What’s next for landscape architects? – DIRTINESS

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“Renew Calumet” /wkshp/bluemarble

By wkshp/bluemarble

A Green New Deal means designers can live up to their potential to solve the thorny problems of our time. Landscape architects, planners and architects may be familiar with the Green New Deal Superstudiowhich was a call to designers to “spatially manifest” the Green New Deal, or imagine projects centered on jobs, justice and decarbonization.

The Superstudio marks a turning point for landscape architecture. Grounded in the politics and context of climate change and social unrest, the Superstudio is the landscape architecture community’s public recognition that our work is deeply connected to politics.

As a collective of young practitioners, we understand the importance of the Green New Deal conversation taking place inside and outside of our profession. ASLA and the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) embraced the Green New Deal and organized students and practitioners to imagine its tangible implications in the built environment. These steps represent real action towards practice change that Billy Fleming, ASLA, the director of the Wilks family at the McHarg Center at the University of Pennsylvania, asked in his 2019 article, Design and Green New Deal. Like Fleming and organizations in the profession, we recognize that change must occur if landscape architecture is to have a chance.

Changing landscape architecture is crucial if we are to make a meaningful contribution to a livable future. As Superstudio participants, Wkshp, a team of emerging professionals, saw Superstudio as a way to imagine both future projects and adapted practice.

For us, the Superstudio was fulfilling in several ways. With limited experience in professional practice, we found a shared sense that our professional experiences were not in complete alignment with what we were sold to in school – a sometimes romanticized version of our personal career paths and the impact they will have. After a few years of practice, we have maintained faith in the potential of landscape architecture to effect large-scale change. Perhaps the most important aspect of Superstudio is that it inspired us to make room to rekindle our passions and our sense of purpose, in ways that often don’t match typical practice patterns.

“Understanding GND through landscape architecture” /wkshp/bluemarble

What is not exactly in line with existing practice and why? When developing our Superstudio submission, our time was spent identifying implementation barriers and asking questions. Time and again we were brought back to the same dilemmas of power, which are beyond the scope of a typical landscape architecture project, but which were centered in our Superstudio work: structural racism, a patriarchal society, colonialism, severe economic inequality and environmental injustice, among others.

“Towards a just transition – Community activist in the Calumet region” / wkshp/bluemarble

Working within the Green New Deal was liberating – it meant we could transcend the constraints of today’s market and a model of practice formulated to serve it. It has allowed us to imagine design processes and projects that serve economically, socially and ecologically deprived geographies and communities, while thinking about how we can work differently.

We imagine a culture that has overcome megalomania, utopianism and individualism. In the Superstudio we find the seeds of a collaborative realism and inclusive organization that we are now working to scale and ground. Thus, a Green New Deal project is not necessarily a “new project” in its constructed form, but the where, the how and for whom represent a transformed practice. The Green New Deal creates living infrastructure in places that need it but cannot afford it, repairing landscapes that have been relentlessly extracted, preparing underserved communities for an unpredictable future, with a focus on the fact that everything will be co-designed. This is a new medium and a new mode of practice – one of which does not yet exist, but is desperately needed.

The Superstudio was an ongoing experiment as much as a design project. wkshp/bluemarble, a non-hierarchical collective with people from multiple companies working together across three time zones, embodied this ethos everywhere. We understand that flexible leadership ethics and constant growth are key to meeting the challenges of our generation.

“Renew Calumet” /wkshp/bluemarble

The modernist approach exemplified by architects Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright is a deeply flawed and failed model. We cannot rely on individuals to save the planet. Along the same lines, we need to stop putting individuals on a pedestal within the design culture as a whole. Almost nothing in our field is created – or even designed – by a single individual, and it’s time to recognize the power of a team as well as elevate the power of ideas, rather than praising a single person. On that note, we reject destructive criticism from those in power within our small profession. Young designers need support, especially those willing to dedicate a career (or even a year as a thought experiment) to reimagining our collective future.

With this transformational spirit, the Superstudio summit, Anchoring the Green New Deal, was an opportunity to start imagining the next steps with the other participants and leaders of Superstudio. The summit hosted by LAF, along with the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, ASLA and the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) at National Building Museum in Washington, DC, presented a curated selection of projects and speakers from practice, policy and advocacy. The thought-provoking summit, informative and beautifully executed, sparking a series of deep thoughts.

The immediate and more distant future of the profession was on display at the summit. For those looking for flash notes on advancing jobs justice and decarbonization, here are some general themes we’ve picked up:

  • Connect and lend your support to organizers, center the visions of frontline communities, and address and address the relationship between us, our communities and our professions to colonialism, racism and structural inequalities.
  • Get a better understanding of the pathways of power and implementation, both locally and nationally, so you can get things done now.
  • Simultaneously work to advance policies like the GND that aim to create large-scale change in the future, work to change the institutions that hold power, and when working with developers and politicians, make them think that your transformative idea is their idea.
  • Above all, to have a real impact, we must organize ourselves and plan our actions.

We have been particularly inspired by the work and vision of organizers such as Battle of Colette Pichon, Esq., executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, an organization that actively brings justice to frontline communities in the Gulf Coast region, and represents the type of organization designers could support in projects similar to the Green New Accord. The voices of those with experience in the public sector were also heard, such as Mitchell Silver, Hon. ASLA, former commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. These panelists shared their strategies for working within existing institutions to produce projects that embody the pace, scale and justice orientation of the Green New Deal in the present.

Kate Orff, FASLA, Founder of SCAPEand Fleming, two key figures in Superstudio and the profession as a whole, provided essential coaching through presentations that served as spur to advocacy and guide for implementation.

We felt that the lack of organized dialogue among the mass of Superstudio attendees was a missed opportunity and that the summit format, while inspiring, seemed devoid of the grassroots and inclusive spirit of Superstudio. Some challenges – mostly “how do I start doing this now?” variety – have yet to be tested in the real world. For example, once we are in contact with community organizers, are we ready to work differently from our usual practice? Can this work happen on a large scale outside of academic spaces? How is this work done where there is no existing implementation structure, or if the structure cannot transcend existing forms of development? How can this transformative practice be extended outside the most populated and resource-rich regions of the country?

Urgency is in the air. The summit must be the start of a conversation, yes, but above all must contribute more to radical action both inside and beyond the field, locally and globally. Now is the time for landscape architecture to evolve.

Here are our next steps: capacity building, organizing, and most importantly, doubling the collective imagination that Superstudio has engaged so radically and meaningfully.

wkshp/bluemarble is a team of emerging professionals working for transformations within practice and the world at large.

Adriana Hernandez AguirrePartner ASLA, Coleman & Associates
maddie clarkDesign workshop
Olivia PinnerAssociate ASLA, SWA
Adam ScottPLA, ASLA Associate, SWA
Nicolas Zurlini, Associate ASLA, GGLO

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