For those of us who attend the occasional professional conference, the experience typically is both a good refresher on what is new and exciting in our respective fields and a recharge for us and our work. I recently attended the Central States ASLA Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, and I was amazed by the breadth and variety of ways that sustainability continues to influence landscape architecture.
The conference’s educational sessions showcased how various sustainable practices are influencing the field. From green infrastructure boosting New Orleans’ resilience capacity, to the use of native prairie grass systems on green roofs, to the new SITES sustainability rating system, and finally to pollinator habitat protection and preservation, it’s surprising just how ingrained sustainability is in the advancement of our work.
The conference also included a walking tour of The Village at Hendrix, a New Urbanist neighborhood in Conway, Arkansas. This dense, mixed-use development is a great example of sustainability since the entire neighborhood is walkable, limiting the need for automobiles. Activity areas in open spaces can be found throughout the development and attract all-day use.
Stormwater is managed on-site through a variety of BMP facilities culminating in the Hendrix Creek Preserve, which is an 18-acre restored wetland ecosystem and conservation area. The preserve provides an important habitat for native animal species and prevents flooding from runoff coming from adjacent developments. It was exciting to see how sustainable design can actually drive a profitable investment into a well-designed development.
The tour got me thinking about two of the projects that my team here in Omaha has been working on recently. River’s Edge and Flatwater Crossing are mixed-use master-planned neighborhoods located along the Missouri River. The two projects are separated by 110 miles of riverfront, but both will serve as economic drivers for their respective communities.
Flatwater Crossing is a 220-acre property in South Sioux City, Nebraska, with over a mile of Missouri River frontage above the floodplain. River’s Edge is a 25-acre development on the east (dry) side of the Council Bluffs, Iowa, levee that overlooks the river with views of downtown Omaha. Both are dense, pedestrian-oriented developments designed to promote a sustainable lifestyle.
Our team completed master plans and final-design construction sets for both developments. River’s Edge is currently under construction, while the groundbreaking for Flatwater Crossing will occur this summer. Developer interest in both developments was peaked early in the master planning process, and our team has been pleasantly surprised by just how quickly our clients, municipalities, and local residents have embraced the projects’ sustainable ethos.
These developments will provide a diversity of housing types to attract a wide range of residents, from young professionals and millennials to families, empty-nesters, and retirees. They will also offer buildings with ground-level commercial and office uses to help activate the streetscape.
In Flatwater, residents will be connected to the riverfront and the Village Center via a series of interconnected greenways. Similarly, River’s Edge is designed around a multimodal corridor that will act as a central spine for the neighborhood. The corridor is made up of a native-landscaped two-way street, on-street parking, a pedestrian promenade, and a cycle track. The street terminates in a shared-space piazza and regional park located on top of the levee.
Both projects promote compact street sections and active street frontages to calm traffic and encourage pedestrian use. They also both employ innovative stormwater BMPs, from a restorative stormwater chain running through the heart of the Flatwater, to storm scepter cells placed throughout the compact River’s Edge area. This required heavy coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that the developments would not undermine the existing resilience of the two riverfront contexts.
Sustainability has been a major driver of innovation in the design and construction fields over the past decade, which has allowed us design professionals to reimagine how we work and what our work should become. The Central States ASLA Conference was a great reminder of the progress we are making. It also reinvigorated my belief that sustainability can truly help landscape architects not only limit harm to, but enhance the natural environment through our designs.