SUS 8800A: Urban Plants: The Social Life of Plants

Urban Plants:​ The Social Lif​e of Plants
LAAR 65160 / Zoom / Tuesdays 2 - 4:50 pm / Fall 2020

Andrea Parker, MLA ​

Plants are the quintessential “material” of landscape architecture, but it is a commonly held conception in the horticultural world that designers know nothing about plants. This course will build skills and knowledge for designers to respectfully draw upon the expertise of professional gardeners and horticulturalists, and to connect this with an understanding of how the larger urban ecosystem ​works​, including urban design, policy, civic infrastructure, funding, phasing and maintenance. In this course, we will build bridges to understanding botany and horticulture; hone planting design skills, approach and intuition; and use analytical drawing to explore the multifaceted ways in which plants and humans connect in the urban ecosystem. The course will center on developing a design proposal for planting and maintenance in the urban public realm - students should be prepared to think, write and draw critically.

Learning Objectives:

In this course, students will gain:

  • -  A basic understanding of botany and horticulture, and knowledge of experts to consult

  • -  A broad understanding of plant / human dynamics

  • -  A broad understanding of urban habitats and plant communities

  • -  Exposure to varied approaches to documenting plants and planting plans

  • -  Advancements in their personal “Plant Intuition”. ​This is unique to each LA - there are some of us

    that may devote their careers to plants, while others will see them as a potential tool in the toolbox. Both approaches are valid and needed. What I want to see build is an understanding of when and where plants grow and thrive.


  • -  Lectures on botany and horticulture

  • -  Talking to and reading plant experts, across disciplines

  • -  Examining and diagraming plant interactions on site

  • -  Developing original planting / maintenance plan

    Site Visits

    Though the class will primarily meet remotely per CCNY guidelines, there will be 3-4 site visits that students are not required to attend in person - live video and additional office hours will be provided for students who do not attend.​ * NEED TO CONFIRM LANGUAGE WITH DEPARTMENT



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Physical Site /

Topic Virtual Site Reading Due Assignment Due

September 1

Overall Framing



All students bring found plants to class to discuss and diagram anatomy

DRAFT August 14, 2020

September 8

Intro to Botany


Cook, R. E. (1999). Do landscapes learn?

Site Selection

September 15

Intro to Horticulture

Lowlands Nursery, Gowanus /​ Live video

Guest: Diana Gruberg, Gowanus Canal Conservancy

Kimmerer, R. W. (2016). Braiding Sweetgrass. Chapter X

Virtual students bring found plants to class to propagate
Site Survey

September 22

Spontaneous Urban Plants

Guest: Nancy Seaton, Future Green Studios

Del Tredici, P. (2014). The Flora of the Future


Plant Diagrams

September 29

Plant Communities - Components, Process and Function



Plant Diagrams

October 6

Planting Design I - Connecting Site Analysis to Concept


Rainer, T., & West, C. (2015). Planting in a post-wild world: Designing plant communities for resilient landscapes. Chapter X

Plant Diagrams

October 13

Designed Landscape Maintenance

Site TBD / ​Live video
Guest: Park Area Gardener TBD



October 20

Natural Area Landscape Maintenance

Site TBD / ​Live video
Guest: Natural Area Gardener TBD



October 27

Planting Design II - Plant Selection and Specifications


Rainer, T., & West, C. Chapter X

Plant Diagrams and Site Analysis - Compiled

DRAFT August 14, 2020

November 3


Guests: Nancy Seaton, Future Green Studios Kurt Marsh, Snøhetta


Design Development

November 10

Planting Policy



Maintenance Development

November 24

Planting and Maintenance Plans I


Rainer, T., & West, C. Chapter X


November 17


Zoom Guest TBD


Design Development - Reconciliation

December 1

Planting and Maintenance Plans II




December 8 REVIEW Guest TBD Final Submission


All students will be held to high and consistent standards. Grading of student work is considered on its own merits as well as in relationship to the work of other students in the seminar, in order to make clear and appropriate distinctions regarding the range of work. The full range of the grading scale will be used. Grading is a carefully considered process and grades are not negotiable.

Reading & Participation - 20% of grade

There will be one reading per class, to help frame and focus the discussion and support your learning. You are not required to prove that you did the reading, but your participation in class will be graded, and lack of knowledge of readings noted.

Planting Analysis and Design - 80% of grade

Over the course of the semester, you will analyze and diagram planting, maintenance and social interaction with plants on a specific site in the urban public realm. You will then create a planting and maintenance plan for this site, including detailed planting plans and specifications, phasing, cost estimates, and connection to municipal policy and funding. The final product will include drawings of your proposal in plan and section, a narrative describing your approach, as well as a planting schedule, cost estimates, soil specifications, phasing plans and any other necessary documentation to support your proposal. We will look at examples of each of these during class.

Planting Analysis and Design Site Selection

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DRAFT August 14, 2020

Deliverable: aerial image of the site

Find a site in the public realm with existing plants that you can easily access through the course of the semester. This could be a front yard garden, a street, a series of blocks, a community garden, a park, a parking lot, or another landscape that is regularly visited or viewed by the general public. You will need to regularly visit and interact with the site, so be sure to select a place you can easily access, and won’t get bored of. As we move through the semester, you may expand or shrink the scale, but you will need to stay committed to this site, so choose wisely.

Site Survey

Deliverable: drawing

An initial drawing in plan, section and/or axon that describes the existing plants found on site, and any other information (buildings, streets, infrastructure) that is important to understanding these plants. We will continue to build on this drawing - make it expansive and descriptive.

Plant Diagrams

Deliverable: 5-6 drawings per week

Create a collection of 15-18 diagrammatic sketches that analyze and describe the social/ecological systems of individual plants or plant communities on site - do these drawings on site, or document conditions and draw at home. The drawing should include, at minimum:

  • ●  visual depiction of the plant and its environs

  • ●  the scientific name and common name(s) of the plant,

  • ●  representation of physical, temporal and social factors contributing to, or detracting from,

    the plant’s survival and growth.
    You may use the same representation technique, or experiment across this exercise - the intent is to find your voice in respect to understanding and communicating how plants live, grow and thrive. Submissions will be graded on content, technique and demonstrated growth.


    Deliverable: bubble diagram in plan and/or section and a written thesis paragraph

    Using your initial site survey and what you have learned from the plants you’ve diagrammed, what is your vision for this site? What would improve ecosystem function, human experience, provision of habitat, beauty? Does this require new planting, hardscape renovation or a different maintenance regime? How would this benefit the local community (and define the local community)? Draft a thesis for your vision, including a bubble diagram in plan and/or section and a written paragraph describing your intent. Bubble should depict areas that address your thesis, which could include plant communities, height, maintenance regime, etc.


    Deliverable: budget spreadsheet and written paragraph

    Use provided resources to scope the budget for your vision. How would this happen? Identify potential funding sources, city initiatives, community organizations that would support your vision, or propose them if they don’t exist.

    Design Development

    Deliverable: Schematic planting plan and elevations

    Build out your bubble diagram into a schematic plan, including depiction of spacing, species, materials and other relevant details. ​Resources

DRAFT August 14, 2020

Maintenance Development

Deliverable: Overlays on schematic plans / elevations and written paragraph

What are the ongoing maintenance needs to achieve this vision? What do these plants need to survive? How about the hardscape? Think about weeding, watering, pruning, plant replacement, trash removal. Identify who will carry this maintenance out, and what funding will be needed.

Design Development (Reconciliation)

Deliverable: Detailed planting and maintenance plan

Using what you’ve learned, build a pragmatic and visionary plan.

Design Development Scoping

Deliverable: Detailed plant and material schedule with sourcing / pricing

Edits to the plan after the review, and a revised plant and material schedule

Final Submission

The document should include all work to date, formatted to describe your process, conclusions, and proposal.


There will be no grade of “Incomplete” given for a course, except in the case of a documented medical reason or a family emergency. An appeal for an “Incomplete” will be reviewed by the course instructor, the Chair of the School of Architecture, and the Director of the Landscape Architecture Program.

Attendance and timely submission of assignments:

Attendance is mandatory at all scheduled classes. Late arrivals and early departures from class will reduce your course grade. The only excused absences are those for reasons of health or crisis, and must be justified with written documentation (a note from a doctor, the Chair of the School of Architecture, or the Director of the Landscape Architecture Program). Any other absence from seminar, including those in which the professor is notified via email by the student about an absence, will be considered an unexcused absence. Per the Graduate Bulletin, more than TWO unexcused absences in a semester (over 13% of total class time) will result in a failing grade of WU (Withdrew Unofficially). Grades will be reduced for assignments submitted late, and these may not be reviewed at the discretion of the instructor. The name(s) of individuals and/or groups should be clearly indicated on all assignments.

Academic Integrity

Please review the CUNY Policy on Academic Integrity, adopted by the City College of New York in July 2011. Academic dishonesty, defined within this Policy, is prohibited at The City University of New York and is punishable by penalties, including failing grades, suspension, and expulsion. All violations of this Policy will be reported to the Office of Academic Integrity.… licy/

​Grading Standards
The result of a student’s work in any course completed will be expressed by one of the following grades. This schedule conforms to the City College of New York’s 2019-2020 Graduate Bulletin:

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DRAFT August 14, 2020

Grade Points A+

A- B+ B B- C+ C F

Interpretation (refers to class performance)

Rare, near perfect achievement Exceptional
High caliber

Satisfactory Below average Not satisfactory Poor

Failure / Unsuccessful Completion of Course


4.00 4.00

3.70 3.30 3.00 2.70

2.30 2.00


NOTE:​ Students will not receive credit for this course if their final grade is less than 2.0. In accordance with the City College of New York Graduate Bulletin, a student with a grade point average below 3.0 cannot receive a Master’s Degree.