One-Star Certified Pilot Project

Location: Ithaca, New York
Project Size: 0.134 acres
Project Type: Educational / Institutional
Site Context: Urban
Former Land Use: Greyfield
Terrestrial Biome: Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests
Budget: $19,247
photo by: Nina Bassuk

Project Overview

Mann Library is located on the Agriculture quadrangle at Cornell University and houses the primary collection of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Both the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Library were interested in improving and replacing the landscape area along the entrance of Mann Library due to the impact that prior construction has had on the site.

In the fall of 2009, the "Creating the Urban Eden" class, jointly sponsored by the Departments of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, took on this site as their year-long project. The class followed the process of site assessment,design, plant selection, soil modification and installation. Designs created in the fall were evaluated by a team of campus stakeholders, modified as necessary, and then installed during the month of April 2010. Although the class originated before SITES guidelines were established,its principles fell directly in line with creating landscapes that enhanced ecosystem benefits such as increased soil health, social gathering spaces and healthy plant material.

Regional Context

This site is in the Finger Lakes district of New York State. Typical annual precipitation is 36 inches, distributed evenly over the year. The site is in the USDA hardiness zone 5b, which assumes the annual minimum temperature to be -15F. The ecoregion is a mixed broadleaf temperate forest. Soils on the site were highly disturbed due to prior construction on the site, however, they can be characterized as silt loam with an alkaline pH of approximately 7.8.

The project site is part of a Cornell University quadrangle and has had repeated disturbance over many decades, most recently during a three year renovation of the Mann Library building, which was completed in 2009.

SITES Features + Practices

Social Gathering Places: The project included the addition of a variety of seated areas for students and other Library visitors.

Soil Health: The project increased soil health through the incorporation of locally-made Cornell Compost to a depth of 24 inches. This enabled a rich, vigorous plant palette to be used with no irrigation after establishment. The soil restoration was a significant factor in increasing water holding capacity while reducing bulk soil density.

No Permanent Irrigation: A diverse plant palette that is appropriate for modified site conditions, is disease resistant and excludes weed growth was selected for the project. There is no need to irrigate after establishment due to the extensive soil modification and proper plant selection.


The integrative process ensured that considerations voiced by the design team added to the success and acceptance of the project. It was important to have members who could move this process forward in a highly stratified university community.

Maintenance + Stewardship

The project site will continue to be monitored by faculty of the Landscape Architecture and Horticulture departments as well as the Cornell University Grounds Department. The University seeks to encourage sustainable landscape practices. The success of this project will encourage similar efforts elsewhere on campus and will used to teach students about how to accomplish landscape goals. Students incorporating organic matter

Site Challenges

There were several challenges that the project addressed, including growth-limiting soil compaction on site, invasive plants( Berberis thunbergii) that had to be removed, and the lack of amenities for people to gather and sit although it was near to a popular coffee house.

Project Goals + Successes

The overarching goals were to alleviate soil compaction so that a diverse landscape of appropriate woody plants could be established. The project team envisioned establishing a closed canopy within two years to minimize weed pressure. A major project objective was to develop spaces within the landscape to encourage social gathering.

The project was interested in testing the Guidelines on relatively small urban site to determine if certification was indeed possible. University stakeholders were very pleased with the final outcome of the project. Students integrated theory and practice in designing and installing this landscape. Ecosystem benefits were realized, and overall, the project is a successful implementation of SITES principles.

Lessons Learned

Although the soil conditions were a major challenge, the deep incorporation of compost was most successful, and similar processes will be used on other campus sites throughout the University.

Project Team

Cornell University
Nina Bassuk, Professor
Peter Trowbridge, Professor
David Cutter, Campus Landscape Architect
Peter Salino, Director of Cornell University Grounds

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