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Landscape Performance Research: The Economics of Change

By Jason Twill, LEED AP and Stuart Cowan, PhD

The built environment and building industry together account for about 50% of U.S carbon emissions and contribute to a web of significant, interconnected problems: climate change, persistent toxins in the environment, dwindling supplies of potable water, flooding, ocean acidification, habitat loss and more. Over the past decade, great strides have been made in terms of energy efficiency, water and waste consumption, and sustainable materials, and a critical mass of innovative professionals has emerged.

Yet a major barrier to the broad adoption of advanced green building practices is our 20th century real estate financial system. Current lending approaches, appraisal protocols, and valuation models do not reflect the true externalized costs of doing “business as usual” nor do they fully capture the additional environmental and social benefits created by building green. These barriers affect the perceived financial viability of environmentally sound projects and slow innovation and market growth. To fully realize true sustainability, a shift in assessing and evaluating real estate investment is urgently needed.

The Economics of Change is a groundbreaking effort to do just that.

The overarching goal of The Economics of Change is to shift mainstream real estate practices to document the full value of a built environment that is compatible with healthy, natural systems. Correcting real estate incentives and improving financial models will shift investment toward buildings and infrastructures that are financially rewarding, resilient, socially just and economically restorative.

eoc-shiftA project's integrated value includes its traditional market value AND the environmental and social value it provides. This research seeks to shift the investment barrier to the right through recognition of integrated value, potentially unlocking a trillion dollars of investment towards restorative building.

In the first phase, The Economics of Change team created a prototype tool to demonstrate how the ecological and social benefits of green buildings can be monetized in real estate investment models. The Phase 1 report The Economics of Change: Catalyzing The Investment Shift for a Restorative Built Environment provides an overview of ecosystems services that can be applied to the built environment, an analysis of current and future real estate investment frameworks, and a description of the prototype tool.

Phase 2 will expand and pilot the tool in an interactive and open-source format while deepening ties to leading practitioners within the financial industry to leverage the shift from theory into action. Next steps include researching and assembling economic case studies of a select group of high-performing developments, including completed Living Building projects to identify cost data, economic models, environmental/cultural/social benefits realized and analyze costs/benefits.

With the real estate market on the verge of recreating itself, the time to align valuation models with energy policy and to integrate ecosystem services into the economic framework is now. This is a bold project, but we believe that the world needs more bold ideas, and an overhaul of what we value and how we value is at the heart of the paradigm shift we need to move towards a restorative future.

The multidisciplinary research team behind The Economics of Change comprises experts in the fields of ecosystem services, real estate finance, appraisal and sustainable design. The International Living Future Institute serves as the lead agency on this project. Jason Twill is the originator of The Economics of Change project and President of Systems Economics LLC. Stuart Cowan is a research team member and the co-founder of Autopoiesis LLC. For more information, contact Richard Graves, Executive Director of the International Living Future Institute at richard.graves@living-future.org.

LAF To Offer LPS Research Grants Up To $22,500

The Landscape Architecture Foundation is pleased to announce an exciting research opportunity to analyze the content of the Landscape Performance Series Case Study Briefs.

Since 2010, LAF has sponsored research that evaluates landscape performance to make the case for sustainability through design excellence.  To date, 70 Case Study Briefs hlps-grant-anncmntave been compiled as a free online searchable database of exemplary high-performance landscape projects with quantified benefits.

LAF is now accepting Expressions of Interest from teams or individuals who would assess the metrics and methods for quantifying the benefits employed in current case studies, and make recommendations to improve the techniques used in future cases. Grantees will produce two significant documents: a guide to the case studies and their associated benefits, and an evaluation of the metrics and methods for assessing landscape performance. Researchers will be invited to present their findings at the annual CELA conference.

Expressions of Interest are to provide team qualifications and examples of related work, and address project intent, objectives, scope, project significance, and research design methods. A project plan is to be proposed that includes a timeline and the expected outcomes. EOIs are not exceed 1,200 words. EOIs will be evaluated for relevant experience, and clarity of stated goals, outcomes and timeline of project milestones that allows adequate review of interim products by LAF. Origniality, technical merit, effectiveness, and project feasibility will also be considered.

For details, please reference the full announcement here. Submit EOIs by email to Linda Ashby at lashby@lafoundation.org by December 15, 2012. Up to six successful applicants will be invited by December 31 to submit detailed proposals (which will be due January 31, 2013).  Grantees will be announced in February 2013.

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.