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Panda-monium

Sasaki wins competition to plan a capital city for pandas
International design firm Sasaki has been selected to develop a master plan for the Chengdu Panda Capital. Chengdu is also the human capital of China’s Sichuan province, one of the largest and fastest growing cities in the country, and the only native habitat of the giant panda. The city government recognizes its responsibility as steward of this vulnerable species and, in June of last year, called for submissions to expand its panda research and tourism facilities. Sasaki beat out 98 other contenders with a plan that balances smart urbanism and thoughtful conservation. The masterplan is spread across three sites, each playing a different role in the panda conservation effort. Longquanshan Panda Village, located near the airport, will be focused on education. Visitors there will be introduced to the region’s history, culture, and dedication to conservation. Panda Park, in Beihu, is the closest to downtown Chengdu and reachable by mass transit. Here, panda tourists will learn more about the panda and its habitat at a new visitor center. The primary research center and gateway to the giant panda preserve is outside the city in Dujiangyan Panda Valley, where conservators breed and prepare pandas to enter the wild. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, one of the greatest threats to the giant panda is the tourism and recreation areas, and large-scale infrastructure projects. Tourism, if not properly managed, is a particular concern for the expanded capital, which is anticipated to receive 20 million annual visitors— that’s about two million more people per year than Disneyland. This plan involves all those threats, and Sasaki is embracing the challenge. “How do you reconcile human land use and wildlife protection?” asked Sasaki principal Tao Zhang. “With this project, we’re aiming to set a new baseline for how cities can achieve a sustainable model that generates win-wins…through extensive educational and environmental stewardship programs and a fully-integrated design approach.” The new master plan will help ensure that the city will grow in a sustainable manner while reaffirming its brand as the panda capital of the world and securing a shared future for both of the area’s major species.
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Round and Round...

Allied Works and OLIN team up to complete a spiraling veterans museum
The concrete-wrapped National Veterans Memorial and Museum (NVMM) in Columbus, Ohio, is now complete and open to the public. Rather than a traditional museum focused solely on exhibitions, the NVMM was envisioned as a memorial to departed veterans, a place of education, and as a gathering place for civic and commemorative events. The NVMM, sited right on the banks of the Scioto River, integrates a contemplative OLIN-designed landscape with the Allied Works Architecture–designed two-story, 53,000-square-foot museum building. The round museum building features a distinctive cross-braced concrete facade over the main entrance—a motif repeated across the interior walls—which symbolically elevates a rooftop sanctuary plaza. The skyline of downtown Columbus looms over the sanctuary, but the plaza is meant to be for reflection, events, and ceremonies exclusively. The sanctuary, which resembles a sunken amphitheater ringed by greenspace, can be accessed from inside the museum, or by traveling up a sloping concrete ramp that wraps around the building. Inside, the museum’s exhibition spaces have been ringed around the perimeter of the building, affording plenty of natural light and views of the surrounding waterfront. Past the ground floor lobby, a great hall offers views of the city as well as a place for gatherings and other events. The NVMM’s programming, laid out by the creative agency Ralph Appelbaum Associates with the Veterans Advisory Committee, uses the museum’s circular structure to guide visitors through a storyline designed to connect them with veterans’ experiences. Films, sculptures, photos, and quotes from veterans are included throughout each phase of the story: leaving home, being in service, returning, and becoming a veteran. On the second floor, guests will find a remembrance gallery dedicated to veterans who have lost their lives and an entrance to the sanctuary plaza, connecting the building’s external structure to the internal features. Outside, OLIN has designed a walkable landscape around the museum, including a circular path leading to a similarly-round memorial grove at its core. The grove has been bounded by a stacked-stone wall and several waterfall fountains that feed an illuminated reflecting pool below. The design, development, and construction of the museum, as well as the push to have it designated as a national site, was led by the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation. The NVMM is the country’s first national veterans museum, and as the project grew in scope, it eventually grew to include narratives and artifacts from veterans across every branch of the military and every state.
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Farm to City

Van Alen’s Climate Council takes a road trip to study climate change
The hot July sun hit the grooves of the farmland barreling past our bus windows as we approached Bowles Farming Company in Los Banos, California. Envisioning sunburns and muddy hikes through the furrows, we—the two dozen landscape design, engineering, and architecture professionals that make up the Van Alen Institute Climate Council—were about to visit the farm as part of a three-day expedition in Northern California to consider how design thinking could impact the way this farm and farms like it plan for climate change. Van Alen launched the Climate Council in 2018 as a platform for practicing design professionals and climate change aficionados to convene for twice-annual, three-day expeditions in regions across the U.S. Through tours, discussions, social gatherings, and hands-on charrettes, our trips provide members with a congenial setting for learning and reflection away from the hectic pace of everyday business. Right at the beginning of this inaugural trip, the Climate Council’s expectations contrasted dramatically with the realities of modern agriculture. Instead of weathering watermelon fields, we found ourselves in a comfortable boardroom. Farm executives welcomed us with cut melon samples and a PowerPoint presentation of the farm’s history, challenges, and technology. Over the soft hum of air-conditioning and with his adolescent son beside him, Cannon Michael, the farm’s president and CEO, shared the impressive facts of his large-scale operation: 11,000 acres, 14 crops, and six generations. Bowles has an advantage that it shares with a small group of farms in the area: Their history of utilizing water from the San Joaquin River provides senior rights to surface water. But with that seniority comes an increased responsibility and stewardship. Their on-staff agronomist schedules crop irrigation daily with care for every drop, logging and adapting to changes in climate on the spot. Michael proudly told us of the precision and care that Bowles uses to manage its water supply amid California’s mounting water crisis. “In times of drought, farmers are often blamed for overusing water,” Michael said. “The reality is, it’s not in a farmer’s best interest to waste water, as we only want to use the exact amount that the crop needs—improper water management has a negative impact on crop production. California is an expensive place to do business, and we must carefully monitor all our inputs and costs, water being a primary one of them. It is also a fact that producing the food and fiber we all rely on every day takes water. Where these products are produced is of critical importance. Not all farms are held to high standards of environmental and ethical production—California leads the way in the world.” Bowles’s commitment to precision and innovation unraveled the Climate Council’s anticipated mission and sent us on a new track of questioning in the days that followed. After visits with a strawberry farmer, a food distribution company, a tomato processing plant, and more, we started asking: What if cities had intricate systems dedicated to tracking inputs and outputs as accurately as these farms? We had set out on our trip thinking we would consider how design could impact the future of food production and distribution, but instead, we realized that cities had at least as much to learn from modern agricultural practices. Van Alen Climate Council Twice a year, the Climate Council travels to the same region—the first visit for exploration, the second for strategizing and discussing pressing climate issues using an interdisciplinary, systems-based approach. We offer professional advice to our partners and hosts, and aim to share lessons learned with other regions, both through further council travel and via members’ professional practices. The council’s purpose is rooted in Van Alen’s mission as a design organization that seeks to understand and demonstrate how design can transform cities, landscapes, and regions to improve people’s lives. The council also provides support and funding for Van Alen’s broader climate-related work. For more than a decade, we have created cross-disciplinary design and research projects that investigate issues of climate change across the country, from the sinking Lower Mississippi River Delta to the hurricane-battered eastern coasts. We are presently working in Greater Miami to help communities protect themselves from rising sea levels, using a design approach to make the region more socially equitable and economically resilient. In selecting the inaugural topic for the Climate Council to explore, co-chairs Claire Weisz and Mark Johnson commented, “We wanted to look at food as the first subject with this council. It’s all-encompassing. It’s something designers don’t get to talk about very often but that ultimately impacts us.” Even designers who work in cities have a vested interest in learning more about the role of agriculture in our society. At a panel conversation during our program, Mary Kimball, the director for the University of California, Davis’s Center for Land-Based Learning (and a partner in developing the council’s California program), reminded us that more than two-thirds of Sacramento’s regional farmland specialty crop jobs are in urban environments. Even though we typically associate agricultural jobs with rural labor, food distribution and packaging centers require resources that are almost always located in urban environments. So much of the food economy surrounds people in urban spaces every day, but we just don’t see it. Similarly, many of the challenges that farmers face in today’s economy are relevant to city dwellers. Time is of the essence On our first day in California, council members met David John, the business strategist at General Produce Company, a distribution center located 10 minutes from the central business district of Sacramento. As we walked through dozens of icy storage rooms, John told us that from the time of arrival to the time of departure, almost all of the fresh fruits and vegetables are present in the facility for less than 48 hours. The center runs 24/7, with days off only on Christmas and New Year’s. When asked about the built environment of the facility, John said that many of the workers adjust rooms or shelving as needed with changes in supply, but that it is difficult to allow for changes because they take time away from moving product. This distribution center, like a vital transit system in a big city, cannot take a day off. We surmised that systems thinking, like that used in transportation engineering, could be used to create more flexible environments in food distribution centers, along with more adaptable storage facilities. The berry farmer’s dilemma Following a brief meeting with the president of the Strawberry Commission of California near Salinas, our council climbed through coastal strawberry fields owned and operated by Tom AmRhein of Naturipe, Inc. AmRhein presented us with a pressing issue that berry farmers are facing in the area: The median home value in Salinas is more than $400,000. With minimum wage for farm laborers at $11 an hour, an enormous gap exists between the incomes of berry pickers and the supply of affordable housing in the area. As a result, AmRhein said that as many as five different families may share a home together in the valley, bringing housing density to the level of some of the nation’s biggest cities. As we downloaded our findings from Tom, the council considered what kind of affordable housing solutions could designers, working with migrant communities, dream up for rural laborers and their families. Moreover, with climate change making weather patterns and farming yields more unpredictable than ever, what kind of housing solutions would provide stronger, more stable, and adaptable shelters in this harsh environment? What’s next? When asked about innovation in agriculture, our program collaborator Kyeema Zerbe, deputy director of the UC Davis Innovation Institute for Food & Health (IIFH), said, “The IIFH prides itself on making uncommon interdisciplinary connections to catalyze innovation across food, agriculture, and health. Collaborations like those with Van Alen help facilitate exploration of systemic issues and view prevailing challenges from new local and regional perspectives. By delving into the intersections between design, agriculture, and innovation, we can begin to imagine a safer, more sustainable and secure food system.” Van Alen believes that climate change is an all-encompassing phenomenon. In such politically divided times, the organization seeks opportunities where designers can work under the partisan radar to generate true collaboration between cities and their surrounding regions, inviting professionals from all backgrounds to innovate. The Climate Council’s experience in Sacramento is an example of how nontraditional collaboration and open-mindedness can lead to enlightened discovery. And it’s just the beginning. On its third day in California, Climate Council members huddled pensively around drafting tables at the UC Davis Department of Landscape Architecture. Over the hours of charrette that followed, they revisited the issues that arose during this trip: How could farm feedback loops inform urban design? What role does governance play in the lack of balance of inputs and outputs in major cities? How can interdisciplinary design professionals enhance the security and resilience of existing rural communities that support our farm industry? Together, we started envisioning answers to these and other questions and made plans to return to Sacramento in early 2019 with design concepts to address them. When we go back, we intend to continue our conversations with local farmers, community members, and other stakeholders. We know there are opportunities for collaboration and implementation; we just need time together. We are onto something.
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Land O'Lakes

Sasaki’s plan for a “Central Park” in Florida soaks up brownfield toxins
Sasaki has designed a 180-acre masterplan in Central Florida for what it's calling the “Central Park of Lakeland.” Bonnet Springs Park, situated between Tampa and Orlando, is set to become a major cultural magnet and an ecological jewel of landscape design in the state. The massive site, which is being privately funded by a pair of local philanthropists, has sat vacant for over 30 years and gone through numerous attempts to reuse it. Now, the over-100-year-old former rail yard is being officially transformed with a vision from the Boston-based planning and design consultancy. By restoring the site's natural ecosystems and removing any harmful contaminants from its days as an industrial throughway, Sasaki will revitalize the land into a mega-park that’s safe for all ages. Because 84 acres of the abandoned brownfield contain arsenic and petroleum hydrocarbons, the team plans to stockpile the toxic materials into large, undulating hills, completely altering the land's topography. The architects will also remove invasive exotic plants and construct wetlands and bioswales to treat stormwater runoff. Four new buildings will also be constructed for the park, including the “Bridge Building,” which will be set between two man-made hills and house a children’s museum. Overlooking Lake Bonnet, a nature center will feature classrooms, an exhibitions space, a café, and a boat rental facility so visitors can learn more about the parkland and the freshwater lake itself. An events center and welcome center will additionally be built out for weddings, corporate events, and other large-scale gatherings. An extensive network of walking and biking trails, as well as a sculpture garden and canopy walk will be incorporated into the park’s design as well. This huge community undertaking, backed by a 20-person advisory committee of local advocates, underscores the town's collective dedication to its fast-growing population by providing a new connection to nature and play. Sasaki and the Bonnet Springs Park Board aim for construction completion in 2020.
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Street Smart

Create useful urban spaces with attractive new street furniture
These new pieces of street furniture provide comfortable solutions for urban environments and bring beauty to the landscape.
Phoenix Bench A David Trubridge for UAP SUPPLY New Zealand–based furniture designer David Trubridge’s collection of curvaceous hand-carved granite and laminated hardwood timber benches are perfect for gatherings. The soft biomorphic forms provide comfortable seating that weathers well in both public spaces and commercial settings. Relay Street Level Sensing and Waste Control Service Victor Stanley Forgot it was trash day? These digitally connected recycling and waste bins are equipped with sensors that provide real-time data on their fill level, weight, location, collection status, and temperature. A subscription service disrupts the traditionally fixed collection routine, reducing the environmental impact of fossil fuels while maintaining the cleanliness of public spaces.
Vaya Collection Forms + Surfaces Fashioned from Cumaru hardwood and solid aluminum, this family of chairs, benches, and tables is 100 percent recyclable. Designed for lounging, these chairs and benches feature reclined backrests made of wood slats and aluminum armrests. Fitzwater Rain Tank Shift Tall, steel, and sleek, the Fitzwater Rain Tank stores up to 58 gallons of water. The rain saving station features a winterizing lid, screw-on spout, and connections for drip irrigation.
Ribambelle Collection Fermob This collection of 100 percent aluminum tables is modular by design. Make space for up to six, eight, or ten guests by inserting anywhere from one to three leaves from the hidden compartment under the tabletop. It is available in 24 colorful finishes. Bike Rack Flycycle Streamline cluttered bike parking with a rack that saves space. The steel system features an elevated loop that a cyclist slides the front wheel into, securely locking the bike in place between the grooved trackways. The orderly positioning prevents handlebars from tangling and allows bikes to be parked more closely together.
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Islands in the Stream

Freeman Plaza West creates islands of green amid torrents of New York traffic
Hugging the looped entrance to the Holland Tunnel on Broome Street, Freeman Plaza West is a “found” public space in Manhattan that’s been reimagined as a peaceful parkland for area workers to remove themselves from the car-ridden bustle of the surrounding streetscape. The two-acre green space is the talk of the surrounding Hudson Square, and not just because its the newest non-desk place to eat lunch in the post-industrial Manhattan neighborhood. The project was conceived by the Hudson Square Business Improvement District (BID) and designed by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects (MNLA). Freeman Plaza is spread out over three adjacent landscapes—a west, east, and north plaza (the former two are finished). The spaces feature simple interventions such as tables, chairs, decking, solar-powered charging stations, turf lawn, book lending kiosks, public art, and programming, all input gradually over a period of several years. Because of the plaza’s close connection to the Holland Tunnel, where 12 lanes of traffic merge into two, the architects aimed to make a quiet place where congestion and noise were nearly imperceptible. Signe Nielsen, MNLA’s founding principal, said the firm was led by the question: “How can we make a true public space in the middle of 45,000 cars?” “It has truly been an adventure in tactical urbanism,” Nielsen said. “Although this is a somewhat overwrought term, we’ve been implementing opportune interventions on a fairly unlikely site slowly and steadily, and at low-cost.”
 
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Over 40,000 people work in Hudson Square. The majority of them, due to the types of companies the area attracts, are young, mobile workers under 35 who are tech-savvy, transient, and seek time away from the office during the day. Freeman Plaza, Nielsen said, isn’t in a typical location for a park, but it offers the same respite a park might, while being somewhat of a shock to the local population—simply because it’s an actual green space with already mature trees in a non-green area. “Most people don’t think of Freeman Plaza as a destination; it’s a surprise,” Nielsen said. “We virtually created a complete buffer from the outside world so psychologically it feels like you’re not in the middle of traffic.” Freeman Plaza is the third “found” space in Hudson Square, identified as part of an initiative to amplify public space and rebrand the district. Hudson Square BID and MNLA released an award-winning masterplan in 2012 called “Hudson Square is Now” that gave way to a more sustainable streetscape with 250 newly-planted or retrofitted trees and a stormwater management system. Nielsen sees this type of casual, gradual landscape design as a way to help beautify and reclaim urban spaces in any city, especially areas that are walkable but also dependent on cars. She notes that observing the city with an eagle eye is key when siting underutilized areas located directly off of major pieces of transportation infrastructure. “You’ve got to look around in a very greedy kind of way,” she said. “Ask, where can I grab land for people? What would it take to allow the public into this space? Sometimes the most unlikely places appear.” Freeman Plaza West opened to the public earlier this spring, following the initial build-out of Freeman Plaza East in 2014. MNLA’s design for the new Spring Street Park, located one block from Freeman Plaza, unofficially opened to the public last month.
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Parks Without Borders

NYC Parks Commissioner talks policy, parks, and breaking down barriers
Over the next three months, The Architect’s Newspaper will feature a series interviews with Susannah Drake, founding principal of DLANDstudio, and leading public space advocates about the meaning, design, and development of public space. Up first, New York City Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mitchell Silver will discuss New York's Parks Without Borders initiative to make parks and open space more accessible. Borders are a hot topic in our current politically volcanic world. Some are geographic, most are political, and many have to do with resources and strategic control. Robert Frost’s poem titled Good Fences Make Good Neighbors is often misinterpreted as suggesting that defined boundaries between people or societies are positive. In practice, defined borders can lead to violence, social isolation, inefficiency, and habitat loss.  The classic phrase, “living on the other side of the tracks,” was taken to the extreme in the United States after World War II as new highway systems, elevated transportation structures, slum clearance, and dehumanized public housing towers transformed cities across the United States. Today, cities including Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis are working to break down physical and perceived boundaries to make a healthier living environment for all. In New York City, the efforts of three groups, one public and two nonprofit, demonstrate how smart urban planning and design can make the city healthier, safer, and more democratic by improving underutilized public lands. Mitchell Silver, commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, is the visionary behind the city’s Parks Without Borders program. As a native New Yorker who spent his formative years in the city before traveling the country and the world as a planner and thought leader, his vision as head of the public parks agency has been to expand the availability of park space by breaking down physical barriers, jurisdictional boundaries, and site lines into city parks. AN: What is the origin of the Parks without Borders program? MS: The origins came from two sources. Growing up in New York, I was always bothered by the big berm that separated Flatbush Avenue from Prospect Park. The road seemed like a raceway defined with so many fences and barriers. Through professional and personal experience, I encountered different forms of public space around the world and saw far fewer barriers. Public space was seamlessly connected to the city. Of course, fences are needed for sports and steep slopes but in many cases, they are unnecessary. When I became commissioner of the Parks Department, I remembered something that Frederick Law Olmsted said about parks: “The sidewalk adjacent to the park should be considered the outer park.” What I recognized was that the sidewalks around parks, such as Fort Greene Park and Prospect Park, were under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department but felt separate. The land from the park to the curb should feel like part of the park. The public realm should be seamless. The public doesn’t know or care who owns the land. The New York City Police Department needed to own the idea of crime prevention through community design. I submitted the idea to the Mayor as part of OneNYC and through a partnership between City Planning, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Protection, and our agency, and a $50 million pilot was launched. There were two components: $40 million was dedicated to eight showcase projects, determined through the extensive public process that received over 6,000 nominations. In addition, $10 million was dedicated to parks and playgrounds across the city already under development to enhance the park design.   The key principles are to make a seamless public realm by rethinking the edges, entrances, and adjacent spaces of parks across the city. Open space should be open. Growing dense urban centers need vital public space for all races, genders, and ages across the board. What barriers have you met in implementing the project? Resistance encountered? As with all projects of this nature, we met with all of the community boards via borough board meetings and held public meetings in each of the five boroughs to explain the program and ask the public to nominate a park for the program. We communicated our theory that good uses tend to push out bad uses. In other words, plan for what you want to see and not what you don’t want to see. Feedback was split along demographic lines. Older people perceived fences as safeguards and that reducing the height of fences and opening up parks invited crime and homelessness to take over. But we have had early success. At McDonald Playground in Staten Island where Parks Without Borders money was dedicated to a Community Parks Initiative project, the community was initially concerned about lowering fences. The park feels so open now that people ask if we added more land. And, while the plan for Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn is greatly supported by the community, there has been resistance related to the planned removal of some large, invasive, non-native trees, and the mounds constructed in the 1970s as part of the project. What is the schedule of implementation? Over 20 parks are in the pipeline. The showcase projects will be completed by 2020. They include Prospect Park, Seward Park, Jackie Robinson Park, Corona Park, Fort Greene Park, Faber Park, Van Cortlandt Park, and Hugh Grant Circle. How does the program align with other DPR/Administration initiatives? NYC Parks is advocating for Equity, Access, Placemaking, and Healthy Living. One of the programs, Walk to a Park, is intended to reduce the time it takes to get to a park. Reducing barriers and moving entrances helps increase access to parks. DPR planners conducted a thorough planning process examining the location and attributes of parks across the city and determined where residents might be underserved. Using GIS, they mapped a five-minute walk from parks, playgrounds, and trails across New York City and then used the analysis to prioritize capital expenditures. Does the DPR Parks without Borders program impact all communities across NYC regardless of demographics? Yes, with multigenerational, ADA access. At McDonald Playground, a woman hugged me suggesting that I changed her life because she can now sit with her daughter in a quieter area of the park and watch the kids play ball. She said I extended her life.  Beyond physical fences and walls, what other kinds of borders have you seen in your time as commissioner? Rules create barriers. We don’t want to engage in anti-planning which can exclude rather than include people. Including more people in more existing parks is one example. Anti-planning, or planning to prohibit a certain group is not fair. For example, some of our playgrounds have a sign that states: “Adults prohibited unless accompanied by a child.” That means a senior citizen is prohibited from using a public space or must walk to another park that doesn’t have that rule. To address this inequity, NYC Parks in 2017 evaluated all city playgrounds and installed new signs at locations that would allow adults in a park or playground, but only prohibited adults in fenced off areas where children’s play units were located, like swings, slides and climbing structures. This one change allows more adult New Yorkers and visitors to enjoy green space like sitting under a tree or using a comfort station.   As a planner what is your perspective on borders that might exist because of climate or geographic lines that are mapped but not always perceived by the public? Rockaways? In places where public safety is an issue such as around water, clearly there need to be rules and physical barriers to keep people safe. Environmental conditions can also require limited access. For instance, the habitat for piping plovers needs to be protected by limiting beach access. This reduced the walk score but was an important trade-off. In natural areas, controlling beach erosion is important. Sometimes these barriers are jurisdictional, particularly in coastal areas. New York City is doing a better job than in the past. What is your perspective on urban and transportation design decisions in the direct post-war period, in the '60s and today in relation to race, demographics, and urban living? White flight of the '60s, urban renewal with its characteristic superblocks, and highways dividing neighborhoods were not the highlight of good planning. Cities were perceived as unsafe and as a result, many parks were surrounded with high walls to create defensible space. Now Parks Without Borders is changing this situation by moving from defensible space to open and inclusive space. Prospect Park is a great example. Programming by the Alliance activated the park. They designed for what we want to see rather than what we don’t want to see. There are so many users in our parks that space needs to be very inclusive. Our parks are our outdoor living rooms and reflect those that use them. While DPR does not have purview over public housing, it would be great to get your perspective on the landscape of housing projects in New York City as well as their overall relationship to the city. The “tower in the park” model is somewhat right. The park part is not right. Residents assume that the landscape is off limits because it is fenced off. Design organizations are now engaging NYCHA Tenant Associations about opening-up the green space within the NYCHA housing campus. For example, some NYCHA Houses have converted open space to community gardens, so the trend of better using NYCHA green space is moving into the right direction. Digital access to information creates places where people collect in the city. Beyond these spheres are dead zones that might be considered another form of border. Are there any efforts by DPR to expand digital access? I’d love to see WiFi in parks. We currently have charging stations at some beaches and WiFi in some parks. Lack of funding for maintenance and operations is an ongoing issue for public space. How will Parks Without Borders impact maintenance needs of parks? Maintenance practice of 21st-century parks warrants reexamination. More funding and more staff are welcome but aren’t the answer. We need to be innovative with resources. The agency is now using a zone approach with analytics to optimize the work of maintenance crews. We are also employing new design approaches and adding horticultural staff. One example is having park cleaning seven days per week. This seems like an addition, but the change is cutting down Monday absences because those crews were not unfairly burdened with the weekend trash. This created a better team ethos. Utilization of staff is as important as getting more staff. Working smarter with specialized teams with more training that can troubleshoot issues system-wide (catch basin team, green infrastructure team) is helping. Any final words? With limited resources we are forced to think about what is important and how to be innovative, which I base of the 3 S’s of management: You must have the right organizational structure to achieve your vision and mission. You must have the right systems in place to be successful. You must have strong management and operation standards across the five boroughs to function as one agency.  
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Big Changes

Latest renderings unveiled for San Francisco’s Harvey Milk Plaza
New York–based architects Perkins Eastman and engineers Arup have unveiled the latest batch of renderings for San Francisco’s Harvey Milk Plaza. The updated designs were submitted to city agencies this week in an effort to begin the formal approval process for the renovations envisioned for the plaza and its associated Muni subway station. The extensive renovations come as the city works to perform required Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) upgrades for both facilities, including the addition of an elevator that will connect the street level to the subway platform. Backers for the project also seek to boost the plaza’s function as a memorial to Harvey Milk, San Francisco’s first openly gay elected official, and to create a new gateway into the city’s Castro neighborhood. Perkins Eastman was selected in 2016 as part of an international design competition held by Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza (FHMP), the volunteer group with business connections in the neighborhood. The latest renderings for Harvey Milk Plaza come after a previously-released iteration of the design was met with community opposition. Perkins Eastman revised the plans following four community workshops over the summer. The initial designs featured red paving and a uni-directional “stramp” (stair-ramp) that crossed the site going toward the west to create an elevated community amphitheater with the subway entrance located below. The new plans have flipped the arrangement by rotating the amphitheater and subway entrance 180 degrees so that they are located at the easternmost corner of the site, where it is expected that foot traffic would be greatest. The center of the plaza is now marked by a new elevator with the western edge of the plaza populated by low-slung benches and a grove of trees. The plaza bearing Milk’s name was planned before his death and was not named in his honor until 1985—Milk was assassinated in 1978— and according to FHMP, “the public has longed to see [the plaza] transformed into a place that captures [Milk’s] spirit; a place that embodies [Milk’s] passion to bring people together and see that all are treated with dignity and given voice at the tables of influence.” The plaza redesign is more-or-less the product of community input, Hoodline reports, a delicate dance the designers and organizers have played with local residents as they seek to win on-the-street approval for the project. The designs, however, are relatively unloved by San Francisco Chronicle urbanism critic John King, who has lamented that the plaza would weaken the vitality of the district’s street life by pulling pedestrians away from its key attractions. King added that the proposal’s function as a true memorial to Milk’s legacy could better be suited by other means, as well. King said:
If the desire is to celebrate Milk’s life and legacy, it might be easier to freshen up the current plaza and create an ongoing fund for its maintenance. Then, install plaques or informative artwork along the bridge-like walkway to Collingwood Street, a path that has serenity despite its surroundings.
The design for the proposal is by no means finalized, however. As the bid makes its way through the approval process, changes and new approaches are sure to be recommended. A timeline for final approval and completion of the plaza has not been announced.
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Tulsa's Tree Kingdom

Michael Van Valkenburgh transforms Tulsa’s riverfront into a fantastical green parkland
The Gathering Place, Tulsa, Oklahoma’s newest public park, is anything but basic. Opened in early September, the 66.5-acre riverside landscape looks more like an ultra-green theme park than a typical urban park with trees thrown in for shade. Designed by landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), the $465 million project was dreamed up by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and backed by over 80 other local corporate and philanthropic donors. It’s located just 2 miles from downtown Tulsa on a formerly flat, scorching site along the Arkansas River. After four years of the first phase of construction, it’s now one of the city’s greatest amenities, providing spots for sport, relaxation, and water play underneath a sprawling tree canopy and atop grassy open lawns. MVVA transformed the topography of the existing site by creating various elevated landscapes and other sunken spaces with access to water. The firm also accentuated the native ecologies of the parkland and introduced wetlands, meadows, streams, and dry areas that inspire different types of interaction with nature. Thick logs for seating, fingerlike tree trunks for gathering, and local stone used for walls and mazes were additionally incorporated to connect the landscape as a whole and link it to the surrounding region. While the park boasts threads of regional bike trails, courts for ball-handling sports, and 21 points of entry and exit, it’s the surprising structural elements of play that make it stand out. MVVA designed a 5-acre adventure playground for kids age two to 12 that features seven thematic spaces: Volcanoville, The Land of the River Giants, Royal Tower, Fairy Land Forest, The Ramble, Spiral Connector, and Mist Mountain. According to the architects, these play areas are “boldly expressive and richly programmed,” with normal playground elements such as towers, suspension bridges, and slides, but also fantastic designs like climbable, large-scale animals, flowers, and fruit. Many of the play accessories are clad in steel as well as timber imported from the Alps. Accessibility is a key component of The Gathering Place. MVVA describes the guiding vision of the park to be a democratic space where all Tulsans can come together and experience an array of physically challenging and leisurely activities. Children in wheelchairs can easily access the playscapes through elongated ramps on all of the structures, like the giant, wood-slatted elephant with a truncated slide. The park also includes a pond and boathouse where families can check out kayaks, canoes, and paddle boats. A coffee and ice cream cafe, as well as a dining patio and other picnic areas are situated in the northern part of the parkland near the play spaces to encourage extended stay. Toward the park’s south side, MVVA designed the Sky Garden and Four Season Garden, as well as Swing Hill, situated on the highest point of The Gathering Place with prime views of downtown Tulsa. At the farthest end of the park, visitors can enjoy courts for basketball, volleyball, street hockey, and soccer, or ride over to the skateboard and bike park, which offers courses for all ages and levels. A 50,000-square-foot children’s science museum will also be constructed in this area, coming late summer 2020. Phases 2 and 3 of construction, beginning next spring, will bring the park to a total of 100 acres.
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The Future is Green

Major investment coming to Detroit and Buffalo’s waterfront park projects
As Detroit and Buffalo get set to take on two transformative park projects along their respective waterfronts, both cities have been generously backed by a philanthropic organization aiming to enhance green space and bolster community engagement. Today, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation announced its pledge to invest over $1.2 billion in the cities by 2035 in honor of its founder, the Buffalo Bills’ late owner, and his centennial birthday. The Foundation is making a sizable donation to Western New York and Southeast Michigan—the two areas Wilson loved most—by committing a combined $200 million for upgraded parks and 250 miles of trails in the regions. A large chunk of that change will go directly to revitalizing LaSalle Park in Buffalo and West Riverfront Park in Detroit. With a design already envisioned by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) and David Adjaye, the latter parkland will give Michiganites long-desired, tangible access to the Detroit River. Though the 77-acre LaSalle Park has stretched across Lake Erie’s edge since the 1930s, it’s massive potential for further beautification and elevated programming could increase the quality of life for Buffalo residents and beyond. Dave Enger, president of the Foundation, stressed that community involvement is the key to taking on these monumental landscape goals. “Foundations don’t build parks, communities do,” he said. “Our vision is really to support these wonderful projects and the people that have the vision.” The design process is well underway for West Riverfront Park in downtown Detroit. Situated atop a former industrial piece of land, the 22-acre parkland will be a year-round destination for fishing, skating or swimming, sports, entertainment, and family gatherings. MVVA’s proposal was chosen over 80 other submissions in an international design competition to reimagine the park, which was transferred from private ownership to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy in 2014. Since their master plan was selected earlier this spring, MVVA has worked alongside the Conservancy and the Detroit Mayor’s office to garner feedback from locals and find out their personal ambitions for the park. The firm’s principal, Michael Van Valkenburgh, said his team especially loved talking to people aged 60 and older about their childhoods in Detroit—the places they loved and why. For many, the secluded Belle Isle was the only locale they could go to enjoy green space and the river at the same time. But that’s about to change thanks to these new ideas for downtown. “Not every place in Detroit has what New York’s Brooklyn Bridge Park offers—a way to touch the water and put your toes in,” said Van Valkenburgh. “Because Detroit is so vast horizontally, we knew needed to add shock and awe to the design to get Detroiters who were far away to come to the water. Michiganders feel defined by and proud that the state is surrounded on three sides by the Great Lakes. We thought giving access to the water, through this cove and beach creation, would be a big draw.” A construction start date hasn’t yet been announced for West Riverfront Park, but officials estimate it will be complete by 2022. Van Valkenburgh is sure the master plan will go through many design iterations before ground is broken and he’s excited about more community input. “I’ve been going to public meetings since 1990,” he said. “These have been the most uplifting public meetings I’ve ever been a part of. People come with a real sense that this park is going to be a big lift for the city. They really want it.” At the other end of Lake Erie is LaSalle Park in Buffalo. Though it’s a long-loved and well-utilized community treasure, city stakeholders agree that it could use significant improvements. In 1998, the city conducted a planning review to overhaul the expansive parkland and identify priorities for a new design and upgraded programming. That vision was never realized until the Regional Institute at the University of Buffalo began researching its history and surveying people through a project called Imagine LaSalle. A focus group even spent this summer exploring the park and visiting other famous green spaces in Chicago, Cincinnati, and New York for inspiration. “The feedback has been tremendous so far,” said Brendan Mehaffey, executive director for the city’s Office of Strategic Planning. “Part of the mayoral administration’s core values is inclusion so we’ve talked to people from all backgrounds including low-income individuals, young professionals, business owners, and more.” Community engagement is at the heart of both efforts in Buffalo and Detroit. Much like Imagine LaSalle, MVVA also transported a busload of teenagers to visit their Maggie Daley Park in Chicago, and other groups went to New York and Philadelphia. Mehaffey sees the connection between the two waterfront park projects, and the two cities in general, as vital to their respective successes. “The Detroit team is much further into the design process than we are, so we’re delving into their research to try and discover best practices for building our own LaSalle Park,” he said. “I think that commonality between us is part of what the Wilson Foundation’s statement is going to make to the country.” Enger also believes the two cities are inextricably important to one another—that’s why his organization has zeroed in on their combined futures. He emphasized that spurring economic development through green space is a key way to democratize the municipalities on a greater level. “Where else in the United States are you going to find world-class parks in post-industrial cities that overlook international border crossings and feature some of the most magnificent sunrises and sunsets?" he said. "We think the total leverage of this project will be far greater than what our investment will bring.”
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I Doth Protest!

Trump’s Parks Department explores restricting spaces for protest in D.C.
Public commentary ends tonight on a proposed rule that may restrict protests from occurring in front of the White House and along the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Atlantic reported that the National Park Service (NPS), which manages those lands, put out a proposal in mid-August to revise special regulations concerning how certain landmark locations could be used in the future as spaces to exercise free speech, put on peaceful protests, and host sporting or entertainment events. According to the draft rule, the NPS aims to “provide greater clarity to the public about how and where demonstrations and special events may be conducted in a manner that protects and preserves the cultural and historic integrity of these areas.” These distinguished areas include the National Mall and Memorial Parks as well as President’s Park, the three connected landscapes surrounding the White House. Within that grouping is Lafayette Park to the north of the president’s home, a site that’s long been the stage of last-minute political gatherings and demonstrations. It’s bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue and the perimeter fence that separates the White House back lawn from the public. With the new rule, the NPS seeks to limit the number of people allowed in some of these areas and, in more extreme cases, prohibit public access altogether. The changes would specifically restrict access at the World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. The same restrictions, made to “preserve an atmosphere of contemplation,” were placed decades ago at some of D.C.’s older monuments. Permanent security zones will also be set up in President’s Park (largely south of the White House) while Lafayette Park and the White House north sidewalk will remain places for planned demonstrations. In addition, the NPS wants to potentially increase the cost of permit applications for hosting demonstrations in the capital city and cap the amount of time needed for advance notice of such gatherings. Per the draft rule, this is all in an effort to recover the costs of event management, clean-up, and more. Public comment ends tonight at 11:59 p.m. So far, 36,596 comments have been received.
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Light Guards

Shedding light: These 9 outdoor fixtures illuminate the way
Take in some of the outdoor lighting fixtures released this year at the NAHB International Builders’ Show, Chicago’s Lightfair International, and at the AIA National Convention Expo. Outfitted with new technologies and design features, the following fixtures balance both safety and ambiance in their designs.
Homann Park Louis Poulsen Glow rings on the top and bottom of this street lamp cast dynamic upward and downward illumination. The fixture is equipped with wireless connectivity that allows control of the light settings and provides WiFi for the surrounding area.
Prisma Sonneman
These sconces filter light through geometric angled cuts. The fixtures are available in tall and narrow or short and wide profiles in three finishes: white, gray, and bronze.
Ouro Exterior Luminaire Kim/Hubbell Lighting
This fixture creates scalable lighting that can be mounted in two configurations. This allows it to illuminate low-lying areas like walkways, or conversely, to light parkways and roads from higher vantage points.
Portal Illuminating Column HessAmerica Enveloped in an aluminum shell that shows no visible welds, this LED light diffuses from a “portal” opening. Lighting is evenly distributed upward and downward through lenses covering the apertures. The unit is offered in textured dark gray, graphite gray, or matte silver gray metallic finishes. O Artemide Rendered in the shape of the letter O, this fixture was designed to respond to the surrounding landscape and reduce its ecological footprint in public spaces. Available as both suspension and ground luminaires, the ring is illuminated only when triggered by sensors or preset to turn on.
Exelia LED SELUX Providing ambiance and safety, Exelia LED is designed to illuminate pedestrian walkways and other low-lying areas with four light distribution patterns. The die-cast and extruded aluminum column is coated in a Tiger Drylac–certified polyester powder-coat finish, making it resistant to impact and year-round weather patterns.
Blade Les Jardins Solar Lighting Portable and rechargeable, this teak lamp can refill outside in four-to-eight hours of sunlight, or indoors in four hours via a USB connection. It is adjustable in a range of 100 to 400 lumens for custom lighting schemes.
Scoop Bollard WAC Lighting
Illuminate public spaces and commercial areas with this charming bollard that provides up to 60,000 hours of safety lighting. It is offered with either warm or cool white LEDs with a black or bronze finish.
Glowline-Inground The Light Lab This ground luminaire offers the promise of unlimited lighting. Assembled using end-to-end positioning, this fixture’s low-profile linear acrylic LEDs can be installed recessed or flush in endless configurations: lining pathways, snaking up stairways, or articulating the curves of a sinuous facade.