The Power of the “Four Horsemen of the Livability Apocalypse”

At ASLA’s advocacy day on Capitol Hill, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Democratic Representative from Oregon’s 3rd District, said landscape architects, architects, planners, and engineers, the “four horsemen of the livability apocalypse,” must work together to create a more positive narrative on Capitol Hill. In an “flat-out broken” political system “disconnected from the realities of what people demand,” design professionals can explain to policymakers what communities actually want: more sustainable transportation infrastructure, more green infrastructure, and more livable environments.

At the same time, Blumenauer said design professionals may need to work on their language. Talking about “densifying neighborhoods” doesn’t really cut it with policymakers. “I don’t want to be densified.” Instead, designers should call for “developing amenities” and “restoring communities to their historic population size.” Also, with aging baby boomers, it’s important to discuss the needs of the growing group of seniors. “Seniors want to be able to walk down nice streetscapes” (really, so does everyone).

While localities must forge their own visions for more livable communities, the federal government also has some impact, largely through funds for local bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure made available through the transportation bills. While the Senate recently passed a transportation bill with some 74 votes, “the House still doesn’t have a bill.” A comprehensive transportation bill that provided more “funding certainty” for bicycle and pedestrian projects would be a great way to create “thousands of jobs.” Blumenauer added that “landscape architects, architects, engineers, and planners collectively represent millions of people, and thousands of small and medium businesses, all people with visions for how communities can be better.”

Blumenauer thinks the design professions should also push the federal government to be greener. If the government actually became a model for what it wanted to accomplish, think of the possible positive impact. As an example, green infrastructure systems can save the government lots of money. Just basic things like taking out lawns that need to be mowed in favor of native wildflower gardens cuts down expenses.

There could also be a bolder program of retrofits. The many post offices going into retirement could be transformed into exciting new public spaces. Cutting the military budget by 20 percent over 10 years and directing some of that funds to cleaning up some 4,000 military Superfund and brownfield sites could really help revitalize many communities. All those cleaned-up sites and new open spaces could help increase local property values (and taxes). “Think about all the opportunities that would create for landscape architects, too.”

Blumenauer really wants to expand farmer’s markets across the U.S., too, arguing that adding 1,000 over the next few years would have a “transformative effect” in our communities, changing interactions at the street level. The Congressman took aim at the Farm Bill, which he said fails to incentivize local food production, simply providing more subsidies for big agriculture.

Speaking to the crowd of ASLA leaders, Blumenauer said that “people like you, like what you do. It’s not ideological or partisan. The U.S. needs to be more sustainable and you are at the center of it all.” Furthermore, landscape architects can help push “bike-partisanship.”

In a separate speech, Congressman Russ Carnahan, Democratic Representative from Missouri’s 3rd District, who is chair of the High Performance Building Caucus, said “green infrastructure starts from the ground-up, actually under ground.” Focusing on rural areas, he said the green infrastructure legislation ASLA has been promoting on Capitol Hill could “help alleviate water pollution in rural communities.” Understanding that water is a precious, finite resource, Carnahan said “water we use comes back to us again and again.” More green spaces are then “vital to the well-being of our citizens.”

Echoing Blumenauer, Carnahan said “the government is divided and dysfunctional now,” but there are “necessary things like transportation that must come together.” Infrastructure, though, perhaps can become more bottom-up, coming from the communities themselves. Telling the ASLA representatives, he said “think about what you can do in your community.”

Join ASLA’s campaign and tell your Congressional representative and Senator about green infrastructure.

Image credit: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Durer / Simon Fraser University

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