“The future has already arrived, its just not equally distributed yet!” my favourite quotation from my favourite author William Gibson aptly describes this 4K Time-lapse Film by Karl Davies. There are no words or any commentary – see and think for you self what this means!
This article from the Plant Hunter bu Australian Landscape Architect Jon Hazelwood highlights the difficulties of conveying to administrators and developers the value that high impact landscape planting in public spaces is equals or exceeds the value created by conventional, commercially driven, urban upgrading. While the maintenance budget of the New York High Line project of $18 million annually, exceeds the construction value of most project landscape budgets here, the key take how is that planting design in public spaces that has a “WOW” factor , is measurable and “bankable” in terms of foot traffic generated and this information needs to form part of our sales pitch to our clients and to authorities.
Immersive, thoughtful and resilient planting is the unsung hero of some of the world’s most celebrated urban places – a design device/attractor that’s often underused or valued. Using high-intensity, naturalistic planting in a way that connects with people and commands attention, landscape architects can add value to public open spaces beyond the accepted ecological and green infrastructure benefits. How can we, as designers, open eyes and minds to the powerful impact of stunning ‘wild’ urban gardens, and encourage greater buy-in and proliferation?
The misunderstood magic of the High Line
The High Line is an interesting conundrum. Imitations of this most influential and adored landscape project are ubiquitous. But, just like our favourite unknown musician becoming successful, there can be an inevitable backlash; numerous half-baked copies appear, and then we forget what made it great in the first place.
The High Line in New York spends approximately US$18 million annually on the maintenance of the extensive planting along its 2.5 kilometre length, as well as the management and operation of its public activation program.
Speaking with Robert Hammond, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the High Line, he revealed that their visitor surveys indicate the park’s planting is the number one touchpoint for visitors, with 95% also indicating it as their reason to return. Conversely, 5% of visitors cited the programming as something that left an impression. Overall, the three things that people most wanted more of were planting, art, and programming.
The planting design of Piet Oudolf is rarely cited as a reason why numerous urban landscape design briefs include a precedent picture of the High Line, or why a consultant’s concept design includes a detail of its planting and paving. Preference is usually given to ‘activation’ as an attractor to an urban project – usually through food and beverage and occasionally via event spaces for pop-ups – ahead of planting.
Oudolf knows better, summing it up in the 2015 book he co-authored with Noel Kingsbury, titled Hummello: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life: “The group of tourists looks out over the city. One takes a photograph while others point to something in the cityscape. The view down the street from two stories high, however, soon exhausts their interest and they move on. Just a few feet later, something else seizes the attention of one of the members of the group – a flower in front of her. Soon everyone is photographing it. Progress along the elevated walkway keeps being delayed by plants, which attract their attention again and again.”
Of course, $18 million is at the high end of the scale for maintenance and we cannot expect budgets like this to be the norm for all public planting. The work of practitioners such as Nigel Dunnett in the UK, however, has demonstrably shown the increased footfall and dwell time achieved in high impact planting projects such as The Barbican in London, or Grey to Green in Sheffield – both of which have been achieved on local government budgets and maintenance regimes.
Unfortunately, proposing large expanses of planting on a public project, to the point where it becomes truly immersive and engaging, is a hard sell. Australian lifestyle programs such as Gardening Australia and Dream Gardens, are incredibly popular, as are exhibitions such as the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. We easily accept the idea of ‘the garden’ within our own fence lines, but unfortunately, too often the concept doesn’t extend into the public open spaces of our cities – instead we have acres of lomandra and Philodendron ‘Xanadu’.
‘Plant blindness’ is a term coined twenty years ago by Elisabeth Schussler and James Wandersee, botanists from the United States. They refer to “the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment,” which leads to “the inability to recognise the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs.” Plant blindness also comprises an “inability to appreciate the aesthetic and unique biological features” of plants and “the misguided, anthropocentric ranking of plants as inferior to animals, leading to the erroneous conclusion that they are unworthy of human consideration.”
Further research into plant blindness shows a demonstrable preference among children for images of fauna versus flora. This is for a variety of reasons, including the lack of a face, movement, colour variety and – with increased urban living – a lack of physical connection with plants.
Why is something as beautiful as a colourful, densely-planted garden in the city such a hard sell?JON HAZELWOOD
As landscape architects, we instinctively know that greater density of tree plantings and more green, open space is a good thing for cities. Cities create iterations of ‘green grids’ and x-million tree programs, but if city residents aren’t engaged and overjoyed with this planting – enough to become champions and stewards of their city’s flora – then these initiatives stall when it comes to implementation.
There are reams of quantitative research into the environmental benefits of city greening and tree canopy expansion, but less so on the value of our emotional responses to it. We need to arm ourselves with evidence of the ‘wow factor’, the excitement and engagement created through immersive planting schemes (and the inevitable ‘Instagram moments’ that come with it) to ensure buy-in from city-shapers and makers.
Immersive urban gardens – A new floral frontier
In January of 2019, the Victorian Government announced HASSELL and New York based architects SO-IL as the designers of the new public realm and landscape for Australia’s Melbourne Arts Precinct Transformation. The project will deliver around 20,000 sqm of public open space, stitching together the National Gallery of Victoria, the Arts Centre Melbourne, and a number of new cultural buildings. The design proposal is simple and clear – fill the space with plants and then carve out the various ancillary, performance and movement spaces. But, the planting will be of a scale and complexity previously unseen in Australian cities, and will be designed in collaboration with world-renowned horticulturalists James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnett from the University of Sheffield.
Professors Hitchmough and Dunnett are world leaders in creating ‘high impact, low input’ urban planting proposals – a body of work that’s often referred to as ‘The Sheffield School of Planting’. Much of their research centres on the emotional responses to this style of planting, which takes its cues from spectacles in nature, such as a Californian super bloom or kilometres of fox tail lilies (Eremurus tianschanicus), flowering at once on the steppes of Kyrgyzstan. Their work explores how these breathtaking floral events can be replicated in an urban setting as ‘designed plant communities’ and how we respond to these events.
Planting vs program – which delivers the best high?
In the paper, All about the ‘wow factor’? The relationships between aesthetics, restorative effect and perceived biodiversity in designed urban planting, Hitchmough et al collected the responses of over 1400 members of the public who walked through planting of varying structure, species character, and percentage of flower cover, while completing a site-based questionnaire.
The research demonstrated an emotional response of ‘excitement’ and ‘elation’ to planting that was highly floral, and a response of ‘calm’ and ‘relaxed’ to predominantly ‘green’ vegetation. “Percentage of flower cover had the single largest main effect on aesthetic perceptions. Planting with a flower cover above a threshold of 27% was perceived as significantly more colourful, attractive and had a higher perceived invertebrate benefit than planting with a lower flower cover.”
While we all need moments of calm and relaxation in our busy urban lives, it’s the moments of elation – and the subsequent triggering of endorphins – that create return visits and excitement in our public realm. These are the very same responses that a marketing consultant would attempt to elicit using food and beverage activation and ‘pop-up’ stuff.
This appreciation of the emotional response to planting (not just its green infastructure credentials), is being slowly accepted in Europe and the United Kingdom. Projects such as Grey to Green by Sheffield City Council, The Barbican in London by Nigel Dunnett, Beethovenplein in Amsterdam by Ton Muller, and Kings Cross in London by Dan Pearson, all demonstrate public support and return visits that would make a branding consultant hot under the collar.
Learning to embrace the ‘urban garden’ together
So, where are these schemes in Australia? Of course I would argue that they’re coming with the Melbourne Arts Precinct Transformation, but I’m still constantly amazed by the response to landscape, trees, and in particular, the word ‘garden’. Why is something as beautiful as a colourful, densely-planted garden in the city such a hard sell?
As Julian Raxworthy notes in his book: Overgrown: Practices Between Landscape Architecture and Gardening, perhaps the problem stems from our own profession – with landscape architecture distancing itself from gardening, and landscape architects “taking pains to distinguish themselves from gardeners or landscapers”?
I have to be honest and admit my past frustration when a fellow architect or client called me a landscaper or garden designer. But I’m now happy to embrace this. It has taken getting my own hands dirty – testing, killing, and most importantly, watching plants and how they respond to the seasons and different growing conditions, to feel fully connected to what should be the landscape architect’s primary artistic material.
To quote Nigel Dunnett, in his writing for the Melbourne Arts Precinct project, our public landscapes should be ‘exuberant and overwhelming in their beauty, provoking a deep, uplifting, joyful and sublime emotional response’ and we need more local research into these responses, along with more hard monetary facts. Let it not be forgotten that the High Line has brought an estimated US$1.5 billion to its surroundings, not bad for a giant 2.3km-long garden. Beat that, ‘activated food and beverage street’.
Cover image by Jon Hazelwood.
Jon Hazelwood, when he isn’t gardening in rural NSW, is a landscape architect, Principal and Head of Public Realm at HASSELL. He’s the Design Director for the Public Realm design of the Melbourne Arts Precinct Transformation. WEBSITE / INSTAGRAM
Jared Green has written a review for The Dirt of a new tool for assessing the climate footprint of landscape projects. The tool is free and quite easy to use, but requires soem modification to apply to areas outside of the USA.
Let’s be frank: landscape architecture projects can add to the climate crisis. If projects aren’t purposefully designed and built with their carbon footprint in mind, they are likely contributing more greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere than they can sequester over their lifespan. Projects can incorporate too much concrete and other carbon-intensive materials, too few trees and shrubs, or require industrially-produced fertilizers or gas-powered mowers or pruners for long-term maintenance, running up long-term emissions.
Instead, landscape architects can design and build projects that are not only meant to be carbon neutral, but go further and become “climate positive,” meaning that over their lifespan they sequester more greenhouse gas emissions than they embody or produce.
She has also thrown down the gauntlet with a new challenge: if all landscape architects and designers use the approach, they could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere by 1 gigaton by 2050. That would put landscape architecture well within the top 80 solutions found in the Project Drawdown report.
According to Conrad, Climate Positive Design “is not only an opportunity to re-imagine how we design our world from every aspect, but a responsibility.”
Using the site’s Pathfinder tool, landscape architects and designers can establish and then ratchet up specific sequestration and emission reduction targets for their own projects. “A target of five years is suggested to offset carbon footprints for greener projects like parks, gardens, campuses, and mixed-use developments. For more urban projects that require a greater amount of hardscape to accommodate programming, twenty years is the targeted offset duration.”
Through her research, which includes illustrative and useful case studies produced with CMG, Conrad found that “targets could be met without changing the program or reducing the quality – the projects merely became greener.”
I have for many years admired the gardens and landscapes of Chilean Landscape Architect, Juan Grim. This has largely been from a few images in magazines and books, so I was very pleased this morning to read an interview with him by Lucy Munro on the PLANTHUNTER Here are a few excerpts and pics to wet your appetite to read more.
“On the coast of Los Villos in Chile, a garden balances on the edge of a clifftop, limbs of wandering shrubs crawling over the rock face towards the depths of the Pacific Ocean below. The architect of the seaside shelter, Juan Grimm, can be found hidden within the many pockets of the garden, experimenting with unusual plant combinations or admiring a newly sprouted shrub whose seed arrived on the wind. His enduring wonder for the minutiae of the natural world is one of the many reasons Juan Grimm is considered South America’s most outstanding landscape designer. With a career spanning over thirty years and a design portfolio that includes nearly a thousand hectares of public and private gardens across Argentina, Peru, Uruguay and Chile, Juan is the master of creating natural spaces in harmony with the richly diverse landscape of South America.”
After thirty years of creating public and private gardens across Argentina, Peru, Uruguay and your home country, Chile, what keeps you excited about landscape design? When I first began designing and building gardens, I thought about how they would develop over time. Due to the little knowledge of botany and gardening that I had then, I worked with great intuition, without being very clear about the final results; I wanted the years to pass quickly, to see the newly planted trees mature. Today, after thirty-five years of experience, and with the privilege of having seen so many of these trees develop and grow old, I am deeply motivated to continue to create public or private green spaces; knowing that these places will endure over time for the use and enjoyment of future generations.
What does a typical day in the life of Juan Grimm look like? The vast majority of my days are dedicated to garden design; projecting and drawing in my studio, with the advice of the team that accompanies me. Another important element of the day happens in the field – supervising and distributing plants in the gardens that are in the execution stage; work that is fundamental for me because on the site, many things are decided that are impossible to resolve during the planning stage. It is in these moments that the garden begins to take on a life of its own. On weekends, I spend my time in my house on the coast, enjoying the landscape and the garden; I never finish intervening.
Can you please tell us a little about your life growing up and how this influenced the person you are today? My childhood was always closely linked to contact with nature; family summers on the coast were repeated for several years.
My connection with the sea – the infinite space, the rocks and the vegetation that appears very delicately from the coastal edge towards the interior – was a very important experience in the direction that my professional life would take.”
Initially, you trained as an architect. What prompted the change to landscape and why? My training as an architect was essential to recognize my passion for nature. There was no event that determined a change; rather, my architectural student projects always involved the landscape. Once I graduated, I had the opportunity to present a project to the first Biennial of Young Architecture. The proposal was the design of a park and an urban structure strongly affiliated with each other. I won first prize at the Biennial, and this confirmed to me that my path was in landscape design.
What is your design philosophy? I consider that there are interesting and fundamental concepts for the good design of a garden; notions that I seek to incorporate in my work, and whose presence will become evident as the garden grows and the projected space acquires form and volume. Movement, exuberance, infinity, sustainability and mystery.
One distinctive feature of your style is your choice to design primarily with native plants, or plants you have grown from seed. What is the thought process behind this? Native vegetation, anywhere in the world, is the vegetation that best adapts to the demands of the climate and other characteristics necessary for its optimal development. There are times when a project is located in a place where there are no nurseries available to acquire these plants. This was the case of the Tambo del Inca Hotel Project, located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, in Urubamba, Peru, where we went to the mountains to collect seeds from trees and shrubs, which were then grow in our own nurseries. Today those trees have already reached full maturity, and the garden is a reflection of the intimate landscape of the gorges of the Sacred Valley.
Global warming, and the climatic changes that our planet faces, makes it imperative that landscape gardeners increasingly use native vegetation, because with their high efficiency in adaptation and prosperity, they ensure the best energy economy in a garden, with optimal results.”
While many of us landscape architects and the other technologists affiliated to our profusion believe that the discipline of landscape architecture holds the key to improving man’s poor record of environmental and social justice, and that landscape itself is of greater value and worth that society places on it i.e. the value of public space and public landscapes to society for mental and physical health, recreation values and ecological services provided by urban green space as well as the economic benefits accruing to property owners adjacent to high quality green spaces, the money to fund these projects and to pay for the services of the providers of them, is sadly for the most part, not forthcoming. This appears to true no only here in Africa, but as a recent essay in ASLA Landscape Architecture Magazine by Brian Barth documents is the case in the USA as well and is likely a global problem.
As I commented in a previous post Design and the Future of Landscape Architecture, this very relevant to the current educational and work crisis that Landscape Architecture faces in South Africa and many other parts the world:
These excepts from are from the MAY 2019 issue of LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE and the full essay can be read there.
“In many respects, we’ve entered a golden era of landscape architecture. The profession’s profile appears to be on the rise, as environmental crises become more urgent and unavoidable and landscape architects increasingly take on lead roles in major projects. Interest in stormwater management, habitat restoration, and the public realm has expanded dramatically in recent decades, driving demand for landscape architecture services. The industry took a hit during the Great Recession, but since 2012, the American Society of Landscape Architects’ quarterly survey of firms (which tracks billable hours, inquiries for new work, and hiring trends) has found consistently robust growth.
One would expect new recruits to flock to the profession thus. But this is not the case. The number of people working in the field of landscape architecture peaked at around 45,000 in 2006, then nose-dived to about 30,000 in 2013. The post-recession boost in demand for services, though welcome, did not translate into warm bodies at the office. By 2016, the most recent year for which Bureau of Labour Statistics data is available, landscape architecture employment had dropped below 25,000.
Student enrolment in landscape architecture programs has followed a similar trend, says Mark Boyer, FASLA, a former president of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture who is currently the head of the landscape architecture program at Louisiana State University. “Things started looking bad in 2009, and by 2012, there was no program in the country that wasn’t off by half in their enrolment.” Collection of enrolment numbers at a national level was inconsistent during that period, but ASLA data shows that from 2013 to 2017, enrolment in bachelor of landscape architecture (BLA) programs declined an additional 15 percent. Enrolment of master of landscape architecture (MLA) students remained flat from 2013 to 2017, though the number of domestic MLA students slid by 16 percent, with the balance made up by an influx of international students.
Stephanie Rolley, FASLA, the head of the landscape architecture program at Kansas State University, says the gap between the demand for services and the supply of designers predates the recession. “We knew at least 15 years ago that we were not filling the positions of retiring landscape architects, so we’ve seen it coming. We just don’t have enough people to fill the slots.”
So what is it blocking prospective students from seeing the value of a degree in landscape architecture?
One way to assess the psychology of career choices is simple arithmetic: the cost of a degree divided by the income-earning potential it provides. In other words, the return on investment, or ROI, a person can expect from an education.
While there are many ways to crunch those numbers, and innumerable variables based on personal circumstances, student debt and median income are the most readily available apples-to-apples data for comparing education ROI across professions. According to Design Intelligence, the average MLA student leaves school with $39,284 in student loan debt. Median pay for landscape architects, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, is about $65,760 per year, for a 1.67 ratio of income to debt. For architects, the ratio of median income to graduate student debt is slightly better at 1.72; interior designers have it slightly worse at 1.32. I was unable to find student debt data for planners, though employment in the planning field is expected to grow 13 percent by 2026 compared to 2016 levels, about twice the rate of landscape architecture. Architects have the highest average income of the four professions (more than $78,000), but a low projected growth rate of 4 percent.
Those numbers provide little indication that allied professions are the culprit in siphoning off would-be landscape architects. Those fields are also haemorrhaging students: Graduate student enrolment in architecture and planning programs fell by 10 and 11 percent, respectively, from 2013 to 2016.
A more likely culprit is the information technology (IT) industry, in which the median pay is $84,580, and some specialties pay upward of six figures. Unlike law and medicine, which offer high income-earning potential but come with proportionally higher tuition, careers in tech are unlikely to incur greater education costs than the design professions, leading to a high ROI ratio. And for the entrepreneurially minded, the seven-, eight-, nine-, and 10-figure potential of tech executives dwarfs that of design firm owners.
While landscape architecture lost a third of its workforce during the recession, the tech industry barely registered a blip. Since then, tech has continued its march to world domination, or at least domination of the campus career office. A 2018 analysis by CompTIA, a tech industry professional association, found that IT job postings were up 30 percent from the previous year, with astronomical growth in some specialties: in artificial intelligence, 149 percent, and 370 percent for blockchain positions.
For the rare breed who pursues a career in landscape architecture, money is clearly not the driving force. But even students in mission-driven professions can be smart about maximizing their ROI.”
Kristopher Pritchard, ASLA’s director of accreditation and education, sees other changes on the horizon, albeit less charged ones, that the profession has little choice but to adapt to.
The growth of online education has added a wrinkle to students’ choices, for example, with implications for both tangible and intangible value. Online courses tend to be cheaper per credit hour (though not always); you won’t incur moving costs upon enrolling; the cost of rent is not a factor in school choice; and class time is flexible, making it more feasible to hold a regular job, or raise a family, while earning a degree.
Pritchard says that some landscape architecture programs now offer certain courses in an online format. He’s heard from several schools who are considering a fully online landscape architecture degree program, but only one, the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, has done so to date (bachelor’s and master’s degrees are available). The Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board approved accreditation standards revisions to allow online programs a path into the accrediting process last year, though as of this writing the Academy of Art University has not pursued accreditation, which is required for licensure in some states.
Whether an online degree becomes accredited or not, it’s fair to question its value in a profession rooted in collaborative studio culture. But in Pritchard’s view, educators will have to find a way to make it work. “Online education is growing exponentially, and if we don’t keep up with that, we’re going to be left in the dark,” he says. “I get a lot of calls about online degrees from people interested in studying landscape architecture, but they’re working or have children, or some other reason prevents them from moving to a place with a program. So there seems to be a need out there among people wanting to get a landscape architecture education, but not in the way it’s currently structured.”
Pritchard points to another potential disruption down the road: Landscape architecture could one day be a master’s degree-only profession. “There’s a question floating around about whether that’s where we are headed,” he says, noting that while BLA enrollment has dipped, MLA enrollment has been steady enough to encourage three new programs to open since 2013. But that steadiness rests on the fact that 41 percent of MLA students now come from other countries, mainly from China (see “ICEd Out,” LAM, February). Pritchard worries that trend may not continue indefinitely. “We’re looking at what’s going to happen to those programs if fewer international students enroll, because of visa issues or whether they’ll even be allowed to come because of their nationality…or whether they’ll even want to come here based on some of the politics that are happening right now.”
Would a greater emphasis on high tech help siphon prospective students from the IT orbit? Pritchard thinks it wouldn’t hurt. He occasionally hears from students who complain that their professors seem to be stuck in the Stone Age. But ultimately, the problem lies in where society places value, not in the actual worth of the profession. To avoid being left behind in a fast-paced world, landscape architects have to get better at selling their brand, demonstrating that the future lies not in the next great gadget but in healthy ecosystems, healthy cities, and healthy people.
“I think that our profession has not adequately explained what we do and generated public understanding of how landscape architects’ work impacts quality of life for people,” Rolley says. “It’s something there’s been a lot of talk about, but not enough action.”
I herewith repost eh response ot he is article form Tricia to this article _ it makes lot of sense to me :
I humbly offer a comment to this story. My intention is to offer a different point of view and a possible solution or two. I have done a bit of research and from my own experience in LA school – studio needs to be re-imaginated. Those classes were my biggest expense and sorry to say I got very little knowledge from it. Yes, part of the issue with LA schools is the expense. Why is it so expensive? Studio. And it’s not just LA but Architecture and Interior Architecture studios as well. Personally, I was surprised by the teaching methodology for teaching students how to do a project. I can only speak for my school. There was no teaching actually. It was students attempting to teach each other and critique each other’s projects instead of the instructor. Sometimes we got feedback from the instructor – but rarely. All of the time students we just given examples and then told to go figure it out with no reference material and no instruction. Our only option was to find and watch YouTube videos to learn software and graphics. I did my homework. The book “Landscape Architecture Research: Inquiry, Strategy, Design” by Deming and Swaffield describes this teaching method as a process. huh?? What !?? Okay for the record, since the LA schools were inviting people from different majors to go to their graduate schools and “bring their ideas”. Be careful… I have a few. First of all, I whole hardly disagree with this teaching method. To date, I have not found good scientific studies in the Psychology of Learning journals to back this up. None. And secondly, this was just blind leading the blind and no one was (actually, even though we all pretended to smile) happy – neither students nor instructors.
There is another point to make as well. Most of the ads I’ve seen for firms require a license and experience. There are very few who offer entry level. One reason I’ve heard over and over again is that we don’t want to invest in teaching you – for you to leave. Well then, I suggest that the managers learn how to teach in order to bring their entry level people up to speed faster. Since LA is so broad maybe we should take teaching more seriously but other professions need to teach better too.
In conclusion, part of the issue is, in my professional opinion, that college programs and employers go back to school too, and learn “how to” teaching methodologies. LA is a fantastic profession! And, I’ve meet people who would love to do it. We can make it affordable. We can teach better. And, we must. Our planet’s ecological systems might depend on at this point. Thank you for reading this far. I hope it gives everyone some food for though
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
The revival of an activist federal design bureaucracy is necessary to the success of a Green New Deal. It 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.
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/>
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:
“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.”
“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 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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.
Sam Bloch, “Shade,” Places Journal, April 2019. Accessed 18 May 2019. <https://placesjournal.org/article/shade-an-urban-design-mandate/>
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.”
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.”
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 website ” I 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!
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.
“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
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.
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.