Category: Green Infrastructure and Landscape Urbanism

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This is a schematic design for Yongli Town at Beijing.

A good experience of thinking how to create a waterfront area with a variety of functions_an engine for local economy and a destination for residents and visitors.

Working closely with Architects and understand each other is crucial for the success of this project.

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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)­­­

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As a co-organizer of  Built Environment and Human Health program, I worked with Prof. Sullivan and assembled an amazing group of experts and professionals in a variety of fields: Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning,  Public Health, Architecture. We discussed important issues about the built environment and human health and organized a series of seminars, workshops, and field trips to closely study many issues related to our concern.


Bin Jiang, Landscape Architecture
Chaihui Wang, Architecture
David Buchner, Kinesiology and Community Health
William Sullivan, Landscape Architecture


There is growing recognition that the environments in which we live, work, and play have considerable impact on our health. Although we have some understanding of the extent to which specific elements of the built environment (e.g., exposure to green spaces, crowding, noise) impact health, we lack a comprehensive understanding of the impacts of the built environment on human health and well-being. Lack of a compre¬hensive understanding prevents designers, planners, public health officials and others from comprehending the trade-offs among various design or policy possibilities. Overcoming this gap in our knowledge requires an interdisciplinary collaboration among scholars in public health, medical geography, environmental design and planning, and human and community development.

Through the Built Environment and Human Health Focal Point we are building just such a collaborative team. Our primary tasks during the 2010-2011 academic year are to learn from each other and from the literature in the various fields that we represent – public health, medical geography, environmental design and planning, and human and community development. Learning together will prepare us to seek future funding.

Here is a list of questions generated from members of our group that relate to the four areas we’ve been discussing. These areas are:

•Urban design and physical activity

•Transportation, land use and health

•Design and the development of social capital

•The built environment and psychological health and well-being

We’ll examine the questions in this same order.

Urban Design and Physical Activity

1.Adverse events.   Assuming that we can identify built environmental factors promoting physical activity and mental health and reducing obesity risk.  Is there a downside (health risks) of building communities with these features?  For example, do grid neighborhoods having higher rates of motor vehicle collisions? Does urban green space provide a refuge for feral animals and zoonotic infectious diseases?  How generalizable is the finding from Europe that higher rates of cycling lead to decreased rates of injury per mile of biking?

2.In pursuit of a more bicycle-friendly community, what aspects of design are most effective to increase bicycle use (physical activity)?

3.What amount and quality of physical activity facilities are required in Urban design codes.  What are the estimate investigations?  How do these requirements compare to the health insurance expense within a city?

4.To what extent does the quantitatively and objectively measured accessibility (comparing different measurements of accessibility) to urban green space (considering attributes of quality, function and attractiveness) affect people’s physical activities in the same way as the perceived accessibility to green space?

5.Urban design  effects physical activity directly, through availability of parks, sidewalks, etc and proximity to jobs, shopping, etc., and indirectly through a variety of pathways.  What are these direct and indirect pathways, and how do they relate to physical activity?

6.Can the different types and terrains of the built green environment effect the activities that people are performing; say, can a type of landscape encourage people to do more vigorous activities compare to the other types?

Transportation, Land Use and Health

1.Car-less household are disadvantaged in the automobile-focused landscapes of the U.S. What are the implications of the lack of a car for health in urban, suburban and rural settings?  What are the pathways with respect to physical activity, food access and access to health care?

Design and the Development of Social Capital

1.Can changes in city form help build social capital?  If so how?  And for whom? What are the implications of changes?

2.How does social capital compare in a very bicycle-friendly community versus a lesser one?

3.How does culture impact the design for positive social capital?

The Built Environment and Psychological Health and Well-being

1.Mechanisms.  What is known about biologic mechanisms by which exposure to green space affects wellness/mental health?  Is research on the concept of “allostatic load” useful in conceptualizing mechanisms as a part of a more general process?

2.What are the characteristics of the dose-response curve for the effect of urban nature on human autonomic functioning for varying durations of exposure to a moderate concentration of nature?

3.What are the characteristics of the dose-response curve for the effect of urban nature on human attention, and human autonomic functioning?

4.Guidelines.  Eventually research could lead to public health guidelines regarding exposure to green space or the minimum number of park acreage, etc.  Various groups have proposed minimum amounts of green space in a community.  In what ways does current research inform guidelines for how much green space a population needs?  Note with continous correlational relationships, they may not be an obvious “cutpoint” that indicates a minimum level of connectivity or greenspace for reducing rates of e.g. obesity.

5.To what extent should we be examining not-yet-scientific traditional knowledge such as Feng-Shui or Qi in future research?

6.To what extent and under what conditions are there cultural differences regarding to the relationships between built environment and health and well-being?

7.How might we create valid and reliable measures of the level of “natural” within built settings?

8.We have many ways to measure and evaluate the ecological health of built settings and the impacts of these settings on human health. But we know very little about the relationships between levels of ecological health and their associated impacts on human health. What are these relationships?

9.How can we measure the impact of green spaces on human well-being in a finely integrated way? That is, how can we make clear, specific, detailed measurements of the outcome variables?

10.Through what mechanisms does exposure to green environments impact the autonomic nervous system?

11.To what extent do different forms of urban green space (different vegetation types, patterns, densities and connectivity etc) play a role in improving residents’ quality of life? (A sub-question could be to what extent can different forms of urban green space mitigate the urban heat island problem?).

12.What changes to the built environment can help to improve psychological health and well-being near loud environments, such as airports?

13.What is the impact on incarcerated men’s psychological health and well-being of being involved in gardening and food production?

School Environments and Children’s Health

1.How can we encourage our schools to be more proactive in creating healthy environments for children?  This includes issues of: healthy food zones, nutrition and school meals, physical education for students, and safe routes to schools programs.

2.Are schools that have focused attention on creating healthy environments successful?  How can we evaluate such programs or measure “success”?

3.To what extend does having a green (highly vegetated) campus landscape impact the capacity of students to pay attention and succeed in school?

Ecological Health and Human Health

1.How does land use and land cover change affect the landscape pattern and configuration in suburban and urban areas at different scale (neighborhood, local and regional level)? Does the modifiable area unit problem (MAUP) exist when study focus shifts between different scales?

2.To what extent does subdivision/landscape design governed by local development regulations affect an ecological landscape structure?

3.To what extent is there a connection between landscape structure and human’s functioning?

4.To what extent does landscape structure affect human health, social interaction, community health?


A variety of settings have been mentioned in the questions above. These settings include:


•Urban green spaces

•Neighborhoods and communities


•Rural settlements

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Jane Jacobs said in that book:

” but look what we have built with the first several billions: low-income
projects that become worse centers of delinquency, vandalism and general social hopelessness than the slums they were supposed to replace. Middle-income housing projects which are truly marvels of dullness and regimentation, sealed against any buoyancy or vitality of city life. Luxury housing projects that mitigate their inanity, or try to, with a vapid vulgarity…”

I notice similar things happening in many cities, from U.S. to China. It is a big question for us.

Cities need ” a most intricate and close-grained diversity of uses that give each other constant mutual support, both economically and socially.”