Wildfires are common in Canada, but “it is unusual for blazes to be burning simultaneously in the east and west,” Reuters reported. There have been more than 2,300 wildfires just this year. Many of the worst fires have occurred in the Eastern province of Quebec, where 11,000 people have been evacuated. Five Canadian provinces, covering a broad swath of the country, have been impacted.
Climate change is causing abnormal weather patterns, increased temperatures, and droughts, leading to drier forests. When combined with growing forest fuels — which include combustible biomass such as needles, twigs, shrubs, and dead trees — wildfire risks significantly increase.
Parts of Canada have experienced a “heat dome,” a high-pressure system, which spurred on early fires in its prairie region. Florida-based meteorologist Jeffery Berardelli told The Guardian, “a ‘heat dome’ like this is a very rare occurrence in this part of the world this time of year. Historically and statistically speaking, it is rarer than a 1-in-1,000-year event.” With climate change, heat domes are expected to occur earlier and more often, putting greater pressure on Canadian and other forests.
In the United States, smoke from the wildfires has blanketed the Midwest, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and is heading towards the South and Southeast. An interactive map from BlueSky Canada shows the extent and movement of the smoke in near real-time. Air quality in New York City and other Northeastern cities have been the worst on record.
So far this year, Americans on the East Coast have inhaled more wildlife smoke than those on the West Coast, argues Heatmap. Wildfires have significantly increased air pollution in Western states for many years, but now it’s a national issue. In The New York Times, David Wallace-Wells writes: “Across the country, the number of people exposed to what are sometimes called extreme smoke days has grown 27-fold in just a decade, and exposure to even-more-extreme smoke events has grown 11,000-fold.”
In a post from 2020, Rob Ribe, FASLA, PhD, professor and director of the master’s of landscape architecture program at the University of Oregon, told us: “Fuels reduction is the only known option to increase forests’ resilience. Prescribed portions of young or smaller trees, dead wood, and shrubs could be reduced in hundreds of millions of acres in the American West, and again, later on, in the forests of the eastern states. This is happening at a growing pace, but piecemeal, wherever funding and political support coalesce. It’s not enough to meet the larger challenge.”
With climate change, Canada’s national, provincial, and territorial governments also clearly need more resources to reduce forest fuels, including through controlled burns, and restore forests. The number of out-of-control fires continues to grow.
The institution of slavery shaped landscapes on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. And in turn enslaved and free Africans and their descendants created new landscapes in the United States, the Caribbean, and Sub-Saharan Africa. African people had their own intimate relationships with the land, which enabled them to carve out their own agency and culture.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, slaves brought from Sub-Saharan Africa were central to the production of many U.S. and Caribbean commodities, including cotton, tobacco, rice, rum, and sugar, and the industrialization and financial markets that resulted from them. The success of the Domino Sugar Company and its refinery on the waterfront of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was a direct result of enslaved labor. As such, “Brooklyn is a part of the Black Atlantic,” said Emily Holloway, a PhD student at Clark University. “Slavery in the south and Caribbean underwrote industrialization in the North.”
Holloway uses multiple academic disciplines to disentangle the “messy reality of racial capitalism,” which runs from Africa to Haiti, Cuba to the Northeast. This economic system relied on slaves and the accumulation of capital, which took the form of buildings and infrastructure.
The success of the Domino Sugar Company can also be understood as a result of a slave rebellion, which drove major changes in the sugar cane economy of the Caribbean. “The beginnings of the Domino Sugar Company leads back to the Haitian revolution,” Holloway said.
Self-liberated Haitians rose up and defeated the French colonial army, which caused sugar plantation owners on the island to flee to eastern Cuba. There, they clear-cut the land and reinstalled their slave-based sugar cane economy. This sugar was then sent to New York City for processing as the granular table sugar consumers bought in stores.
William Havemeyer, the founder of a company that later grew into Domino Sugar Company and later Domino Foods, Inc., formed a sugar refinery in lower Manhattan in 1807. Fifty years later, his firm moved to Williamsburg, where they built a larger refinery.
After that burnt down, the company built a colossal building in 1883 that could produce a million pounds of sugar a day. The company took up four city blocks and created a “densely populated industrial ecosystem.” Today, the building is being redeveloped as an office building, and the Domino waterfront has become “gentrified” and transformed into a park.
This industrialization process was mirrored in the sugar cane plantation landscapes of Cuba. Small farms multiplied and grew in size. Enslaved and then free laborers were still needed to harvest the cane but the processing at the farms became increasingly mechanized. “This history has been largely erased in the archives,” Holloway said, and a “more creative approach to research is needed.”
Justin Dunnavant, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, approaches the history of the Caribbean through multiple academic lenses as well.
He said there are researchers exploring the ideas of Black ecology, which examines the unique ways Black people interact with nature and how they are also erased from the environment. And there are also researchers focused on historical ecology, looking at how relationships between societies and environments have changed over time.
His goal is to synthesize these approaches into the new study of Black historical ecology, which can explore how ecological relations changed because of the slave trade. This will involve weaving together multiple narratives to examine the plantation system’s impact on both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. His hope is it can result in “a call to action to redress.”
Dunnavant has focused on the island of St. Croix, which was part of the Danish West Indies and is now part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. As part of an archeological research collective, he and his team are investigating the ecological impacts of slavery and plantations, including the deforestation that occurred to clear lands for sugar cane; the soils that were degraded by agriculture and development; and the coral mined for buildings. His work is also a part of the Estate Little Princess Maritime and Terrestrial Archaeology Field School, which trains Crucian high-school students in archaeology while investigating the remnants of Danish slavery.
At the same time, he is also uncovering the little known legacy of the maroons that claimed isolated areas of the island. Maroons were Black slaves who freed themselves by escaping, and some were their descendants. They formed self-sufficient communities throughout the Caribbean and southern United States. They often mixed with Indigenous peoples, forming new creole communities. In St. Croix, they led a slave rebellion that ended slavery in 1848.
The part of the island where the maroons found sanctuary was “unmapped” in Danish historical records, but it was actually a “rich area of Black freedom.” Using Lidar data and other archeological tools, Dunnavant’s team is uncovering the remnants of what he calls a “Black geography.” He is interested in how the maroons terraced the land for agriculture and created fortifications and leveraged the dense landscape to protect themselves. “Uncovering their stories is a form of redress.”
Matthew Francis Rarey, a professor at Oberlin College, then took the audience to Brazil to focus on the Portuguese colonial empire and its deadly campaign against maroons.
Approximately 80 fugitive slaves had made a home at Buraco do Tatu, on the coast of Bahia in Northeast Brazil. Their quilombo, or fugitive community, was destroyed by colonial forces. And that destruction was documented in a unique map that accompanied a letter to the viceroy.
The map was meant to provide evidence of the colonial power’s success in suppressing maroons, but it has become an “icon of scholarship,” as it is one of the few comprehensive aerial perspectives on how maroons organized themselves.
The map depicts a community nestled in sand dunes and blended into surrounding trees and shrubs. At its outer perimeter are fields of surrounding wood spikes. There are spiked trap holes. But there’s also a single path to the sea. The inner sanctum, the community itself, is organized on a grid, with homes arranged by streets. And there are food gardens and a trellis for growing passion fruit. “It shows a rebellion landscape,” Rarey said.
The maroons would use the path to reach roads where they would rob wayfarers. “They were fighting against inequality and capitalism.” The maroons would also target enslaved Black people going to market in an attempt to strike a blow at the plantation economy. “Their goal was to dismantle plantations from the inside” by “weaponizing blackness” and making plantation owners “look foolish,” Rarey said. They also participated in informal exchanges to build their supply of guns and gunpowder.
The map includes a legend that explains how the maroon community were killed in the onslaught by Portuguese colonial forces. One maroon woman was labeled a sorceress and “defamed after her death.” Many others killed themselves instead of risking re-enslavement. In the map, the corpses become “part of the subjugated landscape.”
The Portuguese process of mapping the community is an attempt to reinstate colonial order on a free Black landscape. Rarey said you can sense the “anxiety of the cartographer” as they had “no reference point.”
The institution of slavery shaped landscapes on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. And in turn enslaved and free Africans and their descendants created new landscapes in the United States, the Caribbean, and Sub-Saharan Africa. African people had their own intimate relationships with the land, which enabled them to carve out their own agency and culture.
Thaisa Way, FASLA, director of the garden and landscape studies department at Dumbarton Oaks, said the symposium was the fourth in a series meant to “curate a people’s history of landscape.”
African slaves in the United States’ Southern states and the Caribbean were forced to work in their owners’ plantations. They were seen as cogs in an industrial farming system driven by a trans-Atlantic capitalist market economy. But many owners also set aside land slaves could use to grow, trade, and sell food. “This was advantageous for the slave owner,” said C.C. McKee, a professor at Bryn Mawr College and the University of Copenhagen, as it meant having to spend less on feeding them.
McKee is intrigued by a painting by the artist simply known as Le Masurier, created in the French colony of Martinique in the 1770s (see image above). It clearly shows slave children eating sugar cane, the result of the plantation monoculture, but also the “Afro-Caribbean ecologies,” the many African and native trees and plants slaves planted at the edges of plantations, including cashew and tamarind, pea, and starfruit.
According to historical accounts of plantation life during that time, slaves also planted potatoes, yams, cabbages, herbs, and melons. They blended native Caribbean and African plants, taking a “creolized approach to food production.”
The edges of plantations were places where African social structures could be asserted. In these remnant spaces, slaves could decide how to parcel and cultivate the land. And while slave ownership of these areas was impossible, in some communities, hereditary claims were made on parcels, and kinship structures could play a role. In some communities, they functioned as a slave commons. They were “sites of resistance” to the slave owner’s world.
What isn’t seen in the painting McKee highlights is a depiction of the important role indigenous Caribbean peoples played in cultivating trees and plants, and on many islands, their role in teaching Africans how to harvest and prepare food from them. “The indigenous people have been ghosted because they were completely expelled by the 18th century. They were exterminated and exported; it was genocide.”
Slave children also had a complex relationship with the landscapes of the American South, explained Mikayla Janee Harden, a PhD student at the University of Delaware. They were put at greater risk by a dangerous landscape but also “knowingly imprinted on that landscape,” she said.
Children were left on their own or in the care of an elder while their parents worked the fields. Depending on their age, many were also tasked with clean-up and other responsibilities.
On plantations, slaves lived near untamed landscapes. Children who worked and played in these places without shoes were at great risk from snake bites. The few references to slave children in historical records relate to the medical knowledge gleaned from these bites. Children’s lack of “experience, wisdom, and judgement increased their risk of environmental harm.”
But children could also benefit from their “tacit knowledge” of the landscape. While still enslaved, some apprenticed at a young age to learn important trades. Harden highlights the example of Edmond Albius. Enslaved as a child on the French island colony of Reunion, he discovered a highly efficient way to cultivate vanilla that is still used today.
Landscape was a source of “pain and pleasure” for enslaved children. Untended by their working parents, they could be bitten by snakes or have accidents but could also learn, play, and imagine. Harden is next exploring the material culture — the corn-husk dolls and games enslaved children created — and how these objects transmitted African folklore and culture to the next generation.
The conversation then shifted to the other side of the Atlantic. The landscapes of the Falémé Valley in western Sub-Saharan Africa are a source of deep interest for Jacques Aymeric-Nsangou, a professor at the University of Manitoba in Canada. The valley provides insights into how African people avoided the process of enslavement and commodification.
Aymeric-Nsangou decided to research the hinterlands because most Africans captured and enslaved came from the interior, not the coasts. “Many had never seen the ocean before” when they were loaded into slave ships at coastal ports.
The Falémé River spans approximately 250 miles and flows south to north — from northern Guinea, through Mali and Senegal. It flows through mountains, forests, and deserts, and experiences dramatic seasonal changes. It is a tributary of the Senegal River, which flows east to west, so it could be used by slavers to carry captured people to ports on the western coast.
The landscape of the valley included both independent kingdoms and villages of the varied Madinka (otherwise known as the Manlinke or Mandingo) people, who are of similar ethnic origins. They were targeted by the Muslim Fulani (or Fulu) kingdom for capture as part of jihad (holy war). Enslavement had a long history in this part of the world. For centuries, captives were taken as a product of war. People could also be enslaved if, after a trial, they were deemed criminal or for other reasons.
Aymeric-Nsangou explored the few remnants of Tatas, the fortified defensive homes and landscapes of the region, with a team of archeologists. “The Tatas didn’t appear before the 18th century; they increased because of the slave trade,” Aymeric-Nsangou said.
There are no remaining, intact Tatas in the region, because the French colonial government largely destroyed them. But historic photographs show they were made with raw mud cement and stone.
The interiors of the Tatas were labyrinthine and had multiple layers of walls. Noble families occupied the innermost Tata, which also had the strongest walls. Outside, wood palisades, which are still seen in many communities today, provided an extra layer of security against slavers. And these communities also sometimes “weaponized African bees.” These insects are famously aggressive. And “there are stories that villagers could command them to attack.”
While the Tatas could offer defense, they could also be a trap. Another strategy villagers in the region took was to keep their community small so they could quickly relocate.
Now in its second year, the program will provide 10 women of color with a two-year, personalized experience that includes up to $3,500 to cover the cost of sections of the Landscape Architectural Registration Exam (LARE), along with funding for and access to exam preparation courses and resources, and mentorship from a licensed landscape architect. Applications are due June 30.
Program eligibility requires the individual to:
Be a current ASLA member in good standing or eligible for ASLA membership at the associate, full, or affiliate membership levels
Identify as a woman and be a person of color
And be eligible to sit for the LARE in the state where they are pursuing licensure.
According to the U.S. Census and ASLA data, approximately 18.5 percent of the U.S. population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, while only 6 percent of ASLA members do. 13.4 percent of the U.S. population identifies as African American, but only 2.14 percent of ASLA members do. 1.3 percent of the U.S. population identifies as American Indian or Alaska Natives, but only 0.45 percent of ASLA members do. And 6.2 percent of the U.S. population identifies as Asian and Pacific Islander while 13.5 percent of ASLA members do, but ASLA doesn’t separate Asian from Asian American members in its data.
The statistics are telling, and as outlined in the Racial Equity Plan of Action, ASLA is committed to fostering equity and inclusion within the profession and making significant strides to ensure that the makeup of the profession closely mirrors the communities landscape architects serve.
Frederick Law Olmsted, the founder of the profession of landscape architecture, was designing nature-based solutions 150 years before the term came into favor. He designed with nature, conserved landscapes and ecosystems, and incorporated native plants — all of which are now contemporary approaches to increasing resilience to climate change.
But now, many of Olmsted’s parks, and those of his sons, are being tested like never before. “Olmsted parks are on the front lines of climate change,” said Dede Petri, CEO of the Olmsted Network, during an online discussion as part of Olmsted 200. And his parks are also increasingly test-beds for new solutions, too.
In a discussion moderated by Dinah Voyles Pulver, national climate reporter at USA Today, Erin Chute Gallentine, public works commissioner with Brookline, Massachusetts, said her city’s Olmsted parks are dealing with climate impacts such as flash flooding and drought. Parks’ trees are now “increasingly vulnerable to pests and diseases.” And across the city, climate change is reducing biodiversity and causing “less robust nature.”
In Manhattan, Central Park has seen record rainfall, more extreme weather events, and mass flooding brought on by climate change. Other impacts include “erosion, pathogens, and the spread of invasive plants” and an “erratic planting calendar,” said Steven Thomson, director of thought leadership at the Central Park Conservancy Institute for Urban Parks. Climate change is also causing milder winters, which means more visitors in the park year-round. “The park doesn’t have time to rest; it is trodded on more during its restoration phase.”
Looking nationally, ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen highlighted how increasing temperatures and urban heat islands are putting pressure on Olmsted’s parks. “This in turn threatens the health and safety of communities,” he said.
As the climate continues to change, Olmsted’s parks will take on an even more important role. Olmsted understood the value of ecological health and believed it was central to human health and well-being. As cities deal with flooding, drought, extreme heat, and sea level rise, Olmsted’s urban respites will be needed even more.
Ecological conditions in Central Park are now being monitored by remote sensors. And the “lived experience” of those who work in the park day in and out are also a focus of research. Together, quantitative and qualitative data will inform policy recommendations that will help other parks adapt.
In the Boston and Brookline, the Emerald Necklace, a 1,100-acre chain of 12 parks, was originally designed by Olmsted to provide multiple benefits. It was simultaneously designed for flood control for the Muddy River, sanitation, scenic beauty, and wildlife habitat.
But in recent years, the park system has been impacted by development and climate change. Invasive plants and stormwater have deteriorated Olmsted’s flood control mechanisms. During storms, the Muddy River has regularly flooded surrounding neighborhoods. One severe storm caused “devastating flooding” and more than $60 million in property damages.
The Muddy River Restoration Project, formed out of a broad partnership, has been daylighting culverts, dredging, and removing invasives in order to speed the flow of floodwaters, increase the capacity of the Emerald Necklace to store water, and restore ecosystems. As Olmsted envisioned, “banks will swell, but we’ll be able to naturally manage the flooding,” Gallentine said.
The Central Park Conservancy is also bolstering Olmsted’s ingenious natural infrastructure so it can better withstand future changes. To support a range of species, the conservancy is daylighting streams and creating riparian habitat. It’s replacing lawn with grasses. And it’s also creating more spaces designed for birds and other pollinators.
And at a national level, ASLA is building on its Olmstedian legacy of fellowship, advocacy, and democratic engagement to advance climate action, explained Carter-Conneen. (Two of Olmsted’s sons were among the society’s co-founders).
ASLA launched its Climate Action Plan last year, and its goals include investing in nature-based solutions, focusing on equitable development, and restoring ecosystems on a global scale, which we can imagine Olmsted Sr. would have supported.
“Boston needs to ramp up its heat adaptation strategies, because two summers ago, the city had 40 days of temperatures over 90 degrees. This was a major problem because no one in the city has air conditioning,” said landscape architect Diana Fernandez-Bibeau, ASLA, deputy chief of urban design at the Boston Planning and Development Agency, during the Living Future conference in Washington, D.C.
Fernandez-Bibeau and Tamar Warburg, director of sustainability at Sasaki, outlined Boston’s innovative new plan for addressing extreme heat, which is part of its Climate Ready Boston effort. The plan promotes strategies ranging from parks to street trees, green roofs to library cooling centers, and offers “multiple layers of benefits.”
“The city is centering people in the resilience process. We’ve completed [sea level rise and flooding] planning for all the city’s coasts. And now with the heat plan, we are ahead of the ball,” Fernandez-Bibeau said.
Heat is a priority for the city because it is “the number-one cause of weather related deaths,” she said. “Children and older adults are at risk, along with those with pre-existing conditions like asthma and diabetes. Construction workers, athletes, the unhoused, and those without air conditioning are also at risk.”
Through the 350 plus-page plan, the city argues that heat depends on how someone experiences it, rather than the actual temperature. “Age matters, as does someone’s adaptive capacity, which relates to level of access to cooling. In built-up environments with no trees, parks, or splash pads, perceived heat can have a greater intensity.”
Fernandez Bibeau emphasized that the data used in Boston’s plan is rooted in perceived heat, which she called “revolutionary.” The city decided not to use federal data, instead creating new climate datasets and modeling that they argue tell a truer picture of what heat feels like on the ground in different conditions.
The city brought together a multidisciplinary team, which was led by Sasaki, a landscape and planning firm, and includes All Aces, a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultancy; Klimaat, which provided heat data, modeling, and visualizations; and WSP, which examined how to finance heat solutions.
Equity was a major focus for the team. Boston has a dark racial past, and “many areas of the city were redlined and subject to disinvesment by the Boston city government,” said Warburg. When the Sasaki team identified the hottest areas of the cities, they found they almost perfectly lined up with the communities that had been subject to racist policies in the past.
The city focused on these previously redlined areas, what they call “environmental justice communities” — Chinatown, Dorchester, East Boston, Mattapan, and Roxbury.
According to Fernandez-Bibeau, these are not what have been described as vulnerable communities. “There are vulnerable conditions and infrastructure, not vulnerable communities. These communities are actually incredibly resilient, but their environment doesn’t serve them.”
In the five neighborhoods, temperatures can be up to 7.5 degrees hotter, which means the difference between 83 and 90 degrees. And the communities are even hotter at night. “They have 70 percent less parks and open space and 30 percent fewer street trees than communities that weren’t redlined,” Warburg said.
Chinatown was found to be Boston’s hottest neighborhood. “89 percent of it is impervious, and there is little greenery or shade.” The community is a heat island, which is caused by paved streetscapes and the thermal masses of buildings. “Those buildings radiate heat at night, reducing the ability of the community to cool down.”
To kick-start the work in the neighborhoods, the city and the planning team set up advisory boards, hosted open houses, sent out surveys, and hosted youth charrettes.
Sasaki also asked Bostonians to mark on a map where they felt hot. “In the comments, recurring themes came up — the lack of shade and trees, the impacts of pollution, and affordability issues,” Warburg explained. And the comments also outlined where Bostonians go for cooling relief.
City residents could use a website to create their own three-panel comic strip, choosing colors to indicate how uncomfortable they are. “It was qualitatively helpful.”
And with each neighorhood, the team also drew possible solutions on top of a transect, showing how trees, parks, shade structures, and green roofs could be woven in.
Sasaki and Klimaat tested the cooling benefits of a range of strategies, including converting streets to parks, planting street trees and tree groves, and adding shade structures. They also examined the different cooling benefits of green roofs; cool roofs, which are painted white; and shaded green roofs.
The team looked at how to make transportation systems more heat-resilient, too. Through pocket parks and cool streets, walking to the bus or subway will be made a cooler experience. So will “cool bus stops” with shade canopies. All these strategies together form an implementation toolkit.
The plan also covers how to increase equitable access to cooling. In the past, the city had opened up cooling centers but asked for personal information, such as name, phone number, and health insurance information.
Warburg said the unintended effect was to drive away many prospective visitors. “This was asking too much info,” particularly for the unhoused; immigrants, who may not have documentation; and others concerned with their privacy. Warburg learned that many instead “went to public libraries, which have water, bathrooms, wi-fi, and a place to sit.”
As a result of the research, the city will “move away from asking for IDs” at the cooling centers in the future, Fernandez-Bibeau said.
The city government and Sasaki piloted the creation of new outdoor cooling areas at a few public libraries, which provided free wi-fi, shade, and misters. “At the East Boston public library, the plan was to keep up the temporary outdoor cooling pop-up for a few weeks; it ended up staying for four months,” Warburg said. (see image at top).
To increase resilience, the plan calls for operationalizing heat management, including heat risk notifications through the city’s 311 system.
Other priorities include: mobilizing city government workers with heat wave resources; and targeting utility assistance programs and long-term home energy retrofits towards at-risk community members.
Building community capacity to manage heat solutions is another focus area. “Neighborhood champions can help ensure older residents are using fans and drawing their shades,” Warburg said.
“Heat resilience is layered. All solutions are needed to mobilize communities,” Fernandez-Bibeau said.
Now the hard part. Implementation challenges will need to be addressed, such as securing the capital budgets to develop new cooling nature-based solutions and the maintenance budgets to support that work.
And some underserved communities are already concerned that adding trees will have a gentrifying impact. “What if by adding trees we make it less affordable to live here?” Warburg worried.
Tree maintenance issues are a factor. Cities like Philadelphia and Boston have planted thousands of trees but seen many of them die because neighbors didn’t have the time or resources to take care of them.
“During drought and heat waves, trees need extra care; without that, it impacts their ability to thrive,” Fernandez-Bibeau said. The city now has four arborists on staff who can help watch over the canopy.
And to ensure future development doesn’t cause more heating, projects not only need to include energy and carbon modeling, but also thermal comfort modeling as a matter of course. “Any development’s impact should be understood relative to existing heat conditions.”
Fernandez-Bibeau said more planning will be needed to advance the heat plan as well. “Heat adaptation will require studies involving the city’s urban forest plan, open space and recreation plans.”
“Boston faces some extreme challenges. Inequities and climate climate are interconnected,” Fernandez-Bibeau said. And to date, the city has been “hindered by old systems and structures, which are not enabling communities to grow in an equitable way.”
While the heat solutions are rolled out over the coming years, Fernandez-Bibeau urged policymakers and landscape architects to use projected weather data for 2050 and even 2070 and “design for the future.”
According to the producers, the film “underscores the profound inequality that persisted for decades in the number, size, and quality of state park spaces provided for Black visitors across the South. Even though it has largely faded from public awareness, the imprint of segregated design remains visible in many state parks.”
“O’Brien’s balanced research on Black self-help to achieve some measure of recreational access in the face of Jim Crow is one of the book’s crowning successes,” LaRue Smith writes. “There are many other well researched elements relating to the history of the ‘Negro Problem,’ park planning and politics, post-World War II ‘separate but equal’ policies, and court battles primarily brought by the NAACP to dismantle park segregation. Together, these research areas build a much-needed historical record of Jim Crow and the exclusion of African Americans in southern state parks.”
The film features commentary by O’Brien, who is a professor of environmental studies at Florida Atlantic University, and architect Arthur J. Clement, who attended a segregated state parks as a child. “Dramatic images and live footage bring this painful history into contemporary focus,” the film producers write.
In collaboration with the National Building Museum, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is presenting this event free of charge. The Olmsted Network and Library of American Landscape History are co-sponsors. And the program is supported by the Darwina L. Neal Cultural Landscape Fund for adult programs focusing on cultural landscapes.
5:30 pm – Doors open
6:00 pm – Film screening
6:30pm – 7:15pm – Panel discussion with William E. O’Brien, Arthur J. Clement, and Wairimũ Ngaruiya Njambi, moderated by ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen.
7.15 – 7.30 pm – Remarks by Bronwyn Nichols Lodato, president of the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council, on behalf of the Olmsted Network
7.30 – 8.30 pm – Reception
Design Workshop, a landscape architecture, planning, and urban design firm, created a foundation in 2002. The foundation has now launched a new Community Capacity Building Initiative, which they describe as a “comprehensive technical assistance process designed to advance community action and overcome built environment challenges.” The foundation seeks applications for technical assistance from underserved communities in Roaring Fork Valley, Colorado; Piedmont region, North Carolina; and the Houston Metroplex, Texas.
The initiative aims to address the “systemic under-funding of projects in historically under-represented communities.” The foundation will provide “no-cost support for community teams.” Each project will be staffed with “teams of 3-4 landscape architects and planners,” which will have weekly hours assigned to the projects. The teams will organize workshops and charrettes with communities to create action plans.
“The Community Capacity Building Initiative goes far beyond simply donating our design and planning services. The work done on the selected projects is strategically designed to fill a gap in the design ecosystem in support of historically marginalized communities,” said landscape architect Sarah Konradi, ASLA, executive director of the Design Workshop Foundation.
The initiative aims to help communities with a range of projects. These could include developing strategies and planning documents to move forward fundraising and implementation; designing events and programs; or organizing “tactical” or “pop-up” projects, such as “painted bike lanes, crosswalks, parklets, temporary parks and installations.”
“One project will be selected for each of the three regions,” Konradi said. “We intentionally selected areas near a few of our office locations so that our teams can be hands-on throughout the entire project. It also allows us to draw on our first-hand understanding of the area’s distinct culture, diversity, opportunities, and challenges to co-develop outcomes that fit the needs of the communities.”
With climate change, wildfires and heat waves are becoming increasingly dangerous. In many communities, they occur at the same time in summer months, putting the public’s health at even greater risk. And children, which are one of the most vulnerable populations, are being impacted and having to stay home from school.
During these climate events, “can we open school buildings as shelters and safe community spaces?” asked Abby Hall, senior advisor for local and regional planning at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), during the Living Future conference in Washington, D.C.
Hall, a citizen of the Cherokee nation, works in the EPA’s Office of Policy, where she focuses on local and regional planning and leads projects that involve urban design, landscape architecture, and sustainable architecture. She also leads a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support “better disaster recovery and climate adaptation planning.”
As part of this partnership with FEMA, Hall and her collaborators are developing county-wide hazard mitigation plans and pilot programs that increase resilience to extreme heat and wildfires in Oregon and Arizona.
“When we think of cooling centers, we may think of malls, movie theaters, faith-based facilities, community centers, parks, recreation centers, schools, and libraries,” Hall said. Many of these places can also serve as clean air centers. “These places can be respites, resilience hubs.”
For this effort, the EPA is focusing on schools in particular, and how to improve their infrastructure so they can serve as both cooling and clean air centers. The EPA is looking at schools because kids are among the most groups most impacted by heat and smoke. And if they need stay home from school, a parent also needs to stay home, causing ripple effects in communities.
Landscape architecture firm Spackman Mossop Michaels is consulting with the EPA for the multi-year effort. “We are helping focus attention on the priorities when we talk about vulnerabilities. There are lots of needs, but not enough resources,” said Emily Bullock, ASLA, a principal with the firm.
The planning team, which also includes Glumac, an engineering firm that is a subsidiary of Tetra Tech, is partnering with pilot communities in Kittitas and Multnomah counties in Oregon, and Pima County in Arizona, which includes tribal lands.
The team has conducted stakeholder meetings, run population and risk assessments, and developed action plans that function as “playbooks.”
What will also come out of the process with pilot communities is an “intentionally simple tool any community can use to identify threats and vulnerable populations, determine level of access to cooling and clean air centers, and identify the feasibility and costs of updating school facilities,” Bullock said.
In each community, both extreme heat or wildfire smoke were top issues, but one was slightly higher priority than the other.
In Multnomah County, which includes Portland, the team first explored: Where are the big impacts? Where are the most vulnerable?
Age is an important factor in determining vulnerability. Both children and older adults are at greater risk. The team also looked for communities with high percentages of asthma cases, people who work outside, and those with income below $50,000 per year.
The next level of analysis then meant to answer the questions: “How can we serve the most number of people? Where can we have the biggest bang for the buck?” Bullock said.
The team looked at census blocks and transit access to find the schools in the hottest locations, near the most numbers of vulnerable people, and where there was the highest population densities.
Then, an additional layer of analysis examined: “Which schools would be the easiest to upgrade? Which have the capacity for assembling large number of people, beyond students?”
Across western states, there have been increasingly “hot and dry summers.” This weather creates conditions for “worst case scenarios — a super hot day with wildfire smoke,” Bullock said.
“And while heat and smoke require different solutions, children are the common factors,” Hall said.
Children face greater risks from heat because “their bodies are smaller, so it’s harder for them to cool down. They forget to drink water. They are less able to adapt to extreme heat because of physiological differences,” Hall explained.
And smoke is also a greater danger for them because “children continue to develop their lungs and have narrower airways. They take twice as many breaths as adults. They are lower to the ground where particulate matter rests. And they have more permeable skin.”
The risks facing children, older adults, and outdoor workers are worsened by systemic inequities. Previously redlined neighborhoods are hotter because of historic lack of investment in trees and green spaces. And these communities also often have lower levels of air conditioning in homes.
And in communities comprised of diverse cultures, “there may be different ways to cool bodies, based on age, ethnicity, or whether someone works outside.” So historic inequities and diversity must also be factored in.
Whether communities are dealing with heat or smoke, there are health risks for the entire population. Extreme heat can lead to heat stroke and cardiovascular, respiratory, and kidney disorders. Smoke can create eye, respiratory, and cardiovascular problems and exacerbate diseases. And asthma is worsened by smoke.
For children in school, heat and smoke also have significant impacts on learning ability. Studies demonstrate that test scores go down in warmer classrooms or when there are wildfires. And asthma is the leading cause of absenteeism in schools. “Reducing these impacts is really part of the business case for schools. Test scores are how they measure success,” Hall said.
The conversation then focused on how the pilot programs may help create national guidelines on heat and smoke for schools. “When should sports be cancelled? When should schools be closed? We need to do more work there,” Hall said.
The pilot programs will also offer best practices on how to upgrade HVAC systems and better prepare schools, teachers, and the community.
In many Pacific Northwest communities, air conditioning is rare because it hasn’t been needed. But with climate change, there is now a need to address increasingly common summer temperatures over 90 degrees. “Most of Portland, Oregon’s schools don’t have air conditioning,” Bullock said. “Where will they find the resources to upgrade?”
The analysis created by the EPA, Spackman Mossop Michaels, and Glumac also looks “beyond the HVAC” to roofs, campus streetscapes, tree canopies, and transportation systems as solutions.
“Our message is that schools are a safe place. Keep your children in school,” Hall said.
And last fall at COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, the administration released the “first national strategy on nature-based solutions,” a roadmap that offers “strategic recommendations” to “unlock the full potential” of these approaches to “address climate change, nature loss, and inequity.” In other words, the administration believes if planned and designed well, nature-based solutions can provide integrated carbon drawdown, resilience, biodiversity, and equity benefits.
In Miami, Harris argued that “natural infrastructure reduces the impact of storm surges and hurricanes. And by the way, natural infrastructure is often more effective than concrete barriers and retaining walls.”
Earlier this year, Harris spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Miami, where landscape architect Kate Orff, FASLA, founder of SCAPE Landscape Architecture, also presented. Perhaps it was there that Harris and her team learned about Living Breakwaters in Staten Island, New York City, which leverages oyster reefs to reduce the impact of storm surges.
Back in Miami for Earth Day, Harris said “we will restore oyster reefs. And that work will diminish the impact of tropical storms and hurricanes and clean our oceans by filtering out polluted runoff from our cities.”
Harris made clear that the benefits of nature-based solutions aren’t theoretical. “All of this makes sense. And it works! It is very doable; it is within our grasp. And that is why I am so optimistic about all of this.”
The Vice President also recognized the economic benefits of designing with nature to address climate change. “These investments will not only protect our environment but also strengthen our economy. For example, here in Florida, our work will create jobs for construction workers, environmental engineers, and landscape architects.”
Landscape architect Aida Curtis, ASLA, co-founder of Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, attended Harris’ speech in Miami. She was personally invited by the White House because of her long-time leadership on nature-based solutions in Miami.
Curtis’ team instead “envisioned vegetated shorelines with mangroves along with strategically-placed bermed islands in the Bay that would attenuate wave action during storm surges. This is a grey/green solution, not all nature-based, but it would be much better for the community and environment and increase park access.”
“Vice President Harris’ recognition that nature-based solutions can be more effective than concrete barriers and walls was enlightening. Her optimism and commitment to coastal communities gives me hope for Miami. It gives me a huge boost to continue our efforts to advocate for and design nature-based solutions,” Curtis told us.
And on a personal level, “it was amazing to hear the Vice President recognize the work that we — landscape architects — do on climate adaptation and resilience. The fact that nature-based solutions was at the heart of her message gives me great encouragement that we are on the right path.”
Harris announced that $562 million in IRA funds will go to a few key NOAA-managed programs. This is because “demand for funding focused on preparing for and adapting to climate change is high,” NOAA states. Funding requests made by communities to date have exceeded what is available.
Of the $526 million, $477 million will be dedicated to “high-impact projects” that provide multiple benefits at once:
“creating climate solutions by strengthening coastal communities’ ability to respond to extreme weather events, pollution and marine debris
restoring coastal habitats to help wildlife and humans thrive
building the capacity of underserved communities to address climate hazards and supporting community-driven restoration
and creating jobs in local communities.”
$46 million will be distributed through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation National Coastal Resilience Fund to “help communities prepare for increasing coastal flooding, sea-level rise and more intense storms, while improving thousands of acres of coastal habitats.”
And $39.1 million in non-competitive funding will go to 34 state and territorial coastal management programs and 30 national estuarine research reserves.
According to NOAA, these programs provide “essential planning, policy development and implementation, research, education, and collaborative engagement with communities.” The goal is to “protect coastal and estuarine ecosystems important for the resilience of coastal economies and the health of coastal environments.”