By Jared Green
Contact with nature is vital to health and well being – but city dwellers, especially those in poor neighborhoods, often have no access to parks or green spaces. Using sustainable landscape design techniques, cities can turn parking lots, brown fields and empty lots into thriving green oases.
With funding provided by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), ASLA has launched a series of educational, Google SketchUp-created animations designed to introduce basic sustainable landscape design concepts to the general public.
Metropolis magazine, in praising the effort, called one animation “Landscape Architecture for Dummies,” but actually, the goal was to briefly and clearly illustrate the breadth and depth of a relatively unknown, yet important, field of design that affects all of us.
The animations enable ASLA to show people how landscape architects use sustainable design approaches to solve pressing social, environmental, and economic challenges. Each animation’s web page also offers viewers the opportunity to comment and ask questions. Videos are accompanied by detailed information about the subject being addressed and links to further information.
"We hoped the animations would help start conversations about integrating sustainable practices into landscape design, and they are doing just that," says Jonathan Mueller, FASLA, president of ASLA. "They have already received close to 30,000 views, and we've had requests from municipal staffs and from teachers and professors to use them in their presentations."
The first animation, “From Industrial Wasteland to Community Park,” explains how damaged landscapes, or “brownfields,” can be restored through bioremediation and redesign. Bioremediation, which involves using microbes and plants to restore soil health, remains a little-known technique, but it actually offers a highly cost-effective solution for dealing with those acres and acres of brownfields still polluting most American cities.
“Leveraging the Landscape to Manage Water” focuses on how green infrastructure systems – including green roofs, bio-retention systems, and permeable pavements – work together to manage stormwater. Many communities face increasingly expensive stormwater runoff and pollution problems, and this animation presents viable examples of how to use the landscape to solve these water infrastructure issues. The animation illustrates what happens below the ground when various techniques for water retention, absorption and runoff diversion are used.
In many communities, there are inequalities in access to park space, with most green space existing in higher income areas. “Revitalizing Communities with Parks” exposes these inequalities and also explains how an asphalt parking lot can be easily turned into a green social gathering place. With so many communities left out by their park systems, this animation offers a way forward for communities seeking to build long-lasting assets for themselves. For this one, Allison Arieff, a noted design journalist, provided the narration.
To address the critical health problems caused by our dysfunctional built environment -- obesity, diabetes, and depression -- “Designing for Active Living” presents some model design fixes that can together totally revamp the way people move through a community. Complex ideas like “transit-oriented development” and “complete streets,” or streets for all users, come to life. The idea is to show how any car-centric community could make these design fixes and help reduce their expensive medical problems. Arieff also narrated this one.
Some 5.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from building construction. “Building a Park Out of Waste” takes aim at the greenhouse gas emissions that come from building construction. Instead of sending demolition waste to the landfill and throwing out all that embedded energy, this animation suggests ways to maximize available resources and reuse building materials in a new park. With a sustainable landscape, everything old can be made new again.
Most recently, “Energy Efficient Home Landscapes” was introduced in late March to show how systematic design of home landscapes can minimize energy consumption. McKinsey & Co, a management consulting firm, found that energy use in the U.S. could be cut by 23 percent by 2020 by implementing simple energy efficiency measures, including thoughtful landscape design. From simple tree placement to green walls and roofs, this animation explores green practices for home energy efficiency.
The animations and their supporting materials are meant to help government, the public and the landscape architecture profession get a sense of sustainable landscape techniques. Each animation has a companion guide to sustainability education resources.
Designed specifically for students and the lay public – as well as for city, state, and federal staff in need of introductions to the concepts -- the resources include curricula, games, activity guides, and these animations to help classrooms explore these concepts in greater depth.
Jared Green is web strategy and content manager for the American Society of Landscape Architects.