Moscow’s Zaryadye Park Sees More Than One Million Visitors in Less Than A Month

via Moscow’s Zaryadye Park Sees More Than One Million Visitors in Less Than A Month | ArchDaily

© Iwan Baan

© Iwan Baan

Moscow welcomed its first new park in 50 years with the opening Zaryadye Park in mid-September. Designed by architects Diller Scofidio + RenfroCitymakers and Hargreaves Associates, this new public space has been a big draw for Muscovites, with over a million people visiting in the first weeks since its inauguration.

The park has become one of the most important contemporary spaces in Moscow, exhibiting high-quality infrastructure and landscapes, as well as extraordinary views to the Kremlin and the Red Square.

© María González

© María González

The project is the result of a competition in 2012 organized by the Strelka Institute of Architecture and Media Design and Sergey Kuznetsov, Chief Architect of Moscow. The winners, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, were selected over contestants including Russian office TPO RESERVE (which came in second place) and Dutch firm MVRDV (who came in third place).

Site Plan

Site Plan

Daliya Safiullina, consultant of Strelka and organizer of the contest, told ArchDaily: “The challenge was to create a model of a contemporary park for Moscow, because nothing similar had been constructed since 1958. The idea was to generate an open-air museum in which the real exhibition was going to be the skyline of the city, a platform that would allow users to appreciate the beauty of Moscow. In that sense, the flying bridge proposed by the winners became the essence of the park”.

Save this picture!

© Iwan Baan

© Iwan Baan

Zaryadye got its name by the end of the 15th century, when The Red Square was a big market. It literally means “behind the rows,” referring to what extended beyond the market.

At the end of 1940, a base was established for what would have been Stalin’s eighth skyscraper. For several years, Zaryadye was the most-delayed construction project of the Soviet Union. In 1967 the architect Dmitry Chechulin finally built the Hotel Russia, which was demolished after less than 40 years of use. Sergey Kuznetsov explains, “After the demolition, the site remained abandoned for 6 years. During Yuri Luzhkov’s term as Mayor, the authorities contemplated several commercial real estate development projects, including a proposal by architect Norman Foster. Finally, in 2012, the Moscow government decided to create a multifunctional public park. ”

© Iwan Baan

© Iwan Baan

Wild Urbanism

The main concept of the proposal is “Wild Urbanism”, a complex idea that strives for the symbiosis between the natural and the artificial, where plants and people have equal importance. Mary Margaret Jones, Senior Principal of Hargreaves Associates, explains, “We wanted to create something fluid and organic, something that would allow visitors to move freely around the park. To achieve this, we brought the paving of the Red Square into the park, and we extended the forest of the park towards the Saint Basil’s Cathedral. Creating a hybrid landscape where the natural and the constructed cohabit to create a new type of public space.”

© Iwan Baan

© Iwan Baan
Save this picture!

© María González

© María González

Brian Tabolt, Associate of DS + R, adds, “It’s about merging things that normally don’t go together, like pavement with vegetation, or the urban landscape with the natural landscape. Zaryadye Park is a superposition of layers where these elements can coexist simultaneously”.

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PUBLIC LIFE, A SERVICE

via http://gehlpeople.com

This week at ‘Public X Design’, Shin-pei Tsay, Executive Director of Gehl Institute launched the ‘Public Life Data Protocol’ developed in partnership with the Municipality of Copenhagen, the City of San Francisco, and with support and input from Seattle Department of Transportation. The ‘Public Life Data Protocol’ is an open source data specification that will allow anyone to collect public life data. The Protocol describes a set of metrics that are crucial to the understanding of public life in public space, and will create a common language around this data collection.

Making people visible with public life data

The metrics were first developed by Jan Gehl as a research methodology, and later adapted by the Gehl practice into the Public Space and Public Life (PSPL) survey tool. The Protocol is the fruition of decades of research and application, and the PSPL surveys provide a valuable foundation to all of Gehl’s services and projects in cities and communities globally.

How are people spending time in public spaces, who are they with, what kind of activities do they engage in, and how long do they stay for? The surveys are a collaborative effort enabling people to engage, identify local problems, and begin to zoom into likely solutions. With the launch of the ‘Public Life Data Protocol’, I took the opportunity to sit down with Gehl’s CEO and Founding Partner Helle Søholt to better understand how Gehl has evolved the Public Life Service and the PSPL survey tool.

I found out that Helle has two main hopes with the launch of the Public Life Data Protocol. “My hope is that it will enable more cities to use and apply the data collection methods to their cities, and the second is that cities will begin to make people visible in the planning process.”

“The Public Space and Public Life (PSPL) survey is a way to make people visible and make them heard. We use these methods to inform our advice to clients and the participatory processes that we engage in”, explained Helle.\

Continue reading post by Sophia Schuff

How Park(ing) Day Went Global

via A Brief History of Park(ing) Day – CityLab

New urban activism to change our ideas about parking, I always remember Bogata’s ex-mayor, Enrique Penalosa saying in the movie Ubanised  that nowhere is the right to parking enshrined in any constitution.

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John Bela, Blaine Merker, and Matthew Passmore, the creators of Park(ing) Day, with artist Reuben Margolin at Park(ing) Day 2007, in front of San Francisco City Hall Courtesy of John Bela

“We created an opportunity for social interaction that wasn’t there before.”

“I like to think of Park(ing) Day installations as the gateway drug for urban transformation,” says John Bela.

He’s one of the minds behind the urbanist holiday, held on the third Friday of September every year. Indeed, since 2005, when Bela and his collaborators installed the first Park(ing) intervention on a drab street in downtown San Francisco, the idea has gone on to enliven countless blocks around the world, and to enlighten countless urbanites, who get to enjoy spaces normally reserved for stationary cars. Last year’s event, for instance, featured a streetside ping pong table in Los Angeles, a delightfully twee succulent garden in Madrid, and a giant inflatable Pokemon in Singapore.

For Park(ing) Day 2017, CityLab rode the wayback machine with Bela, to learn how this global phenomenon came to be, and how it might just transform our cities.

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Placemaking…is a questionable concept in so many ways.

This critical view by Dean Saitta of the concept placemaking and its narrow implementation in many planners and designers views of what is a relevant version of placemaking, is welcome, especially here in South African cities  and in Africa generally, where racial stereotypes and gentrified views obscure the reality of the majority of users needs and understanding of what contributes to a places reality, beyond its physical attributes and aesthetic considerations. 

An extract form Deans commentary on a presentation to his university on some campus improvements from Plantizen shows  that these stereootypes of  “public space ” are in fact creating an ersatz or quasi  place, that these concepts are are pervasive and as irrelevant in his context of a North American university campus as they are in our cities. 
Hi post elicited a good conversation that is worth reading.
“There’s very little that differentiates proposals by four distinguished planning and design firms to better connect my university to its immediate neighborhood and the wider city. Why is that, and does it have to be that way?”

Differentiators of planning and design philosophy were few and far between. One firm didn’t mention faculty as a key campus constituency, which was a terrible mistake. Another firm celebrated its impressive data base of campus master plans from all over the country, although it wasn’t entirely clear what’s to be learned from these comparisons. A couple of firms channeled the Denver Union Station metaphor that our academic leaders routinely use to envision our future as a crossroads for people on journeys of discovery. However, Union Station is much better known for its Terminal Bar and trendy restaurants than anything else. One firm mentioned that “place grows from context,” but no real examples were provided of what that would look like in this particular case. One bit of context would be the university’s location on Cheyenne and Arapaho ancestral land, but nothing was said that suggested an awareness of that deep indigenous history or the extraordinarily painful period of contact with white settlers, including DU’s founder. Other contexts can be found in the area’s more recent Euro-American history. In the early to mid-20th century DU was known as Tramway Tech, a theme that could be picked up in re-imagining the campus Light Rail station.

Come to think of it, the Denver area has always been a locus of interaction between different cultural groups. An attending staff member at one firm began to get at this point when he suggested, almost inaudibly from the stage’s edge, that “people use space in different ways.” This might have been the most important comment I heard during the entire four hours of public meetings, but it was left unexplored. Absent a substantive engagement with cultural and historical context, the most obvious differentiator between the firms was their style of public presentation. Some firms were much more participatory than others in soliciting opinions from audience members about what they would like to see in a regenerated campus neighborhood.

Campus Green with Adirondack Chairs. (Image by Dean Saitta)

In fairness, the lack of obvious differentiators was understandable. All firms want to be guided by planning ideas offered by the campus and neighboring community. However, none of them gave any real indication that “community” is plural, except for the one staff member’s comment described above. Nor did any indicate that we might want our university neighborhood to draw visitors from other neighborhoods that aren’t populated by white people. None indicated the role that a liberal arts education—as distinct from professional training—could play in producing STEM innovation. Ideas for using culture and the arts as anchor venues for campus edges (e.g., a museum, art gallery, cultural center, or some other kind of learning lab or Idea Store) were not mentioned. None took up the multicultural theme briefly mentioned in passing by ULI, and what this might mean for the quality of public space, green space, public art, signage, historical markers, amenities, and residential housing. The commitment to multiculturalism—or, alternatively, interculturalism—should certainly amount to more than just making signs in Spanish as well as English.

Read the full a post here:

 

The New Landscape Declaration

This renewal of a half century old landscape document in many ways echoes the feelings of frustration many of us feel over the  seemingly mindless pursuit of self interest and greed that continually threatens to overwhelm us, yet unless we are able to get more politically engaged within our communities of interest and beyond; into the other professional and public domains, we are preaching to the converted and our words are unheard by those who are crying for creative steps towards overcoming the myriad challenges awe face in our cities, towns and rural environments.  If you feel this to be true and worthwhile then I urge you to head on over to LAF  , sign the declaration and decide how you can let it be heard more widely than the jus the community of landscape architecture.

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On June 10-11, 2016, over 700 landscape architects with a shared concern for the future were assembled by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Inspired by LAF’s 1966 Declaration of Concern, we crafted a new vision for landscape architecture for the 21st century. This is our call to action.
Across borders and beyond walls, from city centers to the last wilderness, humanity’s common ground is the landscape itself. Food, water, oxygen – everything that sustains us comes from and returns to the landscape. What we do to our landscapes we ultimately do to ourselves. The profession charged with designing this common ground is landscape architecture.

After centuries of mistakenly believing we could exploit nature without consequence, we have now entered an age of extreme climate change marked by rising seas, resource depletion, desertification and unprecedented rates of species extinction. Set against the global phenomena of accelerating consumption, urbanization and inequity, these influences disproportionately affect the poor and will impact everyone, everywhere.

Simultaneously, there is profound hope for the future. As we begin to understand the true complexity and holistic nature of the earth system and as we begin to appreciate humanity’s role as integral to its stability and productivity, we can build a new identity for society as a constructive part of nature.

The urgent challenge before us is to redesign our communities in the context of their bioregional landscapes enabling them to adapt to climate change and mitigate its root causes. As designers versed in both environmental and cultural systems, landscape architects are uniquely positioned to bring related professions together into new alliances to address complex social and ecological problems. Landscape architects bring different and often competing interests together so as to give artistic physical form and integrated function to the ideals of equity, sustainability, resiliency and democracy.

As landscape architects we vow to create places that serve the higher purpose of social and ecological justice for all peoples and all species. We vow to create places that nourish our deepest needs for communion with the natural world and with one another. We vow to serve the health and well-being of all communities.

To fulfill these promises, we will work to strengthen and diversify our global capacity as a profession. We will work to cultivate a bold culture of inclusive leadership, advocacy and activism in our ranks. We will work to raise awareness of landscape architecture’s vital contribution. We will work to support research and champion new practices that result in design innovation and policy transformation.

We pledge our services. We seek commitment and action from those who share our concern.

It isn’t enough to build parks—even numerous, sizable ones—and hope that health outcomes improve.

Interesting research that indicates it is not just the quantity of green space that matters, but the quality of its design along with activities and interest that is maintained over time to generate repeat visits and create the desire in making visits and time in it, a regular part of visitors lives. From Atlantic CITYLAB by KIERAN DELAMONT

These research findings from a park within a low income neighborhood of Toronto illustrate the challenges of park design and management  and how  urban designers and landscape architects should possibly be thinking about park and urban green space design beyond the pretty plans and photoshop images that they use to win design bids and elicit money for urban upgrading budgets.

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Children play in a large green space in the redeveloped Regent Park neighborhood. (DanielsCorp)

“It’s an oft-repeated maxim—even among planners and designers—that parks are good for mental health. In Toronto, for example, the 2013 Official City Parks Plan reads, “access to green space reduces stress level, decreases negative mood, reduces feelings of depression, and provides other benefits to mental health and well-being.”

City officials often talk about the relationship as if it’s beyond doubt. But academic research is split on the relationship between parks and mental health. “Empirical evidence is much more limited than one would expect for such a straightforward question,” write Roland Sturm and Deborah Cohen in their 2014 paper, “Proximity to Urban Parks and Mental Health.” Their study suggests that moving to an area with more green space tends to improve one’s mental health, while moving to an area with less has the opposite effect. But one year later in a paper titled, “The Relationship between Natural Park Usage and Happiness Does Not Hold in a Tropical City-State,” authors Le Saw, Felix Lim, and Luis Carrasco found “no significant relationship between well-being and use of green space as well as proximity to green spaces. […] This study reveals that without first considering the critical factors that permit this relationship to occur, it will be premature to conclude that an increase in green space provision will lead to a direct increase in well-being.”

Architects, Freeways, Rivers, Landscapes / Plantscaping & Politics

A current proposal by architect Michael Maltzan Michael Maltzan Envisions the Future of LA’s Infrastructure  in Archinect  showing copious planting overlaid on the 134 freeway in Los Angeles illustrates what has been a trend with architects c0-operating with engineers , in this case ARUP, to envision what infrastructural interventions in the urban fabric might become in terms of making more use of them and reducing their ecological footprint through green building, carbon reduction  interventions and by covering them in photoshop planting, led me to these thoughts that are here combined  with excerpts from a recent conference paper I gave at the ILASA Conference 2016 in Pretoria: jgq850aroyn9vzt9

View from above of Michael Maltzan’s proposed Arroyo Seco bridge overlay. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture

 

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Section Perspective. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture

With impressive design diagrams and pictorial renderings the viewer is challenged to engage with a seeming reality that ignores or subsumes most of the actors emergent realities that these behemoths that they are trying to  camouflage, represent: The unsustainable and incoherent consumerism that underpins the way engineering and architectural solutions generally ignore the real environmental pickle that cities are in:

9k2me7d9w9kyzc1pGreen cruising: the view of the proposed overlay through a vehicle. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture

In a lecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Bruno Latour posed the following question:
When we ponder how the global world could be made habitable – a question especially important for architects and designers – we now mean habitable for billions of humans and trillions of other creatures that no longer form a nature or, of course, a society, but rather, to use my term, a possible collective… But why has the world been made uninhabitable in the first place? More precisely, why has it not been conceived as if the question of its habitability was the only question worth asking? I am more and more convinced that the answer lies in this extremely short formula: lack of space” (Latour, B. 2009. Spheres and Networks: Two Ways to Reinterpret Globalization, Harvard Design Magazine Spring/Summer, 30 pp. 138-144, ).
Maybe this lack of space is why we need to rethink how we live together in the world. As human actors that have so dramatically altered the world, it is said that we have entered the Anthropocene. Latour continues by answering the question posed above:
As is now well known, the notion of environment began to occupy public consciousness precisely when it was realized that no human action could count on an outside environment anymore: There is no reserve outside which the unwanted consequences of our collective actions could be allowed to linger and disappear from view. Literally there is no outside, no décharge where we could discharge the refuse of our activity” (Latour 2009 p.3).
It is now widely accepted that cities are the primary source of this problem.  With more than 50% of the world’s population being urbanised, cities must become resilient in the face of the uncertainties of climate, economy and politics. Various attempts have been made to quantify the resource imbalances of cities’ consumption and waste in the form of: ecological footprints , urban metabolism and urban political ecology . These quantifications are needed so that the extent of the problems become visible. Research may lead to solutions to limit ongoing damage to the environment and may also redress this imbalance by making cities more sustainable and resilient for the survival of all their occupants, human and non-human, both now and in the future.

The smart cities and engineered solutions of architects and engineers fall far short of this goal in their version of “greenscaping” with aesthetically beautiful structures in verdant “nature” with scattered people looking on in wonder at their grand creations.

elijj3frik4jv5nrRendering for the new Sixth Street Bridge. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture

Maltzan describes his proposal

Well, the proposal for the 134 freeway, the reason I got extremely excited about the 134 is the piece of infrastructure that we would take on, it could carry so many different pieces of the larger puzzle—not only in how you change infrastructure’s role in the city but how you change all of the pieces of the environmental portfolio of benefit. In our proposal, we’re dealing with sounds, lessening the negative acoustic impacts that extend way beyond the freeway. We’re talking about miles of effect that any piece of the freeway has because of how far sound travels. We were looking at a collection of water because It’s a little like a menu: you can pick and choose which pieces you useyou have a significant amount of acreage that the top of the bridge or any piece of the highway creates. We were looking at solar and electricity generation for exactly the same reason: it’s very difficult to find large places to put solar farms in a dense urban environment. And one of the most underutilized pieces of land literally are the air rights over any of the highways, whether they’re elevated or sunken or a bridge. And then the greening of the sides of the bridge to work from an environmental standpoint, and just aesthetically for the visual environment of where that bridge goes through. And then finally the catalytic roof that we’re proposing, that takes the emissions from the cars and converts it, because of the way UV reacts to these titanium dioxide crates, and that acts as a catalytic converter.”

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Section Detail. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture

While I am sure that their intentions are laudable and their goal is to stimulate large scale public works to counter the past and present environmental and social crisis, it is unlikely that the results of their visions will improve anyone except a select fews lives into city.

Maltzan continues:

All of these pieces don’t have to be in play for every mile of the highway all combined. It’s a little like a menu: you can pick and choose which pieces you use or you employ depending on what the different characteristics of the freeway are, and if it’s elevated or sunken down or at grade. I think that if you begin to take this and other ideas that could be added to the laundry list, and started to look at the highway network as a real positive and begin to retrofit pieces of it (especially when it goes through and affects different neighborhoods), I think it could be one of the largest transformative urban projects of any city, for any place on the planet.

CalTrans used to dream at that scale. The highways, when they were being built, coming out of post-World War II, were seen as one of the most progressive civic governmental projects that was being done any place on the planet. There were all these positive things that were meant to come from that. And I think it’s possible for an agency like CalTrans to reinvigorate the benefit of the highways. I think they’re going to be under more and more pressure to do that, especially as you start looking at the realities of autonomous cars and other means of transportation. That’s going to start to minimize or reduce traffic on the freeways, or at least the traffic footprint. I think it’s going to open up more and more space for the highways to perform in a very different way.”

The proposal, although on grand scale and while attacking many problems of the inefficient metabolism of cites, largely ignores the underlying causes of this problem: the unsustainable  consumerism that architects, engineers and city planners are dependent on for their livelihood – yes folks we have created the problem, through our designs, but designs alone, however smart they are, will not be enough to solve these problems

Overcoming these limitations requires a rethinking of the current development design process both by the relevant authorities, bureaucracies and by the design professions, the two entities who appear to be in cahoots in this process and who benefit the most by the exclusion of significant others from participating in the development agenda. They, the authorities and design professionals, have in, Latour’s terminology, “black-boxed” this process i.e. hidden its working from view  and any attempts by politicians or others to disentangle it or make its workings transparent seem doomed to failure . Some local examples of how this process results in urban “white elephants” in our local South African context are the Cape Town Stadium and Green Point Urban Park, built for the Soccer World Cup 2010, the Cape Town BRT system and the Gautrain, all of which are in my opinion examples of vested interests gaining control of huge public budgets to facilitate their own economic or political agendas. While admitting that the large-scale improvements in public spaces related to the stadiums generated an awareness of the importance of public space improvement and management, Edgar Pieterse  head of the African Centre for Cities criticises the results of these public space enhancements that were carried out in this process, as not having achieved the potential they might have. He writes;

It [the design of the public spaces] remains predominately an imaginary infused with middle class café culture expectations, replete with Lavazza cappuccinos and generous pedestrian orientated pavements. To be sure these are elements that greatly enhance the public realm but at the same time reinforce the dramatic bifurcation of public life for the rich and poor.” (Pieterse 2012 ).

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Cape Town Stadium  Source Wikipedia

I believe that a political engagement is required to ignite a renewed interest in re-imaging the roles of the built environments’ participants, ecological environmentalists, social activists and those seeking a future for themselves and their offspring. It seems we should change from thinking about ourselves alone and think rather, for everyone as a whole, thereby supporting this process of change to more equitable and liveable settlements and cities. This applies especially to the “have-nots” who, if not catered for, will topple the entire structure with their neediness, frightening the “haves” with their greediness.
Pieterse suggests that in order to realise more dynamic and original public spaces, we need a more inclusive approach, one that encompasses and incorporates more of who we really are as a South African public:

….such sensibility calls for a [landscape?] architectural agenda, design approach, urban aesthetic and built fabric that opens up opportunities for frank engagements across lines of difference and privilege in order to induce the necessary discomfort and untidiness that can lead to the thorny conversations about who we are, and how we represent ourselves in space and where we may be going as cities and distinctive cultures” (Pieterse 2012 p.87).

The situation that ~Pieterse criticizes in the context of the South Africa is equally relevant to LA as was highlighted at the ILASA conference by landscape architect Astrid Sykes from Mia Lehrer Associates who are based in LA right next toto the river, in presenting their work of the last 20 years on the LA River  and a 2007 study done by a large multidisciplinary team for the city of Los Angeles on the future of the river that MLA were part of. While very positive in achieving consultation and buy-in from residents and the Mayor, it seems that this has been subverted by the City now 8 years later in appointing Frank Gehry’s  office to do a project on the future of the river that teemingly ignores the previous work and as yet shows no signs of the public participation and co-design the earlier project was tasked with. It remains to be seen if this is an extension earlier work or more “green sky” City Brand building that Gehry is famous for with his Bilboa Effect.

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ARMY CORPS APPROVES $1.3-BILLION LOS ANGELES RIVER RESTORATION PROPOSAL

In the same newsletter of Archinect that the Michael Maltzan project featured above comes from is a post Archinect presents Next Up: The L.A. River, at the A+D Museum on Saturday, October 29!  Quoting from the newsletter

For the latest installment of Archinect’s live podcasting series, Next Up, we’re focusing on the L.A. River, and the wide swath of urbanist concerns within its ongoing master planning efforts.

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It could be the project that makes, or breaks, Los Angeles. With a complex historical legacy and an often-misunderstood ecology, the L.A. River’s 51-mile stretch is at once a huge urban opportunity, and to many, an even bigger eyesore. Thirty years ago, nonprofit Friends of the Los Angeles River was founded to protect and advocate for the river, and shortly after, the City of L.A. began looking at ways to take better advantage of the immense resource. Since then, many more communities and stakeholders have joined the conversation, raising concerns of ecology, sustainability, gentrification, public space, affordable housing, social equity—a wealth of complexities that testifies to what a lightning rod of urbanist discourse the River has become.

While conversations about the L.A. River’s future have been percolating for decades, not until only a few years ago did the plans become a divisive topic for the general public—in no small part due to the appointment of Frank Gehry’s office as a leader in the city’s master planning initiative. Reporting on the public’s first peek at the firm’s plans, Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, wrote, “as the river takes on new shades of economic and political meaning—becoming a magnet for attention and investment after decades of near invisibility—the race to reimagine it is growing more crowded.”

This engagement with the physical infrastructure, social dynamics and politics of the city  might seem far from Landscape Architectures usual verdant concerns. To paraphrase the words of Brenner, Latour, Pieterse and Swyngedouw, “everything is political now” and if we wish our discipline to survive in this sea of change, we must become political and design and proselytize our own future place in this new cyborg or assemblage. Research is needed on how to create a transdisciplinary environment that can facilitate higher levels of engagement, participation and co-learning by politicians, publics, professionals and authorities alike, and is something that seems to be lacking in much of the current design process.

From the examples quoted above, it seems that large scale infrastructure is the very place to focus this engagement and to get out of the office, away from the computer and to get involved in a river, freeway proposal or  public space project near you now!

With my apologies to Michael Maltzan Architecture, Frank Gehry and ARUP .

Donovan Gillman

19 October 2016

The Necessity of Advocacy: Discussing the Politics of Landscape Architecture

The role of advocacy and political engagement  here espoused by ASLA in the USA is as needed in South Africa, where the demands and needs of the needy poor is sidelined by the greed of the avaricious in business and politics.
Posted by Jonathon Geels on Land8

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“When people think about what influences elected officials, nine times out of ten their first thought is money… Clearly, skepticism reigns supreme when it comes to our views of how to influence a policymaker.” – Stephanie Vance, “Citizens in Action”

Despite being “for the people, by the people,” our representative democracy can seem distant. It can appear inaccessible and elitist, particularly when sensationalized by the “yellow journalism” of contemporary news media. Lobbying, and by extension advocacy, further brings to mind a hidden element of governance. Because of that, they are both practically four letter words. While this presidential election cycle has brought to the forefront the concept of politicians being “bought” by powerful lobbies, simply viewing government as a trade deal undermines the value of advocacy and professional lobbying.

I attended my first ASLA Advocacy Summit with a similar perspective and with a far greater understanding of the concurrent Awareness Summit. At the same time, I approached the event both grateful for being there and committed to gleaming every ounce of value out of the experience for the chapter I represented*. Of the dual arms of chapter outreach, Awareness (Public Relations) is sexy and glam; who doesn’t want their picture on television? Advocacy, because of the distance of government, lacks the same initial luster. Even as I listened to a professional lobbyist describe the services that he offered the society, I still had misgivings. As he outlined case studies in landscape architecture licensure battles that had littered the ground of advocacy for the society in recent years, I was unconvinced. In a state that seemingly had a shield to any licensure attacks – Indiana has a combined board with the architects who were not likely to come under any sunset issues – it was hard to reconcile the cost of lobbying. Despite the need for vigilance, the issue of licensure did not have the same sense of urgency in my state as with other chapters. Without the urgency, advocacy remained a back-burner issue, especially compared to the draw of World Landscape Architecture Month or the need for continuing education credits and networking value of the state’s Annual Meeting.

As the presenter shifted to outline the tangent benefits of advocacy and lobbying, one line was burned into my mind: “Raising the profile of the profession.” That even without a specific “ask” or dramatic need, landscape architects would benefit from engaging policymakers if for no other reason than to make the profession more prominent in the eyes of those individuals who controlled much of the direction of the built environment through the allocation of funds or the implementation of guiding policies. This was a seminal moment for me and one that changed the way that I viewed professional practice. I began to see advocacy as a partner to awareness and public relations. At the same time, I began to view Government Affairs as the natural progression in the pursuit to work as a landscape architect. It’s a complicated feeling to watch the built environment evolve, knowing that your own involvement could improve the quality of place or positively contribute to changing public health, safety, and welfare. This was a moment of clarity, like Neo seeing the Matrix for the first time. Everything was different. I was already aware of the problems that plague the profession – lack of understanding, vague licensure laws, engineering bias; finding problems to solve is easy. Inherently, landscape architects also know that layering in solutions to the problems would produce systemic benefit. But it was through advocacy to local, state, and federal policymakers that landscape architects would have the opportunity to be a constant part of the conversation. Through better advocacy, landscape architecture can become a baseline expectation, not just an add-on or luxury component or easy to value-engineer out.

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Practical vistas – John Thackera interview

John Thackara, a philosopher, writer and wide-ranging thinker, summarises the decisive contribution by design that gives practical form to a story, always in the service of the real needs of the people.

From Domus Interviews / Stefania Garassini

John Thackara at the Meet the Media Guru event in Milan

When you hear someone quote Marcel Proust – “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – there is a temptation to dismiss them as just another utopian, a dreamer who might have inspired ideas but cannot translate these into anything practical. Nothing could be further from the truth if the person in question is John Thackara, a philosopher, writer, event-organiser, thinker ranging across the boundaries between design and economics, and the author of numerous books – his most recent is How to Thrive in the Next Economy (Thames & Hudson).

Interviewed at the Triennale in Milan at the “Future Ways of Living” event (31 May), part of “Meet the Media Guru” platform, Thackara is one of those rare people who can open up huge intellectual vistas, but who can also give a very practical idea of the tools to use to realise them. To do that, he points to projects from around the world that interweave design, urban and rural planning, energy efficiency, and new ways of sharing resources, and in which communication technologies play a key role, but always in the service of the real needs of the people who live in a specific place with well-defined – and resolvable – problems. It is through these myriad small solutions, conceptualised and then put into practice, that the world will change. Thackara mentions here the theory of complexity: tiny changes can accumulate over time until one final alteration, apparently irrelevant in itself, provokes a radical transformation across the whole system.
Talking with this unique thinker – as we had the opportunity to do during his stay in Milan – means moving constantly from the plane of general ideas to that of small, practical, everyday things, where design, given a broader and in some ways innovative interpretation, can make a decisive contribution.

What is the contribution of design today?
It is the task of design to help us look at everything that surrounds us in a new way: to examine and evaluate the materials and structures – and, in general, everything that characterises a specific place. It is then up to the designer to find new, creative solutions to connect efficiently the people who live in the same area, but who have different expertise and interests. The third type of contribution, which is perhaps tied more closely to the traditional idea of design, is to give practical form to a story – the story of a place, for example. This should not remain a simple narrative, but can be translated into an object or practical service, one that can be shared, discussed and express a point of view.

Have there already been examples of services created in this way?
One very interesting example is the French site La Ruche qui dit oui, which started thanks to the contribution of a designer who is also a chef, Guilhem Chéron. In 2009 – using his experience with ethical purchasing groups – he came up with a new model for putting citizens in direct touch with farmers. The aim was to make the model more efficient and logical, offering consumers more choice and a wider network, with good prices and favourable conditions for the various actors in the game. Being a chef helped him make a very careful choice on the quality of the raw materials. Another example is a Maine farmers’ group, which has redesigned the way in which their products are distributed, and has also enhanced transport by boat as far as New York. These are projects that are sometimes very ambitious: they dare to imagine a world very different from the one that exists now.
What, in your view, are the changes needed most urgently today?
I often think of a simple question that can have far-reaching results if you ask it seriously and try to answer it: “Where did my meal come from?” Once we know the answer to that, the second question is: “How healthy is the place where it came from?” We should start afresh from the need to bring ourselves back into contact with the basic materials: food, air and water. This is the only way in which we can start to develop a different mindset and reach what I call “ecosystem thinking”. An interesting example is the West Country Rivers Trust, which is working to safeguard rivers in the southwest of England. A river is part of the heritage of an area, but they were polluted and no one seemed to be asking why. We started by showing very clearly, in visual terms, all the points at which a specific river is polluted by the behaviour of the people living or working on its banks. So we led people to wonder what they could do to remedy the problem. We designed a new form of association for environmental conservation based on the medieval “guild” model: someone cleans the river, someone else convinces the farmers not to pollute it with pesticides, and so on. We gave back to the people living in the region the ability to establish a form of contact with their rivers.

For several years, you have organised the Doors of Perception festival, which explores the cutting edge of technology, from the most innovative Internet developments to virtual reality – and doorsofperception.com is still the title of your blog, which provides extensive documentation of the projects and workshops that you have organised around the world. What, in your opinion, is the role of technology today in opening these “doors of perception”?

Web technologies are obviously fundamental for facilitating projects connecting people. It is very important that these involve encrypted, secure communications, so that you can share aspects of various projects that you do not want to make public, such as the assessments made by a community of each person’s work. I do not see a future for the dominant model today in the information technology industry, which is based on a hectic rush towards new products. I am no longer so interested in complex, costly technologies like virtual reality or robotic systems. I believe instead that we should recover a little of “hacker culture”, following the example of what is happening in countries like India, where the residents of whole city block make their living from repairing electronic objects with recycled materials, with the new deriving harmoniously from the old.

 

John Thackara certainly does not yearn nostalgically for a totally technology-free world. But after talking with him, it is clear that the last thing we need to see the world with new eyes is a virtual reality headset.

Parks as Magnets that Shape Sustainable Cities

Amy Hahs, Parkville, Australia, has posted this interesting metaphor of a magnet and iron filings  as personal take on the attraction value of urban parks

Parks with strong “magnetism” can potentially exert forces of attraction and repulsion for people.

The pull and push of highly valued green spaces

I am a glass half full person, but I am also a realist. In the days that followed my visit to the park, I started to think about what goes into making a park like that. If I rolled back the turf on that fabulous big hill, what would l find? Where do those beautiful boulders come from, and what will happen if we keep gathering those rocks to use in other parks? Are there enough weathered logs to feed our desire for naturalistic playgrounds? And how can we make sure that these parks are distributed equitably now, as well as into the future? These are some critical questions that I would like to explore in the remainder of this essay.

A useful analogy to help with this discussion is the relationships between magnets and metal filings. The forces of attraction and repulsion combine to reveal the shape of the magnetic fields by creating clearly defined areas with and without filings. Some magnets have quite strong fields and produce very clear patterns, whereas others are much weaker and barely make an imprint.

filingsjoint
Strong (left) and weak (right) magnetism result in different patterns of iron filings along magnetic fields. Images © Flickr/Windell Oskay/ Magnetic Fields – 12, Magnetic Fields – 23

If we think about parks as being magnets in an urban area, the filings are a way of visualising the impact they have on the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of the urban landscape. Outstanding and engaging parks, such as the one I described, have stronger and farther-reaching magnetic fields compared to the smaller parks with fewer resources, which have only a limited effect on a smaller number of filings. However, these strongly magnetic parks also create more obviously binary landscapes, and accumulate a much larger volume of filings.

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