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As part of an ongoing effort to make content more accessible, LAM will be making select stories available to readers in Spanish. For a full list of translated articles, please click here.

BY JONATHAN LERNER

FROM THE APRIL 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Milwaukee’s city-sponsored recreation program was established in 1911 for the purpose of benevolent social engineering. Its goal was the civic integration of burgeoning, and mostly poor, European immigrant populations. It offered classes in the English language and U.S. citizenship, as well as arts and industrial crafts, sports, clubs, and other entertainment. In some locations there were showers and, during the Depression, workshops for repairing one’s own shoes. These programs were frankly geared toward acculturation and the transmission of mainstream ethics such as team spirit and wholesome presentation; a 1918 list of tips for staff advises that each neighborhood location “must have its own yell and song,” and to “instruct young men to remove hats upon entering buildings.”

The recreation program was placed within the school system, an atypical arrangement. It’s still there today, as the Department of Recreation and Community Services of the Milwaukee Public Schools. Over time, this department acquired the use—and responsibility for maintenance—of 52 neighborhood parks, called playfields. Most were constructed between 1912 and 1974, occupy around three acres each, and are pretty bleak. Typically, they have space for sports such as basketball and softball, a field house with restrooms, maybe a patch of grass. Some have amenities for younger kids—wading pools, slides, and swings. At about 20 of the parks, the department now runs free, drop-in Summer Playground activity programs. Inner-city Milwaukee is still immigrant rich, though ethnicities have changed. Many residents are Hispanic, most of Mexican origin. Some are Asian, including a relatively large Hmong community. And more than 35 percent of city residents are African American, descended not of immigrants, but of migrants who moved north around midcentury for plentiful jobs. Milwaukee was an industrial powerhouse then, but no more. The poverty rate approaches 30 percent. One index of the economic situations of kids who use the playfields is that last year the Summer Playgrounds served them nearly 29,000 free meals—lunch and supper, five days a week.

As Milwaukee’s fortunes fell, the playfields deteriorated. Many now are simply expanses of cracked and heaving asphalt with no shade, broken play equipment, backboards minus hoops, boarded-up field houses, and hostile accretions of chain-link fencing. Custer Playfield, for example, “was a very dark place,” says Beth Rosenow; she’s a neighborhood safety coordinator for Safe & Sound, a nonprofit that tries to build bridges between communities and the police. “People were afraid of who was hiding behind a bush. Nobody used the park unless it was for drinking, smoking weed, a place for kids to hide and do inappropriate things—teenagers, young adults.”

In 2014, Blake Theisen, ASLA (then with SAA Design Group, now the principal owner of Parkitecture + Planning), was hired to conduct a facilities assessment. His report ran to 861 pages. “It showed we had $25 million in identified projects,” says Lynn Greb, the recreation department’s senior director. “Like, holy cow! And that was all just for replacement, not development or design.” Realizing that the department was unequipped to define a comprehensive strategy, Greb hired Pam Linn, FASLA, as recreation facilities project manager, the first-ever landscape architect on the public school system’s staff. (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

The Nuestro Lugar park in North Shore, California, by KDI. Photo by KDI.

THE INAUGURAL CLASS OF KNIGHT FOUNDATION PUBLIC SPACES FELLOWS INCLUDES TWO LANDSCAPE DESIGN ORGANIZATIONS.

 

A new fellowship from the Knight Foundation focused on public space is putting landscape designers front and center. Of the seven Knight Foundation Public Spaces Fellows, two are designers with an emphasis on landscape. The foundation announced in June that Walter Hood, ASLA, of Hood Design Studio and Chelina Odbert of the Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) will each receive $150,000. Other grantees are public parks officials, social scientists, and more, who in all will receive more than $1 million.

The goal is to promote work that engenders civic engagement for all citizens, connecting communities, “drawing people out of their homes and encouraging them to meet, play, and discuss important issues, while finding common ground,” the foundation said. (more…)

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The Marcus Center in 1970. Photo courtesy Joe Karr, FASLA, and the Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Milwaukee rushes toward a zero-sum choice that could eradicate a Kiley landscape.

 

Dan Kiley developed his approach to landscape design in the wake of World War II. After designing the courtrooms for the trials of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, he explored the classical European gardens such as the Tuileries, Villandry, and Versailles, and  translated their allées, bosques, and hedgerows into modern expressions of landscape design. Channeling this tradition created “spaces with structural integrity,” Kiley wrote.

“The trees form a mass that’s almost a structure,” says Joe Karr, FASLA, who worked with Kiley from 1963 till 1969. “Dan quite often used plants like an architect would use other materials.”

Kiley’s landscape for Milwaukee’s Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, which sits next to the Milwaukee River downtown, exemplifies these lessons. The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s President and CEO Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, says it’s “truer to the Tuileries as any Kiley landscape that survives today.”

But the Marcus Center is now planning to destroy Kiley’s primary landscape feature on the site: a grid of 36 horse chestnut trees. A new plan will replace the trees with a great lawn for large public gatherings, quite contrary to Kiley’s design intent. Construction is tentatively slated to start (more…)

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BY ADAM REGN ARVIDSON, FASLA

Milwaukee cleans up the Menomonee Valley but keeps it working.

Milwaukee cleans up the Menomonee Valley but keeps it working.

From the April 2016 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Menomonee means wild rice, and that is the original story of this river. Flowing just 33 miles across southeastern Wisconsin, it joins with two other smallish rivers (the Milwaukee and the Kinnickinnic) just before Lake Michigan to create a freshwater estuary—a back bay to the great lake. The estuary and valley were hunting, fishing, and rice harvesting grounds. Then European settlers came and saw this could also be a good spot for shipping, fixing, and building things.

The Valley, as it is often called, is a four-mile by one-half-mile swath of Menomonee River lowland that industrialized rapidly in the late 1800s. It became home to the great Milwaukee Road’s machine and repair shops—140 acres of railyards and mechanic sheds. In the first half of the 20th century, a middle-class resident of the neighborhoods north and south of the Valley could walk to a job that paid a living wage. Crossing the pedestrian bridges to the railyard, he would likely barely notice the stagnant, channelized, trash-strewn watercourse below.

In the 1980s, following a storyline familiar among midsized cities in the Midwest, the industries began to leave—and leave their messes behind. The Valley became a 1,200-acre scar on the city. “It was buildings that were falling down. It was environmental contamination. It was 60,000 cars driving by on the freeway looking at this property,” says Dave Misky, who has been leading the Valley’s (more…)

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April is, of course, World Landscape Architecture Month (!), and you should tell your friends and family as much at every opportunity. You will also want to share this month’s LAM far and wide, which is made easier because the online version is free. Yes, free.

It’s an issue packed with great stuff at every scale. There is the 700-square-foot garden in Brooklyn by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, where a tiny space is made to seem bigger by packing it with plants around a wonderful fragmented footpath that is not as scattershot as it may appear. There’s the Phipps Conservatory’s Center for Sustainable Landscapes in Pittsburgh by Andropogon Associates, a crucible of super high performance on several levels, not least the level important to butterflies. In Honolulu, Surfacedesign took an intelligent license with the design of a midcentury modern office building by the architect Vladimir Ossipoff to make a finely machined response on its surrounding plaza, complemented by native species all around. And up at the scale of the city, we look at the long-industrial Menomonee River Valley in Milwaukee, where landscape architecture is vital in making a large district habitable to people, animals, and plants with hopes of retaining it as a base of manufacturing jobs.

There’s much more to discover about a spectrum of topics—dog parks, how design firms grow, drawings by Lawrence Halprin, a book on John Nolen, and a look back to a century ago when ASLA was pivotal in helping to establish the National Park Service. And stories you won’t want to miss in the Now and Species sections, and an absorbing photo portfolio by Lynn Saville in the Back.

You can read the full table of contents for April 2016 or pick up a free digital issue of the April 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 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.

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

Credits: “An Island Unto Itself,” Marion Brenner, Affiliate ASLA; “Step By Step By Step,” Lexi Van Valkenburgh; “Most Industrial,” Nairn Okler; “Four For Four,” Paul G. Wiegman; “Dogs Are the New Kids,” Altamanu/Russell Ingram Photography; “Right Sized,” PWP Landscape Architecture; “Balancing Act,” Landscape Architecture 6, April 1916.

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BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER

Milwaukee pilots a new stormwater management tool.

Milwaukee pilots a new stormwater management tool.

From the July 2015 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

By August, the faded yellow house at 3930 North 35th Street in Milwaukee will be gone. In its place, invisible to all but the team that designed it, will be a new tool for stormwater management: the “BaseTern.” Conceived by Erick Shambarger, the deputy director of Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, a BaseTern is a basement that’s been converted into a rainwater or stormwater cistern. Milwaukee is completing what is said to be the world’s first such system this month.

The BaseTern concept, which Shambarger trademarked, is simple. Stormwater will be directed to an abandoned or foreclosed property’s basement, which, after the aboveground structure is demolished, is waterproofed and filled with gravel and stormwater-harvesting cells. According to a feasibility study by engineers at HNTB, the system can hold anywhere from 13,000 to 40,000 gallons of water during storms, reducing flooding in adjacent homes.

It’s a clever riff on adaptive reuse, taking advantage of one urban issue—a surplus of city-owned foreclosures—to solve another: the flooding that is increasingly common in dense, impervious neighborhoods like Milwaukee’s Sherman Park, where the pilot project is located.

(more…)

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