Working as a Charrette Landscape Architect, Part 2

by Daniel Ashworth, Jr., PLA, ASLA, AICP

Interdisciplinary team members at work in a charrette studio
In a charrette studio, team members from different firms and disciplines mix up and work at tables together. / image: Daniel Ashworth

Part 2: The Studio, Tools, and Lessons Learned

In part one of this series, I introduced and described the charrette concept and talked about its benefits for larger planning projects. In this post, I would like to get into what the design studio looks like, how to set up a studio space, the tools you should and could bring, and some lessons learned.

The Studio

A charrette studio is normally set up as a series of tables, most of which are working tables for team members to sit with their computers and/or drawing tools. The first things normally identified are the electrical outlet locations, as that has the biggest impact on table locations. There is usually a large table dedicated to layout/team gathering discussions or large drawings and models. One or two tables are also set up either on one side or around the corner from the charrette studio to have the technical committees and stakeholder meetings. And finally, there is usually a wall that is kept blank for pinups or to be projected on for a slideshow.

As the charrette is in progress, it is always good practice to cover up the walls with base maps and images and then replace those with each day’s production as the charrette progresses. This helps the design team find information for their work quickly, and also helps to show the public that work is occurring. When we can’t have the studio on the physical site, we have rented bicycles for team members to get to the site, and usually someone on the design team rents a car.

Continue reading

Working as a Charrette Landscape Architect, Part 1

by Daniel Ashworth, Jr., PLA, ASLA, AICP

Landscape architect Daniel Ashworth working on street cross sections
The author working on street cross sections for a small area study in Memphis, TN. / image: Alexander Preudhomme, Opticos Design, Inc.

Working in design charrettes is a unique experience usually reserved for architects and planners working in firms aligned with the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), using the ideas and procedures codified by Bill Lennertz through the National Charrette Institute (NCI). However, in the last five to eight years I have noticed more landscape architecture services being pulled into the charrette process, and with increasing frequency, landscape architects are leading multidisciplinary charrettes.

A design charrette is a three- to five-day intensive, focused, and collaborative workshop usually held on the project site or as close to the site as possible within the project’s community. The setting and nature of the charrette gets the project’s team members out of the distracted design office environment and into the same room together. Being on site means the project team is designing in public and are able to get immediate feedback from the public and project stakeholders through open studio hours and presentations during charrette week. The charrette process allows team members to access the project site whenever necessary, and it allows for the in-person team collaboration that leads to a better and more coordinated project and higher quality places. From a project management standpoint, a charrette can also be a cheaper and more efficient way to get the majority of project work done, even in light of the travel and lodging costs.

Continue reading

Capturing a City’s Vision for a Dynamic Public Plaza

by Shane Friese, ASLA

Colleyville Plaza rendering / image: Freese and Nichols, Inc.

City Hall in Colleyville, Texas, looks out on a 140-by-140-foot flat area of lawn with no trees or distinguishing features. But not for long.

City leaders envisioned turning that unadorned lawn into a dynamic public space with a critical linkage to City Hall and the Public Library. The goals included creating a signature gathering place for residents of this city of 25,000 residents near Dallas-Fort Worth Airport and making retail/office/residential development adjacent to City Hall an even more enticing location.

The new Colleyville Plaza is set to break ground this year. When the project is completed, it will provide a welcoming community centerpiece with amenities that include a covered stage for small concerts and events, string lighting to brighten a new pedestrian corridor, benches and tiered seating for casual or formal use, attractive plantings, a signature fountain and an open area for gatherings such as the city’s annual Christmas Tree Lighting Celebration. During events, food trucks will be able to set up on the new pedestrian corridor in front of City Hall.

Our experience in working closely with the City to design the plaza underscored valuable lessons for meeting a client’s strategic goals with a plan that embraces and reflects local character.

Continue reading

Reclaiming Land for Downtown Parks in Dallas

by Taner R. Özdil, Ph.D., ASLA

Downtown Dallas skyline
Downtown Dallas / image: Taner R. Özdil

Vision is Green in Urban Design: Reclaiming Land for Downtown Parks in Dallas

21st century cities are being challenged by significant land and resource allocation and optimization issues requiring balance between the natural and built environment especially in high-density urban areas. Concerns such as population growth, rapid urbanization, climate change, natural resource depletion, extraneous consumption behaviors, and hasty ecological and environmental degradation are increasing new urbanites’ appreciation of the value of nature, land, and open and green space within cities. Recent population trends show that cities now house more than 82% of the population in the United States (The World Bank, 2017). Integrating parks in 21st century downtowns, as part of urban design practice, has become highly desirable, but is often contested by stakeholders. However, it is perhaps the most valuable strategy for reshaping the built environment in urban areas.

Since the turn of the century, increasing environmental awareness coupled with social and economic trends has dramatically affected where people choose to live, work, and play in United States. Downtowns, after half a century of neglect, have become more attractive to members of the aging Baby-Boomers, Gen X, and Millennial generations and young families. There is a growing interest (at least for some segments of the population) and need to return to the traditional centers with smaller housing units and compact environments that have architectural character, pedestrian friendly walkable streets, and the essential elements of a livable community. More importantly, today’s urbanites seem to want both “access to nature” and a “room with a view” within walking distance of employment, housing, and essential services such as parks, grocery stores, schools, and “third places” like restaurants and coffee houses (Reconnecting America, 2017; Florida, 2002).

Even cities like Dallas, the fifth best economically performing large city in US (Jackson et.al., 2019), are not immune to these changes and challenges as available land to provide such amenities and services for future residents is rapidly becoming a scarce commodity. Indeed, the City of Dallas is ranked a dismal 49th out of 100 in the US for park availability/access (Trust for Public Land, 2018). Up until 2013, its downtown has offered only about 8.3 acres of park land per 1,000 residents, whereas the greater city of Dallas offers 22.6 acres of park land for every 1,000 residents (EPS, 2015; Hargreaves Associates, 2013).

Continue reading

A New Manassas Street, Safe for Bikes and Pedestrians

by Daniel Ashworth, Jr., PLA, ASLA, AICP

image: Memphis Medical District Collaborative (MMDC) / Memphis Flyer

In an effort to re-balance excess car space for people space, Alta Planning + Design redesigned Manassas Street in Memphis from five to three lanes to make way for separated bike lanes on nearly a mile of the street through the Memphis Medical District.

This was the second phase of the Memphis Medical District Collaborative‘s interim design improvements program for the Medical District, which is adjacent to downtown Memphis. The project provides separation of bicyclists and pedestrians from the travel lanes with parked cars and bike lane buffers containing wheel stops and delineators. The project also included bumpouts with concrete domes and planters to shorten the crossing distances for pedestrians and slow vehicle speeds by narrowing the travel space with the vertical bumpout elements. Cat Peña, a local artist, provided the design and installation for an artistic mid-block crossing between Health Sciences Park and the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center.

The project was designed with the guidance from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)’s Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide and in conjunction with the Memphis City Engineering staff’s advice. The ultimate goals of the project are to encourage active transportation, support the healthy lifestyles goals of the district’s medical institution anchors, and to encourage more mixed-use and multifamily residential development in the district.

If you are interested learning more about the project, I will be presenting on Manassas Street as part of a panel with Susannah Barton of the Memphis Medical District Collaborative and Memphis artist Cat Peña at the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego. The panel is titled Manassas Street, A Tactical and Artistic Urban Street Transformation in Memphis and will be held on Friday, November 15, 1:30 – 3:00 PM.

Continue reading

The Expanding Role of Landscape Architects in Urban Waterfront Design

by Tom Rogers, ASLA

Lowland Park on Detroit’s urban riverfront, is part of the second phase of Milliken State Park, Michigan’s first state park in an urban setting. / Image: SmithGroup

Urban waterfronts throughout the world are transforming from industrial centers and transportation hubs to mixed-use destinations. As population growth shifts to urban centers, greater pressure to redevelop underutilized land at the water’s edge is requiring cities to address complex challenges. The most holistic solutions require a thoughtful approach at an urban scale that melds many disciplines. These waterfront projects involve a variety of stakeholders with diverse needs, and require complex, time consuming processes and significant investments in capital resources.

Landscape architects can and should play an expanded role in these significant opportunities to shape the future of cities. To do so, L.A.s must adapt and develop skillsets beyond their traditional focus to lead integrated, resilient design solutions.

My firm, SmithGroup, hosted a roundtable discussion with clients and colleagues from Rust Belt communities throughout the Great Lakes to discuss the challenges and opportunities for their urban waterfronts. Attendees included representatives from municipal planning departments, regional watershed districts, redevelopment authorities, regulatory agencies, private developers, nonprofits, and the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

While each of the participants represented a unique vantage point, they painted a striking similar picture of the issues; shifts in markets and policy have resulted in economically challenged neighborhoods next to underutilized, often contaminated industrial property near the core of their cities. Many of these properties are located on or near water. The problems involve a tangled web of owners, users, regulators and policies that cannot be addressed solely though site-specific solutions but must be approached at a larger scale to be effective.

Performance, partnerships and equity emerged as key themes and design drivers during our discussion, pointing to the more integrated and resilient solutions required to return our urban waterfronts to the right balance of public use, environmental integrity, and prosperity.

Continue reading

Cleveland’s Active Transit Awakening

by Peter Salamon, Associate ASLA

The Cleveland Group Plan by Charles Burnham / Image: The Cleveland Memory Project

In our April 2018 Urban Design PPN Field post, we learned about Detroit’s approach to urban transit. Continuing with this theme of rust belt cities, we’ll now explore Cleveland’s challenges and achievements in connecting people to place.

Whereas Detroit’s Woodward plan launched a framework extending far from the city center, Charles Burnham’s Group Plan for the City of Cleveland established only an immediate civic core. This was due mainly to the downtown’s unique geography, as the Cuyahoga River Valley isolated it from the more residential areas pushed to neighboring bluffs. Development in these areas loosely followed what translated in Iroquois to “the crooked river,” and could be best characterized as piecemeal; not following any distinct pattern, and often, the law.

Continue reading

The Atlanta Beltline: An Interview with the Principal Landscape Architect, Part 2

By Thomas Schurch, ASLA, AICP

Atlanta BeltLine Inc in partnership with Trees Atlanta is establishing a 22-mile linear arboretum unlike any other in the world. / Image: Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.

In this second of the two-part interview with Principal Landscape Architect Kevin Burke, ASLA, Kevin addresses facets of the BeltLine’s construction, funding and construction costs, social impacts, and public participation that he has been involved with. As stated in Part I, this urban design project is remarkable for its ultimate transformation of Atlanta that includes 22 miles of pedestrian friendly rail transit, 33 miles of multi-use trails, 1,300 acres of parks, 5,600 units of affordable housing, public art, historic preservation $10-20 billion in economic development, 30,000 permanent jobs, and, of course, sustainability.

CONSTRUCTION

What is your role in “post construction oversight”? 

We believe that the upkeep of public funds investment is a basic parameter of our responsibility. However, a significant level of our funding comes from a Tax Allocation District (a.k.a. Tax Increment Financing) tied to local real estate values on commercial/industrial/multi-family properties. This source was legislatively created to spur economic development and specifically precludes utilization of these funds for O&M. As such, we are somewhat hampered in our ability to do what most landscape architects would consider basic maintenance needs. The Parks and Recreation Department assists us, especially with graffiti removal, as resources permit.

To aid our efforts, we established a “Fixit Line” that facilitates the public letting us know matters needing attention.

Continue reading

The Atlanta Beltline: An Interview with the Principal Landscape Architect, Part 1

By Thomas Schurch, ASLA, AICP

The integration of stormwater green infrastructure into the park has facilitated a walkable neighborhood and has led to the construction of over 2,500 housing units within a half block. / Image: Tom Schurch

The Atlanta BeltLine is one of the most comprehensive urban design efforts in the current era and rivals others today such as San Francisco’s Mission Bay, Manhattan’s Battery Park City, New York’s Fresh Kills, Boston’s Big Dig, and the Orange County Great Park. As such, it is transformative for Atlanta, a city known for poor land use practices over the past quarter century. The BeltLine will ultimately connect 45 intown neighborhoods through 11 nodes within a 22-mile loop of multi-use trails, light rail transit, and parks – all based on abandoned railroad corridors that encircle Atlanta. As an engine of economic development, it is demonstrating remarkable outcomes in adjoining areas comprising infill, compatible mixed land use, including urban housing, and thereby exemplifying transit oriented development.

As with all urban design projects of this scale, identifying one firm or one individual to credit for the achievement is impossible. With regard to urban design and landscape architecture, however, a key individual who has guided the BeltlIne’s unfolding is its Principal Landscape Architect, Kevin Burke, ASLA. The following is the first of a two-part interview in which Kevin shares his experiences and insights concerning this remarkable achievement. Part I provides a general project overview and design considerations. Part II addresses construction, funding and construction costs, social impacts, and public participation.

Continue reading

Detroit Transit Investment Will Spur Growth

by Rebecca McKevitz, Associate ASLA

Detroit’s new QLINE is the city’s first step towards improving transit / image: Rebecca McKevitz

The past ten years have brought no shortage of conversation surrounding the current state of America’s rust-belt cities and the endless number of impacts the 2007 economic crisis had on these important cultural hubs. There has been an on-going fascination with both the collapse and rebuilding of these struggling urban centers from economists, politicians, city planners, and residents alike. Almost five years since the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy in Detroit, we are just starting to see glimpses of rebirth, and the majority of Detroiters are still questioning when they will feel the effects of this economic rebound. For urban centers, density promotes efficiency, and Detroit’s tremendous sprawl has created many challenges for the city. More specifically, a lack of reliable public transit has ailed the city for more than half a century.

Detroit’s significant transportation problems began when the city was designed for complete car dependency, resulting in spatially separated land uses, wide roadways, expansive parking lots and a lack of pedestrian friendly urban spaces (Talen). Detroit cannot afford to delay improvements in its public transit system any longer. The successful future of Detroit is dependent on many economic, political and social factors, but the first step towards revitalization is reconnecting the city through an updated and expanded public transit system. There are many systematic problems that got Detroit to where it is today, but refocusing efforts on a regional transit master plan will allow the city’s residents to engage with and contribute to their city, and will attract new business and development to the Motor City.

Continue reading

Urban Design Professional Practice Network Survey Results

Our recent Urban Design Professional Practice Network discovery survey sheds light on elements necessary for successful urban design and definitions that best represent our members’ views of urban design as a profession. Our total PPN membership is almost 1,800, and we had 125 respondents, representing 7% of members. As an informal survey, it gives us insight into how our members view urban design. This now offers us a tool as we begin to look to the future of our PPN, finding ways to maximize the collective creativity and knowledge we have within our ranks.

The first question asked willing participants to rate a list of pre-selected design elements based on importance in the successful design of urban places. No definitions were provided for each of these elements; participants were left to define, and ultimately rate, each element on their own.

Continue reading

Social Places | Private Spaces

Triangle Plaza by Design Workshop is a privately constructed and maintained plaza in a vacated street right of way in Downtown Denver. The space serves as critical pedestrian connection and much-needed open space. The ‘Swing Forest’ shown here is a dynamic urban folly situated within the plaza. / image: Jamie Fogle

Privately owned public plazas and pocket parks play a valuable role in the open space fabric of our rapidly densifying urban cores. They provide social eddy spaces in the relentless street walls of our densest cities while complementing the larger parks and open space systems that struggle to weave their way into urban areas as pressure from development often keeps cities from acquiring and building new facilities. These spaces should be celebrated, but they should also be scrutinized to understand how they perform in the larger social and environmental context. One city where this dialogue is becoming more critical is Denver, Colorado.

Continue reading

Will the ‘Real Urban Designer’ Please Stand Up! Part II

Figure.1 Main Street District, Houston, TX image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2007
Figure.1 Main Street District, Houston, TX
image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2007

PART II: Seeking Future Identity
In Part I, we focused on the history, the precedent, and the nomenclature that seems to have shaped the ground for UD as an academic field and area of practice. Part II will concentrate on the evolving definition along with the current and anticipated future practices of urban design.

Evolving Definition
For as many concerns that developed in the second half of the 20th century, there are at least as many debates about the definition of Urban Design (UD) as well as the issues covered within the framework of UD. A concise definition is hard to come across from the literature, nor is it realistic to set the scope of the UD field. However, Madanipour’s summary of these “ambiguities” of UD “…the scale of urban fabric which UD addresses; visual or spatial emphases; spatial or social emphases; the relationship in between process and product in city design; the relationship between different professionals and their activities; public or private sector affiliations and design as an objective-rational or subjective-irrational processes” (Madanipour, 1997) sets the perimeters of the issues that define the scope of UD as we become familiar as landscape architecture professionals.

In its most basic form, UD is interrelated but also a distinct academic field and area of practice. It is concerned with the architectural form, the relationship between the buildings and the spaces created within, as well as the social, economic, environmental, and practical issues inherent to these spaces. The field encompasses landscape architecture, architecture, and city planning, (Lynch in Banerjee and Soutworth, ed., 1990; Lang, 2005). UD is viewed as a specialization within the field of architecture (Lang, 1994), as something to be practiced by an architect or landscape architect (Lang 2005; Lynch in Banerjee and Soutworth, ed., 1990), or as integral part of urban planning (Moughtin, 2003; Gosling and Gosling, 2003; Sternberg, 2000).

Continue reading

Will the ‘Real Urban Designer’ Please Stand Up! Part I

Figure.1 Chicago, IL image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2014
Figure.1 Chicago, IL
image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2014

Introduction:
As we are approaching ASLA’s 2016 Annual Meeting and EXPO in New Orleans and coming to the end of another term with ASLA’s Urban Design (UD) Professional Practice Network (PPN) annual activities, once again, I come to realize that what we call urban design is not the same for all landscape architecture professionals (nor to architects, planners, and/or engineers). Calling one’s self an urban designer without clarity may also not do justice to the field and practice of urban design. For the 1,686 active members of the PPN and nearly 2,500 active UD PPN Linkedin Group members (as of September 2016), it seems like we may have almost as many definitions as the number of professionals who are following our UD PPN voluntary activities.

It is difficult for the urban design field and practice to make progress, if it fails to be conceptually clear about its nature, purpose, methods (Lang, 2005). Therefore, I decided to use this post as an opportunity to reflect upon “what is urban design;” the precedent, definition, features, area of practices, and professional domain with the intention that we can find a common thread among landscape architecture professionals (and other professionals) within the comprehensive domain of “urban design.”

Part I: Tracing the Roots
Part I focuses on the history, the precedent, and the nomenclature that seems to have shaped the ground for UD as an academic field and area of practice. Part II concentrates on the evolving definition along with the current and anticipated future practices of urban design.

Continue reading

Better Block is Urban Design

The first Better Block project in Dallas, Texas 2010 image: Jason Roberts
The first Better Block project in Dallas, Texas 2010
image: Jason Roberts

At first, Jason Roberts may appear to be an unlikely ally and friend to landscape architecture professionals. But, for many designers, urbanites, and community activists, that is exactly what he has become. Although he has worn many hats as a musician, IT consultant, and restaurateur, beginning in the early 2000’s, Jason has found what appears to be his true calling: the role of an Urban Activist. Over the past decade, beginning with his home town of Oak Cliff, TX, Jason stopped waiting for others to transform his community. Among various other initiatives, he founded the Oak Cliff Transit Authority and Bike Friendly Oak Cliff in an effort to give his town an operable streetcar and a foothold for a non-recreational cycling community.

Jason and his friends have also collaborated with UT Arlington for various community based initiatives in North Texas while Better Block sponsored demonstrations have spread across the US and beyond. In recent years, their grassroots activities and temporary installations through Better Block continue to transform streets, neighborhoods, and cities across the US. The following post is a snapshot to where Better Block, landscape architecture, and urban design intersects.
-Taner R. Ozdil, Ph.D., ASLA, Associate Professor at UT Arlington, Urban Design PPN Chair

The Better Block Project
by Jason Roberts

The Better Block project started in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, Texas in 2010 when we gathered a small group of neighbors together and rapidly transformed a blighted block of partially vacant storefronts into a European inspired, vibrant corridor.

Our team took the wide street and painted bike lanes, added café seating, painted bright facades and murals on the buildings, and installed temporary businesses like coffee houses, art galleries, and locally made curio shops. We filled the sidewalks with fruit stands, flowers, sandwich board signs, and strung lights between the buildings. After everything was laid out, we began posting the zoning and ordinance rules we were breaking in order to make the place come alive so that everyone would recognize that many of the things that made our street great were illegal or cost prohibitive.

I created the project out of frustration with the typical planning process, and the helpless feelings I had when attempting to get livable and walkable initiatives started in my neighborhood. We had attended so many meetings with experts that had us lay out post-it notes on large maps with our ideas on what should be included in a vibrant street.

Our notes would lead to elaborate watercolor drawings and 3D overlays of how great our new blocks could look. But every time, these plans would sit on shelves or the final development would be bastardized in a way that veered so far from our notes that we became cynical and distrustful of the process itself. Beyond this frustration was the idea that the great place we desired would take us 30 years to build… but we wanted a great place now.
Continue reading

Urban Design and Tree Planting Spaces

Failed project with inadequate soil volume and tree grates image: James Urban
Failed project with inadequate soil volume and tree grates
image: James Urban

Trees are important to the composition of urban design proposals. Drawings and sections show healthy, mature trees lining streets and punctuating plazas. There is an unspoken conclusion that a street without trees is not a complete street. Yet there is a critical component missing from most of these renderings.

Drawings almost always show the tree magically rising out of the ground plane with no means of support. Typically the sidewalk paving is shown right up to the trunk of the tree, the critical swelling of the trunk flare at the base of each tree above ground is not drawn. Also unspoken is the assumption that the trees will somehow find rooting space. The messy details of how the tree grows are left to the next phase of the design process. To be fair, urban design drawings, particularly the ubiquitous “typical” sections, also omit the building and light pole foundations. These omissions in the beginning of the planning process are to be added as the project moved forward. It is reasonable to assume the engineers and architects will put foundations under buildings and light poles, unseen structures typically built into the very first cost estimates. But sadly and all too often, the tree’s requirements and cost are ignored throughout the entire process.

There are two basic elements of the tree that urban designers must incorporate into their drawings, reports, and cost estimates. These are (1) sufficient soil volume to support the size tree expected to grow and (2) acknowledging the structural requirements of the tree where it meets the ground.

Continue reading

A Guide to Urban Design Activities at the Annual Meeting

image: T.R. Ozdil
image: T.R. Ozdil

Join Urban Design PPN Members in Chicago!
The ASLA Annual Meeting & EXPO is approaching quickly. Below you will find a preview of the Urban Design PPN Meeting and highlights from urban design related events in Chicago. If you are interested in urban design, please make an effort to join the Urban Design PPN Meeting on Saturday, November 7 for short presentations, discussions, and networking with your fellow members. Don’t forget to ask for your Urban Design PPN pin! The following list includes must attends for Urban Design PPN members:
Continue reading

Limited Access Roadways, Full Access Neighborhoods

image: Keith Billick
image: Keith Billick

We all know and can understand the benefits and the advantages of limited access roadways, better known as freeways. But, it is the emerging negative impacts that these freeways have on our urban neighborhoods that we are just now beginning to understand.

So how did it all start? The envisioned purpose and need stated in the 1938 Federal-Aid Highway Act was to create a roadway network. A network built to a set of standards that would provide for national defense, as well as to meet the desire and ability of the growing general population to drive longer distances.

After viewing the autobahn, leading highway engineers in the US agreed the German roads were wonderful examples of modern road building, but noted that the network was in predominantly rural areas, serving small amounts of traffic. The engineers were clear that the system in the US would be different, it would be one that served the crowded and congested urban areas. Interregional Freeways, limited to areas where the present and future traffic would justify the infrastructure, these were to be major roadways intended for the purpose of relieving urban traffic congestion. Continue reading

Urban Design at the Annual Meeting

images, clockwise from top left: Keith Billick, Taner Ozdil, and Marc Yeber
images, clockwise from top left: Keith Billick, Taner Ozdil, and Marc Yeber

Join us in Denver!

It’s only a few weeks away: the ASLA Annual Meeting! Below, you’ll find a preview of the Urban Design PPN Meeting, plus highlights from the rest of the Annual Meeting, including selected sessions on urban design from among the 120+ education and field sessions that will be taking place November 21-24 in Denver.

What to Expect at This Year’s Urban Design PPN Meeting

Saturday, November 22
12:45-2:15pm in PPN Room 3 on the EXPO floor

Charting a Path for 2015

Landscape architecture’s role in urban design has become increasingly vital and more defined within the built environment. As a result, planners and developers are looking to landscape professionals to guide and cultivate strategies that not only support environmental sustainability, but also encourage interaction and reinforce authenticity. So what tools do Urban Design PPN members need as leaders and stewards in order to effectively frame the discussion and direct efforts in shaping our cities and towns? How can social media and other digital platforms be more effectively utilized? Are there initiatives that should be explored and presented? This and more will be outlined in the first part of the meeting.

Six Rapid Presentations on Urban Design Framed by Landscape

PechaKucha-style presentations (20 slides, 20 seconds each) will be given by 7 dynamic presenters demonstrating different aspects of urban design which are framed by landscape principles. Listed below are the scheduled presentations.

Continue reading

The Art and Science of Urban Landscapes

Klyde Warren Park; Dallas; designed by the Office of James Burnett; opened in 2012. An LAF Case Study Investigation (CSI) performance study image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2013
Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, designed by the Office of James Burnett, opened in 2012 — an LAF Case Study Investigation (CSI) performance study
image: Taner R. Ozdil, 2013

The Art and Science of Urban Landscapes—One Performance Study at a Time

As urban areas continue to densify—cities now house more than 50% of the population in the United States—open green space has become a much desired but scarce commodity. The meaning attached to urban landscapes is now much more than its mere aesthetic value. It is the combination of economic, environmental, social and aesthetic implications of landscape projects that creates synergy around landscape architecture as part of urban form and function.

The global ‘environmental awakening,’ especially in the early 2000s, and growing awareness of sustainable and green design practices across design and planning fields made us more cognizant of issues such as rapid urbanization, uneven natural and human resource allocation, extraneous consumption behaviors, climate change and rapid ecological and environmental degradation. Such developments reminded both academia and practitioners that there are two sides (“the art” and “the science”) to understanding, designing, constructing and managing landscapes, and landscape architecture professionals have the opportunity to be in the forefront of this discussion with well-established, knowledge-based practices, especially in complex urban settings.

Investigating landscape performance and learning from past lessons has become a necessary dimension of landscape architecture, not only to reduce the gap between academia and practitioners, but also to promote the impact of the field as part of urban design. It is critical to subscribe to the phrase “the art and science” more than ever to elevate our roles and to better understand and shape the built environment.

Continue reading

What’s Next for Sunbelt Cities?

image: Yao Lin and Taner R. Ozdil
image: Yao Lin and Taner R. Ozdil

Why it’s Time to Start Thinking about TODistricts

Great places we all seem to love and cherish are not typically a product of a single architectural style, ownership, project, or time. They are a mixture of design components and human conditions aged over time with culture, identity, and spirit. Although the professional act of placemaking belongs to all landscape architecture, architecture, and urban planning fields (as well as other allied fields), urban design as an academic field and area of professional activity covers the heart of the design activities that involve multiple buildings, open spaces, and ownerships (i.e. public and private). Transit Oriented Developments (TOD) are designed in relation to multi-modal and public transportation. Creating TODs—one of urban designers’ means of placemaking—has gained momentum in recent decades, especially in Sunbelt cities.

TODs are seen as opportunities for cities to create centers, nodes, or hubs of activity with a strong sense of place for the built environment. However, until now, TOD practice has emphasized limited, fragmented development patterns and partial stakeholder views, neglecting the greater urban form for the contemporary city. The purpose of this position piece is to revisit the term and the established scope of development practices around transit in order to better situate such placemaking activities within the broader framework of urban design practices. This article introduces the term Transit Oriented District (TODistrict), defined as the whole area within a half mile walking distance of a transit station, and reviews critical components of such district-level efforts. In light of research conducted on North Texas, the article discusses the relevance of the issue and offers lessons for developments and districts in Sunbelt cities and beyond to better inform the planning, design, and implementation processes and practices for future TODistricts.

Continue reading

Time to Gear Up for Park(ing) Day 2013

PARK(ing) Day 2012 in Raleigh, NC image: North Carolina State University's Student ASLA Chapter
PARK(ing) Day 2012 in Raleigh, NC
image: North Carolina State University’s Student ASLA Chapter

“Providing temporary public open space . . . one parking spot at at time.”

PARK(ing) Day, an annual event where parking spots are repurposed as pop-up parks and public spaces, is set for Friday, September 20, 2013. After starting out in 2005 with a single site in San Francisco, PARK(ing) Day has grown into a worldwide celebration of the potential for urban green space to take root, however briefly, on any available patch of pavement.

Continue reading

Cooperative Housing: An American Dream, Revisited

Columbia Ecovillage in Portland, ORimage: www.columbiaecovillage.org
Columbia Ecovillage in Portland, OR
image: http://www.columbiaecovillage.org

If, like me, you are already biking to work, growing kale in your yard, and composting your carrot peels, then you may be asking, “What more can I do to address our country’s social, economic, and environmental challenges?”  One answer may be cooperative housing (or cohousing) – a people oriented solution to many of the social, economic, and environmental impacts of typical automobile oriented, single-family suburban sprawl (a.k.a. the “American Dream).  Although much of current US policy and practice continue to favor suburban development, “the times, they are a changing”.

Continue reading

New Book: Urban Gardening for Dummies

Urban Gardening for Dummiesimage: Paul Simon
Urban Gardening for Dummies
image: Paul Simon

One of our very own PPN members, Paul Simon, is happy to announce the publication of a new book he co-authored: Urban Gardening for Dummies.

The authors provide a complete A-Z guide for the urban gardener.  Topics include preparing urban soil conditions, how to plant, where you can plant, and the many types of plantings suitable for urban gardens. And, of course urban edibles are especially covered.  You will also learn some techniques from reducing air and water pollution, how gardens may reduce crime, increase property values, and contribute to healthier, improved neighborhoods.

Continue reading

Free Urban Design Resources from ‘Across the Pond’

TOD Station Concept, Aberdeen, MDimage: Parsons Brinckerhoff
TOD Station Concept, Aberdeen, MD
image: Parsons Brinckerhoff

Thank You, Prince Charles!

Landscape architects tend to be excellent generalists, but how well are we trained in the specialized art and science of “urban design”?  A decade ago, a change in employment inspired me to strengthen my urban design knowledge, and in the process, discover a wonderful resource from the United Kingdom (UK).

Continue reading

The Spaniel in the Spirea

Dog pads in South Lake Union Seattle image: Dean Koonts
Dog pads in South Lake Union Seattle
image: Dean Koonts

On my twenty minute walk to work through the streets of downtown Seattle in the morning, I came across an adorable and very well-trained Spaniel with her owner.  She kept exactly to her owner’s side; no pulling on the leash, no jumping on strangers, no barking at pedestrians. She sat at the intersection patiently waiting for the traffic signal to change and continue her journey through the concrete wilderness. Being impressed that this owner obviously took the time to train his dog well, I witnessed the inevitable doggie squat and deposit — and then the pair just kept on walking. No doggie bag, no pooper-scooper, no acknowledgement that they littered the sidewalk. Unfortunately, this is a common scene in less crowded streets that lack the social pressure of the many eyes of passers-by. “So what’s the big deal?” you might be thinking, and “How does this relate to urban landscapes and design?” Great questions. Let’s build the case starting with that first question.

Continue reading

Reconnect Urban Communities and Environmental Systems

Floodplain at Allegheny Riverfront Park
Floodplain at Allegheny Riverfront Park
image: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.

In recent years, authors and educators have identified a growing gap between urban culture and the natural processes that sustain it.  The internet and other technologies provide instantaneous access to once-elusive environmental processes, eliminating the need for natural exploration.

Continue reading

Wayfinding: The Value of Knowing How to Get There

Identifying gateway locations that relate to the surrounding scale, background, foreground and day and night visibility is critical to a complete wayfinding system.
image: MERJE Design

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.

Continue reading

New Urbanism vs. Landscape Urbanism

Vickery Master Plan
Vickery Master Plan
image: Tunnell-Spangler-Walsh & Associates

A “street” fight has begun between proponents of New Urbanism and Landscape Urbanism. New Urbanism is a movement known for promoting walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods and sustainable communities as an alternative to suburban sprawl. Landscape urbanism focuses on landscape as the organizing element for urban space. As someone who is both a new urbanist and a landscape architect, I feel the need to come to the aid of New Urbanism.

Continue reading

Redefining Urban Design: a Barrio in Caracas

Image: Enlace Arquitectura. Copyright 2011, all rights reserved
Image: Enlace Arquitectura. Copyright 2011, all rights reserved

Sometimes your education, training, and experience cannot prepare you for a project, no matter how much expertise you believe you may have. Such was my circumstance when I first encountered the barrio of La Moran in Caracas, Venezuela.  Instead of being the professional, I became the student who learned that a place with makeshift dwellings and an apparent chaotic fabric can actually be a functional and congruent neighborhood.
Continue reading