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Green Infrastructure as Contemporary Landscape

Green infrastructure is an interconnected network of green spaces that conserves natural ecosystem values and functions and thereby provides associated benefits to human populations. As a purveyor of green infrastructure, landscape architecture is not supplemental or subsequent to urban planning and architecture. On the contrary, landscape architects are assuming leadership roles in new urban development during the process of creating new catalyzing on urban renaissance through work at regional, metropolitan, neighborhood, and individual scales.

Traditionally, infrastructure has been understood to mean hardscape materials & systems engineered to control natural systems and to provide fundamental services for human beings. Anthropocentric philosophy has influenced human society, especially in the west, for many centuries,and the conceptual dichotomy of nature verse culture has been deeply rooted in design philosophy. From this angle, it is easy to understand why we have so much misunderstanding of the definition and content of “infrastructure” and why so many people believe human beings can tightly control natural systems for human benefit.

During the past several decades, millions of people have suffered from natural disasters and social which essentially worsened by arrogant and disregard to natural systems, and deprivation of natural resources. Nowadays, it is not unusual to see the following scenarios in many urban areas: floodings raging in urban areas and destroying thousands of families because of aggravation of deforestation in upstream areas; disease, depression, and crime spreading in disfranchised urban communities because of heavy exposure to sources of pollution and lack of green spaces for exercise, recreation, and social activities; many homeless people, especially older ones, being killed by harsh weather during hot summer because of heat island effect caused by  the “concrete jungle”, situations created by over generations and limited accessible green spaces for shading and cooling. It is time to overturn the popular myth that hardscape infrastructure is almighty and to  make people realize how fragile our living environment will be if we continue those misguided practices and ignore the rules of green infrastructure.

Some people may argue it is impractical to develop green infrastructures in the current built environment because of limited space in urban areas for large scale green infrastructure. Moreover, land prices in central urban areas are too high to allow for existing “cash machine” commercial and luxurious residential buildings to be replaced with “free” public green spaces. In addition, the motivation of landscape architects who advocate green infrastructure is questioned and they are criticized as romantic idealists and opportunitists. Those concerns are widespread and understandable and it is very necessary to clarify them here one by one.

Green infrastructure is a not large single big object but a large scale network constituted by numerous small-scale green spaces. We don’t have to replace existing buildings, or civic spaces with large green spaces. There are many scattered, small-scale opportunities in urban areas which can be utilized by landscape architects and local communities for creating green infrastructure. By working collectively, we can recreate green spaces in overlooked, polluted, or deserted urban spaces, such as depleted ports, contaminated brownfields, concrete sealed streams, abandoned railway corridors, or abandoned lots in neighborhoods.

Some people, even scholars and professionals, doubt that the idea of green infrastructure will drive landscape architects to overemphasize ecological functions and to ignore the aesthetic or cultural meanings of green spaces. This is also a very popular misunderstand.  There is no essential conflict between art and sustainability. Although some projects of green infrastructure failed because designers put too much emphasis on environmental benefits and forgot creating comfortable and beautiful spaces for users, many recent projects, such as Houtan Riverfront Park in Shanghai designed by Kongjian Yu and the Gary Comer Youth Center Roof Garden in Chicago by Hoerr Schaudt and Peter Lindsay Schaudt, have demonstrated sustainable green infrastructures can also be very beautiful, human-friendly places.

Many developing countries are still in the process of urbanization, which means they still have chance to preserve and reclaim important natural resources and spaces for setting up integrative green networks for future metropolitan areas, much like just as Boston’s preservation plan for creating the Emerald Necklace Park system, led by Frederick Law Olmsted and his colleagues in the late of 19th century. According to a report on the urbanization of China by McKinsey Global Institute, 350 million will be added to China’s urban population by 2025 and 221 Chinese cities will have over one million people living in them.  It is not hard to imagine how much rural areas will be transformed into urban style areas in the near future because Chinese cities have already been very crowded and there are little available spaces within current urban areas.  Green Infrastructure is a very crucial strategy to help policymakers and professionals to preserve existing natural resources and to minimize negative effects of rapid urbanization on the fragile natural environment.  The Red Ribbon Park in Qinghuangdao City, China, designed by Kongjian Yu is a good example to indicate how significant contribution a smart green infrastructure can make to create a highly sustainable urban space.

Most Landscape architects interested in developing green infrastructure are not opportunitists  or idealists. On the contrary, their belief is based on scientific evidences from ecology science, civil engineering, urban planning, and anthropology. A large number of studies of Landscape Ecology, have demonstrated that integrative green networks are crucial for the promotion of environmental and human health in urban areas. They also suggest that the planning and design of green infrastructure must be a democratic process involving a variety of disciplines, local community agencies, and individuals. Landscape Architects can serve as team leaders because, with their comprehensive understanding on related issues, they can facilitate of interdisciplinary cooperation and community engagement.

Green infrastructure is not luxurious, economically valueless, pastoral landscape created for nostalgic appreciated privileged people. Instead, green infrastructure can play as powerful driver in contemporary urban development- for example by stimulating economies through tourism, real estate market growth, and ecological industry and agriculture.  Green infrastructure can offer equally accessible public spaces for all citizens, making significant contributions to the promotion of social justice, cultural identity, and public health.

Project List

Green Roof/ Green Street

  •  ASLA Green Roof, NE Washington DC, United States, by Micahel van Valkenburgh Associates and CDF (Conservation Design Forum)
  • Green Roof of Chicago City Hall, United States,  by CDF (Conservation Design Forum)
  • High Line, New York, United States, by James Corner
  • The Gary Comer Youth Center Roof Garden, Chicago, United States, by Hoerr Shaudt, Peter Lindsay Schaudt.
  • The Glencoe Elementary School Rain Garden and SW 12th Avenue Green Street
    Portland, US, by Kevin Berry.

Greenways/Linear Park

  • Hellenikon Metropolitan Park, Athens, Greece, by Philippe Coignet/Office of Landscape Morphology
  • Waterworks Gardens, Renton, Washington, United States, by Lorna Jordan, Jones & Jones, Brown & Caldwell
  • Red Ribbon Park, Qinghuangdao City, China,  by Kongjian Yu, Turenscape
  • Boston Big Dig Parks, Boston, United States, by Edaw, CRJA, etc.
  • Renaissance of green waterfrontHoutan Park, Shanghai, China, by Kongjian Yu and Turenscape.
  • Lagoon Park, Santa Barbara, California, United States, by Van Atta Associates, Inc.

Renaissance of Green Spaces on Brownfield

  • The Fresh Kills, New York, United States by James Corner
  • Allegheny Riverfront Park, Pittsburgh, PA, United States, by Michael van Valkenburgh Associates
  • Zhongshan Park, Zhongshan City, China, by Kongjian Yu, Turenscape.
  • Highline Park, New York, United States, by James Corner, Field Operation.

Urban Agriculture

  • Shenyang Architectural University Campus, by Kongjian Yu, Turenscape
  • Urban Farming Food Chain, Los Angeles, United States, by George Irwin, Green Living Technologies (GLT)­­­