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New CSI Video Features Research Fellows


LAF Research Fellows are leading the way in helping students find funded research opportunities and providing critical professional development through LAF’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) program. The program’s benefits extend beyond research assistants, and also provide savvy marketing and advocacy tools for practitioners making the case for sustainability.  

In a new video, LAF Research Fellows discuss CSI, and highlight some of its merits for students, researchers, firms, and the landscape architecture discipline. Click here to view.

It’s not just an academic conversation, and it’s not just a practice conversation. This is the time, not to sit on the sidelines, but to get in.
 - Kristina Hill, PhD, Associate Professor, Univeristy of California Berkeley

We need to prove to the rest of the world that we can do those other functions well, and successfully, and over time, and just as reliably as a hard solution.
 - Alexander Robinson, Assistant Professor, University of Southern California

You are upraising a new generation of experts on understanding and measuring performance.
 - Jessica Canfield, Assistant Professor, Kansas State University

Academia can help make that bridge, to make research more readily available to the profession and to clients.
 - Nancy Rottle, Associate Professor, University of Washington

It’s a unique bridge between practice and education –  for students, and for the faculty, and for the firms.
 - Bo Yang, PhD, Assistant Professor, Utah State University

Exploring Performance Metrics: From Downtown Boston to the Italian Countryside

By Jennifer Salazar, PhD Candidate in Urban & Regional Planning and Victoria Chanse, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland

One of the many benefits of participating in the Case Study Investigation (CSI) program has been examining a variety of projects in order to develop metrics suitable for each one. As we’ve investigated and developed potential metrics, we’ve started to uncover some interesting lines of inquiry for theory and practice.

We’ve worked on three fascinating sites, each with a different design emphasis and unique landscape performance benefits. Some of the performance questions that we’ve tried to examine range from the social and economic dimensions (What is the value of green space in a dense urban area? What is the restorative benefit from views of greenery?) to the ecological (What benefits does a water feature in an urban plaza offer to birds?)

EDSA’s Castiglion del Bosco: Cultural Heritage and Tourism Benefits

csi-umd-vc1Jen and Victoria meet with Derek Gagne, Senior Associate at EDSA

The 45,000-acre Castiglion del Bosco in the Tuscany region of Italy is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that operates as a hotel, winery, and private member club. To document performance, we needed to understand and develop cultural preservation and tourism benefits. The distance, language barriers, and the fact that this is a private estate posed a number of challenges, not least of which was to quantify the conservation and restoration of a historic landscape along with the preservation of regional cultural traditions (including design traditions) related to land use and management. For insight on this, we turned to a variety of different resources, including information from the Sustainable Sites Initiative.

Reed Hilderbrand’s Central Wharf Plaza: A Tree Canopy Oasis

csi-umd-vc2The 13,100-sf Central Wharf Plaza provides shade and a place to relax.

The Central Wharf Plaza offers a source of respite in a busy area of downtown Boston, Massachussetts. The tiny plaza’s 26 mixed-species oaks stand in marked contrast to the wide-open swath of nearly treeless parks that cover Boston’s infamous Big Dig. The plaza has been a major draw for downtown workers, student groups visiting the New England Aquarium, and tourists and commuters walking to nearby ferries. In evaluating performance, some of the challenges were trying to quantify carbon sequestration and determine the variety of social benefits such as sitting, pedestrian circulation, occupant experiences, and benefits from views of the trees. Some of these challenges also applied at our third case study site described below.

Sasaki’s The Avenue: New Approaches to Urban Sustainability

csi-umd-vc3Recording observations in The Avenue's central courtyard

This 2.6-acre site in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, DC is a model of transit-oriented development and beautiful, innovative stormwater management design. At a system scale, the project functions well in terms of stormwater collection, wide sidewalks for the high volume of pedestrians, and a beautiful courtyard space with an iconic water feature. At the scale of the plaza, are the more difficult-to-measure but important-to-consider landscape performance benefits. Sounds of the small fountain, cooler areas by the water, and green space provide a wonderful respite from the urban intensity of the adjacent university, hospital, and Metro station. The surprising number of small birds (not pigeons) also add to the experience of the small plaza.

CSI has been a great experience in terms of investigating and exploring which performance metrics are most measurable and useful to assessing a site. The collaboration between academic research and landscape architecture practice is invaluable — it was great to get out and measure how built projects are actually performing and to learn first-hand about the challenges firms face when implementing sustainable design practices.

Professor Victoria Chanse and student Research Assistant Jennifer Salazar are participating in LAF’s 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and working to quantify the landscape performance benefits at three diverse project sites.

CSI Case Study Research: A Tale of Two Cities

By Yi Luo, PhD Student in Urban and Regional Science, PLA, Texas A&M University

This summer our Case Study Investigation (CSI) research team at Texas A&M University documented the landscape performance qualities of four projects. Since two projects are in China and two are in the U.S., we call our study “A Tale of Two Cities”.

The two projects in China are Beijing Olympic Forest Park and Tangshan Nanhu Central Park. Beijing Olympic Forest Park is part of the Beijing Olympic Green and is the largest green public space that has ever been built in Beijing, while Tangshan Nanhu Central Park, located in Tangshan City in northesastern China, is a mine reclamation project that transformed a post-coal mining wasteland into urban recreational public space.

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A one-minute video summary of the Texas A&M team's CSI research process.

In order to collect data, I flew to Beijing to work with the design firm Beijing Tsinghua Urban Planning and Design Institute (TUPDI). While there, I introduced the Chinese designers to the Landscape Architecture Foundation, its mission, and the CSI program. I explained the outcomes and requirements for our CSI projects, showed them samples of previous studies, discussed what benefits could be measured and quantified, and assessed how to collect data within the timeline. Research Fellows Dr. Ming-Han Li and Professor Bruce Dvorak were involved through emails and conference calls. The designers in Beijing Tsinghua Urban Planning and Design Institute were very interested in the CSI program and have been highly supportive, responding to our data requests and questions very quickly. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work on the two China projects. The experience has been unique and invaluable.

csi-tamu1Yi takes soil samples at Cross Creek Ranch.

The two projects in the U.S. are Cross Creek Ranch in Fulshear, Texas designed by SWA and Park Seventeen in Dallas, Texas designed by TBG. Cross Creek Ranch is a master planned residential community that maintains large areas of naturalized landscapes for ecological function, wastewater treatment and passive recreation, while Park Seventeen is a roof garden over a six floor parking garage providing both a visual and physical amenity for residents and office tenants. From these two projects I not only obtained deeper knowledge about ecological planning and roof gardens, but also learned new research methods, including soil and water sampling procedures, UHI mitigation measurement, and storwmater calculations. In addition, by engaging first-year MLA students in part of our onsite data collection process, I learned skills for combining research with class teaching.

I am very honored to be able to work on CSI projects, and this experience has been very rewarding and precious for my future teaching and research career.

Professors Ming-Han Li and Bruce Dvorak and student Research Assistants Yi Luo are participating in LAF’s 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and working to quantify the landscape performance benefits at four project sites in Texas and China.

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.