Today marks the start of World Landscape Architecture Month! Given the 2021 WLAM theme of healthy, beautiful, and resilient places for all communities, ASLA’s Community Design Professional Practice Network (PPN) leadership team put together a set of thought-provoking, community-focused questions for the PPN’s leaders to address to celebrate the launch of WLAM. Below, we share answers from the Community Design PPN team on a range of topics, from reimagining brownfield sites to what the future of community design may look like post-COVID:
Scott Redding, ASLA, PPN Co-Chair – Sacramento, California
Oliver Penny, ASLA, PPN Officer – Fort Worth, Texas
Bob Smith, ASLA, PPN Officer and past Chair – Watkinsville, Georgia
Stacey Weaks, ASLA
Principal, Norris Design
How do you deal with brownfield sites and other types of sites that require remediation for new development? How do you make these reimagined sites an addition to the community fabric and an enhancement of the community environment?
Redevelopment remediation projects require a significant commitment from the lead developer and the teaming partners, including public and private entities. Norris Design has been collaborating on Miller’s Landing in Castle Rock, Colorado, a centrally located property in the Downtown Castle Rock area which historically served as the town’s former landfill. The property recently completed an extensive remediation process. Our team, in collaboration with the Town of Castle Rock and an extensive team of subconsultants, has been guiding the planning, design, and entitlement process to redevelop the 80-acre property, which required complete remediation prior to any redevelopment.
The vision for Miller’s Landing establishes a mixed-use district that diversifies the community fabric to serve the growing Castle Rock area and expand the economic opportunities in the area. A key aspect of the master plan is the establishment of a central Main Street with connections to a restored greenway, linking a critical segment of the trail network between downtown and the regional park and resulting in a healthier environment that would not be possible without the extensive remediation process.
Although the coronavirus pandemic is currently the most pressing public health issue in the United States, there is another health crisis that has possibly been worsened by our recent shelter-in-place actions. This crisis concerns the rising rates of loneliness and isolation in the developed world, which, even prior to the pandemic, presented a growing public health concern. As one illustration of the problem, a 2019 survey by Cigna found that 61% of respondents reported feeling lonely, representing a 7% increase over their 2018 survey.
It is concerning that rates of loneliness could be rising and are now so prevalent since there is substantial evidence showing that social isolation and loneliness are associated with an increased risk of early death. Research has shown loneliness and isolation can be as damaging to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness and isolation are especially problematic for older populations—among those most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. One study found that 27% of Americans over sixty now live alone, compared with 16% of adults in other countries.
This rising health risk has undoubtedly become more pronounced with the “social distancing” measures required to stem the spread of the virus. The term “social distancing” has rightly been criticized as a misnomer, with the phrase “physical distancing” offered as a more accurate description of the prescribed behavior. Nonetheless, the widespread adoption of the term social distancing perhaps shows how our perception of social connection is intimately tied to physical space. Zoom meetings and other digital tools might be vital for maintaining connections with others in the current climate, but they are still a poor substitute for in-person interactions.
One way to combat the rising rates of loneliness while also providing the vital sustenance of face-to-face interaction is by fostering more connections with neighbors. Such connections are one of the few available sources for meaningful in-person interaction during the lockdown. Even as restrictions on public gatherings are lifted, it could be a slow and fitful process before public spaces regain their former conviviality.