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Landscape Performance Research: Generating Quadruple Net Value in the Landscape

By Dennis Jerke, ASLA

At Texas A&M University in College Station, a diverse group of graduate and undergraduate students is undertaking a unique research project to measure the value generated by holistic urban design on six Texas projects.

The research project is being led by Geoffrey John Booth, the Youngblood Endowed Professor of Land Development in the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University. The research is being conducted by students in his fall Master of Science in Land Development class, a group that includes 40 graduate students and 26 undergraduates from architecture, business, agriculture, landscape architecture, planning, construction science and real estate disciplines.

univstthomasUniversity of St. Thomas Campus Life Mall

The research is rooted in metrics associated with the “quadruple net bottom line” as articulated in my book, Urban Design and the Bottom Line: Optimizing the Return on Perception, which examines a variety of projects, such as Chicago’s Millennium Park and the San Antonio River Walk, to demonstrate impact on their communities and the landscape. The basis for measuring this added value is a four-category matrix that evaluates factors such as safety and security, public access, transportation choices and context sensitivity (social/cultural value); taxable value, adjacent property values and occupancy rates (economic value); permeable surfaces, storm water management and rainwater harvesting, carbon
footprint (environmental value); and green space, public art and water features (sensory or visual value).

marketstreetMarket Street at the Woodlands

The students are studying four projects designed by TBG Partners, a Texas-based landscape architecture and planning firm for which I serve as a principal, as well as the restoration of two historic Texas courthouses. The students are using Urban Design and the Bottom Line as their textbook to study the quadruple net value generated by these projects. They are measuring the economic, social/cultural, environmental and sensory value that the design of these projects has created — what we call “the design dividend.”

The projects include Town Lake Park, a large urban park in downtown Austin; Market Street at The Woodlands, a mixed-use town center north of Houston; the Dallas Design District, an area encompassing more than 160 acres of city blocks, open space and Trinity River frontage in north Texas; and the University of St. Thomas campus life mall, a university commons in the heart of this Houston-based campus.

whartoncountycourthouseWharton County Courthouse

In addition, the students are studying restorations of the 1884-built Lampasas County Courthouse and 1889-built Wharton County Courthouse. They are gathering data/metrics from a variety of sources in each category to identify the measurable quadruple net impact of each design on the landscape and larger community. The Texas Historical Commission will use the data to evaluate the impact of investments in courthouse renovations on the downtown districts in these county seats.

This research is a pilot program to develop a database of projects and value metrics that demonstrate project performance and real estate value uplift. We plan to share our findings with the Landscape Architecture Foundation to add case studies and methods for quantifying landscape performance benefits to the Landscape Performance Series.

Urban Design and the Bottom Line: Optimizing the Return on Perception was published by the Urban Land Institute in December 2008. Dennis Jerke’s background as a landscape architect includes managing the design of more than 300 significant projects across the Southwest. The book combines his passion for communicating the value that landscape architecture generates in Urban America with his 32 years of experience in adding design value in the urban built environment.

Two New Blog Features Coming Soon

Starting in mid-October, the LAF Blog will include two new regular features. 

The first highlights our 2010 Olmsted Scholars and the exciting things that these young leaders are doing. Every Monday, our blog will feature a guest post from an Olmsted Scholar discussing his/her research and activities. This month we’ll hear about National Olmsted Scholar Emily Vogler’s research on infrastructural regionalism, Lauren Lesch’s experience with the Presidential Management Fellows Program, and Finalist Amanda Jeter’s efforts as founder and editor of Root, an annual publication for landscape architecture students and professionals.

The second regular blog feature will highlight innovative research and initiatives related to landscape performance and quantifying the benefits of landscape. We’ll start with a guest post from Texas A&M Adjunct Professor Dennis Jerke, who is leading a new multi-disciplinary Land Development class, in which teams of students visit projects and gather data to assess social/cultural, economic, environmental, and visual value. We hope to make this a monthly or bimonthly feature, so if you know of other initiatives that are advancing our knowledge related to landscape performance or would like to contribute a post, please let us know.

Landscape Performance Tools

On Sept 11, LAF presented one of the ASLA Annual Meeting’s Education Sessions. Landscape Performance Tools: Metrics for Culture and Environment attracted a standing-room-only-crowd as LAF’s Barbara Deutsch introduced and moderated a discussion of landscape performance and metrics with presentations from Heather Whitlow of LAF, Susan Olmsted of Mithun, and Beth Meyers of the University of Virginia.aslaedsession

Heather Whitlow stressed the value of having quantified benefits and outlined methods for quantifying landscape performance, using examples from case studies in LAF’s Landscape Performance Series database.
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Susan Olmsted discussed how metrics and aesthetic are incorporated into Mithun’s 7 Design Principles and offered insights on how metrics can be used throughout the life of a project, citing examples from Seattle University, High Point, the Lloyd District, Epler Hall, and the Olympia, WA Capitol Landscape Master Plan.
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Beth Meyer challenged the frequent assumption that aesthetics and beauty are synonomous and offered examples of the different ways that aesthetics perform. After presenting recent landscape assessment typologies, she cautioned that aesthetic performance is in danger of being overlooked because it is not as readily quantified as ecosystem services. She closed by challenging the profession to continue to seek ways to measure this essential component of landscape performance.

Feedback on the presentations was extremely positive, and the Education Session received coverage in ASLA’s Blog The Dirt.