The line stretched down the block outside of the Center for Architecture last night for the release of High Performance Landscape Guidelines: 21st Century Parks for NYC. The document providing sustainable park guidelines was produced through a partnership between The Design Trust for Public Space and the Department of Parks and Recreation. The manual is the first of its kind in the nation.
The crush at the door felt like a rock concert, though it was said that even David Byrne didn’t draw crowds this size when he appeared at the venue, nor, for that matter, did Zaha Hadid.
“It’s like the Studio 54 of design,” quipped Park Commissioner Adrian Benepe by way of introduction. “People are killing themselves to get in here.” Don’t worry; Not really! But It was very crowded.
The report includes clear bullet-point guidelines for sustainable parks through their design, construction and maintenance. Besides outlining the benefits, which range from tree preservation to pest control, the report also walks the reader through site assessment and analysis. One major section delves into practices dividing that focus among soil, water, and vegetation. While the Trust and the City acknowledge that there will be a certain amount of redundancy for cross reference purposes, an attempt was made at a linear approach.Other cities are already expressing an interest in producing similar reports of their own.
“Its an incredibly useful document that takes you step by step through new thinking about parks in a way that doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There’s a new [sustainability] layer, in addition to the beauty, history and culture.” said Tricia Martin, president of the New York Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.
At the event, case studies from the book were presented, including Fort Totten in the Bronx designed by Nancy Owen Studio largely without reference to the guidelines. Asked if that project would have differed had the manual been available, Owen replied, “I think it would have been easier, because it’s all in one place and you’d just go down the check list.”
“It’s a remarkable document in that it brings the institutional knowledge into one place,” said Linda Pollak, a landscape designer.
Design Trust Executive Director Deborah Marton believes the sharing of information with the feet on the grass who actually maintain the parks will be integral for any current changes to survive into the future.
“People will have to accept that places look sort of new and maintenance will have to be changed,” she said, referring to to less pristine manicuring of modern-day park aesthetics where what might look like weeds to the untrained eye could actually be filtration wetland to the trained eye. Marton added that the report notes that the old model of hiring seasonal workers at minimum wage to maintain parks over the course of the summer will need to be supplemented to include the hiring of year round specialists with training that’s on par with electricians or plumbers.
“We have to make a commitment to these workers if we expect them to be committed to the landscape,” she said. And a crowd was on hand to show the will is there to get the process started.