The Krymskaya embankment in Moscow has received a thorough facelift. New territories were joined with the Muzeon Park of Arts, no longer hidden behind a fence, that now stretches all the way to the banks of the Moskva river.
Nestled within L’Enfant’s original plans for Washington, D.C., the project area is in the Chinatown neighborhood, which has a rich and varied history. The neighborhood is a bustling urban area, but one that also faces significant issues related to combined sewer overflows and a degraded watershed. The project area spans the divide between the Potomac and Anacostia watersheds, providing a unique educational opportunity to incorporate a deeper understanding of the city’s hydrology.
This project extends the length of I Street between 9th and 6th streets, including several blocks north and south of I Street. As an underdeveloped and underused corridor, 8th Street is an opportunity for significant green enhancements. It’s anticipated that the first stage of the construction will focus on I Street, including the right-of-way at ASLA headquarters, located at 636 I Street. This project will be implemented in phases.
In late 2012, a two-day design charrette for this project was hosted by ASLA President Tom Tavella, FASLA, with stakeholders and District agencies. The goal of this charrette, and the resulting concept design, was to demonstrate the value of green infrastructure/low-impact development (LID) in the Chinatown neighborhood.
The drawings generated during the event are meant only to serve as a starting point for further conceptual development. They are based on generalized information gathered for the site; issues that may limit the design such as underground utility locations, compliance with existing plans, and State Historic Preservation Office design guidelines were not considered. Explore the prospectus based on the initial design charrette.
The selected firm will be the lead consultant and oversee the project through all phases from design and installation to long-term maintenance planning and educational outreach.
The selected firm will collaborate with the ASLA Site Sustainability Advisory Committee throughout all phases of the project.
The selected firm will coordinate with ASLA staff to identify ways to document the design process, construction, monitoring results, and maintenance
It is anticipated that both the design and installation will occur in phases. The selected firm will help determine the appropriate phasing for the entire project.
The initial phase of the project is to produce a comprehensive master plan. It is anticipated that the master plan will be used to acquire additional funding for design development and installation of subsequent phases of the project.
The design is to have a strong identity unique to the cultural heritage and urban context of the Chinatown neighborhood. It should be a refuge amid the neighborhood’s busy vehicular traffic, placing priority on the needs of pedestrians, transit users, and cyclists.
The project is not only to exceed performance standards, but become a tangible expression of the power of marrying strong design with solid scientific principles. This should be accomplished in a beautiful and dynamic way that creates a public amenity.
The LID strategies proposed for the demonstration project must take an innovative yet implementable approach. This approach is to be applied to site selection, identification and resolution of challenges, design and construction, monitoring and evaluation, and finally to maintenance guidelines.
For more LA in the News, check out LAND, ASLA’s newsletter. If you see others you’d like included, please email us at
Selling English Gardens to the Americans – The Guardian, 11/21/13
“It’s all hands on deck setting up the show stand at the conference center. Each company sent their work out to the U.S. weeks before and the crates needed unpacking and putting on display, similar to a mini-Chelsea Flower show stand. We had also arranged to get plants from a local nursery to plant in the Italian Terrace pots to further beautify the exhibit. By lunchtime it was looking pretty amazing.”
Green Urbanism is the Future! Well, Maybe – Planetizen, 11/24/13
“My guess is the glossy, beautifully photographed images showing built work designed by professionals attract the most attention. But for me, even though I appreciate design eye candy as much as anyone, my focus inevitably shifts to the planning and analysis category and, in particular, the student work, because it is here, in the unrealized work, that we catch a glimpse of where things are headed or, perhaps, should be headed.”
Landscape Architects “Could Enable Paradigm Shift” in Green Infrastructure Alternative to Thames Super Sewer – Landscape Institute, 11/24/13
“Following the recent successful adoption of green infrastructure (GI) measures in the U.S. city of Philadelphia, the ‘Clean Thames Now and Always’ campaign is proposing a similar combination of GI solutions, including porous asphalt on roads, living roofs and SuDs, as a cheaper and more effective alternative to the tunnel. And landscape architects, says the campaign’s founder Christian Sarrasin, ‘would be the enablers of this paradigm shift.’”
The Thanksgiving Landscape – Metropolis Magazine, 11/25/13
“As we prepare to sit down and stuff our collective faces, let’s take a little time to fill our brains before we fill our bellies. In preparation for the marathon shopping day that is Black Friday, Americans will spend Thursday carbo-loading with stuffing, biscuits, and pie alongside traditional turkey, gravy, and cranberry sauce. So, gather ’round the table, and feel free to share these Thanksgiving facts and figures with your family and friends.”
New York City’s Largest Solar Energy Installation to be built at Freshkills Park – World Landscape Architecture, 11/30/13
“The Mayor of New York recently announced that the city will install the largest solar energy installation in New York City at Freshkills Parks. The installation is set to power 2,000 homes and will increase the City’s current renewable energy capacity by 50 percent. The Administration is moving forward with steps to officially map an additional 1,500 acres of Freshkills into parkland, officially bringing the total for Freshkills Park to 2,200 acres and bringing total parkland in New York City to more than 30,000 acres for the first time in history.”
These articles were compiled by Phil Stamper, ASLA Public Relations and Communications Coordinator
Image credit: Pumpkins ready for harvest / Roemer pumpkin patch
In her new book Completing Our Streets: The Transition to Safe and Inclusive Transportation Networks, Barbara McCann notes that “the fundamental philosophy behind the complete streets movement can seem painfully obvious: roads should be safe for everyone traveling along them.” But as McCann, who served as the founding executive director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, also tells us, “the history, political standing, habits, and orientation of the transportation industry in the United States have made it extraordinarily difficult for any policy movement to shift the way transportation projects are planned and built.” Her book reflects on how the movement towards safer, more inclusive streets has started a positive shift in communities across America, as there are now more than 500 localities with complete streets policies.
McCann describes the complete streets movement as essentially a policy initiative that seeks to change the way all roads are built in the United States. It developed from an effort by advocates who wanted to put a directive in federal law to include bicycle facilities in all road projects. This was challenging because driving and biking were considered separate modes of transportation that were supported by different systems. What emerged from this effort became a movement to radically reframe transportation infrastructure. The focus turned to broadening transportation safety to include all people traveling along a corridor. It also widened from the individual road corridor to a jurisdiction’s entire network.
According to McCann, the movement’s success to date is not rooted in a simple definition of a new kind of street. There’s no one answer to the problem. She emphasizes that “defining the problem is not a design issue.” Lasting change only comes from addressing the primary problem, which is both political and cultural. The complete streets movement is succeeding not because it lays out a compelling design paradigm, but because it uses three key strategies to help change the way transportation projects are chosen, planned, and built. These three strategies are: shifting the focus from project design to values and policy; building a broad base of support for policy change; and creating a clear path to transform everyday practice.
McCann attributes much of the complete streets movement’s success to the ability to “reframe the conversation about transportation in a simple and powerful way.” Complete streets have multiple benefits, such as improving the health, sustainability, and economic vitality of communities. But the movement’s most potent argument is that safety on streets is a problem that effects everyone, both drivers and non-drivers. One third of the population does not drive, including children, older adults, people with disabilities, and those without the financial resources to own a car. These individuals need safe and effective means of transportation via walking, biking, or public transit. Discussing safety, McCann points out, is a highly subversive way to introduce new ideas. Introducing it as a topic immediately broadens the conversation around transportation development.
The movement has also been able to “build a broad base of political support.” McCann says that all too often elected officials adopt new policies that stall out in implementation. A whole new effort is necessary to bring them into daily practice. Complete streets policy advocates like ASLA make explicit the values surrounding the effort and build strong coalitions to support cultural and institutional change. They focus on building a network of support that includes not only politicians but also practitioners within transportation profession who are already trying to change the system from within. They also work to build support in communities by clarifying policies and helping people to understand, affirm, and support new approaches.
Complete streets initiatives then “provide a clear path to follow in transitioning to a multi-modal process.” To be actionable, the movement offers participants a map for building multimodal street networks that support driving as well as walking, biking, and public transit. Historically, transportation development since the the Federal Highway Act of 1956 has made a habit of building projects that are specific to a single method of travel. Complete streets initiatives provide a three-phase guide for action to break this habit. This guide provides technical information for building streets. More importantly, it includes information on writing and passing a policy commitment supported by the community, and outlines a process for changing the systems, culture, and practices inside transportation agencies.
With this three-part strategy, McCann argues, the complete streets movement offers every community a viable framework for improving their street network. In 2012, a nationwide public opinion poll showed that 63 percent of Americans would like to address traffic congestion by improving public transportation and designing communities for easier walking and bicycling. Cities across America face different challenges to addressing these issues. Older cities generally have a structure more conducive to a transportation refit, whereas newer cities are dealing with hundreds of miles of mostly disconnected street networks. Many of the communities within newer cities are far from reaching a progressive development ideal.
McCann’s book demonstrates how, regardless of the obstacles they face, communities of all kinds can begin to make lasting and effective changes using the principles of the complete streets movement.
In the 1970s, landscape architect Elliot Rhodeside, FASLA, Rhodeside & Harwell, created a program with immense, lasting value for Boston: the 1,400-plus-acre urban wilds program. Not quite parks, urban wilds are in-between natural open spaces — wetlands, shorelines, hilltops, meadows, woodlands — saved from development. To this day, they have a “unique hybridity,” and are still not part of Boston’s official park system. In a session at the ASLA 2013 Annual Meeting in Boston, Harwell, the program creator; Paul Sutton, the current manager of the urban wilds at the Boston Parks and Recreation department; and Jill Desmini, a professor of landscape architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design (GSD), discussed the challenges involved in both preserving and maintaining Boston’s wild urban places.
Protecting Wild Beauty in the City
As a young landscape architect, Rhodeside said Boston’s wild urban spaces had a “profound effect on me.” He felt that “developing these natural areas was the wrong way to go,” because only in Boston can “someone walk out of their house and come across a Puddingstone rock cropping right in the middle of their urban backyard.”
To make conservation a reality, Rhodeside, who was then chief landscape architect for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, had to get a plan in place. After winning a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) with some $50,000 in matching funds from the city, Rhodeside began reaching out to the local communities to connect them to the vision. “The idea wouldn’t work unless we could tie it to the neighborhoods.”
Rhodeside said he was inspired by San Francisco’s hilltop parks, with their unique micro-climates. “These places provide relief from the city.” Palo Alto has these wild wetland trails. He also looked to Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Eliot, and Ian McHarg for models.
At first, the goal was pretty conservative: to simply identify 10 sites with natural value, some 100 acres in total. But his team soon set-up a database and recorded all known threatened sites. Using an aerial photographic analysis, they covered the entire city. They decided to focus on “scenic, vacant land next to park lands, undeveloped land, vacant land next to water bodies, and highly publicized areas.” Combing the whole city, they discovered more than 2,000 acres of land possessing “scenic beauty and natural value.” If all these ecologically-valuable lands were protected, they would expand Boston’s park system by 50 percent.
The next step was to create an implementable plan. For that, they had to find out who owned what. Through their investigation, they discovered that the city already owned 25 percent of the prospective urban wilds. “They were just sitting there unprotected.” Collaborating with community leaders and the Boston Conservation Commission, they began pushing the city to protect those.
One advocacy tool was a “beautiful report” that was both “poetic and comprehensive.” A companion education piece was put up in Boston’s subway showing people how they connected to existing natural areas. Then, Eugenie Beal, a local conservation advocate, came in and set up a $250,000 line of credit from the bank to buy up urban wilds and then hand them over to the city. She created the Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN), “accomplishing an enormous amount.”
Rhodeside said their efforts succeeded in saving 2,000 acres in part because the timing was right. “We were in a recession, so we had a respite from the development era. It was the era of conservation.” He added that a burst of “renewed interest in the great landscape architects of the past helped,” as did the new federal programs that were created in the 70s like the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) and others.
Managing the Wilds Without a Budget
After BNAN was set up, it became “extremely active,” said Sutton. Through the 80s and 90s, the program became “adept at purchasing private property and transferring it to the parks department.” But while there were victories, with large parcels added to the network of wilds, the overall condition of these natural places declined, all the way through the 90s. This decline began with the economic downturn in the early 80s and statewide tax cuts. The result: “There was no maintenance, and lots of graffiti, litter, vandalism, drugs, and invasive plants.”
Still, one victory was purchasing Allandale Woods in West Roxbury, some 100 acres of forested wetlands near the Arnold Arboretum. Another was adding 25 acres of woodland near Hyde Park. To connect Boston’s MBTA transportation system with the Arnold Arboretum, the arboretum was given Bussey Brook Meadow, adding another 25 acres.
In the 90s, the city hired a urban wilds consultant who focused the parks department on creating a master plan for these places. Then, beginning in 2000s, there was a renewed effort to purchase and set aside ecologically-valuable land. The city got Belle Island Marsh, “one of the most ecologically-productive systems in the city,” a wetland that is being further restored.
Nira Rock was renovated. “It’s a success story.” The urban wilds program “piggy-backed of a nearby playground restoration,” leveraging the activist neighborhood. There has also been a “subtle, hidden restoration of larger sites,” multi-year initiatives that involve a real “hodge-podge” of local groups. Volunteers now deal with invasive plant removal and trail improvements throughout the system of urban wilds.
Sutton said the urban wilds program is “still a stepchild. We can’t use the park system logo.” There’s no budget, given most of the parks department’s finances go to active recreation areas and historic parks. “We have to market ourselves to the city.” But he said realtors are starting to see the value of the restored areas. And universities and non-profits are getting involved.
Within an increasingly revitalized system, the big challenge remains how to deal with sites spread all over the city and “getting new stewardship groups formed.” For the future, he wants these urban wilds to be “fun, inviting, and accessible,” but he also worries about how the city is going to “market these spaces to the next generation” so they remain valued.
Redefining These Places as Novel Ecosystems
Desmini, who teaches landscape architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design (GSD), said there were 143 urban wilds covering some 2,000 acres in 1976. In 2010, there were just 105 wilds covering 1,414 acres. Of that, 785 acres are permanently protected.
She said in the Allston / Brighton areas of Boston, “lots of urban wilds were lost.” In East Boston, segments near the airport are also gone. Other sites have been “dramatically transformed” over the past 40 years. Many places now have a “unique hybridity.”
Desmini said the definition of an urban wild has also changed over the years as these places have evolved. “Urban wilds are not parks or wilderness,” but something in between. Urban wilds are “unorganized scraps of nature,” celebrated for their “indigenous qualities.”
Urban wilds are “places of natural beauty and reflect a history that predates the American revolution.” They are a living story of “urban ecology and abandonment.” These are spaces “where nature instead of man shapes the space,” yet humans’ influence is still felt. They can be defined as novel ecosystems.
As with any novel ecosystem, they will not be pure, but they can still be celebrated. They have an “openness,” so they can be viewed as either “orphans or opportunity-filled.” They are rich with “vegetative succession and continuously evolving.” They can also have different hybrid uses. As an example, she pointed to an urban wild in Berlin where the local authorities actually allow graffiti spraying during certain hours.
Today, preserving an urban wild is about “conserving spontaneously-vegetated sites.” She said the future will be about “innovative maintenance” that takes into account the unique qualities of these spaces.
She said it’s also important the city starts treating the urban wilds as a comprehensive system of novel ecosystems. “The city can amp up the hybrid qualities.” Otherwise, they will “continue to struggle with fragmentation.”
Image credit: Allandale Woods / Boston Exotic Flowers