From Project for Public Spaces (PPS) newsletter
From Project for Public Spaces (PPS) newsletter
This critical view by Dean Saitta of the concept placemaking and its narrow implementation in many planners and designers views of what is a relevant version of placemaking, is welcome, especially here in South African cities and in Africa generally, where racial stereotypes and gentrified views obscure the reality of the majority of users needs and understanding of what contributes to a places reality, beyond its physical attributes and aesthetic considerations.
This renewal of a half century old landscape document in many ways echoes the feelings of frustration many of us feel over the seemingly mindless pursuit of self interest and greed that continually threatens to overwhelm us, yet unless we are able to get more politically engaged within our communities of interest and beyond; into the other professional and public domains, we are preaching to the converted and our words are unheard by those who are crying for creative steps towards overcoming the myriad challenges awe face in our cities, towns and rural environments. If you feel this to be true and worthwhile then I urge you to head on over to LAF , sign the declaration and decide how you can let it be heard more widely than the jus the community of landscape architecture.
On June 10-11, 2016, over 700 landscape architects with a shared concern for the future were assembled by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Inspired by LAF’s 1966 Declaration of Concern, we crafted a new vision for landscape architecture for the 21st century. This is our call to action.
Across borders and beyond walls, from city centers to the last wilderness, humanity’s common ground is the landscape itself. Food, water, oxygen – everything that sustains us comes from and returns to the landscape. What we do to our landscapes we ultimately do to ourselves. The profession charged with designing this common ground is landscape architecture.
After centuries of mistakenly believing we could exploit nature without consequence, we have now entered an age of extreme climate change marked by rising seas, resource depletion, desertification and unprecedented rates of species extinction. Set against the global phenomena of accelerating consumption, urbanization and inequity, these influences disproportionately affect the poor and will impact everyone, everywhere.
Simultaneously, there is profound hope for the future. As we begin to understand the true complexity and holistic nature of the earth system and as we begin to appreciate humanity’s role as integral to its stability and productivity, we can build a new identity for society as a constructive part of nature.
The urgent challenge before us is to redesign our communities in the context of their bioregional landscapes enabling them to adapt to climate change and mitigate its root causes. As designers versed in both environmental and cultural systems, landscape architects are uniquely positioned to bring related professions together into new alliances to address complex social and ecological problems. Landscape architects bring different and often competing interests together so as to give artistic physical form and integrated function to the ideals of equity, sustainability, resiliency and democracy.
As landscape architects we vow to create places that serve the higher purpose of social and ecological justice for all peoples and all species. We vow to create places that nourish our deepest needs for communion with the natural world and with one another. We vow to serve the health and well-being of all communities.
To fulfill these promises, we will work to strengthen and diversify our global capacity as a profession. We will work to cultivate a bold culture of inclusive leadership, advocacy and activism in our ranks. We will work to raise awareness of landscape architecture’s vital contribution. We will work to support research and champion new practices that result in design innovation and policy transformation.
We pledge our services. We seek commitment and action from those who share our concern.
A common fallacy of the design professions is that the objects we design such as buildings, parks , chairs etc. can be adequately represented by our drawings and computer renderings of these designs and that these will suffice to create the objects themselves by means of the usual contracting mechanisms. Alberto Perez-Gomez calls attention to the origins and problems of this idea in his recent book. In revue of the book in Environmental & Architectural Phenomenology Vol .28 No.1 the following excerpts from the book review illustrate the authors ” critical (view) of the two dominant approaches to architectural design today: on one hand, functionalism, including sustainable architecture; on the other hand, a purely aesthetic approach to architecture, including parametric design. He writes that, for the past two centuries, architecture has suffered “from either the banality of functionalism (an architecture that attests to its own process) or from the limitations of potential solipsism and near nonsense, the syndrome of ‘architecture made for archi-tects’.”
The need, Pérez-Gómez concludes, is “for continuing formal exploration in a fluid and changing world” but also returning attention to “the fundamental existential questions to which architecture traditionally answered—the profound necessity for humans to inhabit a resonant world they may call home, even when separated by global technological civ-ilization from an innate sense of place.” The excerpts, below, present two passages from Attunement.
|Alberto Pérez-Gómez, 2016. Attunement: Architectural Meaning after the Crisis of Modern Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.|
“A dangerous misunderstanding”
Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the assumption has been that architectural space (subsuming all aspects of real place) is easily represented through the geometric systems of descriptive geometry and axonometric projection, which translates seamlessly today into the digital space of the computer screen through standard architectural software. Thus, it seems obvious that architectural meanings would have to be created from scratch, through ingenious formal manipulation of the architect-artist, assumed to be relevant merely through their novel, shocking, or seductive character.
Whenever the physical context is invoked as an argument for design decisions, it is mostly through its visual attributes, imagining the site as a picture or objective site plan that merely provides some formal or functional cues.
This is a dangerous misunderstanding. The deep emotional and narrative aspects that articulate places in a particular natural or cultural milieu are usually marginalized by a desire to produce fashionable innovations. These narrative qualities, however, are crucial considerations as we seek the appropriateness of a given project for its intended purpose in a particular culture: framing a “focalized action” (Heidegger) or event that may bring people together and allow for a sense of orientation and belonging….
We can obviously perceive the qualities of places, particularly when cities have deep histories and their layers are present to our experience. Yet these are still obvious if we compare the “spaces” of newer urban centers, such as Toronto and Sydney (both with similar colonial pasts), which, indeed, ultimately appear as qualitatively different; despite their Anglo-Saxon character, the two cities have a different light and a feel, a different aroma, stemming from such features as the lake or the sea and the “air” of their respective climates.
We can also realize that we think different thoughts in different places, necessarily accompanied and enabled by diverse emotions, albeit usually unintended by the generic architecture of modern development; location affects us deeply, as does more generally the geographical environment (pp. 108-09).
|“Architecture as attunement”
Architecture is not what appears in a glossy magazine: buildings rendered as two-dimensional or three-dimensional pictures on the computer screen, or comprehensive sets of precise working drawings.
The most significant architecture is not necessarily photogenic. In fact, often the opposite is true. Its meanings are conveyed through sound and eloquent silence, the tactility and poetic resonance of materials, smell and the sense of humidity, among infinite other factors that appear through the motility of embodied perception and are given across the senses.
Furthermore, because good architecture fundamentally offers a possibility of attunement, atmospheres appropriate to focal actions that allow for dwelling in the world, it is very problematic to reduce its effect (and critical import) to the aesthetic experience of an object, as is often customary. Strictly speaking, architecture first conveys its meanings as a situation or event; it partakes of the ephemeral quality of music for example, as it addresses the living body, and only secondly does it become an object for tourist visits or expert critical judgments (pp. 148-149).
About the Author
Alberto Pérez Gómez directs the History and Theory of Architecture Program at McGill University, where he is Saidye Rosner Bronfman Professor of the History of Architecture. He is the author of Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science, Built upon Love: Architectural Longing after Ethics and Aesthetics (both published by the MIT Press), and other books.
“A real tour de force, this is the work of an intellectual craftsman in full possession of the materials and tools of his trade: a broad sweep of historical material, from the present day to remote antiquity, and then back again, sized and shaped with the precision instruments of his art: philology, philosophical hermeneutics, and poetic reformulation. The workplace is contemporary culture; his task, nothing less than reshaping the way architecture is understood today. Architecture is shown to endow experience with attunements that are equally material, spatial, and linguistic, apprehended by both the body and the mind, through emotions and ideas, providing us with the kind of architectural atmospheres we would not only love to inhabit but dream of designing. For that last purpose there will be no better guide than this book”
—David Leatherbarrow, Professor of Architecture, University of Pennsylvania
Interesting research that indicates it is not just the quantity of green space that matters, but the quality of its design along with activities and interest that is maintained over time to generate repeat visits and create the desire in making visits and time in it, a regular part of visitors lives. From Atlantic CITYLAB by KIERAN DELAMONT
These research findings from a park within a low income neighborhood of Toronto illustrate the challenges of park design and management and how urban designers and landscape architects should possibly be thinking about park and urban green space design beyond the pretty plans and photoshop images that they use to win design bids and elicit money for urban upgrading budgets.
Children play in a large green space in the redeveloped Regent Park neighborhood. (DanielsCorp)
“It’s an oft-repeated maxim—even among planners and designers—that parks are good for mental health. In Toronto, for example, the 2013 Official City Parks Plan reads, “access to green space reduces stress level, decreases negative mood, reduces feelings of depression, and provides other benefits to mental health and well-being.”
City officials often talk about the relationship as if it’s beyond doubt. But academic research is split on the relationship between parks and mental health. “Empirical evidence is much more limited than one would expect for such a straightforward question,” write Roland Sturm and Deborah Cohen in their 2014 paper, “Proximity to Urban Parks and Mental Health.” Their study suggests that moving to an area with more green space tends to improve one’s mental health, while moving to an area with less has the opposite effect. But one year later in a paper titled, “The Relationship between Natural Park Usage and Happiness Does Not Hold in a Tropical City-State,” authors Le Saw, Felix Lim, and Luis Carrasco found “no significant relationship between well-being and use of green space as well as proximity to green spaces. […] This study reveals that without first considering the critical factors that permit this relationship to occur, it will be premature to conclude that an increase in green space provision will lead to a direct increase in well-being.”
Another article on planning’s unforeseen consequences that is very relevant in South `Africa by Sandy Ikeda of
People sometimes support regulations, often with the best of intentions, but these wind up creating outcomes they don’t like. Land-use regulations are a prime example.
My colleague Emily Washington and I are reviewing the literature on how land-use regulations disproportionately raise the cost of real estate for the poor. I’d like to share a few of our findings with you.
One kind of regulation that was actually intended to harm the poor, and especially poor minorities, was zoning. The ostensible reason for zoning was to address unhealthy conditions in cities by functionally separating land uses, which is called “exclusionary zoning.” But prior to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, some municipalities had race-based exclusionary land-use regulations. Early in the 20th century, several California cities masked their racist intent by specifically excluding laundry businesses, predominantly Chinese owned, from certain areas of the cities.
Today, of course, explicitly race-based, exclusionary zoning policies are illegal. But some zoning regulations nevertheless price certain demographics out of particular neighborhoods by forbidding multifamily dwellings, which are more affordable to low- or middle-income individuals. When the government artificially separates land uses and forbids building certain kinds of residences in entire districts, it restricts the supply of housing and increases the cost of the land, and the price of housing reflects those restrictions.
Moreover, when cities implement zoning rules that make it difficult to secure permits to build new housing, land that is already developed becomes more valuable because you no longer need a permit. The demand for such developed land is therefore artificially higher, and that again raises its price.
In Private Neighborhoods and the Transformation of Local Government, Robert H. Nelson effectively frames the discussion of what minimal government might look like in terms of personal choices based on local knowledge. He looks at the issue from the ground up rather than the top down.
Nelson argues that while all levels of American government have been expanding since World War II, people have responded with a spontaneous and massive movement toward local governance. This has taken two main forms.
The first is what he calls the “privatization of municipal zoning,” in which city zoning boards grant changes or exemptions to developers in exchange for cash payments or infrastructure improvements. “Zoning has steadily evolved in practice toward a collective private property right. Many municipalities now make zoning a saleable item by imposing large fees for approving zoning changes,” Nelson writes.
In one sense, of course, this is simply developers openly buying back property rights that government had previously taken from the free market, and “privatization” may be the wrong word for it. For Nelson, however, it is superior to rigid land-use controls that would prevent investors from using property in the most productive way. Following Ronald Coase, Nelson evidently believes it is more important that a tradable property right exists than who owns it initially.
The second spontaneous force toward local governance has been the expansion of private neighborhood associations and the like. According to the author, “By 2004, 18 percent—about 52 million Americans—lived in housing within a homeowner’s association, a condominium, or a cooperative, and very often these private communities were of neighborhood size.”
Nelson views both as positive developments on the whole. They are, he argues, a manifestation of a growing disenchantment with the “scientific management” of the Progressive Era. He thinks the devolution of governance below the municipal level to the neighborhood should be supported through statutory and state constitutional changes.
Although about one-third of all new housing since 1970 has been built within some form of neighborhood association, the majority of older neighborhoods fall outside this trend. Establishing neighborhood associations in these areas is difficult because the requirement for a homeowner to join is typically written into the deed, and this would be extremely costly to do for every home in an older neighborhood.
Nelson proposes a six-step solution that involves (1) a petition by property owners in a neighborhood to form an association, (2) state review of the proposal, (3) negotiations between the city and the neighborhood, (4) a neighborhood vote on the proposal, (5) a required supermajority, perhaps 70 percent, for passage, and (6) a transfer from the municipality of legal responsibility for regulating land use in the neighborhood to the unit owners of the association.
A current proposal by architect Michael Maltzan Michael Maltzan Envisions the Future of LA’s Infrastructure in Archinect showing copious planting overlaid on the 134 freeway in Los Angeles illustrates what has been a trend with architects c0-operating with engineers , in this case ARUP, to envision what infrastructural interventions in the urban fabric might become in terms of making more use of them and reducing their ecological footprint through green building, carbon reduction interventions and by covering them in photoshop planting, led me to these thoughts that are here combined with excerpts from a recent conference paper I gave at the ILASA Conference 2016 in Pretoria:
View from above of Michael Maltzan’s proposed Arroyo Seco bridge overlay. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture
With impressive design diagrams and pictorial renderings the viewer is challenged to engage with a seeming reality that ignores or subsumes most of the actors emergent realities that these behemoths that they are trying to camouflage, represent: The unsustainable and incoherent consumerism that underpins the way engineering and architectural solutions generally ignore the real environmental pickle that cities are in:
In a lecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Bruno Latour posed the following question:
“When we ponder how the global world could be made habitable – a question especially important for architects and designers – we now mean habitable for billions of humans and trillions of other creatures that no longer form a nature or, of course, a society, but rather, to use my term, a possible collective… But why has the world been made uninhabitable in the first place? More precisely, why has it not been conceived as if the question of its habitability was the only question worth asking? I am more and more convinced that the answer lies in this extremely short formula: lack of space” (Latour, B. 2009. Spheres and Networks: Two Ways to Reinterpret Globalization, Harvard Design Magazine Spring/Summer, 30 pp. 138-144, ).
Maybe this lack of space is why we need to rethink how we live together in the world. As human actors that have so dramatically altered the world, it is said that we have entered the Anthropocene. Latour continues by answering the question posed above:
“As is now well known, the notion of environment began to occupy public consciousness precisely when it was realized that no human action could count on an outside environment anymore: There is no reserve outside which the unwanted consequences of our collective actions could be allowed to linger and disappear from view. Literally there is no outside, no décharge where we could discharge the refuse of our activity” (Latour 2009 p.3).
It is now widely accepted that cities are the primary source of this problem. With more than 50% of the world’s population being urbanised, cities must become resilient in the face of the uncertainties of climate, economy and politics. Various attempts have been made to quantify the resource imbalances of cities’ consumption and waste in the form of: ecological footprints , urban metabolism and urban political ecology . These quantifications are needed so that the extent of the problems become visible. Research may lead to solutions to limit ongoing damage to the environment and may also redress this imbalance by making cities more sustainable and resilient for the survival of all their occupants, human and non-human, both now and in the future.
The smart cities and engineered solutions of architects and engineers fall far short of this goal in their version of “greenscaping” with aesthetically beautiful structures in verdant “nature” with scattered people looking on in wonder at their grand creations.
Maltzan describes his proposal
“Well, the proposal for the 134 freeway, the reason I got extremely excited about the 134 is the piece of infrastructure that we would take on, it could carry so many different pieces of the larger puzzle—not only in how you change infrastructure’s role in the city but how you change all of the pieces of the environmental portfolio of benefit. In our proposal, we’re dealing with sounds, lessening the negative acoustic impacts that extend way beyond the freeway. We’re talking about miles of effect that any piece of the freeway has because of how far sound travels. We were looking at a collection of water because It’s a little like a menu: you can pick and choose which pieces you useyou have a significant amount of acreage that the top of the bridge or any piece of the highway creates. We were looking at solar and electricity generation for exactly the same reason: it’s very difficult to find large places to put solar farms in a dense urban environment. And one of the most underutilized pieces of land literally are the air rights over any of the highways, whether they’re elevated or sunken or a bridge. And then the greening of the sides of the bridge to work from an environmental standpoint, and just aesthetically for the visual environment of where that bridge goes through. And then finally the catalytic roof that we’re proposing, that takes the emissions from the cars and converts it, because of the way UV reacts to these titanium dioxide crates, and that acts as a catalytic converter.”
While I am sure that their intentions are laudable and their goal is to stimulate large scale public works to counter the past and present environmental and social crisis, it is unlikely that the results of their visions will improve anyone except a select fews lives into city.
“All of these pieces don’t have to be in play for every mile of the highway all combined. It’s a little like a menu: you can pick and choose which pieces you use or you employ depending on what the different characteristics of the freeway are, and if it’s elevated or sunken down or at grade. I think that if you begin to take this and other ideas that could be added to the laundry list, and started to look at the highway network as a real positive and begin to retrofit pieces of it (especially when it goes through and affects different neighborhoods), I think it could be one of the largest transformative urban projects of any city, for any place on the planet.
CalTrans used to dream at that scale. The highways, when they were being built, coming out of post-World War II, were seen as one of the most progressive civic governmental projects that was being done any place on the planet. There were all these positive things that were meant to come from that. And I think it’s possible for an agency like CalTrans to reinvigorate the benefit of the highways. I think they’re going to be under more and more pressure to do that, especially as you start looking at the realities of autonomous cars and other means of transportation. That’s going to start to minimize or reduce traffic on the freeways, or at least the traffic footprint. I think it’s going to open up more and more space for the highways to perform in a very different way.”
The proposal, although on grand scale and while attacking many problems of the inefficient metabolism of cites, largely ignores the underlying causes of this problem: the unsustainable consumerism that architects, engineers and city planners are dependent on for their livelihood – yes folks we have created the problem, through our designs, but designs alone, however smart they are, will not be enough to solve these problems
Overcoming these limitations requires a rethinking of the current development design process both by the relevant authorities, bureaucracies and by the design professions, the two entities who appear to be in cahoots in this process and who benefit the most by the exclusion of significant others from participating in the development agenda. They, the authorities and design professionals, have in, Latour’s terminology, “black-boxed” this process i.e. hidden its working from view and any attempts by politicians or others to disentangle it or make its workings transparent seem doomed to failure . Some local examples of how this process results in urban “white elephants” in our local South African context are the Cape Town Stadium and Green Point Urban Park, built for the Soccer World Cup 2010, the Cape Town BRT system and the Gautrain, all of which are in my opinion examples of vested interests gaining control of huge public budgets to facilitate their own economic or political agendas. While admitting that the large-scale improvements in public spaces related to the stadiums generated an awareness of the importance of public space improvement and management, Edgar Pieterse head of the African Centre for Cities criticises the results of these public space enhancements that were carried out in this process, as not having achieved the potential they might have. He writes;
“It [the design of the public spaces] remains predominately an imaginary infused with middle class café culture expectations, replete with Lavazza cappuccinos and generous pedestrian orientated pavements. To be sure these are elements that greatly enhance the public realm but at the same time reinforce the dramatic bifurcation of public life for the rich and poor.” (Pieterse 2012 ).
I believe that a political engagement is required to ignite a renewed interest in re-imaging the roles of the built environments’ participants, ecological environmentalists, social activists and those seeking a future for themselves and their offspring. It seems we should change from thinking about ourselves alone and think rather, for everyone as a whole, thereby supporting this process of change to more equitable and liveable settlements and cities. This applies especially to the “have-nots” who, if not catered for, will topple the entire structure with their neediness, frightening the “haves” with their greediness.
Pieterse suggests that in order to realise more dynamic and original public spaces, we need a more inclusive approach, one that encompasses and incorporates more of who we really are as a South African public:
“….such sensibility calls for a [landscape?] architectural agenda, design approach, urban aesthetic and built fabric that opens up opportunities for frank engagements across lines of difference and privilege in order to induce the necessary discomfort and untidiness that can lead to the thorny conversations about who we are, and how we represent ourselves in space and where we may be going as cities and distinctive cultures” (Pieterse 2012 p.87).
The situation that ~Pieterse criticizes in the context of the South Africa is equally relevant to LA as was highlighted at the ILASA conference by landscape architect Astrid Sykes from Mia Lehrer Associates who are based in LA right next toto the river, in presenting their work of the last 20 years on the LA River and a 2007 study done by a large multidisciplinary team for the city of Los Angeles on the future of the river that MLA were part of. While very positive in achieving consultation and buy-in from residents and the Mayor, it seems that this has been subverted by the City now 8 years later in appointing Frank Gehry’s office to do a project on the future of the river that teemingly ignores the previous work and as yet shows no signs of the public participation and co-design the earlier project was tasked with. It remains to be seen if this is an extension earlier work or more “green sky” City Brand building that Gehry is famous for with his Bilboa Effect.
ARMY CORPS APPROVES $1.3-BILLION LOS ANGELES RIVER RESTORATION PROPOSAL
In the same newsletter of Archinect that the Michael Maltzan project featured above comes from is a post Archinect presents Next Up: The L.A. River, at the A+D Museum on Saturday, October 29! Quoting from the newsletter
“For the latest installment of Archinect’s live podcasting series, Next Up, we’re focusing on the L.A. River, and the wide swath of urbanist concerns within its ongoing master planning efforts.
It could be the project that makes, or breaks, Los Angeles. With a complex historical legacy and an often-misunderstood ecology, the L.A. River’s 51-mile stretch is at once a huge urban opportunity, and to many, an even bigger eyesore. Thirty years ago, nonprofit Friends of the Los Angeles River was founded to protect and advocate for the river, and shortly after, the City of L.A. began looking at ways to take better advantage of the immense resource. Since then, many more communities and stakeholders have joined the conversation, raising concerns of ecology, sustainability, gentrification, public space, affordable housing, social equity—a wealth of complexities that testifies to what a lightning rod of urbanist discourse the River has become.
While conversations about the L.A. River’s future have been percolating for decades, not until only a few years ago did the plans become a divisive topic for the general public—in no small part due to the appointment of Frank Gehry’s office as a leader in the city’s master planning initiative. Reporting on the public’s first peek at the firm’s plans, Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, wrote, “as the river takes on new shades of economic and political meaning—becoming a magnet for attention and investment after decades of near invisibility—the race to reimagine it is growing more crowded.”
This engagement with the physical infrastructure, social dynamics and politics of the city might seem far from Landscape Architectures usual verdant concerns. To paraphrase the words of Brenner, Latour, Pieterse and Swyngedouw, “everything is political now” and if we wish our discipline to survive in this sea of change, we must become political and design and proselytize our own future place in this new cyborg or assemblage. Research is needed on how to create a transdisciplinary environment that can facilitate higher levels of engagement, participation and co-learning by politicians, publics, professionals and authorities alike, and is something that seems to be lacking in much of the current design process.
From the examples quoted above, it seems that large scale infrastructure is the very place to focus this engagement and to get out of the office, away from the computer and to get involved in a river, freeway proposal or public space project near you now!
With my apologies to Michael Maltzan Architecture, Frank Gehry and ARUP .
19 October 2016
Excavation is usually a bane for real estate developers. To make way for new buildings, truckloads of excavated waste are removed from site in a noisy, time-consuming and gas-guzzling process. Exploring a more sustainable solution, the California-based company Watershed Materials have developed an onsite pop-up plant which repurposes excavated material right at the job site to create concrete masonry units (CMUs) used in the development. By eliminating truck traffic, reusing waste and reducing imported materials, the result is a win for the environment.
The pop-up plant itself works by applying ultra-high compression to loose excavation spoils, transforming it into a sustainable CMU. The pressure turns the mineral grains into a sort of sedimentary rock, mimicking the natural geological process of lithification. This unique manufacturing technology is the brainchild of Watershed Materials, who previously developed the compression technique in order to reduce the amount of cement used in concrete blocks by 50%.
As the founder of the sustainable building materials startup David Easton points out: “There’s absolutely nothing new about building masonry structures from local materials. Some of the oldest and best-known architecture in the world has been constructed from stone and clay sourced directly on site.” But according to Easton, “what is new and absolutely groundbreaking is that with upgraded technology and improved material science, a construction waste product the developer had to pay to dispose of can now become an asset and provides environmental benefits as well.”
The pop-up plant was born when Naomi Porat, development manager of Alpha Group and part of the team working on the Kirkham Project, approached the startup to bring their technology straight to the construction site. The Kirkham Project is an urban infill redevelopment in San Francisco spanning across 445 new housing units, community plazas and gardens. While addressing the city’s need for additional housing, neighbors expressed concern over construction traffic, making it the perfect place to explore this onsite approach.
The role of advocacy and political engagement here espoused by ASLA in the USA is as needed in South Africa, where the demands and needs of the needy poor is sidelined by the greed of the avaricious in business and politics.
Posted by Jonathon Geels on Land8
“When people think about what influences elected officials, nine times out of ten their first thought is money… Clearly, skepticism reigns supreme when it comes to our views of how to influence a policymaker.” – Stephanie Vance, “Citizens in Action”
Despite being “for the people, by the people,” our representative democracy can seem distant. It can appear inaccessible and elitist, particularly when sensationalized by the “yellow journalism” of contemporary news media. Lobbying, and by extension advocacy, further brings to mind a hidden element of governance. Because of that, they are both practically four letter words. While this presidential election cycle has brought to the forefront the concept of politicians being “bought” by powerful lobbies, simply viewing government as a trade deal undermines the value of advocacy and professional lobbying.
I attended my first ASLA Advocacy Summit with a similar perspective and with a far greater understanding of the concurrent Awareness Summit. At the same time, I approached the event both grateful for being there and committed to gleaming every ounce of value out of the experience for the chapter I represented*. Of the dual arms of chapter outreach, Awareness (Public Relations) is sexy and glam; who doesn’t want their picture on television? Advocacy, because of the distance of government, lacks the same initial luster. Even as I listened to a professional lobbyist describe the services that he offered the society, I still had misgivings. As he outlined case studies in landscape architecture licensure battles that had littered the ground of advocacy for the society in recent years, I was unconvinced. In a state that seemingly had a shield to any licensure attacks – Indiana has a combined board with the architects who were not likely to come under any sunset issues – it was hard to reconcile the cost of lobbying. Despite the need for vigilance, the issue of licensure did not have the same sense of urgency in my state as with other chapters. Without the urgency, advocacy remained a back-burner issue, especially compared to the draw of World Landscape Architecture Month or the need for continuing education credits and networking value of the state’s Annual Meeting.
As the presenter shifted to outline the tangent benefits of advocacy and lobbying, one line was burned into my mind: “Raising the profile of the profession.” That even without a specific “ask” or dramatic need, landscape architects would benefit from engaging policymakers if for no other reason than to make the profession more prominent in the eyes of those individuals who controlled much of the direction of the built environment through the allocation of funds or the implementation of guiding policies. This was a seminal moment for me and one that changed the way that I viewed professional practice. I began to see advocacy as a partner to awareness and public relations. At the same time, I began to view Government Affairs as the natural progression in the pursuit to work as a landscape architect. It’s a complicated feeling to watch the built environment evolve, knowing that your own involvement could improve the quality of place or positively contribute to changing public health, safety, and welfare. This was a moment of clarity, like Neo seeing the Matrix for the first time. Everything was different. I was already aware of the problems that plague the profession – lack of understanding, vague licensure laws, engineering bias; finding problems to solve is easy. Inherently, landscape architects also know that layering in solutions to the problems would produce systemic benefit. But it was through advocacy to local, state, and federal policymakers that landscape architects would have the opportunity to be a constant part of the conversation. Through better advocacy, landscape architecture can become a baseline expectation, not just an add-on or luxury component or easy to value-engineer out.