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What is a public garden, and what is it for? The June issue of LAM looks at new works at the New York Botanical Garden and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, prefaced by a conversation on the public garden’s evolving mission with the landscape architects Sheila Brady, FASLA; Darrel Morrison, FASLA; Annette Wilkus, FASLA; Scott Scarfone, ASLA; Gary Smith, FASLA; and the New York Botanical Garden’s vice president for horticulture and living collections, Todd Forrest.

The Foreground sections look at new research on luring the bees to underused parts of Houston, student debt loads for landscape architecture graduates, fetching new transit design in Buenos Aires, and an update on Lawrence Halprin’s neglected Heritage Park Plaza in Fort Worth, Texas. The Species column this month offers up wild pigs and birch syrup, Goods has gorgeous outdoor fixtures, and the Books section reviews a pair of new releases on green infrastructure.

You can read the full table of contents for June 2014 or pick up a free digital issue of the June LAM here and share it with your clients, colleagues, and friends. As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 200 bookstores, including many university stores and independents, as well as at Barnes & Noble. You can also buy single digital issues for only $5.25 at Zinio or order single copies of print issue from the 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 as well as o

Keep an eye out here on the blog, on the LAM Facebook page, and our Twitter feed (@landarchmag), as we’ll be ungating some June pieces as the month rolls out.

Credits: Native Plant Garden: Ivo M. Vermeulen; Heritage Park Plaza: Elizabeth Meyer, Courtesy the Cultural Landscape Foundation; Native Flora Garden: Elizabeth Felicella; Species: Michelle Pearson; Laguna Gloria: Courtesy Reed Hilderbrand; Stone Mill: Elizabeth Felicella; Buenos Aires Transit: Cecilia Garros Cardo; Ethnobotanical: Francisco Gómez Sosa; Visitor Center: Aaron Booher, ASLA/HMWhite Site Architecture.

A RIVER TO LIVE BY

BY JENNIFER ZELL, ASLA

The Glendale Narrows. Courtesy Peter Bennett/Green Stock Photos.

The Glendale Narrows, Courtesy Peter Bennett/Green Stock Photos.

The long campaign to restore the Los Angeles River met a major milestone on May 28 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would support a $1 billion plan to transform 11 miles of the river from a concrete drainage channel back to something like a natural, living waterway. The Corps’ backing of this plan, rather than of a more limited and less visionary one for about half the cost, was crucial to open the way to congressional funding for the project. The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, has pushed hard for a plan that river activists have long sought to remake habitat, open space, and recreation areas around the river’s banks. You can read the Los Angeles Times report on the final decision and what may come next here. Below is LAM’s report by Jennifer Zell from the April issue about the history of the project, the intense efforts by river restoration proponents, and their building anticipation of a decision by the Corps, which, as it turns out, runs very much in their favor.

 

In the early 2000s, if you were to ask L.A. residents about the Los Angeles River, chances are they wouldn’t have known the city has a river, or they might recall the concrete-lined drainage canal that can be seen while driving over downtown bridges. If you ask the same question now, chances are good that residents are aware of the river’s presence; some may even view restoration of the river as a symbol of L.A.’s rebirth as a healthier, more connected city. Today, visitors to Los Angeles and Angelenos returning home through the LAX airport are greeted with a newly installed photo of Mayor Eric Garcetti kayaking the Los Angeles River with the caption, “Welcome to Los Angeles, where nature catches you by surprise.” This turnaround isn’t an accident. Popular and political support for restoring the river has been growing for a decade, and decisions will soon be made by Congress and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that will determine the future of the river, its ecosystem, and the neighboring communities.

The Los Angeles River runs 51 miles through a complex metropolis with its headwaters in the San Fernando Valley at the confluence of Arroyo Calabasas and Bell Creek, where two massive arcing concrete boxed channels meet precisely on tangent below the football stadium at Canoga Park High School. Along its course, the river flows past shopping centers, parking lots, residential tracts, and industrial corridors, and along the way it is joined by creeks and washes that all empty into the Pacific Ocean at Long Beach.

To the dismay of many people, an estimated 90 percent of the river is paved in concrete. In the 1930s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started on an ambitious plan, the Los Angeles County Drainage Area project, to contain the river in a concrete channel and move the water flowing through the L.A. Basin into the Pacific Ocean as swiftly and efficiently as possible. A recent history of catastrophic floods—in 1914, 1934, and 1938—and the water’s destructive power gave a sense of urgency and singularity of purpose to the plan. The project continues to provide flood protection and has enabled 336 square miles of land that was subject to flooding to be developed. But the zeal for a single elegant solution to flood control has in turn created a complex new set of hydrological and environmental problems for the 14 million people living within the Los Angeles River watershed.

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Interboro Partners

Interboro Team. Courtesy Rebuild by Design.

In the Hurricane Sandy destruction zone today, there were long-awaited exhales to accompany the end of the yearlong competition phase of Rebuild by Design, the federal post-Sandy recovery project. Scores of designers learned which of 10 multidisciplinary teams, and which of the teams’ ideas, will receive federal funding to help make the New York and New Jersey metropolitan region better adapted to fend off huge storms and rising seas in the future.

The announcements of winners were made in two rounds by Shaun Donovan, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who also has served as chair of the federal Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. Donovan, who is set to leave HUD imminently to become the director of the Office of Management and Budget upon his confirmation by the Senate, announced the winning projects for New York this morning at a public event on the Lower East Side. This afternoon, Donovan announced the winning New Jersey projects in the borough of Little Ferry.

For projects in New York, the winning teams, their project sites, and funding amounts are:

  1. The BIG Team, for its project, the Big U, a flood-protection system designed to run 10 miles around the lower half of Manhattan. Funding: $335 million.
  2. The Interboro Team, for its project, Living with the Bay: A Comprehensive Regional Resiliency Plan for Nassau County’s South Shore. Funding: $125 million.
  3. The team led by SCAPE/Landscape Architecture, for its project, Living Breakwaters, a series of constructed reef habitats along the south shore of Staten Island at Tottenville to slow storm surges and regenerate coastal ecology. Funding: $60 million.
  4. The PennDesign/OLIN team, for its project, Hunts Point Lifelines, a series of flood-protection and infrastructure strategies to protect the one-square-mile Hunts Point peninsula of the Bronx, the hub of a $5 billion annual food industry serving New York City. Funding: $20 million.
MIT

MIT CAU + ZUS + URBANISTEN. Courtesy Rebuild by Design.

For projects in New Jersey, the winning teams, their project sites, and funding amounts are:

  1. The team led by OMA, for Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge: A Comprehensive Strategy for Hoboken, which looks at a variety of ways to handle flash flooding and storm surges in Hoboken as well as in Weehawken and Jersey City. Funding: $230 million.
  2. The team MIT CAU + ZUS + URBANISTEN for New Meadowlands: Productive City + Regional Park. Funding: $150 million.

 

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

In this dispatch of the Queue, we tiptoe through the tweets of May, contemplate a trip to the high desert, and willingly give ourselves over to the United States Geological Service.

 

CATCHING UP WITH…

 

FIELD STUDIES

 

OUT AND ABOUT

 

DISTRACT ME FROM MY DEADLINE DEPT., TWITTER EDITION

soil 1

Home page of the Soil Science Society of America’s new blog, Soils Matter, Get the Scoop!

For more than 75 years, the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) has informed members and professionals on all matters relating to soil, according to the soils.org website. From bioremediation to environmental quality, SSSA has provided a wide range of services and publications to shape our knowledge on this “living entity,” allowing for the development of better soil-related practices. During a recent website redesign, SSSA saw the opportunity to share this wealth of information with nonprofessionals with Soils Matter, Get the Scoop!—an “all things soil” blog.

Soils Matter covers everything from science-based topics such as how plastic affects the microbes in soil to agricultural practices such as how soil influences the flavor of wine. Each post begins with a question, asked by a follower or curious visitor. The answers are clear and detailed, aimed at the intelligent consumer and non-soil specialist. What’s more, each blog post is authored by an established soil professional and expert on the topic. “We have a handful of SSSA members who are willing to work with us on the answers,” says Susan V. Fisk, director of public and science communications for SSSA. “All the people who do the answers are actual soil scientists.”

Soil is a vital component in landscape architecture, from providing the material to create artificial hills to the planting medium that serves as the fundamental nutrition for our plants. “Soils support buildings and infrastructure,” says Fisk, who has heard many horror stories of poorly engineered retaining walls from landscape architects. “On our end we have the same thing, because people are not using the right soils for their retaining wall, and it might not hold water, or [hold] too much or too little. So it needs to be viewed in a kind of holistic way.” And while many landscape professionals are well versed in the composition and properties of soils, their clients and communities aren’t. Changing  climatic conditions can often mean changing soil conditions as well. And when it comes to designing and managing urban soils,  there’s still a lot of new territory.

soils 2

A question on the formation of soils is answered by an SSSA member.

With the growing popularity of community gardens and urban farms, people may find that some urban sites are not completely suitable for the immediate planting of fruits and vegetables. By measuring the amounts of pollutants in the soil, people can better understand which plants are best at filtering specific kinds of pollutants, Fisk says. This in turn helps determine what steps are needed to fully remediate these sites for the enjoyment of future generations.

Soils Matter is a platform where these kinds of specific questions can be answered by soil scientists and professionals. So if you’re wondering if this winter’s extreme cold will have an effect on the growing season or how climate change affects the amount of organic material found in soil, Soils Matter, Get the Scoop! might be a good place to start.

More on Soils Matter, Get the Scoop! and other soil-related topics can be found at http://www.soils.org.

Courtesy USGS.

Courtesy USGS.

Occasionally something really eye-opening falls into your lap on a quiet afternoon that gets all your circuits humming. That was the case late Wednesday at LAM when the U.S. Geological Survey released an array of soil maps based on data it has been collecting since 2007. Simply put, the maps offer the most complete  profile of the chemical and mineral makeup of U.S. soil ever produced. It is truly significant data, and the maps produced from it should be an important tool for anyone who designs, manages, or, well, just lives on the land.

Location map of the more than 4,800 sites of the sample. Courtesy USGS.

Location map of the more than 4,800 sites of the sample. Courtesy USGS.

The USGS describes these maps and what they measure as follows:

Geochemical and Mineralogical Maps for Soils in the Conterminous United States (Open-File Report 2014-1082). The maps provide a visual representation of the national-scale geochemical and mineralogical variation in soils. In 2007, the U.S. Geological Survey initiated a low-density (1 site per 1,600 square kilometers, 4,857 total sites) survey of soils of the conterminous United States. Three samples were collected at each site from the surface down to approximately 1 meter. In total, more than 14,400 soil samples were analyzed for 45 elements and 9,575 samples were analyzed for major minerals. The maps released today were created using data sets from the survey.

The data sets, which were released in October 2013 by the USGS, provide a baseline for the abundance and spatial distribution of chemical elements and minerals against which future changes may be recognized and quantified.

The maps speak for themselves, and as you pore over the report you’ll want to dig into the data right away. But (nearly) every big data set has a person behind it, and the USGS also published a nice piece on its blog that talks about the process of collecting the data from the 4,800+ sites and some of the people who did that work. Kevin Bamber, then an undergraduate at the University of Missouri, worked on the sampling and picked up a little local knowledge along the way. “A guy in Louisiana said we could dig on his property because it was a full moon and that anytime you dig a hole when there’s a full moon, you always have more than enough dirt to fill the hole. We really picked the right day.”

Courtesy USGS.

Courtesy USGS.

All images from Smith, D. B., Cannon, W. F., Woodruff, L. G., Solano, Federico, and Ellefsen, K. J., 2014, Geochemical and mineralogical maps for soils of the conterminous United States: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2014–1082, 386 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20141082. Courtesy the USGS.

BY THOMAS CHRISTOPHER

Unmown "Habiturf" looks soft and slightly tousled. Photo: Mark Simmons, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Unmown “Habiturf” looks soft and slightly tousled. Photo: Mark Simmons, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

From the May 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Clipped-grass turf is the most heavily used material in most American landscapes. The NASA researcher Cristina Milesi used satellite imagery to estimate that lawn occupies some 49,000 square miles of the United States, and it’s increasing by roughly 600 square miles per year, according to a study conducted by Paul Robbins and Trevor Birkenholtz of Ohio State University’s Department of Geography.

Yet, since the 1950s, landscape architects have typically ceded decisions concerning this vast area to turf-industry technicians. Turf became an industrial product after World War II. Which grass to use was dictated by mowers, sprayers, blowers, and spreaders, and choices were limited to a very few varieties of grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) and hybrid Bermuda grasses (Cynodon spp.), that lent themselves to chemical maintenance. Today, though, new alternatives are emerging that landscape architects can use to create healthier and more aesthetically dynamic models for what a domestic grassland can be—a source of environmental renewal rather than an ecological villain. It will also please the increasing numbers of clients who dislike not only the sterile monotony of conventional turf and its high maintenance costs, but also, more critical, the threat that the required maintenance chemicals pose to kids, animals, and communities.

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