As landscape architects, we are highly in tune with the principles and practices of land use planning and, for most of us, it is part of our everyday professional life. Although we are often commissioned to design a single site, we know better than anyone the tangible implications to the surrounding areas, the community, and the regional context our designs may impact. So where does site-specific design stop and land use planning in a broader context begin? How do we best steward the resources and demographics in a global and holistic context? To answer these questions we may need to take a look at the connectivity between land uses. And to do that, we are going to tap into the fields of transportation planning and engineering, and analyze how they overlap with our contributions as landscape architects to the modern world of land use planning.
For this article, we have asked for the perspective of a seasoned transportation planner with over 25 years of experience in analyzing, managing and directing statewide projects and programs in transportation operations, safety and future-ready transportation. John D. Hendrickson, AICP, an Assistant Vice President at WSP and is the director of a traffic engineering and transportation planning group for clients throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. Mr. Hendrickson is also currently the President of the Virginia Section of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (VASITE). One of his goals as a transportation planner is to improve communities by blending sustainable transportation systems with sustainable land uses. The result is the creation of complete and efficient roadway networks that allow for multi-modal opportunities that analyze existing operational and safety challenges and develop solutions. Below are John’s perspectives on transportation and land use planning, and the critical importance of each.
U.S. Forest Service Sustainable Recreation Planning through Community Engagement
The mountains surrounding Tucson, Arizona hold a bounty of scenic desert recreation opportunities, from waterfalls to archaeological sites and geological rock formations. A fifteen minute drive through northeast Tucson leads to Redington Pass, connecting the Santa Catalina and Rincon mountain ranges in the Coronado National Forest – managed by the US Forest Service (USFS). Redington Road, a 14-mile strip of unpaved road maintained by Pima County, winds across the Pass connecting the Tucson and San Pedro valleys. The scenic and challenging desert backcountry of Redington Pass attracts a diverse range of users, including recreationalists, ranchers, and researchers.
When I started my research, the Forest Service was finalizing revisions to their comprehensive Forest Plan to meet the needs of public land access for the 21st century. Presently, only one ecological management area exists for the entire district. The Plan revision proposes a collaborative area management plan specific for Redington Pass, in coordination with the Friends of Redington Pass (FRP), a non-profit organization representing social and environmental interests on the Pass. This partnership is illustrative of modern network development forged across sectors to tackle complex shared issues.
Pitkin County & Colorado’s Early Experience with Legalized Weed
With the recent legalization of marijuana in the State of Colorado for recreational use, the nascent medical marijuana industry that had provided marijuana to those with doctors’ prescriptions expanded to recreational marijuana shops and grow operations. As with the rest of the state, the Aspen area has seen retail shops opening and grow operations proposed. Some of these land use proposals have been approved, and some not. This is an area of land use that has provoked considerable controversy, as this “green” boom does not come without its issues. Questions of safety, impacts on health, issues with driving while under the influence, and social acceptance of a substance that has so long stood in the shadows of society have entered the daily discussion. And now, land use has come into play.
Over the last two years, my colleagues and I at the Louisiana State University (LSU) Coastal Sustainability Studio have been developing a program that provides resources to planning staff in Louisiana communities to integrate resilience into planning efforts, whether they are working on zoning codes, comprehensive plans, or water management plans. The results of the program to-date have been based on the development of an online, decision-support tool and a webinar and workshop series that included presentations from national experts and partnerships with regional practitioners to address local challenges in Louisiana. While cultural, environmental, and economic context is critical in proposing sustainable mitigating actions in response to risk, there are clear lessons that are transferable to communities around the US. The following is one of many strategies for resilience we have identified.
Communities spend large amounts of money on infrastructure improvements, including road maintenance, building renovations, and drainage and sewer repairs. Precisely because these retrofitting efforts represent costly community investments, they should be conducted in ways that achieve multiple goals: increase livability and sustainability, reduce hazards and risks, and prepare for post-disaster recovery.
The Confluence of Art and Land Use Politics, or the Journey is Half the Fun
As a parent, hearing the phrase “are we there yet” can cause your skin to crawl. It isn’t that we don’t understand the frustration of a long wait for an anticipated vacation, but things that are worthwhile take time to happen – right? As land use professionals, we find ourselves answering this question, in so many words, for our clients as we wind our way down a circuitous path towards approval of a project. Like the six year old in the back seat of the family wagon, our clients just wish to get on with the fun of building the project and would rather forget the often teeth grinding journey that leads to final approval. And yet, as land use professionals who have freely chosen this profession, on some level, we must think the journey is fun.
Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude, the dynamic duo behind such visually stunning and culturally evocative temporary outdoor art projects such as the wrapping of the Reichstag and the Gates in New York’s Central Park, seem to understand that the twists and turns of the permitting process is something that can and should become an integral part of any project and not just a means to an end. Sadly, Jeanne-Claude passed away in 2009 but her husband and their team of consultants continue to pursue one of the couple’s latest examples of this appreciation of process in their proposed project for the Arkansas River in Fremont County, Colorado.
Paths Between Neighbors (PBN) is an innovative strategy to get private property owners who have not been actively involved in land conservation excited about and collaborating in land stewardship. Piloted by the Okanagan Valley Land Trust (OVLT), PBN is being used to further OVLT’s work in preserving the native landscapes, working farms, and ranches across the rugged hills of the Okanogan Highlands in eastern Washington.
This article could easily be written by a member of the International or Transportation PPNs, but the bicycle is becoming increasingly important in Land Use, so it is offered here to spark a discussion about the importance of alternate transportation in community design.
Living in Aspen, Colorado, cycling has become a part of our lifestyle. Whether it is mountain or road biking, trails and facilities exist to encourage even the most timid into this healthy recreation. In town, year-round cyclists, some with studded snow tires, regularly use cycling to get to work and run errands. So, it seemed natural in planning a trip to Spain (in a country where the famed Vuelta de España race ranks among the top three cycling events worldwide), to see what is happening with respect to cycling. Our trip therefore included a week of cycling through Andalucia as well as visits to Madrid and Seville, two cities that have gone far to develop car-free pedestrian zones. But how well do they accommodate cycling as an alternative mode of transportation and means of recreation? It turns out that these cities could not be more different in this respect, something that no doubt reflects the divergence among U.S. cities as well. In the countryside, some significant efforts are made for cycling safety on rural roads, and rails-to-trails is part of the program.
Planners, business associations, governments, visitors, and residents are becoming more aware of the importance of attractive and informative wayfinding signage to help them steer through the complexities and appreciate the changing environment of a city setting. Incorporating a signage and wayfinding system as part of the planning process is critical to the effectiveness of an overall revitalization strategy.