Sometimes the news will shake your core beliefs. The recent rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans has been one such example. Conversations with friends veer towards safety tips, punctuated by talk of harrowing moments when being a visible minority made us feel “othered” and uncomfortable. Feeling hopelessness and despair for your cultural and ethnic background is a shattering experience.
To find resilience and hope despite these incidents is difficult. And truth be told, our collective worries about health and safety had already become heightened as we remain vigilant against the global pandemic that has upended our daily lives. On the tailwinds of a year like this, what can we do as landscape architects to contribute to racial and social justice?
Some landscapes tell the story of injustice, so as to guard against its re-occurrence. A few summers ago, as I drove through the Eastern Sierras to a weekend camping trip, the Manzanar National Historic Site, a Japanese internment camp in Owens Valley, California, emerged against the desert sun. The barracks and fencing can be seen from afar, imposing and starkly inhuman against the splendor of nature. Yet other landscapes show us a more subtle display of the same history.
During a visit to the Descanso Gardens a few years ago, I noticed a fragrant bloom of camellias drawing a crowd of admirers. Planted under an impressive stand of oaks, the delicate flowers looked as if to float in space. These two landscapes struck me in their historic connection.
The origin of the Camellia Collection at Descanso Gardens is tied to the year 1942, when approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated by the U.S. government. It is said that the founder of Descanso Gardens purchased nursery stock from at least three Japanese American nurseries. The camellia plants, including rare ones, constituted the life’s work of the Japanese owners who had been forced into incarceration.
The blooming camellias seemed to echo the scale of lives upended, but also the resilience of the Japanese American families who came after. Is it wrong to admire a plant collection connected with such a history?
For better or worse, throughout my career, I have always described my passion for landscape architecture in terms of concerns for the environment, health and recreation, and promoting the public realm as a physical space for our democratic ideals. But what about our personal narratives, the experiences that shape us, and the cultures we value? How can we bring more of ourselves to our design work?
My commitments are the following:
To seek out opportunities to introduce young students to the field of landscape architecture, particularly in communities that are currently under represented in our profession.
To nurture relationships with professionals in all stages of their career and create a culture of acceptance for our individual priorities and passions.
To be open to sharing my own challenges past and present as a way to better the experiences of future professionals.
For many of us in the past year, we have seen significant change in the way our firms have addressed racial justice and the persistence of violence and disenfranchisement in communities of color.
These are unprecedented times. We may not have the answers, but without more individuals stepping forward, we cannot move the whole.
Masako Ikegami, ASLA, is a marketing associate with SWA Group in Los Angeles.
Asian hate crimes have grown an alarming 150 percent over the past year. While other forms of crime are declining, this phenomenon is leading to real fear and anger in Asian communities throughout the country.
Landscape architecture is a part of the broader society, so the field is also directly impacted. From overseas students in landscape architecture education programs to the Asian communities that design firms serve, landscape architects are entrenched in dealing with society’s woes, especially when they occur in the public realm.
The demographics of our own profession have also shifted over the years, with a steady increase of Asians in the workforce and a conscious effort by many firms to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of their company values. In our own diverse firm, Asians constitutes about one-third of our total employees, with the majority of our leadership fitting into this category.
The murders in Atlanta shook us to the core and was deeply personal to many of us. Even while many of our staff know that I advocate on behalf of all communities of color, gender, religion and beliefs, I felt to the need to reach out with some reassurance of safety and care. It also was a time to again reflect on our own personal experiences and thoughts about race and this country, while allowing our staff to reveal any bias they had encountered. Interestingly but expected, nobody came forward.
There has always been a level of resentment against Asians throughout our history in America. Whether overt or subversive, the sentiment has always put a label on Asians as weak and submissive, or the “model minority,” a term that infuriates us. The term “Asian American” loops all of these extremely diverse communities into a single pool, absent of our nationalities, languages, religions, traditions, and experiences. The complexities and nuances are ignored, and our histories are made insignificant.
The history of Asians in America is largely unknown to most Americans, let alone the hundreds of Asian students flocking to the U.S. for a prestigious education. According to ASLA’s data, in 2017, at accredited landscape architecture programs in the U.S., the enrollment of international students over a five-year period grew 52 percent, and a majority of these students were from Asia. Those are significant numbers and a boon for the universities that can profit from these students.
What’s missing is the orientation and cultural diversity training that can help overseas students integrate into American culture. Suddenly, these students are thrust into a world defined by race and ethnicity, religion and gender identity. Unless they have a high fluency in the English language, engagement — and the initiation of such — remains the onus of the student. Thus, we find the clustering and isolation of overseas students struggling to understand “diversity.” Unfortunately, the characterization of race and culture in most media outlets only adds to the stereotyping, leaving their imaginations jaded.
When you add the experiences of expatriates throughout Asia who receive preferential treatment, those images further re-inforce the social hierarchy of white colonialism and Asian subordination and inferiority. Given the hypersexualization and fetishization of Asian women and the desexualization of Asian men — who are characterized as being passive, effeminate, and weak — the incident in Atlanta could’ve occurred anywhere.
We are all struggling with diversity, equity, and inclusion in this country. The discussion is starting, but the results are distant. As fellow landscape architects, I am calling on you to be more sensitive to Asian experiences.
I’m calling on you to help destroy Asian stereotypes and the MYTH of the “model minority,” which is simply a lie to pit other people of color against Asians. I’m calling on you to disperse the fear that we have of each other — fear that some group will take another group’s jobs, or one type of people will harm another type of person. I’m calling on you to stand in solidarity with the #StopAsianHate movement.
Most of all, I’m calling on you to see the world as bigger than ourselves and continue to engage with people who are different than you.
Ernie Wong, FASLA, is a founding principal of site design group, ltd. (site) based in Chicago, Illinois. He is an Asian American male born and raised on the Southside of Chicago and continues to resolve his own identity issues.
For the past year or so, we have witnessed a historic period of widespread, record-level aggressive rhetoric and attacks on the Asian community — the Atlanta shootings being the most severe of all. The Asian community seems to have become a punching bag and scapegoat, at least for a part of American society.
For Asians in the United States going about their daily life, there are increased risks and a growing sense of anxiety about basic safety and well-being. For those whose lives perished during these violent events — ordinary people who worked to provide for their family, just like any of us — the future is no more, and their families are now shattered. This is both sad and infuriating.
To solve any problem, we need to face it with great honesty. This proves difficult for some, because it means self-criticism and sharing more moral responsibility. The xenophobia and hatred against Asians did not start recently: Its history, as many people will tell you, can be traced back to the 19th century — the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; the massacres of 1871 and 1885; Japanese internment; the list goes on.
The problems Asians living in the United States face have not been fully recognized in the past. In fact, the problems are often sidelined and ignored. And while there has been some recent positive momentum, I would say it is still far from enough. Recognizing the problem fully and sincerely and standing in solidarity are the very least that can be done. Silence is noted and taken personally.
I have outlined additional steps that need to be taken:
We must all acknowledge that xenophobia and hatred are categorically wrong. There is no excuse — not tension in international relations, not domestic party politics, and certainly not the character of the victims. The term Asian American is problematic too, because it neglects the expatriates, students, and visitors who deserve equal inclusion. In a healthy and law-abiding society, no one should need to worry about their life and dignity, regardless of their ethnicity. However, in one of the most advanced countries, I get calls from family and friends who are understandably worried about my safety. I think the absurdity is self-apparent.
When we oppose racial hatred, we must oppose not only acts of hatred, but also the seeds of hatred — the seemingly conditional and temporary acceptance of Asians, the rumors and scapegoating that are tolerated and allowed to spread openly online because not many voice their opposition, and so on. Concluding that it is some politicians’ fault and moving-on is simply not enough. This is a societal problem that needs to be responded to as a society. Everyone needs to play a role and share the moral responsibility of preventing hatred.
The landscape architecture profession is in a unique position. With regards to race and equity, it has done well in some respects, but the shortcomings are also apparent. Landscape architecture has one of the most diverse communities, including a vibrant Asian community, especially in many undergraduate and graduate institutions. However, the Asian landscape architecture community should not be taken for granted.
Unless students and emerging professionals have confidence they are safe and supported in the profession and in the society, we will eventually lose the continuous influx of talented people in our universities and practices in the United States, which has strongly propelled the discipline forward.
Change need to happen. It’s important to empower Asian voices, support their growth and celebrate their achievements and give them platforms to share personal stories, cultural perspectives, and professional insights. A fuller, richer storytelling of Asian experience is long overdue. A healthy level of representation will turn into long-term and profound support of the foundations of our discipline.
Landscape practices commonly operate across cultures, regions, and countries. Today, as I tell my students and prospective students about my passion for landscape architecture, I am reminded of the multi-cultural nature of our work, and the kind of diversity and open-minded attitude we embrace as a profession.
When teaching, we also expose students to abundant cross-cultural design and learning opportunities. From my observations, I can see how much the ideal of diversity and cultural richness resonates with our young generation of students. This comes from the nature of human kindness and curiosity, which we can protect and encourage. This is the same for landscape architecture professionals. In classrooms and our practices, we should actively embrace the symphony of different cultures and the cross-pollinations of them.
In practice, this means strengthening the inclusion of our Asian students and colleagues in domestic projects teams, and, more importantly, increasing and supporting their presence in managing clients, hosting community events, and other engagement opportunities. These steps have often been lacking based on likely implied racial preferences. The effect limits the voice and growth of Asian landscape architects.
We can also support a mixture of backgrounds on international project teams, as a way to strengthen cultural understanding and exchange. Using our knowledge and cultural sensitivity, we can contribute as general members of the society in demystifying Asia and debunking and stopping the spread of rumors and offensive or aggressive messages. We should all take these steps not because they are the easy, but because we know they are right, and we trust they will enhance the diversity and inclusion of our field, and make our society a better place. This is how real changes begin.
Many of us have a strong belief in the ideal of globalization, which thrives on inclusion everywhere. On a personal level, I find it incredibly fortunate to have grown up in China; lived, studied, and worked in four countries across three continents; and visited more than 40 countries. Almost all of my work is international in nature.
It is so great to witness a mostly peaceful and thriving world, and the appreciation of, exchange of, and respect for the knowledge, culture, history, language from people with vastly different backgrounds. When young people try to work out their future path, as I did years ago, I want to see that their choice is made based on the merit of content. I want to see that they will be treated with the same level of inclusion wherever they decide to join as a member of the society, and that the safety and well-being are the least of their concerns.
That is the future that we, regardless of race and background, owe to our next generation – a more equitable, inclusive, and beautiful world. But this will not become a reality unless we all work towards it. And I think we must.
Yujia Wang, ASLA, is a landscape architecture professor of practice at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and founding partner at Yi Chang Landscape and Planning. In 2020, he became the first landscape architect to be listed on Forbes China 30 Under 30. Yujia is a Harvard alumnus and previously practiced at Sasaki.
Kevin Robert Perry, FASLA, Senior Landscape Architect, Toole Design, and Principal, Urban Rain Design, testified on behalf of ASLA to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.
His full testimony below:
Thank you Chair Napolitano, Ranking Member Rouzer, and Members of the subcommittee for the opportunity to testify on the valuable work being done by landscape architects in the water and stormwater management space.
My name is Kevin Robert Perry and I am a licensed landscape architect and an internationally recognized leader in successfully integrating stormwater management with high-quality urban design.
I work as a Senior Landscape Architect at Toole Design Group with a specific expertise in intertwining green infrastructure with innovative multimodal streetscape design. I am also the founder of Urban Rain Design, a small design studio based in both California and Oregon that specializes in using Tactical Green Infrastructure to rapidly implement simple, cost-effective, and beautiful public space stormwater projects.
I am here today on behalf of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), where I have been a Fellow since 2017.
ASLA believes that water quality is essential to our economy, communities, and environment. By working to protect it, our membership of landscape architects plays a critical role in community sustainability and public health.
Landscape architects address water quality through ecologically-based practices that help reduce or remove pollutants in urban, rural, and conservation areas. To help protect water quality and conserve valuable water resources, ASLA encourages planning, design management, and policies that are science-based, collaborative, creative, and equitable.
The Value of Green Infrastructure
Ample clean water supplies are necessary to help preserve health, sustain quality of life, support economic stability, and maintain environmental quality.
Unsustainable development practices, poorly designed infrastructure, population growth, and other factors continue to threaten water quality and emphasize the need for the wiser and more creative use of resources. Urban sprawl and the expansion of paved surfaces increases volume and speed of storm flows, carries pollutants into streams, prevents groundwater recharge, and drastically reduces the landscape’s ability to respond to everyday storm events, much less the current and future challenges of climate change.
In much of the country, especially in older cities and towns, stormwater is funneled into our wastewater systems. During intense rain events, these systems can become overwhelmed resulting in stormwater overflow being released into nearby waters — along with all of the untreated sewage, debris, pesticides, and anything else caught in the underground pipe system.
While the United States has generally had success in protecting water quality, EPA research has found that nonpoint source pollution, the type of water pollution I just described, remains the leading cause of water quality problems.
This is where landscape architects are stepping up and playing a key role. We are at the forefront of developing innovative design strategies that promote sustainability, resiliency, and a balanced vibrancy between our built and natural environment. By incorporating cost-effective and innovative green infrastructure methods into our projects, we plan and design landscaped-based systems that reduce the impacts of flooding, contain the movement of pollutants and other debris, help infiltrate stormwater on-site, increase biodiversity, and integrate these nature-based solutions seamlessly into our cities and towns.
In areas where drought and inadequate water supply is of top concern, green infrastructure may also be a viable solution, helping to replenish local groundwater reserves and recharging aquifers. We also promote and incorporate the use of sustainably-designed greywater systems and other water capture measures to help reduce the need for external water sources.
In general, the landscape architect’s multi-functional, multi-purpose design solutions allows for a less destructive human relationship with the natural environment.
Landscape architecture practices also provide a key equity and environmental justice solution. One such practice is performing meaningful community engagement during the design and planning process. Often, the communities that stand to benefit the most from our work are the low-income and racially diverse communities that have been damaged by years of underinvestment and disinvestment. This includes communities located in small towns, large cities, and all areas in between. ASLA and its members are committed to utilizing our trade to directly improve lives in underserved communities; and community engagement and green infrastructure can be important tools to aid in this effort.
Green infrastructure also leads to job creation. According to Green For All, a national organization working to build an inclusive green economy, a $188.4 billion investment in stormwater management would generate $265.6 billion in economic activity and create close to 1.9 million jobs. Furthermore, green infrastructure is good for small businesses, as many landscape architects work for or run their own small firms, as I have for nearly a decade.
Green Infrastructure Across Scales
One of the greatest benefits of using green infrastructure is that it can be implemented across a wide range of scale and community contexts. Resilient coastlines/riverfronts, regional parks, and interconnected green transportation corridors can be realized at the large citywide-scale; while rain gardens, pervious paving, and a robust use of street trees can grace nearly any neighborhood-scale space.
With thousands of our schools, roads, parks, and other civic space infrastructure either breaking down or inefficiently designed, there is an incredible opportunity to boldly retrofit our built environment with long-lasting green infrastructure strategies.
Tactical Green Infrastructure
One avenue of green infrastructure that is starting to take root on the West Coast is the concept of Tactical Green Infrastructure. While many infrastructure projects can take years to be fully implemented, Tactical Green Infrastructure is a specialized design-build methodology that allows professional design practitioners, students, and/or volunteers to work together to identify, design, and construct expedited green infrastructure projects at public schools, parks, and even some street locations. These small-scale projects convert either existing paved or underutilized green space into highly functional rain garden landscapes within a couple of months – and directly involve the local community through the process. This kind of low-cost, effective, and quickly built Green Infrastructure can be a simple national model but with near-term and tangible results realized at the neighborhood level. While conceived in both Oregon and California, we believe a coordinated Tactical Green Infrastructure approach, led by landscape architects, has immense potential to expand throughout the United States.
The Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2021
ASLA and its members appreciate the committee’s support for legislation promoting green infrastructure, including H.R. 1915 – the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2021, which would help states and local communities fund green infrastructure projects that protect water.
We are also appreciative of the committee’s support for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, and specifically the Green Project Reserve, which mandates that at least 10% of funds are used by states for green infrastructure projects. Since states and localities typically do not have their own funding mechanisms to keep their water infrastructure safe, up to date, and within the requirements of the Clean Water Act, many landscape architecture projects would not be possible without the help of this program.
For these reasons, ASLA is supportive of increased funding to the Clean Water SRF, as well as making the Green Project Reserve permanent and increasing its minimum percentage. To make projects even more sustainable and resilient, the Clean Water SRF should also be adjusted to allow for the funding of long-term maintenance projects as well.
With that, I thank the committee for inviting me to testify today. ASLA looks forward to working with you and your colleagues to ensure that Congress leverages the field of landscape architecture when striving for its climate adaptation and sustainability goals.
Jennifer Toole, ASLA, is the founder and President of Toole Design and has over 30 years of experience planning and designing multimodal transportation systems. A certified planner with a degree in landscape architecture, Toole has a strong background in urban design. She has been involved in numerous projects of national significance for the Federal Highway Administration, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
In Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken, bike infrastructure is identified as one of the top 80 solutions for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. The book finds that in 2014, 5.5 percent of urban trips worldwide were by bicycle. If that number grew to 7.5 percent by 2050, displacing some 2.2 trillion passenger miles completed by vehicles, some 2.2 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions could be avoided, realizing approximately $400 billion savings over the next 30 years. What are the most important steps cities and communities can take to rapidly grow bike use?
Most people just don’t feel safe bicycling, which is the greatest disincentive. We spent nearly a century in this country building a transportation system that essentially only caters to people who are driving motor vehicles. We have a system that fundamentally doesn’t support bicycling.
The best thing cities can do to incentivize bicycling is make it feel safer for people. This can be accomplished through interconnected networks of bike facilities separated from traffic that don’t end at major barriers.
That’s a big problem right now: we have a lot of bikeways that might get you part of the way to where you want to go, but then you get to a big intersection or an interchange with a highway and the bikeway ends.
We also need need to reduce motor vehicle speeds across the board, so that when bicyclists and motorists cross paths, it’s in a safe and controlled way. And we need to provide high-quality and secure places to park your bike once you get to where you’re going.
None of this is rocket science. If you look at countries that have successfully increased the percentage of people bicycling by even a few percentage points, it’s because they invested in infrastructure to make bicyclists feel safe — and, in fact, bicyclists are now safer in those places.
Drawdown also identifies e-bikes as a critical climate solution. While many bike-riders feel comfortable biking a few miles on flat surfaces, half of all trips are estimated to be 6.2 miles, which may be too far in the heat or if the route is hilly. E-bikes also better support riders who may be older or less able. What are some other ways cities and communities can incentivize e-bike use?
I am really excited about e-bikes because they eliminate another major disincentive to bicycling: hilly areas, with long, difficult uphill climbs. I live at the top of a really steep hill. Many times I have done that calculus in my head. Am I going to ride my bike? If I ride my bike, when I come home, I am going to have to come back up that hill.
When you look at a normal bike trip, it’s usually someplace between one to three miles in length. An e-bike trip is typically a little bit longer than a normal bike trip, because you don’t have to expend as much energy to make that trip.
The keys to incentivizing e-bike use are the exact same as they are for regular bikes. You’ve got to provide spaces where people feel safe riding their bike. E-bikes are a little bit faster than regular bikes, so that makes it even more evident that sidewalks are not the right place for them. E-bikes really need their own space. They need separated bike lanes. They need shared-use paths and bike boulevards. You have to feel like you have safe places to ride.
Cities are also providing e-bikes through their bike share services, which gives people a way to check them out and realize how much fun they are to ride. It’s one of the reasons why e-bike sales are just soaring all around the country.
According to the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), researchers in the U.K. found that biking to work is associated with 45 percent lower risk of developing cancer and a 46 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to commuting by car or public transit. UNEP also states: “daily exercise prolongs life expectancy by approximately 3.4 years. Regular cycling boosts physical health as an efficient way to prevent obesity.” How can we better promote the health benefits of biking to communities?
Those are some pretty incredible statistics I think that most people are not aware of.
It’s more about providing ways for people to introduce exercise into their normal, everyday life without even thinking about it. There are a lot of studies that show people are more active and healthy in places where walking and biking for everyday trips is common, so making sure that destinations in shopping areas and workplaces are in close proximity to home is really an important part of making sure that people take those everyday trips on foot and by bicycle.
We need to make bicycling the logical choice — the no-brainer choice — for a certain segment of short trips we make. When you go to The Netherlands and ask people why they are riding bikes, they almost never talk about the exercise or the environment. They are riding a bike, because it’s the most efficient way to get where they want to go.
Countries like The Netherlands have a lot of folks who bike well into their 70s and 80s, because they have provided places that feel safe for riding a bike. I have no doubt it contributes to a much longer lifespan.
Data also shows that the pandemic has resulted in a bike boom in many cities and communities. According to a report from Strava, a fitness tracking company, bike use in car-centric cities like Houston increased by 138 percent and in Los Angeles by 93 percent. The Rails to Trails Conservancy found that trail use increased threefold in March 2020 over 2019. Do you think bike use will continue to remain at high levels after we have all been vaccinated? What role do you think “slow streets” have played? And if the bike boom continues, will it result in greater investment in permanent bike infrastructure?
I think it will. Bike use will continue to remain at higher levels, because our travel patterns have been disrupted in ways that we’re only now just beginning to realize. There’s a whole segment of workers who will probably never go back to working in an office from 9:00 to 5:00 five days a week. The flexibility of being able to work from home will mean that our rush hour is going to look different in the future.
Why drag yourself out of bed to go and sit in the car for an hour longer than you really need to just to get to work at a certain time? A certain segment of workers are going to make that calculus and say, “I don’t need to go into the office to work. I can do it right here,” because they’ve been doing it for over a year, and it worked fine. Working from home is going to become much more accepted and prevalent and, with that change, people are going to continue to look for ways to use a bicycle for trips that originate from their homes.
Slow streets have really been great, because they gave people places to ride that feels safe. I’ve heard so many stories of slow street projects that had opposition in the beginning and now people are getting upset when cities remove their slow-street designation. From what we’re seeing, cities are looking for ways to have more permanent, connected networks of bike facilities, and that was starting well before COVID-19. It’s not something that was new; I just think COVID brought it home how much we needed more infrastructure.
Research also finds that low-income communities bike to work more often than other groups. The Chicago Tribune reports that the biggest group of Americans who bike to work are from households that earn less than $10,000. But a report from the League of American Bicyclists also found that Hispanic bike-riders had a bike fatality rate 23 percent higher, and Black riders had a fatality rate 30 percent higher than white riders. How can cities and communities make bike infrastructure more equitable and improve safety for historic marginalized and underserved communities?
We need to do a better job at providing better infrastructure in underserved areas of our cities. Often these are the same neighborhoods that have been impacted by highway construction, where we have widened roads so that suburban commuters can get to their jobs and downtown. It’s not a surprise those are the same places that have higher rates of crashes for Hispanic and Black riders. They need more attention than we’re giving them in terms of providing safer facilities.
A lot of the work we do for cities is about adjusting that balance and giving more attention to neighborhoods that have been neglected when it comes to providing good places to not only to bike but also to walk. Among other things, we aim to reduce traffic speeds on those streets, which is not an easy thing because they were built for higher speeds.
Many of the projects we work on are focused on equity. For example, we are working on an expansion of the trail network in Fresno, California. We analyzed all the proposed trails the city has planned to build in the next 20 years using a tool that prioritizes equity factors. The city then selected four connecting trails segments in a community facing environmental injustices. It relied on a tool used in California that helps identify communities most affected by pollution and where people are often especially vulnerable to pollution.
The Biden administration just released a $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, which could result in much greater investment in complete streets, bicycle networks, trails. If you were somehow in charge of all the billions, how would you allocate it on bicycle infrastructure?
In many communities, they have already tackled their easier projects, the ones that weren’t difficult to build — streets that were overbuilt for the amount of traffic they’re carrying and required a road diet to reconfigure space.
The next phase of work is much harder. It’s closing the gaps between facilities. Imagine a trail that ends at a major intersection. It’s hard to get across that intersection in order to connect one part of town to another part of town where you have bike networks. You really need an overpass across the highway built for bike and pedestrian traffic. If I were in charge of that infrastructure investment, I would make it available for major infrastructure projects that close gaps in bike and pedestrian networks.
In South Bend, Indiana, your staff partnered with the administration of then-Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is now U.S. transportation secretary, to create an open space and smart streets plan to revitalize South Bend’s downtown. The plan resulted in the transformation of St. Joseph’s Boulevard to a green complete street. Secretary Buttigieg said the streetscape improvements led to $90 million in private investment by downtown businesses along the corridor. Can you tell us more about Secretary Buttigieg and his understanding of the connections between streetscape improvements and revitalization?
The most basic answer for how that revitalization led to all the private investment is that the design prioritizes the movement of people over cars. It was a very controversial approach to their downtown revitalization, and there were a lot of people who were worried that it wouldn’t work. To Secretary Buttigieg’s credit, he had a vision for making their downtown be a place where people felt comfortable walking everywhere.
The downtown businesses saw that it was going to be a place that was really special, which is what led to the investment. And it hasn’t stopped with downtown. The work we’re doing now in South Bend is going out like tendrils into the community. The city is systematically tackling their street network and prioritizing pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Secretary Buttigieg’s vision has continued to transform the city’s approach to transportation and it has clearly benefited the community.
Your firm is leading an interdisciplinary team working with the city of Atlanta’s Department of City Planning to re-imagine Peachtree Street as a shared space that blurs the lines between public space and streets. What are the benefits of these environments? How do you overcome safety or accessibility concerns?
Peachtree Street has long been Atlanta’s main street. The street receives a lot of traffic and is dominated by cars. The city is looking to change that dynamic and make it a destination for people. The benefit of making Peachtree Street a flush street — so all one level, no curbs — is that it really promotes that feeling that it’s a street where pedestrians are the highest priority. They don’t have to go to an intersection in order to cross the street. They can move freely across the street. It’s modeled on the types of streets that have been built really all over Europe, where there’s just one street surface.
Another benefit is that it slows everybody down. Cars can still travel down the street and park, but drivers don’t feel comfortable going fast down a flush street. Often there are fewer traffic signals or signs to direct traffic. This is due to a concept in traffic engineering: when you introduce an element of uncertainty, everyone slows down. It’s fundamentally about making sure motor vehicle traffic goes slower.
Also, a flush street is inherently more accessible. You can imagine people on wheelchairs don’t have to go to the corners to find a place to cross. People pushing baby strollers can easily move about. But you do need special accommodations for people who are blind or have low vision, because they need to know how to navigate down that street. They often use a curb line as a guide.
Fortunately, there are new ways to help people who are blind to navigate. A different type of pavement treatment with raised grooves can help guide a person with a cane down a street. These have been used in train stations and other places where there is a need to navigate through plazas and other open areas.
Landscape architects integrate safe, accessible pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure with green infrastructure. In St. Paul, Minnesota, your firm designed the Jackson Street Reconstruction Project, which transformed an outdated avenue into a truly multi-modal corridor that features two-way protected bike lanes, wider pedestrian walkways protected by green buffers that manage storm water. How is this project a model? How do you make the case that communities should spend the extra money for the green infrastructure?
Jackson Street is just such a great example of the way we should be designing streets in this country.
It’s important to think about what the street looked like before to understand the opportunity it represents for many other streets in this country. Jackson Street was as wide as six lanes, a classic example of an overbuilt street. Somebody at some point in the past decided that the road needed to have four lanes. The street didn’t have the traffic volume to support those lanes.
We were able to take up to two travel lanes off the road, which gave us 20-plus more feet of space to work with to provide a wider sidewalk, a two-way separated bike lane, and generous rain gardens between the bikeway and the road. We were able to use the green infrastructure to provide that much needed separation between the bikeway and the street. The bikeway itself is built from pervious pavement. The runoff from Jackson Street is directed into those rain gardens.
St. Paul is a city concerned about water pollution, runoff, and flooding. It’s on the banks of the Mississippi, so this type of street design is logical. There are so many cities around the country that are increasingly concerned about flooding and need to find ways to let stormwater seep into the ground instead of run off into nearby waterways. Cities are feeling the impact of major flood events and the financial cost of those events, which is why they are looking at these streetscape projects as an opportunity to rethink the way that water flows in their city.
There are generations of work for landscape architects to fix all these streets and make them greener by providing vegetation in the streetscape on a scale that we’ve never done before. We were sort of stuck in the past with these tiny tree boxes. That was the conventional way of providing green in the landscape. This new way of designing streets is going to give us so much more room to work with different types of plants and soils. It’s a really exciting time to be a landscape architect.
To address climate change, environmental degradation, and social inequalities, we need coordinated political action and systemic change on a global scale. With a mission to safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of the public, landscape architects can become important agents of that change.
Given our ability to work with social and ecological systems at multiple scales, landscape architects are uniquely positioned to bring about positive systemic change locally, regionally, and across temporal and territorial borders. But to become true changemakers, landscape architects also need to take a more proactive approach beyond the current business as usual. We need to work with a greater network of partners and allies. We need to approach design as a form of activism and a vehicle for change.
For landscape architects to become changemakers, we must change how they are taught. In a new report titled Design As Activism, we propose a framework that design schools can adopt to create opportunities within their programs for both immediate and enduring change:
Politicize – Develop the ability and capacity in students to engage in the political process to create change; understand better the language and systems of power; accept the responsibility of professionals as engaged citizens and as members of a democracy.
Hybridize – Build knowledge and capacity beyond the traditional core of the profession; engage in collaboration on research, teaching, and service with other disciplines; learn from how other fields generate, disseminate, and apply knowledge, and how they engage the public and advance their agenda.
Glocalize – Think and act both locally and globally; build connections with stakeholders, including communities, public agencies, civic organizations, and the professional community locally and across borders; examine the intersections between local and global challenges.
Improvise – Make use of what already exists, including courses, curriculum, programs, and other resources; utilize strengths and assets already in place in a program or a community, including existing connections and relationships; be tactical and creative with opportunities and circumstances.
Problematize – Question assumptions and challenges facing an institution or a community; develop a deeper understanding of issues and take a critical stance; make issues of equity, justice, and resilience in a current program, curriculum, institution, or community the focus of education and actions.
Authenticize – Create opportunities for self-discoveries through experiential learning; develop and support long-lasting relationships for collaboration with community stakeholders; work with communities and stakeholders in the actual context with real issues.
Entrepreneurize — Provide students not only with technical skills but also entrepreneurial knowledge; develop partnerships with programs on campuses and organizations in the profession to offer courses and workshops; provide students with skills and opportunities to pursue alternative practices.
(Re)organize – Examine critically how education and professional practices in landscape architecture are organized; collaborate with the movement organizations and find critical intersections of our work; identify allies and build coalitions and greater capacity for the profession
Democratize – Begin by reexamining the power structure within our educational institutions; fully engage students, faculty, and the professional community in program decision and implementation; ensure that all voices are included in courses, projects, and initiatives; build capacity in the community we work with.
This framework and additional recommendations in the report drew from discussions at national conferences, an online survey, and interviews with practitioners and program leaders in the U.S. We explored the skills and knowledge required for design activists and the challenges and opportunities facing the integration of design activism into landscape architecture education. To learn from the existing efforts in the field, we further examined the current models of engaged learning that included community design centers, community-university partnerships, and service-learning programs.
As educational programs in landscape architecture vary in their focus, size, and organization, and as they respond often to different contexts and constituents, the proposals here are not meant to be one-size-fits-all, nor are they exhaustive. Instead, we ask each program and school to assess its own mission and goals and develop appropriate strategies and actions together with students, faculty, and the professional community.
While the framework and suggested actions are specific to education, we firmly believe integrating this mission in the professional world of landscape architecture is also essential. A broader transformation can only occur through collaboration between education, practice, and social engagement.
The report was the outcome of a Landscape Architecture Foundation Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership awarded to Jeffrey Hou, ASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington, Seattle, with the support of a working group whose members include: Kofi Boone, FASLA, North Carolina State University; Mallika Bose Pennsylvania State University; Chingwen Cheng, ASLA, Arizona State University; David de la Peña, University of California, Davis; Joern Langhorst, University of Colorado, Denver; Laura Lawson, ASLA, Rutgers University; Michael Rios, University of California, Davis; Deni Ruggeri, Norwegian University of Life Sciences; and Julie Stevens, ASLA, Iowa State University.
In a program sponsored by the Darwina L. Neal Cultural Landscape Fund, created by former ASLA President Darwina L. Neal, FASLA, we will learn about how famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright considered the “landscape as an integral element in his work.”
Stuart Graff, president and CEO, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
Jennifer Gray, curator of Drawings and Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University
Justin W. Gunther, director, Fallingwater and VP, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
Moderator Stephen Morris, chief of the Office of International Affairs, World Heritage Program Coordinator, National Park Service.
Speakers will discuss “how and why the work of Frank Lloyd Wright was sensitively integrated within their natural landscape settings and enhanced by their designed landscapes.” The discussion will explore many of the eight buildings and landscapes in the Frank Lloyd Wright World Heritage Site — which was announced in 2019 and became the first modern architecture designation in the United States — along with the recently restored landscape of the Martin House.
DAVID RUBIN Land Collective, a Philadelphia-based landscape architecture, urban design, and planning firm, states that “empathy for the public’s engagement with memorials and park spaces” informs their work.
Founding principal David A. Rubin, FASLA, will discuss the “joys and challenges of navigating Washington, D.C.’s complex federal and local public space environment, all while steadfastly emphasizing and advocating for the equity, access, and inclusion of every visitor.”
Rubin will cover Canal Park, Potomac Park Levee, the National World War I Memorial, and Franklin Park in Washington, D.C. Jennifer Reut, acting editor of Landscape Architecture Magazine, will moderate the program.
In a program facilitated by landscape architect Maisie Hughes, ASLA, co-founder of The Urban Studio, Oakland-based non-profit Designing Justice+Designing Spaces will outline its efforts to “end mass incarceration by building infrastructure that addresses its root causes.”
Deanna Van Buren, co-founder, executive director, and design director, discusses her studio’s work countering the “traditional adversarial and punitive architecture of justice by creating spaces and buildings for restorative justice, community building, and housing for people coming out of incarceration.”
Here’s What NoMa’s Next Park, Swampoodle II, Could Look Like — 04/13/21, DCist
“Local landscape architecture firm Lee and Associates’ design for Swampoodle II emphasizes a mix of active and passive uses. The new space has spaces that can flex for a variety of uses: There’s a green oval surrounded by benches where people can sit or kids can run around, as well as a smaller concrete space for community art or performance activities.”
Lincoln Center’s Josie Robertson Plaza Will Become a Public Park for the Summer— 04/13/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“‘When invited to consider how the physical space of Josie Robertson Plaza could be re-envisioned to be a more inclusive and inviting environment,’ said set designer Mimi Lien, who created the expansive installation, ‘I immediately thought that by changing the ground surface from hard paving stones with no seating to a material like grass, suddenly anyone would be able to sit anywhere.'”
Dream of Connected NYC Greenway Re-Envisioned as Path to COVID Recovery — 04/04/21, The City
“Even before Biden unveiled his massive proposal in Pittsburgh Wednesday, more than 30 environmental justice, cycling, and parks groups had sent a letter to New York’s congressional delegation. Their plea: a $1 billion commitment in federal stimulus funds to build out new and link sections of existing trails separated from automobile traffic.”
Semiotics involves the study of signs and symbols. In a virtual lecture organized by the National Building Museum, landscape designer and artist Walter Hood, ASLA, kept returning to the idea of re-evaluating existing signs and symbols in American landscapes and creating meaningful new ones that speak to diverse audiences.
Designed landscapes use symbols to tell stories about places and communities. But for Hood, it’s clear that landscapes too often use symbols to create “fictions,” narratives told by someone else. This presents communities that have not expressed themselves before with opportunities to tell new stories that resonate with an increasingly diverse public.
Hood began his lecture by sharing a few recent projects, including Saint Monica’s Tears in Santa Monica, California (see above).
When the Spaniards arrived, there were sacred springs named Kuruvungna by the local Tongva tribe. When Father Juan Crespi saw the springs, he thought of Saint Monica’s eyes. Saint Monica (Santa Monica in Spanish) is known as the “weeping saint,” as she shed tears over her son Augustine’s “hedonistic lifestyle.”
Speaking to a Tongva elder, Hood learned about the lost landscape that existed before the Spanish colonialists arrived. He wanted to design a reminder of this landscape in the midst of today’s busy commercial and tourist mecca. “I wanted to create a duality — a conversation between the present and past — and explore materials that can help us remember the past,” he said. At a metro station, he designed large sand stones in Indian trapezoidal forms to make up a wall, with hand-made glass tears that form streaks running down the wall’s face.
A public art piece Hood designed more than a decade ago in Oakland, California, 7th Street Dancing Lights + Gateway, includes light poles that honor the community’s jazz and blues history. The artwork culminates in a gateway above a four-lane street with etched portraits of leading Black American figures — Barack Obama, Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Like Saint Monica’s Tears, the projects brings to light a little known aspect of history — the Black history that defines 7th street in West Oakland. One West Oakland resident told him that each morning, seeing “the signs gave him confidence to go into the city every day. Seeing them ablaze gave him peace.”
Hood’s recent book Black Landscapes Matter, co-edited with Grace Mitchell Tada, Assoc. ASLA, came out of efforts, like the two projects just mentioned, to “change the semiotic,” and therefore change mindsets.
Hood had watched footage of the scene where Michael Brown was killed by police and wondered why these killings were always happening in the same places — liquor stores, the middle of empty streets. He initiated a series of lectures at the University of California at Berkeley, which then provided the foundation for the book. In the book and lecture, he returned to the ideas of signs and symbols in the landscape — and how they reflect different narratives for different communities.
One place for Hood to explore these ideas was the Tidal Basin Ideas Lab, an initiative to re-imagine the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., which is increasingly threatened by rising sea levels brought on by climate change.
Here, his team imagined a “speculative future” and decided to “do something different.” “I didn’t want to fix Washington, D.C.; D.C. is a fiction anyway.” Instead, Hood Design Studio proposed an elevated ringed pathway above a Tidal Basin returned to its natural wetlands. He imagined Black tourists and locals visiting D.C. to discover the untold Black history of the landscape.
In Nauck, Arlington, Virginia, his studio is re-imagining a space dedicated to John Robinson, Jr., a beloved figure who passed away in 2010, as a true town square. Prior to emancipation, a community of freed slaves created Freedman’s Village, a space now taken up by Arlington National Cemetery. As the cemetery was created, the community was forced to move to this area of Virginia.
Hood said the community’s real name isn’t Nauck, but Green Valley, as this is the name used by the Freedman’s Village diaspora who moved there. As such, he wanted to make sure the new Nauck Town Square is very green and feels like a place of refuge.
He also designed a gilded sentinel that spells out “FREED” and then turned it so it stands vertically. “It’s a celebration of early freed people. Nauck now has a different name and symbols — 40-feet-tall, gilded, and lit.” The sentinel itself is comprised of a pattern made up of slave badges.
In the historic downtown LaVilla, Florida, Hood designed the Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park, which honors the brothers James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson who composed the song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” in LaVilla and lived in a home on the park site in the early 1900s.
The community was once known as a Black commercial street, lined by flophouses and shotgun homes. “It was the Great Black Way, and there are ghosts of that neighborhood still there.” Hood is designing a new park that has gardens and an amphitheater. A shotgun house will be stenciled with lyrics from the Johnson brothers and form the foundation of a new stage. There’s also a “poet’s walk,” with inspirational quotes.
For the International African American Museum (IAAM) in Charleston, South Carolina, Hood Design Studio is imagining a new landscape that can speak to the vast African diaspora in the U.S. who were brought to the country against their will. “Some 40 percent of the slave diaspora landed in Charleston.” The museum is near now buried landing places where “people were bought, sold, and perished.” It’s also near the aquarium, harbor, and the Black church where nearly a dozen people were killed by a white supremacist.
The old landing place where slaves disembarked in the U.S. for the first time has been “erased, built upon, forgotten.” Hood thinks its critical to exhume the history of the IAAM site, which is almost a burial ground, given so many perished there.
In her books, Toni Morrison has relayed the sentiment — there is no place for me to go and sit and hear my ancestors, Hood said. This idea inspired him to design a “landscape of memorial” at the museum site. He added that too often for Black Americans, “there is no tree, park, square — no place to think of who came before” — and the IAAM can provide this for the African diaspora.
The IAAM, designed in partnership with architecture firms Pei, Cobb Freed & Partners and Moody Nolan, will be raised up 13 feet off the ground in order to protect against flooding and sea level rise. The elevated structure created the opportunity for a plaza below the building where Hood is designing a landscape of crushed shells that refer to the sea floor.
Within this plane, Hood has etched forms of slaves who were chained head to toe together in galley ships that crossed the Atlantic. The corpses are marked with shells, in reference to the unknown many who perished on the journey and rest at the bottom of the ocean.
Surrounding the building are a series of gardens that include sweetgrass, which has been used by the Gullah community of the low country of the Carolinas to make artful baskets for centuries; rice fields, which highlight the role of Carolina Gold rice farming in the history of the region; and African ethno-botanical gardens, which will include a rotating display of plants with medicinal and other healing benefits.
Two walls will provide frames for sculptures of “rice negroes” who worked in the fields of the Carolinas. “They are reflective figures, who appear trapped,” Hood said.
During a Q&A session, moderator Maisie Hughes, ASLA, a co-founder of The Urban Studio, argued that emancipation isn’t often viewed as worthy of memorializing. She wondered why some events are memorialized and not others.
Hood said that W.J.T. Mitchell, a professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago, argues that “landscapes are fictions.” Institutions and communities design landscapes to create certain narratives, and this has occurred throughout history.
In ancient Egypt, one side of the Nile River represented death while the other bank represented life. In the Taos pueblo community, children lived on side of a river until they were old enough to cross over to the other side. Landscape use symbols to tell stories and create identities.
“The problem is that we are too often subjected to someone else’s narratives. Colonialism created its own fictions that were told to us. It’s fine if you want to have that story, but don’t subject me to that.” Too many communities have “never had an opportunity to own space, create their own narratives, and articulate differences.” Hood has set out to change that.
Last year, ASLA celebrated World Landscape Architecture Month (WLAM) with the theme “Life Grows Here” in the places and spaces that landscape architects create in communities around the world. This year, ASLA is building on that success with our new campaign: Growing Together.
ASLA’s vision is “healthy, beautiful, and resilient places for all.” This April, we will show how landscape architecture projects embody that vision in all communities — communities of all colors, socioeconomic backgrounds, and abilities. We want to highlight how the spaces landscape architects create promote and facilitate people growing together with each other and with nature.
Keeping in mind restraints like the ongoing pandemic, this year’s campaign is designed to be flexible and versatile and focused on diversity in the landscape architecture profession.
ASLA members, landscape architects, and the public can participate by:
And as part of this year’s World Landscape Architecture Month, ASLA is also teaming up with EarthDay.org to sponsor The Great Global Cleanup 2021. ASLA members and the public can organize and join local cleanup projects as part of the effort.
Now in its third year, the Great Global Cleanup is building on its record as the world’s largest coordinated volunteer event, providing opportunities for individuals and organizations to make positive, tangible impacts on our environment.
Emerging from the coronavirus pandemic and guided by updated safety protocols, the collective goal this month is to remove millions more pieces of trash from our green spaces, urban communities, and waterways.
“Pollution is a prodigious issue in public open spaces — causing flooding, spreading illness, contaminating water sources, and at the root of a myriad of other problems,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, CEO of ASLA.
“Plastic and other types of pollution challenge every community every day,” said Kathleen Rogers, EarthDay.org President. “They are contaminating our oceans, clogging our drains, causing floods, spreading disease, transmitting respiratory infections, and killing wildlife; and low-income communities suffer the worst impacts. Thank you to ASLA for joining our efforts to restore our natural and urban landscapes.”
The goal is simple: as many local, pandemic-conscious cleanups as possible.
Organize a cleanup: We’re hoping every ASLA chapter can host at least one cleanup in April, but any member can take the lead. When organizing a cleanup, be sure to comply with all federal and local safety and health guidelines related to COVID-19.