Emerging Landscape Architecture Leaders Offer ‘Next Game-Changing Ideas’ (Part II) – THE DIRT

Texas Roadside Wildflowers / Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

“The transformational leadership of landscape architects can help heal our post-traumatic world,” said Lucinda SandersFASLA, CEO of OLINin his introduction to Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF)the fifth class of Leadership and Innovation Fellows.

She told the in-person audience of hundreds in downtown Washington, DC, that the foundations of the landscape architecture profession now seem to be “shaking,” but a path to a more diverse, equitable profession and sustainable is under development. This path will be forged by “continuously cultivating the next game-changing ideas” and “removing barriers in order to design effectively.” During a year-long research project, the six fellows, who include both emerging and established professionals, were asked to “transform themselves to transform others”.

Landscape architects once led pavement design, argued Ellen OettingerWhite, who is a doctoral candidate at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux invented the concept of the parkway in the 1860s, and for decades landscape architects led interdisciplinary teams of engineers to build roads that prioritized the beauty of the landscape. But with the rise of the interstate highway system during Eisenhower’s time, “they lost their power.” Today, hundreds of landscape architects work in state departments of transportation and have “deep expertise” in road design, but now must work collaboratively in engineer-led teams to practice their influence.

Timeline of landscape architecture and transportation / Ellen Oettinger White, image from Going-to-the-Sun Road, National Park Service

White said the 1930s was the height of road design led by landscape architects. In 1932, the Transportation Research Board Landscape and Environmental Design Committee was formed. The 1950s saw a loss of “positional power” for landscape architects with the rise of highways and freeways designed for high-speed travel. But with the Beautiful Highway Act from 1965, an effort led by Lady Bird Johnson, there was a greater focus on native plants and roadside wildflowers, increased flexibility in design, and a new, larger role for landscape architects (see l picture above).

The more recent clear-cutting of trees along highways in many states offers an opportunity for landscape architecture to reclaim pavement design, White thinks. In Georgia, 13% of roadside surfaces have been cleared. “Engineers see this as a safe landscape,” because fewer trees mean fewer tree strikes. But there has been a growing backlash in Georgia and other states where scenic beauty has been sacrificed for notions of safety. “There are 5 million acres of public roads in the United States. There are 1.1 billion car trips taken every day. Driving is the only way millions of people can interact with the landscape. White believe roadside provides an incredible opportunity to not only deliver the benefits of scenic beauty, but also to sequester carbon, restore ecosystems and create safe wildlife corridors.

I-696 Slope Restoration Research Project / Michigan Department of Transportation, Nanette A.

N. Claire Napawan, ASLA, an associate professor at the University of California, Davis, said his landscape architecture students are “so creative, engaged, and diverse, but they’re entering a profession that’s not diverse.” As part of her fellowship, her goal was to diversify landscape architecture pedagogy, reassess curricula, and operationalize commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion to better resonate with people. diverse students. This involved reassessing outdated manuals that did not put landscape diversity at the centre.

Through her process, Napawan discovered an important truth: “We love stories. We love stories with heroes and villains, origin stories and transformation stories. Stories have a profound impact on how we frame our understanding of the world. But too often, our important stories are incomplete or not inclusive. For example, she said she taught about Frederick Law Olmsted and Central Park, and until recently she didn’t know the story of Village of Seneca, the liberated black landowner community that was moved to make way for the park. This led her to “look for stories that are missing in formal education”. But a challenge arose: “how do you know what is missing, if it was always missing?”

N. Claire Napawan

Seeking answers outside the academic discipline of landscape architecture, Napawan explored history, feminism, and critical race theory, with the academic disciplines “asking different questions.” This led her to her following conclusion: “We live in stories. We are the stories we tell ourselves. This is why it is so important to encourage personal storytelling among diverse landscape architecture students. She recounted growing up bi-culturally in Bangkok, Thailand, and Scott County, Iowa, with her experiences centered or marginalized, depending on her background. Students need to have more diverse landscapes as learning tools to find those that resonate with their own complex stories. “Design is storytelling. Storytelling must make room for radically different multiplicities and precedents. We need new stories for diverse design. And we have to leave room for new stories.

Various stories of landscape architecture students / N. Clare Napawan

“We need to advance the science of landscape architecture,” said James A. LaGro Jr.professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and editor of landscape diarythe academic journal of Council of Landscape Architecture Educators (CELA). With a master’s degree in landscape architecture and a doctorate in natural resource policy and planning from Cornell University, LaGro called for improving the scientific evidence for the benefits of landscape architecture. He argued that this is the key to growing the profession and increasing its impact.

With a comprehensive view of how the profession of landscape architecture can grow in the future, he issued several calls to action to ASLA, LAF, CELA and the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board ( LAAB). He called for more pathways to advanced research degrees, including fellowships and fellowships, and multiple career paths outside of private practice. To build a more evidence-based practice, the landscape architecture profession should draw inspiration from the medical fields, with a clinician and research-based approach. To achieve this, it will be essential to strengthen partnerships between university landscape architecture programs, businesses, non-profit organizations and foundations, and government agencies. “We need to foster partnerships – that’s where the real synergies come in. Academics need to learn from practitioners what the research issues are.”

More doctorates in the field of landscape architecture can also help improve research methods. “Doctors can ask more sophisticated questions and get more sophisticated answers.” He sees the rise of corporate research labs as an implicit critique of academia. Landscape architectural firms want to find solutions to “complex social problems and advance the profession, but they’re not getting what they need from academics.” But he also cautioned that case studies and research often created by companies have limited research value. “We need more systematic reviews, meta-analyses and randomized controlled trials to create compelling evidence for policy makers. We need better evidence.

James LaGro Jr.

Read Part I of this series.


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