Category: Interesting

Money does grow on trees



The benefits of trees are obvious:

Trees provide shade, cool the environment, store and sequester carbon emissions, capture and mitigate polluting aerosols and other damaging particulates, facilitate biodiversity, aid soil conservation, and promote human health both physically and mentally.

But how do these facts stand in the face of a continuous loss of natural assets in urban environments today? How can we support the green infrastructure of our cities if the benefits of trees are undervalued and to a large degree, intangible?

This is where i-Tree makes its way into the scenery, an app developed by the USDA Forest Service that tabulates the financial value of trees, translating its holistic assets into clear monetary terms that everybody can understand–and process objectively.

There has been a need to quantify our urban forest resources–and once quantified, they become easier to assess, and ultimately, to manage. Imagine street trees converted into dollars and cents: their powers of filtration and healing on the urban scale configured into a numeric amount. Imagine a tree that is worth more than your house.

How does this alter your perception of the green-leafed fixtures that surround us?

First Thursday @ Secter

We had a great event last Thursday for our grand opening at Valley Rowe/Collective 815. Check out a few of the snapshots from that evening:



Thank you to everybody who made it out last week to meet us! We look forward to hosting the next one.

Check out the rest of the photos from our evening on our Facebook page!

Oklahoma City mayor: “We have to start building this city for people”

A “healthy cities” movement taking place in Oklahoma City. An awesome effort by Mayor Cornett to draw attention to the built environment and how it can affect both the physical and mental health of its city dwellers.

Feet First Philly

When Oklahoma City was ranked the second-fattest city in America in 2009, Mayor Mick Cornett examined the problem and declared that the city’s car-oriented design and unfriendly streets were at fault.  Pedestrian-unfriendly design was detracting from the city’s livability, which also meant that it contributed to the outmigration of young, intelligent workers – often known as “brain drain.”  The mayor secured funding for a series of transit, bike, and pedestrian improvements, as well as for downtown recreation areas and street redesign.  Though the projects will take a long time to be fully realized, many changes that are currently being implemented are drastically transforming Oklahoma City neighborhoods, turning them into (in the words of Mayor Cornett) “neighborhoods where you don’t have to own a car if you don’t want to. You can live, work and play all in the same neighborhood — and that was unheard of ten years ago.”


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What’s happening to our trees?

Check out this great piece from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies:

In the wake of real climate change, we need to think of ways to renew and reinvigorate our forests and trees, and begin to respond to perturbations in the ecosystem that are changing the ways landscape naturally regenerate.

Our forests can be one of the very first places to start.

Moments in Landscape

A conversation we started on Land8 was spotlighted as a featured discussion!

We posed the question to landscape designers: Where did your passion for landscape originate? What were the narratives you had growing up that defined and transformed the world into a canvas for you?

We generated some really interesting, compelling responses (some even recounted poetically), all of them which may be read here.

The responses we received are really exciting to us, as they help to accomplish two important things:

1) Affirm the vitality and social value of the profession (it can often be viewed pejoratively and is misunderstood as being “exclusive” or culturally/socially unusable or irrelevant).

2) Uncover a common thread that connects all of us–professionals and nonprofessionals alike. The land is our home to all the meaningful experiences we’ve had–and will continue to have. It’s the book of all our experiences, the story of which, of course, is forever ours to write.

We encourage you to read this discussion here and join us in the conversation by telling your story in the comments. Share with your friends. Let’s rethink our connections and relationships to the land.

Without it, where else would we be?

The future of soils

Soil health.

It’s not the most compelling combination of words.

But as seemingly tedious as the topic may be, most people don’t realize that soils are as vital to our existence as food and water. After all, most of the foods we consume literally come from the ground.

No conversation about environmental sustainability would be complete without an urgent discussion of soil biology. Healthy soils are fundamental to landscape regeneration and to our overall well-being. This, of course, shouldn’t be surprising news.

However, the realities of an increasingly parched and uncultivable landscape are weighing oppressively on agricultural and environmental efforts, restricting productivity and damaging microbial habitats that benefit our ecosystem. We owe our attention to these developments.

Below is a video that explains the critical role soils play in our daily lives. Sensitive, pressing, and intermittently poetic, it explores an overlooked problem that threatens our footing in the world.

Finding a sense of place


Charley snapped this photo when she was in NYC just a couple of weeks ago. She claims to have felt a “sense of place” when she was at this scene.

We often tango with the question of “sense of place,” and what it really means. It’s a topic which we confront invariably in our day to day work, and as a landscape design firm in Portland, OR, it’s something which we seek to define, understand, and to potentially rewrite– in a sense. After all, a “sense of place” is different for everyone, and it’s really a bit of a dynamic entity.

There’s no one correct usage of the term. We can say that “sense of place” is some singular attribute (or attributes) that some geographic spaces have and some which do not. We can say that it may not even have anything to do with geography at all, but with a certain feeling or a recognition that we carry within ourselves. In either case, what results is a nebulous but compelling sensation of attachment, belonging, ambiguous nostalgia–a kind of rightness. A formless, shapeless feeling, yes, but essential.

A “sense of place” is also, we believe, history in passage, sweeping into the next moment, then the next. Landscape is an important vehicle that guides, records, and naturally becomes a part of that passage. Spaces develop and grow unto themselves in the courses of nature: anthropological expansion, climate patterns, topographic shifts. These are what can make places unique and what endows them with history. We believe landscape is an ancient tapestry onto which stories are woven–stories which never quite disappear either. A “sense of place” is a sense of existence, of all the things that once existed, are existing now, and will exist. It can be a sense of being, of finding your piece in the story and employing your position in an ideally infinite history.

It’s interesting to see the transformations taking place today in modernist landscape architecture that seem to work towards planting a sense of place where it may not have existed before. Take this article, for example, on contemporary landscape “interventions.” Renowned modernist spaces, characterized by their austere sparseness and hard lines, are being redesigned and renovated to essentially supply a better sense of place, where people can relax and linger. While there is some debate over the legitimacy of these redesigns and whether or not they threaten an important part of the country’s architectural history, these projects and transformations reveal a contemporary agenda that attempts to answer and reinscribe (in our eyes, at least) the question of “sense of place.” Thomas Balsley says in the article, “Many of the spaces were impressive, very modernist, but not very human…[y]ou didn’t feel like you were part of the story.”

What’s your definition of “sense of place”?

Bringing green indoors

Whether we like it or not, the majority of us spend a large part of our time within the strict enclosure of our rooms, our offices, work spaces, and most other places we go to. In the midst of all the urban greening and community forestry that’s been trickling through our cities, it remains a small detail to many that nature and its amazing benefits can be incorporated into design indoors, within the four walled enclaves that hold so many of us in thrall.

Maintaining plants inside can be a simple task with low-maintenance African violets that flower continuously in good conditions, the hyper-autonomous and stalwart aloe vera plant, or the dramatic and architectural snake plant which filters air pollutants such as formaldehyde. Talk about plants that pull their weight.

Check out this great article about 10 fabulous houseplants that work as living air purifiers.

Re-using abandoned land


Looks like a set from a steampunk movie!

The Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord is virtually unknown outside of Germany, so we were happy to stumble upon a great post about this park, built on a bygone coal and steel production plant in the north of Duisburg. In 1985, the steel industry abandoned the area and left its ponderous structures to decay and crumble. In 1991, Peter Latz of Latz + Partner initiated a project to rehabilitate this lost zone with an objective to heal and resuscitate the land. Latz’s idea of the land’s ecological recovery, however, involved keeping as much of the existing sites intact. The result is a park that retains a strong industrial legacy and a strikingly pre-19th century agricultural heritage.

It’s this balancing of elements and integration of history that make Landschaftspark so remarkable. There are important precursors: Latz’s preceding “Harbour Island,” and Richard Haag’s “Gas Works Park” in Seattle.

These are successful instances of the ways in which abandoned sites can be treated, and they are magnificent not only because they show how defunct, inoperable land can transform into breathing, multi-functional parks, but also because they connect memory into the design strategy. By preserving these gargantuan industrial monuments, the viewer is given an experience of past and present–first a connection to the agricultural and industrial antiquity from which the park has sprung, and second the process of framing and making sense of the sites which the viewer encounters. Themes of temporality and transience attend the park as the steel continues to degrade throughout the area, while nature quietly reclaims pockets of the land.

It’s dynamic and relevant–a vital demonstration of function, of culture, play, history, and place.

More about this amazing place here.

Art in the Landscape

We recently spotted an article about artist Konstantin Dimopoulos, who has been painting trees blue in urban areas like Seattle and Kenmore. He cloaks the trees with azurite, a soft, deep blue copper mineral that eventually fades and washes away over time. The effect is marvelous, as it transforms what has always been so familiar and essential to us into something quite foreign and strangely conspicuous.


Dimopoulos began his Blue Trees installations in 2010 as an effort to draw attention to shrinking forests around the globe and to the millions of trees being lost to man-made and natural deforestation each year. The basic principle behind the project is to transform the way people view, think about, and process the natural environment around them. When we see the trees for what they’re not–in this instance, blue–we’re forced to re-evaluate the experience we typically have with these entities.

Konstantin writes on his website: “In nature color is used both as a defensive mechanism, a means of protection, and as a mechanism to attract. The Blue Trees attempts to waken a similar response from viewers. It is within this context that the blue denotes sacredness, something reverential.” While I find the choice of blue to be more jarring, intrusive, and bizarre than divine, the trees certainly inspire feelings of awe. There is an assertiveness and an imposing quality to the Blue Trees that seem to almost reshape the landscape surrounding them. How do we make sense of the relationship between these trees and the city blocks or commercial spaces in which they’re placed? How did we make sense of it before the trees were colored blue?

While there have been mixed responses to the project, there’s something to be said about the way it confronts us with the question of disappearing natural elements. This brings me back to the thoughts about green walls and the rise of urban greenery mentioned in a previous post–ironic, is it not, that we seem to be invoking and attempting to revive elements of nature in our urban spaces at the same time we’re supplanting nature via rapid urban development?

Check out Dimopoulos’ work here.