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10 Ways to Increase Biodiversity in Any Design

What is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about biodiverse ecosystems? Probably the hard-paved, concrete, urban environment is not what you have in mind. Though cities are dominated by one species, (which I assume we are both representatives of), they are ecosystems full of opportunities. Urban environments are compositions of prospects and threats. Seizing those opportunities demands from us a new understanding of environmental protection.

Some people might ask why we should care about urban ecology if there is a vast wilderness out there. Yet studies on urban biodiversity show that it is a  cause worth fighting for. If you want to know how important urban biodiversity really is, check it out here.

In this article we summarize 10 methods, that will help you create more biodiverse and environment-friendly designs.

Methods for Increasing Biodiversity in Any Design:

1. Protect, restore, mimic

This is the first and most important rule. Get to know local ecology and protect it. If you think there is nothing to protect, look at it again, and look closer. If it is an already degraded area, understand its past and check if you can restore part of what was there before. Drawing inspiration from the past will indicate what plant species to use in your design, and any systems that need renovating, such as daylighting rivers.

2. Use native species

Some may argue that the urban environment is so drastically different, that some native species may not flourish in it; it is always worth investigating. If you aim to increase biodiversity in both the plant and animal kingdoms, native species will support the richest wildlife. And always remember to avoid invasive species or any that may become invasive in your design area.

Flower meadows in the City of Cracow, Poland by Fundacja Łąka

Flower meadows in the City of Cracow, Poland by Fundacja Łąka

3. Create layers

This method is only applicable in climates where layers are the natural order of growing. Although traditional lawns are one of the most popular landcover approaches, they do not provide much of a habitat for wildlife. More naturalistic planting, like flower meadows, can support butterflies, and bees. Taller tussocky grass may become home to animals that are not satisfied with turfgrass. This meta-analysis study from Germany has demonstrated that biotic factors, like vegetation structure, are extremely significant in supporting wildlife. Here you can check other arguments on whether to banish lawns or not.

4. Diversify

Ph. D Sofie Pelsmakers in her book ”The environmental design pocketbook” suggests, that to avoid disease, pests, and to support biodiversity, you should select plants from a maximum of 30% of the same family, 10% of the same genus, and 20% of the same species. If you design a larger area, you should also follow the suggestion of Tan Puay Yok from the book “Nature, Place & People: Forging Connections Through Neighbourhood Landscape Design”, to diversify types of ecosystems.

5. Do not gild the lily

Every space in the design area should be carefully thought through. However, sometimes it might be advantageous to leave a fragment for Mother Nature to design. Natural succession and preservation of natural vegetation are the most failsafe ways to incorporate all the methods outlined above to increase biodiversity.

Central Park, Manhattan, New York City by Ajay Suresh CC2.0

Central Park, Manhattan, New York City by Ajay Suresh CC2.0

6. Offer food, shelter, and nesting place

We may have an influence over-designed vegetation, yet controlling other kingdoms such as invertebrates, mammals, and birds, is not so easy. Nevertheless, providing food, shelter and nesting places might be our best shot. Always support existing habitats with a respectful approach. Different species might need different methods. For example, a high green roof may attract butterflies but be inadequate for bees. House sparrows appreciate nesting 2m above the ground, while peregrine falcons need nesting sites to be more than 20m high, preferably with a good view for pigeon-pray.

Puerto de Mogan, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands by Giuseppe Milo CC2.0

Puerto de Mogan, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands by Giuseppe Milo CC2.0

7. Minimise light and noise pollution

Those two can cause psychological stress in humans, as well as in other animals. Nobody likes to live in a hectic area. Therefore, to not repel biodiverse wildlife, keep light away from their resting spots, like ponds, tall trees, and hedges. According to Ph. D Sofie Pelsmakers, light below 3lux at the ground, ideally 1 lux, is required. Avoid white and blue wavelengths.

8. Build corridors

If you followed all the previous tips, you have now quite a decent potential habitat! Now is the moment to allow animals to get to it. According to the previously mentioned meta-analysis study connectivity is one of the most significant factors influencing biodiversity. Connectivity in the matrix is crucial because otherwise, you risk fragmentation and the creation of an ‘ecological sink’ for animals to die in, without enough genetic diversity to sustain subsequent generations.

If a true corridor is not possible, try steppingstones. They might not be as successful as corridors, but they may be a good compromise of cost and ecology. A nice idea for this approach might be pocket parks.

Boston glass buildings by Xavier Häpe CC2.0

Boston glass buildings by Xavier Häpe CC2.0

9. Reduce threats

Assuming you already considered providing shelters, another aim could be to reduce bird mortality. Birds often fly directly into the  glass as they confuse reflections with reality or try to fly through the building. A lot of them die. If you want to avoid this pointless animal death, you can avoid planting new trees near the large glass surfaces and corner windows. Probably the best approach would be to not use big surfaces at all in the first 23m from the ground or use glass safe for birds. You can find other guidelines and information here.

10. Consider management

According to a recent international report, there are four management activities that you should avoid. The report reinforces the point made in method No. 3 above, that short turfgrass lawns and the simplification of habitat structure can have detrimental effects on biodiversity. Another interesting example is not being too tidy. One Australian example from 2010, demonstrated that just leaving leaf litter increased bird species richness by more than 30%. Hedgehogs and other small animals would also appreciate this technique. Lastly, it is important to consider pesticide and herbicide applications, as they usually cannot recognize “good living beings” from “bad living beings” and indiscriminately kill. By design, they reduce species-richness of plants, therefore repel animals.

Time to act on biodiversity in design

Biodiversity is reducing across the planet. It is neither the time nor the place to ignore biodiversity in our designs. Taking species diversity into account might look challenging, but even these simple methods outlined above will help. Firstly, respect what is there. Then consider diverse, native planting, that will attract animals. Then make your designed habitats as hospitable as possible with prescriptive maintenance.

Are there any other methods to increase biodiversity you would like to share with us?

Feature Image: Vancouver Land Bridge (Confluence Project)
Article by Agnieszka Nowacka

Is Biodiversity in Cities Important?

We all know biodiversity is important. Much has been written about it in both scientific literature and public media. But how important is it? What role does biodiversity have to play in our cities?

To answer those questions, we must differentiate the arguments for environmental protection. Differing arguments result in different approaches. For example, depending on if you want to protect local ecology, provide ecosystem services, or climate-proof an ecosystem, you may choose to use only native plants or also add those from outside of your region.

According to research by Ph.D. D.C. Dearborn and Professor S. Kark, there are 7 main motivations for conserving urban biodiversity. In this article, we examine the most important motivations for protecting and increasing biodiversity in cities.

Preserving local species and ecology

Cities have historically flourished in areas of high productivity, such as seashores, riverbanks, and deltas. Areas that were usually characterized by their high diversity in animals and plants. According to research on urban biodiversity from Arizona, it may be an effect of the rich geology in these areas. Over time, we have eroded these ecosystems, leaving behind only what was useful to us, with disregard for the indigenous wildlife that relied on these ecosystems. We may never be able to restore what was lost in those areas. However, we may be able to create safe havens that can accommodate local species.

Creating steppingstones to non-urban habitat

Connectivity in active ecosystems is key to sustaining any population. Even if animals will not feed or breed in the urban area, they may need to pass through it. Stripping them of this possibility might destroy not only the ecosystem in the city but also the surrounding, interlinked ecosystems, by creating fragmentation and ecological sinks. The population will either quickly become locally extinct from the lack of resources or will be able to survive there only a few generations, lacking enough genetic diversity to survive long term.

Understanding and facilitating responses to environmental change

The long-term goal of preserving a biodiverse planet is to allow lifeforms to build climate resilience. Species-rich ecosystems are more likely to adapt safely to the changes happening around them. Moreover, the research from Israel previously mentioned suggests that green areas in the urban matrix can help ease the transition of species to accommodate these new, man-made environments. As observers, we can survey this amazing process and document it, expanding our knowledge about evolution.

AustinBats0036 by Steve CC2.0

AustinBats0036 by Steve CC2.0

Conducting environmental education

Environmental protection does not need a few active individuals as much as it needs considerable numbers of people playing their part. Yet people are spending less and less time outdoors. With this lack of connection with nature comes a decrease in environmental empathy. Access to nature can be increased by designers providing naturalistic environments closer to home in the urban environment.

One great example of environmental intervention and education might be the story of Austin, Texas (U.S.A.), where the renovation of the Congress Avenue Bridge led to its colonization by free-tailed bats. Before then, the colony was banished from one place to another. Now, the renovation and subsequent environmental education resulted in a bat-paradise and an annual gathering of thousands of people, who come to see the flying spectacle adding to the local economy through eco-tourism.

Providing ecosystem services

What is a more effective area to place human-helping services, than where the density of population is highest? In cities even small, but well-planned designs like pocket parks can improve the way of living. Greenery can ease the urban heat-island effect, suppress noises, improve urban hydrology, and more. The Urban wetland in London created in the area of a former drinking water company eventually became an important biodiversity point on the map of London.

Fulfilling ethical responsibilities

If your aim is fulfilling the moral obligation we may have as humans, the first thing should be to talk with local people, as every culture differs in what matters to them. Community environmental action can have a positive effect on a community and a sense of belonging.

London Wetland Centre by Berkeley-Homes

London Wetland Centre by Berkeley-Homes

Improving human well-being

Proximity to green environments is well known to have positive effects on physical and mental health. Research by PhD. Roger S Ulrich from the Chalmers University of Technology proved that even as little as looking outside the window on green spaces may lead to a quicker recovery. Moreover, ecosystem services, like the reduction of air pollution, add significant value to the quality of life in cities.

Preventing urban sprawl

Although this point is not mentioned by researchers D.C. Dearborn and S. Kark, the European Environmental Agency (EEA), in their report “10 messages for 2020”  noted, that making life in the city more connected to nature, thus more attractive, may prevent urban sprawl and therefore save space for wilder areas outside the city.

The importance of urban biodiversity

If at least one of those arguments got to your heart, we may agree that taking care of urban biodiversity should be our priority. Although it may not be so glamorous as wild seashores, plains, and mountains, its proximity to a dense population makes it more effective in solving some more immediate local challenges. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if your priority is fulfilling our responsibilities towards the environment, or improving the quality of living, increasing biodiversity in our designs is a good way to achieve many goals.

Featured image Gardens by the Bay 83 – OCBC Skywalk by Steel Wool_CC2.0
Article by Agnieszka Nowacka

How to Avoid Social Segregation in Play Spaces

Built environment professionals have an opportunity to influence not only the physical environment but also the societies that use the spaces we create. Much has been written in recent popular media regarding social segregation of play spaces in developments. Developers have been accused of creating play spaces that exclude certain portions of residents in their designs. In this article, we look at what landscape architects and architects can do to increase social integration through play provision.

Social segregation in the past

Arguably, segregation has been a significant problem for a long time. Who can forget the appalling racial segregation in South Africa under apartheid that lead to whole urban areas being declared off-limits to black South Africans? While such stark examples may be unthinkable to the majority of people today, the rise of gated communities in North America and council estates in the UK has accentuated and perpetuated an age-old trend for social segregation that probably even predates the castle keep and peasant villages of the days of yore.

The Altitude scheme in Hornsey, north London. Photograph_Fraser & Co

The Altitude scheme in Hornsey, north London. Photograph_Fraser & Co

Current trends in social segregation

Many planning restrictions and building codes require developments to have a certain amount of affordable or social housing within a development. The idea is that people from under-resourced backgrounds should have access to well-designed accommodation in the same area as people from more wealthy backgrounds. However, developers usually receive a greater return on more exclusive owner-occupied units. This places commercial pressures on developers to maximize higher-cost housing, often at the expense of social housing. This has been highlighted in recent years through the ‘poor door’ scandal, where residents of social housing are provided with a separate door. The fundamental aspect is the social segregation of what’s perceived as two types of people – the “haves” and the “have nots”. This is exemplified in the idea that privately-owned housing is literally made more exclusive by excluding the social tenants from the main door. The Altitude scheme in London drew particular criticism for placing the entrance to the affordable housing down a back ally primarily used for garbage collection.

A hedge acting as a physical barrier between private and social/affordable housing play spaces at a development in south London. Photo_Google Earth

A hedge acting as a physical barrier between private and social/affordable housing play spaces at a development in south London. Photo_Google Earth

Segregation of play

The problem of social segregation goes beyond dividing entrances. For example, in London, several schemes have come under fire for making different provision of outside spaces for privately-owned residences and social housing. The Baylis Old School mixed residential development in South London boasts 149 homes featuring “huge windows looking out over the lovely gardens”. The Guardian reported that the developers marketed the scheme as having “common areas” that are “there for the use of all the residents”. However, after planning permission had been granted the plans were altered to block social tenants’ access to some communal areas. Henley Homes, the developer, has countered that the development has subsequently been split in two with different management companies looking after the owner-occupied and social housing areas, resulting in different play provisions for each area. This case is not unique. Many examples from across London have been revealed where social tenants and mixed ownership apartments do not have access to play areas and facilities.

Baylis Old School development. Photo_Google Earth

Baylis Old School development. Photo_Google Earth

The effects of segregated play

Criticism of segregated play areas comes from both sides of the divide. While families in social/affordable housing lament the poor provision for play, residents of owner-occupied housing regret that their children are not able to play with their school friends in the same play spaces within the development.

Social segregation has well-documented impacts on health and longer-term inequality. By segregating facilities at such an early age, children are made aware of the inequalities in society. Growing up in these conditions helps perpetuate that inequality.

Dividing provision for residents based on income inequality also impacts upon other discriminatory areas such as race. People who identify as coming from a visible minority background statistically have lower incomes. Therefore, segregating play provision between income backgrounds can have knock-on effects for social and cultural integration. More diverse neighborhoods have greater tolerance. Allowing children of all backgrounds to play together stimulates greater tolerance for the next generation.

May Nissen Playground, Livermore Area Recreation and Park District, CA, by Ross Recreation. Photograph_The Independent Newspaper, Livermore

May Nissen Playground, Livermore Area Recreation and Park District, CA, by Ross Recreation. Photograph_The Independent Newspaper, Livermore

The solution to socially inclusive play spaces

Many architects and landscape architects already appreciate the intrinsic benefits of inclusive spaces and design for the needs of all residents. Policymakers also often understand these issues. However, developers argue that the inclusion of social housing has negative impacts on the profitability of market housing. In cases such as The Baylis Old School, plans are altered after planning permission has been granted. One solution might be to better legislate the equal and inclusive provision of play spaces for all residents and then following up post-planning to ensure these measures are implemented. Another approach might be to insist that all developments include social housing and inclusive provision for all children. This might create a level playing field that removes the competition from exclusive developments that puts commercial pressure on developers to compete with these developments.

As built environment professionals, we can adopt best practice design solutions that foster social inclusion and insist that they are utilized in our projects. Well-designed paces might include:
• Communal play spaces that are designed for both owner-occupied and social/rented accommodation
• Locating communal play spaces centrally to avoid implied ownership
• Designing out barriers between different areas
• Locating access points equally between all types of housing within schemes
• Incorporating diverse play equipment and providing open spaces for interactive and team sports/play
• Participatory design – hosting consultation and design events amongst all stakeholders and facilitating discussion
• Precise yet inclusive rules for engagement, use and maintenance
• A program of events to create interest in the play are and foster social cohesion

We should also adopt a firmer stance with clients and developers who might request changes to plans that have already obtained planning approval or building permits. It may also be appropriate to inform local planning authorities where schemes have departed from the consented plans.

Avoiding social segregation in play spaces

As landscape architects and architects, we have a duty not only to our clients but also to society. We are aware that we should be designing inclusive spaces, but there are often pressures from developers to design separate areas for owner-occupied and social/rented housing or to alter drawings post-planning to place boundaries in areas cutting off access to play areas. There needs to be a change in the planning process and better provision for post-planning follow-ups to ensure what has been granted permission or issued permit is actually built. However, we also need to ensure we adopt best practices for designing inclusive play areas within housing developments.

Feature image: Unnamed CC0

How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Gentrification

Gentrification is a term that emerged in the mid-1960s to explain the demographic and social changes that some neighborhoods in the London were experiencing. Since then, a vast number of articles and essays on urban transformation have sought to explain this phenomenon.

In this article, we shall explore how to detect areas that are likely to be affected by this process, how to identify those that are already being affected and how to prevent this from happening to preserve heterogeneity, social inclusion, and sustainability in our cities.

But what exactly is gentrification?

The word gentrification coming from the English syllable “gentry”, refers to the British rural nobility. Gentrification was originally coined to describe the emergence of middle-to-higher-income social groups in neighborhoods that led to the displacement of the working classes that originally inhabited these areas. This resulted in a loss of local identity and fragmentation of the community. However, gentrification is no longer restricted to urban centers or first-world metropolises. As Jason Hackworth and Neil Smith wrote in their essay titled ‘The Changing State of Gentrification’: “Gentrification is the leading edge of the urbanization of human evolution‘.

Leyton High Road, in Waltham Forest, London. was given a makeover before the 2012 London Olympics.

Leyton High Road, in Waltham Forest, London. was given a makeover before the 2012 London Olympics.

The globalization of gentrification.

The Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman coined with the term “Liquid Modernity” which refers to a phenomenon that leads to the creation of egalitarian consumption patterns, a loss of cultural diversity, and an uprooting of identity. In this paradigm of a lack of personal commitment to long-term local goals, there is a contradiction between the search for freedom, the desire for change and the fear of not knowing what will happen.

The ephemerality of current values that were highlighted the global economic crisis in 2007 and the ongoing environmental and migration crisis can be understood to be a particularly western perspective problem. Historic values and traditions are undermined, generating a false identity that temporarily binds these communities but is built on weak foundations, causing uprooting of populations.

Carnaby Street, London, 1982 and present day

Carnaby Street, London, 1982 and present day

As we can see in this image, the traditional local shops in London’s Carnaby Street have been replaced by international corporate companies resulting in a neighborhood that lacks a strong local identity and affordability.
Fortunately, the notion of ‘use and throw away’ that consumerism has given us is changing into new movements. A responsible action considering the global trend towards urbanization and the effects of climate change with proposals such as promoting the circular economy can add value and improve the sustainability of the neighborhood. Thus, globalization is one key precipitator of gentrification.

Tips for identifying areas susceptible to gentrification.

  1. Dwellings are usually small, and the rent prices are low.
  2. The profile of the inhabitants is low income, usually without higher education.
  3. Urban decay. Existence of a general degradation of the neighborhood and it’s infrastructure.
  4. Proximity to other areas with higher rental values.

Although each area has its unique circumstances, these broad factors can mark the potential for financial speculation that drives property prices, pushing out existing populations through increases in rent, inflated offers for their properties, or as a result of the rise of the cost of living. This marks a phase of expulsion, investment, and marketing.

Protest against gentrification and displacement on trail 606 in Chicago in 2016. Photo by Tyler Lariviere.

Protest against gentrification and displacement on trail 606 in Chicago in 2016. Photo by Tyler Lariviere.

The demand for more green spaces by the inhabitants of Chicago sparked the idea of reusing an abandoned railroad line as a linear park. The 606 (named after the Chicago ZIP Code prefix), was opened in 2015, with community support and consultation forming part of the design process. They wanted a path for people who lived there. Given the recent economic crisis, no one expected home prices to rise. However, the investment in the area leads to increased interest from investors and higher earners, leading to a degree of gentrification. But important lessons were learned, and steps have been taken to mitigate this, including a recent push for affordable housing in the area. The experience gained is being applied to other parks projects in Chicago.

Tips for detecting gentrification as an ongoing process.

  1. Galleries and small arts and crafts shops appear. Artists are often the first to arrive attracted by historic architecture and low prices.
  2. Plans to improve public transport and connectivity.
  3. Real estate demand increases sharply.
  4. The number of international retail outlets increases.
  5. Gradually, the social shape of the neighborhood changes to a demographic of higher earners.
  6. Investment of green areas, public spaces, and road lighting.
  7. Crime rates fall.
  8. Tourism increases. Entire buildings are converted into holiday rental apartments.
The 606 Trail by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.

The 606 Trail by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.

Tips for avoiding gentrification.

It is important to be aware and consider the responsibility that comes with urban intervention and its social impact. Every urban planning project must involve the local community and contemplate the area in relation to its context, seeking a socio-economic balance in a sensible and measured way and never as economic policy.

Practical steps that can be undertaken to minimize gentrification:

  1. Detect the situation in time. What’s going on? Who needs to be involved? Which is the most vulnerable population? Talk to neighbors and stakeholders.
  2. Turn problems into goals. Establish a list of neighborhood issues and possible solutions in conjunction with the local community.
  3. Develop an action plan. Consider the resources available. Involve the community and consider their skills. Integrate these into existing policies, plans, and programs.
  4. Measure the results of these interventions including quality of life.

The Mission neighborhood in San Francisco has always been a neighborhood of immigrants and minorities. In the 1980s it became a hub for the LGBTQ+ community, being a marginal but inclusive area. Now, because of a range of factors including, a rise in population and the attractive (and relatively affordable) Victorian houses in the neighborhood, there has been an expulsion of current residents due to the increasing rental prices.

Street mural on the mission district in San Francisco

Street mural on the mission district in San Francisco

However, residents are still struggling with art, community, and activism to preserve the cultural environment of the minorities who reside there, seeking social justice, and resisting the financial interests north of Market Street. They have been able to take advantage of their problems with activities such as the creation of tours where local artists explain the history of the neighborhood in murals. The quality of the streets has improved, and citizen security is ensured by social control.

It is important to keep in mind that it is not about looking to blame social groups that move in because of their economic advantage or deride artists who open shops attracted by low rents. What is troubling is the distribution of land ownership, land speculation, and the vulnerability of the population exploited in favor of financial gains. The rest are consequences. As designers, we are committed to creating spaces that solve the needs of their end-users, with the greatest possible satisfaction and the best possible user experience.

Can landscape architecture and urban design solve the problems of gentrification

Careful planning of green spaces in consultation with the community, for example, can avoid a pocket park from becoming an attractor for gentrification, while adding positive effects to the health and well-being of the existing local residents.

While urban design and landscape architecture may not be able to entirely solve the problem of gentrification, as designers of cities, we can make sure that our projects do not compound the issues of disenfranchisement of minority and vulnerable communities, loss of local identity, and increased land speculation that can lead to gentrification.

Article by Ana Muñoz

Lead image by Jack William Heckey

How Public Open Space Reactivates the City

Public open spaces are vital for understanding cities. They are the main environments for citizens’ interaction and stimulation. While cities create the physical environment for social life, public spaces work as the stage and catalyst of social interaction. Therefore, well-functioning public spaces are crucial for any urban environment due to being physical spaces for civic participation, sense of belonging, and social integration. Likewise, a lack of common space results in the decay of the social structure of the city by limiting possibilities for simple communication and interaction. However, urban public space tends to be more and more exclusive due to top-down planning and standardized practices with limited adaptability. This is further compounded by market forces leading to the privatization and commercialization of public spaces.

A Crisis of Planning

The journalist, author and activist Jane Jacobs refers to the “crisis of planning” as top-down planning tools which don’t give enough flexibility to urban and social changes. With these practices based on functionality and efficiency, cities began to be more exclusive and interactions between people have started to loosen. Therefore, this situation not only results in unused and unpleasant urban environments but also diminishing social interaction.

If we compare mediaeval cities with modern cities, we gain insight into the decisions we make which create more and more exclusivity in our cities. Mediaeval cities were a product of a continuous process almost devoid of intentional design, allowing spontaneity with no division between different functions. Modern cities, however, are often based on functionalist concerns which aim to solve problems with land-use practices, without considering social impacts. While the mediaeval city gives opportunities for social interaction; the modern city tends to segregate the different user groups in different areas of the city. In this case, the existence of designed public spaces does not become an opportunity for social interaction between different social groups as it does not create any commonality of daily activities targeting the different groups. The famous example of the Brasilia Plan designed by Lucio Costa draws a significant picture of how the basis of modern architecture and land-use practices failed to create a dynamic city structure while aiming to create a well-functioning ideal living environment.

Brasilia-wallpaper by Bing

Brasilia-wallpaper by Bing

Public Spaces as Stitches

To maintain a healthy and well-functioning urban environment responding to residents’ social and physical needs, the existence of public spaces is crucial. Architectural and planning decisions can contribute to the social and cultural patterns of the city by limiting certain activities while creating opportunities for others. Therefore, an urban environment which is suffering from the drawbacks of the planning practices mentioned above can be reactivated through specific interventions of well-considered public spaces by stimulating interaction between residents and inclusion in the city pattern. However, several key factors can contribute to the viability of public spaces in the long term; maximizing the usability of an area to achieve the ideal of a “city for all”.

Continuity and Hierarchy of Public Open Spaces

To enhance the positive outcomes of public spaces and sustain usability through maximizing integration, it is crucial to consider them as parts of a continuous matrix. The importance of different types of well-functioning public spaces in different scales is a key factor of an open, inclusive city.

For instance, pocket parks have greater effects on residents and commuters at the neighbourhood scale, due to their relative easy implementation and proximity to living environments. Bigger recreation and sports parks contribute to public life at the district scale. Also, the continuity between different public spaces affects the viability of each space individually and the quality of the living environment across the whole city. This situation derives from the fact that each small scale intervention is a product of a greater planning strategy that forms the dialogue between residents and the decisions being made about their environment. Also, when the actual physical environment is considered, the continuity of public spaces affects the experience, the interaction between residents, and the walkability in the city etc.


When designing inclusive spaces, the idea of diversity becomes crucial since integration relies on the existence of different activities and social classes together. The most important factor is the coexisting of varying urban functions and different types of built environments contributing to the usability of the public space by maximizing the possibility of interactions, synergies, and stimulations between different functions and user groups. Integration comes from the diversity of the events and activities that the public space is providing a platform for.

A contemporary example of diversity can be seen in Superkilen in Copenhagen which shows how the diversity in physical space can encourage different activities, resulting in people from different backgrounds coming together.

Superkilen Park - Photo 0006_By 準建築人手札網站 Forgemindmedia CC2.0

Superkilen Park – Photo 0006_By 準建築人手札網站 Forgemindmedia CC2.0

Adaptability and Flexibility of Public Space

Since the social, economic and cultural patterns and needs of a city are not static entities, the public spaces which host these values should be adaptable to the changes in social life. When public spaces are rigidly designed as areas on which every activity is meticulously planned, public spaces become insufficient when new needs arise. Therefore, either they become vacant areas in the city or they are demolished to make room for something else as new demands become apparent. In other words, public spaces must provide opportunities for the activities created by residents and ensure spaces are capable of adjusting to different needs. The project of DeUrbanisten is a great example of how public space can be designed to be flexible and effective in minimizing the risk of becoming redundant.

Water square Benthemplein, Rotterdam – concept and design by De Urbanisten, photograph by pallesh+azafane

Water square Benthemplein, Rotterdam – concept and design by De Urbanisten, photograph by pallesh+azafane

Public Participation in Urban Design

When it comes to the viability of public space, it is very important to have a bottom-up approach to allow people to become active participants in the development of the space, rather than being passive users. When the community is involved in the process of decision making, their engagement with the public space becomes much higher. Also, it maximizes opportunities for identifying particular problems regarding residents’ needs. While doing this, it creates opportunities for interaction between residents by creating a common ground. The well-known example of the High Line shows the opportunities created with a bottom-up approach and the success of public participation in the effectiveness of the project.

High Line Park - New York City - July 09 by David Berkowitz CC 2.0

High Line Park – New York City – July 09 by David Berkowitz CC 2.0

The Value of Good Public Open Space

It is undeniable that public spaces contribute immensely to creating healthy, well-functioning urban environments. Landscape architects have a great responsibility to create socially sustainable places. By adopting a bottom-up approach and keeping inclusivity in mind, it is possible to ‘re-stitch’ fragmented urban environments by creating platforms for diverse social interactions.

Article written by Sila Efil.

Lead image: Superkilen by Topotek 1, BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group, and Superflex. Photo by Iwan_Baan

How Circular Economy Can Build Sustainability

The circular economy seeks to move beyond traditional manufacture, use, and dispose culture to build resilience into systems, products and services throughout their lifecycle and beyond. In this article, we look at the circular economy and how it can be used in urban design and landscape architecture to improve sustainability.

Linear Economy

Our current approach to consumption is largely a linear process. We purchase products, use them for their useful lifecycle, and then discard them. Often this waste is not recycled or reused and simply ends up in landfill.

In nature, very little is wasted. Often the faeces of one organism goes on to feed another, which in turn creates waste products that add humus to the soil. The nutrients from the humus ultimately fertilize vegetation in a closed loop that is self-sustaining.

Watch: Re-thinking Progress: The Circular Economy

Circular cities

Our cities can be a major source of circular systems. The global population is expected to reach 9.8 Billion by 2050; some 66% of whom will be living in urban areas. That represents around 6.5 billion consumers living in the cities we create. As designers of the urban fabric, we are uniquely placed to influence the future of consumption in cities.

The goal of using circular economy in urban design is to create systems and products that not only reduce consumption while reducing waste but also create economic and social benefits.

Including circular economy principles in urban design requires collaboration between public and private sectors in a non-competitive approach.

Closing the loop

Implementing circular economy into projects can be undertaken at all scales. Firms like Circular Landscapes are using the circular economy to create projects that bring economic, social, and environmental benefits to their neighbourhoods and beyond. From more strategic level cases such as Climate-active Cities that outlines climate strategies for various types of cities, to projects like Springfields that looks to make agricultural irrigation more sustainable and circular; Circular Landscape’s projects illustrate the power of the circular economy thinking at the project level.

Feeding the City_Circular Landscapes

Feeding the City_Circular Landscapes

Making the linear, circular

There are several ways in which built environment professionals can add value to the circular economy and improve the sustainability of the projects we work on. In Hiedanranta, a new 25,000 inhabitant urban district in Tampere, Finland, Jolma Architects is working with a team of international architects, landscape architects, and transport specialists to implement circular economy thinking at the structure plan and master plan levels. For example, we are preparing for a reduction in private vehicle ownership in the future by specifying parking buildings that can easily be adapted for other uses as demand for car parking spaces reduces. These parking buildings also act as material collection points that encourage people to recycle their waste by making it as easy as possible. Waste organic material is used as fertilizer for local food production with low food millage. A heavy focus on renewable energy ensures that the infrastructure of clean energy production is implemented from the start and is easily adaptable for the future.

One specific example of waste to energy in Hiedanranta is the Tampere University of Technology’s trial of urine to create power. Urine is collected and processed to provide nutrients with which to grow algae that is then used as biomass fuel in energy production.

Linking the chain

By specifying recycled and reused materials throughout the supply chain, we can reduce waste and energy consumption, and often save money in the process.  Gamle Mursten is a company that upcycle materials by collecting used bricks, clean them using vibration techniques, and sell them on. Thus, ensuring a waste product of the demolition industry is reused for future generations. Similarly, the Danish company RGS90 recycles waste porcelain products and insulation into reusable and recyclable building insulation such as ROCKWOOL.

Levels of circular economy in the city

Another project we are involved in investigates how sustainable circular economy principles can be applied practically in an architectural project. Together with Evolving Symbiotic Cities (ESC), Jolma Architects is working on the circular economy project, Circular City Blocks, in the North Bank area of Hiedanranta. The project is the brainchild of Cireco. “Cireco works with partners to create… efficient and high-quality projects that are based on producing zero emissions, clean materials, and resource-conserving design in accordance with the principles of circular economy.

Circular City Blocks_North Bank Hiedanranta. Cireco Finland, Jolma Architects, ESC

Circular City Blocks_North Bank Hiedanranta. Cireco Finland, Jolma Architects, ESC

Several options for North Bank have been investigated, from a single circular economy tower to a sustainable street, and even a whole circular economy city block. The project utilizes principles such as:

  • Built for disassembly
  • Modular construction
  • Adaptable and flexible spaces
  • Integrated and shared services
  • Resource efficiency
  • Vacuum-based sewerage system
  • Renewable energy and storage
  • Combined heating and cooling systems

North Bank Hiedanranta was presented at the World Circular Economy Forum 2019 by Cireco in Helsinki in June.

Landscape Process as Circular Economy

Landscape processes can also add value to the circular economy. In traditional water management, wastewater is treated and then discharged into watercourses. This water is not always adequately processed. A 2017 United Nations report states that globally an estimated 80% of wastewater is discharged into watercourses without adequate treatment.

Constructed wetlands offer opportunities to harvest wastewater and clean it by means of phytoremediation. This creates an economic benefit in providing a product (cleaner water) as well as environmental benefits through habitat creation and social benefits in amenity space.

Much has been written about the ecosystem services of urban forests; from mitigating the urban heat island effect, stormwater management, and managing the pollution cycle. Urban forests can provide locally sourced products and amenity space while providing these ecosystem services.

Circular Thinking

By changing our thinking from a linear economic modal to a circular one, built environment professionals can facilitate connecting waste products and processes in the city. Circular economy results in local economic, social and environmental benefits. Whether it’s designing better, more circular, neighbourhoods, incorporating circular technology and processes into our projects, or influencing the supply chain to bend an existing linear economy to make it circular, we are uniquely placed to make substantial long-term impacts upon our cities. We would love to hear how you are using the circular economy in your work. Please share some examples in the comments section below.

Lead Image: Triango sustainable business park in Paris, designed by RAU Architects, SeARCH, and karres + brands.

Tampere: The Most Exciting City You’ve Never Heard Of

Tampere (Finland’s second city) is the largest inland city in the Nordic region, serving an area containing over 505,000 inhabitants. With a long and productive industrial heritage, Tampere is the fastest growing city region in Finland with a projected increase in population of 23% by 2030. With this rapid expansion and internationalisation comes a staggering estimated €6 – €10 billion investment in the city. In this article, we take a brief look at how some of that €6-10 billion is being invested in the urban design of this prosperous city.


One of the major investments currently being implemented in Tampere is the new 14-mile (23 km) tramway, which connects the city centre with Hervanta to the south, the university hospital to the east, and in the second phase Hiedanranta and Lentävänniemi to the west. This smooth and seamless transit network connects with local buses and cycle routes to provide sustainable public transport options. Each tram will carry 240 passengers or the equivalent of three buses or 185 cars. The first phase of the tramway will be completed in 2021, with the second phase due to be completed in 2024. The design and construction of the tramway will be undertaken by Tramway Alliance made up of the City of Tampere, Tampere Tramway Ltd, YIT Construction Services, NRC Group, and Pöyry Finland Oy.

Hämeenkatu Tampere YIT Corporation

Hämeenkatu Tampere YIT Corporation

In addition to the benefits to public transit, the tram project will include upgrades and benefits to the public realm. For example, many new green areas are planned along the route of the tram, including the planting of over 200 trees. The main street in Tampere, Hämeenkatu, will also receive upgrades in the hard landscape materials and street lighting.

Travel and Service Centre

The new tramway will feed a central transport and service hub in Tampere, where all modes of transportation will come together. The international ideas competition to design this centre was won by Danish architects COBE and Finnish architects Lundén Architecture with their proposal ‘ReConnecting Tampere’. Detailed plans for the transport hub are due to be completed in 2019, with the first phase of construction already underway. Cobe and Lundén Architecture’s vision for the area includes a new Central Park which will act as a green lung for the city. The recreational landscape will provide year-round activities for local residents and visitors and will include a vibrant commercial arcade, acting as a link between the upper deck area and the lower level park.

Lunden Architecture Company COBE Tampere Travel and Service Center

Lunden Architecture Company COBE Tampere Travel and Service Center

Central Deck and Arena

Above the railway tracks, there will be a new downtown centre accommodating a world-class ice hockey and entertainment venue with a capacity of 13,000 people. The area will also house a 21,500 square foot (2000 m2) casino, and some 1,000 new apartments. The Deck area has been master planned by Studio Libeskind, together with project architects  AIHIO Arkkitehdit oy, structural engineers Ramboll Finland, and zoning by WSP Finland Oy, with SRV as the main contractor responsible for design, development and construction.

Tampere Central Deck and Arena Studio Libeskind

Tampere Central Deck and Arena Studio Libeskind


Hiedanranta is a new district to the west of Tampere that, when complete, will accommodate 25,000 inhabitants and create around 10,000 new jobs. In 2017, the international ideas competition was jointly won by two proposals: Innovaatiolahti by Mandaworks of Stockholm, and Schauman & Nordgren Architects of Copenhagen; and the Reflecting TRE proposal by Arkkitehtuurityöhuone BUENAVENTURA (Later Jolma Architects, TUPA Architecture and Architecture Studio NOAN) of Tampere, Finland. The structure plan for the district was adopted in December 2017, and the master plan will be completed soon. The adopted structure plan features a new downtown city centre built around a historic refurbished and repurposed factory and three large islands on the lake. Hiedanranta will be connected to the city centre via the new proposed tramway. Green and blue infrastructure networks wind throughout the proposed development connecting places and offering passive and active recreation opportunities. A large central green corridor integrates the existing city block structures of two areas and accommodates new recreational parks and green spaces, acting as a large central park for the district.

Hiedanranta Structure Plan. Team members: Jolma Architects, Schauman & Nordgren architects, Mandaworks, Architecture studio NOAN, TUPA Architecture.

Hiedanranta Structure Plan. Team members: Jolma Architects, Schauman & Nordgren architects, Mandaworks, Architecture studio NOAN, TUPA Architecture.


Hervanta is an existing district located to the south of Tampere comprising a mix of 1960s and 70s architecture and university campus. In 2017, BST Arkkitehdit Oy, together with Sito, Hartela, and artist Karoliina Suonio won first place in the ideas competition to design new blocks for the northern axis of Hervanta, including 930,000 square feet (86,400 m2) of residential space, and 368,000 square feet (34,200 m2) of business and commercial space. The proposal integrates the new tram line, while providing green roofs, and active ground level functions organised around public open spaces.

Ratikka Aukio, Keinutaan, BST Arkkitehdit OY

Ratikka Aukio, Keinutaan, BST Arkkitehdit OY


Vuores is a new sustainable district located to the south of Tampere surrounded by unspoiled nature. The area is already under construction, featuring a downtown area arranged around the Vuoresakio central square, and several suburban neighbourhoods. Once such neighbourhood, Isokuusi, will become a beacon of sustainable industrial wood construction, and incorporate renewable energy and smart solutions. The master planning has been undertaken by B&M Architects. The area will eventually form the largest wood-constructed area in Finland. Single-family homes and multi-storey apartment buildings will be built from new, innovative, and sustainable wood products.

Access to nature and green spaces is a key feature of the Vuores master plan. The central park in Vuores acts as an outdoor living room for residents to meet and relax. The park will also perform ecosystem services through stormwater management with stormwater basins, water routes and flood meadows. Several allotment gardens are planned and will include accessible raised-bed style planters, ensuring all residents have the opportunity to grow their own sustainable food.

Isokuusi Master Plan, B&M Architects Ltd

Isokuusi Master Plan, B&M Architects Ltd

Future Cities

The secured investment of €6-€10 billion in Tampere represents an ambitious plan by the City of Tampere and its partners to reinvigorate the city’s urban fabric. The strategic planning of the city as a whole enables new areas to be connected via the new tramway that will stimulate urban redevelopment in existing areas. Proposed developments like the Central Deck, with its casino, hotel, and multi-purpose venue will attract visitors and businesses alike. New mixed-use and residential areas such as Hiedanranta, Hervanta, and Vuores will ensure the sustainable growth of the city in the future. Sustained growth of cities is difficult to achieve. However, by carefully planning ahead, integrating phased development, sustainable public transit, and taking advantage of ecosystem services provided by green and blue infrastructure, Tampere is set to become one of the most attractive cities to live and work in the Nordic region.

Lead image: Tampere Travel and Service Centre by COBE and Lundén Architecture

How Landscape Architecture and Urban Design Can Reduce Crime

Crime is a perennial problem facing many inner-city areas. Antisocial behaviour and crime are major factors affecting urban decay, property prices, and quality of life. In this article, we investigate how landscape architecture and urban design can mitigate, reduce, and control crime in the urban environment.

Crime vs antisocial behaviour

Crime can relatively easily be defined as acts contrary to the governing law of that area. For example, the same act of recreational smoking of marijuana is legal in the US state of Massachusetts but is currently illegal in the state of New Jersey. Antisocial behaviour, on the other hand, is less easily defined. The Home Office in the UK recognises that the definition of anti-social behaviour is influenced by context, location, community tolerance, and quality of life expectations. The UK government has adopted the following definition: ‘Acting in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons, not of the same household as (the defendant).’ (Crime and Disorder Act 1998). Therefore, antisocial behaviour can range from the somewhat innocuous acts of ‘loitering’ or ‘hanging around’ through littering and vandalism, right up to intimidation, sexual harassment and violent crime.

The problem

While public open space is recognised as having positive impacts on local residents, research by CABE Space indicates that community groups estimate that 31% of parks suffer from unacceptably high levels of vandalism and behaviour related problems.

ASLA 2016 General Design Award of Excellence. Underpass Park, Toronto, ON, Canada / PFS Studio with The Planning Partnership - bottom-left images PFS Studio right image Tom Arban

ASLA 2016 General Design Award of Excellence. Underpass Park, Toronto, ON, Canada / PFS Studio with The Planning Partnership – bottom-left images PFS Studio right image Tom Arban

Inclusive and safe

Antisocial behaviour can particularly affect women and children. For example, the Guardian reports that 43% of women aged between 18 and 34 had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. We know that when we design spaces to be welcoming to women and girls, then those spaces will be occupied by more people in general. The UN has published guidelines for creating spaces that are safe for women and girls. Key points include:

  • Easy access to and from the location
  • Easy movement within the location
  • Good lighting
  • Easy-to-read signs
  • General visibility of the entire space, free from hiding places
  • Includes mixed
  • Provisions for different seasons
  • Provisions for young children and the elderly (because women are often carers)
  • Access to clean, secure, easily accessible toilet facilities

The process of creating safe spaces for people who identify as female results in spaces that are safe for all. The guidelines from the UN are very similar to those proposed in the Safer Design Guidelines for Victoria, in Australia. These guidelines emphasise the importance of good visibility and visual connection.

Bad solutions for preventing crime in the city

Visibility is a key factor for designing out crime. A study by the College of Policing notes that while Closed-circuit television (CCTV) has been proven to reduce premeditated crime, there is no discernible effect on spontaneous antisocial behaviour and opportunistic crime. CABE Space raises concerns that ‘adopting …CCTV and …without considering the overall design and care of public space will result in the creation of ugly, oppressive environments that can foster greater social problems.’ So, adopting CCTV as a cost-effective means of controlling behaviour can encourage poorly designed spaces, without necessarily mediating violent and opportunistic crime.

Green Man Lane (before and after) by Conran and Partners. Left Jim Stephenson, clickclickjim, Right JZA Photography

Green Man Lane (before and after) by Conran and Partners. Left Jim Stephenson, clickclickjim, Right JZA Photography

Better solutions for preventing crime in public open spaces

A good way to decrease crime and antisocial behaviour is to increase visibility. One of the best methods to do this is through natural or informal surveillance. Natural surveillance refers to the concept of increasing visibility between places and user groups.

For example, a damming 2007 report into the Green Man Lane area of West Ealing in London pointed to problems either exacerbated or caused by the architecture of the area. The local authority took a proactive approach. Architects Conran and Partners used the principles of ‘‘Secured by Design’ to design out the multiple escape routes, aerial walkways, and open access undercrofts that disconnected users from each other and replaced them with more traditional streets that have greater natural surveillance from passing traffic, other pedestrians, and homes that front the street. Research shows that homes designed to the Secured by Design principles have a 50% lower risk of burglary, while car crime can drop by 25%.

Green Man Lane by Conran & Partners copy right Rydon

Green Man Lane by Conran & Partners ; copyright Rydon

Spaces that are designed for people to spend time in should be defensible (i.e. seating areas should have good visibility so that the users feel they can see potential threats coming). They should also be sheltered enough so that they do not feel danger can sneak up on them. Nodal spaces that are designed with prospect refuge in mind are generally more attractive to users.

Good access and circulation at all levels increase safety. A study has shown how projects like The 606 in Chicago, which includes an elevated greenway, can reduce crime in adjacent neighbourhoods. The New York Times notes that The Highline also experiences lower than average crime. Access should be legible and easy to follow without the need for signage. It should also include multiple routes to give users choice and make it harder for criminals to predict potential victims’ movements.

The High Line_Diller Scofidio + Renfro

The High Line_Diller Scofidio + Renfro

The 24-hour economy reducing night time crime

Urban designers can not only boost the economy by creating cities that are used around the clock, but can also reduce night time crime at the same time. Since 2012, violent crime in Sydney has been reduced through focusing on the night time economy. Increasing the diverse mix of functions, such as cafes, 24-hour gyms, and shops, increase pedestrian movement and natural surveillance.

Strategic change to challenge antisocial behaviour and crime

These principles are now being adopted at a strategic level. The City of Los Angeles has invested $25,000 in publishing ‘Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design’ (CPTED) guidelines and training staff in how to assist developers and built environment professionals design better environments that discourage crime. The programme aims to ensure all residents are safe, whether they live in luxury apartments or affordable housing.

Prague evening economy CC0

Prague evening economy CC0

The key takeaways for using landscape architecture and urban design to prevent crime

Principles such as ‘Secure by Design’ and ‘Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design’ include many strategies that may seem common sense to landscape architects and urban designers. However, with pressures from budget, client expectations, and existing conditions, these principles can easily get lost. Some key issues to consider include:

  • Making sure the space is well connected
  • Create clear and legible circulation that is instinctive
  • Diversify route options for users
  • Ensure sidewalks and paths are wide enough to accommodate double pushchairs/strollers so that caregivers and families feel welcome
  • Making nodal spaces that are defensible
  • Providing a good mix of functions and considering including 24-hour services
  • Increasing visibility by keeping planting clear of major sightlines and not creating hidden spaces with low-level planting
  • Careful consideration of lighting
  • Providing clear signage so that users always know where they are and how to get out
  • Budgeting for good maintenance so that spaces feel well cared for and that acts of vandalism are quickly dealt with

By considering all the above tools for creating safer spaces we can reduce crime in our built environment. What other measures do you use in your designs? Do you have any particular success stories you would like to share with us?

Lead image: Athens night time economy CC0
Article written by Ashley D Penn with research by Emanuela Roascio

Future Housing Solutions for Evolving Cities

In an increasingly technological age, we are seeing many high-tech innovations invade our homes. Devices are becoming more and more intelligent, allowing us to alter the temperature, humidity, and lighting of our homes at the click of an app or suggestion of a voice command. The city is evolving with many innovations that improve the sustainability of the urban fabric and health of the citizens. However, there has been little advance in the design and methods of construction of housing since the Second World War. In this article, we look at innovative new solutions to housing that can provide comfortable and sustainable living in an evolving city.

Innovations in Materials

There have been many innovations in building materials in recent years, such as strong, fire resistant Cross Laminate Timber (CLT), self-healing bio-concrete, artificial spider silk, 3D printed graphene, and of course the much publicised Tesla Solar Roof. All these materials and products will revolutionize the lifecycle of a building from making it stronger and more resistant to damage to increasing sustainability through electricity generation and reduced maintenance. However, there has been little evolution in the form and function of the housing stock.

Cross Laminate Timber by Oregon Department of Forestry CC2.0

Cross Laminate Timber by Oregon Department of Forestry CC2.0

The Current Situation of Housing and the City

Tesla’s Solar Roof tiles exemplify the current trend for providing innovative technological solutions while reinforcing the design status quo. Not only are the tiles manufactured to look like traditional materials, but they are often shown installed on housing that appears to not have evolved in design for the last 50 years or so. There have been some advances in the form of housing with projects such as the world’s first inhabited 3D printed home in Nantes, France. Francky Trichet of Nantes Council notes that, “For 2,000 years there hasn’t been a change in the paradigm of the construction process. We wanted to sweep this whole construction process away.” Building via 3D printing allowed researchers at Nantes University to not only save 20% on construction costs (compared to building a similar building from traditional methods) but also to use forms such as curved walls that would be difficult to achieve by traditional means.

An Evolving City

The number of people living together has fallen in recent years with the average household size in the USA in 1960 containing 3.3 people, dropping to 2.5 people in 2010. Figures for the UK show that in 2011, the average household stood at just 2.1 people. Research by the General Lifestyle Survey 2011 indicates that there has been a significant increase in single person occupied dwellings: “The proportion of adults living alone has almost doubled in the last 40 years, between 1973 and 2011 (9% and 16%)”. Meanwhile, UNESCO predicts that from 1950 to 2030, the percentage of people living in urban centres worldwide will have increased from 30% to over 60%. This figure increases to over 80% of the population of more developed regions living in urban centres by 2030.

Cities are evolving and adapting to reflect the changing needs of their citizens. The use of autonomous vehicles is expected to increase dramatically in the future. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is impacting on street design, parking facilities, sustainable transport, and zoning.

As urban populations increase, cities are predicted to become denser. If current trends persist, the recent decrease in private car ownership will be amplified, with autonomous vehicle car sharing and walking becoming driving factors in urban design.

 The Markthal from the West at dusk by MVRDV ©Ossip van Duivenbode

The Markthal from the West at dusk by MVRDV
©Ossip van Duivenbode

Future Housing Solutions

With increasing urban densification, pressures on land-use will increase. There will be an increase in mixed-use development not only at the block level but also in individual buildings. Projects like Market Hall in Rotterdam MVRDV, Cloud City by Union of Architects of Kazakhstan, in Singapore, and VINE by Marchetto Higgins Stieve in Hoboken, New Jersey, USA, and Sukupolvienkortteli in Finland by Arkkitehtitoimisto Hedman & Matomäki exemplify this mixed-use approach with recreation, retail, and service uses, such as day-care facilities included in the building.

With the rise in individually occupied dwellings and increased pressures on square meterage, communal functions within developments will increase. Buildings such as The Bartlett in Arlington, VA, USA by Torti Gallas and Partners features many shared facilities such as communal gathering spaces, gyms, gardens and dog parks, a bar, and private access to the Whole Foods store and coffee shop on the ground level.

Sukupolvienkortteli by Arkkitehtitoimisto Hedman & Matomäki Oy

Sukupolvienkortteli by Arkkitehtitoimisto Hedman & Matomäki Oy

Economics and Flexibility in Future Housing

Wage stagnation and increased housing prices mean the traditional model of owner-occupier housing is being challenged. Today, architects are designing residential units that are flexible so that as families expand, they can increase their living space within their current building without needing to move to another area. Superlofts is a project that creates buildings where the outer shell is built independently of the inner flexible units. Residents have a high degree of autonomy in choosing how their apartments develop and can adapt and increase their dwellings as needs arise. At an individual family home scale, buildings such as Unifamiliar, by architects Rafael Arana Parodi, Carlos Suasnabar Martínez, Amed Aguilar Chunga, and Santiago Nieto Valladares is a flexible housing unit with a central core of kitchen and bathroom facilities that can have a number of additional rooms added to it as the family grows.

Superlofts Houthavens Interiorby Isabel Nabuurs

Superlofts Houthavens Interior by Isabel Nabuurs

Shared Outdoor Spaces

There is a current trend for the decentralization of urban green space. With many new districts tending towards many smaller pocket parks, over one larger centralized park. The same trend is also true of semi-private and communal green spaces in mixed-use developments. Projects like Via Verde by Grimshaw Architects and Dattner Architects incorporates the defining feature of a 40,000 square foot (3,700 m2) garden that winds its way through the development, including roof terraces and shared fruit trees, encouraging healthy living.

Vie Verde by Grimshaw Architects and Dattner Architects

Vie Verde by Grimshaw Architects and Dattner Architects

Future Housing Developments

Increased population, rapid urbanisation, and changes in lifestyle mean that there is increased pressure on our urban centres to become denser and provide a greater variety of functions at an increasingly local scale. Aspirations for greater sustainability require our cities to adapt to a less car-centric viewpoint with a greater emphasis on local living and walkability. Future housing solutions need to be flexible and adaptable in order to cope with these increasing pressures. New technologies allow our homes to be smarter. However, developments in housing design have only just begun to catch up with these influences. By including flexibility, adaptability, an increase in communal spaces, and increased shared green open spaces, we can meet the needs of future generations in an evolving city.

Lead Image: Future Housing Solutions for Evolving Cities CC0.0

Why Use Empathic Design in Landscape Architecture?

Empathic design in landscape architecture

In this article, we look at what empathic design is, and how this approach can lead to better design solutions. We are joined by international architect Moshe Katz, who shares his thoughts and experience on using empathy in the design process.

What is empathy and empathic design?

Empathy refers to the ability to see the world through the eyes of another and understand their needs, desires, and thinking. Empathy is also key to understanding the inherent properties of natural systems beyond the ecosystem services they may provide. Designers can use this empathic ability to better understand stakeholders and the end users of their spaces, to create better solutions that meet their needs, while remaining respectful of the intrinsic qualities of the natural resources of the site.

Empathy vs Sympathy

Empathy and sympathy are two related concepts. Sympathy is associated with feelings of pity, where the observer recognises the situation of the subject, but from a perspective outside of that experience. This can lead to interpretations of superiority. However, empathy places the observer in the viewpoint of the subject without external judgement.

Using human empathy in design

The international design company,, have produced The Human-Centered Design Toolkit which sets out how seemingly intractable problems can be overcome by a human-centric design approach. The theory describes how solutions to design problems may be sourced from the very people that the problems affect most. IDEO has published the Field Guide to Human-Centric Design, which is available as a free download on their website. In the guide, the authors discuss how empathy is key to understanding the design challenges faced in any project. They argue that a traditional approach to trying to solve problems such as inequality and poverty has disregarded empathy. By metaphorically placing themselves in the shoes of those they are designing for, designers will have a greater insight into how to solves such problems and see things from a fresh perspective. Empathic design can also challenge preconceived ideas and outmoded ways of thinking, bringing innovative ideas and solutions.

Sunsetarium by Moshe Katz

Sunsetarium by Moshe Katz

Using environmental empathy in design

Moshe Katz uses empathy as a tool for analysing the environment, human needs, and society. “The goal of the empathic designer is not to change people, but let them be who they are, free, use their maximal potentials in their surroundings.” He believes that the key to using empathy in design is ‘love’ (an approach he has developed over time): “The first tool one must acquire is an interior process of falling in love with the planning environment and people.“ He notes that this process takes away the designer’s ego, control, and need to change. Katz asks himself the question “what does this place, or this person dream to be?

Moshe Katz’ project Sunsetarium, was born out of “a higher sensation of empathy and love towards nature and people.”He has created a shared space in Haifa, Israel, that encourages people to come together to observe the sunset and “to meet, to communicate, to be a part of the community through a natural experience- we are all an audience of a show, together.”

His approach began with “...the love of nature, the love of people, became a design approach, leading to a new form of analysis- what is special here? What does the sun dream to be? What do the people dream to be? That form of looking at things- created new design principles- leading to an ‘outside the box’ solution- an urban meeting place as a sunsetarium.

See the video below for an introduction to Moshe Katz’ design approach.

Tips and tricks to get into the empathic design mindset

  1. Define your target
    Make sure at an early stage the whole design team knows for whom the design is intended: all the user groups, individuals, interested parties, and stakeholders. Empathy can only be employed when the designer knows who to empathise with.
  2. Widen your net
    Good design should be inclusive. By consulting with a broad range of stakeholders, from the mainstream to those with more outlying opinions and minority groups, a greater empathy can be fostered. Some extremist points of view may be valid or founded in genuine grievances or scepticism.
  3. Be inspired
    Fully engage in public and client consultation, as well as site analysis. By getting to know and understand the stakeholders, designers can find inspiration for design solutions that might not otherwise present themselves.
  4. Immersion
    Empathy can be difficult to develop. By immersing oneself in the culture of those the space seeks to serve, landscape architects can foster greater empathy.
  5. Get to know your team
    Understanding the skills and approaches of your team can have positive effects on the design process. Often in design, differences of opinion can arise. Taking an empathic approach can help resolve disputes, come to greater understandings, and innovate new solutions.
  6. Communication
    Having empathy means being able to understand other people and how they communicate. It may be appropriate to alter how the design and consultation is communicated depending on the target audience.
  7. Intuition
    Taking an empathic approach can allow instinctive intuition to flourish. This can be exploited during the concept and ideation phases of the design process to inspire innovative solutions.
  8. Roleplay
    When empathy is difficult to foster, it can be useful to role-play different scenarios as different users or stakeholders. This will help a designer to explore issues from outside their immediate perspective.
  9. Practise empathy
    A 2013 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that humans are naturally good at empathising. However, due to personal experiences, we can lose this innate ability over time. The good news is that empathy can be increased through practice. Due to the neuroplasticity of the brain (and particularly the supramarginal gyrus which governs empathy), humans can get better at empathising through practising empathy. Therefore it stands to reason that the more designers practice empathic design, the better they will become at it.
Sunsetarium by Moshe Katz

Sunsetarium by Moshe Katz

Lessons in empathic design

Empathic design relies on a designer being able to see things from another’s perspective. By practising empathic design, landscape architects can create spaces that better serve their target audience. This involves an approach to the site, users, and stakeholder engagement that is open, intuitive, and unbiased by preconceived judgements and intentions. By practising the 9 steps above, a designer can increase the level of empathy in the design process, and thus reach innovative solutions that truly solve design problems.


Article co-written by Ashley D Penn, Jolma Architects, and Moshe Katz, Architect – Artist.
Moshe is an international architect and artist specialising in the critical stages of conceptual project development, architectural primary design, strategic planning, and urban branding.
Lead image: Sunsetarium by Moshe Katz

Pocket Parks as Urban Acupuncture

In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture refers to the insertion of fine needles into specific parts of the human body with the aim of treating a range of symptoms. In a similar way, urban acupuncture refers to the theory of manipulating the urban fabric on a small scale to affect greater socio-environmental impacts. In this article, we look at how pocket parks might be used as an urban acupuncture tool.

Urban acupuncture

The phrase ‘urban acupuncture’ was first coined by the Spanish architect and city planner Manuel de Solà, and was later popularised by Finnish architect Marco Casagrande. Key to the theory is understanding the city as a holistic whole, more like a living being than a collection of dissident phenomena. Urban acupuncture theory proposes that problems within the city can be alleviated through small interventions at specific localised sites. Sites are selected through an integrated approach of data gathering, community involvement, and site analysis. Once selected, interventions are designed and implemented to enable greater impacts on the surrounding areas and wider afield throughout the city. One common misapprehension about urban acupuncture is that sites and interventions must always be small. Tiago Olivera of Arup argues that one of the most important features of urban acupuncture is that the intervention should be swift. Quick to implement, and quick to alleviate the stresses on the city. Another important feature of urban acupuncture is that it should follow a ‘bottom-up’ approach. Many larger-scale interventions take a long time to implement, take up vast swathes of land, and cost great sums. Often local residents can feel that these grand plans are forced upon them. The opposition to the proposed garden bridge in London by Heatherwick Studios demonstrates the level of hostility a top-down approach to planning can bring.

Pocket parks

Pocket parks are small-scale parks or gardens that provide green space for local residents, close to where they live or work. Key features of pocket parks include their small scale, community focus, and location (check out Land8’s 7 Top Pocket Parks: Small Spaces With a Huge Impact for examples). Location is of the utmost importance to the success of pocket parks. Ideally, residents shouldn’t have to walk more than 5-10 minutes to reach their nearest pocket park. They should also be located at nodal spaces, where local public transport links, roads, footpaths and greenways, and local services such as shops come together.

Paley Park New York by Aleksandr Zykov CC2.0

Paley Park New York by Aleksandr Zykov CC2.0

Pocket parks as urban acupuncture

Pocket parks offer opportunities for urban acupuncture due to their scale and relatively low installation costs. Providing large green recreational spaces can be expensive for a local authority. However, pocket parks that utilize derelict land can cost as little $150,000. There are often a number of funding bodies that can help a local community realize a pocket park.

The greening of derelict land can have impressive results for the social and cultural well-being of residents. Research from the University of Pennsylvania revealed that when vacant plots were greened, residents in low-income neighbourhoods reported “significant decreases” in feelings of depression, and lower cholesterol levels. The study even noted a significant reduction in gun crime in the area surrounding the interventions. In these cases, the interventions were minimal, often just cleaning up the lot and laying it to grass at an average cost of $1,500.

When considered as urban acupuncture, pocket parks can lead to investment and regeneration in an area. Architect Jamie Lerner notes that quick (and even temporary) interventions such as pocket parks can demonstrate how other interventions can be implemented. He points to Paley Park in New York City as an example of how a well-implemented pocket park can lead to urban regeneration. He also notes that pocket parks can alter the course of local planning, often stimulating other interventions including investment in green infrastructure such as urban greenways.

Sitting on an empty lot in central Taipei, Cicada by Casagrande Laboratory is an urban acupuncture intervention that comprises a grassy open space with a woven bamboo cocoon measuring 34 meters (112 feet) long. The intervention intends to create a conversation between modern man, the city of Taipei, and the reality of nature. Although the intervention ticks the boxes of being small and locally focused, the real key to the success of interventions such as this is the fluidity of the program. The site and structure can be used for a number of community activities, most notably as a lounge for the local university students.



Pocket parks and urban regeneration

There have been several studies suggesting that the implementation of pocket parks has positive effects on property values. For example, one 1973 study noted that properties immediately facing a park had on average a 23% greater value than that one block away. More recent studies point to the importance of the quality of the park in increasing property value.

One possible criticism of using pocket parks as urban acupuncture could be that the urban regeneration it fosters can contribute to gentrification. Gentrification is the term used to describe the displacement of low-income residents by those of higher income. With an increase in property values comes an increase in rents. This is often associated with urban regeneration, or where previously affordable, but less desirable areas become more fashionable. This has been evidenced in areas of Manhattan facing the High Line.

High Line Park - New York City - July 09 by DAvid Berkowitz CC2.0

High Line Park – New York City – July 09 by David Berkowitz CC2.0

Balancing pocket parks and urban regeneration

Pocket parks are an ideal tool to consider in urban acupuncture. Quick and cheap to implement, they can have positive effects on the health and well-being of the local residents, encourage entrepreneurship through pop-up shops and services, and have positive effects on property values. Key to their success seems to be in the careful consideration of their placement and use, and a community participatory ‘bottom-up’ approach. This is one of the tenets of good urban acupuncture. It seems successful projects are not the headline-grabbing big scale or expensive projects, but the small-scale, quick to implement, projects of low cost but high value.

Article written by Ashley D Penn with research by Valeria Currò

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How Landscape Architecture Mitigates the Urban Heat Island Effect

Global temperatures are rising. This is especially felt in urban areas due to the urban heat island (UHI) effect, where temperatures can be 10oF (5.5oC) higher than the surrounding countryside. This phenomenon is due to several factors that combine to alter the local microclimate of an urban area. However, several techniques can be employed by landscape architects to help combat the local rise in temperatures, saving money, reducing global warming, and making a more pleasant environment to live and work.

In this article, we look at what the urban heat island effect is and what landscape architects can do to combat it.

What is the Urban Heat Island Effect?

Objects of different colours reflect varying amounts of light. Surfaces with a greater albedo (or lighter colour) reflect more of the sun’s energy. Darker objects tend to absorb more radiation and therefore heat up more quickly. As our cities are usually made of darker materials like concrete and asphalt, they absorb comparatively more energy from the sun and therefore heat up more quickly than the surrounding, lighter coloured and vegetated countryside.

Cities tend to drain surface water quickly into sewers, where it is trapped, and cannot evaporate as easily. In rural areas groundwater drains through the soil and is transpired by plants. The evaporation of water in rural areas adds a cooling effect to the local climate.

Finally, things like air conditioning and vehicles add small amounts of heat to the air in cities, contributing to the UHI effect.

'Shenzhen-Tech_Water-recycling' kindly provided by CRJA-IBI Group

‘Shenzhen-Tech_Water-recycling’ kindly provided by CRJA-IBI Group

Mitigating the Heat Island Effect

There are various ways in which the UHI effect can be mitigated through technology and the use of landscape interventions.

Technology that Reduces the Urban Heat Island Effect

  • Reflective surfaces

One way to decrease the amount of the sun’s energy that is absorbed by a city is to use lighter coloured materials. However, light colours also create glare, which is not only annoying for city residents but can cause problems for drivers. One solution is to use lighter coloured paints on higher roofs. These are known as ‘cool roofs.’  Another technological solution is to use special reflective paints that absorb visible light while reflecting invisible light. As these paints do not reflect visible light they can be darker in colour. However, the extent to which reflecting only infrared light has on the UHI effect is still under debate, with some experts claiming that the benefits are minimal.

White roof and skylights on Las Vegas, Nev. Walmart_Walmart corp. CC2.0

White roof and skylights on Las Vegas, Nev. Walmart_Walmart corp. CC2.0


  • Solar panels

Another approach is to actively use the radiation from the sun to generate electricity. Photovoltaic panels can be used to provide shade to a building, preventing the thermal mass of the building heating up, and radiating its stored heat at night.

Green Ways to Reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect

  • Green roofs and walls.

The benefits of green roofs on stormwater management, biodiversity, habitat creation, and building insulation are well documented. However, they also have an important role to play in mitigating the UHI effect. Not only does the higher albedo of the plants reflect more of the sun’s energy, but as the plants transpire the surrounding ambient temperature of the building is lowered through evaporative cooling. Green walls have similar effects in reflecting more light and evaporating moisture.

  • Permeable surfaces

Tests have shown that while wet, a permeable paving system of interlocking concrete blocks performed localised cooling better than impermeable surfaces. For permeable surfaces to have a significant effect on the UHI effect it is important to note that there should be regular rainfall to evaporate. Also, the depth of the water table below the surface also impacts upon the permeable paving’s cooling efficiency.

  • Green parking lots

Vegetated surfaces like green parking lots combine many of the benefits of green roofs and permeable paving.  All too often parking lots are made of dark coloured, impermeable asphalt. However, by using a material like concrete Grasscrete, or porous plastic paving units, the cooling benefits of vegetation and permeability can be exploited, while still maintaining a degree of usability.

  • Urban Trees

There are several ways in which trees help in mitigating the UHI effect in a city. As tree leaves are usually lighter in colour than the surrounding urban fabric they reflect more light. Trees also affect their local atmosphere by transpiring. A large oak tree can transpire as much as 40,000 gallons (150,000 litres) per year. Street trees are particularly good at shading buildings and sidewalks, effectively filtering the amount of radiation that reaches the lower albedo surfaces.

Harvesting the Power of Water to Reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect

  • Incorporating water into the landscape

As bodies of water evaporate, they cool their environment. By increasing the surface area of any water feature in the urban landscape, the amount of evaporation is maximised. Therefore, there is a strong argument for including water in any urban landscape, whether it be a lake, pond, or daylighting an old stream that has been covered over, such as the La Rosa Daylighting Project in Auckland, New Zealand.

  • Rainwater harvesting

One of the limitations of the cooling effect of permeable paving is that when there is no rainfall to evaporate, they do not cool their environment. Traditionally, the focus on stormwater management has been to quickly discharge the peak flow into stormwater drains or encourage infiltration. However, by harvesting rainwater, storing it, and allowing it to evaporate from surfaces, not only helps to level out the peak flow of storm events, but it also extends the time permeable paving has a cooling effect.

RBC Rain Garden at the London Wetland Centre by Marathon CC2.0

RBC Rain Garden at the London Wetland Centre by Marathon CC2.0


  • Rain gardens and swales

Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) have proven benefits for stormwater attenuation. Rain gardens and swales are forms of SUDS that collect rainwater during storm events and allow it to slowly infiltrate into the ground. As they retain the water for a period, the water has a greater time to evaporate. By including planting, rain gardens also perform evapotranspiration, cooling the air further.

Landscape Architecture Mitigating the Urban Heat Island Effect.

There are several ways architects and landscape architects can reduce the urban heat island effect. Through technological means, the albedo of surfaces can be increased to reflect more of the sun’s energy, thus reducing the amount of energy absorbed by buildings.

However, there are also a great many tools at the landscape architect’s disposal that can mitigate the UHI effect. By incorporating green roofs and green walls some of the sun’s energy can be reflected, rather than absorbed. By including shade producing deciduous street trees into the streetscape, sidewalks and buildings can be shaded from the sun. Permeable paving can encourage evaporative cooling at the street level, and when used in conjunction with rainwater harvesting can provide maximum cooling when it is needed most. Finally, many sustainable urban drainage system tools can be used to retain water in the landscape, providing evaporative cooling. All these measures will help reduce the ambient temperature of the local microclimate and mitigate the overall urban heat island effect.

LEAD IMAGE: Urban heat island effect by Alexandre Affonso

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