An asphalt coating could help cool Los Angeles. Will the benefits offset the costs?


Initially, the product was for the military. Marketed as CoolSeal, the light gray-colored asphalt seal coat was developed to reduce the surface temperature of runways so that they would be less visible to infrared satellites. A few years ago, Greg Spotts, the assistant director of the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services, wondered what would happen if you painted every street in the city with CoolSeal. Could you reduce the urban heat island effect, a phenomenon that has been estimated to cost the city $90 million each year in energy bills?

Now, with $150,000 in public funding, Spotts is testing the coating at locations in each of the city’s 15 council districts. The coating, which is just 15 microns thick, goes on in a brilliant gray, far lighter in color than a typical asphalt street, though Spotts says it soon fades to more of a “battleship color.”

By this fall, all 15 streets should be complete, and according to the city’s asphalt testing lab, even in the afternoon on the hottest days, the surface temperature of the coated pavement is, on average, 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the uncoated pavement. The city also will monitor the coating to test how it performs over time, Spotts says.

Allen Compton, ASLA, a principal at SALT Landscape Architects and the cochair of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee, is curious to see the results. But he also wonders whether or not there might be urban side effects, such as a decrease in the visibility of road striping, or troublesome glare.

The biggest question may be to what extent a local reduction in temperatures helps the world at large. A 2017 study conducted by scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which has consulted with Los Angeles on its pilot, compared traditional pavement and coatings like CoolSeal and found that the additional energy and emissions needed to produce the latter exceeds any energy savings achieved through lower surface temperatures. In other words, these coatings could have a net-negative environmental impact.

Even if the coating were carbon neutral, Spotts acknowledges that the CoolSeal would represent an extra layer, and therefore an extra cost, in street construction. But his hope is that the project will signal to manufacturers that there is a demand for cool pavement products. Right now, a standard asphalt street in Los Angeles gets something called a slurry seal, a three-eighths-inch rubberized coating that seals it from water intrusion, Spotts says. “If there was a light-colored slurry seal, that’s a solution we could take to scale with existing funding. But there isn’t one.”

Timothy A. Schuler, the editor of NOW, can be reached at and on Twitter @Timothy_Schuler.

A jungle trail walk through Maui’s historic Kepaniwai Park

Aloha! It feels so good to be writing again! If you wish to follow my adventures to the minute, I’ve been sharing on Instagram HERE. Anyway, my getaway thus far has proven to be very restful, and with even a little drama attached! The weather was perfect when I arrived. Time spent dashing from beach to […]

The post A jungle trail walk through Maui’s historic Kepaniwai Park appeared first on Funky Junk Interiors.



Mixed-income housing alone can’t change public housing residents’ lives. So Gary Strang is putting the landscape to work.


The first thing you notice is all the cars. The Potrero Hill housing projects occupy a strange landscape divided by Jersey barriers and concrete retaining walls that carve up the site’s topography. Endless rows of cars are parked along its curving streets and in front of 62 three- and four-story barracks-style buildings that step down the steep hill. It’s the first indication that this isolated, often forgotten section of the city is not that well connected to the thriving, upscale urbanism of San Francisco that surrounds it. “The beautiful green landscape, the Corbusian dream, just becomes parking,” says Gary Strang, FASLA, the founder of GLS Landscape | Architecture, the firm that was hired to radically reshape this place.

For Curteesha Cosby, who lives at Potrero, these parked cars are sometimes a refuge of last resort. When she’s walking her kids to school at 7:00 a.m. and hears gunfire, she hits the ground and rolls her children under them till it ends. She says she hears shooting nearly every day. She’s exhausted by Potrero. “I just want people to be happy and everyone to be safe,” she says. Her cousin was gunned down in the housing complex a few days before we spoke. Edward Hatter, the executive director of the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, a nonprofit serving the area, tells me the community is waiting for the retaliatory violence that often follows shootings.

Potrero Terrace and Annex has long been one of San Francisco’s most dysfunctional large-scale public housing developments. Residents complain of mold and pests in their apartments. According to BRIDGE Housing, the nonprofit developer working at Potrero, violent crime is five times the city’s average, a particularly heartless statistic in light of the fact that 25 percent of residents are unemployed, one third are disabled, and fewer than half have bank accounts. By the low standards of American public housing, Potrero is fairly integrated and has no racial monoculture, with African American residents, Latinos, and Asian Americans. But, says Hatter, “This area was a forgotten [place] for many, many, many years.”

He’s seen Potrero transition from a neighborhood of working-class San Franciscans in the 1960s and 1970s to a community ravaged by crack cocaine in the 1980s, then buffeted by the dot-com boom and bust in the 1990s. Lately, a cresting wave of gentrification has washed over the Potrero Hill area. But the area’s public housing has been left untouched.

Potrero Hill is in view of downtown San Francisco to the north. Photo by Kyle Jeffers.

Today Potrero Terrace and Annex is top of mind for San Francisco’s civic officials and affordable housing advocates. It’s to be “revitalized,” in the parlance of development, the latest phase of the city’s ambitious HOPE SF program. The vision for Potrero includes a plan to raze and rebuild, adding market-rate housing and a comprehensive landscape plan by GLS Landscape | Architecture. Strang’s efforts will connect Potrero to the city’s grid for the first time, integrating it with the charming bungalows and stepped Victorian confections just blocks away. It will also use open space as a way to bridge the gulf between longtime residents and the affluent newcomers who will help subsidize the affordable public housing.

Strang hopes that the new arrivals will accept Potrero and its current residents as their neighbors, though current public housing residents are wary that this will actually happen. “I feel that as the demographics change on Potrero Hill, the conversation is getting better,” he says. “There’s a lot of local pride, especially as developers and other people start discovering [this] neighborhood. People get protective.”

Jeris Glover has lived at Potrero for 46 years, raising her kids there as well as the children of others. She looks forward to when it will look “just like the rest of the hill. It’s going to change,” she says, “and there has to be a change.”

The Potrero Terrace and Annex, built in 1941 and 1954, respectively, were made to house shipyard workers employed on the bay, just to the east. They were racially integrated, and their residents were solidly working class, but the buildings were not great exemplars of design. “Designed by civil engineering,” says the architect Fred Pollack. “What’s the simplest way of throwing boxes on a hillside and doing the least grading?” His architecture firm, Van Meter Williams Pollack, did a new master plan for the site and is designing the first phase of its redevelopment, a 72-unit building that began construction in January, set to be complete next year.

Potrero Hill was designed and built to require as little regrading of the steep site as possible, with buildings placed along the contour of the hill. Image courtesy of GLS Landscape | Architecture.

Potrero Hill has a meandering suburban feel. Uniform, breadbox-shaped apartment buildings march down the curves of the hill like the ridges on a fingerprint, putting an abrupt halt to San Francisco’s relentless (if somewhat improbable given the city’s topography) street grid. There are wide lawns, but little space to be programmed for an organized public use.

Strang’s plan will tear out these meandering streets and connect the 38-acre site to San Francisco’s street grid, and add a network of small and large park spaces. In the process, it will regrade approximately 286,000 cubic yards of earth (the equivalent of six U.S. Capitol rotundas) and add another 98,600 cubic yards of soil. It’s a massive feat of earthworks on an extreme site that has made Strang revise his definition of what landscape architecture can be. All said, Strang will weave the Potrero plan through slopes of 20 percent, across a site that increases in elevation by 225 feet, offering spectacular views to rich and poor alike. “We come to landscape architecture with the idea that we’re working with plants and soil, and that it’s a horticultural undertaking. But when you get into a site that is this intense,” says Strang, who’s an architect as well as a landscape architect, “you realize that it’s literally about the architecture of the landscape.”

In GLS’s plan, a steep pedestrian street runs through the north–south axis of the plan. The flattest street runs across the east–west axis, where retail and community spaces will be located. Image courtesy of GLS Landscape | Architecture in collaboration with Van Meter Williams Pollack.

This is most apparent in the sets of pedestrian stairs that span the steepest blocks at Potrero; the primary north–south axis of Connecticut Street north of 25th Street, and a smaller stair to the east along 23rd Street. Careful refinements of the city’s historical pedestrian street stairs (“some of the most cherished places in San Francisco,” says Strang), these new paths are made up of intricate patterns of green, planted areas and sets of stairways placed perpendicularly to each other so that a trip up and down gives a 360-degree view of the bay. Though it’s how the city’s original pedestrian stair streets were done, a 30-foot-wide stairway parading resolutely in one direction would have been “a little bit overly monumental for the time that we’re in,” Strang says. “We’re really trying to create a more intimate and human-scaled experience, and to make sure the circulation doubles as outdoor space so that each landing is a place to stop and sit, facing every cardinal direction. It took a lot of effort to make them buildable, give them spatial logic, and also make them green enough [so] that people want to spend time there.”

If these spaces are successful, Potrero will be a topographic playground—literally, in the case of the 23rd Street stair, where a concrete slide will flow downhill, following the ground plane. “Having viable open space on really steep slopes is kind of new territory,” Strang says. “There have always been hilltop parks in San Francisco. This is not a hilltop park. This is a hillside park. It’s broadening the definition of what landscape architecture is.”

Much of the site’s intense topography is made up of a vein of serpentine rock that runs across the peninsula. This oddly pale green rock was one of Strang’s most intense constraints, as its high magnesium content inhibits plants from absorbing and metabolizing nutrients, essentially dwarfing them, and its density prevents predictable and steady infiltration of rainwater. As such, many of the plants selected have to survive a trifecta somewhat unique to Potrero: serpentine resistant, drought resistant, and tolerant of poor drainage. This is especially true of the trees that line both pedestrian and vehicular streets, like redflower gum, eucalyptus, ginkgo, and the palm trees planted as accents at intersections. (Beyond trees, the definitive planting list hasn’t yet been determined.) Because of the sheer inclines, rainwater on site moves fast, and the serpentine rock belowground makes moisture harder to deal with once it’s infiltrated. Water that enters the ground through “cracks and crevices can pop up elsewhere, and you don’t really know where [it’s going],” Strang says. “Ultimately, that led to a strategy where we’re controlling more of the water on the surface.” This includes green roofs, planters, cisterns, an avoidance of permeable paving systems, and rain gardens in the new parks with liners that redirect water into storm drains.

It’s the second time that Strang has had to plan a public housing landscape amid inhospitable geology. At the Hunters View HOPE SF site a few miles south of Potrero Hill, Strang took what was an even more isolated and dilapidated public housing development and reorganized its landscape on top of unforgiving serpentine slopes. The recipient of a 2011 ASLA Honor Award in Analysis and Planning, Strang’s plan also reconnected the neighborhood to the city’s street grid where possible, and scattered a series of small parks across the site, like the oval park that dramatically orients views northward, toward San Francisco’s skyline. It’s attracted prominent Bay Area architects such as David Baker to the site to design affordable housing. No market-rate housing has been built there yet, but it’s still planned. Today Hunters View’s rich Cor-Ten steel finishes, cozy courtyards, curated views, and mild Italian hill town sensibility signal that Strang already knows how to set the table for a vibrant public realm to emerge.

There are currently about 600 units of housing at Potrero, but the new development promises more than 1,600 dwellings, more than doubling density in buildings up to seven to eight stories. Just about every element of the Potrero plan hinges on this increased density. With a strong housing market and a history of cheek-by-jowl living, “you can achieve multiple goals,” says Dan Adams, an architect and until recently the director of real estate for BRIDGE Housing, the nonprofit developer in charge of Potrero’s transition. “You can preserve the existing public housing, you can add more affordable housing, and you can bring market-rate housing on at the same site.”

With the additional density, residents won’t have to be moved far away to alternative housing, or take their chances with a Section 8 voucher on the private market while their old home is demolished and their new one is being built. At Potrero, the first new building (going up on a vacant site) will house 53 of the 86 households whose homes are being demolished in the first phase of construction. (Nineteen units in this building will be designated as lightly subsidized affordable units.) The remaining current Potrero units will be rehoused in existing, vacant units on site. There will be a broad mix of sizes, says Adams, with predominantly one, two, and three bedrooms, with a few studios and four-bedroom units. The goal is to choose bedroom counts by meeting the needs of the existing population at Potrero, so the final mix of units will be determined phase by phase.

After decades of a relatively uncrowded landscape, current residents are wary of this denser housing. “I feel like we’re going to be crunched up” and placed “in a canyon,” Cosby says. Residents like Glover say they’d prefer single-family homes, and she and Cosby both voiced understandable concerns over the security in quasi-public spaces such as the lobbies in apartment buildings.

Cosby, who works cleaning office buildings, is slated to move into her new home at Potrero soon, but says she would prefer to move away. She says she’s mildly hopeful that the new Potrero could be a better place, but is impatient for it to arrive. “It ain’t gonna happen overnight,” she says. “We know that already.” Most people who stay in Potrero, she says, do because they “don’t have anywhere else to go.”

The HOPE SF program itself is a result of not having anywhere else to go. In 2005, the San Francisco Housing Authority was staring at a $267 million shortfall for maintenance of existing housing sites, with annual federal funding set to provide only $16 million. With federal money dwindling (the landmark public housing privatization program HOPE VI had its funding discontinued after 2010) and a growing crisis of housing affordability, San Francisco could only depend on itself. HOPE SF, which began building in 2010, is mostly locally funded, gathered from bonds and a dedicated trust fund taken from the city’s general revenue. All told, HOPE SF aims to redevelop 3,000 to 3,500 units of existing public housing on four sites, including Potrero.

The program has a similar cast of characters seen in other developer-led public housing conversions. There’s the beleaguered and underfunded city agency, the shrewd private developers at BRIDGE, the progressive designer teams fighting through legacies of racism and poor urban planning, and suspicious residents who aren’t quite ready to believe all the promises being handed out. Yet HOPE SF still differs from past efforts nationwide.

“There was an explicit desire to learn from precedent,” Adams says. He’s referring to HOPE VI and other programs’ tendency to tear down housing and build back only a fraction of it, scattering the people who live there to find housing elsewhere with Section 8 vouchers, if they can get them. BRIDGE Housing was also careful to get to Potrero years in advance of construction, running community outreach and social programming.

HOPE SF has two rules that set it apart: No relocation off-site, and a guaranteed 1:1 ratio for unit replacement, a strategy enforced by a city ordinance. With these safeguards for residents, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has called HOPE SF a “reparations effort” owed to his citizens. By giving developers no latitude to reduce the amount of affordable housing that’s replaced when the market winds blow the other way, San Francisco has crafted as progressive a public housing policy as exists in this country. It’s a rare convergence of the political will to comprehensively address floundering and outdated public housing with the wealth needed to do so.

Potrero’s buildings are surrounded by hilly lawns with little differentiation of public and private space. Photo by Kyle Jeffers.

In addition to the 600 public housing units at Potrero to be replaced, there will be 200 units, lightly subsidized by tax credits, targeted at people making 50 to 60 percent of the area median income. Additionally, there’ll be 800 market-rate units, either for rent or sale. Across a build-out that BRIDGE hopes to be complete by 2026, the city plans to spend $750 million to $1.5 billion for everything at Potrero, and that’s excluding market-rate housing.

“We have a lot further to go,” Adams says. HOPE SF, he says, is a narrow answer to a narrowly defined problem—redeveloping and revitalizing the city’s existing public housing stock. He hopes it will allow those in public housing to have a better place to live so they can stay in their community. “It’s not the answer to the question of, ‘How do we provide affordable housing in San Francisco?’”

And at Potrero, the city is rushing to meet the need for affordable housing by providing subsidized housing before the market-rate units. “This isn’t a project that is basically run on the market-rate side, and we just happen to do the affordable [housing],” says Olson Lee, former director for the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. “The affordable [housing] is driving the whole project.” Developers like BRIDGE are mainly paid up front with developer fees and get relatively little from the sale of market-rate units. The city pockets the revenue from the sale of market-rate units, which becomes subsidy for additional affordable housing.

It’s a template that starts by addressing current public housing residents’ needs first. But neighborhood activists are still disappointed in how the Potrero plan is playing out. At Potrero and other HOPE SF sites, not a single building will mix market-rate residents with subsidized residents. “That’s what I call the segregation of poverty,” Hatter says.

Recent research has cast serious doubt on mixed-income housing’s ability to transform the lives of public housing residents. When Chicago unleashed its Plan for Transformation to tear down more than 18,000 units of high-rise public housing and build back mixed-income garden apartments and town houses, the results achieved—after a traumatic upheaval—were decidedly modest. As documented by the Urban Institute’s Susan Popkin, the relatively small number of housing residents that made it back into these new communities didn’t get new jobs that vaulted them into the middle class. Their lives were not remade with the help of neighbors who taught them how to code. They did find themselves in neighborhoods that were safer and more stable. But architecture alone hasn’t been able to cross that final bridge.

Public open spaces at Potrero Hill. Image courtesy of GLS Landscape | Architecture.

And because Potrero is surrounded by affluence (a block away, a three-bedroom, three-bathroom house recently sold for almost $2 million), it’s already a de facto mixed-income community. So why not just build back with the same high level of density, but make everything affordable?

The current Potrero landscape has no hierarchy of public-to-private spaces. It’s a series of undifferentiated buildings and lawns. But the new plan offers a rich spectrum of landscapes, each suited to varying levels of neighborly intimacy. A large, central park just east of the main north–south axis has a dramatically terraced lawn that will break down the hill’s steep topography. The main east–west axis, 24th Street, will be oriented to pedestrians as the flattest street on the site, connecting to several new public amenities and retail spaces. (For those with limited mobility or disabilities, community services are located here.) There’ll be a small park (the provisionally named “Squiggle Park”) featuring a sawtooth design that alternates terraced seating, lawns, and gardens filled with lilacs and poppies. And at the most intimate and private scale, interior courtyards planted with olive trees and coffeeberry will give apartment buildings their own dedicated public forum.

Courtyard gardens at Potrero Hill. Image courtesy of GLS Landscape | Architecture.

Across the entire plan, there is no singular space or monument that epitomizes the new Potrero’s ambitions for mixed-income living. Instead, Strang’s plan is a series of open space moments, connected to each other on the way to somewhere else. At the site’s northern edge, a series of small plazas eases visitors and residents into the neighborhood. The Squiggle Park connects to an existing local elementary school, and the central park is attached to the Connecticut Street pedestrian stair, itself a circulation path. The 23rd Street stair leads to a nearby commuter rail station. Each bit of green space here will be a bit of a trail marker along a wider web. Strang says it was vital that “the spaces be connected into networks, instead of isolated green spaces.”

If a new sense of shared community and granular social connectedness forms at Potrero, it will be in these spaces, where people can meet as equals and learn about and from each other. There is no solution to affordable housing that is completely reliant on design at the expense of public policy. But landscape design may well be mixed-income housing’s best hope to fulfill its stated mission of uplift through spatial transmission of cultural capital.

“The landscape component,” Adams says, “is particularly critical when we think about encouraging interaction and social cohesion across different socioeconomic groups.”

Strang is a bit less technocratic. “[Landscape] is the only neutral turf,” he says. “Whether or not the owners and developers can pull it off, I don’t know.”

Zach Mortice is a Chicago-based architecture and landscape architecture journalist. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @zachmortice.




To listen to some mainstream urbanists today, you have to wonder what body of theory, if any, they are paying attention to in order to make what often seem hopelessly naive and homogeneous proposals for new urban developments. Admittedly, this group is often the same bunch who don’t have time for impractical theorization because they are out there doing real work, but some idea about “good” city form obviously drives their approach. Unfortunately, many of the theories in circulation stem from a belief that the city is nothing more than a problem to be solved—it’s too dense, or not dense enough; gray and dirty rather than green; impervious and polluting; unjust and inequitable; or not living up to that crowning achievement of being “walkable.” Obviously, most if not all of these criticisms can be leveled at cities in one place or another at one time or another, but what are the implications for the urban imagination of designers if this is the only lens through which the city (arguably the greatest cultural artifact ever produced) can be viewed—a massive problem which must be “restored” to some nostalgic, fictional notion of the healthy city? And, more optimistically, what new propositions, pedagogies, and disciplinary alignments are necessary to overcome these narrow worldviews and begin to engage the phenomenon of urbanization in a more compelling and realistic way?

In his new book Landscape as Infrastructure, Pierre Bélanger, ASLA, an associate professor of landscape architecture and a codirector of the Master in Design Studies Program in Urbanism, Landscape, and Ecology at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, lays the groundwork for such an approach. Assembling a decade of design and scholarly research, Bélanger provides readers with a much-needed alternative history of urbanization (primarily in mid- to late 20th and early 21st-century North America), as well as a survey of the contemporary forces that drive urbanization patterns today. These aspects of the book are complemented by an account of the accompanying epistemological shifts brought about by new understandings of complexity and ecology as well as a resurgence of the importance of geography, and all of these facets add up to a convincing challenge to many of the ideological positions that continue to dominate the planning, design, and engineering of urbanism today.

Bélanger, a self-proclaimed landscape urbanist, argues that a new, ecologically informed set of conceptual frames and material techniques will replace the tradition of reductive, monofunctional, centralized approaches to infrastructure that have dominated urbanization up to now. This new approach is imperative if the design, planning, and engineering disciplines are to engage productively the dynamic forces of the 21st century such as shifting climates, migrating populations (both human and nonhuman, one assumes), and the endless cycling of materials across the planet. Bélanger, who is critical of the ideology of city design premised upon “centralization, containment, and compactness,” calls for an alternative to the nostalgic inheritance of “Old World” city and landscape making that is more in line with the postindustrial realities of contemporary urbanization. Such a shift requires the abductive capacity of the designer to replace the inductive and deductive approaches of engineering and planning. “Abduction draws from many fields and appropriates many levels of knowledge, extensively and intensively, to formulate ideas and strategies based on uncertain conditions, indeterminate circumstances, and sometimes incomplete information.” But Bélanger is realistic about the fact that, even though landscape architects and designers may be particularly well suited to engage this project given the ways they are educated, a cross-disciplinary alignment of landscape architecture, civil engineering, and urban planning is required to undertake the “strategic design of infrastructural and territorial ecologies” as a “synthetic landscape of living, biophysical, and sociopolitical systems that operate as urban infrastructures to shape the future of urban economies and cultures into the twenty-first century.”

Graphic timelines such as this one showing the evolution of the agronomic landscape demonstrate the synthetic capacity of designers to embrace complexity rather than suppress it. Image courtesy of Opsys/Curtis Roth.

Landscape as Infrastructure is a 500-plus-page slab of a book that combines old and new writings by Bélanger along with a variety of explanatory photos, graphic timelines, and diagrams of dynamic processes of urbanization. The book begins with 10 “prepositions” that set up the essays that follow and provide a more exhaustive case for their validity and potential as strategic catalysts. Prepositions include “The fundamental problem with urbanization is that we consider it a problem,” “Decentralization is one of the greatest structural forces reshaping patterns of urbanization,” and “Ecologies of scale are the new post-industrial economies for the weak world of the future.”

This introductory section is followed by 10 essays that correspond to the 10 prepositions and serves to juxtapose “conditions and dynamics in and out of the industrialized West…” across “…a series of scales, strategies, and systems for understanding and shaping knowledge of urbanization through contemporary patterns, processes, and precedents.” Bélanger is at his best in chapters such as “Systems of Systems,” which provides a rigorously researched and referenced alternative history of urbanization that challenges, refutes, or adds nuance to the more traditional history of urbanization and infrastructure in North America. Informed by the work of regional urbanists such as Benton MacKaye, Jean Gottmann, and Howard T. Odum, Bélanger argues that by replacing the predominant urbanization-as-problem lens with an “ecological optic,” a new generation of landscape infrastructuralists could move beyond the need to “minimize, control, or arrest” the processes of urbanization to shape and direct these forces toward more productive socioeconomic and socioecological ends.

In a chapter on “Ecologies of Disassembly,” Bélanger describes how a shift to a postindustrial economy is accompanied by the emergence of “waste ecologies” in which materials that previously held little or no value are now “catalyzing the birth of novel ecologies across major urban agglomerations…and across different continents, where the significance of circular economies make growth possible beyond production.” Bélanger then goes on to describe these ecologies in places such as the quasi-informal markets of Lagos, Nigeria, and the demanufacturing of “white trash” in Japan, to name only two of several examples. The author sees such “multilateral feedback strategies” as diversion, separation, recycling, and composting as increasingly common globally and a necessary development in the shift to more ecological forms of postindustrial urbanization.

Mapping the complex flows of materials over time is essential to engaging the city as an open system. Image courtesy of Opsys.

In addition to the aforementioned chapters on systems and wastes, chapters on “Regionalization,” “Synthetic Surfaces,” and “Infrastructural Ecologies” support a multiscalar and multilayered understanding of the patterns and processes of contemporary urbanization. What is perhaps less explicit is how landscape as infrastructure is actually defined or practiced, but I think this is in part owing to the expectation that infrastructure will continue to operate as it has in the past under the logic of closed systems rather than as diffuse, decentralized componentry of a much larger ecology. This is arguably the most significant takeaway for a discipline such as landscape architecture that continues to privilege projects that some would call high design and which are often characterized by their discrete site boundaries, exquisite materiality and detailing, and preferably ample budgets. Although that is not to say that such landscapes are necessarily incompatible with landscape as infrastructure, the latter type requires a different “optic” through which to evaluate and value them and to take into consideration characteristics and qualities of new landscapes that engage the ubiquity of logistics, that embrace the aesthetic qualities of time and change that are so much a part of dynamic ecologies (whether organic or inorganic), and that develop the potentials inherent in decentralization.

Landscape as Infrastructure is a compelling addition to a growing body of literature that challenges simplistic notions about the city, or more accurately, urbanization. The book is critical of architecture’s overreliance on “theory,” and civil engineering’s near-total lack of it; of the overreliance by urban planning (whether practiced by architects, urban designers, or landscape architects) on outmoded or unrealistic theories and practices (the “streets, blocks, and buildings” approach); and of the “borrowed, aristocratic histories of the profession of landscape architecture from the Old World and its surrogate, intellectual affiliations with the discipline of architecture….” And given the fact that engineers outnumber architects, landscape architects, and urban planners by more than five to one, and that an often uncritical belief in density and centralization dominates the imagination of many, if not most, professional designers and planners, as well as many academics training the future professionals who might shape urbanization, it may appear that what’s ahead is simply more of the same. But despite what may at times seem to be the daunting inertia of landscape and urbanism—especially in North America—I would argue that there is much to be optimistic about as well, given the innovative new landscape architecture firms now experimenting with a variety of landscape infrastructures and new generations of academics that are finding creative ways to educate across a spectrum of practices from high design to landscape as infrastructure. Landscape as Infrastructure provides a new optic through which to see advances along these lines that are already here but not fully understood, as well as a new foundation from which to bring others into being.

Landscape as Infrastructure by Pierre Bélanger; Abingdon, United Kingdom, and New York: Routledge, 2017; 512 pages, $65.

Gale Fulton, ASLA, is director of the School of Landscape Architecture at the University of Tennessee and can be contacted at or followed on Twitter @landintel.