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Case Study Investigation (CSI) Wraps Up

csi-v2158x129LAF’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) Initiative offically ended on Aug 12 with presentations from the 10 faculty-student research teams. The program generated 25 new Landscape Performance Series Case Study Briefs, dozens of detailed, replicable methods to quantify landscape benefits, and new insights on exisiting research, tools and calculators.

Publication of the new Case Study Briefs will coincide with the 1-year anniversary of the Landscape Performance Series. Starting Sept 10, LAF will publish one case study each weekday, culminating at the LAF Annual Benefit where the 10 Research
Fellows will be recognized. Stay tuned for the official roll-out schedule.

The Summer 2011 CSI program was a pilot for a new collaborative model to document the document the benefits of exemplary high-performing landscape projects and develop methods to quantify benefits. Here are some of the reactions from CSI participants:

csi-millenniumpark “This is such a powerful model — LAF Research Fellow, Research Assistant, and Firm participant(s).”

“CSI engages more people in actively thinking about how to determine, study, report on, and promote landscape performance, rather than just passively agreeing it is a good thing.”

 “The greatest strength of CSI is its potential to bridge the gap between academia and the professional world. Educating about landscape performance is a critical component of good landscape architecture curriculum, because that is csi-southparkultimately what we want to achieve as designers.”

 “I think the CSI program will just keep getting better and better, and more influential, and that means very exciting things for the field of landscape architecture.”

This fall, LAF will pilot another variation of CSI with faculty and students at the University of Washington: The goals and approach are being incorporated into an upper-level MLA graduate seminar course, linked to a landscape performance studio.

Heavy Metals in San Francisco Vegetable Gardens

By Jennifer Gorospe, 2010 Douglas Dockery Thomas Fellowship winner

1-sfgarden-500wThe summer of 2010 is one I will never forget — I visited 100 San Francisco vegetable gardens. There were community gardens with multi-million dollar views and an amazing assortment of backyard gardens. Some featured ponds, rainwater catch- ment, and greywater systems. Many incorporated terraces to take advantage of SF’s steep hillsides, with several “backyard” gardens actually on porches, patios and outdoor stairwells. Some gardens had bee hives or chickens, while others made creative use of whatever resources they had, including neighbor’s yards and broken Ikea furniture as planters. What they all had in common, though, were gardeners eager to know how safe it was to eat items grown there.

With support from the GCA/Douglas Dockery Thomas Fellowship in Garden History and Design and the California EPA’s Environmental Justice Small Grants program, I tested 100 vegetable gardens in San Francisco for 16 different heavy metals, including lead, cadmium, and arsenic. Some of the findings were not a surprise (raised bed gardens tend to have less metals than in-ground gardens), but from an Environmental Justice standpoint, I was surprised to find that high levels of lead are more often found in predominately White neighborhoods. 

2-leadrace-500wThe Asian and African American neighborhoods studied had the lowest median metal concentrations even though these areas include an active superfund site, a California Department of Toxic Substances Control remediation cleanup, plus other known and suspected pollution sources. Also of note was that neighborhoods with older homes (like San Francisco’s famous Victorians) showed higher amounts of lead than areas with newer homes, pointing to a relationship between lead-based paint and garden soil lead concentrations.

3-voltagegarden-500wMost gardeners I encountered through this project did not know how to get their soil tested nor how to determine whether it is safe. I was not able to say what is definitely safe and what is not because in researching the current guidelines for “safe levels” of heavy metals in soil (for residential areas, brown- fields, and gardens), I found the information to be inconsistent, not easily accessible, and confusing to interpret. I believe that the EPA should consider updating its garden soil guidelines to reflect levels published by other agencies and utilize public health agencies to engage gardeners in a dialog about heavy metals and safe gardening practices.

Besides providing free soil testing to local gardeners, I wanted my project to engage the gardening community. To this end, I hosted community meetings, created educational pamphlets, and launched a website, all aimed at helping gardeners eat as safely as possible from their gardens. The website includes the pamphlets, results from the soil testing, and a list of published “safe levels”. It can be accessed at https://sites.google.com/site/healthygardeners.

Jennifer is a master’s degree candidate in Environmental Studies at San José State University, where she is works as a Project Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability.

CSI: The Evidence is Mounting

LAF’s 10 teams of Case Study Investigation (CSI) academic researchers and firm practitioners have been engaged in fast-paced data gathering and analysis to document the performance of important landscape projects in the U.S. and abroad.

csiprogressIn July, members of the Texas A&M team traveled to Chicago to conduct an in-depth, two-week study of Millennium Park, defining and calculating its social, economic, ecological and sensory benefits. Chicago has been a center of CSI activity, with three teams (including universities of Washington and Michigan) working with firms and/or projects there.

Utah State’s research team traveled to New Mexico to analyze post-occupancy data from two of Design Workshop’s “Legacy Design” community developments. In Los Angeles, SWA is lending support to the University of Southern California team in documenting the Cheonggyecheon River restoration project in Seoul, South Korea. From Seattle to St. Louis, and Denver to New York and Philadelphia – great works of landscape architecture are being documented through this collaborative effort, spearheaded by researchers at the University of Washington, University of Virginia, Kansas State, and Temple University.

Although the research continues into August, preliminary findings appear far-reaching. Many teams are documenting increases in biodiversity, often in urban areas, that result from incorporating native plant species into landscape design. Innovations in harvesting, purifying and reusing stormwater are being reported in a format meant to inspire and inform Landscape Performance Series users. Often, teams’ analyses of data collected in post-occupancy evaluations, coupled with field observations, provide in-depth perspectives on landscape performance and implications for sustainability through landscape solutions. The evidence is mounting to support these other unique landscape performance benefits:

  • Job creation, educational and skills-training opportunities
  • Microclimate management to offset the urban heat island effect
  • Local economic revitalization
  • Flood protection
  • Reductions in carbon emissions and toxins
  • Public safety through reductions in crime and accidents
  • Public health through improved air quality and pedestrian accessibility

This growing community of LAF landscape performance experts – currently 10 landscape architecture faculty members, 12 student researchers, and practitioners from 22 firms – are generating compelling evidence that demonstrates the critical role landscape solutions play in sustainable design and project construction.

LAF Staff Changes

This month, LAF is pleased to welcome two new staff members. Matt Alcide joins as LAF’s Development Manager, bringing expertise in grant writing, corporate and government relations, and individual giving. A native of Long Island, Matt most recently worked in development at the Alice Ferguson Foundation, an environmental education nonprofit in the DC area. Dabney Kerr, who helped LAF with development through the spring and early summer, will start with the U.S. State Department Overseas Building Operations, ART in Embassies program as a Public Affairs Specialist in August.

Emily DeDad takes over for Amanda Libman as Office Manager. Emily comes to LAF from Pittsburgh, where she had been working at two small non-profits and taking graduate courses in Development Planning and Environmental Sustainability. Amanda is heading off to pursue a Masters of Science in Survey Research and Methodology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she has received a graduate assistantship to work with the Gallup Research Center.

We welcome Matt and Emily and sincerely thank Amanda and Dabney for all of their contributions!

staffchanges(L-R): Amanda Libman, Emily DeDad, Dabney Kerr, Matt Alcide

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Schoolyard Reform as Urban Greening

by Kate Tooke, 2011 National Olmsted Scholar

Nationwide approximately one-third of all school-age children attend urban public schools. For the most part the campuses of these schools mirror their surrounding city environments: high density neighborhoods mean that schools serving large student bodies have been built on small lots where outdoor space is tight and pavement is plentiful. In an era where education reform, public health and environmental issues are all frequent topics of public debate, these small urban schoolyards have come into focus as places of great potential. They are natural community centers where we can not only encourage active recreation, but also create diverse educational landscapes that foster future environmental stewards and contribute to the ecological health of the surrounding city. Across the country and worldwide grassroots groups are slowly transforming urban schoolyards into playgrounds, parks, edible landscapes and outdoor classrooms with widely variant benefits for children, communities and the environment.

01-ktookeschoolyards01My masters thesis research sought to understand the ways in which schoolyard reform movements contribute to urban greening efforts as well as how renovated schoolyards engage urban youth with urban ecology. As a former Boston public school teacher I chose to focus my study on the Boston Schoolyards Initiative (BSI), which has renovated 78 public schoolyards in the city since 1995. I examined 12 elementary schoolyards in depth, comparing pervious surfaces and canopy covers before and after renovations as well as diagramming and quantifying how vegetated spaces overlap with areas for play and learning in the new schoolyards.

01-ktookeschoolyards02The results indicated some valuable increase in canopy cover (after 30 years of projected growth) as a result of BSI renovations, but little to no impact on the amount of pervious surfacing on school sites. In other words, most renovations in the sample group included some tree plantings, but paved areas generally remained paved. In addition, I found that although play and learning space accounts for over 50% (average) of renovated schoolyards, less than 8% of this play and learning space generally overlaps with ecologically-rich vegetated areas (usually a well-designed but fenced outdoor classroom). I divided the schoolyards into 5 typologies based on their quantities and configurations of play versus vegetated space, and my thesis ultimately recommended one schoolyard typology upon which to model future renovations (see figures).

01-ktookeschoolyards03

Informal interviews with BSI staff, schoolyard designers and school personnel revealed concerns about maintenance, vandalism and safety as the primary reasons that more vegetated and sustainable features were not included in most renovations. My thesis identified a pressing need for a culture of small, safe-to-fail experiments as a way to begin addressing these commonly-faced challenges.

As the 2011 National Olmsted Scholar I plan to develop a design toolkit focused on making ecosystem services transparent, educational and sustainable features of urban schoolyards. I will travel to research successful features at targeted schools around the nation as well as engage school communities and schoolyard designers in dialogue about what systems could work. The research will form the basis for practical, replicable plans of small experiments which can be implemented during renovations and monitored by students as part of an integrated academic curriculum. Please stay tuned to this blog series for updates on my research and the developing toolkit.

Kate graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in May with a Masters in Landscape Architecture. She works at Dodson Associates in Ashfield, MA and is currently engaged in designing an outdoor classroom and natural playscape for a new public elementary school in the city of Westfield, MA.