Looking to Olmsted in the Era of Global Urbanization

Riverside Park and Central Park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Manhattan, NYC / istockphoto.com, Terraxplorer

This year marks the 200th birthday of Frederick Law Olmsted, who is considered the founder of the profession of landscape architecture. Do his ideas still matter in today’s rapidly urbanizing world? Jayne Miller, chair of World Urban Parks, asked global landscape architects and park leaders to weigh in during the latest online conversation organized by Olmsted 200.

For Kongjian Yu, FASLA, founder of Turenscape and professor and dean, College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at Peking University, “Olmsted is still relevant because he knew how to meet essential human needs. He brought nature back to the city, which is so important for the human body. We need nature to get energy. But we also need open public space as a group. He believed green space means equal space.”

Mount Royal Park, Montreal, Quebec, Canada by Frederick Law Olmsted / istockphoto.com, bakerjarvis

“Olmsted knew if you love nature, you will take care of it. Elevating nature is about civilizing yourself. If we elevate nature, we also civilize human beings. We can civilize cities,” Yu said.

Olmsted was one of the first to articulate the value of nature for an urbanizing world, said Yu, who has translated many of Olmsted’s essays into Chinese.

In the 1880s, when Olmsted was at his peak, almost 30 percent of the U.S. population was urban; today, it is 70 percent. In contrast, China was just 10 percent urban up until a few decades ago and then the country went through a rapid period of urbanization, reaching an urbanization rate of nearly 65 percent by 2022.

“Urbanization is now global, and we can all learn from what Olmsted knew 150 years ago. He was 150 years ahead of the rest of the world.”

ASLA 2016 Professional General Design Honor Award. Framing Terrain and Water: Quzhou Luming Park, Quzhou City, Zhejiang Province, China. Turenscape

“Olmsted sticks with us because he knew landscapes are about delivering physical, psychological, and social benefits — they can even be symbols of collective identity,” said Romy Hecht, associate professor at the School of Architecture, Ponticia Universidad Católica de Chile.

“It seems to me Olmsted was about re-imagining cities as a whole place with whole landscapes,” said Alison Barnes, CEO, New Forest National Park Authority, chair of the Green Halo Partnership, and board member of London National Park City.

Barnes’ own work with London National Park City is a “modern Olmsted movement,” Miller argued. It’s about “everyone benefiting and contributing to urban nature, about deep democratization of nature,” Barnes said.

Primrose Hill Park, London / istockphoto.com, Paolo Paradiso

“We think cities should be habitats for ourselves. We should be able to get lost in nature in cities and connect with nature wherever we are.”

“I think Olmsted said utility trumps ornament. Utility is about connecting with our need for nature. There is a lot of synergy with our work and Olmsted’s. It’s important that we refresh these ideas.”

The pandemic caused large numbers of urbanites to leave the city and buy homes, sometimes sight unseen, in more natural rural areas, Miller said. Could this be the first sign in a slow down in global urbanization?

“I believe more urbanization is inevitable. Human communities have always evolved into urban ones. It could be a beautiful process rooted in nature,” Hecht said.

But for this to happen, more cities will need to follow Olmsted’s model. “He was an activist who called for urban improvements, a sense of community, and the diversification of opportunities.”

For Barnes, it is less about following an Olmsted-like figure and more about engaging and empowering communities to take action — to “create demand for nature.” In the UK, a number of development projects that would have negatively impacted natural areas haven’t happened because of “strong and vibrant” community groups.

Access to green space is a fundamental human need; “it’s essential.” “It’s not just landscape architects on their hobby horses, but about ensuring our quality of life.”

Unfortunately, access to urban nature is still highly unequal across the developed and developing worlds, even where there is significant community engagement. For example, in Santiago, Chile, which has six million residents in 200 thousand acres, “37 percent of the population has just 33 square feet of green space per capita, while 0.5 percent has 200 square feet per capita,” Hecht said. There is also unequal maintenance of these spaces and therefore unequal park quality.

Parque Bustamante, Providencia district, Santiago de Chile, Chile / istockphoto.com, tifonimages

This means “we need a green recovery” that brings more parks to more people. “Leaders have an obligation to engage communities to achieve these goals. We need to start with leaders.”

Along with rapid urbanization, countries around the globe must also contend with the climate crisis. Miller asked: What would Olmsted propose to address the impacts of climate change — green infrastructure and nature-based solutions?

“The first wave was Olmsted’s wave — to green the city. The second wave was to design with nature at the regional scale, like Ian McHarg proposed. Now with industrialization and urbanization at a global scale, we need a third wave — to transform the globe,” Yu argued.

“We need new nature-based infrastructure. We can no longer rely on concrete, steel, and chemicals. Sea walls and gates will inevitably fail. We need to plan ecological infrastructure” for the entire planet.

ASLA 2020 Professional General Design Honor Award. Deep Form of Designed Nature: Sanya Mangrove Park, Sanya City, Hainan Province, China. Turenscape

“Olmsted offered a way. His Emerald Necklace in Boston was adaptive with a muddy river system. He gave space for the water, marshlands, and lowlands. This is a model for adapting to climate change.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (September 1-15, 2022)

Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, aerial view from the south / Studio Gang and SCAPE

Studio Gang’s Redesigned Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in Little Rock, US, is Set to Open to the Public – 09/2022, ArchDaily
“The new building is situated within 11 acres of public landscape designed by SCAPE Landscape Architecture and inspired by the native ecologies of Arkansas.”

Michigan Gets $105M Grant from Feds To Turn I-375 in Detroit Into Boulevard – 09/15/2022, The Detroit News
“City leaders have envisioned the elimination of I-375 as a way to reconnect once-predominantly Black neighborhoods divided by the highway when it was built in the 1950s and ’60s, bulldozing the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley residential and commercial districts in the name of urban renewal.”

The Best of Urban Design 2022 – 09/15/2022, Fast Company
“See all the honorees of Fast Company’s 2022 Innovation by Design Awards in the Urban Design category.”

At 75, the Father of Environmental Justice Meets the Moment – 09/12/2022, The New York Times
“The White House has pledged $60 billion to a cause Robert Bullard has championed since the late seventies. He wants guarantees that the money will end up in the right hands.”

The Town Squares We Used to Have — and Could Have Again – 09/12/2022, Governing
“This historic importance of town squares, in towns of all shapes and sizes, is impossible to dispute. The question is how badly we need them now — not just as picturesque garden spots but as gathering places for a functioning community.”

First Look at Frisco’s Newest Park – 09/07/2022, Local Profile
“OJB Landscape Architecture, the firm behind Dallas’ Klyde Warren Park, is handling the park’s design that’s centered around providing inclusive and accessible year-round arts and culture programming to reflect North Texas’ diverse character.”

Herzog & De Meuron and Piet Oudolf Team for Philadelphia’s Forthcoming Calder Gardens – 09/07/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Landscape architect Richard Herbert, ASLA, joins Herzog & de Meuron and Piet Oudolf to design Calder Gardens, slated to open in 2024.”

Uproar Causes U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Rethink Miami Storm Protection Plan

Visualization of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ grey infrastructure proposal. Response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study / Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, courtesy of Miami Downtown Development Authority
Visualization of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ grey infrastructure proposal. Response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study / Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, courtesy of Miami Downtown Development Authority

A persuasive local advocacy and media campaign convinced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a new, expanded study for a $6 billion project to protect Miami from future hurricanes, coastal flooding, and climate impacts. Critics argued that the Army Corps’ initial draft plan for the project, which had proposed a series of sea walls and gates, would have negatively impacted the character of Miami, reduced property values, and cut-off access to important waterfront parks, exacerbating existing inequities in access to public space.

The Miami Mayor’s office and Downtown Development Authority instead demanded a deeper exploration of nature-based solutions, including constructed islands and mangroves, to protect the urban coastline along Biscayne Bay. The Army Corps has agreed to spend $8 million over 60 months, essentially doubling the cost and timeline of the original study, and take a more collaborative approach with city stakeholders.

Key to this shift were renderings created by Miami-based, women-led landscape architecture firm Curtis + Rogers Design Studio for the Miami Downtown Development Authority, which governs the business district. These concepts were included in the Authority’s response to the Army Corps’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study but soon became the focus of public attention and coverage in The Miami Herald and local TV stations, social media discussion, and national coverage in NPR and The New York Times. The authority commissioned visuals that would both show how 20-feet-tall concrete walls along the bayfront would impact the city (see images at top) and demonstrate how a better alternative, rooted in nature, could offer protections while offering many other benefits.

According to Aida Curtis, ASLA, a founding principal at the firm, the Authority gave her firm just two weeks, during the height of the pandemic, to work with coastal and civil engineers to create nature-based design concepts. She explained that the concepts are comprehensive, but more research, modeling, planning, and design work needs to be done to further hone the ideas. Still, the Authority was able to use these concepts for leverage in negotiations with the Army Corps.

“We had 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,” Curtis said in a zoom interview.

An alternative nature-based proposal. Response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study / Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, courtesy of Miami Downtown Development Authority
An alternative nature-based proposal. Response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study / Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, courtesy of Miami Downtown Development Authority
An alternative nature-based proposal. Response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study / Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, courtesy of Miami Downtown Development Authority

Curtis argues that “this kind of idea is what the Corps should have proposed initially,” and her concepts are line with their stated Engineering with Nature principles, which calls for using nature-based solutions to solve climate impacts.

The Army Corps had engaged Miami-Dade County, which includes the City of Miami, in a series of complex feasibility studies to improve resilience against storms, flooding, and sea level rise. In other study areas, south of the city, the Army Corps did propose nature-based solutions, including mangroves, Curtis said.

But the issue was in the downtown core, they only offered hard grey infrastructure. “We wanted to show the walls as real as they would be, with graffiti and the trash that is common in parts of downtown Miami. People didn’t realize how tall or in-your-face these walls would actually be.”

Visualization of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ grey infrastructure proposal. Response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study / Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, courtesy of Miami Downtown Development Authority

“Their proposal would also have put many residential communities outside the wall. This lack of thought is what caused the uproar. The city needs a much more comprehensive solution.”

Curtis noted that Miami suffers from significant water management problems. So much groundwater has been extracted through wells that saltwater is now seeping into the water supply. Stormwater runoff and fertilizer use throughout the city and country have caused significant water quality issues, leading to massive fish kills. In Miami Beach, a system of pumps have been instituted to draw out flood water. “But they discovered that during a hurricane, there is no power, which means no pumps. Grey infrastructure solutions for water management have failed in Miami.”

There are many arguments for designing nature-based solutions — using landscape architecture strategies to help solve Miami’s problems. Curtis said they offer multiple environmental and equity benefits.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tentative Selected Plan and Alternate Plan. Response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study / Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, courtesy of Miami Downtown Development Authority

On the environmental side, mangroves reduce inland flooding by serving as a barrier against waves. But they also clean and oxygenate the water while providing habitat for sea life and sequestering carbon.

An alternative nature-based proposal. Response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Back Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management Study / Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, courtesy of Miami Downtown Development Authority

Given housing has become increasingly unaffordable, lower-income communities in Miami have been pushed west, inland. “Park and open space is very limited in the city. Low-income and immigrant communities have limited access to the waterfront.”

One of the benefits of natural coastal infrastructure is that it can double as park land. “New islands in the bay could be designed to be accessible public space that people can enjoy.” Her firm’s proposal would create 39 acres of new public recreational areas.

Curtis said next steps will be key. The Army Corps and city will need to “bring in more stakeholders and get more community input.” The city is expected to also undertake their own complimentary planning effort.

Perhaps the one positive effect of the initial Army Corps study is that “more people in Miami are now paying attention to this and more are involved in climate action,” Curtis said. “The intended audience of the response was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but the Authority’s report and our images transcended and went viral.” There is also now greater awareness of the value of nature-based solutions and “the detrimental effect grey solutions can have on cities — the severe damage they can have on quality of life.”

Climate Week NYC: Designing Better Shorelines–with Nature

Living Breakwaters, Staten Island, NYC / SCAPE Landscape Architecture

As part of Climate Week NYC, one of the world’s largest climate events, the New York Chapter of ASLA has organized a dynamic virtual event: Designing Better Shorelines—with Nature.

This free on September 21 at 4.30 PM EST features Pippa Brashear, ASLA, Principal, SCAPE Landscape Architecture; Donna Walcavage, FASLA, Principal, Stantec; and Adrian L. Smith, FASLA, Vice President at ASLA and Team Leader, Staten Island Capital Projects, New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.

According to the panel, designing with nature helps communities become more resilient to climate change. Living Breakwaters and the Tottenville Shoreline Protection Project in Staten Island, New York City, demonstrate how coastal communities can adapt to rising seas and increasingly intense storms. These innovative projects, led by landscape architects, work in tandem to reduce wave action and beach erosion, create wildlife habitat, and enhance public recreation.

Living Breakwaters, Staten Island, NYC / SCAPE Landscape Architecture

The built environment not only includes buildings and concrete infrastructure, but also landscapes, which are increasingly critical for adapting to climate change. Landscape architects are responsible for planning and designing these nature-based solutions that bring maximum benefits to communities.

The two projects in Staten Island grew out of New York City’s response to Superstorm Sandy, which struck in October 2012. The storm was a wake-up call for the city to better prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Tottenville Shoreline Protection Project / Stantec

Sandy’s impact is understood to have been intensified by climate change — higher ocean temperatures and sea levels may have contributed to the heavy rainfall and the stronger storm surge, which inundated parts of Staten Island and led to the death of several residents and billions of dollars in damage.

Living Breakwaters is currently being constructed in the Raritan Bay. The Tottenville Shoreline Protection Project will be built on the shore itself. The landscape architects leading these projects will explain why we need to re-imagine our coastlines for climate change and future superstorms and how to do it.

Register today

For landscape architects, this free event offers 1 hour of PDH (LACES / HSW)

Celebrate Park(ing) Day 2022

Illinois Chapter of ASLA Park(ing) Day, 2017, Chicago, Illinois / site design group ltd.

By Lisa J. Jennings and Jared Green

This year, ASLA brings Park(ing) Day to PreK-12 schools, libraries, and community centers across the country. And this year Park(ing) Day isn’t just one day, but a full weekend — September 16-18.

Let’s help students re-imagine streets one parking space at a time. Using a parking space in front of a school, library, or community center, landscape architects can partner with PreK-12 students to think outside the classroom. Help students discover how to improve our public spaces, strengthen social connections, and boost health and well-being.

Step 1: Connect with your local school, library, or community center
Seek out art or science teachers, librarians, or after school program leaders.

Step 2: Make your pitch
Explain the purpose of Park(ing) Day and share the positive results of past Park(ing) Day celebrations in your community.

Step 3: Pair up with a group of students
Make yourself and your organization available to lead a group of students in the redesign of a Park(ing) Day space.

Step 4: Provide planning resources
Direct teachers and school leaders to ASLA’s resources — insurance, Park(ing) Day license and manual  — and help with any permits needed.

Step 5: Design and build a Park(ing) Day space with students
Partner with students, teachers, librarians, and community center leaders to DREAM BIG and plan and design a Park(ing) Day space. Source sustainable materials that can be recycled or reused. Reach out to local nurseries or firms for donations of big ticket items like a tree, plants, a bench, or bird bath that the school, library, or community center can keep.

Illinois Chapter of ASLA Park(ing) Day, 2017, Chicago, Illinois / site design group ltd.

Step 6: Post images of your Park(ing) Day installation to your social (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) using the hashtag #ParkingDay and tag us (@nationalasla)
Make sure you have permission or signed release forms from anyone you photograph.

ASLA will highlight the best posts from students, firms, and chapters across our social platforms!

Lastly, be sure to encourage teachers and students to Save the Date for DREAM BIG with Design 2022, September 22-23. A free online event, DREAM BIG will immerse PreK-12 students in design-centered strategies that address some of the most critical issues of our time. Live, interactive sessions will explore the future of landscape architecture and apply design techniques that can be aligned with interdisciplinary curricula.

Park(ing) Day, 2008 / BAR Architects & Interiors

Adriaan Geuze Wins Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Award

Adriaan Geuze, International ASLA / © Maaike Engels

The International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) has announced Adriaan Geuze, International ASLA, founder of the global landscape architecture firm West 8, has received the 2022 Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Award, the “preeminent award for landscape architects and the highest honor IFLA can bestow.” The jury, which included ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen, stated that “Geuze is one of the most significant landscape architects in the world today.” His firm’s projects in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. have “changed the relationship between cities, nature, and people.”

West 8 has completed more than 200 landscape architecture, planning, and urban design projects in over 60 countries, on four continents, IFLA writes.

West 8 says its design philosophy is about interweaving “function, engineering, sustainability, symbolism, expression — and both the vulnerability and euphoria of mass culture.”

“Landscape, infrastructure, nature, and historical legacies” coalesce to shape our cities. “The analysis of the unseen logic — ecology, infrastructure, water and soil conditions, building programs, and people” – enables landscape architecture “to be at the forefront of sustainability, ecological sensitivity, and resilience.”

In the U.S., the firm is perhaps best known work for their plan for Governors Island in New York City, which won an ASLA professional award, and The Hills, a set of constructed slopes at the north end of the island that offers 360 views of Staten Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, lower Manhattan, and Jersey City, along with a 36-foot-long slide. In an 2016 article in The New Yorker, design critic Alexandra Lange said Geuze has reinvented the concept of the park with Governors Island and his other projects in Europe.

Governors Island, NYC / © Kreg Holt

Lange reveals the sense of discovery the Hills offer: “In holding you here, between the city and the peaks, Geuze delays the big reveal, focusing attention on the curtain, on the way that the landscape architecture has embroidered the ground beneath your feet. Then he draws the curtain back to show a star that needs no introduction: as a visitor strolls down the path, the Hills part to reveal the Statue of Liberty.”

Governors Island, NYC / © Timothy Schenck Photography

Other significant recent projects include Máximapark outside Utrecht, a city in the center of the Netherlands. The massive 740-acre park serves as a “unifying public space” for a new suburb of 100,000 people.

The park includes 123 acres of traditional park features, including “woods, fields, meandering watercourses, ponds, pedestrian areas, a playground, bridges and formal avenues for visitors to enjoy.” Another 246 acres was given over to a local association for sports fields. And the rest was donated back to the city to develop as housing in order to ensure the park has a dedicated community and sense of security. A 2-mile long, nearly 20-foot-tall honey comb-shaped pergola, which winds through the park, not only helps demarcate the public space, but also provides habitat for climbing plants, bats, birds, and insects.

Máximapark, Utrecht, The Netherlands / © Jeroen Musch

And in Madrid, Spain, Geuze and his team led Madrid Río, a six-billion Euro project, with Spanish architecture firms Burgos & Garrido, Porras La Casta, and Rubio & A-Sala. Capping a highway tunnel and its exits, the project revitalizes a 3.7-mile-long stretch of the River Manzanares. A series of seven new parks, each distinct, connect into a linear park along the river, stitching communities together.

Park Madrid Rio, Madrid, Spain / © Hovercameras

One road off the highway was relocated, creating space for a 1,000-vehicle underground parking garage, which was then capped with a garden. Twenty new bridges increase access to the river and surrounding communities. The new park system won an Urban Land Institute Open Space Award in 2018.

For Geuze, these projects highlight that “public space has become the dominant subject for the landscape architecture profession. Today demands a proactive attitude:

  • to engineer softscape and shade against hardscape
  • to speak out for the public and free spaces against the commercialization of the urban realm
  • to veto traffic-dominated streetscapes
  • to campaign for pedestrian-friendly cities
  • and above all to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all user groups.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (August 16-31, 2022)

Kids for Earth demonstration Bonn / greenpeace-jugend, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

It Is 100 Days Until Cop15 – And the Omens Are Good for a Global Plan to Protect Nature – 08/30/2022, The Guardian
“Despite many challenges, December’s crucial biodiversity talks in Montreal may set a new path for humans to live with nature.”

How a Dangerous Highway Turned into a Kids’ Paradise – 08/30/2022, Governing
“San Francisco has a brand-new park overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay. Its history is rooted in an attempt to make road traffic safer.”

Why Drought Looks Different Depending on Your Region – 08/30/2022, Grist
“The Northeast’s ‘flash drought’ is a reminder that dryness isn’t just a U.S. West problem.”

In Los Angeles, a New Athletic Facility Responds to Local Needs – 08/30/2022, Metropolis
“SPF:architects and Hood Design Studio create the Michelle and Barack Obama Sports Complex with elegant simplicity, community, and sustainability as core goals.”

A Beloved Puget Sound Beach Emerges From a $6.3 Million Redesign That Brings Resiliency to the Forefront – 08/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Led by Seattle-based landscape architecture and urban planning studio Site Workshop, the revamp of the popular public beach has yielded a slew of amenities, both new and familiar, along with long-needed infrastructural upgrades.”

Global Survey: Climate Change Is the Top Threat

Phoenix, Arizona / Art Wager, istockphoto.com

A new survey from the Pew Research Center has found climate change remains a “top threat” in 19 developed countries. Of those surveyed across North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, 75 percent identified climate change as the most significant threat to their country and a greater risk than COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, inflation, cyber attacks, and online misinformation. Approximately 20 percent think global warming is a “minor threat” and 5 percent don’t view it as a threat at all.

The Pew Research Center states that Europeans are particularly concerned about climate change. In 11 European countries, “more say climate change is a major threat to their country than at any time in the past decade. The results come as wildfires and extreme heat across Europe cause massive disruption to life.”

In the U.S., only 54 percent of people view climate change as the top threat, with greater concern for the other four threats listed. However, this percentage has grown, up from 45 percent in 2012. Concerns about climate change are at all-time highs in the U.S. and nine other countries.

According to Pew, political views clearly shape perceptions of the risks of climate change. In the U.S., “78 percent of Democrats and those that lean toward the Democratic Party say climate change is a major threat, compared with only 23 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners.”

This finding is consistent in 14 other countries. “In Australia, 91 percent of those who place themselves on the left side of the political spectrum say climate change is a major threat, compared with only 47 percent among those on the right.”

Women also view climate change as a greater danger than men do. In 12 countries, there is a significant gender divide. “Double-digit differences of this nature are present in Australia, the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, and the U.S.”

Perceptions of climate change are influenced by other demographic factors as well. In the U.S. and six other countries, those with more education are also more concerned about climate change than those with less.

Age plays a more mixed role. “In Australia, Poland, the U.S., and France, younger people are more likely to be concerned about climate change than their elders.” But in other countries like Japan, older adults are more concerned than younger ones.

Another major poll of U.S. households from NPR, the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in June found that the rising numbers of Americans who view climate change as a major threat is linked with increasingly widespread climate impacts. “Public support for government climate action is higher among U.S. adults who have been personally affected by extreme weather events in the past five years than those who have not.”

The survey organizers argue that this trend will continue. “As weather disasters continue to worsen and become more prevalent in the future, public views may gradually shift toward greater support for many policies aimed to limit climate change.”

Among Americans who have been personally affected by extreme weather events in the past five years, “37 percent see climate change in the U.S. as a crisis and 40 percent see it as a major problem” — meaning 77 percent see it as a source of concern. In contrast, among those who haven’t been personally impacted, only 46 percent do.

According to the poll, 78 percent of Americans also say they have been personally affected by a range of extreme weather events over the past five years:

  • Extreme heat (51 percent)
  • Severe cold/severe winter storms (45 percent)
  • Major droughts (25 percent)
  • Hurricanes or severe tropical storms (20 percent)
  • Major flooding (17 percent)
  • Wildfires (17 percent)
  • Tornadoes (14 percent)
  • Rising sea levels or flooding in coastal communities (9 percent)

And of those who have experienced extreme weather events:

  • 24 percent experienced “serious health problems as a result”
  • 17 percent experienced “serious financial problems as a result”
  • 14 percent said they had to evacuate from their home
  • 14 percent reported major home or property damage

Across the U.S., 23 percent of adults think climate change is “threatening the health of their families a great deal or quite a lot.” But the numbers are higher for those who have been personally impacted by an extreme weather event (28 percent) compared to those who have not (9 percent).

The data also reflect what we know — that climate change impacts communities differently. 39 percent of Native American adults, 32 percent of Latino adults, and 28 percent of Black adults say climate change is threatening the health of their families “a great deal or quite a lot” — all much higher than the 23 percent of Americans nationwide.

To solve climate change, 48 percent of Americans look to the federal government and 47 percent to businesses, like landscape architecture firms, and corporations. 24 percent expect state governments will play a major role, while 24 percent look to individuals, which includes designers, 9 percent to community organizations, and 9 percent to local governments.

The Next Generation of Landscape Architects Reflect on Olmsted

Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York / istockphoto.com, Boogich

Laura Solano, FASLA, principal at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, is a self-professed “Olmsted geek.” She moderated the latest conversation organized by Olmsted 200, with three of the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Olmsted scholars, who explained what Frederick Law Olmsted, the founder of the profession of landscape architecture, can offer the field today.

Over her forty years of practicing landscape architecture, Solano has continuously looked to Olmsted’s works and writings for inspiration.

“Olmsted believed that landscape architects don’t make nature, but provide the circumstances for nature to take hold. He viewed landscapes as therefore enduring and endurable.”

Riverside Park, New York / istockphoto.com, Terraxplorer

Some of his other key principles:

  • “Landscapes are interconnected constructed natural systems that must work on multiple levels.”
  • “Nature is democratic.” Given the opportunity, it will find space in cities to thrive and therefore urban nature can be restored.
  • “Landscape architecture is a public health intervention.”

Solano invited Anjelyque Easley DeLuca, a landscape architect and planner based in greater Pittsburgh, to explain her approach and how it relates to Olmsted.

“I look at the layers of the landscape from the ground up,” she said, observing how people use the space, where vegetation grows, how wildlife lives on the land. She explores the connections between human and ecological systems. “Olmsted knew that people share the landscape, and we can create interactions with nature.”

Bryce Donner, Student Affil. ASLA, a landscape architect and graduate student at the University of Florida, also approaches landscape as systems, like Olmsted did.

“Landscape architecture is about bringing together systems — hydrology, geology, wildlife, and people. Even a 1,500 square foot garden is an opportunity to reconnect with larger systems and support the food web, which is the infrastructure we all rely on.”

Donner starts every project with a series of questions in order to understand the systems at work: “What would happen if we did nothing? What would happen to the people, animals, water, and plants? Where would water go?”

Solano said Olmsted’s genius is he understood the underlying systems of landscape as well — engineering and drainage. “So much is hidden in landscape architecture.”

General Plan of Riverside, Illinois. Olmsted, Vaux & Co. Landscape Architects, 1869 / The Frederick Law Olmsted Society of Riverside

Olmsted also designed and advocated for democratic public spaces — places where “all classes and creeds could see and be seen,” Solano argued.

But since then, “landscape architects have made some mistakes. They haven’t created landscapes with a sense of place that appeals to entire communities.” To overcome past errors, how can landscape architects recognize people who have been erased and forgotten?

Jorge “Coco” Alarcon, a Peruvian landscape architect and architect pursuing a Ph.D in public health at the University of Washington, said that participatory design processes are key. “There is not a recipe for doing this. The approach needs to be customized for each community.”

For example, with indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon, Alarcon found typical planning and design workshops don’t work. “You don’t get straight answers.” Instead, encouraging communities to draw their ideas has yielded more meaningful participation.

This is about “meeting people where they are,” Solano said.

As she researched post-enslaved Black communities and post-WWII Jewish landscapes and communities, Easley DeLuca has learned to listen in order to empower communities.

“I am interested in finding out what happened, the whole story, and how that is reflected in the design of landscapes. It’s important to speak with people instead of at them, seeing how they react to sharing information that will provide you, the designer, with personal benefits, which may eventually provide them with benefits.”

Many of the sites she visited throughout Europe now recognize past atrocities. There are often contemporary markers for the Jewish cemeteries that were destroyed. But she said the same recognition hasn’t happened for Black cemeteries and other important sites in the U.S., which in too many communities have been paved over and forgotten.

“Preserving Black cemeteries is about who has right to the land and telling stories. Olmsted was also interested in telling stories through the landscape by either visual means or a mixture of elements that guide interaction with spaces.”

Olmsted also believed parks and green spaces were critical to public health. He understood the physical and mental health benefits of nature. His values were never more important that during the pandemic, Solano argued.

Ocean Parkway connected Prospect Park’s southern boundary with the waterfront at Brighton Beach / New York City Parks and Recreation

He may have been influenced by psychologist William James, a contemporary who came up with the concept of “soft fascination,” which is what humans experience in nature, a kind of indirect, non-taxing form of attention. This fascination allows the mind to wander in a way that restores our cognition and mood. “That was unfortunately lost in the pandemic, as we were frightened and stayed indoors.”

During the pandemic, public space became even more crucial to a “healthy body, mind, and soul,” Donner said. “Landscapes provided the ability to say to hi to someone you know safely. Parks and playgrounds enabled interaction or to go solo. They were critical to maintaining spiritual, mental, and physical health and well-being.”

For many communities, landscape also provided more than physical and mental health benefits but also a means of survival. Alarcon noted that during the height of the pandemic, when transportation systems and markets ceased to function, rural Peruvian communities he partnered with increased production of food through their gardens. This enabled them to trade or buy other food.

Another Amazonian community used large gazebos they co-designed with architects and landscape architects as Covid-safe meeting spaces to share health information. “Landscapes became a platform for mediating issues. They were never more important.”

Lastly, Solano asked: What can young designers learn from Olmsted today?

For Easley DeLuca, Olmsted teaches the importance of “being observant. You are not the only person interacting with a landscape; hundreds or thousands are. It’s important to verbalize what you are seeing to discover if others have the same opinions or interests.”

“Olmsted saw landscapes as an entire system.” Applying this approach is “what makes someone a landscape architect,” Donner argued.

“Olmsted teaches you that zooming in and zooming out are both necessary. Zooming out is needed even more these days” to understand the broader social forces that shape a landscape, Alarcon said.

A Moveable Forest in the Netherlands

“We asked ourselves — if we could move 1,200 trees through a city center for over 100 days, then imagine what else we could do,” said Bruno Doedens, a Dutch landscape architect and land artist, who created the wonderful Bosk public art installation in the city of Leeuwarden with his collaborator, the late Joop Mulder.

Over 100 days this summer, teams of volunteers pushed large and small trees along a 2.1-mile (3.5-kilometer) route as part of Arcadia, a triennial arts festival in Friesland.

Bosk route / Arcadia

The organizers explain that the installation moved in stages through neighborhoods on weekdays, led by traffic controllers and captains, “so the forest decreased in one place while growing somewhere else.”

Bosk / Lucas Kemper
Bosk / Lucas Kemper

Streets that had few trees temporarily became lush forests, changing the character of communities, significantly cooling air temperatures, and slowing the pace of life. The Guardian reported hotels and businesses also benefited from the traveling forest, though some residents were upset by having to park elsewhere.

Bosk / Thomas Vaer Photography
Bosk / Lucas Kemper

The trees were planted in more than 800 wooden containers that were then loaded into wheeled carts. They included more than 60 native species, such as alder, ash, elm, maple, oak, and willow.

The Bosk team labeled each tree with a QR code, so residents could learn more about the species. Soil sensors also alerted the team when any tree needed more water.

Just planting 1,200 trees around the city would have perhaps been easier but “would have had less impact than a moving forest,” Doedens said. The logistical challenges of transporting trees through traffic in a coordinated way “forced citizens to really face the effect of a forest in the city center.”

“The success of Bosk lies in the combination of radical imagination and mobilizing large communities of people,” he argued. The residents of Leeuwarden can now imagine “a new relationship with nature — one based in the idea of enriching the planet rather than polluting and destroying.” With rising urban temperatures, a new relationship rooted in nature will become increasingly important.

Bosk / Lucas Kemper

The message of the interactive public art work was reinforced through a broader immersive program that included a “summer school for Leeuwarden neighbourhoods, a Bosk news program for primary school pupils, and a whispering garden full of inspiration,” the festival organizers write.

In his essay Planet Paradise, Doedens argues that collective art projects like the walking forest can change mindsets and spur on greater climate action. They inspire communities to re-imagine what is possible. Designers and artists therefore play a critical role.

Bosk final destination, the Oldehoofsterkerkhof, August 14 / Ruben van Vliet

“Allow all creative minds from all cultural disciplines – music, dance, theater, poetry, literature, film, architecture, visual arts – together with scientists and pioneers from the practice to dare to dream and think big and even bigger. Give them room for imagination and intuitive thinking to radically reassess our current values and our actions. Allow them to develop new languages that touch our hearts and create new stories and images that help us realize we are walking in the mist, that seductive illusions intoxicate us, and that we need to change radically.”

Landscape architects and artists everywhere can create “new stories that reassure us in a playful way that we can reverse the negative effects of our treatment of the Earth into something positive. They must also be optimistic, empathetic, hopeful, and challenging without being blind to the sizeable and far reaching task ahead of us.”

The Bosk installation ended August 14, and the organizers have since found permanent homes for the traveling trees throughout the city, with many planted in underserved communities.