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LAF: Putting the Green Back into Green Infrastructure

By Kathleen Le Dain

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Picture two small homes side by side in Long Beach, California, one with a traditional landscape of turf lawn and shrubs, requiring daily watering, weekly mowing, and regular care in the hot summer sun. Then, take a look to the right at the neighbor’s property, a home designed and installed with a lush sustainable landscape, featuring native plants and grasses that flourish in the heat and require little water beyond what falls naturally from the sky. Where would you rather live?

That question, posed by Landscape Architecture Foundation Executive Director Barbara Deutsch, and inspired by this Sustainable Sites Initiative case study, goes to the heart of the movement toward sustainable landscape design and planning. “We really don’t have a choice,” said Deutsch in a recent interview. “There’s not a lot of time to turn this ship around. Wouldn’t you rather live in a home that uses 80 percent less water, generates half the yard waste, half the maintenance, and is beautiful?”

Four months into her position at the head of LAF, Deutsch is building on the foundation’s solid background in case study research by launching the Landscape Performance Series, a new program to show the contribution that landscape performance makes to sustainability. “We’re accustomed to hearing about performance standards when it comes to buildings,” she said. “But what about landscapes? This is missing in the conversation and is needed to solve our climate, water, energy, waste and biodiversity problems.”

There’s a need for this data. An ASLA study released in October 2008 showed that homeowners know how to turn the lights off to save energy inside the home but lack specific information on how to save outside their front doors. While 96 percent of U.S. adults have personally adopted sustainable or energy efficient practices at home, only 58 percent use energy or water saving techniques in their yard, lawn or garden.

Starting this fall, LAF will launch the Landscape Performance Series by collecting case studies showing side-by-side or before and after images of traditional versus sustainable landscapes for different typologies at different scales and geographic areas. These one page studies, published online in downloadable format, are research briefs showing quantified benefits for energy/carbon, waste, water, maintenance, cost and other key benefits. By mid-2010, the program hopes to have an illustrated database of a dozen or more online case studies showing the value of sustainable design.

“With the landscape performance initiative, we are redefining and expanding public awareness of sustainability. It’s not just a one-liner about energy or water or waste or biodiversity. It’s all those things and more, which is why landscape architects and the landscape architecture, or integrated approach, are critical to solving the complex problems we face today, like climate change,” Deutsch said.

The Landscape Performance Series isn’t the only new program at LAF. Plans are also in the works for the next generation of communications to establish the foundation as a catalyst for change and the “go-to” source for information, news and research on sustainable design and planning. With professional support from HOK’s communications team, LAF aims to implement new media tools to reach out to the global landscape architecture community, starting with Web 2.0 and its wealth of social media applications, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Delicious, Slideshare, Flickr, Scribd and blogs. The goal is to create community and establish the foundation as a meeting place and forum for sharing best practices.

“This isn’t going to happen overnight,” said Deutsch. ‘In fact it will take a concerted effort on all of our parts to generate investment and create ongoing content that’s compelling and provocative, to get the conversation going and keep the energy high with the many constituencies represented by LAF.”

That means relationship-building, another item high on the foundation’s agenda. LAF will be seeking new partnerships with allied professionals and federal and municipal agencies who are looking for tools to help retrofit cities with “green.”

Another constituency that will continue to play an important role in LAF’s future is the academic community of landscape architecture programs at universities around the world. Traditionally, LAF has had a close rapport with the scholarly side of the profession. The foundation’s scholarship and research programs are the historic core of its operation, with awards averaging $100,000 a year to students and researchers. The centerpiece is the Olmsted Scholars program, which recognizes leadership in sustainable design and planning with an annual award of $25,000 to a graduate or undergraduate student from any country. In its second year of operation, the Olmsted Scholars program has just announced its 2009 winner and finalists who were selected from a national pool of students nominated by their faculty as University Olmsted Scholars (see page 168 for details).

Also prominent are LAF’s named scholarship and fellowship programs that reward superior performance and assist students with financial needs. In 2009 a record number of students applied for awards, resulting in a highly competitive selection process. By recognizing talent at the university level, LAF aims to provide encouragement and motivation to students to reach even higher levels of knowledge and achievement. Looking to the future LAF hopes to expand its scholarship offerings with more named scholarships and increased financial awards, recognizing the cost of higher education and the critical need for education and expertise in landscape architecture and its approach.

More good news comes this fall with the publication of LAF’s fifth case study book, Greening Cities, Growing Communities: Learning from Seattle's Urban Community. The book reveals the capacity of community gardens to serve larger community issues, such as community food security, urban ecosystem health, sustainable gardening and building practices, and active living and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. Authors Jeffrey Hou and Julie Johnson (University of Washington) and Laura Lawson (University of Illinois) examine how landscape architecture, planning and allied design professionals can better interact in the making of these unique urban open spaces and the opportunities offered by community gardens for community activism and urban sustainability. The timing couldn’t be better, with greater public interest in community gardens due to the vegetable garden planted last spring on the White House grounds by First Lady Michelle Obama.

All of these activities add to LAF’s new campaign, to put landscape architecture back on the front page. “We hear a lot in the news about saving energy with programs such as renewable energy credits, and all of that is good news for the environment. However, the discussion has gone away from the value of vegetation and landscape solutions,” said Deutsch. “Let’s put the ‘green’ back into ‘green infrastructure’.”

The Landscape Architecture Foundation is the leader in research and scholarship for sustainable landscape solutions.

The Incredible Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes

Want to win a trip for two to EDSA’s award-winning Crosswaters Ecolodge and Spa? Make a donation to LAF and register to win either at or at the LAF booth at the ASLA Exhibit Hall in Chicago. Drawing will be held September 20, 2009.

The 2009 Leadership in Landscape . . . Scholarship Program Awards

Yessenia Alvarez-Lopez

Douglas Dockery Thomas Fellowship in Garden History and Design: James Schissel, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

EDSA Minority Scholarship: Yessenia Alvarez-Lopez, at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo; Courtland Paul Scholarship: Emily Rothrock at Virginia Tech

Peridian International Award and Rain Bird Corporation’s Intelligent Use of Water Scholarship: Aeryn Donnelly at UCLA Extension

Steven G. King Play Environment Scholarship: Jared Russell at SUNY’s School of Environmental Science and Forestry and Kristi Park at the University of Washington

The Landscape Forms Design for People Scholarship: Julie Murphy at North Carolina State University

Hawaii Chapter/David T. Woolsey Scholarship: Ariel Carlson at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

2009 Olmsted Scholars

David Malda

Peter Emerson

Brent Jacobsen

Timothy Mollette-Parks

Emily Vogler

David Malda, a graduate student at the University of Virginia, has been selected as LAF’s National Olmsted Scholar and recipient of the $25,000 award. David is pursuing a dual master's degree in Landscape and Building Architecture. He plans to use the award to develop a report and online forum on the health of urban landscapes.

Also honored are four national finalists: Peter Emerson, Temple University; Brent Jacobsen, University of Arizona; Timothy Mollette-Parks, University of California, Berkeley; and Emily Vogler, University of Pennsylvania.

The 2009 University Olmsted Scholars are: Jeremy Anterola (Kansas State University); Jean Beaupre (North Dakota State University); Ashley Brazeal (Clemson University); Gavin Cain (University of Florida); Ryan Cambridge (Purdue University); Nina Chase (West Virginia University); Claudia de la Fuenta (Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo); Colby Gray (Ball State University); Bryan Harrison (University of Rhode Island); Regina Irizarry (Morgan State University); Jenna Jones (University of Michigan); Jordan Jones (Mississippi State University); Ailyn Mendoza (Florida International University); Jessica Moore (Oklahoma State University); Robert Nelson (University of California, Davis); Janice Nicol (University of Texas, Austin); Neal Overstrom (University of Massachusetts, Amherst); Lee Pouliot (Cornell University); Kari Rushe (Penn State University); Deborah Steinberg (Chatham University); Denton Tarver (City College of New York); Atisha Varshney (Rhode Island School of Design); and Lindsay Winkler (Utah State University).

The 2009 jury members were: Dennis Carmichael, FASLA, LAF President and Vice President and Principal, EDAW; Lucinda Sanders, ASLA, CEO, OLIN; Forster Ndubisi, Professor and Department Head, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, Texas A&M University; Angela Dye, FASLA, ASLA President and President and Principal, A. Dye Design; Teresa Durkin, Vice President and Senior Landscape Architect, HOK; Susan Szenasy, Editor-in-Chief, Metropolis Magazine; and Andrea Gaffney, 2008 National Olmsted Scholar.

The Olmsted Scholars Program was initiated in 2008 to honor the work of today's student leaders in sustainable design and planning. Founding sponsors are EDSA, HOK, the Edith Harrison Henderson Fund, OLIN, and the Harriet Barnhardt Wimmer Fund/Wimmer Yamada and Caughey.

Landscape Architecture Foundation Executive Director, Barbara Deutsch

Barbara Deutsch

Barbara Deutsch is not one to mince words when talking about the future of life as we know it on this planet. Armed with a business degree from the University of Virginia, she worked in marketing and systems engineering for ten years at IBM before shifting direction and going back to school for a master’s degree in Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington. “I discovered the profession of Landscape Architecture through volunteer work and thought, “This is the greatest profession — the world needs what landscape architects have to offer, but landscape architects need to get it out there.”

She began in Hong Kong, working on new town planning and infrastructure, returned to Seattle to teach at the University of Washington and then moved to Washington, D.C., as Senior Director for the Casey Tree Endowment Fund. There, Barbara secured $350,000 in grant funding for strategic projects and led the 2002 Street Tree Inventory, still the largest citizen-based tree inventory ever completed.

In 2005 she was awarded a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard and then returned to Washington where she was a sustainability consultant as Associate Director of BioRegional for its One Planet Communities Program. Then she heard about LAF and thought it was an opportunity not to be missed. “Here you have a small foundation headed by a who’s who list of the world’s top landscape architects, working on the most urgent and cutting-edge issues in the design and planning fields. And on top of it all, the United States has just elected a President who has designated millions and millions of stimulus dollars to infrastructure change and environmental remediation. What a great place to be.”


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June 17, 2019, 8:28 am PDT

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