CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At the recent West Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association meeting, design guru Matthew Urbanski of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates of New York and Massachusetts, described some of the large-scale projects he's done.
The firm, with a staff of 65, has worked on such assignments as the master plans for Brooklyn Bridge Park and Wellesley College, the redesign of Pennsylvania Avenue at the White House and, closer to us, the Allegheny Riverfront Park in Pittsburgh.
Echoing the lament of many landscape designers, Urbanski gave his take on working with clients.
"No one notices the design, they just notice the maintenance," he said to an appreciative audience.
Urbanski attended Harvard in the late 1980s, so a project to renovate Harvard Yard starting in 1993 was close to his heart. The elm trees lining the historic square were iconic and beloved, and, like those at many other college campuses, were dying of Dutch Elm disease.
"We replanted with a diversity of trees that could be pruned into an elm-like tree," he said. "We also worked with T Fleisher to introduce all organic maintenance." Fleisher, director of horticulture at Battery Park City Parks Conservancy, is known throughout the country as a specialist in managing public spaces organically.
The Allegheny Riverfront Park was a particularly challenging project for Urbanski.
"There are two parks: one down on the river that often floods, and one up by the city," he said. He showed photos of how the area for the lower park was enlarged using steel beams jutting over the river's edge, and the upper park was formed through the relocation of a 50-foot-wide traffic median in Fort Duquesne Boulevard.
One comment caught my attention and made me think Pittsburgh must be a wealthier city than Charleston. Urbanski said the flooding along the river made the light fixtures "almost sacrificial" in that they could be wiped out by flowing water. That's a very different approach to landscaping than I take, for certain!
To dye or not to dye
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