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Feature Article - May 2018

The Landscape View

Bringing the Many Benefits of Parks to the Forefront

By Dave Ramont


The choice of plants, flowers and trees can certainly create a mood and define a landscape. McCauley said a big trend is the use of native plants, which have adapted to a particular region and typically out-perform ornamental plantings. "From the soil conditions, water availability, amount of sunlight and individual microclimates created by the unique site features, the correct plants will ensure the long-term success of a project."

Ishikawa agrees that using native and adaptive species is a trend. "Planting strategies that mimic local ecosystems are often requested by our clients, whereas before, planting design used to be about well-manicured, deliberate planting methods."

Herrera-Mishler said he's noticing a bigger commitment to organic land management practices in public landscapes, going beyond just green infrastructure, such as using natural ways of managing stormwater. This might mean limiting the use of chemicals, or planting perennials instead of annuals, which keep coming back and are adapted to different water conditions and climates. "I think that there's a real impact on planting design in so far as you can select plants that are best suited to your current growing conditions."

In fact, being eco-friendly is typically inherent to good design, and engrained in the design culture, according to McCauley and Ishikawa. McCauley used the expression "Green since 1899," referring to the year the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) was created, saying they've been using these practices since before it was a buzzword. The ASLA's mission is to advance landscape architecture through advocacy, communication, education and fellowship. Sustainability has been part of the association's mission since its founding. "What really fascinates me is that the sustainable approach often ends up being the most cost-effective route in the long term. In cases like Lot 'L' at US Cellular Field (home of the Chicago White Sox), the upfront costs for a permeable paved parking lot saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, which actually allowed the project to move forward," McCauley said.

Parks and public spaces will always be important to communities, and as urban areas get more crowded and resources everywhere grow thinner, the uses of these spaces and the designs of them will continue to evolve, with technology also being part of the equation.

With seemingly changing weather patterns, Ishikawa and McCauley believe that resiliency is also an integral component to a great design. "We also like to go further, and apply resiliency not only in that our landscapes would hold up to changing weather patterns or abnormal natural disasters, but can also be about physical materials that stand the test of time, including vandalism or an occupant's perception of space," said Ishikawa.

Manmade amenities can draw people into a space and are also an integral part of the design process, encompassing things like seating, lighting, shade structures and trash receptacles. McCauley pointed out that every site feature is crucial in determining park uses, and the owner's intent must be carefully considered: Will this be a pass-through space? Should the space evoke a certain feeling for visitors? Should furnishings be designed to limit comfort and the ability to linger? What impact might these decisions have on social equality or site safety? "Well-placed furnishings and plantings that create a sense of enclosure while not limiting viewsheds can help shape the site in a way that begins to answer some of these questions," McCauley said.

When deciding on furnishings or plants, maintenance must be considered as well, and Ishikawa said that plantings should be designed with realistic maintenance levels in mind, depending on the organization and location. Built elements such as fences, rails, curbs and paving can de designed to protect plantings. "Without maintenance, no landscape will last. There are too many invasive species (weeds) or manmade constructs that easily kill plantings—salt, animal waste, pedestrian cut-throughs, etc.," she said.

McCauley said they often find public sector facilities only able to maintain lawns and mulch around shrubs and trees without any irrigation. "Knowing that significantly impacts our decisions when it comes to plant selection."

A client's willingness to care for different types of landscapes should always be identified early on in the design process, said Lipovsky. "Even though it utilizes a meadow-inspired palette, well-loved parks like the High Line in New York could not function without the nurturing care of a dedicated team, so understanding maintenance capabilities is key to delivering a design that will last beyond the first few years."

Parks and public spaces will always be important to communities, and as urban areas get more crowded and resources everywhere grow thinner, the uses of these spaces and the designs of them will continue to evolve, with technology also being part of the equation. Back at Balboa Park, they're doing an in-depth tree survey, to keep track of the tree canopy. But whereas in the past this was very laborious and time-consuming, now the civil engineer will be flying the park with drones to identify every tree, parking space, fire hydrant, etc. Herrera-Mishler said this technology is transforming the way landscape architects can work. "So he'll provide us with a full 3-D-rendered model of the park that we can use for planning purposes, for design and understanding visitor experience and traffic flow and parking. It's just incredible."

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