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Piecing Together the Performance of Streetscapes

By Yue Zhang, MLA Candidate and Pamela Blackmore, BLA Candidate, Utah State University

csi-usu1USU's CSI Research Team: Pamela Blackmore, Yue Zhang, and Professor Bo Yang

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once proclaimed, “I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets.” We likewise have developed an appreciation for great streets in our research which has focused on four top-notch streetscapes. They are not merely the linear corridors that connect destinations. A well-designed street improves recreational opportunities, promotes the surrounding economy, provides art and social spaces, saves energy for the city, improves public safety, and helps solve stubborn environmental problems. It is intriguing to see the impact a street has on surrounding communities.

csi-usu2South Grand Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri (Image: Design Workshop)

With the power that streets have, many parties must be involved in the design. The evaluation of a streetscape also becomes an intertwined, multi- disciplinary effort. This process becomes one massive jigsaw puzzle, with everyone bringing a piece. However, unlike a traditional puzzle, the pieces do not come prepackaged. Collaboration becomes essential as we hunt for pertinent data. The Case Study Investigation (CSI) program is not merely student-faculty research; instead, it is a team effort of the design firm, client, users and visitors, government agencies, the research team, and LAF (and the list goes on…). As you can imagine, having discussions with everyone that contributed to an incredible design is exhilarating! Many people bring valuable pieces to the puzzle table.

Once we’ve found the pieces, analyzing them is the most challenging, yet rewarding part. It is this stage where the performance benefits become apparent. The projects are not analyzed against some standard set for all. Instead, a project is deemed successful based on the original objectives the design set out to fulfill.  This analysis is taking evidence-based design to a new dimension, and we are learning new methods to gauge the quality of our own work.  This is the reason we will never approach design the same way again.

The information we’re generating can be used as evidence to justify landscape improvements everywhere. It is exciting to participate in this research, which is preparing landscape architects for the future. There are some holes in our puzzle, due mostly to time and data constraints. We will closely watch future LPS Case Study Briefs in anticipation that participants will find new methods and techniques so that everyone can see the complete picture!

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Pamela and Yue reflect on the CSI research process and what they've learned by participating in CSI.

Professor Bo Yang and student Research Assistants Yue Zhang and Pamela Blackmore are participating in LAF’s 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program. They are documenting the performance of four streetscape projects in Colorado, California, Missouri, and Iowa.

Landscape Performance Research: School Environments and Student Performance

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

lp-studentperformanceChildren need safe, healthy, and stimulating environments in which to grow and learn. During the school year, children can spend 6 to 8 hours at school where the environment plays a critical role in child development. Much time is spent in the school yard or traveling to and from school. These environments need to be carefully planned and designed to optimize experiences that support education, health, and stewardship. The problem is that many school children are exposed to unhealthy environmental conditions, school yards that lack opportunities for nature experiences, and commuting options that favor vehicle travel over walking or biking.

Research shows that children are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution than adults: Their lung function has not been fully developed and their airways are narrower than adults’. They breathe in greater levels of polluted air relative to their weight and spend more time outside when air pollution levels are the highest. Dr. Byoung-Suk Kweon at the University of Maryland and Dr. Paul Mohai at the University of Michigan found that of 3660 schools in Michigan, 62% were located in areas with the highest levels of air pollution from industrial sources. Their study, funded by the Kresge Foundation, found that air pollution concentrations are statistically significant predictors of student performance. This was true even after controlling for factors such as the rural, suburban, or urban location of the school; average expenditure per student; size of the student body; student-teacher ratio; and percentage of students enrolled in the free lunch program. Their work with Dr. Sangyun Lee and graduate student Kerry Ardwork was recently published in the prestigious journal Health Affairs. The team is currently drafting a school siting policy for the state of Michigan that focuses on healthy environmental conditions.

csi-brentelemOutdoor classroom at Brent Elementary School, Washington, DC

Understanding how trees and other urban infrastructure influence school performance is essential for improving childhood well-being. Dr. Christopher D. Ellis and Dr. Kweon at the University of Maryland investigated the effects of trees and other physical environments around Detroit schools on elementary and middle school children’s school performance. They measured the amount of tree canopy around the schools, the distances to highways, housing vacancy rates, proximity to waterbodies, etc. within one kilometer of 897 public schools (grades 3 through 8) in the Detroit Metropolitan area. These measures were evaluated against the average performance scores measured by the Michigan Educational Assessment Program test. They found that urban nature such as trees and open water have positive impacts on children’s school performance while close proximity to highways and high housing vacancy rates have negative impacts. Their analytical procedures controlled for school enrollment and socio-economic status. Funding for this study was provided by the US Department of Agriculture McIntire-Stennis program.

lp-greenroofsignStudent artwork on the green roof at Sidwell Friends School, Washington, DC

This summer, Drs. Kweon and Ellis, along with research assistant Mark Storie, are participating in LAF’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and working to quantify the benefits that school landscapes can have on school children, teachers and staff. Their case studies are documenting ways that stormwater and wastewater systems, nature playgrounds, and schoolyard gardens integrate into school curricula, support outdoor activities, increase outdoor classroom use, and influence test scores and attendance rates.

It is important to show that today’s educational environment is far more than just buildings and books. If the world outside is designed to be safe, healthy and rich with learning opportunities, then school environments can be places in which children flourish and succeed.

Dr. Byoung-Suk Kweon is an Assistant Professor and Dr. Christopher D. Ellis is an Associate Professor in the Department of Plant Science & Landscape Architecture at the University of Maryland.

LAF and Landscape Performance at CELA

We’re looking forward to the upcoming Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) Conference March 28-31 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

Four sessions on Landscape Performance will kick off the Research & Methods track with presentations and panel discussions from LAF staff, 2011 CSI Research Fellows, and other key leaders in the movement to set performance objectives and quantify benefits.

cela-conferenceLAF will also have an exhibitor table, hold a training for the soon-to-be-announced 2012 Case Study Investigation (CSI) Fellows, and host a roundtable discussion on developing a national research agenda. More details are below.

We hope to see you there!

 

Research & Methods Track

Session 1 - Wed, 2:00-3:20pm
Landscape Performance: Documenting the Benefits of Sustainable Landscape Solutions

Panel with:      Barbara Deutsch, ASLA, Landscape Architecture Foundation
                          Linda Ashby, ASLA, Landscape Architecture Foundation
                          Forster Ndubisi, PhD, ASLA, Texas A&M University
                          Christopher D. Ellis, PhD, University of Maryland

 

Session 2 - Wed, 4:30-5:30pm
Landscape Performance: Methods to Quantify Benefits

Presentations:   Lessons from LAF’s Landscape Performance Series
                              Heather Whitlow, Landscape Architecture Foundation

                              The Salvation Army Kroc Community Center Case Study
                              Mary Myers, PhD, RLA, ASLA, Temple University

Panel with:          Heather Whitlow, Landscape Architecture Foundation
                              Christopher D. Ellis, PhD, University of Maryland
                              Elen Deming, PhD, University of Illinois
                              Mary Myers, PhD, RLA, ASLA, Temple University

 

Session 3 - Thur, 8:30-9:50am
Presentations Based on 2011 Case Study Investigation (CSI) Research

Presentations:   Water Conservation in Master-Planned Communities in the Intermountain West
                              Bo Yang, PhD, Utah State University

                              Assessing Social Benefit of Green Space: POE of Lubert Plaza
                              Mary Myers, PhD, RLA, ASLA, Temple University

                              Performance benefits: The case of the Kresge Foundation Headquarters
                              Byoung-Suk Kweon, PhD, University of Maryland

                              Measuring Landscape Performance at Uptown Normal Circle and Streetscape
                              Christopher D. Ellis, PhD, University of Maryland

 

Session 4 - Thur, 10:00-11:20am
Moving Forward: Integrating Landscape Performance in Academia and Practice

Panel with:         Barbara Deutsch, ASLA Landscape Architecture Foundation
                             Kristina Hill, PhD, University of Virginia
                             Nancy Rottle, ASLA, University of Washington
                             Kurt Culbertson, FASLA, Design Workshop

csi-v2158x129

 

2012 CSI Research Fellows Meeting

Wed, 3:30-4:20pm
Meet & Greet and Training
Case Study Investigation (CSI) program overview from LAF staff for faculty members selected as 2012 LAF Research Fellows.

 

Research Agenda Roundtable

Thurs, 1:00-2:00pm
Toward a National Research Agenda
Work session with LAF, Design Workshop, invited academics and pratitioners to discuss the benefits, pros, and cons of a national research agenda for the profession.

Landscape Performance Research: Monetizing the Value of Green Infrastructure

By Kalle Butler Waterhouse, Associate ASLA

In an era of shrinking coffers and aging infrastructure, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) and American Rivers joined forces to outline a method for more accurately valuing the benefits of green infrastructure. The resulting guide, The Value of Green Infrastructure: A Guide to Recognizing Its Economic, Social and Environmental Benefits, establishes a framework that gives planners, builders, and city officials the ability to choose infrastructure investments that are effective, efficient, and long-lived.

cnt-valueofgiThe guide fills an information gap that has until this point hampered widespread deployment of green infrastructure, defined here as a network of decentralized stormwater management practices such as green roofs, trees, rain gardens and permeable pavement. The Value of Green Infrastructure brings together current research on green infrastructure performance and presents methods for calculating related benefits in water management, energy, air quality, climate, and community livability.

This work extends initial research conducted in support of CNT’s Green Values Calculator, a web-based tool that quickly compares the performance, costs, and benefits of green infrastructure to conventional stormwater practices.

Working through the complex nature of green infrastructure and its benefits can be overwhelming, and a methodology can quickly become murky at best. To begin, CNT’s research team conducted an extensive literature review, much of which is in the reference section of the guide. The team then produced a report, Integrating Valuation Methods to Recognize Green Infrastructure’s Multiple Benefits, and presented it at the 2010 international Low Impact Development conference.

Working with an advisory group of outside experts in the field of green infrastructure and economic benefits of ecosystem services, the team created diagrams to represent the complex relationships of potential benefits for the five practices included in the guide: green roofs, tree planting, bioretention and infiltration, permeable pavement, and water harvesting.

gi-benefits-call-out2The research team then organized a workshop around these complex ideas. National experts brainstormed over the challenges and considerations required when working through an economic valuation of this nature. The ideas that the workshop elicited helped shape the robust layout and framework now represented by the guide, including the eight benefit sections (water, energy, air quality, climate change, urban heat island, community livability, habitat improvement, and public education) and the two-step valuation and quantification process.

CNT believes the guide is very effective in compiling the various benefits of green infrastructure and establishing a logical framework for valuation. The Value of Green Infrastructure is intended to help decision-makers begin informed conversations about the true costs and benefits of green infrastructure solutions. While the economic values it presents are based on current research, many of the estimates likely undervalue the true worth of green infrastructure. More research is needed to put more accurate dollar figures on the full range of environmental, economic and social benefits.

Download the guide at: http://www.cnt.org/repository/gi-values-guide.pdf.
See the CNT Tools in LAF’s Landscape Performance Series Benefits Toolkit.

The Value of Green Infrastructure: A Guide to Recognizing Its Economic, Social and Environmental Benefits was published in January 2011. Kalle Butler Waterhouse, Associate ASLA is a Design Associate with CNT’s Water program. Founded in 1978, the Center for Neighborhood Technology is a Chicago-based think-and-do tank that works nationally to advance urban sustainability by researching, inventing and testing strategies that use resources more efficiently and equitably.

Researching the Benefits of Open Spaces Sacred Places

Over the past 15 years, the TKF Foundation has provided grants to support the design and construction of over 130 public greenspaces that foster peace and encourage reflection. The users and creators of these “sacred places” have noted significant positive responses when people spend time at these sites — some even describe transformational experiences. To verify such anecdotes and provide a better understanding of how these spaces contribute to human health and well-being, TKF’s latest award program includes a research component. 

tkf-umdIn 2012, the TKF Foundation will begin the Open Spaces Sacred Places National Awards Initiative. This new program will fund the creation of sacred spaces designed with the intent to study and communicate the impact this type of urban public greenspace has on users.

“While we know intuitively and anecdotally that nature heals, unifies and uplifts the human spirit, TKF believes there is a growing need to complement these insights with empirical evidence in order to gain wider acceptance, advance understanding, influence policy, and effect systems change.”

The research aspect of the grant program will engage a community of social scientists to apply high quality, rigorous research approaches to generate more complete knowledge about the benefits and impacts that result from user experiences. The findings, including economic valuations of benefits, can become the basis of messages about why it is important to invest in greenspace close to where people live, work, and learn.

From a total funding pool of $5 million, grants will be awarded  to cross-disciplinary teams that conceptualize, plan, design and implement a physical space, conduct associated research study(s) and disseminate findings. More details can be found at www.opensacred.org.

With this unique research initiative, TKF demonstrates thought leadership and will directly contribute to our collective body of knowlege on landscape performance.