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Olmsted Scholar Feature: Trails on Tribal Lands

by Nick Deyo, 2011 Olmsted Scholar

For my Masters degree work I was fortunate to collaborate with a team of students at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. Our project helped community members and tribal employees with the planning and design of a non-motorized trail system in the Jocko Valley, on the Flathead Reservation in Montana. My team included two landscape architecture students: Robin Burke and myself; Meredith Bohdan, an Environmental Policy and Planning student; and two Behavior, Education, and Communication students: Ann Kelley and Brittney Van Der Werff. Working with this team helped me realize the true interdisciplinary nature of landscape architecture. We worked closely with the Jocko Valley Trails Committee and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal (CSKT) government, through meetings and public outreach, to create trail design recommendations. On a broader scale, we researched the current status of trail systems on American Indian reservations throughout the United States.

jocko1Sketch-up models helped illustrate pedestrian bridge options.

During May of 2010, we spent an intensive four weeks working on the project in Arlee, Montana, a town of 600 people located at the southern end of the Flathead Reservation. We engaged the community in trail planning activities, conducted site visits, and met with project partners. We distributed a survey to gauge community interest in trails development, hosted an open house, and conducted Youth Visioning Workshops with over 150 high school, middle school, and 4th grade students.

Site visits acquainted us with areas of specific design concern, including the Demonstration Reach portion of the Jocko River Restoration Area, where the CSKT Natural Resources Department sought to develop an interpretive trail system. The Demonstration Reach marks the beginning of 22 miles of state-of-the-art river restoration work the tribe is performing, using natural channel design along with passive restoration techniques, to create habitat for endangered bull trout. Other areas of concern included Highway 93’s Jocko River Bridge, a dangerous 400-foot span that lacks pedestrian facilities.

jocko2For the Demonstration Reach trail designs, ink drawings conveyed the rustic feel of the area.jocko3A simple log bridge over the Jocko River.

After returning to Michigan we spent the next year developing three conceptual interpretive trail designs, supported by detailed site inventories and analyses. These options worked within CSKT’s constraints to showcase the impressive ecological restoration work the tribe had accomplished and educate about the natural history and conservation needs of bull trout. We analyzed the data we gathered from community activities to provide specific design solutions including pedestrian crossing options for the Jocko River Bridge area, trail alignments, and planting designs.

Finally, inspired by the leadership of the Arlee community, we wrote a paper entitled Trails on Tribal Land: Understanding the Challenges and Benefits of Trail Planning and Development for American Indian Communities. This paper was a compilation of both literature review and interviews conducted with natural resource managers, scientists, planners, and other decision makers from 22 reservations throughout the United States. The full project is available here:

Nick Deyo received his Masters of Landscape Architecture from the University of Michigan in May 2011. He lives in Tucson, Arizona where he is engaged with conservation planning and ecological restoration projects working for the NGO Sky Island Alliance.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: An Urban Farm in Downtown Orlando

by Chris Merritt, 2011 Olmsted Scholar

As a designer, if you look around your city at all the vacant wasted space, it is hard to resist imagining what could be. And, you may be surprised how many people have similar ideas. With the momentum of the local food movement, an increasingly popular solution is the temporary community garden. Growing fresh locally-sourced food provides health, environmental, social and cultural benefits that are a boon to any neighbor or restaurant.

Orlando, Florida has a growing foundation of people and resources behind its local food movement. Chefs, community-supported agriculture (CSAs), food truck owners, journalists, social entrepreneurs and local “foodies” alike, have all been advocating and pursuing a sustainable local food economy. The downtown area has a high concentration of working young professionals growing more aware of slow food and the systems that empower the contrasting industrial food economy that is in place.

As I have become familiar with the area, I have noticed a huge opportunity at the core of the food system: the potential for urban farming. Using my passion and interest in urban agriculture and productive landscapes in general, I began working to fill the gap between community interest and a local food system to support it. I focused on the Lake Eola area of downtown Orlando, which has a robust Sunday farmer’s market and a high concentration of creative, intelligent, and like-minded young people who care about their community and their health.

urbanfarm1Mapping of local farms and gardens across Orlando with the Eola Urban Farm shown in blue.

Surveying vacant parcels for urban farming opportunities was fast-tracked once I connected with an innovative and motivated developer in the Orlando area, who understood that his monthly operations and maintenance costs could be reduced by allowing us to convert the vacant land into a productive use. After navigating the city’s red tape through a cumbersome permiting and legal process, the Eola Urban Farm was born and is ready for growing.

Despite these success, a number of unanswered questions remain that are the source of continual debate:

Business and Operations Plans
I work full-time as a landscape architect, and my other partners also have permanent jobs. Although we want to be involved in the farming and community outreach, who will manage and maintain the farm every day? Formulating the right business plan has been difficult. We have had an outpouring of interest from community members, however, defining exactly what the farm is and how it operates has been a difficult concept for the commuity to grasp. Our vision is not for a community garden, but a privately-operated urban farm that supplements the food supply of selected restaurants and businesses, with occasional community, volunteer, and education days on the farm.

Organic vs. Conventional Farming
This topic has generated the most debate amongst interested community members. The team agrees that the ideal scenario is a beautiful, thriving organic urban farm, yet some have voiced the opinion that conventional farming methods might be better to get the farm established. As Michael Pollan, eloquently discusses in his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, we may buy organic produce shipped 1,500 miles from an industrial organic farm when we could have supported a local food system that uses conventional farming methods — which is more sustainable?

urbanfarm2Recycled cargo shipping containers help to solve the temporal issues of urban agriculture systems.

Although urban farming is a creative and innovative use for much of our uncertain and underutilized land, how do we design for its temporary nature? The Eola Urban Farm will make use of recycled cargo shipping containers that have been re-fabricated for the farm and can be used for equipment storage, rotating art galleries, hydroponics, and rain water harvesting. They will incorporate green roof systems to maximize the food yield of the site.

The greatest advantage of these containers is mobility, since the farm does have a timeline. When a hotel eventually decides to build on the site, the developer will move forward with those plans. The “mobile farm” design will allow the developer to establish another vacant lot as the new downtown farm, without destroying the operating and distribution systems that have been established. This model has the potential to invigorate various areas of the city over the life span of the farm. It will become a mobile entity that has tangible food and health benefits and delivers vital social and cultural benefits.

A major goal of the Eola Urban Farm is to raise awareness and advocate for local food and urban agriculture in our downtown. Part of this process is creating change within the city government to make it easier for these systems to be established. Throughout my research and outreach, many experienced farmers and gardeners have told me the same thing: “Growing food should be a simple process — do not make it overly complex. With proper growing conditions you can throw seeds in the ground and your food will grow.” As we have gathered bright and motivated individuals to help run the farm, we plan to have healthy spring and summer growing and harvest seasons.


Chris Merritt is a landscape designer at AECOM in Orlando, Florida. Previously, Chris spent one year with Sasaki Associates in Boston. He graduated from the Purdue University Landscape Architecture program, where he was recognized with the ASLA Student Merit Award in addition to being an LAF University Olmsted Scholar.

Landscape Performance in Design Education: UW's Sustainable Urban Landscapes Seminar

by Nancy Rottle, 2011 LAF Research Fellow | Associate Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Washington | Director, Green Futures Research and Design Lab

How is landscape performance best incorporated into the LA curriculum? How might LAF’s Landscape Performance Series (LPS) contribute to landscape architecture education and the future practice of our current students?

These are questions that underlay incorporation of the LPS and Case Study Investigation (CSI) model into the graduate curriculum at the University of Washington during the 2011 autumn term. Collaborating with LAF, my Landscape Performance seminar tackled the production of a dozen case studies for projects that ranged from parks to schools to zoo exhibits, in the Pacific Northwest and in China.

The case study work replaced the usual term paper for my Sustainable Urban Landscapes course, which has focused on landscape performance for the last two years. The seminar readings and discussions examine concepts and practices related to the design of sustainable urban landscapes, engaging such theories as green infrastructure, green and sustainable urbanism, landscape urbanism, regenerative and closed-loop design and landscape metrics. The twist of working within the CSI collaborative model immersed students into a more interactive approach to studying performing landscapes.


Preparation for the class began over the summer, as LAF Research Assistant Pam Emerson and I met with several firms to identify and vet candidate projects for case studies. A primary qualification was the existence of performance data to adequately quantify benefits of a built project. We narrowed our list of applicable projects to the most promising, and collected as much data in advance as the firms could supply. Pam also learned the processes, resources, and issues the students would face by developing two case studies of her own.

During the autumn seminar, students worked in pairs, assisting one another in gathering data and learning the various landscape evaluation tools. They received regular feedback from me, our Teaching Assistant Delia Lacson (also a LAF Research Assistant), from each other, and from LAF. An invited guest panel of experts described various tools, resources and metrics systems, including Mithun/LBJ Wildflower Center’s carbon calculator, valuation of ecosystem services from Earth Economics, components in the i-tree suite, Seattle parks maintenance data, and Sustainable Sites program resources, especially those related to human health and well-being. The case studies went through three phases of review, including a penultimate review by the sponsoring design firm, before students submitted their final versions to LAF.

Our learning from tackling these case studies underscored, yet transcended, student awareness of the value of incorporating landscape performance goals in the design process. Students in the seminar expressed that it was valuable to learn about the tools and parameters used to design and evaluate high-performing landscapes, to gain in-depth knowledge about a particular designed landscape and its actual benefits, and to learn lessons not only from successes but also from the failures that are unfortunately so common in built landscapes (such as from soil compaction or introduction of weed seeds). The process was also a first-hand lesson in how critical it is to have adequate baseline data and inside knowledge from those involved in the design process.

Measuring and documenting the performance of landscapes is required to reshape the teaching and practice of landscape architecture so that our built landscapes actually provide the desired benefits we hope to achieve. Such measurement and communication are critical to the acceptance and culture of new landscape aesthetics, within the profession and in value formation and demands from our public and private clients. We found the pilot of this model, though still evolving, to be a critical first step in introducing students to this discussion.

LAF appreciates the dedicated work of all those involved with the 2011 UW LARCH 561 course: 2011 LAF Research Fellow Nancy Rottle, Research Assistants Pam Emerson and Delia Lacson, Ximena Bustamante, Sue Costa, Peter Cromwell, Dafer Haddadin , Chen Hai, Taj Hanson, Manami Iwamija, Jo Ming Lau, Audrey Maloney, Jessica Michalak, Haruna Nemoto, Roma Shah, Karin Strelioff, Tao Xu, Xiaobing Wang, Virginia Werner, Ying-Ju Yeh.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: St. Croix and Understanding of Place

by Sarah Nitchman, 2011 Olmsted Scholar

Last November, I found myself on a plane to St. Croix for the second time in a little over a year. The first time I’d visited the island I was in the company of my senior studio class as we embarked on a five-day site visit to prepare for a semester project of exploring masterplan concepts for one of the island’s National Parks.


My involvement in that project extended beyond that semester studio, and in late October I was offered the opportunity to return to St. Croix and work with local stakeholders to increase cooperation and community involvement in the design process. While I learned many things during my five weeks on the island, the concept of place was one topic that stood out and continues to resonate with me.

top2-smI have been thinking about place for a while now. As designers of places, I think this is key to our work as a profession, and thinking deeply about the issue of place can only sharpen our ability to respect and enhance it. I’ve been fortunate to watch my understanding of St Croix shift and grow from the first time I heard someone utter its name all the way up to the end of my 5-week stay. Each form of interaction led to a different level of understanding of place.

Some of the strangest moments to me after being on the island for 5 weeks were when I came across a place that I had previously visited with my class. top3-smDespite how eager I had been to understand St. Croix, I was always struck by my impression of the place then, and my knowledge of it now. I had a similar experience the day I interviewed a local woman named Francillia about the Easter camping tradition on the beach. Before that conversation, my impression of the campers was that they were rowdy, littering, and although fun-loving had a general disrespect for the beach and the natural areas around it. I was amazed to realize that, on the contrary, the tradition was her family’s way of engaging the natural world — a choice to stop everyday life, forgo electricity and top4-smdistractions, and form a community under the stars.

This encounter made me realize that even with the best of intentions people can be misunderstood and perceptions blown far out of proportion. The learning curve in understanding a place is absolutely fascinating, but it is also somewhat frightening because I am beginning to realize how much effort is required to move far enough along that curve to truly understand the places in which we design. As Landscape Architects if we do not understand the place, how can we design spaces that work within the culture they reside?

Place has remained a resonating question in my mind. After St. Croix, I left my home in Queens, New York and moved across the country to South Lake Tahoe, California to work with Design Workshop. Once again I find myself in a completely different place, with a different landscape and culture. Several of the projects that I am currently involved in are sites that I have never stepped foot on and only know through photos, aerials and maps. Given the practical parameters we face as designers — time, cost and distance being the most significant — I believe the essential question that needs to be asked is: How do we make the most of the time we have on a site in order to develop a rigorous understanding of place that can reliably drive analysis and design? I believe that it is through finding solutions to this question that we will be enabled to create powerful, place-based designs.

Sarah Nitchman recieved her Bachelors degree in Landscape Architecture from Rutgers University in May 2011. After graduating she spent five weeks in both Germany and St. Croix and is currently interning with Design Workshop’s Lake Tahoe office.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Occupying Space

by Jesse Jones, 2011 Olmsted Scholar

Public spaces are valuable venues for civic expression. Over the last few months, we watched the rise of the Occupy Movement bring new attention to the use of public space and the role of collective gathering to cities across the United States. Putting aside political affiliation or belief in the rightness or wrongness or even effectiveness of these protests, it is without question that these concentrated and intentional Occupations made a dramatic impact in the urban areas in which they occurred. In Oakland, California, where I live, Occupiers of a downtown square renamed the space and established a communal living village. Numerous attempts to close the camp effectively failed as people returned after each of the closures and reestablished the space; however Occupy Oakland eventually moved to a vacant lot near the original site.

jesse-jonesimage1Although there is also probably much to learn from Occupy about collective action and the psychology of protest, as a young landscape architect, I am most intrigued by this movement for its utopian idealism in the value of common spaces and as a model for development from the ground up. Embedded within Occupy is a commitment to reactivation and use of spaces or structures that have been left out or aban- doned: in a way, a call to action on vacancy. It is also a call to making. Development inevitably slowed down with the economic recession, so traditional place-making procedures are stalled. In the mean- time, movements like Occupy suggest that people make spaces themselves and should demand that they be allowed to do so.

The community garden is probably one of the most common examples of collective occupation in American cities and provides a valuable outlet for individuals to make public or semi-public space. With the rise of Occupy, I am excited to see what new and different ventures develop in currently underutilized spaces. As a landscape designer, I believe this opens up a world of possibilities to consider utility in what is currently vacant. Following the lead of Occupy, I have a two suggestions of useful uses of vacant spaces during this time of slowed development.

Phytoremediation Fill In
A number of vacant lots are contaminated and pose a threat to human health as well as a liability for future developers. They sit vacant awaiting development that will remove or treat the contamination just prior to construction. During that waiting period, the site could be planted with phytoremediating plants that work to extract contaminants from the soil. Although specific work would need to be completed to select plants that work effectively with the pollutant, a planting strategy could be established that successfully improves the soil while providing a pleasant view for the surrounding neighbors.


Vacant Lot Flower Farm
The United States imports the vast majority of its cut flowers from countries around the world. Although many of our cities do not have the correct growing climate to produce popular tropical varieties, in many places, local flower production could provide a progressive alternative to importing. Although the flower palette would be more limited, the relationship to local growing conditions would be more evident. An urban nursery would provide a educational and beautiful venue for flower production. 

jesse-jonesimage3Jesse Jones received her Masters of Landscape Architecture from University of California, Berkeley, in May 2011. She currently designs and maintains edible gardens for a school district in the Bay Area.