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By Liz Podowski, 2013 University Olmsted Scholar
New York State is planning for a sustainable energy future — a future that addresses the causes of climate change, diversifies and modernizes the State’s energy system, and expands the renewable energy frontier from land into the ocean. Currently, the ocean provides a vast, untapped source of renewable energy, with winds that are stronger and steadier than land-based wind.
With millions of people living in ocean-front counties, offshore wind is an almost inevitable resource for New York to develop. However, wind energy development in the U.S. has historically focused entirely on land due to past technological constraints. To ensure that New York State responsibly and efficiently takes advantage of this resource as it becomes increasingly accessible, the New York Department of State (NYDOS) is spearheading a planning process in a nearly 16,000 square mile swath of the Atlantic Ocean.
Ocean planning is significantly different from land use planning. First, all ocean lands are held in public trust and are managed by either the state or federal government, depending on distance from shore. The freedom to navigate these “open seas” is a deeply-held value among mariners and poses an inherent challenge to siting permanently-fixed structures, like wind turbines. Second, the ocean environment is dynamic, multidimensional, and largely unknown. At first glance, the ocean may appear to be a homogenous sheet of blue water. But a closer look reveals seabirds foraging above and below the surface, marine mammals migrating large distances, delicate corals colonizing the ocean floor, fishing vessels pulling nets through the water column, and shipping vessels transporting goods from port to port. Even physical characteristics are highly variable, whether vertically with depth or horizontally with currents and weather patterns. Taken together, this complexity necessitates a planning approach that seeks compatibilities among uses and resources (as opposed to zoning, which often discreetly separates them).
NYDOS is developing a collaborative framework to proactively document and analyze existing uses and resources within this busy, complex, public place. Rather than conduct costly field studies of the entire area, NYDOS relies on the iterative aggregation and analysis of existing datasets to better understand the spatial and temporal distribution of ocean uses and resources. Partnerships are critical to this innovative process. Staff collaborated with federal, regional, state, local, and public stakeholders to synthesize, analyze, and translate extensive (and often disparate) datasets. For example, NYDOS organized a series of participatory mapping events with Long Island residents to better understand the type and location of recreational ocean uses — from surfing to wildlife viewing. This information is included in the New York Offshore Atlantic Ocean Study released in July.
Over the course of the next few months, NYDOS will further investigate the potential compatibility of offshore wind projects with ocean uses and resources throughout the development lifecycle — from site surveys to decommissioning. These “compatibility analyses” are critical to ensuring the success of future wind energy projects, as well as the continued viability of the ocean economy and the health of the ocean ecosystem.
Liz Podowski is a NOAA Coastal Management Fellow working with the New York Department of State in the Office of Planning and Development. She received an MLA from the University of Oregon in June 2013.
By Dayton Crites, 2013 University Olmsted Scholar
In the last decade, the number of Americans choosing to pedal to work on a bicycle has risen by 61.6%. For a variety of reasons, our transportation options and desires are shifting. Yet as more Americans find reasons to abandon the car as their primary mode of transportation, they find themselves in a built environment that is ill suited to their choice.
Take my town of Austin Texas, which is renowned for its progressive attitude and recent growth in bicycle and pedestrian related infrastructure. Kudos to the city leaders for building a bicycle and pedestrian bridge spanning Lady Bird Lake and for significantly expanding the central bicycle network in recent years. Yet when one third of all 2012 traffic fatalities within Austin city limits involve a pedestrain or cyclist, and pedestrian and cyclists form approximately 2% of Austin road users, the ability of our designs to protect anyone who isn’t driving a car seems fundamentally flawed.
Those that do not drive a car are not limited to the wild bicycle messenger and sweating triathlete riding through traffic — over 9% of American households do not even own a car. The official Landscape Architect Registration Examination (LARE) tests our ability as landscape architects to ensure the health, safety and welfare of those who will occupy our designs. If that is the true test of a professional landscape architect, our profession must begin to do more than just put bicycle lanes and wide sidewalks in our sections, plans, and renderings. We need to protect all road users and provide them a safe route to their destination.
Sometimes a bicycle lane or path isn’t enough. Austin’s 4th Street carries a separated pathway built west of and underneath I-35, Texas’ fourth most congested highway, which divides east from west Austin. As one approaches the highway, the two lane pathway dissolves into a faded crosswalk generally ignored by three lanes of 55 mph traffic. The cars have no requirement to stop, and it is up to the cyclist or pedestrian to gauge their movement and dart across the road. The only safety warnings afforded these travelers is the yellow diamond sign emblazoned with a bicycle silhouette, similar to the protection afforded deer on mountain roads. The signs indicate to drivers that unfortunately, there are unpredictable creatures — be it deer or cyclists — crossing the road, and drivers should try to avoid hitting one.
As designers of the built world, we have a responsibility to our profession and the future inhabitants of our landscapes to design places that take into account the needs of all users, and do not place convenience of vehicular transport over human health and safety. It is clear that providing equal access for all road users is a complex problem that is not easily solved, but it does not mean we should ignore it, or that it cannot be solved.
Before the advent of the macadam road base, not many people would have thought it feasible that nearly all populated corners of the globe would be connected through a stone-like and resilient web of roadways, allowing personal locomotion across thousands of miles of then-wilderness. It may seem far-fetched, but we can build a better transportation solution. From localized actions like lowering speed limits where pedestrians cross I-35 in Texas, to broad steps like lobbying and advocating for a more balanced transportation budget, we can build a better world, and we must.
Dayton Crites received his MLA from Utah State University in 2013 and now works for Design Workshop in Austin, Texas, where he enjoys a peaceful daily bicycle commute and a collaborative and dynamic office. Professionally, he is working to further Design Workshop’s Legacy Design® processes through advanced GIS analyses and context sensitive designs.
By Dustin Smith, 2013 University Olmsted Scholar
The estranged relationship with the street exhibited by the modern man’s frivolous attempts at engaging it for means other than conveyance has largely meant the abandonment of American public life. Contemporary placemaking ideologies that imagine there can be infinite deconstruction and reorganization of the basic typological inventory of urban elements have been equally damaging regarding the role of the street as a public place and the street grid as a continuum of public space. This is disconcerting for the common good, which requires a public realm to bind us all together in the realization of a shared sense of dwelling.
My ensuing thesis investigation explored the degenerative role of the street in the public sphere of urban American landscapes, a causation of the dogmas and aims of Modernist design, planning, and management of the land. While the study’s methodology involved the critical examination of prominent theorists, an examination of phenomenological, morphological, and social factors related to the form and function of urban streets and the street grid was conducted in Annapolis, Maryland. The idea was to document a series of personal observations, narratives, photographs and diagrams to grapple with the everyday visual cues, patterns, and social evidence of streets reflective of the common good; in other words, the commitment to a life shared with others.
Historic Annapolis offers an urban pattern unique to colonial American town and city planning. Its resilience against urbanization coupled with a civic structure cognizant of place-making values related to the ancient notion of the polis and civitas made Annapolis an ideal setting to explore the public character of urban streets. An urban setting may not be suitable for all people, but there was once a time when our towns and cities were made to connect people to important civic structures. The “City on the Severn” is a charming example of such planning, and of people who valued its ideal.
The beauty of Annapolis’ streets begins with its grid, a plan that finds its inspiration in the European ideals of Baroque planning. Atop central Annapolis are two great circles, the State Circle and the Church Circle, and from them a grid of diagonally radiating streets laid over the naturally falling topography offers dramatic visual axes and vistas. The natural limit of the Annapolis peninsula has controlled the expansion of the grid outward, creating a cozily dense block structure with greater ease of walkability and comprehension of the street’s connections to public places.
The town possesses a strong urban character and visual unity, which results from a diverse range of street typologies, each uniquely identified by architectural elements, pedestrian sidewalk space, and a heterogeneous mix of mature trees. And while they reflect the charming aesthetic tale of time passed, it is the unwavering love and use of these streets by citizens that make them so much more exciting.
If we are to ever move out from beneath the shadows and plumes of automobiles back towards an urban form rich with picturesque scenes of streets enacted by the swinging hands and feet of people changing postures and the fleeting shapes and colors of faces, garments, and produce, we should be cognizant of our quick abandonment of the patterns and devices that make places like Annapolis great.
In May, Dustin Smith graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He is now a designer at Rhodeside & Harwell, Inc. in Alexandria, Virginia, where he continues to explore and draw upon his passion for great streets in professional practice.
By Zachary Barker, 2013 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist
There are few places in the world where infrastructure is more vital to human existence than in the Netherlands. The country sits at the northwest corner of the Great European Plain, and almost two-thirds of the country is at or below sea level. Over centuries, controlling water along rivers and the North Sea have allowed the Dutch to methodically reclaim land, first for farming and later for settlement. Dikes, levees, dams and other infrastructure have become fundamental parts of the Dutch landscape.
Amsterdam, as the urban core of the Netherlands, offers several different transit typologies, including elevated train tracks, underground metro, at-grade trams, multi-modal streets, and urban highways. This infrastructure has had a drastic impact on its surroundings. I traveled to Amsterdam in the fall of my senior year and spent three months documenting the benefits and complexities of three case study locations that reflect a synergistic approach to landscape, infrastructure, and civic space. The case studies included a hybrid office space, a linear park, and an intricate stormwater management system.
Tussen de Bogen, the hybrid office space, translates to “Between the Arches” in English. The translation is quite literal, as the site is located under the arches of an elevated rail corridor on the northwest side of Amsterdam. Approximately 250,000 people a day travel over the offices below on their way to or from Centraal Station. The site exemplifies how transit infrastructure can contribute to the densification of an urban environment instead of dispersing density, the usual scenario.
Churchill-laan, the linear park case study, illustrates how transit infrastructure can create public space in a dense and historic urban environment. The site is surrounded by transportation infrastructure on all sides, but still manages to be a highly utilized public space.
The intricate stormwater management case study is located in Rietlandpark, a submerged tram station. Rietlandpark Station is designed to decentralize stormwater management issues by holding excess water under its platforms. The station is an example of how landscape infrastructure can abate stress on traditional infrastructure systems.
From the three case studies, I came to understand and appreciate the value that flexibility, decentralization, and multidimensionality can bring to an infrastructure project. These Dutch sites are in stark contrast to many American infrastructure projects of the mid- to late 20th Century that were engineered primarily to serve vehicles. The trend for contemporary landscape infrastructure is to become decentralized and multimodal. Multifunctional infrastructure conserves land, shares the financial load of its development, restores damaged natural ecologies, reinforces healthy transit options, and provides public access to vital open space. I think that landscape architects are uniquely poised to expand this trend because the infrastructure challenges of today call for sophisticated systems thinking in which landscape architects are trained and tested.
Zachary Barker received a BLA from The State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in May, graduating with honors. His thesis Dutchscape: Analyzing Landscape Infrastructure in Amsterdam, The Netherlands was selected as the university-wide Honors Thesis Prize winner for 2013. Zach is working as a landscape designer at LRSLAstudio in Philadelphia.
By Tina Chee, 2013 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist
Los Angeles, a city whose evolution and iconic nature is inextricably linked to infrastructure, is transforming. Today, we witness a renaissance: the build-out of a mass public transportation system by 2030, nearly 100 years after the first freeway parkway was built. With this third wave of transportation infrastructure, how does landscape participate in the implementation of a vast network of subway stations?
This design proposal examines the potential of the westward expansion of the Purple Line subway as the opportunity to literally piggyback a landscape infrastructure on transportation; a landscape that creates ecological corridors, which aggregate the various green fragments in the city, and transforms monoculture clusters into multi-modal activity nodes with landscape emanating from the intersections. Employing public surveys, live interviews, and field work, the project began with an investigation and analysis of the existing pedestrian conditions using the twelve quality criteria for pedestrian landscapes developed by Jan Gehl, which served to inform the design.
The expansiveness of this landscape challenges the boundaries of the public realm by engaging the various underutilized building fronts, setbacks, and blank walls to create an extroverted public square that engages city edges.
The form of the station creates an iconic landscape object that is spatially framed by the surrounding context, expanding it beyond property lines. The centerpiece of the station is the sloped green roof and topographic landform constructed from the reuse of excavated dirt from subway tunneling. The roof landform becomes a high point, a place for observation and reflection, that mediates between the hardscape of the urban street and an intimate softscaped forest. The berm form acts as a sound buffer and barrier from the main boulevard traffic noise; it also gives the landscape elevation for gravity fed irrigation.
The center of the roof is a sun lawn surrounded by a native meadow. The surface of the roof landform is dimpled with skylights and a series of undulating mounds that form temporal rain water basins, which create an extended seasonal and visual interest. Rain water not completely absorbed or captured flows down the topographic form irrigating other vegetated areas until it is ultimately collected and filtered in rain gardens at the base.
The sides of the landform are made of gabion walls which filter storm water and become terraces for informal gatherings, a series of meandering ramps for a stroll under the expansive canopy of oak trees, or as tiered plaza steps to observe and engage street life. The west side becomes a natural gathering place for public performances by repurposing the blank exterior museum wall and shaded environment as a backdrop for public events. The south side of the landform scales down to an intimate quiet neighborhood urban park forested with oak trees and dappled light, creating an enjoyable shaded place during summer months. The surrounding meandering pavement pattern and placement of seating planters induce happenstance occurrences, which culminate at the tiered plaza steps.
The bike and pedestrian paths cross and intersect to encourage public life exchange while providing places to sit and congregate. These paths continue to meander, weave, and connect three urban blocks engaging existing building stoops and landscaped setbacks as part of this public realm. The streets between blocks become shared streets where pedestrians and vehicles occupy the same paved surface. Public space can expand and contract for festivals and street events. The boundaries between the public and private realms blur to weave a dynamic urban space that engages city edges and urban life.
In May, Tina Chee graduated from the University of Southern California, where she was awarded the 2013 ASLA Honor Award for her overall body of work. This summer, she completed her research fellowship on infrastructural landscapes, traveling within the U.S. and Western Europe. She is the design leader transforming an underutilized alley into a performative stormwater gallery and recreational green space for low-income, inner city youth. She is currently the lead designer and project manager on several projects at SWA in Los Angeles.