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Shining a Spotlight on Landscape Performance in the Great Plains

By Hannah LoPresto and Brandon Zambrano, BLA Candidates, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

csi2018-unl-hanafan-530pxUndergraduate researcher Brandon Zambrano observes Tom Hanafan’s vegetation and bioretention capabilities during a May site visit.

Participating in LAF’s 2018 Case Study Investigation program has been an incredibly informative experience for our research team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We have just completed our second year as undergraduates in the landscape architecture program and are excited to continue learning about landscape performance as Research Assistants under the guidance of Research Fellow Assistant Professor Catherine De Almeida. We are eager to shine a spotlight on the landscape performance of two Great Plains projects: P Street Corridor by Design Workshop, a revitalized downtown streetscape in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park by Sasaki, a waterfront redevelopment in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Working on the post-occupancy study of both parks has been extremely beneficial in understanding how reclaiming underutilized sites can create high-performing landscapes.

Over the course of our study, we’ve discovered many commonalities between the P Street Corridor and Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park. With both sites located in the Great Plains, participating in the Case Study Investigation program has given us the opportunity to provide recognition and visibility to innovative constructed projects in a region that typically goes unrecognized. Both are public projects in urban settings with primary goals of transforming formerly unpleasant, underused spaces to grant increased public access. Along with public access, stormwater management strategies are essential aspects of both projects. P Street focuses on runoff capture and reduced irrigation cost for roadside bioswales. Tom Hanafan focuses on opportunities to preserve and restore riparian forest in a floodplain to withstand an immense, 500-year storm event. 

Although we’ve observed many commonalities between these two projects, each has numerous unique aspects of its own. With P Street located adjacent to the university, our research team was already familiar with the site, having visited and passed through on countless occasions. However, much of what we learned about the P Street project was beyond what we had experienced on site. P Street’s redesign was undertaken by a remote design firm and then passed to a local Lincoln firm for construction administration. This gave us the opportunity to understand the working relationship between a remote design firm and a local firm, revealing the trade-offs that come with this approach. The P Street project was also unique in the amount of recorded baseline data. Our team was pleasantly surprised to learn how extensive the design firm’s baseline data collection was, covering aspects such as user perception, impervious surfaces, and property values. While developing the master plan, the design firm implemented a community engagement process that provided excellent baseline data for our research team to develop our assessment of the project’s social benefits. Our team has been able to replicate the design firm’s pre-project survey (with a few additions of our own) to collect post-occupancy data in order to make a direct comparison of user perception before and after the corridor redesign.

blog-postpstreethannah1-226px-gwxAn inventory of P Street’s site elements, such as limestone benches, signposts and bioswales, is recorded by undergraduate researcher Hannah LoPresto.

Unlike P Street’s renovated streetscape, our study of Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park is focused on the reclamation of the Missouri River floodplain for native ecological riparian communities and human access to the river. Some key elements that illustrate this are the revitalization of the riparian forest with native trees along the northern and southern areas surrounding the park’s open space, and a native meadow mix planted along the Army Corps of Engineers’ levee-turned-amphitheater. In conversations with our firm liaison, we were surprised to learn about the pre-existing conditions of the site and how the landscape had been previously deteriorated due to ATV use and invasive species that affected the riparian forest’s growth. Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park converted a landscape of misuse to a friendly, highly accessible public park. Our team was also surprised to find out that the 2011 Missouri Flood happened during construction of the park. Even though this caused a significant delay, the firm managed to gather data from the occurrence and interpret it into qualitative diagrams in order to show the client how Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park proposed grading changes that would withstand a 500-year storm event. The design team turned something negative like the 2011 Missouri Flood, analyzed it, and interpreted it positively into the design of the site. We plan to further quantify the quality of the park in our user surveys.

As our research team nears the final stretch of the Case Study Investigation program, we look forward to collecting, documenting, and analyzing our data for these two Great Plains projects. We are especially excited to experiment with a few specific techniques such as on-site percolation tests, surveying users on-site, and mapping economic change in the surrounding areas. Learning from these data collection techniques and communicating with our firm partners and municipal clients has given us an incredible opportunity to grow as landscape architecture students and experience the growing necessity of using landscape performance to quantify the sustainable benefits of landscape architecture.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Research Assistants Hannah LoPresto and Brandon Zambrano and Research Fellow Catherine De Almeida are participating in LAF’s 2018 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program, which supports academic research teams to study the environmental, economic, and social performance of exemplary landscape projects.

Equity and Inclusion in Practice: Sasaki

sasaki-530px-939On June 12, 2018, Sasaki partnered with LAF to hold a panel titled “Design for Equity and Inclusion” at the Sasaki Foundation's new incubator space in Watertown, Massachusetts

In issuing the New Landscape Declaration, the Landscape Architecture Foundation has made a commitment to strengthen and diversify our global capacity as a profession and to cultivate a bold culture of inclusive leadership, activism, and advocacy within our ranks. To promote these values, LAF is publishing a series of articles to showcase the ways in which design firms are demonstrating leadership in diversity, equity, and inclusion, from providing targeted support for students and emerging professionals to seeking outside guidance and certification of internal policies. This article kicks off the series and highlights the efforts undertaken by Sasaki to promote a design culture that is welcoming for all.

Sasaki is a global design firm with international staff working at offices in Watertown, Massachusetts and Shanghai, China. By acting with intention, Sasaki has created an atmosphere in which meaningful conversations on the issues of diversity and inclusion can take place and where ideas, not authors, guide projects. These actions are undertaken in pursuit of Sasaki’s vision statement on diversity: Sasaki believes in an inclusive culture that powers human potential. We build our ecosystem on parity, respect, accountability, candor, and trust to reflect our commitment to our people and their contributions. We take this action because diversity is essential to design.
It is not new for Sasaki to emphasize equity in its culture and policies. Over a decade ago, the firm’s leaders recognized a trend in the design industry, and in the wider workforce. Women were frequently passed over for promotions because it was often assumed they would put their careers on hold to raise families. To confront this issue, Sasaki focused on promoting gender equity in its own workforce. The firm brought in a diversity consultant to ensure they were following best practices and, in the years following, continued its focus on equity and inclusion by conducting an annual work/office climate survey, having conversations with staff, and holding focus groups. Sasaki also saw the need to explore what diversity meant in the workplace as the firm was contracted for projects in new locales around the world and attracted more global talent as a result. Further, Sasaki’s projects include public spaces and university campuses where the firm recognized changing demographics in the user base. From all of these influences, Sasaki gained different perspectives on the importance of diversity in design, and a greater understanding of the ways in which team composition plays a vital role in both workplace culture and project design.
Sasaki first looked for a role model within the design professions but found little public discussion of diversity, equity, or inclusion and few resources available. Furnished with data from the American Institute of Architects’ annual survey of architectural firms, Sasaki forged its own path and developed its own research to identify the best strategies for promoting equity and inclusion within its ranks. After reflecting on conversations and insights gathered from staff, Sasaki created a Diversity Committee with four subcommittees, each led by a Principal, including current LAF Board Member Michael Grove. The firm chose this approach because internal discussion demonstrated the need to be intentional in the way these issues were addressed. Each subcommittee is tasked with actionable goals to further discussions of diversity and inclusion surrounding staffing, project design, and the business case for diversity both internally and externally. Sasaki is able to create and disband these ad hoc subcommittees as needed, thus allowing for greater flexibility and ability to target specific needs.
Sasaki wants its work to be a springboard for a bolder, louder, more inclusive voice pushing the design professions to consider diversity and inclusion with intention and to have a stronger voice in activism, especially on issues that impact design. With forthcoming data gleaned from measuring the effects of its initiatives on firm morale, productivity, and output, the firm is strengthening the business case for diversity because, while diversity should be valued in and of itself, demonstrated positive impacts often help to push idea into action. Sasaki sees an exciting path forward to continue promoting diversity and inclusion internally and to engage new voices in public dialogues about moving the profession forward.

LAF Staff Changes

The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) is delighted to welcome two new team members to its growing staff. Rory Doehring joins LAF as Communications Associate and Devin McCue joins as Development Associate. Both began on June 4.

welcome-pic--530pxDevin McCue (left) and Rory Doehring (right) began at LAF on June 4.

Rory’s background is in history, communication, and the nonprofit sector. They recently returned to the East Coast after studying at the University of Missouri where they researched political communication with a focus on public lands. Rory’s past experience also includes governmental grant writing and undergraduate instruction. They are currently concluding their thesis work for a Master of Arts in Communication from the University of Missouri.

Devin brings experience and training in development, business, and history. Prior to joining LAF, his work focused on event planning and sponsor management at the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana in New Orleans. Devin has also previously coached competitive gymnastics. He holds a Master of Management from Tulane University.

These new staff positions will allow LAF to broaden its reach, expand strategic partnerships, and better communicate with constituents and donors. The new hires bring the number of LAF permanent staff to eight.

jenn-300wJennifer Low will pursue a Master of Design.

LAF is also bidding a fond farewell to Jennifer Low, Program Manager for Scholarships and Leadership. Jenn is leaving to pursue a Master of Design at the University of Michigan, where she will be part of a hand-picked team of integrative designers working to address “wicked problems” through hands-on, real-world projects. During her two years with LAF, Jenn was integral to the development and launch of the LAF Fellowship for Leadership and Innovation as well as the continued growth of LAF’s Olmsted Scholars Program and network. LAF will certainly miss her but is very excited about this new opportunity and looks forward to news of her future endeavors.

For a complete list of current LAF staff, bios, and contact information, visit our staff page.

Presentations from the LAF Innovation + Leadership Symposium

On May 17, the first cohort from the year-long LAF Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership, presented their projects at our sold-out symposium. This unique fellowship program provides a $25,000 award that supports working professionals as they develop and test new ideas to bring about impactful change to the environment and humanity and increase the visibility and leadership role of landscape architecture.


Critical Places: Design Interventions to Address Water and Other Issues in Rural India

Alpa Nawre, Assistant Professor, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

Alpa’s work in India aims to prototype a process to address critical issues such as water scarcity and waste management through design strategies and small-scale, physical interventions to create a stronger, more cohesive and forward-looking community.  


Making Space: Optimistic Strategies for Urban Homelessness

Brice Maryman, Senior Landscape Architect, MIG l SvR, Seattle, WA

What is the role of public space in confronting the growing challenge of homelessness? Through the HomeLandLab project, Brice Maryman explores the ways that the connective tissue of our cities—our public spaces—can be shaped, programmed and managed to improve the lives of those experiencing homelessness.


For the Love of Teenagers: Advocating for Safe, Restorative High School Environments

Claire Latané, Senior Associate, Mia Lehrer + Associates, Los Angeles, CA

Claire advocates for high school environments that support students’ mental health and well-being. Using Los Angeles as a case study, she works with students, educators and administrators, designers, non-profits, city agencies, and the community to develop policy and design that reflect a sense of love and safety rather than security and fear. 


Cultivating Future Landscape Architects: Career Discovery in K-12 Education

Nicole Plunkett, Landscape Architect, Cotleur & Hearing, Jupiter, FL

Who will shape the future of landscape architecture? Nicole explored how the continued development of her nonprofit, Future Landscape Architects of America (FLAA), can help to grow and diversify the profession in the coming years.


Shifting Perceptions: Reconceiving Public Space in the American South

Harriett Jameson, Landscape Designer, Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, Alexandria, VA

A Native Tennessean, Harriett (2014 Olmsted Scholar Finalist) explores the opportunities of public space in the South to catalyze social resiliency and reconciliation. She is interested in the power of place to shape our personal narratives and its ability to expand and reshape those narratives through sites of conscience.


The (Large) Space Between: Reimagining Highway Corridors as Performative Landscapes

Scott Douglas, Director of the Hahn Horticulture Garden, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA

Scott (2016 University Olmsted Scholar) investigates alternative uses for the maintenance-intensive highway corridors. His work includes a review The Ray, an 18-mile section of Interstate 85 in southwest Georgia that serves as a testing ground for new ideas and technologies to transform transportation infrastructure.