Posted in Design Practice, Recession Watch, Reflective Practice, tagged architecture, cities, city planning, economy, future, landscape architecture, landscape urbanism, recession, urban design, urban planning on December 29, 2011|
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Second Phase of The High Line
Suspended animation, with some promising stirrings of change. That is my assessment of the past year. Expectant waiting, but little change overall in the U.S. economy. In the coming year, there will be a U.S. presidential election, meaning that any significant new action (economic, environmental) is at least a year away. New economic uncertainties have arisen in countries around the globe. The planning and design professions do not exist apart from these circumstances. Four years into the Great Recession, what does seem to be changing is interest in activism, highlighted in the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstrations this past fall. Activism in planning and design circles means community empowerment, innovative, insurgent urban design, and continued attention to all things local, including food systems, infrastructure, and alternative transportation. These stirrings of change portend exciting developments in 2012, I think, but not the scale of excitement seen in the bubble years. That could be a very good thing, really.
The short 160-year or so history of landscape architecture doesn’t appear to be much of a guide to the present, although there are some parallels. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, some landscape architects continued to plan gardens for the owners of great estates (the 1% of that time), while others planned and carried out New Deal programs, finding employment with the federal government. To date, there have been no new New Deal initiatives in the U.S., although our aging infrastructure begs for investment. Perhaps after the election… Meanwhile, some landscape architects and land planners serve the global elite, while others serve local communities in a host of ways, often with nonprofit organizations as government jobs at all levels continue to be cut.
An emerging trend is the latter – design that serves the public good (admittedly, a loaded phrase) – an impulse that is closely aligned with the fall’s significant uprising, OWS. The website, Archinect, reflects this in its top 10 design milestones of 2011 and top 10 design initiatives to watch in 2012. Local is big, and getting bigger. The New York Times made the case this week, as it tracked major changes in environmental organizations, many of which are shifting their activism toward local issues as a means of survival. People have little faith in the big aims these days, like cap-and-trade or new New Deals, so they are focusing more on creating change in their own communities, something that seems much more tangible. Urban agriculture and tactical urbanism are manifestations of this urge to take matters into one’s own hands (individually and collectively) and make change happen.
A scan of other top 10 lists and year-in-review posts reveals the following causes for optimism: (more…)
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The Trust for Public Land just released the 2011 City Parks Facts report. Among the interesting findings:
- 120 parks were added in the 100 largest U.S. cities in 2010, even as 3.9% of the park work force was cut.
- The most parks per capita are found in Madison, WI, with 12.7 per 10,000 residents, with Cincinnati, St. Petersburg, Anchorage, and Buffalo following.
- The greatest number of playgrounds per capita are found in Madison, Virginia Beach, Corpus Christi, Cincinnati, and Norfolk.
- There were 110 fewer public swimming pools in operation in 2010 than in 2009, and this is the only facility type to decrease.
- 20,000 community garden plots are found in the 100 largest cities, with the cold cities of Minneapolis and Madison leading the way, having roughly 33-36 garden plots per 10,000 people.
- Minneapolis has 13.3 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, considered a relatively high amount given the city’s dense development. Otherwise, spread-out cities like Anchorage and Albuquerque have higher rates of parkland per resident.
- $200 or more per resident is the cost of parkland in Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and Seattle, compared to a median of $84.
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In today’s Salon, there’s an interesting article on new projects proposed for subterranean urban spaces. The first one featured is the new “LowLine” park proposal, also known as the Delancey Underground, located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. At the end of November, ArchDaily had a nice feature on this project that is designed by architect James Ramsey and Dan Barasch.
Proposed Manhattan LowLine: Delancey Underground
Salon’s Will Doig cites the proposed LowLine Park, a recent proposal to revisit the Dupont Circle Underground in Washington, D.C., and the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue as examples of a renewed interest in underground urban spaces, but also as an example of landscape infrastructure. Doig elaborates on the idea:
This new desire to reclaim [underused urban spaces] is part of an evolving trend called “landscape infrastructure,” an eat-every-part-of-the-animal approach to city planning. (emphasis added)
Proponents of landscape infrastructure assert that every inch of a city can be used, and sometimes in multiple ways: aqueducts can be boating canals, power-line towers can be viewing platforms, and the little green spaces adjacent to freeway on-ramps can be pocket parks for a game of Frisbee. It’s a school of thought that’s gaining traction — both above the surface and below it.
Given the rather weak track record of underground developments, we’ll have to wait and see how these proposals evolve. Doig thinks that embracing the otherness and surreal quality of being underground, as opposed to trying to obscure it, is a possible key to success.
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