10-Point Approach to Infrastructure
We have ambitions for infrastructure that can do more. Once single purpose transportation corridors, ports, rivers, rails and roads can now be multi-benefit. These new and re-imagined corridors and nodes are creating positive impact for communities, people, the climate, our urban economies, the environment, and our democracy, while transitioning us into a future that is carbon-free. Here is how we do it.
We think big. We consider infrastructure as the bones of urban design. Whether new, old, or transitioning use, these networks make a fingerprint that is unique to each city. When we design sections of a corridor or a node, we are always thinking towards the whole network—its connectivity, distribution, and growth. Segments built over time can form a network with big impacts. Putting landscape at the center of urban design can serve as a catalyst, as in Tianjin Eco-City.
Our urban design is landscape-driven. Science has shown us that cities are part of an ecology: water, air, animals, plants, and humans interact as a living system. This means designs must work with dynamic forces that are seasonal and cyclical. Green infrastructure and soft systems, we now know, are a necessary part of urban systems to offset unwanted heat, water, and air. What started with one park–Buffalo Bayou–can grow into Bayou Greenways, a plan implemented to reach everyone in the city.
Whether loved by communities, groups, or individuals, a successful place imparts a sense of pride and stewardship. To work towards this end, we identify and work with others to understand the constituency we are designing for and with. This can mean coalition building, outreach, engagement, and gathering ideas and feedback. It can also mean falling short, restructuring…and then getting it right with the community, as in Harvey Milk Plaza, or analyzing how groups and individuals use the spaces we’ve built to inform how we build new ones, as with Plaza Life Revisited.
Disparities are all too common in infrastructure alignments of the past. When adapting old infrastructure to new uses, disrupted communities may benefit greatly from a corrective or public space designed to mend the divide, as in Ricardo Lara Linear Park. In Dallas, Texas, Southern Gateway Public Green is suturing back the Oak Cliff neighborhood both physically and metaphorically. This new five-acre deck park reclaims public right-of-way over I-35, replacing vehicular traffic with nature and pedestrian connections.
Infrastructure is complex; it weaves through complex urban fabric and touches many. It needs buy-in and expertise from all to work. We have years of experience on large, multi-disciplinary teams made up of federal, state, local, municipal, community, and philanthropic stakeholders and funders to realize projects. An early project with the National Park Service , unifying coastal defense sites, covered 90,000 acres and resulted in the second most visited park in the agency’s entire portfolio: the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
We build on what’s there. Many of these vast and forbidding spaces are, in fact, beloved for their unconventionality. People develop informal uses and become attached. We maintain, preserve, and enhance the ways in which these places have been adopted already. (See The Katy Trail.) We also recognize that adaptive reuse of unused infrastructure sustainably prolongs the life of a site, is a form of upcycling, and reduces the carbon impact of construction, helping to mitigate emissions that contribute to climate change.
Design for aesthetics alone is no longer sufficient. We design for impact. We use post-occupancy research, specialized subject experts, and proven techniques to enhance social, economic, and environmental outcomes. We want to see positive effects on mobility, community cohesiveness, health, carbon, soil, equity, and economic development, among other benefits. High performance sites like Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park, former rail hub, are examples.
What we build today should be adaptable to the future. In the long time horizons of infrastructure planning and use, it is essential to anticipate future scenarios and design for multiple possible conditions. This means understanding future climate, technological, and use changes. Although we can never know perfectly what the future will bring, we can build in the capacity for adaptation, resilience, and uncertainty. For an example of a river project as climate infrastructure, see Changsha Baxizhou Island.
There is intrinsic beauty in raw infrastructural form: often it gives us a completely unique opportunity or vantage point from which to appreciate the city and its workings. As designers we work to keep and celebrate the greatness and sublime nature of infrastructure, where present. This means understanding that we design experiences with the spaces we add, subtract, or retain. For projects with awe-inspiring engineering, see Milton Street Park and Nelson Mandela Park.
We demand more of our infrastructure. Mono-functional is out and poly-functional is in. Why settle for mobility when you can have mobility plus? When we use active transportation networks like roads and rails, and layer in multiple other uses, we make engineering truly public. We include more users, more programs, and also turbocharge transport. For a highway that becomes multi-purpose and beautifully welcomes pedestrians, see Suzhou Center Bridges.