Big Old Tree, New Big Easy

Project: Big Old Tree, New Big Easy
Location: New Orleans, LA
Designer: Karen Lutsky
Year: 2010
Program: University of Pennsylvania School of Design
Faculty Advisor: David Governeur, Nicholas Pevzner

Project Description: ‘Big Old Tree, New Big Easy’ is an adaptable design proposal built upon the inherent qualities and capabilities of New Orleans’ native tree species. The project explores the potential of a simple urban afforestation strategy to engage the past, respond to critical current social and infrastructural issues, and support a ‘sustainable’ future. 

The strategy begins and ends with the trees. The plan uses well-known attributes of three native tree species (the high-ground live oak, the mid-ground pecan, and the water-loving cypress) to maximize the capacity of the resulting urban canopy to manage water through evapotranspiration, to stabilize the currently sinking ground with extensive root systems, to connect neighborhoods and promote recreation with new shade and structure, to produce valued goods such as nuts and wood, and to harbor and nurture the growth of a strong community.

Maintenance-heavy areas such as orchards and community gardens are located adjacent to schools and community centers. The labor of planting and pruning trees, and harvesting fruit and wood is work that is easily managed, quickly taught, and carried out with accessible training. This allows it to be managed by a volunteer-based, multi-generational workforce without much risk, and lends itself well to larger group participation, promoting communal interaction and engagement. Utilizing the availability of the city’s post-Katrina ‘volun-tourism’ work-force provides an initial source of individuals and communities that value and have experience in collective organization.

As they grow, the trees also begin to engage the community in new ways. Early phasing of tightly planted groves in the project require that trees be thinned out over time. This management practice not only supports the healthy maturation of old-growth trees in the corridor, but also provides a ‘nursery’ source for native trees that may be transplanted into rest of the community, allowing the maintenance of the corridor to continually populate the greater neighborhood with these trees.

The key armature of the proposal is a clear, striated planting plan, in which trees are planted linearly across the site with variation in spacing and species in response to varying ground conditions. This formation creates a planting plan that provides consistency across the landscape, structurally unifying and visually connecting the entirety of the corridor. The responsive planting strategy places water-loving trees on wetter ground, pecan or harvestable trees near schools and local community organizations, and live oaks on high ground and along the main path.

The simplicity of the planting plan also allows the project to continue to function under reduced maintenance. Even if nothing is provided beyond initial planting of the trees and sufficient care to assure their establishment, the trees will still provide the much needed functions of mitigating water, creating habitat, cooling urban climate, increasing the quality of our air, and ensuring another crop of ‘big, old trees’ for the next generation. 


Additional Project Information:

2011 National ASLA Honor Award in Analysis and Planning


This project was featured in Scenario 4: Building the Urban Forest 


50,000 Trees

Project: 50,000 Trees
Location: San Francisco, CA
Designer: Sarah Moos
Year: 2013
Program: University of California, Berkeley
Faculty Advisor: Judith Stilgenbauer

Project Description: Freeways and highway overpasses are often seen as the epitome of environmental destruction in the urban landscape. Yet the complex spaces below and around urban freeways may be productively re-imagined as beneficial working landscapes, deploying trees en masse to buffer the harmful effects of these traffic conduits. This project explores how freeway urban forests could strategically offset a significant part of the city’s carbon emissions at the source.

In this project, a 30-acre site of underutilized space beneath a multi-level interchange in San Francisco, CA is envisioned as a productive urban forest. The design for the site has three primary goals.  First, it seeks to plant a robust forest of enough trees to offset a portion of the annual CO2 emissions from the adjacent freeway. Second, it devises an irrigation system that builds upon existing infrastructure to irrigate the forest and to reduce persistent stormwater flooding on this former marshland. Third, it establishes pedestrian pathways and provides amenities throughout the forest to create a memorable and interactive landscape. The forest is a new urban landscape that emerges over time, transforming the driving experience at the freeway level and establishing places for pedestrian interaction at street level. If the freeway is rendered obsolete in the future, the interchange will transition from a mono-functional freeway into a multi-use interchange for pedestrians, public transportation, flora, and fauna amid a dense urban forest.

The project’s design also takes advantage of innovative forest sequestration techniques, resulting in a cycling strategy that alternates phases of growth, partial removal, afforestation, and diversification. This compact planting and maintenance strategy allows for the sequestration CO2 and other emitted compounds within a significantly reduced footprint.

The estimated $1.7 million of annual urban ecosystem services generated at the interchange – including the value of trees, soil, captured water, wind energy, and jobs – can then be used over time to expand the afforestation effort to at least 90 other underutilized freeway right-of-ways throughout the entire San Francisco Bay Area. Taken together, the resulting urban forest would become a “new and powerful” sequestration infrastructure functioning at the metropolitan scale.


Additional Information:

The City of San Francisco has utilized the research, analysis, and design of this strategy to inform aspects of the 2014 Urban Forest Master Plan — a component of the One Bay Area Plan that is aimed at offsetting emissions through innovative solutions.

This project received the 2013 National ASLA Honor Award in General Design.


Featured in Scenario 4: Building the Urban Forest 

Queens Plaza

Project: Queens Plaza
Location: Long Island City, NY
Firm: Margie Ruddick
Year: 2003
Firm website:

Project Description:  Queens Plaza is the gateway to Long Island City from Manhattan. Spanning eight city blocks, the completed project enhances a tangle of 14 lanes of traffic, two elevated subway lines, two bridges, and a parking lot. Through road realignment, the project improved vehicular circulation, created alternative transportation corridors, and opened space for a primary park area.

As one of two pilot projects for New York City’s High Performance Infrastructure Guidelines, Queens Plaza utilizes a constructed wetland and subsurface filtration systems to prevent over 20.2 million gallons of stormwater from entering the city’s combined sewer system, reduces ambient noise pollution from elevated trains passing through Queens Plaza by 23%, and has increased surrounding property values by 37% (during a period when NYC Metro property values increased by 8%). On an average summer day, Queens Plaza attracts 125 visitors to a site once described colloquially as the ‘Boulevard of Death’.

Designed in collaboration with the artist Michael Singer, the project employs interlocking and modular permeable pavers that serve as firm walking surfaces and that transport surface runoff to infiltration areas. This strategy incorporates high albedo asphalt aggregates, recycled asphalt, and reused demolition materials for a sub-base in order to reduce ambient air temperatures and watering requirements for the project’s 489 native trees and grasses.

Rather than removing or masking the surrounding infrastructural elements, the project incorporates flexible stainless steel mesh to highlight the complex and irregular volumes created by the undergirding of the elevated rails. Through creative lighting, these spaces are turned into a lantern-like serial installation suspended between the vehicular traffic above and pedestrian traffic below. These structures provide the tracks with legibility and highlight them as a wayfinding beacon at the interaction of Jackson Avenue and Queens Plaza.

Rejecting the notion of passive ‘greening,’ Queens Plaza reactivates an underutilized space and the surrounding urban fabric created by unplanned infrastructural layering. Satisfying performative criteria and providing social and recreational benefits, the project is a robust precedent of what landscape can achieve in a challenging urban context.

Project Team:

Margie Ruddick – Design Lead
Marpillero Pollak Architects – Architecture and Urban Design
Michael Singer Studio – Public Art
WRT – Landscape Architecture
Leni Schwendinger Light Projects – Lighting Design
Langan Engineering – Civil Engineering


Featured in Scenario 3: Rethinking Infrastructure  

Re-Cultivating The Forest City

Project: Re-Cultivating the Forest City
Location: Cleveland, OH
Firm: PORT Architecture + Urbanism
Firm website:

Project Description: At its economic and political height during the mid-20th century, the city of Cleveland proper had a population of nearly 1 million people. The city was building and investing in infrastructural and civic projects for a projected growth that would double the city’s population before the turn of the century. Instead, the industrial economy quickly evaporated and the population declined by more than half its 1950s high (est. 430,000 in 2009), leaving a vast swath of post-industrial land at the geographic center of the city.

This vacant territory is directly tied to Cleveland’s two most significant natural features – its Lake (Erie) and its River (Cuyahoga). The well-known environmental degradation of these two water bodies was the direct result of the now lost industrial vitality of the City and Region. And while both of these water bodies are notorious for significant environmental issues in their recent history, both have stabilized and by most accounts have significantly improved from an ecological and environmental perspective. However, in an ironic twist of fate, the improvement in the ecological health of the Lake and River has occurred just as the City’s economic and social health has commensurately deteriorated. Our project proposes to correct this relationship, by advancing the City’s economy through the active enhancement of its ecology and its urban infrastructure by modifying and managing the lower Cuyahoga River Valley.

The industrial valley’s position at the center of the municipal territory, rather than at its periphery, is a distinguishing characteristic that allows any transformation of the area to have a direct reciprocal impact on the core of the city. Additionally, what makes this territory fertile ground for intervention is that just south of the burnt-out landscape of the lower valley lays the equally spectacular, lush, green canopy of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park which is home to the deep forests, rolling hills, and open farmlands that comprise the upland areas of the Cuyahoga River, as well as other landscapes of cultural and historic significance such as the Ohio-Erie Canal.

Re-Cultivating the Forest City looks to reclaim and re-imagine the entirety of the 8,200-acre lower Cuyahoga River Valley, from the terminus of the National Park at the territory’s southern edge, north to the river’s mouth near downtown Cleveland at the shores of Lake Erie. Our approach utilizes a strategy of productive re-colonization, combining economic, ecological and social initiatives to transform the lower Cuyahoga River Valley into a new River Landscape Infrastructure that enhances and expands the ecological value of the river corridor, while simultaneously serving to reorient the economy and urban form of the City of Cleveland.

Project Team Members: Christopher Marcinkoski, Andrew Moddrell, Kyle Reynolds, Richie Gelles, Bradford Goetz, Maren Allen and Jeff Mikolajewski

Reclaiming The Shoreline: Redefining Indiana’s Lake Michigan Coast

Project: Reclaiming the Shoreline:  Redefining Indiana’s Lake Michigan Coast
Location: Michigan City, IN
Designer: Dane Carlson 
Year: 2011
Program: Ball State University, Undergraduate

Project Description: The NIPSCO coal generating station in Michigan City, Indiana is one of a series of industrial complexes which have dominated the shoreline of Lake Michigan for decades, bringing with them pollution of ground and water and crippled shorelines. This design solution utilizes the framework of industrial infrastructure to return the site to ecological and community function; as ecological processes develop through a series of phases, human inhabitation brings the site to life.

Program: The program consists of three primary components: ecological development, creation of a public realm and spatial network, and community development. Rather than creating the site as a destination, the program intends to extend all surrounding elements directly into the site design.

Ecology: Reestablishment of tiered dune ecosystems is the primary component of ecological restoration. The introduction of new sediment flows through littoral drift and longshore current, in addition to the creation of a semi-permeable jetty, allows for the accretion of sand along the shoreline, and this process is accelerated by the staggered formations of sheet pilings driven into the lakebed. As a new layer of dunes form here, landward sand becomes stabilized by pioneer vegetation, allowing it to host new and varied plant communities.

Four intradunal wetlands, also known as pannes, and one coastal wetland replace the series of ash settling ponds along the shoreline. The remaining layer of sheet piling, together with a sub-grade sheet of clay, forms a waterproof barrier leading to the accumulation of water at the bottom of each depression. The wet feet of each depression make them uniquely suitable to host rushes and sedges which form the basis of panne plant communities.

The creation of dune forests inland of the shoreline mimics the natural progression of successional dune ecologies. The ini­tial layer of dunes begins organic matter accumulation with cottonwood and dunegrass. Jack pine forest and oak savannah inhabit the layers of dune beyond this, and oak/hickory forests beyond these. Introduction of these tiers of dune evolution creates the basis for a permanently evolving, functional ecological system which mimics that of the national lakeshore to the south.

Community: Introduction of dense residential development allows the site to be a place of inhabitation as well as a destination. Located directly north of an existing neighborhood, this new community provides pedestrian connections to existing streets and al­lows residents from surrounding communities to access pedestrian circulation routes into the heart of the site. Community development lies on the site’s southern portion, maintaining the northern reaches as a place for ecological growth, ecotour­ism, and education. All homes front on open space and residents can easily access woodland canopies or recreational hotspots through aerial circulation systems. A central node makes basic services, such as daycare and grocery, within walking distance of homes.

Public Realm: The most iconic features of the generating station, in addition to most of the auxiliary structures, are adapted into public amenities. In the west, the cooling tower becomes a hotel, providing a viewing platform for the public and creating an anchor for the aerial circulation system. This system extends eastward through the community, carving a path for the creation of a green avenue defined by woodland plantings. To the east, both boiler houses host sport courts and adventure recreation due to their proximity to the creek’s waterfront. Here, an extension of the Franklin Street corridor forms the primary com­mercial and open public space on site. Access extends northward, connecting this attraction to the public beach through a series of woodland and waterside pathways open only to pedestrians.

The High Line: Section 1

Project: The High Line, Section 1
Location: New York, NY
Firm: James Corner Field Operations
Year: 2009

Project Description:  The High Line is a 1.2-mile long abandoned elevated freight rail line along the west side of lower Manhattan. This 5.9 acre stretch of open space spans twenty city blocks in between and through buildings from Gansevoort Street through the meat packing district and West Chelsea, up to 30th Street, and ending at the Hudson Rail Yards. The High Line was built in the 1930s as part of the larger West Side Improvement Project, funded by the City and State of New Yorkand the New York Central Railroad, to eliminate dangerous street-level railroad crossings. The existing substrate consists primarily of rock ballast, railroad ties, steel rails, and reinforced concrete. Over the past twenty-four years since the last train ran on the High Line in 1980, a thin layer of soil has formed in some areas and an opportunistic landscape of early successional species began to grow inspiring its current design.

The High Line is now recognized as an important and distinctive asset to the city: an urban event operating on many scales—leveraging a new way of seeing the city, connecting distinct neighborhoods, providing an important green space for the immediate neighborhoods, and modeling a new kind of urban “greening.” The re-imagination of this industrial relic was a unique opportunity, and the High Line has transformed into an exceptional public open space.

Project Team Members: Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Project Detailed Credits: 

Field Operations, Team Lead, Landscape Architecture / Urban Design
James Corner
Tom Jost
Lisa Switkin
Nahyun Hwang
Lara Shihab-Eldin
Sierra Bainbridge

Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Architecture
Elizabeth Diller
Ricardo Scofidio
Matthew Johnson
Charles Renfro
Gaspar Libedinsky
Hayley Eber

Piet Oudolf, Horticulture
Olafur Eliasson, Artist
L’Observatoire, Lighting Design
Buro Happold, Structural Engineering / Sustainable Engineering
Robert Sillman Associates, Structural Engineering / Historic Preservation
Philip Habib Associates, Traffic Planning
GRB, Environmental Engineering
VJ Associates, Capital and Operating Cost Estimating
ETM, Public Space Management
DVS Associates, Site Security
Applied Ecological Services, Inc., Ecology
Code Consultants,ADA/ NYC Code / Regulations
Creative Time, Public Art Programming
Control Point, Site Surveyor

Image Captions and Credits: Images courtesy of Jim Corner Field Operations.

1. Gansevoort End, Plaza, and Stairs, Gansevoort and Washington Streets
2. The Tenth Avenue Square, from street level, with windows onto Tenth Avenue
3. Gansevoort Woodland at Night, Aerial View from Gansevoort Street to West 13th Street, looking South
4. Gansevoort Plaza and Stair, Gansevoort Street and Washington Street, looking North
5. Gansevoort Woodland, Gansevoort Street to Little West 12th Street, looking South
6. Washington Grasslands, between Little West 12th Street and West 13th Street, looking South
7. Sundeck Water Feature and Preserve, between West 14th Street and West 15th Street, looking South
8. The Sundeck, one of the High Line’s most popular gathering spots, between 14th and 15th Streets
9. Northern Spur Preserve, between West 16th Street and West 17th Street, looking South towards the Statue of Liberty
10. Chelsea Grasslands, between West 19th Street and West 20th Street, looking North
11. Sundeck Water Feature and Preserve, between West 14th Street and West 15th Street, looking South
12. Washington Grasslands, aerial view of the High Line over Little West 12th Street

Brooklyn Bridge Park

Project: Brooklyn Bridge Park
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Firm: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.
Year: 2010 – Piers 1, Pier 6;
2012—Pier 5;
2013—Pier 2, Pier 3/4 Uplands.
Firm website:

Project Description: Currently under construction, Brooklyn Bridge Park will eventually encompass approximately eighty-five acres and 1.3 miles of waterfront. The park’s goals are both ambitious and straightforward: to preserve the dramatic experience and monumental character of the industrial waterfront while reintroducing self-sustaining ecosystems to the site and investing it with new social and recreational possibilities.

MVVA took a broad mandate of sustainability and applied it across a range of spheres—ecological, structural, cultural, and economic. Sociological diversity, programmatic flexibility, and a robust post-industrial nature are threaded together to create a park that can function both as a metropolitan park on the scale of Olmsted’s landscape infrastructures and as a collection of smaller, nested neighborhood parks.

Brooklyn Bridge Park’s design took on a site with limited access points, a narrow overall width, extreme noise pollution from the adjacent elevated highway, a complex structural waterline condition, and a goal of capturing and recycling stormwater. Excess stormwater is collected from buildings, paved areas, lawns, and planting areas, conveyed into underground tanks, and then cycled and cleansed through rain gardens, supporting a lush swath of rain garden plantings. This runoff collection system, in conjunction with the increased use of water-absorbing lawn and planted areas, dramatically curtails the discharge of stormwater runoff into city systems and lowers the likelihood of combined sewer overflow.

Pier One and Pier Six function as “urban junctions,” entrances to the park that will attract families and individuals on a daily and year-round basis with programs such as playgrounds, picnic tables, benches, areas of accessible natural plantings, a dog run with water, and park concession buildings with restrooms. This first phase of Brooklyn Bridge Park provides vital new social spaces and urban programs while bookending the site and laying the foundation for a continuous waterfront park to grow in between. The salt marsh landscape on Pier 6, sports fields and courts on Piers 2 and 5, a community lawn space on Pier 3, a beach, and other park amenities will come with future phases of park construction.

Project Websites: Brooklyn Bridge Park NYC 
An interview with Matthew Urbanski (Places Journal) 

Project Team: MVVA, Team Lead, Landscape Architecture / Urban Design
AECOM, Marine & Site Infrastructure
Ysrael A. Seinuk, P.C., Structural Engineering
Nitsch Engineering, Stormwater Reuse Consultant
Maryann Thompson Architect, Architecture for Pier 2 and Warming Hut
Richmond So Engineers , Pier 2 Park Building & Warming Hut Structural Engineering
Domingo Gonzales Associates , Lighting Design
Open , Graphic Design
Pine & Swallow Associates , Soil Science
R.J. Van Seters Company , Water Feature Consultant
Paulus, Sokolowski and Sartor, Park Buildings Architect & MEP

Palmisano Park

Project: Henry Palmisano (Stearns Quarry) Park
Location: Chicago, IL
Firm: Site Design Group, Ltd.
Year: 2009
Firm website:

Project Description: Henry Palmisano Park holds in its history an evolution of uses and values. Long operated as a quarry from 1830 through 1969, the site later became a landfill for the City of Chicago’s construction waste. Located in the neighborhood of Bridgeport, it is now a twenty-seven-acre environmental park designed to engage residents and support native eco-systems. As a joint project involving three Chicago agencies, the park exemplifies the city’s commitment to sustainability by the reuse of a post-industrial site as a place for exploration and discovery of natural systems.

Palmisano Park provides several native ecosystems, including prairie plant communities, simulated wetlands, and a large two-acre pond. These native ecosystems with bird and fish habitats have become a popular destination for thousands of Chicagoans. Tours and even overnight campouts are conducted by the city, universities, and organizations and draws the interest of sustainability activists throughout the United States. All stormwater on site, including from the massive hill—dubbed “Mount Bridgeport” by locals—is directed toward the pond and wetlands instead of the city’s sewers. The water flows through tiered educational wetlands that connect the community with nature and allows children and adults alike to walk amidst native plantings.

Exposed quarry walls, recycled materials, reclaimed limestone boulders, concrete outcropping, and remnants of abandoned infrastructure are as much a part of the park experience as the natural systems the site supports. With unusual terrain for the Chicago area, the central mound reaches a height of almost forty feet where visitors can view an impressive view of the Chicago skyline among native grasses and flora. This combination of experiences—natural, industrial, urban, residential—anchors the surrounding community to this new destination park, providing a local identity of urban sustainability.

Project Team Members:
Client/Owner: Chicago Park District
Photography Credit: Ron Gordon Photography and Site Design Group, Ltd.
Site Design Group Ltd. – Architect of Record, Landscape Architecture and Project Management
Ernest C. Wong, Principal-in-Charge; Michelle M. Inouye, Project Manager and Designer; Hana Ishikawa, Associate Project Manager;
Weston Solutions, Inc. – Civil and Environmental Engineering
Applied Ecological Systems, Inc. – Wetland Engineering
Kowalenko & Bilotti, Inc. – Environmental Engineering
Continental Associates – Electrical Engineering
Gagarin Farruggia Gibisch Reis, Inc. – Structural Engineering
Clauss Brothers, Inc. – General Contractor
Midwest Fence Corporation – Metalwork


Project: Underworld: The Acoustic Ecstasy Entertainment Project
Location: Boston, MA
Designer: Allison Dailey
Year: 2011
Program: Harvard University Graduate School of Design
Faculty Advisors: Eelco Hooftman, Bridget Baines

Project Description: Proposal incubates “dead zones”—marine areas with zero macrobiotic life—in the intertidal fringe of Boston Harbor islands. A prototype of intertidal basins for larvae incubation promote species migration across these hypoxic areas.

But wait! What is the human experience of this life-catalyzing strategy? The temporary structures host a hypnotic effect as wave fluctuation is manipulated to create flowing Rorschach-like imagery. To activate this landscape of entertainment further, east and west shore “hypnotic incubators” are connected by a tunnel to expand entertainment infrastructure. Music festivals featuring human- and nonhuman-produced sound ensue.


Cleveland Flats Connection Plan

Project: Cleveland Flats Connections Plan
Location: Cleveland, OH
Firm: CMG Landscape Architecture
Year: 2009
Firm website:

Project Description: Building Cleveland by Design (BCbD), a joint program of ParkWorks and Cleveland Public Art, has retained CMG to lead a design process for key connections in Cleveland’s historic Flats neighborhood. The scope of work calls for planning and schematic design for connections that will both bring greater unity to the central city neighborhood and link it more strongly to surrounding areas. Cleveland’s Flats is rich in historic and environmental value. CMG has emphasized ecological design through the planning and design process as a fundamental way to treat and re-frame the area’s rich but complex conditions with sensitivity.

CMG has worked with BCbD in a nimble and responsive manner, often providing material, designs and exhibits to enable community visioning and stakeholder communication on an as needed basis.  Simultaneously CMG has developed an open space framework plan to inform future public and private development of the historic Flats.  Various project sites are addressed in detail within the flats framework plan.  These discrete sites include: an 8 acre linear park with integral storm water treatment and habitat creation program; a remnant landscape that is nominated as a National Archeological Site that CMG has framed as an urban wild, again with an overlay of storm water treatment and habitat creation; a temporary one acre landscape installation to occupy an old parking lot.  The Connections planning and design is to knit together private and public investments in the district, helping ensure that residents and visitors can move easily between new neighborhoods and parks on both the East and West banks of the Cuyahoga River. By solidifying connections, the Flats can become a complete, walk-able neighborhood, attracting people, energy and investment back to the center of Cleveland.

Project Team Members: Willett Moss, Scott Cataffa, Calder Gillin