Schoolyards should have trees and other living things

Andrew H. Wilson Charter School courtyard, New Orleans, LA. Image courtesy of Pavestone Company.

Ironically, as I was preparing to post Amy Lindemuth’s piece on landscapes in prisons last week, I came across an article in Landscape Architect and Specifier News that had a picture of what looks like a rather bleak prison courtyard with no trees or other vegetation, just a two-toned paving grid. ‘How sad,’ I thought, ‘We still have such a long way to go.’  And then I realized that the people in the photo weren’t prisoners, they were children! Children at an elementary school in New Orleans, Louisiana. So here’s my Letter to the Editor.  As I say at the end of the letter, to me this is an example of failure, not success. Fingers crossed that they print it, and fingers crossed that this type of design is a dying breed.

Letter to the Landscape Architect and Specifier News Editor regarding “Another Brick in the Wall.”

When I first saw the feature image for Bruce Soileau’s article on the new Andrew H. Wilson Charter School courtyard (“Another Brick in the Wall”), I thought I was seeing a prison courtyard, and my heart sank at the huge expanse of paving with no plant material or any other kind of shade in sight.  Even inmates deserve some relief from paving, no matter how “interesting” the pattern (and the visual interest of the two-tone pattern here is debatable). When I realized I was looking at a newly designed courtyard for an elementary school, my sadness turned to anger. When a school gets a chunk of disaster recovery money, this is the best they can do? I understand that the school, not the designers, set the program. They wanted their large interior courtyard to be paved “entirely except for four planters that were installed” (of which there are no pictures in the article). What a shame. What an incredible missed opportunity to do something truly green and sustainable – for the planet, and for the children and teachers at this school.

This is New Orleans. How many months of the year will this courtyard be unusable due to extreme heat, glare and danger of sunburn? Even if no other plant material had been used, trees in this courtyard would have provided much-needed shade for people using the courtyard as well as for the building. Trees, in addition to providing green life, reduce the heat island effect significantly.

I wish someone had given the school administrators and the architects and landscape architects (if there were any) Sharon Danks’ new book Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation and Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods before the design program was established. And I wish that someone had pointed them to the Children & Nature Network ( and the Therapeutic Landscapes Network ( for a stack of read the rest of this post, please link to the Therapeutic Landscapes Network Blog.

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Comment by Naomi Sachs, ASLA, EDAC on January 10, 2011 at 1:21pm
Sorry for the weird formatting on this. I tried and tried to put the text next to and wrapping the image, to no avail!

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