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THE QUEUE, SEPTEMBER 2014

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.

ALL GOOD IN OCTOBER LAM

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From the October 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine:

Several faculty members at different schools recently have told me, unbidden, that remarkable numbers of their landscape architecture students want to find work that has a social impact, such as with a nonprofit or NGO group, after they graduate. To judge by this year’s run of ASLA Student Awards in this issue, it would seem they are having no trouble finding worlds of need. There is a playground designed and built for 350 children at an AIDS orphanage in South Africa, and a project for people in an informal settlement in Lima, Peru. There are two projects that directly benefit military veterans. Another considers the tangible ways people attach to a place as they grow old. And, of course, examples of ecological redemption abound. What I think we are seeing is a natural impulse to do good, compounded by a much greater awareness among young people today of the importance of community service, which is being ingrained in and required of them before they finish high school. Added to that are the signs of starker inequality, food scarcity, and climate volatility that are getting through to students and sticking with them.

In that regard, this issue, with the awards for students plus the ASLA Professional Awards and the Landmark Award, is all good news, which is why we look forward to doing it so much each year. This is our fourth year combining the student and professional awards in one rather mind-opening and deeply heartening package. There are 21 student winners chosen from 313 entries; 34 professional winners emerged from 596 entries. Seriously, if you need a lift as much of the world seems bent on coming unglued, read this magazine.

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The grim 1960s-era highway architecture east of Druid Hill Park is no more inviting, or more pedestrian-friendly, in the rain.

The wild and rebellious vegetation sometimes found under a highway overpass is an easy thing to forget—especially when you’re whizzing past at 55+ miles per hour. But to the pedestrians whose only option is to dare the uncomfortably narrow sidewalk parallel to these busy roads, it is an environment unlikely to be forgotten. These are exactly the kinds of spaces Graham Coreil-Allen wants you to see, and love. Every Saturday in September, Coreil-Allen has been guiding a pack of urban enthusiasts as part of his free SiteLines walking tours to explore “invisible public spaces” in the city of Baltimore. Along with 14 other people, I braved the elements to join Coreil-Allen on a tour, dubbed Reservoir Chill, where we scrambled up, around, and through varying levels of the Jones Falls Expressway in search of oddball nooks and passageways created by 1960s highway architecture gone to seed.

It doesn’t take a trip to Baltimore to find these forgotten realms: These hauntingly beautiful sites have a sense of untapped potential, similar to visions of the High Line before it was redone, and they ask—if a passion for ownership of these spaces could be instilled, as it was in New York City—could they become an asset not only to the neighborhood, but to the city as well?

Under a pedestrian bridge at the end of Park Avenue, Coreil-Allen points out a road that once led to the entrance of Druid Hill Park, but was cut off by the repurposed and expanded Druid Park Lake Drive when the Jones Falls Expressway was implemented. The bridge runs parallel to this busy street and towers over one of its exits, acting as a divider that visibly separates the Reservoir Hill neighborhood from a labyrinth of car-dominated interchanges and the park beyond.

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HIGH FIVE, HIGH LINE

The final section of the High Line, the Rail Yards, opened this week. Photo by Alex Ulam.

The nature is wilder and the views more spectacular along the new and final section of the High Line, which opened to the public this past Sunday, fittingly on the same day of the People’s Climate March. Surrounding me was one of the largest expanses of open skyline in Manhattan. Underfoot was a landscape consisting of rusted rails, wildflowers, and scrappy wild grasses fluttering in the wind—an example of the original self-seeded raw landscape that took hold after the trains stopped running in 1980. Photographs of this scrappy bit of urban nature played a critical role in the campaign to save the abandoned elevated rail trestle and convert it into a unique public park 30 feet above Manhattan’s busy streets. Until the opening of the new section, the journey along the High Line primarily ran through narrow canyons of buildings and offered mostly snapshot views of the streets below. Part of the charm was not knowing what was ahead, playing hide-and-seek with the city beneath your feet while discovering hidden gardens and outlooks that the High Line’s design team of James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Piet Oudolf had designed along the old rail trestle. Continue Reading »

HAVE TREE, WILL TRAVEL

BY KEVAN WILLIAMS

A torreya sapling growing in North Carolina and a photograph of its parent tree.

A torreya sapling growing in North Carolina and a photograph of its parent tree.

From the September 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

For more than 200 years, naturalists and plant enthusiasts have come to the woods along the Altamaha River in south Georgia, searching for a horticultural holy grail: a wild Franklinia alatamaha, William Bartram’s “lost camellia.” First discovered by the famed naturalists John and William Bartram in 1765 at a single site near Darien, Georgia, and seen only a handful of times since, a wild specimen of the plant was last conclusively identified in 1803. Franklinia is considered extinct in the wild, and the species has survived only in propagation: All living plants are descendants of seeds collected by the Bartrams and grown in their Pennsylvania garden. But many aficionados have continued the search for a surviving wild plant, ignoring the seeming finality of extinction. I’m wandering through woods repeating the exercise in the Altamaha Wildlife Management Area, but the Franklinia I’m seeking aren’t wild, as such. They’re an outplanting of two dozen nursery-grown plants, attempted by the staff of the Nature Conservancy to see whether Franklinia could still survive in Georgia.

My guides are Alison McGee, the Southeast Georgia conservation manager for the Nature Conservancy, and her husband, Rob Sutter, a conservation ecologist, who lead me down a dusty dirt road to the conservancy’s experiment site. We park near a campground frequented by hog hunters and venture off into the woods, clad in orange. For a couple of hours we wander through a maze of saw palms, searching without success. All the signs seem to be there. There are tattered strands of survey tape hanging from a few of the trees, and machete wounds mark others, but there are no Franklinia. The planting should have had a marker—“That’s the way we usually find rare species these days,” Sutter says—but we can’t find it. Was it kicked over, hidden under the saw palms, or are we looking in the wrong spot? McGee takes home two hog skulls as a consolation prize, signs of one migrant species that seems to be doing well here.

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Digital Tools for uncovering LA's local water potentials

Divining L.A. will fund a geospatial tool for uncovering L.A.’s local water potential. Courtesy the Arid Lands Institute.

The Twitterverse has been alive lately with pleas for votes in the #LA2050 competition, and a few projects have caught our attention for their wider reach and alignment with landscape architecture’s goals. The competition, now in its second year, receives support from the Goldhirsch Foundation and GOOD magazine, and will award grants in five categories: Play, Connect, Learn, Create, and Live. We were pleased to see projects based around the L.A. River (“A River to Live By,” June 4, 2014) make appearances in various categories, along with a project, Divining L.A.: Resilient City Design for the Next Hundred Years, from the Arid Lands Institute (“Drylands Design for L.A.,” January 14, 2014) with Mia Lehrer Associates and a pretty robust team of L.A. water-savvy agencies and firms. Awardees will be selected by a jury as well as the public vote, and the winners in each category can receive up to $100,000 for their project from either public voting or jury selection. That’s a total of $1 million on the table for community projects. Anyone can vote, once registered, and residence in Los Angeles is not required. Voting closes Tuesday, September 16, 2014, at noon (PDT), so read up on the projects and cast your vote. Have a landscape architecture project in the mix for LA2050? Tell us about it in the comments.

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