City Parks, Clean Water, Green Infrastructure, Part II

Railroad Park image: "lexcio," Flickr

Railroad Park
image: lexcio via Flickr

The following is the second installment of the two-part series excerpted from the Trust for Public Land’s (TPL) Center for City Park Excellence (CCPE) publication, City Parks, Clean Water: Making Great Places Using Green Infrastructure. To view Part I, click here.

Part II

Different Solutions and How They Actually Work

There is no simple formula for green infrastructure in parks. For one thing, geography alone dictates that there are dozens of different kinds of urban parks, from narrow stream side greenways to large flat forestland, from stepped brick plazas to lush community gardens, and from windswept hilltop viewpoints to massive sports complexes. But when it comes to water-smart parks, there are three principal issues:

  • Is the physical relationship of the park to the surrounding community such that a redesign could reduce neighborhood flooding or the pollution of downstream waterways?
  • Does the park have any available space for water flow and storage?
  • Is the composition of the existing soils, water table, and underlying rock such that the park can absorb a significant amount of water in the necessary amount of time?

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City Parks, Clean Water, Green Infrastructure, Part I

Alewife Reservation image: MWH Global

Alewife Reservation
image: MWH Global

Many of you may know The Trust for Public Land (TPL) as an organization devoted to the protection and support of the places people care about and the creation of “close-to-home parks” — particularly in and near cities, where 80 percent of Americans live. Through its Center for City Park Excellence (CCPE), TPL also explores the many issues that affect the success of urban areas’ park systems. CCPE’s most recent publication, City Parks, Clean Water: Making Great Places Using Green Infrastructure, looks at the many ways that parks can help with the control of urban stormwater.

Using case studies, data tables, and interviews with national experts, the report explores both new and existing parks, including in-depth studies of water-smart parks in Atlanta, Birmingham, Alabama, Cambridge, Massachusetts, New York, and Shoreline, Washington. The following is the first installment of a two-part series excerpted from the report.

Lisa Nabor Cowan, ASLA, Sustainable Design & Development PPN Officer, Principal, Studioverde

Part I: City Parks, Clean Water, Green Infrastructure

The effort to clean our nation’s waterways has been underway, with increasing strength, for more than 50 years. Great progress has been made, particularly against pollution from untreated sewage and unregulated factories. Rivers no longer catch on fire, oil slicks are a rarity, and most raw discharge pipes have been eliminated. But in cities there remains work to be done, with most urban waterways still not clean, not swimmable, not safe for fishing, and sometimes not even pleasantly boatable.

The primary culprit, as all landscape architects know, is pollution from runoff from paved surfaces – streets, sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, roofs, patios, plazas, even playgrounds that quickly shed the rain. The solution is to hold back the water where it hits, slow it down so that the destructiveness of erosion and contaminants are controlled, and clean it before it reaches a waterway.

With two different methods of doing this – using giant holding tanks for storage or a natural, spongier approach for infiltration – the U.S. is at a critical decision point in how it will allocate billions of dollars in the coming decades.

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Landscape Performance at Mississippi Heritage Museum

Figure 1: Green Roof at Oktibbeha Heritage Museum image: Megan Bean

Figure 1: Green roof at Oktibbeha Heritage Museum
image: Megan Bean

The Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum was founded in 1976 in Starkville, Mississippi, just a half-mile from both the historic downtown area and Mississippi State University, to preserve, publicize, and educate the public about the rich history of the region. The building itself is housed in a renovated railroad depot first built in 1874, but renovations initiated in 2009 by the Departments of Landscape Architecture and Architecture at Mississippi State University sought to make the museum a demonstration case to the alternative water management and habitat creation practices being implemented around the country to incorporate green infrastructure into the urban setting.

When the “Rain Garden” project was finished in spring 2013, a green roof pavilion, cistern, and infiltration areas had been installed on the 0.5-acre site to retain and clean rainwater. The purpose of this report is to document the ways in which the Rain Garden project has benefited the Oktibbeha Heritage Museum and the surrounding areas, a measurement termed Landscape Performance. Four distinct benefits have been explored: environmental, social, economic, and educational. These benefits were compared before and after the Rain Garden installation.

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SDD PPN Recap: 2015 Annual Meeting, SITES, and Resource Links

Clear Creek Stormwater Basin, Atlanta, Georgia: a functioning green infrastructure system solution to detain stormwater for Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) system. The heron is standing on a 11’ wide littoral shelf that the City of Atlanta accepted in lieu of a fence. image: Steve Carrell

Clear Creek Stormwater Basin, Atlanta, Georgia: a functioning green infrastructure system solution to detain stormwater for Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) system. The heron is standing on a 11’ wide littoral shelf that the City of Atlanta accepted in lieu of a fence.
image: Steve Carrell

It was great to meet some of you at the Annual Meeting in Chicago! As we end the year we are taking this opportunity to review 2015, highlight sustainable design topics that were raised by meeting attendees, and remind SDD members who did not attend the Annual Meeting that they can still avail themselves of valuable resources from the 2015 Annual Meeting Handouts.

But first, let’s take a few moments to summarize some highlights from the meeting. First a review of the past years SDD accomplishments:

Online Learning:
•    Community Engagement as an Essential Component for Sustainable Design
•    Green Design in Remnant Urban Landscapes

The Field:
•    The Role of Landscape in Green Building
•    If These Walls Could Talk
•    Allegheny County’s Monitored Green Roof

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The Role of Landscape in Green Building

Boston Children’s Museum Plaza, Boston, MA Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., Landscape Architects image: Elizabeth Felicella

Boston Children’s Museum Plaza, Boston, MA
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., Landscape Architects
image: Elizabeth Felicella

The following research and thesis was presented to the Landscape Architecture Program at Chatham University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Landscape Architecture in April 2010. The goal of the study was to support the need to increase the landscape principles that are represented in green building certification. Buildings can be certified by the LEED Rating System and still attain none of the landscape principles deemed necessary to a healthy environment by this research.

Evaluating vegetation, site, and location-related credits achieved by LEED Certified Buildings

The green building movement is one response to the environmental impacts resulting from the built environment; it aims to reduce material consumption and waste, while improving energy efficiency and occupant health. The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System has become a base line for sustainable building in the United States.

Though LEED is increasing the number of high performing buildings, thus reducing the energy use and waste production resulting from the built environment, without a stronger focus on the exterior performance these certified buildings may not be providing the urban environment with the ecosystem services necessary for healthy cities. Douglas Farr, author of Sustainable Urbanism, points out that a shortcoming of the LEED Rating System is that the emphasis is put on just the building by stating that “a certified green building isn’t really a positive for the environment when it turns out to be surrounded by a massive paved parking lot” (2008, p. 29).

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If These Walls Could Talk

A well-designed home is oriented according to natural patterns, such as high-velocity air flow. In order to act as a wind-break for the cool winter winds of West Virginia, the WVU Solar Decathlon house included tall grasses around the structure.  image: John Wray, Team WVU / U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

A well-designed home is oriented according to natural patterns, such as high-velocity air flow. In order to act as a wind-break for the cool winter winds of West Virginia, the WVU Solar Decathlon house included tall grasses around the structure.
image: John Wray, Team WVU / U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

During the sixth semester of my undergraduate tenure at West Virginia University, students were presented with the opportunity to earn an academic scholarship by writing a creative essay oriented around the profession of Landscape Architecture and how students and professionals explore the relationship between humans and natural environments. In this specific text that went on to win the scholarship, I focused on how the profession of Landscape Architecture is the catalyst for blurring the lines between the natural and built worlds by looking at the four elements of earth, wind, water, and fire and how they influence the design of built structures that work harmoniously with natural patterns.

Both visual and verbal pieces included in this article communicate what academic and extracurricular activities I have been involved with and how they shaped the formation of my essay. Through experience with the 2013 Solar Decathlon sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, which “challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive,” I learned valuable sustainable principles of design. Through academic studio work, I have been able to explore these sustainable principles and include them in an array of design projects. My experiences with these international competitions and studio work leads me to believe that landscape architects are at the forefront of creating varying scales of spaces that are designed with nature in mind and with the goal of improving the way people live, work, and play. This essay creatively communicates how I believe a developing landscape architect sees how design works properly with natural systems.

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Allegheny County’s Monitored Green Roof

Foreground: intensive green roof and microcosm trials image: John K. Buck, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc.

Foreground: intensive green roof and microcosm trials
image: John K. Buck, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc.

To serve as an educational model demonstrating the benefits of green roofs and the technology imbedded in green roofs, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania decided to install a green roof exhibiting four types of green roof technologies:

  1. Intensive – 8-12 inches of lightweight engineered growing medium with shrubs and plants requiring that rooting depth.
  2. Semi-intensive – 6 inches of lightweight engineered growing medium with the ability to grow plants and shrubs with that depth.
  3. Roll out mat – a pre-grown sedum mat set on 4 inches of lightweight engineered growing medium, providing instant coverage.
  4. Tray system – pre-grown sedum established in lightweight engineered growing medium trays.

By exhibiting these four green roof technologies, it is noted that the substantial additional weight of the intensive and semi-intensive systems requires close examination of the structural integrity of a roof, whereas the mat and tray systems allow green roof application on roofs with less significant weight restrictions. In addition to the visual display, monitoring systems were installed to prove the benefits of green roofs. The performance of this green roof is amazing and noteworthy to share in the scheme of green technology.

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