Chain-Link Fences & Sunflowers



Marye and Horticulture Student


Two Horticulture Students




















The Robert E. DeNier Youth Services Center is a privately run juvenile detention center in Durango, Colorado. While many people cringe at the thought of a juvenile detention center, I have a very positive association with this specific program. Before my time at DHM, I was employed at the DeNier center for several years. While it was not always an easy place to work, I gained valuable and life-changing experiences that have redefined my outlook on human interaction and the cathartic nature of outdoor spaces.

The DeNier center has a unique approach to rehabilitating the youth that come through the program. It presents its students with diverse opportunities in the facility and outside in the community. The most life-changing and powerful experience for me was watching the students participate in the now-retired horticulture program.

Run by Marye, local volunteer, Master Gardener and personal friend, the horticulture program was an essential component of the DeNier Center for years. Students, based on positive and pro-social behavior, would apply to and were selectively accepted into the program. Marye and her students would begin in early spring mapping out and planting seeds in the DeNier Center Garden. The program required its students to spend 1-2 hours in the garden, 5 days a week from April to September.

While supervising this time in the garden, I often found myself emotional and mystified by what I saw; a stark contrast between tall, metal chain-link fences, sunflowers, and smiling children. Frequently, I questioned how these kids were able to put so much joy and care into the garden when they had experienced so little of such in their own lives.

While teens will be teens and often had to be redirected from spraying each other with hoses and throwing dirt around, I was mostly impressed by the dedication and focus they showed in the garden. I was even more impressed by the patient, compassionate leader that Marye was in her program. She oversaw occasional outbursts, blowups and authority issues, while still caring tenderly for her students and produce; the fragile and growing things that needed her attention and patience.

I believe Marye’s Horticulture Program helped illustrate important life-lessons about work, community and cooperation for her students. It showed these lost young people how to appropriately interact, socialize and work together. The program taught them to work hard to serve themselves as well as their peers.

Each September when autumn and the harvest arrived, the garden and program produced very palpable advantages for the kids. Tomato and sweet pea vines crept up fences and arches, and gourds were grown and entered in the La Plata County Fair. Strawberries were grown for immediate consumption by program participants, and herbs were plucked daily for use in the DeNier Center kitchen. These kids were able to touch, smell, and taste the product of working toward a goal and reaching it. For once, they had seen something from start-to-finish.

Maybe the key in helping troubled people lies in something as simple as a garden.

You can read more about the DeNier Center Horticulture Program in the Durango Herald, HERE.

Or you can read another article I wrote about the program in the Division of Youth Corrections Newsletter, HERE.

Mapping Human Energy in Place


The internet is an amazing resource. As landscape architects we use it as a source of information, imagery, and inspiration for many of our projects. Mining the internet for specific information and turning our findings into something visually useful is very challenging; an art-form in itself.

Eric Fischer, self-proclaimed “Geek of Maps” has mastered this art-form. In 2010, he created a process capable of collecting, analyzing and mapping geo-tagged Flickr photos and Twitter tweets.

Geo-tagging is the assignment of geographical latitude and longitude coordinates to pieces of information such as pictures, street addresses, or 140 character muses that allow the information to be located in space relative to other pieces of information.

See Something, Say Something – Eric Fischer

In his mapping project, entitled “See Something or Say Something,” Mr. Fischer uses red dots to represent geo-tagged Flickr photos, blue dots for geo-tagged tweets, and white dots for geotags tied to both photos and tweets.

 In “Locals and Tourists”, Fischer uses blue dots to show Flickr photos taken by locals and red dots for photos taken by tourists. He analyzed each Flickr contributor’s primary region of photo activity to differentiate between locals and tourists. The yellow dots represent photos where he could not make a local vs. tourist determination on the contributor.

Locals vs  Tourists

Locals Vs. Tourists – Eric Fischer


The maps that result from Mr. Fischer’s process are both artful and informative. Researchers have found them useful tools for investigating everything from social/racial conditions, to the confluence of virtual and real-world infrastructure. The beauty of Eric Fischer’s work is that his maps are successful on many levels. Superficially, they are visually appealing and validate things that we might think we already know, i.e. tourists like to take photos in parks. Deeper, they are maps of human engagement, energy, excitement, passion, and conflict in a place; a pioneering view of human interaction in the landscape.

You can view more of Eric’s maps on his Flickr account here, or read more about him in the Washington Post here.

The Design of the Disenfranchised

In our field, we focus on desires of clients – those paying for our services.  However, in public arenas those who will regularly utilize the designed space must also be considered. It is important to include and accommodate individuals who may not have a voice in the design process, but rely on and benefit from the public spaces the most.

Historically, the field of landscape architecture has deterred the homeless from such spaces.  Benches and public toilets were removed, hedges cut to the ground, security cameras were installed, and seating areas were adorned with “anti-homeless” measures. These prevented anyone from remaining in one spot for too long. Designers and municipalities realized, however, these implementations created unfriendly landscapes, unpleasant to everyone, not just the homeless.

Walter Hood, an inspiring leader in community design, focuses on creating meaningful spaces for people of all backgrounds. Lafayette Square Park in Oakland, California exemplifies his work. With its redesign in the 1990’s, Hood packs amenities inspired by the needs and desires of current users of the park, mostly the homeless and previously excluded members of nearby neighborhoods. Instead of a multi-use common area, Hood creates subspaces within a larger, inclusive framework.  Each subspace addresses different community needs rather than adhering to a “one-size-fits-all” attitude. The design is visually cohesive, using tactics including: low curvilinear walls, topographic changes, and a variety of paving materials.

Lafayette square park

“Walter Hood, Lafayette Park ,” in Environmental Design Archives Exhibitions, Item #264

A more recent example of inclusive design is featured in the February 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.  Bud Clark Commons is a multi-service transitional housing facility serving Portland, Oregon’s homeless population.Although a private entity, the design and amenities in the exterior areas provide insight into design of public spaces.  The exterior design, by Mayer/Reed Landscape Architecture, mimics the layout of a home with a welcoming entrance (foyer), storage for belongings (closet), circulation and queuing area (hallway), and seating area for individuals awaiting service (living room). Umbrella shade, vegetation, water-features, and warm colors create a calming atmosphere for those seeking services.

Inclusive Design is not about creating areas for the homeless, but creating inclusive spaces for a broad range of people. By including the needs and desires of different groups, public spaces become more vibrant, meaningful and successful.There is no formula for creating effective public places but using this approach may redefine “public space” and its role in landscape architecture and our communities.

Bud Clark Commons [Photograph]. In D. Jost, Off the street. Landscape Architecture Magazine, 104(2), 76-87.

Mountains, Muse & Views

In a matter of days I will set-out on a much-needed adventure. I have been dreaming about this trip for years and planning it for the last 9 months. While adventures are available to us here in the Roaring Fork Valley, this one will offer new insight and a unique setting. The anticipation of travel, new landscapes, and cultures ignites thought and excitement as I look through photos of my destination. I cannot help but create visions of what experiences I might encounter on this thrilling undertaking. While we can be challenged and inspired during our daily work, it is so important to take ourselves outside of our “normal” and into the unknown; into places we dream about, have curiosities of, and aspire to visit.


Lobuche Peak – Courtesy of

 Being one who values the inspiration and solace offered by mountains, I am excited about the chance to romp through one of the most spectacular massifs in the world. I will be traveling to Kathmandu, Nepal in a couple of weeks, hopping onto a notoriously unreliable plane to Lukla and then will be trekking through the Khumbu region of Nepal and attempt to summit a peak or two. My partner and I have spent months planning, brainstorming, and collecting feedback on where to go, what to do, and what to see. We know we want to move around, see many places, and get high in elevation; but we sense that too much planning may be pointless as our adventure may dictate its own path.


Ama Dablam Peak – Courtesy of Lonely Planet

As I look through photos of where I will be visiting, I realize that I could spend the rest of my life trekking through Nepal and still have more to see. To be able to enjoy and revel in every moment in the valleys and peaks of each day is what I am hoping to attain in Nepal. I cannot tell you where I will end up or what pictures I will take, but I am excited for what those may be. I cannot wait to share these experiences.


Namche Bazaar , The “Gateway to the High Himalaya” – Courtesy of Wikipedia

I am sure there will be moments of cold, times of uncertainty, and risk; but those are challenges that mountains provide, and is why I love them. I want to be inspired by the massiveness of the landscape and the people that call these harsh environments home. I want to come home with a new perspective on my life and return with an outlook that better informs the way I interact with my own physical and community landscape.

This is a lot to expect from a place, as traveling is so much about how we choose to experience it. Going to new and inspiring places allows us to dream bigger and to fulfill our visions of curiosity and adventure. Hopefully we then realize we can create these same adventures in our own home landscapes; provided that we seek them out with the same wonder.

Innovation in the Rust Belt

This past winter and spring I worked with an initiative called Rust2Green. Rust2Green, or “R2G”, is a cooperative of specialists and  students  from a variety of fields, working to revitalize and stimulate “Rust Belt”  communities within New York State. [You can watch a video about R2G here].


Courtesy of Rust2Green

Currently, R2G is working with the City of Utica, New York. In the past  few  decades, Utica has shown economic parallels to other postindustrial cities. In fact, following Detroit’s declaration of bankruptcy in July 2013,  Utica’s local newspaper published an issue with the front page headline  of “Are We  Next?”

Indeed, Utica has faced many of the difficulties that other Rust Belt Cities have confronted in the last century: a stretching and decentralization of resources due to the sprawl of suburbs, population loss, and difficulty adjusting to new industries and economies.

During my work in the city of Utica, I periodically traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as well.  As I worked to reimagine one struggling rust belt city like Utica, I was experiencing the wonder of another city that had already reinvented itself. In a true testament to Pittsburgh’s resilience, it has transformed from an economy completely dependent on big steel, to one that possesses diversified commercial sectors such as healthcare, higher education, and technology.

As the project in Utica unfolded, I kept returning mentally and physically to Pittsburgh’s Point State Park for inspiration. Like Utica and many other industrial cities, Pittsburgh was founded first as a military fort along a great waterway. Pittsburgh sits at the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers, while Utica stretches across the Eerie Canal. These vital waterways in Utica and Pittsburgh enabled both cities’ great expansion during the Industrial Revolution Era.

Point State Park

View of Point State Park by Pittsburgh Photographer, David DiCello

Through innovative signage, preserved historic remnants, and stone curbing outlining the historic form of the bastion, the design of Point State Park beautifully commemorates and portrays the history of the area. Furthermore, the park brings life to the Pittsburgh waterfront while visually referencing the important role of water in this city through a towering fountain.

Currently, the park is the center for culture and innovation in the city, hosting events such as the Three Rivers Arts Festival and the Venture Outdoors Festival. On a sunny day at the confluence of the three rivers, it is easy to forget that Pittsburgh is considered a Rust Belt city; all you see is the green of the grass, the blue of the water and the vibrant life of a thriving city. As we continue to hear about the decline of legacy cities like Detroit and Utica in the news, I revisit Pittsburgh and the park for inspiration and proof of resiliency and reinvention of a city.

Check out David DiCello’s photography of Pittsburgh HERE