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Chatham's CSI Team: Creating a Framework for Long-Term Performance Assessment

By Katie O’Neill, Masters of Arts in Food Studies Candidate, Chatham University

csi-chatham3Historic Eden Hall Barn

As a Research Assistant in LAF’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) program, I am working with Research Fellow Molly Mehling to conduct field research at Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus. The 388-acre farm campus, nestled in the rolling hills north of Pittsburgh, is surrounded by various residential neighborhoods and schools in Pine Richland Township. The campus was previously utilized by H.J. Heinz Company as a retreat for female factory workers. Now Chatham University is turning this historic land into an eco-campus where classes for the School of Sustainability and the Environment will be held. With this state-of-the-art campus, Chatham hopes to provide students, faculty, staff, and community members with a living and learning environment where they can immerse themselves in a naturalized setting and learn sustainable concepts through first-hand experiences.

The case study that Molly and I are working on does not follow the typical CSI model. Our situation is unique because the landscape hasn’t been developed yet and is still in the design phase. Therefore, our main objective is to create a framework for long-term performance assessment and monitoring throughout the construction, post-construction, and maintenance phases of development.

Molly and I have spent hours traversing the overgrown trails of Eden Hall’s forest, assessing streams, ecosystem biodiversity, and gaining knowledge about the diverse ecosystems and landscapes of Chatham’s new campus. We successfully obtained a grant for a weather station, which will allow us to gather baseline climatic data. We are also assembling the various materials necessary for assessing and recording the environmental baseline data. We created a partnership with the Pittsburgh Aviary, who will come to our site and sample bird populations every two weeks starting in September. My master’s thesis project is also related to this case study, and I will assess the biodiversity of native pollinators at Eden Hall Campus and create a framework for future monitoring.

csi-chatham4A student performing a biodiversity assessment

We are working to build a community of interested faculty and staff members who can continue the data collection and assessment over the 20+ year development span. Emphasizing collaboration between all invested parties has created interesting dialogue between the academic side and practitioner side, and has opened doors on both ends for cooperative work into the future as Eden Hall Campus is developed. Our CSI work will continue into the upcoming academic year with another graduate student taking over through a work study position. Through these new relationships with faculty, staff, student, and community members, we are confident that information will be gathered and utilized to monitor the social, economic, and environmental performance as Eden Hall Campus is transformed from the ground up into a sustainable campus.

Professor Molly Mehling and student Research Assistant Katie O’Neill are participating in LAF’s 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and conducting field research at Chatham’s new Eden Hall Campus in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania.

An Unproven Hypothesis: The Cal Poly Pomona CSI Team's Dead End with Property Values

By Barry Lehrman, Assistant Professor and Mallory Piazolla, MLA Candidate, California State Polytechic University Pomona

The West San Gabriel River Parkway Nature Trail in Lakewood, California is a remarkable transformation of 19.5-acres of gopher-ridden, dusty and weedy powerline right-of-way into a verdant native floodplain ecosystem in a stable working-class suburban community. Situated on the western concrete bank of the 58-mile long San Gabriel River in southern Los Angeles County, the Nature Trail is the first project to realize the goals of the 2006 San Gabriel River Corridor Master Planand features a reclaimed water irrigation system, native vegetation, and 5,000 linear feet of decomposed granite trails.

csi-cpp1Mallory walks the trail with Steve Lang of MIG and Kerry Musgrove of Lakewood Recreation & Community Services Department.

Prior to the construction of the Nature Trail, several property owners had illegally encroached onto the right-of-way with fences and landscape plantings, necessitating an involved public outreach effort led by MIG. On a May site visit, we observed that many adjacent property owners had built new fences and added gates to access the trail, visibly demonstrating the value of proximity. We wondered if we could document the economic benefits of the conversion of the right-of-way into a nature trail. Even if we couldn’t prove an increase in economic value, there was plenty of anecdotal evidence that the social value of the neighborhood was up thanks to the new trail and vegetation.

Hypothesis: The Nature Trail increases adjacent property values compared to the unimproved powerline right-of-way.

Since the trail is being built in three phases (Phase I was completed in 2003, Phase II opened in 2007, and Phase III is still awaiting funding), the undeveloped Phase III would be an ideal control subject for our analysis.


Data on residential property values for the streets adjacent to the three phases of the West San Gabriel Greenway Nature Trail were collected from, providing useable information for about 26 properties: 14 from Phase I, 5 from Phase II and 7 from Phase III. Los Angeles County Assessor data was reviewed but not used for our analysis as their assessed values are out-of-date and notoriously do not reflect current market conditions. To compare the properties, the cost per square foot for each property was calculated based on the estimate (Zestimate) of the current property value. This value was chosen to reduce variations caused by market fluctuations and when the homes were last sold. An ANOVA analysis comparing the cost per square foot values of the three phases was run using StatPlus.

csi-cpp2Spreadsheet used to calculate the cost per square foot for each adjacent property based on the Zestimate of the property value

Conclusion and Discussion

The West San Gabriel River Nature Trail does not provide a statistically significant increase in property valuation when comparing Phases I and II to the unimproved Phase III. A false negative finding might be attributed to several factors: our crude means of analysis, the small data set (n=26), or the raw data from Zillow since Zillow may calculate home prices based on data from a wider neighborhood that obscures block-by-block variations in home prices that we sought to identify.

A more sophisticated analysis (using hedonic regression) with a larger sample that controls for the fluctuating housing market/macro-economic conditions, or that uses longitudinal data over the past decade or longer may still yet validate our hypothesis. Another possibility is that property value increases will emerge in the future as the Nature Trail’s landscape matures and people who place a premium on access to the trail seek to move into the neighborhood.

The staff from the City of Lakewood embraced this last possibility on our August 2 site visit. They observed that there is an ongoing demographic shift from the original homeowners who bought houses in the 1960s and 70s to an influx of younger (and more active) families. We discussed conducting a survey of the neighborhood asking about perceived values for the Greenway. The city may undertake such a survey in the future if there are specific uses for the results that justify the effort and expense.

There is a large body of research on the economic benefits provided by parks and landscape amenities. The theory of Landscape Urbanism is even based on this premise — that Central Park in New York City generated the intense urban vitality of the surrounding neighborhood. It is just more difficult to prove than we anticipated.

Professor Barry Lehrman, with Graduate Research Assistants Mallory Piazzola, Edna Robidas, and Eric Haley are participating in LAF’s 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and working to quantify the landscape performance benefits at four project sites around metropolitan Los Angeles. Professor Lehrman is the director of the Los Angeles Aqueduct Centennial Project at Cal Poly Pomona.

Reflections on the CSI Experience

By Delia Lacson, MLA Candidate, University of Washington

Through participating in LAF’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) program several times in different capacities, I have developed a strong foundation of skills in assessment, communication, and analysis for a wide variety of different landscape performance benefits. 

Last summer I worked as a Research Assistant with CSI Research Fellow Ken Yocom to develop and publish three LPS Case Study Briefs. In the fall, I was a Teaching Assistant with Professor Nancy Rottle’s Sustainable Urban Landscapes Seminar, in which students used the CSI model to tackle the production of a dozen case studies. In the spring, I continued to work with LAF to tie up loose ends on those case studies, and this summer I’m again working as a CSI Research Assistant, this time under Professor Rottle.

These opportunities have given me:

  • a clearer understanding and awareness of the availability, benefits, and limitations of calculation tools and monitoring data,
  • stronger technical skills as a writer and editor, and
  • the skills and tools necessary to manage a small project.

My experience with LAF and CSI has led me to continue working in the nonprofit field as a consultant. I am currently developing case studies for a nonprofit group here in Chicago, providing research and analysis with a focus on advancing and integrating education, urban agriculture and technology.

Thanks to all of the reviewers and program developers at LAF for working to make this very unique form of advocacy and education in the field of landscape architecture a reality and for helping me build skills that have taken me into a very exciting new field of research, design, and development

Research Assistant Delia Lacson is participating in LAF’s 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and working with Research Fellow Nancy Rottle to finalize and develop case studies for a number of projects in the Pacific Northwest.

Onsite at the Frontier Project with CSI's K-State Research Team

By Jessica Canfield, Professor and Elise Fagan, MLA Candidate, Kansas State University

Case Study Investigation (CSI) Research Fellow Jessica Canfield and Research Assistant Elise Fagan recently spent a week onsite at the Frontier Project in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. Located east of Los Angeles, in the Inland Empire area of Southern California, the Frontier Project is a non-profit demonstration facility, which showcases a variety of Green technologies and sustainable design practices, including a LEED Platinum building, water-efficient gardens, a green roof, and a rainwater harvesting system.


csi-ksu2Collecting irrigation data onsite

While on site, Jessica and Elise met with project Landscape Architect Claire Latané from EPTDESIGN, who gave them a guided tour of the Frontier Project’s landscape, explaining in detail all of its sustainable features. Claire also discussed the project’s history, and provided an in-depth overview of the design and implementation process, while illuminating some valuable lessons learned. In collaboration with Shelley Cirrito, the Public Affairs Representative of the Cucamonga Valley Water District, they were able to collect data on the irrigation system, as well as the number of visitors and educational programs offered by the Frontier Project since its opening in 2009.

csi-ksu1Elise and Claire sift through project records at EPT Design in Pasadena, CA.

The researchers also spent a day at the EPTDESIGN office in Pasadena. Claire arranged for team K-State to give a presentation to the in-house studio staff (and remotely to Irvine staff) about LAF’s Landscape Performance Series. Jessica highlighted the Case Study Briefs and CSI program, and discussed her methodology for identifying and quantifying landscape performance benefits (developed from her participation in CSI-2011).  Many great questions and discussion points came about afterwards in a collaborative dialogue, focusing on how landscape performance could and/or should be incorporated into the design process.

While in LA, the K-State team met up with Barry Lehrman, the CSI Research Fellow from Cal Poly Pomona, who took them on a guided tour of the Pomona campus and the Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies, as well as to various sites around downtown Los Angeles. It was a great opportunity to exchange stories about landscape performance, and to share insights about the Case Study Investigation processes.

The visit to California not only gave the K-State team great clarity about the design and implementation of the Frontier Project, but it offered them opportunity for an engaging dialogue between practitioners and other academics about the future of landscape performance.

Professor Jessica Canfield and student Research Assistant Elise Fagan are participating in LAF’s 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and working to quantify the landscape performance benefits at three project sites.

Teaching Stewardship in Childhood Education

By Mark Storie, BLA, Byoung-Suk Kweon, PhD, PLA, and Christopher D. Ellis, PhD, PLA, ASLA

csi-umd1Our Case Study Investigation (CSI) research team at the University of Maryland is currently investigating landscape performance benefits of K-12 school environments. One site that we are studying is the Willow School in Gladstone, New Jersey. Teachers at the school actively look for ways to use the landscape in their class for teaching.

School hallways are probably one of the best places to view the evidence of environmental education. During our school visit, we had the opportunity to meet with second grade teacher Peter Parker who gave us a brief tour of his classroom and explained how his class uses the campus landscape and sustainable features in subjects like history, science, and English. Looking at the student work that was featured throughout the classroom and hallway, we could see just how involved his students are in actively studying the landscape.

Every year the second grade science class conducts field observations of the school’s constructed wetland pond. csi-umd2These findings are compiled and displayed in the hallway just outside of the classroom, showing students the increase in numbers and varieties of wetland fauna over the last 9 years which helps to shed light on the health of the wetland ecosystem.

In the English class, Mr. Parker’s students learn the functions of the school’s wastewater system while writing short descriptions of how the system works. Diagrams accompany the written descriptions to help students visualize how the system functions through each step in the process.


In the history class, students uncover the history of the land by excavating 1-foot grids, much as an archaeologist would do when uncovering a historical site. Over the last 9 years, Mr. Parker’s students have compiled an impressive collection of artifacts, some dating back to pre-colonial times. Students are able to view these artifacts and make conclusions about how the land had been used previously. According to Parker, when students gain a historical perspective of the school’s site, they begin to ask deeper questions about how our culture’s relationship with the land has changed over time.

csi-umd4All students at the Willow School have opportunities to engage with the landscape. Each grade level takes part in the school’s community vegetable and fruit gardens which provide the school’s cafeteria with fresh local produce. Recycling programs in the school provide roughly 280 pounds per year of nutrient rich compost that is incorporated into the community garden.

Evidence of active engagement can also be seen in the hallway. Outside of every classroom students place their outdoor boots which are often times covered in mud on rainy days. Looking down the hallway at all the boots from the many classrooms, one can see just how many students are actively engaged in the landscape.


Professors Byoung-Suk Kweon and Christopher D. Ellis and student Research Assistant Mark Storie are participating in LAF’s 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program. Their case studies will quantify the benefits that school landscapes have on school children, teachers, staff, their surrounding communities, and the enivornment.