On Advocacy: A Landscape Architects Submission on transforming the world!

Recently I was asked to write a short piece for ProLandscaper Africa on what can the landscape profession do to make difference on environmental and social issues, should we shrink back in our shells and hide in our gated villages from all the problems that plaque Africa and the world or should we become activists and advocates for positive change? So inspired by the work of activists in the Africa Centre for Cities and The Landscape Architecture Foundation’s (LAF) New Landscape Declaration, here goes with credit to LAF’s Action Plan

MY SUBMISSION:

I have been involved in the practice of landscape design, construction and management my entire life, I love plants and everything to do with the natural and built landscape, while I have had my head buried in the sand of personal interests and passions for many years and I have often been  a poor people’s person, I am now acting positively for change and to not being “part of the problem” but working on co-creating a resilient and awesome future with all of those who share my passion. 

I believe the landscape profession is uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in addressing the most important issues of our time and I am positive we will do so. Challenges include: adaptation and mitigation of the impacts of climate change; addressing moral, social, economic impoverishment and inequality; building resilient new infrastructure that runs on clean energy; co-creating and managing innovative urban places that provide social and ecological justice for all peoples and species.   

We can develop a clear vision of our role and capacities, nurture inclusive leadership, embrace advocacy and activism, seek commitment and action from those who feel the same as we do.

To be committed means:

Be more and keep on learning – know the terminology and science of climate change, improve your cultural literacy, read widely, expose yourself to dynamic, uncomfortable circumstances and people; get to see others point of view. Take part, if not in government, then in your local area, PTA or ratepayers association, take part in ILASA, SALI or SAGIC or your own professional or business organisation; assist on an awards committee or organise a function. 

Become a visible exampleof the current best practice: evaluate your personal and business actions and act to reduce your carbon, water and waste footprint and aim to become carbon neutral or better, carbon positive.

Build equitable teams; partner across disciplines, practices and publics; mentor young people towards leadership; encourage involvement in real physical networks and form communities of interest with others who share your passion.

Become invested in where you live, assist those who are less fortunate, advocate for what you believe in, give assistance and support to organizations and people who are making difference. Act where you see social or ecological injustice, get to know your local area and national political representative, advocate for the positive role of landscape to them.

Design and the Future of Landscape Architecure

If landscape architects want to remake the world, we can start by remaking our discipline.

A thought provoking critique of the role Landscape Architects actually play in society versus what they believe they do, this very relevant to the current educational and work crisis that Landscape Architecture faces in South Africa and many other parts the world : Here are few excerpts from the long article, quoted and acknowledged, in the interests of generating a similar discussion in other parts of the world: “Design and the Green New Deal” from Places Journal by Billy Fleming who is the Wilks Family Director for The Ian L. McHarg Center at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design.

Read the full essay here

Aa Dr, Ida Breed, senior lecturer at the University of Pretoria where the undergraduate Landscape Architecture program has been terminated due to poor enrolment numbers, says in a private correspondence: ” I think the article is very right in the money to say that the profession is mostly dominated by neoliberal and elitist project briefs, yet,  landscape architects are often very bad at showing what they are already doing. Relevant work is happening, but as we know we are low in numbers, and there is a need for more volunteers and more participation from industry and practitioners in work that does not only profit our/ themselves… More could be done!”

“It is the main duty of government, if it is not the sole duty, to provide the means of protection for all its citizens in the pursuit of happiness against the obstacles, otherwise insurmountable, which the selfishness of individuals or combinations of individuals is liable to interpose to that pursuit.” 25 Frederick Law Olmstead

Rooftop of the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, along the San Francisco Bay.
Wish it were public: Rooftop garden at the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, along the San Francisco Bay. [Designed by CMG Landscape Architecture with Gehry Partners; photo by Trey Ratcliff]

I don’t know when the myth of landscape architects as climate saviors began, but I know it’s time to kill it. The New Landscape Declaration — a book emerging from a 2016 summit attended by the brightest thinkers in our field — frames landscape architecture as an “ever more urgent necessity,” if not the foundation of civil society. As engineers shaped the built environment of the 19th century and architects the 20th, landscape architects have claimed this century as their own. 1 That’s a bold statement for an obscure profession whose 15,000 U.S. members spend most of their time designing small parks, office courtyards, and residential projects for private clients. Yet it’s not just landscape architects who see a big future for the field. Famed industrial designer Dieter Rams has said that if he were starting his career today, he’d focus on landscapes, not machines. And public officials have recruited landscape architects to the front lines of urban development (as James Corner’s High Line and Thomas Woltz’s Public Square frame Hudson Yards) and climate resilience (as the federal program Rebuild by Design ties hurricane recovery to coastal defense). 2

Ian McHarg
The Crazy Political agendas of SHADE

I don’t know when the myth of landscape architects as climate saviors began, but I know it’s time to kill it.

But if The New Landscape Declaration sought to articulate and elevate our professional ideals, mostly it exposed the gap between rhetoric and reality. The book arrived in fall 2017, a few months after David Wallace-Wells published his alarming article, “The Uninhabitable Earth,” with its memorable opening line quaking, “It is, I promise, worse than you think.” That 7,000-word jeremiad was later expanded into a bestselling book, with acknowledgments thanking the dozens of climate writers, scientists, and activists who informed the author’s research. This is mainstream media’s most comprehensive account of the climate movement, and it contains no mention of work by landscape architects. There is no commentary on Rebuild by Design. It’s as if landscape architecture does not exist. Setting aside the justified critiques of Wallace-Wells’s apocalyptic framing, what does it mean that landscape architects are missing from this prominent book on a topic we claim as our own? Is our discipline a necessity? Are we closing the gap between ideals and practice? We are not, I promise, saving the world. 3

SCAPE’s Living Breakwaters proposal for Rebuild by Design

We don’t need playful design proposals; we need high-impact built projects — prototypes for the resilient futures we’ve been promised.

Contemporary practice is focused on sites, not systems; and on elite desires, not public interests. Our work is limited in scale and subordinate to client mandates. Rather than challenging or subverting these core structural constraints, Rebuild merely tweaks the machine of disaster recovery and redevelopment. Such incrementalism has been a key feature of landscape architecture — and much design-based activism — for decades. Though some scholars have credited designers with central roles in social and environmental movements — from the Progressive Era, to the New Deal, to the radical politics of the 1960s and ’70s in America — I would argue that that landscape architects rarely contributed to the organizing and the politics of those movements. 20 By and large, we have been bystanders to progress, not principal actors. If the gap between our ambitions and impact is ever to be narrowed, it won’t be through declarations of our principles. We must rethink how landscape architecture engages with social and political movements.

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Ocean Parkway
Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Ocean Parkway in New York, which featured the first bike path in the United States. [via NYC Parks]

We seem to have forgotten an important lesson about Olmsted: his eagerness to enter the political arena and challenge the status quo.

ut here again we see designers as participants in, not leaders of, the social movements of their time. In the postwar era, they went through the same cultural realignment as the rest of the country, reorienting away from public works and land conservation and toward greenfield development and roadside parks, away from cities and toward suburbs. Landscape designers also made what was in retrospect the fatal mistake of lending their technical skills to urban renewal programs that reinforced racial segregation. 27 When the backlash to urban renewal began — sparked by Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities — planners and designers lost much of their access to large-scale projects, and those who still worked for public agencies saw their power diminished. As Thomas Campanella argues, they became professional caretakers, “reactive rather than proactive, corrective instead of preemptive, rule bound and hamstrung and anything but visionary.” 28

The environmental movement galvanized by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring achieved great success in regulating pollution — influencing the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (1970), the Clean Water Act (1972), and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency — but it was less successful in compelling a truly sustainable program of land use. Put another way, it had tremendous influence over how we live, but almost none over where we live. It was in this era that Ian McHarg produced the seminal work that would make him the most consequential landscape architect of the last half century. McHarg was a singular figure in the field, a public intellectual who mixed with people like Margaret Mead, Julian Huxley, and Loren Eiseley, moving between academia (as chair of landscape architecture at Penn), government (as an adviser to White House commissions, task forces, and environmental policy boards), and popular media (as host of the CBS show The House We Live In); and through these activities he sought to place environmental design at the center of American life. He aimed to reinvent nearly everything about the discipline of landscape architecture — its methods of inquiry, its scope and scale of impact, and its cultural and political position. For a brief moment, it seemed he would succeed.

Landscape architects have not yet meaningfully dealt with the unforeseen consequences of McHarg’s rational philosophy; with the fact that his technocratic legacy would leave the field ill-equipped to negotiate the major cultural and political realignments of neoliberalism — the hollowing out of governments at every level, the privatization of public services, and a waning belief in the ability of governments to bring about big, positive change. 34 Beginning in the 1980s, urbanists and designers were forced to defend everything from clean air to mass transit to public education through the narrow lens of cost-benefit analyses. Landscape architecture, a small and client-centric profession, with no real institutional or political presence, was overwhelmed by the rise of an anti-government, anti-science movement amongst conservatives. By the end of the century, landscape architecture had become once again a largely project-driven enterprise, dependent upon the elite, private interests that now shape urbanization, even in ostensibly public spaces. 35

At key political flashpoints of the past decade — Occupy Wall Street, the Standing Rock protests, and, now, the Green New Deal — landscape architects have been conspicuously absent. Our field has responded to neoliberalism with ever larger global corporate practices, a proliferation of boutique design firms, and a retreat from public service. We have ceded most government work to engineers. Professional societies have further depoliticized the field, ensuring that landscape architects are locked out of the policymaking process and constrained by the limits it imposes. 36

Chart of annual global temperatures from 1850-2018
Annual global temperatures from 1850-2018, covering 1.35°C. [Ed Hawkins]

The revival of an activist federal design bureaucracy is necessary to the success of a Green New DealIt also presents a unique opportunity to create alternative models of practice in landscape architecture.

That means our professional societies need to find ways to train a rising generation of landscape architects for careers in public service — or, as the organizers behind The Architecture Lobby have shown us, we will need to build new institutions. Starting tomorrow, the ASLA and Landscape Architecture Foundation could offer awards and fellowships for designers engaged in bureaucratic and political work, as they do for excellence in private practice. They could make the case that truly public spaces and infrastructures are funded by taxes and run by governments, not by corporate partners or the donor class. We need to dismantle the philosophies of neoliberalism and philanthrocapitalism that underwrite many urban development projects, and withdraw support for disruptive urban tech startups. As Levinson writes, “not only are the self-appointed change agents unwilling to push for meaningful action that might threaten the systems that have allowed them to accumulate vast wealth; often as not they’ve caused or contributed to the very problems they are claiming to solve. The modus operandi is not structural reform but personal generosity. The arena is not electoral politics but the free market. The ethos is patronage and volunteerism.” 45 Too many leaders in our field occupy positions of incredible power and prestige, while maintaining that they must make the best of a bad system. But we cannot be content with merely narrowing the gap between our ideals and our reality. The politics of design belong at the center of landscape architecture, and our institutions have an obligation to do more.

We need to train a rising generation of landscape architects for careers in public service. Students will need coursework in public administration and finance, political theory, and community organizing.

Educators, too, have a unique responsibility to change the culture of the profession. The students who wish to fill the ranks of the new design bureaucracy need coursework in public administration and finance, political theory, and community organizing. We can offer scholarships and awards for public-interest achievement, and give internship credit for working with political campaigns or community organizations. And we can acknowledge — through our public programs, our scholarship, and other aspects of design education outside the studio — the extraordinary moment we are in, our complicity in creating it, and our responsibility to develop alternatives.

Panel at the Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future, Philadelphia, 2016. [You Wu]

Whatever form the Green New Deal eventually takes, it will be realized and understood through buildings, landscapes, and other public works. Landscape architects have knowledge and skills — from ecological management to systems analysis to mapping and visualization — that are essential to that project. Now is our chance to re-institutionalize design expertise in government and, at the same time, to break the stranglehold of neoliberalism that has long undermined the ambitions of landscape architecture. Let’s get started. 46

Billy Fleming, “Design and the Green New Deal,” Places Journal, April 2019. Accessed 20 May 2019. <https://placesjournal.org/article/design-and-the-green-new-deal/&gt;

The Crazy Political agendas of SHADE

 

It’s a civic resource, an index of inequality, and a requirement for public health. Shade should be a mandate for urban designers – this long essay by Sam Bloch in PLACES JOURNAL could just as well apply to Cape Town as to Los Angeles – where apartheid era planning has made its leafy suburbs of the wealthy the exact opposite of the slum tenements and shanty towns of the poor and squatters. A similar pattern of legislation, bureaucracy and politics seems to make the provision of the seemingly innocuous commodity: shade- a luxury ! Is shade the missing link to environmental, cultural, social and and health – can a focus on shade make a new type of equality a reality instead of the urban deserts that planning now mandates? This impeccably researched and documented article is well worth a read – here are a few small teasers:

Tony’s Barber Shop, Cypress Park, Northeast Los Angeles. [Monica Nouwens for Places Journal]

“As the sun rises in Los Angeles, a handful of passengers wait for a downtown bus in front of Tony’s Barber Shop, on an exposed stretch of Figueroa Street near the Pasadena Freeway. Like Matryoshka dolls, they stand one behind another, still and quiet, in the shadow cast by the person at the head of the line. It’s going to be another 80-degree day, and riders across the city are lining up behind street signs and telephone poles.

For years, the business owners on this block have tried to do something about the lack of shade. First someone planted banana trees and jammed an I-beam into the sidewalk well. Tony Cornejo, the barber, swears he didn’t do it, but he admits rigging up a gray canvas between a highway sign and parking lot fence to put a roof on the makeshift shelter. He was just taking care of the street, he said, so that the “ladies and children” who had grown accustomed to waiting out the heat in his shop could be comfortable outside. He dragged wooden crates under the canopy and nailed them together to create two long benches. In the shade, people ate their lunches, read magazines, scrolled through their phones. Can collectors rested. Bus drivers waited before beginning their shifts.

within two miles of Tony’s Barber Shop. 1 Who decides where the shade goes? You might imagine that transit planners call the shots — strategically placing shelters outside grocery stores and doctors’ offices on high-frequency routes, according to community need — but Los Angeles, like many cities, has outsourced the job. The first thousand shelters were installed in the 1980s by billboard companies in exchange for the right to sell ad space, and they tended to show up in wealthy areas where ad revenue surpassed maintenance costs. 2 In 2001, the mayor signed a deal to double the number of shelters and give public officials greater control over their placement. The new vendor agreed to install and maintain shelters throughout the city and offset its losses with freestanding ad kiosks in lucrative areas. But when politically savvy constituents complained about the coming spate of advertising, the city withheld permits, and the deal broke down. As the contract nears its end, the vendor, Outfront/Decaux, has installed only about 650 new shelters, roughly half of the projected number.” 

Bus shelters are installed and maintained by the company that controls the ad rights. [Monica Nouwens for Places Journal]

“You can’t install a shelter here without disrupting underground utilities, violating the ADA, or blocking driveway sightlines. On this block, shade is basically outlawed.”

Shade in the Skid Row neighborhood, Downtown Los Angeles. [Monica Nouwens for Places Journal]

Shade is often understood as a luxury amenity. But as deadly heatwaves become commonplace, we have to see it as a civic resource shared by all.

Shade was integral to the urban design of southern California until the advent of cheap electricity in the 1930s.

Top left: Awnings on Citrus Avenue in Covina, ca. 1908. Top right: Craftsman bungalow on Vermont Avenue near 9th Street, Los Angeles, n.d. Bottom left: Pergola and porch of bungalow in Altadena, 1910. [All courtesy of University of Southern California/California Historical Society] Bottom right: Harnetiaux bungalow court in Pasadena, 2013. [Wikimedia Commons]

Look at what happened to Pershing Square, where sunlight was weaponized to clear out the ‘deviates and criminals.’

“Pershing Square set a template for Los Angeles: the park as an open space to walk through, and as a revenue-generating canvas.”

Rendering for the new Pershing Square, with shade pergola. [Agence Ter]

“Shade creates shelter, and Los Angeles is very conflicted about creating shelter in the public realm.”

“Mexican fan palms were the ideal tree for an automobile landscape, beautifying the city without making a mess.”

Avalon Boulevard, South Los Angeles. [Monica Nouwens for Places Journal]”

“If you see a mature shade tree today, you can assume that a private citizen paid for it and maintained it. Canopy inequality thus follows lines of wealth”.

To the list of environmental injustices in this country, we can add the unequal distribution of shade.

“The city won’t permit the planting of large trees where the roots could rip up sidewalks or destroy underground utilities. That effectively zones shade out of many poor neighborhoods.”

“Surveillance is another concern. When a new pole camera goes up in a public park, the mature canopy around it vanishes.”

 

One study found that the difference in surface temperature between shaded and unshaded asphalt was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

The mayor has pledged to reduce the temperature by three degrees by 2050, but sustainability programs will vary by neighborhood.

The grant programs now for urban forestry are crazy. It’s money that we’ve never seen before … [but] they have no idea of the real challenges behind these kinds of projects.’

Imagine what Los Angeles could do if it tied street enhancement to a comprehensive program of shade creation.

What we need is urbanists in and outside City Hall who conceptualize shade itself as a public good.

Drawing by Joyce Earley Lyndon and Maynard Lyndon, from Growing Shade, a brief study of “tree umbrellas” in Switzerland, published in the third issue of Places Journal in 1984. The drawing was presented last week at a discussion of shade equity in Los Angeles convened by Christopher Hawthorne, the city’s chief design officer and a professor of practice at Occidental College.

 

Sam Bloch, “Shade,” Places Journal, April 2019. Accessed 18 May 2019. <https://placesjournal.org/article/shade-an-urban-design-mandate/&gt;

 

On the value(s) of gardeners

Having been involved over the last 10 days in a green industry and City of Cape Town consultation on “Alternatives for watering of gardens and landscapes” as a response to the water crisis in Cape Town over the last three years; a nationally convened crisis meeting with Institute of Landscape Architects of South Africa (ILASA) and the representatives of the green industry to discuss responses to the decision by the University of Pretoria to close the BSc Landscape Architecture undergraduate degree that has been running successfully for more than 30 years, due to poor uptake of students for this degree; a two day Co-Create Design Festival in Cape Towns V&A waterfront focusing on urban regeneration and resilience and last night I attended an APES presentation and a discussion by Stephen Granger who is the Manager of Major Projects and Landscape Architect Ancunel Steyn both of the City of Cape Town on “Focus On Preserving & Managing Environmental Resources Plus Important Public Open Spaces Under Increasing Development Pressure”  

Both these presenters, who are experienced and highly qualified professionals, highlighted the value of urban natural environments and the problems of establishing, managing and preserving these fragile but valuable spaces.

All of these functions that I attended seemed to me to have a clear thread that highlighted for me, in many ways, the lack of a clear understanding, on the part of most professional participants, and even more so the “public,” of the value of the urban living environment for the sustenance, resilience and survival of its inhabitants. This goes hand in hand with the low value our society seems to place on the individuals and professions that are engaged in establishing, protecting and managing these vital components of the urban fabric. This is so, despite all the green hype of business, sustainability buzzwords in the media, ecological services valuation studies, and climate change attention given by politicians and environmental activists; The people on the ground who have the knowledge skills, experience and passion to provide these services are not afforded the status or remuneration by our society – this similar to the poor pay and conditions of service of other industries providing basic and vital services to society such as nurses and police.

This post on The Plant Hunter by Georgina Reid has a similar story to tell of the problem in Australia and the rest of the world

Where’s a Gardener When you Need One?

As a high school student I had no idea what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’. When I did a careers quiz as a 16-year-old and it suggested I become florist, I was offended. If it were suggested I become a gardener, I would have been equally as offended. A combination of ignorance and ego and a culture intent on de-valuing work that actually matters, meant I thought I could do better.

Even in my early days of being a landscape designer (I came to plants as a mature age student, after dumping my ideas of what constituted a sensible/smart career) I never called myself a gardener, and would get quietly offended when people introduced me as one. I am ashamed of this now. ‘Gardener’ is a title I both own and aspire to in equal measures.

My experience, as embarrassingly outlined above, illustrates an issue more profound than personal. It describes a crisis of perception with increasingly vast social and environmental impacts. Gardening, and it’s slightly more serious sounding sister, horticulture, is rarely seen as a valued, intelligent or financially rewarding career pathway. Gardening is a hobby, not a vocation. Gardening is un-thinking, un-skilled manual labour.

When viewed in this way, what 18-year-old in their right mind would choose to become a gardener, to study horticulture? What career adviser or parent would suggest taking on a career that won’t earn much money, offers little social status, and involves bloody hard work?

On the flip side (which is, of course, where I sit), what other career is there that’s more important than caring for and sustaining the land we live upon and the lives that exist in relation to it? When our existence as a species is drilled down to hard truths, there’s few things more important than growing and caring – the twin roles of the gardener.

Yet truths don’t seem to fly these days. As our climate gets hotter, wetter, drier, wilder; as our dialogue with each other and the natural world becomes confused and disjointed; knowing the world, the actual real world, is strangely devalued. Horticulture, the science of growing and caring for plants, is rarely found in Australian universities anymore. In a paper titled The Workforce Challenge in Horticulture, Professor Jim Pratley states that in 2010 there were fewer than 80 graduates in horticulture from Australian universities. This has halved since the 1980s.

The experience of Daniel Ewings, national Operations manager at Andreasens Green Wholesale Nurseries, Sydney echoes the decline in formal horticulture study. He’s found it increasingly difficult to recruit apprentices over the last 10 years. “School leavers these days seem to want to go into a less hands on field than horticulture.” And if they do want hands-on, there’s other issues: “Trades like carpentry offer much higher rates of pay. So if you want to work with your hands, outdoors, there’s better paying options than plants.”

For Daniel, working in a plant nursery is a starting point for a wide range of careers in horticulture like further study in landscape architecture or design, managing garden maintenance teams for councils, owning a nursery business, and more. And the money, well, it comes too. “Horticulture starts off with low pay. But if you’re really good at it, and if you love it, you’ll end up making money”, Daniel says.

The horticulture industry is facing a skills shortage, according to Daniel. “We really need to try and lift our game on recruitment. We need to try and find ways to attract young people to the industry”.

On one hand, there’s less people choosing horticulture as a career, and on the other, the importance of the job has never been greater. City planners and councils are realising the importance of ‘green infrastructure’, as they call it, and are creating policies around it. Our future cities need to be integrated ecologies. They need trees, gardens, green roofs, wetlands, urban forests, parks and farms. “But how do we tend to this proposed nature in our cities?” asks Thomas Gooch, a Melbourne based landscape architect and one of the trustees of the newly launched Global Gardening Trust. “Typical maintenance regimes won’t cut it. Positioning gardening as infrastructure to tend these proposed natural systems in our cities is a really important investment.”

https://za.pinterest.com/BioAg/

Highlighting the value of gardening as infrastructure in a changing climate is one of the premises of the Global Gardening Trust. Founded by a group of young, passionate professionals connected to the gardening world, the trust is currently offering a three-month internship at De Wiersse – a historic 38-acre garden in the Netherlands. “This program begins to support and learn from established gardens like De Wiersse”, Thomas says. “Things like succession planting, gardening with the rhythms of plants and seasonality.” The heaving, growing and transformative nature our cities need, and are thankfully moving towards, needs to be gardened not maintained. There’s a difference.

“There is a clear distinction between gardening and maintenance. Maintenance is about doing as little as you need to keep it green – creating a bullet proof minimum viable product. Gardening is about investing time and materials into planting, managing plant and soil health, pruning over time, giving plants space to flower. That difference is where we’re positioning the trust”, Thomas says.

“If you invest in humans as gardeners to care for landscapes, you’re going to get richer plant diversity, more pollen stocks and stronger insect health. We’ll have landscapes that are more adaptable to changes in climate because we’ll understand the rhythms and patterns of nature.”

The Global Gardening Trust puts great value on the role of the gardener to create and sustain beauty and create and sustain life. “The Trust is not about falling into a romantic narrative, it’s about valuing the rhythms of nature and giving that a profession. It means hard work, discipline, turning up and doing it beautifully,” says Thomas. Romance is a good thing and certainly a driver for many in the garden, but it’s only the beginning. “Putting a value on gardening can put a value on where we’re heading. A society that values plants and systems, and that is integrated with nature is a clever society – one that supports all life, not destroys it.”

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Project DRAWDOWN how we can reverse climate change

With all the doom and gloom that talking about climate change in the anthropocene engenders in ones audience, all the hype and positivity I can muster flags when I read about the size of the problems faced and the inadequacies and failings of individuals and governments to act, and in fact my own poorly implemented and limited attempts to do something! It seems as if it is extreme hubris on my part to say we can change our lifestyles, consumerist habits or other people’s desires. I was pleasantly surprised while I was researching on LAF’s (Landscape Architecture Foundation) website for a recent magazine article, to discover Martha Swartz talking about the book edited by Paul Hawken’s “Drawdown The most comprehensive plan ever to reverse global warming” Having viewed the website’s info and watched the video I am eagerly awaiting the book.

As Martha Swartz says in the interview on LAF’s websiteI was introduced to Drawdown by Pamela Conrad, a Senior Associate at CMG Landscape Architecture, while preparing for a conference presentation on climate change with her two years ago. We gave a presentation about the book, why it’s important, and why it’s important specifically for landscape architects. We got up there and talked about what climate change is and why it’s so urgent that we address it. What really struck me about Drawdown is that it gave metrics for its solutions. They weren’t theoretical, but actionable ideas” 


Here is Paul Hawken, the projects instigator, the books editor and the evangelist of the crusade to make a difference, telling us what inspirited him and how it can affect us and what we can do ourselves, more than just lamenting the lack of efficacy of our recycling or our governments alternative energy strategies!

The future of nature: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Turns to Nature

Here is a load of evidence from The Dirt that new designed ecologies are possible on a large scale and that they involve code sign past the usual silo-like boundaries of academia and professional affiliation. The US Army Corps of Engineers who are often reviled for their failings e.g. in New Orleans , are here showing us that it is cheaper and more efficient to design with natural systems and flows than against them.

Engineering with Nature: An Atlas / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

“We rely on natural processes and landscapes to sustain human life and well-being. Our energy, water, infrastructure, and agricultural systems use these processes and landscapes to satisfy our most basic human needs. One motivation, therefore, for protecting the environment is to sustain the ecosystem goods and services upon which we depend. As we emerge from the sixth decade of modern environmentalism, there is a growing international awareness of opportunities to efficiently and effectively integrate natural and engineered systems to create even more value.”

One might understandably think this was written by a landscape architect, or excerpted from somewhere on the ASLA website. In fact, it comes from the forward of Engineering with Nature: An Atlas, a new book by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Engineering with Nature (EWN) team, led by environmental scientist Dr. Todd Bridges. 

Over the last eight years, Bridges has quietly built the EWN initiative out of the Army Corps’ Vicksburg, Mississippi headquarters, working with a team of engineers, environmental scientists, and ecologists to develop pilot projects that prove the viability of engineering large-scale infrastructure in partnership with natural systems. 

Now, after successfully completing dozens of projects across the U.S., Bridges is pushing to take EWN to new heights. The initiative’s 2018-2023 strategic planenvisions an expanded portfolio of engineering strategies and project types, deeper interdisciplinary and community engagement, and heightened public awareness of EWN goals, activities, and success stories.

To that end, Engineering With Nature: An Atlas documents more than 50 engineering projects completed in recent decades that exemplify the EWN approach. The projects are grouped according to typology, including chapters on beaches, wetlands, islands, reefs, and rivers. Reflecting the collaborative approach of the EWN initiative, only half of the case studies profiled were carried out by the Army Corps. The remainder were executed by partner NGOs in the US and government agencies in England, The Netherlands, and New Zealand, countries which have made substantial investments of their own in innovative coastal and water-based

engineering.

Read more

An Atlas also includes projects that retrofit conventional infrastructure to provide ecological benefits, such as creating nesting habitat for terns on top of breakwaters in Lake Erie, or efforts in the Netherlands to redesign coastal reinforcements to serve as habitat for marine plants and animals. Reminiscent of SCAPE’s Living Breakwaters project off the southern coast of Staten Island, these projects demonstrate an increasing interest in designing infrastructure that provides multiple benefits.

tern_nest
Decoy terns at the Ashtabula Harbor Breakwater Tern Nesting Habitat / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Despite its title, At Atlas does not contain any maps or diagrams to orient the reader–an unfortunate omission that makes it difficult to grasp the scale of the presented projects. Instead, the projects are depicted using solely perspective and aerial photos.

While these photos are informative, the book would have greatly benefited from the development of a graphic language to more clearly and visually communicate the impacts of the presented projects and the issues they seek to address.

Despite these omissions, the breadth and scope of projects presented in Engineering with Nature: An Atlas makes a considerable impression, presenting a range of strategies for designing infrastructure with ecological, social, and cultural benefits at multiple scales.

Perhaps most significantly, An Atlas suggests there is great potential for meaningful interdisciplinary collaboration between the Corps and landscape architects. As landscape architects increasingly seek to broaden the field’s scope to include the planning and design of large-scale systems and ecologies, this collaboration may prove vital. Engineering with Nature: An Atlas begins to paint a picture of what such a collaborative practice may look like.

Learn more about the Engineering with Nature initiative and download Engineering With Nature: An Atlas.

A New Language For Carbon – CO2 is not the Enemy !


While searching for some information on the Cradle To Cradle certification I came across this is article by William McDonough in Nature and reviewed in Scientific American and summarised on his website

William McDonough in the ICEhouse at the 2016 World Economic Forum. Credit: Marta Chierego

This view an idea is relevant to the articles I have been posting on the site the last few weeks and to the idea of requiring all design to become CARBON POSITIVE as I state in feature post On Advocacy

Climate change is the result of breakdowns in the carbon cycle caused by us: it is a design failure. Anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere make airborne carbon a material in the wrong place, at the wrong dose and wrong duration. It is we who have made carbon a toxin—like lead in our drinking water. In the right place, carbon is a resource and tool.

The world’s current carbon strategy aims to promote a goal of zero. Predominant language currently includes words such as “low carbon,” “zero carbon,” “negative carbon,” and even a “war on carbon.”

The design world needs values-based language that reflects a safe, healthy and just world. In this new paradigm, by building urban food systems and cultivating closed-loop flows of carbon nutrients, carbon can be recognized as an asset rather than a toxin, and the life-giving carbon cycle can become a model for human designs.

The new language signals positive intentions, leading us to do more good rather than simply less bad. It identifies three categories of carbon:

  • Living carbon: organic, flowing in biological cycles, providing fresh food, healthy forests and fertile soil; something we want to cultivate and grow
  • Durable carbon: locked in stable solids such as coal and limestone or recyclable polymers that are used and reused; ranges from reusable fibers like paper and cloth, to building and infrastructure elements that can last for generations and then be reused
  • Fugitive carbon: has ended up somewhere unwanted and can be toxic; includes carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, ‘waste to energy’ plants, methane leaks, deforestation, much industrial agriculture and urban development

Working carbon is a subset of all three categories and defined as a material being put to human use. For example, working living carbon is cultivated in agricultural systems. Working durable carbon is recycled, reused and reprocessed in circular technical systems; and working fugitive carbon includes fossil fuels used for power.

The new language also identifies three strategies for carbon management and climate change:

  • Carbon positive: actions converting atmospheric carbon to forms that enhance soil nutrition or to durable forms such as polymers and solid aggregates; also recycling of carbon into nutrients from organic materials, food waste, compostable polymers and sewers
  • Carbon neutral: actions that transform or maintain carbon in durable Earth-bound forms and cycles across generations; or renewable energy such as solar, wind and hydropower that do not release carbon
  • Carbon negative: actions that pollute the land, water and atmosphere with various forms of carbon, for example, CO2 and methane into the atmosphere or plastics in the ocean

Offering an inspiring model for climate action begins with changing the way we talk about carbon. Our goal is for all to embrace this new language and work toward a Carbon Positive design framework; and in doing so we may together support a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world—with clean air, soil, water and energy—that is economical, equitable, ecological, and elegantly enjoyed.

Further down the IPCC CO2 hole? Or what else can we do now?

Jason King of landscape+urbanism has posted another insightful and topical examination of the implication of the latest IPCC report on global warming and particularly what is means as a landscape architect to be able to do something ..walk the talk or just understand it at least – the extract I have chosen her is relevant to my previous post of becoming CO2+ – bu toy can read the fullest on Jason’s blog here

The background is:

The connection to the science is vital to and expanded knowledge of climate change, as I mentioned in the post on the Foundations of Climate Change Inquiry. One of those foundations mentioned is the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is the body of the United Nations focusing on the global science and impacts related to climate change. Their October 2018 IPCC Special Report focuses on “the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global green house gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.”

Likely some of us like to skip all the doom and science stuff and get to what we can do – don’t forget to read Jasons intro though….

The wide array of options for mitigation are collectively referred to as “system transformations”, as I mentioned, interesting as they include a number of landscape-specific ideas. And, based on the dire predictions of our available remaining carbon budget, reductions alone will not suffice to get us to levels that can keep warming at 1.5°C or even 2°C, especially without overshoot. Per section C.2 we require:

“…rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. These system transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options.”

As I mentioned, efficiency is one aspect, and a combination of new and existing technologies are needed, including “electrification, hydrogen, sustainable bio-based feedstocks, product substitution, and carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS)”, to name but a few. I think of the book Drawdown as a good snapshot of many of these strategies and their potential. However, as mentioned, while these are technically proven at a number of scales, large-scale deployment of these is constrained, and often has trade-offs with other strategies.

We also need changes in systems, for instance section C.2.4 mentions urban and infrastructure system transitions, which imply “changes in land and urban planning practices, as well as deeper emissions reductions in transport and buildings…” to get us to these targets. Many of these are not new, but do come with some baggage: “Economic, institutional and socio-cultural barriers may inhibit these urban and infrastructure system transitions, depending on national, regional and local circumstances, capabilities and the availability of capital.”

The final section does present some interesting options, specific to CO2removal, which are collectively referred to as CDR for “carbon dioxide removal” which range in potential. These include:

bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) 
  • afforestation and reforestation
  • land restoration and soil carbon sequestration
  • bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) 
  • direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS)
  • enhanced weathering and ocean alkanlinization

Two mentioned previously have some huge potential. For instance BECCS can capture up to 5 gigatons of CO2 per year, and afforestation an additional 3.6 gigatons of CO2 per year. As we find out more about the potential we can employ these strategies at larger scales, however there are trade-offs, such as the competition with other land use (for instance agriculture for food production) and the need to protect valuable ecosystem resources. One strategies mentioned is to use multiple, small installations, versus massive projects, to spread out impacts. 

Related specifically to landscape systems, the connection to ecosystem services is highlighted with the multi-functional benefits, as mentioned in section C.3.5. The use of Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) measures for CDR, have a number of co-benefits, such as restoration of natural ecosystems providing additional soil carbon sequestration, increased biodiversity, soil quality, and food security, if managed sustainably.

Climate Positive Design – Becoming CO2+

I am on admission to understand and act on becoming “carbon positive” – I believe it is the way landscape architects can become truly relevant and effective.

A series of recent posts by Landscape+Urbanism on understanding climate change for landscape architects has been catalytic for m intoning about the role of landscape architecture, cities and our lives here on this planet. December post from the Dirt by Andrew Wright reporting on  ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia and the climate positive design talk by  Pamela Conrad, ASLA, a senior associate at CMG Landscape Architecture   

“The next few years are probably the most important in our history,” said Conrad “We believe our profession can be part of the solution, and that it’s time to work together.”

Pamela Conrad has developed a calculator that predicts the emissions and carbon sequestration potential

“A few years back, I assumed I could go online and download a tool that would tell me exactly what I wanted to know. But frankly, those tools really only exist for architects right now. Because we have the ability to sequester carbon, perhaps we need our own tools to measure these impacts.”

life_cycle
Landscape Carbon Calculator / Pamela Conrad, CMG Landscape Architecture

Conrad’s tool, which is still in beta testing and has not yet been publicly released, measures sources of embodied emissions in landscape materials against the sequestration potential of vegetation on a site to calculate both the carbon footprint of a project and the amount of time it will take for sequestration to completely offset emissions. Past that point, the project will  sequester additional atmospheric carbon dioxide, a condition Conrad calls being “climate positive.”

carbon_footprint.jpg
Climate Positive Design / Pamela Conrad, CMG Landscape Architecture

Using the calculator, Conrad has been able to estimate the carbon footprints of her recently completed projects and, by tweaking the input parameters, model strategies that could have reduced their climate impacts.

“We can plant more trees and woody shrubs; we can minimize paving, especially concrete; we can minimize lawn areas; we can use local or natural recycled materials.” With these strategies, Conrad estimates that she could have cut the time it will take for her projects to become carbon neutral in half.

“The design of those projects didn’t change at all, or the quality for that matter. But what a difference it could have made if we just had the resources to inform our design decisions.”

park
Carbon Positive Design / CMG Landscape Architecture

Conrad argued that, through climate sensitive design, landscape architects could be responsible for the sequestration of as much as 0.24 gigatons of carbon over the next thirty years, enough to place landscape architecture in the list of 80 solutions to climate change studied in Paul Hawken’s Drawdown project.

And “if we were to include other work we do, like incorporating green roofs into projects or making cities more walkable and bikeable, that would put landscape architecture within the top 40 solutions.”

Conrad plans to release the calculator to the public next year and hopes that it will be used to set measurable goals for designing climate-friendly projects and create opportunities for accountability.

“How are we going to keep tabs on ourselves to make sure that we’re actually doing these things?” she asked her fellow panelists. “What would it take for us to have a 2030 challenge specific to landscape architecture?”

The Foundations of Climate Change Inquiry

Jason King of Landscape+ Urbanism has written a great review and references for understanding the climate change fundamentals and I will be diving into this myself, although written for North American audience, he does reference international resources as well, for an African audience, this local book by Anton Cartwright and team from UCT’s African Centre for Cities is worth looking at Climate Change at the City Scale: Impacts, Mitigation and Adaptation in Cape Town   

In an attempt to be intentional and informed in tying landscape architecture to climate change and asking some of the fundamental questions I posed in my introductory post, I starting to develop a plan and amass a wide range of resources. Even now, I’ve barely scratched the surface, although this initial study has been illuminating, perhaps just in posing more questions. 

First, I wanted to focus on climate change mechanisms and impacts, of which there is not shortage of resources, covered in a combination of technical reports, books and articles. Second, I wanted to tap into many of the strategies from design and planning world, of which there is a steadily growing collection of articles and books, to address this in the context of solutions based in landscape architecture, architecture, and urban planning. Lastly, is the rich resource of academic journals and papers that connect the issues and approaches with a layer of evidence to further inform potential solutions. In this initial post I will focus on the first, and relate some of the initial experiences.

Climate Change Reports

One impetus for my recent obsession was the release (to much fanfare) over the Thanksgiving weekend of Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4). This report gives a detailed account of the “Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States.” Authored by an army of experts, and published by the U.S. Global Change Research Program this is the de facto standard for US Climate Science and has helped transform and amplify discussions.

Climate impact lingo

Because the IPCC’s work is so central to global scientific understand, it is helpful to get acquainted with the particular communications style of the IPCC… [it] forms a common language across fields and thus encourages interdisciplinary understanding.”Hamin-Infield, Abunnaser, & Ryan (eds), 2019 p.10

Read more…