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Good Ol’ Sun-Fearing People and the Social Life of Cool Urban Spaces

By Justin Earl, MLA Candidate; Dylan Stewart, MLA; Ryan Brown, MLA Candidate; Taner R. Ozdil, PhD, Associate Professor; and James Richards, Associate Professor, Program in Landscape Architecture, School of Architecture, University of Texas at Arlington

You could say that the people in Texas welcome the summer with a healthy dose of dread. During the summer here, the sun is not your friend. Urbanites avoid outdoor activity during the hottest parts of the day, and every square foot of shade is a precious commodity.

Aversion to the summer sun and heat is one of the biggest hindrances to Texans buying into the possibility of successful outdoor urban spaces. Naysayers will tell you no one here wants to be outside in the summer unless they have to be. However, in recent years a few landscape architectural projects in Fort Worth and Dallas have taken direct aim at the challenge and have created public landscapes very sensitive to people’s needs for a cooling atmosphere during the hottest months.

This summer, our Case Study Investigation (CSI) research team, in partnership with two design firms (Michael Vergason Landscape Architects and SmithGroupJJR), is working to measure the benefits of two such projects. The team has been happy to find that there are a lot of undeterred folks out at the sites just having fun. While investigating the strong economic and environmental performance of the sites, the team is most keen on exploring  social life by surveying users’ opinions and spending several days mapping and recording on each site to determine what is attracting and retaining the people who utilize these spaces.

Sundance Square Plaza in Fort Worth was designed by Michael Vergason Landscape Architects and is the centerpiece of a downtown revitalization that has been going strong for the past 30 years. 32-foot-high sculptural umbrellas and a bosque of native Cedar Elms provide comfortable shade for sitting and people-watching, while a programmable play fountain and a wave fountain are magnets for energetic children. Al fresco dining for popular cafés on two sides of the plaza as well as a stage for performances draw plenty of visitors to contribute to the ‘sidewalk ballet.’ During our site observation days, we are closely tracking people’s activities on the plaza to understand where visitors seem to congregate and feel comfortable, while taking area temperature readings to determine how the microclimates of the plaza differ from other areas downtown.

csi-utaThe UT Arlington team enjoys the evening shade after a full day of observations at Sundance Square.

AT&T Performing Arts Center: Elaine and Charles Sammons Park, designed by SmithGroupJJR, is the central outdoor open space of the Dallas Arts District. It features the Winspear Opera House’s large protruding shade structure, which provides comfortable dappled shade near a water skin reflecting pool and swaying drifts of native and adapted ornamental grasses and wildflowers. While digital models for shadow studies are in the works, our team is conducting test runs of our observation strategies for the site. So far the most common activity for park users has been taking photographs of the park and the surrounding architecture, with length of stay on the site averaging 14.5 minutes. Of the people who stopped and took advantage of the plentiful seating options in the park, 100% sat in the shaded area.

Our team is working daily to research and document the environmental and economic benefits of the two sites while accumulating responses from our online surveys. We still have many hours of site observation to conduct over the next few weeks and look forward to discovering how both plazas respond to Texas’ summer climate and provide people with enjoyable outdoor environments. 

Research Fellows Taner R. Ozdil and James Richards and student Research Assistants Justin Earl, Dylan Stewart, and Ryan Brown are participating in LAF’s 2014 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and working to document the performance of two exemplary landscape projects in hot, sunny Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas.

Grantors Continue Their Investment in CSI

LAF has received two grants to support the 2014 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program. CSI is a unique research collaboration that matches LAF-funded student-faculty research teams with leading practitioners to document the benefits of exemplary high-performing landscape projects. The 2014 program features 7 research teams working to evaluate the performance of 21 landscape projects, ranging from the Atlanta Belt Line Eastside Trail to the Monticello Visitors Center in Virginia.

driehausfoundation-207wFor the second year in a row, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation has granted $10,000 to support the study of three Chicago-area projects. For 2014, these will be Palmisano Park/Stearns Quarry, Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy, and the Morton Arboretum’s Meadow Lake Restoration.

artworkslogo-f3kFor three straight years, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has supported the CSI program with an Art Works grant, increasing the 2014 award amount to $30,000. The additional funding will go towards the production of two video tutorials on specific methods to evaluate performance. The NEA received 1,515 eligible applications for this round of Art Works funding. Of those, 886 are recommended for grants totaling $25.8 million. LAF is one of only 51 groups and organizations throughout the country recommended to receive an NEA Art Works grant in the Design category.

2014 CSI Firms and Projects Announced

A total of 21 projects – submitted by 14 design firms, one organization and one institution – have been selected for LAF’s 2014 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program. CSI is a unique research collaboration that matches LAF-funded faculty-student research teams with leading practitioners to document the benefits of exemplary high-performing landscape projects.

Participants from each firm will work with the 2014 Research Fellows to evaluate the performance of one or more built projects and produce Landscape Performance Series Case Study Briefs. Projects are selected based on design innovation, availability of baseline information, potential for quantified performance outcomes and the firm’s commitment to the research collaboration.

The selected projects represent a wide variety of typologies, locations and climates. The various public parks include several prominent brownfield reclamations, as well as plazas, streetscapes, creek restorations, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Learning environments include three university campus sites and two exemplar public schools designed to encourage student appreciation of the sciences. Among the selected projects, several have been recognized with SITES and LEED certifications, while others were awarded national research grants from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Commerce.

The 2014 CSI program kicks off in March. Starting in the fall, look for the resulting Case Study Briefs from these participating firms and projects:

  • City of Charlottesville and the Nature Conservancy
    Meadow Creek Restoration
  • EDSAchattanooga-500w-m1tHargreaves' Chattanooga Renaissance Park
    NOVA Southeastern University
    Pompano Beach Streetscape
  • Hargreaves Associates
    Chattanooga Renaissance Park
  • Jacobs/Ryan Associates
    Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy
  • Joy Kuebler Landscape Architect
    Buffalo Public High School 305, McKinley High School
  • Morton Arboretum
    Meadow Lake Restoration & Permeable Main Parking Lot
  • Perkins + Will
    1315 Peachtree Streetatlantabelt-500wPerkins + Will's Atlanta Belt Line Eastside Trail
    Atlanta Belt Line Eastside Trail
  • PWP Landscape Architecture
    Nasher Sculpture Center
  • Raymond Jungles, Inc.
    1111 Lincoln Road
  • Rhodeside & Harwell
    James Madison University College of Integrated Sciences & Technology
  • Rick Manning Landscape Architect
    TREE Neighborhood, Eco Village at Ithaca
  • Rios Clementi Hale Studios
    Pete V. Domenici Courthouse
  • Site Design Groupcavalliere-500wSmithGroupJJR's Doc Cavialliere Park
    Henry Palmisano Park
  • SmithGroupJJR
    AT&T Performing Arts Center
    George “Doc” Cavialliere Park
  • Michael Vergason Landscape Architects
    Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center/Smith Education Center at Monticello
    Plaza at Sundance Square
  • Wolf Lighthall
    Cornell University Nevin Welcome Center

2014 CSI Research Fellows Announced

Eight faculty Research Fellows have been selected for LAF’s 2014 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program. CSI is a unique research collaboration that matches LAF-funded faculty and student research teams with design firms to document the benefits of exemplary high-performing landscape projects as Landscape Performance Series Case Study Briefs.

csi-graphic-v2Research Fellows lead the CSI collaboration, work with firms to identify performance benefits of select projects, develop evaluation methods, and oversee the case study production process. These select faculty members receive an honorarium and funding to support a student research assistant.

The selection process was highly competitive with proposals received from over 27 researchers across the U.S and abroad. The following LAF Research Fellows will lead the seven 2014 Case Study Investigation teams:

  • Chris A. Martin, PhD, Arizona State University
  • Michele Palmer, Cornell University
  • Ebru Ozer, Florida International University
  • Mary Pat Mattson, Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Brad Collett, University of Tennessee
  • Taner R. Ozdil, PhD, University of Texas at Arlington
  • James P. Richards, University of Texas at Arlington
  • Leena Cho, University of Virginia

Congratulations to this impressive group! Later this week, we’ll announce the projects and firms selected for participation — stay tuned!

Coming Soon: 20 New LPS Case Study Briefs

Now through November, LAF is rolling out 20 new case studies that showcase the environmental, economic, and social benefits of high-performing landscapes. Visit the LPS Case Study Briefs page to see the latest or follow us on Facebook , LinkedIn , or Twitter to get updates as each new case study is released.

The case studies are part of LAF’s award-winning Landscape Performance Series, an online, interactive set of resources to help you quantify benefits, show value, and make the case for sustainable landscape solutions. By year-end, the searchable database will contain over 80 Case Study Briefs.

From Dallas’ Klyde Warren Park to private residences in Aspen to the 1,000-acre Napa River Flood Protection Project, the new case studies represent a range of geographic locations, scales, project types. Documented landscape performance benefits include:

  • newlpscasestudiesFilters 4.5 million gallons annually, 100% of surface runoff from 12.5 acres of developable properties adjacent to the park. (Milliken State Park, Detroit, MI)
  • Improves the quality of life for 99% of 108 park users surveyed. (Buffalo Bayou Promenade, Houston, TX)
  • Creates an estimated 1,373 construction jobs and 1,254 permanent jobs on properties developed as a result of flood protection. (Napa River Flood Protection Project, Napa, CA)
  • Provided a hands-on educational experience for 450,000 people. (Chicago Museum of Science and Industry Smart Home, Chicago, IL)
  • Increased calmness in 57% and made the hospital stay easier for 50% of patients surveyed. (Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Park Ridge, IL)

These exemplary projects were documented through LAF’s 2013 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program, a unique research collaboration that matched eight LAF-funded faculty/student research teams with practitioners from 20 participating design firms. The teams worked together to develop methods to quantify performance benefits and produce the Case Study Briefs.

Through the Landscape Performance Series and Case Study Investigation programs, LAF is working to advance our collective knowledge of landscape performance and lead the profession to routinely design with specific performance objectives, collect performance data, and integrate landscape performance in design education. The next CSI program will run March – August 2014 with applications available starting in October.