Thursday, September 6, 2012

Urban Agriculture - ASLA Awards 2012

The recently announced design and planning awards by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) for 2012 honor a spectrum of work, as varied as the field itself. Included among the civic plazas, backyard gardens and campus long-term plans are a handful of urban agriculture projects. 

In the General Design Category an Honor Award went to Lafayette Greens in Detroit, by the office of Kenneth Weikal Landscape Architecture. Almost a 1/2 acre, the community garden is a corporate sponsored greening of downtown, and by all accounts, a welcomed public space. Orderly rows of raised, steel planting beds are bisected with playful diagonals, and colorful site furniture and imaginative tool sheds add to the sophistication of design. It doesn't bear much resemblance to typical ramshackle community gardens, built of available materials and volunteer labor. Which is what makes it so exciting. Clients often want to include an ag component in a project but worry it will look messy, or homemade. Projects like Lafayette Greens prove that, like any garden, the final aesthetic is up to the designer, the client - and the budget. 

The project also addresses crucial site planning and design elements of the urban landscape, such as shade and wind studies, and integrated stormwater management. Read more about it on the Award website

[Lafayette Greens, Detroit, MI - photo  and plan via]

An Honor award in the Analysis and Planning Category went to 'Nanhu: Farm Town in the Big City' by SWA Group San Francisco. This master plan for a new community in Jiaxing, China integrates farmland, parks, 'villages' and the existing canal network to create an integrated agricultural community proposal. One of the most interesting parts of the plan is the acknowledgment of multiple scales of agriculture that might operate in a comprehensive plan: organic market farms, traditional family farms, eco-tourism farms and 'garden parkland' - a mix of public community gardens, markets and orchards. 

[Image from Nanhu:Farm Town in the Big City, via]

Finally one project won an Honor Award in the Research category. 'Productive Neighborhoods' by Berger Partnership is a comprehensive review of the state of urban agriculture in Seattle. Surveying private residential gardens, public community gardens and commercial farms, the report collects valuable metrics to add designers in planning for urban agriculture at different scales. 

"As designers we understand the value of urban farming but acknowledge there are complexities not yet understood for creating a successful commercial farm and an ├╝ber local food source. In order to document and understand {the wide range of relationships between food destination, land ownership and workforce management}, we divided the case studies into three distinct typologies: residential, community and commercial. For each typology (we) researched a number of factors including the annual crops produced in pounds of food, how crops are distributed, startup cost and funding resources, total square footage of land, number of workers and the estimated time it takes to farm the site."

[Case Study diagram from 'Productive Neighborhood' - via]

In the Student Awards, three projects with agricultural program or elements were honored: 'Desert Farming Moisturizer' is a residential community plan integrated with organic agriculture and productive landscapes in arid New Mexico; 'Asylum Air Pupa' creates a vegetal shelter for low-income petitioners in Beijing, China and integrates the growing of produce as an element of the shelter; and 'Off the Reservation' re-examines current agricultural water use (among other elements) on the Fort Yuma reservation through the lens of Quechan Indian traditions. Overall a very cool collection of projects, contributing to the overall dialogue and knowledge base of landscape agriculture.