species and create an attractive transition between urban park and riverside (see photo below). The project won merit awards for urban design in the 2015 AIA Hong Kong Awards and an Outstanding Award in the public open space category at the 2017 IFLA Asia Pacific Awards.
3.3 NbS for Forest Restoration and Wildlife Corridors
As air quality in China came under increasing scrutiny for unacceptable levels of pollutants, an Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan released in 2013 increased efforts in governance, haze control, carbon reduction and energy restructuring [刘毅 . 贺克斌院士：治霾与减碳的目标须协同实现]. For landscape architects, the worsening air quality gave weight to advocacy for urban afforestation to improve the quality of the ecological environment in conjunction with other measures to improve atmospheric pollution.
Binjiang Forest Park, Phase II, in Pudong New Area, Shanghai, aimed to increase urban forest in the city whilst expanding forest networks, ecological corridors, and access to open space. Inspired by trees that become entwined and eventually grow together as one, such as the 400-year-old Lianli Tree in Beijing’s Forbidden City, the park was designed to bind ecological connections between phase I and phase II using wildlife passages, wetlands, forest, and grassland.
Extensive areas of wet forest were planted and trees that contribute to culture, food, and climate mitigation were planted to create regenerative forest belts and groves, with over 54,000 new trees. During site investigations, a 100-year-old tree was found in the path of a newly planned road. The road was rerouted by the landscape architect and elevated to enable an eco-passage for wildlife, most notably the Chinese Water Deer. The expansion of urban forest will support the fight against air pollution, sequestering carbon and increasing habitat coverage and migratory corridors for wildlife. Additionally, a new lake was created by diverting, cleansing, and improving water quality through constructed wetlands using nature as a living system to purify the water. This was inspired by the achievements of Houtan Park and the increasing advocacy for sponge cities by Kongjian Yu, FASLA (see Binjiang Forest Park photos below).
Stay tuned for Part 3, on a nature positive future, which will appear here on The Field next week!
Lee Parks, International ASLA, is a British landscape architect and landscape director of AECOM. His research focuses on ecological landscape planning, green infrastructure, Nature-based Solutions, and ecological planting design.
LIAO Jingjing, Master, is an assistant landscape designer of AECOM. Her research focuses on green infrastructure, Nature-based Solutions, and community renewal and empowerment.