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Olmsted Scholar Feature: Designing Dynamic Urban Agriculture from Massachusetts to Milan

By Eliza Rodrigs, 2013 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

It’s no secret that ‘green’ is quickly becoming the new ‘black’, with an overwhelmingly strong focus on sustainable development as we move forward toward creating livable environments for the world’s population. Much of this challenge lies in exploring ways we can balance our compact urban environments with the expansive tracts of rural land that produce the food we consume. This perceived dichotomy presents challenges, of course, but more than anything, it provides an exciting opportunity to explore the human footprint and how we use our land.

Submitting to the Olmsted Scholars Program motivated me to reflect upon my own experience, ultimately inspiring my research centered on exploring a balance between the ‘livable city’ and the ‘livable landscape’. In my final design studio at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the focus was placed on designing spatial experiences that reflected elements of cultural landscape heritage in the town of Lawrence, Massachusetts. I chose to develop a project that would not only align with the studio goals but would also push the envelope and allow me to explore solutions to the challenges presented by current global food paradigms.

urbagregionalI created a preliminary model of a multi-scale food system, presented more as an approach than any sort of specific design. It was challenging to try to figure out how to design an abstract system — something that could be implemented elsewhere just as easily — that at the same time was just as unique as the population of Lawrence. I wanted whatever I produced to be focused on the people, as I feel very strongly about socially conscious design.

My project seeks to reactivate the idea of production within the context of a low-income, racially diverse New England mill town through a multi-scale food systems approach. It reestablishes historic social activity by re-creating patterns of social life and reinventing the idea of the ‘greenway’ to reengage the public in the cultural landscapes of Lawrence. It presents a systematic social approach that increases food security, encourages social interaction and environmental stewardship, and facilitates sustainable development from the inside out.

After completing the project, I submitted for a few competitions and was selected as one of 30 finalists for the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition’s Young Earth Solutions (BCFN YES!) 2013 competition. As a finalist, I will be traveling to Milan at the end of November to attend BCFN’s 5th International Forum on Food and Nutrition to both represent my work and learn from others in the field. The top 10 projects will present their work to a jury for further competition, and the top 30 will have their abstracts on display over the course of the forum.

As one of the 30 finalists, I also have the unique opportunity to have my work compete for the ‘Best on the Web 2013’ recognition, an honor that is decided through online voting, which is currently underway. Follow the link, click the scroll dots to find my name, then click ‘Show Details’ to browse the project and vote!

Vote for the BCFN Yes! Best on the Web

This is such an incredible opportunity and I’m so grateful to be recognized by BCFN for the kind of work that continues to inspire me!


Eliza graduated cum laude from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a BSLA in May 2013. She was awarded both a Merit Award and an Honor Award from the ASLA in recognition of her achievement in the course of study of Landscape Architecture. Eliza continues to explore themes of food security, sustainable agricultural development and urban livability in as many contexts as she can. In November she will travel to Milan, Italy to attend the 5th International Forum on Food and Nutrition, a 2-day event that will continue to open doors and fuel the conversation about how to design for a successful future.

LAF to Offer Landscape Performance Education Grants

To prepare for the professional challenges and opportunities of an increasingly evidence-based marketplace, landscape architecture students need awareness, skills, and resources to be able to design for, evaluate, and communicate landscape performance. Yet landscape performance — using metrics to convey the environmental, economic, and social value of excellent design — is not yet an established part of the educational curriculum.

lp-whiteboardTo accelerate the adoption of landscape performance in design education, LAF is offering five $2,500 mini-grants to select university faculty for the Spring 2014. Participating faculty will work with LAF to develop and test one or more models for integrating landscape performance into standard landscape architecture course offerings, such as research and methods, site planning and analysis, design studios, and other lecture or seminar courses.

Download Grant Application

Applications will be due Oct 31, 2013. Each application is to include a teaching proposal, which will be evaluated for quality and feasibility by LAF and an independent committee of educators. Grant recipients will be announced in November 2013.

Grant recipients will work closely with LAF and its Education Committee to finalize the teaching proposals, which will then be implemented during the Spring 2014 semester/term. Formal course evaluations will be used to determine the success and replicability of the teaching models tested, including whether specific landscape performance learning objectives are met.icpifoundation

This initiative is made possible by the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute’s Foundation for Education & Research, whose support will allow LAF to award a total of $25,000 in grants to educators, with five grants made in the 2013-2014 academic year and five in 2014-2015.

Course materials developed through the Landscape Performance Education Grants will form the basis of a new “Resources for Educators” section on the LAF website, which will include assignments, syllabi and other resources to help bring landscape performance into the classroom to better prepare the next generation of design professionals.

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.

LAF's First Park(ing) Day Full of Fun Surprises

LAF celebrated Park(ing) Day in downtown DC on Sept 20, joining thousands around the world who showcased the power of parks by creating temporary parklets in metered parking spaces. Park(ing) Day 2013 saw at least 22 pop-up parks designed and built in DC by nonprofit organizations, design firms, businesses, and city agencies.

parkingday01LAF's park spanned two M St parking spaces.

LAF partnered with Valleycrest Landscape Companies to design and build a “light touch” space, in which all materials were borrowed, repurposed or on their way to a permanent home. Hay bales lined the park to create comfortable seating and shield visitors from traffic, while dogwoods and a street tree provided shade. Purple muhly grass destined for a park in Virginia framed the space, and caught visitors’ eyes from across the street with their distinctive color. The centerpiece of the installation was cornhole — a beanbag toss which lured many a downtown office worker into a break from their routine! 

parkingday05Visitors played dozens of games of cornhole.

More than 150 people spent time in the park during the Friday lunch hour, with hundreds more stopping to observe and photograph the space. For LAF staff, the most memorable part of the day was seeing the many different ways people chose to use the space.

Visitors played dozens of games of cornhole, making an impressive number of three point shots! LAF Executive Director Barbara Deutsch’s cornhole skills were showcased in this Park(ing) Day video report from the local NBC4 station. Bloggers, fellow designers, non-profit professionals, and environmental activists visited the space, many of whom toured the various temporary parks in the city.

parkingday03GW University students spent time sketching.

Patrons of a nearby food truck used the hay bale seating to enjoy ice cream and root beer floats. Several young families stopped by the space to take photos. An art class from George Washington University made a surprise visit, spending about a half an hour sketching the parklet, plantings, and surroundings.

Park visitors expressed how much they enjoyed seeing a bit of extra green in their city. Thanks to all who came by, and many many thanks to ValleyCrest Landscape Companies!

For more photos of the day’s festivities, visit LAF’s Flickr page.

For a social media play-by-play, check out LAF’s Storify summary.