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Five locations landscape architects provided a second chance
Jill Odom | January 28, 2017

Nature has a habit of quickly reclaiming abandoned urban areas, but these some of these spaces were purposefully redesigned to incorporate greenery once more.

Landscape architects frequently lend a helping hand with this, simultaneously redeeming and preserving the historical and cultural significance of the space. Here are five examples of forsaken areas that have been transformed into beautiful and enjoyable locations.

The High Line, New York City, New York

One of the popular examples of biophilic design and a converted urban space, the High Line serves as one of New York’s many park destinations. Originally a stretch of abandoned elevated railroad, the planting design is based on the self-seeded landscape that appeared during the 25 years of disuse.

The High Line’s design was a collaboration between James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Piet Oudolf. It took years of advocating to preserve the space, but now it sets a precedent for similar situations. The High Line is committed to sustainable practices by choosing site-specific plants and following sound horticultural practices.

Freshkills Park, Staten Island, New York

Another reclamation project designed by James Corner Field Operations, this massive project transformed what was formerly known as the world’s largest landfill into wetland habitat for wildlife. The 2,200-acre site also provides space for horseback riding, nature trails, kayaking, and mountain biking.

Systems have been installed to manage the landfill gases and other byproducts.  This park is almost three times larger than Central Park and is expected to open in phases through 2036.

Alumnae Valley, Wellesley, Massachusetts

Part of Wellesley College’s identify is its landscape as in 1902 Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. called it “not merely beautiful, but a marked individual character not represented so far as I know on the ground of any other college in the country.” As it grew, one of the natural valleys became the site of the campus’ physical plant, creating a toxic brownfield.

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates stepped in and restored the land by removing toxic soil, and capping and collecting mildly contaminated soil. The company received the 2006 ASLA Design Award of Excellence for its work.

The Gardens of Alcatraz, San Francisco Bay, California

Gardens are not usually what comes to mind when thinking of the prison that was nicknamed “The Rock,” yet gardens were fastidiously maintained during its operation. When the prison was closed in 1963, the gardens were left to fend for themselves.

Hardy plant varieties thrived during the years of neglect and in 2003 the Garden Conservancy and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy worked with the National Park Service to preserve and rebuild the gardens that had played such a large role in the lives of the officers, families and prisoners who lived on the island.

Gas Works Park, Seattle, Washington

Richard Haag transformed industrial ruins of a former coal gasification plant into 19-acre park. The location is home to the sole remaining coal gasification plant in the U.S. Using the remnants of the boiler house, it now serves as a picnic shelter. The exhauster-compressor building was adapted into a play barn for children.

At the time, it was considered revolutionary for the use of bioremediation to restore polluted soils. The park is a landmark of Seattle and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.

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