AR Takes the Stage at Texas ASLA Conference

May 27, 2021   /   Speaking Engagements/Conferences

Early this month, six members of the Asakura Robinson team took the stage at the 2021 American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) conference in Galveston.

The presentations covered a wide range of topics across AR’s expansive areas of expertise, and our knowledgeable landscape architects and designers were excited to bring their innovative approaches and engaging leadership best practices to the expo!

In case you missed it, here is a recap of speaker discussions:

Keiji Asakura, founding member of AR, led a thoughtful panel discussion – A Journey Through 165 Years of Texas – where he weaved the story of how journalist and abolition advocate Frederick Law Olmstead journeyed through the Pre-Civil War South and into Texas. With his co-presenter, Thomas Woodfin of Texas A&M University; Dr. Deidra Davis, also of Texas A&M University; and Ernesto Alfaro, lecturer at Rice University, Keiji and team led the audience members through the chronicles of Olmstead’s trek, painting the picture of the Texas landscape and of the early 1850s. The discussion centered around Olmstead’s legacy in social equity, slavery issues and American landscape traditions.

Green Galveston, a project near and dear to not only our firm but to the conference itself, was the focus of conversation in Green for All Galveston, a session led by AR designers Michelle Bright and Kari Spiegelhalter, as well as Keath Jacoby, executive director of Vision Galveston. The team guided audience members through the engaging story of how they developed a framework for integrating “green” into Galveston landscapes – including parks, open space, public right-of-way, and new development and redevelopment.

This framework for Galveston Island provides implementable, concept design strategies for two highly urban parks in underserved neighborhoods, Jones and Shield Parks. Driven by community input and a multidisciplinary action team of experts, these designs will provide a proof of concept on how to bring more green into Galveston’s urban core.

One project of ours that has won multiple awards for its innovation and implementation, most recently the prestigious ASLA Texas Excellence award in Planning & Design, is the Inwood Detention Recreation Study. AR Landscape Architect Peter Caldwell captivated the audience as he presented his session Inwood Forest: Suburbia Reimagined, with co-speakers Lisa Graiff, Beyond the Bayous Project Manager of the Houston Parks Board and Paresh Lad, Urban Planner with the City of Houston. Designed in the 1960s as a suburban paradise with golf course winding throughout, the Inwood neighborhood is nestled along the White Oak Bayou with large stands of pre-existing Post Oaks. 

About 10 years ago, the closure of the golf course only seemed to highlight the natural beauty of this community by leaving behind large trees and swathes of grass intertwined with the houses. Now, as part of massive flood mitigation strategies, this currently distressed suburb is facing the replacement of their natural backyard (originally a golf course) with maximum volume detention basins.

With multiple agencies, both public and private, involved in the conversation about addressing flooding in the neighborhood, larger tenets have emerged, such as connectivity and equity for residents and visitors as well as wildlife habitat. Peter and team brought to light the factors that led this neighborhood to its current position and the strategies being used to create opportunities for a new vision of ecology-based, neighborhood centric, flood detention design.

Health, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the “new normal” were brought together in this extremely time-sensitive session, Funding Design for Health Equity, as it touched on health disparities across the country. Kari, AR’s resident Urban Ecological Designer, took the stage once more to focus on health and how it relates to all aspects of life, moderated a panel discussion on how landscape architects can play a role in closing this health disparity gap through the design of parks and open spaces that promote active lifestyles and reduce air pollution. 

Austin-based St. David’s Foundation Abena Asante spoke about their work funding the “Healthy Parks Plan for Travis, Bastrop, and Caldwell Counties,” a three-county wide parks plan which led to grants given to non-profits and cities across central Texas for park design and construction. Galveston-based Moody Foundations Director of Grants Allan Matthews touches on their role in funding Green Galveston, Klyde Warren Park, and the Wellness Garden at Parkland Hospital.

Houston-based Episcopal Health Foundation’s Jo Carceda, VP of Grants, shared their work on the “Healthy Places Toolkit.” Kari, the designer who has worked with these organizations on these health-focused design projects at multiple scales, brought her passion to the conference in hopes that audience members will learn how these funding processes work and the opportunities to help close the health disparity gap through funded design work.

To round out the team of speakers – and the conference – Landscape Designer Tucker Rose and Urban Ecological Designer Ucha Abbah, along with Kari, detailed how an interdisciplinary approach of park assessments coupled with regional analysis of social and environmental factors can lead to the most beneficial recommendations for all. 

In their presentation, Eyes to Equity: Parks in Harris County, the trio highlighted AR’s user-focused Pasadena Healthy Parks Plan and the Harris County Precinct 2 Open Space Resource Management Plan to focus on the process of evaluating, prioritizing, and recommending park improvements. Communication between landscape architects, planners, and community members produced thorough, pragmatic recommendations for increased equity in park accessibility and experience for both the park system and the individual parks. These two projects demonstrate, at differing scales, how thorough and quantifiable metrics can be leveraged to increase equity in a parks system for a region.

Asakura Robinson would love to work with you on your next project. If you’re interested in utilizing our expertise or would like more information on any any or all of these presentations, please contact Marketing Manager Amanda Wheeless. She would love to set up a meeting, send more information and connect our teams!

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