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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Parklets at New Partners for Smart Growth

Reimagining the Canopy parklet, sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, Parks & People, TreeBaltimore, and the Baltimore Office of Sustainability image: Deborah Steinberg

Reimagining the Canopy parklet, sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, Parks & People, TreeBaltimore, and the Baltimore Office of Sustainability
image: Deborah Steinberg

This January in Baltimore, MD, the New Partners for Smart Growth (NPSG) conference hosted a unique set of communal spaces that have become a tradition of the conference. Parklets 3.0 was the third annual initiative to bring the urban green space movement indoors. With the call for session proposals for the 2016 NPSG conference currently open, we wanted to highlight the 2015 Parklets and reflect on this additional way to get involved with the conference.

Parklets are parking space-sized areas used for recreational, community gathering, or beautification purposes. These small urban parks are created by replacing a parking spot with sod, planters, trees, benches, café tables and chairs, artwork, bicycle parking, and more! Parklets evolved from an annual event where citizens, artists, and activists collaborated to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public places. Following the success of the first 2005 intervention with sod and a few benches, Park(ing) Day has grown into a global movement. Now parklets are being permanently installed in cities throughout the U.S. They are designed to provide urban green space and to bring awareness to the quantity of community space that is devoted to parking rather than creating vibrant communal spaces.

Led by ASLA and the Local Government Commission (LGC), the Parklets project at NPSG, once again, included interactive spaces showcasing how a parklet can transform an under-utilized parking space (or two) into exciting opportunities for creating more vibrant spaces in communities. This year, five parklet installations spanned the communal spaces outside conference session rooms. The parklets were sponsored by local organizations and design firms involved in designing and advocating for urban green space in the Baltimore area.

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Parklets 2.0 Recap

The "Get Outdoors!" parklet, sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and Yonder image: Deborah Steinberg

Get Outdoors!, sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and Yonder
image: Deborah Steinberg

This February in Denver, CO, the New Partners for Smart Growth conference hosted a unique set of communal spaces. Parklets 2.0 was the second annual initiative to bring the urban green space movement indoors. Parklets are parking space-sized areas used for recreational or beautification purposes. These small urban parks are created by replacing a parking spot with sod, planters, trees, benches, café tables and chairs—even artwork or bicycle parking. They are designed to provide urban green space and to bring awareness to the quantity of community space that is devoted to parking rather than creating vibrant communal spaces.

Four parklet installations spanned the communal spaces outside conference session rooms. Each space offered a unique twist on community space, but all offered areas for attendees to congregate, relax, interact, and learn about the importance of urban community spaces.

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Bike Maps

image: City of Austin

image: City of Austin

Luckily I have had the pleasure of living in a few cities that find bicycle commuting important and recognize the best way to get people out of their cars and onto a bicycle is to make that step a bit less frightening.  Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Washington DC are just a few cities that have taken steps to add bike lanes to their streets and provide maps of these bicycle-friendly streets to residents and visitors.

Usually these map legends point out bike trails, on-street bike lanes, and streets that are recommended for bicycling without marked lanes.  Though helpful for the seasoned bicycle commuter, a first timer may not be ready to venture out just yet.

The city of Austin is taking this to the next step and has developed a mapping system that “prioritizes rider comfort in its symbology.”  The color-coded bike network is “keyed to the real-world experience a person can expect when cycling on any given street.”

Read more about the city of Austin’s bike map on The Atlantic Cities: “Bike Maps That Give Riders the Info They Actually Need” by Sarah Goodyear.

by Deborah Steinberg, ASLA Professional Practice Coordinator