1992 was a year in which the world shifted gears on development, particularly within the sustainable realm. Not only because of Rio’s Earth Summit or Beijing’s Green Plan  and their third economic reform , but 1992 was also the year that the US lifted sanctions against China, the Cold War formally ended, and Barcelona had just hosted their Olympic Games, transforming the city while astonishing the world by transforming a large-scale media event into a project for the future of their citizens.
Barcelona overcame the challenge of being denied a seafront for recreation purposes for many years. Instead, they masterfully linked their urban fabric to the sea by establishing an urban connectivity between four strategic areas. This allowed them to gain more than 600 hectares of new green area, plazas, and parks  and further enabled the city of Barcelona to formally embrace the environmental concerns as a third pillar of Olympism . During this process, Barcelona was able to build what became one of the most valuable city brands in the world .
Stream restoration has become a necessary and timely tool in the effort to combat environmental issues like flooding and erosion, especially as they are accelerated by more frequent storm events associated with climate change. The author, Lisa Cutshaw, is the Principal Landscape Architect for Summit Design and Engineering and collaborates with colleagues to understand and implement emerging best practices to promote a more resilient approach to the built environment.
Is it ever a good idea to pour concrete in a stream bed? What about riprap and other common erosion control measures? To dig into the specifics, we spoke with Paxton Ramsdell of Ecosystem Planning and Restoration (EPR) in Raleigh, NC. Paxton has many years of experience with stream restoration, recently with Environmental Defense Fund and now with EPR.
Engineered solutions have fallen out of favor in recent years among sustainability advocates, but back in the day, it was common to create concrete channels to try to control streams. The idea was this would stop erosion and direct the water where people wanted it to go. The design professions learned the hard way that channelization actually compounded erosion and flooding problems, but riprap, etc., are still commonly used.
What are the biggest pros to using vegetated solutions rather than engineered solutions?
To be clear, a vegetated solution essentially means restoring the stream with a functional flood plain, allowing the plant root systems to stabilize the soil while also allowing the stream to overflow onto the flood plain when the water rises after rainfall. Research has found that in addition to soil stabilization, vegetated solutions have other benefits, such as slowing down runoff, reducing particulates and excess nutrients in the water, moderating stream temperature, and promoting groundwater recharge.
Paxton Ramsdell: “Vegetated stream restoration projects can reduce erosion and flooding problems, and they tend to last longer than engineered solutions. When streams are able to flood naturally onto the flood plain along the length of the stream, the severity of flooding downstream is reduced, and the stream bed itself has less scour to contend with. When they are properly designed and protected from encroachment, vegetated stream restoration projects should last for generations.”
ASLA’s Sustainable Design and Development Professional Practice Network (SDD PPN) is continually seeking to advance sustainable design in ways that are innovative, feasible, and impactful. One specific tool towards achieving this goal is the implementation of the Sustainable SITES Initiative® (SITES®) rating system. The SITES Rating System is a set of comprehensive, voluntary guidelines that inform and asses the sustainable design, construction, and maintenance of landscapes.
As a PPN, we support SITES through education, professional outreach, and the creation of tools to assist landscape architecture practitioners. SITES provides an excellent professional framework for landscape architecture design, but one implementation stumbling block can be getting client buy-in. As more practitioners make the case for SITES, we want to empower you with the tools to advocate for certification. Thus, the SDD PPN leadership team has developed a “SITES in 10” presentation, an elevator pitch slide deck highlighting the reasons why clients should pursue SITES project certification.
Landscape architecture students and faculty across the country, and further afield, are currently tackling the important task of putting together tangible proposals according to the tenets of the Green New Deal resolution (GND). The resolution, published by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey around two years ago, sets forth an economic stimulus and mobilization framework for decarbonization and social equity. This forms the central charge for the Green New Deal Superstudio launched last summer under the joint auspices of ASLA, the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture, the Landscape Architecture Foundation, the Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes (at Columbia University), and the McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology (at the University of Pennsylvania).
Of course, design studios are quite different from practice work, even if projects—as encouraged by the Superstudio brief, for instance—occur in collaboration with practitioners. Studio allows time and space to experiment with technique, ideas, and representation, while drawing on the field’s shared vocabulary of written and built works. It is one particular challenge in my own GND Superstudio that I want to briefly focus upon here: the practice of drawing sites as a way of understanding landscape in addition to the more normative methods of site evaluation, data collection, and speculation. This discussion might have broader currency for other educators and practitioners involved in progressive projects, but may also have wider poignancy as we all contemplate reconnecting with our somewhat estranged landscapes in the time of COVID.
As a little background, I offer these brief comparative remarks about the Roosevelt administration’s New Deal of the 1930s; after all, the very name of the new GND resolution invites such comparisons. The original New Deal was the roll-out of dozens of programs over a relatively short amount of time, addressing the devastation of the Great Depression and leaving a notable legacy of building, conservation, and infrastructural works. Likewise, the Green New Deal looks to stimulate an ailing economy, while weaving together social and environmental objectives with broad implications. However, unlike its eponym, the GND—still in its infancy as a political project—is yet to emerge with a strong visual language and consistent graphic messaging to help translate broad rhetoric into local, relatable action. While still in the earliest phases of its formulation, the Green New Deal has merely offered nostalgic imitations of bold New Deal imagery.
Of course, properly considered, nostalgia—with its strong associations with place and home—could yet prove a persuasive graphic strategy for communicating and winning local favor for a Green New Deal, just as regionally distinct forms and traditions could inform the design and planning approaches to landscapes of decarbonization.
by Pamela Conrad, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP, and Paulina Tran, Affiliate ASLA
Climate change is front and center as the world is experiencing unprecedented natural disasters, wreaking devastating, visible impacts on our society and the planet.
CMG Landscape Architecture Principal Pamela Conrad and her team of landscape architects, environmental designers, data scientists, and tech gurus continues to advance Climate Positive Design—a movement to improve the carbon impact of the built environment through collective action. Since its launch in the fall of 2019, Climate Positive Design provides accessible tools, guidance, and resources to have a positive impact on climate change.
Available on ClimatePositiveDesign.com, the Pathfinder is a free web-based app that provides project-specific guidance on reducing carbon footprints while increasing carbon sequestration. Users receive instant carbon feedback and a Climate Positive Scorecard with detailed statistics that can be plugged directly into Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and design suggestions to improve carbon impacts.
Pathfinder 2.0 was released August 2020 with new features and improvements since the initial launch on September 30, 2019 that include:
Addition of custom material, plant, and operational inputs
Comparison of design alternatives
Analysis of existing conditions
Understanding site impacts
Existing tree impacts (cutting down trees, mulching, converting into timber and site furnishings or biochar)
Aqsa Butt, Associate ASLA, SITES® AP, is pursuing her Master of Arts in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University. This blog post was inspired by her literature review for her Foundations of Public Policy and Planning class, where she reviewed articles and publications that address the topic of stormwater runoff and sustainable solutions. The purpose of the literature review was to address current gaps and limitations in knowledge and practice of sustainable strategies around stormwater management.
With the growing population density in the U.S., our nation’s waters are experiencing significant problems due to heavy reliance on grey infrastructure. The issue persists due to increased population growth and climate change. Federal regulations, such as the Clean Water Act (CWA), have relied on cities to manage their aging grey infrastructure without any control over private parcels that generate significant source of pollution by overland runoff, also known as non-point source pollution. The recent enactment of the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act is a significant step forward in influencing cities to implement green infrastructure (GI), but is that the only limitation in implementing this sustainable practice?
Resource and cognitive barriers such as lack of funding, lack of awareness and knowledge, as well as fear of new strategies create reluctance in adopting GI strategy. Though there are many cost and ecological benefits associated with GI strategies, they are undervalued due to limitations of use and absence in market value. Fear, attitudes, and perceptions also create reluctance in adopting new sustainable practices.
What are some strategies that can help influence cities to use GI strategy in managing stormwater?
A Community Participatory Process
Implementing a community participatory process will elicit stormwater objectives, meet regulatory requirements, and provide amenities valued by the community.
by Dennis Carmichael, FASLA, LEED AP, and Kelly Fleming, ASLA, SITES AP
Towne Square at Suitland Federal Center is a 25-acre neighborhood proposed on the site of a former public housing project that was demolished in recent years, as it had become a den of crime. The site adjoins Suitland Federal Center, which houses the U.S. Census Bureau, NOAA, and other federal agencies. The Suitland Metrorail station is south of the federal center and within walking distance of Towne Square. As such, the project is a worthy model of Smart Growth: urban infill within areas of existing infrastructure, multiple modes of transportation, and employment opportunities. The program for the site is residential, retail, and a cultural arts building. The master plan was prepared by an architecture firm, Lessard Design Group. The client is the Prince George’s County Redevelopment Authority and their goal is to transform the site into a community with affordable housing that will serve as a model of sustainability. As part of that strategy, they included SITES® certification as a part of the scope for the landscape architecture to ensure the project meets a high standard for sustainability and that everyone on the project team is accountable.
The landscape architecture scope included the design of the public realm: parks, open spaces, and streetscapes which knit the neighborhood together as a walkable community. Parker Rodriguez was selected as the landscape architect, along with the Low Impact Development Center, for the SITES certification work. SITES certification includes 18 prerequisites and 48 credits for measuring site sustainability. The Redevelopment Authority is requiring that the project achieve Sustainable SITES Initiative Silver Certification, which means that the project must earn between 85 and 99 points out of a possible 200 points.
Prerequisites and credits in the SITES v2 Rating System are organized into 10 sections that follow typical design and construction phases. These sections demonstrate that achieving a sustainable site begins even before the design is initiated and continues through effective and appropriate operations and maintenance. Our goal as landscape architects was to use the SITES tool as the foundation for all of our design decisions so that the entire community is infused with landscape elements that improve air and water quality, reduce heat island effect, create or conserve energy, reduce waste, and reuse materials. We wanted a community where all of these ecological services were visible and understandable to the residents, to engender a sense of pride in place, but also to make this ethic intrinsic.
On September 12, 2018, San Francisco hosted international leaders of various countries, states, regions, cities, and businesses, celebrities and environmental justice pioneers invited by California Governor Jerry Brown for three days at the Global Climate Action Summit. This group shared Climate Action initiatives to support the Paris Agreement goals and made bold new pledges for a future low carbon economy – specifically to prevent a 1.5 degree Celsius increase and to ensure a climate turning point of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations by 2020.
As part of the Summit, CMG Landscape Architecture hosted an event titled “Climate Positive City Design” – a multidisciplinary panel discussion and salon bringing together over one hundred people to discuss how thinkers, academics, innovators, and designers can work together to strive beyond neutrality, and bring about positive change to our climate. The group of nationally recognized leaders in environmental design and policy included Ryan Allard – Senior Fellow at Project Drawdown, Claire Maxfield – Director at Atelier Ten, Lisa Fisher – Sustainability City Team Lead, San Francisco Planning Department, and myself with panel moderation by Chris Guillard, ASLA – Partner at CMG.
The conversation ranged from how designers can implement solutions from Project Drawdown to how we can collaborate with City agencies to make policy adjustments towards a lower carbon urban environment – but unanimously across the panel and around the room, the message was clear – we all need and want to take action.
The climate is changing. Temperatures are rising along with sea level, and the IPCC recently produced an updated report on the urgency of the situation. It is clear that we have a critical role to play in adapting to the effects of climate warming along coastlines, but is there anything we can do as a profession to mitigate the causes of climate change?
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on May 14, 2019.
James Sottilo passed away on April 23, 2019. James contributed his expertise and his passion to making soils better for landscapes, and the world as a whole. This was his last entry for The Field.
Here’s looking at you, Sustainability.
Today more than ever sustainability is used in our line of work; designing and managing green spaces that reflect the value of the word. It only makes sense that nature remain, as she always has, sustainable.
Over the past several years our team has worked on projects across the United States. These national experiences have exposed us to a variety of natural soils and fauna such as the gumbo clays and wildflower meadows of Southeast Texas, the high silt soils along the Mississippi River, the clay loams of the West Coast, and the forests of the Northeast.
Nature by herself always seems to have the answers to the questions we are asking when designing and building new landscapes. It is our job to dissect the ecological behaviors of the landscape, explain them, and apply them in our work.
There are times when we believe we have unlocked certain secrets of the Earth and developed efforts unparalleled, but eventually science and/or technology deem these efforts linear or one dimensional when compared to her.
Our efforts are stretching beyond the industrial landscape plane and asking the critical questions to scientists and academics that are not part of the main stream landscape franchise. Foresters for example have a different perspective on certain ecologies, scientists in the management of human microbiology have in-depth knowledge on bacteria and how they grow and respond. Agronomists, who manage thousands of acres of farm land, may look at soil completely differently than you and I—yet all of these individuals have insight into the same problems our industry faces such as soil compaction, pH, lack of nutrients, etc.
Soils are the foundation of the landscape and plants are the engineers of the ecosystem. One cannot survive without the other. Questions that we are often faced with include, where does the plant end and the soil begin? Is it realistic to have a specification on soil and second specification on planting? Should both be combined into one specification as a system?
As of now we are still figuring out the answers to those questions but perhaps as we adapt changing paradigms, our soils and plants will shift into performance specifications and eliminate the constant finger pointing when a problem arises with the health of the landscape.
Words matter! And being mindful of the words and terms we use professionally can only help demonstrate landscape architects’ expertise and leadership on these complex topics: sustainability and resiliency.
This is worth reading several times and it might possibly change how you think and discuss sustainability and resiliency in your practice.
Lisa Cowan and Kevin Burke, Sustainable Design & Development Field Editors
In our field, resilience and sustainability should mean the same thing, but this means that we need to correct how we talk about sustainability. Perhaps the most striking similarity between our current use of the terms “sustainability” and “resilience” is their frequent application across a wide variety of practices and projects that too often are neither sustainable nor resilient. This is the way of terms of art—they burst onto the scene, meaning something important and specific, but over time their power becomes diluted as they get misused or applied loosely. I argue that if we use the term sustainability correctly, all sustainable projects would also be resilient, i.e. able to accommodate change and recover quickly. But to see why this is the case, we need to examine the concept of “sustainability” within the design profession and see why the term is frequently misapplied.
by Caitlin Glagola, Associate ASLA; Tim Linehan, Associate ASLA; and Rachel Streit
ThePhiladelphia Water Department (PWD) has one of the most progressive stormwater management plans in the country to address the city’s combined sewer infrastructure. PWD’s Green City, Clean Waters program, which begins its 7th year this July, has constructed more than 600 stormwater management practices (SMPs) in the city, including rain gardens, tree trenches, stormwater planters, and stormwater bumpouts. These stormwater landscapes, collectively known as green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), slow, filter, and infiltrate rainfall to help prevent polluted runoff from entering the city’s sewers and waterways. GSI is versatile and fits into the urban fabric of Philadelphia to not only manage stormwater but also to mitigate urban heat, improve air quality, provide habitat, improve human health, increase land value, and improve quality of life for city residents.
by James Sottilo, Ecologist/Arborist; Dr. Efren Cazares, Mycologist; Ted Hartsig, Soil Scientist
Our team began the day reviewing the landscape of Expedia’s anticipated waterfront campus with Michal Kapitulnik, Tim Kirby and Heath House of Surfacedesign, Inc. Our mission – find the potential of current site soil for repurposing. Reusing native soil profiles in future blends can have a tremendous impact on future plant acclimation and site maturity. The campus presented a contrasting ecology. Certain areas of vegetation were lush and dense while other areas displayed brown, drying turf; it was clear to the team where our attention would be needed – right?
Exploring the vibrant sections of vegetation, soil was dark, rich and moist to a depth of 14-inches. Its observable characteristics were rated as productive and ideas for soil reuse and logistics were already being explored.
Taking a few steps into neighboring areas, the look of the landscape began to change. A particular section of grassland was going dormant due to irrigation having been turned off as the site was pending demo and construction. Rooting in this area was measured at 4-inches and the soil profile was a fine sand and clay mix. Another section of land, deemed the Rectangle of Death, had dying to dead grass cover; the soil was a sandy gavel mix with obvious signs of compaction.
Today’s landscapes are asked to perform much more than functional or aesthetic services: they filter and reduce stormwater runoff, provide wildlife habitat, reduce energy consumption, improve human health, and more. As projects become more complex, and clients aim higher to meet today’s climate challenges, the use of performance metrics is becoming increasingly prevalent.
Why use data?
While the design of green space and lush plantings seems inherently ecologically beneficial, quantifying the actual value of those benefits is a little more complex. This barrier makes it challenging as we advocate for high-performing landscapes. Meanwhile, the drawbacks of initial cost and maintenance are seen as barriers to the development of more green space. This is where landscape performance metrics are valuable; using data to estimate the positive benefits of design elements and ensuring a landscape performs to the anticipated standards. Data allows us to quantify the benefits of a designed landscape, and provides hard evidence for a client trying to balance a project’s budget, schedule, and demands.
Ecological succession (ES) remains one of the most significant determinants of Earth’s biotic life and diversity. Defined as the process of change in the species structure of an ecological community over time, ES drives the environmental shifts of nature and conceives the biological architectures of past, present, and future landscapes.
ES can be broken into three recognized phases: primary succession, secondary succession, and climax community. Primary succession is the series of community changes that occur within an entirely new habitat that has been devoid of life—for example, after a major disturbance such as flood, fire, or volcanic release.
Secondary succession is the process by which an established community is replaced by the next set of biodiversity. Most biological communities remain in a continual state of secondary succession as communities experience minor disturbances, either natural or man-made, that inhibit or reset the successional process.
A climax community represents a stable end product of the successional sequence. Many recognize the Oak-Poplar Forest as a climax community but still acknowledge that any environment can be suddenly disorganized by random variables such as introduced, non-native species. It is said that ES will always remain as Earth is in an ever-changing state.
Today, many forget to recognize the successional phases that are undoubtedly turning all around us. Aesthetic, monetary, and time resources can, at times, skew an image, only accounting for the “now” variables. While this planning stage is necessary, a landscape may be on borrowed time without subsequent conception. Where will the landscape be in one year, one decade, one generation from now? How will it be enjoyed? Will it serve a greater purpose than its original scope? What changes have and will be exerted on this space? Questions such as these can help build upon the natural rhythms of succession while also bridging histories.
I have known James for over six years. We met at an ASLA Annual Meeting when I heard him speak. Subsequently, I invited him to speak at all four of the Organic Landcare Symposiums that Atlanta BeltLine put on. His breadth of knowledge is inspiring and every time I hear him, I learn something new. I hope you will find this post enlightening and that it might even encourage you to explore more about creating environments for healthy soil microbiology.
Located in Midtown at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, Grand Army Plaza stands as a gateway to New York City’s Central Park. Its grand gesture design and historical significance have made it a notable place since its original construction in 1916.
In September 2015, the Central Park Conservancy completed a major restoration of the northern section of the plaza, including the General Sherman statue. Site work included reconstruction of paving, stonework, benches, and lighting, all designed to be in keeping with the original historic design. Electric, drainage, and irrigation infrastructure were fully replaced. The trees at the plaza perimeter, previously lost in an October 2011 snowstorm, were replaced with a double row of London Plane trees, to be consistent with the original design. The placement of CU-Structural Soil™ was incorporated beneath all pavements to provide adequate soil volume for mature tree root systems.
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?
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.
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.
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:
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).
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.
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:
Intensive – 8-12 inches of lightweight engineered growing medium with shrubs and plants requiring that rooting depth.
Semi-intensive – 6 inches of lightweight engineered growing medium with the ability to grow plants and shrubs with that depth.
Roll out mat – a pre-grown sedum mat set on 4 inches of lightweight engineered growing medium, providing instant coverage.
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.
Nette Compton has served as an officer of the Sustainable Design and Development PPN for the past year, and she will be stepping up to the PPN co-chair position at this year’s ASLA Annual Meeting in Denver. Nette is actively involved in many sustainable and urban design initiatives and events through her work at the Trust for Public Land, and we wanted to highlight her upcoming session at SXSW Eco, which takes place next week, October 6-8, 2014, in Austin. Nette will be on the panel discussing “Urban Renewal and Resilient Design” on October 8. In the interview below, she shares some information about the session and why this topic is of such critical importance.
One of the reasons that we have decided to provide more exposure here in The Field about this event is to encourage other SDD PPN members to participate in outreach efforts on sustainability and resiliency aimed at groups outside of the profession. Landscape architects can raise awareness about how our profession contributes expertise and solutions for urban renewal and resilient design. We welcome contributions like this by SDD members, on talks that they will be or have been involved in on sustainability initiatives. Please share your ideas! –Lisa Cowan, ASLA, SDD PPN Co-Chair
How did this presentation come about?
In my new role at the Trust for Public Land, part of my position entails speaking about the impact of public space on cities. As Associate Director of City Park Development, I focus on how parks can improve the livability and function of cities for its residents, from providing a place to play to landscape-scale improvements in air and water quality. The presentation’s emphasis on resiliency and creative use of urban space fit right in with my past experience at the New York City Parks Department, where I was the Director of Green Infrastructure and involved in climate and resilience planning both pre- and post-Sandy. We wanted to have practitioners from around the country as part of the discussion as well, to show how these big ideas of resilience planning for cities at the landscape scale can happen anywhere, and take advantage of a range of opportunities.
Farmers and landscape architects approach the landscape in fundamentally different ways, though they often share similar goals for the health of the environment and the communities where they work. Since discovering my green thumb as a college student, I’ve worked in both arenas, first as an intern on organic farms in California, later as a landscape designer and contractor specializing in edible gardens and, most recently, as an environmental planner focused on zoning regulations and other big picture concerns for urban agriculture. In the middle I had a seven-acre farm of my own, raising goats, chickens and pigs in a suburban neighborhood in Athens, Georgia.
Through these experiences I’ve found that while organic farmers and environmentally-minded designers both operate from a triple bottom line perspective, they operate under very different assumptions, yielding radically different outcomes in the landscape. The tremendous interest of today’s urban populations in food production has brought the perspectives of farmers and designers to common ground—literally—and if the urban agriculture movement is to be seen as successful twenty years from now, it is important that a greater degree of mutual understanding be reached.
Stormwater retention is a hot-button issue among landscape architects. It’s something that all designers need to consider and can pose challenges on specific sites as well as in larger ecological systems. As landscape architects, we strive to implement creative practices to mitigate stormwater issues.
In the past, designers have tended to select wet site-tolerant plants for these installations; however, while bioswale soils may be wet for brief periods, they are more often very dry between rainfall events. The authors tested several plants for their wet and dry tolerance and developed a bulletin describing many woody plants that are well-adapted to these conditions of alternately wet and dry soils.
From the research for your book, Designing Urban Agriculture, and your on-going work in designing and facilitating urban agriculture projects, have you learned anything that surprised or challenged you as a landscape architect?
Simply put, food can become a platform from which we address other important elements of community, ecology, and livability, including the physical, social, economic, cultural, and environmental health of the city. Food is the gateway to the stakeholder conversations between city, community, and project developer or funder. It is also surprising how many edible projects and ideas are out there to learn from so there is still tremendous interest in delving deeper into this complex subject.
As co-chair of the Sustainable Design and Development PPN, I work with other officers and ASLA staff to develop topics of interest and input from landscape architects and other allied professionals for this blog. Project economics are an important, but immensely challenging, topic in making the case for sustainable design. At the suggestion of Dena Kennett, ASLA, who worked on ASLA’s behalf to develop a green infrastructure workshop for the 2013 New Partners for Smart Growth Conference and worked directly with my colleague, Martha Sheils, a resource economics professional, to address this issue, we are trying something new here—adapting a PowerPoint presentation to this format to provide SDD members with access to information that resonated with conference attendees.
When our company, Studioverde, was in its formative stages, I had many fruitful discussions with Martha—a friend and colleague from when we worked together in another multidisciplinary firm—about the importance of ecosystem services and the economic case for sustainable design, implementation, and maintenance. Martha has an uncanny ability to identify, distill, and communicate heady research outside of the landscape architecture profession that applies to our work. These early discussions and Martha’s research led us to the Sustainable Sites Initiative back in 2007, and she is currently working on education and outreach to help municipalities and professional organizations understand the benefits of integrated stormwater management models. –Lisa Cowan, PLA, ASLA
The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is a biennial challenge for collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses. The winner of the competition is decided based on the affordability, consumer appeal, design excellence, energy production, and efficiency of the built design. With the purpose of educating both students and the public about clean and renewable energy, the Decathlon competitors are judged in ten categories, ranging from Architecture and Engineering to Market Appeal and Communications. Given the breadth of the competition, the Solar Decathlon’s participants include students and faculty from a variety of academic disciplines, including architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, computer science, product design, economics, communications, and more.
Tourism has a significant impact on much of the world. From the host to the visitor, we are all in one way or another shaped by tourism. While tourism’s positive effects include job creation, poverty alleviation, education, environmental preservation, and cultural exchange, tourism’s negative consequences–crime, loss of cultural identity, environmental degradation, species endangerment, and global warming–have proliferated in the last 30 years.
To counteract tourism’s negative side, we need to discuss what sustainable community development means within communities affected by tourism. Such a discussion must also include the steps that can be taken to ensure that those communities flourish with tourism as one part of a whole, rather than rely solely on tourism. After all, the changes that tourism brings about can be part of any community’s growth into a sustainable community.
Driving down I-94 recently, I noticed a bright orange patch of butterfly milkweed, wild bergamot, and purple coneflower growing along the highway embankment. The plants were in bloom and stood out amongst the surrounding vegetation. At other times of year, the planting wouldn’t make an impact, but in July it jumps out at you even at 75 miles an hour. The plantings were so vibrant that we were inspired to exit the off ramp, climb down the retaining wall and get some close up pictures. Once on the ground we saw that there were spots throughout the planting where people had dug up plants for their gardens. This planting is the result of new methods for roadside vegetation planting, establishment, and maintenance specified in Native Seed Mix Design for Roadsides, a report prepared for MNDOT by Kestrel Design Group in 2010. This report reflects the rise of green infrastructure and native vegetation restoration as emergent paradigms for understanding urban ecology and landscape management, particularly at the macro-scale of transportation networks.