The evening of October 17th 2014 was different than the 1,559 Friday nights which had come before. A typical Friday night for us at SWA Dallas would be arriving at the DFW airport from Cabo, Cairo, Dubai, Chonquing, San Antonio, or any of the places far or near were we work. Friday nights often find… Read more »
How is it that some cities can so distinctly attract people while others may not? And what are the attributes that cause citizens to identify themselves as being a part of a city, as if it’s part of who they are? Of all the places that have helped to educate and shape my life, none… Read more »
How is it that some cities can so distinctly attract people while others may not? And what are the attributes that cause citizens to identify themselves as being a part of a city, as if it’s part of who they are? Of all the places that have helped to educate and shape my life, none have had a more profound impact than my time in New Orleans. Over four years I was a landscape architecture student and then design professional in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas. I was in a unique position as someone who was not only personally invested in the future of my home, but also someone in a profession that provided opportunities to be actively involved in planning efforts on both the city and neighborhood scale.
Public spaces, whether large or small, have the capacity to evoke a myriad of emotions. How a person or a group of people can develop a mental construct of “identity” in relation to something on the scale of a city may involve a complex mix of factors such as the natural or built environments, or available resources, but none seem to be as influential as the people and social cultures. They’re what bring a city to life. For the citizens of New Orleans, who have cultivated a tremendous sense of identity, an outgrowth is the feeling of belonging, not only to the place but to the people as well.
This city has endured, and continues to endure, numerous difficulties from both manmade and environmental events. Damages to the city’s infrastructure, economy, and environment are tragic results of these events. And while these effects have crippled the city, they also highlighted the resolve for the locals to continue to call New Orleans home. It is the collective desire of cultural preservation and sense of belonging that characterizes this unique city.
These attributes have been recognized by organizations large and small as crucial to build upon when working to develop the city’s future. Governmental groups such as the City Planning Commission and the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), as well as numerous neighborhood organizations and nonprofits have united around this common goal.
Their efforts have resulted in some unique and innovative redevelopment strategies. Programs such as Lot Next Door and the now controversial Road Home were developed with the intent to provide redevelopment opportunities for the existing residents of New Orleans. Nonprofit organizations such as the Make It Right Foundation have worked to offer citizens impacted by Katrina the opportunity for subsidized housing. Creative and cost-effective efforts such as the Growing Green program allow citizens to lease or purchase vacant lots and reutilize them for community farming/gardens.
The act of investing not only in the necessary structural and economic endeavors, but in the people as well has shown to be a powerful strategy. Even though the physical character of the city has suffered and will continue to evolve, the preservation of the cultural fabric continues to drive it onward. This vibrant life force provides more than simply an amenity for a city, it creates an identity.
Photo of the Ninth Ward courtesy of Christopher Hall.
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Sited on over 200 acres of vineyards, gardens, and natural landscape in the Napa Valley, di Rosa is the shared vision of prolific art collectors Rene and Veronica di Rosa. Featuring 2,000 works of art by more than 800 artists, their world-class collection, exhibited in three buildings as well as on the surrounding landscape, is… Read more »
Sited on over 200 acres of vineyards, gardens, and natural landscape in the Napa Valley, di Rosa is the shared vision of prolific art collectors Rene and Veronica di Rosa. Featuring 2,000 works of art by more than 800 artists, their world-class collection, exhibited in three buildings as well as on the surrounding landscape, is considered the most significant holding of Bay Area art in the world.
By placing artwork in the context of his sprawling Carneros Valley estate, Rene di Rosa created an outdoor space that invites a broader audience to access the visions of contemporary artists such as Robert Arneson, Mark Di Suvero, and Wayne Thibauld. Using the landscape as an exhibition space challenges our perceptions about how we imagine we should think about a piece of art. For example, it questions common beliefs about nature’s harmonizing effects. Consider di Rosa’s own creation, Lynched Volkswagon. We typically think of automobiles and trees as being in conflict—we’ve all seen accidents to support that impression. Di Rosa chose to hang his car from a large tree branch using a rope. The auto dangles freely but is supported by the tree. I picture the two holding a dialogue in this state of tension, studying each other and questioning whether they could continue to share the same space in this quickly evolving world. It’s a powerful image and fun to view.
The work that most exemplifies for me the preserve’s ability to celebrate the integration of art and nature is Robert Hudson’s sculpture Running Through the Woods, of 1975. The theme showcases di Rosa’s vision of the wilderness as the ideal canvas for his collection. A standing buck steadied on a grid-like structure confirms the delicate balance—and struggle—between humans, the wilderness, and the sacred elements supporting their union. Di Rosa represents the realization of a dream to preserve all of those things, catalyzed by its founder’s conversations in the ‘60s with talented young members of the art faculty at UC Davis (where he studied viticulture) who were then creating massive shifts in the idea of modern conceptual art.
Photo by Steven Rothfield, courtesy of di Rosa. Artworks in foreground by Robert Arneson (left) and Viola Frey (right).
For more information: http://www.dirosaart.org/
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Cities around the world experience conflict around religion, language, culture, and ethnicity. Ever since the Tunisian uprising against Ben Ali in 2011, stories of protest around the world seem to amass at an astounding rate. Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Ukraine, and, more recently, Venezuela and Hong Kong, are among many places where people have organized to… Read more »
Cities around the world experience conflict around religion, language, culture, and ethnicity. Ever since the Tunisian uprising against Ben Ali in 2011, stories of protest around the world seem to amass at an astounding rate. Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Ukraine, and, more recently, Venezuela and Hong Kong, are among many places where people have organized to demand greater political and social freedoms. At the same time, news of climate change has spread to become a frequent topic of discussion with the haunting implications of living in what some scientists believe is an Anthropocene age of mass extinctions. The recent failure by the U.S. to join a declaration for a global price on carbon makes the situation more dire. Concerns over the ecological health of our environment should be addressed. As the philosopher Gregory Bateson so eloquently puts it, “[T]he organism which destroys its environment destroys itself.” This adage applies to the social environment as well. Will societies confront more abstract and sometimes imperceptible changes of ecological health when they are dealing with more immediate dilemmas of oppression?
As planners and designers it is crucial to consider landscape architecture’s role in addressing oppression and conflict and to consider how spaces for reconciliation can be created. While many factors are at play, and a multi-pronged approach is needed to ameliorate conflict, physical space provides opportunities to focus on the commonalities between groups and to work toward coexistence. Peace-building through landscape design can take many forms. Some of them have been written about by the landscape architecture community.
Creating Adaptable Spaces
In post-conflict cities, design interventions are needed but must allow for a period of reconciliation that can bring about continued change. In the article “Peace Building in the City: Planning and Design Strategies,” on the website fragilestates.org, Scott A Bollens says, “Urban planning and policy interventions should seek as much flexibility of urban built form as possible, choosing spatial development paths that maximize future options. This is not an integration or assimilation strategy in disguise, but rather seeks to create an urban porosity that allows normal, healthier urban processes to occur if and when individuals and governments are ready.” By designing spaces that allow for continued change, the environment can play a positive role in the peace-building process rather than halting any improvement to, and rebuilding of, the landscape or prematurely determining the outcome of any process.
Using Plazas or Squares as a Staging Ground for Building Peace
When Egyptians protested against Mubarak, they organized in Tahrir (Liberation) Square. In Libya, the revolution gathered in Green Square. In the Ukraine, people came together in Independence Square. Clearly, plazas or squares are often the staging ground for community organization. Public squares are also known as maidans (Persian) and they have been given much thought by designer Anuradha Mathur. “In cities of increasingly circumscribed social, racial, or economic enclaves, the maidan has come to both symbolize and provide neutral territory, a ground where people can gather on a common plane. It is a place that offers freedom without obligation. This ability to accommodate a diverse range of social and political structures makes the maidan an extremely significant space in the city.” Of course, when squares such as Tiananmen are grand in scale they can also symbolize power and their immense claim of space can appear alienating. Thus, landscape architects always need to keep in mind the contexts in which they are working.
Programming Space as Mediator
Another approach toward mediating social tension can be through the programming of space. In Baltimore, where Johns Hopkins University may appear as a privileged enclave in stark contrast to adjacent poverty stricken neighborhoods, the design firm Rogers Partners has worked on an idea to create a campus that would bring people together. The concept is centered on the creation of a K-8 school that will be supported by a community center and library that will serve the neighborhood and become a magnet for reinvestment. The success of such an approach will be shown in time.
South African cities have undergone a period of reconciliation post-apartheid but are still marked by immense violence in some areas. The township of Khayelitsha in the city of Cape Town is one such place. In response, a team of local planners, urban designers, and landscape architects under the auspices of the Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) program, has created a new route for pedestrians, including “safe nodes” to enable “safe walking,” a park, a community center, a sports complex, and “learning platforms” with interactive parks. The team behind the VPUU program says, “Since the development of this five-year, $11 million, community-driven project, murders are down 33 percent in Harare, one section of the township, and 22 percent in Khayelitsha overall. Furthermore, almost 90 percent of the area’s 250,000 residents say living conditions have improved,” writes Jared Green in a post titled “In Cape Town, Urban Design Reduces Violence” on The Dirt website.
In the highly contested West Bank of Jerusalem, architect Eyal Weizman sees design used to protect inhabitants from other people. Construction in the landscape is never neutral. Red-roofed Israeili buildings tower over Palestinian settlements and assert a sort of dominance. It is important to keep in mind what Weizman refers to as the elasticity of space. “The power of space is not in its rigid stability but rather in its constant transformations. When you see space as an elastic medium—and I don’t mean anything benign in that elasticity; it’s an incredibly deadly, and kind of controlling, elasticity—you start understanding that construction and destruction are continuous with each other, complementary actions rearranging matter across the terrain. I don’t want to see them as separate kinds of orders. Both are the shaping of space. Force and power are translated into form.”
SWA’s work in landscape architecture, planning, and urban design demonstrates a commitment to the communities it touches, both from an environmental and social standpoint. In cases where these communities face conflict, this work can go beyond building dynamic environments to provide spaces for peace-building.
Photo of Tahrir Square by Jonathan Rashad.
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What can a “crowd” often do better than the government, financial institutions, or a corporate entity? It can become a tool for genuine community empowerment, replacing accepted avenues of development whereby funding or employment typically comes through fixed economies such as the government, NGOs, corporations, or financial institutions. “Crowdsourcing,” as we know, is an enterprise… Read more »
What can a “crowd” often do better than the government, financial institutions, or a corporate entity? It can become a tool for genuine community empowerment, replacing accepted avenues of development whereby funding or employment typically comes through fixed economies such as the government, NGOs, corporations, or financial institutions. “Crowdsourcing,” as we know, is an enterprise driven by the expanded online presence of much of the earth’s population that taps the global marketplace and its associated pool of resources for solutions to challenges both personal and with worldwide relevance.
Crowdsourcing was originally defined as the ability of an individual or group to outsource work to the online crowd or mass, however, this idea has rapidly become a portal of hope for governments, companies, and communities seeking aid from further afield than standard financing footsteps and ballot measures.
This idea of crowdsourcing as a contemporary practice springs from our globally wired community, where a group occupying a small fraction of a town can become a linked network capable of great impact. The concept certainly owes a great deal to our slowly recovering economy, and the reality that organizations still seek every angle and opportunity to remain flexible while gaining valuable insight into success via competitive and less costly experimentation. But no longer simply the spawn of the recent global financial crisis, this emerging trend offers successful examples in our own discipline, from garnering finances to developing innovative projects: New York City’s High Line, the Market Street Prototyping Festival in San Francisco, and Toronto’s Projexity effort are just a few recent high-profile examples.
The High Line, possibly the most iconic landscape yet of the 21st century, began with a community group named Friends of the High Line founded by Joshua David and Robert Hammond, residents of the Chelsea neighborhood, to advocate for the abandoned elevated rail line’s preservation and reuse as public open space. Their group of interested community members has become a nonprofit financial power that ultimately developed one of the most innovative spaces in New York City.
Closer to home is the Market Street Prototyping Festival, an upcoming temporary installation event on San Francisco’s Market Street. Spearheaded by the SF Planning department, the effort bypasses standard protocol and operations of master planning and development by a government or corporate entity traditionally considered capable of handling such a massive project in lieu of an open-sourced and community-driven competition to re-invigorate San Francisco’s most vital street. This project is branding itself as a fresh, flexible and “crowd” driven approach to aid various organizations and communities in illuminating possible avenues for future success in their public space.
Projexity, a nonprofit company based in Toronto, has recognized the broader opportunity and implications of crowdsourcing and begun organizing competitions on behalf of governmental organizations, NGOs, and communities large and small that hope to find and fund projects in the private and public spheres. Most recently, together with the Toronto Region Conservation Authority, Projexity spearheaded a competition to aid one of the most underserved communities in North Toronto, garnering very innovative ideas to help them fundraise and develop a new landscape master plan for low-income, high-rise housing that could become a global paradigm for social housing.
Clearly, with all of these high-profile results, crowdsourcing is a concept that can be utilized toward great ends both by ourselves and the communities with whom we engage.
Image of the High Line by Todd Meyer; overlay by Alec Hawley.
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Did you know that the United Nations designated 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming? The honored agricultural activities operated by family members cover an array of production types: agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral, and aquaculture. Unsurprisingly, water is the key element to support these farming activities. California is now experiencing the third worst drought… Read more »
Did you know that the United Nations designated 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming? The honored agricultural activities operated by family members cover an array of production types: agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral, and aquaculture. Unsurprisingly, water is the key element to support these farming activities.
California is now experiencing the third worst drought in its recorded history. More than 36 percent of the state’s land is classified as being in exceptional drought. The economic impact felt statewide has registered a 3 percent loss in net revenue. Over the next two decades water resources will play an even more vital role. Because current traditional farming is an open loop production system with water being the most significant input, the system becomes increasingly unstable and fragile if the water cannot be secured.
Is there an alternative to ease the demand of water for farming? A method similar to the symbiosis that exists in the ecological system, aquaponics could be a perfect solution. Aquaponics is an integrated ecosystem which combines aquaculture (raising animals in water) with hydroponics (planting based on water without soil). The fish- and plant-based aquatic systems have a symbiotic relationship that creates a closed loop food production system: Water is recirculated within the system and fish waste becomes nutrients for plants. In turn, plants filter the water for fish habitat. Worms, a byproduct of the composting plant cuttings, provide food for fish. Aquaponics is not a new technology; Aztecs’ Chinampa, or floating gardens, and the rice paddy fields in southern Asia employed this method.
Aquaponics requires less water per unit of food production. The nonprofit Aquaponics UK estimates that “one kilogram fish food will produce at least 50 kilograms vegetable and 0.8 kilogram of fish.” This self-sustainable food production system could be the answer for those countries which rely heavily on imported food.
Aquaponics systems will save at least 80 to 90 percent of water usage compared to traditional agriculture and aquaculture. Under normal operation the water within the system is effectively reused and recirculated. To maintain the water balance within aquaponics, water is added only for the loss of transpiration and absorption from plants, so that aquaponics are applicable even in arid regions. And because arid regions usually have plenty of sunshine, there is an opportunity to transfer local solar power into an energy source supporting the water and ambient system of aquaponics.
The current scale of aquaponics is relatively small and not yet mature enough for commercial applications; it’s more suitable for urban farming and neighborhood-oriented agriculture, or even within a reclaimed warehouse or abandoned factory. There is more and more DIY information on web sites; every day; perhaps a backyard aquaponic garden yielding a diversified and “edible landscape” for your home is not far away.