Reflections on Housing Diversity

by Regan Pence, ASLA

Aerial photo from a drone flight over a residential development in Omaha
From a drone flight over Omaha / image: Regan Pence

I am a practicing landscape architect in Omaha, Nebraska, and I have grown to love the community and the projects I have been a part of. Since my move to Omaha seven years ago, I have often questioned why there is such an absence of variety in housing options in Omaha. The options appear to be incredibly limited compared to some of the other cities I have lived in or visited. Omaha is a city within proximity of several larger metropolitan areas, and Metropolitan Omaha is nearly 1,000,000 people. So, what is the reason for the lack of diversity in homes?

Over time, I ruminated more and more over this question. The lack of housing product is not necessarily a new issue, and innumerable metropolitan areas around the world have already experienced these crossroads. The difference with many of those areas, however, is that they arrived at a conclusion many years ago. Eventually, there is always a tipping point that requires innovation to survive. Upon approaching that tipping point, the conversation evolves from how we can continue to provide housing, to how do we thoughtfully provide housing to everyone (while being respectful of our resources).

Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to assist with numerous projects and explore countless new housing concepts. Unfortunately, there are occasions where the housing concepts I’ve worked through don’t seem to get the traction I expect—even if they are proven concepts borrowed from successful projects in other municipalities. After spending time thinking over this reluctance, I began to understand that perhaps I was selling ideas that were forced or premature for the region. Until recently, there was a lack of demand for innovative housing products. Developers were profitable, and the community was content with the current supply. Recently, however, I’ve started to hear a buzz on the street. People are curious as to where the new housing products are, what is the missing-middle, and why am I living next to a corn field?

In response, I began to deliberate with some of our local development community. I sought to understand the challenges from all points of view, rather than simply focus on the designer or academic perspective. Below you’ll find pieces from one of those discussions.

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A Renewed Focus on Community Design

by the Community Design PPN leadership team

ASLA 2018 Student Residential Award of Excellence. Baseco: A New Housing Paradigm, Manila, Philippines. / image: Julio F. Torres Santana, Student ASLA, Yinan Liu, Student ASLA, Aime Vailes-Macarie, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

ASLA’s Community Design Professional Practice Network (PPN) is the forum for landscape architecture issues in housing and community design, policy, planning, and design. This forum is dedicated to sharing information and building awareness of how landscape architects contribute to the development of livable, walkable, sustainable, and inclusive communities.

Landscape architects serve a vital role in the creation of strong, vibrant communities by placing emphasis on the importance of the public realm while fostering environmentally sustainable patterns and methods. Whether the context is rural or urban, the landscape architect is uniquely qualified to design the built environment to respond to natural processes and patterns. Our voice and experience in context sensitive design during the community planning process is key to providing the link between our colleges in planning and engineering. We have created policies to support livable communities, developed sustainable stormwater systems, designed and constructed parks and recreation areas, supported native ecosystems habitat and led public involvement processes to support sound decision-making.

Our goal is to empower landscape architects to establish stronger roles as community design leaders. Learn more about Community Design on the PPN’s newly updated webpage.

Meet the Community Design PPN Leadership Team

In addition to a chair or co-chairs, many PPNs, including Community Design, also have larger leadership teams that include PPN officers and past chairs. Most leadership teams hold monthly calls to keep track of progress on PPN activities, and all PPN members are welcome to join their PPN’s leadership team. To learn more, see ASLA’s PPN Leadership Opportunities page.

The Community Design PPN is looking to grow its leadership team—if you are interested in becoming more active in the PPN, please contact the PPN’s Chair.

In this post, we’d like to introduce the Community Design PPN leadership team through their answers to the following questions:

  • What is a community design? How do you define / describe what you do?
  • How do you as a landscape architect add value to community design projects?

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