That Americans love their cars or that our infrastructure is built around them isn’t something people argue with, but what to do about it is a source of debate. In their book, Creating Green Roadways: Integrating Cultural, Natural, and Visual Resources into Transportation, James L. Sipes, ASLA, and Matthew L. Sipes offer up practical construction, design advice on how we might begin to move beyond basic transportation. Sipes and Sipes, a landscape architect and engineer respectively, haven’t just written a book about roads. As they say in their introduction, they’ve written a book about “pedestrians and bicycle facilities, streetscapes, community character; protecting cultural and natural resources and ensuring creatures large and small can cross the road safely. It is about multimodality, natural processes, and energy efficiency.”
With common language, thorough research and numerous case studies, the Sipes provide the reader with sound arguments for making our roadways green. They define green roadways as highways and roads that are site specific, that respect both the visual character of the place as well as plant and animal life. Green roadways work with a site’s watershed, maintain green corridors, and protect open spaces. It is possible, the authors maintain, to create roads that both meet traditional engineering standards and minimize their impact on the environment. More than that, though, green roadways are about getting people out of their cars – walking, biking and using public transportation.
They contend that the time is ripe for this green conversion, citing quite a few scary statistics: 33 percent of our nation’s roadways are in “poor or mediocre” condition; 36 percent of our major urban highways are congested; and 26 percent of bridges are “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.” They point to the collapse of the I-35 W bridge over the Mississippi in Minneapolis as an example of what might happen if we don’t make these changes. And not to put too fine a point on it, since the book has gone to press, yet another bridge has collapsed, this time on I-5 over the Skagit River in Washington State.
The number of cars on our roads has quadrupled from 65 million cars and trucks in 1955 to 246 million today, and where in 1970 vehicles in the US traveled 1 trillion miles per year, in 2010 that number had increased to 3 trillion miles per year while the amount of paved roads increased only 1.97 percent. These numbers are staggering, and the basic argument that the Sipes make is that building more roads won’t solve these problems. After all, how will laying down more roadways provide a solution when we can’t maintain what we have? Instead, their book makes a strong case for integrating roads, bridges, trails, walkways and other elements so they become assets, not liabilities. As they say, “roads and highways have such an impact on our communities that we need to start thinking about them in terms of quality of life.”
In urban and suburban areas, especially on local and neighborhood roads, the move should be on “de-emphasizing roads.” They should be narrowed and their visual impact lessened, sidewalks widened, and opportunities for sociability increased. The use of rain gardens and bioswales rather than a reliance on drains also lessens the environmental impact of roads.
Greener roundabouts can be used to slow traffic, and in the case of the roundabout in Normal, Illinois, it was designed as a community gathering places as well as a system for underground storm water collection.
Our interstates can be retrofitted to allow for wildlife crossings, either as land bridges or underpasses, which protect habitat and wildlife populations that live around highways. The authors note that the average cost of repair to a vehicle after a crash involving an animal is $2,900, a figure that certainly makes these changes worthwhile.
Both Sipes, who do believe there is still a place for pleasure driving, especially along the nation’s scenic and historic roads, provide the reader with examples of roads that are done well. They also offer recommendations for protecting the environmental, cultural and historical resources along these roadways.
The authors are dedicated to turning our transportation systems to assets, not liabilities, and have written a book to help guide this transformation.
This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, Student ASLA, ASLA 2013 summer intern and Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT)
Image credits: (1) Island Press, (2) Portland Library Streetcar Stop / J. Sipes, (3) Atlanta’s 15th Street / EDAW, (4) Portland Green Street Rain Garden / Kevin Robert Perry, City of Portland, (5) Normal, Illinois Roundabout / City of Normal, Illinois, (6) Proposed Wildlife Crossing / Washington Department of Transportation, (7) Stone Retaining Wall / depositphotos.com, (8) Blue Ridge Parkway Linn Cove Viaduct / Wikipedia Commons
The Dirt has initiated a new bi-weekly feature highlighting news stories from around the Web on landscape architecture. For more LA in the News, check out LAND, ASLA’s newsletter. If you see others you’d like included, please email us at
“In 1996, when developers proposed a residential community atop the slag heaps that for decades had greeted parkway travelers at the inbound entrance to the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, a dream once envisioned by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead but long thwarted by the demands of the steel industry would finally become possible.”
“As many metropolitan areas around the Midwest begin to reap the benefits of a downtown resurgence that has graced cities from Cincinnati to Chicago, Cleveland plans to turn its lackluster Public Square into a 10-acre park in the heart of downtown.”
“A new ‘toolbox’ is put together annually by the Danish organization Sustainia, aiming to differentiate itself from other sustainability awards by focusing exclusively on solutions that are available today. By highlighting trends as well as the solutions that already exist to capitalise on them, Sustainia aims to create an army of world-changing ideas.”
“The curving benches are a tip of his cap to Jens Jensen, the early 20th-century Danish-American landscape architect who brought the feeling of the prairie, and Native American traditions, to Chicago’s parks and countless public and private landscapes across the country.”
These articles were compiled by Phil Stamper, ASLA Public Relations and Communications Coordinator
Image credit: Mountain laurel at Brooklyn Botanic Garden / Randy Harris for The New York Times.
I have been under stress watching the recent events taking place in my native Turkey. These events began with peaceful demonstrations on May 29 by environmentally-minded citizens who wanted to preserve one of the last remaining green spaces in Istanbul. They did not want to see a planned demolition and privatization of a public park known as Gezi (Promenade) Park in a major public open space in the District of Taksim. However, excessive use of force by the riot police — with their use of water cannons, rubber bullets, and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators — quickly brought more protesters, who then introduced an anti-government agenda. Public gatherings in support of the Gezi Park as well as anti-government demonstrations quickly spread over to other major cities and 78 of Turkey’s 81 provinces. The use of excessive force by police to disperse the protestors in Istanbul, the capital city of Ankara, and the third largest city Izmir, has been clearly documented by the international media. As a result, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his religious-based conservative government are looking vulnerable for the first time in his ten-year administration. Despite significant economic successes under his leadership, this episode has the potential to tarnish the international image and reputation of Turkey, a majority Muslim country with a strongly secular tradition.
I believe these sad developments can be linked to the top-down planning style of the Prime Minister, who once again took center stage to explain his vision for this public square and park during these tragic events. Furthermore, instead of trying to calm the protestors and approve the requested dialog for public participation, the PM sent in his supporters in addition to riot police.
The announced plans by the Istanbul city government, which were strongly promoted by the PM, initially called for razing the park to build a shopping mall inspired by a demolished Ottoman Military Barracks. Based on initial protests, the PM backed off plans for a shopping mall on the site, but there are still plans to remove the existing park and building “something” there. For the rest of the Taksim Square, the PM calls for removing several stores to bring an existing church into the open and build a “major mosque” on the other side of the street, in a location that used to be a private theater for musical performances. This is proposed under the guise of open dialog and respect for both religions.
As for the proposed plans and designs: The overall plan, which calls for the removal of the park, calls for several underground tunnels to alleviate traffic congestion that currently plagues the square. They would add very large turf areas in the shape of tulips, which are a revered flower in Turkey and also known to have religious symbolism referring to the Prophet Muhammad. The PM’s statement suggesting that “something” will be built there proves that there is no design thought given either to the master plan or the street-level designs (see videos below):
As an educator, I would call the proposed overall plan for the square and the park sophomoric at best. This park has been the subject of many of my projects when I was an undergraduate student in late 1970s. Over the years the park has been encroached upon along its edges and has received minimal maintenance and care; an occasional bench replacement is about that seems to be done.
Despite their neglect, trees have matured and provide the only shaded area and refuge from the highly-motorized greater Taksim square. The current state of the park reminds me of Bryant Park in New York City prior to its most recent renovations. It’s true that something needs to be done to take advantage of this wonderful green oasis in the sea of cars dominating Taksim Square. However, the proposed removal of the park to establish a private shopping center or “something” is not what is needed.
The use of earlier Ottoman Military Barracks as an inspiration for the proposed shopping center (or some other type of building) is also highly questionable. These barracks were the scene of one of the bloodiest uprisings by mullahs, who wanted religious laws enacted during the last decades of the Ottoman Empire (similar to those used in Iran or by the Taliban today). Atatürk (Father of Turks), the founder of today’s modern Turkey, was the Ottoman Military commander who quashed these uprisings in the late 1800s and consequently ordered the destruction of the barracks after the establishment of Turkey in 1923. The promotion of the image of these barracks by the PM as a back drop to the proposed developments begs the question: how much respect does the current government have for the strong secular traditions of the country?
The proposed plans do not seem to give even a cursory thought to the needs of pedestrians. They do not offer any significant design elements for the human scale. Perhaps another unstated objective of the PM is to minimize and eventually remove the monument to the Independence War, which houses sculptures of Atatürk, his commanders, and the unknown soldiers during the final days of the occupied Ottoman Empire. The videos released by the metropolitan city government of the proposed development make this meaningful landmark look as insignificant as an ant.
PM Erdoğan’s government owes some of its economic successes to the privatization of many government institutions, holdings, and services. Some of these privatization efforts were perhaps necessary to encourage private financing and development. But selling national treasures is highly questionable. The government has sold parts of the first model farm in Ankara established by Ataturk to international clients to establish a private resort. At the present, there is extensive clear cutting in the Atatürk Farm.
Let me explain the significance of this: Could you imagine the U.S. Government selling President Jefferson’s Monticello? Similarly, how would the American public react if the U.S. Government or the National Parks Service were to sell some of much-cherished open fields not covered by memorials in the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for a private shopping mall development? This is exactly what is happening in Istanbul and other cities in Turkey.
All of these tragic events could have been avoided if either the PM Erdoğan or his representatives were to institute a public hearing system in their planning and design process. Instead the PM is more concerned with the demonstrators questioning his authority and calls them “çapulcu,” meaning marginal and extreme. At other times, he’s called these concerned citizens of Turkey “terrorists.” This is quite ironic considering that it’s the PM’s government who is holding talks with a convicted killer and the head of the internationally recognized terrorist group PKK (Kurdish Separatists).
Prime Minister Erdogan PM and all of his representatives must recognize they are elected to represent the people. These people have shown up in unprecedented numbers to express their opinions and represent themselves. If the PM and his government continue to ignore the voice of the people, they may not be re-elected as the peoples’ representatives. Finally, Mr. Erdoğan needs to make up his mind if he wants to be the Prime Minister of Turkey, the Mayor of City of Istanbul, or an urban designer. If the Prime Minister has no intention of going back to school, then he should let the real design professionals do their job and concentrate on managing the government in a way that will make all Turkish citizens proud.
This guest post is by Professor Sadik Artunc, FASLA, RLA, head of the department of landscape architecture, Mississippi State University. A native of Turkey, Professor Artunc has a BS and MS in forestry and forest engineering from the University of Istanbul and an MLA from the University of Michigan. Prior to arriving in the United States in 1975, he worked in Turkey as a forester for the Ministry of Forestry, as a recreation planner in the Central Planning Office, and as the planning director of the Olympus National Park for the Department of National Parks.
Image credits: (1-2) Turkish Revolution, (3) The Huffington Post, (4-5) Taksim Square / Wikipedia
The National Building Museum’s summer mini-golf is back, this time with two courses of nine holes each. Each hole was constructed around the theme “Building the Future” and was designed by a variety of architects, landscape architects, designers and contractors. A group of four of us played through both courses; the highlights, favorites and frustrations of which are detailed below.
Perhaps the coolest looking hole on either course was Holograph Hole on the Green course. Designed and built by architecture firm Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill with help from students at Catholic University’s School of Architecture, this hole featured a 3-D virtual cityscape in glowing holographic green. Calling attention to the digital tools that architects now use, this hole highlights how 3-D technology is also changing the design process. Par was 2. Half of our crew scored on par, the other half a 3. Is it an acceptable excuse to say the sci-fi surroundings were a bit distracting because they were just so awesome?
FOREward Thinking, hole 6 on the Green course, was built and designed by STUDIOS Architecture, under the premise that we can be sustainable by revitalizing old buildings. Common materials came together in the construction of this hole, along with two separate paths, one of which was up a ramp and down a xylophone. This route was, of course, not the direct route. Par was 3, which our group easily made, with the exception of yours truly, who got stuck trying unsuccessfully to use the xylophone. This resulted in 2 over par, though the invitation to draw on the chalkboard walls took away some of the sting.
Hole 8 on the Green Course, Capital RiverGreen, designed by Shalom Baranes Associates and built by Winmar Construction, showcases D.C.’s relatively new Yards Park, which runs along the Anacostia River. Depending on where you stand, panels line up to create large pictures of the landscape in and surrounding the park. Play is directed around a tiny Navy Yard Metro sign and over the park’s iconic bridge rendered in miniature. Enjoyment of this hole has to do with an interest in community green space and not just because of a score of 2 on a par 3.
Our merry band of mini golf players made it through the “easy” Green Course, which was par 25, with a respectable 24 and 25, as well as a slightly less than respectable 26 and 28. But who’s judging? We’re just having fun. On to the Blue Course, which, you guessed it, was the “hard” course. Some of the holes on this course seem nearer to impossible than hard, but again, who’s judging?
First up was Mount Vernon Triangulation, which at first blush is deceptively simple – lines of light form triangles on a flat rectangle with a straight path to the hole. Then you step on it and realize that where you stand affects the shape of the putting green. Designer, E/L Studio, and builders, Think Make Build; FLOR; and Independent Custom Metalworks, want to teach participants about triangulation, which is a process that determines a location by using other known and fixed points. Upon closer inspection, the lines of blue lights also form a map of the Mount Vernon Triangle. It is possible to direct the ball by jumping from side to side and changing the shape of the course rather like a game of pinball, but no need, we were all off to a good start scoring on par or below on this hole’s par 3.
The Evolution of the Office, Hole 2, which was designed by Determined by Design and built by DAVIS Construction, reminds us that technology has fundamentally changed how, and where, we work. Our laptops and smartphones give us the opportunity to take our work from the office to the park bench. This, like many holes on the Blue course, provides the player with two routes, generally one more direct than the other. Not wanting to say no to challenge, I chose the route over the desks and back around the park bench. The angle is a bit awkward and high off the ground, so it seemed like a good idea to use the club like a pool cue. That is until the ball went flying off the bench and landed on the other side of the room. This resulted in a score of 4, 2 over par, with my mini-golf associates scoring at par, or 1 over. You might guess who chose the direct route.
Hole 4, The Future’s Looking Up!, designed by Bonstra I Haresign Architects and built by Monarc Construction, shows the player the latest in green roof technology. Play is a straight shot uphill, once you get past the drainage elements and round the chimney. But don’t get too confident, or you’ll end up in the roof’s gutter which sends you back down the hill. Par was 3, though only one in our group scored that, with the rest of us scoring a very sorry and disappointing 6.
Tomorrow’s Water, Hole 5, sponsored by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and designed and built by students at Virginia Tech’s Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center is not only arguably the most beautiful hole on either course, it is without question one of the most difficult. Carved in layered wood, this hole shows in topographic detail D.C.’s watershed and forces the player to confront something that few of us ever consider in our day-to-day lives: Where does storm water go and how does it get there? Par is 3, though if it weren’t for witnessing a hole in one, one might argue par should be nigh impossible. Unlike water which flows where it will, there is one route that will lead you directly to the hole, but beware falling off the edge. If that happens, you might have to call it at 6 strokes rather than admitting the 15 strokes you took to try and get back on track.
The Blue Course’s Hole 7 provides a much needed respite after the frustrations of some of the earlier holes on the course. Imagination Powers the Future, designed and built by Hargrove, Inc., is whimsical, colorful, and a direct shot with a par 3. This hole is based on the idea that imagination and creativity make the world a better place. We were all happy to make it under par, with one in the group getting a hole in one.
The last hole on the Blue Course, PARticipatory TERRAIN, designed by D.C.-based landscape architecture firm, Landscape Architecture Bureau (LAB), built by Harkins Builders, and sponsored by The JBG Companies, requires the player to choose a side on a yes or no question, and by placing a pink plastic rod on the side of their answer, decide themselves how to change the route to the hole. The question our group confronted, “Should we prepare for an asteroid to hit the earth?” was split pretty evenly between the yes and no camps, something that may have helped direct the ball neatly to the hole, under the par 3, with one of us scoring a hole in one. Come back each week for a new question, and new challenge.
Blue Course’s par was a 26, and proved for most of us to be as much of a challenge as it was billed to be. We scored a 29, a 31 (uffda, that’s yours truly), a 23 (show-off), and a 28.
At $5 per course per person, this is truly a fun time. Come down and show off your mad mini-golf skills and prove you’re up for the challenge.
This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, Student ASLA, ASLA 2013 summer intern and Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT)
Image credits: (1) Mini Golf Clubs / Anne McDonough Photography, (2) Holograph Hole / Kevin Allen Photography, (3) FOREWard Thinking / Emily Clack Photography, (4) Capital RiverGreen / Kevin Allen Photography, (5) Mount Vernon Triangulation / Emily Clack Photography, (6) The Evolution of the Office / Anne McDonough Photography, (7) The Future’s Looking Up! / Kevin Allen Photography, (8) Tomorrow’s Water / Kevin Allen Photography, (9)) Imagination Powers the Future / Anne McDonough Photography, (10) PARticipatory TERRAIN / Kevin Allen Photography