Parks and Public Spaces of Tomorrow

The outdoors has become a peaceful refuge for many during this collective pause. Safety measures from Covid-19 have amplified this sentiment and brought greater attention to the value of our parks, urban spaces and neighborhood public realm. For many, this has been a welcome return to the restorative powers of spending time in the sunshine, breathing in fresh air and being surrounded by nature.

As communities slowly inch toward the ‘new-normal’, a significant portion of the population will seek to hold on to these healthy principles as part of their everyday life. While some may make it a point to eat lunch outside more often and others are drawn to outdoor spaces as their new gym or place of recreation, there has been an explicit shift towards healthier living with holistic wellness at its core.


At EDSA, we have always focused on creating engaging outdoor spaces, but now see an elevated responsibility in diversifying their functionality to increase utilization and sustain healthy behavior. For example, durable, low maintenance, adaptable site furnishings allow people to enjoy lunch outdoors, but can also serve as impromptu conference tables with the addition of solar-powered charging stations. Community golf courses can be reduced and reintroduced as public open space with pedestrian-centered walking trails. Even, bike storage can be enhanced when properly integrated into urban transit nodes.



The future of public realm needs to be more than merely accessible and convenient. But unlike urban centers designed during the industrial revolution, these oases will balance programming with naturalistic designs, more density of canopy, natural habitat for wildlife and trails for passive recreation. The conception, design, creation and redevelopment of our public realm will mirror existing strategies related to green and sustainable building, food production and sourcing and new urbanistic form as we adapt and innovative towards wellness-focused communities.


Putting healthy living at the center of housing and neighborhood design, cities will look at revamping older parks or turning vacant land into pocket parks and social plazas. Well-defined outdoor spaces not only need to be multifaceted, experience-focused and user-centric, but intentionally bring positive health benefits and a total well-being lifestyle to residents. This requires a collective shift in our thinking where public realm and infrastructure are as important as immunizations; pocket parks, trails and gardens are as beneficial as prescriptions; and friends and neighbors are more important than Fitbits. With a flexible and exciting approach to environmental design, users will have the choice between a personal experience or one that creates a healthy sense of togetherness in reconnecting us to nature.


Communities have been increasingly moving outdoors over the past few decades and that trend is now accelerating as people develop new preferences and usage for open spaces. The parks of tomorrow will be those that anticipate the new outdoor-friendly movement and respond with wellness enhancements that make those places more welcoming and rewarding than ever before. As partners in building a ‘well’ world, let’s keep the momentum moving forward. For more information reach out to us at [email protected].

Biophilic Design

Your parents were right – you do need to get outside. According to estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency, humans spend over 90% of their lives indoors. No surprise, then, that much of design is dedicated to interiors, or that discussions about integrating nature into built environments typically center around ‘bringing the outdoors in.’ As landscape architects, planners, and designers of the future, EDSA’s role is to do the opposite: Thoughtfully connect interior elements to the great outdoors in ways that seem sensible, yet innovative – creative, yet comfortable – and in doing so transform projects from mere ‘plantings’ into benchmarks of biophilic design that people want to be a part of.


For outdoor design to be truly biophilic, it requires more than adding a dash of green here, a burbling water feature there. Rather, it is the art of intertwining organic and manmade elements so that they coexist in harmony with one another and lure people to experience them. Animated through patterns, hardscape, foliage and materiality, as well as a combination of direct and indirect lighting and ventilation components, EDSA’s formula for successful biophilic design draws upon multiple sensory layers to seamlessly connect people, the indoors, and the surrounding natural environment.


Rooftop gardens, green walls, or the simple curvature of a site furnishing are among many aesthetic elements of biophilic design. But, to create these networks of restorative spaces, designers must inherently understand the physical, psychological, and social comforts associated with landscape architecture. The white noise of chirping birdsong, the salty spray of the ocean, or the mesmerizing ripples of natural wood can all subtlety evoke memories that build instinctual connections and establish the framework for places where people want to be.


For EDSA, biophilic design begins with a deep understanding of the eco-systems at work on a site, followed by the incorporation of sustainably produced, local materials; the highlighting of viewsheds to emphasize particular sights and scenes; and designing with nature’s textures and colors. Result? Studies have shown that biophilic design leads to quicker patient recovery and respite in healthcare centers, more receptive learning on educational campuses, boosts in purchasing at retail spaces, and increased workplace activity all around.

As buildings grow into connected micro-destinations and prioritizing the pedestrian experience becomes commonplace, biophilic design helps facilitate more comprehensive placemaking strategies to ensure that the changing world has access and availability to resilient, purposeful, and flourishing outdoor spaces. Now, who’s up for a walk?





Designer Perspectives


EDSA designers share their points of view on our role within the creative community.

Scott LaMont on the urbanization of city centers:

“Thoughtful cityscape planning and design creates functional, fun, connected, engaging and socially equitable spaces. Our designs must address how to bring people together, what activity is possible within the public realm, and how we, as landscape architects are influencing positive experiences for individuals and the collective community.”



Tandis Hamidzadeh on client relationships:

“Every successful project begins with mutual respect and a collaborative partnership. When an agreement is signed, we join our client’s team and do everything necessary to bring their intellectual ideals to fruition. With open communication as a central tenet, we come to the drawing table with an open mind, ready to conceive, create and deliver desirable projects that become hallmarks for positive experiences.”


Pablo Massari on designing for net positive energy:

“We need to reverse the paradigm and design for land use that contributes to the environment rather than minimizes impact. Considerations for more efficient mobility systems, power generation and distribution of excess capacity, water harvesting and re-use, heat gain control, food sourcing, waste management and recycling all play a significant role in our ability to contribute to a more resilient future. The design community has pledged to apply best practices that lead to more responsible land development, but not burdening the community around you is everyone’s responsibility.”


Robert Jackson on corporate responsibility:

“There is an incredible synergy that develops when you donate your time to, say, constructing homes with Habitat for Humanity, or feeding in-need neighbors. These remarkable opportunities to give back are part of something bigger than oneself. It is a corporate-lead social awareness and responsibility for everyone to engage in building stronger and healthier communities. EDSA’s vision is to create a better world and I’m forever grateful to be a part of that both inside and outside of the office.”


Lei Xiao on choosing to be a landscape architect:

“With a creative eye and environmental awareness, landscape architects design to improve everyday life. My process allows for ecological and social principles to inform how a design takes shape and utilizes the dynamics of land forms as a fundamental design element. With each project, I remain fascinated by the integration of natural systems working in harmony with the built environment to present opportunities for people to create an emotional connection to place.

Message from President – Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Dear Colleagues,

At EDSA, we are passionate about the health and wellness of our employees, our clients and the communities in which we serve. As we face the challenges of responding appropriately to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), we want to share with you the preemptive measures we are implementing.

EDSA established a task force several weeks ago that continues to monitor the situation. We are tracking information provided daily by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO). Based on their recommendations, we have made the decision to transition to a remote workplace environment.

Our robust technologies, network capacity and digital platforms will allow us to achieve the highest degree of collaboration for uninterrupted progress on projects. All of our employees are well versed in the programs and tools needed to ensure service continuity and to mitigate disruptions during the design and implementation of your project. In addition, we have established health protocols for our employees that include heightened personal hygiene and sanitization as well as health screening if they are experiencing any symptoms. To reinforce safe behavior, we have further instituted restrictions on travel, we are limiting in-person meetings and are postponing large-scale events.

During this unprecedented time, we wish to remind everyone that emotional wellness is just as important as physical well-being. We encourage you to continue to find ways to connect with family and friends. Make a phone call, video chat, spend time with your children and enjoy a movie night in with your family.

Thank you for your continued trust in EDSA. Stay healthy and please stay in touch.


Douglas C. Smith, President & Principal


The Charrette Process

“Uncovering the unexplored starts with an unbridled creative freedom – that initial blue sky phase where no ideas are off the table – that’s what a successful charrette feels like.” – John Allyn, Vice President

By definition, a charrette is an intense collaborative session in which designers, stakeholders, citizens, and clients draft a vision and direction for development. This collective sense of understanding and investment amongst the group then carries through to project implementation, making the early stages more than lines on paper, but an adventure in which all participate. Here are the 10 steps for a successful charrette.



1. Pre-Charrette Team Assembly – A multi-disciplinary, cross-functional team is assembled based on experience and ability to study and resolve the planning and design issues at hand.

2. Pre-Charrette Inventory Mapping and Research – Prior to the workshop, the team reviews aerial photographs, regional conditions, topography, existing infrastructure, cultural context, as well as any environmental reports and applicable market studies. A physical analysis of the site’s existing conditions is also evaluated using GIS for slope and elevation references that serve as a working base.

3. Kick-Off – The on-site session commences with team members working directly with client groups to comprehensively assess project feasibility, generate initial concepts and define a vision for development. With all the players in place, cost and time constraints are explored and the need for the any additional allied professionals is defined.

4. Site Reconnaissance – Measurements are taken to locate unique site details, inventory of existing flora and fauna, along with establishing a familiarity with topography, adjacent land uses and an overall sense of place.  This is also an opportunity to field truth assumptions against researched data and test the information against observed conditions.

blank5. Analysis – Building on the foundational research, direct observation and development feasibility are synthesized into a conceptual program that identifies opportunities and constraints of the site. The combining of early expectations and quantifiable metrics allows for the evaluation of alternative design strategies.

6. Strategy – Balancing client needs, consumer preferences and market demand discussions center on project vision, design character and program elements.

7. Ideation – Design strategies that align with the client’s philosophy and  ‘fit’ the site from an environmental, social and economic perspective are proposed in this highly creative phase through a series of drawings and vignettes.

8. Presentation – This stage consists of the explanation, evolution, and evaluation of progressing  ideas and alternatives. There may be multiple presentations and reviews at key intervals during the charette process in order to keep the design process fluid.

blank9. Refinement – Upon review of the various design solutions, consensus for a preferred concept (or concepts) is selected for refinement and will serve as the creative basis for the design work to follow.

10. Post Charrette – Once the charrette is complete, a packaged booklet of plans, diagrams, supporting sketches, sections and elevations serve as reference for all future development phases.

The charrette process is effective not only because it marries local knowledge, concerns, and values with outside expertise, but because it provides a deeper understanding of the people for whom we design, the atmospheres they seek, and the experiences they crave.



The world has proven to be a surprisingly fast-paced, ever-shifting environment. For the first time in history, Americans are spending more money at restaurants than at grocery stores. A growing number of travelers are using private accommodation services and leaving high-end resorts in the past. Rideshare services have become mainstream modes of public transportation. And, online purchases have jumped from 22% to 80% in just six years, contributing to the mall apocalypse. With new trends morphing every day, we’ve shortlisted a few that are significantly influencing our profession, the design industry and human experience.





As governments begin to enforce safer, more sustainable land use and infrastructure, designing for climate change has rapidly moved from discretionary to imperative. At macro levels, damaged ecologies and economies are forcing a new wave of climate migration refugees. On micro levels, site specific responses are needed to address increasing temperatures and flash storm events. Among allied professionals, the fusing of science and design is necessary to combat these challenges.



As “foodie culture” continues to rise, so too do urban green markets, which have increased by 400% since the new millennium, as well as food co-ops with their 1.3 million members. These “pop-up” environments are linking city dwellers to organic farming and healthier living at unprecedented rates – opening doors for new platforms such as greenhouses and communal chicken coups.


The rise of live/work/play environments is no longer limited to urban hubs. Growth of second-tier and emerging cities affords investors and developers a greater return on their dollars and with greater profit margins in place, they can explore consumer preferences for lower-density buildings, greater land allocation to green space and more community-centric design. Designers involved in envisioning this new “hipsturbia” must find the delicate balance between metropolitan conveniences, connectivity and suburban space splendor.



High-design hotels are capitalizing on the growing co-working phenomenon by tapping into the public’s need for dynamic spaces for work, study and socialization. Increasingly set within hospitality environments, digital nomads are drawn to a new generation of meeting spaces and quality amenities, generating profitable revenue streams and nurturing freelance communities.



Self-driving cars, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and 3D printing – computers are shaping the way we live. Technology has become so pervasive in contemporary living that it is practically inescapable. Planning and design alternatives are creating a nexus for people, services, devices and experiences with consideration for high-speed communications, wireless networking, data bandwidth and built-in connectivity in the early conceptual design phase.


Time marches on for the 65 and older population and the design ramifications are numerous. As they have throughout their lifetimes, this generational group has far-reaching influence on housing alternatives, accessibility to services and public transit giving rise to residential offerings within proximity to commercial districts. Cross-generational design is providing a ‘second act’ for many retirees, strengthening the neighborhood fabric further with committed, local constituents.


Looked at individually, each trend has the potential to drive a substantial change for both people and the environment. We see a direct correlation between each component and consider them fuel for forward momentum. It is the nature of our work to not only be aware of fluctuating influences and trends, but weave them into the fabric of our firm-wide approach and methodology. For more information, contact us at [email protected].


Prioritizing People

Based on data from UN Desa, large metropolitan areas continue to perform well. Representing less than one-third of the global population, major cities produce more than 55% of all economic output worldwide. As such, trends in urban design are geared towards features that put people first – prioritizing pedestrian linkages and establishing public spaces that serve as a stage for everyday life.

Dating back to the 1920’s, avenues and boulevards served as meeting places for commerce, conversation and childhood play. But the rise of automobiles led to safety concerns, and soon, curbs, crosswalks and traffic lights were introduced creating barriers between people and place. In the decades that followed, widened streets became dominated by cars, limiting routes and resources for walking, alternative public transportation and community socialization.

Over half a century later, a surge in urban life and its associated economic developments ushered in a new era of design, returning spaces to rising pedestrian populations – a trend that continues to strengthen city centers. As proof that people thrive in areas with high connectivity, accessibility and circulation, approximately 84% of the U.S. populous currently reside in urban environments, up from 64% in 1950, according to the UN Population Division. And, city migration growth is anticipated to continue. With a projection of 89% urbanization by 2050, planners, architects and designers are collaborating to implement balanced street settings, or complete streets, which support inclusive design for people of all ages and abilities.



The framework for healthy urban communities is contingent upon initiatives like complete streets and road diets that prioritize pedestrians and connect comprehensive networks of walkways, trails, and bike paths with parks, public transportation and community amenities. By incorporating a holistic approach to roadway design, cities are reimagining their streets as destinations. From building face to building face and everything in between, the pairing of complete streets and road diets allows for the redistribution of outdoor spaces, creating a continued equilibrium between people, place and transport.

From pavers and benches to light poles and parking, the prevailing priority is to create safe, functional and beautiful outdoor environments with a cohesive palette of design features. For example, natural buffers, trees, shrubs and planters shield people from traffic, while spacing of crosswalks synchronized with light posts creates a symmetrical repetition from below and above. In addition, traffic calming measures such as curb extensions and landscape bump-outs establish visual guides to inspire a slower vehicular pace to accommodate pedestrians. Other methods include a shift in pavement patterns and color schemes to guide visitors to their arrival point, such as mass transit pullout zones.


With limited space for new infrastructure, city streets are narrowing to offer a plethora of pedestrian uses. In some cases, roundabout traffic circles are repurposed to provide playgrounds, pop-up parks and picnic tables. These people-centric thoroughfares also provide outlets for restaurant seating and bike lanes, leading to an upsurge in streets centered on greenways and sustainability features. 

In order to accommodate the growing numbers of city dwellers predicted for the coming years, one thing is true: prioritizing pedestrian circulation, alternative modes of transportation and smart landscape elements is a viable means of creating better, more livable communities that improve social engagement, public health, recreation and local economies.

Responding to the Land: Mayakoba

Responding to the Land:

The Challenge

Sitting on 1,600 acres of ecologically-valued land, the Mayakobá resort destination required innovative planning strategies that focused on a more sustainable design approach as compared to much of what was being developed along the Cancun shoreline. In order to create a successful tourism destination that complied with the Mexican Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources 270 environmental requirements, the basic structure and functions of the fragile ecosystems were maintained through conservation and the integration of performance-based design efforts. Under this development model, preservation of environmental quality would in turn provide ecological and financial certainty to investors as well as social and economic benefits for the local population. The master plan created five hotel sites, a championship golf course and a system of freshwater lagoons and canals, along with the reforestation of mangroves and conservation of indigenous flora and fauna.

Impacts at a glance

  •  The unrivaled, culturally-sensitive Mayakobá changed the perception of hospitality along the Riviera Maya. The historically-influenced design repositioned tourism in Mexico as ecologically responsible.
  •  A multidisciplinary team of 80 specialists consisting of environmentalist, planners, architects, biologist, engineers, market analysts and golf course designers collaborated on the planning and design of Mayakobá establishing it as a new tourist development model that organically celebrates Mayan culture.
  •  In designing the resort community, an estimated $5 million was invested in research and studies to ensure the final design environmentally, technically, socially and culturally imbued authenticity.
  •  Before construction, 49 species of amphibians, birds, mammals, fish and reptiles were recorded. Currently this figure is up to 285 species. Additionally, over a 10-year period, the fauna population increased by 560%.
  •  During the initial 8-year construction span, some 228,000 plants from 40 families and 108 species were saved, documented, temporarily stored and then revegetated. Significant reforestation of landscape areas has occurred inclusive of nearly 3 million native plants that were propagated and grown right on property. The resort nursery now has about 306,000 indigenous plants to beautify Mayakobá’s unique landscape.
  •  The backbone of the environmental plan expands the natural pattern cenotes to create a connected system of canals and lagoons that improves the structure and quality of the mangrove forest and creates a high quality environmental experience for guests. The replicated ‘village of water’ is 13 kilometers in length with an average depth of 1.5 meters.
  •  In 2011 Mayakobá won the prestigious Ulysses Award from the United Nations World Tourism Organization under the Innovation in Enterprises section and garnered the award for Sustainable and Responsible Tourism Development. The resort destination has also been recognized by the Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources and the Rainforest Alliance as a benchmark environmental model for tourism in Mexico.


Unique Solutions

 EDSA, along with a team of specialists, crafted a complex ecotourism model where natural and man-made systems intertwine to complement and enhance each another. The tourism development is based upon land conservation and integration of the natural resources.

 Influenced by historic Mayans inhabitants that typically settled inland, the master plan locates infrastructure behind the coastal mangrove forest maintaining stability of biological corridors. Hotels are located in previously disturbed areas while small pockets of low impact bungalows and amenities were placed behind coastal dunes as waterfront destinations.

 Distinguished hotels are linked by a unique aquatic ecosystem for transporting guests that also offers new habitats for wildlife and relief for coastal environments. This estuarine system is naturally functioning and improves water quality.

 Utilizing special planting techniques within and among the micro-channels allowed for mangrove restoration. The more than 148 acres of mangrove forests along the coastline now provide an important refuge for nesting birds as well as shelter for hatcheries of young fish and turtles.

 The resort’s golf course is built with an impermeable sub-base of sascab which is a local material that is highly compactable. This allows direct control of both stormwater and irrigation runoff which is treated re-use water from the Waste Water Treatment Plant. Together, the constructed water channel system and assimilation of nutrients from the golf course drainage has resulted in improved mangrove structure and productivity.

 A variety of measures were implemented to ensure continued sustainability including energy saving practices, local community engagement and administration of strong and well-documented sustainability policies and procedures.

 Focused on the guest experience, each resort employs its own biologist with whom guests can explore, learn and connect with nature.

For nearly 20 years, Mayakobá has recorded net gains in every measurable category. While the development continues to evolve, the critical component to its ongoing success remains the management and monitoring of its biodiverse ecosystems and the increased environmental services they provide