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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 MIMI ZEIGER

A beloved Lake Merritt play sculpture is a reminder that creativity is a public good.

FROM THE NOVEMBER 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Guiding the transition of San Francisco’s Presidio from military base to national park may be the standout accomplishment of the landscape architect and parks administrator William Penn Mott Jr., who assumed the helm of the U.S. National Park Service in 1985, but it’s a little “monster” from early in Mott’s career that has received renewed attention.

In 1952, when Mott was parks superintendent for the city of Oakland, he commissioned the artist Robert “Bob” Winston to create a unique play structure on the sandy banks of Lake Merritt. Sculptural and organic, the chartreuse green piece was known as the Mid-Century Monster. It was one of the first designs in the United States to depart from (more…)

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BY JEFF LINK

A pilot study suggests playground equipment can provide social and emotional benefits for children with sensory disorders.

FROM THE JUNE 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

Lucy Miller lost her sight when she was 16 and, in 1970, underwent one of the nation’s first corneal transplants. A procession of specialists flitted in and out of her recovery room—doctors, nurses, residents, fellows—but she recalls thinking that only the occupational therapist was interested in her as a person.

Shortly after her release from the hospital, she abandoned her plans to go to law school and headed to graduate school at Boston University to study occupational therapy. It wasn’t only the care and attention of her former occupational therapist who had led her to this decision. In the hospital, over several months when her eyes were surgically detached from her skull, she noticed her other senses had grown sharper. She wondered why, neurologically, this had happened, and was determined to find out. So, in her early twenties, still in graduate school, she embarked on a summer mentorship at the Torrance, California, clinic of Jean Ayers, the originator of a then-emerging field exploring the relationship between the sensory processing dysfunction and the behavior of children with disabilities.

Nearly half a century later, Miller, who is the clinical director of the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder just south of Denver, has become one of the nation’s preeminent scholars on sensory processing disorder (SPD). This term is used to describe difficulty with “one or more of the sensory processes that occur along the neurological pathway, from detecting stimulation to regulating the input and output, to interpreting the sensations correctly, to responding accurately, and finally, to turning the sensory input into meaningful responses,” as she explained in her 2014 book, (more…)

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The new Nature Gardens at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County by Mia Lehrer + Associates provides habitat for the city’s surprisingly diverse wildlife and brings the museum’s research outside; Gweneth Leigh, ASLA, compares the dull and outdated playgrounds of the past to two challenging, yet exciting, Australian playgrounds by Taylor Cullity Lethlean and James Mather Delaney Design; and Lauren Mandel, Associate ASLA, looks at how research at the Chicago Botanic Garden roof gardens by  Oehme, van Sweden Landscape Architecture are designed to provide hard data on suitable plants and soil depths.

In our departments, Now highlights Louisiana’s wildlife management areas, Dirk Sijmons’s studies of energy and landscape, and a new program that puts chief resilience officers in cities; Water takes a look at the Miami Conservancy District in Ohio; Practice features an unusual partnership between a salt merchant and the firm Landing Studio; and in The Back Jonathan Lerner wonders if MOMA’s exhibit, Urban Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities, is as tactically urban as it aims to be. All this plus our regular Species, Goods, and Books columns. The full table of contents for January can be found here.

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  January articles as the month rolls out.

Credits: “So Cal,” Luke Gibson Photography, Courtesy Mia Lehrer + Associates; “No, No, You Go First,” Brett Boardman; “This Is a Test,” Robin Carlson/Courtesy Oehme, Van Sweden; “A Plan to Plan?” Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries/The Conservation Fund; “Dry on a Good Day,” Courtesy Miami Conservancy District; “Strange Companions,” Courtesy Landing Studio; “Growing Pains,” Courtesy NLÉ and Zoohaus/Inteligencias Colectivas.

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