Social Design’s Rise & Fall

One Mayor’s Downfall Killed the Design Project That Could’ve Changed Everything

Next City, Feb. 23, 2015

On June 29, 2014, the four city staffers who made up the San Diego Civic Innovation Lab were hard at work all around the city, never mind that it was a Sunday. Ilisa Goldman was in Encanto, hurrying along the buildout of Chollas Creek Crossing, a small park of colorful benches and trellises on what had been a vacant and crime-prone lot. In Linda Vista, her colleagues Howard Blackson and David Saborio were putting the final touches on a new plaza at the neighborhood library, while several miles to the south, in East Village, Xavier Leonard was presenting a showcase of community-led technology projects. San Diego’s planning director, Bill Fulton, shuttled from place to place to cheer his staffers on.

It was like one of those HGTV shows where the team is racing to beat the clock, but the fixer-upper was the city, not a house. And there wasn’t much time left: less than 24 hours, because the staffers had all been fired. Their last day as City of San Diego employees would be the following day, Monday, June 30th. They had been on the city payroll for less than six months.

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OMA, OLIN Design Bridge Park

OMA and OLIN Named Winners of D.C. Bridge Park Design Competition

Architectural Record, Oct. 20, 2014

On October 15, OMA + OLIN was named the winner of the design competition for 11th Street Bridge Park, a planned linear park spanning Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia River that has been widely compared to the High Line and could open in 2018.

Selected from four finalist teams, the team comprised of the Dutch architecture firm and the Philadelphia landscape architects won the unanimous support of the jury with their bold, X-shaped design—the most iconic in form, and also the most densely programmed, of those on the short list.

The new park—to be built over existing piers from an obsolete bridge across the river—will feature a café, amphitheater, boat launch, performance space, education center, “hammock grove,” and three waterfalls, plus lawns and gardens along its roughly 1,000-foot length (about the same as three football fields laid end to end).

At a presentation the morning after the announcement, OMA’s Jason Long compared the bridge park to the Rialto Bridge in Venice, as well as a new bridge that OMA is designing in the French city of Bordeaux. Like those civic spaces, the designers believe this one “needs to be rich with program, to make it a really true, active public space,” and “a place [where] lots of different kinds of things can happen,” he said.

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A Public Park to Elevate D.C.

Architectural Record, March 19, 2014

A Washington, D.C., nonprofit will launch a national design competition tomorrow to turn the remains of a highway bridge that spans the Anacostia River into a public park. The proposed 11th Street Bridge Park would connect the Washington Navy Yard, where there has been a recent explosion of growth and development, and the Anacostia neighborhood to the east. Built on top of piers left over from the bridge, it will cost about $25 million.

The competition is being organized by the group Building Bridges Across the River at THEARC, in collaboration with D.C.’s Office of Planning and Department of Transportation. Organizers expect interest to run high. The chance to build “D.C.’s High Line” over the water is hard to resist, and the project tackles the big issues that preoccupy designers right now: social equity, public health, and ecology.

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Trees Through the Lens

Landscape Architecture, June 2013

Benjamin Swett was driving along the Long Island Expressway one fall day in 2004 when he saw it: a small, upright honey locust with brilliant golden leaves. He pulled over and grabbed his camera. He had been photographing trees for several years, initially for his job at the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation—where he authored a guide to the city’s 120 designated “great trees”—and now, as a freelancer, simply because he loved to.

“I kept photographing trees; I was sort of obsessed with them,” Swett recalls. “Even though I was doing a lot of other kinds of work, I kept driving around the city taking pictures of trees I knew.”

Full story available in Landscape Architecture’s June 2013 issue, p. 164

Photograph by Benjamin Swett

Socially Yours

Landscape Architecture, April 2013

Banal tweets (“Just had an awesome sandwich at the Corner Cafe!”), status updates steeped in false modesty (“So humbled to be named Attorney of the Year”), and viral cat videos: None of these would exist without social media.

Over the past few years, traffic on websites like Facebook and Twitter has exploded. According to a Pew Internet survey conducted in late 2012, two-thirds of all Internet users are now on Facebook, and 16 percent are on Twitter—an increase of 100 percent from two years before. Social media is the whole world’s public square, and sometimes, it can seem like a Babel of pointless chatter. But if you listen closely, you’ll hear smart people have serious conversations, too.

As the use of social media has grown, so has its role in professional networking and marketing. Although landscape architects have taken to social networks, they are somewhat less visible than other design professionals—owing to their smaller numbers, but also, perhaps, to their natural reticence. Most landscape architects would rather grade a site or research plant species than draw attention to themselves.

Full story available in the free digital edition of Landscape Architecture, April 2013, page 44