Has Landscape Architecture Failed? Reflections on the Occasion of LAF’s 50th Anniversary

By Richard Weller and Billy Fleming, University of Pennsylvania on LAF Blog

In 1966, Campbell Miller, Grady Clay, Ian McHarg, Charles Hammond, George Patton and John Simonds marched to the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia and declared that an age of environmental crisis was upon us and that the profession of landscape architecture was a key to solving it. Their Declaration of Concern launched, and to this day underpins the workings of, the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF).

To mark its 50th anniversary, LAF will hold a summit titled The New Landscape Declaration at the University of Pennsylvania involving over 65 leading landscape architects from around the world. Delegates are being asked to deliver new declarations (manifestos, if you will) about the profession’s future. Drawing upon these statements and the dialogue at the summit, LAF will then redraft the original 1966 Declaration of Concern so that it serves to guide the profession into the 21st century.

On one level, redrafting the declaration is relatively straightforward: it would simply need to stress the twinned global phenomena of climate change and global urbanization — issues that were less well understood in 1966. On another level however, the redrafting of the declaration is profoundly complicated because if it is to be taken seriously, then a prerequisite is to ask why, after 50 years of asserting landscape architecture as “a key” to “solving the environmental crisis” does that crisis continue largely unabated? Seen in this light the declaration can be read as an admission of failure. Consequently, we must ask:

If McHarg and his colleagues were justified in placing such a tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of landscape architects, why have we failed so spectacularly to live up to their challenge?

In our defense, we might argue that landscape architecture is a very young and very small profession and an even smaller academy. We can also protest, as many do, that other more established disciplines — such as engineering and architecture — have restrained our rise to environmental leadership. We can argue that the status quo of political decision-making makes it impossible for us to meaningfully scale up our operations and work in the territory where our services are needed most. These justifications (or excuses) all contain aspects of the truth, but we argue that landscape architecture over the last 50 years is less a story of abject failure and more one of a discipline taking the time that has been needed to prepare for a more significant role in this, the 21st century.

From the last 50 years of landscape architecture we have three models of professional identity and scope: the landscape architect as artist (for example, Peter Walker), the landscape architect as regional planner (for example, Ian McHarg), and the landscape architect as urban designer (for example, Charles Waldheim). Rather than see these as competing models cancelling each other out, perhaps what we have really learned from the last 50 years is that each is somewhat incomplete without the other. If however we make a concerted effort to combine these three models, then perhaps we begin to really give credence to the notion of landscape architecture as a uniquely holistic discipline, one especially well-suited to engage with the contemporary landscape of planetary urbanization and climate change.

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Why women are the architects of our sustainable future

While I fully agree that this is what  it should be – I wonder when it will be so really? from  ecobuiness.com. Women are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than men, but there is also a growing number of sustainable development solutions by and for women worldwide. Sustainia’s global communication lead Katie McCrory highlights three examples.

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Girls peeping from a classroom in India. Globally, as many as 62 million girls are denied an education, and women’s knowledge is often overlooked in the quest to find sustainable solutions and business models. Image: Shutterstock

Lilia Caberio is from Sulangan, in the Philippines. In 2013, her house was destroyed by the 170 mile per hour winds and 6-metre high storm surge during Typhoon Haiyan, and for a while she lived with her family in a tent erected where her home used to be. The typhoon was frightening enough for Lilia, but homelessness must have felt even more so. Until Elizabeth came along.

Dr Elizabeth Hausler Strand is the founder and CEO of Build Change, an organization based in Colorado, USA, established to build disaster-resilient homes and buildings in emerging nations. Elizabeth also happens to be a qualified bricklayer.
She and her team worked with Lilia to build a new, resilient home that will last a lifetime. Elizabeth is, quite literally, building a sustainable future for families like Lilia’s in disaster-prone parts of the developing world, and in doing so she is empowering women all over the region to become the architects of their own lives.

Build Change is just one example of the many sustainable development solutions bubbling up from the ground which are designed by and for women. In a world faced with the social, economic, and environmental consequences of climate change, it is women and girls who risk losing the most. Lilia and her family were lucky to survive Typhoon Haiyan, but many didn’t – and many more won’t.

The statistics show that women and girls are more likely to die in natural disasters than men. What’s more, women around the world aged 15 to 44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria. Globally, as many as 62 million girls are denied an education, and as working women they still only earn about 77 per cent of their male counterparts’ salary.

These are awful, unacceptable facts, and for too long they have resulted in women being depicted only as victims. In 2014 a UN Women report on gender equality and sustainable development drove this point home by saying, ‘Women should not be viewed as victims, but as central actors in moving towards sustainability.’ I couldn’t agree more.

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