News & Events

LAF News

Stay up to date on LAF!

Subscribe to RSS Feed

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.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Design Intervention to Preserve Salmon Habitat at Pebble Mine

By McKenzie Wilhelm, 2013 National Olmsted Scholar

Since 2008, Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), a mining conglomerate with mineral rights to the Pebble Claim, has been preparing to submit permits for one of the most controversial mine proposals of the 21st century. The proposed mine is located between the Nushagak and Kvichak rivers in the Bristol Bay watershed. These two major tributaries are home to the most prolific salmon runs in the world. Indigenous Alaskans in this area rely on salmon for subsistence and have traditions thousands of years old that entwine the salmon’s survival with their own.

pebblemineMining in such close proximity to this unparalleled salmon habitat has the potential to cause social, economic and ecological damage as natural resources are unearthed and toxic by-products are created. It is, however, unrealistic to believe that these processes will be abandoned to preserve fragile ecosystems given the size and net profit projected for this deposit.

The copper and gold deposit at the heart of the conflict is valued at US$500 billion in profit, rendering strip mining in this sensitive ecology almost inevitable as PLP continues to pour money into preparation for the permitting process. (Pebble Limited Partnership, Project Environmental Baseline Document, 2004-2008. Accessed on web: Sept 4, 2013) Political tensions are continuously escalating between local tribes, PLP, the EPA and Alaska’s state government, adding complexity to the sociocultural context. While many continue to contest the mine’s construction, no research is being focused on how to minimize the threatening effects of mining processes on fragile salmon habitat.

Instead of fighting what seems to be an inevitable mining venture, a balance between conservation and devastation can be forged through design intervention. Olmsted Scholar David Shimmel and I are currently conducting site analysis and research about the mining process to understand its possible impacts on the Alaskan ecosystem. Our proposal shifts the focus of design from the human to the salmon. Salmon interact with a wide variety of habitats as they migrate from Bristol Bay to headwater spawning grounds within the PLP’s mining claim. By preserving the condition of salmon habitat, the surrounding community is also protected.

We are currently working through the site analysis phase of the project that will develop into one or more models for proposed design intervention as the year progresses. This summer, as the 2013 National Undergraduate Olmsted Scholar, I plan to visit the site with David to share our research with local communities. We will be in Alaska for about two weeks documenting this sensitive ecological area at the peak of salmon harvest and networking with local leaders and tribes to establish connections that can help refine and inform our continued research.

McKenzie is currently working on her undergraduate thesis entitled “Big Data at Pebble Mine: Toward a Critical Theorization of Empiricism in Site Analysis” and working on Pebble Mine research with MLA candidate David Shimmel at Ohio State University. She is also a part-time intern at NBBJ in Columbus, Ohio.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Landscape Architects and the Microbrewery Renaissance

By Lee Streitz, 2012 University Olmsted Scholar

The renaissance of microbreweries is under way. In the last thirty years, there has been a 1700% increase in the number of independent breweries in the United States. Similar to when the number of wineries and vineyards increased dramatically in the late 1990s, independent brewery growth offers the profession of landscape architecture tremendous opportunities to shape these spaces to ensure that they too become sustainable and choice outdoor destinations.

Unlike wineries though, the growth in the number of independent breweries has not been paired with an increase in sales. This dichotomy means that more breweries are competing for a share of a shrinking market, causing the field to become more competitive.

streitz-cherrytreerender2The gasholder at this former industrial plant was repurposed to function as a beer garden, waypoint, and community performance area.

Because of the increased competition, there appears to be a need for breweries to distinguish themselves from their competitors and build customer loyalty through positive environment- based memories. Research has demonstrated that flagship stores can be valuable tools in strengthening customer relationships and distinguishing one’s brand from competitors (Think of the flagship Apple and REI stores).

While traditional Bavarian biergartens are charming outdoor spaces, which are enjoyed by many, they do little to distinguish themselves from each other. If designed thoughtfully, breweries’ industrial locations could function well as pilgrimage flagship locations, offering a range of dynamic experiences that balance the needs of customers, the environment, and the industrial needs of a brewery.

But why are landscape architects particularly important in shaping brewery locations? Why not charge architects or interior designers with the industry makeover? The quick answer is water.

streitz02-waterdiagramA mid-size brewery can generate enough wastewater annually to fill 17.5% of the Empire State Building.

The brewing industry uses a substantial amount of water in their daily processes. While breweries vary widely in their water efficiency, when calculated liberally, a brewery may produce as much as ten pints of wastewater for every pint of beer. This wastewater has long been considered a nuisance by the brewing industry. Many local water municipalities charge high fees or outright reject brewery wastewater into their systems, as the total suspended solid (TSS) count of particulates may be too high for their system, or the pH levels and temperature may be outside of allowable standards. This means that many breweries have to treat their wastewater onsite through mechanical means prior to sending it down the drain. 

With the use of innovative ideas by landscape architects, wastewater can be treated onsite, used to create habitat, and reclaimed to irrigate planted areas on the brewery site, bringing both interest and
sustainability to the space.streitz03-waterside

Prior to graduation in May, I completed a master’s report at the University of Arizona that examined the use of industrial locations as outdoor amenities for both the brewing industry and their patrons. My project specifically looked at a former gasworks plant in Berlin, Germany to examine its design potential as an industrial adapted reuse project into a brewery, beer garden, community amenity, and dynamic outdoor space. The report also examined the use of constructed wetlands as a means of onsite wastewater treatment that could also create wildlife habitat, and function as a community amenity.

After graduating from the University of Arizona in May 2012 Lee moved to San Francisco where he is working as a design associate for Carducci & Associates near Fisherman’s Wharf. Coincidentally, one of his first projects with the firm was working on the design of a brewery and beer garden associated with a Whole Foods in the Bay Area.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Reframing the Argument for Sustainability

By Peter J. Ellery, 2012 University Olmsted Scholar

One of the most difficult tasks we face as professionals charged with shaping the environment is convincing our clients, and indeed the public at large, of thinking more sustainably. While this argument has ebbed and flowed in response to political and social conscience, it has been mostly moot in influencing any large-scale social change. This is in spite of the consequences now being seen in some areas of the world and scientific forecasts that paint an even bleaker future. So why is this sustainability argument highlighting our self-demise not working?

In response to this issue, art and architectural historian Dr. Rodhri Windsor-Liscombe, suggests, “The arguments for sustainability tend to be excessively technical or technocratic, preoccupied with instrumental or technological solutions, cast in cataclysmic narrative or disconnected from individual behaviour. Each provides opportunities for the average citizen to either detach themselves from the problems and potential solutions, or to expect others, be they corporations or governments, to correct the situation.” If we continue to frame this argument using strategies that emphasize cataclysmic or punishment-based “stick” scenarios to threaten us, is change likely?

We currently use a “pathogenic” or disease management approach when arguing for sustainability and changes to the general public’s behavior. This approach emphasizes the identification and treatment of the problem, along with the consequences we face should the problem continue unresolved. In contrast, a better approach might be to utilize a “salutogenic” perspective  to promote sustainable choices and behavior change. This perspective emphasizes environmental choices and behaviors because of the inherent value they provide, rather than what they help us to avoid. Central to this approach is the framing of the sustainability argument so that it falls within the general public’s sense of coherence. This involves presenting the argument to the public in a way that is meaningful, manageable, and comprehensible to them.

For the sustainability argument to be meaningful, it has to allow the public to see the value in making these decisions. For example, rather than using scientific or economic concepts like carbon footprint, or carbon credits, that have little meaningful value to the general public, consider highlighting the positive rewards that result from sustainable choices. This could involve showing how a green roof helps businesses save money in terms of heating and cooling costs, and for some, this might be the right motivation needed to make this choice. However, the general public will also respond to rewards that are intrinsic to the environment as well. For example, the argument for a green roof or space around a building being dedicated to vegetation and trees only, becomes much more compelling if you emphasize the smell of the garden in spring, the view of the garden from overlooking office windows, and the opportunity for those working in nearby areas to have lunch and relax in a shaded, park setting.

Second, the ideas offered in sustainability arguments must be manageable. They have to fit within the public’s life patterns and daily routines. The public is unlikely to walk or ride a bicycle to work in locations where vehicular traffic is a safety issue, the weather is extreme in either heat or cold, or if the distance is excessive. For those required to wear a suit as part of their job, even providing shower and changing facilities at work may not be enough if they do not have the extra time needed for the commute or to bathe and dress in their daily routine. Emphasizing strategies and design features that address these concerns, and yet still fit within the public’s existing lifestyle is essential to successfully arguing for sustainable behaviors.

Finally, we have to consider what the public finds comprehensible to their way of life. For example, it is not that the public is against the idea of wind powered energy systems. As Steffen Danborg of the Danish Wind Industry Association explains, the public in general is very supportive of wind-powered energy. The concern, in many cases, lies in the locating of windmills and windmill farms that generate this energy. It is simply difficult for some people to accept such an intrusive addition to their current understanding of the environment in which they live. As a result, arguments like noise, electro-magnetic interference, and visual eyesore (either real or perceived) are used in the “not in my backyard” counter arguments, which often lead to legal action and delays in wind power development. Interestingly, research shows public opinion changes in a positive and accepting direction, once people become acclimated to the presence of the wind turbines. The moral here is that our sustainability arguments need to consider the amount of change that those involved will need to accommodate (again, either real or perceived), and either introduce the change slowly so that acclimation can occur, or use a less intrusive approach so that change occurs within parameters of our understanding of the world in which we live.

The essential point being made here is that we need to change the way in which the case for sustainable development is presented. It is time to acknowledge that the current cataclysmic threat or “stick” approach to the sustainability argument has provided little motivation for change in public behavior, and instead, more meaningful, manageable and comprehensible strategies are necessary to get this sustainability “mule” moving in the right direction.

Peter Ellery is in his final year of a Master of Landscape Architecture degree at Ball State University. His thesis explores the expansion of educational opportunities through environmental design and looks at how an effectively landscaped environment can both enhance and extend the primary school curriculum of a Building Tomorrow Foundation Primary School in rural Uganda.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Making Connections - Science, Urgency, and Opportunities

By Matthew Gonser, 2012 University Olmsted Scholar

Our built environment reflects how and what we learn and what we believe is important to convey. The physical plan and its operations should embody our sustainability values. Also, “Students aren’t dumb.”

This quote, from my boss, Dr. E. Gordon Grau, the Director of the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program (UH Sea Grant), preceded the above declaratory principles during a 2-day conference held this past August at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM). The conference, which focused on rainwater catchment, was organized by UH Sea Grant with the support of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) and the Center for a Sustainable Future. One of the many outcomes from this 2-day event was a statement of principles and list of potential pilot projects that reflect the science, urgency, and opportunities for optimizing our water resources here in Hawai‘i. Certain principles and projects spoke directly to the role of the University in demonstrating forward thinking and prudent activities as they relate to education, planning, design, and operations of our facilities and grounds.

We at the University have the privilege to conduct research, educate, and dream. But it should also be acknowledged that our facilities have as much influence on students (if not more) as what they are being taught in the classroom. That is, are we walking the proverbial walk?

gonser01UHM campus from above Mānoa Valley looking toward Diamond Head Crater and Waikīkī

UHM is located at the opening of Mānoa Valley on the island of O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. As the flagship campus of the public UH system, and one of O‘ahu’s greatest users of municipal water, UHM has the obligation to lead and demonstrate innovative solutions and practices to manage our constrained resources, through any number of activities: efficiency of fixtures, rainwater catchment, education and conservation efforts, stormwater retention and recycling for non-potable uses, etc. To that end, it is not only the responsibility of students to push for moving beyond status quo practices, but so too should faculty and staff (while still towing a fine line between advocacy and disrespect for a collective University operation).

An aspect of my position as an extension educator is making connections: to connect knowledge with users, research with application, and people with people. I am in the fortunate position of helping those with energy and resources connect with those who are interested in learning, collaborating, and contributing additional resources. Though UHM does not have a Landscape Architecture (LA) program, it does have faculty members with LA degrees (including two new hires that began this semester in the Department of Urban & Regional Planning and in the School of Architecture, respectively). It also has a variety of expertise and a culture that understands the necessity of seeking out others to co-produce with.

gonser02The Sustainability Courtyard from the balcony of UH Sea Grant

From just two days of faculty, staff, students, government officials, and trade experts sitting, talking, and listening, we have realized shared interests and a willingness to support each other. One manifestation is developing an entry into the EPA’s Campus RainWorks Challenge, a student competition for innovative green infrastructure design on campus. A target project is the ambitiously named “Sustainability Courtyard”. This conspicuously verdant and busy courtyard, with food vendors, a free bike pump, art installations, and a student managed edible garden, provides the opportunity to highlight the science, urgency, and opportunities for optimizing our water resources.

gonser03The courtyard is an active campus node.


With a diverse team of designers, scientists, engineers, and artists involved, the project also demonstrates the fruitfulness of working together. As the campus updates its Landscape Master Plan and Drainage Plan, a student supported vision for conservation, re-use, and celebration of water resources could be an important step in the continued efforts for the campus’ physical plan and operations to embody our sustainability values.

Since March, Matthew has held the position of Extension Faculty, Community Planning and Design, with the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program. His work includes research for and organization of workshops, conferences, publications, and other outreach and education materials for (and in cooperation with) citizens, community groups, non-profits, and public agencies, focused on livability, sustainability, and resource management issues in Hawai‘i.