Joy Kuebler Landscape Architect, PC (JKLA) is now celebrating its 13th year in business. What is especially significant about this achievement is that when Joy Kuebler first get her start in the green landscape industry, it might as well have been the Stone Ages (at least in Buffalo). At the time, there was no consideration for the environment. Parking lots were simply places to park – wall to wall asphalt with no thought about plantings or water retention. The scary thing is that there are still developers in Buffalo who could give a darn about sustainability, because usually the grounds of a project are an afterthought. Some others that do pay attention to designing green grounds usually end up skimping in the end, as budget cutting comes to the table. And then there are the rockstars who make it a point to take sustainability measures seriously, from start to finish.
Fortunately for Buffalo, Joy cut her teeth on plenty of projects along the way, and has been a driving force in greening this city – a city that was once called The City of Trees. “For many building teams, they ask why trees are so important because they will die anyways,” Joy told me [laughing]. “That’s because for generations Buffalo has been building projects and then relegating plantings to tiny concrete cutouts near the street where the trees are sure to die. To them, that’s the only thing they know, so they don’t see why they should waste their time and money. We try to show them that by building water retention systems into the design (the grounds), the trees and plants will naturally get watered and will thrive. Then the project looks great, we add to the urban tree canopy, and people have a place to get out of the rain, or the hot sun. Even the buildings look nicer.”
I have always been fascinated by Joy’s work (and her team of eight). She was recently retained by a development team at RiverWorks to draw up a plan for some of their expansive grounds. If all goes according to plan, RiverWorks will strike gold because Joy is a mastermind at creating green parking that doubles as habitats for people. “When the cars aren’t there, it’s important that the parking lot is a multipurpose environmentally sensitive space,” she said. “Stormwater management and plantings are integral to the design. We can create great outdoor spaces that are inviting and look appealing. There are plenty of natural elements that can be incorporated into these types of industrial grounds that can help to transform places, and open people’s minds about what is possible.”
What’s interesting about Joy and her work, is that all of the different initiatives that she explores should be common sense. Nobody really likes asphalt with giant puddles that collect on rainy days. They don’t like kayaking in waters that are polluted with oily rain water runoff. People prefer attractive green spaces, and fresh water sources. The design elements that she brings to the table are age old ideas that somewhere, somehow, got discarded and left by the wayside. Only today are we really started thinking about how people feel about spaces, and how they interact with them. Gone are the days of simply laying down asphalt, parking cars, and calling it a day… hopefully. When it’s hard to figure out where the parking lot ends, and where the beer garden begins, then we have truly achieved Place Making 101.
Compared to when she first got her start, Joy, her team, and Buffalo, are now making some great strides when it comes to landscape architecture. At the same time, there are cities that are way ahead of us, and ahead of the curve. It’s true. But we are finally starting to get it. There are some builders, architects and developers that understand the importance of green landscaping. Recently Joy was engaged by the UB School of Medicine. She was teamed up with HOK Architects, in order to come up with a plan for the grounds. While she says that it was a prosperous project for her firm, some of the ideas got cut at the end due to financial restraints. When a project is over budget, one can pretty much count on the grounds taking the heaviest hits. Still, there were important greening efforts that made it off of the plans and into the project.
When Joy is not working on a big project, she’s usually busy drumming up some fun ideas for pop-up parks (above – see here). She calls this reflective time ‘tactical urban intervention’. That’s when you can see her wheels turning fast – the results are nothing short of magical.
JKLA has recently been involved in the Niagara Street Gateway Project, phases 1 and 2. She says that the most influential part of her work will be seen between Maryland and Porter, which is “… a very complicated stretch of green infrastructure, incorporating rocks and trees. The project is under construction at the moment.
Other projects that her team has been involved with revolve around converting brownfields into productive lands. “These lands have been marginalized for generations,” Joy explained. “It’s our job to engage the community through interacting with the host communities. We want them to be a part of the land’s future. This will be where they gather to socialize and play. We are showing people how to get involved, and how to re-envision the future.”
How do we engage underserved communities? How do we clean up desolate parcels of land? How do we make them interesting, artistic, green and fun? Joy has worked on numerous place making initiatives in Buffalo, and is currently working on a brownfield site in Niagara Falls where she is transposing much of what she has learned via pop-up place making efforts. After all, a neighborhood is what you make out of. Some people see blight, where others see opportunity. Joy is in the latter faction.
As if all of this was not enough, Joy is considering investing in a 17,000 square foot, circa 1930 lumber warehouse in North Tonawanda with her partner architect. if the deal goes through, the two will be turning the building into a sustainable Class A commercial office building, and carving out a considerable amount of space for their growing business.
The new office digs wouldbode well for Joy and her team. It’s also a big deal for Buffalo, which will continue to reap the green rewards. After all, what is best for the environment is best for a city. Unfortunately, that was not always the case. Developers often times only see one type of green, and that’s unfortunate. The other, purer form of green, is the one that benefits us all. That’s the green that Joy has now been preaching for 13 years.
Joy Kuebler photo: KC Kratt