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Quarterly News - 2016 Issue 1

letter from the president


Happy early 2016!

I hope you are enjoying this cold weather snap. Even though outdoor construction might slow down a bit in this season, landscape architecture firms are busy and things seem to be picking up. With the promise of a wet year ahead thanks to El Nino, let’s continue thinking about storm water run off and site grading. Let’s continue to be the stewards of the environment by creating resilient, yet not rigid, landscapes. Let’s keep involving ourselves in urban design and urban planning to contribute to vibrant neighborhoods and livable places. Landscape architecture is after all about making places better and we are greatly positioned to do so.

Last year was a great year, leaving big shoes to fill.  NMASLA organized a successful Multi-Modal event in Santa Fe in recognition of the New Mexico Complete Streets Day, received another national award for New Mexico as the Advocacy Chapter of the Year, and hosted the national Advocacy Summit in Albuquerque.  Also, the PARKing Day parklet built by MLA students received national attention from ASLA, we had an amazing turn out at the Pop Up Playground event with ACE High School, and toured Carlito Hot Springs. But looking ahead of us, I believe 2016 will be just as exciting.  I dare say even more so with the following events planned:

  • In February, we will celebrate New Mexico Complete Streets Day. We will once again head up to Santa Fe to meet with the legislature for the recognition of the importance of streets designed for multiple users.
  • April, the World Landscape Architecture Month, will bring lot of local and national celebrations, one of them being our popular Multi-Modal Event.
  • In May, several members of the Executive Committee will be heading to Washington DC for Advocacy Day. NMASLA annually advocates on behalf of landscape architects to our federal representatives. In New Mexico, we have built a strong relationship with our elected officials but we need to keep pushing for legislation benefiting not only landscape architects, but everyone.
  • This summer’s field trip is preliminarily planned to the Manhattan Project site at Los Alamos, which was recently recognized as a National Historical Park. The park focuses not only on the complex legacy of the Manhattan Project but also on American science, technology, and industry.
  • August has been a traditional Golf Tournament and Expo month for over twenty years! Whether you are a golfer or not, come join us for this fun experience, with prizes, food, drinks, product demos from our wonderful sponsors, and… golfing. Would you really want to miss a day outdoors with your friends, in ridiculous and absurd costumes, driving a golf cart?
  • Look for another Pop Up Playground event in the early fall. Unstructured play is being more and more recognized as an important tool for childhood development and NMASLA is happy to provide this opportunity.
  • And finally, 2016 is our design awards year, so in December we will recognize the best of the best in New Mexico landscape architecture. This event happens every five years and it is our major Gala event. Project entries will be divided into multiple categories, and call for entries is open to all NMASLA members. So if you are a member, start thinking about what projects to submit and start photographing them so the judges have a chance to see the finished landscapes in multiple seasons.

NMASLA will continue its fruitful collaboration with MLA students at the School of Architecture and Planning at UNM. Some of the jointly planned events include an LARE workshop, portfolio review, PARKing Day, and a Student Professional Mixer. The students’ enthusiastic energy helps refresh our events and we value their commitment to NMASLA.

Many thanks to the Executive Committee for all the hard work they put into making NMASLA such a vibrant and exciting chapter. Many thanks to all our sponsors, without which our events would not have had that certain panache that we have come to expect as the NMASLA standard. We all appreciate their contribution. And of course, many thanks to all the friends of NMASLA who continue to be involved in our chapter.

If you have any concerns, questions, comments or ideas how to make NMASLA better, don’t hesitate to contact me. Visit our website often for information about any of the upcoming events, follow us on Facebook, or sign up for our newsletter here.  And as always, if you want to be involved in planning any of the above mentioned events, we would love to have you on board!

Let’s have another great year!

Jitka Dekojova

project profile - casa feliz

Christie Green - Landscape Designer
Amy Bell - Irrigation Designer + PLA

A year ago, I was thrilled to be invited to participate in the conceptual design of Casa Feliz, a progressive, low income housing development spearheaded by the Greater Albuquerque Housing Partnership (GAHP). At the outset of the project I asked, "Can we design outside the box and offer something excitingly alternative, not just business as usual?". Indeed, that's what we did.
Along with the talented and tenacious Mark Wade, Dave Aube, Emily Brudenell, Victor Munoz and others at Design Group, Amy and I offered a comprehensive landscape design to complement the architectural and engineering vision. After an intense month of design development, we submitted the design to the NM Mortgage Finance Authority Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) Design Competition. We were awarded Second Place of 16 in the competition and proceeded with construction drawings in early summer 2015.
The project complements and leverages the existing 68-unit Plaza Feliz project developed by GAHP in 2012. The "urban village" of Casa Feliz, for residents with special needs, will be a scattered site of thirteen (13) buildings located on ten (10) separate lots which totals just over 5.5acres, 0.25 miles south of the Central Avenue Corridor, 0.25 miles east of Louisiana Boulevard and 0.75 miles west of Wyoming Boulevard. This multi-family development will be 100% affordable for all residents. Twenty percent (20%) of the units will reserved for households with special needs and at least ten percent ( 10%) of the total units in the project will be rent restricted at 30 percent of area median income.

Regenerative Design
So what's so special about the landscape design? As an alternative to gravel mulch and the usual plant suspects, this enlivened landscape of edibles and interactive features, nourished by as much passively harvested water as possible, compost and organic mulch - generates life. Outdoor living spaces of beauty, integrity and regenerative life-giving elements are essential for constituents of all means and income levels. Integrity, resilience and beauty are for everyone, not just the privileged. Our goal is for each building and lot to provide something beautiful and special to welcome residents home and strengthen community ties.

Personalized Features
Planted with ornamental grasses of texture and sculptural form, custom crafted steel front porch planters provide soft boundaries between public and private space, deck porch rail planters offer opportunity for residents to grow bloom, scent and food while backyards, enclosed by CMU walls, offer a soft Buffalo grass surface for leisure. We're trying a sort of living wall, with the tops of CMU blocks planted with native succulents to soften and cool hard edges and surfaces. Imagine the entire length of CMY backyard walls springing to life with native succulents and groundcovers such as Sedum cockerellii, Antennaria rosea and Sedum dasyphylum.

Community Features
All parking areas will have permeable surfaces of base course and sunken planters for heirloom fruit trees and native flowering and fruiting shrubs, offering food for humans and wildlife. Community gathering spaces offer a raspberry patch for picking and playing, a steel trellis at "Plaza Arbol" with climbing and cascading grape vines for shade and food, xeric turf alternative "Reveille" for the "Plaza Campo" playing field and heirloom fruit trees and moveable pop-up umbrellas at the community center's "Plaza Flor". Vibrantly colored Vitriturf play areas at "Plaza Jugar" along with raised planters for perennial edibles offer opportunities for multi-generational and special needs access, recreation, socializing and sustenance; picnic tables, benches and bike racks complement each community space and residential building.
To soften and enliven the buildings, we designed trellises for vertical gardens up facades of each unit, planted with native Clematis ligusticifolia with pale blue spring bloom, summer green and winter seed head interest.

Water and Soil
With the average street tree dying in less than 20 years, higher year-round temperatures, increased heat island effect and erosive southwest soils, we wanted to provide ingredients for resilience - a living system reflecting the life of the people and surrounding areas rather than standard, sub-par "auto pilot" landscapes of hardness, heat and neglect. All Casa Feliz planting beds harvest water passively from adjacent sidewalks and impermeable surfaces; water collects in artful downspout steel troughs into bioswales. Compost and shredded bark mulch cool, build soil and help water percolate. Trees are seeded with native perennial wildflower understory to help cool roots, attract pollinators, offer bloom and scent and help soften the erosive impact of monsoon deluges. The irrigation infrastructure is all sub-surface drip with pop-up spray in Buffalo and Reveille grass areas.
All parking areas are densely planted with native flowering and fruiting, multi-trunk shrubs such as Mahonia haematocarpa, Forestiera neomexicana and Rhus aromatica. Many of the spaces in between parking lots and edibles include diverse, deeply rooted native grasses that provide year-round interest, screening and habitat while building soil. The intent is to provide as much species diversity, density, food and function as possible with little maintenance required; sculptural form, bark, fruit, deep roots and leaves offer multiple ecological and aesthetic benefits.

Although we strongly advocated for wastewater reuse where grey and black water would be the primary irrigation source for non-edible landscape elements, the costs and City review hurdles posed challenges beyond the scope of this project. There are certainly local precedents for wastewater reuse so we hope to include these as standard practice in the very near future.
My steadfast consultant, confidante and advisor, Amy Bell, was an integral design team participant. As one of my previous instructors at UNM, I knew Amy had a wealth of experience in these types of developments and could offer keen insight into and feedback about the design elements that may be tricky to implement, as well as creative and water-conserving irrigation infrastructure and general design oversight.
We landscaped 37% of the net lot area for the development (while the City of ABQ requires 15%), offering cooler, softer, shadier and livelier outdoor spaces conducive to gathering, playing, eating and cultivating food. The intimate, personal spaces in front and behind each residence allows personal sanctuary and respite as well as opportunity to customize planters.

The construction documents are being reviewed by the City of Albuquerque; construction bids have been submitted and are being reviewed; we hope to break ground by the end of January.
Charles and I have kept in touch about this project and another feisty one up the GAHP sleeve, so stay tuned for modular on the near horizon. For now, we'll keep you posted as we perform landscape construction oversight as Casa Feliz comes to life!

This kind of systems approach might beg the question “how will this be maintained?” If it’s outside of the ‘standard’ xeriscape approach, won’t it be messy and difficult to care for? We are optimistic that this project will show that this kind of alternative approach to landscaping in the public realm is just as easy to maintain, while providing more ecological benefit and meaningful practice in the long run. We understand and anticipate that maintenance will not be more difficult, it will just be different. Instead of ‘blow and go’, maintenance staff can let the leaves lay where they fall. Natural plant forms replace gumdrops and ping pong balls, drastically reducing pruning and spraying time. Residents can grow closer to their food source and the rhythms of the seasons by learning how to prune, harvest, and maintain their fruit trees and raspberry patches. We believe that this type of shift in maintenance training and thinking is critical for encouraging community stewardship and fostering overall health and well-being.

Send comments to Christie at

Upcoming events

Think Trees - An Urban Tree Care Conference

February 4 & 5, Albuquerque

Click here to register.

The roving table: community gathering, family-style

Tables naturally bring people together to share food, tell stories or work out differences, to name a few. Presented by Women in Design: New Mexico and UNM School of Architecture & Planning, this large-scale table of reclaimed materials will move around the city, offering a surprising invitation for community exchange.
Saturday, March 5, 5 – 8p // Harwood Art Center
Spring & Summer // Albuquerque Civic Plaza

2016 Land & Water Summit

February 25 & 26, Albuquerque

Click here to register.

The asla membership cup 2016!

ASLA Chapters across the country have been challenged to grow their membership in 2016.

Your new or renewal membership could help us achieve the highest percentage growth and bragging rights.

Click here to learn why membership in ASLA can be one of the most important career investments you can make.

save the date

Thursday, February 11th is "Complete Streets Day" in New Mexico!  NMASLA members will be gathering at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe to find partners in statewide Complete Streets legislation in 2016, and to educate our lawmakers about what landscape architects to.  If you can spare an hour to help, contact Rob Loftis at  

Our successful Q1 Event, Multi-modal Extravaganza, will return in late April.  Stay tuned for more info in the coming weeks...

APS-CNM Bond Election

Early voting is underway now through January 30th for the Albuquerque Public Schools Bond Election.  The election is Tuesday, February 2nd.  Click here for a list of voting sites and an overview of the $575-million in capital improvement projects.