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Olmsted Scholar Feature: Measuring LID Performance in Utah

By Pamela Blackmore, 2013 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

Landscape architects in the Intermountain West face unique challenges when trying to implement low-impact development (LID) strategies. LID applications are rare in these semi-arid environments, and studies analyzing LID effectiveness in these environments are even fewer.

I have been part of an interdisciplinary research team at Utah State University, currently analyzing the effectiveness of LID in Daybreak, an award winning, master-planned community and the largest green infrastructure project in Utah. It is recognized as one of 500 U.S. new urban sites and has been featured as a Case Study Brief in the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF)’s Landscape Performance Series.

The landscape architecture firm Design Workshop, was responsible for the design of open spaces, including the 65-acre, man-made Oquirrh Lake, stormwater canals, and 25 acres of constructed wetlands, bioswales, and infiltration basins. This integrated stormwater management system was designed to infiltrate runoff up to the 100-year storm event, reducing infrastructure costs by an estimated $70 million.

daybreak02Water quality monitoring in a vegetated swale

Our study objective is to analyze the effectiveness of LID strategies on stormwater quality in Utah’s unique environment and climate. Two sub-watersheds within Daybreak were compared, each with different stormwater management strategies. One watershed focuses on LID designs, such as using a bioswale to detain and filter runoff. The other watershed largely follows traditional stormwater management methods. As the lead research assistant of this study, I am helping analyze key contaminants that are associated with urban development, including heavy metals, total suspended solids (TSS), nitrogen, and phosphorus.

Preliminary results show the effectiveness of the LID strategies in Utah, particularly when comparing first flush samples. It is evident that there are huge reductions in these pollutants as a result of the LID designs.

daybreak03Watershed 1 has traditional stormwater infrastructure, whereas Watershed 2 incorporates LID strategies.

Daybreak’s integrated stormwater system has already provided salient enviromental and economic benefits. Our current study further demonstrates performance of the LID applications, and the data can inform future designs. The research team will present project findings at the 2013 American Water Resources Association conference to international, multidisciplinary audiences. Our communication of successful LID projects such as Daybreak is expected to further promote sustainable design and demonstrate the benefits of high performing landscapes.

Pamela graduated from Utah State University (USU) with a BLA in 2013 with Departmental Honors. She has worked as a LAF Case Study Investigation (CSI) Research Assistant for two summers on eight case studies, participated in Dr. Bo Yang’s Daybreak stormwater quality study, and continues to research and write articles with Dr. Yang. She received USU’s 2013 Honor’s Thesis Award, Faculty Medal and Laval Morris Travel Fellowship. She is currently working as an intern in Design Workshop’s Salt Lake City office.

CSI Research: Using Jan Gehl and the Toyota Prius to Assess Landscape Performance

The 2013 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program officially ended on August 9 with each of the faculty-student research teams presenting their work during a 1.5-hour, information-packed webinar. The researchers described a variety of exemplary projects, the research process, and some of the key environmental, economic, and social benefits that they were able to document.

This year’s teams demonstrated creativity and ingenuity with the methods they used to observe and quantify performance. Two of the teams went in to detail about the methods and processes they pioneered and tested through CSI.

The University of Oregon research team discussed their experience using Jan Gehl’s Public Life Public Space survey to assess the social benefits of three exemplary public spaces: Portland’s Director Park, Randall Children’s Hospital, and Dutch Kills Green in Queens.


The Utah State University research team presented two innovative methods they developed to assess landscape performance on three residential sites in Aspen, Colorado: (1) A visual analysis of landscape buffering and (2) A bioclimatic analysis of Human Comfort Zone.

Want to learn more? Look for the resulting 20+ LPS Case Study Briefs from the 2013 CSI program in Sept/Oct, as we publish several each week.

New Landscape Performance Track at CELA

The Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) has announced that it will offer a new “Landscape Performance” track at its annual conference, starting in 2014. The CELA conference focuses on recent research and scholarship in all aspects of landscape architecture.

cela-logo“The decision to offer this track underscores the explosion in interest and number of proposals that CELA has seen in recent years on this topic,” said CELA President Sean Michael, PhD.

“Landscape performance should be fundamental knowledge in landscape architecture, though it is not highly developed yet,” said CELA Vice President of Research Ming-Han Li, PhD, PE, PLA. “The new track will help ensure that the latest research and thinking on landscape performance is a regular part of the dialogue at the CELA conference.”

Landscape Performance joins ten track categories used to organize the conference sessions and papers: Design Education & Pedagogy, Communication & Visualization, Design Implementation, Urban Design, Landscape Planning & Ecology, Research & Methods, Service Learning & Community Engagement, Sustainability, People-Environment Relationships, and History, Theory & Culture. Members of the academic community and others submit abstracts to each track for peer review which, when accepted, are presented at the annual conference and published in the proceedings.

LAF will co-chair the new Landscape Performance track along with a representative from CELA. The move is the latest step in an ongoing partnership between the two organizations. In 2011, the CELA Vice President of Research began serving on the LAF Research Committee, and last year, CELA and LAF leadership began serving on in an ex officio capacity on the other organization’s Board of Directors.

For more than 90 years, CELA has been concerned with the content and quality of professional education in landscape architecture and with generating high quality research. 

CELA Conference Session Wrap-Up

Last week at the annual Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) Conference in Austin, Texas, LAF presented new insights on landscape performance gleaned from the Landscape Performance Series (LPS) and the Case Studies Investigation (CSI) program.

cela2013Executive Director Barbara Deutsch and Programs Manager Linda Ashby participated in four sessions, presenting alongside past CSI Research Fellows, student Research Assistants, and other colleagues. LAF’s sessions at CELA included panels on evaluating landscape performance for environmental, social, and economic benefits, as well as a panel on applying science to design for and evaluate performance. These sessions offered participants an introduction to both the LPS and CSI research programs, and a critical look at the research methods employed.

The first session introduced CSI and the concept of quantifying performance benefits. The session offered the opportunity for audience members to discuss the program’s approach, as well as participants’ strategies for quantifying specific social, environmental and economic benefits. Participants introduced their own experiences: for example, Jessica Canfield (Kansas State University) presented her CSI research evaluating the Frontier Project, a demonstration project in California which seeks to encourage visitors to incorporate energy efficient and water-wise practices in their homes. Canfield’s team studied the site’s rainwater infiltration, irrigation water needs and projected carbon emissions and analyzed attendance records and surveys with on-site employees. Canfield and others, including Mark Storie (University of Maryland), also discussed their strategies for obtaining data and the varying levels of data availability at different types of sites.

Many of landscape performance sessions focused on research methods. At the panel on environmental performance, Barry Lehrman (Cal Poly Pomona) described his experience “measuring the (not so) unmeasurable,” introducing the tools used by his CSI research team, including affordable temperature gauges and water quality meters. In response to presentations by Lehrman and his fellow panelists, moderator Kristina Hill, PhD (UC Berkeley) described the recent context for measuring landscape performance, noting that until recently many metrics were discipline-specific, leading to “very little synthesis.” She challenged those attending the session to “be critical in our reflection on these metrics” so researchers could continue to advance their strategies and obtain a holistic understanding of the benefits of landscape design.

cela-panel1Participants in CELA sessions also discussed means of communicating the concept of landscape performance benefits to policy makers, other design professionals, and the general public. Presenting in a panel on economic benefits, Dennis Jerke (Texas A&M) noted that “we have to be good communicators… and explain what the metrics mean and how the value has been generated.” Similarly, Mary Myers, PhD (Temple University) noted that comparing a project’s performance to its initial goals can be a helpful strategy for engaging clients and others in the discussion. To Myers, “the metrics should measure the extent to which goals were met” whether in terms of stormwater mitigation, improved biodiversity, economic development or public access.

LAF looks forward to continuing the dialogue started at CELA Conference and bringing the new insights to the 2013 CSI program and its participants.

LAF and Landscape Performance at CELA

LAF, CSI, and landscape performance will be well-represented at the upcoming Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) Conference March 27-30 at the University of Texas at Austin.

cela2013LAF will participate in four panel sessions on various aspects of evaluating landscape performance. There are also a number of presentations from past LAF Research Fellows and student Research Assistants on their Case Study Investigation (CSI) program research and projects. In addition to these Concurrent Sessions, LAF will host a morning meet-and-greet for the 2013 CSI Research Fellows and give updates at the CELA Board Meeting and Administrators Meeting .


Research & Methods Track

Session 1- Wed 3:20-4:30pm (Room: AT&T 203)
Presentations Based on 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) Research

Presentations:   Do Social, Economic and Environmental Benefits Always Complement Each
                              Other? A Study of Landscape Performance
                              Yi Luo, Ming-Han Li, PhD Texas A&M University

                              On the Research Front: 2012 CSI and the Case of Streetscape
                              Bo Yang, PhD, Yue Zhang, Pamela Blackmore, Utah State University

                              Quantifiable Landscape Performance Benefits: The Case of Brent Elementary
                              Mark Storie, Byoung-Suk Kweon, PhD, Chris Ellis, PhD, University of Maryland

                              Strategies for Developing Landscape Performance Case Studies
                              Jessica Canfield, Kansas State University, Bo Yang, PhD Utah State University


Session 2 - Thurs, 8:30-9:40am (Room: AT&T 107)
Evaluating Landscape Performance: Economic Benefits

Panel with:          Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, Landscape Architecture Foundation
                              Bo Yang, PhD, Utah State University
                              Yue Zhang, Utah State University
                              Dennis Jerke, Texas A&M University


Session 4 - Thurs, 1:30-2:40pm (Room: AT&T 108)
Evaluating Landscape Performance: Environmental Benefits

Panel with:          Kristina Hill, PhD, University of California - Berkeley
                              Mary Myers, PhD, Temple University
                              Barry Lehrman, Cal Poly Pomona
                              Ming-Han Li, PhD, Texas A&M University


Session 5 - Thurs, 3:10-4:30pm (Room: AT&T 107)
Applying Science to Design for and Evaluate Performance

Panel with:          Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, Landscape Architecture Foundation
                              Mark Simmons, PhD, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
                              Danielle Pieranunzi, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
                              Deb Mitchell, FASLA, SmithGroupJJR


Session 6 - Fri, 9:00-10:10am (Room: AT&T 203)
Evaluating Landscape Performance: Social Benefits

Panel with:          Linda Ashby, Landscape Architecture Foundation
                              Victoria Chanse, PhD, University of Maryland
                              Bo Yang, PhD, Utah State University
                              Byoung-Suk Kweon, PhD, University of Maryland


Session 7 - Fri, 10:40-11:50am
Two sessions include presentations on 2012 CSI projects:

                             Perception of a Functional Wetland Landscape in a Senior Living Community
                             Mary Myers, PhD and Allison Arnold, Temple University (Room: AT&T 107)

                             Cross Creek Ranch Master Planned Community: Landscape Performance
                             Ming-Han Li, PhD, Bruce Dvorak, and Yi Luo, Texas A&M University and Matt
                             Baumgarten, SWA Group (Room: AT&T 202)


2013 CSI Research Fellows Meeting

Friday, 8:00-8:50am (Room: AT&T 104)
CSI Meet & Greet
Faculty members selected as 2013 LAF Research Fellows and any past CSI program participants are invited to this casual gathering to meet LAF staff, network with colleagues, and exchange information as the 2013 CSI program gets underway.