ASLA Launches New Guide to Transportation

People often focus so much on improving specific sites, but there has also been renewed interest on HOW we get there. And not just an Uber vs driving yourself.
There is also an expectation from some city planners that people should just start biking/walking/etc. w/o the supported infrastructure. Let me tell you buster; it ain’t gonna happen! So it’s good to see the ASLA start to address this need at least in principle.


ASLA 2009 Professional Award of Excellence. Buffalo Bayou Promenade, Houston, Texas. SWA Group / Tom Fox

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has launched a new guide to transportation, with in-depth sections on how to plan and design more sustainable regional, urban, neighborhood, and street transportation systems.

Transportation infrastructure is a significant part of the landscape. The original social network, it connects us to families and friends, jobs and businesses, education and recreation, and is a vital part of the public realm. However, conventional, car-centric approaches to transportation have contributed to negative outcomes for people and the environment:

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behavior · community · design · environment · happiness · health · mental health · play · Social

A Cost-Effective Way to Treat Depression: Greening Vacant Lots

This is yet another great example of how adding some intentional green can go a long way in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression in urban areas. From the article:
“In many low-income communities, vacant and dilapidated spaces are “unavoidable conditions that residents encounter every day, making the very existence of these spaces a constant source of stress.” Furthermore, these neighborhoods with vacant lots, trash, and “lack of quality infrastructure such as sidewalks and parks, are associated with depression and are factors that that may explain the persistent prevalence of mental illness.”

Conversely, neighborhoods that feel cared for — that are well-maintained, free of trash and run-down lots, and offer access to green spaces — are associated with “improved mental health outcomes, including less depression, anxiety, and stress.””

Personally, I would love to see a study about the different effects and impacts of having community gardens or community involvement in the development of the green spaces vs. an independent team coming in to a space and cleaning it up. There is value in both approaches, for sure.


Before: An empty lot in Philadelphia / JAMA Open Network

After: A Green lot in Philadelphia / JAMA Open Network

A tree, some grass, a low wooden fence, regular maintenance. With these basic elements, an unloved, vacant lot can be transformed from being a visual blight and drain on a community into a powerful booster of mental health.

According to a new study by five doctors at the University of Pennsylvania, residents of low-income communities in Philadelphia who saw their vacant lots greened by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society experienced “significant decreases” in feelings of depression and worthlessness. And this positive change happened at a cost of just $1,500 per lot.

For lead author Dr. Eugenia South and her co-authors, this is a clear indication that the physical environment impacts our mental health. And planning and design offers a cost-effective way to fight mental illness in light of the sky-rocketing costs…

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New Study: Technology Undermines the Restorative Benefits of Nature

Fascinating finding of outdoor time vs. unplugged time


Laptop user in a park / istockphoto

We experience “soft fascination” with nature when we sit on a park bench and let our mind wander, taking in the trees and flowers, noticing birds and squirrels, feeling the breeze. This gentle decompression in nature is actually critical to helping us restore our ability to pay attention. We need breaks where our minds can just go slack and subconsciously take in the complexity of the natural world. Researchers are still trying to figure out the ideal “dose” of this green medicine, but benefits have been seen with just 10 minutes.

New research argues those breaks in nature only help if we put down our laptops and other devices. A recent study published in Environment and Behavior contends that using laptops, smartphones, and other technologies while sitting on that park bench undoes all the good attention-boosting benefits of nature.

Attention is…

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REBLOG The problem with turning urban challenges into games

Tech companies like gamifying civic problems—but they often reward the wrong things

By Alissa Walker@awalkerinLA Originally published: Jul 20, 2018 on Curbed

Very nice editorial by Alissa Walker about the dangers of gamification and making sure you’re rewarding the right stuff, whether it’s for urban design, medicine, or school.

She also offers some possible solutions that tech developers could put into practice.

I agree with her in that I think technology companies that are dealing with public data – mapping, restaurant hours, parks and beaches – have at least some responsibility to optimize those spaces rather than optimize for themselves and their company’s goals and bottom line. It doesn’t have to be an either/or, there are ways that all parties can win.

Read Alissa’s full article


Unstructured play is hard! (But necessary)


Summer is in full swing. Warm days, long nights, outdoor time, water play, and a lot of free time. As a kid I remember it as heavenly. But now as a parent I am witnessing a sibling civil war. My two relatively agreeable kids are ready to kill each other. And so is every sibling pair, according to every mom I have talked to. Including my own: “Oh yeah, your sister really tried to beat you up in the summer.” (For the record this was my little sister four years my junior. I was fine).
The reason for all of this melee mayhem?
Unstructured play time!
There are no parents or teachers filling the kids time or monitoring their behavior every second. No or fewer distractions from school or sports.
Instead, kids are stuck at home all day with their life-long roommate who won’t get out of their space and is playing with the simultaneously most annoying and most wonderful ever!!!
And you know what? That’s a good thing. Kids NEED this kind of stress and conflict resolution practice. Especially in a safe place like home, and a safe playmate like their siblings, who will also give it to them straight if they’re being obnoxious.
Play experts talk all the time about how kids are constantly negotiating the rules of a game during playtime – trying to keep it fair but also maybe get an advantage. It is crucial development for kids to learn these skills to be good at work, school, relationships, life. But it is hard and frustrating and painful sometimes to do. And as a parent it can be excruciatingly painful to watch.
So, now that I know I am not alone, that this is totally normal development kid stuff, I have resolved to excuse myself from the room, grab myself a second cup of coffee, and try desperately to not get too annoyed myself while I listen in on their fighting matches and step in only to tell them when they need to take it outside or one of them starts fighting dirty. I am still the adult, and I need to make sure they stay safe. But at least now I know that letting them hash it out for themselves is good for them.
If perhaps a bit loud!

Me · play

Getting back into the (blogging) game

person wearing black nike low tops sneakers playing soccer
Photo by Markus Spiske on

You know that feeling when you pick up an old sport? An old instrument? Hesitant, new but familiar. Visceral muscle memory of the ball on your foot, or the paintbrush in your hand. You are surprised at how much you remember and yet curse yourself for how much you’ve forgotten. You remember how hard it was and time-consuming, but also how rewarding and fulfilling.

It’s been awhile.

A lot has been going on.

I had a (third) child in December.


I traveled a bit, mostly to show off said child.

I went back to work in June.

So I’ve been busy. But I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things.

To share stories about child-friendly, adult-friendly, play-friendly spaces. How to make spaces enjoyable for everyone, or at least make sure that everyone has a space. Public spaces and private spaces.

But I’m still a little rusty. And still working and parenting and other things. Not as much time for research. Not as much time for ethnographic endeavors and events (I had to skip the EPIC conference this year in Hawaii, I’m so bummed!).

So I may not be quite as consistent as I was, but I’m still here, practicing, kicking the ball around.

Hope to see you out on the field.


Leading NGO calls for new thinking on play safety around the world

Taking risks is an important part of all animal development, including and especially homo sapiens!

Rethinking Childhood

Playgrounds have for decades been shaped by a zero risk mindset, with, any injury seen as a sign of failure. But things are changing, in what the New York Times recently called a “movement for freer, riskier play.”

Playing it Safe? report coverI am proud to be a part of this movement. And this article introduces a new report [pdf link] on play and risk that I have written for the Bernard van Leer Foundation, the influential early childhood NGO, as part of its agenda-setting Urban95 initiative.

Entitled Playing it Safe? A global white paper on risk, liability and children’s play in public space, the report makes the case for a new approach, and calls for action by the key agencies involved in creating and maintaining play spaces, including city governments, NGOs, research institutions and safety and public health agencies.

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How a focus on child-friendliness revived one city’s fortunes

Building kid-friendly spaces are also building adult-friendly spaces. Even in cities with seemingly more pressing issues, focusing on making playful spaces goes a long way to alleviate tensions and allows space to focus on those big issues.

Rethinking Childhood

I have been aware of Rotterdam’s child-friendly cities initiatives for at least ten years. It is the most ambitious I know, with the biggest budgets and the clearest focus. I have visited projects in 2014 and 2017, and have been impressed by what I saw.

Rotterdam child-friendly city report cover

So I was excited to be back in the city last month as part of my Churchill Fellowship travels, and eager hear more of the city’s story. And I quickly learnt one thing: Rotterdam’s push to become more child-friendly is deeply linked to its history, economy, demographics and built form.

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In Madrid, a Green Circle in a Square

Changing spaces for new temporary use can invigorate the old spaces and get people more engaged with the space in the long term.


To mark the 400th anniversary of Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, which was built during the reign of Phillip III, urban artist SpY temporarily transformed this hard urban place into a turf-covered green space. Over four days, some 100,000 Spaniards and tourists came to sit and chat on the circular lawn, simply named Cesped or Grass.

Cesped / SpY

According to Design Boom, the circle spans some 3,500 square meters, with a diameter of 70 meters. It’s a surprising new form for a space once used by Spanish Inquisitors to torture and execute heretics.

Cesped / SpY

SpY has done other intriguing projects using urban nature as a canvas. Grow in Besançon, France, involved pruning climbing vines into a circle. For SpY, these works demonstrate “an artist’s route through urban space.”

Grow / SpY

And SpY also playfully subverts security infrastructure. In another inventive project, Labyrinth in Ordes, Spain, the…

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behavior · children · cognition · education · emotion · mental health · play · Social

How Playing Superheroes Can Stop Bullying

red robot hero pose at windowEspecially with the increased output of Hollywood superhero movies these days, it can be easy to think of them as nothing more than shallow entertainment. However, the powerful storytelling and archetype of the superhero is something that appeals to many of us on a deeper level; it teaches us about standing up for those in need. My husband and I used this archetype recently with our own kids.

My elder son and daughter attend the same preschool, and unfortunately there was an increase in bullying behavior recently. This is developmentally typical for this age, and it also provides a good opportunity for learning how to deal with bullies in the “real world.” Kids have to learn how to respond to mean or bullying behavior, just like they need to learn how to say no when a friend wants to play house or play fight and they don’t (and don’t get me started on how adults need to learn the difference between bullying and roughhousing! That is for a later post). Kids who are not the target of bullying also need to learn how to respond when they see it. Often they will ignore it so as not to become a target themselves, or they will join in. It does not mean they are malicious kids, they are simply trying out behaviors they see.

But we asked our kids to go a step further, and not just ignore but try to help.

When we heard this was going on, we sat down with them and talked with them about why the behavior wasn’t okay, were they targets, were they participating, and did they feel safe. Then my husband told them, “You are both very strong, and I want you to try something; I want you to stand up to anyone you see picking on a kid in your class who may not feel strong, who is getting bullied. I want you to support them, even if they are not your best friend. Can you do that?”

My daughter nodded her head in understanding, but my son, who is only 3, wasn’t exactly sure what Dad meant. My husband tried to explain it again, but started getting more complicated in his wording, and I could see Keir’s eyes start to glaze over in confusion. But I realized my husband was describing something very familiar to our son.

“We want you to be a superhero,” I interjected. My son loves superheroes (and bad guys like Darth Vader, but it’s hard to have one without the other). His eyes lit up. My husband immediately caught on to where I was going.

“That’s right. Superheroes stand up to bad guys and bullies and protect their friends, even people who are not their friends,” he explained. “Even if nobody else is, in fact because nobody else is, they stand up for those who need help. Can you be like a superhero?”

green lantern duckie hero toyMy son seemed frankly a little shocked by the idea that HE, a little guy, could be a superhero in real life. But he also seemed willing to give it a try.

By reading stories and playing superhero (and bad guys), both my kids understood what it meant to stand up to bullying and supporting and defending your friends without even really “knowing” it . The hero archetype is a valuable one; through reading about it and playing one we learn to be brave for ourselves and others, and that sometimes we fight the battles nobody else wants to.

The next morning, I helped my kids bundle up against the cold morning, saying, “all right, let’s get our superhero outfits on.” As they trundled out the door to school with their dad, I called out, “good luck, little superheroes!” At pick-up that day, I asked the usual questions – what did you work on? Who did you sit with at lunch?

My daughter answered, “I asked [kid often being bullied] to play with me, and [kid who often bullies] to sit with me at lunch.”

I think she’s embodied being a compassionate superhero better than I have. But then, she and her brother play/practice being superheroes a lot.