Where it’s happening

By Leon Neyfakh
January 30, 2011

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After more than a decade as an almost purely academic pursuit, landscape urbanism is beginning to shape developments in the real world. Though the movement’s more ambitious ideas, like major reconfigurations of waterways, are still very much theoretical, design firms closely identified with landscape urbanism, including Boston-based StossLU, are winning significant commissions.

Several projects are underway in New York, including Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates’ waterfront park in Brooklyn, which will combine recreational areas and athletic fields with wetlands, tidal pools, a coastal forest, a wildflower meadow, a pebble beach, and an irrigation system that uses collected rainwater. Other developments are in Shenzhen, China, and Toronto, where Van Valkenburgh is working to redevelop the waterfront of Lake Ontario in collaboration with like-minded firms West 8 and Field Operations.

Some more modest landscape urbanist projects have been produced for the International Biennale of Landscape Urbanism in Israel, including a see-saw on a beach in the city of Bat Yam that pumps ocean water up from underground, routes it to a system of tanks for desalination, and then uses it to irrigate nearby plant life.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. e-mail