The objectives of the LA 7041 Urban Systems studio course are to expose students to urban issues related to the contemporary practice of landscape architecture based on the following: the premise of the city as a system of numerous overlapping and intersecting systems, both natural and human-made; and therefore an effective strategy for dealing with such complex issues is rooted in understanding relevant components of these systems and devising metrics that will inform design initiatives.  

The decision to focus on New Orleans public parks and open spaces for the Spring 2018 semester came about through a timely opportunity to collaborate with non-profit organization Parks for All on an initiative to develop a report card to grade parks and open spaces of all sizes, in multiple categories. Such a guide would assist in the shared goal of a beautified and accessible park system.

Fortier Park, Esplanade Avenue -   https  ://  nola  .  curbed  .  com  /  maps  /  new  -  orleans  -  small  -  parks

Class Structure

"Using urban conditions in New Orleans, this studio investigates how urban green infrastructure and its management can become vehicles for community engagement and empowerment and improve urban conditions for community residents. These subjects will take these forms:

* Investigations of community engagement (successful; non-successful) together with discussions of ‘best management practices’ (BMP) among professional offices. This will involve individual research, writing, oral presentations, and participation in community engagement sessions related to the master plan revision of one of the city’s main green spaces (Audubon Park).

* Strategies for inventory and assessment of urban park/greenspace conditions as a necessary first step in generating data for 1) equitable distribution of open space resources and maintenance allocations; 2) developing strategies for strategic changes (including up-grades, new acquisitions, and possibly de-acquisitions of open spaces) based on collected data, evolving urban conditions, financial resources, and projected urban growth/contractions. This work will be accomplished in group settings and employ a ‘report card’ format of 15 parks per City Council district.

* Based on the above, students will identify spaces for improvement and complete plans/designs that reflect individual perspectives, understandings of relevant data, and how the exercises of community engagement, BMPs, and inventory/analysis phases guide/direct development of design strategies."


"The most memorable lesson I learned this semester is about the importance of community engagement.  Without interacting with the community and the future users of our designed parks how can you really know what is wanted and needed at that specific site.   The interactions and engagements you have with the community members should lead you to your final design." --Taylor Fehmel, MLA '19


Community Engagement

After researching examples of how firms and municipalities incorporate stakeholder input into public landscape projects, LA 7041 students attended and participated in public meetings in New Orleans throughout the semester in order to directly observe, think critically on, and evaluate the practice of community engagement. Discussion followed all meetings, and a critique of the first Audubon Park meeting was developed and submitted to the consultant team.

Student did case studies of 10 projects with community engagement components, forming a class-wide bibliography of 150 examples:

2/6/18: Audubon Park Master Plan Community Meeting #1
3/6/18: Audubon Park Master Plan Community Meeting #2
3/21/18: Louisiana Landmarks Society Panel Discussion: "The State of New Orleans Parks"
3/26/18: Meeting with Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell and staff about studio content and expected results
4/5/18: Audubon Park Master Plan Community Meeting #3
4/11/18: Duncan Plaza Community Meeting [click for student report]

open comment session at audubon tea room

open comment session at audubon tea room

Data and Evaluation

This phase began with a general discussion of New Orleans parks and their historical development and evolution. Student groups then combined existing park inventories with GIS data to create base maps from which to examine the distribution of public parks, as well as other open space opportunities. The ratio of population to park space was noted in particular, for its implications toward access and equity. Many other data sets were studied, including demographic, land use, landmark, and flood hazard information - all relevant to the design process.

Each group then identified a selected number of parks in their District (of varying scales and situations) which they visited and graded according to  agreed upon scales and parameters. Click below for more information!

Designing for the Future of Open Spaces

The final phase of this project involved site design showing proposed improvements to selected parks/playgrounds. In consultation with the instructor, students selected 3 parks/open spaces (either existing parks or sites proposed for future park/open space development) from their District, developed site-scale maps, and proposed design interventions based on analyses conducted in previous phases:

Above all, this studio taught me how to help people see parks as more than just amenities. Through thoughtful observation, good community engagement, and visionary design, we can demonstrate how open space systems make up a vital part of our municipal infrastructure and deserve to be treated as such by having access to the same funding mechanisms as any other thing in the public sphere.

— Phillip Fernberg, MLA '19


"The studio this semester was really fun and informative for me. Learning about how landscape architects can be involved in community engagement and be an additional benefit in decision making bodies was insightful. Experimenting with urban systems taking parks as basic space was challenging and at times and pushed me to play with design ideas that could holistically help the society."

--Surabhi Jain, MLA '19


"This studio class was a fantastic introduction to urban parks and urban planning. By first researching examples of how other cities and projects have engaged with clients in urban settings, we then were able to experience first hand with greater expertise their operations in several public meetings in New Orleans. In addition, by researching and redesigning several parks in New Orleans, we gained a good understanding of the public park system in the city."

— Joshua Black, MLA '19