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

In this dispatch of the Queue, the LAM staff reads up on the politics of space, urban parks in Mexico, an extraordinary gift of land in California, why architects talk funny, and way too much more.


Alexis Madrigal’s piece on California’s water problem is being heavily circulated, but in case  you haven’t seen it, the Atlantic has it posted in full.

Also all over the interwebs is Elizabeth Kolbert talking about her new book, the Sixth Extinction. “We are effectively undoing the beauty and the variety and the richness of the world which has taken tens of millions of years to reach,” Kolbert tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.  “We’re sort of unraveling that…. We’re doing, it’s often said, a massive experiment on the planet, and we really don’t know what the end point is going to be.”

Do our green urban policies actually undermine social equity? Tom Slater fires a shot across the bow of the advocates for urban sustainability and resiliency, and asks, Who gains? Who loses?


Recognition for the groups, including TCLF, Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, and the Minnesota chapter of Docomomo US,  who rallied to save M. Paul Friedberg’s modern landscape, Peavey Plaza.

Lorena Martínez, the mayor of Aguascalientes, Mexico, finds that the new 8 mile long linear park park, La Línea Verde, solves a host of urban problems, from asthma to crime. Cityscope talks to the mayor and the citizens about what it took.

Via Grist, Brentin Mock interviews Clarice Gaylord, who was in charge of the EPA’s first effort to deal with issues of environmental justice–under the Bush administration.

Instead of selling his 300 acres of highly valuable land near Silicon Valley–the number $500 million was thrown out there–Walter Cottle Lester willed his family farm to the state to be preserved as an agricultural park. No playgrounds, no swimming pools, no basketball court, just wide open space.

Via PlaceswireEsri’s ArcGIS opens up its platform to the public and puts reams of government data, including the EPA’s, into the public’s hands.


Photographs by artist/geographer Trevor Paglen of never before-seen-surveillance sites cracks open the hidden landscapes of intelligence gathering.

So very cool new Multiplicity project from Landscape Forms and Fuseproject lets designers play with street furniture.

Translation, please: “Interrogating the hermeneutic potentiality of the urban fabric’s boundary conditions is the key to intervening in the city’s morphology. The phenomenological nature of a building and its neighborhood is enhanced by ludic acts of horizontality.”

How to make pennyfloors, with much chortling in the comments about cost per square foot.

The world without people is a little bit creepy.


By Constance Casey

SPECIES: Mesquite Trees, Christine Ten Eyck.

Mesquite Trees, Christine Ten Eyck. Adam Barbe, ASLA/Courtesy Ten Eyck Landscape Architects

From the February issue of LAM:

“I could ask for no better monument over my grave than a good mesquite tree, its roots down deep like those of people who belong to the soil, its hardy branches, leaves, and fruit holding memories of the soil.”

This was the wish of the late J. Frank Dobie, beloved author of many books on Texas history, including Cow People and The Longhorns.

Many cow people, with their own deep roots in Texas, find mesquite far too rugged and tenacious—in fact, they consider mesquite a menace. The shrubby tree flourishes in some 60 million Texan acres, across the whole state except the eastern piney woods. Mesquite thrives in disturbed soil, and nothing disturbs soil like grazing cattle. Aggravate the native grass and mesquite is the opportunist that moves in. It is undiscouraged by drought or flood, adjusts to baking heat or freezing cold, and does fine in nutrient-poor soil, having the useful talent of its family, the Leguminosae (now known as Fabaceae), of nitrogen fixing.

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Shangri La Botanical Gardens, Jeffrey Carbo Landscape Architects. 2012 ASLA Award, General Design.

Shangri La Botanical Gardens, Jeffrey Carbo Landscape Architects. 2012 ASLA Award, General Design.

Another ASLA Professional Awards cycle is upon us! This is your yearly chance to get your best work in front of a fantastic jury and potentially broadcast to a global audience of your peers and potential clients. If your work is honored, it will be published in LAM’s annual awards issue in October. The awards will be presented at the ASLA Annual Meeting & EXPO in Denver in November.

Some people don’t enter because they’re shy or believe their projects won’t catch the jury’s attention. But you must play to win: “My advice: Believe in your work,” says Jeffrey Carbo, FASLA, of Jeffrey Carbo Landscape Architects & Site Planners in Alexandria, Louisiana. Carbo’s first national ASLA award, for the Cane River Residence in 2005, came on his third try. That award “was a springboard to other projects, including the project that won an award in 2012,” which was the Shangri La Botanical Gardens in Orange, Texas.


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Shute's Folly Island: Redefining Tourism Site Plan. Courtesy Zheming Cai.

Shute’s Folly Island: Redefining Tourism Site Plan. Courtesy Zheming Cai.

Undergraduate Zheming Cai’s ASLA award-winning student project to reimagine the historic military site of Shute’s Folly Island off coastal South Carolina took on the twin behemoths of preservation and tourism and forged them into a refined solution that balanced the site’s architectural and landscape histories. The project, Preservation as Provocation: Redefining Tourism, won a 2013 ASLA Student Honor Award and was praised by the “very impressed” jury for its sophistication. Cai’s design of the historic fortification “broke away from the military history” and “built on other reasons to visit,” according to the comments. Now a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cai talked with us about how to use flooding as an interpretive tool for historic places, understanding the genius loci, and taking a landscape perspective on tourism.

You won the ASLA Student Honor Award for a project that was about preservation and tourism in South Carolina while you were a student at Purdue University. Can you tell us how you got interested in these two concepts and how you chose the site?
This was my senior capstone design project. The previous semester, I had taken a more architecturally oriented historic preservation course with Ken Schuette, who is also my adviser. I had focused on community, cultural heritage, and downtown areas, so that took some of my initial interest in that direction. Schuette discovered a student competition for Castle Pinckney sponsored by the American Institute of Architects and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. He asked me if I had any interest in doing a competition for my capstone, and I said yes, I will do it.

The reason I picked this competition was that I was reading through their brief and they had this attached image of the castle (Castle Pinckney). Lots of my undergrad research is on the genius loci, the spirit of a place, and it reminded me a lot of the picturesque Tintern Abbey kind of image, and that got me really excited. I’m a landscape architect, so I wanted to stick my hat into the ring and do this competition from a landscape perspective. I didn’t win because my project wasn’t architectural enough, which was pretty interesting.

So initially it wasn’t my intention to apply for an ASLA award, but my adviser highly recommended it. At the time, I had graduated already and I was traveling in Yellowstone with my parents, so I had to put it all together in a little cabin.

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The Fluid and the Solid TRAILER from Alex + Ben on Vimeo.

If you haven’t used the term “Anthropocene” much, you can be forgiven. The term is of fairly recent origin, and it’s used to describe what some believe is a new geologic age: one in which human activity has changed the earth and its atmosphere. It’s a big idea, one that catches a lot of other ideas in its net—climate change being the most powerful. The idea of the Anthropocene lends more weight to what we already understand are the consequences of human activity. Our impact is not just local, national, or global, but temporal. We’ve literally changed the scale of geologic time.

The awesome consequences of human agency on the land are tough to convey without sounding ponderous, but for the filmmakers Alex Chohlas-Wood and Ben Mendelsohn, who are interested in things like infrastructure, technology, and the human/nature interface, much of the story can be told by the landscapes where these earth-changing processes take place. Which is how they came to make a documentary nominally about dredging, dredge landscapes, and sediment flow: The Fluid and the Solid.

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Doyle Hollis Park. Courtesy Trust for Public Land.

Doyle Hollis Park. Courtesy Trust for Public Land.

By Peter Harnik and Ryan Donahue

From the February issue of LAM:

Emeryville, California, squeezed between Oakland, Berkeley, and the San Francisco Bay Bridge, has 10,000 residents and 20,000 daytime workers on only 1.2 square miles of land. For most of the 20th century it was an industrial center, known for meatpacking plants and a Sherwin-Williams paint factory. It has since evolved into a shopping destination and a hub for biotech and software.

Residents of Emeryville think the city needs more parks. The commuters think it needs more parking. In 1999, the city planning department started eyeing a warehouse site at Doyle and Hollis Streets for a six-story, 700-vehicle garage. The location wasn’t a good one: It abutted a low-density neighborhood, faced a middle school without playing fields, and would have thrown shade onto the new Emeryville Greenway. “We first considered putting the garage beneath a park,” says Diana Keena, an associate planner for the city, “but the site is so narrow that just the entryway would have consumed a third of the space.” The city also suggested a park surrounded by diagonal street parking, but that, too, would have swallowed most of the green space.

Neighbors who had coalesced a few years earlier to redesign the Emeryville Greenway as a park rather than as a tree-lined automobile street rose again, and after a long battle they persuaded the city council to rezone the block as open space and name it Doyle Hollis Park.

From then on the park moved steadily forward. The land was bought for $5.1 million in 2005, remediated of some petroleum contamination for $800,000, designed and built for $4.5 million, and opened in 2009. “During lunchtime on a sunny day, the place is packed with workers, kids, and food vendors,” notes Jim Martin, an original leader of Doyle Street Neighbors, which supported the park’s creation.

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By Arthur Allen

"Get your Farm in the Fight", 1941 - 1945." Courtesy U.S. National Archives.

“Get your Farm in the Fight”, 1941 – 1945.” Courtesy U.S. National Archives.

Environmental issues don’t always focus the minds of the people who write the nation’s farm bills. A 2012 report showing that corn and soy plantings had chewed up 1.3 million acres of grassland in the upper Midwest raised hardly an eyebrow in Congress. Perhaps unsurprising, it took people with guns to draw the legislators’ attention to conservation.

The warnings came from pheasant hunters, who spend $175 million a year in eastern South Dakota (“It’s fun—like shooting free-range chickens,” says one) and have grown increasingly disheartened at seeing their best hunting spots turned into rows of corn. According to a 2012 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the loss in grassland—two Rhode Islands’ worth over five northern states—occurred during five years starting in 2006.

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