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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.

LAF to Participate in Park(ing) Day

On Sept 20, streets across the world will look a bit greener. It’s Park(ing) Day, an open-source day where citizens, designers, and organizations reclaim parking spaces to create temporary public parks. The global event seeks to raise awareness about the high percentage of our built environment devoted to parking – and the many other creative, inspiring ways this space could be used.

LAF is partnering with ValleyCrest Landscape Companies to design and build a pop-up park near the LAF office in downtown Washington, DC. Located in front of 1900 M Street, LAF’s parklet will offer downtown workers a lighthearted break in a newfound green space. Open from 11am to 2pm, the park is designed to be “light touch,” and will be constructed with re-purposed materials including haybales, dogwood trees, and grasses, either borrowed or destined for another home. The centerpiece will be a social and recreational element designed to introduce a little bit of friendly competition for visitors – come visit and see for yourself!

2013 should see active involvement in Park(ing) Day throughout DC, including from the District Department of Transportation, which recently announced its first-time participation. Since its inaugural year in San Francisco in 2005, Park(ing) Day has inspired participation across 6 continents, with parklets designed across North America and Europe, as well as in New Zealand, Indonesia, and South Africa.

parkingdayheader

Coming Soon: 20 New LPS Case Study Briefs

Now through November, LAF is rolling out 20 new case studies that showcase the environmental, economic, and social benefits of high-performing landscapes. Visit the LPS Case Study Briefs page to see the latest or follow us on Facebook , LinkedIn , or Twitter to get updates as each new case study is released.

The case studies are part of LAF’s award-winning Landscape Performance Series, an online, interactive set of resources to help you quantify benefits, show value, and make the case for sustainable landscape solutions. By year-end, the searchable database will contain over 80 Case Study Briefs.

From Dallas’ Klyde Warren Park to private residences in Aspen to the 1,000-acre Napa River Flood Protection Project, the new case studies represent a range of geographic locations, scales, project types. Documented landscape performance benefits include:

  • newlpscasestudiesFilters 4.5 million gallons annually, 100% of surface runoff from 12.5 acres of developable properties adjacent to the park. (Milliken State Park, Detroit, MI)
  • Improves the quality of life for 99% of 108 park users surveyed. (Buffalo Bayou Promenade, Houston, TX)
  • Creates an estimated 1,373 construction jobs and 1,254 permanent jobs on properties developed as a result of flood protection. (Napa River Flood Protection Project, Napa, CA)
  • Provided a hands-on educational experience for 450,000 people. (Chicago Museum of Science and Industry Smart Home, Chicago, IL)
  • Increased calmness in 57% and made the hospital stay easier for 50% of patients surveyed. (Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Park Ridge, IL)

These exemplary projects were documented through LAF’s 2013 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program, a unique research collaboration that matched eight LAF-funded faculty/student research teams with practitioners from 20 participating design firms. The teams worked together to develop methods to quantify performance benefits and produce the Case Study Briefs.

Through the Landscape Performance Series and Case Study Investigation programs, LAF is working to advance our collective knowledge of landscape performance and lead the profession to routinely design with specific performance objectives, collect performance data, and integrate landscape performance in design education. The next CSI program will run March – August 2014 with applications available starting in October.