Performance-Based Plant Selection: Developing a Bioretention Plant Selection Tool

by Jeremy Person, PLA, ASLA, with co-authors Ann English, PLA, ASLA, Ted Shriro, Andy Szatko, John Watson, and Jim Cooper, ASLA

Lanark Way bioretention, Montgomery County, Maryland Department of Environmental Protection retrofit. Aromatic aster blooming. / image: reproduced with permission from Montgomery County, MD Department of Environmental Protection

In January of 2020, The Field published an article on Performance-Based Plant Selection for Bioretention that sought an approach for planting design that prioritizes the functional attributes that plants provide in bioretention stormwater treatment facilities. In 2021, the Green Infrastructure Leadership Exchange (the Exchange) awarded a Collaborative Grant to a multi-disciplinary team from Chicago, Maryland, Omaha, and Oregon to explore these questions further and complete a first phase towards building a Bioretention Plant Selection Tool (BPST). The effort was focused specifically on functions plants provide in bioretention and the vegetative attributes to optimize overall bioretention performance. Biohabitats, a multidisciplinary consulting firm specializing in ecological restoration, conservation planning, and regenerative design, was hired to survey stormwater professionals, complete a review of research on plant functions in bioretention installations, and develop an outline of how stormwater practitioners could evolve planting design to improve facility performance.

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Restoring a Neglected Urban Creek

by Susan Kenzle, ASLA

Restored Waller Creek in Waterloo Park / image: Susan Kenzle

The plan to restore lower Waller Creek in Austin, Texas has been decades in the making, beginning with the City of Austin’s U.S. Bicentennial project in the 1970s. Waller Creek—named after Judge Edwin Waller, who chose this location for the new capital of Texas—is one of two natural waterways that ran through the town of Waterloo, the precursor to the current city of Austin. Waller Creek is the most heavily developed tributary watershed of the Colorado River within the city limits, with over 60% impervious cover surrounding it. Waller Creek’s six-square-mile watershed includes over 3,700 acres of residential, university, commercial, civic, and other land uses. The creek’s location in the heart of the city accounts for its low water quality and highly eroded nature. It’s a prime example of the “urban stream syndrome” characterized by “flashier hydrograph, elevated concentrations of nutrients and contaminants, altered channel morphology, and reduced biotic richness, with increased dominance of tolerant species.”

Austin is in the “Flash Flood Alley” of Central Texas due to its steep terrain, rocky and clay-rich soils, and high rainfall rates. The lower reach of Waller Creek traverses the City’s downtown corridor, where several damaging floods in the past decade inundated large areas along the creek banks. Significant flooding occurred here in 1915, 1938, 1981, and 2015 until the completion of the Waller Creek tunnel, a mile long flood diversion structure, removed 28 acres of downtown from the 100-year floodplain, allowing for various development projects, as well as for the development of a world-class chain of parks and trail system called the Waterloo Greenway.

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Capitalizing on Natural Infrastructure and Low-Impact Development

by Steve Sanchez, ASLA

Chattahoochee Nature Center, Roswell, Georgia. ADA-compliant boardwalk and pedestrian-bridge allow a focused experience to the river without vehicle interference. / image: HGOR

Those outside the landscape architecture field often think the role of a landscape architect equates to the enhancement of greenspaces within parks, office complexes, and various urban areas. Those within the field and affiliated industries realize it involves so much more.

A landscape architect typically provides planning, analysis, and creative design for all outdoor areas. The broad scope of ALL they do increases the quality of physical well-being for the local population, giving people more options for recreation, relaxation, healing, learning, and working, along with opportunities for social connection with others using the space.

A landscape architect’s role is also to play a vital part in helping to address global challenges— by thoughtfully integrating green infrastructure elements and other environmental preservation strategies whenever AND wherever possible. These methods involve the integration of natural, enhanced, and engineered assets. Natural assets, such as meadows, parks, tree canopies, soil, and wetlands, include the living and organic tools of the trade. Enhanced assets—which fall under low-impact development, including green roofs, bioswales, urban tree planting, and stormwater ponds—are utilized in various landscapes, ranging from workplace to multifamily to park environments. Engineered assets include permeable pavement, cisterns, and infiltration trenches.

Using their expertise, landscape architects provide holistic approaches to planning and managing the built environment, and landscape architecture design solutions regularly address common industry challenges we face. Many of these projects enable the shift to a carbon-neutral future by integrating innovative and occasionally all-new radical solutions. These projects include dense, walkable, mixed-use communities that connect to larger urban footprints and workplace environments, promoting functional outdoor work and physical activity—all of which help reduce emissions from transportation and urban sprawl.

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Ecology & Restoration PPN Conference Recap and Call for Member Input

by Sohyun Park, ASLA, SITES AP, and Elyna Grapstein, Student ASLA

The Ecology & Restoration Professional Practice Network (PPN) campfire session in Nashville / image: Jason Mallory

During the ASLA 2021 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Nashville, Elyna Grapstein, Student ASLA, and Sohyun Park, ASLA, SITES AP, hosted the Ecology & Restoration Professional Practice Network (PPN) campfire session on the EXPO floor. It brought together approximately 30 participants, including students, faculty, and design professionals, for an engaging 45-minute discussion.

During this small-group, informal session, attendees participated in a mind-mapping exercise and were encouraged to list the things that were most important to them regarding restoration initiatives. The exercise prompted a group conversation about common restoration oversights.

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Esri Geodesign Summit 2020

by Daniel Martin, ASLA, MLA

Interest in geodesign has grown since the first summit was held in 2010. / image: Esri

Esri’s yearly Geodesign Summit is a nexus for cutting edge practice, research, networking, and collaboration around some of today’s toughest problems. Held February 24 – 27, 2020, this year marked the eleventh summit. The theme “seeing clearly” speaks to geodesign workflows which cut through the noise to the signal and allows for the effects of different alternatives to be derived through digital testing before breaking ground. Under that overarching theme, this year also focused on the AEC space through an emphasis on speakers in the practice realm who leverage geodesign in real-world projects.

Esri president Jack Dangermond giving a talk entitled “Geospatial Infrastructure—A Foundation for Geodesign.” He shared Esri’s vision of how rapidly evolving technology will help catalyze the future of geodesign and better enable us to see what others can’t. / image: Esri

If landscape architecture design workflows and geodesign workflows were laid out in a Venn diagram, the overlap would be substantial. Similarities include thorough inventory and analysis of project context and underlying environmental variables, creation of multiple concepts and iterations, leveraging input from stakeholders (client, public, and regulatory), and the graphic communication of all these elements. Given all those similarities, geodesign can be summarized as data, evaluation, and impact-driven design. Using software (such as GIS) to model design alternatives and project their effects into quantitative results, mistakes are made virtually while the optimum scenario is chosen, thereby saving time, money, and the social and environmental costs of failed projects or unintended results.

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Greenways and Climate Change Resilience: A Call to Action at the Ecology & Restoration PPN Meeting

by Ingrid Morken, ASLA, and Sohyun Park, ASLA

Vaughn Rinner, FASLA, speaking at the Ecology & Restoration Professional Practice Network (PPN) meeting during the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego. / image: Sohyun Park

Greenways to “Gene-ways”

Designing and planning for climate change resilience occurs at many scales, and at the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture, the Ecology & Restoration Professional Practice Network (PPN) meeting focused on how greenways can provide both ecological and recreational benefits at a landscape, regional, and even national scale.

Vaughn Rinner, FASLA, Director of VRLA, Chuck Flink, FASLA, founder of Greenways, Inc., and Keith Bowers, FASLA, President of Biohabitats, gave a presentation titled “Greenways to Gene-ways: A Call to Action” at the PPN meeting, building off their education session on the topic. The three speakers addressed the historical context of greenways and the increasingly important ecological role they play in the context of climate change. Greenways function as “gene-ways” by providing a connected landscape network to support the movement and migration of plants and animals to places where they can continue to evolve and adapt to new conditions. Given this important ecological function, the presenters put out a “call to action” to landscape architecture practitioners to implement design strategies and support policy initiatives that promote the protection and expansion of greenway networks throughout the nation.

Greenways as an Ecological Imperative

In her introduction, Ms. Rinner emphasized the urgency of responding to climate change due to impacts to biological communities and ecological functioning. Given the influential role of human activities on the planet, we may be entering an unprecedented Anthropocene era, a time when animals and plants are struggling to adapt to accelerated changes in temperature. Changes in phenological events like the timing of flowering and animal migration are among the most sensitive biological responses to climate change. Phenology refers to the timing of seasonal biological events, such as when trees flower in the spring, when a robin builds its nest, or when leaves turn color in the fall. Across the world, many spring events are occurring earlier and fall events are happening later than they did in the past. However, not all species are changing at the same rate or direction, leading to mismatches. By facilitating movement of plant and animal species across the landscape, greenway corridors can increase their resilience to a changing climate and changing phenologies.

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Performance-Based Plant Selection for Bioretention

by Jeremy Person, PLA, ASLA, Brian Wethington, Donna Evans, and Irene Ogata, ASLA

Bioretention planter in Portland, OR
Bioretention planter in Portland, OR, planted with large native plants. Oversized plantings cause visibility issues for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists and create maintenance liabilities. / image: City of Portland

For more than two decades landscape architects and stormwater professionals have been utilizing vegetated bioretention systems to help address complex stormwater and climate change-related issues. Bioretention systems use a combination of soil and plants to collect, detain, treat, and infiltrate runoff from roads, roofs, and other impervious surfaces. It is becoming apparent that plant health is one of the major drivers of increasing life-cycle costs, and that improper plant selection is partially to blame.

Landscape architects, horticulturalists, and designers are beginning to better define which characteristics make a plant ideal for use in bioretention. Understanding the site-specific needs for plants and identifying project goals allow designers to address performance issues up front and reduce long-term maintenance liabilities. The following three issues should be considered as early in a project as possible:

1. Project Goals and Facility Design

The two major goals for most bioretention projects are pollution reduction and flow control. Projects may serve one goal or both, and this may vary across a city or region. Bioretention facilities are designed for project-specific hydraulic regimes with controlled flooding and hydroperiods that affect plant viability. This affects plant selection in several ways:

  • Hydroperiod: Understanding the flooding cycle of the facility, its frequency, and how it relates to the growing cycle of the plants is critical. Smaller plants often fail because they are routinely flooded during the growing season, depriving them of needed oxygen. Designers should prioritize plants that grow taller than the high-water level and take cues from native wetland plants that have evolved to tolerate similar hydroperiods.

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Bridging Landscape Ecology and Landscape Architecture

by Taryn Wiens

Grounding Root System Architecture
ASLA 2015 Student Research Honor Award. Grounding Root System Architecture, Gwendolyn McGinn, Associate ASLA, University of Virginia. Faculty Advisor: Julie Bargmann. / image: Gwendolyn McGinn

ASLA’s Ecology & Restoration Professional Practice Network (PPN) invites you to a discussion on novel ecosystems this Friday, October 4, 12:30 p.m.–1:30 p.m. (Eastern). [The recording is now available.] Join the conversation!

Richard Hobbs defines a novel ecosystem as “an ecosystem that consists of new combinations of species that have not previously coexisted, and/or new configurations of environmental factors such as changed climate or altered soil properties.” The basic premise that such ecosystems exist seems straightforward, yet has been highly contentious and marks a significant shift in perspective.

This webinar panel brings together designers and ecologists to unravel the nuances of “novel ecosystems” as a conceptual framework, and the implications for work in restoration, conservation, and design.

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Examining Green Roofs at Kansas State University

by Lee R. Skabelund, ASLA

Green roof across the seasons
The Seaton Hall Upper Green Roof at Kansas State University / images: K-State

The Kansas State University Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional & Community Planning hosted a colloquium this past fall on Examining Green Roofs at Kansas State University with the Aim of Improving Design, Implementation & Management.

Associate Professor Lee Skabelund’s Mary K. Jarvis Chair research in Manhattan, Kansas has focused on understanding the performance and dynamics of five living roofs on the K-State campus. These efforts have been supported by the excellent work of three graduate students (Allyssa Decker, Priyasha Shrestha, Student ASLA, and Pam Blackmore), undergraduate student Marcos Aleman, Student Affiliate ASLA, faculty, staff, and students from several other colleges and entities at K-State, visiting scholar Jialin Liu, and other green roof researchers.

This research provides essential baseline knowledge for long-term green roof research and monitoring of the K-State Memorial Stadium Green Roofs (implemented in 2015 and 2016), and the K-State APDesign Experimental Green Roof (constructed in 2017). These efforts complement Professor Skabelund’s ongoing long-term observations, data collection, and hands-on management of a number of green infrastructure systems within local communities.

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Conservation Finance: Follow Up to the 2018 ASLA Ecology & Restoration PPN Meeting

By Daniel Martin, Associate ASLA

The Ecology & Restoration PPN Meeting featured presentations by Michael Sprague, President and Founder of Trout Headwaters, Inc., and Damian Holynskyj, M.C.P., Director of the Eastern Region for Great Ecology, hosted by Daniel Martin, Associate ASLA, PPN Co-Chair (2016-2018). / Image: EPNAC

For the annual Ecology & Restoration PPN meeting in October 2018, we were joined by Michael Sprague, President and Founder of Trout Headwaters, Inc., and founding Board Member of the National Environmental Banking Association, as well as Damian Holynskyj, M.C.P., Director of the Eastern Region for Great Ecology. Our discussion covered the big picture of what conservation finance is, how it is situated within the larger economy, and the role landscape architecture fills within the industry.

The conversation that was had between Mr. Sprague, Mr. Holynskyj, and Ecology & Restoration PPN leadership and members is summarized in this document, to serve as a reference for those who were not able to attend, and a jumping-off point for those landscape architects who would like to pursue this topic further.


Conservation finance takes many forms, but in the simplest sense it is a way to create economic incentives for conservation and restoration projects. When an economic incentive exists, it opens the door for many different people and organizations to become involved with environmental projects who otherwise might not be. This increases the amount of work that can be done and leverages the specialties of a broad range of professions towards shared goals.

Shared goals; it has become so common to view economy and ecology as two separate entities, related in a fashion which necessitates the degradation of one for the benefit of the other. This is an unfortunate misconception, which Mr. Sprague discussed at length. Looking at the root meanings of ecology and economy, a truer relationship begins to show. Ecology means study of the house and economy means management of the house, so in that sense it can be understood that what is truly good for one ought to be good for the other. In other words, you can’t understand what you don’t study, and you can’t manage what you don’t understand.

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Certified Ecological Restoration Practitioner Program Application Window Now Open

ASLA 2015 Professional Award of Excellence. At the Hudson’s Edge: Beacon’s Long Dock a Resilient Riverfront Park. Reed Hilderbrand LLC / James Ewing Photography

In June, the ASLA Ecology & Restoration PPN invited Jen Lyndall, Certification Program Coordinator with the Society for Ecological Restoration, to present SER’s Certified Ecological Restoration Practitioner program (CERP) via a virtual meeting. All PPN members were invited to participate. The CERP program encourages a high professional standard for those who are designing, implementing, overseeing, and monitoring restoration projects throughout the world.

Investment and support for ecological restoration is growing rapidly all across the globe, but standards are minimal. SER’s certification program provides numerous benefits to the field. Most importantly, the SER certification program is designed to improve the quality of ecological restoration projects on the ground. Two levels of certification are offered:

  • Certified Ecological Restoration Practitioners (CERPs) are senior level practitioners who have achieved the knowledge requirements and have greater than 5 years of full time experience with restoration.
  • Certified Ecological Restoration Practitioners-in-Training (CERPITs) are recent graduates and those practitioners who do not yet have more than 5 years of full time experience with restoration – OR- those practitioners with sufficient experience who are still working on the educational criteria.

The application window is now open through October 12, 2018. Of the current 219 certified professionals, 17 identify as landscape architects. For a list of approved CERPs and CERPITs, see the directory.

For questions about the program contact

More information on the Ecology & Restoration PPN’s goals, research, leadership, and upcoming events can be found here. If you know someone else who is interested in joining our PPN, they can contact ASLA Member Services at 888-999-ASLA or

Ecology & Restoration PPN CELA 2018 Conference Reflections

by Lee R. Skabelund, ASLA

The International Student Rain Garden at Kansas State University. Selected slide from the CELA 2018 presentation, “Examining Green Infrastructure Performance: Learning from Two University Campus Sites” (3/22/2018). / Image: Lee R. Skabelund & Katie Kingery-Page

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.

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Promoting Pollinator Habitat as Landscape Architects

by Anthony Fettes, ASLA, PLA, SITES AP

Monarch caterpillar on a marsh milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) host plant along the Chicago Riverwalk / image: Anthony Fettes, Sasaki

Around the world, an estimated 80 percent of all flowering plant species and over one-third of our food is dependent upon or benefited by animal pollinators. However, many of these pollinator species are in decline, threatening the productivity of both global food production and ecological communities. What is causing this decline? How are we contributing, and what can be done to reverse this trend?

With reports of dramatic bee kills from acute exposure to neonicotinoids, the wide-spread prevalence of pesticides is frequently implicated in the decline of bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. But upon further inquiry, pesticides are only one component of more complex and interrelated challenges facing pollinators. Loss of habitat for feeding, nesting, and overwintering is often equally, if not more, detrimental than pesticides alone. Fragmented foraging sites require many pollinators to travel further distances in search of resources, thus increasing their exposure to pesticides, pollution, and extreme weather events. Together, the compounding effects of habitat loss and climate variability can reduce the seasonal reliability and abundance of floral resources—impacting nutrition and reproductive success, leaving pollinators stressed, and making declining populations more susceptible to disease, parasites, and poisoning.

The pollinator and vegetable gardens together provide an opportunity to learn about beneficial ecosystem services while improving productivity. / image: Matthew Arielly, Sasaki

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The Evolving Practice of Ecological Landscape Design

View of the roof gardens and courtyards at the US Coast Guard Headquarters, Washington, DC. / image: Kelly Fleming

A trend is emerging within the profession that expands our approach to planting design and the role of vegetation. Designers are backing away from the role of curator of gardens where plant species are selected and placed according to a theme in a created setting, without regard to how that species may be predisposed to behave in the setting. Instead, they are adopting the role of steward to a set of naturally occurring processes that govern the development of plant communities. An understanding of ecological principles to guide the design, planting and maintenance of landscapes, and reliance on an adaptive management process based on observation and recalibration will result in landscapes that will take less energy and resources to maintain and provide the greatest environmental benefits.

The study of landscape ecology has had a significant impact on the way landscape designers and planners think about open space and connectivity at the regional scale, and has led to the promotion and implementation of green infrastructure to provide cost-effective systems that protect and restore natural resources. Green infrastructure is crucial to combating climate change, creating healthy built environments, and improving our quality of life. The shift towards green infrastructure in the design and implementation of the built environment has opened a window through which landscape designers can employ ecologically-based strategies. It will be necessary for landscape designers to build a body of knowledge based on the principles of ecology. The revelatory book by Travis Beck, The Principles of Ecological Landscape Design, is one of the foundations of this expanding body of knowledge.

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Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing Promises Freedom for LA Mountain Lions

Proposed design for a wildlife overpass in Agoura Hills, CA / image: Clark Stevens, Architect, and Raymond Garcia, illustrator for Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains

In the modest town of Agoura Hills, CA, plans are underway to construct the largest wildlife overpass in the world. Crossing over 10 lanes of the 101 Freeway, the Liberty Canyon overpass will be approximately 165 feet wide and 200 feet long. The project aims to connect severely isolated wildlife populations within the Santa Monica Mountains to those in the nearby Santa Susana Mountains. Without such a connection, there is a significant risk that the local mountain lion population will go extinct in the next 50 years.

The design will include tunnels to accommodate more reclusive wildlife, a corridor of riparian vegetation, and sound walls to dampen the noise and headlights of the freeway. According to Clark Stevens, the architect and habitat restorationist behind the design of the overpass, a wildlife crossing is more successful when you provide multiple ways for wildlife to utilize it. For example, deer are more likely to cross over the top of the bridge, while predators such as bobcats are more likely to cross through the tunnels. The riparian corridor will restore familiar scent-paths for animals, helping to draw them through the crossing. In order to accommodate mountain lion behavior, the crossing will be sloped on both sides to provide high vantage points with a wide view.

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Mycoremediation: Your Landscape on Mushrooms

Turkey tail mushrooms in Washington, DC's Fort Slocum Park image: Kaitlyn Hay
Turkey tail mushrooms in Washington, DC’s Fort Slocum Park
image: Kaitlyn Hay

Since Paul Stamets’ TED talk “6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World” blew my mind back in 2008, I’ve watched the movement of using mushrooms for urban agriculture, pest control, medicine, soil remediation, and much more spread like mycelium through the green design community. So where has this long-deserved fungi renaissance taken us in the past few years since over 3 million views of Stamets’ propounding on the topic? Beyond the plentiful backyard mushroom farmers, mycoremediation—the use of fungi to break down or remove a range of pollutants from the environment—is being applied to contaminated sites to remediate a range of toxins, from typical stormwater runoff to industrial oil spills.

Some of the targeted pollutants which grass-roots guerillas and PhD academics alike have been experimenting with removing through mycoremediation include: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals, and fecal coliform bacteria. Various research projects have shown high percentages of removal of these contaminants from soil and water using various fungal species.

Fungal mycelia use enzymes and acids to break down elements of plant fiber and apply the same process to break down chemicals, especially components of petroleum, often into carbon dioxide and water. Many studies show the fruiting mushroom bodies don’t retain the toxic pollutants, but as in phytoremediation, it’s typically not recommended to combine mushroom farming for edible consumption and pollutant remediation, especially if heavy metals are present. However, the mushrooms and especially their substrate media are very valuable as compost after pollutants are processed.

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Practicing at the Nexus of Science & Design

Landscape architects can help communicate the restoration potential of a site. A rendering depicts proposed improvements including native revegetation, constructed wetlands, and public access amenities at a former industrial site. image: Great Ecology
Landscape architects can help communicate the restoration potential of a site. A rendering depicts proposed improvements including native revegetation, constructed wetlands, and public access amenities at a former industrial site.
image: Great Ecology

An Ecological Approach to Landscape Architecture

What nature looks like, or is supposed to look like, appears to be our problem, a cultural matter; it has little to do with ecology.  – Laurie Olin, FASLA

Ethics and aesthetics are the same thing.  – Richard Haag, FASLA

We, as landscape architects practicing in the early twenty-first century, talk a lot about ecology and ecological design. A glance at the program from the 2014 ASLA Annual Meeting in Denver or the 2015 ASLA Professional Awards illustrates this point. As we hurdle ever rapidly toward greater imbalance between limited natural resources and a growing human population, this resurgence of ecological discourse could build much needed momentum toward widespread application of a truly ecological approach to built and managed environments.

Landscape architectural history is populated by ecologically-minded thinkers, from Jens Jensen and Ian McHarg to current practitioners and academics like Carol Franklin, Grant Jones, Bill Wenk, and Chris Reed. More and more landscape architecture firms are collaborating closely with ecologists, and some have added them to their rosters. It’s an exciting time to practice ecologically focused landscape architecture; we are on the leading edge of what may prove to be a philosophical sea change in design and planning.

So, what does it actually mean to practice “ecological design?” How are academic theories, lofty ideas, and benevolent leanings transmogrified onto the physical plane? It begins with science.

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Ruminations on the ASLA 2015 Annual Meeting

image: Bob Oberdorfer
image: Bob Oberdorfer

…In which our two intrepid correspondents wander the shadowy conference center halls of Chicago on a not-so-blustery autumn weekend to bring you, our faithful readers, these incisive observations from the front lines of the national conclave of landscape architects!  

To that end, Ecology + Restoration PPN Communications Officer Devon Santy and yours truly (that’s me) attended a full slate of educational sessions—in between forays into the local speakeasies and blues clubs, of course. But before I venture further into that synopsis, allow me to digress slightly. As I sat at my paper-strewn desk and pecked out the introductory words you have just read, the first term that came to mind for our recent gathering was not “conclave,” but rather “confab.” Not wanting to alienate any aspiring etymologists in the crowd, though, I decided I’d better consult Messrs. Merriam and Webster to verify the applicability of the term. My gut feeling was right: “confab” refers to an intimate, informal, private conversation, which does not technically apply to the largest gathering of landscape architects in the world.

However, another “con-” word that popped up alongside was “confabulation,” which offered intriguing possibilities for various metaphors that could be applied to the situation at hand. It seems “confabulation” implies a form of mental manipulation, defined as the product of “distorted or misinterpreted memories about oneself or the world, without the conscious intent to deceive” (with additional thanks to Messrs. Wiki and Pedia for that particular interpretation of the word).

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Designing Habitats with Technology – Part II

Grading checking and as-built documentation conducted with handheld and 4-wheeler attached RTK gear image: Wildlands, Inc.
Grading checking and as-built documentation conducted with handheld and 4-wheeler attached RTK gear
image: Wildlands, Inc.

A collaborative effort between the Digital Technology PPN and Ecology and Restoration PPN.

Ecological restoration and habitat creation are benefiting tremendously from the variety of software available to help analyze, design, visualize and construct complex systems and subtle topographies. While landscape architecture is embracing 3D drafting and illustrative modeling, habitat restoration can especially benefit from the use of many of these software options.

In Denver, Mark, Dave, and Allegra presented an overview of a variety of software that are used in this facet of landscape architecture. In Part I, published on July 14, 2015, we summarized our presentation by including how technology is used in Site Analysis and Design Development within restoration design. Below, in Part II, we will summarize technology used for visualization, construction documentation, and construction.

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Designing Habitats with Technology – Part I

Real Time Kinematic (RTK) Construction Equipment to validate elevation during construction. image: Wildlands
Real Time Kinematic (RTK) Construction Equipment to validate elevation during construction.
image: Wildlands

A collaborative effort between the Digital Technology PPN and Ecology and Restoration PPN.

Ecological restoration and habitat creation are benefiting tremendously from the variety of software available to help analyze, design, visualize and construct complex systems and subtle topographies. While landscape architecture is embracing 3D drafting and illustrative modeling, habitat restoration can especially benefit from the use of many of these software options. In Denver, Mark, Dave, and Allegra presented an overview of a variety of software that are used in this facet of landscape architecture.

Why is this integration and diversity of software especially important for restoration design and construction? Many restoration sites have and need subtle topography and soil conditions to successfully understand and restore the habitats in a timely manner. For instance, many plant species associated with wetlands have very specific inundation limits, resulting in certain plants growing within limited elevation ranges – sometimes as narrow as centimeters or inches.  Therefore, having or creating adequate expanses of these elevations can be critical in the success of a wetland.

Throw sea level rise in the mix and the elevations for potential wetland migration or loss becomes critical. Being able to easily and accurately document and share existing conditions, concepts and alternatives, construction documentation, and construction precision is leading to a better understanding and success of ecological restoration projects.

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Ecology + Restoration Roundtable, Part 1

Woodland Stream image: Davie Biagi
Woodland Stream
image: Davie Biagi

For this post, we unveil our new Ecology + Restoration Roundtable series. We posed a hypothetical question to a diverse group of Ecology + Restoration PPN members and received some intriguing responses. Topics covered included eradication of invasive species, enforcement of urban growth boundaries, preservation of pristine wilderness, and the ecological implications of historical events in the Yosemite Valley.

Through this and future installments of the Ecology + Restoration Roundtable, we hope to initiate conversations that engage our members and spark further dialogue about the intersection of ecology, restoration, and landscape architecture.

Ecology + Restoration Roundtable question number one: If you could time travel and preserve one place in perpetuity or put one irrevocable regulation into place, when and where would you go and what would you do?

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Convergent Futures: Cities, Ecology, and Design

Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn, New York introduces ecological functionality into a highly urbanized environment. image: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates project team: Michael Van Valkenburg Associates, Great Ecology
Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn, New York introduces ecological functionality into a highly urbanized environment.
image: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
project team: Michael Van Valkenburg Associates, Great Ecology

By 2050, an estimated 66% of the world’s human population will reside in urban areas. That number reflects a steady increase in urbanites from 1950 onward.

As our world becomes increasingly populated and urbanized, how we as designers plan for that growth will affect the health of the planet and its ecosystems. Too often, our urban landscape design solutions oversimplify or ignore the importance of habitat quality, quantity, and connectivity. We grasp the costs and benefits of green roofs, bioswales, urban forests, greenways, and other components of urban green infrastructure. We now need to integrate those strategies into a larger, more connected urban ecological framework. Continue reading

Ecology & Restoration, A PPN Name Update

The Ningbo Eco-Corridor project transforms an uninhabitable brownfield into a 3.3km-long “living filter” designed to restore a rich and diverse ecosystem, and serve as a valuable teaching tool and model for sustainable urban development.  image: SWA - 2013 Analysis & Planning Honor Award Winner
The Ningbo Eco-Corridor project transforms an uninhabitable brownfield into a 3.3km-long “living filter” designed to restore a rich and diverse ecosystem, and serve as a valuable teaching tool and model for sustainable urban development.
image: SWA – 2013 Analysis & Planning Honor Award Winner

ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs) are living things, and periodic adjustments are made based on member interest and changes in landscape architecture practice to improve how the PPNs function.

Earlier this year, members of ASLA’s Reclamation & Restoration PPN were asked to vote on a new name: Ecology & Restoration. Ninety members voted—88 were in favor of the new name, 2 were against.

After a discussion that began at the 2013 ASLA Annual Meeting in Boston, the PPN’s leadership agreed upon Ecology & Restoration to capture the broader scope of those working at the nexus of ecology, engineering, and landscape architecture. Having “ecology” and “restoration” linked in the PPN’s name will encourage more members to participate and enrich the conversation.

To reflect the new name, the PPN also has a refined mission statement:

ASLA’s Ecology & Restoration Professional Practice Network (E&R-PPN) is a group committed to ecologically based land planning, design restoration, and management, while creating functional and resilient landscapes that address landscape, ecosystem, and human community needs. The E&R-PPN serves as a forum for landscape architects interested in ecological restoration, landscape conservation, land reclamation, landscape ecology, ecological engineering, and other similar areas to exchange knowledge, ideas, and information. We seek to improve communication among professionals with similar interests and enrich the conversation among practitioners.

The new name officially went into effect after the 2014 ASLA Annual Meeting concluded last week.

All ASLA members may join one PPN for free and each additional PPN for only $15 per year. To join the Ecology & Restoration PPN, email or call 888-999-ASLA.

Contact Professional Practice Coordinator Alexandra Hay for additional information about this PPN.

Ecosystem Restoration and Ecological Design

The prairie at Marlatt Park on the northwest side of Manhattan, Kansas is burn-managed by Kansas State University personnel and serves as an important place for teaching, research, and recreation.
image: Lee R. Skabelund.

At ASLA’s Annual Meeting in Chicago in September 2009, I discussed guiding principles related to ecological restoration in urban and suburban settings. I also highlighted indicators of “restoration success.” In this post I revisit ideas shared in a subsequent summary report of our education session.

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Balancing and integrating safe access and habitat protection – the Safe Trestle competition

The Wave Team Safe Trestles Phase Two
The Wave Team Safe Trestles Phase Two
image: Architecture for Humanity

Architecture for Humanity is a nonprofit organization with the mission of building a more sustainable future through the power of professional design. Often using competitions as a platform for innovative ideas and projects AFH launched its first landscape based competition earlier this year ‘ Safe Trestle’.

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