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Don't think of the city as postapocalyptic. Think of it as pre-urban.  Credit: Detroit Future City

Don’t think of the city as post-apocalyptic. Think of it as pre-urban. Credit: Detroit Future City

Erin Kelly, Associate ASLA, was giving me the side eye. We were sitting in a Salvadorean restaurant on Livernois, wolfing down hot food after a bleak circular tour of blighted neighborhoods that ring Detroit’s revitalizing downtown core. I had been talking about DesignInquiry, the group of designers I’d come to town with to check out the city and try to understand what design’s role might be here. Kelly thinks she’s seen quite enough of our type in the short time she’s been working in Detroit: parachuting in from thriving cities, Instagramming ruin-porn pictures shot from the safety of rental cars, and hopping back on the plane after a few days.

There has been a lot of urban gawking in Detroit, and it doesn’t help, really. And Erin Kelly needs help. There’s so much to do. When we first talked, Kelly was wrapping up a partial deconstruction (as opposed to straight demolition) pilot project managed by NextEnergy, where she was a Detroit Revitalization Fellow before moving to her current position at Detroit Future City. The project has had her working with deconstruction and demolition contractors, community development groups, geologists, and academic researchers, to take apart and dispose of materials for 10 houses in the vibrant Springwells neighborhood. The goal was to try to understand what the economic and environmental impacts will be for taking down some of Detroit’s 80,000 vacant properties—labor, hauling, disposal, the works. The idea is that they can determine the right combination of timing, muscle, and environmental mitigation to make deconstruction a viable model, as well as a job-creation machine.

Credit: Mandy Moran/Detroit Future City, top left and bottom. Detroit Future City, Top right.

Credit: Mandy Moran/Detroit Future City, top left and bottom. Detroit Future City, top right.

The pilot project could completely change the way demolition is done here and nationally. Environmental conditions in Detroit are already harrowing without the kind of toxic dust that demolition kicks up: The lead levels and asthma rates for children are three times the national average. And Detroiters need jobs, like the ones deconstruction can provide. Like all of the work I saw and heard about in Detroit, Kelly’s work has community engagement embedded in the process from the outset—a dialogue among people living and working in the city that is rich, clamorous, and ongoing. Translating the deconstruction metrics to the public is just as critical as analyzing them.

As I tried to comprehend why someone trained as a landscape architect at Harvard is working on deconstructing buildings, I began to appreciate the scope of the opportunity for landscape architects here. It’s colossal. To understand why, you can begin with the Detroit Future City Strategic Framework, released in early 2013 as an outline for planning Detroit out of its widely reported and over-Instagrammed slump.

The Detroit Future City framework seems to have captured some of the more interesting ideas in landscape architecture and urban planning over the past 10 years. Funded by the Kresge Foundation, a Detroit-based private philanthropy, the planning process was led by Toni L. Griffin, an urban planner then at Harvard, who brought together a team from both in and outside Detroit to rethink the city, including the local firm Hamilton Anderson Associates and Stoss Landscape Urbanism in Boston.

Credit: Detroit Future City

Credit: Detroit Future City

The framework has five elements: economic growth, land use, city systems and environment, neighborhoods, and land and building assets. The notion of landscape as infrastructure runs through all of them. The idea of the landscape as a driver of economic, environmental, and social benefits isn’t new, but the weight of responsibility for Detroit’s recovery that is put on the shoulders of landscape solutions is formidable. It’s why landscape designers like Kelly are working on deconstruction projects, which ultimately produce open space that must then be made to work for the city and its people, as well as on more traditional blue and green infrastructure projects. It’s not the first urban plan to think big and pull in the most progressive planning ideas of the day, but it may be one of the first in the United States in which landscape architecture is the biggest arrow in the quiver.

Like most urban master plans, Detroit Future City is a framework that sets priorities, provides organizing principles for land use, tags areas for various kinds of development, and prioritizes economic growth and job creation over other civic functions. And like many urban plans, there is the potential for winners and losers. Griffin is teaching at the City College of New York now, but if you watch her 2013 TED Talk, “A New Vision for Rebuilding Detroit,” she seems to take in stride what is at times a contentious process of sorting through issues of social equity in Detroit’s urban plan. But Griffin is unambiguous about what the Detroit Future City framework should spell out for Detroit: “Not what it was, but what it could be.”

Credit: Detroit Future City

Credit: Detroit Future City

The plan has been critiqued by Peter Hammer, the director of Wayne State University Law School’s Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, for an inadequate accounting of Detroit’s brutal racial history (and its activism) as a major piece of context. This is a fair point—you can’t have a future in Detroit without a reckoning of the past. But even knowing that, the plan’s evocation of possibility is contagious. Reading it produces a semimystical belief that a well-planned and well-designed city based on sound sustainable principles could solve most of Detroit’s problems. This belief may be fairly common to urban planning in general, which needs to believe a little bit in utopia in order to pick up a pen. And maybe you have to be slightly evangelical to work in Detroit these days.

Kent Anderson, ASLA, came to Detroit in 1978, and his firm, Hamilton Anderson Associates (founded with the architect Rainy Hamilton Jr.) has been working in Detroit for more than 20 years. The firm was brought in on Detroit Future City by Griffin, and one of the firm’s architects, Dan Kinkead—Anderson calls him one of the most brilliant he’s ever known—eventually left to become the director of projects for the new Detroit Future City’s implementation office. Anderson, with multiple projects in the firm’s portfolio for transit, planning, and design around Detroit, has a shrewdness that comes from having been around for a while, without the cynicism that sometimes comes along with working long-term with a challenging municipality. Anderson has solid opinions about what is going to work, and why or why not, but he’s not overly worried about bumps along the road. “We’re inventing the system as we go along to make Detroit work. There’s bound to be some toes stepped on,” he says.

LAM_11Nov2014_Detroit-172

Credit: Detroit Future City

 

Detroit Future City is an exercise in vision that runs more than 350 pages. It outlines Detroit’s possible future based on a large collection of data about Detroit’s past and present, and has shaped many of the landscape solutions. Chris Reed, ASLA, the founding principal of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, was brought in early on to look at ecological landscapes and open space, and he believes the data-based maps that came out of the process are one of the more compelling parts of the project. These maps—of vacancy, of property ownership, of open space, to name just a few—have allowed the citizens and the government to start to see new perspectives on the underlying problems that have been hobbling Detroit.

Despite the enormous amount of vacant land—some 20 square miles of occupiable land in Detroit is vacant—the patchwork of city agency ownership, along with a relentless tax auction cycle, was making it impossible to assemble enough land to offer to an interested developer, hindering any potential efforts at job creation. “There were many neighborhoods where a whole suite of public agencies owned 50 to 80 percent of the land,” Reed says. Now, he says, they’ve got a pretty good idea who owns what, and they can start to get everyone in a room to talk about a cohesive strategy for land use. Reed says that the thoroughly landscape-based Detroit Future City plan offers a prospect for “city making over the next century,” one he finds an amazing challenge. “For me, it’s a place unlike any other. In some ways, Boston, New York, and San Francisco would kill to have the opportunities that Detroit has to create new open space and new greening.”

The energy from the land use mapping continued after publication of the plan. Projects to map every house and parcel in Detroit’s blighted neighborhoods and develop accurate data on land use and ownership are now being run by the tech start-ups Loveland Technologies and Data Driven Detroit. One of the most dynamic, Motor City Mapping collects and digitizes information on Detroit properties. No doubt this is a great help to the real estate speculators looking to pick up a deal, but the project’s central aim is to put information and tools in the hands of Detroiters so they can begin to take steps toward arresting the blight that is destabilizing their communities.

The plan also produced maps showing the spatial relationship between where employment happens and where people live that revealed

Credit: Detroit Future City

Credit: Detroit Future City

the kind of structural problems that have kept many Detroiters in poverty. Of a population of just over 700,000, only 70,000 Detroiters live and work in the city, which is understandable with only one job for every four people in Detroit (by comparison, there are 2.58 jobs for every person living in Washington, D.C.). A staggering 111,400 people who live in the city must commute outside its boundaries to work, and 163,500 people who don’t live in Detroit are working there. That kind of daily migration in a city of 142.9 square miles reflects a number of complex problems, but it also suggests that it wouldn’t be enough merely to create new jobs; viable diverse transportation networks would be critical for any new jobs to be in reach of Detroiters. People without cars have to rely on endless bus commutes to get to work, which can wreak havoc on families with school-age children.

Jamison Brown, ASLA, thinks that transportation planning could be a way to make sure that the benefits of the new Detroit are equally shared. Brown, a landscape architect and founder of LivingLAB, has spent his career working in and around Detroit, and he left the engineering firm Wade Trim, where he was vice president of planning and environmental design, to found LivingLAB in part to address the social equity issues in the neighborhoods outside downtown’s now-booming core. He points out that Detroit is one of the most segregated cities in the country, and although the downtown’s walkable rebirth is good news, “they are not living the same experience as the lower-income African American city is living.”

The kind of work LivingLAB does is focused on multimodal transportation, which Brown sees as a way to tie together the new employment districts with the residential neighborhoods and build on the local initiatives to stabilize those neighborhoods against the effects of blight. Ninety percent of the office’s clients are municipalities or nonprofits, a less profitable sector than private clients, but “this work is so much more profound and fulfilling,” he says. Brown is frank about the long-standing racial, economic, and environmental injustices that have created the impoverished communities of Detroit today. “Whatever the historical debt that is owed is not coming. We do pro bono work because they deserve to have good design.”

Brown is feeling the ground move a bit these days. Projects in various stages of development include conceptual plans for the city’s first protected bike lanes, an Inner Circle Greenway plan, and design development of a new public park on a vacant city block owned by DTE Energy, the utility company. LivingLAB also recently completed a feasibility study sponsored by Wayne State University for citywide bike sharing—bike paths aren’t much use to people who don’t have or can’t afford bikes, after all—and some of the bigger projects they’ve won have started moving forward. Brown attributes this new momentum in part to the development energy happening downtown as well as an increasing recognition of nonmotorized transportation and a move away from “fortresslike” corporate development.

When you talk to landscape architects working in the city, reconnecting Detroit is a theme that comes up a lot. The oft-reported vacant land statistics don’t give you a sense of what it feels like to be on the street—how windswept and lonely even the main avenues can feel just because the scale of the city is so vast. It’s not so much that it feels postapocalyptic, as some of the more tired media tropes might have it; it’s more that it feels pre-urban. You can imagine what it might have been like to be in Chicago as the first railroads were coming in, or, well, in Detroit before the car. The sense of separation is palpable.

Credit: Hamilton Anderson Associates

Credit: Hamilton Anderson Associates

Large-scale transit studies such as the ones Hamilton Anderson is working on for corridors like Woodward Avenue include bus rapid transit and light rail alternatives, but they may not ultimately be profitable. Anderson says they have a bigger role than profit: city building. He calls it “part of the social suturing process” and says that ridership, though necessary, isn’t the most important thing to them.

For Detroit, with its high vacancy rate, the resulting drop in city services, and devastatingly low employment, the focus is now on consolidating resources where they can be most beneficial and building on neighborhood initiatives that are already working. Many of these, like Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, the recipients of a 2014 Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Cooperative Agreement grant from the EPA, already have landscape-intensive projects under way.

With the thicket of issues Detroit is facing—consolidation and connectivity, neighborhood stabilization against blight, environmental degradation, and better schools and job training—it becomes easier to understand why the word “landscape” appears 315 times in the Detroit Future City plan, and why this vision of green and blue infrastructure, open space networks, and recharged urban parks is crucial to making Detroit’s vision of a future city come to pass.

Last winter, the city’s 982-acre showpiece urban park, Belle Isle, was transferred to the state, which took over the day-to-day maintenance and improvements. Despite the debate in the press over the transition, Detroit’s parks head, Tim Karl, isn’t worried about the city’s losing oversight of Belle Isle. “It lets me take my time and energy and put it into the other 308 parks in the city,” he says. “It’s a $6 million savings—now we can put that into the community.”

Karl started his job in 2001, when things were going downhill, he told me. “We had a budget, and it went to nil,” he says. His title, chief of landscape architecture, makes it sound as though he’s got a hefty staff to be chief of. He doesn’t. “Back when I was hired, there were six of us,” Karl says. Then, for a long time, it was just Karl, overseeing the city’s park system with one contractor. Now they are starting to staff up. He can see where the money for maintenance is going to come from, and with the kind of importance that the Detroit Future City plan has assigned to the parks, he mostly worries how they’re going to get it all done. “Right now is the brightest time since I started here. We hit the bottom a while ago. I just see improvements now.”

Detroit has had to be canny about how it manages those 308 parks. “We were tired of doing things poorly everywhere,” Karl says. Park resources have gone to the parks that have fairly stable neighborhoods behind them, rather than those that aren’t used. But between the Belle Isle dividend and funds coming out of Detroit’s bankruptcy process, there is more for all of the parks. Thriving neighborhood parks were selected from some of those identified in the Detroit Future City plan, and the plan’s general philosophy toward parks was adopted. Parks with strong community involvement are in a better position to attract funding, and Karl says that they are actively moving toward the model of partnering with conservancies for fund-raising and programming because “there are certain things they can do that we can’t.”

Park conservancies cause a lot of hand-wringing in some quarters, where critics charge they increase the disparity in city services that’s already exacerbated by income inequality. For Detroit, they are a necessity. Karl points to Palmer Park, in the northwest part of the city, a little south of 8 Mile Road, as an example of how the conservancy model is working in Detroit. The park, designed by Olmsted, Olmsted, and Eliot, has more going for it than most parks in the city. Though it has been mightily altered (a popular golf course came in in the 1920s), the 296-acre park still retains much of the original design character, and it is surrounded by two fine neighborhoods, Palmer Woods and the Palmer Park Apartment Building Historic District. It also has a very active neighborhood nonprofit group, People for Palmer Park (PPP), that has led the restoration and redevelopment of this park since 2010.

In 2013, when the Michigan chapter of ASLA was looking for a community service project in Detroit, Palmer Park was waiting. Along with the Congress for the New Urbanism, the chapter invited seven firms to be part of a master planning process. Bob Gibbs, ASLA, the managing principal of Gibbs Planning Group, led the master planning for the Michigan ASLA chapter, and he was impressed when all seven firms stepped up and provided full plans for the park. Gibbs’s firm is now working on a consensus plan to hand over to PPP. It emphasizes transit, the restoration of much of the original Olmsted plan except for a never-built subdivision, consolidating and upgrading the golf course, retaining the equestrian center, focusing the urban edges, and expanded programming all over the park.

Credit: LivingLAB, left. Gibbs Planning Group, right.

Credit: LivingLAB, left. Gibbs Planning Group, right.

If neighborhood parks are becoming more like town squares or community centers in Detroit, then they can have a powerful local impact as pro bono projects for landscape architects. Gibbs estimates that his firm probably donated more than 1,000 hours to the project, with many of his staff donating personal time on top of that. Guided by PPP, which will also be responsible for fund-raising for the improvements, Gibbs thinks there’s a good chance the work will get done, and some of the money is already coming in from various city agencies and grants.

Now, nearly two years after the Detroit Future City plan was released, it seems as if the city is embracing it. In an interview with the Detroit Free Press in February, the new mayoral administration’s chief of development, Tom Lewand Sr., called the Detroit Future City plan his “Bible.” People I spoke with told me that, though it wasn’t a requirement, projects in alignment with the plan’s objectives were more likely to tap the funding streams coming out of the philanthropies as well as from state, regional, and federal agencies.

In January 2014, the Kresge and Knight Foundations committed to funding the Detroit Future City implementation office—a 12-person hive of expertise that has begun taking the plan from the shelf to the street. Just under a year out, the office and the city seem to be getting their feet under them. Erin Kelly is now the program manager for blue and green infrastructure there, and she’s working on a spate of new projects. One, a Rapid Assessment Tool for vacant land, is an application developed with Loveland Technologies that allows people to collect and submit data on the vacant land in their neighborhood. Kelly is working on training Detroiters how to see and analyze the landscape around them, and that can help them move toward answering one of their most urgent questions. What, after pulling down the abandoned buildings and tallying up the vacant land, should this land become?

Kelly wishes there were more landscape architects around. “I see so many ways another landscape architect could contribute to the work that we do,” she says, and though things are moving it’s still a challenge to find paying professional work. She tells me candidly that working in Detroit has helped her own her expertise—what she can do that architects and planners can’t—but that Detroit’s DIY ethos sometimes undermines the value of professional design services, though not the need. Funding streams and the hurry-up-and-wait of grant-based urban work can be frustrating. But she’s not going anywhere. Kelly tells me there would have to be a pretty interesting problem to solve to get her on a plane to the next city. So for now, she’s staying in Detroit. “This is the moment—if you are a landscape architect, this is the moment and this is the place.”

Credit: Detroit Future City

Credit: Detroit Future City

Originally published in the November 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine. You can find Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 200 bookstores, including many university stores and independents, as well as at Barnes & Noble. Or you can buy single digital issues for only $5.25 at Zinio or order single copies of the print issue from ASLA. Annual subscriptions for LAM are a thrifty $59 for print and $44.25 for digital. Our subscription page has more information on subscription options.

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A monthly roundup of the news, dispatches, and marginalia that caught our eye.

In the November Queue, the LAM staff sees the real Keystone XL story go viral, learns about the most-wanted environmental fugitives, laments that the Arctic may truly be “ice-free” by 2020, and daydreams about an enchanting bike ride inspired by a starry, starry night.

OUR WOBBLY WORLD

KCRW’s “To the Point” aired an extensive report on the Keystone XL and the various strategies Canadian companies are using to move tar sands oil to the Gulf of Mexico (see “Below the Surface,” LAM, November 2014).

 The EPA has recently released the latest iteration of its report on 30 indicators of climate change in the United States. The third edition of the report compiles new data that links human activities and a warming planet, including wildfire occurrences and the rising levels and temperatures in the Great Lakes, among others.

•  A swoon-worthy four-minute film on global fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions has won a 2014 Kantar Information Is Beautiful award.

Interpol launched Operation Infra-Terra, a list of the most-wanted environmental fugitives in the world. Among the top offenses are animal poaching, illegal mining, and illegal waste disposal.

• The Arctic could be “ice-free” as soon as 2020, according to Cambridge professor Peter Wadhams.

• As part of a $2.4 billion project to protect waterways, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens will add thousands of streetside plots to help soak up excess stormwater, while communities in Maryland seek to add similar measures to avoid large fees under a controversial “rain tax.”

FIELD STUDIES

 A four-and-a-half-minute video recently released by PBS highlights the haunting beauty of the historic McMillan Sand Filtration site in Washington, D.C., echoing the local residents’ advocacy for the site’s untapped potential.

 Seattle no longer has to worry about needing to choose between funding the police or the local park. Voters recently approved a measure that separates park funding from the general fund, though some worry that this money will not make it to the parks that need it the most.

In a recent essay in Places Journal, Brian Davis (see “The Dredge Underground,” LAM, August 2014) and Thomas Oles challenge the term “landscape architecture,” suggesting that  “landscape science” more accurately captures the core values of modern practice.

Berlin’s 33,000 resident artists have taken advantage of the slow regeneration of the city, giving more leeway for the creative improvisation of space and property.

Medium looks at contemporary cartography and the increasing complexity of modern maps. 

OUT AND ABOUT

United Divide: A Linear Portrait of the USA/Canada Border opened at the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Los Angeles on November 14.

• The Cultural Landscape Foundation and the Presidio Trust will host Saving Nature in a Humanized World January 22–24 at the Presidio in San Francisco.

DISTRACT ME FROM MY DEADLINE DEPT.

 Ever wonder what your city would look like if we all just turned off the lights?

 If Van Gogh was alive today, he’d want you to use this bike path.

• This memorial in Arizona aligns with the sun perfectly only on Veterans Day at 11:11 a.m.

 These pictures highlight works of art only nature could create.

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A monthly roundup of the news, dispatches, and marginalia that caught our eye.

In the October Queue, the LAM staff catches up with Canada, imagines Boston as the Venice of Massachusetts, finds Florida’s (new) secession threat alarming, reads the phrase “climate apartheid” for the first but probably not the last time, and orders some adult stickers.

CATCHING UP WITH…

Landscape Architecture Network explores the Canadian Museum of Civilization Plaza by Claude Cormier Associates (“How Sweet,” LAM, January 2013), whose graceful, undulating curves reflect the architecture as well as the Canadian environmental landscape.

Finalists were announced for the Van Alen Institute’s Future Ground competition for 30,000 vacant lots in New Orleans (“Take Aim At New Orleans’s Vacant Land”). Public presentations are scheduled for spring 2015.

SCAPE Landscape Architecture (“What Kate Orff Sees,” LAM, May 2012) was one of seven finalists for the 2014 Fuller Challenge aimed at creating holistic solutions from a multitude of disciplinary backgrounds to solve “humanity’s most pressing problems.”

Dredging and the energy manufacturing industry are at the heart of a recent New York Times Magazine cover story on lawsuits around Lousiana’s catastrophic land loss (“The Dredge Underground,” LAM, August 2014).

OUR WOBBLY WORLD

Future Lagos reports on a plan to protect Lagos, Nigeria, one of the world’s most populous (21 million) coastal cities, from the effects of climate change. Will a planned eight-kilometer “Great Wall of Lagos create an eco-urban utopia or “climate apartheid”?

A recent EU analysis says onshore wind is cheaper than other forms of energy when human health, the environment, and other “external” factors are added to the equation.

Several news outlets picked up on the release of ULI’s recent report on Boston, particularly the possibility of turning some of the city’s streets into Venice-like canals.

South Florida might become the 51st state in the union. Salon reports it could happen if Florida’s state government doesn’t start taking climate change seriously.

A new series of webinars on the National Disaster Resilience Competition (“Resilience by Design,” LAM, October 2013) and other resilience topics has been launched.

FIELD STUDIES

Are shared streets a great innovation for pedestrians, or a complete nuisance to motorists? Chicago will soon find out with its very first shared street to begin construction this winter.

Cascadian Farm, owned by General Mills, has launched a new “Bee Friendlier” campaign to promote the cultivation of wildflowers for our pollinator friends. But with Cascadian Farm making up only 3 percent of General Mills, some claim it’s not enough to offset the other 97 percent of bad bee practices.

How do you make a city center more pedestrian friendly? For Zurich, it limits how many cars can enter.

OUT AND ABOUT

On November 7, the New York Botanical Garden hosts a symposium on “The Changing Nature of Nature in Cities.”

Teresa Galí-Izard  (“Auckland Takes the Rosa Barba Prize”) is at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston on November 13, 2014, as part of its Landscape Lecture series to talk about her innovative works across Europe.

The public landscapes of Ralph Cornell are on view November 8 and 9 as part of The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s mini What’s Out There Weekend in Los Angeles.

Making LA is a one-day conference on November 7 to discuss “urgent issues that Los Angeles faces in the areas of water, transportation, density, and community.” Panelists include urbanist Mia Lehrer of Mia Lehrer + Associates, landscape architect Deborah Deets, of the City of Los Angeles’s Department of Public Works, and Hadley and Peter Arnold of the Drylands Institute, among many, many others. 

 Landscape photographer Mishka Henner will talk about “Looking Down, From Up Above” with Andrew Hammerand and Julian Roeder on Tuesday, November 4 at 5:00 p.m. at the Open Society Foundation in New York City. The talk is part of the Moving Walls 22 exhibition; Dutch Landscapes will be on view November 4, 2014–May 8, 2015.

DISTRACT ME FROM MY DEADLINE DEPT.

The all-too-familiar Archetypes of Studio. Which one are you?

These eco wall stickers help save the world one toilet flush at a time.

We hope you’re not still on this London bridge when it opens.

Even Darth Vader is conscious about his carbon footprint.

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2x4_aar_rome_prize_emailIt’s always been a bit of a mystery why more landscape architects don’t apply for the Rome Prize. It isn’t because it’s obscure: The fellowship is one of the best-known and most prestigious awards for designers and humanities scholars, the kind of résumé bell ringer that’s recognized across the professions. At its center is an 11-month (on average) residency at the American Academy in Rome’s Villa Aurelia among a diverse group of scholars, musicians, and artists, and the rich community working in and around the academy. But while the architecture fellowship has always been highly enrolled, perhaps because of the academy’s early association with the architect Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead, and White, the two (on average) fellowships for landscape architecture do not receive nearly the same amount of applications. And that’s a shame: “This is an opportunity not to be passed up,” says Mary Margaret Jones, FASLA,  a principal at Hargreaves Associates.

Jones was a Rome Prize fellow in 1997–98, and she describes her fellowship year, when she made topographic models of Renaissance gardens, with unabashed enthusiasm as “life changing” and “transformative.” She now chairs the board of trustees, the first woman and the first landscape architect to do so, and she’d like to see more landscape architects throw their portfolios in the ring.

Despite its lofty origins and association with classical studies, the academy supports a wide range of new work from emerging artists and designers, and the city of Rome is so rich that there are many ways to develop project proposals that overlap with contemporary research and practice. Jones suggests those applying should  focus on the portfolio—the body of work is paramount—and that those at any point in their career should apply. “Juries are looking for people for whom it will be game changing,” says Jones. “It really is a time to take time to really look and see things.”

The current Rome Prize fellows in landscape architecture are Kim Karlsrud and Daniel Phillips of Commonstudio and Adam Kuby, an environmental designer from Portland, Oregon. Recent past landscape architecture fellows have included Bradley E. Cantrell and Elizabeth Fain LaBombard, and Walter Hood,  ASLA, Thomas Oslund, Peter Walker, FASLA, and Eric Reid Fulford have also been fellows. Applications for the next year’s Rome Prize are due November 1, 2014, and carry a small fee of $30 per application. Late applications will be accepted until November 15 with a fee of $60 per application. More info about the fellowship as well as eligibility and requirements can be found on the AAR’s website.

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BY ELIZABETH PADJEN

Ramps for the 1,400 car garage are camouflaged by walls and plantings.

Ramps for the 1,400-car garage are camouflaged by walls and plantings.

From the October 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

At 10:30 on a July morning, an east wind brings a damp chill off the harbor and gray clouds hang overhead like sodden hammocks. And still, people come to the park. They are everywhere—perched on walls, settled onto benches, hunched over tables outside the café. Some stare into space. Some check out the passersby. Many more peer at screens. It’s a perfect morning for a cozy cup of tea in the hotel across the street or coffee at a nearby Starbucks. That’s where you’d expect all these people to be. Not in a park.

But this is the Norman B. Leventhal Park—better known to Bostonians as Post Office Square or simply P.O. Square, and it is the recipient of ASLA’s 2014 Landmark Award, which honors projects finished between 15 and 50 years ago that have kept their original design integrity and make a major contribution to the civic realm. “The fact that it’s still there, intact, is important,” said one juror. “How many other parks that are 15 years old haven’t been renovated?” Another juror said: “It’s one of the best landscapes in our country, simply for what it did for the financial district. It allowed people to get outside and get some nature in the urban environment.”

(more…)

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First, here’s the news that Michael van Gessel, the Dutch landscape architect, took his time and a fair bit of teasing indirection to get out last Friday night in Barcelona: The winner of the 2014 Rosa Barba International Landscape Prize is the North Wharf Promenade and Silo Park on the waterfront of Auckland, New Zealand. It was designed by Taylor Cullity Lethlean of Melbourne with Wraight + Associates of Wellington and completed in 2011.

The big announcement came late in the day, near 9:00 p.m. Van Gessel, who served as the president of the six-person Rosa Barba prize jury, sat with his feet propped casually atop a chair on a stage of the astonishing Palau de la Música Catalana—though in the handsome contemporary auditorium belowground, not the 1908 modernista marvel upstairs, designed by Lluis Domènech i Montaner, which at that hour was filling for a dance performance of the Gran Gala Flamenco. In front of van Gessel were several hundred people gathered for the prize announcement as part of the 8th International Biennial of Landscape Architecture, which ran from September 25 to 27. The audience included the designers of the 11 finalist projects for the prize; they each had presented their entry the previous day. There was also a large turnout of landscape architects, academics, and students from Europe and elsewhere.

(more…)

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A monthly roundup of the news, dispatches, and marginalia that caught our eye. In this month’s issue of the Queue, the staff wades through a myriad of headlines to find $2.4 billion might not be enough for New York City’s new green infrastructure, reads about gender and urban farming, and slows down to enjoy a dancing stoplight.

CATCHING UP WITH…

    • Frequent contributor Alex Ulam looks at the benefits of New York City’s plan to spend $2.4 billion on green infrastructure, including stormwater management in priority neighborhoods—but some wonder whether it reaches far enough.

FIELD STUDIES

    • With urban agriculture’s popularity on the rise, Michael Tortorello of The New York Times wonders why the majority of workers are female (and why it matters).
    • San Francisco’s new tax breaks for converting vacant lots into urban farms might not make sense when there’s a lack of affordable housing in the city.
    • D.C. residents are slowly shaping alleyways from dark corners of miscreant activity to vibrant social assets for the community—one alley at a time.
    • For every mile of road in Nashville and its county, there is only half a mile of sidewalks, according to the Tennessean. And the city’s new flat rate fee that allows developers to opt out of building sidewalks altogether isn’t going to help.
    • An Op-Ed in the New York Times says Colony Collapse Disorder is in the rear-view mirror, but it’s still too early to breathe a sigh of relief: The United States averages a 30 percent loss of our pollinator friends annually.

OUT AND ABOUT

DISTRACT ME FROM MY DEADLINE DEPT.

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